Law | Federal Recognition

Secretary Jewell mum on Little Shell Tribe recognition bid

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell declined to comment about federal recognition for the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana at a hearing on Wednesday.

During the Clinton administration, the Bureau of Indian Affairs proposed to recognize the tribe in 2000. But the Obama administration, nine years later, issued a final determination against the tribe.

"Honestly, straight up -- are you going to reconsider Little Shell?" asked Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing.

Jewell, who took over the Interior Department on April 12, didn't answer the question. "I've been advised that I can't comment on Little Shell in specifics because of the litigation," she told the committee.

However, the tribe does not appear to have filed a lawsuit against the federal government. So it's possible that Jewell was referring to a matter before the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, an administrative review body.

Briefing was completed in July 2010, according to the Native American Rights Fund, which represents the tribe. Nearly three years later, a decision has not been issued, according to a review of DOI's website.

"That body may take years to rule," NARF attorney Kim Gottschalk said in testimony to the SCIA in April 2011. "Its scope of review is limited and to my knowledge no tribe has ever improved its position on appeal. The best that has ever been done is to have a favorable decision affirmed."

The tribe could go to federal court after the IBIA makes its decision. But there's only been one instance in which a petitioning group has prevailed in securing a reconsideration.

That case involves a petitioning group from Jewell's home state of Washington -- the Duwamish Tribe. A federal judge has ordered the BIA to explain why it rejected the tribe.

Committee Notice:
OVERSIGHT HEARING "To Receive the Views and Priorities of Interior Secretary Jewell with Regard to Matters of Indian Affairs." (May 15, 2013)

Related Stories:
Audio from SCIA hearing with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (5/15)
Judge orders BIA to reconsider Duwamish Tribe recognition (3/25)

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