The Obama administration is encouraging tribes to take more control of their internal affairs by eliminating the role of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in overseeing certain elections. Some tribal constitutions require the BIA to handle all aspects of a Tribal election, from determining who can vote to printing up ballots to tallying the results. The practice originated with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
"For many tribes, the requirement for Secretarial elections or Secretarial approval is anachronistic and inconsistent with modern policies favoring tribal self-governance," a notice published in the Federal Register states. To eliminate this "paternalistic approach," the BIA wants tribes to remove provisions in their constitutions that require federal oversight of Secretarial elections. Tribes would no longer have to wait on the agency to review and conduct those types of elections, a process that can delay governance reforms.
The reforms have been in process since the Clinton administration, and the last time the regulations were updated was during the Reagan administration. The Obama held tribal consultations and listening sessions in 2009 and 2010 before proposing a new rule in October 2014. "It is the policy of the federal government to support tribal self-governance as a substitute for federal governance to the maximum extent permitted under federal law," Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn said.
For tribes that wish to retain BIA oversight of elections, the final rule outlines numerous changes to the process. According to the notice, the final rule becomes effective November 18.