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.”
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.
Requests by The Oklahoman to Boren's office to examine the report weren't granted.
One state-recognized tribe in North Carolina, the Lumbee tribe, does receive federal funding and has for years. The tribe, located in Pembroke, N.C., claims to have more than 50,000 members.
In February, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that the Lumbees would receive more than $13 million through an Indian Housing Block Grant.
The Delaware Nation received just $87,051 of those same housing funds, although they have far fewer members than the Lumbees.
The money is a large part of the tribe's funding, reported by local newspapers to account for roughly 90 percent of it.
Paul Brooks, chairman of the Lumbees, is protesting Boren's requested study and wrote a letter to the analyst who released the report to the congressman's office, according to The Robesonian newspaper in North Carolina.
“The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina requests that the GAO revisit this entire draft as it was written from the perspective of those who oppose state-recognized tribes,” Brooks said in the letter.
“This report should give a broader view of the need being addressed by the funds, not just the funds that are being provided to state-recognized tribes without any review of the percentage in relationship to all of Indian Country.”
An attorney representing the tribe also warned that any loss of federal funds would hurt the local economy.