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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.

Exploring the Intersection of Tribal Rights and Border Politics

Congress and the Biden administration’s abusive immigration enforcement decisions can have a profound impact on Native communities. There are 151 federally recognized tribes that have a presence in a southern border state. The U.S.-Mexico border wall affects at least 29 Indigenous communities, including the Kumeyaay Nation and Tohono O’odham.

On Oct. 5, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced he has waived several federal laws and legal requirements as the administration builds 17 miles of new border wall. This includes the protections historically provided under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (P.L. No. 101-601) and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (P.L. No. 95–341), both of which FCNL advocated to have enacted.

Thanks to a recent report produced by the Government Accountability Office, we already know the harm that may result: mistreatment of tribal sacred and burial sites, altered water sources, environmental degradation, and risks to wildlife and endangered species.

Barrier construction has destroyed several cultural sites important to the Tohono O’odham Nation and other Indigenous communities. A site used for religious ceremonies was irreparably damaged when explosives were used to expand a road.

These injustices disregard a previous executive order from the Biden administration directing tribal consultation for all federal agency actions that impact tribes.

Clean Water for Native Communities

Native communities in the southwest are significantly being impacted as the region’s water supply dwindles while its population and agricultural output have boomed. Three Senate hearings took place in September to explore the consequences of drought on drinking water access and availability.

Old technology pumping water for nearby Navajo homesteads. Near Round Rock, Navajo Nation, Arizona.

These hearings complement legislation reintroduced in July 2023 by Sen. Michael Bennet (CO) and Rep. Joe Neguse (CO-02) to expand tribal access to clean water. This will be done by increasing funding for water infrastructure through the Indian Health Service, the Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Reclamation in the Department of the Interior (S. 2385 and H.R. 4749). 

In addition, Sen. Bennett has reintroduced S. Res. 355, a resolution recognizing the critical importance of access to reliable, clean drinking water for Native Americans. It affirms the responsibility of the federal government to ensure such water access.

Lawmakers Urge Biden to Release AIM Activist Leonard Peltier

Friends and tribal advocates have long advocated for imprisoned American Indian Movement (AIM) activist Leonard Peltier to be released or granted clemency. Members of Congress recently sent a bicameral letter to President Biden, requesting his release.

If your senator or representative is among them, let them know you appreciate this effort!

Bill Tracker

Northern Arizona Protection Act (H.R. 5635)

A bill to nullify the Presidential Proclamation declaring Baaj Nwaajo I’tah Kukveni—Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon a national monument. Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ-09) is seeking to advance this harmful legislation as an amendment to the House Interior and Environment appropriations bill.

Native Histories and Cultures Education Act of 2023 (S. 3019)

Recently introduced by Sen. Tina Smith (MN), this bill calls for the development and dissemination of accurate, relevant, and accessible education curriculum resources to promote understanding of Native American and tribal histories and cultures.

What We’re Reading

Cindy Darcy

Cindy Darcy

Consultant, Native American Policy

Cindy Darcy’s 40-plus years serving as an advocate for American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments in the public policy arena began at FCNL.