Tribal Unity Impact Week Delivers “Immediate Impact” for Indian Country

Published on Sep 25, 2012

Unanimous Passage for both Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Confirmation and FEMA Reauthorization in House

NCAI Calls for Congress to Sustain Momentum in November - VAWA, Carcieri, and Indian Budget Priorities Remain

NCAI Releases Tribal Budget and Fiscal Cliff Analysis

Embassy of Tribal Nations - Washington, DC – The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is applauding the immediate successes resulting from last week’s second annual Tribal Unity Impact Week on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The week of advocacy efforts was co-hosted by NCAI, in partnership with the California Association of Tribal Governments, the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, the United South and Eastern Tribes, and the Navajo Nation.

By the end of the week, the House of Representatives had passed the FEMA Reauthorization Act of 2012, which includes tribal amendments to the Stafford Act, and the Senate had confirmed the nomination of Kevin Washburn, Dean of the University of New Mexico’s School of Law, as the new Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs.

“The unified efforts of tribal leaders and advocates last week brought an immediate impact and offers encouraging signs for our remaining priorities,” said Jefferson Keel, President of NCAI. “Two goals of Indian Country were achieved last week with the passage of the FEMA reauthorization in the House and the confirmation of the new Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs by the Senate. In this political environment it says a lot about the non-partisan nature of the U.S. government’s trust responsibility to tribal nations and the importance of tribal unity efforts in Washington, D.C. – we’re very pleased and grateful for all our partners’ efforts.

"At the same time, land restoration legislation to provide a clean fix for the Carcieri Supreme Court and legislation which supports local protection for our Native women remain unresolved," said Keel. "It’s vital that members of Congress are prepared to act in November, and all Tribal Unity Impact Week partners will be working to engage Congress during the lame duck session.”

During the two days of in-person meetings with members of Congress, government agencies, and Administration officials, tribal leaders and Indian Country advocates outlined five immediate priorities that had been identified for collaborative action by a number of regional inter-tribal organizations and the Navajo Nation, and NCAI.

The top five priorities of Tribal Unity Impact Week included strengthening tribal land restoration and addressing the Carcieri decision; protecting Native women through the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA); securing the Indian budget; strengthening tribal emergency and disaster response capabilities for tribes by amending the Stafford Act; and confirming the nomination of Kevin Washburn as the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs.

FEMA Reauthorization & Amendments to the Stafford Act
On Wednesday, in the hours following the kickoff of Tribal Unity Impact Week and tribal leader meetings with members of Congress, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2903, the FEMA Reauthorization Act of 2012. The bill, which includes tribe-specific amendments to the Stafford Act,  passed unanimously. The amendment to the Stafford Act, offered into the bill by Congressman Rahall (D-WV3), offers the option for federally recognized Indian tribes to make direct requests for emergency or disaster declarations by the President of the United States.

Addressing Tribal Unity Impact Week, FEMA’s Chief Counsel Brad Kieserman said "tribes are coequal sovereigns" and the Stafford Act should recognize that reality. The amendments passed in the House bill achieve this objective.

In November, the Senate is set to review H.R. 2903, as well as Senate bill 2283, introduced by Senator Tester (D-MT), which also includes a tribal amendment to the Stafford Act.

The key difference between the two bills is the House bill includes the tribal amendment within a larger FEMA Reauthorization.  This gives the Senate Committee more language to consider before passing the bill than the Senate bill, which only contains language for a tribal amendment to the Stafford Act.

Washburn Confirmed as Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs
On late Friday, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs unanimously passed the nomination of Kevin Washburn, nominee for the Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Washburn’s nomination moved out of Committee and made it to the Senate floor on Friday evening where he was duly confirmed as the new Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs.

The nomination came following sustained and overwhelming support from Indian Country, including efforts led by NCAI, for the past several weeks following the nomination in early August. In the week leading up to Tribal Unity Impact Week the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held Washburn’s confirmation hearing. Leaders and advocates called for a swift and immediate confirmation during Tribal Unity Impact Week.

NCAI congratulates Assistant Secretary Washburn on his confirmation. 

Securing the Tribal Budget and the Fiscal Cliff
With an impending sequestration on the horizon, NCAI focused on what’s being labeled as the “fiscal cliff” and the budget concerns for Indian Country during Tribal Unity Impact Week. NCAI released a tribal budget analysis titled ‘Honoring the Federal Trust Responsibility in the Federal Budget’ during the week and delivered copies to tribal leaders and Hill staff. In addition, tribal leaders met with the Office of Management and Budget and various members of Congress urging them to recognize that the federal trust obligation to Indian tribes must be honored and tribal programs must be protected in any deal to reduce the national debt. Tribal leaders discussed the potential effects of sequestration on Indian tribal governments and highlighted the serious community impacts of 8.2 percent across-the-board cuts.

Violence Against Women Act
, Land Restoration – Carcieri Decision
Tribal Unity Impact Week also highlighted two major legislative priorities for Indian Country that have yet to be resolved by Congress; the tribal provisions in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and a clean fix to the Supreme Court’s decision in Carcieri v. Salazar. Given encouraging progress on both pieces of legislation, tribal advocates encouraged final passage without further delay.

. The tribal provisions of VAWA give Indian tribes local criminal jurisdiction over all crimes of domestic violence where the offender has significant ties to the reservation. Indian Country has reached out to Congress and asked that it pass legislation to protect Native women at the local level from instances of domestic violence. The Senate responded with Title 9 of S. 1925, which would allow Indian tribes to prosecute all persons with sufficient ties to the tribe who batter their Indian spouses or partners.

Land Restoration and Carcieri Decision
. Since last year’s Tribal Unity Impact Week, the Supreme Court handed down another decision, further eroding tribal land into trust policy. The recent decision in Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Potowatomi v. Patchak, disregards decades of interpretation of the Quiet Title Act to permit retroactive challenges to the status of federal Indian trust land many years after it has been placed in trust. 

Last week, tribal leaders highlighted the recent Patchak decision as evidence of the problems the Carcieri decision created when it effectively divided tribes into two categories: tribes federally recognized prior to 1934, for which the Secretary of the Interior has the authority to take land into trust on behalf of; and tribes recognized after 1934, which the Secretary of the Interior lacks the authority to take land into trust for.

During Impact Week, tribal leaders reminded members of Congress that the right to acquire land for government purposes is one of the core bundles of rights reserved for tribal nations, and must be protected as a core principle within the federal trust responsibility towards Indian tribes.
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