“Only three are federally recognized, but the other groups run the gamut of intent. Some are basically heritage groups – people who have family with Cherokee heritage who are interested in the language and culture, and we certainly encourage that,” said Miller. “But the problem is when you have groups that call themselves ‘nation,’ or ‘band,’ or ‘tribe,’ because that implies governance.”
Several groups that identify themselves as Cherokees, however, are currently trying to obtain federal recognition.
According to Cliff Bishop, headman of the Lost Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri, his tribe’s request for federal recognition is currently under review by the federal government. The Lost Cherokee Nation, headquartered in Dover, Ark., traces its history back to the Cherokees who moved to Arkansas before the Trail of Tears brought the majority of the tribe to Northeastern Oklahoma.
Bishop said his tribe had treaties with the U.S. government as early as 1817. The Lost Cherokees are organized as a 501-C3 non-profit organization, and currently raise money through auctions and charity events, but they hope to eventually receive federal funding.
“We’re not in for gambling; we’re in for education and helping our people out of poverty,” said Bishop. “We’re not trying to take anything from other Cherokees; we’re just trying to help our people.”
Lost Cherokee Headman Dub Maxwell added that before the Trail of Tears, some of the most prominent Cherokee leaders were members of what is now the Lost Cherokee Nation.
“The syllabary was first taught in Arkansas,” said Maxwell. “It makes sense that if Sequoyah had something that important, he would take it to the most important chiefs first.”
Another group based in Arkansas is the Western Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri, headquartered in Paragould, Ark.
According to Chief Lola Smith, her tribe is the “original” Arkansas Cherokee tribe; all the others, like the Lost Cherokee Nation, splintered off of the Western Cherokee Nation.