Outstanding history and analysis by Richard Thornton
Records and Origins of the Indians of the Apalachicola Reservations
Compiled by S. Pony Hill
“Apalachicola or Tulwa Thlocco (Big Town), a lower White Town of Hitchitee origin.”- “The Road to Disappearance” by Angie Debo
“So badly had the wholesale emigration of the Creeks and Seminoles been managed that a band of Apalachicola Indians were brought west and located upon the Creek domain. The Creek Chiefs reported their presence on their land and begged the government to furnish them with food, as they were “In a deplorable situation; a good many of them are naked and have no means by which they can obtain subsistence” (Letter from Opothleyahola to Armstrong, March 13, 1840).”- “The 5 Civilized Tribes” by Grant Foreman
“They speak the ancient Hitchiti language…The remnant Apalachicola (400 persons) were listed under their tribal name when they came to Indian Territory…They settled in the region south of present day Okmulgee…their ‘town’ (‘Tulwa-Thlocco’ or ‘Big Town’) was one of the forty-four tribal ‘towns’ comprising the Creek Nation (in Oklahoma).”- “A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma” by Muriel H. Wright
–Individual Reservations Granted on the Western Shores of the Apalachicola River by Treaty of 1832—
(1) TOTOIVITHLA – chief Econchatimicco (Red Land Chief)…total of 172 persons…a village of Hitchiti speaking Apalachicolas…removed to Oklahoma in early 1839.
(2) CHOCONICLA- Chief John Yellowhair or Nocose Yahola (Bear Singer)…total of 79 persons…a village of Hitchiti speaking Apalachicola Indians…removed to Oklahoma in late 1838. Note: John Yellowhair was replaced as head chief by John Walker (a.k.a. Emachilochustern) sometime between 1833 and 1837. Choconicla became known as “Walker’s Town”.
(3) ATTAPULGAS- Chief Tustanugge Hajo or Tuski Harjo (Crazy Warrior)…total of 97 persons…a town of Muscogee speaking Creeks from Alabama…removed to Texas in 1833. Note: Tuski Harjo had died shortly before the treaty of 1832. All of his tribal town members had merged onto the reserve of Chief Blunt. With no Indians living on Tuski Harjo’s reserve, the Government immediately negotiated for the sale of the reservation. The land was approved for sale to Jackson County resident S. Brown by Territorial Governor John H. Eaton who also appointed Peter W. Gautier jr. and Richard H. Long as “guardians of the estate of Tuski Harjo” to see that the chief’s widow and orphans were “treated fairly” while dispersing the old chief’s assets.
(4) IOLA- Chief Colonel John Blunt or Hothleboyar…total of 172 persons (including the former residents of Chief Tuski Harjo’s town)…a town of Muscogee speaking Creeks from Alabama…removed to Texas in 1833. Note: John Blunt immediately voiced his concern regarding his reserve being placed “so near his former enemies” (i.e. the Hitchiti speaking Apalachicolas). Blunt quickly negotiated for the sale of his reserve and “impatiently awaited removal”.
(5) SPANE WATKA- Chief “Old Cockrane” or Coa Thlocco (Horse)…total of 63 persons…a town of Muscogee speaking Creeks from Alabama…removed to Texas in 1833. Note: By November of 1832 Coa Thlocco and his family had already “gone to the Creek Nation, gone to a town called Tewathlee” and was no longer residing on the reservation. By April of 1834 Coa Thlocco was living in Louisiana where he brought suit against “John Blunt and Osiah Hajo or Davey” for not giving him his share of the proceeds from the sale of his Florida reserve land. By July of 1844 Coa Thlocco was living in Oklahoma as he is reported as once again leading a group of Indians: “Blunter’s Band, Chief Coathlocco, 114 members”.
1833: a total of 61 men, 30 of age women, 46 children, 24 slaves, 6 free Negros, and 5 elderly women.
Econchattimicco: Head Chief of Totointha…age 60 in 1833…owned all 24 slaves within the town (20 of these were “stolen by white men in 1837”)…arrived in Oklahoma in January 10, 1839 and petitioned under the provisions of the Indian Removal Act to be reimbursed for 73 acres of improved land, 2 mills, 14 thousand 280 fence rails 1 cabin, 1 storehouse, 1 corn crib, 1 summer house, 3 log cabins, and 1 shed.
Hepia Tustenugge: Second Chief…age 40 years in 1833.
Coosa Hatchee: Head warrior…age 40 years in 1833.
Billy Lumpkins or Fulma Hajo: son of Econchattimicco…age 35 years in 1833…arrived in Oklahoma with 2 family members in 1839.
Joe Miller or Lathlafixico: interpreter of the village…age 23 years in 1833…no record of emigration.
Joe Riley: a half-blood…grandson of Econchattimicco…age 15 years in 1833…became 1/3 owner of his grandfather’s reserve…property contained “a warehouse, storehouse and wood yard for steamboats and is the best public landing in Jackson County for steamboats”…arrived in Oklahoma with 6 family members in 1839.
“…the Indian village of Hitchetan, the chief of which, Ecouchatemico is also called the king of the red lands. He is an old man, bent with age, who has had his nose and ears cut off for the crime of adultery. This people who are generally called by the name Apalachicolas or Chattahouchis, are a branch of the Creeks or Muscogis, former allies of the Spaniards. They fought bravely against General Jackson, but since then have remained friendly to the whites and served as allies in the war against the Seminoles; their houses are covered either in bark or with palm leaves; their canoes are of the smallest size and made of tree trunks hollowed out. On going up this river in 1838 I was deeply impressed by the strange sight this village offered.” – “Essay on Middle Florida” 1838
–CHOCONICLA “Burnt House” later known as “Walker’s Town”—
1833: a total of 46 men, 23 of age women, 26 children, 1 slave, 4 free Negros, and 5 elderly women. It was reported that 14 individuals had died in the year since 1832.
John Yellowhair or Nocose Yahola: replaced Mulatto King as head chief…age 20 years in 1833…no record of his existence after 1833.
Isaac Yellowhair: was being held at dog Island by emigration officials in 1837 where they reported “…left his brother’s tribe before their emigration and joined Econchattimocco’s town.”…arrived in Oklahoma in late 1838.
John Harjo: Second chief…he was prepared to emigrate in 1833 but his wife wished to remain.
Vaccapachassie or Cow Driver or Mulatto King: former head Chief…his daughter was the wife of Chief John Blunt…not reported as alive in 1833.
Walker Packhassee: age 70 years in 1833…only individual in town who owned a slave…also included in this town was “Aischasehy, Walker’s son, age 10”.
John Walker or Emachilochustern: had replaced John Yellowhair as head Chief by 1837…was 2nd Lieutenant in “Richards’ Company of Friendly Indians, Mounted Florida Militia” which was mustered at “Walker’s Town – Jackson County”…arrived in Oklahoma with 126 of the Choconicla Indians on October 20th, 1838.
“Below the junction point, and still on the western bank, is another village of the Indians called Choakanickla, governed by a young chief who is called by the Americans John Walker, but whose Indian name is Emachilochustern.”- “Essay on Middle Florida” 1838
–IOLA or “Blunt’s Town”—
1833: a total of 67 men, 34 of age women, 58 children, 9 slaves, 4 free Negros, no elderly women. It was reported that 8 individuals had died in the year since 1832.
Colonel John Blunt or Hothleboyer: head Chief of Iola…age 60 years in 1833…his wife was the daughter of “Old Vaca” or “King the Mulatto”…owner of 8 slaves…his maternal uncle was Chief Red Shoes of the Alabamas…emigrated to Texas in 1833 where he was replaced as head Chief by Davy Elliot…his wife, “Susey” a widow in 1855, applied for bounty land in Oklahoma where she was listed in “Chocomicklar Town”.
Tuski Harjo: Second Chief…had died prior to 1832 at the age of 40….his wife and 2 children “wished to emigrate”…His widow, “Eliza” a widow in 1855, applied for bounty land in Oklahoma where she was listed in “Chocomicklar Town”.
Pocca Hajo: Warrior….age 20 years in 1833…married to Davy Elliot’s sister.
Old Adam: a free Negro…age 120 years in 1833…reported that “Blunt don’t want to take him away, and is not willing to go.”
Sampson: a free Negro…age 30 in 1833…executed by the Indians for rape and murder.
John Mealy: former head Chief of the “Ocheesee Ehohaslees”…age 30 years in 1833…owner of 1 slave…enrolled at Iola but remained at Walker’s Town when Blunt emigrated to Texas…John and 4 family members arrived in Oklahoma in 1838 where he petitioned under the provisions of the Indian Removal Act to be reimbursed for 4 acres of improved land left behind in Florida.
Jack Mealy of Tommy Hajo: age 25 years in 1833…enrolled at Iola but remained at Walker’s Town when Blunt immigrated to Texas…arrived in Oklahoma in 1838.
The report of Daniel Boyd, Superintendent of emigration for the Apalachicolas on October 20th, 1838 stated that “Blunt’s Indians were not considered to be part of the Apalachicolas” prior to Blunt’s emigration in 1833.
–SPANE WATKA or “Spanish Cow”—
1833: a total of 24 men, 17 of age women, 22 children, no slaves or free Negros, and no elderly women. It was reported that 8 individuals had died in the year since 1832.
Old Cockrane or Coa Thlocco (Horse): Head Chief prior to November 1832…removed north to the Creek Nation in late 1832…was living in Louisiana in 1834 and living in Oklahoma in 1844 were he was recorded as head of “Blunter’s Band, Chief Coathlocco, 114 members”.
Davy Elliot: age 46 years in 1833…replaced Coa Thlocco as head Chief in late 1832…also replaced John Blunt as head Chief upon the Band’s arrival in Texas.
Olatha Hajo: Second Chief…he, Concheteticcico and Conchatte were listed as the “immediate descendants and relations of Old Cochrane, dissatisfied with the treaty made by Davy and Company”. These were three nephews of Coa Thlocco who had remained in Florida when Old Cockrane went north to the Creek Nation. Old Cockrane eventually sued Davy and John Blunt in Court over the sale of the reserve land.
–Records of Blunt and Davy’s Band after Emigration to Texas—
The Indians of the Iola and Spane Watka towns emigrated to Texas to “a site on Penwau Slough (note: Penwau means “turkey” in the Muscogee language) two miles east of its junction with the Trinity River in the area of present day Polk County.” All of the Texas records reflect that this group of Indian under the direction of John Blunt and Davy Elliot were known as “Pakana Muscogees” and were not considered, or referred to, as “Apalachicolas”.
1859: The Pakana Muscogees were reported as living on property owned by Frenchman John Burgess, who had married a maiden of the tribe. It was stated that only 50 of the tribe remained, the larger portion of them having already immigrated north to Oklahoma.
November 12, 1866: The Texas Legislature passed an Act granting the “Pakana Muscogees of Polk County” 320 acres of land. The land was never purchased and the Pakanas remained on the Burgess property.
1882: Report stated that 42 Pakana Muscogees were living on the Burgess property in Polk County.
1899: John Blount, “acknowledged present chief of the Pakana Muscogee” and grandson of the original Chief John Blunt, removed into the Creek Nation in Oklahoma. Less than 10 Pakanas remained on the Burgess property.
1952: Houston Chronicle article reports that Johnas Davis (the son of Tillie Blunt and grandson of Chief William “Billy” Blunt) was still living on the site of the Burgess property in Polk County. He still possessed the silver eye-shield which had been presented to his maternal great-great-grandfather by Andrew Jackson.
–Records of the Apalachicola Indians after Emigration to Oklahoma—
March 6, 1839: Ft Gibson, Indian Territory…”Claims on the United States by the Apalachicola Indians who have emigrated west”…Claims under the provisions of the Indian Removal Act for property and personal improvements left behind in Florida: 228 ½ acres of land, 2 mills, 15 sheds, 9 corn cribs, 14thousand280 fence rails, 44 Indian style cabins, 4 white style houses, 150 fruit trees, 4 fences.
1847: Letter from John H. Broadnax stated that “Neah Thlocco is the present King of Tulwa Thlocco in the Arkansas District” of Indian Territory.
July 10, 1861: “Treaty of the Apalachicola Indians, Indian Territory, with the Confederate States of America”…”That the Apalachicola band of Indians, being by origin of the Creek Nation, long resided on the Apalachicola River, in what is now the State of Florida…thus done, signed, and sealed, at the North Fork Village, on the North Fork of the Canadian River, 10 July 1861”.
1882: Rolls of the Creek Nation, Indian Territory showed “Tulwathlocco Town” with Micco Henry Thompson.
1891: Census of the Creek Nation, Indian Territory showed “Tulwa Thlocco…population 171”.
Click to read the 1893 story. Followed them into the Okeefenokee Swamp…then gave up chasing them.
Many thanks to Patricia Ferguson for this Federal Recognition News
Click Here for link to this hearing.
House subcommittee hearing on land-into-trust turns heated
Thursday, May 14, 2015
|A bizarre and shocking scene unfolded on Capitol Hill on Thursday afternoon at a heated hearing on the land-into-trust process.Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the chairman of the House Subcommittee Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, set an ominous tone at the start of the proceeding when he singled out the National Congress of American Indians. He accused the largest inter-tribal organization of questioning his commitment to Indian Country.
“I don’t appreciate it,” Young said. “I know who’s involved and if you want to have open access to this chairmanship — as long as I sit here, I will be chairman — I’m going to suggest we play ball straight.”
Young insinuated that NCAI was going to face retribution for pouring “a lot of fire and gasoline on an issue that shouldn’t have been an issue.”
“To bring me into question does yourself a disservice,” Young said, singling out anyone from NCAI who was in the audience. “When I’m not happy, you’re not going to be happy either.”
Later on, Young turned against one of his Democratic colleagues. Rep. Norma Torres (D-California) questioned the motivation for the hearing — the title alone sowed doubts about the process that was authorized by Congress through the Indian Reorganization Act — and the chairman appeared to take insult.
“Divide and conquer has been the business of this subcommittee,” observed Torres, a new member of Congress who noted that the IRA ended the “racist and misguided” allotment policy that robbed tribes of 90 million acres between 1887 and 1934.
“I just want to assure the lady that this committee never divides and conquers,” Young said after Torres gave her statement and after she asked a few questions of Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“Whoever wrote that testimony I want to talk to them a little later on,” Young added, again implying a sense of retribution. “You did a good job of slamming the chairman.”
Young then shut off his microphone but continued to engage Torres. “I’m happy to come to your office” to discuss the statement, she replied.
“Why don’t you, instead of taking a shot at me in the committee,” Young said.
“You’re the one taking a shot at the people in the audience,” Torres responded.
At one point, it looked like Young thrust one of his hands in Torres’s direction, a few seats away on the dais. “Are you acting like you’re shooting at me?” she asked as the audience watched in shock.
The negative tone of the hearing appeared to come as no surprise to Washburn, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. Last month, he endured an equally pained proceeding in which some members of the subcommittee questioned the legitimacy of tribes that have successfully completed the BIA’s federal recognition process.
“Three weeks ago, when a fuselage was launched towards Indian Country, the other members who were present said nothing,” Washburn said during his testimony. “That worries Indian Country a great deal.”
“It’s on your conscience and it’s on mine if this attack on Indian Country is allowed to succeed,” Washburn added. “I don’t intend to stand idly by and let it happen on my watch and I ask the same of you.”
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), the only member of a federally recognized tribe in Congress, also questioned the motives behind the hearing. He took issue with a memo circulated by the Republican majority staff that described the General Allotment Act as a “humane” law that was designed to help Indian people break out of poverty.
Cole, whose ancestors were forced to walk the Trail of Tears to present-day Oklahoma, said that characterization couldn’t have been farther from the truth. The Chickasaw Nation, like many other tribes, enjoyed prosperity and maintained a well-functioning government before allotment destroyed everything, he told his colleagues.
“The Indians in Oklahoma were neither impoverished nor backward,” Cole said. “They were actually more progressive — they had their own governments, their own written languages, their own territory — they were all opposed to what happened to them.”
“The Dawes Commission was an egregious violation of every treaty that the United States had signed,” Cole said, referring to the federal body that stripped tribes of their land. “The Indian Reorganization Act was an effort to reverse that awful and tragic mistake.”
At the end of the hearing, Young tried to address fears that he was somehow questioning the legitimacy of the land-into-trust process. On the contrary, he said he supports a fix to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar.
“That’s really what we’re trying to solve here,” Young said.
The Obama administration, the National Congress of American Indians, the United South and Eastern Tribes and most other tribal organizations support a “clean” Carcieri fix. They want to ensure that all tribes, regardless of the date or method of federal recognition, can follow the land-into-trust process.
But a fix has been held up for six years amid concerns on Capitol Hill about gaming and other issues. The landscape becomes even more complex when state and local governments, plus community groups, are added into the mix.
Only one county representative testified at the hearing, which lasted about an hour and 24 minutes. Audio can be found on the Indianz.Com SoundCloud.
After the hearing ended, Torres offered her assesment on Twitter. “No intent to insult, only have a frank conversation abt serious issues,” her post stated.
Reps Trade Barbs Over DOI’s Tribal Land To Trust Process
Share us on: By Andrew Westney
Law360, New York (May 15, 2015, 6:25 PM ET) — The Republican chairman and a Democratic member of the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs exchanged sharp words Thursday over the panel’s role in overseeing the U.S. Department of the Interior’s land-into-trust process for Native American tribes.
During a hearing before the subcommittee on the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ procedures for taking land into trust for federally recognized tribes, subcommittee member Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., blasted the panel for allowing intertribal disputes to be aired during hearings, saying “divide and conquer has been the business of this subcommittee.”
Shortly afterward, subcommittee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, retorted, “I just want to assure the lady this committee never divides and conquers. Whoever wrote that testimony, I want to talk to them a little later on. You did a good job of slamming the chairman.”
The pair continued talking with their microphones off, with Torres saying she would “be happy to come to your office.”
“Why don’t you, instead of taking a shot at me in the committee,” Young said.
Torres answered, “You’re the one taking a shot at the people in the audience.”
Young then apparently pointed at Torres before raising his hand.
“Are you acting like you’re shooting at me?” Torres asked.
Young said that he was not.
The exchange came toward the end of the hearing, titled “Inadequate Standards for Trust Land Acquisition in the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934,” which saw BIA Assistant Secretary Kevin K. Washburn defending the DOI’s approach to taking land into trust amid Young’s criticism that the method suffered from a lack of uniformity, with different DOI secretaries applying different criteria.
“Let us pass a law so every tribal member in here has the right to know fully why it’s rejected or why it’s accepted, not have one tribe get it and the other tribe not,” Young said.
Young asked Washburn for a list of applications for taking land into trust that were accepted and denied, to compare then side by side. When Washburn said such a list wouldn’t show many that had been formally disapproved, as the BIA won’t act on many problematic applications or will ask tribes to withdraw them, Young said, “Don’t ever cross me that way, Kevin. If I ask you, you will give me that information.”
The combative Young also took a swipe at representatives of the National Congress of American Indians, saying they had communicated little with him but had put “a lot of fire and gasoline on an issue that shouldn’t have been an issue.”
“I know who’s involved,” Young said. “And if you want to have an open access to this chairmanship, and as long as I sit here I will be chairman, I suggest we play ball, straight.”
Young added emphatically, “Not once have I not served the American Indian and Alaska Native. To bring me into question does yourself a disservice. When I am not happy, you’re not going to be happy either.”
Earlier, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., objected to the word “inadequate” in the hearing’s title, saying the DOI’s current regulations have provided a “balanced, transparent and structured process” to give all parties a role in the decision-making on land-into-trust applications.
McCollum, along with Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., called for passage of legislation they co-sponsor to provide a so-called Carcieri fix, which would amend the Indian Reorganization Act to allow the DOI to take land into trust for all federally recognized tribes, not just those recognized before the law was enacted in 1934, as decided in the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar decision.
Representatives of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, respectively from Alabama and Oklahoma, appeared before the committee to discuss their dispute over land used by the Poarch Band to build a casino that the Muscogee claim as sacred ground, with the tribe’s representative calling for an exclusion of the Poarch Band’s gaming land from any proposed Carcieri fix.
The Muscogee have brought a pending suit in Alabama federal court over its claims that the Poarch Band obtained Hickory Ground, an historical ceremonial site, under false pretenses in 1980, saying it would preserve the land while eventually using it to build the $246 million Wind Creek Casino & Hotel in Wetumpka, Alabama.
Torres later referred to the “common practice” of intertribal disputes being discussed during subcommittee hearings.
Washburn said that very few land-into-trust applications during the Obama administration have had to do with gaming, but added that Congress has made clear that tribes in certain circumstances can have land taken into trust for gaming even if they weren’t recognized at the time of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act’s passage in 1988.
Washburn also backed congressional legislation as a way to straighten out problems for tribes and the government that the Carcieri decision has created.
“We’ve got a ‘full employment for lawyers act,’ basically, is what Carcieri is,” Washburn said. “So we’ve got a lot of lawyers that are having to look at every single new trust land application and make sure Carcieri does not pose a problem.”
–Editing by Edrienne Su.
Office of Congresswoman Norma J. Torres
PRESS RELEASE Contact: Anna González
May 15, 2015 Phone: (202) 225 – 6161
TORRES STATEMENT ON HEATED SUBCOMMITTEE EXCHANGE
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA) released the following statement in response to the May 14th Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs hearing:
“I am disappointed in the hostile tone the hearing took, but I find it more disconcerting that instead of focusing on the serious issues affecting Indian Country, this subcommittee is being used as a forum to air inter-tribal grievances. Rather than meddling in these disputes, the Subcommittee should be working to promote tribal sovereignty and self-determination throughout Indian Country.
“From an inflammatory hearing memo that seemed to defend some of our nation’s most egregious policies against Native Americans to this very hearing questioning the well-established authority of the Secretary to take land into trust for tribes granted under the Indian Reorganization Act, our Native American communities deserve better. I hope we can move on from this incident, and get on with the work we were sent here to do.”
A full video of the exchange can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Unxsf63S2XY. The memo circulated by the majority staff of the Subcommittee can be found here: http://naturalresources.house.gov/uploadedfiles/hearingmemoiian5_14.pdf.
The below info is thanks to Patricia Ferguson.
The Administration forwarded the Final Rule regarding the Federal Acknowledgement Process to the Office of Management and Budget for their review. The Natural Resources Committee has requested that the final rule be delayed: http://naturalresources.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=398228. Chairman Bishop asked that the Final Rule be pulled back after it was sent to OMB. At the hearing on April 22, 2015, the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn indicated that he will not pull the rule back.
According to the OMB website, the period for OIRA Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) review is limited by the Executive Order to 90 days. There is no minimum period for review. The review period may be extended by the head of the rulemaking agency, and the OMB Director may extend the review period on a one-time basis for no more than 30 days. The average review time for the 712 rules submitted to OMB during 2003 was 53 days.
A recent news article and information on the 4/22/15 hearing on the FAP are below.
Be on the lookout for the rule sometime before the end of July.
There is also a hearing tomorrow on Oversight Hearing on “Inadequate Standards for Trust Land Acquisition in the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.” Here is the link to the Hearing Memo. More details can be found here: http://naturalresources.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=398481.
‘Baseless and Fictitious Anti-Indian Rhetoric’ at Rogue Congressional Hearing on Fed Recognition
Gale Courey Toensing, Indian Country Today
The United South and Eastern Tribes, seven partner organizations and a federally recognized sovereign Indian nation have asked the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs to renounce the testimony presented at a recent oversight hearing by one of its invited panelists. The panelist, attorney Donald C. Mitchell, supported terminating the federal recognition of tribes he alleged were unlawfully acknowledged by the Interior Department.
On May 6, United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. (USET), the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the California Association of Tribal Governments, the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, the Inter Tribal Association of Arizona, the Maniilaq Association, the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, and the Native American Rights Fund jointly submitted a statement for the subcommittee’s record of its April 22 oversight hearing on proposed revisions of the federal recognition regulations.
“[Mitchell’s claim that] the Secretary of Interior has never been delegated authority to recognize Indian tribes—and [his] strong inference that such tribes should be stripped of federal recognition as their recognized status lack any legal merit,” the group wrote. “We refute that theory. We ask that the Subcommittee review this material [we have submitted] and disavow Mr. Mitchell’s testimony.” ICTMN has received a copy of the letter.
In his comments and 14-page written testimony, Mitchell, an attorney from Alaska, claimed that Congress never delegated its “plenary power” over Indians to the Interior Department or authorized the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs “to create new tribes” – an expression he used repeatedly that both misrepresents and disparages the formal procedure by which existing tribes are acknowledged. Because Interior acted without authority, Mitchell argued, the federal recognition regulations that BIA officials promulgated in 1978, the 1994 amendments to those regulations, and the current proposed revisions, “if they are published in a final rule. . . were and are ultra vires” – meaning they are actions taken outside of the powers or authority granted to them by law. Since 1978, the BIA has federally recognized 17 tribes. Mitchell urged Congress “to reassume control of the tribal recognition process.”
In his written testimony, Mitchell cited without censure Andrew Jackson’s sweeping policy of ethnic cleansing that was part of the 1830 Indian Removal Act, the Allotment Act, which destroyed reservations, and the termination policy, which aimed at erasing Indian identity through assimilation into mainstream American society. He also advocated for the use of “blood quantum” – a Euro-American strategy of genocide – to determine Indian identity.
The material submitted by the tribal organizations cited case after case in which court rulings and Congress itself have explicitly, implicitly and repeatedly acknowledged the Interior secretary’s authority to extend federal recognition to Indian tribes and affirmed congressional delegation of that authority.
It wasn’t only Mitchell’s testimony that was troubling, USET President Brian Patterson, a citizen of the Oneida Indian Nation, told ICTMN. There was the Hearing Memo, which echoes Mitchell’s claims that the Interior Department has somehow usurped Congress’s power to regulate Indian affairs. And there was a “negative” tone to the meeting itself, Patterson said. That negative tone began with the hearing title – “The Obama Administration’s Part 83 Revisions and How They May Allow the Interior Department to Create Tribes, not Recognize Them.”
Paterson noted that the subcommittee has scheduled an oversight hearing with another “troubling” title — “Inadequate Standards for Trust Land Acquisition in the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934” – on Thursday, May 14. “We’re troubled about that hearing as expressed in the title. We’re concerned about Mr. Mitchell seeing the light of day with his anti-Indian rhetoric that is baseless and fictitious. Our USET tribal nation family will not stand on the sidelines and passively watch as others attempt to dismantle and erode our inherent sovereign rights and authorities,” he said.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the hearing was the committee members’ lack of support for the tribes, Patterson said. “Not one of them stood up for the tribes or spoke out against Mitchell’s specious claims,” he said. “Congress has a responsibility to promote tribal self-determination. It needs to respect and protect our inherent sovereign authorities and rights.”
The tone of the meeting became particularly troublesome during an exchange between Natural Resource Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn. Washburn attended the hearing to provide an overview of the Interior Department’s efforts to improve the federal acknowledgment process. It’s an effort that’s been discussed for years, but not acted upon until Washburn unveiled a draft “discussion” proposal of revised regulations in the spring of 2013. The draft had been produced during Washburn’s first year in office.
Bishop grilled Washburn about whether he would “commit to pull back” the proposed revised regulations until the committee could conduct “the appropriate oversight and can address the concerns held by this committee and others.” The revised regulations are currently lodged with the Office of Management and Budget for review – the last step before a “final rule” is published in the Federal Register.
“Chairman, we’ve been criticized for moving too slow and you’re asking us to stop,” Washburn said. ‘We’ve been working on this for two years, so respectfully, I won’t commit to doing that.”
Bishop leaned forward, hunched over his crossed arms on the desk in front of him, and glared at Washburn. “One way or another we’re gonna push you until we do it the right way and whether it’s quick or not I don’t care,” he said. The exchange begins at 52:24 in the archived video of the hearing.
The hearing was set up as a forum to showcase opponents of the proposed federal recognition revisions. Panelists were by invitation only. The three invited tribal leaders – Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, Glen Gobin, vice chairman of the Tulalip Tribes, and Robert Martin, chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians – all expressed concerns that their nations may come into conflicts over resources if more tribes were to be federally recognized and fear that the proposed revisions would make it easier for other, perhaps “illegitimate,” tribes to gain recognition.
A key witness was Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who has been at the center of anti-Indian sovereignty activity for more than two decades. Blumenthal threatened to sue the Interior Department if the final rule does not meet his approval. Subcommittee Chairman Don Young (R-AK) invited Reps. Elizabeth Esty and Joe Courtney, two Democrats from Connecticut’s congressional delegation who have been coached by Blumenthal on Indian issues, to sit at the subcommittee’s table.
The only panelist supporting the revised regulations was Brian Cladoosby, appearing in his role of president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), not as chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Senate.
Some observers said they were dismayed by what they saw at the hearing. “This new committee tends to be far more hostile then we have seen in recent years. It is rather disconcerting. It looks like we are going into another era of termination, albeit ‘cloaked’ under feigned ‘good intentions,” said Rev. John Norwood, a councilman of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribe of New Jersey and co-chair of the National Congress of American Indians Federal Recognition Task Force.
Norwood warned tribes against falling victim to the government’s “divide and conquer” strategy. “Tribes thinking they are protecting their interests by allying themselves with Congress or federal agencies against other tribes have always found that when the smoke clears, they too have been the target of a government with a history that always tends to bend toward injustice against indigenous dignity and sovereignty,” he said. “Sadly, too many have not learned the lessons of history.”
Oversight Hearing on “The Obama Administration’s Part 83 Revisions and How They May Allow the Interior Department to Create Tribes, not Recognize Them.”
Wednesday, April 22, 2015 4:00 PM
Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs
1324 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515
Oversight Hearing on:
- “The Obama Administration’s Part 83 Revisions and How They May Allow the Interior Department to Create Tribes, not Recognize Them.”
- Hearing Memo
Witnesses and Testimony:
The Honorable Richard Blumenthal
United States Senator from the State of Connecticut
- Subcommittee Hearing Notice – April 14, 2015