Shaun Chapoose, chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee, with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Published June 9, 2017
DUCHESNE, UTAH — The Ute Tribal Business Committee calls on Congress and the Trump administration to stop working to undermine and question the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA) and Indian trust lands. Tribal trust lands represent treaties and other agreements that are the Supreme Law of the Land and the backbone that built the United States.
The Business Committee stated, “Trying to reform the IRA and Indian trust lands is asking the wrong question. We need economic development laws and policies that work on Indian trust lands—not private lands.”
Working hand-in-hand, Congress and the administration appear to be laying the groundwork to question the significance and value of Indian trust lands and the IRA. History stands in their way.
A recent House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations entitled “Examining Impacts of Federal Natural Resources Laws Gone Astray” attempted to fill the Congressional Record with baseless claims. A committee staff memorandum and witness testimony claimed that there are no limits on Interior authority to take land into trust for tribes and created a false conflict between tribes and neighboring communities. This, from the same Committee that also called allotment a “humane policy.”
The Business Committee stated, “After entering into treaties and agreements our lands and resources were again under attack from federal allotment laws and policies. The IRA saved us from further land loss. Many of the problems we face today come from allotment, including, the loss of lands and resources and the unmanageable checker boarding of our reservation. Restoration of lands under the IRA needs more support from Congress and the Administration not less.”
The IRA has long been recognized for ending the Federal government’s disastrous allotment laws and policies. Beginning with the General Allotment Act in 1887 Indian-held land decreased from about 138 million acres to 48 million in 1934. In addition to the loss of land and resources, allotment resulted in an unmanageable checker boarding of tribal jurisdiction, and the fractionation of Indian lands. The IRA ended allotment and helped to establish the foundation for modern and successful tribal self-determination policies that are based on maintaining lands in trust for tribes.
The Committee’s campaign to erode tribal lands includes Congressman Bishop’s failed Utah Public Lands Initiative and numerous “public lands” bills that would take tribal lands, resources and jurisdiction for state and local governments. Despite impacts on tribal lands and resources, tribes are rarely, if ever, invited to testify at hearings on these bills.
The Trump administration appears willing to echo these actions in Congress. Secretary Zinke and others keep returning to discussions of privatizing Indian lands as the key to economic development. Again creating a false conflict and asking the wrong questions.
The Business Committee stated, “There is no reason to pit the promise of economic development against maintaining trust lands. Tribal Nations must unite in opposition to these actions. We cannot allow Congress and the administration to attack the IRA and our trust lands by trying to rewrite history again.”