[First] Sunset Review Hearing of the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs
before the Agriculture and Natural Resources Joint Sub-committee of the
Tennessee State Legislature's Government Operations Committee.
23 august 2000, 10:30 am CST. Legislative Plaza, Room 14. Nashville

Transcribed by the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs from the audio tape recording of the hearing made by the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Chairman - Representative Bill McAfee
Sub-committee Members present: Representative Mike Kernell and Senator Tim Burchett

Rep. McAfee:   The next agency is the Commission on Indian Affairs. Mr. Tom Callery, Commissioner Hamilton you are giving the report instead of Mr. Callery? OK, well, are we going to call in the second team here?


Commissioner Hamilton (Milton Hamilton, Commissioner of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation):  You're right about that.

Rep. McAfee:   Commissioner, you're welcome.

Commissioner Hamilton:   Mr. Chairman, since I became commissioner back in '96, the location of Indian Affairs has been a constant concern of my department. We recommended three years ago in the budget that they be given their own budget, and not come through our department because it really doesn't fit within our department. And consequently as far as we're concerned, as far as the sunset, with our department, we are prepared to recommend to you that you do sunset it at the present time and give the Indian Affairs group at least a portion of time where they can decide where they best fit and get their own budget to be administered throughout our department.

We have an extremely hard time in our department in getting the boards appointed, because there is some argument within the framework of the boards about who can be appointed because of so much percentage of Indian blood whether you're, whether you have ten percent , twenty-five percent or what. Consequently that board right now is only dealing and operating with only three members as I understand it, and Clayton Prest is here as chairman. I discussed this briefly with him before and what we want to do is from our department is to separate this out from our department and recommend as far as we're concerned a phase out, so that within a year or so of the phase out they can come to you and others and try to make themselves a home that would be beneficial to them and maybe get all the different Indian factions together and resolve some of the differences so that we all know where they're goin' rather than infighting so much.

Rep. McAfee:   Thank you Commissioner. Are there any questions of Commissioner Hamilton? Representative   Kernell just happened to have a question, Commissioner Hamilton.

Rep. Kernell:   I've got one question. Do you, is there a relationship between your department and federal Bureau of Indian Affairs through this board, or is it, or does it just not   exist?

Commissioner Hamilton:   I would have to ask Mr. Prest about that because from our perspective we're dealing with it as strictly a Tennessee institution trying to help them resolve their difficulties, but I'm sure there's a relationship as far as what the national would say constitutes Indian blood and the amounts that they have to have in the various categories to serve and receive benefits so I prefer to defer that to Clayton.

Rep. Kernell:  O k. But what I was wonderin' is , if this board were sunset would there be any federal relationships, contracts, or events, that would have to go to your department or another department?

Commissioner Hamilton:   I don't know of any. It came to us from Human Services, I believe it did, at one point in time. So it's fit in several different places, but they really need to find a home for themselves where they can operate in the category that they need to operate. But first they've got to resolve their differences first.

Rep. McAfee:   Thank you Commissioner. Mr. Clayton Prest, who is acting chair of the Commission of Indian Affairs. Mr. Prest, you're recognized.

Commissioner Prest:   Regards to the federal, the only connection we do have is we've made connection with Civilized Tribes to work with 'em on certain problems within the state. The Commission itself is independent from the federal. It's a state Commission and represents -- tries to represent - the greater portion of the Native people, or the ones that want representation from it. And I think if you've all read what I wrote, there need to be some corrections and revisions on the chapter so that we can go ahead with the appointments. And I'm recommendin' that a member from the Senate and the House of Representatives be put on it to work with us.

The population is increasing within the state and what the census is gonna show up, I don't know. I heard the other day on television what normally was, oh maybe twelve hundred listed in Nashville, the statement was made it was six to seven thousand. So, if this is going to expand this way, we need a, a good Commission. We need more funding. We only have an Executive Director, doesn't have a secretary, and tries to handle everything he can, and the members -- I personally take a lot of calls and take it, that never goes on the records.

So, this is where we stand. We cannot operate with three people because of the requirement of blood, and getting' those appointments, and two of them have to be present for the Commission to have a quorum. So this has kind of had our hands tied for some time. One vacancy I believe is about eighteen months, the last one since June.

I'll be glad to try and answer any questions you have in regards to this.

Rep. McAfee:   All right. You have two vacancies?

Commissioner Prest:  True.

Rep. McAfee:   The law says that they will be what, twenty-five percent Native American? Two of these members ---

Commissioner Prest:   Right.

Rep. McAfee:   At least two members have to be twenty-five percent?

Commissioner Prest:   Three - three members.

Rep. McAfee:   Have to be twenty-five?

Commissioner Prest:   Right.

Rep. McAfee:   Ok.

Commissioner Prest:   The two vacancies are twenty-five.

Rep. McAfee:   Ok. Those are the two vacancies?

Commissioner Prest:   Right.

Rep. McAfee:   Ok. You have one person on there now who is twenty-five percent?

Commissioner Prest:   Right.

Rep. McAfee:   Ok, ok. All right. Any questions, further questions for Mr. Prest? Senator Burchett.

Sen. Burchett:   I'm curious. What do you think this commission or board should accomplish? I'm not just -- educate me on this issue cause I'm totally out in the dark.

Commissioner Prest:   Ok. (sneezes) Excuse me -- sinus weather.

Sen. Burchett:   And I would say briefly.

Commissioner Prest:   I don't know whether you've read the report - that we are hoping to accomplish is to set up an educational fund which we was gonna try and do. Make available the things that the Natives need. And its, many of 'em, it's a very unique situation when you get into the Native culture that they do not go to this extent with them that they need to go in certain things. They have been, it goes back in history, I'll put it rather shortly that they have been pushed down for so long, and tryin' to come up now. Many of 'em's afraid to come forward. They're afraid of the situation, they're gonna be turned away by government, and we're hopin' to bring this out, have a central focus point for them which would be the Commission. And we've been workin' on environment, burials, help people, and situations, and I think in the report it said where we've worked with the state, the police, park departments, in situations where there was burials or artifacts. And this is very, very touchy with the Native people.

Sen. Burchett:   I understand that. I was involved with a mound there in Knoxville. There was a bridge that was bein' built and we tried to fight it to keep it from bein' built over it. You know, I made the - it was quoted in the paper, " I don't want anybody diggin' up my grandparents either," you know, and I understand what you're talking about. And I'm kinda personal to ya because my father fought with some Indian folks in the Pacific -- the Code Talkers. I'm sure you've --

Commissioner Prest:   Right. My wife is a member of the Choctaw tribe.

Sen. Burchett:   Choctaw, that's right.

Commissioner Prest:   Which is Code Talker.

Sen. Burchett:   Right. Right. They saved a lot of American lives so I understand. I have a -- you've got a friend in my father. So I, I've kind of gotten interested in these issues. So you're wantin' to keep the Commission alive -- is that

Commissioner Prest:   I definitely would like to see it be kept alive. I'd like to see it expanded and like Mr. Hamilton said, and we've discussed this and looked at it, is to come independent and get sponsors to keep it goin and get a budget like I say a secretary, an office area more accessible maybe than the buildings here.

So these are some of the things that I look at, I work with. I have been invited twice to the Shiloh National Park where a lot of destruction was goin' on, both to the mounds and the military. I've been down there, I worked with 'em. Initially the Seminoles and the Chckasaws called me at home requesting me to work with 'em at Brentwood burials and such, and out of that in October I believe of eighty, or '98, the five civilized tribes sent representatives here to Nashville to meet with TDOT, Archaeology, and our Commission. And we've since had a lot of contact with 'em. We do act as a buffer zone. They have accepted us to coordinate between the Nations and the state.

Rep. McAfee:   Thank you very much, I appreciate it. Any other? Seeing none, we have eight people who have submitted names that they would like to make comments. Ladies and gentlemen, as I said, I'm going to limit it to three to five minutes. And you know, the thing to me is, I've been around a long time, and there's no need in all of us sittin' here and everybody havin' or sayin' the same thing over and over again. So if you would confine your comments to what you're interested in, not to what   that other person has said. We don't need to be hearing everything over and over again two or three times. Mr. Joe White? You're first on the list, if you would come to the microphone please, sir. You're from Lawrence County, am I correct?

Joe White:   Yes sir.

Rep. McAfee:   Ok. Thank you.

Joe White:   Osiyo. I am Joe Harlan White, I am the chief elder for the Cherokees of Lawrence County, Tennessee. According to the United States Bureau of Census, there's supposed to be sixty-seven Native Americans in Lawrence County, Tennessee. Well, we know of over five hundred in Lawrence County. And we are organizing, and are well organized. And so there is statistics are totally incorrect and ya'll have been working on statistics that just are not any good. And its better for the state of Tennessee to be prepared, for Native Americans are coming out of the closet. We're seeing this all the time. It is time for the prophecies to be fulfilled. The Cherokees are going to make a major comeback.

We need a strong, reinforced department of Native American affairs. We will need assistance and we will need to serve as assistants for the state of Tennessee. The Davy Crockett Parkway is going through Lawrence County, as ya'll know, and as well as recognition for the Trail of Tears from around Monteagle through Giles County, through Lawrence County, on over to the Tennessee River, and through this we have Bell's route, which is a historical Trail of Tears route, Benge's that goes through all these counties and Lawrence County. Benge's route goes through Giles County, and of course there's the river route that's just fifteen miles from the border in the southern part of the state. This will be of major importance to the state of Tennessee for tourism and historical significance. Also planned is an authentic Cherokee village in Lawrence County, Tennessee. We have this in plans and we're gonna need some help and assistance in this.

We would like to see a dramatic increase in funding and staff for the department of Native American affairs, and this is absolutely critical. We plan on keeping them busy. So, wado.

I have here, my chief could not be here because her mother is ill, and may I read hers, she is next on the list, her statement?

Rep. McAfee:   Yes.

Joe White:   Gentlemen -- (excuse me), Gentlemen, I am Vicky Spits Fire Garland. I am chief of the Cherokees of Lawrence County, Tennessee, of the Sugar Creek Band of the SECCI. I come before you today to speak on behalf of our organization for that of the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs.

We have petitioned for state recognition as a tribe. So without the Commission, we have no one to turn to. So I am speaking for our band, please keep the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs. They do a great service to the Native Americans here in Tennessee. Mr. Toye Heape has been a great help to all of our members. We need a commission to help take care of the problems of the Native American community here in the state. If we get our state recognition, we will need the commission as a go between between us and the state of Tennessee. We have a hundred and forty seven members and we need someone to look after us. What we are supposed to do -- What are we supposed to do if we get rid of the Commission of Indian affairs? If we have any questions now, we go to the Commission, and if you do away with it we will be tormenting everybody at the Capitol, just trying to get answers. So please keep the Commission of Indian Affairs alive and active, and thank you for your time.

That is from, that is from Chief Garland. Thank you.

Rep. McAfee:   Pass along our thanks to her if you would and thank you Mr. White.

Pat Cummins, Hermitage, Tennessee? Mr. Cummins, Alliance for Native American Indian Rights. You're recognized, go ahead.

Pat Cummins:   Thank you.

Sen. Burchett:   (Pointing to Mr. Cummins child) I see you've brought your cheering section.

Pat Cummins:   Yes. Yes sir, that is -- for moral support, right. (laughs)

Again, my name is Pat Cummins. I'm president of the Alliance for Native American Indian Rights in Tennessee. (Thank you) Our organization is charged with the responsibility of looking after our sacred sites such as burial grounds other significant archaeological sites throughout the state of Tennessee, mainly concentrated in the Middle Tennessee area.

The commission has been just of the utmost help in helping us to secure a voice in the court systems over the last couple of years. I addressed a letter to the sub-committee, actually to you, Senator Davis, or to Senator Davis actually, and basically it goes into detail that without the Commission's help the religious rights and spiritual beliefs of the Native people of Tennessee would've been overlooked once again. The judge approached the Commission early on in a termination hearing in Williamson County and asked the commission "Who do you recognize as being an interested person, or persons, in this case?" And the Commission of course supplied the names of numerous individuals who were then contacted about being able to come to court and testify in opposition of a termination hearing.

So what I'm saying is, the Commission is doing what it was designed to do. It was designed to look out for our spiritual beliefs and our cultural beliefs, traditions. And Toye Heape has done more since he's been in office than anyone since the creation of this commission. He has done an outstanding job single-handedly, with the support of the commissioners, of course, in enacting, oh, different means of keeping people informed as to what's going on in Tennessee as far as the Indian community is concerned. He makes a serious effort to do his job, and does it very well.   Without having contact with the commission, and Mr. Heape, you know, the Indian community would not be aware of certain things that do happen that we need to know about. He's a very good person in regard to keeping the Indian community informed.

And again, if you wouldn't mind, I would like to just read through this letter I addressed to you, very quickly. It says: Dear Senator Davis -- this letter is in response to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Joint Sub-committee review of the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs. As we understand it this review is designed to evaluate the need and/or the continued existence of this agency. By unanimous vote of the officers and the board members, board of directors, the Alliance for Native American Indian Rights of Tennessee, we strongly support the role of the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs and its current Executive Director, Mr. Toye Heape.

 The Alliance for Native American Indian Rights of Tennessee is a state chartered, non-profit corporation founded twelve years ago by Tennessee Native Americans to address the issues of grave desecration and sacred site preservation. If the Commission were eliminated, Native Americans of this state would no longer have any formal representation working towards the advancement and preservation of our traditional cultural, spiritual, and economic status. This agency has played a vital role in helping the Indian people in the state of Tennessee to finally address our continued concern over the mistreatment of our ancestor's graves in both local Chancery Court and Tennessee State Appellate Courts. Until last year the religious rights and spiritual beliefs of indigenous people had long been ignored by the courts of this state and are now finally being heard by the Appellate Court. This is due in large part to the efforts of the Commission of Indian Affairs and its Executive Director, Toye Heape.

Furthermore, if the Commission were to be eliminated, this would be considered a direct denial by lawmakers that Indian people do not exist in the eyes of the state. Almost all states have an agency established to address the needs and concerns of it's minority citizens. There is a large population of both full-blood and mixed-blood individuals who call Tennessee home. If you do away or abolish the Commission you are saying to us that we are not important enough to be heard.

Our people have many issues that need to be addressed, not only the issues that concern this organization, but many other educational, social, and economic issues as well. There are many ways that this Commission aids and assists Indian people, as well as provides information for non-Natives about Tennessee's Indian history and other educational opportunities and special events. The loss of this state agency would be a devastating blow to Tennessee's Native people. Please consider the negative impact that this would have on our community. The Indian people of Tennessee need the Commission of Indian Affairs.

Rep. McAfee:   Thank you Mr. Cummins, I appreciate that and -

Pat Cummins:   Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity

Rep. McAfee:   Thank you for taking the time to come.

Pat Cummins:   Ok. Thank you, sir.

Rep. McAfee:   Is it Monica Armstrong? Is that the name? I hope I'm doin' right. Thank you. And you are from Nashville? You're recognized, go ahead.

Monica Armstrong:   All right. Dear Senators, Representatives, members of the Sunset committee, I thank you for the opportunity to come and address you here at this meeting. And I have come to present my comments today as a Davidson County resident and a Cherokee descendant in regards to the TCIA. I hope that you will receive my words with an open mind and open heart.

I am one of the few Native Americans present here who was born and raised in Tennessee. I am in my latter thirties and in my residency here for these thirty years or so I am aware of only one accomplishment that the TCIA has to their credit. This was shortly after the TCIA was formed back in 1983. Their actions created Section 4-34-202, eligibility for minority based benefits for Native Americans. Since that time I am not aware of any successful efforts put forth by the TCIA, nor has any been communicated to the community. In fact there is no established reliable means by which the agency's activities and efforts are disseminated down to the community to which it's supposed to serve.

The TCIA has not fulfilled it's purpose as established in Tennessee Code 4-34-104 of quote, dealing fairly and effectively to bring local, state, and federal resources into focus for the implementation of continuation of meaningful programs for Indian citizens as needs are demonstrated and to prevent undue hardship. If the TCIA's actions are not known and felt by the community, supported by the community and can show tangible benefits that can be seen by the Native American community, how can it be serving it's purpose?

The commission also is not quote, work to assist Indian communities in social and economic development and promote recognition of the rights of Indians to pursue cultural and religious traditions considered to them to be sacred and meaningful, as also stated in the code. I can only say that one request of leadership and community involvement was answered by the commissioner, by a commissioner. Cubert Bell, commissioner representing Middle Tennessee responded to my organization's request to bring our local Native American organizations together to discuss the creation of a Native American community center here in Nashville. I am aware that the current director is involved in several graves and reburial issues, much as he was as president of the Alliance of Native American Rights organization. I am also aware that this takes up most of his time, and is given his full attention. I am not aware of any activities affecting the community by the remainder of the Commission.

Any organization, agency is only as good as those who run it. To this we can account for any success or failure of an organization or agency. To be more specific, I feel that the unproductiveness of the TCIA is due to the wrong individuals chosen to implement the office's duties and goals. The agency of the TCIA is needed and it's goals well merited, but the correct leadership is lacking. In light of this, I recommend that this review board, that the procedure and the elective process that the commissioners, director, and chairman are chosen be changed. The new process should be by means that solicits input from the people for which they will be serving.

The appointments of several of the commissioners has been a topic of much controversy in the community as a whole and especially in the area of Tennessee for which they are seated. I speak for myself and possibly others when I ask for the removal of Mr. Clayton Prest from the TCIA. Mr. Prest can show no past or present productivity as a commissioner or a chairman. The Native community feels that Mr. Prest exploits his personal relationship with the governor to keep his appointment and to seat others on the Commission that align themselves to his agenda. Through conversations with Mr. Prest, observing his actions at Commission meetings input from members of the community and other commissioners, this man does not represent the Native American community nor it's needs. There are many that say he has a hidden agenda to seat only his cronies on the Commission so that they can push for the state recognition and priorities of a small, eclectic minority. One only has to do an audit of his affairs as commissioner to find whether he has or has not been productive in his role. Again I recommend the removal of Mr. Clayton Prest from the TCIA and that future directors, commissioners and chairmen go through a process that solicits input from the Indian community for which they serve. I believe that the TCIA is a necessary and needed agency of the state. I ask that it remain in existence as an agency. I believe with new leadership and the aforementioned recommendations that there is no doubt that the TCIA could perform to the fullest extent its purpose and mission.

And if you would like this letter you may have it.

Rep. McAfee:   Thank you very much. And we appreciate you takin' the time to come. Sheila -- you'll have to tell me how to pronounce -- is it Totten? Ok. You're recognized, go ahead.

Sheila Totten:   Ok. Thank you. This should not become a mud-slinging forum. And what I had come here to say, unfortunately, because of what was said just in front of me has been changed.

 I'm a member of the Aniyunweya Nation of Tennessee. Several years ago, we had a unity council. Mr. Prest has helped us try to unify Native Americans throughout this state. Miss Armstrong showed up there and she was, well, I can't think of the word right now, but let's put it this way. Her credibility was questioned, she represented herself as a member of a Native American Ministry group trying to set, get funds for a program of theirs while she was trying to write a book. We have had her - what she has just said about Mr. Prest is sour grapes because he investigated. And there are many of us in the Native American community who know this.

Mr. Prest is someone that we have always been able to call when we have had questions or issues, just as we can call Toye. They have worked very hard, and as a Native American, resident of Dickson County, and a qualified voter in this state, I take what Miss Armstrong has said as an offense against our commission. It has me all fired up emotionally right now, that everything that I intended to say to you has just gone out of my head.

I have seen these men work hard. I have seen Mr. Prest work on matters above and beyond the call of duty. And to think that here is someone who has been questionable in our community, could come and make remarks about him the way she has, it is an insult to all of us who have worked for unity, who have worked to preserve our ancestors, who have worked to help bring education about our people. Its just a terrible thing.

This shouldn't have been for this. This should have been for why we need the Commission. It is our link to government in this state. The Commission speaks for us. The Commission has spoken for us. The Commission has been crippled for the last eighteen months because all the qualified applicants that they've sent in, there's been no action done on the applications. That's not the Commission's fault - that goes beyond the Commission. We have applicants who have applied for those positions -- nothing's been done on it. You cannot fault the Commission for this. They are doing everything they can. And they are our mainstay, they keep us together, and I for one, as a Native American woman, as a registered voter, would like to see this Commission kept viable. We need it, our people need it. And as I said, these two men especially have worked so hard, and Mr. Prest, from day one he's battled odds against people that weren't int- , who were on this commission prior and weren't interested in furthering the rights of Native American people. Thank you.

Rep. McAfee:   Thank you ma'am. Edna -- is it Fay or Foy? Fay? Ok. And she is from Nashville, Native American Indian Association. You are recognized and you're welcome.

Edna Fay:   Thank you, and thank you, the rest of the committee. I have not much to say because as a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw, I am a full-blooded Choctaw. I've lived in Tennessee all my life. I have families here that live in Tennessee.

And the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs was created back in the early eighties to help the Indian people here in the state of Tennessee after the initial assessment and find out that there were quite a few Native Americans here in Tennessee. But since it's creation not much has been done by the Commission. And I was only a small child then when that happened, but as I've grown older and met with the people that has been here throughout these years they've all told me that nothin' has happened, they haven't heard from the Commission.

And really the Commission was created, this bill was created to create service for the American Indians, both state and federally recognized Indian tribal members, not to create new Indians. And since its inception the most that I, we have heard, and I still do,   I'm from West Tennessee originally and I do keep in contact with my people in West Tennessee and that's what they're sayin', is that the Commission is not doin' what its supposed to do.

And to create new Indians is what they're really tryin' to do. According to the -- excuse me -- according to the Federal Registry, Indian means an individual who is a member of a tribe, band or other organized group of Indians, including those tribes, bands, and groups terminated since 1940 and those recognized by the state in which they reside. A, a descendants in the first or second degree of any individual described in paragraph A of this definition. B, considered in the same of this - I'm sorry -- considered by the Secretary of Interior to be an Indian for any purpose, or an Eskimo, an Aleut, or other Alaskan native. And this is from the federal registry volume 48, number 150, August 3rd, 1983.

And to me the, and I, as I represent Native American Indian Association, I have been with this program well over ten years and, and we have found that a lot of the Commission's problem is to find who the Indian people, to serve on this board, and I think that once, if they could go back to it's original creation as to why they were created and put the people there that who are supposed to be servin' on these committees, and to recognize who these Native Americans are. I think that the Commission is well needed, and I think it would be on its road then, but unless you do so, according to the people, my tribe, my relatives, my families, they're not gonna get involved with this Commission, and without the involvement of the true Native Americans you don't need the Commission. Thank you.

Rep. McAfee:   Thank you. Mr. Dan Kirby, Clarksville, Tennessee. Mr. Kirby? And, Mr. Kirby, you put initials down for the, you know, what area --

Dan Kirby:   That's Alliance as well, sir. Same as Pat Cummins.

Rep. McAfee:   Pardon?

Dan Kirby:  That's the same as, same organization as Pat Cummins.

Rep. McAfee:   Ok, Ok.

Dan Kirby:   Thank you, sir. I'll keep it short and sweet. I think the Commission is a viable entity and very much a necessity in this state. It may not currently meet all the needs that it should. It's had its shortcomings; the governor has not appointed a full body so that it could vote. That's very unfortunate. Hopefully that situation will be clarified soon.

I'm not going to get into what everyone else said. I would like to see, perhaps, some day what it is like in California where they have a heritage Commission, the Commission expanded, funded, so it can work on all the problems. As you obviously well heard, there are many problems, and that is even more reason why it should exist at this point.

Now, I am not from Tennessee. I live here now, twenty-two years. I am not a Tennessee Indian. I'm Mdewankanton Dakota. I also have Sihasapa blood, which, I guess you could say as Sioux people.

Now I hope that if you had noticed, no matter what everyone said, they did say one thing in common -- that the Commission is needed, and I hope you will take that into account. I thank you, gentlemen.

Rep. McAfee:   Thank you very much. Thank you for taking the time to come.

The next gentleman I'm going to have to apologize to. I've read about him and I've seen his picture in the paper. Tom, tell me how to pronounce your last name. Where are you? Kunesh? Tom, you are recognized if you will come forward, and again being from Chattanooga, I apologize for not making it a point to come and meet you personally.

For those of you who don't know, Tom has been very active and very interested in the creation of the National Park down there in Moccasin Bend and those efforts. Tom, you are recognized.

Tom Kunesh:   Thank you, Senator, Representatives. I sent you guys, I sent you Representatives and Senators email before outlining certain points of information that I think are important in reviewing the future of the Tennessee Indian Commission and I would like to remind you of three words that I hope I wrote into those emails, and they are representation, accountability, and functionality.

I, I'd like to remind the people here that the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs has no representative, has no repre -- or is not representative of Native Americans in the state of Tennessee. There is no way that we elect them, they are selected simply by the governor, and we get as catch can. We do not have currently what I consider a representative from southeast Tennessee. We have requested for the past two years a representative from southeast Tennessee since former Commissioner Harley Grant left the Commission, and we have been denied.

A question about why aren't more commissioners being appointed, given that there are two vacancies for people of twenty-five percent blood quantum or more is, I believe, that currently the Commission, the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs is active in trying to preserve the Townsend site up in northeast Tennessee, and the Kelley court case, both of which are, involve the state of Tennessee and individuals within the state Commission and that they are at loggerheads and that the governor's problems are not being resolved by the Commission of Indian Affairs, which I believe is one of its primary functions, although its unwritten, is to clarify and reduce any kind of conflicts or concerns with Indians in the state of Tennessee.

As I said, there is no representation of Native Americans, there is no representative from the Chattanooga area on the Commission, Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs. To the best of my knowledge there is not a representative from the northeast. There is no representative -- well, there is a representative in the ways from Memphis, but Chattanooga is left representative-less.

Again, there is also no accountability. Since these commissioners are not elected they have no needed or necessary ties to the community and therefore they act on any whim that they wish. As for accountability, Commissioner Clayton Prest suggested that they were going to be working on an education fund.

I should introduce a little bit about myself. I come from Minnesota. I've been in Tennessee for ten years. My family is Hunkpapa and Blackfoot Lakota from Standing Rock Reservation. My parents and my aunts and uncles are all registered.* That's important because the two items that the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs has been working on in the past two or three years has only been the state-recognition of individual Indians and tribal nations within Tennessee, one of which is the Aniyunweya Nation, of which Mr. Clayton Prest is a member and has been a leader in the past, and the second is a Tennessee Native American driver's license plate for cars, neither of which have passed or nothing has happened with them in the past two years, I'd like to think because some of us have been successful in opposing recognition of, of individual Indians and, or individual people who consider themselves Indians and also tribes that we don't consider truly exist here in Tennessee.

Lastly, as far as functionality goes, I'd like to point out that in the laws governing the Commission of Indian Affairs, State Government Chapter 34, item 4-34-106, annual report, the commission shall prepare a written annual report giving an account of it's proceedings, transactions, findings, and recommendations. You heard this morning that Chairman Clayton Prest referred to a report that you, that they supposedly gave to you regarding their activities. As far as representation and accountability goes, we, to the best of my knowledge, no person in this group apart from, let's say, the Chairman and the Executive Director, have seen that report, so we cannot say whether they are lying or making things up. If you go over the state law that says there needs to be an annual report, we have asked for two, three years. Specifically I remember the meeting in Millington, north of Memphis, Tennessee in July, June or July of 1998, I believe or '99, and we asked for copies of the annual reports of the past and they were, we were told that they are missing. Now we have asked for the annual reports of 1999 and 2000, or 1998 and 1999 and we have nothing. The Commission has not, I agree with those who say the Commission has not done a single thing for Native American people in at least the past five years. I think when somebody says that the Commission is needed, I can only ask "Why?" Thank you.

Rep. McAfee:   Thank you.

I'm gonna cut the comments off at this time. I have heard, or we have heard this morning, criticism of different individuals.   I have an email critical of the Executive Director. And its evident to me, and I'm sure other members of this committee, there's a lot of discord among those of you Native Americans who are active, who are, or who are interested in this Commission.

And ladies and gentlemen, I will not be back after this year. My term is up in November. But I assure you that you have no better friend in this legislature than myself. I serve on an appointment by the governor to the, on the Trail of Tears Advisory Council, so I am concerned with your plight and with what you're doing and what you're trying to do. Other members of this legislature are friendly toward your thoughts and your beliefs and your desires.

But ladies and gentlemen, as long as you fight among yourselves and criticize each other, and some pull in one direction and others in another direction, this legislature is not gonna be friendly toward your desires. That only makes, that just, that makes sense. Just think about it. They are not gonna be friendly to people who fight among themselves. So, you as a group are gonna have to decide where you want this Commission to go. And if something isn't done in the near future by the first of the year, I can just about assure you that there'll be a bill to sunset this Commission. I don't know that, nobody said anything, but I can -- I've been around a while. I can, I can about assure you that will happen.

I, I'm gonna do something today as chairman that I guess I can do since I am chairman. I'm gonna give you, we have a meeting, and my last meeting will be in October, the eighteenth and nineteenth, with this legislature, with this committee. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm gonna give you untill October to get together and try to   reach some sort of agreement among yourselves.

The Legislature is elected to represent people, not to represent fights. I been here twenty-four years and I've refereed a bunch of 'em. Commissioner Hamilton as   a member of the Legislature has refereed a bunch of 'em. That's not what we are elected for, to referee fights or disagreements among individuals or groups of individuals.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like for you to come back to me on the eighteenth and nineteenth, and the staff will advise you on when exactly what date that will be, on some sort of compromise or some sort of agreement that you can all live with and work under. And as I said, I can just about assure you that after the first of the year you won't exist, because the legislature, if you're not gonna, there's not gonna be any effort to help.

So think about that. Think about what I'm saying to you. I think the Commission is important, that's my personal opinion. I'm one person who won't be here next year so I don't have a vote, or I won't have a vote. But I'd like to help, and I'd like to see you help, you can help yourselves more than I can help you is one thing. And I'd like to see that happen. So please work at that between now and October and I will do everything I can. If the Department of Environment and Conservation is not the proper place then we'll try to find a proper place, or a proper situation to work under. But we have to have the approval of the Legislature.

So please, between now and October, get together so to maybe work out some differences. And there are some deep-rooted differences there I've heard of this morning. And if you work those out it'll be to your benefit, and please do that. That's all I have. This meeting is adjourned.

Second Sunset Hearing 19 october 2000

first posted on NativeNashville

* an inaccurate transcription. kunesh claims his mother and her siblings -
one brother and three sisters - are enrolled members of the
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North and South Dakota.