Omnibus appropriations bill could block BIA recognition reforms

Historic photo of Mattaponi students at the original Sharon Indian School in Virginia. Photo from Upper Mattaponi Tribe

As Congress scrambles to avert a shutdown of the federal government, tribal advocates are worried about an appropriations rider that would prevent the Bureau of Indian Affairs from implementing reforms to the federal recognition process.

Outgoing Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, who is leaving the BIA next month, finalized the Part 83 reforms in June after more than two years of work. But even though several controversial provisions were removed, Republicans in Congress have been trying to block the changes.

The anti-reform effort first surfaced this summer during consideration of an appropriations bill for the Interior Department. That proposal, however, died when Republican leaders pulled the measure due to an unrelated dispute over the Confederate flag.

But an omnibus funding bill that's making the rounds on Capitol Hill could revive the rider. The Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes, a group of tribes whose members have maintained historic relationships with the United States and European colonies through treaties, land reservations and other actions, is lobbying Congress in hopes of keeping the language out of the must-pass measure.

"The recent regulatory changes reflect more than a decade of reports, reviews, and studies which finally resulted in over a year’s worth of public hearings and written testimony," a suggested letter to lawmakers reads.

The government is currently funded through December 11 under H.R.719, the Continuing Appropriations Act. Lawmakers and the White House followed up with H.R.1314, the Bipartisan Budget Act, a deal that increases overall spending levels.

The details, though, are still being ironed out and Republican leaders have already said they won't be able to take action by tomorrow's deadline. A short-term extension that was introduced on Wednesday gives lawmakers more time to work on the bill.

"While progress is being made on negotiations for a full-year omnibus appropriations bill, it is clear that more time is needed to complete the package," Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky), the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a press release. "This short-term funding resolution will keep the lights on in government and maintain current operations for a few days so Congress can complete and pass an agreement."

H.J.Res.75 extends the deadline to midnight on December 16. The full text of the omnibus is expected to be released on Monday.

Committee Hearing Notices:
Legislative Hearing on Tribal Recognition Act (Part II) (December 8, 2015)
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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