Empowering Tribes to Address Energy Needs and Development Opportunities

U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, April 30, 2014

U.S. SENATE – Today at a U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing Chairman Jon Tester and Vice Chairman John Barrasso called for increased energy development on tribal lands.

The hearing was held to consider ways to improve the ability of Indian tribes to responsibly develop their natural resources, including the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2014 (S. 2132).  This bill is intended to remove the burdensome and lengthy approval processes that currently cause potential development partners to look elsewhere for energy projects.

In 2005, Congress enacted legislation to allow tribes to develop their energy resources without the Secretary of the Interior’s approval of individual projects, provided the tribe had an approved Tribal Energy Resource Agreement (TERA).

“Sadly, however, the Energy Policy Act has not been successful,” said Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior.   Washburn added that since promulgation of the Department’s TERA regulations in 2008, the Department has not received a single TERA application.

Tester, who is working to revive the recently expired Indian Coal Production tax credit said, “Energy development has the potential to provide stable economic environments for tribes, their members and surrounding communities.   There is no entity better qualified to oversee and manage tribal resources than the tribes themselves.  We need to simplify and expedite the TERA process, but also further promote the development of alternative energy sources such as solar, biomass and hydroelectric projects.”

Barrasso said, “Energy development on tribal lands is critical for economic growth and job creation in Indian Country. By streamlining the approval process, this bill will give folks in Indian Country the tools they need to spur economic growth and create good paying jobs in their communities.”

James M. “Mike” Olguin, Acting Chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council, said, “The tragic consequence of no approved TERAs and a continued reliance upon federal supervision has been the incredible lost opportunities to develop Indian energy resources during the period between 2005 and today.”

Michael O. Finley, Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, said, “Potential partners and development capital sit on the sidelines because it takes years to get anything approved by the Department of the Interior.  Indian Country needs an institutionalized answer to the ongoing challenge of burdensome bureaucratic processes and delay of tribal energy leasing and permitting.”


Comprehensive bill introduced to improve lives of Native children

12/9/2013 Cherokeepheonix.org


WASHINGTON – United States Senators Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced a comprehensive plan on Oct. 30 to find solutions to the complex challenges facing Native American children throughout Indian Country.

The bipartisan legislation, Heitkamp’s first bill as a senator, would create a national Commission on Native American Children to conduct an intensive study into issues facing Native children – such as high rates of poverty, unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and few economic opportunities – and make recommendations on how to ensure Native children are better taken care of and given the opportunities to thrive. 

Heitkamp and Murkowski are both members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“We have all heard stories or seen first-hand the struggles that too many Native children and their families face from extreme poverty to child abuse to suicide. Since I’ve been in public office, I’ve worked to address many of these challenges, and I’m proud my first bill as a U.S. Senator will take a serious look at finding solutions to better protect Native children and give them the opportunities they deserve,” said Heitkamp. “Tragically, for children in our nation’s tribal communities, the barriers to success are high and they are the most at-risk population in the country, facing serious disparities in safety, health and education.”

She said the government needs to strive for a day when Native children no longer live in third-world conditions; when they don’t face the threat of abuse on a daily basis; when they receive the good health care and education to help them grow and succeed.

“The federal government pledged long ago to protect Native families and children. We haven’t lived up to that promise. But we can change that,” Heitkamp said.

Murkowski agreed that the federal government must uphold its trust responsibility to tribes, especially to Native children.

“This commission will examine from the lens of justice, education, and healthcare how to improve the lives of our Nation’s native children,” Murkowski said.

Conditions for young people in Indian Country are tragic: 37 percent of Native children live in poverty; suicide rates are 2.5 times the national average for children 15-24 years old; high school graduation rate for Native students is nearly 50 percent, compared to more than 75 percent for white students; and while the overall rate of child mortality in the U.S. has decreased since 2000, the rate for Native children has increased 15 percent.

Tribal governments face numerous obstacles in responding to the needs of Native children. Existing program rules and the volume of resources required to access grant opportunities stymie efforts of tribes to tackle these issues. At the same time, federal agencies lack clear guidance about the direction that should be taken to best address the needs of Native children in order to fulfill our trust responsibility to tribal nations.

To help reverse these impacts, the Commission on Native Children would conduct a comprehensive study on the programs, grants, and supports available for Native children, both at government agencies and on the ground in Native communities, with the goal of developing a sustainable system that delivers wrap-around services to Native children. 

Then, the 11-member commission would issue a report to address a series of challenges currently facing Native children. A Native Children Subcommittee would also provide advice to the commission. The commission’s report would address how to achieve: better use of existing resources, increased coordination, measurable outcomes, stronger data, stronger private sector partnerships, and implementation of best practices.

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.

Cantwell Names Indian Affairs Committee Staff Director

U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Incoming U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced Friday that Mary J. Pavel will serve as Staff Director for the committee in the 113th Congress.
Pavel, a member of the Skokomish Tribe of the state of Washington, is an expert on Tribal law and policy. A graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Washington School of Law, Pavel became one of the first Native American women to be made a partner in a National Indian Law Firm. She joined Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson & Perry in 1992 and became a partner in January 1999.
Pavel is the Founding President of the Native American Bar Association of Washington, D.C., and is a member of both the Washington State Bar Association and the District of Columbia Bar Association.
“Mary is well-known as one of the best and sharpest policy experts in Native American and Alaska Native policy and law,” Cantwell said. “Mary grew up in Washington state and understands the diverse issues facing Tribes in the Pacific Northwest and across the country. I look forward to working with Mary to improve economic opportunity, strengthen education and increase access to health care for all of Indian Country. With Mary on board, I am confident that the Senate Indian Affairs Committee is ready to tackle tough issues and make significant progress for Tribes.”