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BIA adopts new policy regarding federal recognition process






Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn. Photo from SCIA / Flickr

All groups seeking recognition of their status as tribes must follow the same process under a new policy being adopted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The federal acknowledgment process formally began in 1978. Yet some groups have gained recognition, clarification or affirmation of their status through other administrative means.

The forthcoming guidance puts an end to that once and for all. Now that the Part 83 reforms are final, every group will have to follow the same rules.

"The recently revised Part 83 regulations promote fairness, integrity, efficiency and flexibility, Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn writes in the policy that will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow. "No group should be denied access to other mechanisms if the only administrative avenue available to them is widely considered 'broken.'"


Members of the Tejon Tribe. Photo from American Cancer Society Relay for Life

The document doesn't offer specifics but the most recent group that gained recognition outside of the Part 83 process came prior to Washburn's arrival at the BIA. In January 2012, former assistant secretary Larry Echo Hawk placed the Tejon Tribe of California on the list of federally recognized tribes.

Echo Hawk did so without following any sort of "discernible process," the Office of Inspector General at the Interior Department said in an April 2013 report. By that time, the former head of the BIA had left the Obama administration.

In January 2001, the Clinton administration "reaffirmed" the status of the King Salmon Tribe of Alaska, the Sun’aq Tribe in Alaska, and the Lower Lake Rancheria in California. The BIA at the time said they had been mistakenly left off the list of recognized tribes.

Even though questions were raised about those decisions, the new policy won't affect them.

"The decision to use only the recently reformed Part 83 process from this point forward does not affect the validity of any determination made prior to the institution of this policy guidance," the document states.

The guidance becomes effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register tomorrow.

BIA Final Part 83 Documents:
Final Rule | Policy Guidance | Fact Sheet

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