Submitted by Tosh C. Welch on behalf of Tribal Council
The purpose of Tribal Council’s travel is nationwide coalition building and lobbying state and federal legislators. Many questions get asked when elected officials are on travel. Such as, are they on vacation? Is this travel necessary? The public has the right to ask those questions, and EBCI (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) Tribal Council has the right to answer them. Yes, some of your elected officials have been all over the country. They are working diligently to advance the political and economic agendas of the EBCI.
Federal Level Issues for the EBCI
Indian Boarding Schools Act
EBCI Tribal Council has lobbied in support of the Indian Boarding Schools Act. As a community that had a boarding school operating on the Qualla Boundary in the 20th century, EBCI understands the negative impact of boarding schools as a measure to erase culture and identity, to “Americanize” Native youth. If passed, the Indian Boarding Schools Act would create a committee and fund investigations of alleged abuse, cruelty, and untimely deaths both reported and unreported for Indian Boarding Schools in the United States.
TVA Lands Legislation
EBCI Tribal Council lobbied several congressmen and congresswomen regarding traditional Cherokee culturally and historically significant land tracts in the state of Tennessee. The state of Tennessee is set to return control of that land to the EBCI. But some political actors have derailed those efforts as a tactic to try and sway EBCI’s stance on the Lumbee Recognition Bill. The EBCI remains resolute in its position and is working diligently to reclaim our Cherokee tribal lands.
Federal Recognition Processes for Groups Claiming Identity as American Indian/Native American Tribes. Emphasis on Placing Cultural and Historical Authenticity before the Power of Votes.
EBCI Tribal Council has worked aggressively in Washington D.C. and across the country to convince members of Congress that any group identifying themselves as American Indian that are seeking Federal Recognition as an Indian tribe, to do so thru the established process in place with the Office of Federal Acknowledgment (OFA). EBCI’s stance is that the OFA process for federal recognition is the only process that provides the resources necessary to identify a group of people as Native American. This includes the use of genealogists, cultural anthropologist, historians, and leaders/experts in the areas pertaining to the identification, definition, and provision of services to American Indian/Native American tribes. The Lumbee Recognition Bill, most recently re-introduced as the “Lumbee Fairness Act”, solicits Congress to give full federal recognition to the Lumbee Tribe of NC. With 435 voting members of the House of Representatives, and 100 voting members in the Senate, federal recognition for groups claiming to be American Indian, could be determined by a majority vote of 535 elected officials. The EBCI is convinced that the majority of US Congressman and Congresswomen aren’t extensively informed as to what criteria make a group an Indian Tribe. Furthermore, many members of Congress need to be informed of the OFA process for Federal Recognition and why it should be the sole avenue for recognition. EBCI adamantly opposes the Recognition of American Indian Tribes, solely by Act of Congress.
If passed, the Lumbee Fairness Act (previously Lumbee Recognition Bill) would make the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina the largest federally recognized tribe in the Eastern United States. If you took all the member tribes of United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) which are the tribes East of the Mississippi River, and combined those tribes’ membership numbers, The Lumbee Tribe of NC would still outnumber those tribes combined. This piece of legislation also would make in excess of 60,000 Lumbee tribal members, Full federally recognized American Indians at a 4/4th Degree of Blood. An Act of Congress, to pass this bill with a vote, would create the only tribe in the United States that has 60,000 plus “Full Blooded” members.
On this issue, EBCI opponents maintain that this is an issue of economics and gaming. EBCI Tribal Council maintains its stance of opposition from the beginning of Lumbee Federal Recognition Efforts. The EBCI has opposed Federal Recognition of the Lumbee Tribe of NC primarily as this group has failed to demonstrate direct lineage to a historically documented Indian tribe. The Lumbee have been identified by the NC General Assembly as The Croatan Indians of NC (1885). This was later changed to The Indians of Robeson County (1911). In 1913, The Lumbee once again changed their name to The Cherokee Indians of Robeson County. The Lumbee Tribe of NC has also unsuccessfully solicited federal recognition as the “Siouan Indians” in 1924. EBCI opposition to full federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe of NC by Act Of Congress, stems from repeated attempts to claim Native identity by falsely identifying as Cherokees, and continued historical claims (unproven) of Cherokee Lineage.
Presently, there are in excess of 200 groups who are soliciting individual states and the US government for recognition/acknowledgement as “Cherokee”. The U.S. Department of Interior only recognizes 3 Tribes as Cherokee. That is the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (CNO), the United Keetowah Band of Cherokees (UKB), and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). EBCI maintains that if any group, including the Lumbee Tribe of NC wants full federal recognition, that said groups should seek recognition thru the established OFA Process. After all, that’s what the process was put in place for. federal recognition should be based on cultural & historical authenticity with a direct documented lineage. Federal recognition should not be decided by a body of 535 elected officials where less than 1% of those officials are Native American, and where the number of Lumbee Votes in NC Congressional Districts is the primary concern in lieu of authenticity.
EBCI will continue to solicit support from Congressional members in Washington D.C. And now we are not alone in this effort. EBCI Tribal Council has been and continues to be present in Indian Country as we build coalitions and partnerships beneficial to all Federally Recognized Tribes. Due to these efforts, over 140 Federally Recognized Tribes have joined either individually or through coalitions to present letters of support and resolutions which support EBCI on efforts to steer all Federal Recognition Efforts toward the established OFA Process and to diminish the potential for federal recognition thru Act of Congress. Federally Recognized Tribes recognize the existing threats to their sovereignty both as individual Tribes and as a collective demographic. Therefore, efforts to build coalitions and to bring multiple actors and interests to the table in Washington D.C. are proving to be productive. EBCI Tribal Council will continue this hard work toward protecting your interests as enrolled members and citizens of the EBCI.
It is the EBCI Tribal Council’s intent to help the Cherokee tribal community to have clarity and explanation regarding the necessity for travel, and the need to address tribal Issues on the state and federal level. Very simply if we do not have elected officials conducting this work and traveling, we will lose our seat at the table, and our voice goes collectively unheard. In the future, if any Citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has a question regarding the travel activities and political agendas of EBCI Tribal Council, we encourage you to contact your Tribal Council members directly. Thank You for your time and interest.
(Tosh Welch is the Legislative Public Relations Specialist for the EBCI Tribal Council)