Ute Tribe goes ignored again as lawmakers host field hearing on energy

Chairman Shaun Chapoose of the Ute Tribe of Utah. Photo by Indianz.Com / Available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Congress is on break but the House Committee on Natural Resources will be at work at a field hearing on Tuesday.

The hearing takes place in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It will focus on long-standing barriers at the federal level to energy development in Indian Country.

"Though largely undeveloped, Indian energy resources hold a significant potential for creating jobs and revenues in tribal communities and Alaska Native villages, and for increasing a stable supply of energy resources for the country," the memo for the hearing reads.

The hearing memo cites an ongoing controversy over hydraulic fracturing as one of the "major threats" to development in Indian Country. The Bureau of Land Management has asserted authority to impose fracking standards on Indian land but the Ute Tribe of Utah has secured an injunction against the rule, based on the grounds that it is not authorized by federal Indian law.

The Ute Tribe, though, is curiously absent from the witness list and the hearing memo gives incorrect information about the fracking case. The memo wrongly credits the Southern Ute Tribe of Colorado with filing the lawsuit that led to the injunction.

The Southern Utes did file a lawsuit against the fracking rule but it was not successful in stopping the rule. Yet the memo claims that the Southern Ute lawsuit was "consolidated with several other state petitions" when in fact it was the Ute Tribe's efforts that were responsible for the injunction.

The omission comes as the Ute Tribe battles the Republican chairman of the committee on a somewhat related issue. Chairman Shaun Chapoose told Indianz.Com that he was not allowed to testify at a hearing last month for a bill that takes 100,000 acres from his tribe's reservation and transfers it to the state of Utah, all under the guise of promoting energy development.

"I was told, outright, 'No,'" Chapoose said last week in Washington, D.C., where he attended both the White House Tribal Nations Conference and a meeting of the White House Council on Native American Affairs. Ute leaders have described the bill in question -- H.R.5780, the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act -- as a "modern day Indian land grab."

As that fight continues, the committee will instead be hearing from a leader of the Southern Ute Tribe who previously appeared before the panel to discuss fracking in July 2015 and in April 2012. The Southern Utes, while they benefit from the injunction against the fracking rule, are not taking part in an appeal regarding the injunction.

Incidentally, the then-chairwoman of the Ute Tribe testified at the April 2012 hearing, long before the tribe's apparent fall from grace before the committee.

The hearing on Tuesday takes place at the New Mexico State Capitol. The entire witness list follows:
The Honorable James M. “Mike” Olguin
Tribal Council Member
Southern Ute Indian Tribe
Ignacio, CO

The Honorable Jack Ferguson
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation
Representative, Intertribal Timber Council
Nespelem, WA

Mr. Richard Glenn
Executive Vice President, Lands & Natural Resources
Arctic Slope Regional Corporation
Barrow, AK

Mr. Louis Denetsosie
President & CEO
Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Co.
Window Rock, AZ

Mr. Eric Henson
Senior Vice President, Compass Lexecon
Research Affiliate, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development Tuscon, AZ

House Committee on Natural Resources Notice:
Field Hearing on Tribal Prosperity and Self-Determination through Energy Development (October 4, 2016)

Government Accountability Office Report:
Indian Energy Development: Poor Management by BIA Has Hindered Energy Development on Indian Lands (June 2015)

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