McCaleb decision sure to draw scrutiny
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TUESDAY, JULY 31, 2001

Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb's decision to deny preliminary recognition to the Muwekma Tribe of California will no doubt be compared to actions taken by his predecessor Kevin Gover.

But even though McCaleb's involvement in the Muwekma case has been minimal -- he has been in office less than a month, essentially signing off on a decision whose history unfolded before the Clinton administration -- critics of the system will be paying attention to see how he handles a controversial subject that has garnered such heavy attention despite being one of the many duties of running the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The recent scrutiny is largely due to Gover, whose controversial decisions have set off lawsuits, internal investigations and threats of Congressional action. Last year, he extended preliminary acknowledgment to three tribes who did not necessarily satisfy all seven mandatory recognition criteria.

Of the trio, the Eastern Pequot Tribe and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Tribe have been the most contentious. Although researchers at the Bureau of Indian Affairs said that the tribes did not satisfy some criteria for certain periods of time, Gover argued the tribes, at least until 1973, met the burden of proof.

"A different standard of tribal existence is not being applied here," wrote Gover last March. "Rather, the evidence, when weighed in the context of this continuous strong historical relationship, carries greater weight."

After 1973, Gover made no finding on the tribes' existence. That issue is now left up to McCaleb as he weighs whether one, both, or neither of the tribes are recognized.

In his own words, Gover's action on the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe of Montana was a departure from standard practice. As with the Pequot cases, researchers said the tribe did not provide evidence to satisfy all criteria for all time periods in question. Yet Gover signed off on a document to recognize the tribe.

"This proposed finding departs from practice in previous acknowledgment decisions in certain respects, principally in giving different amounts of weight to various types of evidence than had been done in prior determinations," wrote Gover last July.

Before he left office this year, Gover's pattern appeared to have continued in the case of the Chinook Nation of Washington. Gover's predecessor, Ada Deer, had issued a final determination in 1997 against the tribe.

But after the case was reconsidered, new evidence came to light which Gover said solidified the tribe's case. Specifically, the tribe had been previously acknowledged by Congress, a factor which seemed to tip the scales in its favor.

"Congress has never enacted a withdrawal of recognition" for the Chinook Tribe, wrote Gover in January, "and the [Interior] Department is loathe to infer such a withdrawal."

Previous acknowledgment, however, did not seem to have any effect on the Muwekma Tribe, who had been recognized as the Pleasanton or Verona Band in the late 1920s. McCaleb yesterday signed off on a document to deny recognition because researchers said the tribe did not provide evidence to satisfy three out of seven criteria.

McCaleb is currently reviewing the status of the Duwamish Tribe of Washington and the Nipmuc Nation of Washington. After Gover stepped down, replacement Michael Anderson extended preliminary recognition to the tribes.

But like all decisions made at all federal agencies during the last days of the Clinton administration, the Bush administration put them on hold.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Muwekma Tribe denied recognition (7/31)

Get Recognition Documents:
Little Shell Chippewa | Eastern Pequot | Paucatuck Eastern Pequot | Chinook Indian Tribe (1997)

Relevant Links:
Branch of Acknowledgment and Research -

Related Stories:
BIA pushed to provide 'answers' on tribes (7/26)
McCaleb endorses BIA on recognition (6/14)
Gover's 'activist' legacy escapes McCaleb (6/13)
BIA has small goal for big problem (5/22)
Federal recognition battles continue (5/10)
Recognition reforms might not have an effect (2/7)
Gover reverses Chinook decision (1/4)

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)