Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) is the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. Photo: Rep. Grijalva

House committee won't restore Indian and Alaska Native panel

The House Natural Resources Committee held its first meeting of the 114th Congress this morning as the top Democrat raised concerns about the treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native issues.

In the 112th Congress, the committee created a Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs to focus solely on issues facing tribes in the Lower 48 states and in Alaska. But this year, Republicans adopted a reorganization that adds Insular Affairs to the subcommittee.

That means the new Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs will include the territories of American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Although indigenous people reside in those areas, their issues, legal status and relationship with the federal government are far different than that of tribes in the U.S.

"We're concerned that the proposed reorganization of the subcommittees may marginalize Native American tribal issues," said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), the top Democrat on the committee.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: House Natural Resources Committee Organizational Meeting, January 28, 2015

Grijalva offered an amendment to restore the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs as it existed in prior sessions of Congress. But Republicans loudly objected at the organizational meeting this morning.

"In the opinion of the chair, the No's have it," said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the committee. "The amendment is not adopted."

The new subcommittee will be chaired by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). He typically supports tribes on most matters, particularly those that involve complaints against the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and he is a strong defender of Alaska Native tribes and Alaska Native corporations.

The subcommittee's new ranking Democrat is Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-California). He's relatively new to Congress -- he won his first term in 2012 -- but he's been a consistent supporter of tribes.

Neither Young nor Ruiz appear to have much experience with the new area now under their jurisdiction. But it looks like Ruiz will have more of a challenge -- three of his Democrats on the subcommittee represent the Insular areas, compared to one on Republican side.

On the Republican and Democrat sides, the subcommittee counts five members from California. Only one is from Arizona and none are from New Mexico, Oklahoma or states with large tribal populations.

However, Democrats are still planning to add two members to the overall committee. So it's possible that the subcommittee's makeup will change in the coming days.

The full list of members of the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs follows:
Don Young, Alaska, Chairman
Dan Benishek, Michigan
Paul Gosar, Arizona
Doug LaMalfa, California
Jeff Denham, California
Paul Cook, California
Amata Coleman Radewagen, American Samoa, Vice Chair
Rob Bishop, Utah, ex-officio

Raul Ruiz, California, ranking member
Madeleine Bordallo, Guam
Gregorio Sablan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
Pedro Pierluis, Puerto Rico
Norma Torres, California
Raul Grijalva, Arizona, ex-officio

Committee Notice:
Full Committee Organizational Meeting (January 28, 2015)

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