before the Agriculture and Natural Resources Sub-committee of the
Tennessee State Legislature's Joint Government Operations Committee.
19 october 2000, 9:00 am CST. Legislative Plaza, Room 14. Nashville
Chairman - Representative Bill McAfee
Rep. McAfee: This morning I don't know whether we'll have others or not. I know we have Representative Keith Westmoreland and Representative Westmoreland has to leave in the near future, can't spend too much time. I have a death in the family that I can't be there this morning and I, I'm here because it was my duty to be here and to listen to you. But I will assure you ladies and gentlemen, that we are not gonna spend a whole lot of time on rhetoric this morning.
I have names that, want to be heard. I'm gonna give you the opportunity to be heard because I don't want you to travel and not be heard. But I'm gonna limit each one of you to two minutes because we've heard a lot of things before and there's no need to rehash agreements, disagreements, and whatever. And when I, and when we have finished hearing these eleven names, eleven people that I have on this list, then I'm gonna make some suggestions and you may agree, you may not agree, but that's the way it's gonna be. I'm not gonna cut you off and I'm not gonna put you out of business. You're gonna continue to, to be, but you're gonna have to make some changes if it goes on down the road any longer than a year and a half.
So I'm gonna begin the hearing this morning and I don't want to offend anybody and I hope I pronounce all the names right. Is it, Grady -- what's the last name?
Grady Jones: Jones?
Rep. McAfee: Or Brady, or somethin'.
Grady Jones: Grady Jones.
Rep McAfee: Brady? All right. You're recognized. Would you come to the, uh. microphone?
Grady Jones: Yes sir.
Rep. McAfee: Remember the two-minute time limit.
Grady Jones: Yes sir. Hi, my name is Grady Jones, I'm with the Aniyunweya Nation here in Tennessee. My belief is that we need to, we need to save this commission, sir. And ah, I didn't really prepare myself for a speech this morning so I didn't really know I was speakin', but, in behalf of my people, and the Cherokee people, I believe we do need to save this commission. That's all I've got to say. Thank you.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you very much. Mr. David Teat?
David Teat: Thank you. I, am a member of the Aniyunweya people, Cherokee and English mixed-blood. What I would like to say is we definitely need to save this commission, sir. What are our credentials? A lot of us are voters, registered voters, we are taxpayers, I think ya'll need to remember that. Ah, and if you do away with the commission, we won't go away. We're still gonna be here, we're still gonna be active in the things in the state that matter to us and our people. I really don't think we need to do away with this commission. If there are some changes that need to be made, give us some time, we'll make those changes. There are seats that need to be filled -- that's the Governor's responsibility, he has not fulfilled that. We don't know why. We need to take a look at that. Thank you.
Rep. McAfee: I'm gonna respond to two things. You said you're registered voters and you're taxpayers -- so am I and when people say things like that to me it's a threat. I don't give a flip about threats, Mister Teat. It don't bother me a bit. And I don't think it bothers anybody else. You can either vote for us or you can vote against us, that's you're prerogative. So, I just don't particularly like threats.
I'm gonna respond to thing two. You don't know why the Governor hasn't made his appointments. I'll tell you exactly why the Governor hasn't made his appointments. He gets a name or he gets two names from a group of, Native Americans, and then another group say "No, that is not what we want." Now this has gone on, ladies and gentlemen, for ever since this board was made up and put into existence by the legislature. The Governor will get a couple of names from somebody and start to make an appointment and then here comes somebody say "No, we can't stand that, we don't want that." That's why the Governor hasn't made his appointments.
So you're to blame. You're to blame, ladies and gentlemen, not the Governor.
Mr. John Anderson? John, take your time. You Ok?
John Anderson: Yes sir.
Rep. McAfee: All right.
John Anderson: And I'd like to thank this body for the opportunity to come up here and share my thoughts on this matter. Ah, first of all my name's John Anderson, I'm a full blood Iroquois-Ojibway. I am a resident of Tennessee and lived here for 14 years. Attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I'm a founding member of the Chattanooga Inter-Tribal Association, President of Chattanooga Indigenous Research Center and Library, and, I work as a substance abuse counselor.
What one of the, one of the biggest complaints I have is that eliminatin' an Indian voice, in the state of Tennessee is, it's outrageous. It's it's -- I question the constitutionality of this. It is, you know, what if we went to a, black association and told them that they would no longer be in existence? That is not fair, it is, you know, it is racist in my opinion, and it is something that you need to address, and we can't allow it to go unaddressed.
I think that this is not just a state issue, this is a federal issue as well. I am federally recognized, I am internationally recognized, and I think that people wouldn't pay attention to Indian people. Even though we are a silent minority we still are people, we exist here. Indian people have been here thousands of years, and it's time that people in the state acknowledge the fact that we are alive, we are real, we are not, footnotes in a book of history, a history book. And we got a voice. And we just want it to be heard, just like everybody else.
And I thank you guys for this opportunity to speak. I'm not the most articulate person, but I do feel committed that on behalf of Indian people in Chattanooga and throughout the state that we do need a voice, we need to be heard, and acknowledged. And so I, I urge that this commission be allowed to continue or somethin' put in it's place beyond what we currently have. I think we can work it out. We have a proposal that we, that some of us have got together, and elaborated and we thought about it and it will be presented to you, to this group here.
So I thank you very much for your time.
Rep. McAfee: John, thank you, and you don't need to apologize for anything. Growling Bear is next on the list.
Growling Bear: Sir, I ask that out of respect my elders speak first.
Rep. McAfee: Ok. Okay. Is it Dan Kirby? While Mr. Kirby's going to the, to the mike I need, I got a phone call from Representative Ben West a little while ago, and I think the Pow-wow is coming up this weekend. And he wanted to assure all of you that he would be there. He would have been here this morning but he has a commitment. But he did, Representative West waned me to assure you that he would be with you this weekend. And now I have filled, fulfilled my commitment to Representative West.
Mr. Kirby, you're recognized.
Dan Kirby: First of all sir, I'm, I'm sorry for your loss, sir, I give you my condolences.
My words last time are a matter of record. I am very much for the Commission. Um, as it was stated that, by I believe just about everyone, they were for the Commission despite their differences, even though the differences were brought up, everyone stated that they were for the Commission.
I'd like to say something sir, um, my father was born in 1918. He was not a citizen of the United States at that time. So, by generations going back and back, we were not citizens until 1924. And of course we were given full rights under the Constitution -- all civil rights, all Constitutional rights as American citizens.
I was deeply disturbed to hear the comments, to say that we all have to get along with one another in order for this Commission to exist. That bothers me very much. At first, the first time I heard it I thought perhaps it was me, that I misunderstood. The second time I saw it in the newspaper, I saw more clearly something else that I found very bothersome. Our civil rights to disagree, just like you Democrats and Republicans disagree with one another, in our society is the same. We have the exact Constitutional and civil rights.
I am very much a believer in the need for this Commission. I hope, gentlemen, that if you can fairly say a laundry can exist and all these other things can exist, you should, then, have a place for the Indian people of this state. Thank you.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you Mr. Kirby, and for your information and others in the audience there are members of the Governor's staff here, and they, I think will tell you that I am very much in favor of keeping this Commission in some place, under some situation. But there has to be something done to get it functional so it'll work for what it's intended to work for and that's the Native American people. That's my concern and that's what I want to see happen.
Allison Shaw is next.
Allison Shaw: Good morning, gentlemen. My name is Allison Shaw. I'm a member of the Rappahannock Nation of Virginia; I'm a native of Tennessee, a native of Nashville. My family has lived here for ages and ages before the coming of the white man and some of us have, when we were pushed out of Virginia, came here. Every, and every war in this country some man in my family has fought and died for this country and for the ideas of freedom.
I tried to think, if I was given a chance to speak, what I would say, and like a lot of Indian people I do a lot of prayin', and when I was meditating and when I was asking God "What do I say?" he said "You don't need to say a thing. I've already said it, and it's in my words and that's what I want you to give to them."
The two greatest commandments, according to Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, where he is quoted three times as saying this, is love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself, and he went on in the parable of the Good Samaritan to explain that "neighbor" is every person on the face of this earth. We are all each others neighbors, and more importantly, since we're all children of God, we're all each other's brothers, and truly, you don't deny to your brother that which you desire for yourself. You don't hold your brother up to standards you yourself can't meet, and whenever you make a decision you make it with your brother in mind, as to what is best for your brother and what keeps you and your brother standing together.
I want to close with Genesis 43, verse 3. Joseph, whom anybody who studies the Bible knows, was a parable for Christ, said "You will not see my face unless your brother is with you." Please do not deny us in this government. We don't have the numbers or the economic power to get people to listen to us, so we have to count upon our brothers in positions of authority, and that's you, to be sure that we have voice so that we can stand with you as brothers, and so that God will smile upon all of us for doing the right thing. Thank you.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you very much. Next is Man Many Trees.
Man Many Trees: I'm honored to be here. I am called Man Many Trees. I am the Principal Chief of the Overhill Nation, Cherokee descendants. I speak for 1,004 members, 650 of them live in the state of Tennessee. I realize this meeting wouldn't be goin' on today if our people were organized. I had a speech laid out in my mind to speak here today, but I realized that I'm just gonna have to speak from my heart.
People, we need this Tennessee Indian Commission, the Native Americans in the state of Tennessee. Without it, highway departments, construction builders, will have their way when they discover our burial sites. It is up to the people here today to represent every person, every Nation, and the members for these Native Americans. We have got to stand together.
What has happened here is, what I see, is people have applied for positions on this Tennessee Indian Commission. They haven't been chosen so they got mad at the people who sit on the Commission. There are people who have applied for Toye Heape's job. They didn't get it so they're upset with Toye Heape. I'm sure each of you elected officials have somebody back in your district who watches every move you make and wants you to fall back, and would replace you in a minute if they could. That's exactly what's goin' on here. Toye Heape has nothin' but the rights of the Native American people in the state of Tennessee as his agenda. Clayton Prest works hard as the Chairman of this Commission. What this Commission needs is appointments -- immediately - so this Commission can operate as the Tennessee Indian Commission.
I imagine the people here who have a problem with the people on this committee, they are -- on this Commission, they are volunteers. They don't get paid. They have, they have an effort, they want to do something for our people. So don't be writin' letters to your Congressmen and makin' phone calls. Call your Commissioners and meet with them. If you live in Chattanooga and you don't feel your getting' representation, find out why. Get a Commissioner down there to meet with you and your people. The same goes for Knoxville and Memphis. We've got to unite. We are all brothers and sisters. We are all Native Americans.
And another thing about this Commission. The greatest Chief of the Cherokee people, who held the position for 39 years, wouldn't even qualify to sit on this Tennessee Indian Commission. He was 1/8 Cherokee. But he was the Chief for 38 or 39 years, and he would not qualify to sit on this Tennessee Indian Commission. Changes need to be made but they need to be made from within the Commission itself. People need to be appointed to this Commission in the next sixty days, and let the Commission sit down with, with us and decide what needs to be done, how it needs to be corrected, and give the Commission the authority to make these changes. That's what I ask of this committee. This is what a thousand members of my Nation ask of you here today.
Oh, one more thing. It is in our tradition that when we attend a council, that we present a gift to the holder of that Council, and the Overhill Nation would like to present a gift to Mr. McAfee. It is a pipe, which means we want to be bonded, we want to be in harmony with you and we want you to be in harmony with our Nation. Thank you.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you very much. Ruth Knight Allen. Ms. Allen, you're recognized. Go ahead.
Ruth Knight Allen: Mr. Chairman, other committee members, after the directive that was given at the last meeting, many of the Native community had asked me to meet with them, also, to come up with a proposal or recommendation to keep the Commission, I served on the Commission from the time that Lamar Alexander called together the group of Native Americans from across Tennessee to decide how the Commission would be formed, what it would say, what its duties would be. It was very interesting through these seventeen years, and I served on it from ë83 to '90 as an Indian.
I'm of Cherokee and Choctaw heritage, was born in Mississippi, I have my birth certificate that says my parents were Cherokee and Choctaw. My dad was Cherokee and my mother was Choctaw. We have lived Indian for all of these years, although we have been citizens after we were allowed to be citizens.
We do believe that the Commission should stay. It has done good work, it is capable of doing good work. We will work together and the proposal that we are presenting to you now has shown that we can work together with email -- now we have computers -- not all Indians do though, so we have to do this by word of mouth, by telephone, by meeting. All of us have regular jobs. We take off, we still go to meetings, we still work very, very hard for the Commission. We want to work with you and anyone else to have a way of assisting us in keeping this Commission.
What we have put together in that proposal, we believe, and we did it in a short fashion. But it shows that we can work together and we can network but we need your help. We need these appointments so that we can do business. I was in corporate for seventeen years at Holiday Inn and I know that we have to have a good structure, and we will work together to have that but we have to have the beginnings, too, which are these appointments. And they are qualified people, there've been qualified people, and that's what this Governor needs to pick from -- the qualities of the people. Listen to the qualities of the people. Read them verify them, and then pick from those that were sent. They're qualified or it would not have been sent out. And we do need all of the Commissioners in order for them to help us do the job better.
Now the material that you have -- and I know that's a lot of it -- and I, I sympathize with you, I empathize with you on the death in your family. I just buried one of my elders. But we do need to get on with our lives and keep this Commission. It has lots of good work. We believe very strong from the last directive that we can work together. We will work together. But, like any family, there are disagreements. And it all works out. It's like having teenagers -- they have to do their own thing, and then we have to be around to help support them when they mess up, but they're still your family. And we disagree, but we still have our family.
We do need to keep the Commission and when you have a chance we would like for you to read those proposals and see that they are workable and we will live with them. You have the letters, with you there, of recommendation. That one packet has over fourteen hundred names in trying to keep the Commission. There have been other groups that have allowed me to be their spokesperson so that would shorten the meeting considerably. Thank you.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you very much.
Representative Westmoreland? Ms. Allen, Representative Westmoreland would like to ask you a question.
Ruth Knight Allen: Yes, sir.
Rep. Westmoreland: I'm lookin' at your, at your reform proposal. Where -- how did you all come up with this, or where did you, or how did you get together?
Ruth Knight Allen: Through email and the meeting that - we met in Murfreesboro and generally had an idea of what we needed to do or propose, that would work for us and you and the legal system. We knew that it had to work for both areas, the legal of the state as well as the Indian people. Back and forth, emailing and telephone calls and meetings. We had meetings in different areas and then we got that together and refined it to this. Now, we know that there is plenty of room for refining even on what we have presented. But we can do it with help. We can do it, its workable.
Rep. Westmoreland: The reason I'm asking is this -- is, is in order for us to to do any of the reforms, of course, the Tennessee Code is gonna have to be changed too, and there is gonna have to be a bill drawn in order to do that.
Ruth Knight Allen: That's the time.
Rep. Westmoreland: And, and you know, I don't want to get us, get us into the situation where even if, even if the committee were to recommend the the reform to draw the bill that all of a sudden, you know we're gonna start getting' emails from, from, from a lot of folks sayin' "We don't agree with this bill, we don't like the bill, we don't like the way its drawn." I don't want to get back into the situation where we've been and, and and that was the reason I asked you how it, how it all came about. Because I know once we get a bill drawn to change that we're gonna get some input, I'm sure, I'm sure of that.
Ruth Knight Allen: Oh, yes. Well, during the six years that we worked on the first recognition criteria, back and forth across the state, and with Fran Wallace who was in the legal department at that time helped us, Harley and some of the rest of us, every meeting we hashed and rehashed for the recognition, for what would be acceptable to the state government as well as to the Indian people, and be fair to both and workable, so that it could happen. So we know this is not gonna be fast. This is another way of our asking that we need time. We need the Commission to stay intact with a full compliment of the five that are now authorized, five people, so that we can have the quorum necessary to do business.
Rep. Westmoreland: Ok. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ruth Knight Allen:
Any other questions?
Rep. McAfee: Representative -- Chairman Kernell?
Rep. Kernell: Yes. What I wanted to do was interject this at this point, not because you are here, I'm glad you're here making these recommendations. But I'm, I notice that, something said was it one-eighth? The debate over the full-blood, half-blood, quarter-blood, one-eighth blood?
Ruth Knight Allen:
Well, to run your lineage down you take your, your full-blood from as far back as you can have it and then work it down a grid to the person that is applyin' and see what their blood quantum is.
Rep. Kernell: I understand. But the problem that I think we're gonna face with that, and I need to go ahead and just say this right now cause it's a problem. Under the, under the Supreme Court rulings, most recently even, we can't make racial determinations for membership to office.
Ruth Knight Allen: I would think for a specific Commission such as this is. Well?
Rep. Kernell: No. We can't have --
Ruth Knight Allen: But we need Indian people helping make decisions involving Indian people.
Rep. Kernell: Right. And, you know, we have commissions that are majority white and majority black, majority male and majority female and that's just the way it works out. But we cannot put no -- I mean, it may be there now, but we have got to ask the Attorney General to determine -- I don't think under our Constitution and recent interpretations we can say that only African-Americans can be on a commission, or only European-Americans can be on a commission. And I'm not tryin' to take sides here. I'm just sayin' --
Ruth Knight Allen: I know.
Rep. Kernell: that, that we can't make, we cannot set up a racial qualification for office. Now, what we can do -- this occurs in redistricting and so many banks and what not -- we can say that at least a certain number of people must have an opportunity to be a percentage so that it reflects, use language like "reflect." But when we go and state specific language regarding ethnic background, then it becomes discriminatory towards others.
Now I understand that this, now -- on the other hand, if Tennessee recognizes, a group of Native Americans as a, as a separate Nation there might be an exception somewhere that the courts would make. But, under the Constitution, the state cannot make a treaty or, receive ambassadors from other Nations. So I, I, what I'm sayin' is there's still some legal entanglements that we've got to deal with --
Ruth Knight Allen: Oh there's lots of legal entanglements. But we don't want to be left out of it just because there are tangles.
Oh, I understand. It's just that it has to be done in an innovative way. I just thought I'd bring this up right now.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you Chairman Kernell. Thank you, Ms. Allen. Vicky Spitfire Garland? You're recognized.
Vicky Spitsfire Garland: Thank you. I, I'm from the Cherokees of Lawrence County, Tennessee and I, me and Mr. McAfee have been missin' each other in phone conversations. We been playin' ëphone tag'.
Voice from the audience: Are you that white woman?
Vicky Spitsfire Garland: Yeah, I'm that white woman.
And, actually I'm Cherokee and Choctaw. But all I want to say is, I called all of ya'll, your offices, I've wrote all of your offices, I've harassed ya'll miserably -- I'm sorry. But I think we need to keep the TCIA. Even if it has problems we can work it out down the road. I mean, if we get rid of it there's no fixin' it. We have to have it in place to fix it. We tried to work with these other groups like Ms. Allen and them. She's speakin' for us, she turned over our petitions to you. We sent our petitions, copies to each of your offices. And, that's all I wanted to say. We want to keep the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs and that's the bottom line. Thank you.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you.
Rep. McAfee: Mark Tolley? You're recognized go ahead.
Mark Tolley: Thank you, sir. I'm not a Native American, I'm a native of Tennessee, and, I'm President of the Tennessee Archaeological Trust.
I wanted to read a letter that Reverend Fred Cloud wrote to the Tennessean that was published this mornin'. And the title says "Tennessee should retain the Indian Commission." "Tennessee has been," that's "between", "10,000 and 13,000 Native Americans but no organized tribe as states around us -- North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi -- do. The federal government deals with Indian people as groups, not as individuals; so if they do not have an organized entity", "there are a number of programs they cannot access.
When I discovered the fact in the 80's, while Lamar Alexander was in office, I went to him and strongly urged him to create a state agency with a majority of Native Americans as its commissioners, so as to avoid patronism. He sent me to one of his staffers and together we created the legislation for the Indian Affairs Commission.
It would be a big step backward to abolish the Indian Affairs Commission. Obviously, when you have the remnants of several tribes with individual differences as well as differences of tribal traditions it sometimes is hard to achieve a unified plan of action. But that is true in nation after nation. Just consider Israel, Ireland, and Yugoslavia, for example.
Those of us who are descendants of the European settlers need to be more compassionate toward America's and Tennessee's original inhabitants. One Trail of Tears is enough!"
I hope a number of Tennesseans will join me in calling Rep. Bill McAfee and urging him to continue the Indian Affairs Commission. And since this commission is under the supervision of the Tennessee Dept. of Environment and Conservation, I hope we will contact Commissioner Milton Hamilton, Jr. and urge him to do all in his power to help make the Indian Affairs Commission a viable advocate for the rights of Native Americans in Tennessee.
It has truly been said, "The true test of a nation's greatness is how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members." Indian people are not weak. There are many fine personal and tribal characteristics, but they are definitely vulnerable because of their limited numbers. So we call on all fair minded citizens", "to, to state and show the value of citizens", "happen", "that happen to be Native Americans."
And I want to support the continuance of this Commission, and thank you very much.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you Mr. Tolley. Mr. Tom Kunesh, from Chattanooga. Tom? You're recognized.
Tom Kunesh: Thank you. Good morning. To address first a couple of questions that you had. We held two public meetings that were open and announced over the internet to, the two primary, well, one primary mailing list and one, ah, message board, and we held two meetings, one on the 9th of September and one on the 30th of September to come up with these proposals. One meeting was held at Old Stone Fort and another one was held in Murfreesboro. I'd like now at this moment for anybody, everybody that was involved, in this, reform process to stand up and show who you are. There are lots of groups -- there's the Aniyunweya Nation, the Cherokee of Lawrence County, the Chattanooga Inter-Tribal Association, people from Memphis, people from all around. It included all three people who were critical back in the, subcommittee hearing back in August. All three people who were critical and spoke at this meeting attended that first meeting at Old Stone Fort and participated in this process and approve of this recommendation.
The second thing. Representative Kernell, you suggested that, making specific racial discriminations or qualifications for public office -- right now that's the way the law stands. If, if it was a problem for you guys, or for the legislature, I would have hoped that somebody would've come to us and told us before we started making this proposal, again, that it was a problem. We didn't address it as a problem because nobody has brought it up as a problem.
Now my regular comments. The most popular problem with the Indian Commission in testimony at the August subcommittee hearing and reported in the press has been partisan opinions within the Native American community. We acknowledge that this has been a problem, and that all parties have reached a compromise that has been delivered to the subcommittee here today. The problem that is not being addressed is that there were, that there are two vacancies on the Commission that have not been filled by Governor appointment, one of which has been empty for over eighteen months. Without these appointments, without these Commissioners, the Commission cannot operate as it was intended. The quorum requirement of Indians is not attainable and we effectively have a hamstrung Commission.
The facts are there are two vacant commissioner positions for fuller bloods, persons of not less that 25% Native American lineage as its written in the law now. These positions have been vacant for months -- eighteen months for one, four months for the other. All appointments to the Indian Commission are made exclusively by the Governor. It is thus the Governor's responsibility to appoint Commissioners. Several of us have contacted the Governor's appointments office. When we asked why there haven't been any appointments to fill these vacancies, the Governor's office says that they can't find anybody, quote unquote, "qualified". Today we bring you proof of at least three nominees that we know of who are both qualified as Native Americans and as involved members in their community, and with large numbers of supporters, whose nominations have been presented to the Governor's office but not appointed. I also don't know of anybody that has written against these people. Two of them, one is John Anderson of Chattanooga, whose nomination has been in since July of 1998, and the other is Ruth Knight Allen, who was a commissioner back in, from 1993 to 1990. If you have evidence that says that there have been people who have been speaking against these, I would like to hear that, but we have never heard, I have never heard, nor has anybody in Chattanooga that I know of, ever written against a nominee to the Governor's office.
We raise these issues because we feel that the Governor's inaction in filling these appointments has directly lead to a less than functional state Indian Commission. We raise this issue because we are concerned that Native Americans who want to keep the state Commission of Indian Affairs, we do not want to see the Commission treated unfairly by being blamed for being less than functional when it could not be fully functional without its fuller-blood members.
We ask the Governor to do his job -- appoint these fuller-blood nominees as the state's Native American people have requested. We also ask the legislative sunset review subcommittee -- please review the state Indian Commission as a fully membered, functional body with its full complement of fuller-blood Native Americans, not one whose seats are seemingly and purposely maintained vacant by the Governor.
At the sunset review committee hearing in August, we were told by Representative McAfee to develop a compromise that would address our concerns. Representative McAfee's own words were "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to give you until October to get together and try to reach some sort of agreement among yourselves." Again, "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like for you to come back to me on the 18th and 19th on some sort of compromise or some sort of agreement that you all can live with and work under." And again, "So please, between now and October get together to maybe work out some differences. And there are some deep-rooted differences there I've heard of this morning. And if you work those out it will be to your benefit and please do that. That's all I have."
Now Representative McAfee has prophesized that he fully intends to kill the Indian Commission regardless of the compromise we have reached -- "I'm going to propose that we let them go into wind-down," McAfee said Friday. What is this? Do we get our commissioners and our compromise and keep the Commission? Or have two non-Indians, Governor Sundquist and Representative McAfee, already decided the fate of the Indian Commission without hearing the Indians themselves.
Rep. McAfee: Mr. Kunesh, I'm going to have to interrupt you, and I don't mind the criticism. I've been here 24 years and I've got a pretty thick skin. But you had two minutes and you passed that a long time ago, so wrap it up.
Tom Kunesh: Thank you. Ah, the problem is derived from questions of individual qualifications of fuller-blood members was not created by Native Americans. The initial problem that started this mess was created by the Governor, who himself violated the rules of the Commission and appointed a person who was less than quarter-blood. When this error was pointed out to his Department of Environment and Conservation, Commissioner Milton Hamilton, Jr. himself, who wrote the decision that the word "lineage" in the existing Indian Commission rules was not synonymous with "quantum", and that lineage could technically not be quantified, and thus the whole issue of a minimum amount of blood-quantum for three commissioners was made moot. For fifteen years "blood-lineage" meant Native, meant the same thing as "blood-quantum". Then two non-Indians got involved, one who appointed an unqualified person and one who wrote the opinion that existing blood qualifications were in error and that the unqualified person could be legally viewed as a Commissioner. We complained and then we were dismissed. That's what started this whole thing, what started the complaint, and it's not our responsibility, its not our blame. Thank you.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you.
Man Many Trees: (Made comment that was inaudible on tape. Remarks were to the effect that Tom Kunesh does not speak for the Overhill Nation.)
Rep. McAfee: Thank you very much. I have, about three other people and folks its gotta be short and sweet. Tammera Hicks? You are recognized Ms. Hicks.
Tammera Hicks: Good morning, gentlemen. I'm Tammera Hicks. I'm a founder and organizer of the Tennessee Chapter, Trail of Tears Association under the auspices of the National Trail of Tears Association, the National Park Service, and Congress.
I ask that the Tennessee Indian Commission be allowed to remain as a liaison for the Native American citizens of this state of Tennessee, its government officials, and the federally-recognized tribes, especially the five civilized tribes that played a key role in our history in this great State. Also, the Tennessee Indian Commission is needed for the benefit of all of us, not just a select group of individuals, but for all of us.
The Tennessee Trail, the Tennessee Chapter, Trail of Tears Association was formed in this state because of the Trail system. We need the Tennessee Indian Commission as a liaison. We currently do work with the two civilized tribes, the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band. I have been and continue to work with them closely. The Choctaw Nations, the Creek Nations, the Seminole Nations are all now getting more involved in this Association. But we need a state liaison that is under the auspices of this government and we need to continue that. We need to work together.
I totally agree that there may be a reorganization, so to speak, of the, of the Commission. The three vacant positions, there does need to be some appointments. And I think there can be a reasonable, agreement between us. I request or I would like to suggest, to you that, maybe by January 10th of 2001, the Governor please appoint to those three positions. This gives him three months to at least make that decision, and for us to begin new in a new year, so that we can continue to work together.
Yes, we need to do some changes, and that's OK, because we find out that what was is not working, we need to change. Times have changed. But these people out here, who I consider my relations cause I'm Cherokee and it doesn't matter what we are, its how we feel. And we do need a liaison here in this state government. We need someone who can be there for us and be with us. And I appreciate your time and I appreciate for you allowing us to be here today. Thank you.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. Hazel Joiner Smith. You're recognized.
Hazel Joiner Smith: Good morning. Mr. Chairperson and members of this committee, my name is Hazel Joiner Smith, and I stand today representing the Race Relations Institute at Fisk University, where Dr. Ray Winbush is the director. Dr. Winbush is out of town today and regrets, regrets that he cannot be here today to stand with the indigenous people of Tennessee, his brothers and sisters of many tribes.
The Race Relations Institute was founded in 1942 as a primary vehicle for creating forums and, and advocacy for the discussion, the discussion of race, a problem that still plagues this country even today. Our mission statement says that the Institute promotes inter and intra racial dialogue, scholarly research through the eradication of four centuries of dominance of European and North American hegemony in a world overwhelmingly populated by non-white people, people of color -- brown, black, red, and yellow. We believe in training on issues related to racism and race relations, development of strategies to overcome racial injustices and to enhance societies that respect persons of all race and provide equal opportunities for all persons of all races, religions, and ethnic groups.
We come as one voice seeking your vote for continuation of the Commission of Indian Affairs. This Commission represents the good will and intention of Tennessee, a state steeped deep in the lives of its indigenous people, to speak for thousands of tribal people who live here in Tennessee, and search for their voice, and to search for their voice and place of respectability and identity.
Children across the world read about the Trail of Tears, its origins, its supporters, its victims, its pain, the route it took, and the final results of the people who walked every mile of that unforgettable trip. I am an educator, and when I teach Tennessee history many people, many children listen in amazement as we hear true accounts of that sad time recanted in our history lessons. I don't have the time to tell you about the many kinds of questions that I get about the human suffering from children and the questions of "Why? Who did this, Ms. Smith?" I can only tell you this, because you and your children will ask these questions again if this issue is not resolved. Let's not make this another sad day for any of us.
The overwhelming call in this 21st century is for transformation, a rethinking of strategies that build communities and partnerships for the sake of this Commission and all communities of Tennessee. A transformation that calls - ( a part of Hazel Joiner Smith's comments were cut off at this point due to technical reasons) -- all should come and be represented at the table as equals. Development of strategies begins with honest dialogue, leads to represented coalition building, and ends with persons, with persons conscious of the global influence of the kinds of racism that hit me today. Many are watching across the Nation to see how this relationship between the state government of Tennessee and its indigenous people develop.
Finally, it is projected that the major-, minority population in thirty years will increase tremendously, and including in that number are the indigenous people of this population and their number is projected to double. Why not keep the Commission? You're going to have to answer to even more people.
We watch with eager eyes the indigenous people of this continent dance, buy artifacts, enjoy their food, but walk away when we talk about the horrors done to indigenous people. We urge that you not walk away today. Drop this divisive attitude that's among the people of the many Nations, among the people of state government. Drop the behavior, the language and teach yourself, together.
I want you to listen to just one word from the Commission on the Elders, a spiritual message from the Native Nation's Native Elders. "As we stand before the God of the new millennium we pray for America's survival, our survival. We pray that we will be given strength by the Creator to follow the footsteps of our forefathers to share our love, respect, and compassion for one another. There is good in everyone because the Creator has put a little of himself in all of us. We pray for forgiveness for the pain and suffering we have caused one another. We pray for our children, who will not repeat our mistakes."
I'm going to end there, and say it doesn't matter how much drop of blood you have in you. I have mixed in me. ... I'm African-American of course, which is noticeable, more than noticeable. I have Cherokee, have Scotch-Irish. But none of that matters when we come to talk about how we come together as a Nation and forgive all of this pain. Thank you.
(Audience stands and applauds)
Rep. McAfee: Normally we here in committee would not have allowed that ladies and gentlemen, but that was deserved, rightly, the recognition of Ms. Smith, and I thank you. Melba Eades? And then I have one other person, Growling Bear, I believe, you wanted to be recognized. You will follow Ms. Eades. You're recognized.
Melba Checote-Eades: Thank you. Let me, I don't know if you couldn't read my name. My name is Melba Checote-Eades. I am a member the great Muscogee Nation, better known to European people as the Creek. My great-great grandfather was removed from Fort Nichol, Alabama in 1829. And I stand here a resident, a home-owner, a voter, and a member still of my Nation. I'm a Muscogee citizen.
What I want to say today is, I'm a representative of the Native American International Caucus of the United Methodist Church. United Methodist Church has the largest Native American population there in that denomination, and the Caucus speaks not only for the Church, racism among the Church, but for all Native Americans. We have representatives from every Nation, from every region of North America and South America's indigenous people. So I'm coming here today as a member of that national board.
In the local level here, in Tennessee, I am the coordinator of the Native American Gatherers Fellowship, which meets at West Nashville United Methodist Church. And I'm standing here today, standing as an indigenous woman in the new millennium. I would appreciate your consideration for us, the indigenous people. We are all tribes living here in the state of Tennessee. We come here from many places, from many walks of life, from many tribal areas, and we come here working in your state, paying your state taxes, owning property here, and we come here from wherever, but we are living here in the prosperity of this land. And we are voters here, and we want you to recognize the indigenous voice. Don't take our voice away, let us be empowered within ourselves to bring the voice of concern. And as the amount of people that come to this state, indigenous people are a large number of them. We're working people. I'm a professional, I'm a nurse and I work in this community. So remember us, don't take our voice away. Don't take away and be racist individuals, but let our voice be here. Thank you.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you. We have one more and then I'm gonna cut off, the speaking and the comments. Growling Bear you are recognized.
Growling Bear: Good evening and thank you for allowing me the time to speak. I come here and talk for myself, I speak for no Nation and no people. I am a member of the, the Cherokee represents and the Native American community. I think and know many of faces and the, the faces of the people that are here.
And my words I have to say is we need to talk about keeping this Commission. We do need to keep it because the Commission helps protect our ancestors and helps protect the young ones, the ones that are growing up and learning from our people and learning our ways. Many of us still celebrate our history and who we are. Many of us have to take and go out into the community and work to support their families. And there's many of us who are not of Native American blood, but take and learn our ways and speak our tounge, and so those people there cannot be denied the right to sit on this council also. So I disagree with the blood-quantum on this board, because it is not blood, the person's skin, or the color or who they are, its what's in their heart. If they have character for our people and our ways then they should be able to sit on this board. If they care for our ancestral ways, if they care for our young ones that are coming up. And ... that's the concern, not an agenda or who they are, or what they are going to be recognized by sitting on this board then therefore they should be allowed to sit there. If they think and have their own agendas and other schedules then they have no business on this board.
I agree for an active board, a board that's out here with the community and with the people, that's doing things for them, for our ancestors and for the young ones. But if this board sits and there's nothing that can be done then I disagree for having the board. Because if we don't, if the board cannot do anything then there's no need for it. But something does need to be there for not only a voice or a body and who we are as a people.
We need to be recognized as a people of this state, not as of the park services or of the other things or as just a minority. We are people, we are here. As its been said, we pay our taxes, we work our jobs. But that's what we need to do to survive in this world in this way. So I thank you and I ask you to recognize us as a people, recognize our voices, and that we are a part of this state, this country, as much as anyone else that are here. We take and we stand here, we stand our history. Our people helped out in many ways and many wars, and many different things that were took and done throughout all of our history in the state of Tennessee alone. We have took and we have suffered, we've had fun, we've enjoyed our lives, and we have to forgive and go on with what has happened to our past and our ways and our people. We have took and we went through very hard times and because of our ancestors, but that was just then. We cannot blame the son for what the father does. So I ask that you take and remember these things and remember that we need to take and to work together. We have a word that I know that many people know, aho mitakuye oyasin. It means we are all related, and so which means everyone that has the brothers and sisters I sit with in this room now. And we need to remember that and keep that in our hearts and speak from our hearts when we take and come to these things. We do not need to have a hidden agenda, or a place that we have to take and, that we need to learn and listen to what everyone has to say. I'm sure that everyone in this room has something in their hearts that they would like to stand up here and say. I know that some of them have jobs, they have to get back home, too, have families, have friends and other concerns and thank you.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you very much. Uh -
Lou White Eagle: Excuse me. Could I say something please? I came in late.
Rep. McAfee: One minute, please.
Lou White Eagle: (Comments inaudible)
Rep. McAfee: If you would, would you, I'm sorry I should've told you this before. Would you speak into the microphone so we can have your comments on record.
Lou White Eagle: Thank you. My name is ... Mahena (inaudible). I am a member of the Southern Cheyenne Tribe of Oklahoma and our people originated around the Great Lakes, around, Black Hills of South Dakota, and I've lived off and on 18 years here in the state of Tennessee.
And I remember one time in one minute, the United States Congress, they took 161, sovereignty of 161 tribes in one minute they voted. And those 161 tribes today they don't have no tribal sovereignty, they're still trying to fight to be recognized as Native American people.
And I am, I am not from here, but I do live in Nashville and my children go to school here, and I'm under the impression that since I'm not the tribe here then I don't belong here. But I am a citizen, I am a Viet Nam veteran, I fought for my country, I'm a combat veteran, and I, I try wherever I go I speak out, and one of the great concerns that I have on this Commission, I disagree with the leadership of this Commission. But I believe we do need this Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs, but the current leadership is what's failing. We need Native American people that will stand up and thatwill represent Native American people.
And so I come here today and say that we are in a Court of Appeals case right now that's about burial sites, and the Commission of Indian Affairs is in this court case, and if you get rid of this Commission of Indian Affairs, when we go to court, who's gonna represent us. It is a legal battle and it is gonna be continued on until we probably go to the federal court system.
So I come here today and I am for the Commission of Indian Affairs, but this current leadership is failing. We need better people to sit and speak up for our Native American people, and that will talk to Native American people and not just, just a single hand of people who say these people represent us. We are over 10,000 Native American people in this state. Why can't somebody call all the Native American people and say, you know, "What about these issues?"
Because its true, I come, I come away from my tribe because my tribe has 68% unemployment. And not only that but it's hard to live on tribal land and reservations. So we come away to like, different states, there's better opportunities, and so, when we do have someone to speak for us, you know, if, if, if you're gonna get rid of this Commission then, it's just like in one minute the United States Congress took away 161 tribal voices. Thank you.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you. I'd like to ask Mr. Toye Heape, Mr. Heape, you are the Executive Director of the Indian Affairs Commission. Were you in on the meeting that put together this compromise?
Toye Heape (Executive Director, Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs): I attended the meetings, but I, it was just to give, information and to answer questions. I didn't participate in the formulation of their proposal.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you very much. Mr., Clayton Prest, were you a part of this meeting and agree to these, the compromise that I have here?
Clayton Prest (Acting Chairperson, Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs): I ah, respectfully for your, misgivings in the death, my condolences.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you.
Clayton Prest: I was, not, I didn't know that it had been, I don't have a computer. I did not know that this was formulated or anything input, so I can't, make a statement on it.
Rep. McAfee: Okay.
Clayton Prest: I did have one remaining thing, it was understood that some party said that, I had talked about the sunset of the Commission. I have never made a statement in regards to that and if all of you members have read my, letter from the, position, we, passed on knowledge of a man by the name of Dr. McClure. I believe he sent you all a letter. He couldn't be here today.
A short history on Chapter 34. Was established 26th of May, 1983. It was moved from human resources to Conservation 15th of March, 1986 by legislation. Moved without being sunset. Therefore it's not necessary to sunset the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs to put it in a "new home" as was stated. There is no need to sunset it to reposition it. This is in the state government chapter and by legislation.
Today's focus is on one issue only -- continue the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs for another six years, about the renewal of the Tennessee, Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs. It is an essential unit of the state government. Until legislation has voted continuation, the agency's death will take place after that period.
I've heard a lot of people speak. I'll be very brief. I've been on this planet for three-quarters of a century. I helped develop the atomic system. I have stood in Hiroshima. My ancestors goes back to 1715 and my mother's maiden name was in Virginia and North Carolina. I have more blood-quantum than Many Trees said about the leader of the Nation for 39 years. I've been decorated, special unit, with (unintelligible) and had a son that is retired, was born in Nashville, Tennessee 45 years ago, one of the most decorated people you will meet.
But I want to really ask you to keep this Commission. I know a lot of people have problems with me and one thing or another but, I don't care, but, call me a white boy and everything else in the book. But I have put my heart 5 years to keep it, and worked. Thank you.
Rep. McAfee: Thank you very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have and, Ms. Garland talked about harassing and aggravatin' and this, that, and the other. You don't. That's what we're elected for. Your concerns should be the concerns of members of this legislature. Concerns of the people, of all the people of the state should be the concerns of 132 people who sit on this General Assembly.
I have material that the staff has worked on. I have a petition Mrs. Garland sent with, I believe you said 1400 names. I have a lot of things in front of me. One is "Let the People Speak" that I've had for a long, long time. Tennessee's Indian Council of History, an analysis of the development of Native American programs in Tennessee.
Somebody said something about Governor Sundquist not caring about Native Americans. Let me assure you that is entirely wrong. Governor, knowing that my deep-rooted feelings for Native Americans asked me to serve on the Trail of Tears Advisory Council under the Department of Commerce in Washington, and I have been on that Council for two years now, and serving a four year appointment. So I do have deep concern, and deep interest, and deep feelings for Native Americans. So the things I have said, maybe I said in haste and should not have said. But what I said, ladies and gentlemen, about getting along and working things out between you to accomplish and do the type of things that you ask that this Commission was set up to do, and that's to work for the best interest of Native Americans in the state of Tennessee, and that's what I would like to see you do. And I will point out one thing with all the things that have been said, if you can conceive it, and if you believe it, then you can achieve it, and I would like to see you do that.
I'm not, I'm not asking for your sympathy, sympathy this morning. My wife is attending a funeral by herself that I should be there, in our family. I'm not there because I told you and I told the leadership of this standing committee that I would be here and continue this and do what we had started a month ago. I'm not saying that for sympathy, I'm just telling you why I'm here.
This is the last official committee meeting that I will be a part of unless something happens. I'm ending my 24 years of service, sort of mixed, mixed emotions and mixed feelings about it. But this is my last hoorah, so to speak.
The things I'm gonna ask of you today, this Commission, this board has six months to go on the sunset, then a year of wind-down, which means it has another year and a half of existence. Ladies and gentlemen, what I plan to do is appoint some of you to work with attorney Standbrook and other members of the staff in determining some things that will be, in my mind and in the way I think, better for all Native Americans in the state.
Number one, I think you need to change your name from Board of Indian Affairs or Commission on Indian Affairs to the Commission on Native American Heritage. We've gotten away from Negro, we've gotten away from black, we've gone to African-American. We need to do that in this instance, from Indian to Native American. That's what I suggest - you consider a name change.
Another thing I would like for you to consider is seeking another, seek an agency or seek another part of government that you can be assigned to rather than the Department of Environment and Conservation. I think there is a position somewhere that this Commission would be better suited to be attached to. There's not gonna be, in my mind, and I've been here a long time, I've served on this Committee for 20 years. In my mind there's not gonna be a separate board set up. If there is, I'll be totally surprised. Its gonna have to be an appointment, or assigned to another board or another department.
The people that I would like to serve on this committee to work with Mr. Stanbrook and others: Toye Heape, Clayton Prest, Man Many Trees, Tom Kunesh, Tammera Hicks, Vicky Spitsfire Garland, John Anderson, and Ruth Knight Allen. Mr. Standbrook or some member of the staff will be in contact with you on getting' together to start working on some things that can make this board what it was intended to do and what it wants to do. Ladies and, Mr., I think Representative Westmoreland, did you want to make, add something to this, what maybe we might oughtta look in to?
Rep. Westmorland: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think that, that in order to, to insure, I guess, that the reform proposal meets with, state law that the Attorney General's office be notified and, and so it be able to work with them as far as the make up of the board is concerned. I know there are some questions Chairman Kernell had come up with earlier concerning that and I want to let, lets insure that, that once this is in place, it is Constitutional and, and will work in that fashion. I would, I would make that as a recommendation, Mr. Chairman, if you'll take that I'd appreciate it.
Rep. McAfee: So be it, and that will be, that will be done. Fred, if you would, contact the Attorney General's office.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you, thank you for your consideration and thank you for your time today. I know you've spent a, spent a lot of time and problems getting' here and I appreciate that. And if I seemed a little bit tough in the things I've said its because I care about you. That's the only way, the only reason. Uh, I can go home and if anything happens, you know, if it happens, it doesn't happen, life's gonna go on. It'll go on for you. But I would like very much somewhere down the road to read in the paper that this has been resolved and things are as they should be. Again, thank you. This meeting is adjourned.
[ the interjection "uh" has, for the most part, been removed from this transcript. ]
First Sunset Hearing 23 august 2000
first posted on NativeNashville <http://www.nativenashville.com>
first posted on NativeNashville <http://www.nativenashville.com>