Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Unrecognized Indian Tribes Face Hurdles In Maintaining Religious Rites

The Christian Science Monitor on Monday reported on the problems faced by the nearly 300 Indian tribes that have not been formally recognized by the federal government. Native Americans, such as the Winnemem Wintu tribe based in northern California, are ineligible for many federal tribal benefits.  Among other things, unrecognized tribes do not qualify to apply for permits to possess eagle feathers.  In March, the Fish and Wildlife Service revoked the permit held by Winnemem spiritual leader and tribal chief, Caleen Sisk-Franco, who uses an eagle feather fan in healing ceremonies. Also the tribe's traditional sacred sites are being overrun by outdoor enthusiasts, and are threatened further by proposals to raise the Shasta Dam.  The disparity between recognized and unrecognized tribes increased in December when President Obama announced the United States would endorse the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, but indicated that unrecognized tribes would be excluded from coverage. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, through its Office of Federal Acknowledgement, has a process for tribes to gain recognition. However it is lengthy, and the Winnemem think they should not have to go through the process.