Interior revises rule to recognize Indian tribes

Interior revises rule to recognize Indian tribes
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The Obama administration is revising the regulatory process it uses to officially recognize Indian tribes.

Federal recognition of a Native American tribe establishes the U.S. government as the trustee for tribal lands and resources. It also makes tribal members and tribal governments eligible for federal budget assistance and program services.

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The final rule, which will be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, will create a two-phase review process for tribes petitioning the Department of Interior for federal recognition and give tribes facing rejection the ability to have an administrative judge review their case before a final decision is made.

The rule also aims to improve transparency by forcing the agency to make all documents relating to a petition publicly available.

“We have a responsibility to recognize those tribes that have maintained their identity and self-governance despite previous federal policies expressly aimed at destroying tribes,” Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn said in a news release.

“This new process remains rigorous, but it promotes timely decision-making through expedited processes and increases transparency by posting all publicly available petition materials online so that stakeholders are well-informed at each stage of the process.” 

Since 1978, of the 566 federally recognized tribes, 17 have been recognized through the current regulatory process. The Department has denied acknowledgment to 34 other petitioning groups.

The rule will take effect in 30 days.