Senate panel takes on homeland security
Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Tribal leaders are making a big push this week to secure a stake in billion-dollar homeland security efforts.

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security. It was the largest shake-up in federal government in more than 50 years, but after more than 20 disparate agencies and tens of thousands of employees were transferred, tribes found themselves left out of the picture.

The exclusion has proven costly. In fiscal year 2004, $28 billion will be set aside for protecting America's homelands, but tribes won't be receiving any funds directly.

But more importantly, tribes argue, being left behind puts lives -- Indian and non-Indian alike -- at risk. They hope new legislation will correct the problem and ensure that tribal governments have a seat at the table.

"If you're failing to prepare, you're prepared to fail," said Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of Washington, "and we don't want to do that."

Indian Country's primary backer in the initiative is Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). In March, the vice-chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee introduced a bill to amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 by removing tribes from the current definition of "local governments" and treating them as separate sovereigns. A companion package has been filed in the House.

On the eve of a hearing before his committee, Inouye was making the case for the proposal. "Like other governments, tribal governments need the necessary resources to develop tribal governing capacities to respond to threats of terrorism," he said yesterday.

At a day-long forum arranged by the Senate, tribal leaders from all parts of the country discussed the challenges they face in protecting their lands. Limited funding, competing jurisdictions and lack of consultation with the Homeland department were some of the problems cited.

For Vivian Juan-Saunders, chairwoman of the Tohono O'odham Nation of Arizona, a key problem is border security. The tribe has 75 miles of the international U.S.-Mexico boundary within its reservation, and could use homeland funds to beef up its law enforcement, which is already stressed due to illegal immigrant issues, she said.

"It's our tribal police that are at the forefront," she said. "When the terrorists infiltrate the United States, we don't ask what is your jurisdiction, or whose jurisdiction should assume responsibility for terrorists. We have to work collaboratively with the state and federal entities."

More than 25 tribes have lands near the Canadian and Mexican borders, or have lands adjacent to international water ports. Elsewhere, tribes have dams, power plants, nuclear facilities, bridges and other infrastructure within their reservations.

At the Senate hearing today, tribal witnesses will highlight the need to protect these and other resources. For the Prairie Island Indian Community in Minnesota, a nuclear plant sits less than 600 yards away. At Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, a railroad runs through the reservation

In addition to including tribes under the Homeland department, the bill seeks to ensure the Indian Health Service receives assistance. Currently, the agency is left out of the 2002 act's public health initiatives.

According to the current draft, the more than 200 Alaska Native tribes that federally recognized are not considered "tribes." Approximately 40 million acres of land is under the control of village governments in Alaska but the extent of their sovereignty is debated. Only the Metlakatla Tribe on Annette Island has a reservation that is recognized as Indian Country.

The bill includes a section that affirms inherent tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians, unless otherwise limited by treaty or existing law.

Get the Bill:
Tribal Government Amendments to the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (S.578)

Relevant Documents:
Witness List (July 30, 2003)

Relevant Links:
Department of Homeland Security -
National Native Law Enforcement Association -
National Indian Health Board -

Related Stories:
DOJ's Supreme Court brief backs sovereignty (7/30)
Tribal jurisdiction faces test before Supreme Court (07/03)
Homeland security push leaves tribes behind (05/12)
Inouye ties sovereignty to homeland security (2/25)
Tribes told to explore health funding options (02/05)
Thompson releases new IHS budget (2/4)
In address, Hall invokes the seven generations (02/03)

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