Rule change on federal tribal recognition spurs hopes of Native Americans in Louisiana bayous

Giovanni R. Santini has spent decades trying to prove he's an American Indian, and folks in his bayou town no longer doubt he's a proud member of Louisiana's 17,000-strong Houma tribe.

Not so for the federal government. For decades, efforts by the Houma to become a federally recognized native American tribe have failed — much like those of dozens of other groups nationwide.

But this could change.

In June, the Obama administration hit the reset button on how a tribe becomes recognized by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. The biggest difference is that a tribe now will have to prove its existence and cohesion starting only in 1900 — and not from historical times to the present — offering hope for the Houma to be acknowledged as a tribe.