FROM THE ARCHIVE

Muwekma Tribe denied recognition

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TUESDAY, JULY 31, 2001

In his first major decision as Assistant Secretary, Neal McCaleb on Monday denied preliminary recognition to the Muwekma Tribe of California, finding that the group failed to meet three out of seven mandatory acknowledgment criteria.

The decision, while not final, is a blow to the 400-member Bay Area tribe whose effort to gain federal recognition pushed them to sue the Bureau of Indian Affairs to make a timely decision. In January, a court in California ordered the BIA to issue a proposed finding no later than July 30.

The tribe, also known as the Ohlone / Costanoan Muwekma, now has 90 days to comment on McCaleb's proposed finding, which is to published in the Federal Register. After comments are received from the tribe and other interested parties, the BIA is to issue a final determination by March 11 of next year, another deadline imposed by the federal court.

For McCaleb, the decision is his first into a murky area of Indian policy which has come under fire from Congress, interested tribes and other parties. Just last week, an angry Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) pushed McCaleb's deputy commissioner to explain how former members of the Clinton administration extended recognition to tribes whom researchers said did not meet all seven mandatory criteria.

The criteria, laid out by federal regulations, are used by the BIA's staff of researchers, genealogists and anthropologists to evaluate the merita of a tribe's recognition petition. Tribes must satisfy all the standards or be denied acknowledgment, according to the regulations.

For the Muwekma Tribe, the journey officially began in 1989, when the tribe submitted a letter of intent to petition for acknowledgment. After a few years of communication with the bureau, the BIA in 1996 determined that the tribe had been previously recognized in Pleasanton or Verona Band of Ohlone Indians.

Previous acknowledgment can help a tribe move through the process more quickly. A tribe is subject to a lesser standard of evidence because the BAR staff considers only the time period from the last acknowledgment.

But researchers said the Muwekma failed to meet three criteria from the late 1920s until 1985, when current tribal organization was founded. The tribe failed to demonstrate identification as an Indian entity from 1927 to 1985 and showed no political influence from 1927 to 1985, said researchers.

The tribe also failed to demonstrate members lived in a distinct social community. Most members did not join the tribe until 1995, according to submitted evidence.

The tribe did satisfy the other three criteria, including showing descent from the historic group the Department of Interior previously acknowledged. The tribe also had not been terminated and its members don't belong to recognized tribes.

As head of the BIA, McCaleb has final say over the recommendations of his staff. The power has been questioned by critics, who say former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover and his top aides overruled the recommendations of researchers in order to recognize several tribes.

Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) has introduced a bill to strip the BIA of its recognition duties and assign them to an independent commission whose members are appointed by the President. During his confirmation hearing, McCaleb opposed such a move, saying the BIA is the best, and most culturally aware, agency in federal government to deal with tribal issues.

The Branch of Acknowledgment and Research has about a dozen staff members, who are split up by region to handle various petitions. Their annual budget is about $1 million.

Today on Indianz.Com:
McCaleb decision sure to draw scrutiny (7/31)

Relevant Links:
Branch of Acknowledgment and Research - http://www.doi.gov/bia/ack_res.html

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