SEVERAL YEARS AGO, CHIEF harold Hatcher of South Carolina’s Chicora-Waccamaw tribe was visited by a young man in search of an eagle’s feather. The man’s mother had died, and he wanted to place the feather in her grave because he believed it would guide her spirit toward heaven.

For Chief Hatcher, it was a painful encounter. He told the young man that owning an eagle’s feather is illegal–illegal that is, unless you are a member of a federally recognized Indian tribe. And the Chicora-Waccamaw are not federally recognized. In fact, they are widely thought to be extinct. According to history books, most of the Waccamaw were killed by European settlers in the eighteenth century, and the few survivors disappeared into a neighboring tribe.

Hatcher, as one might imagine, thinks the history books are wrong, and he has spent five years and hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to prove it. The culmination of his efforts–a several-hundred-page petition documenting his tribe’s history, genealogy, and social structure–is now almost complete. Soon, he will jump in a gray Ford van and head to Washington, D.C., to present it to the federal government.

He will take the petition to 1849 C Street, the main building of the Department of the Interior. He will be escorted past security to the third floor, through a long, sparse hallway of black-beige tiles and blank white walls. From there he will enter a cramped conference room with a fake-wood table, where he will hand his petition to officials of the Branch of Acknowledgement and Research, the office charged with deciding his people’s fate.

Waiting for Hatcher will be Lee Fleming, the branch chief. Fleming, a cautious genealogist, seems an unlikely magnet for controversy. He would hardly appear to be a threat to American Indian identity. After all, before joining the government he spent eight years as registrar of the Cherokee nation, and he looks on his work at the branch "as service to my own people."

Yet Fleming meets his guests in a conference room because threats against him and his staff make it too dangerous to see them in his office. The branch stopped meeting visitors in its offices a few years ago, after an anonymous caller announced that unless a certain tribe was recognized, there would be ten thousand bodies in body bags. At about the same time, a canister of mace was thrown through an open window into a nearby women’s bathroom. After that, the branch moved from the first floor to the third floor. Its exact location is now a secret. But the threatening calls occasionally still come.

They come because the Branch of Acknowledgement and Research sits at an obscure but volatile crossroads of social science, group identity, and state power. Three anthropologists, three historians, two genealogists, two secretaries, and one branch chief are charged with interpreting the federal government’s official guidelines–its sacred standards–for what constitutes an Indian tribe. Within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, branch staffers, many of whom have Ph.D.s, are seen as an academic elite. They speak reverently about network analysis and kinship ties and public ethnohistory. They are, in a sense, inheritors of the old academic dream of bringing scientific rigor to government policy that was once arbitrary and political.

But that hasn’t made them especially popular in the academy. Their work is governed by a concept–tribe–that most academics view as outdated or worse. And their passion for clear-cut, objective judgments about political and social organization is not shared by a discipline–anthropology–that has been questioning such notions for decades. Boxed in by centuries of Indian law, a clique of hostile academics, political fights over Indian gambling, and power struggles between competing tribes, the branch is understaffed, underfunded, feared, despised, and condescended to. With a mounting backlog of unresolved cases, pressure from the courts, and congressional threats to abolish the office, this band of beleaguered academics may itself soon be facing extinction. To its critics, the branch is the latest manifestation of a centuries-old government tradition of forcing Indians into categories crafted from white assumptions to serve white interests. They accuse it of "administrative genocide." But to the branch staffers, the old, unfashionable categories constitute American Indians’ chief source of power, and upholding them stands within the government’s best tradition of progressive guardianship over the sovereign, yet dependent, nations with whom it shares a continent.


IF MEMBERSHIP IN an Indian tribe was once a hardship, today it can be a boon. Federal recognition entitles a tribe’s members to a host of special services–including business loans, subsidized housing, scholarships, and health care–and it exempts them from some state and federal laws. For some tribes, recognition paves the way to the windfall profits of legalized gambling. The impact of federal recognition can be dramatic–a 1976 study showed that members of unrecognized tribes were poorer, less educated, and in worse health than other American Indians.

That was certainly true for southwestern Alabama’s Poarch Creeks. Denied entrance to white schools and relegated to sharecropping for much of the twentieth century, the Poarch Creek did not even have a tribal mailing address as late as the early 1970s. But in 1984, their nine-year struggle for government recognition bore fruit. By the end of the decade, the Poarch Creek operated a fourteen-thousand-square-foot office complex, a housing project, a court system, the seventeen-hundred-seat Poarch Creek Bingo Palace, and a Best Western motel. With an annual budget of close to $8 million, the Poarch Creek had become, in five years, one of the largest employers in Escambia County.

But who should enjoy such opportunities, and why? At a time when the political appeal of identity politics coincides with ever more sophisticated academic demonstrations of the arbitrariness of group affiliation, this is no idle question. In distinguishing a real tribe from a mere social club, the branch must fashion practical solutions to multicultural paradoxes. It is not an easy task.

The branch’s efforts stem from the often-betrayed principle that Indian tribes have inalienable rights that spring from their aboriginal status as sovereign nations. In theory at least, the federal government was never allowed simply to take Indian land. It had to sign treaties with tribes, as it would with any other sovereign power. In the nineteenth century, those treaties usually gave the United States the Indian land it wanted, in return for guaranteeing a tribe new land and recognizing its sovereignty. This meant, for instance, that states and individuals could not infringe on a tribe’s right to self-government on its own territory. When Georgia declared Cherokee law null and void in the late 1820s, the Cherokee sued, and the Supreme Court ruled in their favor (although President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the decision). In his opinion, Chief Justice John Marshall outlined the twin principles of tribal self-determination and federal guardianship that have guided Indian policy ever since. "A weak state," he wrote, "in order to provide for its safety, may place itself under the protection of one more powerful, without stripping itself of the right of government, and ceasing to be a state."

So the rights that American Indians today enjoy–to be governed by their own laws and to draw on special federal programs–are based not on their racial status but on their political status as members of a tribe that the U.S. government recognizes as sovereign. The problem is that, historically, the government’s decisions about which tribes to recognize have been arbitrary at best.

For most of the nineteenth century, tribes were recognized through treaties in which the United States took Indian land by threatening to wage war or after successfully doing so. But tribes that didn’t pose an obstacle generally weren’t offered a treaty. By the time the United States came into being, for instance, the Indian frontier was at the Appalachian Ridge. Many East Coast tribes had already been in contact with Europeans for centuries, and by 1789 they no longer posed any military threat or held any territory worth taking. The federal government had no reason to recognize their sovereignty, especially since whites generally believed that eastern Indians were dying out. And even west of the Mississippi, smaller tribes were sometimes overlooked: because they were confused with another tribe; because they isolated themselves on land the settlers did not want; or because they did not make their presence known by force of arms.

Then in 1871, when the Indian wars were largely over, the United States stopped signing treaties. After that, tribes could gain recognition through an act of Congress or a presidential order. But neither the legislative nor the executive branch had much incentive to grant recognition. To the contrary, most federal Indian policy in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries aimed not at extending tribal sovereignty but at undoing it through legislation like the 1887 Dawes Act, which broke up Indian reservations and tried to force Indians to assimilate with whites.

That changed briefly in 1934, when a New Deal law called the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) provided tribes with funds for economic development and the purchase of land. In order to decide which tribes should qualify, government agents interviewed Indians and visited their communities. In the process, they discovered deserving tribes that lacked government recognition, and twenty-one were recognized under the IRA’s auspices. But federal activism was short-lived. For the next several decades, Indian policy was marked by neglect. Except for the odd tribe able to interest a powerful member of Congress in its cause, unrecognized tribes remained invisible.

Then came the 1960s. Inspired, like so many historically disfranchised groups, by the civil rights movement, American Indians began to protest politically. Spectacular confrontations between Indian activists and government agents, at Alcatraz in 1968 and at Wounded Knee in 1973, captured front-page attention. But much of the real action took place in the courts. A series of lawsuits aimed at enforcing long-violated treaties made the recognition issue impossible for Washington to ignore.

In 1975, the Passamaquoddy tribe asked the United States to sue the state of Maine for land taken in violation of a 1790 federal law. The federal government refused, noting that the Passamaquoddy were not federally recognized, at which point a judge ruled that the tribe could contest its lack of recognition in court. Around the same time, several unrecognized tribes in Washington State sued to enforce an 1855 treaty promising their ancestors a share of the salmon in the Columbia River Basin, and a Seattle judge ordered the Bureau of Indian Affairs systematically to review their status.

It was increasingly clear that if the bureau did not come up with a coherent process for evaluating tribes’ demands for recognition, the courts would. And to add to the pressure, in 1975 Senator James Abourezk of South Dakota, a champion of tribal rights, got Congress to fund the American Indian Policy Review Commission (AIPRC). In its report two years later, the commission identified 133 unrecognized tribes, representing more than a hundred thousand people (compared with a recognized Indian population of less than two million), and found that "the results of ‘non-recognition’ upon [those] Indian communities and individuals has been devastating." Abourezk then introduced legislation to the effect that any Indian group that could show it had been viewed as a tribe by the government or by other tribes, or had a functioning tribal council, deserved recognition unless the Bureau of Indian Affairs could prove otherwise.

The bureau was in a panic. Not only did it fear losing control over the recognition process; it also feared that if Congress followed the Abourezk commission (which bureau officials called A-PRIC), the doors would be thrown open to scores of dubious new tribes, each hungry for a share of the bureau’s meager budget. The bureau raced to draft administrative guidelines that would quell Congress’s appetite for legislation. After endless negotiations, and several revisions, it succeeded. In the fall of 1978, the bureau published its "Procedure for Establishing That an American Indian Group Exists as an Indian Tribe" and created the Branch of Acknowledgement and Research to carry it out. The bureau had worked with anthropologists before; but now a new cadre of academic experts was imported into its offices. Abourezk’s bill withered, and the courts began to back off as well, instructing tribes that they would not rule on recognition cases unless the tribes first petitioned the branch.

The regulations, although revised in 1994, remain essentially as they were in 1978: a hybrid of legal precedent and ethnographic method. The lettered criteria require a petitioning group to show that (e) its members descend from a tribe that dates to initial sustained white contact and that (b) the tribe has remained a distinct community with (c) a structure of political authority ever since. If petitioners can meet these and additional technical criteria, they are entitled to the fruits of their tribe’s aboriginal sovereignty. The men and women who wrote the regulations believed they had come up with a simple, straightforward process that could quickly dispatch a problem that the government had been bungling for generations. In 1978, an Interior Department official told a congressional hearing that the branch would eliminate its backlog in two years. It has not turned out that way.


"I’VE GOT PETITIONS ALL over the damn place in binders. This has become a major cottage industry. I don’t see why all this is necessary." Jack Campisi is navigating his cluttered office, which sits atop his garage in the tiny town of Red Hook, New York. On one set of shelves are boxes upon boxes bearing the names of different tribes. On a wall is a map of the United States with colored pins designating the tribes for which he has worked. He points out his eighteenth box devoted to the Lumbee tribe and sighs. "That’s why the place looks the way it does."

Campisi, a genial man in his late sixties with an anthropology Ph.D. from SUNY Albany, has worked for more than two dozen unrecognized tribes since 1978. In a sense, he owes his career to the branch. But if that has engendered goodwill on his part toward the office, it is hard to find. "I think they’re incompetent. I think they’re arbitrary. I don’t necessarily think they’re racist, but I don’t think they understand that they’re accepting the results of racism…. I think they’ve conned Congress and conned the administration that they’re somehow this superlative research center, and God, I had students at Wellesley that could write and research around them a hundred times."

Campisi is a senior member of a group of anthropologists and historians, many of whom work for petitioning tribes, who feel the branch represents a disastrous marriage of academic research and government policy. Their objections start with the concept of tribe itself, which Susan Greenbaum, an anthropologist at the University of South Florida, says "has been torn apart and pretty much discarded in anthropology." In particular, they believe that the branch’s search for lost tribes relies on two particularly dubious ideas.

The first idea is that a tribe must possess a formal political structure. Criterion (c) requires that "the petitioner has maintained political influence or authority over its members as an autonomous entity from historical times until the present." Branch staffers note that their guidelines specifically state that informal leadership, exercised by people not holding an office or title, is valid. But critics claim that informal leadership is rarely documented and that the branch accords little weight to oral history not based on firsthand experience. This, they argue, leaves written documents, largely generated by government officials, as the only way to prove "political influence or authority" hundreds of years ago. Since government officials usually interpreted "political influence or authority" to mean hierarchical institutions, they often overlooked real leadership or found artificial leaders who served their interests. Raymond Fogelson, an anthropologist at the University of Chicago, puts the problem this way: "By tribe, they [the branch] have a fixed notion of a tribal government–chief, tribal council, et cetera. That’s one form of social control. But in other tribes, there might be another form of social control. It might be gossip, sorcery, whatever, but the people felt themselves a community. Very often the official forms of government were formed in interaction with whites because whites needed someone to deal with."

Indeed, according to its critics, the branch fails to acknowledge that Indians from unrecognized tribes were, almost by definition, obscured from white authority’s view. Writing about the nineteenth century, one American Indian historian notes that "it is difficult to locate an Indian community in the East that is not associated with a swamp, a hollow, an inaccessible ridge, or the back country of a sandy flatwoods. Secrecy meant survival during those years." It’s a Catch-22: The government demands evidence of formal political authority from precisely those tribes that were not likely to exercise it.

The second attack on the branch’s notion of tribe is that it envisions an unrealistic degree of cultural and even racial isolation. Even before white contact, critics note, the boundaries between tribes were often permeable and shifting; intertribal adoptions and marriages were common. Writing about the Mashpee of Massachusetts, a heavily intermarried tribe whose petition is awaiting branch review, the UC-Santa Cruz anthropologist James Clifford has argued that their "later openness to outsiders–as long as the newcomers intermarried and conformed to Indian ways–was a continuation of an aboriginal tradition, not a loss of distinct identity." Branch officials vehemently deny that the regulations demand isolation. They accept that tribal members will intermarry into other tribes and into the community-at-large. They also point to guidelines that state "as long as the group has continued to maintain tribal existence, cultural assimilation is not a problem." The Poarch Creek, for example, followed the Baptist, Episcopalian, and Holiness faiths, as did whites and blacks in south Alabama. Yet the fact that they went to their own churches provided evidence of tribal community. The Poarch Creek also included in their petition a snippet from a local newspaper of the 1930s that reported that whites and Indians both played baseball on one Fourth of July, but that the Indians maintained their own diamond.


Nonetheless, critics argue that by relying so heavily on written (and, therefore, usually white) sources, the branch allows racial criteria in through the back door. The branch may insist that it is interested only in a tribe’s legal status, and not with establishing the exact details of anyone’s genetic makeup or skin color. But as Greenbaum has written, "This need for external validation will likely pose difficulties for several groups whose members do not ‘look Indian,’ especially in southern states where the smallest degree of Black ancestry is generally sufficient to overrule any other possible ethnicity." The branch, for instance, ruled that the United Houma Nation of Louisiana could not prove that its members descended from the original Houma tribe under criterion (e). But Campisi, who worked for the Houma for fifteen years, argues that since censuses in nineteenth-century Louisiana usually included categories for only "white" and "colored," such an expectation is unfair.

The branch’s harshest opponents take the argument about race even further–claiming that the branch perpetuates prejudice against intermarried tribes in its evaluation of current Indian life. Russell Barsh, a law professor currently teaching at Dartmouth, represented the Samish of Washington State, the only tribe to overturn a branch decision in court. The case was less about whether the Samish constituted a community in the past than about whether they constitute one today. The branch said they do not, and Barsh believes that it overlooked strong evidence of contemporary social organization because it decided that even though the Samish "were staying in touch, going to meetings, caring about the community, they were just too white. That racially, genetically they couldn’t be an Indian tribe." He adds: "They send someone out for a few days to meet with people. You can’t do anthropology in a few days. What do they find out in those few days? They find out what they look like."

Behind the specific criticisms lies a more fundamental allegation of bad faith, often tinged with personal hostility. "I really don’t like these people. I’ll say that up front," says Greenbaum, who was contracted by the branch to do anthropological fieldwork on the Miami of Indiana and who says its staff denied the tribe recognition over her objections. William Starna, an anthropologist at SUNY Oneonta, suspects that two papers he authored on the recognition process were rejected by journals on the advice of current or former branch officials acting as anonymous referees. He charges the branch with "a real attempt to squelch any criticism from anyone in the academic community." The branch’s academic detractors mock what Starna calls its "pretensions of doing academic research" and what Campisi calls its "anthrobabble." To them, the branch’s outdated notions of tribe and its credulity about government sources are simply a cover. The real issue is that the Bureau of Indian Affairs doesn’t want to recognize more tribes because doing so would tax its already strained budget. The critics admit that since 1978 the branch has acknowledged as many tribes (thirteen) as it has denied. But they point to the snail’s pace at which petitions are processed. Officials declared in 1978 that the branch could dispense with twenty-two cases a year, but the annual rate has been more like one and a quarter (although in the last couple of years it has been somewhat higher). The branch argues that the process moves slowly in part because tribes are allowed unlimited time to respond to various branch comments and decisions, and tribes often take a long time in doing so. But the branch’s foes turn that argument on its head, claiming that the petitioners take so long gathering information because the branch’s evidentiary standards are impossibly high.

IN THE EYES OF its critics, the branch is arrogant and insular. But in person, its staff comes across as mild mannered, and a little overwhelmed. "We get hammered for this all the time and it’s absolutely ludicrous," says Steven Austin, an anthropology Ph.D., responding to allegations that the branch takes government documents at face value. "We don’t accept a census in 1870, which is laden with racial bias. We don’t accept that census at face value as indicating what was definitively a person’s ancestry. It’s ridiculous. We can’t do that. It’s totally contrary to the standards of the professional disciplines that we work under." The standards of their disciplines matter a great deal to the branch officials. They give the impression of men and women guided by an uncomplicated vision of good, solid research and slightly baffled that the outside world won’t let them do it in peace.

Branch staffers describe their trips to the homes of petitioning tribes as a valuable means of gathering information. The historian searches through local archives, the genealogist inspects the tribe’s membership records, and the anthropologist asks about attendance at weddings, funerals, social gatherings, council meetings, and protest rallies, to gauge whether tribe members interact as a community with functioning political leaders. Michael Lawson, a former branch historian, remembers visiting one dubious petitioning tribe that claimed it was lower Creek because its members lived in lower Alabama, when in fact the lower Creek lived in upper Alabama. The tribe claimed to own a map that showed where its ancestors had lived in the early nineteenth century. But when Lawson and a branch anthropologist took the map out of the pitch-black shed in which it was kept, they found that the wrinkled piece of parchment contained no writing at all. Lawson cites the incident as an example of the way branch staffers use visits to check up on the assertions of a tribe’s petition and to find new information.

Even as they hold up academic inquiry as their model, branch officials simultaneously evince annoyance with what Austin calls modern anthropology’s "whims about what a tribe is supposed to be." The regulations, they note, are based less on current academic opinion than on centuries of federal law. For people like Campisi, this is exactly the problem: The branch functions within a framework built on racist assumptions. But where the critics see a legacy of oppression, the branch officials see a kind of accumulated wisdom. Rita Souther, a staff genealogist who formerly worked for the Daughters of the American Revolution, believes that "the continuity and the steadiness of following hundreds of years of Indian law and policy" allows "respectability and some credibility. If you go with a whim or a change in academic interpretation of something, ten, twenty years later that could change again and you would be in constant flux."


What the branch staff implies, some of its outside defenders say outright: While building on government precedent may have its problems, those problems are nothing compared with what would happen if recognition decisions fell into the hands of the tribal applicants and their academic advocates. If the branch’s critics accuse it of bad faith, its partisans are quick to throw the charge back at people like Starna and Campisi, who they suspect would abandon any impartial standards in the name of atonement for the government’s and the anthropology profession’s past sins. J. Anthony Paredes, an anthropologist affiliated with Florida State and the branch’s most vociferous academic champion, took his colleagues to task in a recent article in the St. Thomas Law Review. "In some segments of American national culture, there appears to be a willingness to abandon any objective test of historical, social and cultural fact," he wrote. "Instead, subjective experience is treated as the ultimate validation of social reality. This is bad news for tribal sovereignty."

For Paredes, the irony that his colleagues will not accept is that the anthropology done by the branch, with its old-fashioned belief in objective facts and its prudish insistence on firm documentation, actually serves Indians far better than the alternative. No matter how problematic the notion of tribe may be, if it is the root of what little power American Indians wield, the right thing to do is to prevent it from being watered down.

Many members of already recognized tribes agree. Several tribes have hired historians and anthropologists to rebut other tribes’ petitions, and others have lobbied strenuously on Capitol Hill to keep the regulations from being weakened. In many cases, recognized tribes have a considerable interest in keeping that status to themselves. The Tulalip of Washington State, for instance, do not want to share fishing rights with unrecognized tribes living near Puget Sound. And with the legalization of Indian gambling in 1988, some tribes have an especially large incentive to deny recognition, and other privileges, to their neighbors. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt is currently under investigation by an independent counsel for possibly misleading Congress about efforts by Minnesota and Wisconsin tribes to prevent another tribe from opening a casino.

But beyond financial considerations, some tribal leaders genuinely doubt the bona fides of highly intermarried eastern tribes that speak no tribal language and possess no tribal land. For national Indian organizations, the debate over recognition cannot be removed from its larger context: a backlash against Indian sovereignty fueled by stories of tribes grown rich on gambling. Paredes hints at a nightmare scenario in which sympathetic academics, by undermining the legitimacy of the recognition process, unwittingly aid anti-sovereignty conservatives like Washington State senator Slade Gorton who want to rein in Indian gambling and force tribes to abide by state laws.

American Indians are split by a dilemma that faces many American ethnic groups: Will relaxing the standards for membership lead to strength in numbers, or will it weaken group identity? Yet in their case, the dilemma is even more acute. For Jews and African Americans, who can choose how to define themselves, the question is largely cultural and answered within the group. But for American Indians, who must be certified by the federal government, it is a legal and political issue over which non-Indians have most of the control.

WHEN CHIEF HATCHER arrives in Washington, he will find that the compact formed in 1978–the agreement that the branch would quickly settle unrecognized tribes’ claims, and Congress and the courts would defer to its decisions–seems to be breaking down. New petitions continue to stream in, with gambling interests even seeking out unrecognized tribes and sponsoring their petitions in return for the right to build a casino if they win. The backlog at the branch continues to grow. Currently, eleven unrecognized tribes are "ready, waiting for active consideration," which means their petitions are in but the branch has not even begun the several-year process of deciding on them. Six of those eleven have been waiting since 1996. Squeezed by budget constraints, the Clinton administration has cut the branch staff from fifteen to eleven, and staffers claim that they spend most of their time fulfilling administrative duties and less than half actually reviewing petitions. One of the reasons administrative work takes so much time is that tribes denied recognition now frequently sue, and the branch is required to spend enormous energy defending its decisions in court. The previous director was recently demoted, allegedly because the assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs was upset with the pace of the branch’s work.

What’s more, bills to speed up the recognition process have been proposed in the last four sessions of Congress. While each has so far failed–because of administration opposition, lobbying by federally recognized tribes, and fear that reform will lead to more casinos–proponents insist they are gaining ground. Last fall, legislation proposed by Delegate Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa garnered 190 votes in the House. William Starna predicts that as more tribes sue, the delays at the branch grow longer, and Congress becomes more restless, "the whole process is going to collapse."

Faleomavaega would create a new commission and change the regulations so that tribes need only prove continuous community and political authority since 1934, the year the Indian Reorganization Act was passed. Moving the regulations’ starting date from first sustained white contact to 1934 would probably bring a welcome change. It would speed up a process that now takes so long that many of a tribe’s members may die while it is pending, a particularly depressing fact considering that tribes often seek recognition so their impoverished members can receive subsidized health care. And while the new system might make it easier for a dubious petitioner to slip through, it is still very unlikely. As Arlinda Locklear, an attorney formerly with the Native American Rights Foundation, notes, a fraudulent tribe would have to have started pretending to be Indian in 1934, and "that makes no historical sense. Who wanted to be Indian in the 1930s and 1940s?"

But even if the changes go through, petitioners will probably still have to prove genealogical descent from an aboriginal tribe. In the case of the Chicora-Waccamaw, that means tracing its roots to the sixteenth century, and Harold Hatcher isn’t too confident it can be done. He’ll submit his petition soon, and even if reforms speed up the process, the current backlog means a final decision will probably take five to ten years. If the answer is no, he says he’ll try to get the South Carolina delegation to push for a special act of Congress, which is also unlikely to happen. If that fails, he’ll go to court, which often takes a decade or more.

Hatcher is nearly fifty now. It is entirely possible that the pursuit of recognition will take the rest of his life, which raises a sensitive issue. He has one eagle feather. And he thinks he’ll probably have it placed in his casket. But that doesn’t put his mind at rest. "For it to work, it can’t be an illegal feather," he says. "If it’s against the law, it’s not pure."

Peter Beinart is a senior editor at The New Republic.


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