Lawmakers share priorities with RES DC at Capitol Hill meeting

The Zotigh Singers provide an opening prayer song at the New Day Now rally at the U.S. Capitol on June 16, 2015. National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development President and CEO Gary Davis is seen standing second from the right. Photo by Indianz.Com

Economic development and self-determination in focus
By Andrew Bahl
Indianz.Com Staff Writer

A bipartisan group of lawmakers addressed attendees of the Reservation Economic Summit DC on Tuesday afternoon, offering their ideas on improving economic development in Indian Country and sharing their own legislative priorities.

Tribal self determination were words on the lips of virtually every speaker, as politicians told the crowd of tribal and business leaders that their elected officials could only do so much to create economic growth in Indian Country. Chief among them was Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the chairman of the House Subcommittee Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.

Young slammed the federal government for acting paternalistic toward tribes. One of his bills, H.R.328, would help tribes exert more control over land management and economic decisions

“There are people in Washington who think that we need to watch out for them [tribes], that we need to take care of them,” Young said at the meeting on Capitol Hill. “Our job is to try and help you and Congress can help you if we can get tribes in the driver’s seat.”

Young also took aim at his counterparts on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. He said they are failing to take action on critical legislation.

“We pass laws [in the House] and it goes to the Senate and sits -- it's delaying tactics,” Young said, urging the crowd to contact Senators and demand action on key bills.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) speaks to attendees of the RES DC Summit at a gathering on Capitol Hill on June 16, 2015. Photo from Facebook

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, stressed the importance of giving tribes more freedom to build economic success. But he believes tribal governments need to do more to create stability for investors.

“There are some tribal governments that do an incredibly good job and have stability and that stability means outside investors will come in,” Tester said. “I talk to lots of businesses about why they don’t make an investment and they say, without exception, that it is because of a lack of stability.”

Tester also focused on budget cuts that have affected crucial federal programs that benefit tribes. One of his bills, S.1497, exempts Indian Country from the harmful effects of sequestration.

“Sequestration should never apply to Indian Country,” Tester remarked, prompting a rousing ovation. “When you don’t have schools, when you don’t have water," he added, "you can’t grow.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), the ranking member on the House Committee on Transportation, tied economic growth to infrastructure. He said the federal government must improve roads, bridges and other facilities in order to foster development.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) speaks at New Day Now rally at the U.S. Capitol on June 16, 2015. Photo by Indianz.Com

“We’ve been trying to get more attention to the terrible neglect of infrastructure in Indian Country,” DeFazio said, calling it a “literal life and death issue” and calling for an increase in federal funding to improve transportation infrastructure nationwide.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who also sits on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, touted S.383, the Indian Trust Asset Reform Act. He said the bill would increase tribal control of trust land. and increase economic productivity.

“Initiatives impacting Indian Country are critical and trust modernization is a key issue,” Crapo said. “Federal policies have been overly paternalistic and burdensome and we’re long overdue for change.”

RES DC is in its second year in Washington, D.C., The event, hosted by National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, concludes tomorrow.

Related Stories:
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Tribal leaders return to nation's capitol for big economic summit (6/15)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee takes up economic development (6/15)
NCAIED set to return to DC with Reservation Economic Summit (5/20)

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