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Subcommittee Unlikely to Provide Trust Land Fix

Subcommittee Unlikely to Provide Trust Land Fix
May 19
17:29 2015

Seal_of_the_United_States_Bureau_of_Indian_Affairs.svg When the Republican-controlled House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs held a hearing last week on the convoluted land into trust debacle created by the Supreme Court’s Carcieri v. Salazar decision, it looked like good news for tribes caught in Congressional limbo.

But an internal GOP memo circulated prior to the meeting suggests the hearing was less to solve a controversial problem in Indian Country, than to beat the same, old dead horse about big government and the need to rein in a rogue government agency.

In the GOP version of events, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is an out-of-control agency running amok, gobbling land from unsuspecting communities to put into trust for Indian tribes. The memo says something must be done to curb virtually non-existent problem of “reservation shopping” (!) and prevent an influx of Indian casinos.

The GOP memo seems determined to fan the flames against tribes placing land into trust, by suggesting the BIA is seizing land from “unsuspecting communities.” This ignores the fact that the land cannot be put into trust status without the local community being notified and given a chance to respond.

Also it alludes to a willy-nilly approach of tribes grasping any available land, when 90% of the time the land is either already within a tribe’s boundaries or located adjacent to it.

Since 2001 the BIA has approved only 27 fee-into trust land applications. Hardly the epidemic the Republican memo would have you believe.

Further, the memo is preoccupied with casinos, overlooking the case that led to the Supreme Court ruling. The Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island wanted to put 20 acres into trust to use for elderly and handicapped housing.

In fact, the GOP’s memo seems to champion a “separate, but unequal” remedy to trust land by suggesting that there are two classes of Indians; the “real” Indians with reservations before 1934, and lesser “faux” tribes that are not entitled to reservation lands.

The House hearing got off to a rocky start when Chairman Don Young (R-AK) began by chastising the National Congress of American Indians for doubting his commitment to Indian Country.

“I don’t appreciate it,” Young told the NCAI, the largest inter-tribal organization. He hinted that the NCAI would face retribution for pouring “a lot of fire and gasoline on an issue that shouldn’t have been an issue.”

“When I’m not happy, you’re not going to be happy either,” Young warned the natives in attendance.

When Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) questioned the motivation for the hearing, Young snapped at her, too.

“Divide and conquer has never been the business of this subcommittee,” Young insisted.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), the only member of a federally recognized tribe in Congress also questioned the motivation behind the hearing. He took issue with the GOP memo that called the 1886 General Allotment Act – that stripped tribes of millions of acres – a “humane” law.

Cole’s ancestors were forced to walk the Trail of Tears.

Whatever the motivation for the subcommittee hearing, helping tribes seemed to be on the bottom of the list – even it even made the agenda at all.

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