Since 1978, tribal communities have been required by law to apply for official acknowledgement as Indian tribes through the BIA. To attain federal acknowledgement as an Indian tribe, a community must apply for recognition through the BIA's Office of Federal Acknowledgment (OFA), and meet the criteria established by Part 83 of Title 25 of the Code of Federal Regulations (25 CFR Part 83), Procedures for Establishing that an American Indian Group Exists as an Indian Tribe.
Criteria for recognition as an Indian tribe: Under the above law, a community petitioning the government for recognition as a federally acknowledged Indian tribe must be able to meet all seven of the following criteria:
- Criterion 83.7(a) requires that external observers have identified the petitioner as an American Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis since 1900.
- Criterion 83.7(b) requires that a predominant portion of the petitioning group has comprised a distinct community since historical times.
- Criterion 83.7(c) requires that the petitioning group has maintained political influence over its members as an autonomous entity since historical times.
- Criterion 83.7(d) requires that the petitioner provide a copy of its governing document.
- Criterion 83.7(e) requires that a petitioner's members descend from a historical Indian tribe.
- Criterion 83.7(f) requires that the petitioner's membership be composed principally of persons who are not members of another Federally recognized Indian tribe.
- Criterion 83.7(g) requires that the petitioner not be subject to legislation forbidding the Federal relationship.
Since 1978, 324 groups have stated their intent to apply for tribal acknowledgment through the OFA's administrative process. As of Feb. 15, 2007, 81 of these groups had submitted completed applications. Out of these 81 groups, 16 had been acknowledged as tribes, 24 had been denied tribal designation and the rest remained in various stages of consideration and negotiation.
Federal assistance to recognized Indian tribes includes; development of tribal government, economic development, education, law enforcement, social services, real estate services, agriculture and range management, and resource protection.