John Tahsuda, a citizen of the Kiowa Tribe, serves as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs for the Trump administration. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior

New Trump hire at Bureau of Indian Affairs makes first appearance on Capitol Hill

The Trump administration's new hire at the Bureau of Indian Affairs is making his first appearance on Capitol Hill and it's on a touchy subject.

John Tahsuda, a citizen of the Kiowa Tribe who serves as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, is testifying at a federal recognition hearing on Tuesday. He will reveal whether the Trump team has a position on H.R. 3744, the Tribal Recognition Act.

The bill is controversial because it strips the BIA of its ability to make decisions on federal recognition petitions. Instead, each group would have to ask Congress to acknowledge its relationship with the United States.

Historically, the BIA has opposed attempts to limit its authority. That's been the case in Republican and Democratic administrations so Indian Country will be watching Tahsuda closely for any shifts in policy.

Similarly, the Lumbee Tribe could see its fortunes change with President Donald Trump in office. During the Obama era, the BIA announced its support for legislative recognition for the Lumbees, whose status has been in limbo for more than a century and which became even more muddied when Congress intervened during the termination era.

Previously, the BIA opposed legislative recognition for the largest tribe east of the Mississippi so any changes in position, if revealed by Tahsuda on Tuesday, could hurt the Lumbees. That might make it harder for Congress to pass H.R.3650, the Lumbee Recognition Act, even though nearly every member of North Carolina's delegation -- Republicans included -- supports the tribe.

Tahsuda is also being asked to testify on H.R. 3535, the Ruffey Rancheria Restoration Act. The bill restores the federal status of Etna Band of Indians, whose relationship with the U.S. was terminated by Congress in the 1950s, at around the same time the Lumbees were left in limbo.

Despite the potential minefield, Tahsuda is well suited for the hearing on Tuesday -- he worked on Capitol Hill as a staffer on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for five years. He comes to the Trump administration with extensive legislative and governmental affairs experience, having worked at a lobbying and policy firm for the past decade.

" I have worked with John for many years and know that his work ethic, the great deal of experience he acquired while on the [Senate] committee, and his comprehensive expertise in Indian Affairs will serve Indian Country well," National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby said earlier this month when Tahsuda's position was officially announced.

The House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs takes place at 2pm Eastern in Room 1334 of the Longworth House Office Building. The witness list follows:
The Honorable Rep. Robert Pittenger (NC-9)

Mr. John Tahsuda
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs
U.S. Department of the Interior
Washington, DC

Mr. Tahj Gomes
Ruffey Rancheria of California
Chico, CA

Mr. Harvey Godwin
Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina
Pembroke, NC

House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Notice:
Legislative Hearing on 3 Tribal Recognition Bills (September 26, 2017)

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