Federal Register

The Assistant Secretary—Indian Affairs of the Department of the Interior is providing guidance and direction to Office of Federal Acknowledgment (OFA) staff for managing recurring administrative and technical problems in processing petitions for Federal acknowledgment. This guidance and direction does not amend the acknowledgment regulations at 25 CFR part 83.

The Department publishes this notice in the exercise of authority under 43 U.S.C. 1457, 25 U.S.C. 2 and 9, 5 U.S.C. 552(a), 5 U.S.C. 301, and under the exercise of authority that the Secretary of the Interior delegated to the Assistant Secretary—Indian Affairs (Assistant Secretary) by 209 Department Manual 8.

This notice supplements the notice published in the Federal Register (70 FR 16513) on March 31, 2005, entitled “Office of Federal Acknowledgment, Reports and Guidance Documents, Availability, etc.”

This notice provides the OFA with guidance and direction regarding management of recurring administrative or technical problems in processing petitions for Federal acknowledgment. This guidance and direction is based on interpretation of the acknowledgment regulations. This guidance and direction does not change the acknowledgment regulations, but will assist in making the process more streamlined and efficient, and improve the timeliness and transparency of the process.

The Department developed its Federal acknowledgment regulations, 25 CFR part 83—Procedures for Establishing that an American Indian Group Exists as an Indian Tribe, after notice and substantial public comment, both as to the original regulations and the amended regulations that became effective in 1994. These regulations establish a uniform procedure and fact-based approach to acknowledgment. The Department subsequently published two notices in the Federal Register concerning internal procedures for managing and processing petitions. This notice provides additional guidance and direction.

The Department should direct all groups seeking to be acknowledged as Indian tribes to 25 CFR part 83. OFA will provide copies of the regulations and guidelines to any group or individual to assist them in understanding the Department's regulatory process for Federal acknowledgment. If a group does not meet the seven mandatory requirements for Federal acknowledgment as an Indian tribe, then the Department will inform the petitioner of “alternatives, if any, to acknowledgment” (such as Congressional legislation) or other means “through which any of its members may become eligible for services and benefits from the Department as Indians” (25 CFR 83.10(n)).

In the more than 29 years that the Department's acknowledgment regulations have been in effect, the Department has confronted a number of recurring issues in the administration of the regulations including: the emergence of splinter groups; the administration of technical assistance (TA); requests for expedited processing for uniquely qualified groups, requests for a reduction of the time period for historical evidence; opportunities for streamlining the process through expedited decisions against acknowledgment and decisions against acknowledgment on fewer than all seven criteria; the handling of questionable submissions; and designation of “inactive” status.