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Best of Tony Batt

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Tony Batt
 

Interior Department Won't Support Federal Recognition Bill

22 April 2004

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Department of Interior on Wednesday announced it does not support a bill to speed federal recognition of Indian tribes, a process required before American Indians can open gambling businesses.

Aurene Martin, deputy assistant secretary for Indian affairs, said the legislation would weaken federal standards for tribal recognition.

For example, Martin told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the bill would restrict the input of local communities in the application process.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., who is the committee chairman and sponsor of the bill, disagreed. He complained the department was being "somewhat unhelpful."

"It's 50-50 we'll get this passed this year," said Campbell, who is retiring from the Senate at year's end.

Among other things, Campbell's bill would require the assistant secretary for Indian affairs to establish an independent board to review tribal recognition decisions. The bill, which Campbell introduced in February 2003, has no co-sponsors.

During Wednesday's hearing, Campbell's bill received endorsements from Neal McCaleb, who served as assistant secretary of Indian Affairs from 2001 to 2002, and Kevin Gover, who served in the same post from 1996 to 2001.

Tribes complain the recognition process is expensive and takes too long. Edward Roybal II, governor of the Piro/Manso/Tiwa tribe of Las Cruces, N.M., told the committee his tribe submitted an application for recognition in 1971 and is still awaiting a decision.

Indian gambling critics claim the surge in tribal recognition applications is fueled by money from casino interests that want to expand their operations to reservations.