Snail’s pace on applications absurd

When it comes to ridiculous bureaucratic backlogs, it’s hard to
beat the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The agency has taken more than 15 years to review applications
for sovereignty filed by 10 Native American tribes. Obtaining
sovereignty is a key first step in the process of opening casinos
for Indian tribes.
When it comes to ridiculous bureaucratic backlogs, it’s hard to beat the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The agency has taken more than 15 years to review applications for sovereignty filed by 10 Native American tribes. Obtaining sovereignty is a key first step in the process of opening casinos for Indian tribes.

In a colossal understatement, Congressman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, who has introduced a bill to get the BIA backlog moving, said, “The BIA process has worked much slower than expected.”

The BIA makes a snail look speedy.

Pombo’s legislation would require the BIA to act swiftly on applications filed before 1988. If it doesn’t act, the BIA would be stripped of its authority to make a decision on the applications. Inexplicably, even though the BIA has applications dating to 1978 waiting for a ruling, the paper pushers are feeling unfairly rushed by Pombo’s proposal.

“We are concerned that the time frames established by the bill would not allow … adequate time to thoroughly review a petition …” Michael Olsen, acting assistant secretary of Indian affairs, testified, adding that the one-year period to clear the backlog is “unrealistic.”

What’s unrealistic is asking tribes to wait decades for a ruling on their petitions.

If we have any beef with Pombo’s bill, it’s that it doesn’t go far enough. Why draw the line at 1988? If Pombo’s bill becomes law, will the BIA go back to its snail’s pace of reviewing applications? We believe that once a complete application is received, a defined time period should begin during which the BIA can review it. It’s ridiculous that any citizen – Native American or otherwise – should be expected to wait decades for the government to act.

Of course, with the introduction of this bill, Pombo has both sides of the tribal casino issue covered. This bill would ease the process. Pombo has also introduced a bill that would make it more difficult for tribes to open casinos outside of their ancestral lands.

But the problem is that neither bill solves the perhaps unresolvable problems faced by the Amah Mutsun tribe, currently 13th in the BIA sovereignty petition review line.

They are a split tribe, with one group favoring development of the Sargent Ranch, which some claim are the tribe’s ancestral lands, and another group favoring preservation.

The Amah Mutsun are also split on the issue of records: How do you determine who belongs in the tribe? Should birth records at the San Juan Mission be the only way to prove membership, as one group claims, or should Santa Cruz Mission records, for example, suffice? How the BIA will resolve these disputes isn’t clear.

Force efficiency on the BIA? Sure, how could anyone really be against it? But we’d really like someone to craft a resolution defining the Amah Mutsun tribe that’s inclusive rather than divisive.

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