St. Louis Firms Lose Minority Status Due to Claimed “Cherokee” Ancestry

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  • DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • The head office of the Cherokee Nation of the North, based in Clinton, Missouri.

Four St. Louis companies that sued the city in 2019 for alleged discrimination have (for the second time) denied minority status because of their ties to the Missouri-based Northern Cherokee Nation.

The self-proclaimed “Cherokee tribe” is not recognized by the federal government. He maintains unsubstantiated – and, in some cases, provably false – claims to Native American ancestry.

According to documents obtained through an application from Sunshine, the city’s program review committee met on July 27 to recommend that the four companies – CCI Environmental Inc., Global Environmental Inc., Premier Demolition Inc. and DW Mertzke Excavating & Trucking – denied minority certification. , which means they can no longer qualify for the selected contracts offered to companies in the city’s workforce diversity programs.

The action is the latest development following a nationwide review of how federal and local “fallow” contracts – which are mandated by law to be awarded to minority businesses – have been mismanaged for decades. years. Defying regulations, the programs have allowed a network of suspected ethnic frauds to flourish in dozens of states while embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars from members of legitimate indigenous groups.

Missouri is at the center of the web. There are no federally recognized Native American tribes based in the state, and there is no state agency that officially recognizes Native groups – and yet Missouri is home to at least three ” self-proclaimed Cherokee tribes, including the Northern Cherokee Nation.

Based more than 200 miles from St. Louis in Clinton, Missouri, the Northern Cherokee Nation was founded in the early 1980s. It is not one of the three Cherokee tribes recognized by the federal government.

The group’s questionable authenticity claims were key to the lawsuit filed in late 2019 in response to Saint-Louis’ first action to remove the four companies from its list of minority-owned companies.

Filed in federal court, the lawsuit accused city officials of discriminating against business owners by forcing them to meet a different standard than businesses seeking certification as other minorities.

“City policy … treats Native Americans differently from African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans on the basis of race,” the lawsuit argued, “because it allows these groups to simply claim the origin of one of these groups of people to qualify as a member of a minority group, but does not allow Native Americans to qualify in the same way. ”

But the city’s policy complied with federal law, which requires businesses seeking minority status as Native Americans to be linked to a tribe recognized by the US Bureau of Indian Affairs.

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Kenn "Gray elk" Descombes, chief of the northern Cherokee nation, maintains that his tribe is "equally" a minority as federally recognized Cherokee groups.  - DANNY WICENTOWSKI

  • DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Kenn “Gray Elk” Descombes, leader of the Northern Cherokee Nation, maintains that his tribe is “just as much” a minority as the Cherokee groups recognized by the federal government.

As it turned out, this federal law was largely ignored for almost a decade. In the summer of 2019, a breathtaking survey of Los Angeles Times found that regulations for the certification of Native American-owned businesses were not enforced across the country, both locally and at the federal level. The failures have allowed companies to reap the benefits of minority status even though their owners have no verifiable Cherokee ancestry.

The Times the investigation covered several businesses in Saint-Louis, including those that have just been decertified. With the help of a genealogist and the Cherokee Heritage Center, the Times found that the ancestors of Vicki Dunn, owner of Global Environmental, and Bill Buell, owner of Premier Demolition, appeared blank on the census and death records.

The two owners of the company had been certified in the minority because of their membership in the northern Cherokee nation.

For Premier, the certification won him a $ 311,000 town demolition contract in 2017. Meanwhile, Dunn’s minority status has opened the door to an $ 80,000 town contract – but the real money was federal jobs, whose contracts ran in the millions.

As Riverside hours confirmed later, these are the inquiries of the Times reporters who alerted St. Louis officials that its workforce diversity program awarded lucrative contracts to companies linked to the northern Cherokee nation.

In an interview a few days after the Times published his survey on June 26, 2019, then-St. Louis City Councilor Julian Bush told the RFT that the city “came to have qualms” as to whether a total of five companies in its diversity program “were truly American Indians.”

As the meeting records show, these scruples led the city council that regulates certifications for minority-owned businesses to meet on June 12, 2019. The council voted unanimously to withdraw a certification from a total of five Saint-Louis companies. In response, four of the companies sued the city.

Delayed by the pandemic, the lawsuit spent another year in federal court before US District Judge Rodney W. Sippel rendered a consent judgment on April 12.

While dismissing the damages claims, Sippel ordered the city to pay the companies a total of $ 15,000 for attorney fees.

Limited in scope, the ordinance did not weigh on the veracity of the Northern Cherokee Nation’s claims of authenticity; instead, the judge simply ordered the city to accept new applications from the four companies seeking certification as minority-owned businesses.

St. Louis complied – and less than three months later, faced again with business owners claiming Indigenous heritage through the Northern Cherokee Nation, the city responded similarly: Denied .

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at
@D_Towski. Email the author at [email protected]

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