The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma have officially banded together against “fabricated” tribes accused of stealing the Cherokee identity.
“It’s something that’s important to all Cherokees — all federally-recognized Cherokees. Many times people are taking our identity,” said Perry Shell, a tribal council representative for Big Cove.
There are three federally recognized Cherokee bands in the U.S.: the Eastern Band here in Western North Carolina and the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band in Oklahoma.
Tribal Council for the Eastern Band passed a resolution addressing what Cherokee sees as a growing threat to its culture and heritage from groups claiming to be Cherokee. The resolution states that the Eastern Band will work more closely with the Cherokee Nation to combat “the ongoing and growing problem of these fabricated Cherokee groups.”
The resolution also established the Cherokee Identity Protection Committee, which will continue to speak out against these groups.
Faux tribes include people who truly believe they are Cherokee but cannot prove their native lineage. Occasionally, groups purport false Cherokee heritage to get government benefits or as a marketing gimmick for arts and crafts.
One concern for both the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band is that the “fabricated” tribes will disseminate misinformation about the Cherokee, their history and their origins.
“Lots of times some of these groups have a story that is not accurate,” Shell said.
The dispute between the officially recognized Cherokee and the faux tribes is about preserving Cherokee culture, “not necessarily about money,” Shell said.
But Shell said he has a problem with people who claim to be Cherokee solely to receive monetary benefits. Federally recognized tribes, such as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, get federal dollars to help pay for housing and are also licensed to sell authentic Native American arts and crafts.
Some members of unrecognized tribes have said that the federally recognized Cherokee do not want to share the government funds they receive. Therefore, they strike down other’s claims of Cherokee descent.
The Cherokee Nation and Eastern Band have compiled a list of more than 200 faux tribes in the U.S.
Tribes on the list assert that they are indeed Cherokee and want to respect the traditions of their ancestors without interference.
“We are not taking anything away from them,” said Jack “White Eagle” Shryock, of the Southeastern Cherokee Council in Missouri. “We do not intend to take anything away from them.”
Shryock said that anytime his band attempted to get state recognition, someone from a federally recognized tribe would testify against their assertion that they are Cherokee.
“They do not want more people recognized. Then they would have to accept them,” Shryock said, adding that the current federally recognized bands would then have to “spread out the money.”
Chief Buffy Brown of the Southeastern Cherokee Confederacy of Pennsylvania said she does not want federal recognition.
“My personal feeling is that the government — the federal government — does not have to recognize me because I know who I am, and my parents know who I am,” Brown said.