Tester statement on Department of Interior’s federal recognition process for Indian Tribes

(Big Sandy, Mont.) – Senator Jon Tester, Vice Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, released the following statement after the Department of Interior (DOI) released its final rule reforming the process for the federal recognition of Indian Tribes.

“Many tribes, including the Little Shell Tribe in Montana, have been waiting for a long time to receive the federal recognition that they deserve, but a broken bureaucratic process has held back their efforts. I appreciate the new rule’s increased transparency and streamlined petition process, but only one thing matters – fairness for tribes seeking federal recognition.”

Currently the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Cree, headquartered in Great Falls, is seeking federal tribal recognition through the administrative process.

DOI drafted the following federal recognition reforms over the past two years:
· Increase transparency by making public petition documents available on DOI’s website.
· Expedite the decision process for petitioners who can’t demonstrate descent from a historic tribe or if the group fails to provide governing documents.
· Expedite final positive decisions, when there are no substantive comments after a proposed positive finding.
· Provide the year 1900 as the uniform starting date for identification, community, and political authority.
· Create baseline criteria that are consistent and predictable for every tribe seeking federal recognition.
· Specify forms of evidence that satisfy community and political authority.
· Not allow re-petitioning for recognition after denial, which will preserve the process from becoming obstructed by backlogs.
· Utilize a single process for acknowledging tribes with federal recognition.

Earlier this year, Tester introduced legislation to federally recognize the Little Shell Tribe as they wait for the Administration to resolve an appeal to the final decision on Little Shell’s petition. Tester’s Little Shell recognition bill has passed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.