Tribe loses recognition appeal
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JUNE 18, 2001

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday handed defeat to the Miami Nation of Indians, affirming a lower court ruling which refused the Indiana tribe's attempt to gain federal recognition.

The decision caps a number of court trials in which the tribe -- represented by the Native American Rights Fund of Colorado -- has unsuccessfully fought to be recognized. It also marks a twenty-year journey the tribe has made through the federal acknowledgment process.

In 1980, the 4,000-member tribe filed its petition for recognition, the 66th group to do so. After ten years, the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1990 issued a preliminary finding which stated the tribe failed to satisfy all seven criteria necessary to be acknowledged as an Indian tribe.

Specifically, the BIA said the tribe, whose members can successfully trace their ancestry to the historic Miami Nation, failed two criteria. First, the tribe failed to prove they were a distinct community from the 1940s until present times: BIA researchers found little interaction among tribal members.

Second, the tribe failed to provide evidence of political authority over members from the 1940s until the late 1970s. BIA researchers found that the tribe showed political activity only after filing its recognition petition.

Since BIA regulations require satisfaction of the recognition criteria for all decades in question, the tribe was found deficient. After a two-year period in which the BIA said a "substantial" number of comments were received, then Assistant Secretary Eddie Brown in 1992 issued a final determination against acknowledgment.

Unhappy with the decision, the tribe subsequently challenged the BIA and the Department of Interior on a number of issues. All were subsequently rejected by a federal court in Indiana, who in six different rulings struck down the tribe's numerous arguments.

Among them was an attempt to force the Interior to acknowledge the tribe under an 1854 treaty. The tribe argued an 1897 Department of Justice opinion wrongfully terminated its federal recognition.

But a federal court ruled the tribe waited to long to address the issue. The appeals court on Friday agreed, saying the Miami Nation had effectively abandoned its tribal character.

"Probably by 1940 and certainly by 1992, the Miami Nation had ceased to be a tribe in any reasonable sense," wrote the court.

The Miami Nation could appeal its case to the Supreme Court.

Get the Decision:

Relevant Links:
Branch of Acknowledgment and Research -
Native American Rights Fund -

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