Federal Recognition

Federal recognition is important to Indian tribes for several reasons. First, when tribes are extended federal recognition, they can establish tribal governments that possess a measure of sovereignty. Non-recognized tribes can form tribal organizations but lack sovereign powers.

Second, federally recognized tribes can have their reservation lands placed in trust. This means that their land is protected by the federal government from being purchased or taken by non-Indians. If a tribe is not federally recognized, it can own land as a corporate entity, but the federal government will not put these lands into trust for the tribe. Thus, federally recognized tribes also have what is a called a trust relationship with the government. This means that the federal authorities will protect their sovereign status, their lands and tribal property, and their rights as members of domestic dependent nations.

Tribes that are not federally recognized do not enjoy sovereign powers or a trust relationship with the government, but may still possess tribal structures and maintain tribal traditions. The Brothertown Indians of Wisconsin may not be a federally recognized tribe, but this has not prevented us from maintaining a sense of tribal identity. We maintain a tribal council and tribal membership roll and are attempting to regain federal recognition.

Since 1978, Native tribes have been required to go through a lengthy and expensive "recognition" process with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There are over 220 non-recognized tribes today and since the BIA has begun the process of federal recognition, only 16 of the more than 40 reviewed have been recognized.