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Grijalva: 'Tribes are at the table'

WASHINGTON ñ Rep. Raul M. Grijalva doesnít have to look any further than the conventional reasons for his interest in Indian country: ìI have the privilege of representing seven nations in my district, and probably 22 in my state.î

Still, his background gives him reasons that go beyond politics. Growing up in the Tucson area and getting started in a career of public service, ìI had pretty good relations with the tribes,î said the Arizona Democrat.

He is strong on sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship. ìThatís whatís in the law ... It is the most respectful way to do business.î

Grijalva believes it��s the point President George W. Bush overlooks when presenting budget proposals that cut back on tribal programs, as he has for the past two fiscal years.

ìAt the very minimum, the dignified and respectful thing for the administration [to do] was to meet with the tribes in serious consultation, meet and confer on tribal priorities,î he said.

Of course, the budget process follows a pattern that has predictable features, even if its ultimate outcome for different programs is unpredictable. Some people consider the presidentís budget requests little more than the opening position in a prolonged budgetary negotiation with Congress. Congress invariably changes the presidentís budget request, in the process tending to restore funds to Indian-specific programs that the president had either scaled back or zeroed out.

But the budgetary restorations arenít inevitable. Grijalva gives only one good reason to hope they can happen: ìTribes are at the table.î

His other priorities in the current 109th Congress are to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act; to settle the trust funds lawsuit known as Cobell v. Norton; and protect tribal sacred sites. These issues join his standing emphasis on education and work-force development as proven routes to prosperity.

And one other thing ñ he continues to defend tribes at large from the fallout surrounding ìtoxic lobbyistî Jack Abramoff and his criminal misdeeds with tribal fees and donations.

ìI donít know how much is real and how much is posturing,î he said, referring to the way some congressional members have seized on the Abramoff affair to distance themselves from tribes or to advance an agenda against them.

But he does know that reform wonít be found in overreacting against tribes. ìTurning the tribes into the cause of Congressís corruption ... theyíre the victims of Congressís corruption ... buying votes as opposed to arguing and advocating for a position. ... You donít single out one set of people as the source of corruption.î

On the Cobell class action lawsuit over the Individual Indian Money trust, Grijalva is inclined to back Sen. John Pombo, R-Calif., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has introduced identical bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate to settle the case legislatively. But heís not ready to offer his full support yet, citing critical information Congress still needs.

On the IHCIA reauthorization, heís an optimist. He considers the reauthorization a moral imperative, adding that specific legislation is ìin the works around this reauthorization.î

On Native sacred sites, he hasnít offered any legislation in the 109th Congress. But Indian people and tribes know heís there, a reliable vote against measures to weaken the protection of sacred sites and remains, as in 2004; and often he has been a voice raised against the dispossession of Indian people generally, as when, also in 2004, he became one of the leading critics in Congress of a bill to distribute judgment monies to the Western Shoshone and so foreclose on their claim to lands under the Ruby Valley Treaty.

Grijalva characterized the congressional move as a deliberate seizure of the landís mineral resources, and questioned the legality of the governmentís case for extinguishing title to the Ruby Valley lands.

WASHINGTON ñ Rep. Raul M. Grijalva doesnít have to look any further than the conventional reasons for his interest in Indian country: ìI have the privilege of representing seven nations in my district, and probably 22 in my state.îStill, his background gives him reasons that go beyond politics. Growing up in the Tucson area and getting started in a career of public service, ìI had pretty good relations with the tribes,î said the Arizona Democrat.He is strong on sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship. ìThatís whatís in the law ... It is the most respectful way to do business.îGrijalva believes itís the point President George W. Bush overlooks when presenting budget proposals that cut back on tribal programs, as he has for the past two fiscal years.ìAt the very minimum, the dignified and respectful thing for the administration [to do] was to meet with the tribes in serious consultation, meet and confer on tribal priorities,î he said.Of course, the budget process follows a pattern that has predictable features, even if its ultimate outcome for different programs is unpredictable. Some people consider the presidentís budget requests little more than the opening position in a prolonged budgetary negotiation with Congress. Congress invariably changes the presidentís budget request, in the process tending to restore funds to Indian-specific programs that the president had either scaled back or zeroed out.But the budgetary restorations arenít inevitable. Grijalva gives only one good reason to hope they can happen: ìTribes are at the table.îHis other priorities in the current 109th Congress are to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act; to settle the trust funds lawsuit known as Cobell v. Norton; and protect tribal sacred sites. These issues join his standing emphasis on education and work-force development as proven routes to prosperity.And one other thing ñ he continues to defend tribes at large from the fallout surrounding ìtoxic lobbyistî Jack Abramoff and his criminal misdeeds with tribal fees and donations. ìI donít know how much is real and how much is posturing,î he said, referring to the way some congressional members have seized on the Abramoff affair to distance themselves from tribes or to advance an agenda against them.But he does know that reform wonít be found in overreacting against tribes. ìTurning the tribes into the cause of Congressís corruption ... theyíre the victims of Congressís corruption ... buying votes as opposed to arguing and advocating for a position. ... You donít single out one set of people as the source of corruption.îOn the Cobell class action lawsuit over the Individual Indian Money trust, Grijalva is inclined to back Sen. John Pombo, R-Calif., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has introduced identical bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate to settle the case legislatively. But heís not ready to offer his full support yet, citing critical information Congress still needs.On the IHCIA reauthorization, heís an optimist. He considers the reauthorization a moral imperative, adding that specific legislation is ìin the works around this reauthorization.îOn Native sacred sites, he hasnít offered any legislation in the 109th Congress. But Indian people and tribes know heís there, a reliable vote against measures to weaken the protection of sacred sites and remains, as in 2004; and often he has been a voice raised against the dispossession of Indian people generally, as when, also in 2004, he became one of the leading critics in Congress of a bill to distribute judgment monies to the Western Shoshone and so foreclose on their claim to lands under the Ruby Valley Treaty.Grijalva characterized the congressional move as a deliberate seizure of the landís mineral resources, and questioned the legality of the governmentís case for extinguishing title to the Ruby Valley lands.