Senate Passes Resolution Honoring Native American Heritage Month

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

On November 21, the Senate passed a resolution introduced by Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to honor the Nation’s first Americans during Native American Heritage Month.

The resolution passed the Senate on November 20.

“The contributions that American Indians have made to the foundation of the United States are significant and continue today,” Cantwell said. “From influencing the documents that founded our Nation to serving in World War II as code talkers, American Indians have helped shape the face of our Nation.”

Cantwell was joined in introducing Senate Resolution 305 by 24 bi-partisan colleagues, including Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), John Barrasso (R-WY), Mark Begich (D-AK), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Michael Crapo (R-ID), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), John Hoeven (R-ND), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Edward Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Harry Reid (D-NV), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Thune (R-SD), Mark Udall (D-CO), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The resolution recognizes the month of November 2013 as Native American Heritage Month; along with the Friday after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day in accordance with the Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009; and urges the people of the United States to observe National Native American Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Day with appropriate programs and activities according to an SCIA release.

“Since time immemorial, American Indians have occupied the lands we now know as the United States. To date, the federal government recognizes 566 distinct tribal nations across the country. While these Indian tribes share many attributes, each tribe is unique. The contributions that American Indians have made to the foundation of the United States are significant and continue today. From influencing the documents that founded our Nation to serving in World War II as code talkers, American Indians have helped shape the face of our Nation. It is fitting that we are honoring the code talkers this week with a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony, as Native Americans have served in the military at a higher rate per capita than any other group in the country,” Cantwell said in her floor speech.

RELATED: Code Talkers From 33 Tribes Receive Congressional Gold Medals

“Native American heroes played a significant role in World War II. Among them was Charles Chibitty of the Comanche Nation, who aided the successful landing at Normandy and the capture of an enemy flag in a French village, for which he was recognized by the French government. The code talkers came from many tribes, including the Navajo, who played a crucial role in the Pacific. The Choctaw, Sioux, Assiniboine, Apache, Hopi, Mohawk and many other tribes gave this Nation their dedication, determination and courage. They will never be forgotten.

“As we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month, I encourage my colleagues to take some time and think about the federal government’s responsibilities to our first people. I ask my colleagues to support this resolution designating November 2013 as National Native American Heritage Month and November 29 of this year as Native American Heritage Day, and I encourage all Americans to recognize the important contributions American Indians have made to this great Nation,” she concluded



Top 5 Ways Senators Used Indian Affairs Hearing to Push Their Pet Projects

By Rob Capriccioso, Indian Country Today Media Network

Even a person only casually acquainted with Native Americans who viewed the May 15 hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in which U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell appeared for the first time could quickly comprehend that there are a plethora of issues for her to deal with on the tribal front.

Which is a big reason why some Indian affairs experts are questioning why some senators chose to push some issues tangentially related to Indian affairs—and some not related at all.

“It’s disappointing that senators currently serving on the committee are neglecting their fiduciary obligations to the Indian tribe, and instead advancing their pet projects that are beyond the scope of the committee’s responsibilities,” said Derek Bailey, former chair of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. “It saddens me that some U.S. senators fail to comprehend this country’s solemn obligations to the Anishinaabek [Native Americans].”

“I was disappointed, although it now seems commonplace to see senators push their in-state agendas at confirmation and introductory hearings,” added Chris Stearns, an Indian affairs lawyer with Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker. “While some of the issues raised were not all that relevant to Indian affairs, what did come across in the Secretary’s testimony was the admission that the U.S. has a problem, and in particular that state of Indian education was embarrassing. Let’s hope that means the Department has taken the first step in recovery.”

Here are the top five off-topic moments:

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) and the non-Indian safety issue

The vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Indian affairs started talking at one point about how he had sent Jewell several letters about a pressing safety issue. One might assume that it was a pressing Indian safety issue, given the topic of the hearing. Nope, his press office later told ICTMN—“It doesn’t have to do with Indian safety issues.” Oh. It was all about the senator’s desire to see a pathway built and maintained on Moose-Wilson Road—a road somewhere in Wyoming, but one that has little to do with any tribes there.


Senators pushing conventional energy development

There are tribes that would benefit from more lax U.S. fossil fuel regulations, but non-tribal interests would be the biggest benefactors. Yet some senators, like Barrasso and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), made looser conventional energy regulation the centerpiece of their opening statements. Is that really the issue that matters most to tribes combatting poverty, poor health, and dreadful schools?


Senators pushing an environmental agenda

On the flip side of the fossil fuel debate, some senators used the hearing to score environmentalist-friendly brownie points. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), seemed to assume all Indians are supposed to be good stewards of the land just because they are Indian: “There’s a lot of potential for renewable energy in Indian country,” he said. “Those technologies are good for the environment.” Good for the environment, but where was his argument that they will be good for Indians? Barrasso, for all his flaws, cautioned against going too far in pushing an environmental agenda: “We should be asking the tribes, not the Sierra Club or the policy wonks in some think tank or some university what they want to do with their homelands.”


Sen. Jon Tester and the Montana wildfires

Yes, wildfires have recently threatened some western reservations and no doubt will continue to do so as this summer heats up. Tester (D-Mont.) took some precious time to talk about three fires currently burning in his state—getting Interior to spend more money on this problem was his obvious goal, and tribes could benefit if that happened. He also made it clear that Salish Kootenai, in particular, has been facing serious problems as a result of hazardous fire spending reductions, but this was but one anecdote in his discussion of Montana citizens facing the ravages of fire. After all that Montana fire talk, Franken couldn’t help but poke fun: “Wow…we have a fire burning now in Minnesota now, I understand,” he deadpanned.


Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and climate change

Could the new chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs be accused of being off-topic on Indian issues? For the most part, she was dead-on, focusing on tribal sovereignty, self-determination, and trust responsibility. But some Indian insiders worry that Indian education and fighting tribal poverty don’t appear to be her main focus. The concern is that she’s focused on the issues confronting the relatively well-off tribes in her home state, as well as coastal tribes that face unique circumstances compared to many land-locked tribes. So every minute that she talked about climate change caused a bit of uneasiness for tribal officials who see climate change as a problem, but believe it is far from the most pressing one on their lists.

Cantwell’s office said the new SCIA leader was pleased with the hearing overall. “She was appreciative of the conversation on a number of important issues,” said Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the senator.



First Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing With Sally Jewell Set

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will make her first appearance in front of the Indian Affairs Committee on Wednesday, May 15 when Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) will hold a U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs oversight hearing.

The hearing, entitled “To Receive the Views and Priorities of Interior Secretary Jewell with Regard to Matters of Indian Affairs” will examine Jewell’s perspective on the challenges currently facing Indian country according to a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs press release.

The hearing comes one month after Jewell was sworn in as the head of the Department of the Interior – “the principal agency charged with upholding the federal government’s trust obligations to American Indian tribes.” (Related story: Senators Confirm Sally Jewell to Lead Interior; Predict She Will be Good for Indian Country)

In her new role, it is her responsibility to coordinate the government-to-government relationship that exists between the U.S and American Indian Tribes.

When Jewell was confirmed in April Indian Country Today Media Network reported that she had supporters in Indian country, a few of them are Billy Frank, a Native American environmental advocate; Fawn Sharp, and Chris Stearns.

As Secretary of the Interior, Jewell coordinates the government-to-government relationship that exists between the U.S. and American Indian Tribes. Within that relationship, the Department of the Interior is responsible for providing safety, education, general welfare, and natural resource services to Indian communities, while also promoting Tribal self-governance and self-determination.

The hearing will be available online at



Chairwoman Cantwell Holds Hearing on Tribal Resources Legislation

Indian Affairs Committee Examines 2 Bills to Address Water and Lands Claims of the Blackfeet Nation and the Pueblo of Sandia

Source: United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
WASHINGTON D.C. – Today Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) held a legislative hearing to address water and lands rights that are essential to the Blackfeet Nation of Browning, Montana, and the Sandia Pueblo of Bernalillo, New Mexico. The hearing examined the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act of 2013 (S. 434) and the Sandia Pueblo Settlement Technical Amendment Act (S. 611).
“At the core of the principals of tribal self-governance and self-determination is the ability of tribes to exercise jurisdiction over their lands and their resources,” said Cantwell. “Often legislation is necessary to ensure that tribes can exercise those rights.”
The Committee heard testimony from the Department of the Interior, the State of Montana, and the Blackfeet Nation on their views of the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act of 2013 (S. 434). The bill, introduced by Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Jon Tester (D-MT), would settle a longstanding water dispute between the Blackfeet Nation and the State of Montana, and would ratify an agreement that the two parties have reached.
The Committee heard from Shannon Augare, Councilman for the Blackfeet Nation, which has over 16,000 members, half of whom live on the reservation. “Safe and clean drinking water supplies are vital for the growing population on the Reservation, and water is critical to our economy which is heavily dependent on stock raising and agriculture,” Augare said. “The Blackfeet Reservation’s location along the eastern Rocky Mountain Front makes it the home of abundant fish and wildlife, which depend directly on the water resources of the Reservation to support them and allow them to thrive.”
The Committee also heard from Jay Weiner, Assistant Attorney General for the State of Montana. “The State of Montana and the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council agree that this is a fair and equitable settlement that will enhance the ability of the Tribe to develop a productive and sustainable homeland for the Blackfeet People,” said Weiner. “This settlement is the product of over two decades of negotiations among the parties, which included an intensive process of public involvement.” Weiner continued: “The compact promotes development for the benefit of the Blackfeet Nation while protecting other water uses.”
Witnesses from the Department of Agriculture and the Pueblo of Sandia testified on the Sandia Pueblo Settlement Technical Amendment Act (S. 611) at Wednesday’s hearing. The bill, introduced by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), would make a technical amendment to the T’uf Shur Bien Preservation Trust Area Act to accomplish the transfer of 700 acres of land to the Pueblo of Sandia that was intended to happen when Congress passed the original Act in 2003. The bill would clarify the valuation of the lands and require the Department of Agriculture to complete this transaction within 90 days of the Act’s passage.
The Committee heard from Stuart Paisano, Councilman of the Pueblo of Sandia. “The Pueblo hopes that with the passage of this technical amendment, the land exchange that Congress authorized over 10 years ago in the T’uf Shur Bien Preservation Trust Act will finally happen,” Paisano said. The Sandia Mountains have special cultural and spiritual significance to the Pueblo. Completion of the land transfer would ensure their preservation for members and future generations.

At Hearing, Chairwoman Cantwell Urges Investment in Key Tribal Programs

Indian Affairs Hearing Examines Obama FY2014 Budget’s Impact on Indian Country
Source: United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) encouraged the Administration to continue to invest in key programs for Indian Country, during a Committee oversight hearing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal.
During today’s hearing, Cantwell applauded the Administration’s support for Indian health programs, energy development and public safety programs for Tribal governments.  Cantwell also expressed concerns about proposed budget cuts to Tribal economic development programs. Eight of the ten poorest counties in the United States can be found in Indian Country and unemployment rates can be as high as 80 percent. Cantwell also expressed concern about the Administration’s budget proposal to zero out investments for new school construction in Indian Country, even though half of the schools in the Bureau of Indian Education system are considered to be in poor or fair condition.
“For Tribal communities to thrive now and into the future there must be economic development opportunities and workforce opportunities,” said Cantwell at today’s hearing. “This year’s budget request contains a decrease in economic development funding for Indian Country, despite a moderate increase in overall education funding, and it contains no funding for school construction.”
The Committee heard testimony from U.S. Department of the Interior and Department of Health and Human Services officials, president of the National Congress of American Indians, chair of the National Indian Health Board, and a representative of the National Tribal Contract Support Cost Coalition. Click here for a full list of witnesses.
Today’s witnesses also described the severe impact sequestration is having on their Tribal communities. Sequestration, which took effect on March 1, 2013, required across-the-board cuts at federal agencies.  Tribal programs are being reduced at the Department of the Interior by $120 million and at the Indian Health Service by $220 million. These cuts will lead to decreased staff at Tribal schools, reduced health care at Indian Health facilities, and cuts to the general assistance program which provides food rent and clothing to those most in need. 
Witnesses at the hearing also emphasized the need for the federal government to honor the unique legal obligations the federal government has towards Indian Tribes. The government-to-government relationship is grounded in the United States Constitution, treaties, federal statutes and Supreme Court decisions.
The Committee also heard from John Sirois, Chairman of the Business Council of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation of Nespelem, Washington: “In the current budget climate, we believe that existing resources for economic development can be leveraged and maximized with more formal coordination between federal agencies,” Sirois said. “Businesses are often hesitant to locate their operations on Indian lands because of the administrative burdens, both real and perceived, that accompany federal approval requirements applicable to many activities on Indian land.”

First Indian Affairs hearing of 113th Congress Focuses on Need to Reauthorize Tribal Housing Bill

Chairwoman Cantwell Calls for Reauthorization of NAHASDA, Which Expires in September

Source: U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
WASHINGTON D.C. – On Wednesday, Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) held a U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs oversight hearing to address housing and infrastructure needs in Tribal communities and to discuss the reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA). Wednesday’s hearing – entitled “Identifying Barriers to Indian Housing Development and Finding Solutions” – marked the first oversight hearing by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs during the 113th Congress.
During the hearing, Cantwell called for reauthorization of NAHASDA, the critical Tribal housing bill that is scheduled to expire in September 2013. NAHASDA was last reauthorized in 2008 for five years.
“Since the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act was implemented in 1998, 31,000 Indian families now live in newly constructed housing units, and another 64,500 Indian families have been able to rehabilitate their homes through the Indian Housing Block Grant program,” Cantwell said. “This hearing begins the reauthorization process, as the Committee works to address housing challenges to ensure that all Tribal members have access to safe and affordable housing and that housing programs are meeting the needs of tribal members, now and into the future.”
The Committee heard testimony from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National American Indian Housing Council, and three Tribal housing Directors. 
Witnesses at the hearing echoed the need to streamline housing programs under the federal structure, during NAHASDA reauthorization. They described the challenges posed by the fact that multiple agencies are often involved in the development of a single housing unit in Indian Country.  Multi-agency requirements can be redundant, leading to delays in housing delivery to Indian communities. In addition, cumbersome regulations do not allow for technological advancements in energy-efficient housing and other innovative approaches. 
The Committee also heard testimony from Annette Bryan, Executive Director of the Puyallup Nation Housing Authority in Washington state. “NAHASDA represents great progress toward the goal of self-determination and has provided tribes and tribal housing authorities with important tools for meeting the vast housing needs in Indian Country,” Bryan said. “Tribes need the flexibility to identify and target our local needs, including advancement in green housing, and we look forward to working with the Committee on the best ways to address these issues.”
In addition to Ms. Bryan, the Committee heard from Russell Sossamon, Executive Director of the Choctaw Nation Housing Authority in Oklahoma: “The reauthorization should maintain the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the federal government,” Sossamon said.  The timely reauthorization of NAHASDA should be one of Congress’ top priorities before the end of this fiscal year.”
In 1996, Congress first passed NAHASDA to better meet the needs of Tribal governments and to acknowledge that Tribes, through self-determination, are best suited to determine and meet the needs of their members. NAHASDA replaced funding under the 1937 Housing Act with Indian Housing Block Grants and provided tribes with the choice of administering the block grant themselves or through their existing Indian Housing Authorities or their tribally-designated housing entities. In 2002, NAHASDA was reauthorized for five years, and was again reauthorized in 2008 for a five-year period which expires in September 2013.