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Federal Recognition
House, Senate panels take up recognition bills

Indianz.Com Listening Lounge
House Resources Committee markup session, June 21, 2006.
Discussion on H.R.512 - 21:03 - 4.8MB
A leading Republican clashed with Democrats on a measure to speed up the federal recognition process at a House Resources Committee on Wednesday.

Rep. Richard Pombo (R-California), the chairman of the committee, initially had the support of Democrats on the panel. His bill, H.R.512, would force the Bureau of Indian Affairs to make decisions on tribal petitions that have been pending for more than 20 years.

"There are few other areas of the executive branch in which action occurs as slowly as in the BIA recognition process," Pombo said at a markup session.

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia), the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Michigan), the co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, and other Democrats didn't dispute Pombo's conclusion. But they said a substitute amendment being offered by Pombo would have thrown the process into more disarray.

The Democrats said the amendment would unfairly impose a deadline on the submission of new federal recognition petitions. They said the six-month "sunset" provision would only create more bottlenecks by forcing tribes to go to court or to Congress if they miss the deadline.

"I don't know where this substitute came from but I don't think it's the solution that we've collectively advocated for and I just can't support it," said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey), summarizing the views of Rahall, Kildee and others.

Pombo strongly defended his proposal and said his Democratic colleagues misinterpreted its provisions. Imposing a sunset on the submission of new petitions is necessary to ensure some finality to the process and pressure the BIA into resolving its backlog.

"You either know now or you don't meet the criteria," he said of potential tribes who might not have submitted an application yet. "They have six months to send in a letter after the enactment of this law," he added.

Pombo agreed with Democrats that the BIA needs more resources to speed up its review process. But he said Congress should act now if it ever expects to make progress.

"If we don't do this, if we don't force this issue, force BIA to recognize ... 30 years from now, whoever replaces all of us is going to be dealing with the exact same issues," Pombo said. "These bureaucrats have a perpetual job and as long as the don't make a decision, they always have a job."

The dispute eventually prompted Pombo to withdraw his proposal. "I won't offer the amendment. Is everyone OK now?" he said.

H.R.512 was then approved by a voice vote by the committee. Pombo said he would work with Democrats on potential changes before the bill heads to the House floor.

When it was established in 1978, the process of reviewing whether a tribal group is entitled to a government-to-government relationship with the United States was expected to take a couple of years. But some tribes who filed petitions within the first 10 years are still waiting for an answer.

The delays are traced to several causes, including the lack of resources and adequate staff, cumbersome requirements and limited financial resources of petitioning tribes. Some tribes have turned to gaming companies in order to submit tens of thousands of pages to the BIA. In one case, an investor reportedly spent $15 million on a Massachusetts tribe that finally received a favorable answer after 31 years.

To address these types of cases, H.R.512 would require the BIA to make decisions on tribes that submitted an application before 1988 and have fully documented their petition. A tribe that meets those criteria would have the option of seeking expedited review.

The BIA opposes the imposition of deadlines. At a federal recognition hearing before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee yesterday, a senior official said tribes should wait its turn before receiving an answer.

The BIA also opposes legislative recognition. Citing special circumstances, six Virginia tribes are seeking help from Congress but the official, R. Lee Fleming of the Office of Federal Acknowledgment, said the tribes should get in line just like other groups.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the chairman of the committee, agreed that legislative recognition is not the best route to go. But he said there are special cases in which it may be necessary.

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

Pombo Recognition Bill:
To require the prompt review by the Secretary of the Interior of the longstanding petitions for Federal recognition of certain Indian tribes, and for other purposes (H.R.512)

Virginia Recognition Bills:
Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act (H.R.3349)

Rappahannock Recognition Bill:
To extend Federal recognition to the Rappahannock Tribe (H.R.5130)

Michigan Recognition Bill:
The Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians of Michigan Referral Act (H.R.437)