McCaleb endorses BIA on recognition
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JUNE 14, 2001

Despite its slow progress, mounting litigation, and the scrutiny it has received, the Bureau of Indian Affairs should continue to recognize tribes, Assistant Secretary nominee Neal McCaleb said on Wednesday.

Rejecting a call for a moratorium on any pending federal recognition decisions, McCaleb said the troubled agency is best equipped to determine what groups are Indian tribes. He also expressed doubts about a bill to strip the BIA of its acknowledgment duties, a proposal which has been made by Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), Vice-Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee.

"My inclination is to find out what about that system is not working and try to get it fixed, rather than move the problem to an independent agency," offered McCaleb at his nomination hearing yesterday.

"Notwithstanding the instances of failure at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, I think it is still the most sensitive and aware agency within the United States government" to recognize tribes, he continued.

With more than 200 groups petitioning for federal recognition, the BIA has been criticized by Indians and non-Indians alike for a process which can take up to 20 years -- and sometimes more -- to resolve. After two decades of being the sole government entity in charge of the issue, the BIA's Branch of Acknowledgment and Research has recognized just 16 tribes while turning down about the same.

The slow timeline has prompted a number of groups to take a quicker route: recognition by Congress. But while Campbell admitted that some tribes have been denied "due process" by having to wait so long for a decision, he said yesterday he continues to oppose acknowledgment through legislation.

Recalling one group who tried the method, Campbell said he became "exasperated" because he said they couldn't identify their own language, customs, or history -- criteria which are part of the BIA's process and must be satisfied. The standards would also be part of the independent commission Campbell would like to see created.

Under a bill Campbell has introduced, the commission would complete all of its duties within 12 years, a goal the BIA couldn't possibly realize under its current staffing or funding levels. The dozen or so anthropologists, genealogists, social scientists, and researchers receive about $1 million a year in funding, a small portion of the BIA's $2 billion plus budget.

Campbell's group would be presided by three members but they'd also have their own staff to deal with petitions. Once accepted by the commission, a tribe could hear a decision within 90 days.

The only groups which would be prohibited from seeking recognition through Campbell's commission are tribes which have been terminated by legislation. Only Congress can restore a terminated tribe.

Former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover last year told the Indian Affairs Committee he had "reached the conclusion that I will not be successful" in reforming the recognition process.

Should McCaleb be confirmed, he would review the Clinton administration's decisions to extend preliminary recognition to the Nipmuc Nation of Massachusetts and final recognition to the Duwamish Tribe of Washington. The Bush administration has held back all pending decisions at all federal agencies until a Presidential appointee can approve them.

Today on Indianz.Com:
McCaleb breezes though love fest (6/14)

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:
BIA has small goal for big problem (5/22)
Federal recognition battles continue (5/10)
Federal recognition update (2/26)
Campbell criticized for radio talk (2/8)
Recognition reforms might not have an effect (2/7)
Dodd calls for recognition reform (2/6)

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)