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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.

National Park Service Nominee Charles Sams Testifies before Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee

Charles Sams, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the director of the National Park Service, testified before the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.

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If confirmed, Sams would be the first Native American to lead the National Parks Service and the first permanent director in four years. He is an enrolled tribal citizen of the Caycuse and Walla Walla, of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon. 

“The National Park Service cannot achieve its mission without a well-supported workforce, and I am committed to focusing on the caretakers of this mission. Staffing, housing, and other issues are impacting morale and deserve our active attention,” Sams said.

“In Indian Country, we expect an open discussion with the federal government prior to making a decision, not after the fact,” he said. “If confirmed, I will bring this spirit of consultation to my service as director.”

FY 2022 Appropriations Bill Would Give Additional Funding to Native Communities 

On Monday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) announced that the Fiscal Year 2022 Appropriations Bill would give equitable funding to Native communities. It also provided necessary funding for the long-requested policy changes to advance Native-serving programs. 

The fiscal year 2022 Department of the Interior, Environment, and related agencies appropriations bill provides $18.1 billion for tribal programs and secures advanced appropriations for the Indian Health Service for the first time. 

Chairman Schatz provided the following breakdown of Indian Health Service (IHS) funding in a press release:

  • $7.61 billion for IHS for fiscal year 2022, an increase of $1.38 billion above the fiscal year 2021 enacted level, including:
  •   $2.6 billion for hospitals, clinics, doctors, nurses and health services;
    •   $1.131 billion for new hospital construction, new and replacement equipment, and water and solid waste infrastructure improvements for Native American communities to prevent the spread of disease;
    •   $285.3 million for dental health; and
    •   $123 million for mental health programs, such as suicide prevention initiatives for Native youth
  • $6.58 billion in advance appropriations for IHS for fiscal year 2023; and
  • $3.938 billion for Tribal programs provided through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education, an increase of $433 million above the fiscal year 2021 level, which includes:
    •   $24.9 million to address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women cases in Indian Country; and
    •   $7 million for a new Indian Boarding School Initiative to conduct a comprehensive review of the troubled legacy of federal boarding school policies.

The FY 2022 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies appropriations bill provides $1 billion for Native American housing programs It also authorizes an extension of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act through the fiscal year 2023. 

Indian Affairs Announces $1.5 Million Awarded to 18 Tribal Tourism Grants

Indian Affairs within the U.S. Department of the Interior on Tuesday announced that the Office of Indian Economic Development (OIED) has awarded Tribal Tourism grants totaling $1,512,553 to 18 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Tribes and Tribal organizations across the country, as well as, in cooperation with Interior’s Office of Native Hawaiian Relations (ONHR) and the National Park Service (NPS), $600,000 to two Native Hawaiian Organizations (NHOs).  

The funds were awarded under the Tribal Tourism Grants Program (TTGP), a competitive, discretionary program administered by OIED’s Division of Economic Development. Proposals are evaluated on a variety of economic development activities related to tourism aimed at stimulating economic growth within an AI/AN community. Grants are awarded based on a proposal’s potential to create jobs for Tribal members and stimulate economies in AI/AN communities. In this solicitation, applications could also explore how a current Tribal tourism business could recover and adapt to the challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“With the ongoing impact Covid-19 is having on the tourism industry, it is important to recognize how much more the Tribal tourism sector, which is a vital part of many Tribal economies, is suffering,” Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said. “The Tribal Tourism Grant Program is one way we can aid Tribal governments and organizations in their efforts to stay open for business during this time of national crisis.” 

The Biden-Harris Administration Announces Steps to Improve Conditions for Salmon in the Columbia River Basin

The Biden-Harris administration on Thursday announced conditions for the Columbia River Basin’s Salmon and Steelhead populations have been taken. There has been a longstanding conflict regarding the operation of 14 federal dams and their impact on the health of the region and its aquatic habitants. 

The U.S, The state of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe, and a coalition of plaintiffs led by the National Wildlife Federation have reached a compromise on the disputed elements of the 2022 Columbia River System operations.  This agreement was filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. 

The agreement includes how eight dams in the Columbia River Basin will be operated over the coming year by detailing the additional fish passage spill of water past the dams at certain times of the year while still preserving reliable hydropower production.

It also asks the court to stay the litigation until the end of July 2022 in order to allow affected states, Tribal nations, and stakeholders the opportunity to identify and review alternative and durable solutions to longstanding challenges in the Columbia River System.

In a statement, Secretary Deb Haaland emphasizes the importance of this agreement:

“The Columbia River System is an invaluable natural resource that is critical to many stakeholders in the Basin. Today’s filing represents an important opportunity to prioritize the resolution of more than 20 years of litigation and identify creative solutions that improve conditions for salmon for years to come,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “While it is important to balance the region’s economy and power generation, it is also time to improve conditions for Tribes that have relied on these important species since time immemorial.”

Bipartisan Indian Buffalo Management Act Introduced in Senate

U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) on Friday introduced the bipartisan Indian Buffalo Management Act, legislation, if enacted, will create a permanent buffalo program at the U.S. Department of the Interior and help promote and develop tribal capacity to manage buffalo.

The bill will also require the Interior Department to enter into contracts, award grants and provide technical assistance to tribes and tribal organizations for activities related to buffalo restoration or management. Consultation with Tribal representatives on initiatives that affect buffalo or buffalo habitats would be also required. It will also allow the Department to enter into agreements with Tribes or Tribal organizations to transport surplus buffalo from federal land onto Tribal lands. 

“For Indigenous peoples, the restoration of buffalo is as much about healing our people and reviving our culture as it is about healing the land. The Indian Buffalo Management Act not only expands capacity and reaffirms Tribal sovereignty but ensures we can continue working with Tribal, federal and conservation partners to establish prolific populations of buffalo across the country,” Jason Baldes, board member of the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council and Tribal Buffalo program manager for the National Wildlife Federation said.

More Than $6.6 million in U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tribal Wildlife Grants Awarded to Tribes in 17 States 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced 37 projects in 17 states have been awarded in an effort to bolster fish and wildlife conservation. These projects benefit a wide range of wildlife and habitats, including species of Native American cultural or traditional importance species that are not hunted or fished. 

The Biden-Harris administration’s America the Beautiful Initiative centers the honoring of tribal sovereignty and support of tribal nations priorities when making decisions related to sustainable land management and conservation. 

The Tribal Wildlife Grants Program has awarded more than $105.6 million to Native American and Alaska Native Tribes since the program was created in 2003. These grants have enabled Tribes to develop increased management capacity, improve relationships with conservation state partners, address cultural environmental priorities and so much more.

Some projects approved this year include:

Hoonah Indian Association in Alaska (Strategic Stream Restoration through Hoonah Native Forest Partnership) – $199,817 to benefit Tribal fish and fish habitat and increase capacity to assist with fisheries management of culturally important anadromous species.

Pechange Band of Luiseno Mission Indians in California (Audie Murphy Management)– $193,989 to implement a wildlife management project for the biologically and culturally sensitive southwestern pond turtle and burrowing owl.

Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan (Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians Migizi Aviary/Rehabilitation Facility) – $200,000 to help develop and construct an Eagle Aviary/Rehabilitation Facility to house, rehabilitate and release eagles and provide educational outreach opportunities

Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians in Minnesota (Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians golden-winged warbler and American woodcock monitoring, critical habit restoration and young forest education project, Phase II) – $199,770 to address large-scale declines in several important bird species that require multiple age class forest habitats to thrive.

To learn more about the grant program and application process, visit the Service's Tribal Wildlife Grants website.

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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Native News Weekly (May 19, 2024): D.C. Briefs

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