Definitions of Tribal Recognition

Federally Recognized Tribes are those American Indian tribes recognized by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs for certain federal government purposes.

State Recognized Tribes are American Indian Tribes and Heritage Groups that are recognized by individual states for their various internal government purposes.

Unrecognized Tribes, Bands and Groups are those groups that are (or claim to be) domestic American Indians by ethnicity, but are not recognized by either the federal government (through the Bureau of Indian Affairs) or state government in the United States.

Bureau of Indian Affairs

In the United States, the Indian tribe is a fundamental unit, and the constitution grants to the U.S. Congress the right to interact with tribes. More specifically, the Supreme Court of the United States in United States v. Sandoval (231 US. 28 [1913]) warned,

"it is not... that Congress may bring a community or body of people within range of this power by arbitrarily calling them an Indian tribe, but only that in respect of distinctly Indian communities the questions whether, to what extent, and for what time they shall be recognized and dealt with as dependent tribes".

Federal tribal recognition grants to tribes the right to certain benefits, and is largely controlled by the United States federal agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The U.S. government's Federal Register has currently issued an official list of 562 tribes in the Federal Register as Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible To Receive Services From the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Within the Interior Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs handles some federal relations with Native Americans, while others are handled by the Office of Special Trustee. The Department has been the subject of disputes over proper accounting for Indian Trusts set up to track the income and pay-out of monies that are generated by trust and restricted Native American lands. Currently there are several cases that seek accountings of such funds from the Departments of Interior and Treasury.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is an agency of the federal government of the United States within the US Department of the Interior charged with the administration and management of 55.7 million acres (87,000 sq. miles or 225,000 km²) of land held in trust by the United States for Native Americans in the United States, Native American Tribes and Alaska Natives. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is one of two Bureaus under the jurisdiction of the Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs: the Bureau of Indian Affairs and The Bureau of Indian Education, which provides education services to approximately 48,000 Native Americans. Kevin Skenandore is the current Acting Director of the Bureau of Indian Education.

The BIA carries out its core mission to serve 562 federally recognized tribes through four offices. The Office of Indian Services operates the BIA's general assistance, disaster relief, Indian child welfare, tribal government, Indian Self-Determination, and Indian Reservation Roads Program. The Office of Justice Services directly operates or funds law enforcement, tribal courts, and detention facilities on Federal Indian lands. The Office of Trust Services works with tribes and individual American Indians and Alaska Natives in the management of their trust lands, assets, and resources. Finally, the Office of Field Operations oversees 12 regional offices and 83 agencies which carry out the mission of the Bureau at the tribal level.

The BIA's responsibilities once included providing health care services to American Indians and Alaska Natives. In 1954, that function was legislatively transferred to the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, now known as the Department of Health and Human Services, where it has remained to this day as the Indian Health Service (IHS).

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