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WASHINGTON — The most significan news coming out of the nation's capital this week was the U.S. Supreme Court's 7-2 decision in the Brackeen v. Haaland case that was released on Thursday. The decision upholds the constiutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.

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 this past week.

Janie Simms Hipp Will Leave USDA General Counsel Positioin Next Month

As reported in Native News Online's sister publication, Tribal Business News, the first Native American woman to serve as general counsel of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will leave her position at the end of next month.  

An announcement by the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) reported that Janie Simms Hipp (Chickasaw) will depart from her position at USDA effective July 31 to head up a new financial services organization that will fund Native farmers and ranchers. 

Her planned exit, confirmed by a USDA spokesperson, was announced internally to agency staff earlier this week. The announcement comes just over two years after President Biden announced he would nominate Hipp, who was confirmed in July 2021. 

Update  FCC Tribal Workshop to be Held July 12-13 (change from June 29, 2023) in Washington State

The Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy announced on Friday that the FCC Tribal Workshop will be hosted by the Lummi Nation in Ferndale, Washington on July 12-13, 2023 (originally scheduled for June 29, 2023).  

In addition to workshop training sessions, the event will include a listening session inviting tribal comments on current FCC initiatives to promote equal access to broadband and eliminate digital discrimination.  

The event page (which includes a Public Notice and registration information for this workshop) is here: https://www.fcc.gov/news-events/events/2023/06/fcc-tribal-workshop-ferndale-washington

When: Wednesday, July 12 (all day) and Thursday, July 13 (9:00 am - 12 noon)

Where: Silver Reef Casino Resort, 4876 Haxton Way, Ferndale, WA 98248

What: FCC staff will provide presentations on a broad range of important FCC initiatives that impact Tribal Nations. A training on data and mapping and working with the FCC will be covered on the second day.

Who: Tribal leaders, tribal IT managers, government and community planners and managers, Tribal enterprise specialists, and representatives of tribal social service agencies, schools, and libraries should consider attending this event.

Ranking Member Grijalva Announces New Subcommittee Staff Director for Indian Affairs

The House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) on Wednesday announced Bobby Ahern as the new Subcommittee Staff Director for Indian Affairs on the Indian and Insular Affairs Subcommittee. Brian Modeste remains the Subcommittee Staff Director for Insular Affairs.

Ahern, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon, comes to the Committee from Senator Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) office, where he has served as Senior Policy Advisor for natural resources, agriculture, and tribal policy issues since 2019. Before coming to the Hill, Ahern spent nearly two years at the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) as a Congressional Relations Coordinator, working to advance tribal health priorities nationally.

“Bobby’s range of policy experience and clear commitment to Indian Country will be a tremendous asset to the Committee’s work to strengthen tribal sovereignty and honor our trust and treaty responsibilities,” Ranking Member Grijalva said. “We are lucky to have him joining the team.”

Legislation Introduced for Fort Belknap Indian Community Water Rights Settlement Act

On Wednesday, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced the “Fort Belknap Indian Community Water Rights Settlement Act.”  The bill will secure the Fort Belknap Indian Community’s (FBIC) Indian water rights, invest in critical water infrastructure, avoid litigation, and provide economic opportunities for FBIC and communities across the Hi-Line.

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The bill includes Congressional ratification of the 2001 Water Compact between FBIC, the State of Montana, and the Federal government.  The Compact was overwhelmingly approved by the State legislature on a bi-partisan basis.  The bill affirms Indian water rights secured in the Compact and provides federal funding to settle over 100 years of U.S. mismanagement of FBIC’s water rights. 

"We are grateful to Senators Tester and Daines for introducing our Indian water rights settlement bill and appreciate the work of Governor Gianforte and the rest of the Montana delegation for their support," said FBIC Tribal Council President Jeff Stiffarm. "We have worked extensively with our tribal community, Milk River water users, other irrigators, the Department of Interior, and the State of Montana to negotiate the settlement of our Indian water rights. This bill would benefit the Fort Belknap Indian Community (FBIC) for generations to come and boost the regional economy with funding for infrastructure projects. Benefits to FBIC's Southern and Northern Communities include new updated irrigation projects, safe drinking water, and the ability to provide services such as stock water and agriculture projects. We need Congressional approval to finally settle our Indian water rights and secure this sacred resource for future generations."

The bill will finally settle the FBIC’s water rights that were at the heart of the 1908 U.S. Supreme Court case, Winters v. United States.  This important case held that treaties and agreements between tribes and the U.S. to establish Indian reservations included the water rights needed for the tribes to make permanent homelands.  Under the Winters Doctrine, tribes across the U.S. have entered into water rights settlements as a means to define and secure legal recognition of their Indian water rights, funding for water development projects, and certainty for state water users.

Federal funding in the bill will be used to update and expand the long neglected federal Fort Belknap Indian Irrigation Project and ensure clean and safe drinking water on the Fort Belknap Reservation that the U.S. promised to provide FBIC.  The bill also restores tribal homelands.

USDA to Host Tribal Consultation on Proposed Rule to the Rural Business Development Grant Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will host a virtual tribal consultation and listening session on July 12 for elected leaders of federally recognized Tribes or their proxies to provide feedback on a proposal to expand eligibility for Tribes under the Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) Program.

These grants create jobs, spur economic growth and support enterprise projects in rural and Tribal communities. The proposed USDA changes will expand eligibility definitions under the program to enable more Tribal government-owned entities to qualify for funding.

The USDA plans to:

• Expand the “Small and Emerging Business” definition to include Tribal governments and Tribal-owned entities.

• Clarify the definition for “Conflict of Interest” to explain how the agency defines the relationship between Tribal nations and their Tribal-owned entities.

During this consultation, Tribal leaders will learn more about the proposed changes and can make recommendations relating to the proposed amendments. The Tribal consultation portion of the session will take place first and is reserved for dialogue between the USDA Consulting Officials and Tribal officials and/or their delegated proxies only. The consultation will be followed by a listening session where other stakeholders and representatives from Indian Country will have the opportunity to contribute recommendations and feedback.

To learn more, read full Tribal Consultation and Listening Session

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