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Tennessee Groups Sue for Tribal Recognition

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (CN) - Three Native American tribes claim in court that Tennessee stripped their official state recognition after only a few days because of a "bogus lawsuit" challenging a commission's decision.

Remnant Yuchi Nation, Tanasi Tribe and United Eastern Lenape Tribe say that Tennessee, unlike all other states, currently does not have any officially recognized Native American tribes.

In a complaint filed Tuesday in Federal Court, the three tribes claim their short-lived recognition was reversed after a state board was hit with a lawsuit challenging its grant of recognition.

On June 19, 2010, the now-defunct Tennessee Commission on Indian Affairs adopted a standing rule granting official recognition to six tribes, including the Remnant Yuchi Nation, Tanasi Tribe and United Eastern Lenape Tribe, according to their lawsuit.

The commission's authority was terminated on June 30, 2010, because its goal was official recognition of Native American tribes in Tennessee, the complaint states. But the three tribes say a lawsuit was filed around the same time by an alleged Cherokee Nation lobbyist that challenged their recognition.

"The aforementioned lawsuit against the commission, in which recognition was challenged by Mark Greene, led to a reversal of the recognition based on a purported violation of Tennessee's Open Meetings Law," the Dec. 22 complaint states. "No appeal of this reversal was filed by the commission, the state of Tennessee, or any group or member so authorized."

The tribes say Greene didn't have standing to bring the lawsuit and was not entitled to notice of the commission meeting "due to his not being a Native American." They also accuse the Tennessee Attorney General's office of not properly defending the commission from Greene's "bogus lawsuit."

Bills aiming to grant the tribes recognition failed in the Tennessee General Assembly in 2010, 2011 and 2013, according to the complaint.

The Remnant Yuchi Nation, Tanasi Tribe and United Eastern Lenape Tribe allege violations of their right to due process and equal protection. They want a court declaration that they have been officially recognized as Native American Indian tribes.

"Plaintiffs have been irreparably injured in that they have been stripped of their proper status as a state-recognized American Indian tribe and wrongfully deprived of the benefits of that minority status," the 17-page lawsuit states.

The tribes are represented by William Taylor in Knoxville.

The Tennessee Attorney General's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment emailed Wednesday.

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