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Rep. Young stirs questions in Indian Country in two hearings

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). Photo from Facebook

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) is well-known for his defense of tribal self-determination but in just two hearings he has managed to inject uncertainty into his legacy.

The first salvo -- or "fusillade" as Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn put it -- came on April 22. He invited an attorney from Alaska whose opposition to Native sovereignty has earned him comparisons to the Ku Klux Klan to testify about federal recognition and allowed lawmakers to question the legitimacy of dozens of tribes.

"I've heard some really troubling things at this hearing," Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, told Young at the time.

Three weeks later, Young was it at again with a hearing on May 13 whose title alone -- "Inadequate Standards for Trust Land Acquisition in the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934" -- was inflammatory. His staff released a contentious memo whose characterization of the General Allotment Act as a "humane" law drew a rebuke from Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), who is one of just two members of a federally recognized tribe in Congress.

"This was not a policy that was advocated by Indians, for Indians," said Cole, a Chickasaw Nation citizen. "This was a policy that Indian tribes at the time violently opposed because they knew what the consequences were going to be."

Since the start of the 114th Congress, Young has chaired just three hearings of the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs. Only three Indian bills have been approved by the larger House Natural Resources Committee in more than four months.

In contrast, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, also under Republican control, has held more than 20 hearings, business meetings and listening sessions since January. More than a dozen bills and one key nomination have cleared the panel.

During last week's hearing, Young took insult at criticism of his leadership style. He vowed retribution against the National Congress of American Indians and Rep. Norma Torres (D-California) after they essentially questioned the negative atmosphere of the subcommittee.

"I do not forgive very well," Young said. "Not once have I not served the American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

Young has served as Alaska's sole representative in Congress since 1973.

Get the Story:
Rep. Young riles Indian Country with hearings on ‘land into trust’ powers (APRN 5/16)
State, Native leaders talk tribal sovereignty at Alaska Bar Association convention (Alaska Dispatch News 5/16)
Reps Trade Barbs Over DOI's Tribal Land To Trust Process (Law360 5/15)
‘Baseless and Fictitious Anti-Indian Rhetoric’ at Rogue Congressional Hearing on Fed Recognition (Indian Country Today 5/13)

Committee Notice:
Oversight Hearing on "Inadequate Standards for Trust Land Acquisition in the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934." (May 14, 2015)

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