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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.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing Focused on Addressing Violence in Native Communities 

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing to hear testimony that addressed the violence in perpetrated against women in Indian Country.

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A discussion draft of the tribal title for the upcoming Violence Against Women Act reauthorization was released at the hearing by Chairman Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Vice Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

“In 2013 with the last VAWA reauthorization … this Committee came together – on a bipartisan basis – and voted to restore Tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence in Indian Country. That vote – one of the first that I took as a new member of the Senate and of this Committee – was Congress’ first real step toward restoring justice for Native communities,” Sen. Schatz said. “Congress can help Tribes and Native communities build on this success in the next VAWA reauthorization.”

“While issues of tribal jurisdiction are confusing and esoteric, I want to emphasize that the impacts on the ground in Native communities, particularly in places like rural Alaska, are very real and very tragic. In 2019, we had the Attorney General come to a small Native village. He looked around, he talked to the people, he left and declared a law enforcement emergency. It was based on the fact that Alaska has the highest per capita crime rate in the country and we face a unique jurisdictional landscape. Jurisdictional complexity should not deny safety or justice, and that is what we are seeing,” Sen. Murkowski commented on the unique tribal jurisdiction in Alaska.

Michelle Demmert of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center was also invited to testify at the hearing. She was asked about the jurisdictional landscape in Alaska and how a state-specific pilot project will bring much needed support and projections for Alaska Natives.

The full tribal discussion draft can be viewed here. Public comments on the draft are due by December 22, 2021 and can be sent to [email protected] and will be shared with all members of the SCIA.

“In the eight years since Congress reauthorized VAWA, we have seen Tribal Nations combat domestic violence against Indian women while protecting non-Indian rights in an impartial Tribal forum. By exercising their inherent sovereignty and jurisdiction, many Tribal Nations have increased safety and justice for victims, who had previously seen little of either,” National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp testified. “Removing the gaps in Tribal jurisdiction, ensuring all 574 Tribal Nations can exercise jurisdiction, and providing the resources and tools for implementation together can dramatically change the environment in Indian Country by empowering Tribal sovereignty and safety.”

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

Changes to the Economic Development Administration’s Regulations Expands Grant Access & COVID Relief to Native Communities

The U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) on Monday expanded eligibility for grants to include for-profit tribal entities that expands access for up to $100 million designated to Indigenous communities. These funds are part of the $3 billion in federal funding made available to the EDA through the American Rescue Plan Act.

In September, tribal representatives met with the EDA which resulted in the regulations being changed to include for-profit entities that are wholly owned by and established exclusively for the benefit of a tribe. 

Overall, this change should result in more COVID relief available to Native communities and is a big step in closing the funding opportunity gap. 

Legislation to Confirm Tribal Trust Land for Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Passed by the House  

The House of Representatives on Wednesday unanimously passed H.R. 897 authored by Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA). This bill will take more than 2,500 acres of land in the San Jacinto Mountains into trust land for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. This allows the tribe to further their conservation efforts and practice consistent forest management. 

“The passage of H.R. 897 represents one of the final steps in bringing approximately 2,560 acres of land owned by the Tribe into trust for the Tribe and making those lands part of the Reservation,” Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians said. “The action of bringing this land into trust will improve land management that directly benefits ongoing management of trails, invasive species and endangered Big Horn Sheep habitat. In addition, the Tribe will manage conservation lands that have long-standing cultural and natural resource value to our people. These final steps mean that the Tribe once again is the primary steward of land for the benefit of all future generations. The Tribe looks forward to Senate approval and moving the bill on to the President’s desk.”

This bill would fulfill a 1999 agreement between the Bureau of Land Management and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians to acquire and exchange lands within the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. These lands would then be managed in a cooperative and coordinated manner. 

House Passes Bipartisan Package of Bills Addressing Critical Issues in Indian Country

In a series of votes from the last two weeks a package of bills were passed. This package included a bill written by Chair Teresa Leger Fernandez of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States, the  Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2021 (STOP Act). 

This bill increases penalties for trafficking tribal cultural patrimony, explicitly prohibits the export of these objects, and establishes federal frameworks to assist in the repatriation of stolen tribal objects between federal agencies and tribal governments.

Other bills passed in the bipartisan package include:

  • R. 4352  (Rep. McCollum), to amend the Act of June 18, 1934, to reaffirm the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for Indian Tribes, will authorize the U.S. Department of the Interior to take land into trust for all federally recognized tribal governments regardless of the date they received federal recognition.
  • R. 2930  (Rep. Leger Fernández), the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2021, will establish federal frameworks for assisting in the repatriation of tribal cultural patrimony to tribal governments and prohibit the trafficking of such items through increases in criminal penalties.
  • R. 897  (Rep. Ruiz) Agua Caliente Land Exchange Fee to Trust Confirmation Act, will transfer approximately 2,560 acres of land in California into trust for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians for cultural and historical preservation purposes.
  • R. 2074 (Rep. Young), Indian Buffalo Management Act,will establish a permanent program within the U.S. Department of the Interior to develop and promote tribal ownership and management of buffalo and buffalo habitats on tribal lands.

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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