Bush nominee vows fair tribal reviews

Jun 19, 2001 4:25 AM

President Bush’s nominee to oversee Indian gaming says he supports casinos as an economic development tool but will judge requests for federal recognition impartially.

“Gaming and the resulting economic influence on tribal lands has been very beneficial,” Neal A. McCaleb told senators last week at his confirmation hearing as assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

McCaleb is a member of Oklahoma’s Chicasaw Indian Nation.

The bureau came under fire during the Clinton administration for influence-peddling. Casino approvals and disapprovals allegedly were exchanged for soft-money contributions to the Democratic Party.

Other concerns are that the process of federal recognition has become lax as more people with specious lineages are claiming tribal status to cash in the casino gaming boom.

Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, whose state has two hugely successful tribal casinos, says requests for recognition are out of hand. Twelve tribes or tribal factions are currently seeking recognition in Connecticut. Dodd has called the bureau’s recognition review process “out of control.”

Another example is the Nipmuc Tribe, which wants to build a large-scale casino on the Massachusetts-Connecticut border. Their application for recognition was rejected last year, but they won preliminary approval in the closing days of the Clinton administration.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado has called tribal recognition “one of the most controversial issues” McCaleb will face.

Some critics are advocating an independent review process.

McCaleb said he prefers trying to reform the system to turning it over to an independent commission.