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Interior Posts Federally Recognized Tribes Over Six Months Late

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Interior published the nation’s list of federally recognized tribes on August 10, over six months after a federal law required the announcement.

The notice, which was posted in the Federal Register, included a list of the 566 current federally recognized tribes, but it did not include an explanation of why the list was late.

The Federally Recognized Indian Tribe List Act of 1994 requires that the list is posted by January 30 each year. This was the first year Interior failed to publish the list on time since the law was passed.

Interior officials pinned the tardiness on apparent efforts to enhance the list.

“We have been working to improve the process we use to verify the correct names of the 566 federally recognized tribes across the United States,” Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for Interior, said. “This effort involves a partnership between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribes.”

The explanation didn’t hold weight for some members of Congress who said the list is usually quite easy to update, since only a few tribes have been recognized in recent years.

“Congressman [Don] Young is pleased that the Department of Interior finally got around to following the law of the land by publishing the list of federally recognized tribes,” said Luke Miller, a spokesman for Rep. Young, R-Alaska, and chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. “However, the delay underscores this administration's lack of commitment to tribal issues.

“Unfortunately, the Bureau of Indian Affairs lacks the resources and manpower to do their job,” Miller added. “At the end of the day, if the Department of Interior can't even complete a routine task on time like publishing the list of federally recognized tribes, how can we have confidence that they will be able to solve even more complex tribal issues, such as the high cost of energy on reservations?”

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Several staff changes and exits have happened at the BIA in recent months, contributing to another problem that has recently irked Young: the Department did not send a representative to testify before his subcommittee at a hearing on tribal federal recognition in June.

The last list published by Interior, in October 2010, included 564 federally recognized tribes. The new list includes 566 tribes, which means the Department took six months over the law’s deadline to include two more federally recognized tribes.

The new list contains a section that mentions the law that requires the publication of the list, but it does not explain why the Department broke that law this time around: “This notice is published pursuant to Section 104 of the Act of November 2, 1994 (103; 108 Stat. 4791, 4792), and in exercise of authority delegated to the Assistant Secretary—Indian Affairs under 25 U.S.C. 2 and 9 and 209 DM 8.”

Miller previously told Indian Country Today Media Network that before the law was enacted, the 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 previously.

“We expect to get the publication of the List back on a regular schedule pursuant to the 1994 Act,” Darling told ICTMN.

This is the second federal law on Indian issues that Interior has broken that has made headlines in recent weeks.

Congressional members continue to investigate the Department’s breach of the 1992 Indian Employment, Training, and Related Services Demonstration Act, which requires the Secretary of the Interior to release tribal and economic employment reports biennially, but the Department hasn’t released such data since 2007. Officials have blamed that problem on “methodology inconsistencies,” but political and legal questions continue to be raised about the lack of publication.