TRIBES FORCED TO
European imperialists tried to exterminate them. Then, the United
States government relegated them to reservations and forced them to
sign one-sided Treaties, many of which were unilaterally abrogated.
Native American tribes are enduring the ultimate insult - having to
prove that they are indeed descendants of this continent's original
inhabitants in order to keep from being obliterated from the pages of
This latest indignity being suffered by Native
Americans at the hands of the U.S. government was detailed in the Fall
1993 edition of Muckraker, the magazine of the San Francisco-based
Center for Investigative Reporting. According to CIR:
1978, a division of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has been
forcing Native tribes to go through a lengthy and expensive
"recognition" procedure in order to qualify for government economic and
health-care assistance, protection of sacred burial grounds and other
Among the program's many problems is that a number of
the more than 100 tribes currently classified by the government as
"unrecognized" already signed treaties with the feds many years ago,
but those agreements were never ratified by Congress. At least eight
such "unrecognized" tribes are in Washington state: the Chinook,
Cowlitz, Delawares, Duwamish, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Snoqualmoo and
Too date, the BIA has rejected 13 recognition
applications while approving just eight. Seventy-two other
"unrecognized" tribes have been waiting up to 13 years for a decision
on whether, in the eyes of the government, they exist. With only 11
staffers reviewing the applications, the BIA won't finish their reviews
until well after the year 2000. [Ed. Note: There are over 220
non-recognized tribes today - See Federally Non-Recognized Tribes]
my point of view, the process is absolutely ridiculous," said member of
the Shasta tribe of California, which the government refuses to
recognize despite the signing of a property-rights treaty in 1851.
"I've been told to my face that I don't exist, that I'm extinct. It's
demeaning and humiliating. It's degrading."
Then there's the
Juaneno tribe of California, which received land-seizure settlements in
1950 and 1972 from the same government that now says the tribe has to
prove it's real.
Needless to say, the government stands to save
millions of dollars in benefits that won't have to be extended to
tribes that aren't able to meet the strict BIA recognition standards,
which require tribes to produce mountains of documentation, including
anthropological data and genealogies from the mid-1800's, phone
records, and guest lists from annual tribal picnics and funerals. One
tribe, the 153-member Jena Band of Choctaws of Louisiana, has spent
nearly a half-million dollars in research money to produce the material.
government's recognition process also has worsened intertribal feuds by
pitting the haves against the have-nots; some recognized tribes, such
as the Cherokees of Oklahoma, want "unrecognized" tribes to stay that
way so that benefits paid to recognized tribes will be preserved.
Shapard, the former BIA official who helped set up what's called the
"Federal Acknowledgment Process," calls the system a "monster".
fate of unrecognized tribes is totally in the hands of a ponderous
bureaucracy that is antagonistic to unrecognized tribes," Shapard told
Congress last summer. "[BIA] views newly recognized and restored tribes
as additional, unwanted expense."
And the recognition process
is arbitrary, Shapard says. Documentation that's accepted for one tribe
isn't good enough for the government when the same information is
presented by another.
But as they have done for the past 500
years, Native Americans are fighting back. The Miami and Samish nations
are suing the BIA, at least one tribe has refused to file for
recognition, and four tribes in California are bypassing the BIA
entirely, choosing instead to ask Congress directly for recognition.
failures in Congress over the past three years to reform the
recognition program, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Sen. John McCain
(R-AZ) continue to push legislation that would change the system, which
Miller says "has broken down, and tribes should not have to pay the
CREDITS: Washington Free Press, December/Jan, 1994. Copyright © 1993 WFP Collective, Inc.