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NCAI: challenges remain to land, sovereignty

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Indian country must be wary of continued attacks on sovereignty and resistance to reclaiming land into trust status, the vice president of the National Congress of American Indians told a recent housing conference.

Ron Allen, who also is chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe, told the National American Indian Housing Council's annual convention here that the National Governors Association wants to re-examine relations between states and tribes, a dozen trade associations are lobbying to "level the playing field" between tribal nations and local communities, and the movement to reclaim American Indian land faces great resistance.

"We need to continue to fight back," Allen said, noting that it was the American Indian vote that defeated former Republican Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington state.

There's good and bad news on sovereignty, he said. The good news is that with the change of control in the Senate to the Democratic Party, President Bush's judicial candidates not in favor of American Indian interests are going to have a lot tougher time getting confirmed.

The bad news is the ongoing attempt to redefine sovereignty in Alaska, he said. Just because those 228 tribes are small and far away doesn't lessen their importance. "The sovereignty of that tribe out in the Aleutian Islands is the same sovereignty as the largest tribe, the Navajo Nation," he noted.

There are good and bad things in the new Department of Interior regulations about putting land back into trust, he said. The new regs are due to go into effect Aug. 13.

A good thing is that they lay out clear time frames for processing applications. A bad thing is that they make it difficult for a tribe to put land off-reservation or non-contiguous lands back into trust.

New regulations don't deal with the issue of Alaskan tribes putting land back in trust, he said, thus putting the burden on tribes to prove that it is allowable.

Allen noted that only 8 percent of the 90 million acres lost has been reclaimed into trust, and he says that now, "more land is going out of trust than into trust."

Allen's remarks about local governments that have asked to be compensated if land is taken out of their tax rolls and put into trust, were scathing.

"When have tribes been compensated for all the land that has been stolen from them?" he asked.