WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, questioned Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke at the committee’s oversight hearing on the Trump administration’s priorities for Indian Country. This was Zinke’s first appearance before the committee as secretary. Joining Secretary Zinke on the witness panel were several Tribal leaders including the Honorable Paul Torres, chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors and the former governor of the Pueblo of Isleta; the Honorable Alvin Not Afraid Jr., chairman of the Crow Nation; the Honorable Jefferson Keel, lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation; and the Honorable Keith Anderson, vice chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.
Udall emphasized the importance of a strong government-to-government relationship between the federal government and Indian Country, and he took the opportunity to ask Zinke to commit to meaningfully consult with Tribes on issues that affect their communities. Udall also addressed a number of other matters, including Chaco Canyon and the newly created Bears Ears National Monument; and how the federal hiring freeze is inhibiting the federal government’s ability to uphold its trust and treaty obligations to provide Native communities with the services that are owed to them, such as health care and education.
“It is absolutely critical that the Secretary of the Interior hear from Tribal leaders on the issues that face their communities, and I am disappointed that Secretary Zinke could only stay for a short time today,” Udall said. “He can be assured that I will hold him to his promise to return at the request of the Committee. We have many more questions for him, and I would like to follow up on some of the answers he gave us today. So far, the actions by President Trump and his administration have not assured me that they will uphold the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations, so it is imperative that we hold Secretary Zinke accountable to his promise today to work to improve Tribal consultation and always respect Tribal sovereignty.”
Below are Udall’s opening remarks:
Thank you very much, Chairman Hoeven. This is an important oversight hearing to discuss priorities for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior under Secretary Zinke’s leadership.
I would like to recognize Chairman Torres of the All Pueblo Council of Governors. As former Governor of Isleta Pueblo and now as chairman of the APCG, you have shown strong leadership in matters of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Welcome, Chairman Torres, and I look forward to hearing more about the Council’s priorities as you testify.
Mr. Secretary, congratulations on your confirmation. When you and I met several weeks ago, I urged you to be a strong advocate for Indian country. These are uncertain times for a lot of folks, and you assured me that you intend to be that advocate as Secretary of the Interior.
It is good to have you here, although I’m disappointed you may have to leave a little bit early. Our tribal witnesses traveled from all across Indian country to hear from you today and to listen to you. And I know that’s why I know you wanted to be on this panel.
To make the most of our time and allow maximum questioning of the Secretary, I would like to submit my prepared opening statement for the record.
I look forward to the testimony and to working with you all on these and many other issues of great importance to Indian country.
Levi Rickert, a tribal citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, is the publisher and editor of Native News Online. Previously, he served as editor of the Native News Network. He is a resident of Grand Rapids, Michigan.