Gover wants BIA out of nastiness
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MAY 25, 2000

Obtaining federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs is a tedious and often confusing process. After filing an initial petition with the BIA in 1981, the Schaghticoke of Connecticut have finally made it onto the Bureau's "active" list.

Other tribes, like the Shinnecock of New York, are still wading the waters after more than 20 years in limbo.

Along with these tribes and many others, Northern Cheyenne Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R Colo) believes the current process isn't working. He's introduced a bill whose key provision is taking control of the federal acknowledgement process away from the BIA and placing it into an independent "Commission on Indian Recognition," headed by three Presidential appointees.

Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover also agrees with the Senator. He endorses the proposed legislation that would rid the BIA of responsibility altogether.

"I have reluctantly reached the conclusion that I will not be successful" in reforming the BIA's Branch of Acknowledgement and Research (BAR), Gover told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Wednesday.

Gover has recently instituted changes that ease some of the workload of the BAR, the 11-member group currently responsible for evaluating petitions and making recommendations.

But he stated there are more pressing priorities before the BIA such as tribal justice, education, and trust reform. He also cited increasing nastiness over the current recognition process as part of the reasons why the BIA supports the bill.

Also testifying before the Committee was Mark Tilden, a lawyer from the Native American Rights Fund of Boulder, Colorado. NARF represents tribes seeking federal recognition, including the Shinnecock and the Mashpee Wampanoag of Massachusetts. The Mashpee are currently on the "active" list.

"We do support the bill in some respects, but we suggest some changes be made," Tilden said yesterday after the hearing. One such change would make the current BAR staff ineligible to be part of the new recognition commission, due to potential biases they might bring, said Tilden.

Both Tilden and Gover stressed the need for adequate funding if the recognition commission is to succeed at evaluating the hundreds of petitions currently before the BIA.

Related Stories:
Key Provisions of the Indian Federal Recognition Administrative Procedures Act of 1999 (Tribal Law 5/25)
BIA eases recognition process (Tribal Law 5/22)

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