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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.

A note to our readers: This will be my last issue of NALU, as my time at FCNL is coming to an end. I am so grateful for the allyship of F/friends and your continued support of tribal advocacy across Indian Country. Yaw^ko! (Thank you!) FCNL will continue to send NALU out monthly.

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on Navajo Nation Water Rights Case

On March 20, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Arizona v. Navajo Nation, a water and treaty rights dispute over the Colorado River. More than 20 years of drought have left the Southwest in a water crisis. This includes the Navajo Nation, where 30% of citizens have no running water.

Two decades ago, the Navajo Nation sued the United States under the Treaty of Bosque Redondo to require the federal government to conduct an assessment and plan for the Navajo Nation’s water needs. The 1868 treaty established the Navajo Reservation, and in Winters v. United States, the Supreme Court held that treaties establishing reservations should be construed to include a right to enough water to establish a homeland.

During oral arguments, the justices appeared divided over the Navajo Nation’s claim. Attorneys representing the federal government argued that this is a property rights issue and that the request for relief would disrupt the current allocations of the Colorado River’s water supply. They expressed concern that if the Navajo Nation wins this case, other tribal nations would expect similar treatment.

Attorneys for the Navajo Nation argued that its claim would not impact current water allocation, just the enactment of a federal assessment and plan for their water needs. They also noted that the federal government’s actions over the years acknowledge an enforceable fiduciary duty. In other cases, the United States has consistently asserted it remains the legal owner of all Navajo Nation water rights.

A decision is expected by the end of June when the Supreme Court’s current term ends.

White House Finishes Native Women Symposium Series

On March 16 and 23, the White House hosted the final sessions of the Native Women Symposium Series. The sessions focused on economic development and the Biden’s administration initiatives. Also featured was a panel of Native women entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Some of the key challenges that government officials focused on are the lack of intergenerational wealth in Native communities and the burden of Native women often serving as the sole or primary breadwinners for their families. Other challenges include the need to close the wage gap and the need for basic infrastructure on tribal lands.  

Previous sessions in the series covered the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act; maternal, mental, and social determinants of health; and the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.

“It’s refreshing to know that others are finally learning about the roles of Native women through venues like this symposium, but also through the revitalization and recognition of our traditional cultural ways,” said Liz Molle-Carr, the first tribal advisor to the director of the Office of Management and Budget, during one of the sessions. “Doing so creates a healthier environment that allows for Native women to live and lead balanced lives while still leading the way to make Indian Country stronger.”

Bill Tracker

Tribal Firearms Access Act:

On Mar. 22, Rep. Mary Peltola (AK), Rep. Dusty Johnson (SD-1), Sen. Markwayne Mullin (OK), and Sen. Mike Rounds (SD) joined other lawmakers to introduce bipartisan legislation that would list tribal governments as eligible entities to issue identification documents for the purposes of transferring ownership of a firearm. Tribal identification documents would have parity with federal, state, and local government documents.

What We’re Reading

People: Portia Skenandore-Wheelock

Portia Kay^nthos Skenandore-Wheelock

Congressional Advocate, Native American Advocacy Program (2021-2023)

Portia managed the Native American Advocacy Program, lobbying on legislation that affects Native communities.