Friday, May 23, 2014

Battles Brewing Over Proposed New Tribal Recognition Rules

The Interior Department announced Thursday its long-awaited new rules for granting federal recognition to Native American tribes--but some lawmakers are already seeking changes. Some members of Congress and officials on the state and local levels have been warily bracing for the proposed new rules. Many have been concerned with how far and wide they might open new avenues for tribal casinos or lead to erosion of state tax bases and new battles over historical lands. The new rules by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn would represent the reformation of a 35-year-old process by which the Interior officially recognizes Indian tribes. There are altogether 566 federally recognized tribes already--but only 17 of those have been recognized under this 35-year-old process, which the proposal is seeking to revise. And in fact, the proposed changes announced Thursday keep and incorporate a key feature floated in a draft plan in June to provide recognition to a tribe that can show "community and political influence/authority from 1934 to the present," rather than from as early as 1789 under existing rules. The change would also eliminate the need for a petitioner to demonstrate that third parties identify them as a tribe from 1900 to the present. "President Obama believes that reforming the federal acknowledgment process will strengthen our important trust relationship with Indian tribes," said Jewell, in a statement. But the fear from some lawmakers and state and local politicians was that the new language devised by Bureau of Indian Affairs could result in federal recognition for literally hundreds of tribes that for years have struggled and failed to receive that status--and could give them all the privileges that come with that...more

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