Brian R. Klopotek

Katrin H. Lamon Resident Scholar

2001–2002

Federal Recognition, Cultural Persistence, and Social Cohesion among Louisiana Tribes

Although numerous scholars and over a dozen Congressional hearings have examined the competence of the Branch of Acknowledgment, the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in charge of federal recognition, little attention has been paid to the impact of BAR policies and decisions on the tribes themselves. Is federal recognition a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for tribes? Are tribal identity and culture no longer threatened after recognition? How does federal recognition policy influence racial identity formation, not only of American Indians, but non-Indians as well?

"The interrogation of the recognition issue generally ends once a tribe has been recognized by the federal government," says Brian Klopotek. "The fact that a bureaucratic office made a decision about their Indianness becomes irrelevant, as if nobody ever questioned whether they were an Indian tribe." In his dissertation, Klopotek examines how the process of recognition—from petitioning to post-recognition or non-recognition adjustment—impacts tribal identity, tribal cohesion, and cultural persistence.

Using ethnographic fieldwork, oral histories, and archival sources as a research foundation, Klopotek compares three central Indian communities within a forty mile radius of Alexandria, Louisiana, and finds that have had very different experiences with federal recognition. The Tunica-Biloxis, recognized in 1981, have strengthened their culture and identity since recognition. The Jena Choctaws, recognized in 1995, are finding new areas of disagreement as they pursue opportunities afforded by their new status, at the same time that they notice a new sense of pride and belonging. For the Clifton Choctaws, currently unrecognized but strongly cohesive, the process is raising questions about their mixed racial background which may pose a challenge to their tribal identity, whether or not their petition for recognition is granted.

"There are positive and negative ramifications for both recognition and non-recognition, though it should be obvious that it is better for a tribe, in most respects, to have federal recognition," Klopotek observes. "After delineating stories of how recognition has affected these three tribes, I use them as a springboard to reconsider the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research, and the federal government's role in tribal life."

Affiliation at time of award:
Ph.D. Candidate, Program in American Studies, University of Minnesota


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