BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Louisiana lawmakers are taking a closer look at how the state approves Native American tribes for state recognition.
Louisiana is one of the few states that allows state recognition of tribes. The state process is not like the federal recognition process. In order to be federally recognized there are strict criteria to be recognized as a sovereign nation and receive benefits from the federal government:
“By applying anthropological, genealogical, and historical research methods, OFA reviews, verifies, and evaluates groups’ petitions for Federal acknowledgment as Indian Tribes. OFA makes recommendations for proposed findings and final determinations to the AS-IA, consults with petitioners and third parties, provides copies of 25 CFR Part 83 and its guidelines, prepares technical assistance review letters, maintains petitions and administrative correspondence files, and conducts special research projects for the Department.”U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs
The state does not have any set criteria at this time for recognition. Louisiana has 11 state-recognized tribes. When a tribe is recognized by the state, it opens them up to scholarships, healthcare assistance and creates lines of communication with local and state governments. It also allows them a seat on the Native American Commission where both state and federal tribes can discuss issues and vote on recommendations to the governor.
Multiple groups attempted to be recognized by the state last year, but the bills failed. The Task Force on State Recognition of Indian Tribes was formed to take a closer look at how the state decides if a group should be recognized. Now the Native American Commission is tasked with creating criteria for groups to meet to be recognized by the state.
“We cannot do our work as a legislative body, we cannot put our stamp of approval on recognizing new tribes in the state of Louisiana until we have a mechanism so that we can help make sure that all those measures are met and that it’s a sound process,” said State Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek.
The Commission has struggled to get a quorum of the 15 tribes in the state in order to pass the criteria. Some often cannot make the long drive from the far reaches of the state and they have not been able to hold virtual meetings.
Members of the federally recognized tribes testified in the final meeting of the task force. Some said they are concerned about the verification process the groups have of proving members are of Native descent.
“If the state is going to have a role in Indian affairs. It should be to assist groups in interfacing with the federal government to meet the requirements of federal recognition,” said Coushatta Tribe Secretary-Treasurer Kristian Poncho.
Three of the state-recognized tribes are shown on the Department of Interior’s website as in the process of applying for federal recognition. These include the United Houma Nation, Biloxi, Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogees Inc. and the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe.
The task force assigned to address this issue came to a close Wednesday but is expected to be revived in the next legislative session.