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We're Still Here!
Many people are unaware of the fact that Tennessee has a large
American Indian population that is comprised of Federally recognized, State recognized, and Indians who are not enrolled,
yet they still carry the heritages of their ancestors. Tennessee's Indian population at the last census
was listed at 40,000, yet this number might not contain other Indians in Tennessee who did not self-identify as
Furthermore, the majority of the Indians reported in the census figures are most probably Tennessee
Indians who are not enrolled in any tribe since they are the grandchildren of the original Indian people who inhabited the
area that is now known as Tennessee.
Tennessee does not have any federal or state reservations and does not have a large identifiable federally enrolled
Indian population since there are few federal BIA services for Tennessee Indians. The BIA will only fund services in areas
where there are enough federally recognized Indians who can take part in those services. That leaves the majority of Tennessee's
Indians as state recognized or not enrolled.
TAIDA acknowledges the struggles of federally recognized tribes and their tribal members since the federally
recognized tribes are the last legal leg that Indians have to stand on. TAIDA is also requesting the support of federal and
state recognized Indians to help the thousands of Tennessee Indians who have been disenfranchised, who still struggle
on a daily basis for the right to survive as Indians.
There have been 500 years of struggles for Tennessee Indians to overcome, and much disenfranchisement
that has not always been purposely directed at Tennessee Indians, but which has been the result of certain
laws, customs and attempts of Tennessee Indians to integrate into the larger population for legal and socio/economic survival.
Examples of this disenfranchisement in the past, include the facts that Indians were not allowed to own their
own land or to testify in any court. They could not go to any court to have their injustices remedied, therefore, if they
could do so, the mixed bloods identified themselves as non-Indians as far as legal records go, while living as Indians in
their own homes and hidden communities. The mixed bloods were also known to hide fuller blood Indians in their homes or offer
to them employment on their farms. This was their way of offerering protection to their friends and relatives within the immediate
years following the Trail of Tears Removal of 1838.
However, today, all across Indian Country, new threats to the survival of Indian people are continuing the disenfranchizing
process that can do away with Indian people in the future if this is allowed to continue. Indian people and non-Indian
people need to address this serious issue that affects us all.
An example of how disenfranchisement results from legal measures can be seen as we look at how various tribes
all across this land are in the process of culling members and throwing their tribal members off of the rolls because of the
effects of casinos and the "Per Capita Indian" mentality that has taken over.
Beginning in the late 1800's and continuing into the early 1900's, this process of enrollment was
initially instituted to restrict and decide who was allowed to receive money or land from the government.
Enrollment has usually been about money and it still continues to be, in many instances, about money or "benefits".
However, the enrollment process has taken on a more hidden role of determining who is and who is not American
Indian. While tribal sovereignty should be exercised, and tribal enrollment is a process that is ultimately decided upon by
tribal councils (who then must report their decisions to the BIA), it is not up to any tribe to determine the ethnicity of
it's blood descendants who do not meet enrollment criteria. It is up to the tribes to determine solely their tribal membership,
but not within their jurisdiction to determine the cultural affiliation of any person.
There are thousands, or perhaps more, Native American Indians of all degrees of blood quantum who cannot
meet tribal enrollment criteria, some of whom are full blood Indians, yet they do not meet one specific tribe's degree
of blood quantum since they are of a mixed tribal heritage. To further clarify this strange situation, is the example of a
child who is of two different tribes can only be enrolled in one tribe. That child will be enrolled as a half-blood in
one of his/her tribes even if that child is a full-blood Indian. If that "full-blood, half blood" marries outside
of either of his/her tribes, the children that result from that marriage will be only one quarter on paper, yet might be full-blood
Indian. And so it goes until the blood is diminished on paper. This strange process that started many years ago is
still occurring today, and is the cause of the disenfranchesement of many Indians, both rural and urban. In many cases, these
Indians are disowned by their own blood relatives simply because of the imposed legal definition of who is Indian, instead
of the social definition of who is Indian.This has led to much division and arguing about who is Indian and
who is not Indian.
To elaborate further, many of these desenfranchised Indians are also the grandchildren of Indians who refused
to agree to tribal enrollment because of the effects of the Dawes Act and how that Act of Congress was an attempt to do away
with all tribal lands and tribal governments (the Dawes Act did accomplish this objective, but later on the IRA, Indian Reorganization
Act, re-established many tribal governments). Some Indians are also adoptees who cannot access their own court
records, yet they are known to be Indian and are accepted members of the Indian community either on a reservation or in an
urban Indian community.
The September/October, 2005 issue of Native People's magazine states it very well in an article authored
by America Calling's Patty Talahongva, Hopi: "For every single person who walks this earth, the question 'who am I?' remains
basic and yet complex...there is no single right answer, and there is no single wrong answer...the definition of being Native
American or American Indian depends upon who you ask. But make no mistake, there is no issue of greater complexity and importance
before Native peoples today than the question of who is an Indian and how that is determined".
We can look to the past and learn from our past mistakes, as we learn about the facts and the histories
of Tennessee Indians, illegal treaties, or other ways in which their lands and homes were swindled and stolen
from them, and ways in which their grandparents managed to survive in the hostile environment of the past. Tennessee
Indians can take those lessons into today, and use them to learn how to continue their survival as a distinct and
The history of any People cannot be re-written, and nothing that has occurred in the past can be erased, but
without a clear knowledge of the history and how people have gotten to the point where they are today, they cannot know how
to deal with the future.
All people who are affected by the legacy of the desenfranchisement of Tennessee's Indians need
to help each other and learn ways to cooperate and make the necessary changes to help Tennessee Indians recover their cultures
and live their lives as they deserve to live. Both Indians and non-Indians can work together to help develop
and strengthen the entire Indian community in Tennessee.
Community development at every level is one way in which American Indians can take control of their own social,
political and economic development. TAIDA is one of many concerned organizations all across Indian Country that is working
strengthen and develop our communities. TAIDA networks with American Indian organizations that have the development
of all Indian communities as their goal.
Please take a few moments to look around our site, and check back often as changes and updates are made.
All material appearing here or on any other page on this website is distributed without profit or monetary
gain to those who have expressed an interest in receiving the material for research and educational purposes. This is in accordance
with Title 17 U. S. C. section 107.