Category Archives: Indian land bill

Congress springs into action with an omnibus bill, and concerns rise about the 2019 appropriations

 

At the relief of Indian County Congress passes an Omnibus bill in March, holding the course and adding a little money to the Indian Affairs budget.  It was an uncertain, beginning to the year, that saw continuing resolutions, potential government shutdowns, a deal to raise budget caps, and a last-minute veto threat from the President.  At the end the legislation provides $1.3 trillion in omnibus appropriations for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.

 

Congressional appropriators rejected the deep cuts proposed in the President’s FY 2018 Budget Request, including those for federal Indian programs. Some of these provisions include:

  • Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA): BIA is funded at a total of $3.01 billion, an increase of $203.8 million or 7.1%.
  • Indian Health Service (IHS): IHS is funded at a total of $5.5 billion, an increase of $497.9 million or 10%.
  • Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Funding: The bill contains a 3% set aside for Tribal Nations within the VOCA fund, or $133 million for the delivery of victim services in Indian Country.
  • Opioid Epidemic: From a total of $1 billion in new grant funding to address the opioid crisis directed at state and Tribal governments, $50 million is set aside for Tribal Nations. In addition, $5 million is set aside for Tribal Nations to provide medication-assisted treatment. Finally, $7.5 million is provided for the BIA’s  Law Enforcement Opioid initiative.

Significant increases:

  • Infrastructure: spending would increase for BIA and IHS construction, BIA road maintenance, and a $100 million competitive grant program is added under Native American Housing Block Grants (NAHBG) in addition to the $655 million provided for the NAHBG formula grants.
  • Road Maintenance: will receive a 14 percent increase to $34.6 million.
  • Restoration of the Tiwahe initiative: at the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.
  • Violence Against Women Act: $2 million to implement both training and specific Tribal court needs, and $13 million to address the needs of Tribes affected by Public Law 83- 280.
  • BIA Construction: would increase by $162 million to $354.1 million, an 84 percent increase.
  • Opioid initiative:5 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Law Enforcement.

See Link: Budget Report

An interesting strategy has been proposed this last week to handle 2019 appropriations bills.  Nearly, 16 Republican senators announced a willingness to work through August recess to complete spending bills and confirm more of President Donald Trump’s nominees. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, who has led the effort, hinted that a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky would be forthcoming. “The Senate should immediately begin work on one or several consolidated appropriations bills, so they can be openly debated and amended accordingly,” the senators wrote. “Our defense priorities are bipartisan, and they should come first.”

That letter signals a willingness by the conservatives to bundle spending bills together, perhaps using the “minibus” strategy in which several regular appropriations measures get combined on the floor. Normally, senators would not want the chamber in session well into August during an election year, with lawmakers eager to be home and meeting with constituents and voters.  The Republicans seem to want to avoid a last minute continuing resolution to keep the government funded past the end of September and they want to confirm a large number of Trump nominations as August approaches. Some of the 77 confirmations that took place by unanimous consent or voice votes as the August recess got underway in 2017 might have happened without a cancellation threat since that’s been the normal practice of the Senate.

These 16 senators, however, believe the threats affected the behavior of Senate Democrats. “Our diligence was rewarded with reason, and that can happen again,” the senators wrote.

See Article

Meanwhile dozens of Indian Country leaders were on Capitol Hill last week to present their budget priorities to key members of Congress before the Appropriations subcommittee on Interior. The testimony from tribes and Indian organization, representing every region of the nation, had a consistent message – Indian Country needs additional funding as part of the federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities. The panel’s Republican and Democratic leaders, for the large part, have embraced that goal.
After hearing from the tribal witnesses, the House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior will spend the next month or so drafting the Interior appropriations bill. The package is typically released sometime in June, with lawmakers aiming to get it passed before October 1, the start of fiscal year 2019.

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US House Committee on Natural Resources Press Release: Tribal leaders and their advocates are embracing a once-controversial Indian land bill.


WASHINGTON, D.C., October 25, 2017
 –

Today, the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs held a legislative hearing on H.R. 215, the “American Indian Empowerment Act of 2017.” Introduced by Chairman Emeritus Don Young (R-AK), the bill authorizes federally recognized tribes to lease and regulate their own lands and eliminate federal government restrictions that interfere with economic development.

“Today’s hearing is a step in the right direction for getting the federal government out of the way of America’s tribes,” Rep. Young stated. “This legislation gives tribes a critical tool to leverage when determining their futures and planning for responsible resource and infrastructure development of their lands. The ‘mother may I approach’ of the federal government – which has created endless roadblocks and costly bureaucratic hurdles – has often stood in the way of uplifting and empowering our tribes. It must change, which is why I’m committed to exploring new ideas and new legislation that gives tribes the freedom and flexibility they deserve on their lands.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior (DOI) John Tahsuda testified that Indian tribes in government-to-government meetings have expressed the need “to grant tribes more autonomy and independence over their resources.”

The Department has “heard interest and requests for the Department [of the Interior] to delegate more authority to tribes, allowing them to make their own decisions on their own lands,” Tahsuda stated. [W]e are interested in accessing additional tools in our toolbox to better empower Indian country.”

A favorite saying at the Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) goes, “Nothing says sovereignty like asking for the Secretary’s permission!” according to ILTF President Cris Stainbrook.

[T]he paternalistic relationship with the federal government is continued and has continued for the past 130 years,” Stainbrook said.[V]irtually every land activity by Native nations that now requires the lengthy, time consuming Secretarial approval could be shortened by months, if not years. The many commercial development projects which dissolved because of the length of time in gaining approvals could now get down much more expeditiously.

Vice President of the Navajo Nation Jonathan Nez stressed the need for Indian land to be treated as “Tribal Nation land” rather than federal land, as his tribe has some of the highest rates for both lack of electricity and access to running water. These issues can’t be addressed without additional approval from DOI and other regulatory permits.

[O]ur land should be treated as ours and we should be allowed to manage and develop with minimal interference from other governments, whether they be federal, state or local,” Nez stated. “If we embrace this important idea, it can help the Navajo Nation in areas such as housing, utility infrastructure buildout, or economic development by eliminating unnecessary and duplicative bureaucratic reviews.”

Economic development is an important goal for tribes, and granting them the ability to capitalize on their own resources without federal impediments will go a long way toward improving socioeconomic conditions for a number of tribal nations,” Executive Vice President of Compass Lexecon and Research Affiliate at the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development Eric Henson added. 

[T]he ‘American Indian Empowerment Act’ is an opportunity to expand tribal self-governance by regaining complete control over our tribal land use,” Senior Council Member of the Lummi Nation Henry Cagey said. “That, in my view, is what tribal sovereignty is all about.”

Click here to view full witness testimony.

Indianz.com article on hearing

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