Sen. Jon Tester, Chair of the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
WASHINGTON – Seeking to hear directly from tribal leaders on the important issue of land and water rights, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) last Wednesday held a hearing on five bills that would strengthen tribal land and water rights and increase economic development on tribal lands.
“Land and water are two of the most essential resources for tribal self-sufficiency and economic development,” Tester said. “We must seriously consider the needs of these tribes who have advocated for solid solutions to some of their challenges.”
Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Montana
Llevando Fisher, President, Northern Cheyenne Tribe sought support for legislation that would remedy a 114-year old federal error which deprived them of subsurface land within Reservation boundaries. “Our Reservation will finally be made whole by rectifying an error made by the United States over a century ago. Congress directed the acquisition of land to expand the Reservation and the federal agent charged with this responsibility failed to acquire 5,000 subsurface acres of prime coal on our Reservation.”
Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Nevada
Arlan Melendez, Chairman, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony spoke on behalf of the Nevada Native Nations Lands Act Tribal Coalition. “Our tribes’ membership numbers are growing and the carrying capacity of our current lands is very limited. It is only by being able to expand and consolidate our lands for housing, preservation and other purposes that our tribes and cultural practices can continue to thrive.”
Moapa Band of Paiute, Nevada
Aletha Tom, Chairwoman of the Moapa Band of Paiute advocated for a bill that would restore about 26,000 acres to their reservation. “These are desert lands adjacent to our Reservation that are currently managed by BLM and the Bureau of Reclamation. The lands were all part of our original Southern Paiute homeland, and were part of the original Moapa Reservation. These additional lands will be directly useful for housing and community needs for our people. Right now, housing is extremely scarce, and many of our young adults must move off the Reservation.”
Chairwoman Tom said that remaining desert lands would be useful for renewable energy projects such as solar energy development. The tribe currently has three solar projects in different stages of development.
Pueblos of New Mexico
Mike Canfield, President and CEO of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (IPCC) owned and operated by the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico sought additional land near their cultural center for expanded business opportunities. “The vision for our organizations located on this property include creating unique and successful businesses, providing professional and economic advancement opportunities for our workforce, nurturing self-sustainable developments while providing financial returns to our Pueblo communities and promoting Pueblo arts, culture and lifestyles.”
Hualapai Tribe, Arizona
Sherry Counts, the Chairwoman of the Hualapai Tribe, was seeking support for a bill to increase water supply to their reservation. “Our Reservation has no significant surface streams other than the Colorado River, and has very limited groundwater resources. While the tribe is presently able to supply its main residential community with groundwater, the only feasible water supply for satisfying the future needs of most of the Reservation is the Colorado River. The Tribe is in dire need of Colorado River water in order to realize the opportunities for economic development we have already undertaken.”
Chairman Tester asked for a swift review of the pending bills by the administration to clarify any questions or concerns so they can be voted on in Committee. “Each of these bills have been vetted and considered, some resolving issues more than a century old. We owe it to the tribes to address any issues or concerns quickly.”