BIA eases recognition process
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MAY 22, 2000

Tribes and other entities wishing to receive federal recognition by the government have four options: recognition by Executive Order, by Congress, by the Courts, or by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

But ever since the Department of Interior first instituted the Federal Acknowledgment Project (FAP) in 1978, the BIA has been the route tribes most frequently take in their quest for recognition. For some, this route is the most difficult. And for many, including the BIA, the process is unnecessarily long and time consuming.

The Snoqualmie Tribe of Washington finally received recognition in 1999 after a more than 20 year wait. The United Houma Nation, Inc., had to wait just as long to learn they were denied acknowledgement.

The BIA's Branch of Acknowledgement and Research (BAR), which evaluates petitions and makes recommendations to director Kevin Gover, is authorized for 10 full time employees. New rules instituted in February help ease the burden on the limited staff while increasing the amount of work required by those who petition.

Under the rules, the BAR no longer has to write lengthy technical reports during the evaluation process. The BAR also limits the amount of help, or technical assistance, it can provide to petitioners. Technical assistance is designed to help a petitioner understand and work through the recognition guidelines before their application is considered "active."

The rules also limit the amount of time third parties have to comment upon the findings of the BAR. In the Snoqualmie case, long delays were incurred due to the incredible amount of documentation the Tulalip Tribe of Washington submitted against the Snoqualmie over an extended period of time. The Snoqualmie in turn were given an extended period in order to respond to the comments.

The new rules now limit third party comments to a 180-day period after a preliminary determination has been made. After which, a petitioning group has 60 days to respond.

Given the incredible number of petitioning groups, it is hoped the rules will allow the BIA to recognize more tribes in a shorter amount of time. Since 1978, the BIA has recognized 15 tribes (the Snoqualmie are the most recent; the Cowlitz Tribe of Washington were recognized in February but the Quinault Nation has filed an appeal which may delay their status) and turned down 15.

The government is obligated to acknowledge unrecognized tribes but with more than 230 petitions before the Bureau, it would take over 100 years to make determinations on all of them.

Currently, three tribes, including the Eastern Pequot and Paucatuck Eastern Pequot of Connecticut, are in the comment period portion of the process. The Connecticut towns of Ledyard, North Stonington, and Preston have until September 27 of this year to register all their oppositions with the BIA.

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