Opinion | Federal Recognition

Mark Rogers: Tribal nations in New York deserve full recognition

The flag of the Matinnecock Tribe of New York. Photo from Facebook

Mark Rogers explores the challenges facing tribes on Long Island in New York that have not been recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs:
Since the inception of the process, only one local nation has been granted recognition. The Shinnecock Nation, my kin, have had to devote over thirty years of work and thirty million dollars to see justice done. If that is indeed the standard of justice as seen by the BIA and the Dept. of the Interior, I render a vote of no confidence in the process itself and the people behind it.

The process itself has many obstacles that constitute the recognition criteria but, what are the other obstacles? Money is the prevailing obstacle for most. The legal costs are astronomical and often prove to be a petitioning nation’s steepest hurdle. Even if a petitioner can manage the exorbitant costs, there is still a financial based hurdle present. That is in the form of previously recognized nations who don’t want to see diluted funding for federal programs ear marked for Indians. The bitter truth is that there are Indian people who actively discourage the recognition of other Indian people for the sake of money by calling these petitioners “illegitimate” tribes and nations. I can understand and expect state and local municipalities to resist as recognition could bring repercussions such as land claims, loss of tax revenue and potential reparations issues. I can even understand nations that depend on federal funds giving some resistance. What I don’t understand is how one Indian can look at another and say, “No, they don’t deserve recognition because they are not Indians and it may cost me”, despite the petitioner’s documented history and heritage. It is a sad state of Indian affairs when an Indian nation would rather exclude another than fight for more fairly funded programs.

Racism is the next hurdle. My own nations, the Montaukett and Matinecock, as well as other Long Island nations, the Unkechaug and Shinnecock, were subject to laws defining who they could marry since the settlers arrived. There were no repercussions for an Indian marrying and accepting a white person into the tribal or familial structure. The laws specifically punished the marriage of “strange Indians” (those outside of the tribe) and African Americans. In my opinion, the tribes of coastal New England are being punished for breaking the “one drop rule”. That is, if there is “one drop” of African blood in your lineage then, you are Black and your status as an Indian is forfeit. The nations of Long Island broke that law by marrying African Americans from the late 1700’s on and paid the price by having their status as Indians questioned or, in the case of the Montaukett, removed entirely.

Get the Story:
Mark Rogers: Recognizing the Problems of Tribal Recognition (Indian Country Today 6/3)

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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