State Rep. Nathan Vaughn has introduced legislation to give the Tennessee General Assembly the power to recognize selected Native American Indian tribes — a move partially aimed at establishing a new attraction on Kingsport’s Bays Mountain.
Vaughn, D-Kingsport, said city officials are considering entering into an arrangement with a Yuchi Indian group to create an authentic Indian village on Bays Mountain.
“But unless they are recognized as a Native American tribe, they cannot sell Indian arts and crafts and call them Indian arts and crafts unless they have recognition ... (and) it would be a benefit for our school kids to see how Native Americans lived,” Vaughn, Northeast Tennessee’s first African-American state lawmaker, said of the Yuchis.
Rob Cole, volunteer coordinator for Bays Mountain Park, said park officials and representatives of the Yuchi tribe have met to discuss a partnership and are exploring ideas to put the village together.
“It would show their way of life, extending to how they were fed, clothed and their housing elements. The effort is for it to literally be an authentic village, a living history,” Cole said. “It would be a good fit with the history of this region and would offer schools another opportunity for additional programming.”
A February 2007 Tennessee attorney general’s opinion said the state does have the authority to recognize Indian tribes. Such recognition, the opinion said, would help tribe members be eligible for certain benefits, like block grants for low-income energy assistance. The state provides benefits to Indian individuals by making them eligible to receive scholarships or grants through Tennessee’s college systems.
Vaughn’s bill says that the legislature will appoint the Confederation of Tennessee Native Tribes to review petitions for recognition. The confederation, according to the bill, is composed of the Yuchis and seven other Indian groups.
Vaughn said another reason the bill is needed is that the Tennessee Commission on Indian Affairs has rejected recognizing Indian groups in the state.
“Why have a commission on Indian affairs that doesn’t recognize any Indians?” Vaughn asked. “Indians are depressed people in our country, when you look at statistics in terms of their health disparities, income disparities, and I think recognition would be something of a positive nature. We want to help them move forward.”
In 2006, the commission had initiated moves to establish the state’s recognition criteria and procedures.
Vaughn said he plans to meet with commission members to get some dialogue going about the legislation.
“There are Indians in Tennessee who are parts of other tribes from other states. ... Some of those other tribes do not want to recognize Tennessee Indians,” he noted.
Other pieces of filed legislation could affect whether the commission is repealed at the end of June or extended through next year.
Vaughn’s bill, which has not yet been assigned to a committee for a hearing, is co-sponsored in the Tennessee 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.
Times-News staff writer Matthew Lane contributed to this report.