Opinion | Federal Recognition

Ruth Garby Torres: Truths about tribes and federal recognition





Ruth Garby Torres, a member of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of Connecticut, addresses criticism over the federal recognition system:
Contrary to what you may hear from public officials in Connecticut, there will still be many obstacles for tribes petitioning under the proposed changes to the acknowledgment process and beyond that process.

Back in 2005 when many of these same public officials were running around with their hair on fire because the Schaghticokes and Eastern Pequots were federally recognized, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the City of Sherrill vs. Oneida Indian Tribe case.

To be clear, I am not a lawyer, legal scholar or expert but anyone can find explanations of this case in plain English. In short, the Oneidas legally purchased private properties in New York, which the City of Sherrill wanted to tax. The court held that, “Given the longstanding, distinctly non-Indian character of central New York and its inhabitants, the regulatory authority over the area constantly exercised by the State and its counties and towns for 200 years, and the Oneidas’ long delay in seeking judicial relief against parties other than the United States, standards of federal Indian law and federal equity practice preclude the Tribe from unilaterally reviving its ancient sovereignty, in whole or in part, over the parcels at issue.”

Yes, that was plain English. Plainer still are my words – Connecticut land owners can relax now. You can thank Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Even if tribes here have legitimate claims to dispossessed land that you now call home or if tribes purchase land in the future, tribal sovereignty will not automatically be restored on those lands.

With the reform of the recognition process, tribes still retain the burden of satisfying rigorous criteria demonstrating that they have survived against the many pressures of annihilation and assimilation. And even upon recognition, there is no guarantee of land, of tribal governmental authority over land, and certainly no guarantee that gaming development would be either permissible or economically practical.

Get the Story:
Ruth Garby Torres: Six things you did not know about the federal acknowledgment of Indian tribes (The Connecticut Mirror 6/3)

Federal Register Notice:
Federal Acknowledgment of American Indian Tribes (May 29, 2014)

Relevant Documents:
Proposed Rule | Press Release | Comparison Chart (comparing current rule to proposed rule) | Response to Comments on June 2013 Discussion Draft | Frequently Asked Questions

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Interview with Kevin Washburn on federal recognition reforms (5/27)
Editorial: BIA shouldn't be altering federal recognition process (5/27)
BIA plans separate meets for recognized, non-recognized tribes (5/26)
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