FROM THE ARCHIVE
Gover: Recognition study 'cooked'
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THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2001

A forthcoming General Accounting Office investigation of the controversial federal recognition process is flawed because anti-gaming members of Congress requested it, former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover has told a Connecticut paper.

"The GAO report is really cooked," Gover told The Hartford Courant in a report published today. "It is very much shaped by the members of Congress who requested it."

Gover's comments are based on a draft the Connecticut paper said it obtained yesterday. Not yet released, the report was commissioned by seven Republicans last September who blasted the process as politically flawed and too closely linked to gaming.

"There have been just too many questions raised about the ethical and legal boundaries which are potentially being crossed when it comes to evaluating a tribe's claim for federal recognition," said Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) at the time.

In particular, Wolf and others singled out Gover for decisions made during the final months of the Clinton administration. Along with his top aide Michael Anderson, Gover extended preliminary or final acknowledgment to six tribes whom Bureau of Indian Affairs staff did not feel were qualified.

With respect to two Pequot tribes in Connecticut, the Little Shell Chippewa of Montana and the Chinook Nation of Washington, Gover makes no apologies. Since leaving office in January, he has flatly denied that politics or casinos influenced him.

"I ignored the gaming aspect because it is legally irrelevant," he told Indianz.Com in an interview last week. "If I were being sensitive to gaming politics, I would have been very reluctant to recognize tribes."

But Gover's explanations have done little to stem the flow of criticism, almost all of it exclusive to New England states where gaming has been highly profitable for the few tribes that still remain there. The GAO study -- on which no members of Congress would comment because it has not been finalized -- is likely to inspire more, even if it highlights problems that even Gover himself has acknowledged.

According to the paper, the report says final decisions are less likely to be based on the merits than on resources of petitioning groups and third parties. Gaming companies have regularly backed tribes and it has paid off for some, like the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut.

Likewise, state and local governments, and even other tribes, have dedicate significant time and money. The state of Connecticut and the Quinault Nation, a federally-recognized Washington tribe, have launched challenges to Gover's actions that have held back the process.

Another problem the paper says the draft identifies is the lack of consistent standards applied to tribal groups. A reform bill co-sponsored by Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) could help in that respect. Gover said the legislation is a "pretty good effort."

The paper also says the report recommends that Congress dedicate enough funds to the BIA. For fiscal year 2002, the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research, which is composed of about a dozen researchers, genealogists, anthropologists and historians, has a budget of about $1 million and a goal of resolving just three petitions.

Gover says he still supports a bill put forth by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), vice-chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. The bill would strip the BIA of its recognition duties and establish an independent, presidential commission to review and adjudicate all pending petitions.

"I think it really is time to pull the plug on this patient and try it a different way," Gover told Indianz.Com.

During a radio appearance last week, Deputy Assistant Secretary Wayne Smith, who is the Bush administration's point-man on recognition, said the BIA was responding to the GAO report. The study was initially due this summer but Shays' office said it was pushed out to the fall.

Gover did not act on the petitions for the Nipmuc Nation or the Duwamish Tribe of Washington, both of which were drafted by Michael Anderson and recently reversed by Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb.

Get the Connecticut Report:
Study Finds Deep Flaws In Tribal Recognition (The Hartford Courant 11/1)
Federal study finds tribal recognition process distorted (AP 11/1)

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

Related Stories:
Reforming federal recognition (10/26)
Gover takes on recognition (10/25)
Norton urged to uphold recognition (10/11)
Chinook Nation faces reversal (10/3)
McCaleb reverses Clinton recognitions (9/28)

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