Politics | Federal Recognition

Montana and Virginia tribes 'duped' with federal recognition bill






Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) with the flag of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Photo from Rep. Zinke

Congress hasn't extended federal recognition to a tribe since 2000 but six tribes in Virginia and another in Montana think they have a shot this year.

H.R.286, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act, and H.R.872, the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act, have been included in a larger bill that passed the House Committee on Natural Resources last week. Normally, that would be seen as a sign of progress.

But it's the larger bill that poses a problem going forward in the 114th Congress. H.R.3764, the Tribal Recognition Act, strips the Bureau of Indian Affairs of its ability to make decisions on federal recognition petitions, instead leaving Congress solely in charge.

The Obama administration and Indian Country have already come out against H.R.3764, saying it further politicizes an already controversial process. And Democrats say the inclusion of the Virginia and Montana tribes in the bill won't help their otherwise legitimate efforts.

"I just want to make it very clear that the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and the six Indian tribes of Virginia have been duped by this bill," Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-California), the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, said at a markup last Thursday. He said H.R.286 and H.R.872 could have passed the committee on their own had Republican leaders brought them up for consideration.

But lawmakers who support the tribes failed to mention the controversy in their congratulatory press releases. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) -- who is running for re-election against Denise Juneau, who wants to be the first Native woman in Congress -- called last week's action "historic" but didn't even mention the number or title of H.R.3764.

Even Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) , the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, ignored the taint of H.R.3764. In a press release, he welcomed inclusion of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians in the larger bill.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Virginia) also invoked the "historic" action affecting the six tribes in his state. But at least he pointed out that the last time the House took action on a prior version of his bill was in 2009, during the 111th Congress.

Read More on the Story:
Virginia’s Indian tribes clear another hurdle toward federal recognition (The Washington Post 9/15)
Six Virginia tribes closer to federal recognition (The Tidewater Review 9/15) Mont. Indian tribe closer to recognition by federal govt (The Great Falls Tribune 9/8)
Bill that would grant federal recognition of Little Shell advances (AP 9/8)

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