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President Obama Signs HEARTH Act

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On July 30, President Barack Obama signed into law the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership (HEARTH) Act, less than two weeks after the United States Senate passed the Act by unanimous consent.

“President Obama understands that by allowing greater tribal control over tribal assets, we encourage economic growth, promote community development in Indian country, and support tribal self-determination,” Jodi Gillette, senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs, said in a White House Blog shortly after Obama signed the law. “That’s why this administration is committed to strengthening tribal communities by improving tribal governments’ capacity for controlling their own futures.”

With the HEARTH Act now a law, federally recognized tribes are able to develop and implement their own land leasing regulations that includes restricted lands for residential, business, public, religious, educational, or recreational purposes without needing the approval of the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

“The HEARTH Act underscores President Obama’s commitment to empower Indian nations and strengthen their economies by expanding opportunities for tribal governments,” Salazar said in a statement shortly after the signing. “This legislation complements the work we are doing at Interior to undertake the most comprehensive reforms of Indian land leasing regulations in more than 50 years. These parallel efforts will have a real impact for individuals and families who want to own a home or build a business – generating investment, new jobs and revenues.”

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As Gillette’s blog pointed out, the HEARTH Act “promotes greater tribal self-determination and will help create jobs in Indian country.” It gives tribes the power to implement its own regulations, which could help significantly cut the time it takes to approve leases for homes and small businesses in Indian country.

“The HEARTH Act has been a legislative priority for Interior because it advances the authority and ability of federally-recognized tribes to control their homelands and provides them greater self-determination,” said Acting Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Donald “Del” Laverdure in a prepared statement. “We are moving forward to finalize our internal reforms at Indian Affairs that will bring greater transparency, efficiency and workability to the Bureau of Indian Affairs approval process.”

Ben Shelly, Navajo Nation president, was one of the first to applaud the signing of the Act. "The bill provides that Indian tribes will have the ability to create businesses and agricultural leases up to 25 years without the Secretary of the Interior approval," Shelly said in a release on July 30.

National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel was present for the signing of the law.

"This is a very good new law for tribal self-determination. The law provides that Indian tribes will be able to lease their lands for up to 25 years without the need for Interior approval. This will streamline business development and housing development and create jobs on reservations across the country," Keel said in a released statement.