Chairman Tom Wooten: H.R.6181 – Samish Indian Nation Land Reaffirmation Act – April 27, 2022
Threat to Samish is a threat to all Indian Country sovereignty
Wednesday, June 15, 2022
Chairman, Samish Indian Nation

The Samish Indian Nation has historically suffered significant obstacles in our path to self-determination, due to agency mistakes, inaction, delay and decades of litigation.

The latest hurdle comes in the form of proposed amendments to H.R. 6181, scheduled for markup this Wednesday, June 15, by the House Natural Resources Committee. These amendments, offered by acting House Indigenous Peoples Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-California), would terminate a decision of the Interior Department to take land into trust for Samish and nullify the department’s positive Carcieri determination for Samish, which documents Samish’s historical government-to-government relationship with the United States as required under U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

H.R. 6181 simply reaffirms that the Indian Reorganization Act, a cornerstone tribal law, applies to Samish. The proposed amendments would radically overhaul federal policy toward Tribes.

Moreover, Samish has amended this bill twice to accommodate concerns of nearby tribes, including adding a provision drafted by the Congressional Research Service to ensure that no treaty rights of any tribe are affected.

Tom Wooten
Tom Wooten. Photo courtesy Samish Indian Nation
H.R.6181 – Samish Indian Nation Land Reaffirmation Act
The Honorable Tom Wooten
Chairman
Samish Indian Nation
Anacortes, Washington
Written Testimony – PDF

Sadly, since the early 1970s, nearby tribes have opposed our efforts at every turn — from our effort to reinstate our federal recognition to our work to put our fee land into trust. For over 14 years, Samish has acted in good faith to address treaty rights concerns of these tribes in its legislation. However, these tribes have always moved the goal post on Samish to run out the congressional clock.

The Obernolte amendments hearken back to the dark “termination era” from the 1940s to 1960s, when Congress passed laws to dismantle tribal sovereignty and sever the government-to-government relationships with tribes across the country.

If enacted, the Obernolte amendments would set a dangerous precedent of Congress reversing a decision of the Interior Department to take land into trust for a tribe and repudiating a positive Carcieri determination for a tribe.

Additionally, it would pose a threat to the bedrock principles of the United States that all federally recognized tribes should be treated fairly and the same under federal law.

We have worked for many decades to rebuild our community, provide essential services to our citizens, and develop strong relationships with the local and state governments.

The Obernolte amendments threaten the land that has belonged to our ancestors since time immemorial, and we cannot give up in our efforts to preserve our culture.

These harmful amendments must be rejected.

House Committee on Natural Resources Notice
Markup of HR 263, HR 5444, HR 6063, HR 6181, HR 6337, HR 6427, HR 6707, HR 6734, HR 7002, HR 7025, HR 7075, S. 789 (June 15, 2022)

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House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States Legislative Hearing (April 27, 2022)
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