Federal Recognition Rule Changes for Native American Tribes Could Mean More Business Opportunities
On Thursday, the U.S. Interior Department announced its proposed changes to the nation's rules on federally recognizing American Indian tribes.
The revisions to the rules could give some groups easier access to more benefits and opportunities for commercial development, The Washington Post reported.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which made changes to the rules of tribal acknowledgement, said it did so to improve transparency and efficiency.
The last time any overhaul was proposed to the recognition process came two decades ago. The current process has been under harsh criticism for being slow, inconsistent and susceptible to political influence, according to The Post.
Last summer, meetings were held throughout the nation by the Interior Department regarding the draft proposal. The public will have at least 60 days to comment on the matter before the changes are implemented.
One change that was proposed in a draft last June and drew criticism was, instead of requiring tribes to prove political authority since "historical times," they only need to demonstrate continuity since 1934.
Indian Affairs Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn told The Post that 1934 was chosen because that was when Congress recognized the existence of tribes as political entities.
"The proposed rule would slightly modify criteria to make it more consistent with the way we've been applying the criteria in the past," Washburn said.
There are currently 566 American tribes that are federally recognized, with its tribal members receiving health and education benefits as well as land protections. The federal recognition also provides opportunities for development of casinos and other projects.
Other changes require that 80 percent of the group's membership be descendants from a tribe that existed in historical times while 30 percent of a tribe's members need to represent the community.
Other groups that may have been previously denied recognition would get a chance to apply for recognition again.
Connecticut officials including Gov. Dan Malloy and the state's congressional delegation have been staunch supporters to recognition reform. They argue that three groups residing in the state but narrowly missing the cut for recognition could benefit by being able to open up casinos.
The changes are necessary "to ensure that Connecticut's interests are protected," Malloy and the delegation said in a joint statement Thursday.