FROM THE ARCHIVE

Gover takes on federal recognition

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THURSDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2001

The Bush administration is headed down a troubled path when it comes to federal recognition, former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover said on Wednesday.

Having known controversy first hand, the Pawnee lawyer believes the new Assistant Secretary has made a mistake by reversing decisions made during the waning hours of the Clinton administration. Last month, Neal McCaleb proposed not to recognize the Nipmuc Nation of Massachusetts and the Duwamish Tribe of Washington, both of whom had gained preliminary approval in January.

"I think it's damn poor practice to be reversing adjudicatory decisions made by your predecessor," said Gover of McCaleb's actions, "and it's something that I would never do."

And should McCaleb proceed by reconsidering the recognition of the Chinook Nation of Washington, Gover said it would set a bad precedent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Dissatisfied tribal groups -- as well as foes of petitioning tribes -- could keep recognition cases open forever, he said, adding delays to an already slow working schedule.

"It means that nothing is ever final," Gover said. "Ten years from now a petitioner, or someone adverse to a petition, can come into this department and say 'You know, I think this was wrong.'"

Having been approached to review decisions made by his predecessor, Gover flatly rejected the offers, he noted. "I just said 'No, you had your shot.'"

"You should only get one bite of the apple."

Nine months out of political office, Gover's opinions and views on federal recognition are still the subject of considerable debate. His critics -- largely state and local officials and the media in New England -- have blasted him for proposing to recognize two Pequot tribes in Connecticut.

But Gover also has detractors within the federal government. In a highly charged letter, the staff members whom Gover previously oversaw blasted him for signing a final determination to recognize the Chinook Nation.

Gover made mistakes, the BIA's Branch of Acknowledgment and Research told Secretary of Interior Gale Norton. There are "valid grounds for reconsideration" of his January decision, they claimed.

To Gover, the letter was indicative of the occasionally "hostile" attitude of the dozen or so anthropologists, historians, genealogists and researchers charged with handling and making recommendations on petitioning groups. He says he understands their voiced frustration, particularly when they are attacked for research they have spent countless hours developing.

But he believes there are deeper problems. Along with the Office of the Solicitor, whose attorneys review all recognition documents, Gover says conflicts have developed within the culture of the Department of Interior.

"They think this program belongs to the staff," said Gover of the two groups. "I say it belongs to the political management. That was the crux of our disagreement."

In the upcoming months, that disagreement will play out as McCaleb finalizes decisions advanced by Gover. The Eastern Pequot Tribe, the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Tribe and the Little Shell Chippewa of Montana will get approve or disapproved by McCaleb, amid a political atmosphere Gover simply calls "neo-termination."

"Let's understand who these people are and why they are doing what they are doing," said Gover of opponents to tribal groups. "It's not out of any sense for any goodwill or justice for Indians."

When asked about the working relationship between the recognition staff and Gover, the BIA did not comment.

Gover will discuss federal recognition on Native America Calling today at 1 p.m. EDT because "Harlan asked me to." The Bush administration's new Deputy Assistant Secretary Wayne Smith, charged with handling acknowledgment issues, will also appear.

Relevant Links:
Branch of Acknowledgment and Research - http://www.doi.gov/bia/ack_res.html

Related Stories:
Norton urged to uphold recognition (10/11)
Chinook Nation faces reversal (10/3)
McCaleb reverses Clinton recognitions (9/28)
McCaleb to listen 'closely' to recognition experts (8/9)
McCaleb decision sure to draw scrutiny (7/31)
BIA pushed to provide 'answers' on recognition (7/26)
BIA has small goal for big problem (5/22)
Norton won't review Chinook recognition (3/20)
Chinook Nation eager to tell story (3/2)
Gover reverses Chinook decision (1/04)

Blasts from the Past - Indianz.Com Recognition Classics:
Recognition findings a departure (8/16)
Decisions put Gover in the middle (08/16)
Gover wants BIA out of nastiness (05/25)
Town: Gover a 'mockery' (5/25)