|Indian Country Today interviews Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, about changes to the federal recognition process:
Did you basically keep the provisions that were in the draft proposal?
No, it’s been modified quite a bit in response to comments so we’ll be interested to see what the comments are on that. We’re going into a 60-day comment period where we expect to get more comments on the way we changed things primarily.
Does the proposed rule maintain the change requiring proof of community and political authority from 1934 instead of 1789?
We have maintained that and we’ve also maintained that if a petitioner has maintained a state recognized reservation since 1934 or if we’ve held land in trust for a petitioner since 1934 that that would satisfy the political authority and community criteria.
What was the rationale for the earlier date of 1789?
Well, obviously, that’s the founding of the United States. Here’s the problem: Petitioning groups didn’t like that because during times in our nation’s history we were either seeking to exterminate or terminate of assimilate Indians so often they went underground during those periods and the problem is if we demand that they show evidence from those time periods they could very justifiably say, ‘We don’t have any evidence because we were trying not to be noticed.’ The 1934 date is important because that’s when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed. There was a period in the 1950s when tribes were terminated, but 1934 was the first time when [the federal government] said "Look, we think tribes should continue and we should help them draft constitutions and that sort of thing so that they can be ongoing political entities."
If they didn’t exist in 1934 that’s a serious problem, but it’s 1934 coming forward that’s the period we’re looking for political authority within their own community.
Get the Story:
Q&A: Kevin Washburn on New Proposed Federal Recognition Rules
(Indian Country Today 5/25)
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