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 - Montgomery, Alabama Thursday. May 4, 1 989...
Montgomery, Alabama Thursday. May 4, 1 989 Page13A OTHER VIEWS Indians Are Forgotten Minority By JANE WEEKS .' In 1984 the Alabama Legislature Legislature established the Indian Affairs Commission to serve the n.eeds of the Indian communities in the state. This has proven to he one of the most generous acts of state government in the 50 years since legislation recognized recognized for the first time the existence existence of Alabama's Indian population population our invisible minority. . As executive director of the Alabama Indian Affairs Commission, Commission, I was amazed to learn that the Census Bureau listed the total total number of Indians in Alabama Alabama in 1980 as slightly less than 8,000; yet, tribal rolls had over 24,000 American Indian families listed. Because of the mandates of the federal court orders targeting targeting the maltreatment of our black citizens, the only record maintained by the State Personnel Personnel Department and the Secretary Secretary of State about minority people is the number of black citizens accommodated a clear indication that the Indians were simply being ignored. . Because of the laws of our nation nation and state, the AIAC cannot request and receive an all-Indian all-Indian all-Indian staff to serve Indian people. American Indians are the only minority in the United States (to my knowledge) who, in order to claim minority status, must complete complete a genealogy chart (or Pedigree Pedigree Chart) and be certified by a tribal government. In other words, to claim minority status, they must be a "card-carrying "card-carrying "card-carrying Indian." Affects Employment This one fact affects all aspects of Indian life but most specifically, specifically, the employment of Indians. Indians. No minority preference can be extended to them without this card, and because of the fact that many do not look "Indian" enough to satisfy the interviewer, interviewer, they cannot avail themselves of what is theirs by virtue of birth. The premise here is that if you are black, anyone can tell by merely looking at you; if you are Hispanic, anyone can tell by not only seeing your facial characteristics characteristics but because you "talk funny," funny," that is, with a distinct accent. But neither criteria serves to identify the majority of our Indian population. Then too, when small business entrepreneurs who are Indian apply for certification from the federal government for any available minority contracting privileges, it becomes almost impossible to document "social and economic disadvantage" because because in the arena of Indians, it must be "personal." Most astounding, it has been the official federal policy since 1830, the date of the passage and implementation of the Indian Removal Act, that there are no Indians east of the Mississippi River. It is impossible to get much mor personal than that! Another important fact is that Washington does not afford equal status to tribal governments governments American Indian governments governments fall into two distinct categories of recognition: Federally Federally recognized tribal governments governments (defined by the federal government as sovereign dependent dependent nations) enjoy a special government-to-government government-to-government government-to-government government-to-government government-to-government government-to-government relationship. relationship. Their lands are generally small "islands" of tribally administered administered communities where local and state laws seldom apply except by the consent of the tribal tribal body. Alabama has one such tribe which was granted this unique status after 35 years of applying and was finally recognized recognized in 1984, approximately three months after the formation of the AIAC. State-recognized State-recognized State-recognized tribal governments governments are considered sovereign sovereign government by the state only. Alabama recognizes seven tribal governments. But, in special special instances, notably in the Alabama field of education, recognition is granted from the federal arena for special programs. Approximately Approximately 10,000 children are educated educated in special Title IV Indian Education Programs in 11 educational educational systems in Alabama. There is no one answer to the question: "Who is an Indian?" Each piece of federal legislation carries with it upon passage who will be an "Indian" for the purpose purpose of that particular piece of legislation and program. How does this affect Indian minority minority employment rights? Simply Simply put, some of the programs established established in the federal government target only federally recognized tribal people. In other word, no state-recognized state-recognized state-recognized tribal people may be accepted for work, contracting, or whatever whatever that program offers. Many times American Indians find themselves in competition not only with their Indian counterparts, counterparts, but with other minorities minorities a situation which cannot, cannot, in my opinion, be the intent of the law which was passed to overcome the inequities in our system of government. In a cautious effort to explore possibilities the AIAC director was told the quickest remedy was to sue in a federal court, because because without the mandate of the court order, preference would still be given to blacks because they were being accommodated under the federal court order. Indian people have no such resources resources and do not believe in opposing the system in order to receive what is theirs by legislation. legislation. Not the least of their employment employment problems and certification problems is their identity their birth records. It must be remembered remembered that it was perilous to admit to having an Indian identity identity in the face of the prospect of forced removal to Indian Territory Territory the thrust of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Many of the Indians who avoided removal did so by retreating to isolated settlements which escaped the attention of federal authorities charged with their banishment from this area. Still others remained remained on marginal land, and because of the racial attitudes of their white neighbors, were racially racially reclassified using terms such as "mulattoes," "mixed," or "persons of color." A few prosperous prosperous and other less prosperous "mixed blood" or "half-breeds" "half-breeds" "half-breeds" who resembled their white neighbors melted into the dominant dominant society of the time. Records of state and federal authorities following Indian removal offered rather disparate characterizations characterizations of the race of Indian people. people. The problem created by these characterizations continue to the present day. There are Indian families in which natural children, children, both of whose parents are American Indian, are listed on birth records as being of a different different race than either parent and among the natural siblings their birth certificates also indicate different races. One of the most powerful records records in documenting one's ethnic designation is a birth certificate. certificate. In the absence of such a document in seeking Social Security Security qualification, a person is permitted to have a sworn statement from someone who remembers remembers your birth or was present present at your birth or is a member of your family. This does not apply to Indian people and their birth records. Because of the unique survival of Alabama's Indian population, most of our people's birth records list them as white. In summary, it should be apparent that there are many questions and very few answers, but the reader can be appalled at the level of non-existence non-existence non-existence American Indian people experience experience in Alabama government, and, in the national arena as well. It is difficult to understand when an Indian entrepreneur calls the AIAC to say that a field representative for a federal certification certification program has told him that only blacks will qualify for a specific program (and this has been reported by both black and white field personnel). Additionally, Additionally, after meeting with the department department of state government created to help minority businessmen businessmen and women, no invitations invitations or inclusions are made for Indians when minority conferences conferences are held. Second, it is difficult to understand understand why the news media casts doubt on the identity of citizens of Alabama because they have recently documented a heritage which is theirs by birthright but was denied them because it was "hazardous to their health." (Recall (Recall at one time in our nation's history it was legal to kill Indians!) Indians!) If found they could be dispossessed dispossessed of all they owned their families and land and forced to go to a strange and distant distant land. History records that the original Indian territory, which became the state of Oklahoma, Oklahoma, was largely populated with the once-great once-great once-great Indian nations nations of the Southeastern United States. The Oklahoma Chero-kees, Chero-kees, Chero-kees, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Choctaws are nations indigenous to Alabama not Oklahoma. Census Was Flawed Tribal governments continue to identify and prove heritage for Indian citizens of Alabama because it is a privilege under the legislation and because it is their birthright. The 1980 Census Census document was flawed and data gathered from its use was highly inaccurate not only for Alabama but for many of other states with Indian population. The entire Miccosuki Reservation Reservation in Florida was not counted and persons of mixed ancestry who chose to so identify themselves themselves were erroneously labeled. The AIAC is working with the U.S. Census Bureau to educate our state and our people for the 1990 Census. A report just released by the National American Indian Council Council revealed that in the 1980 Census Census data in a report entitled "Ancestry of the Population by State, 1980," Alabama is listed as having 165,416 such citizens of Indian ancestry. This means that the potential for organized Indian Indian communities to reclaim their lost members is very high. This does not mean these people are "new" Indians or that they are persons who have lied about their ethnic heritage, but rather these people may now lay claim to their birthright, establish their cultural and social ties, and move into the 21st century with many of their unique privileges and customs reclaimed. This also means that because of the hundreds of years in which the Indian community has interacted interacted with those of European heritage through intermarriage many of our poeple are not likely to "look" Indian. However, simply simply because their "blood quantum" quantum" has diminished does not diminish diminish their ethnic pride or rights. Finally, the AIAC will continue continue to serve as an effective representative representative of the original citizens citizens of this nations, who make up less than one percent of the total population of Alabama who ask only that they be recognized as a great people and treated with the respect, dignity and equality they so richly deserve.

Clipped from
  1. The Montgomery Advertiser,
  2. 04 May 1989, Thu,
  3. Page 13

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