Bush budget cuts funds for new tribes
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The Bush administration has proposed to eliminate all funds for newly recognized tribes next year even though a number of decisions are due to be finalized in the coming months.

A small item contained within the Bureau of Indian Affairs' fiscal year 2003 budget discloses the $335,000 slash. The 600-plus-page document provides no justification for the reduction, which comes separate from the money used to research petitions submitted by groups seeking acknowledgment from the federal government.

That funding, about $900,000 for a dozen anthropologists, historians, genealogists and researchers, is set to remain the same. But Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb has come under fire for not asking for more resources to address the controversial issue.

"It saves you money by not recognizing them," charged Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) at a hearing last week.

McCaleb denied the suggestion and said competing priorities and not financial concerns are behind the cut. "That's not what motivates us," he responded.

With growing concern from tribes, the public, Congress and the courts, McCaleb has discovered his explanation is hard to stomach. He noted he was "roundly criticized" at a contentious hearing on federal recognition that took place in early February.

By looking at the immense task, it's easy to see why. There are 10 tribes on "active" consideration and 13 more "ready" for action but none will see movement for at least two more years, according to budget projections.

Those numbers come in addition to the decisions pending, including a final determination on two Pequot tribes in Connecticut and the Little Shell Chippewa of Montana, all of whom received positive preliminary reviews.

On the other hand, the Muwekma Tribe of California, two Nipmuc tribes in Massachusetts and the Duwamish Tribe of Washington all face denial while the Chinook Nation of Washington and the Golden Hill Paugussett of Connecticut are under reconsideration.

But McCaleb's budget doesn't necessarily address the status of any of these groups either. In fiscal year 2003, he has proposed to make two proposed findings and one final determination.

The figures reflect the stunted recognition process despite a mounting backlog. The number of cases resolved by the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research (BAR) has has dipped slightly since the end of the Clinton administration despite public perception to the contrary.

Funding for new tribes has dropped as a result. In fiscal year 2000, $510,000 was provided to newly recognized governments, an amount which fell to $343,000 in fiscal year 2001 and then to $335,000 for the current and a proposed $0 for next year.

Tribes remain under the "New Tribes" funding group for at least three years. The two tribes currently receiving money under the program -- the Snoqualmie Tribe of Washington and the Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Potawatomi of Michigan -- will move to the "base" funding in fiscal year 2003.

That leaves the Cowlitz Tribe of Washington with no funds. McCaleb affirmed the tribe's recognition in January but is not providing any money to help support its new status.

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