Sen. Jerry Moran sees support for re-election from American Indian tribes

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, Pete Marovich - Pete Marovich/MCT
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, Pete Marovich – Pete Marovich/MCT

By Bryan Lowry, The Wichita Eagle

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran has nearly $30,000 from 12 different American Indian tribes since January in support of his re-election bid.

Moran, a Hays Republican who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, received $1.43 million from January through June for his re-election campaign, according to his most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission. So far $1,000 of that has come from Kansas’ Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.

Moran has also received money from Oklahoma’s Chickasaw Nation; Louisiana’s Tunica-Biloxi Tribe; Washington State’s Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Snoqualmie Tribe and Lummi Indian Business Council; Arizona’s Gila River Indian Community; California’s Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and Shingle Springs Band Miwok Indians; Alabama’s Poarch Band of Creek Indians; and New York’s Seneca Nation of Indians.

The donations from the various tribes add up to $29,700.

The support from the tribes shouldn’t come as a surprise. Moran, a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, has championed legislation to strengthen the autonomy of tribal governments in recent years.

He co-sponsored the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act, which broadened tax exemptions for tribes and was signed into law in 2014. He has also sponsored and pushed for the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act, which would have exempted tribal governments from the National Labor Relations Act.

“These Native American tribes are part of a diverse group of individuals and organizations who support Senator Moran – including Kansans in each of our state’s 105 counties,” Moran for Kansas spokeswoman Elizabeth Patton said in an e-mailed statement.

Moran has also received money from Kansas born billionaire Phillip Anschutz and his wife, Nancy, for $2,700 each. Anschutz, a native of Russell and alum of the University of Kansas, helped found Major League Soccer.

Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries, gave Moran $2,700. His son, Chase Koch, president of Koch Fertilizer, and Chase’s wife, Anna, also each gave Moran $2,700.

Moran’s most recent report also includes contributions from state Rep. Mark Hutton, R-Wichita, who gave $2,700, and Kansas Secretary of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Robin Jennison, who gave $1,000.

Read more here:


Native leaders seek more control over assets

Ute Mountain Ute chairman presses for trust-fund reforms

By Mariam Baksh, The Durango Herald


WASHINGTON – Tribal leaders appealed to the federal government for greater control of their assets during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Wednesday.

In the 1800s, the federal government agreed to hold Indian lands for 25 years, promising to allot economic benefits of the land to Indians – a trust. The beneficiaries could not sell, lease or otherwise encumber their allotted lands without government approval. This practice is still in effect today, according to a recent Department of Interior report to Congress.

“Leasing lands should be tribally driven,” said Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Chairman Manuel Heart in a telephone interview. “We know what’s best for us.”

The trust is established in the Constitution and in extensive case law, but it is not codified in any congressional statute. Tribes support legislation by Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, to codify the trust and reform it to give more management control to tribal governments.

The legislation would maintain federal responsibility and oversight for the trust, but seeks to ensure accountability by having Native Americans provide input in management decisions.

Tribal leaders are also calling for the elimination of the Office of the Special Trustee. They say it is superfluous to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and it causes delays and hurdles for tribal management.

The National Congress of American Indians has issued a resolution expressing the importance of the legislation in streamlining rules to promote economic development.

“We go to the BIA, and they say you have to go to the OST, then they send us back to the BIA,” said Ernest Stensgar, vice chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians, describing the permitting process for logging projects. “OST is a problem. Our processes can come to a dead stop as we wait to find out who has jurisdiction.”

Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, acknowledged as many as 43 steps are required for permitting development but said merging the positions would be “like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

“Frankly, this fiduciary function is very important, having that expertise,” Washburn said. “We’re very cautious about claims that the OST position needs to be reformed.”

The committee also discussed the Supreme Court’s ruling on Carcieri v. Salazar. In 2009, the court ruled that only tribes recognized before 1934 should be included in the trust.

“It’s (Carcieri analysis) has been a horrible burden,” said Washburn, who explained that counties often fear a loss of tax revenue from tribes being accepted into the trust. “If there’s disagreement from the local or state governments, proposals to join the trust can languish for years.”

Washburn described another challenge concerning states’ jurisdiction.

“State taxation crowds out the ability of tribes to develop their lands,” he said.

“If we really want to get serious about issues like native youth suicides, then we have to allow development and tackling dual taxation.”

Heart said state control has affected the Ute Mountain Utes. The tribe has about 20,000 acres in New Mexico, but because New Mexico doesn’t recognize the Ute Mountain Utes, the state collects taxes from companies. Heart says that revenue belongs to the tribe.

These types of uncertainties create land insecurity and end up stifling economic interests for both native and non-native people, said Gregory Smith, an attorney working to defend tribal rights in the Southwest.

Heart said the Ute Mountain Utes have casinos and oil and gas developments, and they are looking to invest in solar energy, as well.

New chair of Senate Indian Affairs committee backs KXL, By Brandon Ecoffey



WASHINGTON, D.C.—On Thursday of last week, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) was elected chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.  On Friday, he turned around and took a crap on the majority of his Native American constituents.

Barrasso was elected by his colleagues in the senate last Thursday to take the chairman position of the ever important Senate Indian Affairs Committee formerly occupied by Sen. John Tester (D-Mt).  The committee is responsible for reviewing and developing legislation impacting Indian Country and has had its ups and downs. However, the committee has been effective recently in passing bills with strong bipartisan support.

Sen. Tester had been one of the most active chairmen of the committee in recent history but lost the position after Republicans took control of the senate during this fall’s midterm elections. Under Tester’s watch several important pieces of legislation designed to address everything from IRS harassment in Indian Country to those supporting language revitalization efforts were fast tracked for passage.

In a statement Sen. Barrasso said that he looked forward to continuing passing bills on behalf of tribes.

“I’m honored to serve as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. I look forward to working with Vice Chairman Tester and the members on the Committee to pass legislation that helps improve the lives of people across Indian country,” said Sen. Barrasso.

Sen. Barrasso was appointed to the senate in 2007, to fill a seat left vacant by Craig L. Thomas. In 2008 he won a special election for the seat and was reelected to the senate in 2012.

Despite spending nearly a decade serving in Congress, Barrasso, seemingly missed the memo outlining the position of tribes on Keystone XL. While speaking on the Senate floor last Friday, Sen. Barrasso, vowed to pass legislation that would force President Obama’s hand on the highly controversial pipeline.

“Now Republicans are going to show the leadership that the American people have been asking for and that they voted for last November. We’re going to bring a bill to the floor, force the President finally do to do something by putting it on the President’s desk. Democrats have been playing politics with this pipeline bill. The Republican majority will now get it done,” said Sen. Barrasso on the floor of the Senate.

The testimony on the Senate floor comes on the heels of statements clarifying his priorities while head of the Indian Affairs committee.

“As Chairman, I will focus on measures related to jobs, energy and natural resource development, health care, education and tribal self-governance. I will also make it a priority to remove red-tape and bureaucratic barriers to economic growth. Progress on these important issues will go a long way in helping tribal families, communities, and businesses succeed.”

According to Barrasso is likely a sure bet to support legislation reflecting conservative ideas, “Based on analysis of multiple outside rankings, Barrasso is one of the most reliable Republican votes, meaning he can be considered a safe vote for the Republican Party in Congress.”

Interview: How Jon Tester’s Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Is Different



Rob Capriccioso, Indian Country Today


In comparison to predecessors who have led the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Jon Tester (D-Montana) is a different creature. He’s not too prickly, nor harsh with staff; he’s not seen as overly idealistic, nor super controlled. And he doesn’t appear to have a passing interest in Indian issues, either; in other words, he’s not intent on leaving them behind when he finds a bigger fish to focus on.

While he’s been in the Senate since 2007, he’s still a farmer. Before that, he was a music teacher, and he has a Bachelor of Science in music, too. His wife: also a farmer. He’s visited the reservations in his state. He knows why the Indian vote matters, especially now as the Senate – part of a currently dysfunctional Congress, he laments – hangs in the balance.

Visiting him in the Hart Senate Office Building, it’s clear that he is a comfortable, candid, common-sense man who is focused on Indian stuff because he cares about it, and he wants to get it right. In person, he seems nicer, more jolly, than one gets a sense during committee hearings. He seems good, normal, real—a tribal ally who has a chance to show real power in this domain for years to come if he so chooses and if the voters in his conservative state continue to keep him in office.

He has been in the Senate for a rather short time to already be leading a committee. But it was his destiny after senior Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus retired to become an ambassador to China, and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) decided to move on at the beginning of this year to chair the Small Business Committee.

Cantwell has been criticized for not moving as much critical legislation as Indian country would have liked during her year holding the gavel, and Tester knows the score there. It’s one reason why he’s already passed 15 pieces of legislation through the committee on housing, education, water rights, and a sure-to-be complicated legislative fix to the 2009 Supreme Court Carcieri decision that limited the Department of the Interior’s ability to take lands into trust for tribes. With four hearings scheduled for July alone on some touchy subjects, including gaming and the Cobell settlement, at a time when many of his colleagues are prepping for summer break, perhaps his biggest challenge will be to not flood the engine.

RELATED: Under Tribal Scrutiny: Cantwell Exiting SCIA; Tester to Take Charge

On a late-June humid day in Washington, he wore a white dress shirt, top buttons unbuttoned, no tie, no suit coat. Famous crew cut front and center. Simple desk. No ornate decorations on the walls.

“Welcome,” he said, first looking at the reporter’s colorful tie, lamenting that he’s been instructed to wear toned down ties when he appears on television. “That’s a tie I’d like to wear on TV.”

And, with that, an interview began, touching on a range of pressing issues Tester says he wants to accomplish alongside his Indian allies—making clear that he can only be successful if Indians are willing to take responsibility and lead the way on improving their own prospects.

You have really started out of the gate running. How are you feeling at this point in your chairmanship?

I think we are in pretty good shape. We have pushed a lot of bills out of the committee. We really have taken some of the less controversial bills and moved down the line. I think our next challenge is taking the bills that we’ve gotten out of committee and the ones that don’t get taken up by unanimous consent, figuring out a strategy for the lame duck. Maybe an omnibus Indian bill going forward that could include a lot of stuff, including, potentially, a Carcieri fix. Secondly, particularly related to the hearings we’ve held on education, we need to write up an education bill, get it out of committee. The same thing may be true of economic development: get a bill that deals with economic development in Indian country, and get it out of committee.

Was Sen. Cantwell’s tenure last year – which some people criticized as moving too slow – necessary to get you to this point of action?

Maybe it was. I never thought about it that way. I think Maria did a great job as chairman of the committee. When she stepped aside and I took over the committee, knowing Mary [Pavel, staff director of the committee] for many years, I asked her to characterize the easy bills, the medium bills, and the tough ones. And we proceeded from there. Because we kept the same staff, it allowed Mary to have a solid scope of the landscape because she had worked a year with Maria on the committee.

How are you getting along with these staffers who you didn’t choose?

They’re all really good folks. I like them. They all bring different levels of expertise to the table; like to have fun; easy to be around. It’s a very good staff.

One thing that some in Indian country were worried about given the rapid exit of Sen. Cantwell was that it might take you another year to build your own machine.

Thankfully I have known Mary since I got here [to the Senate]. And I was confident that she would not put substandard people around here, and she hasn’t.

You mentioned an omnibus Indian bill that would hopefully tie in several Indian-focused legislative efforts. When would something like that happen, and are you talking about a standalone bill focused just on Indian issues?

Yeah, there are two ways to approach it. We could look for different bills to attach things on as amendments. Or we could put a standalone together. To be bluntly honest with you, I’ve got to talk to Harry [Reid, Senate Majority Leader (D-Nevada)]. I haven’t talked to him yet, because we haven’t talked as a staff yet on what we want to do. If Harry says no, we can’t do an omnibus bill, then we fall back to tell him that we want to attach them to bills to get votes on them…. We didn’t do all this work just for show. We are going to try to get something functionally done at the other end.

Do you worry if it’s a standalone bill that would present too many opportunities for other senators to want to get their compromises in there; whereas if it is attached to another bill, it might be less likely to be tinkered with?

There are some advantages and disadvantages going both ways, and you have touched on them. The advantage of a standalone Native American bill is that it has never been done before, and you have some great Native bills out there right now that have been carried by both Republicans and Democrats. So I think we could have a truly bi-partisan effort moving forward here. I think the big issue is going to be whether there is going to be enough time. Will Harry give me enough time to do a Native American bill?

Majority Leader Reid has been vocal on Indian issues lately, leading the way against the Redskins team name, introducing legislation to expand trust lands for Nevada tribes.

Yes, he was very supportive when I took the gavel, and he told me to get to work and do some stuff. So I can always remind him of that when I go to ask him about this bill.

You recently held a hearing on tribal economic development. Everyone talks about wanting to fix the economies of struggling reservations, but that kind of talk has happened throughout American history, really. How do you change that?

I tell you how to change it. We don’t fix it from Washington, D.C., and they don’t fix it on the ground. We have to work together. That’s one of the reasons why we have tried to be as transparent and as encompassing as we can be on this committee. We need Native Americans’ input. The programs that we set up and potentially fund, they have to be held responsible for doing the right thing to be sure their kids are getting an education, or the money is being spent right for economic development.

If tribes think that I can fix their economy, I can’t. The whole Congress can’t fix their economy. The truth is, with good communication, working together, we can fix it together. I’ve also got to find Indian leaders who are willing to step up. And I think we’ve found some who are willing to step up and say this is what we need to do in Indian country to make things work, and then we [Congress] need to support it.

The principle of self-determination has been around for a long time, and some tribes have been able to more successfully take advantage of the opportunities involved with it. Why have some tribes not been able to take advantage of those opportunities?

I don’t know. Sometimes the federal government holds them back. Some tribes have done it better than others. We had a hearing in Montana on Indian healthcare, and it was very apparent to me that the tribes that were block granted the money were doing a better job than the others. That’s about self-determination and them taking responsibility.

The tribes that are doing very well have now been able to become a part of the American political system, hiring strong lobbyists, making big campaign finance donations. What is your role in thinking about all that and how it juxtaposes against the needs of the most struggling tribes?

Every one of those tribes that are struggling has opportunity, and I think we have to figure out ways that they can expand on that opportunity. But it really has to be driven from the local level. You know, I can’t walk on to [the] Crow [reservation] and say, you know, you guys have great opportunities in tourism, and we need to do this, this, and this. That isn’t going to work. They need to come with the program and ask if there is any way for the federal government to help out.

You want tribes, especially ones that are struggling, to be bold in taking advantage of self-determination opportunities.

Yes, that’s right. Make no mistake: I know how difficult it is. When you’re poor, you’re poor. It’s hard to come up.

Is the Congress being bold enough in pushing new economic endeavors?

No, and part of it has to do with the economic constraints we have on us due to the debt, wars, and everything that has transpired over the last 15 years. There are limited opportunities now, but we need to take advantage of the limited opportunities that we have.

Does this situation change for the better while you are serving in Congress?

Well, I hope so. But this is a pretty dysfunctional place. I wish I could tell you this place is running like a Singer sewing machine, but it ain’t. It’s pretty tough. We can have the best ideas, and somebody will put a hold on them, and then that’s that. But that doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying. And, by the way, if you keep trying, I think that sets a really good example for the folks in Indian country.

Is the administration being bold enough on tribal economic development?

I think they’re pretty good, but they’ve got a ways to go yet, too. I think they’ve done some really good work, but they are under the same fiscal constraints that we are.

Would you support the president creating a Cabinet level Native affairs position?

I think, absolutely, it would be a great idea. Number one: they would have a better understanding of the challenges in Indian country than I would. Second: that voice out there talking about what needs to be done is important because it not only helps Indian folks, it helps everybody.

Jodi Gillette and other advisors in this administration focused on Indian issues are not Cabinet level.

I tell you, Jodi Gillette has as much influence right now as any Cabinet person. She’s got the president’s ear. I think, regardless of what the position is called, you have to have someone that the president trusts and will listen to.

Would you like to see the president create a tribal economic development council composed of Indian leaders?

I think it’s a good idea. If in fact this is something that can happen, we will talk about it as a committee, and send a letter off.

You’ve said your clean Carcieri legislative fix that would help reservation economies still faces a lot of hurdles.

Yes, and it’s no different now than ever before.

What does that mean?

That means that we’ve got to find 60 votes, and there are people out there on the Democratic side who don’t like it, and I’m sure there are people on the Republican side who don’t as well. This is truly going to have to be a bipartisan effort, or it isn’t going to work to get a clean fix. Our challenge is going to be finding those 60 votes. I think a clean fix is the way to go, but I am not stupid about the legislative process. We need to get it through. I don’t think that two classes of Native Americans is a good idea. So we’ve got to find the 60 votes. We’ve got to do some serious talking with Sens. [Dianne] Feinstein, Jack Reed, [Chris] Murphy, [Richard] Blumenthal – these are all friends of mine – to let them know that I do not see the boogeyman out there in this bill that they do. We’ll see how effective I am in that.

Three SCIA chairmen before you have said the same thing about trying to build a coalition—

It’s never happened.

What makes you the one?

I’m a better guy. [laughs] No, I don’t know. A lot of it is timing; a lot of it is luck, too. Just as everything else, you push forward, and maybe the key will fit the lock.

So you’re working your Democratic friends?

We haven’t started yet. We’ve passed it out of committee. I have not had the hard conversation with Dianne [Feinstein] or any of the other four.

What is the hard conversation?

The hard conversation is to sit down with them and say I want to make this real. We need to figure out a way to allay their fears. If we’re successful in doing that, fine. If it comes to a point that we can’t be successful, then it becomes a little more difficult. Feelings get hurt and all that stuff. But I think that we’re all grownups here, and I think this issue has been around long enough that we should be able to get to the root problems and get them resolved.

Your vice-chair, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), how important is he in all this?

He is very important. He and [Sen. Jerry] Moran [R-Kansas] are the two keys to this puzzle. Moran because he is a co-sponsor. And if Barrasso were to come out hard against it, it would make this thing very difficult to pass.

In your ideal world, would he be working arm and arm with you on this?

In my ideal world, he would be.

And he’s not?

Well, we haven’t had that conversation yet, either. I don’t know where he’s at. I know where Jerry is. And Jerry is willing to go to the mat for us. Hopefully he will go to the mat with Barrasso. At the very least, Barrasso has to be neutral. If he’s opposed to it, we’ve got a problem. We don’t absolutely need him, but it would make life easier if we have him.

In committee, Sen. Barrasso recently proposed an amendment to study Carcieri and its effects on tribes, and it passed. More study?

Yeah, that’s something we do here all the time. We study stuff all the time, and then we study it some more. I think Carcieri is a known entity, and I don’t think it necessarily needs to be studied anymore.

Turning to your focus on Native education, all these hearings—is it because you were a teacher?

Yes, I think that’s fundamentally the root of it all. My folks strongly believed in public education, that it was a key to success. My grandmother moved to this country because of education. My mother and her three sisters and brother got degrees. Both my brothers have degrees. Education was pound into us as being very important. It is the key to our democracy. It is the key to economic development. It is the key to our future. If we are able to unleash the minds in Indian country, Indian country will flourish.

And you have proposed a Native language restoration bill. I know you didn’t grow up speaking a Native language, so why was that component meaningful to you?

It’s because of the information I have learned since sitting on the committee. Native language speakers do better in school, and they stay in school. Those are two big problems in Indian country—academic achievement and dropping out. If we can fix those two with language, we need to push language.

You held a higher education hearing that pleased many Indian higher ed advocates because they have felt their issues have been neglected by the administration to date.

It’s low hanging fruit, from my perspective. Tribal colleges are sitting there, ready to give skills to people to fill the jobs that are needed in Indian country. I think the tribal colleges are a huge asset. We are very fortunate in Montana because all seven tribes have tribal colleges. If we are able to leverage that tribal college system throughout the country, it will help with unemployment rates.

Over at the Indian Health Service, is Dr. Yvette Roubideaux going to be re-confirmed as director?

I don’t know. I think there are some communication issues that need to be worked out, and I’ve told her exactly that. There needs to be a lot better communication between tribes and her. I think she is trying to do that. But the well may be a bit soured because there are a lot of Native folks out there who don’t like her. I believe from a personal standpoint that I don’t have a problem with her. She is a delightful woman. But the Indian Health Service is in tough shape, and there needs to be the leadership there that pushes the envelope and listens to the people on the ground—tells them no when they have to tell them no, but comes up here and tells us [Congress] no when we need to hear that, too.

The reason I say I don’t know if she’ll be confirmed is I don’t know if she has the votes on the committee. That’s the problem. By the way, when Sylvia Burwell [the new director of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Roubideaux’ new boss] was in here, I talked to Sylvia specifically about her and asked her to do an assessment.

At the Department of the Interior, Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn has pushed some progressive proposals lately – improving the federal recognition process, wanting to get lands put into trust for Alaska tribes, thinking about Native Hawaiian recognition – what do you think about all that?

I think it’s very, very, very good. I think Kevin Washburn is a great guy. I wish other members of the agency would push us harder at the congressional level, because I think there are people here who want to be pushed harder. [Sen. Heidi] Heitkamp [D-N.D.] is a prime example. I’m a prime example. If you come in and demand more, we’re probably going to deliver more.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.



Access to Capital, Remote Locations Styme Economic Growth in Indian Country

Tester Remains Committed to Finding a Path to Improving Economic Conditions Across Indian Country

Source: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Chairman Jon Tester
U.S. SENATE – Today, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Jon Tester (D – Mont.) held a hearing on economic and business conditions in Indian country.  Access to capital remains a primary factor leading to stagnant economic growth on reservations. 
“Over the last few months, I’ve highlighted the need for better education for Indian children.  However, better learning opportunities will go for naught if tribal economies are struggling – forcing students to take their skills and find jobs elsewhere,” Tester said.  “We can’t let that happen. Our First Americans should not have to choose between making a good living away from their family and homelands or living in poverty.”
According to the 2013 American Indian Population and Labor Force Report, only 50% of all Native Americans living in or near tribal areas, who are 16 years or older, are employed.  Additionally, an estimated 23% of all Native American families in the United States in 2010 earned income below the poverty line.
“Despite notable progress over recent years, there still remains private sector uncertainty about whether Indian Country is a good investment,” said William Lettig, Executive Vice President of KeyBank.   “This uncertainty, which I believe is based on lack of information and understanding about Indian Country, has a chilling effect on capital markets’ appetite for investing in Indian Country.”
Kevin J. Allis, Executive Director, Native American Contractors Association, said, “The communities which Native enterprises serve remain some of the poorest and most underserved groups in the United States. There is still tremendous work to be done in effecting positive and sustainable benefits for these communities.”
Gerald Sherman, Vice Chairman, Native CDFI Network, outlined the challenges, “Native communities experience substantially higher rates of poverty and unemployment than mainstream America and face a unique set of challenges to economic growth.   Lack of physical, legal, and telecommunications infrastructure; access to affordable financial products and services; and limited workforce development strategies are common challenges that Native entrepreneurs, homebuyers, and consumers face and must overcome.”
Tester focused on programs that have shown results in Indian Country, “There are success stories out there.  We have programs, such as the Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund and the Department of the Interiors’ Indian Loan Guarantee Program, that, when well-executed and properly funded, are attracting investment into tribal communities.”
Dennis Nolan, Acting Director of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund), provided an overview of the impact of the federal program he leads.  “The Fund’s work in Indian Country is born of an awareness that Native communities all across the nation continue to face extraordinary economic challenges that limit access to capital.  Since it was launched in 2001, the Native American CDFI Assistance Program has provided awards totaling more than $93 million to help Native CDFIs deliver financial services and financial products to their communities. What started as just a few Native CDFIs ten years ago has now grown to 68, headquartered in 21 states.”
Gary Davis, President and CEO of The National Center for American Indian Enterprise
Development, said, “The more successful federal business development programs are those that are specifically designed to help startups and larger companies in Indian Country.  What does not work well is the ‘square peg – round hole’ approach of repackaging legacy federal programs and dictating how assistance must be delivered and to what size of business.”
Tester vowed to continue to examine solutions to unlock potential investment and development in Indian Country.  The Committee has already adopted significant legislation that will directly impact and assist economic development in Indian Country such as the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, the Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act, and the Carcieri fix.

More forestry funding needed on Indian lands, tribal leader says

By Kate Prengama, Yakima Herald-Republic

Phil Rigdon, the director of  Yakama Natural Resources Program and president of the Intertribal Timber Council
Phil Rigdon, the director of Yakama Natural Resources Program and president of the Intertribal Timber Council

Federal funding cuts pose dire consequence for the ability of tribes to manage their land and reduce wildfire risks, a Yakama Nation leader told a U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Phil Rigdon, the director of the Yakamas’ natural resources program and president of the Intertribal Timber Council, told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that programs that once kept tribal forests healthy are now “running on fumes.”

“The consequences of chronic underfunding and understaffing are materializing,” Rigdon told the committee. “The situation is now reaching crisis proportions and it’s placing our forests in great peril.”

There are more than 18 million acres of tribal forest lands held in trust by the federal government, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs gets far less funding per acre for forest management and fire risk reduction than national forests.

Funding has fallen 24 percent since 2001, Rigdon said, and that can have dire consequences.

For example, last year when the Mile Marker 28 Fire broke out off U.S. Highway 97 on the Yakama reservation, only one heavy equipment operator and one tanker truck were able to respond immediately because that’s all the current federal budget supports, Rigdon said in an interview before the hearing.

“Back in the early 1990s, when I fought fire, we would have three or four heavy equipment operators,” he said. “Someone was always on duty. That’s the kind of thing that’s really changed.”

The Mile Marker 28 Fire eventually burned 20,000 acres of forest.

Rigdon noted that the dozens of tribes around the country that are represented by the Timber Council are proud of the work they do when resources are available.

“If you go to the Yakama reservation and see our forests, we’ve reduced disease and the risk of catastrophic fire. If we don’t continue to do that type of work — if we put it off to later — we’ll see the types of 100,000- or 200,000-acre fires you see other places,” Rigdon said.

Currently, there are 33 unfilled forestry positions at the BIA for the Yakama Nation, he added. That limits the program’s ability to hit harvest targets, which hurts the tribe economically and affects the health of the forest.

A 2013 report from the Indian Forest Management Assessment Team found that an additional $100 million in annual funding and 800 new employees are needed to maintain strong forestry programs on BIA land nationwide. The current budget is $154 million.

In addition to the concern over future funding, other members of the panel also discussed the different approaches to forest management by tribes and the Forest Service.

“We’ve done a good job maintaining a healthy forest on a shoestring budget, but the Forest Service is not maintaining its adjacent lands,” said Danny Breuninger Sr., the president of the Mescalero Apache Nation in New Mexico.

Committee member Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cited a 2011 Arizona fire as an example of how tribal efforts can succeed. In the wake of a 2002 fire, the White Mountain Apache conducted salvage logging and thinning work while the adjacent national forest did not. When fire hit the region again, federal forests were devastated, but the treated tribal forests stopped the fire’s spread.

Jonathan Brooks, forest manager for the White Mountain Apache, told McCain that lawsuits prevent the Forest Service from doing similar work.

“Active management gets environmental activists angry,” Brooks said. “But what’s more hurtful to the resources: logging, thinning and prescribed fire, or devastating fires?”

Rigdon said the Intertribal Timber Council would like to see increased abilities for tribes to work with neighboring national forests on management projects like thinning, which could support tribe-owned sawmills and reduce fire risks.

The Yakama Nation is working with the Forest Service on developing such a collaborative project, as part of a new program known as “anchor forests.” It’s a pilot program currently being used on a few reservations, and the panelists at the hearing supported expanding it to more regions.

Anchor forests are intended to balance the economic and ecological needs of a forest through a collaborative effort involving tribes, the BIA and local, state and federal agencies.

Under Tribal Scrutiny, Cantwell Exiting SCIA; Tester to Take Charge


Rob Capriccioso, Indian Country Today, 1/30/14

After a tenuous year of leading the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) has confirmed that she is moving on.

Following weeks of speculation that she would step down to lead the Small Business Committee after a leadership shuffle among Senate Democrats following Sen. Max Baucus’ (D-Montana) retirement, Cantwell made her intentions clear at a January 29 hearing in Washington, saying it has been a pleasure to serve alongside vice-chair John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) and to work with current Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn.

“It has been a smooth working process,” Cantwell assessed of her work relationship with Barrasso. “We will certainly appreciate working with you again in the future.”

Reid Walker, a spokesman for the senator, said after the hearing that she will remain on SCIA as a member “and remains committed to Indian country.”

Cantwell, while praised as the first female chair of SCIA, has been criticized by some tribal leaders and advocates for not holding as many hearings and for not pushing for as much pro-tribal legislation as immediate past SCIA leaders by this point in their tenures.

Mary Pavel, Cantwell’s staff director and chief counsel, has held several listening sessions with tribal leaders and citizens, but these have not translated into firm action on many economic and social issues facing tribes today.

Pavel told Indian Country Today Media Network in an interview at the beginning of Cantwell’s term in 2013 that she expected the senator would be a strong leader of SCIA, which is not exactly the perception that many tribal leaders currently have of Cantwell’s one year in the position, although Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in Cantwell’s home state of Washington, said she has done “a great job on behalf of Indian country” in his testimony before the committee on January 29. Tribal leaders from Cantwell’s region have generally been more pleased with her leadership than others.

In the weeks before the Small Business Committee chairmanship opened up, Cantwell had been working behind the scenes at tackling one of the major issues facing Indian country—a legislative fix to the controversial 2009 Supreme Court Carcieri decision that called into question the Department of the Interior’s ability to take lands into trust for tribes recognized by the federal government after 1934.

But Cantwell’s Carcieri legislation was mired in conflict before even getting out of the starting gate, since it was not drafted with wide consultation from tribal leaders. It called for a fix that would exclude the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island, and it made modifications to rules that would make gaming impossible or more difficult for some tribes. Many tribes and Indian organizations have argued that land-into-trust policy should not be tied to gaming policy, as they are distinct issues.

According to sources familiar with Cantwell’s effort on the Carcieri draft legislation, she worked with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on ideas involving historical connections tests for tribes that want to pursue off reservation gaming. Feinstein has long been controversial in Indian country for her desire to limit tribal gaming, especially in California. In a sign of their closeness, Cantwell sat next to Feinstein at the president’s January 28 State of the Union address, and they have introduced joint legislation in the past. Still, Feinstein’s office insists the senator did not play a role in drafting the legislation.

Tribal leaders who have seen the draft Carcieri legislation have generally let their displeasure with Cantwell’s work here be known, and the legislation is widely considered to be stalled with her moving on from the leadership.

Cantwell’s staff is well aware of the difficulties, but they say the senator has not given up. “Several ideas are being considered with input from multiple stakeholders, and more work needs to be done,” said Walker. “She and the committee remain committed to finding a solution.”

The Carcieri discussions and other issues within SCIA have been tense of late, and there were recent indications that the general tension of the atmosphere was affecting staffers there when Denise Desiderio, a deputy staff director at SCIA, decided to leave after five years with the committee. She has long told colleagues that she loved working there, so her decision was one indication of the difficulties surrounding Cantwell’s tenure, according to sources close to Desiderio.

A major highlight of Cantwell’s leadership was the passage of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013 that included strong tribal jurisdictional provisions for prosecuting non-Indian offenders on reservations. The senator strongly supported that legislation, and she helped Indian advocates make their voices heard on the issue. She’s also been strong on forcing the federal government to pay contract support costs to tribes, and she has played a role in holding up Indian Health Service Director Yvette Roubideaux’ re-nomination to the position due to tribal concerns.

With Cantwell making her intentions to exit SCIA known, all eyes now turn to Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), who will take on the chairmanship, Senate sources have confirmed.

Tester, who has served on the committee since his first term in Congress that started in 2007, has been angling for the position with support from Senate colleagues, including the retiring Baucus. Other contenders were Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), but he is retiring from Congress at the end of this year, and Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) were also interested, according to Senate sources.

Tester, with the strong backing of the tribes in his home state, ended up with the gavel, and he is quickly signaling his intentions to be a proactive chairman. In mid-January, he introduced legislation that would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to provide increased federal financial support to Native American language programs at American Indian-focused schools. And on January 30, he provided the congressional response to the annual State of the Indian Nations address hosted by the National Congress of American Indians. He’s also been meeting behind-the-scenes with many tribal leaders and advocates.

“I serve on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs—we work hard, and the accomplishments are many, from the Native American protections in the Violence Against Women Act to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to water settlements to my work with veterans to the Tribal Law and Order Act to NAHASDA,” Tester told ICTMN in a 2012 interview. “I am very proud of my record. I also visit every reservation in Montana every year.”



An Architect of Self-Determination Act Honored by U.S. Senator

Forrest Gerard Senator Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard 1976
Forrest Gerard Senator Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard 1976

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

On July 24, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, recognized the significant contributions of Forrest Gerard to Indian country in a floor statement to the U.S. Senate. Mr. Gerard joined the staff of Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA) in 1971. He was appointed the first Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. Gerard, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, was one of the primary architects of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the Act by Senator Jackson in 1973. The Act, which passed Congress in 1974 and was signed by President Gerald Ford in 1975, reversed a policy of termination and assimilation, and launched the era of self-governance and self-determination, which continues to guide federal Indian policy today.

In her statement, Senator Cantwell applauded Gerard for his commitment to tribal sovereignty. “Today we recognize Forrest Gerard for his dedication, intelligence, and persistence, which paved the way for the political achievements that transformed the landscape of Indian affairs,” Cantwell said. “Tribes now have greater autonomy in managing their resources, preserving their cultures, and utilizing their land base.”

Cantwell emphasized Gerard’s role in strengthening the government-to-government relationship between the United States and Indian tribes. Gerard helped promote a shared goal of tribal self-determination and self-governance. Today, Cantwell said, that relationship is a mature one.

“I think we are long overdue in commending Forrest for his pioneering, industrious career as a voice for Indian country,” Cantwell said. “Today we celebrate his leadership in charting a new path for American Indians – a path that won the support of Congress, tribal governments, and the nation.”

Gerard’s service began with the U.S. Army Air Corps as a member of a bomber crew in World War II. After flying 35 combat missions over Nazi-occupied Europe, he became the first member of his family to attend college, receiving a bachelor’s degree from University of Montana in 1949.

Over the next two decades, Gerard worked for the state of Montana, the newly formed Indian Health Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a legislative liaison officer, and the Director of the Office for Indian Progress in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Forrest spent the last 30 years advising Indian people on how to effectively participate in developing policy with government leaders and how to be part of the political process.


The full text of Senator Cantwell’s floor statement follows:


Mr. President, on the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act in 1973, I rise to honor a distinguished advocate for Indian country and one of the key architects of the Act, Forrest J. Gerard, and recognize him for a lifetime committed to public service.

Forrest, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, was the first American Indian to draft and facilitate the passage of Indian legislation through Congress. During the 1970s, Forrest partnered with Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson to dramatically change the United States’ policy on Indian affairs. Together, they ended the policy of termination and assimilation, and launched the era of self-governance and self-determination, which continues to guide federal Indian policy today.

Forrest’s service began with the U.S. Army Air Corps as a member of a bomber crew in World War II. After flying 35 combat missions over Nazi-occupied Europe, he became the first member of his family to attend college, receiving a bachelor’s degree from the University of Montana in 1949.

Over the next two decades, Forrest worked for the state of Montana, the newly formed Indian Health Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a legislative liaison officer, and as the Director of the Office for Indian Progress in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. His goal was to enable future generations of Indian leaders to build healthy and educated communities.

Forrest arrived at the United States Senate in 1971 to work with Senator Jackson, then Chair of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. Senator Jackson had become a strong supporter of self-determination, and believed Forrest Gerard, with his significant background with federal agencies and his understanding of the American Indian experience, would bring an important perspective to the debate. Forrest was able to combine significant issue expertise with his solid relationships with tribes to enact meaningful legislation that would alter the course of Indian affairs.

Forrest’s unique skills and relationships played a critical role in producing the landmark Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. With the leadership of Senator Jackson and Forrest Gerard, this critical bill was signed by President Ford in 1975 and remains the basis for federal dealings with tribal governments.

Following the success of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, Forrest worked to strengthen tribal governance by helping to pass the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and the Submarginal Lands Act.

As Native American journalist Mark Trahant put it, “Gerard did great work – subtly, without fanfare, and too often without recognition or even thanks. His approach was honesty and directness in dealing with Indian country, and he never wavered in his loyalty to the tribes.”

Today we recognize Forrest Gerard for his dedication, intelligence, and persistence, which paved the way for the political achievements that transformed the landscape of Indian affairs. Tribes now have greater autonomy in managing their resources, preserving their cultures, and utilizing their land base. And the government-to-government relationship between the United States and tribes is now a mature relationship.

Forrest Gerard was honored for his work by the National Congress of American Indians. In 1997 President Jimmy Carter appointed him to be the first Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Forrest spent the last 30 years advising Indian people on how to effectively participate in developing policy with government leaders and be part of the political process. Forrest truly has devoted his life to empowering tribal communities.

I think we are long overdue in commending Forrest for his pioneering, industrious career as a voice for Indian country. Today we celebrate his leadership in charting a new path for American Indians – a path that won the support of Congress, tribal governments, and the nation.

Forrest Gerard is a hero among a new generation of great Indian leaders. And his contributions will be remembered forever.


A Senate Committee on Indian Affairs press release.


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.



Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Postpones First Scheduled Meeting of 2013

By Rob Capriccioso, source: Indian Country Today Media Network

The much scrutinized fiscal decision-making of the U.S. Congress today kept the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) from meeting for its first business session of the year.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., had planned to chair her first business meeting on February 14 of the tribally focused committee she was appointed by Senate leadership to oversee in January.

But the Senate Rules Committee, the committee in charge of handling committee budgets, has not sent Cantwell an operating budget, so her plans were upended, and she was forced to postpone the meeting to a yet unscheduled date in the future.

“The purpose of today’s organizing meeting was for the members of the committee to approve the committee budget,” said Emily Deimel, a spokeswoman for Cantwell. “However, the Senate has yet to provide any of the committees with an operating budget, so we had to postpone today’s meeting until we know what our overall budget will look like.”

In response to a question on when operating budgets are usually handed out, Deimel said, “We should have received them already and at this point do not have a firm timeline.”

SCIA should be able to proceed soon with other types of meetings, including legislative and oversight ones, even with the budget in limbo, Deimel added—a good thing for Indian country, since some Senate staffers have been told that there might not be any finalized committee budgets until Congress decides what it is going to do before the March 1 sequestration deadline. If no deal is worked out between the House and Senate before then, dramatic spending cuts across the board would automatically hit all federal government sectors, including many programs that provide financial support to tribes and Indians.