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Federal Recognition
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 government.

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 Snoqualmie Tribe of Washington and the Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi in Michigan.

The Process
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 act of 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:
  1. identification as an Indian entity on a continuous basis since 1900
  2. existence as a distinct community historically to the present
  3. maintenance of political influence over membership historically to the present
  4. documented membership criteria
  5. descendancy from a historical Indian tribe
  6. members are not already members of another federally recognized tribe
  7. recognition has not been specifically disallowed by Congress
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.

Resources
BIA Branch of Acknowledgment and Research - Contains all current findings of petitions before the BIA, a FAQ about recognition, and everything else you might want to know about federal recognition.
Bureau of Indian Affairs - Provides information on services and programs available to federally recognized tribes.
Real Audio from Native America Calling:
The Indian Land Wars. October 6, 1999.
Cashing In on Federal Recognition. October 4, 1999
Non-Federally Recognized Tribes
A listing of non-federally recognized tribes.
 

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