On Tuesday, July 1st, a delegation of nearly 25 tribal citizens and leaders traveled to Marksville, Louisiana for the first of six public meetings and tribal consultations to hear and weigh in on the proposed Part 83 regulations. Part 83 of the Bureau of Indian Affairs regulations that related to the process and requirements for the federal acknowledgment process.
(Photo to left - UHN Tribal Council and Citizens attending Public Hearing on July 1 at Paragon Casino and Resort, Marksville, LA)
Mr. Larry Roberts, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, was the senior official present and lead the meeting with first reviewing the proposed changes to the process based upon the tribal consultation feedback received last year. The biggest potential changes that appear to relieve the burden of the process while also ensuring the intent of the law is followed is concerning the dates from which petitioners must submit supporting documentation. The Bureau will maintain all the criteria previously required of a petitioner.
Of particular interest is the recognition that the year 1934 was very significant for American Indian Tribes. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 was a historic turning point in the United States political agenda regarding American Indians. It was with this legal action the US government transitioned from political policies of genocide and assimilation to acknowledgment and acceptance of tribal sovereignty. The Bureau cites "The starting year coincides with the 1934 passage of the IRA, will reduce the documentary burden on petitioners and the administrative burden on the Department, and will avoid potential problems with locating historical records while maintaining the integrity of the process."
Additionally another date of significance in 1900. For the purposes of consistency with previous decisions, evidence of the recognition of the petitioner as an Indian entity by external sources will be documented as any point in time before 1900. Also with respect towards descent, petitioners currently have to establish descent from a historical tribe "from sustained contact with non-Indians," which could mean documentation from 1789 to the present. As was expressed at the public meeting, this high level of physical documentation is very difficult in southern states that experienced mass loss of records due to courthouse burnings during the Civil War as well as in Louisiana the multiple occupation of French, Spanish and Americans at various points. The Bureau believes this point in time would maintain the integrity of the process while relieving the extraordinary documentation and administrative burden placed upon not only the petitioner, but also the Bureau.
Tribal leaders are currently reviewing in further detail the exact changes and preparing a written response to the proposed rule changes. However, overall we believe the changes to be good and look forward to participating in the new proposed process.
Many people often ask me what Federal Acknowledgment would mean for our people. Definitely it would mean additional resources for our people that have many needs, the preservation of our way of life and the greater opportunities for our youth. However, I cannot help but think it is also about recognizing our Elders who have experienced so much discrimination that they can say those hardships have not gone unnoticed.
Thomas Dardar, Jr.