Echoing a "proposed finding" issued 1 1/2 years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs issued a final determination Friday saying the St. Francis/Sokoki Band of the Abenaki Nation of Vermont doesn't meet the criteria required to prove it is an Indian tribe.
"It's disappointing, but it wasn't unexpected," said Abenaki tribal historian Fred Wiseman, a professor at Johnson State College.
Bureau of Indian Affairs officials couldn't be reached for comment on the decision late Friday. A telephone message left after hours at the agency's Washington, D.C., office was not immediately returned.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which manages 55.7 million acres of land held in trust for American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives, said when it issued the preliminary finding in November 2005 that the Abenakis failed to show that they had descended from a historical Abenaki tribe, that the tribe had existed since 1900.
Members of the group have claimed it has about 1,771 people, mostly in the Missisquoi River Valley region of northwestern Vermont.
There are 561 tribes recognized by the federal government.
The status is highly sought-after because it exempts tribes from state and local laws and entitles them to ask for reservation and trust lands when it is granted.
The state has been reluctant to recognize the Abenakis, fearing it could bolster the tribe's bid to win federal recognition, which opponents say could lead to land claims and gambling casinos.
Last year, Gov. Jim Douglas signed into law a bill recognizing their existence in Vermont, but it was a largely symbolic gesture.
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