By Acee Agoyo
Republican control of the legislative and executive branches in the nation's capital has resulted in few concrete gains for Indian Country.
President Donald Trump swept into office in January 2017 as the GOP maintained its grip on the House
and the Senate
. Just a few months later, he was already boasting that he had signed more bills into law than any of his predecessors, a faulty claim he continued to repeat
throughout the year.
But as the clock ticks down on the 115th Congress, the record shows that Indian Country has fallen behind in the Trump era. Since the Republican president came on board, lawmakers have completed action on just seven stand-alone Indian bills.
All seven bills were signed into law, with little to no questions asked by Trump or the White House. They include a historic measure to extend federal recognition to six tribes
whose ancestors welcomed some of the first European settlers to the Americas more than 400 years ago.
What's Left? Bills awaiting action in House  |
Bills awaiting action in Senate 
The number rises to eight if one of the new laws
is counted twice, because it includes the language of another tribal measure
. And it goes up to nine if America’s Water Infrastructure Act, which includes a number of pro-tribal provisions
, is added to the tally.
But a key Republican staffer recently admitted that the record is far less impressive than some had hoped. Mike Andrews, the majority director for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
, told tribal leaders that he should be "judged" by the number of bills that make it into law.
"I set a lofty goal of 20," Andrews said at the National Congress of American Indians
75th annual convention in Denver, Colorado, last month. "I think I can get very, very close."
The goal of 20 bills being signed into law by Trump isn't just some pie in the sky number -- it's based on a very recent achievement. During his presentation on October 22, Andrews pointed out that lawmakers had sent 22 Indian bills to Democratic president Barack Obama by the end of the 114th Congress two years ago.
With only a few weeks left in the current session, Indian Country might be wondering whether Republicans can get "very, very close" to sending 20 bills to the White House. Though Andrews spoke before the historic mid-term election
, which saw Democrats claim control of the House along with election of the first two Native women in the chamber
, he believes there is still time to achieve success.
"Most of those bills came in what I call the fourth quarter," Andrews said, referring to the last few weeks following a mid-term election.
Of these final weeks, Andrews said: "I expect that there'll be an emerging of ideas and we'll be able to move a lot of these bills."
There's More: Indian Country legislation in
the Trump era
Some of the emerging ideas include S.1942
, a bill to address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. The measure, also known as Savanna's Act
, requires the federal government, for the first time, to start documenting such cases.
"There's thousands -- we don't even know how many thousands -- of indigenous women who are murdered or disappeared every year, with many of those cases being ignored, or forgotten," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp
(D-North Dakota), the sponsor of S.1924, which enjoys bipartisan support. The bill is named in honor of Savanna Marie Greywind
, a 22-year-old woman from the Spirit Lake Nation
was brutally murdered after she went missing in North Dakota last year.
Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Savanna's
Act Advances #MMIW #MMIWG
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved Savanna's
at a business meeting last Wednesday. But further action is needed in both the Senate and the House before it can be sent to Trump.
That same day, the committee held a legislative hearing
on three bills, affecting tribes in Arizona, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Two of them have already passed the House so they are further along in the process than Savanna's Act.
One of those bills is H.R.2606
, a measure of great significance to the Cherokee Nation
, the Chickasaw Nation
, the Choctaw Nation
, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation
and the Seminole Nation
. Passage of the measure would eliminate a restrictive blood quantum standard that has resulted in the gradual loss of their lands.
Under the Stigler
Act of 1947
, citizens of these five tribes must be of at least one-half Indian blood for their lands to be protected under federal law.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation has lost millions of acres because of the requirement, Chief James Floyd said.
"This one-half blood degree requirement imposed only on the five tribes is arbitrary and unjust," Floyd told the committee last Wednesday. "All other tribes, including the 33 other tribes in Oklahoma, are excluded from this requirement."
Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Legislative Hearing to Receive Testimony on S. 2788, H.R. 2606 & H.R. 4032
Other Indian bills have already passed the Senate and await action in the House. This group includes S.245
, the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments.
The measure is among those that could help Republicans move closer to their goal of 20 bills. The House Committee on Natural Resources approved it at markup session
last Thursday, making it one step closer to passage in that chamber.
"This may be the last markup that we'll be having for this session," said Rep. Rob Bishop
(R-Utah), who is the outgoing chairman of the committee. "Or we can do one in December, just to make your life hell. We may try and do that."
The 115th Congress is expected to conclude sometime in December. An exact date for adjournment hasn't been set.
When the 116th Congress convenes on January 3, 2019, Democrats will take control of the House, having secured at least 239 seats, or 14 more than needed to claim the majority. The incoming class includes Deb
, who made history as the first two Native women elected to the chamber.
Haaland, who is hails from the Pueblo of Laguna
, will represent New
Mexico's 1st Congressional District
. Davids, who is a citizen of the Ho-Chunk
, will represent the 3rd Congressional
District in Kansas
The Senate will remain under Republican control in the 116th Congress.
A slide presentation by Mike Andrews, the Republican staff director for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, lists a few of the bills awaiting further action in the U.S. House of Representatives. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Awaiting action in House
The following is a non-exhaustive list of the Indian Country bills that have already passed the Senate and await further action in the House.
, the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments.
, the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act.
, a bill to provide for the conveyance of certain property to the Tanana Tribal Council located in Tanana, Alaska, and to the Bristol Bay Areal Health Corporation located in Dillingham, Alaska,
, the John Smith Act, or the Tribal Infrastructure and Roads Enhancement and Safety Act (TIRES Act).
, the Repealing Existing Substandard Provisions Encouraging Conciliation with Tribes Act, also known as the RESPECT Act.
, the Native American Business Incubators Program Act.
, the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act.
, the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Land Transfer Act
, the Johnson-O’Malley Supplemental Indian Education Program Modernization Act.
, the Spokane Tribe of Indians of the Spokane Reservation Equitable Compensation Act.
, the Indian Community Economic Enhancement Act.
, the Klamath Tribe Judgment Fund Repeal Act.
, the Tribal HUD-VASH Act.
, the Practical Reforms and Other Goals To Reinforce the Effectiveness of Self-Governance and Self-Determination for Indian Tribes Act, otherwise known as the PROGRESS for Indian Tribes Act.
A slide presentation by Mike Andrews, the Republican staff director for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, shows some of the bills awaiting further action in the U.S. Senate. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Awaiting action in Senate
The following is a non-exhaustive list of the Indian Country bills that have already passed the House and await further action in the Senate.
the Eastern Band Cherokee Historic Lands Reacquisition Act.
the Lytton Rancheria Homelands Act.
a bill to address criminal jurisdiction issues on the settlement of the Meskwaki Tribe
the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Land Affirmation Act.
the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Land Reaffirmation Act.
the Stigler Act Amendments.
the Gila River Indian Community Federal Rights-of-Way, Easements and Boundary
the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act.
the Repeal of Prohibition on Certain Alcohol Manufacturing on Indian Lands Act.
The 115th Congress
Since the start of the 115th
Congress, lawmakers have sent seven tribal-specific bills to President Donald
Trump. He has signed all of them into law:
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.
the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act. The new law helps the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of
, the Confederated Tribes of
Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians
and the Coquille Tribe
affecting their homelands. It was signed
on January 8, 2018
the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act. The
new law extends federal recognition to the Chickahominy Tribe
Chickahominy Tribe - Eastern
, the Monacan
, the Nansemond
, the Rappahannock Tribe
the Upper Mattaponi
. It was signed
on January 29
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.
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
, the Confederated Tribes of
, the Confederated Tribes of Warm
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.
a bill to help the White Mountain
with a critical drinking water project in Arizona and two
Pueblo tribes with economic development efforts in New Mexico. It was signed on
the Tribal Social Security Fairness Act. The new law authorizes the Social Security Administration
enter into government-to-government agreements with tribes so that tribal
officials have the option of paying into and receiving Social Security
-- a privilege already extended to state and local governments. It
on September 20
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs NoticesBusiness
Meeting To Consider S. 1942
(November 14, 2018)Legislative
Hearing to Receive Testimony on S. 2788, H.R. 2606 & H.R. 4032
House Committee on Natural Resources Notices
Full Committee Markup
(November 15, 2018)
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