On another matter, Bernhardt has promised not to move forward with controversial changes to the way in tribes tribes restore their homelands. The Fee-to-Trust Regulations (25 CFR 151), which were announced just two months after he joined the Trump administration, had drawn near unanimous opposition in Indian Country. “I have no interest in modifying our 151 regulations unless you want them changed so we are not going to go forward with that matter," Bernhardt told NCAI. Still, tribes -- particularly those whose ancestors were among the first to welcome European settlers -- remain largely in the dark about the land-into-trust process and whether it continues to benefit them in the Trump era. During USET's meeting on March 4, the director of the BIA boasted about the number of acres that had been placed in trust in 2018, only to backtrack when Indianz.Com asked for clarification. "We had never heard that number before yesterday," Carroll said a day later, even though the number given to tribes was wrong. A BIA spokesperson has since told Indianz.Com that the correct figures have been shared with USET, whose leaders wanted to know how much of that acreage has been restored to tribes in their region, which spans from Maine to Florida to Texas.
Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt says the reorganization of the Department of the Interior will not change the regions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education. “I can assure you that they will remain intact.” #ECWS19 @DOIDepSec pic.twitter.com/I4tZbuHhRH— indianz.com (@indianz) February 13, 2019
"I've heard none," said one leader from the Narragansett Tribe, whose ability to follow the land-into-trust process has been forever curtailed as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar. Carcieri has now victimized another USET member. The Trump administration, barely two months after Sweeney came on board, told the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, whose ancestors welcomed European settlers to their homelands almost 400 years ago, that it cannot reclaim any of those lands. The decision -- which Sweeney has said she "walked into" -- reverses one made during the Obama era and marks the first time that the BIA had adopted the premise of Carcieri, that some Indian nations can have trust lands while others cannot. The result has been "catastrophic," resulting in the loss of most of the tribe's law enforcement and court staff and threatening progress at a language immersion school, Mashpee Vice Chairwoman Jessie Little Doe Baird said at a Congressional hearing on Wednesday. "This creates the very real possibility that our land will be taken out of trust altogether and our reservation disestablished, something that has not happened since the termination era," Baird told the House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States at a hearing in which a bill to fix to Carcieri (H.R.375) was discussed, along with a bill to prevent her tribe's lands from being taken out of trust (H.R.312). The Trump administration was noticeably absent from the hearing and refused to take a stand on a prior version of the bill. No one brought up the issue to Bernhardt last week, and he did not mention whether restoring tribal homelands was one of his priorities either. "Through my work over the years at Interior, I have come to know many leading voices in the tribal community, and these interactions have enriched and enhanced my knowledge of tribal culture, heritage, and concerns," Bernhardt said in his opening statement. "True commitment to tribal sovereignty requires the recognition that tribes should be able to responsibly develop the natural resources on their lands." Besides energy development, Bernhardt pledged to focus on improving public safety in Indian Country, which has been hit hard by the opioid crisis and other dangerous drugs. He briefly mentioned the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and said Sweeney was "completely focused" on addressing that issue. He also said he was "completely committed" to ensuring tribes are consulted about decisions that affect them, singling out Sweeney (Inupiat), who is the first Alaska Native woman to serve as the Assistant Secretary, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs John Tahsuda (Kiowa) and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development Mark Cruz (Klamath) for praise. "I have an A team and I'll do whatever they ask in terms of helping them," Bernhardt said at his hearing last Thursday. Bernhardt's vow to keep Indian Country in the loop helped him secure support from at least one Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) has been concerned about energy development near Chaco Culture National Historical Park, the ancestral home of a number of tribes. "I would love to go to New Mexico and visit the site with you," said Bernhardt, who was otherwise noncommittal about reversing course about oil and gas drilling there.
Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt is dropping a controversial land-into-trust proposal that tribes have opposed. “I have no interest in modifying our 151 regulations unless you want them changed so we are not going to go forward with that matter.” #ECWS19 @DOIDepSec pic.twitter.com/TahtDINtjx— indianz.com (@indianz) February 13, 2019
The roles gave Bernhardt a close view of a host of ethical lapses that wound up sending former Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles to federal prison in connection with a tribal lobbying scandal. Additionally, the era the escalation of the Indian trust fund lawsuit, which resulted in tribes being punished for the late Elouise Cobell's court victories, as well the reversal of a sacred site legal opinion that later derailed the federal court nomination of another one of his predecessors, former Solicitor Bill Myers. Bernhardt also was on the ground for a series of politically-charged Indian gaming and federal recognition disputes, most of which ended up going against tribal interests. Yet he has managed to make it through without an overt connection to the drama, and has instead portrayed himself as a watchdog within the department. "Your integrity and ability are assets that should bolster this case for nomination, and not distract from it," Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) told Bernhardt last week.
I am humbled by the President's confidence in me to lead the Department of the Interior subject to confirmation. pic.twitter.com/fdjUX1b7Od— Acting Secretary David Bernhardt (@DOIDepSec) March 8, 2019
Full Committee Hearing to Consider the Nomination of Mr. David Bernhardt (March 28, 2019)
President Trump releases new budget with cuts for Indian Country programs (March 11, 2019)
Top official at Department of the Interior hit with ethics complaint (March 1, 2019)
Tribes remain wary of Trump administration despite apparent concessions on policy disasters (February 21, 2019)
Native leaders deliver rebuke of Trump administration at State of Indian Nations (February 11, 2019)
Mark Trahant: President Trump announces new pick for Interior Department (February 5, 2019)
Indian Country experts warn of gridlock in troubled political climate (February 1, 2019)
Report into 'unprofessional behavior' at Bureau of Indian Affairs (December 18, 2018)
Secretary Ryan Zinke resigns amid 'false allegations' of wrongdoing (December 15, 2018)