The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs held a hearing on November 3 to discuss legislation that would spur economic activity and create jobs on tribal territories. The bills discussed were H.R. 2362, a bill which would allow a test program group of Indian tribes to seek private investments from Turkish companies and H.R. 205, a bill authorizing long-term leases to restricted Indian lands for public, residential, business and other uses without approval from the Secretary of the Interior.
The bills have been introduced in an effort to streamline the process of filing lease requests through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). In his opening statement, Chairman Young remarked, “We continue to hear from tribes that it can take months and in some cases years to approve simple lease agreements at the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” he said. “These long delays hurt the tribe’s ability to spur economic development and create jobs.”
During the hearing, Young and other subcommittee members heard testimony from several interested parties that included BIA Director Mike Black, National American Indian Housing Council Vice-Chairman Floyd Tortalita, Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma Business Committee Chairman John L. Berrey and the President of the Turkish Coalition of America, Lincoln McCurdy.
Black testified first and expressed the BIA’s support of HR 205 (HEARTH Act) and that tribal self-determination and recognized tribal control over tribal resources would be intrinsic to the policies.
“We understand that tribal homelands are essential to the health, safety, and welfare of the First Americans, and that it is important for Indian tribes to have the ability to determine how their homelands will be utilized. This is why the Department is in the process of revising our own regulations governing leasing on Indian lands. Our revisions will streamline the process by which leases of Indian lands are approved, thereby promoting homeownership, economic development, and renewable energy development on tribal lands,” said Black.
Black also expressed support of H.R. 2362 which would allow a pilot collaboration between Secretary of the Interior selected Indian tribes and tribal consortia and Turkish business enterprises. Though Black said the BIA supported the bill, there was criticism.
Though he said the BIA viewed the bill as a job creator spurring economic activity, Black was concerned a one-year time frame for tribal approval of leases and tribal leasing regulations submitted for Secretarial approval, Black stated, “In view of these multiple steps, the one year time frame would likely be unworkable.”
Chairman Young later questioned Black’s assertion and had remarked during the hearings that one of the biggest frustrations as Chairman was the bureaucratic red tape and length of time required for the BIA to process lease agreements for tribes.
Chairman Barry testified on behalf of H.R. 2632 and expressed strong support of the Indian tribe’s consortia trade project with the Republic of Turkey and Turkish businesses that could set a precedent for future investment projects for all tribes. Barry cited successful trips to turkey by tribal leaders and the warm reception extended to them from the Government of Turkey and private businesses.
President of the Turkish Coalition of America, Lincoln McCurdy, stated problems with the current process and said Turkish businesses, working in the world’s 16th largest economy with a GDP growth of 9 percent in 2011, look forward to working with tribes, “This innovative legislation holds tremendous potential to reform the archaic leasing system that has hampered economic development on tribal lands.
“The leasing system that’s in place today requires multiple levels of review for every lease application on tribal lands. At the end of the review process, each submission must then be approved by the Secretary of Interior. Even simple leases, therefore, can take up to six years to receive approval, whereas a similar process takes as little as six days on private land.
“Turkey’s interest in investing in Indian country comes at a very opportune time as more tribes are looking for opportunities beyond U.S. borders,” said McCurdy. “The educational and cultural ties between Indian country and Turkey can therefore quickly pave the way to economic relations that can help not only bring U.S. and Turkey closer together, but help tribes develop economically without having to rely on U.S. Federal funds.”
Should Indian Tribes work with Turkey?
According to the testimony of President of the Turkish Coalition of America, Lincoln McCurdy, the Republic of Turkey and private Turkish businesses offer an impressive list of considerations for doing business with Indian tribes. Some of the statements made by McCurdy are listed here:
- Its GDP growth rate of 9 percent during the first half of 2011 exceeded that of even China.
- In 2008, for example, Turkey’s foreign direct investment (FDI) surpassed $2.5 billion dollars.
- By the end of 2010, Turkey’s investments from 2008 to 2010 had totaled $21.6 billion dollars.
- Turkey’s outward investments have traditionally been in construction, mining, finance, manufacturing and technology/communications sectors, all of which are labor intensive with tremendous potential to create new jobs on Indian lands.
- Turkey has been the largest provider of employment opportunities in Russia, Turkmenistan, Egypt and Kazakhstan. Turkey’s exports to Egypt alone amounted to $2 billion dollars in 2010, creating more than 40,000 jobs.
Turkey’s construction sector is the second largest in the world and Turkish international contracting services have undertaken more than 6,000 projects in 91 countries with project values exceeding $200 billion. Working in Russia, Libya, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Iraq and Afghanistan, Turkish firms have crucial experience in some of the most challenging locations around the world.