Tolowa Recognition Denied

Gale Courey Toensing
2/8/14

The Tolowa Nation’s bid for federal recognition has been denied.

Interior Department Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn issued the final determination not to acknowledge the Tolowa Nation on January 24. The Nation, which is located in Fort Dick, California, filed its letter of intent to petition for federal acknowledgment in 1983 and is No. 85 on the Office of Federal Acknowledgment’s  (OFA) List of Petitioners.

Under the law a petitioning group must meet seven mandatory criteria to be federally acknowledged as an American Indian tribe. It must prove that:

-- “external observers” have identified the tribe as an American Indian tribe on a “substantially continuous basis” since 1900

-- a predominant part of the group has maintained a distinct community since historical times.

-- it has maintained political influence since historical times.

-- it has a “governing document”

-- its members descend from a historical Indian tribe.

-- its members are not members of another federally acknowledged Indian tribe

-- it has not been subject to legislation forbidding the federal relationship.

In reviewing the Tolowa Nation’s petition, the OFA found that the tribe did not meet the second criteria – it did not provide enough evidence to prove that a predominant portion of its group has existed as a distinct community from historical times until the present.

Under the regulations, the failure to meet all seven criteria requires a determination that the petitioning group is not an Indian tribe within the meaning of federal law.

The Tolowa Nation people are descendants of the XUS (“HUSS”), according to its website. They are from the rocky Pacific coastline northwest of California and southwest of Oregon. They live in the watersheds of the Smith, Winchuck, Rogue and Chetco rivers. Their ancestors lived, traveled and traded up and down the coast, taking part in the Chinook’s international trade on the Columbia River. They made early contact with the Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Hudson Bay Company traders prior to the western Gold Rush of 1849. The Tolowa Nation does not have a reservation or rancheria; its members live on their own land mostly in Del Norte and Curry counties.

The Interior Department issued a proposed finding recommending against acknowledgment of the Tolowa Nation in November 2010, for not providing evidence of existing as a distinct community since historical times. The final determination followed a review of the petitioner’s and public’s comments on the proposed finding, but the review did not yield enough evidence to change the decision not to acknowledge Tolowa. This final determination will become effective 90 days after its publication as a notice in the Federal Register on January 24 unless the petitioner or any interested party requests reconsideration with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals within that period.

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