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Ferguson-Bohnee testifies before committee on Indian Affairs

November 17, 2009

Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, director of the Indian Legal Clinic at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, recently testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, at an oversight hearing on "Fixing the Federal Acknowledgment Process."

Four Indian Legal Clinic students - Rebecca Ross, Vanessa Verri, Derrick Beetso and Daniel Lewis -- helped prepare the testimony for the Nov. 4 hearing and accompanied Ferguson-Bohnee to Washington, D.C.

Ferguson-Bohnee told the Committee that the process for a tribe to receive federal acknowledgment suffered from a lack of transparency, inconsistent standards, a lack of resources, and untimely response, sometimes taking decades to deal with requests.

In addition, she said, tribes do not have the resources to hire legal and historical experts to meet the standards being used to review their applications. Some tribes have spent more than a million dollars preparing their petitions.

Ferguson-Bohnee and the students suggested several possible solutions, including establishing an independent commission or administrative law judge to rule on applications.

U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, asked Ferguson-Bohnee and the students to provide more information on their suggestions.

Also testifying were George Skibine, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior, accompanied by R. Lee Fleming, Director, Office of Federal Acknowledgment for the Interior; Frank Ettawageshik, Chair of the Federal Acknowledgment Task Force for the National Congress of American Indians; The Hon. John Sinclair, President of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Montana; and The Hon. Anne D. Tucker, Chairperson of the Muscogee Nation of Florida.

Read Ferguson-Bohnee's written remarks here.

Watch the Web cast here.

Judy Nichols,
(480) 727-7895
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law