Opinion | Federal Recognition

Cedric Sunray: How to fix a broken federal recognition process

Cedric Sunray discusses a Bureau of Indian Affairs proposal to reform the federal recognition process:
A month or so ago my inbox was flooded with emails letting me know that the federal recognition process was getting a giant overhaul. Accompanying the e-mails were attachments of letters, revised drafts, etc. Most seemed optimistic. My response was simple. If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true.

Within days reality set in. Major political figures who were instrumental in stopping tribes previously sprung from their slumber, while the announcement of equitable meetings to be held across the country reared their actual heads to the light of day. The primary morning sessions to discuss federal recognition would be federally recognized only affairs, since it makes highly logical sense to discuss the process without the input of those who have actually been negatively impacted. It is kind of like the days when all white city councils would sit around together and decide what was the best course of action for all their local town community members (including Black residents).

As the only tribe in the nation to have pursued all three available routes to federal recognition to include the Office of Federal Acknowledgement, Congress, and a federal lawsuit, we may have a little insight into this process. As a tribal community whose language tapes and Indian boarding school records were mysteriously deemed received “out of time” and therefore not able to be considered in our petition, we know a thing or two. As a tribe who was called Black at a genealogical conference at Samford University in Alabama by current Office of Federal Acknowledgment Director Lee Fleming prior to his working for the BIA, we may know just a couple of things about bias. His comment that the attendance of our people and other historic “non-federal” tribes at Indian boarding schools was simply a federal “mistake” may crave a little further investigation as well. His getting of then Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover to sign off on a negative determination after only his second day on the job (a decision Gover said was a mistake in Congressional Testimony in 2004) was indicative of his underhandedness. So there is problem number one.

Get the Story:
Cedric Sunray: A Seven-Point Plan to Fix the Farce That Is Federal Recognition (Indian Country Today 7/29)

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

Relevant Documents:
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:
BIA takes comment on changes to federal recognition process (07/26)

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