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BIA announces regulation to reform federal recognition process

Filed Under: National | Recognition
More on: bia, doi, kevin washburn, sally jewell

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is finalizing a rule to reform the federal recognition process.

The BIA started its formal recognition process in 1978. Since then, the regulations have only been updated once, back in 1994.

Meanwhile, the workload for the Office of Federal Acknowledgement continues to mount. Petitions routinely take decades to resolve, costing millions of dollars for all parties involved and contributing to lengthy appeals and cumbersome litigation.

“Through this administration’s outreach initiatives, tribal leaders have told us that the current process can be inconsistent, cost millions of dollars and take decades to complete," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a press release. "Our proposed rule maintains the rigorous integrity needed, but allows that process to be conducted in a timely, efficient and transparent manner."

“Reform of the process is long-overdue,” added Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the BIA.

The most significant change address how far back a petitioner must demonstrate its existence as an Indian entity. The new date is 1934 -- the year the Indian Reorganization Act became law -- so groups no longer have to provide evidence to Colonial times.

The new rule will be open to another round of public comment and tribal consultation. A series of meetings will be held throughout the month of July.

The rule is being sent to the Federal Register for publication. More information, including dates of public meetings and consultations, can be found at

Federal Register Notice:
Procedures for Establishing That an American Indian Group Exists as an Indian Tribe (June 26, 2013)

Relevant Documents:
Proposed Rule | Press Release | Comparison Chart (comparing current rule to proposed rule) | Dear Tribal Leaders Letter
Present Version - 25 CFR Part 83 Procedures for Establishing that an American Indian Group Exists as an Indian Tribe
Red Lined Proposed Version - 25 CFR Part 83 Procedures for Establishing that American Indian Group Exists as an Indian Tribe

Related Stories:
Opinion: Federal recognition matters influenced by lobbyists (03/14)
Editorial: Connecticut argues against its own recognized tribes (3/13)
Editorial: Some Indians become inconvenient for Connecticut (3/7)
Editorial: Don't let BIA water down federal recognition process (3/6)
Connecticut governor opposes BIA federal recognition reforms (2/27) Connecticut politicians want BIA to drop recognition reform (8/30)
Connecticut leads opposition to federal recognition reforms (8/26)
BIA extends comment period on federal recognition proposal (08/13)

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