Headquarters of the "Northern Cherokee Nation" in Clinton, Missouri. Photo: Northern Cherokee Nation

'It’s infuriating': Fake 'Cherokee' busineses land millions of dollars in contracts

The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday published an explosive account of how businesses owned by fake "Cherokee" entrepreneurs have landed more than $300 million in local, state and federal contracts by exploiting lax rules and oversight.

The biggest offenders by far are people who belong to the "Northern Cherokee Nation of the Old Louisiana Territory," The Times investigation found. These businesses have received $269.2 million in government contracts since 2000 even though the group is not considered legitimate.

“I have nothing to say to you,” Billy Boyce Jr., the owner of a company that is considered a "minority" contractor in Missouri, told The Times when asked about his family's alleged Indian ancestry, which they have used over two generations to land work. “Get off my property.”

Businesses owned by people from "Northern Cherokee Nation" received $31.5 million in government contractors while those from the "Western Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri" secured $3.1 million, The Times found. Both groups, also based in Missouri, lack legitimacy.

“It’s infuriating,” State Rep. Rocky Miller (R), who is a citizen of the federally recognized Cherokee Nation, told The Times. “They’re enriching themselves based on a nonexistent recognition.”

The Times traces much of the problem to lax oversight in Missouri. Businesses claiming minority status don't have to do much to show they are owned by someone who is a citizen of a federally recognized tribe or a legitimate Indian nation.

But the U.S. Small Business Administration also plays a role in perpetuating the situation, The Times found. When officials questioned whether the Boyce family is legitimate, their concerns were "dismissed" by the federal agency, the paper reported.

“It was very frustrating,” Sharon Taegel, who was the civil rights administrator with the Missouri Transportation Department at the time, told the paper. “The SBA … they didn’t like to be questioned.”

Still, there are signs of change. Five fake "Cherokee" businesses stand to lose their minority contracting status in St. Louis as a result of the paper's inquiries about the program in the city.

The Business Diversity Development Department at the St. Louis Lambert International Airport serves as the certifying body for the city's Minority and/or Women Business Enterprise program. The agency's fiscal year 2018 report identifies 15 certified firms owned by "Native American" entrepreneurs.

Other than that, there is little public information about the businesses landing the contracts and whether the owners are legitimately Cherokee. Kenn “Grey Elk” Descombes, the chief of the Northern Cherokee Nation, wants to keep it that way.

“We would never let anyone get their hands on it," Descombes told The Times when asked to see a copy of the group's "secret Cherokee ancestry roll," which is apparently locked up in a bank vault. “It’s not for white people.”

Read More on the Story
Claiming to be Cherokee, contractors with white ancestry got $300 million (The Los Angeles Times June 26, 2019)

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