Tennessee Tribes

(Federal List Last Updated 5/16)


(Not recognized by the Federal Government)

Tennessee Code authorized the state Commission of Indian Affairs from 1983 to 2000 and from 2003 to July 1, 2010 (TCA 4-34-103 §6) to develop recognition criteria and to recognize tribes other than those with federal recognition.

The recognition rule, TNCIA Rule 0785-1 (2007), modeled on federal recognition criteria (25 CFR 83.7), was suspended by the Commission pending legislative review of the rule.

The 2010 commissioners failed to convince the state legislature to extend the Commission of Indian Affairs for another couple of years, and ticked off the legislators so much that the legislators added a 60-day stay on TCIA Rule 0785-1 Recognition Criteria For Native American Indian Tribes which would now go into effect on July 17, 2010, instead of the previous date of May 17, but now there’s no Commission of Indian Affairs to implement it, which was the reason for the extension of the effective date.

Lawmakers also rejected a bill that would have granted official recognition to the six tribes through the General Assembly.

So, at their last meeting on June 19, 2010, the TCIA created a new “Standing Rule 14” of recognition criteria, specifically to bypass the State’s statutory rulemaking process, reviewed their 6 culture clubs’ applications in 30 minutes, returned the applications to avoid any “Open Records” paper trail, then approved their culture clubs as the State of Tennessee’s new tribes.

They are:

1. United Eastern Lenape Nation of Winfield

2. Cherokee Wolf Clan of Yuma

3. Chikamaka Band (Chickamauga Band of Tracy City)

4. Central Band of Cherokee (also known as Cherokee of Lawrence County)

5. Remnant Yuchi Nation of Kingsport

6. Tanasi Council of Far Away Cherokee of Memphis Six of the seven TCIA members present at the meeting voted to recognize the groups.

Four TCIA members may have conflicts of interest because they are members of the newly-recognized Tennessee tribes.

Vice Chairwoman Christine Goddard belongs to the United Eastern Lenape Nation of Winfield, while Secretary James Meeks and member Charles Lawson belong to the Chickamauga Band of Tracy City.

Alice Henry belongs to the Tanasi Council of Far Away Cherokee of Memphis.

On June 30,2010, a lawsuit, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court by Nashville attorney Bob Tuke, asked that the state recognition granted on June 19 be declared “void and without effect.”

It lists Mark Greene as plaintiff in his capacity as a Tennessee citizen and lobbyist for the Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation, a federally-recognized tribe that has adamantly opposed state recognition.

The lawsuit was filed on the last day that the Commission on Indian Affairs legally existed, since it was to officially “sunset” at midnight. State law requires that all state boards and commissions be periodically renewed by the Legislature and this commission was not.

Commission Chairman Tammera Hicks and others say that the statute creating the commission more than 20 years ago specifically granted the panel power to recognize tribes within the state.

But the lawsuit contends the commission broke the state “open meetings law” by failing to give adequate notice of what was planned at the June 19 commission meeting and by deliberating in secret prior to the vote rather than publicly as the law required.

Tuke, who has been retained by the Cherokee Nation, said other grounds for challenging the commission action were considered, but the action was narrowed because “we had such an open shot under open records.”

“They just violated it blatantly,” said Tuke, a former state chairman of the Democratic party and the party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate in 2008 against Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander.

The lawsuit says notice of the June 19 meeting “mislead the public” by giving no indication that recognition of tribes was to be considered. Also, Tuke says in an affidavit that he was told, by an attorney for the commission, that recognition would not be considered at the meeting.

Even though the agenda for the meeting did not include recognition, the lawsuit says, the commission had in advance “secretly discussed and agreed” to approve recognition.

Besides voiding the commission, the lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction forbidding the panel “and any other agency or instrumentality of the state of Tennessee to take any action to enforce, publicize or promote the commission’s purported action.”

State attorneys have 30 days to file a response to the lawsuit, after which a hearing may be scheduled.

A grant of state recognition allows members of the recognized tribes to apply for various federal government grants and benefits, scholarships for native american students, and to market goods they produce labeled as made by Native Americans.

In prior actions, one Tennessee group was recognized in 1978 by the governor, but the state Attorney General’s opinion of December 5, 1991 contends that such authority rests exclusively with the state legislature and does not consider the gubernatorial proclamation as legally valid.

In 2004 a Native American-related organization began soliciting recognition of itself as a clan on the county level, and has received some such recognition by county government resolution.

Cherokees of Lawrence County, Tennessee, Sugar Creek Band of the SECCI. Letter of Intent to Petition 9/14/2000.

Chickamauga Circle Free Cherokee


Cumberland Creek Indian Confederation

Elk Valley Council Band of Free Cherokees

Etowah Cherokee Nation.Letter of Intent to Petition 12/31/1990; certified letter returned undeliverable 10/1997. This group’s recognition is contested, and is based in Cleveland, cites a Proclamation of Recognition by the Governor of Tennessee dated May 25, 1978.

Free Cherokee Tennessee River Band Chickamauga

Kwatani Mission of Chickamuga Cherokee

Red Clay Band of Southeastern Cherokee Confederacy. Letter of Intent to Petition 3/9/1978; Declined to Acknowledge 11/25/1985 50 FR 39047.

Tennessee River Band of Chickamuga Cherokee

Tennessee River Band of Chickamuga


The first Europeans to explore the area were led by Hernando de Soto in 1541 as part of de Soto’s futile search for gold and silver. Two later expeditions led by Juan Pardo introduced firearms and deadly European diseases to the native populations.

Both of these prompted a sharp decline in the populations of native tribes. Guns changed the way the natives hunted and battled with neighboring tribes, and made the native people dependent upon the colonial fur trade.

Natives supplied deer and beaver hides to European traders in return for guns, rum and manufactured articles. Indian tribes began to be more and more impacted by European settlers and politics.

In the 150 years after de Soto first came to Tennessee, new native tribes moved into the area, defeating the less developed tribes.

The Cherokee, the Chickasaw and the Shawnee tribes began to increase their influence in the area, but by 1715, the stronger Cherokee and Chickasaw had driven out the Shawnee.


12,000-15,000 years ago – Paleo Indians. Humans first inhabited the land now known as Tennessee when the last of the Ice Age glaciers retreated. Early man hunted mastodon that roamed during the last Ice Age.

12,000 years ago – Archaic period.During the Archaic period, descendants of the Paleo-Indians began to settle on river terraces, where they gathered wild plant food and shellfish in addition to hunting game. The mastodons died out and they began hunting smaller game. With a more secure food supply, populations expanded rapidly.

300 BC – 1000 AD – Woodland Period of permanent houses, embellished pottery, bows and arrows, and maize and squash cultivation.

700 AD – 1300 AD – Mississippian period. The peak of prehistoric cultural development in Tennessee occurred during the Mississippian period. Cultivation of new and improved strains of corn and beans fueled a large jump in population.

1770s –Explorers including Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton violated the British Fort Stanwix treaty line, moving into Kentucky and Tennessee and establishing illegal settlements.

Humans first inhabited the land now known as Tennessee when the last of the Ice Age glaciers retreated, some 12,000-15,000 years ago. Early man hunted mastodon that roamed during the last Ice Age.

About 12,000 years ago, the region’s climate began to warm and the predominant vegetation changed from conifer to our modern deciduous forests. Abundant acorns, hickory, chestnut and beech mast attracted large numbers of deer and elk.

Warmer climate, the extinction of the large Ice Age mammals, and the spread of deciduous forests worked together to transform Indian society. During what is known as the Archaic period, descendants of the Paleo-Indians began to settle on river terraces, where they gathered wild plant food and shellfish in addition to hunting game.

Sometime between 3,000 and 900 BC, natives began to cultivate plants such as squash and gourds, and could therefore depend upon a regular food supply.

This caused the native population to increase, and groups of nomadic hunters began to settle into larger villages. With a more secure food supply, populations expanded rapidly and scattered bands combined to form larger villages.

This period is known as the Archaic phase of north american civilization.

The next major stage of Tennessee pre-history, lasting almost 2,000 years, is known as the Woodland period. During this period, we see the introduction of pottery, the beginnings of settled farming communities, the construction of burial mounds and the growing stratification of Indian society.

Native Americans in Tennessee made the transition from societies of hunters and gatherers to well-organized agriculturists. It was at this time that groups of natives began to battle each other for territory and develop tribal identity.

The construction of ceremonial temples and public structures indicate the growing role of chieftains and tribalism in Indian societies.

Archaeologists have found elaborate pottery, and personal items like combs, pipes and jewelry which demonstrate the complexity of these native societies.

Genealogy:Sources of records on US Indian tribes