Biden backs an Indian recognition bill early in the next Congress — to include Hawaiians, Alaskans

President-elect Joe Biden is offering his formal backing to an ‘omnibus Indian recognition bill’ early in the next Congress.  Sources close to the matter expect the bill to include formal federal recognition of the indigenous political status of Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives, allowing those indigenous groups to move their current land holdings into federal trust and to organize self-determining tribal governments recognized under federal laws pertaining to American Indians.

Former Senator Daniel Akaka tried several times to achieve passage of the Native Hawaiian Recognition Act, from 2000 to 2006, and nearly achieved Senate passage, falling short by only a few votes. That bill would have allowed Native Hawaiians to organize a tribal government and enjoy the federal protection of their lands from encroachment.  More than 500,000 individuals in Hawaii identify as Native Hawaiian in the 2010 census.

Alaska Native Villages and Alaska Native Village Corporations are not currently able to organize under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, largely because of the work of former Senator Ted Stevens to ensure that indigenous Alaskans would not need the federal approval of the Department of the Interior to sell or lease their lands for the purpose of resource extraction.

The bill is also expected to include Congressional recognition of a dozen American Indian tribes and bands of tribes that are currently unrecognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs — including the Lumbee Nation of North Carolina, the Buffalo Creek Band of Haudenosaunee Indians, the Wampanoag Nation of Indians, the Eastern Cherokee Nation of Georgia, and the Lenape Nation, among others.

It’s unclear if the legislation will include formal recognition of Canada’s First Nations communities, for the purpose of (among other things) enabling cross-border tribal banking with financial institutions in the United States, both for Reserve governments and entrepreneurs.


The Haudenosaunee people (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk) have lived at Buffalo Creek long before the genocidal military campaign ordered against them by General George Washington. But the population grew quickly following the Clinton-Sullivan campaign, which burned more than 180 Haudenosaunee villages across the Finger Lakes and Northern Pennsylvania to the ground during the American Revolution.  The Haudenosaunee fled first to Buffalo Creek and then to Grand River.  When the Buffalo Creek Reservation, secured under the terms of the Treaty of Canandaigua, was defrauded from the Haudenosaunee in 1842, a third of those living there moved to the Grand River Territory in Ontario, a third moved to the Cattaraugus Territory, and a third remained at Buffalo Creek.  Many Haudenosaunee activists are now calling on Congress to federally recognize a tribal government entity that will give that distinct, confederated, cross-border diaspora the ability to self-govern in convergence at Buffalo Creek.  


Rep. Deb Haaland currently represents much of Northern New Mexico in Congress.  A special election to fill her seat is likely to be hotly contested. 

Deb Haaland, Biden’s nominee to become Secretary of the Interior, will be the first Native American woman to serve in the Cabinet in American history and is expected to be the administration’s point person on the bill.  The Department of the Interior is responsible for processing applications for tribal recognition — an application process that takes decades and often costs indigenous communities millions of dollars for lawyers, lobbyists, anthropologists, geneticists, and historians in order to prove their indigeneity.

But Congress, having plenary powers over Indian affairs, could bypass that decades-long process.

It’s unclear whether an ‘Omnibus Indian Recognition Act’ would include other policy items that are important to indigenous communities.  Several policy sections are being considered for the legislation, which has not yet been formally drafted, including:

  • The Oneida Fix.  Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lamented before she passed that the decision she most regrets while on the Court was her 8-1 majority opinion in Oneida Nation v Sherill County (2005), in which she employs one of the most racist cannons of legal construction in American history against the tribe.  The tribe had been purchasing dozens of parcels amounting to thousands of acres of lands that it was defrauded of generations ago, and hoped that they could hold ownership of those lands themselves — but Ginsburg, on her own volition, insisted that the Tribe would have transfer ownership of the lands to the Department of the Interior in order to utilize as tribal lands.  In order to avoid paying local municipal property taxes on their landholdings, she demanded that the Tribe should be forced to turn over ownership to the federal government.  Indian Country resoundingly rejected the decision, which explicitly relied on the Doctrine of Christian Discovery with regard to extinguishing the Tribe’s inherent sovereignty over its land.  Tribal leaders have been pushing to include a policy rider on the Indian recognition act — being called ‘the Oneida Fix’ — that would enable Tribes to repurchase lands for their full use and enjoyment, without having to transfer the lands’ ownership to the Department of the Interior in order to do so.
  • Office of Indian Trade.  Many Native American businessmen want to restore the long-defunct Office of Indian Trade, tasked with negotiating nation-to-nation trade agreements directly with Tribal governments. They want the office led by a new cabinet-level position: the United States Ambassador for Indian Trade, similarly situated to the United States Trade Ambassador.  The new Office would be intended to manage Tribes’ inclusion in recurring six-year renewal talks under the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the successor treaty to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  Former Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter and Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter are both thought to be in contention to lead that office.
  • Cabinet-level status for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  For decades, Tribes have been asking American Presidents to make the Bureau of Indian Affairs either a stand-alone cabinet department or a division of the State Department.  Tribal leaders want to be treated like sovereigns, not like Fish and Wildlife. Elevating the Bureau would respect the nation-to-nation relationship that Tribes have with the federal government.  Several names have been floated for the post of Secretary of Indian Affairs, including Navajo President Jonathan Nez and W. Ron Allen, the Chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in Washington State.

Tribal leaders hope that the ‘Indian Recognition Act’ will pass both houses of Congress and be signed into law during the Biden administration’s first 100 days.  Indian Country has its hopes set on securing an Indian Bank Regulatory Act, in order to ensure that Tribes have the tools to exercise their own civil regulatory jurisdiction over their own sovereign financial markets.  The legislation is seen as the ‘holy grail’ of economic development for Indian Country, which would give Tribes and tribal entrepreneurs unprecedented access to the global capital markets.

Although some hope that legislation will pass in the next legislative session, others predict that it will take into early 2022 to cultivate sufficient congressional support for it.

If the Bureau of Indian Affairs is given stand-alone cabinet-level status, it’s thought that Navajo President Jonathan Nez would be the leading contender to serve as Secretary of Indian Affairs.



  1. We are not Indians shame on you! We were an internationally recognized multi ethnic nation in 1843 and someone that was Navajo could become a Hawaiian National! We had 7000 non ethnic Hawaiian subjects!!! The first Chinese citizen in the world! We don’t share the same history or genocide as the Native Americans! We are in Polynesia! And just as your capital in a multi ethnic country was ransacked by armed nut cases so was ours in 1893 and you never left we are an occupied nation! You better make sure Hawaii is part of America before you attempt to recognize me as a Native American! There’s no treaty! That’s like giving federal recognition to Russians! You better make sure Hawaii is part of America first! Show me our treaty of annexation Bidden! Your getting Hawaii WRONG again!

    • Alex I like your comment, western laws are worthless in Hawai’i, the US can’t illegally take over a recognize country and impose their laws, the fake state of Hawai’i to the Federal laws or the Supreme Court rulings are worthless in Hawai’i, Hawaiian kingdom has their own laws.
      It’s like going to Japan and pushing western laws there I won’t work there same in Hawai’i

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong, please. I’m understanding this, as it is recognition that Kanaka maoli are sovereign and finally recognized as such.

    As well as First nation folks and Alaskas first nation folks.

    It seems change abounds.

    What exactly is the solution to make our world a more peaceful place? Seriously asking how this should be handled in your perception and your voice. Each one teach one… Aloha

    • Aloha from Moku O Keawe .. Hawai’i Pae ‘Aina. What is being said is we ARE an independent Nation-State (Country) internationally recognized in the Anglo-Franco Proclamation of November 31, 1843 (La Ku’oko’a) and recognized as such by the USA in 1844! There is NO Treaty of Annexation! The US has absolutely no documentation of possession of the Hawaiian Archipelago (Ko Hawai’i Pae ‘Aina) and even the so called Statehood vote was a proveable documented fraud! It is things like this Federal Recognition that divides our Nation! We are NOT a state of your Union! It’s far past time to set Hawai’i Free! In 1993 Bill Clinton signed Public Law 103-150 apologizing for the illegal overthrow of our Queen and the landing of armed Marine military to insure a successful coup as 13 businessmen took over our government .. what happened to the USA a couple of days ago with armed thugs taking over the legislature was first patterned HERE in Hawai’i nei and carried out across the globe by the USA invasion of other countries around the globe! We watched the actions on Monday .. to Hawaiian Nationals it was Karma for it is exactly what was done to us! We are STILL under occupation by your military! Want to make it right? Set Hawai’i Free from the OPPRESSORS!

  3. Uh…

    Did 94’ Crime Bill “President elect” only by assertion only, pedohile Joe ask the Hawai’i’s host culture first if they support this bill?

    What about the aboriginal Indians of the Americas?

    Shouldn’t they themselves have a say on the matter?
    or is a rich white old man gonna decide what is best for them?

    Weren’t not these two ancient cultures the original victims of systemic racism and inequalities in their own native land that was stolen from them and their people massacred by early Democrats in power?

    Where’s their reparations?

    And why is a rich old white guy dictating their futures for them?

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