Native legislative momentum in waning days of 117th U.S. Congress
Lumbee/Choctaw federal recognition, funding for IHS, new trust lands, environmental & cultural protections, Native veteran support, tribal college enhancements all in various stages of progress.
WASHINGTON — As tribes await word on whether federal recognition will be granted by the U.S. Congress to the Lumbee Tribe and/or the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians within the must-pass fiscal year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, federal legislators have been busily noting progress on a handful of other Indigenous-focused bills.
First, will forward funding and/or advanced appropriations pass for the Indian Health Service in the lame duck? Plenty of bipartisan legislators and leaders in the Biden administration say they want it to happen. But, as noted by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra during last week’s White House Tribal Nations Summit, the votes just aren’t there yet. Why this Democratic Congress can’t get this Indian Country priority done is a question on many tribal citizens’ minds. Indigenous health, after all, is supposed to be a federal treaty and trust obligation, many have noted, including supportive top U.S. Office of Management and Budget officials.
Making good on his promises to the Karuk Tribe, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) announced Dec. 6 that H.R. 6032, the Katimiîn and Ameekyáaraam Sacred Lands Act, passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee. It would place federal lands located in Humboldt and Siskiyou counties in California into trust for the tribal nation. “Natural resource stewardship of land, wildlife, plants, and water is at the core of the Karuk people’s culture and identity,” Huffman said in a statement. Yet 95% of their aboriginal territory is currently under federal management, undermining the tribe’s ability to exercise traditional practices that have been passed down since time immemorial. By passing this legislation out of the Natural Resources Committee, we are one step closer to returning sacred ground to the Karuk Tribe, correcting a historic injustice.”
Native environmentalists rejoice: House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) on Dec. 6 celebrated the exclusion of permitting-related provisions from the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act: “Thanks to the hard-fought persistence and vocal opposition of environmental justice communities all across the country, the Dirty Deal has finally been laid to rest,” Grijalva said in a statement. “House Democrats can now close out the year having made historic progress on climate change without this ugly asterisk. Of course, we still have much more work to do to bring justice to those communities who are continuing to bear the brunt of climate change, but I’m at least glad we’re not taking a step backwards today.”
Sonya Tetnowski, president of the National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH) and CEO of the Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley, testified Nov. 30 at a Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing focused on “Native American Veterans: Ensuring Access to VA Health Care and Benefits”:
U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) announced Dec. 6 that they introduced the National Advisory Council on Indian Education Improvement Act, which they say would give tribal colleges and universities more input over federal funding discussions that impact them. “Leaders of Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) know the needs of their organizations, faculty and students better than anyone else,” Rounds said in a statement. “This commonsense bill will enable TCUs to have a voice for how to meet those needs, and it will improve the effectiveness of federal resources. The inclusion of TCU partners will help support the work of the National Advisory Council on Indian Education.”
U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM) on Dec. 2 announced $4,925,582 in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program to strengthen high-speed internet services for the Pueblo of San Ildefonso.
“Improved access to reliable high-speed internet means improved access to education, health care, and economic opportunity,” Heinrich said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, announced Nov. 29 that the Senate had passed H.R. 2930, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act of 2021. “For too long, the export and sale of sacred and culturally significant items from Native peoples in Hawaiʻi, Alaska, and across Indian Country has deprived these communities of their own history and heritage,” Schatz said in a statement. “Our bill will help stop the black market trafficking of these items and bring them home.” President Joe Biden is expected to soon sign it into law.
“As I drafted the STOP Act, I worked closely with New Mexico's Pueblos, the Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache Nations, and the Navajo Nation,” added U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) in a statement. “I'm proud that the legislation earned strong support across Indian Country and across party lines in both the House and Senate. Over these last six years, Senator Lisa Murkowski and I successfully built bipartisan momentum to get the STOP Act over the finish line and to the President’s desk. There is a clear difference between supporting American Indian art ethically and legally as opposed to dealing or exporting items that Tribes have identified as essential and sacred pieces of their cultural heritage. Once the STOP Act is signed into law, we will take an important step forward in halting the illegal and immoral trade of those culturally significant items and returning stolen pieces to their rightful owners.”
U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) announced Nov. 21 that legislation to create a congressional charter for the National American Indian Veterans (NAIV) nonprofit organization unanimously passed the Senate. U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) co-sponsored. “We are one step closer to giving our Native American veterans the recognition they truly deserve and have earned,” Rounds said in a statement. “There are many congressionally chartered veterans service organizations, but none that solely represent the interests and needs of Native American veterans. Our bill would change that by recognizing the mission and authority of the NAIV with a congressional charter. NAIV works closely with Tribal Veterans Services Officers to make certain Native American veterans receive proper benefits and resources. Congress regularly looks to NAIV for input when addressing issues facing Native American veterans. This charter will help give NAIV a larger platform to continue advocating for and serving the more than 140,000 Native American veterans living in the United States.”
More to come? Add what you know in the comments below, or drop me an email.
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