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Obstacles to Successful Retrocession

  Obstacles to Successful Retrocession According to ICRA, tribes cannot petition directly to the Department of the Interior for retrocession...


Obstacles to Successful Retrocession According to ICRA, tribes cannot petition directly to the Department of the Interior for retrocession. Instead, tribes must first petition the state to pass legislation, which the state then forwards on to the Department of the Interior. The lobbying necessary at the local level and the state level, as well as the persistence to keep DOI on the task can be quite a large undertaking with significant political opposition likely to be met along the way. Because the two tribes included in this analysis had successful retrocession attempts, the degree to which they experienced obstacles may have been significantly less than those that have attempted and failed; and therefore this sample should not be seen as representative of all obstacles that tribes are likely to come across. Our study asked respondents specifically about whether there was difficulty securing federal acceptance of retrocession. The number of responses to this question were limited somewhat by the fact that only a small group of those directly involved in the retrocession process were knowledgeable about this level of detail. Nevertheless, the data from our research show that surprisingly, this obstacle to the retrocession process was not significant to either group and is likely a reason for their successful attempts. We have identified one additional obstacle from the interviews: the tribal community itself. Federal Resistance 

Two themes emerged from the interviews when discussing obstacles to securing federal acceptance: the funding problem and lack of knowledge of the retrocession process. Five of the 16 respondents to this question said that the financial obligations that retrocession would impose on the federal government proved to be a major obstacle. Retrocession requires the BIA finding additional funding for law enforcement services to the retroceded reservation — funding to be provided either directly to the tribe through a 638 contract, or through BIA police officers who would enforce law on the reservation. 449 This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. One tribe in particular had their retrocession held up for four years in the Department of Interior because of the lack of willingness by the DOI to commit funds to tribal law enforcement. Q: Let’s go to the four years with the BIA. What was the hold up there? IN: They basically didn’t want to fund us. ... That was it. They just didn’t want to fund us. ..

. Some of them, you get in there talking with them, “Well, it’s really that we don’t have the money.” Because we were successful [gaming tribe] and trying to say, “You just give us that chunk of money, and we’ll worry about the rest. Just let it happen there.” So, we finally convinced [Head of BIA]. He said OK. It took over four years to get it done, though. Besides funding, another obstacle is the lack of any policy on how to deal with retrocession at the federal level. While only one respondent spoke of a holdup at the federal level due to a lack of knowledge of the process, this respondent was intimately involved in the retrocession and his response included some rich detail on the problem, And then we got it to the governor, and the governor signed it, and then we sent it off to D.C., and it just sank like a ship in the night. And for three years we kept trying to get the (presidential) administration to do something about this, and every time we would broach the subject, they would call us back or write us back and say, “We don’t have any of the stuff, where is the bill that the legislature passed? And where’s the proclamation from the governor?” At least six times we would get together this package and send it to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Who knows where it went? ... Nobody in the Bureau knows what retrocession is. They don’t understand it; they don’t know how to handle a retrocession anymore. In the ’80s there were people there, when you went in and talked about retrocession, they knew what it was. But now there’s nobody who knows what it’s ... they don’t know (how to) process it, they hardly know how to spell it.

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