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Overhaul of Federal Recognition Process is Unlikely for this Year

WASHINGTON - A bill to reform the federal process for recognizing tribes
ran into bleak prospects at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing April
21. The Department of Interior opposed it and committee chairman Sen. Ben
Nighthorse Campbell, S. 297's sponsor, rated its chances at 50-50.

With only 72 working days left in the 108th Congress, the Colorado
Republican was still less optimistic after the hearing. In remarks to
reporters, he described the bill's chances of even making it to a vote as

But the hearing yielded important perspectives on the federal recognition
process. Kevin Gover, former head of the BIA and currently a professor in
the Arizona State University College of Law, described the bureaucratic
ploy of "staff capture" as a severe problem at the Branch of Research and
Acknowledgment, which oversees the process of applying for federal
recognition as a tribe. Gover said that when he asked BAR for summaries, he
got thousand-page stacks of paper - a firing offense in the private sector,
but at BAR a strategy for defying supervision. "By creating an avalanche of
paper, the BAR effectively overwhelmed the office of the Assistant

Among other reforms, S. 297 would create an independent board to assist the
secretary in assessing recognition applications.

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Also on the committee's agenda was a pre-hearing business meeting that
passed amended versions of a probate reform law, S. 1721, and of S. 344,
the bill that would recognize a Native Hawaiian governing entity as a first
step toward federal recognition of Native Hawaiians as a political entity.
The changes to S. 344 were especially noteworthy: transfers of any land or
resources to the Native Hawaiian governing entity would now be subject to
negotiation pursuant federal recognition. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, the
bill's leading sponsor along with fellow Hawaii Democrat Daniel K. Inouye,
said he and Inouye have requested time to consider the amended bill from
the Senate leadership.