Shifting Foundation: The Problem with Inconsistent Implementation of Federal Recognition Regulations


The establishment of federal recognition is the cornerstone of federal Indian law. All rights, including criminal jurisdiction, tax status, gaming rights, and hunting and fishing rights, stem from this initial acknowledgment. Yet prior law review articles have focused only on the overarching process of federal recognition without closely examining the actual administrative findings of the Department of the Interior.

This article will provide an in-depth examination of the regulations governing whether an Indian entity is entitled to the benefits of a government-to- government relationship with the United States. Specifically, this article examines the regulatory process for filing a federal recognition petition and critiques four of the criteria that petitioning Indian entities consistently fail to meet. By reviewing Department of the Interior decisions, this article demonstrates the inconsistencies in regulatory interpretations and guidance documents as well as the inherent biases in the current regulatory framework. Finally, the article discusses potential solutions to these problems and identifies the first step necessary in order to fully understand the depth of this regulatory issue.

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