State-recognized Indian groups a growing problem for Oklahoma tribes

State-recognized tribes are starting to get more and more of the funding “pie” available to their federally recognized counterparts, the president of the Delaware Nation of Anadarko said during a recent business luncheon in Oklahoma City.
by Andrew Knittle Published: May 6, 2012
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State-recognized tribes are starting to get more and more of the funding “pie” available to their federally recognized counterparts, the president of the Delaware Nation of Anadarko said during a recent business luncheon in Oklahoma City.

Kerry Holton, president of the Delaware Nation, told an Indian business group recently that “state recognition is growing” across the country. He said that some “tribes are blurring the line between state recognition and federal recognition.”

The problem with that, Holton said, boils down to dollars and cents.

“They're taking some of our pie,” he said of the billions in government aid provided to the nation's tribes each year. “That's our money.”

Holton told the business group that his main issue with state-recognized tribes is that “nobody has defined what that means, to be state-recognized.”

“There are 800 to 1,000 unrecognized entities out there,” he said. And only so much “pie” to go around.

Holton said larger Oklahoma tribes such as the Cherokee and Osage nations also are looking at the issue, but warned that something needs to be done at some point.

“Down the road, we're not going to be able to tell the difference between one another,” he said. “If we don't get engaged, it's going to sneak up behind us.”

Funding unknown

Not all states — including Oklahoma — recognize Indian tribes.

In fact, less than half do, most of them east of the Mississippi River.

How much money these state-recognized tribes get every year isn't known, although U.S. Rep. Dan Boren recently requested a study to find out. The Government Accountability Office, the agency that conducted the study, has released the report to Boren but declined to release it to The Oklahoman.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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