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Federal Recognition
Recognition handed to a 'not well informed' Cason

For the third time in less than a year, federal recognition duties at the Interior Department have been handed to another Bush administration official.

Jim Cason, the Interior's associate deputy secretary, is now in charge of deciding who deserves recognition as an Indian tribe. He is the fourth Republican official to have responsibility over the controversial area since February 2004.

The decision to transfer the federal acknowledgment program to Cason came in a February 8, 2005, order signed by Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Secretarial orders are almost never announced to the public.

But the order became known on Thursday with the publication of a notice in the Federal Register that cited Norton's decision. Cason will "execute all documents, including regulations and other Federal Register notices, and perform all other duties relating to Federal recognition of Native American Tribes," the notice stated.

It is not surprising that Cason is handling recognition matters. Since the resignation of former assistant secretary Dave Anderson in February, Cason has been acting assistant secretary for Indian affairs.

The bureaucratic shuffling, however, comes less than year after Dave Anderson drew fire for relinquishing his recognition duties. Critics of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, like Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal, called for his resignation and even retired Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado) questioned the wisdom of the move.

"Those decisions were made for me before I even got there," Anderson admitted in an interview with Indianz.Com shortly before he left the Bush administration. "I probably shouldn't have ever signed those things."

Publicly, the Interior Department said Anderson recused himself from recognition and gaming-related duties due to his past involvement with gaming. But in the interview, he said, "Those were things I was told that I needed to do."

Recognition was then handed to Aurene Martin, the former principal deputy assistant secretary who resigned last August. But shortly before she left, she gave recognition to Mike Olsen, a non-Indian attorney who has since taken her old position. The department's public explanation was to ensure Martin's search for a job in the private sector wouldn't conflict with her official duties.

After Martin left, though, the BIA admitted to a mistake involving one of her decisions. Martin agreed to recognize the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of Connecticut after researchers wrongly calculated intermarriage among tribal members. The BIA says the error won't alter the case.

Cason's involvement in federal recognition comes with no prior experience in the area. In testimony to Congress two weeks ago, he admitted he was "not well informed" on how the process works, and was unable to answer a series of questions posed by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Virginia), who is seeking recognition of several tribes in his state.

"From what I see, the BIA couldn't care less," Moran said.

The process, however, is being revamped somewhat under Cason's management. The Federal Register notice he signed described changes that will go into effect immediately without public comment.

The notice "supersedes" a February 2000 directive issued by then-assistant secretary Kevin Gover, who wanted to speed up the decision-making process and reduce the amount of work that goes into the process.

"The procedures described in this notice are based on five years of experience under," the Cason document states, "and on the procedures that have been found most effective in producing the clearest decisions in an efficient manner, while giving petitioners and third parties appropriate opportunities to provide information and comment."

Cason's control over recognition will end once a replacement for Anderson is confirmed, or until August 15, 2005.

Relevant Documents:
Secretarial Order: Temporary Redelegation of Authority of the Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs (February 8, 1005) | Federal Register Notice: Office of Federal Acknowledgment (March 31, 2005)

Only on Indianz.Com:
Federal Recognition Database (July 2004)