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Federal Recognition
Big workload looms for BIA on federal recognition

The Bureau of Indian Affairs plans to make decisions affecting the federal recognition of 17 tribes within the next two years, according to documents recently filed in federal court.

A declaration by R. Lee Fleming, the chief of the Office of Federal Acknowledgment, and a summary of recognition cases give an update on the BIA's heavy workload. As of February 4, there are seven groups on the "active" list 12 groups on the "ready" list, and two groups on the "reconsidered" list, according to the documents.

At the same time, the agency is still working with a limited amount of staff and resources. Fleming's office currently employs 10 people, down from the 12 or 13 in years prior, and has contracts with seven others. The recent retirement of an anthropologist means the BIA only has two full teams, instead of the usual three, working on recognition cases.

The teams are currently working on the seven cases that are under "active" consideration. The cases are: the St. Francis/Sokoki Band of Abenakis of Vermont (proposed finding by September 2005); the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe of Montana (final determination by February 2007); the Steilacoom Tribe of Washington (final determination by January 2007); the Biloxi, Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogees of Louisiana (amended proposed finding by October 2005); the Port Au Chien Indian Tribe of Louisiana (amended proposed finding by October 2005); the United Houma Nation of Louisiana (final determination by October 2006); and the Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan (final determination by February 2006).

The teams are also working on reconsidered final determinations for the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation and the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, both of Connecticut. Decisions are due September 12, 2005. Additionally, two Nipmuc groups from Massachusetts are in the appeals process.

Timelines for the groups on the "ready" list are less certain and depend on the workload for the previously mentioned cases. But the BIA nevertheless has developed a schedule for three of the 12 cases: the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians of California (proposed finding by May 2006); the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts (proposed finding by April 2006); and the Brothertown Indians of Wisconsin (proposed finding by September 2006).

To deal with the increased workload, the BIA plans to hire three professional staff members, Fleming said in his declaration. With the hiring of an anthropologist to replace the one who retired, the office will have four teams in place by October 1, 2005.

If the plans hold up, the BIA will have greatly improved its record on recognition cases. Instead of deciding on one to two cases a year, the agency issues about three a year.

Yet there is much more work to be done, the documents show. Of the 12 tribes on the "ready" list, several have been waiting almost a decade for a team to be assigned to their cases. These include the Tolowa Nation of California, which has been waiting since 1996; and the Piro/Manso/Tiewa Indian Tribe of New Mexico, which has been waiting since 1997.

The BIA prioritizes this list based on the date the petitions were deemed ready. Based on current plans and projections, that means groups like the Shinnecock Nation of New York won't receive an answer for another six to seven years.

The BIA developed regulations to recognize Indian tribes in 1978. Since then, the agency has approved 15 petitioners and turned down 19 petitioners.

Additionally, the BIA has clarified the federal status of at least four tribes, although only one -- the Ione Band of Miwok Indians of California -- is counted because it was the only one to have submitted a petition for recognition. The three others -- including the Koi Nation of California -- were recognized through administrative measures.

Congress also has acted to recognize nine tribes. Two of those tribes had their status restored after being terminated. The remaining 11 were the subject of special legislation.

Relevant Documents:
Summary of Acknowledgment Cases | R. Lee Fleming Declaration

Only on Indianz.Com:
Federal Recognition Database V2.0 (May 2005)