Indian Issues: Timeliness of the Tribal Recognition Process Has Improved, but It Will Take Years to Clear the Existing Backlog of Petitions

GAO-05-347T Published: Feb 10, 2005. Publicly Released: Feb 10, 2005.
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The Bureau of Indian Affairs' (BIA) regulatory process for recognizing tribes was established in 1978. The process requires groups that are petitioning for recognition to submit evidence that they meet certain criteria--basically that the petitioner has continuously existed as an Indian tribe since historic times. Critics of the process claim that it produces inconsistent decisions and takes too long. Congressional policymakers have struggled with the tribal recognition issue for over 27 years. H.R. 4933 and H.R. 5134, introduced in the 108th Congress, and H.R. 512, which was introduced last week, have focused on the timeliness of the recognition process. This testimony is based in part on GAO's report, Indian Issues: Improvements Needed in Tribal Recognition Process (GAO-02-49, November 2, 2001). Specifically, this testimony addresses (1) the timeliness of the recognition process as GAO reported in November 2001 and (2) the actions the Department of the Interior's Office of Federal Acknowledgment has taken since 2001 to improve the timeliness of the recognition process.

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