Senate panel takes up plan to settle Bill Williams River water dispute

By Julianne DeFilippis , Cronkite News

 

Hualapai Chairwoman Sherry Counts told a Senate committee that the northwestern Arizona tribe supports a bill that would formalize two water-rights agreements between it, Freeport Minerals Corp. and the government.Photo by Julianne DeFilippis

Hualapai Chairwoman Sherry Counts told a Senate committee that the northwestern Arizona tribe supports a bill that would formalize two water-rights agreements between it, Freeport Minerals Corp. and the government.
Photo by Julianne DeFilippis

WASHINGTON – Tribal and state lawmakers urged a Senate panel Wednesday to approve a water-rights agreement between the Hualapai tribe and Freeport Minerals Corp., saying time is fast running out on a deal.

Witnesses told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that the Bill Williams River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2014, which would guarantee the tribe certain levels of water use in the area, has been years in the making. But statutory limits on Freeport’s water rights mean it could all be undone if Congress does not act this year, the bill’s supporters said.

“We need to have this done before that deadline or the whole thing goes away,” Hualapai Chairwoman Sherry Counts said at the hearing.

The bill is sponsored by Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, while a companion measure in the House has been co-sponsored by all nine members of the state’s House delegation.

“It’s rare to find a piece of legislation that can garner bipartisan and bicameral support from the entire state congressional delegation,” said Flake, who called the bill an important piece of legislation for the whole state, not just the tribe.

But not everyone supports the bill.

Flake said officials in Mohave and La Paz counties have raised questions about the deal. And Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Michael Black testified Wednesday that while his agency supports the goals of the bill, it has “significant concerns” about provisions that waive sovereign immunity.

Black said those concerns “must be resolved before the administration can support the bill,” and assured the committee that the bureau is working to find a solution.

But Flake said a waiver of immunity is not unprecedented in such agreements and that parties in the deal “must have the ability to enforce the terms of the agreement.” The waiver “must be expressed and unequivocal,” he said.

Besides having the backing of the entire congressional delegation, Flake introduced letters of support from Gov. Jan Brewer, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Freeport Minerals and the Nature Conservancy.

In addition to guaranteeing water-rights for the tribe, the deal calls on Freeport to give the tribe $1 million toward a water infrastructure study, to transfer land to the state for a conservation program and to stop pumping water near a spring that is sacred to the tribe, among other provisions.

“We’ve been on the Colorado River since time immemorial and we have no water rights,” said Counts, who said securing those rights is a key goal for tribe.

But she also noted that water rights are also critical for any economic development plans the tribe has, for building resort facilities for tourists or housing for tribal members.

McCain said he and Flake are willing to work with anyone who has concerns about the proposal. But a bill needs to be approved to protect water rights for everyone, he said.

“We have to conclude our native water-rights settlements if we are going to have a predictable supply of water for Indians and non-Indians alike,” McCain said.

 

Monacan tribe one step closer to achieving federal recognition

A pageantry of color, drums, crafts and food unfolded at the 20th Monacan Indian Nation Powwow in 2012 near Elon.The Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2013 recently was passed out of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to await a vote in the full U.S. Senate. If the legislation passes, it would grant federal recognition to six Virginia Indian tribes, including the Monacan Indian Nation.

A pageantry of color, drums, crafts and food unfolded at the 20th Monacan Indian Nation Powwow in 2012 near Elon.
The Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2013 recently was passed out of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to await a vote in the full U.S. Senate. If the legislation passes, it would grant federal recognition to six Virginia Indian tribes, including the Monacan Indian Nation.

By Sherese Gore, NewEraProgress.com

The Monacan Indian Nation, Amherst County’s original inhabitants, now is one step closer to receiving federal recognition of its indigenous status.On April 2, the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2013 was passed out of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to await a vote in the full U.S. Senate. If the legislation passes, it would grant federal recognition to six Virginia Indian tribes, including the Monacan Indian Nation.The bill was introduced by Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.“The fact that they’ve never been recognized is a real injustice,” Kaine said.

The six tribes have a “long and well-known history but have been uniquely disadvantaged because they’ve never been federally recognized,” he said.

The 2013 bill follows many years of efforts by the Monacan Indian Nation to receive recognition from the federal government. Doing so would provide a host of benefits, including medical and educational services as well as tribal sovereignty.

The Monacans have resided in central Virginia for millennia, and today claim Bear Mountain in Amherst County as their cultural base.

In 1908, an Indian mission was formed at the base of the mountain, which provided a church and a school for the Monacan community.

Lee Luther JrFormer Monacan tribal council member Joseph Twohawks, shown here interacting with students at Rockfish River Elementary School in Nelson County, said gaining federal recognition can be a matter of pride. “For most people, you’ve called yourself something for all these many years, and now somebody with the powers that be agrees with it,” he said.

Lee Luther Jr
Former Monacan tribal council member Joseph Twohawks, shown here interacting with students at Rockfish River Elementary School in Nelson County, said gaining federal recognition can be a matter of pride. “For most people, you’ve called yourself something for all these many years, and now somebody with the powers that be agrees with it,” he said.

According to a former tribal council member Joseph Twohawks, federal recognition means different things to different people. To some, the recognition represents financial benefits. For others: pride.

Although the tribe has held state recognition since the 1980s, little has come from that aside from letters of apology and recognition; if you’re Native American with a tribal card, you can hunt and fish without a license, Twohawks said.

“For most people, you’ve called yourself something for all these many years, and now somebody with the powers that be agrees with it,” Twohawks said.

Gaining federal recognition is a “tough long process,” he said, that hasn’t been without its opponents.

According to Twohawks, the tribe first attempted to gain federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but the tribe only satisfied six of the BIA’s seven requirements that attempt to affirm historic and cultural tribal identity.

Establishing a historical identity is nearly impossible for Virginia Indians.

With the passage of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act in 1924, a person could be classified as either “white” or “colored,” and the marriage and birth records of tribal peoples were altered.

Striving for congressional status has been met with roadblocks, as some legislators in recent years have been leery of Virginia’s tribes gaining federal recognition because of the fear that the tribes would establish casinos on their lands.

The 2013 bill satisfies that issue, according to Kaine. According to the bill, the six tribes “may not conduct gaming activities as a matter of claimed inherent authority or under any Federal law.”

Another issue that has hindered Virginia Indians from being recognized by the federal government is that they made peace too soon, Kaine said.

While the status of many of the nation’s western tribes is established because those peoples formed treaties with the U.S. government, the Monacans signed the Treaty of Middle Plantation of 1677 with the British, nearly 100 years before the Declaration of Independence, he said.

“Because they made a treaty with the English and not the American government, it has worked against them,” Kaine said.

But while the bill awaits time on the Senate floor, an irony exists outside its doors, Kaine said.

Blocks from the U.S. Capitol and resting inside the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is a diorama that explores the story of Virginia’s indigenous peoples.

“But we will not recognize living and breathing members of those tribes,” Kaine said.