FROM THE ARCHIVE

McCaleb reverses recognition decisions

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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2001

Reversing a set of controversial decisions made in the waning hours of the Clinton administration, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb on Thursday announced he will not acknowledge two groups as federal Indian tribes.

In separate documents to be published in Monday's edition of the Federal Register, McCaleb proposes to deny recognition to the Nipmuc Nation of Massachusetts and the Duwamish Tribe of Washington. Unless the pair can produce evidence to the contrary, the preliminary findings will be finalized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs within the coming year.

McCaleb's actions mark only the second time the Bush administration has waded into the murky waters of federal recognition. But along with a July decision to deny acknowledgment to the Muwekma Tribe of California, they represent a dramatic shift in recognition policy that is more likely to please non-Indians than anyone else.

Non-Indians have been the driving force behind criticism of Kevin Gover, McCaleb's predecessor. In his final months as head of the BIA, Gover proposed to recognize the Eastern Pequot Tribe and the Paucatuck Eastern Tribe, both of Connecticut, and the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe of Montana.

On his last day in office, Gover issued a final determination to acknowledge the Chinook Nation of Washington. Subsequently, Michael Anderson, Gover's replacement for the remainder of the Clinton administration, proposed to recognize the Nipmuc and Duwamish.

In all six cases, Gover and Anderson did not follow recommendations the BIA's professional staff of researchers made against the petitioning tribes. Although final power rests with the Assistant Secretary, the cases -- as Gover has acknowledged -- represented a departure from bureau policy.

On the other hand, McCaleb, sworn in to his position in July, has stated in interviews that he will follow "pretty closely" what the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research (BAR) has to say. His stance has brought praise from non-Indians, one of whom congratulated the Bush appointee for yesterday's action on the Nipmuc Nation.

"We welcome this significant step, reflecting a more objective, thorough BIA review of this petition," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in a statement. "We applaud Assistant Secretary McCaleb’s decision to respect the recommendations of the BIA's professional staff assigned to research and review recognition petitions."

Less pleased was the Nipmuc Nation, who began seeking recognition in 1980. Based in Sutton, Massachusetts, members of the tribal council issued a statement saying McCaleb's decision was "yet another emotional insult" to their 20-year quest for federal recognition.

The council, however, added that additional evidence will be submitted within the next 180 days in hopes of making up for deficiencies identified by the BAR staff. Among them was a failure by the current tribal membership to prove descent from the historic Nipmuc Nation.

The council also said it would consult with attorneys on possible legal action. A lawyer for the tribe last night said it was preliminary to discuss any options.

A third document to be published Monday is a preliminary finding against the Webster/Dudley Band of Chaubunagungamaug Nipmuck Indians, who split off from the Nipmuc Nation petition in 1996. Anderson had also declined to recognition the Webster band in January.

Duwamish tribal officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The BAR staff consists of a dozen or so researchers, anthropologists, genealogists and historians and has budget of about $1 million. The Bush administration has not sought additional funds or hires for the staff, whose only goal during fiscal year 2002 is to complete three petitions.

Get Recognition Documents:
Little Shell Chippewa | Eastern Pequot | Paucatuck Eastern Pequot | Chinook Indian Tribe (1997)

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

Related Stories:
McCaleb to listen 'closely' to recognition experts (8/9)
Muwekma Tribe denied recognition (7/31)
McCaleb decision sure to draw scrutiny (7/31)
BIA pushed to provide 'answers' on tribes (7/26)
McCaleb endorses BIA on recognition (6/14)
Gover's 'activist' legacy escapes McCaleb (6/13)
BIA has small goal for big problem (5/22)
Federal recognition battles continue (5/10)
Recognition reforms might not have an effect (2/7)

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)