House approves national water bill without #NoDAPL amendment

A prayer ceremony by residents of the Sacred Stone Camp led to a confrontation with authorities in North Dakota on September 28, 2016. #NoDAPL resisters witnessed "armed personnel with shotguns and assault rifles, military vehicles, and what looks like an aerial spray," according to a post on Facebook. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography [GoFundMe]

Lawmakers have once again approved a national water bill without addressing the high-profile #NoDAPL crisis.

By a vote of 399 to 25, the House passed H.R.5303, the Water Resources Development Act, on Wednesday afternoon. But key Democrats voiced objections because their #NoDAPL amendment went ignored by their Republican counterparts.

The House Rules Committee in fact twice refused to allow the amendment -- which was submitted by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona) -- to be considered during debate on H.R.5303. At a regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday and at an unexpected meeting that took place around 11:15pm on Tuesday night, the Republican-controlled panel kept the #NoDAPL proposal off the table.

"Turning a blind eye and refusing to discuss those issues, even for five minutes, on the House floor sends a clear message to Indian Country that its concerns will not be heard in this Congress," Grijalva, who visited the #NoDAPL encampment earlier this month and hosted a forum on the issue on Capitol Hill last week, said on Wednesday after the dust settled.

The amendment would have prevented the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from approving a crucial portion of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline without an environmental review of the controversial project. That's something the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its many allies have been demanding as they seek to protect waters and sacred sites on and near the reservation in North Dakota from contamination.

“We must respect tribal sovereignty – period, end of story,” said Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado), who was a co-sponsor of the #NoDAPL amendment. “The Dakota Access Pipeline needs to be stopped before it destroys the environment and tribal cultural heritage."

The omission was all the more glaring because the Tuesday night meeting was called to address an amendment that had previously been deemed "Late" by the House Rules Committee. Grijalva's #NoDAPL proposal, on the other hand, had been submitted on time.

But higher powers intervened amid controversy over a different water crisis. Republican and Democratic leaders reached a deal to put the "Late" amendment to a vote in order to provide $170 million to address water contamination issues in Flint, Michigan, and in other communities.

With thousands of children facing serious health issues in Flint, lawmakers approved the amendment -- which was submitted by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Michigan) -- by a vote of 284 to 141 on Wednesday afternoon.

H.R.5303 itself was then easily approved by a vote of 399 to 25, drawing support from almost every Republican and Democrat in the chamber.

Breaking: ND authorities deploy armed personnel with shotguns and assault rifles, military vehicles, and and aerial...

Posted by Sacred Stone Camp on Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Sacred Stone Camp on Facebook: "ND authorities deploy armed personnel with shotguns and assault rifles, military vehicles, and what looks like an aerial spray on peaceful Water Protectors gathered in prayer." Photos by Rob Wilson Photography [GoFundMe]

While the bill does not directly address the Dakota Access Pipeline, it includes a amendment that requires the Army Corps to review its tribal consultation policies and provide Congress with answers to some important questions. The proposal -- which was adopted by a voice vote on Wednesday -- was submitted by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin), who has been an advocate for Indian Country issues.

Among other issues, the bill asks the Army Corps to determine whether its "current process adequately considers tribal interests including environmental, social, health and well-being of tribal members."

Incidentally, Moore's amendment had been deemed "Late" by the House Rules Committee this week but it was still allowed to be brought up for debate.

Another amendment to H.R.5303 brings finality to a long-running Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act dispute. It requires the Army Corps to transfer the remains of the Kennewick Man -- an 8,500-year-old Native ancestor who was removed from his resting place along the Columbia River in 1996 -- to the state of Washington.

The state would then allow for him to be reburied by his tribal relatives, who refer to him as the Ancient One. DNA tests confirmed a link to present-day Native peoples, including to members of the Colville Tribes in Washington.

'The Colville Tribes, along with the other claimant tribes, has always known that the Ancient One was our ancestor, and it is only right that he should be laid to rest in his homeland in the traditional way,” Chairman Michael Marchand said in a press release on Wednesday.

“I’m very grateful to the 22 Colville tribal members who provided DNA samples to help prove that the Ancient One is not only Native American, but our relative,” Marchand added. "We are now closer than ever to bringing him home."

The Kennewick Man provision -- which was a bipartisan effort from members of Congress in Washington and in Oregon -- was included in H.R.5303 by a voice vote on Wednesday.

Yet another amendment authorizes the Army Corps to transfer land to the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma provided that the tribe pays "fair market value" for the land. The property will then be placed in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The language -- which was submitted by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), a member of the Cherokee Nation -- was added to the bill on Tuesday by a voice vote. Incidentally, it had also been deemed "Late" by the House Rules Committee.

With consideration complete on H.R.5303, lawmakers in the House and the Senate can now reconcile the differences in their respective versions. Both versions, for example, include the same Kennewick Man language.

But the Senate's version, S.2848, includes a provision that benefits the four tribes with treaty rights on the Columbia River. It seeks seeks to address the housing needs of Indian families who were displaced by the creation of the Bonneville Dam and the John Day Dam decades ago.

S.2848 also includes the entire text of S.2717, the Dam Repairs and Improvements for Tribes Act (DRIFT Act). The bill invests $655 million over 20 years to address dam maintenance across Indian Country.

Another provision in S.2848 addresses the Gold King Mine disaster that polluted the water systems on three reservations in the Southwest. The bill speeds up the reimbursement process for the Navajo Nation -- whose leaders have spent at least $3.8 million so far on emergency and other costs -- and other affected governments.

But the Senate's version does not include the Army Corps tribal consultation language and it ignored the #NoDAPL movement altogether. However, it provides more money -- $220 million -- for the water contamination crisis in Flint.

Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline remains on hold after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals put a halt to work for 20 miles on both sides of the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. A hearing on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's request for a more permanent injunction will take place next Wednesday, October 5.

Additionally, the Obama administration has said it will not approve work at Lake Oahe pending further review of issues raised by the tribe and its allies. That process is expected to take "weeks", a government attorney said during a court hearing on September 16.

Separately, the Department of Justice Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior have initiated formal consultation with tribes about large infrastructure projects like Dakota Access. A series of meetings will take place in October and November.

"I know that many of you have come together across tribes and across the country to support the community at Standing Rock. And together, you’re making your voices heard," President Barack Obama said at his final White House Tribal Nations Conference on Monday.

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals #NoDAPL Documents:
Injunction Blocking Construction of Dakota Access Pipeline (September 16, 2016)
Order Setting October 5 Hearing (September 21, 2016)
Order Allocating Oral Argument Time (September 21, 2016)

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