Bush administration put the wreck in federal recognition

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WASHINGTON – While no whistleblower has come forward – yet - to confirm definitely that the Bush administration’s unwritten federal recognition policy was not to acknowledge any more American Indian tribes, one thing is obvious: The last eight years have put the wreck in federal recognition, and 2008 was no different.

Interior began its year of denial in March with a final determination rejecting federal acknowledgement to the Steilacoom Tribe of Indians, a 600-plus member tribe in Steilacoom, Wash., whose name might hint at the tribe’s historical existence and its ancestral territory southwest of what is now Tacoma, Wash. “Steilacoom,” according to the tribe, is the Anglicization of an indigenous word for the name of a local creek and a local pink flower.

The Steilacoom is one of five bands living in the Tacoma Basin area. They spoke a separate dialect of the Puget Sound Salish languages, according to its Web site at www.steilacoomtribe.com.

The tribe was harshly affected by Manifest Destiny – the American spinoff of the 15th century Doctrine of Discovery that justified genocide and ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples by the delusional belief that God ordained Europeans to “discover” and occupy any land that was not inhabited by Christians, enslave its inhabitants and claim its wealth.

The American version pushed settler colonists from sea to sea, leaving a trail of broken treaties and indigenous peoples herded into Apartheid-style reservations.

The Steilacoom territory had the first U.S. army fort, the first trading post, the first jail and the first incorporated town north of the Columbia River, according to the site.

Interior said the tribe failed to meet four criteria: identification as a tribe since 1990; continuous community; continuous political authority; and descent from a historical tribe: Over 90 percent of the STI’s members are Indians, interior said, but most of them are from “other Indians” or Metis from Canada.

The “you’re Indians, but not the right Indians” determination also applied in two proposed negative findings for Louisiana tribes: the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe and the Biloxi, Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogees, Inc. (BCCM). Members of both tribes are descendants of the historical Biloxi, Chitimacha, Choctaw and other tribes and subgroups.

Pointe au Chien proved it has been identified as an American Indian “entity” since 1900, Interior said, but it hasn’t submitted a membership list or demonstrated that it was a distinct community or had political entity before 1830.

The BCCM failed the same criteria as the Port au Chien and additionally failed to submit “governing documents.”

The courts had their say as well this year in dealing blows to tribes.

Last summer, a federal court in Alabama ruled that the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians’ lawsuit forcing federal recognition was filed after the statute of limitations was up.

“First, our petition for federal acknowledgment, whose requirements miraculously changed just as our tribe was up for consideration, was denied,” Cedric Sunray, MOWA member and administrator of the tribe’s language and culture department, said.

“Then the appeals, where all relevant materials – language recordings, yearbooks and papers showing attendance at All-Indian boarding schools – were supposedly received too late and therefore were not eligible for evaluation. Which is understandable because we all know the BIA and Office of Federal Acknowledgment always conduct business in a timely manner,” Sunray said.

And in August a federal district court judge in Connecticut dismissed the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation’s appeal to restore its federal recognition, which was reversed after a relentless 18-month orchestrated campaign of political opposition by local, state and federal elected officials and a wealthy anti-Indian sovereignty group and its powerful White house-connected lobbyist, Barbour Griffith & Rogers (BGR).

Despite a 1,200-plus page mountain of e-mails, depositions, letters, faxes and other evidence showing a web of connections between the politicians, the lobbyists, the White House, the Connecticut governor, Sen. John McCain and others, the judge chose to exclude some of the most damning evidence – including all of the BGR documents – that supported the nation’s claim that unlawful political influence overturned its federal recognition.

“Although one may be sympathetic to suspicions that powerful political forces interfered with an independent review of their tribal recognition, the court must accept the evidence as presented at face value, in particular the testimony by the agency decision makers that they were not unduly pressured by particular politicians or the political climate at large,” Senior Judge Peter Dorsey wrote.

A notice of appeal of Dorsey’s ruling has been filed in the 2nd Circuit Court in New York City.