House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Oversight Hearing, "Examining Impacts of Federal Natural Resources Laws Gone Astray"

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NIGA Member Tribes

Chairman Ernest L. Stevens Jr.
Jason C. Giles, Executive Director
Danielle Her Many Horses, Deputy Executive Director/General Counsel

House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Oversight Hearing, "Examining Impacts of Federal Natural Resources Laws Gone Astray"

May 25, 2017

On May 24, 2017, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held an oversight hearing titled, "Examining Impacts of Federal Natural Resources Laws Gone Astray." Specifically, the hearing focused on the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA), the Wilderness Act of 1964, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA).

Witnesses for the hearing were:

David Cook, Owner, DC Cattle Company, LLC
Diane Dillon, County Supervisor, Napa County, CA
Celeste Maloy, Deputy Attorney, Washington County, UT
Kendra Pinto, Counselor Chapter House Member, Nageezi, NM

Congressman Raul Labrador (R-ID), Chairman of the Subcommittee, offered an opening statement cited the Supreme Court's 2009 decision in Carcieri v. Salazar to criticize the Department of the Interior's implementation of the IRA, challenging the Interior Secretary's to take land into trust for any federally recognized tribe. The Majority Staff hearing memorandum (memo) incorrectly conflates the IRA's term "under federal jurisdiction" with the term "federal recognition."  The Staff memo questions the validity of the Interior Department's Solicitor Opinion dated March 2014 (M 37029) defining the IRA term "under federal jurisdiction" in order to continue to act tribal trust land applications in light of the Carcieri v. Salazar decision.  The Staff memo also indicated that the tribal land into trust imposes a burden on state and local governments and their taxpayers, because the land transferred to trust results in a loss of revenue to the state and local governments.

Witness Diane Dillon testified to this last point by stating that the IRA's Section 5's fee to trust process, was passed 83 years ago, during the Great Depression-a time when many tribes were in poverty and as a response to Allotment. Ms. Dillon went on to say, "the Department has expanded its use of Section 5 beyond what was intended. It wasn't intended to be indiscriminately and extensively used, especially as it has been in the last 20 years."  She went on to say that there is no resemblance today to the conditions at that time and that Tribes today have robust economies.  Ms. Dillon then testified that county/local government land use plans are not addressed by the Interior Department's current tribal land to trust process. Dillon called for meaningful notice, transparency, and meaningful consultation in the process, respect for local land use laws, consideration of land use proposals, and an appeals process for trust land determinations before they are finalized.

The Committee hearing memo and Ms. Dillon's testimony do not acknowledge that the process for placing land into trust is extremely regulated and a process that tribes and the Interior have described as "arduous." The process for acquiring land, especially land located outside of reservation boundaries, gives ample consideration to state and local governments that may be affected. The Department provides notice to state and local governments, gives 30 days for those governments to provide written comment, and the Department's Notice of Decisions on the trust land acquisition contain analyses of comments and concerns submitted by those state and local governments.

As a final note on the IRA, the Staff memo stated, "ensuring proper application of the IRA and identifying potential legislative reforms is expected to remain an important undertaking for Congress." NIGA is preparing comments for the record outlining the tragic history of the federal government's takings of Indian lands, the true intent of the IRA, and the facts of how the land into trust process under the IRA functions.  NIGA, and other tribal organizations, will remain steadfast that any changes to the IRA or the trust land acquisition process be done through regulations that will not cause any additional undue regulatory burdens on tribes.

This hearing is one of a few concerning matters floating in the Nation's Capital right now.  Some of the general concerns that have been discussed in Indian Country are beginning to come to the surface. We are mobilizing to create a proactive response so that we can provide necessary education, information and policy direction.  I am gathering our Team of Professionals in Washington, DC next week for information gathering and strategic discussions centered around these issues.   While not in a reactionary mode it is still very important that we get out in front of all matters impacting Tribal Sovereignty!  We must be confident that our work in Washington, DC will help this administration and Congress understand the impacts of these proposed initiatives on the historical government to government relations between the United States and Tribal Governments and most importantly, the protection of Tribal Sovereignty!

To view the webcast recoding of the hearing, download the Majority Staff Hearing Memorandum, and access the witnesses written testimony use the following link to the Committee's webpage: http://naturalresources.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=401974

NIGA will continue to monitor this issue and provide additional updates as necessary. Please contact Veronica Watters, Legislative Director, by email at vwatters@indiangaming.org  or by phone at 202-546-7711 with any questions or concerns.