BIA has small goal for big problem
Facebook Twitter Email
MAY 22, 2001

The first in a series of articles on the Bureau of Indian Affairs' budget.

Buried deep within a three-hundred plus page document justifying the Bureau of Indian Affairs' proposed fiscal year 2002 budget is a tiny item addressing what has become one of the agency's biggest problems.

Federal recognition.

Federal recognition, the process for deciding who is or isn't an Indian tribe, has come under fire by tribes and outsiders as one which can take as long as 20 years to resolve. Congressional critics have asked Secretary of Interior Gale Norton to reform the system while two bills that seek to rid the BIA of its recognition duties are making the rounds again.

Despite the fuss, more than 200 groups have asked the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research (BAR) to evaluate their recognition petitions. They are in various stages in the system, with some having only provided a mere introduction letter as others eagerly wait to have the staff of anthropologists, genealogists, historians, and researchers pass judgment on their status as a tribe.

So how many petitions does the BAR hope to resolve in the upcoming fiscal year?


The number seems small. But the dozen or so staff members of the BAR staff face a huge task in helping make just those three determinations and the BIA estimates 30,000 person hours will go into resolving federal recognition decisions.

At the same time, no additional staff or work hours have been requested for the past two years to try and improve the BIA's recognition performance. And the request for the BAR and related tribal government services is $1.5 million -- just a small fraction of the BIA's $2.2 billion budget and about the same amount requested for the past two years as well.

Yet it has been in the past two years that the BIA has come under heightened scrutiny no the issue. Last year's decisions to extend preliminary recognition to the Eastern Pequot Tribe and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Tribe, both of Connecticut, are currently the subject of litigation which has forced the BIA to adhere to a strict timeline.

Another petition addressed last year -- the Little Shell Ojibwe of Montana -- would be due for final consideration this summer were it not for an additional six-month comment period requested by the tribe. And the Quinault Nation is poised never to let the BIA forget its decision to recognize the Cowlitz Tribe last year as the two Washington tribes continue to battle it out in and out of the courtroom.

These types of fights are set to continue while the BAR staff tries to meet its recognition goals. The Chinook of Washington, the Duwamish of Washington, and the Nipmuc of Massachusetts face court battles and additional reviews before any of them become final.

But that's not the end of the BIA's potential troubles. Among the three which are next on the recognition hit-list is the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe of Connecticut, who were denied recognition by former Assistant Secretary Ada Deer.

After three attempts, however, the tribe convinced former Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael Anderson to have the BAR reconsider the negative determination. The tribe once was a client of former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover, Anderson's boss, a relationship criticized by recognition foes as unethical.

Also up for resolution is the Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa of Michigan. Despite the pending decision, the tribe has gotten Representative Burt Stupak (D-Mich.) to introduce a bill to recognize them legislatively, just the type of move Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) protests.

Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, Campbell is pushing a bill to set up an independent federal recognition commission that would resolve all pending petitions within 12 years.

Get the Legislation:
A bill for administrative procedures to extend Federal recognition to certain Indian groups, and for other purposes (S.504)
To provide for administrative procedures to extend Federal recognition to certain Indian groups, and for other purposes (H.R.1175)

Relevant Links:
Branch of Acknowledgment and Research -

Related Stories:
Federal recognition battles continue (5/10)
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)

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)