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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Monacan Nation of West Virginia:  Claiming Rightful Recognition or a Branch off the Money Tree?

Byline/Source: TJ Staff
Saturday, 21 July 2007

For 400 years, Viginia Indians have suffered loss of homelands to colonization, and the effects of the documentary genocide caused by racial laws promoted and strictly enforced by Walter Ashby Plecker who spent decades trying to deny the existance of Indians in Virginia and ensuring that no one with even "one drop of negro blood" be allowed to pass for white.

The Monacan Indian Nation in Virginia, recognized by the Crown since the early 1700's and by the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1989, has withstood those abuses and is waiting anxiously while the US Senate decides if it will join the House of Representatives in affirming the Monacan and five other Virginia tribes their long awaited federal recognition as Indian nations.

Now a West Virginia resident, David Cremeans of Huntingdon, has proclaimed himself head of the Monacan Indian Nation of West Virginia and registered his group with that state. Cremeans, also president of the Native American Indian Federation, claims there are 200 to 300 Monacans in West Virginia, many of whom have been rejected or do not belong to the Monacan Indian Nation in Virginia.

Cremeans expresses his empathy for those individuals who, as he says, "don't have the opportunity to travel to Virginia to partake in the association with people down there." He's offered up monthly social gatherings starting this weekend, promises to automatically accept any Virginia Monacan Nation citizens into his West Viriginia Monacan Nation, and will also accept members who have been rejected by the Virginia Monacans.

Odd that a man who has, until now, proclaimed himself Cherokee should suddenly become Monacan. Yet Cremeans and his late brother Bernard Roy Cremeans, Jr., were so proud of their Cherokee ancestry they were moved to found the Native American Indian Federation (NAIF) 501-c-3 corporation in May of 2001, open the Four Winds Store, and operate the Native American Indian Center in Guyandotte WV.

Odder still when you consider that NAIF, an organization that solicited approximately 450 memberships from "Native American Indian descendants and persons dedicated to the Native American principals, coming together to share traditions, history, and knowledge and to preserve the Native American culture," and who, on their applications, asks potential members to provide "lineage if known, Native American or other nationality," touts some 17 different nations among its existing memberships.

Oddest yet, when you consider that Cremeans told Charlotte Gazette's Tara Tuckwiller recognition wasn't necessary for his Monacan Indian Nation, but also told her he had asked Sen. Robert C. Byrd's office about being included in the possible federal recognition of the Monacans as a tribe. State recognition won't be an option for the WV Monacans since neither the state nor the federal government recognize any Indian nations within the borders of West Virginia.

So what motivates people like David Cremeans? Are they honestly sincere in their endeavors to embrace and practice "living the Indian way," as Ken Blankenship stated to Tuckwiller, or do they see recognition as a means to a monetary end?

While she doesn't state the source of the information, Tuckwiller comments in her article that "Federal recognition makes tribes eligible for money and services from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs," an assumption made by many groups in the Eastern US hoping to obtain some level of official recognition. Unfortunately, many groups often cite "benefits" as one of the key factors as to why they so desperately seek and hope for even state-level recognition.

In some cases, that assumption proves true, and in yet others it is manipulated to look true. One Southeastern-based entrepreneur belonging to a non-tribal 501-c-3 that received state recognition as a native-related organization in the early 90's managed to leverage the fact that he belonged to the organization into a Small Business Administration 8(a) loan a category normally reserved for American Indian applicants despite the fact that he himself was not recognized and the organization's recognition had become void two years after it was awarded when organization officers failed to submit updated membership lists.

Very often, however, the federal funds are specific to federally recognized Indian nations for use on their reservations or within their own communities. And, with what is becoming anticipated budget shortfalls, the federal pot of gold is, at best, inadequate to handle those needs, let alone accomodate an influx of newly recognized tribes at any level state or federal. Non-reservation states such as West Virginia are unlikely to have budget funds targeting American Indians. In some instances, states such as Arkansas have inadvertantly misdistributed their federal allotment of funds to Cremeans-type groups.

In Cremeans, case, recognition is not probable. West Virginia state law has no provisions for the recognition of Indians, and the federal government requires proof of a group's existance as a separate Native American Indian community maintaining a government to government relationship throughout history. Cremeans' West Virginia-based Monacan Indian Nation is just now being formed and inviting Monacans anywhere in the country to join, ruling out both the "community" and "government to government" requirements and most likely relegating his group to William A. Quinn's "Indian descendant recruitment organization" category.

That doesn't offset the fears of many of the Virginia Monacan Indian Nation members who are concerned that any attempts by Cremeans to solicit funding using the name, "Monacan Indian Nation," will create confusion.

Sadly, most descendent organizations or "heritage clubs" are populated by individuals who, while they may and probably do have genuine heritage, find themselves rejected by their ancestral nations because they cannot satisfactorily document their ancestry or meet the tribal minimums for blood quantum. They frequently fall victim to false "teachers" through their lack of cultural knowledge. In their quest to obtain some degree of validation and raised up far away both generationally and geographically from their ancestral nations and knowledgeable instructors, descendent organizations often practice inaccurate or convoluted traditions, and are rarely in touch with the issues of Indian Country in general, let alone issues specific to their ancestral nations.

Their penchant for acceptance of and pride in their Indian heritage tend to make them eager and willing to obtain and accept offers to provide educational presentations and performances, especially those where they can talk about "how things were before the white man" and dress in "authentic" (read period) clothing. While their hearts may be in the right place and their intentions good, the misinformation they share among themselves is too often transmitted to the general public in their respective areas and ultimately perpetuates false stereotypes. Some even go so far as to support the perpetuation of institutionally racist stereotypes on a local level, especially if the stereotype happens to be the mascot of a school where the group is frequently invited to "teach" about their heritage.

Is the hardline stance of tribes like the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma that label all descendent groups and their members wannabe's the solution?

Maybe and maybe not. One professional sociologist who asked that their name be withheld feels there is a middle and very necessary ground that the treaty and other federally recognized nations should take: "Set up offices in non-reservation states to serve your own citizens living in those states, send in the teachers/leaders needed to re-educate the unenrolled descendents in accurate cultural traditions, real issues and the realities of being Indian, and then harness their collective off-reservation voting and lobbying power. The window of opportunity is now."

Rob's comment
This article does a good job of dissecting Cremeans's search for a tribal identity. The whole idea that someone who thinks he's an Indian can form a tribe and seek recognition is stereotypical.

Related links
Indian wannabes and imitators
The facts about tribal sovereignty

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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