|Posted on September 19, 2018 at 10:50 AM|
Rachel Naftel, Auburn University
The Alabama Indian Affairs Commission (AIAC), headquartered in Montgomery, Montgomery County, was established by the Alabama State Legislature in 1984 to serve as a liaison between Native Americans in the state and local, state, and federal agencies. Primarily, the AIAC aims to connect the Native American community in the state with local, state, and federal resources, including funding, for their social and economic development programs. In addition, it is tasked with developing criteria for recognition for Indian tribes, bands, or groups, and advocating for and promoting Indian rights.
The state government recognizes nine Native American tribes in Alabama: the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama, the Cherokee Tribe of Northeast Alabama, the Ma-Chis Lower Creek Indian Tribe of Alabama, the Star Clan of Muscogee Creeks, the Cher-O-Creek Intra Tribal Indians, the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians, the Piqua Shawnee Tribe, and the United Cherokee Ani-Yun-Wiya Nation. Of this group, only the Poarch Band of Creeks is officially recognized by the federal government.
The AIAC is comprised of 13 members consisting of one representative from each of the nine Indian tribes served by the AIAC as well as a member of the Alabama Senate appointed by the lieutenant governor, a member of the Alabama House of Representatives appointed by the speaker, an at-large member appointed by the governor, and a member appointed by the commission who is a member of a federally recognized tribe not a member of any tribe represented on the commission. Commissioners serve four-year terms and are eligible for reappointment. The commission selects officers every two years and these include a chair, vice chair, parliamentarian, and executive director. The chair presides over all meetings and exercises general supervision of the commission. Meetings take place at the headquarters in Montgomery and are open to the public and posted on the AIAC website. AIAC operations are funded by the state government. The executive director, chair, and vice chair have fiscal responsibility for the funds. Members of the commission receive no compensation for their services, other than reimbursements for travel and expenses incurred while performing their duties as commissioner.
The commission's primary purpose is to promote local, state, and federal government resources for Indian citizens in the state and actively seek government grants or funds available to eligible Native Americans. It has the authority to recognize Indian tribes as well as the authority to prescribe the rules for the recognition of Indian tribes, bands, groups, and associations, which is a complicated process. Its work also involves administrative and financial activities, particularly managing the agency and its finances, human resources, and facilities and providing information about legislation that affects Indians in Alabama.
One of the AIAC's continuing accomplishments is its scholarship program. The AIAC offers annual scholarships to Native American residents of Alabama pursuing a college degree within the state. To qualify, students must be enrolled in the federal/state recognized tribe for a minimum of three years and meet his or her tribe's internal qualifications. These scholarships give special considerations to students pursuing nursing, medical, veterinary, and pharmacy degrees. In addition to the scholarships, the AIAC sponsors the Ms. Indian Alabama Pageant, with the winner receiving a $5,000 scholarship.
Since its inception, the AIAC has sponsored economic development workshops and created the Alabama Indian Small Business Association; the commission maintains a list of Indian-operated businesses in the state. The Alabama Indian Community Loan Fund was created to help find organizations to invest in Indian businesses. (The casinos and hotels of the Poarch Band are perhaps the most visible projects undertaken in the state.) In addition, the commission has worked with historical organizations, including the Alabama Department of Archives and History for an ethnic studies program. The AIAC has raised warnings about the destruction of historic sites and collaborated with the Alabama Historical Commission on a statewide historic preservation plan.
Piqua Shawnee Tribe