Gary Besaw, the chairman of the Menominee Nation, addresses the National Congress of American Indians 74th annual convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 18, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
National | Politics | Trust

Senate narrowly approves budget resolution without taking up pro-tribal provisions





Better late, or never. Congress is moving forward with an overdue budget plan that fails to take some of Indian Country's key interests into account.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, filed three amendments to prevent the Trump administration from adding more hurdles for tribal land acquisitions and to protect funding for Indian programs. But none of them came up for consideration as Republicans advanced H.Con.Res.71 by a narrow party-line vote in the Senate on Thursday.

Addressing the land-into-trust process is of significant importance to tribal leaders in light of a new Trump administration threat. They are quickly mobilizing to counteract rule changes which they believe will make it all but impossible to restore their homelands.

"Think about it -- Secretary Zinke's 'off-ramp' comments, remember those?" Gary Besaw, the chairman of the Menominee Nation, said at the National Congress of American Indians annual convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this week.

In May, Secretary Ryan Zinke of the Department of the Interior suggested that tribes might be interested in an "off-ramp" by having their lands taken out of trust. The Trump administration, with proposed changes to the already cumbersome land-into-trust process, is now making it harder to put more lands into trust, tribes argue.

At NCAI's meeting on Wednesday, Besaw said the land-into-trust changes "overlook the federal government's responsibilities to tribal nations in favor of state and local government authority."

Despite the lack of action on Capitol Hill this week, tribes and their advocates are planning to ask Congress for help in deflecting the new proposal. They are also pressing the Trump team for more time to discuss the changes -- the comment period closes on December 15, right in the middle of the busy holiday season.

"You can't come in and throw out the baby with the bathwater," Jason Giles, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation who serves as the executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association, said on Thursday of the proposal. "You just don't come in with a blowtorch and burn everything to the ground."

Tribes also want the new administration to engage in more government-to-government consultations. Only three sessions were scheduled before the close of the comment period and all take place in Western states. There aren't any east of the Mississippi.

“We need to be able to chart our own course," said Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the chairwoman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe said at NCAI's meeting on Thursday. She is among several leaders from the Northeast who have been pushing for meetings in their region.

"These regulations are imposing undue burdens on tribes," Andrews-Maltais told Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Benhardt, who made his first speaking appearance before NCAI on Thursday.

So far, the new administration has defended the proposal as a means of "streamlining" the land-into-trust process. But Benhardt, who described himself as Zinke's "right hand when it comes to running the department," vowed to schedule more sessions after hearing the chairwoman's concerns.

"I'll make sure there is one on the East Coast,” Benhardt told NCAI.

The budget resolution, H.Con.Res.71, sets the federal government's blueprint for spending in fiscal year 2018. The Senate's action on Thursday came late in the process -- the fiscal year already started on October 1 -- and it still must be reconciled with a different version that passed the House earlier this month.

“This budget resolution is the first step to pro-growth tax reform, as it will provide the fiscal headroom needed for the tax-writing committees in the Senate and the House to produce tax reform legislation,” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the Senate Committee on the Budget, said in a press release.

The text of Udall's Indian Country amendments follow. The first, SA 1447, called for Indian housing funding for "all" Native communities -- tribes, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. The second, SA 1448, dealt with land-into-trust and the last, SA 1537, sought to protect tribal programs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and "all other relevant agencies" from budget cuts.
SEC. 3___. DEFICIT-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO HOUSING
FOR ALL NATIVE AMERICANS.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate
may revise the allocations of a committee or committees,
aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution,
and make adjustments to the pay-as-you-go ledger, for one or
more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between
the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to
ensuring that funding under the Native American Housing
Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 provides
funding to all Native American communities, including Alaska
Natives and Native Hawaiians, to address the critical housing
needs throughout Indian Country, by the amounts provided in
such legislation for those purposes, provided that such
legislation would not increase the deficit over either the
period of the total of fiscal years 2018 through 2022 or the
period of the total of fiscal years 2018 through 2027.

SEC. 3___. DEFICIT-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO TRUST
ACQUISITIONS.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate
may revise the allocations of a committee or committees,
aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution,
and make adjustments to the pay-as-you-go ledger, for one or
more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between
the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to trust
acquisitions, which may include prohibiting regulations that
revise the Department of the Interior's land into trust
acquisition process, whether for on-reservation or off-
reservation acquisitions, or that could result in a de facto
moratorium on trust acquisitions, by the amounts provided in
such legislation for those purposes, provided that such
legislation would not increase the deficit over either the
period of the total of fiscal years 2018 through 2022 or the
period of the total of fiscal years 2018 through 2027.

SEC. 3___. DEFICIT-NEUTRAL RESERVE FUND RELATING TO PROTECTING PROGRAMS ADMINISTERED BY THE BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, THE INDIAN HEALTH SERVICE, AND ALL OTHER RELEVANT AGENCIES.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate
may revise the allocations of a committee or committees,
aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution,
and make adjustments to the pay-as-you-go ledger, for one or
more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between
the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to
protecting programs administered by the Bureau of Indian
Affairs, the Indian Health Service, and all other relevant
agencies, which may include changing the scope of
sequestration as carried out by the Office of Management and
Budget, such as for all programs administered by the Bureau
of Indian Affairs (including public safety and justice,
education, social services and natural resources programs),
programs administered by the Indian Health Service, and
housing programs carried out pursuant to the Native American
Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996, by the
amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes,
provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit
over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2018
through 2022 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2018
through 2027.

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Trump team considers 'new' hurdles for off-reservation land applications (July 20, 2017)
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