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‘Can-Do’ Attitude of New SCIA Chair Raises Hopes in Indian Country

Sen. John Barrasso’s (R-WY) first 100 days leading the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in a Republican-led Senate have Indian country optimistic.
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Thursday marked the first 100 days of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs being led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) in a Republican-led Senate. In an e-mail to ICTMN United South and Eastern Tribes President Brian Patterson said Indian country was looking for Barrasso “to seize opportunities for cooperative movement of important legislation and to be a leading voice in the Senate to affirm, promote, and protect the inherent sovereign authority and rights of Tribal Nations.

In a SCIA press release on April 16, Barrasso said, “The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has made real progress on bills that will help improve the lives of the people across Indian country. We’ll continue to move forward with our positive agenda that is focused on jobs, energy and natural resource development, health care, education and tribal self-governance. I’m grateful for all of our Committee members’ dedication, hard work, and continued commitment throughout the 114th Congress.”

In its first 100 days, the Committee has passed seven bills on to the Senate for approval, and received some welcome news on Thursday when the Senate approved the appointment of Jonodev Chaudhuri as chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Six of those seven bills were also passed out of last year’s SCIA, led by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), but were held up by Senate Republicans. Some hope Barrasso can help sway the Republican votes and get the bills passed during the 114th Congress. “We look forward to Senator Barrasso’s leadership on the Committee and in the Republican Caucus to ensure passage of these bills in Congress this session,” Brian Cladoosby, President of the National Congress of American Indians, said in an e-mail to ICTMN.

Those bills:

S.438, The IRRIGATE Act – A bill to provide for the repair, replacement, and maintenance of certain Indian irrigation projects;

S. 230, A bill to provide for the conveyance of certain property to the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation located in Bethel, Alaska;

S. 321, A bill to revoke the charter of incorporation of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma at the request of that tribe;

S. 184, A bill to amend the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act to require background checks before foster care placements are ordered in tribal court proceedings;

S. 209, A bill to amend the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act of 2005;

S. 246, A bill to establish the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children; and

S. 286, A bill to amend the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act to provide further self-governance by Indian tribes.

As reported by ICTMN in March, The Irrigation Rehabilitation and Renovation for Indian Tribal Governments and Their Economies Act (the IRRIGATE Act), S.438, would hold the federal government accountable for addressing the growing maintenance backlog of aging Indian irrigation projects originally initiated by the government in the late 1800s and early 1900s throughout the west. The IRRIGATE Act was part of a larger package of bills that fell short in the 113th Congress.

RELATED: Indian Country’s Aging Irrigation Projects Need Attention Now

“In the first 100 days as chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, we have seen Chairman Barrasso bring a ‘can-do’ attitude to the Committee,” Patterson said. “Quite a few bills have been moved out of the Committee and the Chairman has demonstrated a focus on getting to results, which is something highly appreciated by Indian country.”

“It’s always encouraging to see bills move through the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs early in the Congressional session,” Cladoosby said. “Many of the pieces of legislation have been issues that tribes have worked on for several sessions, and Indian country would like to secure passage so we can improve the lives of Native people throughout Indian country.”

Tester believes Indian country deserves results and is hopeful that the firewall that held up these bills in previous years will be broke. “The Indian Affairs Committee has always worked in a bipartisan fashion and it’s time the rest of the Senate follows the Committee’s lead,” Tester said in an e-mail to ICTMN. “Passing these bills will create jobs, make critical investments in infrastructure, and improve self-determination.”

Barrasso is optimistic about the bills being passed. “[Sen. Barrasso] is committed to working with other members to see that happen and urges all of Indian country to join him in this effort,” Mike Danylak, press secretary for the chairman said in an e-mail to ICTMN. “He is hopeful to see some real progress in this Congress, starting today with the confirmation of Jonodev Chaudhuri as the chairman of the NIGC.”

Patterson hopes this “can-do” attitude will also secure bipartisan support for issues like Carcieri, trust modernization, taxation and many other issues of importance to Native people.