Decisions put Gover in the middle
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AUGUST 16, 2000

Opinions and feelings on the federal recognition process and the role played by Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover have always indicated dissatisfaction by both Indian and non-Indian alike.

The three most recent federal recognition decisions -- the Little Shell of Montana and two Pequot tribes in Connecticut -- have all highlighted the contention involving Gover. While some Indians criticize Gover for taking too much time and non-Indians criticize him for not allowing for enough time, the decisions share the distinction of having his direct intervention in favor of the tribes.

After a 109-year period of political limbo, the BIA extended preliminary recognition to the Little Shell Chippewa in May. But the decision came after several delays made by Gover and the Bureau.

Pat Maki, enrollment officer for the tribe, recalled some of the sentiment she and others felt about Gover and the entire process.

"I was frustrated with him," said Maki. "Most of us felt like he was reluctant to do anything."

So Maki was surprised when Gover finally made the decision. "I expected for Gover to give us another deadline date," she said.

Maki credits her state's Congressional delegation with putting the pressure on Gover. She said the involvement of Senators Conrad Burns and Max Baucus helped lead to the May decision.

Congressional involvement is what three Connecticut towns have desired, but so far, have not received, at least to their satisfaction. Leaders from Ledyard, North Stonington, and Preston, have asked their delegation at least twice to help them fight the federal recognition of the Eastern Pequot and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot tribes in their state.

But the towns say their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. A recent two-day meeting discussing the tribes further exemplified their frustrations.

At the meeting, the towns and the state weren't allowed to bring up Gover's involvement in the decision making process. All have been openly critical of Gover and have asked for his recusal.

Town leaders also claimed they were shut out of the process and weren't told of a documentation submission deadline until a year after it had passed. Also, new regulations instituted by Gover in February imposing shorter time limits have only led to a lowering of standards, making it easier for a tribe to receive recognition without deserving it, they claim.

"Kevin Gover has made a mockery of the federal recognition guidelines, overruling the recommendations of his own staff," said Robert Congdon of Preston.

Both the BIA and its researchers have defended Gover's decision in the Pequot cases, however. Both say Gover is well within his authority to issue his positive findings.

But with the end of the public comment period just a month away, the towns are still waiting on the BIA to send them all the pertinent documentation on the two tribes.

"If we have not had enough time [to respond], we will use all remedies available to us," said Congdon.

Whatever those remedies may be, they probably won't involve Gover. As he has promised, he'll have stepped down from his position by the time a final ruling is made on all of the three recent petitions.

And while the threat of lawsuit looms over the Department of Interior looms in the Pequot case, Maki says the Little Shell are taking a wait and see attitude.

"We're all kind of holding our breath with the new administration coming in," said Maki. "We just don't know how long it may take us if we have a change in party."

Relevant Links:
The Bureau of Indian Affairs -
Little Shell Chippewa Preliminary Recognition -
Eastern Pequot Preliminary Recognition -
Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Preliminary Recognition -

Related Stories:
Recognition findings a departure (8/16)
BIA 'bewildered' by state request (8/10)
BIA tells tribe, state where to go (8/10)
BIA: No evidence tribe existed (8/10)
BIA meeting centers on history (8/7)
BIA: Towns not reliable (8/9)