Tribal Recognition Process Updated

June 29, 2015

A final rule issued by the Obama administration, will make it easier for some Indian tribes to obtain federal recognition. The new rule updates a 37-year-old process that has required tribes to produce mounds of paperwork and wait years for a response.

Kevin Washburn, an assistant secretary at the Department of Interior, is expected to announce the regulation today during a National Congress of American Indians conference in Minnesota.

Washburn told The Associated Press that the regulatory changes will greatly enhance transparency by letting the public see most of the documents submitted by the petitioning groups via the Internet. The changes will also give tribal groups facing rejection the chance to take their case to an administrative judge before a final determination is made.

Indian groups seeking recognition will no longer have to show that outside parties identified them as an Indian entity dating back to 1900. Some federally recognized tribes had urged that the requirement be kept. Petitioners will also have to show that their tribe has existed as a community and exercised political control over its members since 1900. Originally the threshold was first contact with European settlers, or as early as 1789. The proposed regulation had changed the threshold to 1934. After much pushback, the final rule sets the date at 1900. Under the current system, which began in 1978, the government has recognized 17 tribes and rejected the petitions of 34 other groups.

The Obama administration had originally envisioned giving groups who were denied federal recognition another opportunity to re-petition the government. That provision wasn’t included in the final rule.

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