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Assistant Secretary Washburn to testify on federal recognition bill

Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn addresses the National Congress of American Indians annual convention in San Diego, California, on October 19, 2015. Photo by Indianz.Com

Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is listed as the only witness for a hearing on a federal recognition bill on Wednesday.

H.R. 3764, the Tribal Recognition Act, strips the BIA of its ability to recognize tribes. If the bill becomes law, Congress -- and only Congress -- would be able to make the final decision for any petitioning groups.

The bill also prevents the BIA from implementing the Part 83 reforms that Washburn finalized in June. The changes were aimed at speeding up a process that takes decades to complete and has become costly for the BIA, petitioning groups and interested parties but a memo prepared by the Republican majority staff on the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs describes them as "flawed."

"Recognition of a tribe is a solemn act of the United States government, with long-term consequences not only to a tribe’s members, but to other tribes, and to states and non-Indian citizens," the memo reads. "This makes recognition a question for the political – or legislative – branch."

H.R.3764 requires the BIA's Office of Federal Acknowledgment to review petitions under criteria set by Congress. One key provision requires petitioning groups to document their history to their first sustained contact with non-Indians while the Part 83 reforms only go back to 1900.

Washburn clashed with subcommittee members in April at an oversight hearing on the federal recognition process. He said he was troubled by some of the comments made, mostly by Republican lawmakers.

Tomorrow's hearing takes place at 2pm in Room 1334 of the Longworth House Office Building.

Committee Notice:
Legislative Hearing on H.R. 3764 (October 28, 2015)

BIA Final Part 83 Documents:
Final Rule | Policy Guidance | Fact Sheet

Federal Register Notices:
Hearing Process Concerning Acknowledgment of American Indian Tribes (August 13, 2015)
Requests for Administrative Acknowledgment of Federal Indian Tribes (July 1, 2015)
Federal Acknowledgment of American Indian Tribes (July 1, 2015)
Hearing and Re-Petition Authorization Processes Concerning Acknowledgment of American Indian Tribes (June 19, 2014)

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