By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
CHEROKEE, N.C. – Sovereignty, identity, and culture were just a few of the issues the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes came together to discuss in the annual Tri-Council meeting. Under the theme, “Completing the Circle of Fire”, the Councils of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Nation, and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians met at the Harrah’s Cherokee Convention Center on the morning of Friday, June 16.
“We are family, we are brothers and sisters,” Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council Chairman Richard French said advocating for more frequent meetings and communication between the three tribes. “We’re Kituwah. This is where we come from, every one of us, and we are blessed.”
Tri-Council approved four resolutions during the meeting ranging from urging Congress to re-name a U.S. Army base to more closely defining who can claim their art as “Indian-made”.
Res. No. 1 was submitted by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and solidifies opposition from the Tri-Council to a land exchange proposal that would authorize a copper mining project at the Apache site Chi’chil Bildagoteel (known as Oak Flat) located in the Tonto National Forest.
The site is on the National Register of Historic Places and, according to the resolution, “Oak Flat has played an essential role in Apache religion, traditions, and culture for centuries and is a sacred area and traditional cultural property with deep tribal religious, cultural, archaeological, historical, and environmental significance.”
Res. No. 1 calls for Congress to enact H.R. 1351, the Save Oak Flat From Foreign Mining Act, as well as repeal Section 3003 which is a “legislative rider to the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which was enacted into law in December of 2014…under 3003, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) must begin implementation of the Land Exchange, which includes preparing an environmental impact statement for the Land Exchange and conducting government-to-government consultation with impacted Indian tribes”.
Res. No. 1 concludes with, “…the Tri-Council of the three federally recognized Cherokee Tribes urges the Administration to make all appropriate and necessary efforts to stop implementation of Section 3003 and ensure full transparency and information sharing to the general public of the outcomes and status of the ongoing environmental analysis and studies of impacts on tribal religion and culture prior to issuing a final environmental impact statement.”
Res. No. 2 was submitted by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation and seeks for Congress to amend the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA).
The legislation states, “The current definitions of ‘Indian’ and ‘Indian Tribe’ within the Indian Arts and Crafts Act allow members of state-recognized groups to produce and sell arts and crafts associated with our tribes and culture.”
It goes on to state, “We three federally recognized Cherokee tribal governments hereby urge Congress to take action to narrow the Indian Arts and Crafts Act’s definitions of ‘Indian’ and ‘Indian Tribe’ to ensure that only works made by members of federally recognized tribes may be called ‘Indian’ arts and crafts.”
Res. No. 3 was submitted by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and calls for amendments to the Constitution and By-Laws of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) regarding its membership policies.
Currently, state-recognized groups can join NCAI as full voting members. Res. No. 3 encourages NCAI “to allow for inclusion of ‘organizations and groups recognized by states as tribes’ as non-voting members of NCAI”.
Res. No. 3 calls for NCAI to replace language in Article II Section B(1) of its Constitution and Article III Section B(1) of its By-Laws with the following language regarding requirements for tribal membership with full voting rights, “All Tribal Nations with treaty and/or trust relations with the United States as demonstrated by inclusion on the lists annually published by the Department of the Interior in compliance with the Federally Recognized Tribes List Act.”
Res. No. 4 was submitted by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and calls for Congress to re-name Fort Jackson, a U.S. Army base located in Columbia, S.C. and named for President Andrew Jackson who, as the resolution states, “pressed the Congress to enact the Indian Removal Act that led to forcible removal of Cherokees from our homelands”.
The legislation states that Tri-Council does “call on the Department of Defense to conduct a naming review of Fort Jackson Army Base considering Andrew Jackson’s racist treatment of Cherokees and other Native peoples”.
At the end of the meeting, it was discussed that the Cherokee Nation will host the meeting in 2024.