A singer performs at the signing a water rights compact for the Blackfeet Nation during a ceremony at the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., on June 12, 2018. Photo: U.S. DOI

Funding package with increases for Indian Country slated for action

The House Committee on Rules is meeting for the Interior appropriations bill on Monday, July 16, not July 11, as the first version of this post incorrectly stated. The deadline for amendments was Wednesday, July 11.

An appropriations bill that protects Indian Country from funding cuts but fails to stop the Trump administration's controversial reorganization is moving forward on Capitol Hill.

The House Committee on Appropriations approved the fiscal year 2019 Interior funding bill last month. It's now being taken up by the House Committee on Rules, a key step before the package is brought to the floor of the House for passage.

H.R.6147 provides $3.1 billion for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The figure represents a complete rebuke to President Donald Trump, who had sought to cut more than $450 million from the BIA with his budget request.

The measure also provides $5.9 billion for the Indian Health Service. Together, the increases for the BIA and the IHS come in at $689 million above Trump's proposal, according to a key lawmaker.

"Be assured that the American Indian and Alaska Native programs will continue to be a non-partisan priority," Rep. Ken Calvert (R-California), the chairman of the subcommittee that wrote H.R.6147 told tribal leaders during an impressive two days of hearings on their funding priorities in May.

During those hearings, numerous tribal witnesses expressed opposition to a reorganization of the Department of the Interior. Many complained about being kept in the dark about a proposal to do away with the existing boundaries of the BIA by placing them in a "unified" system of 13 regions for all agencies at Interior.

"Pueblos, tribes and nations in this country are not natural resources," said Governor Kurt Riley of the Pueblo of Acoma, referring to the way the proposal has been depicted by top officials, including Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

"To reorganize based on drainage systems and watersheds is not appropriate and is not acceptable," Riley told Calvert's subcommittee on May 10.

Calvert's panel addressed the concerns by including language in a report accompanying H.R.6147, calling on the Trump administration to "adjust its reorganization proposal as necessary to meet the department’s needs while avoiding undue additional burdens on states and tribes."

But a Democratic effort to restrict funding for the reorganization pending further consultation was rejected on a party-line vote last month.

"It is reasonable to request the Department of the Interior provide a blueprint and cost-benefit analysis to the committee before embarking on a massive reorganization," Democrats wrote in a "Dissenting Views" section of House Report 115-765.

H.R.6147 is open for amendments, according to an announcement from Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the chair of the Committee on Rules, so it's possible another reorganization-related proposal might surface in time for Wednesday's hearing on H.R.6147. The bill itself could be taken up by the House as soon as next week.

Meanwhile, tribes have continued to object to the reorganization in public meetings throughout Indian Country. One listening session and four consultations have been held so far.

“The sovereignty of tribal nations must be respected by those individuals at the highest level of government,” said President Russell Begaye of the Navajo Nation, whose leaders oppose the reorganization.

Four more consultations are on the schedule as the BIA takes comments about the reorganization. Written comments are also being accepted through August 15.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Morongo Band of Mission Indians Tribal Chambers
11581 Potrero Road
Banning, CA 92220

Thursday, August 2, 2018
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Juneau, Alaska
Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall
320 W. Willoughby Avenue
Juneau, AK 99801

Tuesday, August 7, 2018
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Embassy Suites Oklahoma City
1815 South Meridian
Oklahoma City, OK 73108

Thursday, August 9, 2018
1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Philadelphia, Mississippi
Pearl River Resort, Golden Moon Hotel & Casino
Hwy 16 W
Philadelphia, MS 39350

House Committee on Rules Notice:
H.R. 6147 - Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2019 [Interior, Environment, Financial Services, and General Government Appropriations Act, 2019] (July 11, 2018)

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