Washington Law Review


Rachael Paschal


The Bureau of Indian Affairs administers a program to federally acknowledge unrecognized Indian tribes. The federal acknowledgment process requires that petitioning tribes meet stringent anthropological, historical, and genealogical criteria. These criteria, however, do not accurately reflect prior standards of federal recognition, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs inconsistently interprets them from petition to petition. This Comment describes the background of federal recognition in the executive branch of the government and analyzes the program and its criteria through a comparison of BIA-issued final decisions. This Comment further suggests reform of the federal acknowledgment process through legislative restructuring. In particular, the legislature should amend the criteria to more accurately reflect contemporary tribal society, adequately acknowledge prior federal relations with petitioners, and provide for more stringent accountability by the administering agency.

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