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Arkansas Cherokee Nation holds event, struggles for recognition

By Caroline Zilk

This article was published September 18, 2011 at 3:01 a.m.

— Harold Helton is principal chief of the Arkansas Cherokee Nation. It’s a nation that doesn’t technically exist.

Helton and his group are fighting to be the fourth federally recognized Cherokee tribe in the country.

The three recognized tribes are the Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.

The issue is a hot-button one for Jerra Quinton, executive director of the Trail of Tears Association.

“They will never be a federallyrecognized tribe,” Quinton said. “I am a citizen of the Cherokee nation. There are three tribes that are recognized. They all share language, culture, tradition, and that’s something [the Arkansas Cherokee Nation] doesn’t have.”

Helton, a Conway resident, said his group has the support of the Keetoowah Band, for which he served as host for a Native American gospel singing event on Sept. 10. The Sounds of Praise, a group from the Keetoowah Band, performed gospel songs in the English and Cherokee languages during a three-hour event at Pickles Gap Village.

Helton said he hoped the event would educate others about the Arkansas Cherokee Nation’s cause and hopes of being federally recognized.

According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the mandatory criteria to become federally recognized include: being identified as an American Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis since 1900; comprising a distinct community and existing as a community from historical times until the present; maintaining political influence or authority over its members from historical times until the present; and more.

Helton said providing the historical data is the “tricky part” of becoming recognized.

“We will have to pull together to do it,” he said. “The Keetoowah Band said they would help us try to uncover any history they could.”

Helton said the Arkansas tribe never took a census in the 1800s. They are currently in the process of locating more tribe members. Currently, Helton said, about 400 people in Arkansas have documented Cherokee lineage and are registered with the Arkansas Cherokee Nation.

“There are thousands out there,” he said, “but they have to be able to prove it.”

Helton said one of the main incentives for becoming a federally recognized tribe is the financial benefit.

“There are federal fundsavailable for Indian tribes,” Helton said. “Having a federally recognized Indian tribe would benefit the state as a whole. We could use funds for infrastructure.”

However, Quinton insisted that no matter how many people are registered or how good their intentions are, the Arkansas Cherokee Nation will never be federally recognized.

“This group is not a tribe. They have not been identified as an entity on a continuous basis since 1900,” she said. “They are not a distinct community now, much less fromhistorical times until now. And they have not functioned as a political group since historical times until now.”

For more infor mat ion about the Arkansas Cherokee Nation and its efforts to be federally recognized, visit

Staff writer Caroline Zilk can be reached at (501)804-2701 or

River Valley Ozark, Pages 142 on 09/18/2011

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