Inouye ties sovereignty to homeland security
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CHAMPION: Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) at the winter session of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C. February 24, 2003. Photo © NSM.
The vice-chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs on Monday said he would introduce a measure this week to restore full sovereignty to tribal governments.

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said the bill, which he described as a draft discussion, would be included as part of a homeland security package. He told attendees of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) that the goal was to overturn recent Supreme Court rulings by recognizing that tribes have primary law enforcement duties on their lands.

"Homeland security presents an opportunity," he said, "to secure a status under federal law that will not only recognize your powers and responsibilities as sovereign governments but will strengthen your position and your status in the family of governments that make up the United States."

"Least of all, you should be as sovereign as any state in the union," he added to heavy applause.

Legislation to restore full criminal and civil jurisdiction to tribes has been under intense discussion for the past two years in response to a series of negative Supreme Court decisions that have limited tribal authority over non-Indians. Tribal leaders have cited two cases in particular: Nevada v. Hicks, which expanded state police powers on reservations, and Atkinson v. Shirley, which struck down the Navajo Nation's hotel and occupancy tax. Both cases were decided in 2001.

Inouye urged tribal leaders to capitalize on the focus on the war on terrorism, stating that threats of attacks are indeed very "real." He said his bill will ensure that tribes are treated the same as states for homeland security purposes.

A veteran of World War II, he also sought to draw a distinction between conflicts many in the audience have served in and witnessed. "In those wars, we knew where the front line was -- it was out there," he told NCAI. "This time, the front line is right here."

John Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), promoted the effort and said tribes are willing to give up measure of their rights by allowing federal court review of tribal court decisions affecting non-Indians, a sticking point in the debate over tribal sovereignty. He described this "opt in" provision as voluntary.

"It allows the tribes to exercise as much authority as they choose," he said of the bill. "In exchange, because this is a very serious proposal, tribal leaders have had to make some very difficult decisions about one of the reasons why the court has been ruling against us in these cases."

The legislation, which Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), chairman of the Indian panel has said he will support, is part of a larger tribal sovereignty initiative that had its official start on the day of the September 11 terrorist attacks, when tribal leaders were meeting in Washington, D.C., to discuss overturning the cases. Tribes have organized the 2,800-mile Sovereignty Run to the steps of the Supreme Court and are working on other projects affecting the court and the federal judiciary.

John Gonzales of San Ildefonso Pueblo of New Mexico said the project will be a struggle not just for the tribes. "It's going to test the will, it's going to test the political resolve of those we consider our friends," he said. Gonzales is an area vice president of NCAI.

Inouye said the federal government owes it to Indian people to support their rights. "In many different ways you have paid your dues," he said. "You have not only given your land, you have not only given your culture, you have given your blood for this country."

"It is about time we have a payback."

Relevant Links:
Sen. Daniel Inouye -
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs -

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