Five years ago, Drs. Stephen Cornell and Joseph Kalt cited a Republican-fueled “trend away from the Indian self-government movement” and predicted that a GOP-controlled Congress might well put “an end to policies of self-determination.” That possibility could not be more real that it is today.
That possibility was made plainly obvious after two completely bizarre hearings of the Republican-controlled House Natural Resource Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, regarding federal recognition and trust land acquisition.
More precisely, Indian Country should now worry about a return to federal Indian termination policy. That will be particularly true if the White House turns Republican in 2016.
The House GOP first threw down the gauntlet by claiming in a hearing memo that the Interior Department has “create[d] tribes, not recognize[d] them.” In turn, it was suggested that all Secretarially-recognized “tribes should be stripped of federal recognition as their recognized status lack any legal merit.”
Then, House Subcommittee staff issued a second memo that describes the Dawes/General Allotment Act as “humane.” That is most certainly not be the word to describe the law that allowed the taking of 90 million acres of tribal trust land over a 50 year period, which rendered countless Indians homeless. The memo should be withdrawn for this reason alone.
Of even more concern is the Subcommittee’s assertion that the Interior Secretary lacks authority to take land into trust pursuant to the Indian Reorganization Act; and its calling into “question the validity of the trust status” of lands acquired prior to Carcieri, for tribes affected by that decision.
Subcommittee Chairman Don Young openly threatened to amend Section 5 of the IRA, by which Congress delegated trust land acquisition power to the Interior Secretary. Such an amendment would certainly only make it harder, if not impossible, for all tribes to reacquire trust lands.
Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn powerfully fought back, telling the Subcommittee: “If you take this path against the people of Indian Country, the Obama Administration will be standing shoulder to shoulder with tribes as they fight you on this.” Again, however, if the GOP wins back the White House next year, that righteous threat will ring hollow.
In all, Indian Country must hope for the best from Capitol Hill, but now brace for the worst: a return to federal Indian termination policy.
Gabriel S. Galanda is the managing partner of Galanda Broadman, PLLC, in Seattle. Gabe is an enrolled citizen of the Round Valley Indian Tribes.