WASHINGTON – Rep. Nick Rahall will chair the Committee on Resources in the House of Representatives during the 110th Congress that convenes in January.
The West Virginia Democrat was in line to take the post following the Nov. 7 elections, when voters canceled the Republican majority in Congress. But Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., used a 30-day seniority advantage to press his own candidacy for the chairmanship. Before closing down the 109th Congress, the Democratic
Steering Committee in the House installed Rahall.
In the past, he has proposed legislation protecting sacred sites. As ranking Democrat on past committees, he worked with Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., to advance a number of Indian-specific bills to the House floor. (Pombo lost his re-election bid and will not be a member of Congress next year.)
At present, Resources is the primary committee of jurisdiction on Indian issues in the House. But a host of tribal organizations and single tribes have approached Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the incoming speaker of the House, about appointing a permanent or standing House Committee on Indian Affairs. The organizations include the National Congress of American Indians, the National American Indian Housing Council, the National Indian Education Association, the National Indian Health Board, the National Indian Business Association and the Native American Rights Fund. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a Washington-based 200-member group that describes itself as an “online nerve center … for the struggle against discrimination in all its forms,” has also called for a standing Indian committee in the House.
Reps. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., and Tom Cole, R-Okla., in a Dec. 11 letter to Pelosi and Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the minority leader-elect in the House, stated that authority for a permanent House Committee on Indian Affairs would come from Resources, and that the committee’s model would be the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Kildee and Cole envisioned a smallish committee of 10 to 12 members with moderate staffing, and added that several of their colleagues in the House “have already expressed a strong desire to serve on a House Indian Affairs Committee.”
The congressmen signed off as follows: “Re-establishing a House Committee on Indian Affairs would send a strong signal that the House is ready to tackle the difficult problems facing Native Americans. We look forward to speaking personally with both of you on this bi-partisan effort.”
A spokesman on Rahall’s committee staff said she was unaware of any approach to the congressman on the subject of the separate committee. She said she is unaware of his position, if any, on the issue.
Tex Hall welcomed Rahall’s elevation in a news release of the Inter-Tribal Economic Alliance. (Until recently the chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota, Hall now chairs the alliance.) “This is a big win for all tribes and we look forward to working with him as chairman to advance a bold and progressive agenda for all of Indian country,” Hall stated in the release.
At a press conference Dec. 8, Rahall declared Indian issues a priority of the committee. An “American Values Agenda” distributed at the same time contained the caption “Keeping Faith with Native Americans,” and beneath it the sentence “Keeping faith with Native Americans in part demands that Congress act immediately to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act” in the 110th Congress.
In accompanying remarks, Rahall described himself as the first Resources Committee chairman from the eastern United States. But he went to some length pointing out that the history of West Virginia and its Appalachian region provides him with a way to understand Western concerns, from the rancher confronted with the mineral claims of the energy industry to the arid states strapped for water. As for American Indians, concerned about the disruption of sacred sites and off-reservations draws on their water rights, “I understand. In Appalachia they once mined our cemeteries, and we still fight and struggle for city water in some [areas].”
He disavowed the scale-down of the Endangered Species Act, in which his predecessor, Pombo, had specialized, and quoted President Theodore Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” speech of 1910: “‘Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.’
“I could not agree more.”