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WASHINGTON — In addition to articles already covered by Native News Online, here is a roundup of other news released from Washington, D.C. that impacts Indian Country last week.


Indian Affairs Releases New Guidance for Determining Eligibility for Organization Under the Alaska Indian Reorganization Act

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs today announced new policy guidance to clarify the criteria and procedures for evaluating petitions for organization under the Alaska Indian Reorganization Act. 

“The Department of the Interior is committed to protecting and strengthening Tribal sovereignty and upholding the federal government’s treaty and trust responsibilities to American Indian and Alaska Native communities,” Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said. “This guidance will provide needed clarity regarding eligibility and procedures for federal recognition of entities in Alaska under the Alaska Indian Reorganization Act.”

The Alaska Indian Reorganization Act was enacted in 1936 as an amendment to the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 to allow groups of Indians in Alaska not previously recognized as bands or Tribes by the United States to organize. The amendment directed that groups must provide they can demonstrate “a common bond of occupation, or association, or residence within a well-defined neighborhood, community or rural district.” 

The new guidance announced today updates the 1937 amendment to provide criteria and a process for determining eligibility to organize. The new guidance will assist the Department of the Interior in making consistent, substantive determinations as to whether an entity in Alaska is eligible to organize under the Alaska Indian Reorganization Act in a manner consistent with federal Indian law and policy.

Senators Padilla & Feinstein Introduce Legislation to Place Land into Trust for Pala Band of Mission Indians

Last week, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein (both D-Calif.) introduced the Pala Band of Mission Indians Land Transfer Act of 2023, which would place approximately 720 acres of ancestral lands in San Diego County that are adjacent to the Pala Band of Mission Indian’s existing reservation into trust for the Tribe. 

The legislation was previously introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Darrell Issa (R-Calif.-48) and Juan Vargas (D-Calif.-52).

“The Pala Band of Mission Indians is grateful for the support of Senators Padilla and Feinstein on this very important piece of legislation,” Chairman Robert Smith of the Pala Band of Mission Indians said. “Gregory Canyon is sacred land of our Tribe and transferring this cultural property into trust ensures that it will be forever protected as part of the Pala Reservation.”

The Pala Band of Mission Indians is located in Northern San Diego County. The lands in this bill include a portion of Gregory Mountain, known to the Tribe as “Chokla,” and Medicine Rock, which are sacred sites adjacent to the Tribe’s reservation that were historically occupied by Native peoples and contain rock art paintings and ancient artifacts. Full text of the bill can be found here.

FCC’s Solicitation for Comments on Broadband Due on February 21st 

 The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced on December 22, 2022 comment dates for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Preventing Digital Discrimination. The NPRM seeks comment on proposals to facilitate equitable access to broadband internet services.  

The NPRM has now been published in the Federal Register.  The NPRM is available at https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-takes-next-steps-combat-digital-discrimination-0.

Comments are due on February 21, 2023, reply comments are due March 21, 2023.

The goal of this proceeding is to create a framework for combating discrimination of access to broadband internet services based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin to ensure equal access for historically excluded and marginalized communities, including rural and Tribal areas.  

The Commission must implement its digital non-discrimination rules by November 15, 2023.  State, local and Tribal governmental entities and other stakeholders are encouraged to review the NPRM and to consider filing comments. 

Relatedly, on January 25, 2023, the FCC announced a new outreach effort that allows consumers directly to share their stories and experiences in obtaining broadband internet access via a new online form (https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/hc/en-us/articles/12303650382868-Broadband-Access-Experience-Form).

Neely Bardwell (descendant of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians), a Michigan State University student who is a staff reporter for Native News Online, contributed to these briefs.

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