House easily approves bills for Native youth and tribal tourism

A view of Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. The "Sky City" village is a well-known and popular tourist attraction. Photo from Sky City Casino Hotel / Facebook

Lawmakers quickly approved two Indian Country bills on Monday although neither effort comes with additional federal resources.

The House passed S.246, the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act, and S.1579, the Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience Act (NATIVE Act), by a suspension of the rules. The measures were considered non-controversial and both enjoy bipartisan support.

Neither bill, however, comes with federal funds. The original version of S.246 authorized $2 million for the commission that will study ways to improve health, education and other outcomes for American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian youth. But the appropriation was stripped out of the version that was approved on Monday.

Despite the change, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) welcomed action on a bill she introduced in January 2015. S.246 passed the Senate in June of that year so it's one step closer to becoming law.

"Every day, children across Indian Country wake up with the odds stacked against them – but the U.S. Congress spoke with one resounding voice to change that," Heitkamp said on Tuesday.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Consideration of Indian Country Bills in U.S. House of Representatives September 12, 2016

S.1579, the NATIVE Act also does not come with additional federal resources but that was part of the point. It requires federal agencies to update their existing management plans and tourism strategies to include tribes, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. Supporters say the simple change will bring economic benefits to Indian Country.

"This bill would help strengthen coordination and collaboration between federal agencies where tourism programs currently exist without requiring any new appropriations, Rep. Amata Catherine Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa) said during consideration of S.1579 on Monday. "By removing any silo systems within government, tribes can seek to seize economic opportunities."

Consideration of both measures took less than 10 minutes. The bills will still need to be signed by President Barack Obama before becoming law.

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