Washburn Hears Frustration, Anger Over Third Party Fed Rec Veto
Around 100 people attending a public session on the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ proposed new rules for federal recognition broke into spontaneous applause when Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation Chairman Dennis Jenkins spoke against a controversial provision that would allow certain third parties to veto a tribe’s ability to re-petition for federal status.
“This [proposal] is not only morally reprehensible; it is also arbitrary and capricious and not in accordance with the laws of the United States. … It is the worst kind of modern day genocide,” Jenkins said, as the crowd cheered, whooped and whistled.
Opposition to the third party veto provision, which was included in the proposed new rules under pressure from Connecticut politicians, turned out to be the hot topic of the day, dominating discussion during the BIA’s three-and-a-half hour public session held at the Mashpee Wampanoag’s new government offices and community center during the morning of July 29 (a closed formal consultation with leaders of federally recognized tribes took place in the afternoon). Not surprisingly, members of the three Connecticut tribes targeted by the proposed veto – the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation (EPTN), the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation (STN) and the Golden Hill Paugussett (GHP) were on hand to listen and comment. The event was one of a series of public sessions and formal tribal consultations that have been held around the country on the proposed new rules. Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs (ASIA) Kevin K. Washburn attended and ran the session.
Washburn published the proposed new rules in April, following up on draft regulations issued a year earlier that were welcomed in Indian country as repairing a system that’s been described as “broken, long, expensive, burdensome, intrusive, unfair, arbitrary and capricious, less than transparent, unpredictable, and subject to undue political influence and manipulation.”
But between the draft proposal and the formal proposed rule a new provision slipped in giving third parties that have been involved in litigation with tribes absolute power to prohibit such a tribe from re-petitioning under the new rules. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who led a campaign to quash the new rules soon after they were drafted, acknowledged that the third party veto was added in response to Connecticut politicians’ requests.
Blumenthal successfully opposed the GHP tribe, which was denied federal recognition in 2004, and led local, state, and federal officials in a campaign of political influence on Washington decision-makers to overturn the federal acknowledgment of the EPTN and STN, which they did on Columbus Day in 2005.
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The public session opened with an honor song and Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell welcoming everyone. He praised Washburn for the proposed new rules, calling the ASIA “a champion – a strong champion – of Indian country and he’s doing a fabulous job.”
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