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Mesa cloudsDuring the 1950s and 60s, Congress “terminated” or withdrew federal recognition of 109 tribes, primarily in Oregon and California. In all, 1,365,801 acres of land were removed from trust status during this period, and over 13,263 individuals lost tribal affiliation. After the termination policy was officially ended in 1970 by President Nixon, many tribes fought long and hard legal battles to have their federal recognition regained and to have their lands returned to tribal ownership. Some have since had their federal recognition restored, such as the Menominee Indian Tribe and the Klamath Tribes, but many including the Klamath, have yet to recover their lands.

While some would argue that termination is no longer a threat, its long term effects are still felt today in millions of acres of alienated tribal lands and in ongoing jurisdictional and legal conflicts over sovereignty and land rights. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Carcieri v. Salazar (2009) involves the Narragansett Tribe and hinges upon the issue of whether or not the Tribe was federally recognized at the time of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. As long as an Indian nation’s legal and sovereign rights are determined by federal recognition, which can be granted and taken away at the whim of Congress, the threat of termination is real and its consequences can be devastating to tribes.

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