Tribal leaders and advocates listen to Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, at the Tribal Impact Unity Days event in Washington, D.C., on September 12, 2018. Photo: SCIA

'We still have a lot of work to do': Tribes unite as lawmakers promise action

It was another busy day on Capitol Hill for Indian Country, with lawmakers securing approval for some big pieces of legislation as tribal leaders flocked to the nation's capital to discuss major issues and controversies.

In a series of voice votes on Wednesday, the House passed four bills, affecting everything from blood quantum to federal recognition. All were approved under a suspension of the rules, meaning they were considered non-controversial.

Action came as the National Congress of American Indians held its Tribal Impact Unity Days at a Senate building in Washington, D.C. Tribal leaders heard from key lawmakers about what can be done as the 115th session winds down in what has become a heated election year.

"We still have a lot of work to do in the remaining days of this Congress," said Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Hoeven and his colleagues in the Senate will indeed be pressed to accomplish a lot in the next three months. With movement on the four bills complete in the House, the other chamber must move forward so they can become law before the end of the 115th Congress.

"I will continue to take action on issues that matter – that have real life consequences – to tribes and Indian County," asserted Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: House Takes Action on Indian Bills - September 12, 2018

Federal recognition in Montana
H.R.3764, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act of 2018
• Sponsor: Rep. Greg Gianforte, Republican from Montana

The Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians is celebrating after the House approved H.R.3764 on Wednesday. The bill extends federal recognition to the Montana-based tribe, whose status has sat in limbo for more than a century.

"The tribe has made history today and we are now one step closer to becoming federally recognized as our House bill passed out of the chamber first time ever," Chairman Gerald Gray said after passage.

Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana), who is running for re-election for his first full term in the House, shepherded the bill through the chamber on Wednesday. The next step would be passage in the Senate.

"Today marks an important milestone for the tribe, and I am proud that I could help move their efforts forward," Gianforte said after passage. "It’s time to get this bill through the Senate and to President Trump.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), a longtime supporter of the tribe, is promising to help out. Though the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs advanced a Little Shell recognition bill more than a year ago, it has not seen further action in his chamber.

"Today is a strong step toward recognizing the Little Shell, but time is ticking away and the tribe deserves a vote in the Senate now, with no political shenanigans, secret holds or strings attached," Tester said in a statement on Wednesday. "Federal recognition is long-overdue and I won't stop banging on doors in Washington until this bill is on the president's desk."

President Donald Trump already signed one tribal recognition bill into law this year. That was H.R.984, the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act, which brought six tribes in Virginia into the family of Indian nations.

Blood quantum in Oklahoma
H.R.2606, the Stigler Act Amendments of 2018.
• Sponsor: Rep. Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma

In a big victory for the Cherokee Nation, the Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw Nation, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Seminole Nation, the House on Wednesday passed H.R.2606, the Stigler Act Amendments of 2018. The bill ensures that land owned by citizens of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes stays in Indian hands.

Under the Stigler Act of 1947, citizens of these tribes are subject to a blood quantum requirement that's not imposed on anyone else in Indian Country. In order for their allotments to remain in "restricted" status -- which protects them from state and local taxation -- they must be of at least one-half Indian blood.

H.R.2606 repeals the blood quantum restriction, enabling Five Civilized citizens to pass on land to their heirs as they please.

“This action means land preservation for our tribal citizens is fair and that our Cherokee families can better retain its land resources,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker of the Cherokee Nation said on Wednesday. “We have worked diligently for this move to recognize that the citizens of the five tribes deserve equality when it comes to this important land ownership issue.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), who is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, led action on the bill on Wednesday. He said the Stigler Act represented an "egregious violation of tribal sovereignty and previous agreements between the Five Civilized Tribes and the government."

"This bill will help preserve the rights and legacy of Native American tribes and their inheritance in the state of Oklahoma," Cole said on the House floor.

Though the bill enjoys support among most of the Oklahoma Congressional delegation, action on Wednesday marked the first time it has seen significant movement since the George W. Bush era. A prior version had passed the House in 2002 but the energy industry derailed the bill essentially on the eve of passage in the Senate.

Notably, neither Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) nor Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) have publicly said whether they support the bill. But one tribal leader wants to work with the lawmakers.

"The Muscogee (Creek) Nation, along with the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole Nations, stand ready to work with Senators Inhofe and Lankford to finish the this important undertaking before the end of the 115th Congress," Principal Chief Floyd of the Muscogee Nation said on Wednesday.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler on YouTube: Jaime Herrera Beutler's bill to repeal distillery prohibition on tribal land passes U.S. House

Economic Development
H.R.5317, the Repeal of Prohibition on Certain Alcohol Manufacturing on Indian Lands Act
• Sponsor: Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, Republican of Washington

A vestige of a paternalistic (and devastating) era in federal policy might soon be eliminated after the House passed H.R.5317, the Repeal of Prohibition on Certain Alcohol Manufacturing on Indian Lands Act on Wednesday.

The bill repeals a repeals an outdated ban on alcohol distilleries in Indian Country. The prohibition was enacted in 1834, at a time when Washington was attempting to dictate many aspects of tribal life and even tried to destroy them during the forced removal period.

"This is a matter of fairness," Beutler said on the House floor on Wednesday. "Washington, D.C., shouldn't be in the business of telling Indian Country it cannot engage in a business that is allowed everywhere else and is actually helping many neighboring areas, in terms of revitalizing their local economy."

The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation are among those in support of H.R.5317. The 1834 prohibition is currently preventing the establishment of a distillery on their homelands in Washington state

“Today's passage of H.R.5317 not only promotes tribal sovereignty and self-determination, but it will also benefit tribal and local economies nationwide," Chairman Harry Pickernell Sr. said on Wednesday. "I look forward to swift action on the bill in the Senate and would like to extend our thanks to Congresswoman Herrera Beutler for her leadership on this issue.”

The bill can now be sent to the Senate, where it has bipartisan support. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), a former chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) introduced their version of their repeal in June. A hearing took place on July 18.

Tribal inclusion
H.R.6411, the FinCEN Improvement Act of 2018
• Sponsor: Rep. Ed Perlmutter, Democrat from Colorado

Indian Country is often left behind when it comes to legislation and federal decisions. But sometimes someone comes along and sees an opportunity to address the oversight.

That's the case with Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado) and H.R.6411, the FinCEN Improvement Act of 2018. The bill, which passed the House on Wednesday, ensures that tribal law enforcement is considered a "partner" with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a federal agency commonly known as FinCEN.

"In order to accomplish its mission, FinCEN needs to partner with all available law enforcement agencies to gather and share data needed to safeguard the financial system from the abuses of financial crime, including terrorist financing," Perlmutter said during debate on his measure. "This legislation builds upon the existing relationships with partners in foreign, federal, state, and local law enforcement officials by ensuring FinCEN has the authority to work with tribal law enforcement across the country."

FinCEN was established by the Department of Treasury in 1990 to address financial crimes. Its work became more significant following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in order to combat domestic and international money laundering and financing of terroristic activities.

"This legislation will ensure that FinCEN is able to track down financial crimes wherever they may occur — whether that is on tribal lands or in a case involving virtual currency," Rep. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico), a co-sponsor of H.R.6411, said in a press release.

The 115th Congress
Time is running out for Indian bills to become law before the end of the 115th Congress in December. According to Sen. Tom Udall, 28 await votes on the Senate floor. Another 16 have already passed the Senate and await movement in the House, he told tribal leaders at NCAI's event on Wednesday.

In addition to the four bills which passed the House on Wednesday, the chamber has approved at least five other tribal measures in the recent months. These await action in the Senate as well.

Trump's Signature
Since the start of the 115th Congress, lawmakers have sent seven Indian bills to President Donald Trump. He has signed six into law so far:

H.R.228, the Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Consolidation Act. The new law makes an Indian Country job program permanent. It was signed on December 18, 2017.

H.R.1306, the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act. The new law helps the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians and the Coquille Tribe with issues affecting their homelands. It was signed on January 8, 2018.

H.R.984, the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act. The new law extends federal recognition to the Chickahominy Tribe, the Chickahominy Tribe - Eastern Division, the Monacan Nation, the Nansemond Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe and the Upper Mattaponi Tribe. It was signed on January 29.

S.772, the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act. The new law makes tribes eligible for AMBER Alert grants for the first time. It was signed on April 13.

S.1285, the Oregon Tribal Economic Development Act. The bill helps the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians improve their economies by resolving land and leasing issues. It was signed on June 1.

S.2850, a bill to help the White Mountain Apache Tribe with a critical drinking water project in Arizona and two Pueblo tribes with economic development efforts in New Mexico. It was signed on August 1.

The seventh bill is H.R.6124, the Tribal Social Security Fairness Act, which cleared its final hurdle in Congress last week. It was presented to the president on Wednesday and awaits his signature.

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