Democrats Reject Bishop’s Imminent Attempt to Politicize Tribal Recognition Process, Point to Effort’s Unpopularity With Tribes

 Washington, D.C. – At today’s 2:00 p.m. hearing in the Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee, Natural Resources Committee Democrats will reject Chairman Rob Bishop’s (R-Utah) latest legislative attempt to politicize the federal process for recognizing Native American tribes and underscore the effort’s long-term failure to gain traction in the tribal community. Bishop’s H.R. 3744, the “Tribal Recognition Act of 2017,” is an intentionally mislabeled bill that would make Congress the sole arbiter of tribal recognition, bypassing the nonpartisan cultural, archaeological and historical analyses on which such decisions are typically based.

Bishop’s previous attempts to pass his tribal bill included an April 2015 hearing alleging that the federal process “created” tribes rather than recognizing legitimate groups – just one of many times Republicans had leveled that baseless claim. His legislation in the last Congress was opposed by the National Congress of American Indians and multiple other Native American organizations. Bishop has done nothing to address those groups’ concerns in the current version.

The Department of the Interior’s Federal Acknowledgment Process validates tribal claims only through rigorous historical and cultural analysis not subject to political lobbying. Eliminating that process and consolidating recognition power with a few well-positioned members of Congress will subject recognition decisions to political demands and special interest influence.

“This bill is not even trying to solve the problem it identifies,” said Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today before the hearing. “If we want faster federal recognition decisions we need to give the recognition process more resources, not open the door to political horse-trading. It’s remarkable to me that Chairman Bishop thinks the answer to Indian Country’s problems is more federal politics.”

The Natural Resources Committee passed Bishop’s bill on Sept. 8, 2016, in the previous Congress. The Senate did not bring it up for consideration. Given its extreme nature, it remains unclear whether Chairman Bishop has done anything to increase the bill’s chances of passage this year.

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