Federal recognition is one of the most important
issues in Indian law. Without federal recognition, none of
the 500-plus nations, tribes, and bands in the United States would
have a special legal relationship with the federal
Why federal recognition?
Today, there are 556 federally recognized tribes in the lower 48 states and
Alaska. By definition, each has a government-to-government relationship with
the US. Each is eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of
Indian Affairs, typically these include economic development programs,
educational programs, and services from the Indian Health Service.
Federal recognition also comes with the ability to maintain a land base, develop
relationships with local and state governments, and open casinos
under the provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1991.
The most recent list of all
federally recognized tribes, dated March 13, 2000,
can be found at the Bureau
of Indian Affairs. It includes the two most recently recognized tribes are the
Tribe of Washington and the Match-e-be-nash-she-wish
Band of Pottawatomi in Michigan.
Tribes and other entities seeking federal recognition can
go through acts of Congress or through the Bureau of
Indian Affairs. The status of the Coastal Miwok of California is
currently the subject of two bills before Congress. See Miwok seek
federal recognition (Tribal Law 5/15).
Typically, tribes who were terminated seek recognition through Congress.
Many tribes were convinced to end, or had their relationship ended, by
the government in the 1960s. As an example, the
Menominee of Wisconsin
had their status restored by the Menominee
Restoration Act of 1973.
Currently the subject of much debate is the
Mashantucket Pequot of
Connecticut who received recognition through an
Congress in 1983. See Book
subject of debate (Tribal Law 5/5).
If not through Congress, tribes can be recognized by the Bureau of Indian
Affairs. Seven mandatory criteria are put forth by the BIA, which include:
These criteria, as well as the process for recognition, are published in the Code of
Federal Regulations 25
CFR Part 83.
Currently, two Connecticut tribes are in the final stages of the federal
recognition process, the Eastern Pequot Indians of Connecticut and the Paucatuck
Eastern Pequot Indians of Connecticut. See Gover goes into
the fray (Tribal Law 5/15).
Both received preliminary recognition by the BIA in March. A 180-day comment period
follows, during which all interested parties can make comments upon the BIA's
proposed finding. This period may be extended an additional 180 days and further
if necessary. After which, the tribe has 60 days to respond.
An important factor to note is that political comments, such as economic impact on
nearby non-Indian populations, are not considered relevant.
as an Indian entity on a continuous basis since 1900
- existence as a
distinct community historically to the present
- maintenance of political influence over membership
historically to the present
- documented membership criteria
- descendancy from a historical Indian tribe
- members are not already members of another federally recognized tribe
- recognition has not been specifically disallowed by Congress