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In the United States, state-recognized tribes are Native American Indian tribes, Nations, or Heritage Groups that do not meet the criteria for federally recognized Indian tribes but have been recognized by a process established under assorted state government laws for varying purposes. They may or may not be continually-existing tribal entities, and state recognition does not dictate whether or not they are recognized as Tribal Nations by continually-existing Tribal Nations.
With increasing activism by tribal nations since the mid-20th century to obtain federal recognition of their tribal sovereignty, many states have passed legislation that recognizes some tribes and acknowledges the self-determination and continuity of historic ethnic groups. Most such groups are located in the Eastern United States, including the three largest state-recognized tribes in the US: the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, the Miami Nation of Indiana and the United Houma Nation of Louisiana, each of which has several thousand tribal members.
In many cases, US states have recognized tribes that became landless; they did not have an Indian reservation or communal land holdings at the time of application. In addition, such states have often established commissions or other administrative bodies to deal with Native American affairs within the state. In some cases, that has included descendants or those who claim to be descendants who remained in states east of the Mississippi River when tribes were removed during the 19th century.
State recognition confers limited benefits under federal law. It is not the same as federal recognition, which is the federal government's acknowledgment of a tribe as a dependent sovereign nation. Some states have provided laws related to state recognition that provide some protection of autonomy for tribes that are not recognized by the federal government. For example, in Connecticut, state law recognizing certain tribes also protects reservations and limited self-government rights for state-recognized tribes.
Such state recognition has at times been opposed by federally-recognized tribes. For instance, the Cherokee Nation, which enrolls proven descendants, opposes state-recognized tribes, as well as Cherokee heritage groups and others with no documented descent who claim Cherokee identity.
Numerous other groups assert that they are Indian tribes. Some require that applicants document Native ancestors, but others require only a statement of belief. Some of the heritage groups have attained the status of "state-recognized tribes," and others are listed in the list of unrecognized tribes in the United States.
The United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, gives ultimate authority with regard to matters affecting the Indian tribes to the United States. Under federal law and regulations, an Indian tribe is a group of Native Americans with self-government authority. This defines those tribes recognized by the federal government.
By late 2007, about 16 states had recognized 62 tribes. Five other states—Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, and Oklahoma—had less developed processes of recognition. Typically, the state legislature or state agencies involved in cultural or Native American affairs make the formal recognition by criteria they establish, often with Native American representatives, and sometimes based on federal criteria. Members of a state-recognized tribe are still subject to state law and government, and the tribe does not have sovereign control over its affairs. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 14 states recognize tribes at the state level.
Under the United States Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, members of state-recognized tribes are authorized to exhibit as identified Native American artists, as are members of federally recognized tribes.
Koenig and Stein have recommended the processes of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, all established by laws passed by the state legislatures, as models worthy of other states to use as the basis for legislation related to recognition of Native American tribes. Statutes that clearly identify criteria for recognition or that explicitly recognize certain tribes remove ambiguity from their status.
By 2008 a total of 62 Native American tribes had been recognized by states. In 2021, 574 tribes had been recognized by the federal government, often as a result of the process of treaties setting up reservations in the 19th century.
The following is a list of tribes recognized by various states but not by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Tribes originally recognized by states that have since gained federal recognition have been deleted from the list below. The list includes those state-recognized tribes that have petitioned for federal recognition and been denied.
By the Davis-Strong Act of 1984, the state established the Alabama Indian Affairs Commission to acknowledge and represent Native American citizens in the state. At that time, it recognized seven tribes that did not have federal recognition. The commission members, representatives of the tribes, have created rules for tribal recognition, which were last updated in 2003, under which three more tribes have been recognized.
In 2007, the state legislature formally recognized as American Indian tribes of Georgia the following:
On January 9, 2012, for the first time the state recognized two American Indian tribes under a process developed by the General Assembly; these were both Piscataway groups, historically part of the large Algonquian languages family along the Atlantic Coast. The Governor announced it to the Assembly by executive order.
The Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs was created by a legislative act of the General Court of Massachusetts in 1974, with the purpose of helping tribes recognized or that will be recognized receive access to and assistance with various local and state agencies. Two former state-recognized tribes, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, have federal recognition as of 1987 and 2007, respectively.
As of 2014, Michigan has four State-recognized tribes.
The Tonawanda Band of Seneca and Tuscarora Nation are both recognized by the state of New York but also federally recognized.
South Carolina recognizes three types of Native American entities; tribes, groups and special interest organizations. As of 2020[update] the state recognizes nine Native American tribes that are not recognized by the federal government.
The South Carolina Commission for Minority Affairs also recognizes "State Recognized Groups and Special Interest Organizations," but these are not the same as the state-recognized tribes. They are the American Indian Chamber of Commerce South Carolina; Chaloklowa Chickasaw Indian People; Eastern Cherokee, Southern Iroquois and United Tribes of South Carolina; Little Horse Creek American Indian Cultural Center; Natchez Tribe of South Carolina; Pee Dee Indian Nation of Beaver Creek; and Pine Hill Indian Community Development Initiative.
In Texas, there are three Tribes that are recognized by both Federal and Texas governments. Texas recognizes two additional Tribes:
As of May 3, 2006, Vermont law 1 V.S.A §§ 851–853 recognizes Abenakis as Native American Indians, not the tribes or bands. However, on April 22, 2011, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed legislative bills officially recognizing two Abenaki Bands. The four Abenaki state-recognized tribes are also known as the "Abenaki Alliance".
On May 7, 2012, Governor Shumlim signed legislative bills officially recognizing two more Abenaki Bands:
Connecticut statutes recognize five tribes: (1) Golden Hill Paugussett, (2) Mashantucket Pequot, (3) Mohegan, (4) Eastern Pequot, and (5) Schaghticoke tribe.