Federal Recognition

Aura Bogado: BIA tries to reform troubled recognition system

Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn. Photo from Bureau of Indian Affairs

Aura Bogado reports on the Part 83 reforms to the federal recognition process at the Bureau of Indian Affairs:
For Native American tribes, federal recognition creates nation-to-nation relationships with the federal government that acknowledge their self-determination and tribal sovereignty. When they become federally recognized, tribes can establish their own zoning and land-use laws on their reservations. In general, these tribes are also exempt from local and state taxes; free of many state laws; and allowed to pursue big gaming such as high-stakes bingo, slots and casinos.

The process for obtaining federal recognition was established in 1978. The Department of the Interior sets the standards and an Indian Affairs assistant secretary decides each petition on a case-by-case basis. The process is a long one—as Nedra Darling, spokeswoman for Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs points out, it can often take decades. Indeed, a look at petitioners awaiting consideration includes the Muscogee Nation of Florida, which sent a letter of intent 36 years ago.

In 2005, a Government Accountability Office report indicated that the “tribal recognition process was ill-equipped to provide timely responses to tribal petitions for federal recognition,” and it recommended an overhaul. Nearly a decade later, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is taking on the issue.

This past May, Indian Affairs assistant secretary Kevin Washburn issued a proposal outlining changes. The current policy requires tribes to prove that they’ve had “continuous political authority and community” since 1789 and that “an external entity” has identified the group as Indian since 1900. Washburn’s plan require tribes to illustrate their political authority and community since 1934.

Get the Story:
Aura Bogado: For Some Native Tribes, Federal Recognition Remains Out of Reach (Color Lines 10/15)

Federal Register Notices:
Federal Acknowledgment of American Indian Tribes (July 30, 2014)
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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