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Congressional legislation targets Indian preference

WASHINGTON - A bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to repeal Indian preference laws regarding employment, contracts and grants with the federal government.

The measure was introduced by Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., just as Congress was completing work before the end of the current congressional session.

"Statutory provisions granting special rights to Indians with respect to employment, contracting, or any other official interaction with an agency of the United States are racial preference laws," said Rep. Weldon. "Such Indian racial preference laws should be repealed."

Weldon represents a state with no federally recognized tribes.

Following passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, Congress extended Indian preference in employment in the BIA and the Indian Health Service. With the passage of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act in 1975, this policy was also extended to include contracts and grants with agencies serving Indian communities. The intent of Congress in establishing Indian preference was to give tribes greater control over their own self-government.

The BIA and IHS are required by law to give preference to persons of American Indian or Alaska Native descent whether through initial appointment, promotion, reassignment or transfer.

The bureau says Indian preference does not exempt non-Indians who wish to apply for vacancies in the BIA. It simply means that if there are no qualified American Indians or Alaska Native applicants, the position is then open to any other qualified individual.

To be considered eligible for Indian preference, proof of membership in a federally recognized tribe, descendancy from a federally recognized tribe or Indian ancestry must be submitted with applications for employment, contracts or grants. A tribal representative or BIA representative from the agency or regional office who serves the tribe, must sign the form to certify a claim for Indian preference.

The bill introduced by Weldon, H.R. 5523, or the Native American Equal Rights Act, would repeal all Indian racial preference laws of the United States, as well as Indian preference exemptions from the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Weldon says current Indian preference laws are incompatible with the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and therefore should be repealed.

He adds that if his bill were to become law it would take effect 30 days after enactment, but would not affect any existing employment, contract or other legal relationship in existence at that time.

The bill has been referred to House Committee on Resources and the Committee on Education and the Workforce. With the congressional session coming to a close, the bill is unlikely to receive consideration by those committees or the House floor.

However, Rep. Weldon is expected to reintroduce the bill once Congress returns in January.