WASHINGTON — Charles F. Sams III ((Cayuse and Walla Walla) was sworn in as the director of the National Park Service by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) on Thursday. His swearing in is historic because Sams became the first Native American to serve as the director of the National Park Service.

Sams' swearing in came one day after President Biden on Wednesday nominated Sunshine Suzanne Sykes (Navajo) to become a federal district judge for the Central District of California. 

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In addition to two articles already covered by Native News Online, here is an overview of other activity in Washington, D.C. that impacts Indian Country during the past week.

BIA Announces Publication of Final Rule for Probating Indian Trust Estates

The Bureau of Indian Affairs on Friday announced it has published a rule that finalizes revisions to the probate process for American Indian and Alaska Native individuals with property held in federal Indian trust status. 

The final rule eliminates ambiguities and procedural delays in the federal process for probating Indian trust estates so that such property may be distributed more quickly to a decedent’s heirs and devisees.

“With this final rule, the BIA’s process for probating Indian trust estates can now work more efficiently,” said Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. “Thanks to comments we received from tribal leaders, Tribal members and the public, those who must use the process can be assured their trust estates will be probated in a more timely manner than in the past.”

The Department of the Interior is responsible for probating thousands of estates each year for American Indian and Alaska Native individuals who own trust or restricted fee property. The BIA, the Office of Hearings and Appeals, and the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration each play a role in the probate process: the BIA compiles the information needed to build a case record, or probate file, which it transfers to the OHA for adjudication and issuance of a final probate decision. Based on that decision, the BTFA distributes trust funds and the BIA distributes trust or restricted real property from the estate.

Treasury Revises CARES Act Rules

The U.S Department of Treasury has revised its guidance for the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), which was established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES).

The CRF is a $150 billion fund that provides for payments to State, Local, and Tribal governments navigating through the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Payments from the CRF can only be used to cover necessary expenditures incurred due to the effect of the pandemic and were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020 (the date of enactment of the CARES Act) for the Tribal government. The expenditures also had to have been incurred during the period between March 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021.

Treasury had previously determined that, for a cost associated with the acquisition of a good or service or the acquisition of or improvement to real estate to be considered to have been incurred within the covered period, performance or delivery must have occurred during the covered period.

Treasury is now revising the guidance to provide that a cost associated with a necessary expenditure incurred due to the public health emergency shall be considered to have been incurred by December 31, 2021, if the recipient has incurred an obligation with respect to such cost by December 31, 2021.  Treasury defines obligation for this purpose consistently with the Uniform Guidance definition in 2 C.F.R. 200.1 as an order placed for property and services and entry into contracts, subawards, and similar transactions that require payment.

Treasury’s reporting framework currently permits recipients to record their expenditures through September 30, 2022.  The CRF’s eligible use is restricted to “necessary expenditures incurred due to” the COVID-19 public health emergency. Treasury currently expects that this expenditure deadline will provide a sufficient amount of time for recipients to expend their funds in accordance with the eligible uses of the CRF.

Questions on the Coronavirus Relief Fund can be sent here.

FCC’s New Telecommunications Interagency Working Group Seeking Membership Nominations

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has created a new working group as a part of the new directives in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This group must prepare a report with “recommendations to address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry, including the safety of that workforce”. This must be completed no later than one year after this group is established. 

This interagency working group should be established by January 12, 2022. 

Specifically, the commission is seeking nominations and expressions of interest from individuals who are a representative of an Indian Tribe or Tribal organization. 

Nominations are due by December 20, 2021. 

USDA is now accepting funding applications for the Local Food Purchase Assistance Program

Applications for the Local Food Purchase Assistance Program are open to State Governments and Federally recognized Native American Tribal Governments. 

This program will help maintain and improve food and agricultural supply chain resilience. This program has an estimated $400 million in total program funding. The goal is to help support local, regional, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers through the purchase of domestic, local foods. 

The food purchased from the farmers and ranchers will be used to increase local food consumption and serve feeding programs. 

Applications submitted are required to include proposals that indicate how the funds will be used to purchase commodities to support local, regional, and historically underserved farmers and ranchers within their states or within 400 miles of the delivery destination. State and tribal governments can partner with nonprofit organizations. 

The funds will be distributed through the non-competitive process based on The Emergency Food Assistance Program funding formula. This formula considers the poverty rate and unemployment levels in each state to ensure the distribution of funds corresponds to need. 

More information can be found here. Applications must be submitted on or before April 5, 2022 and can be submitted here

Tribal Leaders: The deadline to submit your nomination letters for delegates for the Center for Indigenous Innovation and Health Equity Tribal Advisory Committee has been extended to January 7, 2022. The committee will consist of 16 delegate positions: one from each of the 12 geographic areas served by the IHS and four national at-large member positions. Visit https://go.usa.gov/xemxa for guidance about the nomination process. #NativeHealth #IndianCountry

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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