Vaughn Indian legislation fails to advance out of committee

Hank Hayes • Apr 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Legislation sponsored by state Rep. Nathan Vaughn to give state recognition to certain Indian tribes failed to advance in the Tennessee Senate State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday.

Vaughn, D-Kingsport, had amended the bill to state that the tribes could not get into the gambling business or sell alcohol, but the legislation didn’t have enough support to move it toward a Senate floor vote.

Two senators on the committee voted for the bill, two cast no votes, and three were listed as present but not voting.

Vaughn introduced the bill as part of an initiative aimed at establishing a new attraction on Kingsport’s Bays Mountain.

City officials have been considering entering into an arrangement with a Yuchi Indian group to create an authentic Indian village at Bays Mountain.

“Those Indians would not be able to sell their arts and crafts ... because the federal government passed a law that said if Indian groups have not been state or federally recognized, they are not allowed to sell Indian arts and crafts as Indian arts and crafts,” Vaughn told the committee.

Vaughn’s bill stalled in the House after state Rep. Ben West Jr., D-Hermitage, raised concerns over whether the legislation would enable Indian groups to bypass state law and start gambling operations. The House version of the legislation was scheduled to be considered by the House Local Government Subcommittee today.

A state attorney general’s opinion found two things would have to happen to give Indian tribes the possibility of conducting gambling activities in Tennessee.

The opinion said that if one of the Indian tribes receiving state recognition under Vaughn’s bill subsequently gained federal recognition, and if land in Tennessee were acquired by the federal government for that tribe, then the tribe “may be able” to conduct gambling activities on the land under federal law.

As introduced, the bill would have appointed the Confederation of Tennessee Native Tribes as the group to review recognition situations. The bill would also recognize the Yuchis and five other Cherokee groups.

A February 2007 Tennessee attorney general’s opinion said the state does have the authority to recognize Indian tribes. The federal recognition process is handled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). State recognition is not a factor considered by the BIA in deciding whether an Indian tribe will receive federal recognition, according to the attorney general’s office.

The Tennessee Commission on Indian Affairs has considered but has not enacted Indian recognition rules.

Two years ago, the commission initiated rulemaking for the state’s Indian recognition criteria and procedures but repealed the move.

Vaughn’s bill was sponsored in the Senate by state Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville.

For more information go to www.legislature.state.tn.us and click on “Legislation.” The bill’s number is HB 3299.

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