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Vote YES on H.R. 3043, the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act

The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association is composed of the 16 elected Chairs and Presidents of the sovereign Indian Tribes and Nations in the Great Plains Region: the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Crow Creek Sioux, the Cheyenne River Sioux, The Yankton Sioux, the Lower Brule Sioux, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, the Oglala Sioux, the Flandreau Santee Sioux, the Standing Rock Sioux, the Spirit Lake Sioux, the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, the Omaha Tribe, the Ponca Tribe, the Santee Sioux and the Winnebago Tribe, located in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. All the 16 Tribes in the Great Plains have entered into Treaties with the United States.

In the Great Plains Region, the IRS has harassed our Indian nations and tribes for years. In the North and South Dakota, we have five of the ten poorest counties in the Nation on our reservations, and our people need assistance from our tribal governments. The IRS has spent weeks auditing our tribal headquarters, harassing us over elderly payments of $50 per month and questioning us about burial assistance. Now, they want to audit our districts. One of our tribal leaders objected that this was a treaty violation and he was told by the IRS, “if you want to read your treaties, you can read them in jail.”

After years of hard work, our Indian nations and tribes have a chance to stand up for our rights—our sovereignty, our right to make our Indian reservations and lands the “livable” homelands that our treaties intended. H.R. 3043, the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act is our Act, the Act that we sought from the Great Plains and Indian country to tell the IRS: Step back. Take a breath. Read our treaties. Respect our rights.

To put it in policy terms, the purpose of H.R. 3043 is to provide durable, statutory protection for tribal government programs and services that honors our status as Indian nations and tribes vested with inherent sovereign authority. Congressman Nunes, the Act’s author, explains:

Under reserved powers of tribal self-government, Indian tribes have the right and the duty to provide government programs and services to tribal citizens as assisted and supported by the United States. Moreover, Indian tribes have the right and the duty to strive to make Indian reservations and lands “livable” permanent homelands for tribal citizens through programs and services that promote the “general welfare” of tribal communities…. Clear Congressional guidance on general welfare is needed to ensure tribal governments are not impeded in their provision of vital social and welfare programs that improve their members’ lives.

The Act has been scored by Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation as “negligible” impact on the Federal Treasury because the IRS should already be respecting Indian tribes.

In fact, the IRS has issued a Revenue Procedure, 2014-35, to outline a list of tribal programs that it will presume to meet the General Welfare Exclusion doctrine. But the IRS agency action does not provide the full and lasting protection for tribal self-government that legislation would provide. As Congressman Nunes explains, "…the IRS produced draft guidance on the application of the “general welfare exclusion” to Indian nations and their citizens. While this is seen as a positive development, it falls short of the clear legal authority to properly recognize tribal self-governance and their general welfare activities. In doing so, Congress can ensure that the United States’ federal trust responsibilities are completely and fairly fulfilled."

Perhaps more importantly H.R. 3043 brings us back to our foundation: Treaty Rights. In H.R. 3043, Congress is considering an Act that will adopt the Supreme Court’s venerable Treaty Canon of Construction:

Ambiguities in … this Act, shall be resolved in favor of Indian tribal governments and deference shall be given to Indian tribal governments for the programs administered and authorized by the tribe to benefit the general welfare of the tribal community.

H.R. 3043 promotes Indian Self-Determination by respecting the decisions of Indian nations and tribes to determine the programs and services to be provided to our tribal members, dependents, and spouses to promote the general welfare of the tribal community.

This week, H.R. 3043 will be on the House Suspension Calendar, meaning it can pass with 2/3rd support of the House of Representatives. The Act has the bi-partisan support of 54 House co-sponsors. We urge all Indian nations and tribes to support H.R. 3043 and we urge all members of Congress to VOTE YES ON H.R. 3043 to respect Indian tribes and our right to live on our Indian lands.

Crazy Horse said, “We preferred our own way of living, and we were no expense to the Government.”

Bryan Brewer is the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.