US agency extends comment period on proposed changes to tribal recognition rules

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HARTFORD, Connecticut — The U.S. Interior Department has extended the period for people to comment on proposed changes to rules for granting federal recognition to American Indian tribes, citing significant public interest in the matter.

Kevin Washburn, an assistant secretary with the department's Bureau of Indian Affairs, announced Friday the comment period has been extended by 60 days.

The existing regulations overseeing the federal recognition of tribes were originally adopted in 1978. They've been updated once in 20 years.

"We have received several requests for an extension of the comment period and additional hearings," said Nedra Darling, an agency spokesman, adding that the requests came from throughout the country.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen was among those seeking an extension. Despite changes made to the proposed rules, Jepsen's office claims they'll still have "serious consequences for Connecticut," making it easier for groups petitioning for federal recognition to gain the acknowledgement.

The BIA is also adding more consultations with tribes and public meetings. But those will be held by conference calls in August and September.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sent a letter this week to the secretary of the Department of Interior, expressing his disappointment that a public hearing wasn't being held in the state.

"Indeed, Connecticut may be the most profoundly affected of any state in the country," said Malloy, adding that the state would not be sending official representatives to hearings held outside Connecticut. Both a public meeting and a tribal consultation are scheduled for July 29 in Mashpee, Massachusetts.

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