National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby speaks at the organization's mid-year session at Mohegan Sun on the Mohegan Reservation in Connecticut on June 13, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com / Available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Key House committee under fire for moving slowly on tribal agenda

A Congressional committee with jurisdiction over tribal issues continues to move slowly on Indian Country's agenda, raising concerns about its intentions.

Since the start of the 115th Congress in January, the House Committee on Natural Resources has held just one markup session. That was back in April but no tribal bills were up for consideration at the time.

After a two-month lapse, the Republican-controlled panel is finally holding its second markup on Thursday. This time, 6 pro-tribal bills are due to be advanced to the full House.

The sparse record stands in stark contrast to that of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Under the leadership of Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the new chairman, the panel has held a slew of hearings, listening sessions and business meetings, sending nearly two dozen bills to the full Senate in the process.

The committee is “clearing the deck” on bills that were introduced at the direction of tribes, Rhonda Harjo, a top Republican staffer, said on Thursday at the mid-year session of the National Congress of American Indians.

“We are trying to get those out as quickly as we can,” added Harjo, who is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation and a descendant of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

But the House committee isn't just lagging on markups. Since January, the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs has held only three hearings on Indian issues, with a fourth taking place on Wednesday afternoon.

At the same time, NCAI President Brian Cladoosby pointed out that a different subcommittee managed to get Indian issues on its radar. And that didn't turn out so well, he said, because no tribal leaders were invited to testify about the land-into-trust process.

“We are hearing the voices that are coming up that have been quiet in the last few years,” Cladoosby said at the conference last Tuesday. “They feel empowered by the last election and they are expressing their hateful and divisive rhetoric against tribes and tribal leaders.”

“Some of them mask their proposals in pro-tribal sovereignty rhetoric,” Cladoosby continued as he questioned why the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations described the Indian Reorganization Act as a federal law “gone astray." “But make no mistake, beneath that rhetoric are ominous intentions.”

“When they hold a Congressional hearing on the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act in a subcommittee that conducts oversights and investigations and does not do Indian policy, and when the hearing doesn't feature any tribal leader witnesses, whose interests are they really advancing?” he wondered.

The House Committee on Natural Resources falls under the leadership of Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah). His reputation among tribes in his home state of Utah is less than stellar.

“Rob Bishop's a storyteller,” Chairman Shaun Chapoose of the Ute Tribe said as diplomatically as possible while in Washington, D.C., last month. “His twisting of facts is what we are trying to deal with as tribes.”

The Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs is led by Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-California), who has a more favorable reputation among tribes in his region. But his ability to call hearings and advance pro-tribal bills is kept in check by Bishop and by more senior Republican leaders in the House -- a situation that Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the former chairman of the panel, warned tribes about more than a year ago.

"When I first came here, the chairmen ran their committees," Young, who has served in Congress since 1973, told NCAI in February 2016. He shared similar concerns when he spoke to the group earlier this year.

The committee's upcoming markup starts on Thursday afternoon and continues next Tuesday morning. The Indian bills on the agenda follow:
H.R. 218, the King Cove Road Land Exchange Act. The bill authorizes a life-saving road for the Alaska Native village of King Cove.
H.R. 597, the Lytton Rancheria Homelands Act. The bill places about 940 acres in trust for the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians in California.
H.R. 1306, the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act. The bill places lands in trust for the Coquille Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, all in Oregon.
H.R.1404, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Land Conveyance Act. The bill places abour 40 acres in trust for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Arizona.
H.R. 2936, the Resilient Federal Forests Act. Title VII of the bill addresses tribal forestry issues.
S. 249, a bill which clarifies that Santa Clara Pueblo and Ohkay Owingeh can lease their lands in New Mexico for up 99 years for economic development and other purposes.

House Committee on Natural Resources Notices:
Full Committee Markup (June 22, 2017)
Full Committee Markup (June 27, 2017)

Join the Conversation
Trending in News
More Headlines