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Cherokee Freedmen dispute affects NAHASDA debate
Friday, September 7, 2007
Filed Under: National | Politics

The House reauthorized the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act on Thursday but sent a warning to the Cherokee Nation over the status of the Freedmen.

H.R.2786 drew bipartisan support, with every Democrat who was present voting in favor of the bill while all the no votes came from Republicans. The roll call was 333 to 75.

"The success of NAHASDA is clear," Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Michigan), the bill's sponsor, said on the House floor. "Since its enactment, thousands of housing units have been constructed or are in development."

"Despite this record, however, there is still a substantial unmet need for housing units, a need that continues to grow for one of the fastest growing population groups in the country," he added.

The second-largest tribe in the U.S. could lose its share of the money, however. Rep. Mel Watt (D-North Carolina) said the Cherokee Nation violated an 1866 treaty by denying citizenship to the Freedmen, who are descendants of former slaves.

"I reluctantly offer this amendment that ... would deny [NAHASDA] funds from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma until such time that they recognize the Freedmen as citizens of the Cherokee Nation," he said.

Rep. Dan Boren (D-Oklahoma), whose district includes the Cherokee Nation, stepped in with a compromise. He added language to Watt's amendment to delay the funding cut while the tribe's court system considers the status of the Freedmen.

"Because the Freedmen are current members of the Cherokee Nation, cutting off funding for the Cherokee Nation today would have the effect of cutting benefits to the Freedmen, the very people this amendment attempts to protect," he said

If the Freedmen prevail in tribal court, the funding cut won't take effect, Boren said. An injunction currently protects them from losing citizenship and other benefits.

"But if by chance six months down the road, three months down the road, two months down the road, a contrary set of circumstances exist ... then this language will be in the bill and would appropriately have been put in the bill today," Watt said.

Watt agreed to the proposal and both his and Boren's amendment were approved by a voice vote. Three other amendments were also considered but two of them failed in a recorded vote.

The amendment that passed by 263-146 vote bars NAHASDA funds from being used to employ people who are in the U.S. illegally. The language is present in other federal laws, so it's not new, but this is the first time it has been included in NAHASDA.

"This amendment says that none of these funds that are authorized may be used to hire those people who are not legal to work in the United States," said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the sponsor. "This would include illegal aliens."

Separately, a proposal by Rep. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico) to develop a demonstration program for tribal community and economic development projects was included in NAHASDA. This was part of a standalone bill, H.R.3002, that was already approved by the House Committee on Financial Services.

"We all know that economic development and infrastructure needs are acute in Indian Country," he said. "My amendment allows Native Americans to receive the same opportunity for economic development that states, cities and other units of local government across the United States enjoy without an increase in direct appropriations."

One of the amendments that failed addressed Native Hawaiians. Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland (R-Georgia) said federal funds can't be used for an "ethnic group" in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

"Native Hawaiians have never exercised inherent sovereignty as a native indigenous people, and our Constitution seeks to eliminate racial separation, not promote it," he said. "How can we promote equality while separating our people?"

His amendment, however, failed by a 112-198 vote. All of the votes in favor came from Republicans.

Overall, the NAHASDA reauthorization provides $2.2 billion to tribes for construction and enhancement of housing. Kildee said the bill provides greater flexibility for tribes to meet the needs of their members.

H.R.2786 also creates a program that authorizes tribes to set aside 15 percent of their annual NAHASDA funding, up to $1 million, for the acquisition, construction, or rehabilitation of housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development would be required to provide a report to Congress on the program by 2011.

Other provisions include:
• Permits tribes to compete for funds under HUD's HOME Investment Partnerships Act which presently provides affordable housing in the form of block grants to States and local governments;
• Removes competitive procurement rules and procedures for purchases under $5,000;
• Increases access to federal supply sources, such as government discounts when on business travel, provided through the U.S. General Services Administration;
• Recognizes tribal preference laws for NAHASDA hiring and contracting;
• Permits tribes to carry over funds to a subsequent grant year;
• Permits tribes to establish a reserve account for up to 20% of the tribe's annual NAHASDA grant amount.

"The House has shown its unequivocal commitment to address the dire housing needs of Indian Country,” said Marty Shuravloff, the chairman of the National American Indian Housing Council. "Passage of this bill in the House helps ensure that tribes and their housing authorities are provided the urgently needed tools to continue the efforts to improve the housing conditions that our people face every day."

The bill goes to the Senate for consideration. The current version of NAHASDA expires on September 30, 2007.

Get the Bill:
H.R.2786 | House Report

Roll Calls:
Providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 2786) to reauthorize the programs for housing assistance for Native Americans | Westmoreland of Georgia Amendment | King of Iowa Amendment | Price of Georgia Amendment | Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act of 2007

Relevant Links:
Office of Public and Indian Housing, HUD - http://www.hud.gov/offices/pih
National American Indian Housing Council - http://naihc.net

Related Stories:
Column: Cherokee citizenship about sovereignty (9/6)
Cherokee chief blasts 'hostile' members of Congress (9/4)
Rep. Watson: Congressional oversight of Freedmen (9/4)
Opinion: Cherokee Nation wrong on Freedmen (8/31)
NAACP denounces Cherokee Nation over Freedmen (8/27)
Editorial: Cherokee Nation takes the heat (8/24)
Editorial: Rep. Watson roars through Oklahoma (8/23)
Rep. Watson, Chief Smith face off over Freedmen (8/22)
Rep. Watson holds forums on Cherokee Freedmen (8/21)
Graham: Facts and fiction on Cherokee Freedmen (8/16)
Rep. Watson schedules meetings on Freedmen (8/15)
Cherokee Nation chief sworn into another term (8/15)
BIA opposes Congressional oversight on Freedmen (8/13)
Opinion: Cherokee Nation punished for ancestry (8/13)
BIA changes course on Cherokee Nation amendment (8/10)
Sen. Coburn backs Cherokee Freedmen citizenship (8/10)
Opinion: Cherokee Nation can't win on Freedmen (8/10)
Cherokee Nation given a month on Freedmen issue (8/3)
Rep. Boren claims agreement on Cherokee funding (8/2)
Graham: Bill seeks to terminate Cherokee Nation (8/2)
Bill cutting Cherokee Nation funds faces vote (7/30)
House panel votes to cut funds to Cherokee Nation (7/27)
Navajo housing official calls for more NAHASDA funds (7/24)
Senate committee tackles Indian housing woes (7/20) House panel holds NAHASDA reauthorization hearing (6/7)

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