And yet, speckled across the country, and especially throughout the South, are dozens of unrecognized tribes, some consisting of just a few families—like Chief Bennett and Grandma B—living on a withering vine of tradition, or no tradition at all. These forgotten tribes have been unable to gain federal recognition, and they probably never will. Chief Bennett and Grandma B worked for decades to achieve recognition, sniffing out historical documents and hiring archaeologists, but to no avail, and they no longer have enough energy or money to keep up the fight.

These days, recognition has become big business. To prove the seven criteria requires hiring a million-dollar legal and ethnological team. In many cases, groups are backed by gaming companies eager to develop casinos, and neighboring tribes who already have casinos commonly object to new tribes being recognized. More than a few phony tribes have sprung up to take advantage of the process. It is hard to say if there are really any authentic tribes left anywhere.


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