New House subcommittee on Indian issues to hold first hearing

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) speaks to the National Congress of American Indians in 2014. Photo from Rep. Don Young

More than two months into the 114th Congress, the new House Subcommittee Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs has finally scheduled its first hearing.

The March 18 hearing will focus on the fiscal year 2016 budget request for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians. But since the subcommittee has added a new area of jurisdiction, the Office of Insular Affairs, an agency of the Interior Department, is also on the agenda.

Republicans lumped the Insular areas -- 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 -- with Indian Country despite significant legal and policy differences. Democrats tried to restrict the subcommittee to just tribes and Alaska Natives but lost a vote at a meeting in January.

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

The Democratic side of the panel, however, is severely tilted toward the Insular areas, with three out of five representing those territories. There are no members from Oklahoma, New Mexico or any of the other Western states with significant Indian populations.

The subcommittee also leans heavily towards California. Counting Republicans and Democrats, five come from the state.

Committee Notice:
Oversight Hearing on "Funding Priorities for and the United States' Responsibilities concerning Indians, Alaska Natives, and Insular Areas in the President's FY 2016 Budget Request for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service, Office of Insular Affairs, and Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians." (March 18, 2015)

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