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Unrecognized Cherokee claims cause problems for nation

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - Groups claiming to be 'real' Cherokees are causing problems for the Cherokee Nation. From smoke shops to casinos, the groups are attempting to solicit money by using the Cherokee name as a veil for respectability, a tribal spokesman said.

The Cherokee Nation isn't the only tribe with problems, but with more than 200,000 members scattered around the United States it appears bogus groups are finding it easy to prey on the Cherokee name.

The Cherokee Tribe estimates there are more than 200 such groups around the nation which claim to have Cherokee ties.

One, called the Southern Cherokee Nation, claimed gaming rights in Oklahoma and South Carolina and nearly managed to get a casino built by invoking Cherokee in its name. Land was being set aside and the leader of the group was actually getting ready to break ground, Mike Miller, communications director for the Cherokee Nation, said during a recent interview. The group has a chief and an impressive Web site, but Cherokee officials caution the group is not a part of the official Cherokee Nation and is not federally recognized.

Yet another group to use the Cherokee name calls itself the Cherokee Nation. On its Web site, the federally recognized Cherokee Nation is warning tribal members to be very careful in dealing with groups which have no affiliation with the tribe.

It reports that Robin Mayes and a small group of followers claim to be the "real" Cherokee Nation. The recognized nation alleges Mayes and the group opened a post office box and solicited donations of money under the name Cherokee Nation and sent letters to the Oklahoma Tax Commission and Bruce Babbitt, secretary of the Interior, claiming to be the legitimate Cherokee Nation.

The group has issued coins it claims are the official currency of the Cherokees and set up a Web site. It is also alleged that the group is issuing tribal membership cards using the seal of the recognized Cherokee Nation.

"They are making misleading claims and have plans to operate as a government by authorizing and opening smoke shops," said Julian Fite, Cherokee Nation General Counsel. "They can't do that anymore than the Rotary Club can."

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Fite added that, "Mayes' group is preying on unsuspecting people and trying to convince them that he represents a real government when that is far from true."

The Cherokee County Sheriff's office is warning tribal members not to buy car tags (license plates) from the splinter group. The sheriff said people found driving cars with the invalid tags could be towed and ordered not to drive without proper state license plates.

Although the recognized Cherokee Nation plans to make tribal tags available in the future, as yet there is no compact with the state of Oklahoma. Fifteen tribes in Oklahoma issue their own tribal plates.

Tribal enrollment for the recognized Cherokee Nation comes only from the Dawes Commission Final Rolls.

Tribal officials say that as genealogy becomes more and more popular, those with Cherokee blood, who didn't have ancestors on the Dawes Rolls, are seeking a way to explore their 'Indian roots.'

The Cherokee Nation has a comprehensive history available that non-members can read. And, it advises that individuals who seek authentic information about tribal culture, history, traditions, genealogy and government, look carefully into claims made by groups that are not recognized by the federal government, especially those that claim to represent an Indian tribe or the Cherokee Nation.

For further information call the Cherokee Nation at (918) 456-0671 or contact the BIA for a list of legitimate nations, tribes and bands.

The official Cherokee Nation Web site is http:/www.Cherokee.org. Other Web sites are not recognized as part of the official tribal Web site.