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WASHINGTON — The big news out of Washington, D.C. this week came just before midnight on Friday. The House of Representatives passed President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill that will bring up to $15 billion to Indian Country over the course of the next five years.

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.

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Biden Administration Focuses on Workforce Development Opportunities

Tribal Business News, Native News Online’s sister publication, reported this past week the Biden administration goes beyond where previous presidential administrations have gone when it comes to improving the systemic challenges faced by Native American students.

“Like his predecessors before him, President Joe Biden issued an executive order outlining how the federal government can support the economic future for Native Americans by strengthening educational opportunities, particularly at Tribal Colleges and Universities. 

However, unlike previous executive orders, Biden goes further to address systemic challenges that Native Americans face, as well as to recognize the role that workforce development plays in creating economic opportunities for tribal citizens and tribal communities. 

That’s according to a handful of executives at Native educational organizations and tribal leaders, who told Tribal Business News that they welcome the attention to the issue, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic exposing the lack of educational and digital resources in Indian Country. Read more.

Rep. Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk) Votes Yes on 8 Native American Bills

This week, in the first days of Native American Heritage Month, Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS) voted to pass eight bills that respond to and address various tribal issues, including federal recognition of tribes, placing tribal land into trust, and conferring with Urban Indian Organizations on health policy. 

Davids, who serves as Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, is a co-sponsor of the Urban Indian Health Confer Act, which passed with strong bipartisan support.

“What better way for Congress to kick off Native American Heritage Month than with action—not just words,” Davids said. “I’m proud to see legislation I co-sponsored, the Urban Indian Health Confer Act, pass along with several other important bills, including placing Tribal land into trust for several federally recognized Tribes. This slate of bills confirms the federal government’s trust responsibility and commitment to Tribal sovereignty and self-determination.”

The bills passed this week include:

H.R. 1619 – Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act

This bill ratifies the actions of the Department of the Interior to take into trust land in Cleveland County, North Carolina, for the benefit of the Catawba Indian Nation, as part of the Catawba Reservation, subject to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. PASSED 361-55, 3 P, 12 NV

  • H.R. 2758 – Lumbee Recognition Act
  • This bill amends existing law to extend federal recognition to the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, authorize its members to be eligible for services and benefits, and authorize the Tribe to have land taken into trust. PASSED 357-59, 1 P, 14 NV
  • H.R. 1975 – Pala Band of Mission Indians Land Transfer Act of 2021
    • This bill directs the Department of the Interior to take approximately 721.12 acres of land in San Diego County, California, into trust for the benefit of the Pala Band of Mission Indians, if the tribe transfers title to that land to the United States. The bill prohibits gaming on the transferred land and makes it part of the Pala Indian Reservation. PASSED 397-25
  • H.R. 5221 – Urban Indian Health Confer Act (Davids is a co-sponsor)
    • This bill requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to confer with Urban Indian Organizations (UIOs) on health care policies and initiatives for American Indians and Alaska Natives living in urban areas. PASSED 406-17
  • H.R. 3616 – Bear River National Heritage Area Study Act
    • This bill authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study to assess the suitability and feasibility of designating certain land in Utah and Idaho as the Bear River National Heritage Area. PASSED 399-23
  • S. 108 – To authorize the Seminole Tribe of Florida to lease or transfer certain land, and for other purposes
    • This bill clarifies that the Seminole Tribe of Florida has the authority to lease, sell, convey, warrant, or otherwise transfer their interests in property not held in trust by the federal government without further approval from the federal government. PASSED 425-2
  • H.R. 4881 – Old Pascua Community Land Acquisition Act
    • This bill authorizes the United States to take into trust, on behalf of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, land in Tucson within the boundaries of the “Pascua Yaqui Tribe—State of Arizona Amended and Restated Gaming Compact.” PASSED 375-45, 1 P
  • H.R. 2088 – Eastern Band of Cherokee Historic Lands Reacquisition Act
    • This bill takes specified lands and easements in Monroe County, Tennessee, into trust for the use and benefit of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to provide support for cultural programming. The bill outlines the Tennessee Valley Authority’s continuing responsibilities, including those related to environmental remediation, and prohibits gaming on these lands. PASSED 407-16
Interior Department Finalizes First Federal Land Allotments to Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veterans

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has finalized the first federal land allotments as part of the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veteran Land Allotment Program. This program was established by the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act of 2019. This allows the BLM to provide eligible individuals the opportunity to select an allotment of up to 160 acres from vacant, unappropriated and unreserved federal lands in Alaska. Land can also be selected by the state or by Native corporations if that entity agrees to relinquish that portion of their selection. 

The BLM has worked with the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, and the BIA to identify eligible veterans and families. Over 1,400 veterans and families have been contacted to apply. Almost 130 applications have been received thus far. 

The applications can involve hours of consultation with the applicant by BLM staff. This is then followed by weeks or more of researching files and adjunctation. 

Lands are available for selection through December 29, 2025. For more information and how to submit interest, visit  BLM's program page. 

BIA Approves Land Leasing Rights for Three Tribes

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on Wednesday announced that the land leasing regulations submitted by three federally recognized tribes, the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation in California and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, have been approved. 

Under the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Home Ownership Act of 2012 (HEARTH), tribes that are approved now have the authority to govern and manage the leasing of their own Indian trust and restricted fee lands for certain purposes. These purposes are then authorized under the HEARTH Act without having these leases undergo additional review by the Department of the Interior. 

The HEARTH Act promotes tribal self-determination by making a voluntary, alternative land leasing process through the Interior Department available to federally recognized tribes. 

“The HEARTH Act continues to be valuable for Tribal governments seeking to utilize their lands in ways that directly benefit their communities, but without the lengthy delays a Departmental review entails,” Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said. “Supporting Tribes in building sustainable economies for themselves is what the HEARTH Act is all about. I encourage those considering it to take a closer look at what the Act can do for them.”

As stated in the Indian Affairs News Release, the types of approved leasing regulations announced are:

  • Cabazon Band of Mission Indians: business site leasing ordinance.
  • Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona: residential leasing ordinance.
  • Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation: business leasing regulations.

These approvals are only three of the 69 tribal nations that have received Secretarial approval for leasing regulations. There are also 21 more waiting approval. 

FCC Seeks to Expand Wireless Coverage on Tribal Lands

The Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Native Affairs will consider at a Nov. 18 meeting a new Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM). If adopted, it would create an Enhanced Competition Incentive Program (ECIP) that will promote competition, access to spectrum by small carriers and tribal nations, and expand rural wireless coverage. 

It would also propose an incentive program encouraging current licensees to make spectrum commercially available to small carriers and tribal nations through secondary market transactions. These transactions can and may consist of partitioning, disaggregation, and leasing. 

They are also seeking for comment on issues like what measures would make spectrum more widely available. 

Tribal governments and entities, as well as other interested parties, may comment on the draft FNPRM before the Commission’s November 18 Open Meeting.  All comments can be filed in WTB Docket 19-38.  Once the FNPRM is adopted and released, interested parties will have another opportunity to provide more comprehensive comments, with initial comments due 60 days after publication of the FNPRM in the Federal Register.  Reply comments will be due 90 days after publication.

For more information on the proposal for the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program for Wireless Radio please see the attachment or click here: https://www.fcc.gov/document/proposing-enhanced-competition-incentive-program-wireless-radio

Any questions can be directed to Lloyd Collier at [email protected] or (202)418-2712. 

Senators Introduce Bipartisan Resolution Honoring Native American Heritage Month

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), vice chairman of the Committee, introduced a Senate resolution recognizing November 2021 as National Native American Heritage Month.

“Every November we observe Native American Heritage Month to celebrate Native Hawaiian, American Indian, and Alaska Native peoples and their diverse cultures, achievements, and contributions,” Chairman Schatz said. “I am honored to lead this year’s Senate resolution alongside Vice Chairman Murkowski recognizing this important month and remain committed to upholding our trust and treaty responsibilities to Native communities across our nation.”

“As Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I’m proud to continue the tradition of introducing an annual Senate Resolution which recognizes November as National Native American Heritage Month with my colleagues, Chairman Brian Schatz and 25 senators. This is an opportunity to celebrate and honor the many contributions of America’s First peoples. All 574 federally recognized Tribes across our nation, including the 229 Tribes in my home state of Alaska, have vibrant, living cultures that continue to contribute to the rich diversity of our country,” Vice Chairman Murkowski said.

This resolution also designates the Friday after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day. 

“Our bipartisan resolution honors the 22 federally recognized tribes in Arizona and celebrates Native Americans’ heritage and incredible contributions to our state and country,” Sen. Krystan Sinema (D-AZ) said.

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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