During the late 1940s to the early 1960s., in a move to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream America, the U.S. government ended federal trusteeship of roughly three percent of the country’s Native American population through a process called termination. Between 1954 and 1964, Congress passed 14 acts that ended federal acknowledgment for 109 Indian tribes and bands. Of the 109 terminated tribes and bands, 62 were native to Oregon and 41 were in California. Others were in Minnesota, Nebraska, Utah, and Wisconsin.
During the 1950s, the United States government implemented a plan designed to end the federal trustee relationship with Indian Tribes. The stated goal of this plan was to assimilate Indians into mainstream white America. However, the real goal of this plan was to remove millions of acres of prime old-growth timber out of the hands of tribes and into the hands of the timber industry.
By 1960 many of the lands that had been held in Tribal ownership for thousands of years now passed into the hands of non-Indians. Many Indian people did not understand the meaning of termination and others simply could not pay the taxes on land they now held fee-simple. For many, termination was a nightmare and a tragedy. They could not secure work and now had no land upon which to live or grow food.
Even though the tone of the termination legislation was emancipation, the net effect of the policy on terminated tribes was cultural, political and economic devastation.In recent years, however, vigorous efforts have been mounted by terminated tribes to reestablish or restore the trust relationship.
Congress has also frequently consolidated previously distinct groups into a single tribe for recognition purposes, or has divided an individual tribe into two or more groups, recognizing each in turn as a `different' Indian `nation.' Congress has also occasionally `terminated' tribes' federal recognition, in some cases only to `restore' it at some later date. Today, there are almost 200 unrecognized or terminated tribes and bands who continue to struggle to obtain Federal recognition.
Many of the Terminated Tribes and Unrecognized tribes are today petitioning to again be recognized as tribal governments with sovereign nation status or to be included in tribes they were previously terminated from.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) regulatory process for recognizing tribes was established in 1978. The process requires groups that are petitioning for recognition to submit evidence that they meet certain criteria—basically that the petitioner has continuously existed as an Indian tribe since historic times. Critics of the process claim that it produces inconsistent decisions and takes too long.
BIA’s regulations outline a process for evaluating a petition that was designed to take about 2 years. However, the process is hampered by limited resources, a lack of time frames, and ineffective procedures for providing information to interested third parties, such as local municipalities and other Indian tribes. As a result, there are a growing number of completed petitions waiting to be considered. In 2001, BIA officials estimated that it could take up to 15 years for all the completed petitions to be resolved.
Congressional policymakers have struggled with the tribal recognition issue for over 27 years. Since 1977, 28 bills have been introduced to add a statutory framework for the tribal recognition process. Additional bills have also been introduced to recognize specific tribes; provide grants to local communities or Indian groups involved in the tribal recognition process; or, more recently, address the timeliness of the recognition process.
The 1978 regulations lay out seven criteria that a group must meet before it can become a federally recognized tribe. Essentially, these criteria require the petitioner to show that it is descended from a historic tribe and is a distinct community that has continuously existed as a political entity since a time when the federal government broadly acknowledged a political relationship with all Indian tribes.
The burden of proof is on petitioners to provide documentation to satisfy the seven criteria. The technical staff within Interior's Office of Federal Acknowledgment, consisting of historians, anthropologists, and genealogists, reviews the submitted documentation and makes recommendations on a proposed finding either for or against recognition.
Staff recommendations are subject to review by Interior's Office of the Solicitor and senior officials within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. The Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs makes the final decision regarding the proposed finding, which is then published in the Federal Register, and a period of public comment, document submission, and response is allowed.
The technical staff reviews the comments, documentation, and responses and makes recommendations on a final determination that are subject to the same levels of review as a proposed finding. The process culminates in a final determination by the Assistant Secretary who, depending on the nature of further evidence submitted, may or may not rule the same way as the proposed finding. Petitioners and others may file requests for reconsideration with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals.
As of February 4, 2005, there were 7 petitions in active status and 12 petitions in ready and waiting for active consideration status. Eight of the 12 petitions have been waiting for 7 years or more, while the 4 other petitions have been ready and waiting for active consideration since 2003.
US TERMINATED TRIBES
- Northern Ponca Tribe
In 1962, the Congress of the United States decided that the Northern Ponca Tribe should be terminated. In 1966 the Northern Poncas were completely terminated and all of their land and tribal holdings were dissolved. This termination removed 442 Ponca from the tribal rolls, dispossessing them of 834 acres and began the process of total decline.
During the 1970's members of the Ponca Tribe, unwilling to accept their status as a terminated tribe, initiated the process of restoration to federal recognition. In 1986 representatives from the Native American Community Development Corporation of Omaha, Inc., Lincoln Indian Center, Sequoyah Inc., National Indian Lutheran Board and Ponca Tribe met to discuss what they needed to do to once again become a federally recognized tribe. In the spring of 1987, the Northern Ponca Restoration Committee Inc. was incorporated as a non-profit organization in Nebraska and was the base for the federal recognition effort.
In April of 1988 the Nebraska Unicameral passed Legislative Resolution #128 giving state recognition to the Ponca Tribe and their members. This was an important step in the restoration efforts. The Ponca Restoration Bill was introduced in the United States Senate on October 11, 1989 by Senators James J. Exon and J. Robert Kerry. The Senate passed the Ponca Restoration Act by unanimous consent on July 18, 1990. The bill was signed into law on October 31, 1990 by President Bush.
Today the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska headquarters is located in Niobrara Nebraska. The Ponca Tribe, which was dissolved by an act of Congress over 30 years ago, is once again rebuilding its traditional culture. The Ponca are now rebuilding their land base, on their aboriginal homeland.
- Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin
One reason the BIA chose the Menominee was that the tribe had successful forestry and lumbering operations that the BIA believed could support the tribe economically. Congress passed an act in 1954 that officially called for the termination of the Menominee as a federally recognized Indian tribe.
The 1954 act set 1958 as the year the Menominee would be terminated. In the intervening four years, the tribe had to address a spate of issues such as what to do with its tribal assets and federally protected reservation lands. They drew up a plan for termination, but when it became clear that four years was insufficient preparation, the federal government gave the tribe a year's extension. Termination proved to be such a huge task that the Menominee eventually requested two additional one-year extensions. All tribal property was transferred to a corporation, Menominee Enterprises, Inc. (MEI), and the reservation became a new Wisconsin county, Menominee County. Termination arrived for the tribe on April 30, 1961, and it was evident from the start that termination was failure. Menominee County was the poorest and least populated in Wisconsin, and it lacked the tax base needed to provide basic services such as police, waste disposal, and firefighting. Each Menominee was a shareholder in MEI, and although it did well in the early years of termination, the financial crisis into which Menominee County was born quickly ate up the meager profits and stockholder dividends of MEI.
The lumber mill operation could not employ all Menominees, and by the time of termination, it needed renovations MEI could not afford. Moreover, the reservation hospital, previously kept open using federal funds, had to close. The story was the same all over the old Menominee reservation as schools, utilities, and a variety of services were either closed, ended, or dramatically scaled back. When Congress passed the Menominee termination act in 1954, the tribe's cash assets had been valued at over $10 million. The pressing needs that followed termination in 1961 drained this sum to $300,000 by 1964, and despite all that was spent, it still was insufficient to provide for tribal members' needs. Indeed, termination quickly resulted in lower standards of living for all Menominee.
- They were fortunate that Richard M. Nixon, then president, had publicly come out against termination and was sympathetic to American Indian interests. The tribe lobbied Congress and, to the surprise of even the Menominee, a bill was passed to restore their status as a federally recognized tribe. President Nixon signed the bill on December 22, 1973. The Menominee Tribe was the first of the terminated Tribes to be restored.