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President signs Omnibus Indian Act

WASHINGTON - The Omnibus Indian Advancement Act signed by President Clinton incorporates 15 separate pieces of legislation related to Indian tribes.

After all the talk about a lame duck session, last month Congress passed the bill in a sweeping move unseen in recent years. Citing its importance to Indian country, President Clinton hailed the move as a renewed commitment to self-determination and self-government.

"This act demonstrates our commitment to providing more support to the Aboriginal peoples of this nation. I am pleased to sign it into law."

The bill, H.R. 5528, would result in a variety of new laws, as well as amendments to current laws. It establishes an American Indian Education Foundation to encourage and accept private gifts to help further education of Indian children attending BIA schools; offers increased economic development opportunities for Indian tribes; authorizes new activities to help support and improve tribal governance; provides for settlement of a tribal land case in California; restores and re-establishes the federal trust relationship to two separate tribal groups, and improves housing assistance for American Indians and Native Hawaiians.

The effort to pass the omnibus legislation was led by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. From the beginning, Sen. Campbell laid out an aggressive agenda during the 106th Congress, pushing for passage of an unprecedented amount of legislation related to Indian affairs.

While the legislation within the omnibus bill represents many of Campbell's initiatives, it by no means includes all that has become law under his watch as chairman.

Under the act the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community gains full operating authority over the water irrigation works within the community. Provisions direct the secretary of the Interior to take action to ensure and facilitate that authority.

The measure includes a $14 million settlement with the Torres-Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla Indians, whose reservation was flooded accidentally almost a century ago. The agreement with the government and two local water districts will settle lawsuits filed in 1982 over lost use of the reservation.

The tribe's reservation was created in 1876 and accidentally flooded in 1905 when the Colorado River burst through a canal, creating the Salton Sea, California's largest lake about 120 miles northeast of San Diego. Agricultural and natural runoff keeps 11,800 acres, about half the reservation, submerged.

Under the settlement, the tribe will receive $10.2 million from the federal government, $3.67 million from the Imperial Irrigation District and about $338,000 from the Coachella Valley Water District.

The Zuni Tribe was authorized to spend $25 million of its trust settlement. The Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana will be able to lease, sell, convey or transfer all or any part of its interest in any real property not held in trust by the United States, while the Navajo Nation can incorporate a streamlined process to lease trust lands without always having to obtain the approval of Interior.

After years of fighting for recognition, two tribes will be acknowledged by the federal government. The act clarifies the federal relationship to the Shawnee Tribe, once a part of the Cherokee Nation, as a distinct Indian tribe and clarifies the status of tribal members.

It restores federal recognition to members of the Granton Rancheria -the Coastal Miwok - in California, nearly 40 years after they were terminated by the federal government. The new law recognizes the Federated Indians of Granton Rancheria, comprised of approximately 355 members of Miwok and Pomo descent living north of San Francisco.

"This act is the product of lengthy negotiations among the Congress, my administration, tribal governments and other interested parties," Clinton said. "I commend all of the participants in these negotiations for their work in producing a bill that will benefit many Indian communities."