Federal recognition battles continue
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MAY 10, 2001

The ever-growing battles over federal recognition continued on Wednesday with a federal judge's decision ordering the Bureau of Indian Affairs to meet specific deadlines regarding the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of Connecticut.

This is the second time this year the BIA has been hit for its slow decision-making process. Another judge in Connecticut ordered the BIA to issue a final decision in the recognition of two Pequot tribes by the end of the year.

But a large caseload, funding limitations, lack of Congressional action, and internal government opposition to oversight of the process threaten to prevent the Bureau from ever making significant progress or from shedding the controversies it has attracted in recent years.

With more than 550 tribes recognized by the federal government, acknowledgment of new ones has never been a top priority at the BIA. The Branch of Acknowledgment and Research (BAR) has only about a dozen full time staff members: anthropologists, social scientists, historians, and genealogists who are charged with researching the more than 200 cases now in the docket.

Despite the backlog, which can cause tribes to wait more than a decade to receive a final decision, funding for the BAR is only about $1 million, just a tiny percentage of the BIA's $2 billion budget. The Bush administration has requested no significant increase in funds or staff to attack the load in fiscal year 2002.

Bureau officials readily acknowledge the problems with the process. After initially opposing a bill to rid the BIA of its recognition duties, former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover a year ago this month said it was time for agency to get out of the "nastiness" which has come to characterize tribal acknowledgment.

Since then, numerous cries to reform the system have been made. The criticisms come from anti-gaming advocates who fear tribal casinos, like Representative Chris Wolf (R-Va.), to members of the Connecticut delegation whom Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) said are getting into the game only because residents are mad that Indians are getting rich.

But so far, little has been done to try and change the process, except by Campbell, who as Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee has always had his radar tuned to the issue. Save for a General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation whose results are due later this summer, critical members haven't done much to make good on promises made to worried constituents.

Even so, Campbell hasn't been able to get his bill passed, either. The independent recognition commission that he is pushing is an idea about as old as campaign finance reform: it sounds good but no one can seem to get it through Congress.

Then there are the apparent troubles and conflicts within the government. Gover recently acknowledged the presence of a "mole" at the BAR and current Bureau officials, in private, agree there is a leak, but don't know who is providing information to the press and outside parties.

The problem has become a mini-public relations nightmare for the BIA and for former Clinton officials like Gover and Michael Anderson. While leaks are nothing new in Washington, DC, the BIA one has provided fuel for recognition foes like Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Along with three towns, Blumenthal is suing the Bureau over the pending status of the Eastern Pequot Tribe and Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Tribe. He praised a judge's decision in March to make the BIA meet specific timelines for the tribes.

But the Department of Justice, representing the Department of Interior in the case, opposes being watched so closely by the court. The government wants the deadlines set aside in the Pequot case and may soon ask the same of the Schaghticoke.

Meanwhile, two decisions made in the final days of the Clinton administration await approval. But a BIA spokesperson this week said the Nipmuc Nation and Duwamish Tribe recognitions probably won't see resolution until the agency gets a new director, presumably Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Neal McCaleb.

McCaleb's confirmation has yet to be sent to the Senate, so Campbell can't schedule hearings. Along with a host of other issues, the decisions will be in limbo for at least a few more months.

Relevant Links:
Branch of Acknowledgment and Research -

Related Stories:
Schaghticoke recognition back at BIA (5/10)
Towns want recognition moratorium (5/9)
Towns want recognition legislation (5/4)
DOJ opposes Pequot recognition deadline (4/27)
Who is The Mole at BIA? (4/17)
Last-minute BIA decisions scrutinized (3/26)
Federal recognition update (2/26)
Recognition reforms might not have an effect (2/7)
Dodd calls for recognition reform (2/6 )
Nipmuc Nation granted recognition (1/22)

Blasts from the Past - Indianz.Com Recognition Classics:
Recognition findings a departure (8/16)
Decisions put Gover in the middle (08/16)
Gover wants BIA out of nastiness (05/25)
Town: Gover a 'mockery' (5/25)