Law | Federal Recognition

Judge orders BIA to reconsider Duwamish Tribe recognition





For the first time, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been ordered to explain why it denied federal recognition to a tribal petitioner.

The BIA has been successful in beating back lawsuits from groups that were refused recognition. But a federal judge said the agency didn't do a proper job of explaining why the Duwamish Tribe of Washington, whose leaders filed a petition in 1977, didn't make the cut.

"As previously discussed, the [Interior] Department‘s decision not to acknowledge the Duwamish is an extremely weighty one for the Duwamish people," Judge John C. Coughenour wrote in the 19-page decision that was issued on Friday. "Moreover, concerns about the basis for the Department‘s acknowledgment decisions have plagued the process and undermined confidence in that process."

Under former assistant secretary Ada Deer, the BIA proposed to deny recognition to the tribe in 1996. But in the final days of the Clinton administration, acting former assistant secretary Michael Anderson said the tribe deserved federal status.

The new Bush administration, however, put a hold on the decision and former assistant secretary Neal McCaleb denied the tribe in September 2001. Coughenour said the move was "arbitrary and capricious" because McCaleb evaluated the petition under a different set of rules than Anderson.

"Plaintiffs should not be left to wonder why one administration thought their petition should be considered under both sets of rules, but a second did not," Coughenour wrote.

Coughenour ordered the BIA to re-evaluate the petition under the rules that led Anderson to grant recognition or to explain why it won't do so.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Hansen v. Salazar.