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Welcome to FCNL’s Native American Legislative Update! NALU is a monthly newsletter about FCNL’s Native American policy advocacy and ways for you to engage members of Congress.

State of Indian Nations Address

On Feb. 14, National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Fawn Sharp delivered the annual State of Indian Nations Address at the NCAI 2022 Executive Council Winter Session. She highlighted the unprecedented efforts of the Biden administration to listen to and work with tribes, while acknowledging the work still needed to ensure a brighter future for Indian Country.

“While the historic investments into Indian Country over the past year are progress, to solve the centuries of mistrust we must keep fighting forward to hold the federal government to its trust responsibility to every tribal nation,” said President Sharp. “To the extent that there is a gap between our economic conditions today and the bright future that we collectively seek for all tribal nations, our trustee has that responsibility to get behind our vision and support tribal sovereignty and self-determination.”

Rep. Sharice Davids (KS-3) delivered this year’s congressional response, highlighting her co-leadership with Rep. Tom Cole (OK-4) on the Truth and Healing Commission bill, the Native American Voting Rights Act, and their work leading the Congressional Native American Caucus.

“Every single member of Congress has that obligation to uphold, to be aware of, and educated on the federal trust responsibility,” said Rep. Davids. “The Congressional Native American Caucus has always been a bipartisan caucus and that’s because Indian Country issues are not partisan issues.”

Tribes to Receive $1.7 Billion in Water Rights Settlements

On Feb. 22, Secretary Deb Haaland announced the Interior Department’s plan to fulfill settlements of tribal water rights claims with funding from the historic infrastructure legislation passed in 2021. Settlement funds amounting to $1.7 billion will be allocated to 16 tribes this year. Reserved water rights for tribes are vested property rights which the federal government has a trust responsibility to ensure. Currently, there are 34 congressionally-enacted tribal water rights settlements.

“Water is a sacred resource, and water rights are crucial to ensuring the health, safety and empowerment of Tribal communities,” said Sec. Haaland. “With this crucial funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Interior Department will be able to uphold our trust responsibilities and ensure that Tribal communities receive the water resources they have long been promised.”

Bill Tracker

Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2022 (S. 3623)

On Feb. 9, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Joni Ernst (IA), and Dick Durbin (IL) introduced a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Key provisions in the tribal title would expand the list of crimes tribes exercising restored tribal criminal jurisdiction can prosecute and require non-Native defendants to exhaust all tribal court remedies before appealing to federal courts. It would also improve tribal access to federal crime databases, and establish an Alaska Pilot Program so Alaska Native villages can start exercising special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction. The bill is on the Senate calendar for further consideration.

What We’re Reading 

People: Portia Skenandore-Wheelock

Portia Kay^nthos Skenandore-Wheelock

Congressional Advocate, Native American Advocacy Program
Portia manages the Native American Advocacy Program, lobbying on legislation that affects Native communities.