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The Cathlapotle Plankhouse at the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge in Washington is based on the historic Chinook Nation village of Cathlapotle. Photo: Alan
Bureau of Indian Affairs opens consultation on federal recognition
Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is asking tribes about a possible change in regulations affecting federal recognition.

The BIA has long barred groups that were previously denied federal recognition from submitting another petition. During the Barack Obama administration, tribes were asked about changing the practice but an exemption ultimately was not included in regulations finalized in 2015 amid controversy generated by Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Five years later, Judge Ronald B. Leighton ruled that blanket ban is “arbitrary and capricious” because it isn’t supported by sufficient evidence in the record. He ordered the Department of the Interior, the parent agency of the BIA, to take another look at the matter after the Chinook Nation, based in Washington state, challenged the re-petitioning policy.

“The decision to maintain the re-petition ban in the 2015 final rule was thus arbitrary and capricious and must be remanded to DOI for further evaluation consistent with this order,” Judge Ronald B. Leighton wrote on January 10, 2020, a copy of which has been posted by Turtle Talk.

More than a year later, the BIA is finally hosting a tribal consultation on the matter. The session takes place via teleconference from 2pm to 4pm Eastern on Thursday afternoon:

Participant Call-In: (888)-790-3141

Passcode: 5246131

A task force of tribal leaders discussed the re-petitioning policy during the National Congress of American Indians executive council winter session earlier this week. Several were open to getting rid of the ban, arguing that historic Indian nations, particularly those on the East Coast and in the Southeast, should be given a fair shot at securing federal acknowledgment of their status.

As for the Chinook Nation, the tribe secured a favorable decision on its federal recognition petition during the final days of the Bill Clinton era. But the George W. Bush administration reversed course in 2002, leading to litigation that continues in federal court.

Just last month, Leighton ordered the BIA to re-examine whether the tribe is a “successors in interest” to Chinook groups that previously secured monetary judgments from the Indian Claims Commission. Turtle Talk has posted document from the case, Chinook Indian Nation v. Bernhardt.

The BIA has been formally accepting petitions for federal acknowledgment since 1978. In the last 42 years, nearly twice as many groups have been denied recognition than have secured it.

Of the 34 petitions denied, about half were submitted by groups on the East Coast or in the Southeast.

In the history of the Part 83 regulations governing federal acknowledgment, every petitioner from California — except one — also has been denied recognition.