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Interior Breaks Another Federal Law Involving Tribes and Indians

The Interior Department has confirmed that it broke a federal law by not publishing a list of federally recognized tribes by January 30, 2012.

WASHINGTON – The Interior Department has confirmed that it broke a federal law by not publishing a list of federally recognized tribes by January 30, 2012.

Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for Interior, said the Department is working to publish the list, which is now six months overdue. She did not say why the delay happened in the first place.

This is the first year Interior has failed to publish in the Federal Register the official list of recognized tribes since Congress passed the Federally Recognized Indian Tribes List Act of 1994.

The law says that the Secretary of the Interior “shall publish in the Federal Register a list of all Indian tribes which the Secretary recognizes to be eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians” and adds that “[t]he list shall be published within 60 days of enactment of this Act, and annually on or before every January 30 thereafter.”

Congress members in charge of Indian affairs are concerned about the situation, with staffers saying that this is not a symbolic law.

“The purpose behind this law is to make DOI list all recognized tribes,” said Luke Miller, spokesman for Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. “It addressed a problem in which Interior had sporadically listed which tribes were eligible for benefits and services of the government.”

Miller said that before the law was enacted, the Interior Department was known to “randomly” drop or add tribes to the list, so many tribes “could not be certain if their status would be arbitrarily changed, jeopardizing their ability to obtain federal funding on a timely basis, to develop budgets going forward, and to know whether or not their status (including sovereign immunity) might be subject to a challenge….

“This is clearly a violation of a law – and not a symbolic law – as there is real purpose behind it," Miller said.

This is the second federal law on Indian issues that Interior has broken coming to light this month. Congressional leaders are currently investigating Interior’s breach of the 1992 Indian Employment, Training, and Related Services Demonstration Act. That law requires the Secretary of the Interior to release tribal and economic employment reports biennially, but the Department hasn’t released such data since 2007. Interior has so far pinned the breach of that law on “methodology inconsistencies,” but political and legal questions linger about why the labor force reports have been delayed to date.

The Department has also drawn recent criticism for failing to send a representative to testify before the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs on June 27 at a hearing on tribal federal recognition. Interior blamed that situation on staff scheduling issues.