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Campbell keeps tribal economic corporation hopes alive in S. 519

WASHINGTON - Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell's hopes of seeing the Senate
authorize an institutional inter-tribal mechanism for capital formation and
economic development have come to rest on a reduced version of Senate Bill
519.

As passed out of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Sept. 29, the
bill has been scaled back to launch a feasibility study of the inter-tribal
economic development corporation envisioned in an earlier version. The
earlier version would have established the economic development corporation
as an on-the-ground entity. The concept was ultimately well received among
tribes, Alaska Native villages and Native Hawaiians. But in Congress it ran
afoul of questions as to how the corporation would be financed and
chartered, and whether it would receive federal funding and the full faith
and credit backing of the United States.

The feasibility study, which would be due within nine months of its
organizational appointments if it passes into law, would resolve these
questions and others, such as whether the corporation can be
self-sustaining over time and what its impact would be on Indian country.
In addition, it would discuss the non-financial and advisory roles of the
corporation, with particular emphasis on a diagnostic studies fund for
economic analyses designed to expose the systemic weaknesses of reservation
economies.

The feasibility study would be conducted by a Native-dominated board within
the administrative structure of the Native American Business Development
Office of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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SCIA staff, speaking on background but not for attribution, said the
committee hopes to resolve these issues within a year or so. Campbell,
R-Colo., the committee chairman, resigns at the end of the current 108th
Congress.

S. 519 is heir to the Native American Financial Services Organization Act,
which Campbell introduced shortly after becoming the SCIA chairman in 1997.
The NAFSO bill intended to establish a tribally-owned mortgage lending
entity, located within the Department of Housing and Urban Development,
that would have issued ownership shares to tribes on the model of other
government-sponsored organizations. But the bill did not become law and has
given way to the more comprehensive provisions proposed for study in S.
519.

Campbell has twice stated publicly in recent months that the dependency
forced on tribes throughout U.S. history will linger until they have legal
institutions for developing their own skills and resources - institutions
of a kind he still hopes to see established through S. 519.