New Land Bill Will Affect Tribes

A column by Oliver J. Semans about adverse effects that could come to American Indians over some new United State land-grab legislation.

Recent action taken in the U.S. House of Representatives on H.R. 1505, the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (should be called "Federal Land Grab") and the actions taken by Montana senator Jon Tester and President Obama made me think about the stark contrast on how the elected officials deal with Indian tribes.

As the executive director of Four Directions, I feel that for the sake of our treaties and sovereignty we need ensure those individuals seeking office that do not respect Tribal positions must receive opposition in their efforts to gain these offices and that can be done through the power of voting. Below is another example of those elected officials who do not respect Tribes and those elected officials who do.

The sponsors of H.R. 1505 Representative Rob Bishop, a Republican of Utah District 1 as well as 54 other representatives' cosponsors, want to give the U.S. Department of Homeland Security unprecedented power to build roads, fences, buildings, or even watchtowers on public land administered by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture. In fact here is what the bill reads; “States that the Secretary shall have immediate access to any public land managed by the federal government in order to conduct activities that assist in securing the border (including access to maintain and construct roads, construct a fence, use patrol vehicles, and set up monitoring equipment” This bill directly affects tribes and they were never even consulted and/or asked to a attend hearings on the bills. It also means that any sacred sites can be plowed over and no telling what else!). I have listed some of the Tribes that will be affected below.

1.Bay Mills Indian Community (Michigan)

2.Blackfeet Tribe (Montana)

3.Grand Portage Band of Chippewa (Minnesota)

4.Red Lake Band of Chippewa (Minnesota)

5.Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa Tribe (Michigan)

6.St. Regis Mohawk Tribe (New York)

7.Aroostook Band of Micmac (Maine)

8.Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Wisconsin)

9.Boise Forte Band of Chippewa (Minnesota)

10.Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (Washington)

11.Fort Belknap Indian Community (Montana)

12.Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes (Montana)

13.Houlton Band of Maliseet (Maine)

14.Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe (Washington)

15.Kalispel Tribe (Washington)

16.Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (Michigan)

17.Kootenai Tribe (Idaho)

18.Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (Washington)

19.Lummi Nation (Washington)

20.Makah Tribe (Washington)

21.Nooksack Tribe (Washington), Passamaquoddy Tribe (Maine)

22.Penobscot Nation (Maine)

23.Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Wisconsin)

24.Seneca Nation (New York), Swinomish Tribe (Washington)

25.Tonawanda Seneca Tribe (New York)

26.Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa (North Dakota)

27.Tuscarora Nation (New York)

28.Upper Skagit Tribe (Washington)

Now here is where the difference as day and night comes in. United States Senator Jon Tester recognizes this threat and did an op-ed titled “Standing Up Against a Threat to Indian Country.” Here is some of what Senator Tester say about H.R. 1505: “That flies in the face of decades-old treaties and tribal sovereignty.” And further on he states “What’s worse, House members recently rejected an amendment that would have specifically exempted tribal lands from H.R. 1505. The amendment would have given tribal leaders a rightful say in how their lands are used.”

Now let’s look at President Obama and his administration on this issue. President Obama’s National Northern Border, Counternarcotics Strategy states in part “Federally recognized tribes are sovereign governments located within the boundaries of the United States. The existence of these sovereigns is recognized by the U.S. Constitution (see Art.1, Sec.8)” and goes on further to state in part, “The vast 5,225-mile border and evolving drug trafficking trends provide numerous challenges for law enforcement and intelligence entities operating along the Northern border under differing authorities, protocols, and expertise. By enhancing the strong history of partnerships among Federal, state, local, tribal, and Canadian counterparts and building on current effective programs and operations, the United States and Canada will find success in reducing the cross-border flow of illicit drugs.”

So President Obama and Senator Tester understand and respect Tribes treaties and sovereignty rights and are working with Tribes to make this country better and safer, while the House is placing Tribes with the illegal activities, thus the different as day and night.

Two more thoughts occurred to me while I was writing this, first is this also a way of taking President Obama’s authority away on executive orders he has written on tribal consultation and second will this allow the XL pipeline to become a homeland security issue because it crosses the border and can now be routed through our lands?

I hope Tribal Leaders, members and everyone reading this contacts their Congressional Delegation and ask them to oppose H.R. 1505. If Tribes and members start now on making sure they are registered to vote and ensure that the youth now turning 18 are registered to vote will be the first step in preparing for the up coming elections.

Oliver J. Semans is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.