AWARD SEASON: Amid weighty legislative talk, U.S. Rep. Don Young keeps NCAI on its toes
Dean of Congress asks for an award that the National Congress of American Indians says it already gave him.
WASHINGTON – Substantive inside-baseball legislative policy questions and answers came to light during the U.S. Congress-focused portions of this year’s winter meeting of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).
The most notable surrounded the long-delayed reauthorizations of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Top U.S. House and Senate congresspeople and staffers shared their insights behind the delays, and their sometimes-wonky rationales offered some intriguing insight.
More on that later…
But first, U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the dean of the House and ranking member of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples, got everyone at NCAI all riled up over whether he had ever received a particular award from the organization in recognition of his long and noteworthy service to Indian Country and Alaska Natives.
Young came in hot to the afternoon portion of the Feb. 14 afternoon session, held virtually, because U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the Committee on Natural Resources, had just been awarded a “Congressional Leadership Award” by NCAI.
“I never got a prize like Grijalva did, so I’ll have to remember that one, too,” lamented Young, who noted that he’s been involved in Indigenous affairs for nearly 66 years and that his first wife was Alaska Native, as are his children and grandchildren. He’s led and supported much Indian-focused legislation over his many years in Congress. Some of his top issues right now, he said, are getting advanced appropriations approved for the Indian Health Service (IHS) with the House Appropriations Committee and to get NAHASDA reauthorized with Native Hawaiians included.
Yvette Joseph, a long-time Indian Country advocate and champion for her Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, quickly posted in the online chat accompanying the session a personal note to the congressman.
"Thank You Congressman Don Young for your continued leadership,” Joseph wrote. “NCAI recognized Mr. Young in 2012 with the Congressional Leadership Award."
Wait, had the esteemed, yet sometimes cantankerous, Don Young previously received an award from NCAI?
He didn’t recall having received one, yet it seemed unlikely that he had not, so Indigenous Wire reached out to Dante Desiderio, CEO of NCAI, to get to the full scoop on this obviously important matter.
“He did back in 2012,” Desiderio shared. “I believe he was positioning himself for another one!”
Shannon Holsey, NCAI treasurer and president of Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, later chimed in during the official meeting, informing Young that he had previously received the same award as Grijalva, but she said she was happy to share an award with him that she had also received that day from NCAI for her tribal leadership.
“It was classic Don Young,” added another NCAI official. “You gotta love him for it. I don’t love if it took away from the substantive conversation we had on Indian legislation, but I do love that we have him fighting for us.”
Young said he’d like to get four years of advanced appropriations for IHS nailed down in Congress in order to fulfill the federal government’s trust responsibility and so that Indian healthcare isn’t subject to the whims of government shutdowns and continuing budget resolutions.
But appropriators won’t commit to doing it, Young said.
National Indian Health Board CEO Stacy Bohlen had said earlier in the session that some folks on Capitol Hill believe Indian Country only wants advanced appropriations because the Veterans Health Administration has it. She didn’t name names.
“That is an affront to sovereignty,” Bohlen said, as Indigenous Wire previously reported. “Advanced appropriations supports the government’s trust obligation to provide healthcare service to our people.”
“NAHASDA is another one,” Young said regarding his top Indian priorities. “Now that’s been held up in the Senate – we passed it out of the House. We’re working to try to get it done again. It’s the right thing to do. It works well. We’ve built some great housing facilities in Alaska. We want to continue with that.”
Young offered advice to Indian Country to stick together to get it over the finish line. He said NAHASDA’s reauthorization has been held up because, “They wanted me to give up on the Hawaiian Natives. But I’m not going to give up on any Natives.”
Some legislators — he didn’t say which ones — have reportedly told Young that Hawaiian Natives are not Native. “Well, they are,” he said during the NCAI meeting. “Once you throw one group under the bus, they’ll throw another group under the bus. Be united across the board, and Indigenous people of America will get their just dues.”
U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.) said that legislators, including herself and Young, have decided not to separate Native people from NAHASDA because they don’t wish to allow “other people to define who’s Native and who’s not.”
“The same thing with the Violence against Women Act,” Moore continued. She noted that in 2013, she helped lead the reauthorization of VAWA, which included enhanced tribal criminal jurisdiction.
Up to that point, VAWA’s reauthorization had been non-controversial, usually passing on a bipartisan basis, Moore said.
“But in 2013, we provided special protections for Native women [because] tribal authorities did not have authority to arrest non-Native people,” she added.
“That’s when all hell broke loose, and we continue to find a resistance to expanding the authority of Native authorities to stop domestic violence.”
She noted “huge loopholes” in the 2013 reauthorization “that really permitted perpetrators to continue their illegal acts,” adding, “We’re working on that – we have never given up.”
Moore said there was a continued aversion in the Senate to stronger tribal authority under VAWA. “They claim that they’re going to be passing it any day,” she said. “We’ll wait and see.”
To that end, Jennifer Romero, Democratic staff director and chief counsel of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), and Amber Ebhard, the Republican deputy staff director for the committee, later explained at NCAI the years of work that some Senate staffers have put into the effort to reauthorize VAWA with stronger tribal provisions. It was introduced along bipartisan lines last week in the Senate.
On tax issues, Moore said that tribes should have the same tax financing tools as state and local governments. Parity with states and localities on tax issues related to the so-called essential government function is something that the legislator said she is pursuing, both in the stalled Build Back Better plan — and perhaps separate from it. Double taxation is another issue she is taking on regarding Indian Country, she added.
Moore further described why she is leading the Promoting Sustainable Energy Projects for Tribal Communities Act, which she said would “allow tribal governments to receive cash to an amount equal to the value of the credit they would otherwise be eligible for certain tax credits available to offset the cost of electricity generated using qualified electrical resources.”
A final thought…
“We’re not governing now, we’re fighting all the time,” Young said regarding him and his congressional peers. “I know how to solve that. You give the leadership back to the chairmen. Don’t let it go to the Speaker’s office, regardless of who the Speaker is. Let the chairmen run it like it was when I was there for 22 years. We can come together with one another and then bring a bill to the floor that’s not a Republican bill, not a Democrat bill.”
“It’s easy to hate. It’s hard to love sometimes,” Young added. “But love will get something done. Hate will not. Don’t rule by revenge.”
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