Harjo: House needs Indian Affairs Committee

"The House of Representatives dismantled its longstanding Committee on Indian Affairs in 1946, as strident special interests were trying to end federal/tribal treaty and trust relationships and to force Indians to cash out land, water, minerals and other resources.

Today, more than 60 years later, Indian issues are still handled on an unstructured, ad hoc basis in the House Resources Committee, where they are subject to the same competing interests.

The absence of an Indian affairs structure means that Native people have very few points of access to the legislative process. Even members of Congress don't have much control over the federal Indian policy developed in their names. Decisions about substance, timing and progress of legislation are left to a handful of staffers, who can be curt and unavailable to members and Native people alike.

It's no wonder that some tribal leaders got sick and tired of being dismissed and disrespected, or just getting nowhere, and hired Team Abramoff and their ilk to go around the Resources Committee to the House leadership. Others, who lacked system-greasing money, were forced to smile and perfect the posture of a supplicant.

One Resources Committee staffer went before the NCAI's legislative strategy session, Jan. 23 and 24, and chided the group for bypassing her with the ''NCAI-initiated'' request for a House Indian committee. The staffer said she received a call about the written request from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and was caught off-guard because no one told her anything about it.

It was reminiscent of the days in the 1960s and 1970s, when BIA employees would chastise Indian leaders for not checking in with them before going to the Hill (which was an improvement from the days when tribal people were not permitted, and later not expected, to go anywhere in Washington without a BIA escort).

Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., is a soft-spoken, kindly gentleman - not the sort to chide tribal leaders in public or private. It's understandable that he does not want to relinquish committee jurisdiction or staff positions, especially after spending many years in the Ranking Minority Member position under Republican rule.

But the fact that important Native organizations want the House to reinstate the Indian committee should give him pause.

NCAI and six other groups have called for a full Indian affairs committee in the House. They also have rejected the idea of an Indian subcommittee within the Resources Committee. Other organizations joining NCAI are the National Indian Business Association, National Indian Education Association, National Indian Gaming Association, National Indian Health Board, National Indian Housing Council and the Native American Rights Fund."

Get the Story:
Suzan Shown Harjo: Order in the House needed for Indian affairs (Indian Country Today 1/26)

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