TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - More than 130 years after the Loyal Shawnees became a part of the Cherokee Nation, the United States Congress has finally given them federal recognition.
It came as Title VII of the Omnibus Indian Advancement Act recently passed by Congress.
In 1866, the Loyal Shawnee signed a treaty with the Cherokee Nation and were absorbed into the larger tribe. Although they retained their culture and tradition, they were considered legal members of the Cherokee Nation.
"We have worked with the Shawnees for years to achieve this," Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith said. "They are proud of their heritage as Shawnees, and proud of the dignified way they have gained their federal recognition."
Over the past four years, the Cherokee Nation passed two, separate resolutions which supported the Loyal Shawnee bid to be restored as a separate, federally recognized tribe.
All that is needed to make it official is the signature of President Clinton.
Although recent news reports suggested the president wouldn't sign any executive orders concerning federal recognition, White House aide for Native American affairs Lynn Cutler said, "If they went through legislation, recognition through a bill that was passed, the president will sign that."
With recognition the tribe will be referred to once again as the Shawnee. Tribal Chairman James Squirrel said he was very happy about finally achieving federal recognition for his tribe. "We are just waiting on the president to sign our bill."
Squirrel said the Shawnee appreciate the efforts and backing received from the Cherokee Nation in attaining federal recognition. "We appreciate them very much."
The chairman said recognition meant the tribe could administer some of its programs rather than having to go through the Cherokee Nation. Although the nation will continue to administer some programs, Squirrel said there are grants and funding available only to smaller tribes for which the Shawnee will qualify.
Part of the agreement states that the Shawnee cannot take land into trust within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. Asked if the Shawnee would attempt to reclaim land or put land into trust in another state, Squirrel said, "Our people are here in Oklahoma, so there are no plans for anything like that," Squirrel said.
The Shawnee will no longer have to work as a government within a government as they have in the past.
"Everything we have done, we have had to go through Cherokee Nation and they have approved most of it."
For now the tribe plans to continue working out of tribal headquarters in White Oak. The 11 council members will work toward the transition following recognition.
There are approximately 8,000 members of the tribe, Squirrel said, and already people are lining up to enroll.
A spokesman for the Cherokee Nation said the Cherokee constitution will allow members of the Shawnee tribe to continue dual enrollment.
Although a lot of work remains, the Shawnee tribe is savoring the victory of being recognized as a distinct entity and not an extension of another tribe.
"We're so happy that we can do this to further help our people, to be ourselves rather than Cherokee-Shawnees or adopted Cherokees," Squirrel said. "We can be our own people."