1. Update
  2. Native Americans

Watching Congress

November 2016

By Ruth Flower, November 18, 2016


A detailed list of selected bills on Native American affairs that have been considered in the House or the Senate in the 114th Congress. The list is updated each month to show new bills and new actions.

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, “Committee” in the Senate means the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “Sub-committee” in the House means the Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs. The bills are organized into ten categories. "Control-click" on a topic to jump to that section.

Tribal Governance and Trust Responsibilities

Tribal Recognition and Taking Land into Trust (Carcieri Remedies)

Federal Budget, Economics and Employment

Cultural Preservation and Religious Freedom

Education

Children and Youth

Health Care

Housing Assistance

Justice

Land, Environment and Resources

Tribal Governance and Trust Responsibilities

S. 286: Department of the Interior Tribal Self-Governance Act of 2015 This bi-partisan bill,introduced in January 2015 by Sens. John Barrasso (WY) and Jon Tester (MT), chair and vice-chair of the Committee, seeks to remove the "bureaucratic roadblocks" tribes face in the self-governing processes and in carrying out Federal programming. The bill gives tribal leaders and councils more flexibility to serve their communities more effectively and efficiently. The Senate passed this bill in July 2015 and it was referred to the House Subcommittee in August 2015.

S. 1879: Interior Improvement Act Introduced by Sen. Barrasso (WY), this bill addresses the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Carcieri case, which essentially cuts off the federal government’s ability to formally recognize tribes and take lands into trust, for any tribes that were not already federally recognized in 1934. This bill would amend the Indian Reorganization Act to allow the recognition and lands-into-trust processes to continue, and would lay out a specific process for taking tribal lands into trust. The bill was introduced in July 2015 and was passed by the Committee in December 2015. The bill is on the Senate calendar.

H.R. 812: Indian Trust Asset Reform Act and S. 383: Indian Trust Asset Reform Act. Rep. Mike Simpson (ID2) introduced H.R. 812 and Sen. Michael Crapo (ID) introduced S. 383 in early February, 2015. The bills would set up an eight-year demonstration project, in which tribes could propose trust management plans and then implement them, once approved by the Secretary of the Interior. This legislation could pave the way for better management within a government structure that has a stronger interest in faithful and accurate oversight. H.R. 812 passed the House and the identical S.383 passed the Senate. The President signed the final version (H.R.812) on June 22, 2016. FCNL supported.

H.R. 2760: American Indian Trust Responsibility Review Act of 2015. Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ4) introduced this bill in June 2015 to establish a commission to undertake a comprehensive review of federal trust responsibilities toward Native Americans. He was joined by a bipartisan list of 18 co-sponsors, and the bill was referred to the Sub-committee. FCNL supports.

Tribal Recognition and Taking Land Into Trust (Carcieri Remedies)

H.R. 328: American Indian Empowerment Act of 2015 The American Indian Empowerment Act, introduced by Rep. Don Young (AK1) in January 2015 would require the Secretary of the Interior to turn over to tribes land held in trust for the tribe, upon the tribe’s request. The lands would be owned directly by the tribe, but it would have restrictions against taxation or sale (or other “alienation”). The bill was referred to the Sub-committee.

H.R. 249: "To amend the Act of June 18, 1934, to reaffirm the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for Indian tribes, and for other purposes." This bill was introduced by Rep. Tom Cole (OK4) in January of 2015. It would amend the Indian Reorganization Act to make it applicable to all federally recognized Indian tribes, regardless of when any tribe is federally recognized. (This effectively overrules the Supreme Court's decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, which held that the Secretary of the Interior could not take land into trust for a specified tribe because that tribe had not been under federal jurisdiction when the Act was enacted.) FCNL supports.

S. 732: "A bill to amend the Act of June 18, 1934, to reaffirm the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for Indian Tribes" and H.R. 407 (same title). These virtually identical bills, introduced in March, 2015 by Sen. Tester (MT) and in January by Rep. Betty McCollum (MN4) would amend the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 to remove the dates that could limit the ability of the Department of the Interior to take lands into trust for tribes that have been federally recognized after 1934, and ratify and affirm the land taken into trust by the Department of the Interior since 1934. Neither bill has moved out of committee. FCNL supports.

H.R. 3764: Tribal Recognition Act of 2015 introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (UT1) in October 2015. The bill would move the process for federal recognition of tribes from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to the Congress. It specifies a process that begins with a petition to the BIA, a review to ensure that the application is complete, and then a report of the petition from the BIA to Congress. The House Committee on Natural Resources approved the bill in September. FCNL opposes.

H.R. 2791: Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act Introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR4), this bill takes some lands into trust for the benefit of the Cow Creek Umpqua, the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians and specifies that Coquille Forest will be under the management of the Department of the Interior. The bill passed the House in September 2015 and has been referred to the Senate.

S. 2285: Lumbee Recognition Actand H.R. 184 (same title) Sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr (NC) and Rep. Richard Hudson (NC8), respectively, these bills extend federal recognition to the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina. The Lumbee in North Carolina are recognized by the state, but have not been recognized by the federal government. This petition to Congress follows many years of petitions to the Department of the Interior, and related bills that were approved by the Senate Committee since 2009. The bills were referred to the Committee and the Sub-committee in their respective houses. FCNL supports.

S. 35: Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act. Introduced by Sen. Tester (MT) in January 2015, this bill would recognize the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa. They have been living in the state of Montana for more than 100 years, and are political successors to the signers of the Pembina Treaty of 1863, which ceded large areas of their ancestral lands in North Dakota to the federal government. The bill was passed by the Senate Committee on March 18, 2016. Recognition of this tribe is included in H.R. 3764 (above). FCNL supports S.35

S. 465: Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2015 A bill sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine to extend Federal recognition to the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, the Chickahominy Indian Tribe-Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, Inc., the Monacan Indian Nation, and the Nansemond Indian Tribe in Virginia. All of the tribes have been in Virginia since first contact with Europeans in the early 1600s, and all have maintained continuous identity, in spite of the loss of land and homes. All of these tribes were recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia in the 1980s. The Senate Committee passed the bill in March 2015. Recognition of these tribes is included in H.R. 3764 (above). FCNL supports S.465

Federal Budget, Economics and Employment

S. 1443: Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Consolidation Act of 2015 and H.R.329: (same title). In January 2015, Rep. Young (AK1) introduced House version of this bill; in May, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK) introduced the Senate version. The bills would reauthorize a popular program that permits tribal governments and tribal organizations to coordinate employment, training and related services in one comprehensive program. They are almost identical. The Senate passed S. 1443 on July 14, 2016. The House Sub-committee has approved H.R. 329. FCNL supports.

S. 1497: A bill to exempt the Indian Health Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and certain other programs for Indians from sequestration, introduced by Senator Tester and H.R. 3063: Honoring Our Trust Relationships Act ,introduced by Rep. Young. These bills, though a little different from each other, each point out that Native Americans have “already paid” for any benefits that they receive from federal programs, and that the United States is under treat obligations to provide a range of supports. Therefore, budget rules that are internal to Congress (such as across-the-board cuts, sequestration, or other budget-cutting gimmicks) should not apply to programs for Native Americans. Each of the bills was referred to its respective Budget Committee, where neither has seen any action. FCNL supports.

S. 3261: Native American Business Incubators Program Act. This bill provides competitive grants to organizations, including tribes and tribal colleges that offer supports for new startups and established businesses of Native American entrepreneurs. The Senate Committee approved the bill on September 21, 2016 FCNL supports.

S. 3234: Indian Community Economic Enhancement Act of 2016. This bill focuses on tribal capacities for economic development, including access to capital, experience and training in business development, and legal and regulatory barriers that frustrate tribal partnerships with private investors. The bill emphasizes coordination among the Departments of the Interior and Treasury and the Commerce Department, and consultation with tribes about community investment. The Senate Committee approved the bill on September 21, 2016 FCNL supports.

Cultural Preservation and Religious Freedom

S. 1928: Native Educator Support and Training (NEST) Act and H.R.5700 (same title) would establish new scholarships, loan forgiveness-for-service plans, and teacher development courses to encourage Native Americans to become teachers and to serve in tribal communities. Sens. Tester (MT), Al Franken (MN), and Martin Heinrich (NM) introduced the Senate bill on August 4, 2015, and it was amended and reported out of the Senate Committee on April 27, 2016. Representative Raul Ruiz (CA36) introduced the House bill (H.R. 5700) in July; that bill has been referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce. FCNL supports.

S. 1163: Native American Languages Reauthorization Act of 2015 and H.R. 2174 (same title) would extend native language programs for another five years (until 2020)under the Native American Programs Act of 1974. They would also decrease the number of students needed in a class in order to maintain a Native language “nest” or immersion program. Both bills were introduced on April 30, 2015. Sen. Tom Udall (NM) sponsored the Senate bill and Rep. Ben Luján (NM3) sponsored the House bill. The Senate committee reported out the Senate bill on May 11, 2016. FCNL supports.

S. 1419: Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act, introduced by Sen. Tester (MT), with Sens. Schatz (HI), Udall (NM), Heinrich (NM) and Heitkamp (ND), and amended by Sen. Barrasso as the Committee approved the bill on February 19, 2016. This bill would provide grants and assessments for immersion programs in Native American languages in schools serving Native American children. The bill outlines an application process that requires local certification by a tribe or other respected organization as to the integration of the school with tribal objectives. Applicants would have to show the development of a cohesive program and incorporation of various measures of success. The outcome of such programs would be a growing number of students who are highly proficient in some of the several hundred surviving Native languages, with an in-depth appreciation of the cultural meaning and importance of the words they are able to use. The Senate Committee approvedon Feb 29, 2016, and the bill is now on the Senate Calendar FCNL supports.

S. 1979: Bring the Ancient One Home Act of 2015 and H.R. 4131 (same title) These two bills direct the Chief of Engineers of the Army Corps of Engineers to transfer an archaeological collection, commonly referred to as the Kennewick Man or the Ancient One, to the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation, for repatriation to the tribes who are claiming the remains under the Native American Graves Protection Act. These tribes are named in a letter sent 16 years ago to the Secretary of the Army from the Secretary of the Interior requesting the return of the remains. The bills were introduced in 2015 – in August and November, by Sen. Patty Murray (WA) and Rep. Denny Heck (WA10) respectively – and were referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works in each house. They have been included in the Senate and House versions of the House-passed Water Resources Development Act. FCNL supports.

S. 3127 – Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2016 Introduced in July 2016 by Sen. Heinrich (NM), joined by Sens. Udall (NM) and Flake(AZ), this bill would establish a crime of exporting Native American cultural objects, in violation of existing protections, such as the Native American Graves Protection act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. The bill also establishes a two-year “amnesty” period, during which private individuals could voluntarily repatriate cultural articles in their possession, and thereby be immune from prosecution connected with taking or receiving the objects. FCNL supports.

H.Con.Res.122: Protect Patrimony Resolution. This resolution was introduced in March in the House by Rep. Steve Pearce (NM2), Tom Cole (OK4), and Betty McCollum (MN4). The bill includes findings on the importance to Native Americans of sacred, cultural and funerary objects and ancestral remains and the frustration in trying to protect these objects from a black market that sells them in foreign auction houses. The resolution makes a statement condemning the theft and illegal sale of these objects; calls on various federal agencies to consult with tribes and traditional religious leaders to determine how to end this illegal trafficking; asks the Comptroller General to help determine the scope of such trafficking, and to help secure repatriation to the tribes; and encourages organizations, and state and local governments to cooperate in deterring and ending illegal trafficking in cultural items. On September 23, the House passed this resolution by voice vote. Senate passed similar resolution, S. Con. Res. 49 on September 29. FCNL supports.

H.R. 684: Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act of 2015. This bill, introduced in February 2015 by Representative Mike Honda (CA17) and other members of the House, would amend the Trademark Act of 1946 regarding the disparagement of Native American persons or peoples through marks that use the derogatory term used by the Washington DC football team to refer to Native Americans. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee in March 2015, and no further action has been taken. FCNL supports.

H.R. 2811: Save Oak Flat and S. 2242 (same title.) On June 17, 2015 Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ3) introduced this bill to repeal a section of the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that traded 2,422 acres of Forest Service land, including several Native American sacred sites, in Southeast Arizona to a copper mining company. The bill highlights the flawed process through which this measure was passed, with no debate in the Senate and not enough votes in the House to pass the stand alone bill amid vehement opposition from Arizona tribes. The measure violates the federal government responsibility to protect sacred sites. Fourteen co-sponsors joined Representative Grijalva on this bill. On November 5, Sen. Sanders (VT) introduced an identical bill, S. 2242, in the Senate. FCNL supports.

Education

S. 2580: RAISE Act of 2016: Reforming American Indian Standards of Education Act. Sen. Barrasso (WY) introduced the RAISE Act on February 25, 2016 to restructure the Bureau of Indian Education to make it more responsive to tribes and more accountable to Congress. A revised version of the bill was passed by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on May 11. See a fuller description of the bill here.

S. 2304: Tribal Early Childhood, Education, and Related Services Integration Act of 2015 and H.R. 5072: (same title). Sen. Tester (MT) introduced S. 2304 in November 2015, and Rep. Norma Torres (CA35) introduced the House companion bill on April 26, 2016. The bill would support and integrate services and pre-school education for families and young children. See a fuller description of the bill here. The Senate Committee passed the bill on April 27, 2016. FCNL supports.

S. 2468: SAFETY Act . Senator Tester (MT) and Sen. Cantwell (WA) introduced this bill on January 27, 2016 to address the abysmal conditions of Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools. The bill would require the BIE and the Office of Management and Budget to develop a 10-year plan to address the physical condition of the schools and to bring them up to an acceptable standard. It would authorize a demonstration program that would permit tribes to manage the reconstruction or replacement of BIE facilities on their lands. The bill also addresses other schools on reservations, including tribal colleges and Impact Aid schools – which are public schools that have limited tax income since most reservation residents are exempt from state tax.

For all three types of rural schools, the bill authorizes housing assistance for teachers to help fill vacancies and increase teacher retention. It also requests separate comprehensive government reports on both BIE and public Impact Aid schools to assess the needs, best practices, and next steps for renovating reservation-based schools.

The Committee passed the Safety Act on April 27, 2016, and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ1) introduced a companion bill – HR 4744 – in the House on March 16. The House bill was referred to the Subcommittee. FCNL supports.

H.R. 386: American Indian Teacher Loan Forgiveness Act of 2015. Rep. Raul Ruiz (CA36) introduced this bill in January 2015. It was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce. The bill provides for education loan forgiveness of up to \$17,500 for a teacher who is a tribal member and is employed for five consecutive years in a BIE school, or in a school with a high percentage of Native American children. FCNL supports.

Children and Youth

S. 1745: Extracurricular Programs for Indian Children Act of 2015 and H.R. 3252 (same title) were both introduced in July 2015 and were referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, which has been considering the reauthorization of child nutrition programs during this Congress. Sen. Tester introduced the Senate bill, and Rep. Kirkpatrick introduced the House version. The “findings” report that Native children are the most at-risk population in the U.S., noting 37 percent living in poverty, high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, suicide as the leading cause of death for older youth, the lowest enrollment in higher education, and the impact of mentors on successful outcomes for youth. The bills would provide grants to eligible schools and organizations to develop and maintain programs to enrich the activities of Indian children before and after school, and in the summer. FCNL supports.

S. 1937: Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act of 2015. Introduced by Sen. Udall (NM) on August 4, 2015, this bill would amend the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 to improve nutrition in tribal areas. It would provide breakfasts and lunches to Native children as part of summer school programming, and would authorize direct funding to tribal schools, rather than requiring distribution through states. The bill was referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. FCNL supports.

S. 246: Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act and H.R. 2751: (same title) Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (ND) introduced S. 246 in January 2015 to create a commission to study poverty, child abuse, drug abuse and other issues facing Native American children. The Commission would be charged to recommend goals and plans to achieve more efficient and effective coordination among the many agencies that offer child services in Indian country, recognizing and integrating the cultural strengths of diverse Native communities.

S. 246 was passed by both houses and was signed by the President on October 14 (Public Law 114-244) FCNL supported.

S. 184: Native American Children’s Safety Act and H.R. 1168 (same title) Introduced by Senator Hoeven (ND) in January 2015, and by Rep. Kevin Cramer (ND1) in June 2015 this bill requires that all foster care placements must undergo an expanded background check for all adults living in the homes before receiving a license from the tribal social services agency. It also requires a re-certification regularly, including if any adults over 18 move into the home after placement. The bill exempts emergency placements from those requirements.

Background checks are not always accurate indicators of foster care appropriateness and safety. However, to date there is no standardization across tribes or the Bureau of Indian Affairs on safety standards in foster homes. This bill is a first step towards ensuring that Native children are protected, and Sen. Heitkamp's Children Commission is a necessary and more comprehensive step.

S. 184 was passed by both houses and was signed by the President on June 3, 2016 (Public Law 114-165)

Health Care

S. 2953: IHS (Indian Health Service) Accountability Act. Led by the crisis in three Great Plains IHS facilities, Sen. Barrasso (WY) introduced S. 2359 setting standards and expectations, and some estructuring within the Indian Health Service. Both Senate and House committees have held hearings on the problems in the Great Plains hospitals, and the Senate Committee held a field hearing in Rapid City South Dakota on June 16, 2016. Read more about the Great Plains facilities here and here. The Senate Committee passed this measure on September 21.

H.R. 5406: Helping Ensure Accountability, Leadership, and Trust in Tribal Health Care (HEALTTH) Act. Introduced on June 8, 2016, by Rep. Kristi Noem (ND1), this bill proposes expanded hiring and contracting authority for the Indian Health Service, supports for recruitment and development of the workforce, and structural reforms in the Purchased/Referred Care Program. The bill was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and also to the Committee on Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committee. The House Committee on Ways and Means has approved its assigned sections. Senate Committee has held a hearing.

H.R. 395: Indian Health Service Advance Appropriations Act of 2015. In January 2015, Rep. Don Young (AK1) introduced legislation to “forward fund” the Indian Health Service accounts over a 2 year period. Many federal programs and accounts are funded this way – most notably education programs – to allow for more efficient and reliable planning. Under this arrangement, program funds for FY2016 are agreed upon in the FY2015 appropriations cycle. Each year, the appropriations committee looks ahead one year to the funding that will be needed. FCNL supports.

Housing Assistance

S. 710: Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act of 2015 (Sen. Barrasso -WY) and H.R. 360 (same title) (Rep. Steve Pearce-NM2). Known fondly and succinctly as NAHASDA Reauthorization, these bills would modify and continue housing assistance programs for tribes and Native Americans, with some positive changes. The original program, established in 1996, reorganized housing assistance offered to Native Americans through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The House passed HR 360 in March 2015. In the Senate, S. 710 is ready for full Senate consideration. There are some differences between the House and Senate bills that would have to be reconciled, once the Senate passes its version. FCNL supports.

Justice

S. 2205: Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts Act of 2015. Sens Tester (MT) and Franken (MN) introduced the Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts Act in October 2015, to provide funding to support traditional tribal courts and other alternative courts in Native American communities. These courts incorporate restorative justice concepts and hold the person who caused damage in the community directly accountable to the community and to themselves. Read more about the courts here. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed S. 2205 in May 2016. FCNL supports.

S. 2920: Tribal Law and Order Act . On June 22, the Senate Committee amended and reauthorized the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) through 2017. The bill was introduced by the chairman, Sen. Barrasso (WY) and was based on findings from five oversight hearings and “roundtables” during this Congress. Among other changes, the bill makes a number of improvements in justice for Native youth and in information sharing among the agencies involved in preventing, enforcing, prosecuting and judging crimes in Indian country.

For Native youth, the requires notice to tribes when a member youth enters a state or local justice system, and requires tribal participation on advisory groups and coordinating services for youth. The bill also authorizes tribal traditional and cultural programs which reduce recidivism as appropriate programs for federal funding. The bill directs the Comptroller General to begin tracking the presence of Indian youth in juvenile justice systems and facilities, and calls for government to government consultations between Indian tribes and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The bill also addresses information sharing by directing access for tribes to federal background check information, information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and reports from the federal criminal information database. The bill is now ready for the Senate floor.

S. 1912: Native American Voting Rights Act of 2015. On July 30, 2015, Sens. Tester (MT), Franken (MN), Heitkamp (ND) and Udall (NM) introduced the Native American Voting Rights Act which seeks to increase voter protections and access to the polls for Native Americans. The bill would require each state to establish polling locations on reservations upon the request of a tribe, and would mandate that all states recognize tribal identification cards as a valid form of identification, if an ID is required to vote. Read more about Native Americans' access to voting here. FCNL supports.

H.R. 5412: To Provide the Right of American Indians Born in Canada or the United States to Pass the Borders of the United States. Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA6) introduced this bill on June 8, 2016 to provide that members of federally recognized tribes born in the United States or Canada could pass the U.S. border without regard to immigration laws. The bill would also remove a 50 percent blood-quantum requirement in current law, and replace it with a requirement that the person be “a member, or eligible to be a member” of a Federally recognized tribe in Canada or the United States. The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee.

S. 2785: Tribal Youth and Community Protection Act of 2016. This bill, introduced by Sen. Tester (MT), joined by Sens. Franken (MN), Udall (NM), Cantwell (WA) and Murkowski (AK) would extend through 2020 the authorizations for certain programs within the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and BIA law enforcement and judicial training to further protect Native children and tribal communities from domestic violence and drug-related crimes. The bill was introduced in April 2016 and was approved by the Senate Committee on June 22.

S.2796: RESPECT Act was introduced by Sen. Mike Rounds (SD) in April 2016. The bill would repeal a long list of old laws that should be declared defunct. Some are clearly outdated, but others could still have some weight -- such as the laws that threaten to take food assistance away if parents do not cooperate in sending their children to the BIE schools, or the laws that do not allow Native Americans to “capture” a white person. Senate Committee approved S. 2796. House has not taken action on companion bill, H.R. 6028, which was introduced in September. FCNL supports.

S. 1704: Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment (SURVIVE) Act. Chairman Barrasso’s SURVIVE Act, introduced July 7, 2015, amends the Indian Tribal Justice Act to provide a dedicated funding stream from the Crime Victims Fund, authorized under the Victims of Crime Act of 1984, for a competitive tribal grant program for crime victim services and assistance (S. 1704). See a letter that FCNL and faith partners wrote on this funding here. Note: in late May 2016, both House and Senate State-Justice Appropriations subcommittees agreed to a 5-percent set aside for tribal governments from the Crime Victim fund. S. 1704 is ready for full Senate consideration. FCNL supports.

Land, Environment and Resources

S. 2063: Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act of 2015 and H.R. 3602: (same title). On September 22, Sens. Udall (NM), Heinrich (NM), and Bennett (CO) introduced S. 2063, the Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act of 2015. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (NM3) introduced a companion bill, H.R. 3602, on September 24. The bills define U.S. responsibility for the damage created by the spill, and specify the kinds of damage that will qualify for compensation. The bills also create an Office of Gold King Mine Spill Claims within the EPA and direct that office to pay the claims through specified federal funds. The bills also direct the EPA to work with states and Indian tribes in the affected area to “develop, fund, and implement a long term monitoring program for water quality of the Animas and San Juan Rivers.” Read more about the Gold King Mine Spill here. FCNL supports.

H.R. 538: The Native American Energy Act, introduced by Rep. Don Young (AK1) in January 2015 and passed by the House on October 8, 2015. The bill amends some of the energy and environmental laws to make it easier for tribal and non-tribal gas, oil, and mineral developers to operate on Indian lands. Environmental Impact Statements, for example, would be open for comment only to members of the tribe and residents of the immediate area. Damage to rivers, water tables, clean air and other regional natural resources would not be an appropriate subject for comment by people in the wider region. Fracking rules would not apply on Indian lands, unless the tribe specifically decides to apply them. Third-party private appraisers can substitute for the Department of the Interior in appraisals of gas and oil projects.

S. 209: Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2015. Introduced by Sen. Barrasso (WY) on January 21, 2015, this bill amends several energy environmental laws and directs technical and planning assistance to tribes to increase the capacity of Indian tribes to manage energy development and energy efficiency programs. It revises requirements for home weatherization projects, and lays out a process for determining whether an interested party has a valid claim of adverse environmental impact that a tribe is carrying out. Like the House bill, it allows a third party appraiser to substitute for Interior’s role in appraising mineral or energy resources. It also allows tribes to carry out demonstration projects to promote biomass energy production on Indian forest land and in nearby communities by providing them with reliable supplies of woody biomass from federal lands.

The Senate passed the bill on December 10, 2015 and added its provisions to the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S.2012). S. 209 was referred to the House committees on Natural Resources and Energy and Commerce.

S. 2636: Reservation Land Consolidation Act of 2016. Senator Tester (MT) introduced this bill in March to require the Department of the Interior to approve applications to have lands taken into trust when they are wholly within a reservation. Following the Cobell decision, many tribes are consolidating small tracts of land within the reservation (fractionated land); this bill will ease the application process for each separate tract of land. The Senate Committee heard the bill on September 14. FCNL supports.

S. 2739: Spokane Tribe of Indians of the Spokane Reservation Equitable Compensation Act. Senator Maria Cantwell (WA) introduced this bill in March 2016 to secure compensation for the Spokane Tribe of Indians for the use of tribal lands for the generation of hydropower from the Grand Coulee Dam. Regular payments from the Bonneville Power Administration will go into a fund which the tribe must use for economic development, infrastructure development, or the educational, health, recreational and social welfare objectives of the tribe and its members. Since the Spokane Tribe of Indians was just recently named a “Promise Zone,” it’s very likely that the tribe has very specific and well considered plans for the use of these funds. The Senate Committee reported the bill to the Senate floor on May 11, 2016. FCNL supports.

S. 3222 and H.R. 5811: Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act. The Oregon and Washington senators and Rep. Blumenauer of OR have introduced these identical bills to require the Department of the Interior to improve the fishing camp facilities that were provided to Columbia River tribes in lieu of the lands and villages that were flooded by the dams built along the river. The Senate Committee has heard the bill. FCNL supports.

H.R. 564 Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act. This bill allows tribes, state, and federal agents to “take” sea lions where they have become unnaturally concentrated predators on salmon, along the Columbia River and its tributaries.

H.R. 2387: Alaska Native Land Allotment Equity Act. The bill allows Alaska Native Vietnam Veterans who may have been away on duty during the allotment of Alaska Native Lands to receive an equitable allotment now. The House committee on Natural Resources approved the bill on September 21. FCNL supports.

H.R. 5780: Utah Public Lands Initiative. The bill provides permanent protections in National Conservation Areas and Wilderness areas for 18 million acres in Southeastern Utah, including Bears Ears and Indian Creek, ancestral lands of several tribes in the area. However, the protections offered in the bill are less than the normally offered by these designations. The bill allows for road building, recreational uses, and mineral and gas extraction in and through protected areas. The House Committee on Natural Resources discussed and approved the bill on September 22. FCNL opposes.

Ruth Flower

  • Annual Meeting 2018 Keynote Speaker, Consultant, Native American Policy

Ruth’s work with FCNL began in 1981, when she joined the staff to lobby on domestic issues. After a decade with the American Association of University Professors, she rejoined the staff in 2006 to lead FCNL’s domestic lobbying team. Her leadership on lobbying and in coalitions has spanned issues from health care and federal budget priorities to immigration and the death penalty. In 2016, the Coalition on Human Needs honored Ruth at its Human Needs Hero Reception. Most recently, Ruth has worked with FCNL to launch the Native American Congressional Advocacy program.