Republicans call for BIA investigation
Letter to the General Accounting Office
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SEPTEMBER 22, 2000

Mr. David M. Walker
GAO Comptroller General
441 G Street NW
Rm 7100
Washington DC 20548

Dear Mr. Walker:

We are writing to request that the General Accounting Office investigate the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) federal tribal recognition process.

The significance of a decision on tribal recognition claims has never been greater than at the present time. The recognition of an Indian tribe under federal law carries significant consequences, including: claims to land titles; establishment of tax-exempt trust lands that are beyond state and local regulatory control (land use, zoning, water rights, health and safety codes, employee rights etc.); and jurisdictional conflicts among federal, state, local and tribal governments. In addition, under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the newly acknowledged tribe may obtain the right to develop massive gambling facilities on its lands, regardless of the consequences or interests of surrounding communities.

These potential consequences have caused many state and local governments, businesses, and private citizens to become greatly concerned over tribal acknowledgments. The decision to federally acknowledge a tribe does more than define the relationship between the Indian group and the United States; it affects entire communities.

Currently there are 227 tribal acknowledgment petitions. Fifty-four of these involve California groups. Seventeen groups seek acknowledgment in Michigan. In Connecticut, where there are eleven such petitions, every region of the state is confronted with land claims and gambling facilities. The same is true in other states.

Specifically, we are concerned that, even as Congress is being asked to pass legislation to alter the standards for tribal recognition, and the Department of the Interior is considering new regulations to amend recognition standards and procedures, the problem may well be that the existing system is not being administered competently, and does not have the necessary resources and expertise to permit it to be accurate and credible both to petitioning groups and to communities and the public.

We request that the GAO investigate the following items, and others which may be related:
1) the consistency of the federal tribal recognition process, as it is now carried out, with the specific congressional and administrative guidance which has been provided for the process, including the regulatory standards for recognition.

2) the provisions for participation in that process by third parties, such as states , communities and private citizens, and the due process standards, including access to information, which are applied.

3) the adequacy of staff resources and specialized expertise to ensure that acknowledgment petitions are dealt with fully, fairly and with the knowledge necessary to issue sustainable decisions.

4) a comparison of the existing acknowledgment system as is required to be carried out (with its current regulatory standards) with the system as it would be changed under currently pending proposed regulations, as well as under the standards proposed in current pending legislation (H.R. 631 and S. 611).

5) the effectiveness and accuracy of the BIA's recognition process. We ask that GAO catagorize [sic] the federal tribes that are currently recognized, by showing what these tribes were required to demonstrate (and actually did demonstrate) to meet recognition requirements.

6) the history of recognition, noting any significant policy changes that have occurred in the last 30 years at the Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs.

7) a detailed explanation of the guidelines that are currently followed, and, in the opinion of GAO, whether that the recognition process has been influenced by factors that are not within the legal guidelines for BIA determinations.

We also ask that GAO provide:

1) recommendations for improvements in the system, including the possible use of independent triers of fact to make acknowledgment decisions, as is the model in other administrative contexts which involve difficult substantive,

2) recommendations on whether Congress should pass legislation that would strengthen the standards required for a tribal entity to gain federal recognition in order to improve the accuracy, efficiency and integrity of the process and to reduce the influence of factors affecting determination which are outside the decision-making procedure of the BIA.

It is our expectation that your analysis will result in information which will disclose whether the various issues which have been raised with the current tribal acknowledgment process are the result of poor administration of the existing set of standards, or problems with the existing standards and procedures which might be remedied by regulatory or legislative modifications, all with the goal of ensuring that the recognition process is thorough and substantively credible.

As part of your analysis, we would request that you also provide the following information:

1) All currently pending petitions and their status.
2) All recognitions which have been granted by Congress in this century. 3) A list of all recognized tribes, in chronological order, noting those that operate gambling casinos and other forms of class three gambling.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Best wishes.


Frank Wolf
Member of Congress

Christopher Shays
Member of Congress

Ernest Istook
Member of Congress

Roy Blunt
Member of Congress

Tom Coburn
Member of Congress

Nancy Johnson
Member of Congress

Jack Metcalf
Member of Congress

Get the Story:
Republicans call for BIA investigation (Tribal Law 9/22)