Call to Order and Roll Call
Thefifth meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government was held on Wednesday, November 17, 2010, at 1:00 PM, in Room 154 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Mike Cherry, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Damon Thayer, Co-Chair; Representative Mike Cherry, Co-Chair; Senators Walter Blevins Jr., Julian Carroll, John Schickel, Elizabeth Tori, Johnny Ray Turner, and Robin Webb; Representatives Eddie Ballard, Kevin Bratcher, Dwight Butler, John "Bam" Carney, Larry Clark, Leslie Combs, James Comer Jr., Tim Couch, Will Coursey, Joseph Fischer, Danny Ford, Derrick Graham, Mike Harmon, Melvin Henley, Charlie Hoffman, Jimmie Lee, Brad Montell, Lonnie Napier, Sannie Overly, Darryl Owens, Tanya Pullin, Tom Riner, Steven Rudy, Sal Santoro, Kent Stevens, Jim Wayne, Alecia Webb-Edgington, and Brent Yonts.
Guests: Representative Reginald Meeks; Tressa Brown, Kentucky Heritage Council; and Michael Presnell, Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission.
Approval of Minutes
The minutes of the October 27 meeting were approved without objection, upon motion by Representative Rudy.
Resolutions Honoring Members Leaving General Assembly
The committee adopted resolutions to adjourn the meeting in honor of the following members who will be leaving the General Assembly in January: Senators Reynolds and Tori, and Representatives Ballard, Hoffman, Stevens, and Weston. Honorees who were present made brief statements, and the ceremony concluded with a group photo of the committee.
Legislation Relating to Native Americans
Representative Reginald Meeks presented BR 220 and BR 221, which he prefiled relating to recognition of native Americans. Tressa Brown, African-American Heritage Coordinator/Native American Heritage Coordinator for the Kentucky Heritage Council, and Michael Presnell, Vice Chair of the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission, accompanied him and spoke in support of the legislation. Representative Meeks explained that Helen Danser, Chair of the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission, could not be present because she is attending the annual conference of the National Congress of American Indians. Representative Cherry recognized in the audience Mark Dennen, Director of the Kentucky Heritage Council. Sixteen persons of native American heritage were also present and were later recognized individually.
Ms. Brown said that one of the primary goals of the Native American Heritage Commission is to educate Kentuckians about Kentucky’s native history and to dispel myths about native people. She emphasized that there were native people in Kentucky 10,000 years ago and that native people still reside permanently in Kentucky. Mr. Presnell said he is also president of the Kentucky Center for Native American Arts and Culture, is a federally recognized member of the Western Band of Cherokee, and was born and raised in Kentucky. For several years he has been CEO of his family’s civil engineering firm, which works nationwide mainly for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Representative Meeks explained BR 220, relating to the definition of “American Indian.” He said that Kentucky statutes do not currently define “native American” and that having a definition would assure accountability for resources that come to and through the Commonwealth. The definition in BR 220 (Sec. 1 (2)) corresponds with both the Census Bureau definition and the federal definition of native American. It is accepted throughout the country and is included in other states’ statutes.
When Representative Montell expressed reservation about the inclusion of peoples of Central America and South America in the definition, Representative Meeks said the definition is broad not only because it corresponds to the federal and Census Bureau definitions but also because native people identify with, and recognize that they are related to, people in those geographic regions. Ms. Brown pointed out that the definition in BR 220 applies to individuals rather than groups of people.
When asked by Representative Wayne, Representative Meeks confirmed that the bill has nothing to do with legal citizenship and would not apply to undocumented persons who reside in Kentucky illegally.
Representative Meeks discussed BR 221, relating to recognition of American Indian tribes, which establishes a process for formal recognition by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He explained that 38 American Indian nations lived in, hunted, or otherwise have had a presence in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Once the Commonwealth became well settled and independent of Virginia, members of various tribal nations blended into the communities as a way of protecting families, especially during times of removal of eastern tribes to the west. Federal treaty law and case law have long recognized the sovereignty of individual native American nations or tribes.
Today 43 states have American Indian nations; 28 of these states have federally-recognized nations, and 15 have state-only recognized nations. Eleven of the 15 states with state-only recognized nations have developed a formal process for tribal recognition. Kentucky is one of only seven states without any recognized nations. Under the provisions of BR 221, applicants desiring formal recognition would submit a formal petition to the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission and would have to satisfy at least five of the eight eligibility criteria. A tribe would have to have a population of at least 250 individuals who have had continued presence in the Commonwealth for at least 200 years. After determining that a petitioner has met the criteria requirements, the Commission would recommend to the Governor that the tribe, group, or organization identified in the petition be formally recognized. If the Governor accepts the recommendation, recognition would be entered by executive order. BR 221 requires the Commission to promulgate administrative regulations to establish the petitioning procedure and for appealing the Commission’s denial of a petition. The process outlined in BR 221 closely mirrors the recognition process in many other states.
Representative Meeks said that state recognition would facilitate cooperation and communication between tribal governments and the state. This would ensure better access of services to the American Indian population in the Commonwealth and would provide a multi-cultural understanding among public officials and the public at large. State-recognized tribes receive federal protection under the American Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 and the Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act of 1993. Tribal religious ceremonies were at one time outlawed by the federal government. State-recognized tribes can apply for limited federal programs such as education, job training, and housing assistance, which would bring additional needed revenue to the state in order to address specific problems faced by these communities of people. BR 221 is consistent with the laws of member states of the Governor’s Interstate Indian Council (GIIC). It has the official support of the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission and many native people throughout the Commonwealth. Mr. Presnell then spoke about the benefits and importance of having a formal process for recognition.
Responding to Representative Owens, Representative Meeks said he knows of two or three groups at this time that would be interested in obtaining state recognition but that he does not know how many others might apply. Applicants would have to reside in the Commonwealth.
Responding to questions from Representative Montell, Representative Meeks said that the federal government has its own tribal recognition process, administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He stated that those who wish to seek state rather than federal recognition perhaps do so because they feel they cannot meet the federal criteria.
Responding to an inquiry from Representative Harmon—who spoke about his own family’s native American ancestry—Representative Meeks discussed the history of the federal government’s maltreatment and discrimination toward native Americans, even as late as the 1950s. Representative Cherry noted that his great great grandmother was Cherokee.
When asked by Representative Carney, Representative Meeks said it is estimated that there are about 30,000 persons of native American heritage in the Commonwealth. This number could increase significantly after analysis of the most recent census data.
Senator Thayer spoke of the importance of native Americans taking pride in their heritage. He spoke also of his concern that passage of the legislation might lead to the establishment of Indian casinos in Kentucky, which he opposes. Representative Meeks said that, under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, only federally recognized tribes are eligible to conduct gaming activities, and only if the state in which they are located authorizes such activity. There are no federally recognized tribes in the Commonwealth, and state recognition is not dependent on and does not influence federal recognition. Mr. Presnell and Ms. Brown added that it would be difficult for the federal government to recognize a tribe in Kentucky in absence of a declaration of federal land. Federal recognition is a long-term process. For example, the Chinicock tribe of Long Island has been pursuing federal recognition since 1978 and only now is close to gaining recognition.
Representative Meeks, responding to a question from Representative Webb-Edgington, said he and his constituents are in the process of examining the recent amendment of Public Law 280 [a federal law establishing "a method whereby States may assume jurisdiction over reservation Indians”]. At present, it appears that it would not impact BR 220 and BR 221.
Senator Webb spoke with pride of her Shawnee heritage and expressed appreciation to Representative Meeks for his efforts. She said she has worked with him for a long time on the legislation and that it is not, and never has been, an effort to enable casino gaming in Kentucky.
Representative Meeks thanked the committee and said he is open to working with the members as the 2011 regular session approaches.
Senator Thayer, Co-Chair of the Task Force on Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs, read the subcommittee report of the Task Force’s November 16 meeting. A motion to adopt the report passed by unanimous voice vote.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:10 p.m., after adoption of a motion to adjourn in honor of the retiring committee members.