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Lobbyists met at White House to discuss federal recognition

The White House is seen on June 26, 2015. Official White House photo by Chuck Kennedy

Lobbyists and Congressional aides met with White House officials to discuss the Part 83 reforms to the federal recognition process, The Hill reports.

Dates weren't provided but the paper said the meetings occurred within the last month. Devin Rhinerson, a lobbyist for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians in California and Tom Brierton, a lobbyist representing card clubs with ties to the Morongo Band, argued against a prior version of the rule.

So did aides to Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), the paper said. Politicians from Connecticut were worried that the BIA was going to reopen the door to tribes that were denied recognition through the process.

“Senator Murphy, together with his colleagues, has been consistent in conveying our suggestions for ways the rule could be improved so as to avoid the disparate impact it would otherwise have on our state,” a spokesperson told the Hill.

The meetings occurred after the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent the rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. The submission was discussed at a House hearing on April 22, when members of the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs vowed to block it.

But it's not clear whether the lobbying had an impact on the final rule. Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the BIA, told lawmakers that some of the most controversial provisions had already been removed.

"Frankly we have backed off of some of those ideas," Washburn said at the hearing.

Still, Connecticut took credit for removing the provision that could have allowed the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation to resubmit petitions. Both tribes are recognized by the state and documented their history to Colonial times but the BIA said they didn't qualify for federal status.

"While we are still analyzing the fine print, the final rule announced today represents a big victory for the State of Connecticut," Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) said in a press release on Monday in which he credited Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), whose federal recognition battles earned him a reputation as an Indian fighter, with swaying the BIA.

Washburn signed the final rule on June 23. It will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow and will become effective after 30 days.

Even though the final rule has been scaled back, Republicans on Capitol Hill are trying to block it anyway. H.R.2822, the fiscal year 2016 Interior appropriations bill, prevents the BIA from using federal funds to "implement, administer, or enforce" the reforms that have been years in the making.

The House began consideration of the bill last Thursday before going on a break this week. The Senate version of the Interior appropriations measure does not address the rule so any differences would have to be addressed later in legislative process.

The BIA's federal acknowledgment process formally began in 1978. Since then, only 17 groups have won recognition while 34 have been denied, underscoring the difficult nature of the process.

Get the Story:
Victory for lobbyists in tribal reforms (The Hill 6/30)
Tribal Leaders Condemn New Federal Rules, Blame State Officials' Lobbying (The Hartford Courant 6/30)
State Officials Praise New Federal Rules They Say Block Recognition of Three Connecticut Tribes (The Hartford Courant 6/30)
State, local officials praise changes on tribal recognition (The Norwich Bulletin 6/30)
New Indian casinos unlikely under revised federal rules (The Connecticut Post 6/30)
State lawmakers applaud new federal-recognition rule for Indian tribes (The New London Day 6/30)
Change may one day help Monacans, other Native Americans receive federal tribe status (The Lynchburg News & Advance 6/30)
U.S. denies CT tribes chance at federal recognition (The Connecticut Mirror 6/29)
Federal Recognition Changes Leave Connecticut Tribes Out in the Cold (WNPR 6/29)
Gov. Malloy applauds new Bureau of Indian Affairs tribal recognition rules (Fox CT 6/29)
Indian tribe recognition process overhauled (AP 6/29)

Final Documents:
Final Rule | Policy Guidance | Fact Sheet

Federal Register Notices:
Federal Acknowledgment of American Indian Tribes (July 30, 2014)
Federal Acknowledgment of American Indian Tribes (May 29, 2014)

Part 83 Reform Documents:
Final Rule | Proposed Rule | Press Release | Comparison Chart (comparing current rule to proposed rule) | Response to Comments on June 2013 Discussion Draft | Frequently Asked Questions

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