Indian bills face uncertain future in Congress
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Two controversial Indian bills failed to clear Congress this year but their supporters vowed to reintroduce them during the next session.

Legislation to distribute a $138 million trust fund to members of the Western Shoshone Nation was near passage after the Senate approved it on Wednesday. But the measure died without action in the House.

"The Western Shoshone bill got caught in the crossfire of end of session politics," said Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.), one of the co-sponsors along with Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a member of the senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Also on the chopping block was a bill to reform land policies affecting the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma. In this case, a snafu in the Senate led to its demise.

Both measures stand a chance of passage during the 108th Congress, which will begin in January. Their respective backers said they would bring them up for another vote.

But a key Senate aide warned that the upcoming 2004 election cycle could jeopardize these and countless other Indian measures. Paul Moorehead, the chief counsel to Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) on the Indian committee, said any bills that aren't cleared by the summer of 2003 face an uncertain future.

For opponents of the Shoshone measure, that would be good news. Activists oppose the distribution of a $20,000 per capita payment because they want part of their 23 million-acre ancestral land base recovered.

The approval by the Senate was the closest the bill has ever come to success. Gibbons said the reason for its failure in the House was a "legislative logjam," not any particular objection.

As for the Five Nations Land Reform Act, the delay means more of the status quo. The Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole nations support federal control over land transactions involving tribal citizens. Currently, state courts have jurisdiction.

Last-minute complaints by the oil and gas industry prompted Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) to hold the bill. Tribal leaders have been willing to come to a compromise but talks failed after the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association backed out.

The 107th Congress considered dozens of Indian-related bills. Yet only three major pieces of legislation passed, including the reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act.

Get the Bills:
Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Act (S.958) | Five Nations Citizens Land Reform Act (H.R.2880)

Related Stories:
Senate approves Shoshone payout (11/14)
Tribes reacting to GOP control (11/12)
A busy year for Congress on Indian affairs (10/22)
Five Nations land bill derailed (10/18)