Indianz.Com SoundCloud: House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Legislative Hearing on H.R. 3764
When Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-California), the top Democrat on the subcommittee, tried to explain why tribes oppose the bill, Young interrupted. "Who do you think ginned these letters up?" Young asked. "I think the Utes are deciding for themselves," Ruiz responded. Young didn't seem to like the answer. He suggested that the tribe -- or anyone else from Indian Country who opposes the measure -- could face retribution for their positions.
YouTube: Legislative Hearing on the Tribal Recognition Act of 2015
"When they get a chance to testify, we'll find out who represents them here," Young said, again referring to unnamed lobbyists. Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the BIA, relayed the Obama administration's strong opposition to the measure. He questioned why he was the sole witness at the hearing -- no tribal leaders or petitioning groups were invited. "It was like legislation by ambush because I never knew you were working on this bill," Washburn said of Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who introduced the measure on October 20 while hundreds of tribal leaders were at the NCAI annual convention in San Diego, California, last week. "I'm impressed you were able to keep it under wraps in a place like this." Washburn said the bill places the status of dozens of already recognized tribes in doubt because it asserts that Congress -- and only Congress -- can determine which groups are worthy of a government-to-government relationship. By putting the decision-making power solely in the hands of 535 lawmakers, who remain unable to carry out basic functions like approving a budget for the federal government, petitioning groups might never get an answer from the United States.
"It might just come over and just hang out there and no one ever get a firm no or a firm yes," Washburn testified. Bishop, who serves as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, promised an additional hearing to solicit the views of "Native Americans" on the bill. He also said he was open to changes regarding the criteria that will be used to judge petitions. However, like other Republicans, Bishop vowed to move forward because he wants Congress to assert its authority. "The standards should be set in statute so that everyone knows what those [standards] are," he said. The BIA's Office of Federal Acknowledgment would be required to evaluate petitions under the criteria set by law. But that would be the extend of the agency's role.
"Ultimately it would come back to Congress to fulfill the Congressional responsibility of actually making the designation," Bishop said. Historically, tribes have secured recognition through treaties, acts of Congress, federal court decisions or executive orders issued by the president of the United States. But the legislative and judicial branches have deferred to the BIA since 1978, when the federal acknowledgment process was established. The slow-moving and costly process has been criticized almost from the start and it typically takes decades for groups to complete. Reform efforts, though, have not gained much traction either in Congress or in Indian Country. That changed when the Obama administration announced a series of significant changes to the process, including the criteria used to judge applications. Opposition from Congress and some tribes -- some of whom voiced complaints at a hearing in April -- prompted Washburn to scale back the Part 83 reforms that he finalized them in June.
At the hearing yesterday, Young, Bishop and other Republicans made repeated reference to that testimony from April as grounds for taking action. But no tribal leaders have testified since the rule was finalized. “Although this is a compromise, NCAI greatly appreciates the effort and commitment from the administration to get these regulations finalized and to improve the process,” NCAI President Brian Cladoosby said in a press release at the time. “NCAI has been pushing for years for all tribes seeking recognition to have a fair and equitable process." Even though Congress has always had the authority to recognize tribes, lawmakers are extremely reluctant to exercise their powers. The last stand-alone recognition bill was in the mid-1990s. Two tribes were able to secure legislative recognition in 2000 as part of an omnibus Indian package that passed in the final days of the 106th Congress and was signed into law during the final days of the Clinton presidency. Committee Notice:
Legislative Hearing on H.R. 3764 (October 28, 2015) BIA Final Part 83 Documents:
Final Rule | Policy Guidance | Fact Sheet Federal Register Notices:
Hearing Process Concerning Acknowledgment of American Indian Tribes (August 13, 2015)
Requests for Administrative Acknowledgment of Federal Indian Tribes (July 1, 2015)
Federal Acknowledgment of American Indian Tribes (July 1, 2015)
Hearing and Re-Petition Authorization Processes Concerning Acknowledgment of American Indian Tribes (June 19, 2014)
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