Hearing used to air complaints about tribal recognition
Thursday, April 1, 2004

The House Resources Committee held a hearing on Wednesday to examine the way the Bureau of Indian Affairs recognizes tribes.

Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) accused the BIA of bowing to "big" casino money. She called for a moratorium on new recognition decisions until changes are made and sought the invalidation of the recognition of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of Connecticut.

Johnson is sponsoring a bill to give $8 million to local communities to fight recognition decisions. Democrat members of the committee and tribal representatives said they object to the bill.

Glenn Marshall, president of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, criticized the long wait his tribe has endured. Lance Gumbs, trustee for the Shinnecock Nation of New York, said the BIA ignores its own regulations. Both tribes have been waiting for an answer on their petitions for more than 25 years.

Rosemary Cambra, chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of California, said the BIA and Department of Interior staff have a conflict of interest. She said the same people who made a negative decision on her tribe's petition were the same ones who fought a lawsuit the tribe filed to compel a decision.

Wilford Taylor, chairman of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians from Alabama, also received a negative decision. He said the BIA was not consistent in evaluating his tribe's petition and said another tribe in a similar situation was granted status.

Tim Martin of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians of Alabama, which was recognized in 1984, said the process can work. But he said the BIA staff is being forced to deal with Freedom of Information Act and other requests that end up influencing decisions.

Katherine Spilde, a researcher from Harvard University's Project on American Indian Economic Development, describe the BIA's record of evaluating 1.3 petitions a year. She called for more money and outside experts to assist the agency.

The final witness was R. Lee Fleming, director of the BIA's Office of Federal Acknowledgment. He said the agency has made significant progress in recent years thanks to additional resources. But he said the money was a one-time appropriation.

After the hearing, Marshall of the Mashpee Tribe joked that tribes should move to Connecticut because petitioning groups seem to have success there.

Get the Story:
House hears tribal protest (The Register Citizen 4/1)
Tribe seeks speedier recognition to fast-track casino bid (Newsday 4/1)
Moratorium suggested for tribal process (The Las Vegas Review-Journal 4/1)
MOWA chief criticizes feds' tribal recognition procedures (The Mobile Regster 4/1)
Lawmakers: BIA needs help, but Connecticut towns don't (AP 3/31)

Relevant Documents:
Written Witness Testimony (March 31, 2004)

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