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Tribe's Bid for Recognition Rejected

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HILLSBOROUGH — TheOccaneechi Indian tribehas failed once again to get the recognition they say they deserve from state members.

On Friday, theState Commission on Indian Affairsrejected the tribe's bid for recognition for the third time this decade.

At a powwow in Hillsborough, though, tribal leaders have vowed to keep on fighting.

"This is our identity," says a member of the tribe, "we are fighting for our heritage. No one has the right to deny us of our identity."

Instead of dwelling on the denial of recognition, the Occaneechi of the Saponi Nation chose to celebrate their culture.

The powwow welcomed all tribes to take part, even the North Carolina Native Americans whose elders had rejected them just hours before.

"It is a non-competitive powwow, it is a non-political powwow. It is a very traditional powwow," explains John Jeffries, a Tribal Council Chairman.

Jeffries says the commission again towed the line that the Occaneechi could not document 200 years of unbroken North Carolina history and lacked in other criteria to gain recognition. It is an opinion, the Occaneechi have failed to sway.

Jeffries believes the decision was politically based.

The Occaneechi say they will take their fight for respect to superior court.

"This is a chance to honor our ancestors," says Lawrence Dunmore, Tribal Council Vice Chairman, "share our culture and to educate the public. We know who we are and in time it will bear out to the truth."

Without recognition, the Occaneechi do not qualify for state or federal money and they are denied membership on the Indian Affairs Commission.