Lost Tribe

Grand Prairie's Henry Clayton has proclaimed himself chief of the new 'nato Nation. Is he the head of Texas' largest Indian tribe-or an indian impostor?

It wasn't until the federal government starting putting Indians on trust lands and providing them services and the right to self govern, that tribes had a need for membership rolls. The enrollments accomplished two things for the government: they controlled fraud and limited the number of people who were entitled to Indian land and other benefits.

It is up to each tribe to determine the requirements for enrollment. Some require a blood quantum, that you be at least one-half or one-quarter Indian and receive a BIA certificate of degree of Indian blood, which entitles you to certain services, such as free health care. Other tribes, such as the Cherokees, require that you be a direct descendant of Indians who were registered with something called the Dawes Rolls, a tribal registry that was conceived in 1889 when Oklahoma, then Indian territory, was granted statehood. The Dawes Rolls were controversial and inaccurate. Some Indians refused to participate, resentful that they had to register like foreigners in their own land. Others were simply distrustful of anything to do with the white man's government. And some who got on the rolls were not Indians at all, but whites who bribed their way on to get land allotments.

"Indians are the only ethnic group in this country that have to have a card to prove who they are, and they resent that," says Valerie Lane, former head of the Indian Law Project, which was part of North Texas Legal Services. "It's like a pedigreed dog having papers. Why should a group be required to carry a card? It's degrading. There are a lot of definitions of what is an Indian. Unfortunately, the government has created a lot of them. I'm not sure the government process of determining who is an Indian and what constitutes a tribe has been beneficial to our community."

Clayton claims his Oklahoma Indian family members refused to be enrolled. "They did not want to be carded. They did not want dog tags. That is not the Indian way."

Lane and other local Native American leaders say that most urban Indians, at least, believe having a certificate of degree of Indian blood is less essential in determining one's authenticity as an Indian than one's involvement in the community. "Being an Indian comes from your heart; it's not something that comes with a library card," says Hilton Queton, director of the American Indian Center in Euless, a 25-year-old non-profit organization that promotes educational, cultural and social development of American Indians.

But even on the test of community involvement, the Clayton brothers and the other two chiefs fall short. As Queton tells it, Henry Clayton popped up in the local Indian community about two years ago. He approached AIC in Euless with a desire to help it raise money. "But he wanted us to provide him an office and a telephone and furnish him business cards signifying he was part of the organization."

Queton refused. He didn't see or hear from Clayton again until this past year, when he made a presentation to the AIC board, trying to get them interested in supporting an Indian job training program connected with the Texas Institute of Human Development. "We are interested but we have our work cut out for us building our own programs," says Queton.

Clayton and McGehee showed up a few weeks ago at a meeting of Indians who want to develop a Native American Chamber of Commerce in Dallas. Some people at the meeting thought that when McGehee spoke he showed a stunning lack of knowledge of Indian history and issues. "He made no sense at all," says Eagle Bull.

Others had a more charitable view. Doyle Logan, co- owner of the Sequoyah Bookstore, which specializes in Native American first editions, thought Clayton made some good points about making sure the Chamber didn't exclude any heritages and that it worked to improve Indian businesses. He was also taken with what he believed was 'Nato's noble, if quixotic, mission. "They want all Indian groups to band together for the common good, to give Indians a bigger voice," says Logan, whose wife is half Cherokee. "The last time Indians did that they defeated Custer."

But most Indian leaders hadn't even heard of 'Nato until the Observer contacted them for comment. "They are not involved in the Indian community at all," Queton says. "And this is the first I've heard of him being a judge. He's taken some courses and now he's a judge. Well, son of a gun--I'm baffled. I really am. What benefits he is trying to establish may be self-serving."

But Clayton explains 'Nato's low profile as reflecting their cultural heritage. "We've been aggressive, but not obtrusive. It is not the Indian way to beat your drum."

Ironically, the most bitter critic of 'Nato and of Henry Clayton shares his Indian blood. His youngest daughter Rebeka Clayton Lochhead believes he is creating the tribe for selfish ends. "My father is a manipulator and a con man," says Rebeka."This is just a way to make himself feel important."

Lochhead, who looks older than her 21 years, says she used to respect and admire her father, but now refuses to have anything to do with him, despite needing family support for her three children--a six-month-old and 18-month-old twins, one of whom was recently operated on for a clubfoot. Lochhead lives in a small apartment in Grand Prairie where she has no phone, no car, no money, and no friends.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help