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Ten Indian groups excluded from Tejon Tribe recognition process

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An out-of-channels tribal recognition process at the Bureau of Indian Affairs excluded ten claimants to Tejon Indian identity from potentially receiving federal recognition, says an April 30 Interior Department Inspector General report (.pdf).

The report says then-Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk--he left the bureau in April 2012--didn't use proper channels to bestow formal federal recognition on a group of Tejon claimants. That excluded ten other groups with potential historical, genealogical, and ancestral ties to the original Tejon Indians, some of which had previously submitted formal petitions for acknowledgment.

"We could not find any discernible process Echo Hawk and his staff might have used to select the Tejon Tribe for recognition above the other groups," the report says.

The Tejon group that ended up being recognized "pressed their issue forward" more than other groups that had previously submitted petitions, the report says.

"They probably just submitted a letter..and they [came] in and they [met] with people in our hallway here and they put forth their case," Echo Hawk says in the report.

The group that received recognition said it previously had been a federally acknowledged tribe that was accidentaly excluded from the official tribal roll in the 1970s due to an administrative error--a claim that Bureau of Indian Affairs revealed to be false, the report says.

The report says Echo Hawk's Chief of Staff Paul Tsosie was influenced by the number of telephone calls he received from the group lobbying to be recognized as the Tejon tribe.

"This was one of the tribes that was calling me off the hook. So I was, like, saying: 'Just give them an answer,'" Tsosie is quoted as saying in the report.

Because Echo Hawk bypassed the official process for recognizing a new tribe for the Tejons, the ten groups' members who were left out were not identified in advance, leaving the them without access to federal funding for education and health services.

Not involving BIA leadership also caused budgeting and operational difficulties for BIA, which in turn slowed down the process for providing Federal services to the Tejon tribe, the report says.

The BIA budget for fiscal 2012 did not plan for, or contain sufficient funding for, the Tejon tribe's startup costs. A request by BIA to increase its proposed fiscal 2013 budget by including startup costs for the new tribe was denied by Tsosie, the report says.

For more:
- download the report (.pdf)

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