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Title: Tribes Forced to Prove Existence
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From: USA
Registered: 11/21/2008

(Date Posted:02/09/2009 21:47 PM)
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First, 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.

Now, 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 modern history.

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:

Since 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 benefits.

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 Steilacoom.

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]

""From 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.

The 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.

Bud Shapard, the former BIA official who helped set up what's called the "Federal Acknowledgment Process," calls the system a "monster".

"The 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.

Despite 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 price."

CREDITS: Washington Free Press, December/Jan, 1994. Copyright © 1993 WFP Collective, Inc.
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