Indianz.Com > News > Tribal consultation bill finally set for movement on Capitol Hill
Stephen Roe Lewis and Raul Grijalva
Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community, center, is seen with Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona), right, during an event on the reservation in Arizona on February 22, 2022. Photo: Rep. Grijalva
Tribal consultation bill finally set for movement on Capitol Hill
Monday, March 28, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tribal leaders and tribal organizations are rallying in support of a bill that mandates — for the first time — consultation with Indian nations on actions that affect their interests.

In 2000, then-president Bill Clinton issued an executive order that requires federal agencies to consult with tribal governments. Despite the requirement, which was reaffirmed by President Joe Biden shortly after he took office in January 2021, Indian Country has frequently complained of lapses in consultation, as well as an inability to hold the United States accountable for its trust and treaty responsibilities.

H.R.3587, the Requirements, Expectations, and Standard Procedures for Effective Consultation with Tribes Act, seeks to solidify the consultation requirement. The bill, also known as the RESPECT Act, would ensure that changes in presidential administrations don’t affect the U.S. government’s legal obligations to tribes and their citizens.

“Tribal consultation is not a ‘Dear Tribal Leader’ letter or a voicemail, it is the bedrock of the federal Indian trust responsibility,” said Gay Kingman, the the long-serving executive director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, one of the many organizations supporting H.R.3587.

“The RESPECT Act embodies that and will bring the United States government closer than it has ever been to adhering to the values it has long espoused but so often ignored,” said Kingman, a citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva: Introducing the RESPECT Act

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) serves as chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, the legislative panel with jurisdiction over Indian issues. He said he introduced H.R.3587 to address centuries of mistreatment by the federal government.

“The RESPECT Act seeks to correct this injustice and to the first Americans by codifying into law the trust responsibility, by codifying into law the legal responsibility that the federal government has to consultation and a government-to-government relationship,” Grijalva said in a video explaining the measure.

According to Grijalva’s committee, the bill establishes criteria for identifying tribal impacts, conducting outreach to tribal governments, and initiating tribal consultation sessions. Significantly, the RESPECT Act also ensures that tribes can take the U.S. to court for lapses in the process.

“There are consequences for the agencies in the RESPECT Act if they do not follow the consultation process as outlined,” said Grijalva.

The House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States, which is part of Grijalva’s panel, took testimony on a draft discussion version of the RESPECT Act last May. Experts in Indian law and policy said the bill would help address long-standing issues with the way tribal consultation is carried out at the federal level.

Stacy Leeds, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, served on the National Commission on Trust Administration and Reform, a federal panel established following the enactment of the $3.4 billion settlement to the Cobell Indian trust fund lawsuit. She said tribal leaders repeatedly talked about the challenges they faced in ensuring they are adequately consulted by federal agencies.

“So long as they haven’t taken steps to spell out what consultation means for their agencies,” Leeds said at the hearing on May 20, 2021. “They could never be held accountable for not consulting with tribes. And that was the concern that we just heard repeatedly during the commission’s time.”

As the one-year anniversary of the hearing approaches, Grijalva is hosting a press conference on Capitol Hill on Monday to discuss the path forward for the RESPECT Act. A panel representing tribal leadership, Indian organizations and experts in Indian law and policy are expected to appear at the event:

The Honorable Amber Torres
Walker River Paiute Tribe

Matthew Fletcher
Director & Professor of Law
Indigenous Law and Policy Center
Michigan State University College of Law

Drew McConville
Senior Managing Director for Government Relations
The Wilderness Society

Richard “Rico” Frias
Executive Director

Raquel Dominguez
Policy Associate

Chris Topoleski
Legislative Director
National Indian Education Association

The press conference takes place at 11am Eastern in Room 1334 of the Longworth House Office Building, marking a return to in-person events for the House Committee on Natural Resources following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago. A livestream is expected to be available on Facebook.

The event also comes after a major loss in the U.S. Congress. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), a long-time champion for Indian Country, passed away on March 18, only a day after what turned out to be his final appearance at the committee. He was 88 years old.

In the 117th Congress, Young was the highest-ranking Republican on the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States. Previously, he was chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, where he frequently advocated for American Indians and Alaska Natives, including their right to be be consulted on decisions affecting their interests.

Indianz.Com Video: Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) passes on at age of 88

“We did not always agree,” said President Julie Kitka of the Alaska Federation of Natives, the largest Native advocacy organization in the state. “However, he was always willing to listen. And if he could help, he would.”

Young served as Alaska’s sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973, up until his passing. He was known as the Dean of House for being the longest-serving member of the chamber. His tenure saw the arrival of the era of self-determination, an issue close to his heart.

“For decades, Congressman Young courageously stood alongside Native peoples and, with deep honor and mutual respect, dedicated time to learning about the pressing issues that must be addressed to ensure the well-being of all tribal nations,” said President Fawn Sharp of the National Congress of American Indians.

Young’s first wife was Lula Fredson, a Gwich’in Athabascan from the village of Fort Yukon in Alaska. She passed away in 2009 at the age 67. The couple had two children and 14 grandchildren at the time of her death.

“Representative Young was a bold, tireless advocate who fought hard for better outcomes for our people,” said Francys Crevier, the chief executive officer of the National Council of Urban Indian Health. “Throughout his long service in Congress, Congressman Young championed many Native causes including co-authoring the bill on advance appropriations for the Indian Health Service and advocating for increased resources for the Indian health.”

“His fierce leadership, voice, and dedication to upholding the trust responsibility to all Native people will truly be missed and remembered,” said Crevier.

Young will be honored during an arrival ceremony and a Congressional tribute at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, where he will lie in state until the afternoon. A public memorial is being held in Great Falls, Virginia, on Wednesday.

With the clock ticking on the 117th Congress, the committee will be holding a markup on the RESPECT Act in order to advance it to the floor of the House. A markup on the bill was to take place on March 16 but it was abruptly postponed on the morning of the meeting.

The forthcoming markup on the RESPECT Act represents the first time the bill has advanced at the committee level. Prior versions introduced by Grijalva — as far back as 2010, during the era of Barack Obama — have not made it as far.

The 117th Congress concludes at the end of 2022, leaving little time for any Indian Country bill to move forward and become law.

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POSTPONED: House Committee on Natural Resources Markup (March 16, 2022)
House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States Legislative Hearing (May 21, 2021)
House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States Legislative Hearing (May 21, 2021)
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