Historically, most of today’s federally recognized tribes received federal recognition status through treaties, acts of Congress, presidential executive orders or other federal administrative actions, or federal court decisions.
In 1978, the Interior Department issued regulations governing the Federal Acknowledgment Process (FAP) to handle requests for federal recognition from Indian groups whose character and history varied widely in a uniform manner. These regulations – 25 C.F.R. Part 83 – were revised in 1994 and are still in effect.
Also, in 1994, Congress enacted Public Law 103-454, the Federally Recognized Indian Tribe List Act (108 Stat. 4791, 4792), which formally established three ways in which an Indian group may become federally recognized:
- By Act of Congress,
- By the administrative procedures under 25 C.F.R. Part 83, or
- By decision of a United States court.
However, a tribe whose relationship with the United States has been expressly terminated by Congress may not use the Federal Acknowledgment Process. Only Congress can restore federal recognition to a “terminated” tribe.