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House subcommittee hears views on tribal and Alaska Native bills

From left: Karen Mouritsen (Bureau of Land Management), Michael Black (Bureau of Indian Affairs), Chief Douglas G. Lankford (Miami Nation), Secretary/Treasurer Aaron Dixon (Susanville Indian Rancheria) and Nelson Angapak Sr. Photo by Andrew Bahl for Indianz.Com

Rep. Young pushes Alaska Native veterans measure
By Andrew Bahl
Indianz.Com Staff Writer

The House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs took testimony on three bills at a hearing on Wednesday that lacked the fireworks of the panel's last session.

The air was instead more congratulatory as lawmakers and witnesses offered well wishes to the newly married chairman of the panel. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) wed Anne Garland Walton in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol a day earlier as he celebrated his 82nd birthday.

"God gave me a loving wife of 46 years, two beautiful daughters and 14 grandchildren," Young said on Facebook in reference to his late wife, Lula Young, who was beloved among Alaska Natives. "We have both known great love and experienced deep heartbreak. In many ways neither of us ever thought we would find love again, but sometimes life surprises you."

The joyous mood, though, didn't stop Young from holding Interior Department officials to the fire on H.R.2387, the Alaska Native Veterans Land Allotment Equity Act. His bill reopens the allotment process for Alaska Natives who served in the Vietnam War but were denied opportunities to select lands because they were in the military at the time.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Legislative Hearing on H.R. 487, H.R. 2212, H.R. 2387

“These veterans deserve that land,” said Young, who noted that the proposed allotments constitute far less than 1 percent of the land already under control of the federal government in Alaska. About 2,800 Alaska Natives served in Vietnam, according to a hearing memo on the bill.

“We had the people in the war, defending our country," Young added. "Why is the Department of the Interior so intent on not allowing the veterans to have their land? What's the hangup?”

"I'm going to move this bill with you or without you," Young told Mike Black, the director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Karen Mouritsen, a director at the Bureau of Land Management.

Nelson Angapak, a former vice president of the Alaska Federation of Natives who served in Vietnam, pointed out that Native people enlist in the military at higher per capita rates than any other racial or ethnic group in Alaska. He said passage of Young's bill was an urgent matter.

"Our veterans are dying off," Angapak testified. "Some of my friends who served over there are no longer with us. That is why we have the urgent request that you pass this bill."

The subcommittee's other two bills were far less controversial. H.R.487, introduced by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), authorizes the Miami Nation of Oklahoma to lease and sell some of its fee simple lands.

Currently, the tribe must adhere to the Non-Intercourse Act, which prevents tribes from leasing or conveying any land they own without federal approval. Chief Douglas Lankford told lawmakers that the bill would relieve his tribe from the “crippling” restrictions of one of the oldest laws on the books.

"The Indian Non-Intercourse Act is old and out of date but the Supreme Court confirmed it is still in effect,” said Lankford, who called the law a “handicap to self determination.”

Similar bills have been passed for other tribes, subcommittee staff noted in a hearing memo. The most recent one was for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota, which President Barack Obama signed into law in March 2014.

The other bill was H.R.2212, sponsored by Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-California). It places about 300 acres of BLM property in trust for the Susanville Indian Rancheria in northern California.

“The land is our ancestral homeland and it has cultural and historical importance,” Secretary/Treasurer Aaron Dixon told lawmakers. “We seek to reacquire this land to preserve and protect it.”

Dixon added that the land, which is contiguous to the tribe's reservation and has been approved for disposal by the BLM, would be used to continue traditional agricultural practices and could eventually be used for a cultural center, museum and recreation facility. The bill contains a gaming prohibition, the hearing memo notes.

The Obama administration supports H.R.487 and H.R.2212, Black said in his testimony. He promised to work with Young on moving H.R.2387 forward.

The hearing lasted about 53 minutes. Audio can be found on the Indianz.Com SoundCloud.

Committee Notice:
Legislative Hearing on H.R. 487, H.R. 2212, H.R. 2387 (June 10, 2015)

Related Stories:
House panel holds hearing on three tribal and Alaska Native bills (6/9)
House subcommittee sets June 10 hearing on three Indian bills (6/3)
NCAI responds to criticism from Rep. Young on land-into-trust (05/27)
Bryan Newland: Important context on land-into-trust process (5/20)
Rep. Young stirs questions in Indian Country in two hearings (05/18)
Rep. Torres issues statement on heated exchange at hearing (5/15)
House subcommittee hearing on land-into-trust turns heated (5/14)

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