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Every week, Native News Online brings you the latest Indian Country news and moves from Washington, D.C.  In addition to Interior Sec. Deb Haaland establishing the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative on Tuesday, other happenings in our nation’s capital were; Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes obtain the National Bison Range Lands in trust; Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a virtual roundtable to hear about infrastructure needs in Indian Country and Native American housing legislation was reintroduced.

Interior Dept. Transfers National Bison Range Lands in Trust for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

The U.S. Department of the Interior on Wednesday announced the transfer of all lands comprising the National Bison Range (NBR), approximately 18,800.22 acres, to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to be held in trust for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) of the Flathead Reservation in Montana.

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The lands, which are completely within the boundaries of the reservation, were transferred to the Bureau from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

“The establishment of the National Bison Range was an historic use of lands to preserve wildlife, but we must also acknowledge that this act reduced the Salish and Kootenai peoples’ homeland by thousands of acres,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Bryan Newland stated. “The return of these lands back to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes is truly a significant milestone in their relationship with the Interior Department and the United States.”

The National Bison Range was established on May 23, 1908, when President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation authorizing funds to purchase land for bison conservation. It was the first time Congress appropriated tax dollars to buy land specifically to preserve wildlife.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Public Law 116-260), approved the transfer by repealing the statute that created the NBR. It also includes a two-year period for transitioning the Range’s management from the USFWS to the Tribes.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Held a Roundtable on Infrastructure Needs in Indian Country

As President Joe Biden and a group of GOP U.S. senators were attempting to come to a compromise on the administration’s proposed infrastructure plan, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a virtual roundtable on Wednesday to discuss infrastructure needs in Indian Country.

During the roundtable called “Concrete Solutions: Building a Successful Foundation for Native Communities’ Infrastructure Development,” testimony was heard from Native communities with key tribal leaders and stakeholders on their needs.

“Native communities’ critical infrastructure needs such as roads, sanitation, electricity, and housing have been well documented – yet underfunded – for decades. We made a dent in that with the CARES Act, but more importantly, with the American Rescue Plan, which represented the biggest investment in Native communities in American history,” Committee Chairman Bryan Schatz (D-HI) said. “But it is a shame that it took a global pandemic for us to recognize how these unmet needs put Native communities behind the 8-ball when it comes to health care and economic recovery.

“It’s interesting. I will just start by making a statement that you already know first-hand, that there is no private market in our village communities so lending mechanisms are really tough. Between the cost of delivering that housing and finding a way in a subsistence economy for our people to afford some payment of debt it’s really challenging Carol Gore, President & CEO of the Cook Inlet Housing Authority said. 

“We can’t have an economy in rural Alaska without adequate housing.”

Reflecting back on a visit to the Native Village of Savoonga in 2018, Vice Chairman Murkowski (R-AK) commented, “I recall going into one home and… there were so many people living in the house and so few places to sleep that people literally slept in shifts. I remember as I was trying to move around this very crowded home that one of the individuals who was taking his turn sleeping … was the local VPSO, the law enforcement officer, and it was just a reality that when you have housing that is so overcrowded, it doesn’t even meet the definition of housing. It was something that you don’t forget. Very impactful.”
To view the full video of the hearing, click https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.indian.senate.gov/hearing/roundtable-discussion-concrete-solutions-building-successful-foundation-native-communities&source=gmail&ust=1624885351473000&usg=AFQjCNH5kmZgAFCY9aFF-gmaFGneLcJkaA">here.

The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act Reintroduced

The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act of 2021 was introduced on Thursday.

This bipartisan legislation builds on successful Native American housing programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) authorized by the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA), including the Indian Housing Block Grant and Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant programs. Bills that would reauthorize NAHASDA have been introduced in every successive Congress since 2013.

The bill was first signed into law during the Clinton administration in 1996 to provide federal dollars to tribes in Indian Country and Native communities in Hawaii.

The legislation is supported by the National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC) and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

“This bill would help native communities by including vital improvements to NAHASDA, providing 10-year authorizations for tribal housing programs, and establish an Assistant Secretary of Indian Housing at HUD to give tribes a greater voice in important policy and budget discussions. NAIHC looks forward to working with the sponsors of this bill and all members of Congress to get NAHASDA reauthorized this Congress,” NAIHC Chair Adrian Stevens said.

The full bill text is available here.

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