Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd signs the deed for the tribe's first mandatory trust acquisition on December 7, 2018. Photo: MCN Public Relations

Indian Country bills face time crunch as Congress winds down

By Acee Agoyo

The Senate continues to pass more Indian Country bills as the clock winds down on the current session.

By a voice vote on Thursday, the chamber passed H.R.4032, the Gila River Indian Community Federal Rights-of-Way, Easements and Boundary Clarification Act. The bill resolves a number of land and trust management issues for the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona.

H.R.4032 passed the House on July 17. So all that's needed for it to become law is President Donald Trump's signature.

“This legislation provides for the accurately surveyed northern boundary of the reservation to be established, bringing much needed clarity and resolution to a dispute between the Gila River Indian Community and the federal government that began in 1895,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “More importantly, this legislation affirms the federal government’s respect for the rights of the Gila River Indian Community and reconciles federal mismanagement of the tribe's trust funds and non-monetary trust assets and resources.”

Barney B. Enos, Jr.., a council member from the Gila River Indian Community, testifies in support of H.R.4032, the Gila River Indian Community Federal Rights-of-Way, Easements and Boundary Clarification Act, at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on November 14, 2018. Photo: SCIA

The Senate on Thursday also took action on two additional Indian Country bills, both addressing tribal land issues. One of them is S.2599, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation Restoration Act, which returns nearly 12,000 acres to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

The tribe lost the land when the Bureau of Indian Affairs began selling off allotments on the reservation in northern Minnesota. Despite lacking approval from all of the owners to do so, the BIA transferred some 11,7600 acres to the Chippewa National Forest between 1948 and 1959.

"The passage of this legislation is extremely important to our tribe and will go a long way to restore our limited land base while preserving the land for future generations," Chairman Faron Jackson, Sr. said in testimony on July 11.

The bill must still clear the House before it can be sent to Trump but time is running out for that to happen. The chamber went on break on Thursday and isn't expected to return until the evening of December 19.

With lawmakers facing a December 21 deadline to avert a shutdown of the federal government and the Christmas holiday fast approaching, the schedule leaves precious few days for Indian Country legislation to see final action. "I hope we can avoid that," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, said of the potential shutdown.

"I don't think that's good policy. I don't think it's productive politics," Cole said on C-SPAN's Washington Journal program on Thursday.

One of Cole's bills is among those caught in the time crunch. H.R.2606, the Stigler Act Amendments, is of critical importance to the so-called Five Civilized Tribes, including the Chickasaw Nation.

Currently, land owned by citizens of the Chickasaw Nation, the Cherokee Nation, the Choctaw Nation, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Seminole Nation, is linked to blood quantum. When an owner's blood quantum falls below one-half, the land loses its protected status under the provisions of the Stigler Act of 1947.

What's Left? Bills awaiting action in House [12] | Bills awaiting action in Senate [6]

Citizens of other tribes are not subjected to the same limitation. So passage of H.R.2606, which eliminates the blood quantum requirement, is vital to ensuring that these lands in Oklahoma stay in Indian hands.

“For far too long, citizens of the Five Civilized Tribes have needed relief from these antiquated blood quantum requirements," said Chief James Floyd of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. He said his tribe stands to gain the most from H.R.2606 because it has the largest land base of the five tribes.

H.R.2606 passed the House on September 12 without any objections. It also passed the Senate on Thursday by a voice vote.

But since the Senate adopted an amendment to clarify the impact of the bill, it must be sent back to the House for further action. That must occur before the end of the 115th Congress or else the tribes will have to start all over again during the next session.

Senate Resolutions
In a separate action, the Senate on Thursday passed S.Res.707, a bipartisan resolution that commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Trump's signature is not required on the measure, which comes as the landmark law faces an unprecedented attack in the federal court system.

“The Indian Child Welfare Act is a landmark piece of legislation which upholds the principle of tribal sovereignty and respects government to government relationships between the federal government and tribes,” said Sen. John Hoeven, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“Native American children, like all children, thrive when they are able to grow up with the support of their families, communities, and cultures,” added Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the vice chairman of the committee.

“Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 to ensure that best practices in child custody for Native communities are in place, keeping families together and kids healthy and safe," Udall said. "Now, 40 years after its passage, I’m proud to have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this resolution and mark the important impact that this law has had on generations of Native kids.”

Additionally, the Senate on Wednesday passed S.Res.444, a resolution recognizing the heritage, culture, and contributions of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian women in the United States, as well as S.Res.596, a resolution recognizing the 29th anniversary of the Tribal Canoe Journey of the Tribal Nations of the Pacific Northwest and congratulating the Puyallup Tribe for hosting 2018 Power Paddle to Puyallup.

The resolutions, which are largely symbolic in nature, do not need to see further action.

Bills Presented to Trump
Two bills await President Donald Trump's signature after clearing their final hurdles on Congress this week.

S.245, the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments. Tribal leaders say the bill will them expand energy and economic development opportunities on their homelands. It was presented to Trump on Wednesday.

S.825, the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Land Transfer Act, authorizes the transfer of property owned by the Indian Health Service to the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. The bill, which was presented to Trump on Thursday, clears the way for the construction of a new hospital in Sitka, Alaska.

Awaiting action in House
The following is a non-exhaustive list of the Indian Country bills that have passed the Senate and await further action in the House.

H.R.2606, the Stigler Act Amendments.

S.254, the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act.

S.269, 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,

S.302, the John Smith Act, or the Tribal Infrastructure and Roads Enhancement and Safety Act (TIRES Act).

S.343, the Repealing Existing Substandard Provisions Encouraging Conciliation with Tribes Act, also known as the RESPECT Act.

S.607, the Native American Business Incubators Program Act.

S.669, the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act.

S.995, the Spokane Tribe of Indians of the Spokane Reservation Equitable Compensation Act.

S.1116, the Indian Community Economic Enhancement Act.

S.1223, the Klamath Tribe Judgment Fund Repeal Act.

S.1333, the Tribal HUD-VASH Act.

S.1942, Savanna's Act.

S.2515, 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.

Awaiting action in Senate
The following is a non-exhaustive list of the Indian Country bills that have passed the House and await further action in the Senate.

S.943, the Johnson-O’Malley Supplemental Indian Education Program Modernization Act. The bill passed the Senate on March 22 and the House on December 11. But the version that passed the House was amended to it must be considered again in the Senate.

H.R.146, the Eastern Band Cherokee Historic Lands Reacquisition Act.

H.R.597, the Lytton Rancheria Homelands Act.

H.R.1491, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Land Affirmation Act.

H.R.1532, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Land Reaffirmation Act.

H.R.3764, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act.

The 115th Congress
Since the start of the 115th Congress, lawmakers have sent nine tribal-specific bills to President Donald Trump. He has signed all of them into law:

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.

H.R.6124, the Tribal Social Security Fairness Act. The new law authorizes the Social Security Administration to enter into government-to-government agreements with tribes so that tribal officials have the option of paying into and receiving Social Security benefits -- a privilege already extended to state and local governments. It was signed on September 20.

H.R.1074, a bill to repeal the state of Iowa's jurisdiction over crimes committed on the Meskwaki Nation. The bill was signed on December 11.

H.R.5317, the Repeal of Prohibition on Certain Alcohol Manufacturing on Indian Lands Act. The bill repeals a nearly 200-year-old ban on distilleries on tribally-owned lands. The bill was signed on December 11.

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