Federal Recognition

Washburn says Native Hawaiians can't follow BIA regulations





Native Hawaiians can't seek federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn said on Tuesday.

In 1978, the BIA established a process to determine which tribes deserve federal recognition. The regulations in 25 CFR Part 83, however, only apply to groups in the "contiguous 48 states and Alaska."

"Our regs now leave out Native Hawaiians," Washburn said at a House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs hearing on federal recognition. "We are not able to consider Native Hawaiians under our current regs."

Native Hawaiians have long been treated in a manner similar to tribes in the continental U.S. But they aren't able to exercise sovereignty in the same way, a situation that could be resolved by Congress.

"They're indigenous, just like Native American Indians [and] Native Alaskans," observed Rep. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa).

President Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii, supports federal recognition for Native Hawaiians. But bills to extend the policy of self-determination to the island's indigenous people have been controversial in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Rice v. Cayetano, in which now-Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., as an attorney in private practice, unsuccessfully argued that Native Hawaiians enjoy a trust relationship with the federal government.

"They are truly the indigenous group from the state of Hawaii," Faleomavaega noted.

The BIA's Office of Federal Acknowledgment, which handles federal recognition petitions, reports to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

Committee Notice:
Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Oversight Hearing on "Authorization, standards, and procedures for whether, how, and when Indian tribes should be newly recognized by the federal government: Perspective of the Department of the Interior" (March 19, 2013)

Related Stories:
Audio from House hearing on BIA's federal recognition process (3/19)
Kevin Washburn to appear at hearing on federal recognition (3/18)
Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs sets hearing (3/12)