President Donald Trump addresses the media after signing H.R.390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, into law on December 11, 2018. He also signed two Indian Country bills -- H.R.1074, and H.R.5317 -- on the same day. Photo: Shealah Craighead / White House

President Trump signs two more Indian Country bills into law

By Acee Agoyo

President Donald Trump signed two more Indian Country bills into law on Tuesday, putting an end to policies adopted during more paternalistic eras.

In 1834, with the removal of Indian nations rearing its ugly head, Congress barred the manufacture of liquor on tribal lands. But that nearly 200-year-old prohibition has finally been lifted with Trump's signature on H.R.5317, the Repeal of Prohibition on Certain Alcohol Manufacturing on Indian Lands Act.

“This is a good day for tribal members who can now expand economically in the distillery business and bring new skills training and jobs to our region," Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Washington), the sponsor of the bill, said Tuesday.

So far, only the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation in Herrera Beutler's district have publicly announced plans to open a distillery on their lands. But Chairman Harry Pickernell, Sr. believes H.R.5317 will help others in Indian Country should they choose to do the same.

"Tribes around the country will now have the ability to move forward with projects to build and operate distilleries on their own lands," Pickernell said. "This is a great victory for the Chehalis Tribe and tribes nationwide that seek to expand economic development opportunities on their own land."

A water tower on the Meskwaki Settlement in Iowa. Photo: Billwhittaker

The second bill signed on Tuesday addresses a vestige of the disastrous termination era. H.R.1074 repeals a federal law authorized the state of Iowa to prosecute citizens of the Meskwaki Nation for crimes on their own lands.

“H.R. 1074 will bring clarity and finality to the jurisdictional confusion" on the tribe's settlement, Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said late last month after the bill cleared its final hurdle on Capitol Hill.

Under the existing system, tribal citizens faced the prospect of being prosecuted twice -- by the tribe and by the state -- for the same crime. Non-Indians weren't subjected to the same disparate treatment.

The state already relinquished its jurisdiction on the settlement in anticipation of final action on H.R.1074. And the state will continue to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indians so there will be no changes in the justice system on that level.

Trump's action brings the total number of stand-alone Indian Country bills signed into law during the 115th Congress to nine. Just this week, three more pro-tribal measures were sent to the White House for his review.

A sea lion in Oregon. Photo: Judd Hall

Additionally, a fourth bill with tribal provisions is on its way to Trump's desk. S.3119, the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, authorizes the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission to kill sea lions that prey on treaty-protected salmon in Oregon and Washington.

"I’m grateful Congress worked in a bipartisan manner to give us the local flexibility to protect the tribal treaty resources we share with others in the Columbia and Willamette rivers," Jaime Pinkham, the executive director of the commission, said in a statement on Tuesday. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation, the Nez Perce Tribe and the Yakama Nation belong to the body.

The bill also gives other tribes a seat at the table in Oregon in addressing the matter. In addition to Warm Springs and Umatilla, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde can be named to a committee that will determine how to deal with sea lions that prey on treaty resources.

"This was a hard-fought victory – and it’s a personal victory for each of us who treasure our Northwest salmon runs and want to see them preserved for generations to come," said Herrera Beutler, who sponsored H.R.2083, which was the House version of S.3119.

Assuming Trump accepts the new bills, the tally of Indian Country bills he will have signed into law rises to 13. That's still short of the goal of 20 that was set by the Republican majority staff director on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

But there's time for Trump to catch up. Lawmakers in the House and the Senate are working to clear additional measures before the 115th Congress ends this month, including the Farm Bill, which contains a slew of pro-tribal provisions.

Any bills that do not pass both chambers must be reintroduced in the next session.

The 116th Congress will begin on January 3, 2019. When that happens, the House will be under Democratic control for the first time since the session that took place between 2009 and 2011.

Additionally, two Native women will serving in the House for first time in history. Deb Haaland, who hails from the Pueblo of Laguna, will be representing New Mexico's 1st Congressional District. Sharice Davids, who is a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, will be representing the 3rd Congressional District in Kansas.

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