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Tony Batt

Moratorium Suggested for Federal Recognition

2 April 2004

WASHINGTON, DC -- Gambling money is fueling the drive by American Indians seeking federal recognition, a Connecticut congresswoman said Wednesday in calling for tribes and the Interior Department to declare a moratorium on the recognition process.

But the pleas of Republican Nancy Johnson appeared to fall on deaf ears of the members of the House Resources Committee.

Almost all of the committee members expressed sympathy for the tribes, some of which have waited almost 30 years for recognition.

Without federal recognition, a tribe cannot begin gambling operations. Nor can it qualify for a range of government payment programs.

Johnson called for Congress to invalidate the Bureau of Indian Affairs recognition in January of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of Connecticut.

Johnson and Reps. Christopher Shays and Rob Simmons, all R-Conn., met Tuesday evening with Interior Secretary Gale Norton to discuss the Schaghticoke decision. A news report said Shays described the meeting as unsatisfactory.

"You're letting casino dollars roll into areas where there weren't tribal traditions and overwhelm the process," Johnson told the committee. "We can't let big money just drive this."

Indian gaming operations in Connecticut are causing traffic problems and burdening the resources of small communities in the state, Johnson said.

Last month, Johnson introduced legislation that would require Congress to give money to local communities opposing tribal recognition applications. She said this would add balance to the process.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., told Johnson that tribes are sovereign nations and the federal government, not the states, should make the decision on recognition.

Pallone went further. He said he may offer legislation to counter Johnson's bill by requiring Congress to give money to tribes seeking recognition.

The committee chairman, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., suggested an independent commission should make tribal recognition decisions instead of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"No one should wait three decades to process an application for anything," Pombo said.