Proposal may allow Houma tribe to win federal recognition

The United Houma Nation may be getting closer to the tribe’s longstanding effort to gain federal recognition. The Obama administration has proposed changes that will make it easier for the Houma and other tribal groups to achieve that status, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs requires tribal groups to demonstrate they maintained a continuous community and political authority since their first contact with non-Native Americans. But this hurdle has been difficult to overcome, and criticized by Native American organizations as unreasonable, according to the Journal. The tribal groups have argued that government policies divided ancestral lands and intentionally restricted native culture. Tribes in the East and Southeast, where European settlers first landed, have been forced to take on years of “painstaking research” to unearth records that might prove their case.

The Houma tribe, with thousands of members, a governing council and a history of tribal elders, is no different.

In issuing a preliminary denial of the Houma’s recognition claim, the Bureau of Indian Affairs said the Houma lived in disparate settlements, not a unified community. Under the proposed rules, tribes would only have to demonstrate their community and influence since 1934, when Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act, granting tribes more power as sovereign nations.

There are 556 federally recognized tribes. The current federal recognition system was adopted in 1978. Some 356 groups have begun the recognition process but most haven’t submitted all the documents needed to be considered for federal recognition. So far 55 groups have completed the application. Only 17 have been accepted.