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Tribal self-governance celebrates 30th anniversary with some 'PROGRESS'

The tribal self-governance program, a key development in the self-determination era, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with some achievements.

Last Wednesday, a tribally-supported bill to streamline the program took a step forward on Capitol Hill. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved S.2515, the PROGRESS for Indian Tribes Act, with no objections during a business meeting.

“Promoting stronger tribal self-governance empowers Indian tribes and affirms the positive impact of local decision-making,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the panel and the sponsor of S.2515, said after the meeting. “This legislation cuts red tape and brings greater certainty to the self-governance process. These key improvements will help ensure Indian tribes can efficiently and effectively administer federal programs to meet the unique needs of their communities.”

“Decisions made by tribes for tribes produce the best outcomes for their unique communities, and that’s why self-governance has been one of the most successful Indian policies in our nation’s history,” added Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the vice chair and co-sponsor of the measure. “This important bipartisan bill will strengthen the core of tribal sovereignty—the right to exercise self-determination and self-governance—by ensuring tribal governments have the authority to tailor federal Indian programs to suit their own needs, while making welcome improvements to the self-governance process."

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Business Meeting April 11, 2018

The committee is keeping the focus on self-governance, in which tribes take over programs previously managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and the Department of Transportation. A hearing on Wednesday afternoon brings key participants to Washington, D.C., to share their stories.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe from Minnesota was one of the first to join the initiative. According to Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin, who will be testifying at the hearing, self-governance reflects traditional tribal practices.

"We are to be self-sufficient, involved and in service to the community and one another," Benjamin said during her State of the Band address last year. "This is how our elders wanted us to use government to better our lives.”

As tribes look to the future of self-governance, some are seeking to expand their efforts. Udall intends to ask witnesses about going beyond the BIA, the IHS and the DOT.

The agencies themselves are also interested in learning more from Indian Country. Though no one from the Trump administration is on the witness list, the BIA and the IHS are hosting a conference in Udall's state titled "Self-Governance: 30 Years in Action."

The event, taking place April 22-26 in Albuquerque, includes a panel on the future of the program. Benjamin is among the participants, according to the draft agenda.

The Mille Lacs Band, along with six other original self-governance tribes, will also be honored during the conference. This group first entered into compacts with the BIA back in 1988, the official start of what was then called a "demonstration" project.

Just a few years later, 14 tribes, again including Mille Lacs, entered into self-governance compacts with the IHS. This group is also being honored at the event.

Since then, the demonstration has grown into a full-fledged movement. According to Udall's office, about 360 tribes, representing more than 62 percent of Indian Country, participate in self-governance.

The full title of S.2515 is the Practical Reforms and Other Goals to Reinforce the Effectiveness of Self-Governance and Self-Determination for Indian Tribes Act. It awaits action on the Senate floor.

The hearing on self-governance will be webcast on the committee's website at 2:30pm. The witness list follows:
The Honorable Melanie Benjamin
Chief Executive
Mille Lacs Tribe of Ojibwe, Onamia, MN

The Honorable James Floyd
Principal Chief
Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, Okmulgee, OK

The Honorable Carlos Hisa
Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, El Paso, TX

The Honorable Arthur “Butch” Blazer
Mescalero Apache Tribe, Mescalero, NM

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice:
Oversight Hearing on “The 30th Anniversary of Tribal Self-Governance: Successes in Self-governance and an Outlook for the Next 30 Years” (April 18, 2018)

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