An Native American group has federal recognition when the U.S. government defines it as a tribe. Having federal recognition is important because only federally recognized tribes can receive certain funds and benefits reserved for Native Americans.
Some Native American groups that consider themselves tribes do not have federal recognition because they do not meet the government’s standards.
For instance, if a group has its own area of land or in the past negotiated a treaty with the United States, the government is likely to give it tribal status. But many groups have no land base or treaty because the U.S. government took their land without their consent.
In recent years, unrecognized tribes such as the Lumbee of North Carolina have taken their case to court to force the United States to give them the recognition they have long been denied.