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WASHINGTON — In addition to news already covered during the previous week, each Sunday Native News Online provides an overview of activity in Washington, D.C. that impacts Indian Country during the past week.

Legislation Introduced to Commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Legislation to replace the official holiday recognized on the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day has been introduced in Congress. This bill would also replace any mention of Columbus Day in all federal laws or regulations with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

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This bill has support from the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Initiative, the National Council of Urban Indian Health, the National Congress of American Indians, the Association of American Indian Affairs, the Navajo Nation, and the All Pueblo Council of Governors. 

A full text of the bill can be found here

So far, at least 15 states and more than 130 cities have recognized this change. Senator Padilla expresses the importance of this bill by saying: 

“It is long past time that we formally recognize and commemorate the contributions of Indigenous people throughout the country. As our nation continues to reflect and reckon with our past, this legislation is a small step towards honoring the resilience and recognizing the trauma of Indigenous people,” Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), the sponsor of the bill said.

The bill is supported by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

“Recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day will help our future generations hold onto our identity and ensure the survival of our cultures, languages, and indigeneity. I believe that the name change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day will provide young Navajo children with a sense of pride in the beauty they hold within,” Nez said.

Harvard University Analysis Says Treasury Dept. distributed American Rescue Plan Act Funds Inequitably 

Tribal Business News reported this week a Harvard University analysis of this year’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) pandemic relief funding for tribes shows vastly inequitable distributions, largely because of formulaic choices made by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Scholars with the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development conducted the research using publicly available numbers on USAspending.gov, an open data source of federal spending information. The federal government uploaded complete and detailed tribal ARPA funding to the website on Oct. 6.

CLICK to read more.

Interior Department Announces $26.5 Million to Landowners for the Land Buy-Back Program

On Thursday, the Department of the Interior announced that nearly 1,800 landowners have been offered more than $26.5 million from the Land Buy-Back Program for tribal nations. These landowners who received offers have until October 28, 2021 to decide if they want to accept or deny their offers. 

The Cobell Settlement provided $1.9 billion to consolidate fractional interests in trust restricted land within a 10-year period which is set to expire in November 2022. Approximately $101 million of that amount remains, and nearly 4,100 fractional interests and more than 2,200 acres at the Omaha Reservation have been consolidated thus far. 

“The Buy-Back Program is working hard to build on the achievements of the initial implementation at the Omaha Reservation. It is a unique opportunity for landowners to consider fair market value offers for their fractional land interests. Acceptance of the voluntary purchase offers will help preserve the land for generations to come,” Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland (Bay Mills Indian Community) said.

Landowners can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 or [email protected] with any questions about their land or purchase offers, or to request a copy of an appraisal report for any appraised tract in which they have an owner interest. They can also contact their local Bureau of Trust Funds Administration office. 

Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy Announces Opportunities for Tribes to Apply for Radio Stations

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that tribes interested in establishing a radio station of two opportunities to apply for the necessary license.  The first is an upcoming filing window for applications for new full-service noncommercial educational (NCE) FM station construction permits.  Tribes interested in applying would need to act quickly to hire a broadcast engineer to perform a channel study of their area, so they can prepare the application in time to file it during the filing window.

The filing window will open at 12:01 am EST on Tuesday, November 2, 2021, and close at 6:00 pm EST on Tuesday, November 9, 2021.  This window is available for FM reserved band proposals, which are reserved for NCE FM broadcasting.  All applications must be filed electronically through the Commission’s Licensing and Management System (LMS).  The Commission encourages all applicants to file early in the window to ensure proper and timely submission.

Alternatively, Tribes may file at any time an application for a Tribal Allotment, which is available for qualifying Tribes to apply for full-service commercial FM station construction permits.  Like the NCE application, this application also entails a certain amount of engineering, not only to determine if there is channel space for a new station in your area, but also to see whether such a station would meet Commission requirements for Tribal Land coverage and other factors.  

For more information about the NCE filing window or Tribal Allotment procedure, please contact Derik Goatson at 202.418.1981 or [email protected]

U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Held Hearing Indian Water Rights Settlement Bills

The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a legislative hearing to receive testimony on S.648, Technical Correction to the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation Water Rights Settlement Act of 2021, and S.1911, Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Community Water Rights Settlement Act of 2021.

The committee heard from Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Bryan Newland and Bureau of Reclamation Missouri Basin Regional Director Brent Esplin from the Department of the Interior, Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation Chairman Brian Thomas, and Fort Belknap Indian Community President Andrew Werk.

“As the Committee heard earlier this year, many Native communities still don’t have that access [to clean, reliable water] and continue to lack basic infrastructure for water delivery to homes and businesses on their lands,” Committee Chairman Brian Schatz (D-HI) said. “That’s why Indian water rights settlements are such a critical tool in the planning and management of water resources, particularly in the West.”

Testifying on behalf of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Community Water Rights Settlement Act of 2021, Fort Belknap Indian Community President Andrew Werk, Jr. said this is the first Congressional hearing on the Act in the 20 years since the 2001 Water Compact was overwhelmingly approved by the Montana State Legislature on a bipartisan basis.   

To view the full video of the hearing, click here.

Biden Administration Officials Emphasize the Importance of Urban Native Americans' Inclusion in Federal Legislation 

Indian Health Service (IHS) Deputy Director for Intergovernmental Affairs Benjamin Smith (Navajo) testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States on Tuesday.

During the question and answer period, Smith emphasized the need for federal dollars be committed to serving Native Americans residing in urban areas throughout the United States.

In response to a question regarding vaccine distribution, IHS Deputy Director s, Benjamin Smith, said “Initially urban Indian organizations were not included in the discussion and request from the Department of Health and Human Services about whether urban Indian organizations would receive their vaccine allocation from the state or from the Indian Health Service. As a result, it was unclear to urban Indian organizations on whether they were expected to make a similar decision as tribes did. It was ultimately determined that the urban Indian organizations could select a state or Indian Health Service for their vaccine.

“Approximately 70 percent of enrolled Native Americans live off reservation and in urban areas and think its vitally important that those people are served.” Darryl LaCounte, the Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said. “I had a previous Assistant Secretary express his frustration to me one day that we were only serving 30 percent of the Indian population, I’d say we serve more than that but that’s the lay of the land.” 

Neely Bardwell (descendant of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians), a Michigan State University student who is interning with Native News Online, contributed to these briefs.

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