Recognition rumor almost areality

Facebook Twitter
DECEMBER 20, 2000

On Capitol Hill, they say rumor is king and judging from the response to one which has President Bill Clinton extending federal recognition to several tribes before he leaves office, this one may take the throne.

But in the world of politics where promises are made as easily as they are broken, things are not always as they seem. Still, in the waning days of the Clinton administration, people on all sides of the recognition issue believe in the rumor so much, its almost a reality.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has acknowledged the department has heard the rumor that Clinton will issue an executive order which would recognize several tribes, including the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe of Connecticut. But the Bureau has disclaimed asking for it and says they aren't aware of any pending order.

Others, however, speak of the rumor so matter-of-factly as if it were a non-issue. A source within the Interior said that Clinton will issue the order before he leaves office and said it had been discussed for some time.

For those who on the other side of the coin, though, the rumor poses problems. Connecticut Attorney General Richard, who has battled the Interior on a number of tribal issues, says the order would be "profoundly harmful," a concern echoed by other officials in Connecticut and members of the state's Congressional delegation.

On Tuesday, Christopher Shays (R-Conn) said he would call for a "thorough investigation of every aspect of that executive order," should it be issued. A member of House Committee on Government Reform, Shays linked the federal recognition issue to campaign contributions to the Democratic party, including some to First Lady and Senator-elect Hillary Clinton.

"If you make a certain contribution to the Democratic party, you may be part of that group" which receives recognition, said Shays. He also said campaign contributions helped the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe get a second look at their recognition petition after initially being denied by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"The Golden Hill Paugussett were not going to be recognized," said Shays. "They were basically restored from the dead. It was shortly after major fundraising by a major developer of that tribe."

After a number of appeals made by the state-recognized tribe, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior Michael Anderson in May of 1999 reopened their case. The tribe had been denied acknowledgment through an expedited review process, which Anderson found to be inappropriate.

Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover recused himself from the decision-making process on the issue, since he had provided legal counsel for the tribe prior to entering the BIA. But Shays said Gover's April 2000 decision to extend preliminary recognition to two Pequot tribes in Connecticut has paved the way for his former client to receive recognition, regardless of the rumored executive order.

"Mr. Gover made a decision on another tribe that set a precedent that gave weight to federal recognition to state recognition," said Shays. "He has helped the Golden Hill Paugussetts in their process because they are a state recognized tribe."

"You can have black Indian tribes, white Indian tribes, you can have a mixture, but they still have had to function as a tribe from Colonial times," he added, asserting that the Golden Hill tribe might not satisfy all seven mandatory federal recognition guidelines under which their petition is currently being evaluated.

The guidelines require petitioning tribes to satisfy several criteria, mostly using evidence dating from 1900 to the present, but also to show they have existed as a distinct community from "historical times" to the present. Depending on the circumstances, historical times can be as early as the 17th century or as late as the 19th century.

Along with Representative Frank Wolf (R-Virginia), Shays has written a letter to President Clinton, asking him not to issue any order which would recognize any tribes "pending consideration at the Bureau of Indian Affairs."

Get the Shays/Wolf Letter:
Letter to President Clinton (Tribal Law 12/20)

Related Stories:
Will Clinton recognize tribes? (Tribal Law 12/15)

Only on Indianz.Com:
Federal Recognition (Tribal Law 5/19)