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Every week, Native News Online brings you the latest Indian Country news and moves from Washington, D.C.

Bipartisan Legislation Introduced in Senate to Reaffirm Interior Secretary’s Authority to Take Land into Trust

Legislation to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar was introduced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday. The bill would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Carcieri v. Salazar. The bill was introduced with bipartisan support. The legislation would reaffirm the authority the U.S. Dept. of the Interior secretary to take land into trust for American Indian tribes.

“Taking land into trust is a critical component of the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal nations,” U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs said. “Since the Carcieri decision, tribes’ ability to rebuild and protect their homelands and promote economic development on those lands has suffered. The Supreme Court’s misguided decision has also increased litigation and created major delays in getting infrastructure projects off the ground. Congress must act to right this wrong. This bipartisan bill does just that, so I look forward to holding a hearing in the Indian Affairs Committee.”

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U.S. Senate Passes 8 Indian Affairs Bills; They Now Move to House of Representatives

The U.S. Senate passed eight bills that originated and were approved in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“Senate passage of these Indian Affairs bills shows our commitment – not only to advancing Native priorities in committee – but also to building bipartisan momentum throughout the Senate to get things done for Native communities,” Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said. “From promoting economic development on Tribal lands, to protecting Native children, to honoring Tribal self-determination, each of these bills furthers our collective duty to fulfill the federal trust responsibility. I look forward to seeing them taken up and passed by the House in short order.”

The following Indian Affairs bills will now go to the House of Representatives:

  • S.108, a bill to authorize the Seminole Tribe of Florida to lease or transfer certain land, and for other purposes.
  • S.144, the Desert Sage Youth Wellness Center Access Improvement Act
  • S.314, the Klamath Tribe Judgment Fund Repeal Act
  • S.325, a bill to amend the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act to extend the deadline for a report by the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children, and for other purposes.
  • S.548, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Land Transfer Act of 2021
  • S.549, a bill to provide for the conveyance of certain property to the Tanana Tribal Council located in Tanana, Alaska, and for other purposes.
  • S.550, the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Land Transfer Act of 2021
  • S.559, a bill to amend the Grand Ronde Reservation Act, and for other purposes.

The bills now head to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

Fort Belknap Indian Community Water Settlement Act Reintroduced in Senate

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) reintroduced the “Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Community Water Rights Settlement Act of 2021” on Thursday, May 27, in the U.S. Senate. 

The Act provides support infrastructure to develop and manage water for the Fort Belknap Indian Community (FBIC), including use for clean and safe drinking water. The FBIC Water Compact was overwhelmingly approved by the Montana State Legislature with bi-partisan support 20 years ago in 2001. The agreements included in the Compact along with other provisions needed to fully settle FBIC’s water rights must now be approved by the U.S. Congress.  

The reintroduced bill builds on the progress made in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate during the last Congress. 

“The Act confirms our water rights and provides critical funding to repair and expand our Indian irrigation project and municipal water system,” said Andrew Werk, Jr., President of the FBIC Council, the governing body of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes in north central Montana. “The Act settles more than 100 years of U.S. mismanagement of our waters, avoids costly litigation, and will provide certainty to water users on and off our Reservation.

The Fort Belknap Indian Community Council stated that “Water is a precious resource and sacred to our people.”

Tribal Consultation (RESPECT Act) Legislation Introduced

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced the Requirements,  Expectations, and Standard Procedures for Effective Consultation with Tribes (RESPECT) Act, which codifies for the first time a requirement that federal agencies consult with tribal governments before taking or permitting actions that would significantly impact them.

The bill lays out standards for government-to-government consultation, mandating among other things that federal agencies shall consult with potentially impacted tribes “before undertaking any proposed Federal activity or finalizing any Federal regulatory action that may have Tribal impacts.” The bill creates the same consultation mandate “for all activities that would affect any part of any Federal land that shares a border with Indian Country,” although it does not limit consultation to those two scenarios.

The bill mandates the preparation of a Tribal Impact Statement that would “include the scope of the activity or regulatory action being considered, including any geographic areas important to Tribal Governments that might be affected, as well as a list of all affected Tribal Governments.” As part of that process, agencies would be required to make a good faith effort to identify sacred sites important to tribal governments involved in the consultation, whether or not they were previously known to the agency or agencies involved.

“For centuries the federal government has broken promises and issued take-it-or-leave-it ultimatums to tribal communities,” Grijalva said. “This bill turns the page on an era of exclusion by respecting the sovereignty of tribal governments outlined in countless treaties, court decisions and acts of Congress.”

“Tribal consultation is not a ‘dear tribal letter’ or a voicemail, it is the bedrock of the federal-Indian trust responsibility. The RESPECT Act embodies that and will bring the United States government closer than it has ever been to adhering to the values it has long espoused but so often ignored.” Gay Kingman, executive director, Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association said.

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