“The recognition of tribal sovereignty is critical for the social and economic development of our tribe,” said Ernest Tiger, spokesman for the tribe.
BARTLESVILLE, Okla. – The Delaware Tribe of Indians’ federal recognition was restored on May 26 and listed in the Federal Register on Aug. 11, identifying it as an Indian entity and eligible to receive services from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Delaware Tribe gained its federal recognition after negotiating a Memorandum of Agreement with the Cherokee Nation earlier this year. The MOA was needed because according to an 1866 treaty the Delaware Tribe moved from Kansas into what is now Oklahoma and became citizens of the Cherokee Nation.
In meetings leading to the Delaware being federally recognized, the CN and Delaware negotiated terms related to the Delawares splitting from the CN.
“In the resulting Memorandum of Agreement, the Cherokee Nation agreed that it would support and not oppose the Delaware’s reorganization and federal recognition as a separate tribal government, but would not agree to the Delaware exerting any governmental authority over Cherokee territory,” CN Secretary of State Melanie Knight said. “The Delaware Tribe agreed that they would not request land into trust within the Cherokee Nation.”
Knight said any Delaware activities outside the CN territory are not subject to the agreement.
The MOA terms were negotiated by Knight, on behalf of Principal Chief Chad Smith. The Tribal Council then ratified it before Smith signed it.
Earnest Tiger, Delaware spokesman and economic development director, said with the federal recognition come the eligibility to contract with certain U.S. agencies and receive services from the federal government like other federally recognized tribes.
“Having federal recognition provides for the recognition of a government-to-government relationship between the Delaware Tribe of Indians, United States government, other Indian tribes, states and municipalities,” he said. “The recognition of tribal sovereignty is critical for the social and economic development of our tribe.”
Tiger said the Delaware Tribe is in the process of developing and implementing programs and projects that would improve the quality of life and well-being of its citizens.
“The tribe is moving forward to implement economic development projects that will provide jobs and empowerment for tribal members and others,” he said.
However, many programs are still run through the CN, including the senior nutrition program and the child care assistance program. But Delaware officials said they hope to apply for federal money to build the tribe so it can operate independently.
Tiger said the Delaware Tribe would have preferred not to have entered into the MOA but that it was necessary. “Without the Memorandum of Agreement, federal recognition for the Delaware Tribe of Indians could not have been accomplished,” he said. “The Memorandum of Agreement was negotiated in good faith and both tribes are in agreement that they will honor the agreement as negotiated.”
Knight said the Delawares have their own culture and language separate from the CN. She said the CN supports the independent sovereignty of the Delaware Tribe “so long as the integrity and territory of the Cherokee Nation is not affected.”
Some Delaware citizens supported the MOA, which led to their tribe’s federal recognition.
“It was long overdue,” said Delaware citizen James Coffey. “The Cherokees in the meantime has really helped the Delaware Tribe. Being federally recognized is a giant step for us. I just hope the Delaware follow suit and be a sovereign nation.”
Other Delawares such as Titus Frenchman saw both good and bad points of the agreement.
“The MOA and method we went through was totally unnecessary,” Frenchman said. “The money spent on lawsuits fighting this between our Nation and the Cherokee Nation was totally useless, millions of dollars down the drain.”
– Reprinted with permission of the Cherokee Phoenix