An Oklahoma Indian tribe is just days away from losing millions of dollars in federal funding. The US Bureau of Indian Affairs took Bartlesville's Delaware tribe off its list of federally-recognized tribes.
News on 6 anchor Tami Marler explains how the loss will have an effect on almost everyone in Washington County.
Even after being moved to nine different states. The Delaware Tribe fought to hold on to its identity. When they settled in Oklahoma Indian territory. Chief Joe Brooks says they worked out an agreement with the Cherokees. "According to the treaties of 1866, we were entitled to a distinct area within the jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation, which gave us the right to retain our own tribal organization."
The Delaware won back its sovereignty in 1996; seventeen years after the Bureau of Indian Affairs folded the Delaware into the Cherokee Nation. The federal recognition opened up a whole new world for the nearly 11,000 member tribe.
Delaware Ceremonial Chief Leonard Thompson: "Iâ€™m glad we're Delawareâ€™s again and not Cherokees, we've been hindered with Cherokees, we've been hindered with that. We can carry on our own dances and own religion, we've got different languages, different culture.
Chief Brooks: "immediately in 1996 when we were restored to the list of federally recognized tribes, the Cherokee Nation filed suit. They contested the provision of federal grants and services from the US Department of Interior. They've continually challenged our funding since 1996."
Chief Brooks and his tribal council have fought a relentless battle to keep the Delaware tribe a sovereign nation. Recently, a federal court sided with the Cherokees. "It's been a battle, up and down between the Delawareâ€™s and the Cherokees. There's room in Northeast Oklahoma for all Indians. Not just one tribe. We're Delawareâ€™s, not Cherokees. We've always been Delawareâ€™s; from this point forward we'll remain Delawareâ€™s."
In just a matter of days, the federal government will no longer recognize the Delaware tribe as a tribe. It all stems from a struggle that started before Oklahoma became a state and it just recently came to a head. Delaware Tribe member Pat Johnson: "That they're closing the 31st, that we're no longer a tribe. It's sad. All my life." The health center is just one of the benefits Pat Johnson enjoys as a Delaware. "You get glasses, dental, doctors. And then, since I'm an elder, I go up to the big building and have lunch, real often."
The tribe will lose nearly $6-million a year in federal funding. More than 50 employees will lose their jobs; medical services for 500 patients will terminate, along with meal programs for seniors like Evelyn Thomas, a full-blood Delaware. "Made me feel down. I mean I didn't think this was ever going to happen."
Chief Brooks says the Delaware tribe is preparing to file for a stay with the US Supreme Court; although they realize, chances are slim the court will even hear their case. Brooks says, what hurts the most, is the millions of dollars that have gone toward legal fees, could have been spent on services for both tribes.