We promised to publish a series of articles with regard to Kentucky State Tribal Recognition and why some groups want recognition. I will start off with the reasoning behind the fight for recognition by the Ridgetop Shawnee Tribe of Indians. We accomplished two passed House Joint Resolutions for recognition but were stopped, for two years running, by the State Senate. While two passed HJRs are great for tribal pride it meant absolutely nothing with regard to the law. We fought for recognition for the purpose of providing educational monies to people in Kentucky of Native American Heritage, we also had designs of establishing free clinics for our youth and elderly members.
There are many reasons tribes fight for "state" recognition. On a state level most of these reasons are entirely misguided or dishonest. We will begin by examining the different ways that non-tribal entities organize.
When examining a local or regional non-recognized tribe one must look a few aspects of the managerial makeup of the organization. First; does the tribe support a democratic process of electing members to leadership positions, or are all the leaders self-appointed? 99% of the time the leaders of a non-recognized tribal entity are entirely self appointed. They may advertise elections of some sort, but most of the time the leaders of a non-recognized tribal entity have no desire to conduct elections. Second; is the non-recognized tribal entity a nonprofit organization. 99% of the time they are, they almost have to be because there is no other "legal" way to raise money. In the Ridgetop Shawnee I made sure the nonprofit status was tightly controlled among a few people, namely myself and my lawyer. But there was an understanding that elections would be conducted once the tribe obtained a few hundred members, at that time the nonprofit entity would have been completely controlled by the "members" of the tribe not the "managers" of the tribe. So if there is no hint of Democratic process of electing leaders and the nonprofit is managed by "managers" and not "members" this should raise a red flag. There is also the royal bloodline of so-called chiefs and leaders, ensuring that the few people who control the tribal entity will always control the tribal entity. These types of non-recognized tribal entities should be avoided unless your interests are purely educational, then you "might" find what you are looking for.
Why do non-recognized tribal entities want "state" recognition? There is a huge difference between a federally recognized tribe and a state recognized tribe. The only thing afforded by the federal government to a state recognized tribe (as of 2007) is a racial classification code from the U.S. Census Bureau and the right to sell Native American Arts and Crafts. But the Obama administration has opened the door for many funding opportunities for state recognized tribes, from job creation, to other federally funded programs. This makes Federal Tribes really uneasy as monies are limited for the Native American Community. The overwhelming reason that non-recognized tribal entities want recognition is pride as most tribal organizations do not have the education or legal resources to exploit the multitude of funding opportunities. I witnessed this fact first hand with a well established state recognized tribe. The sad reason that some tribal organizations seek recognition is money.
In Kentucky there is no "legal" means for a non-recognized tribal entity to be officially recognized. The only route is to pass individual legislation through the Kentucky General Assembly, legislation that carries the weight of the law and simple resolutions will not accomplish this. The other way tribes "claim" to be recognized in Kentucky is by a Proclamation by the Governor, again this form of recognition does not carry the weight of the law, besides pride it means nothing. Currently the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission is attempting to pass legislation that will provide little for recognition, unless their tactics have changed, they are proposing to be the "authority", via a vote of the Commission, on who receives a Proclamation from the Governor and who does not. When I served on the Commission I found this route to be both laughable and ludicrous, I challenged the Commission way more than I cooperated with the Commission I was appointed to, by the Governor. This led to my resignation in protest as the motives of the leaders of the Commission were rooted in power, they had no desire to work with any tribe in Kentucky, especially the Ridgetop Shawnee. I used to call this the "I want to be the head Indian in charge syndrome." So I laughed and resigned.
So to close; Kentucky is not ready for state recognition, nor can I find any evidence that there is a tribe or organization in Kentucky ready to be recognized. We should NOT support state tribal recognition in Kentucky because it will only harm those who depend on federal monies to support their programs. Those people are federally recognized Native Americans. There are too many programs out there that can be exploited by state tribes. The other reason is the ignorance of state elected officials. There is no understanding of Kentucky's true Native American heritage. We seen this first hand in Tennessee as they recognized groups that have no idea who they are, and neither does the state.