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Washington in brief

Lumbee recognition bill makes it out of committee again

A bill that would confer full federal recognition on the Lumbee of North Carolina quietly passed the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs April 24. An identical bill passed the House of Representatives last June.

The voice vote of the committee moves the bill on to the full Senate, where its consideration by the full chamber has not been scheduled. Its primary backers on Capitol Hill are Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, both North Carolina Republicans. Both have pledged themselves to recruiting bipartisan support for the bill, a necessity for passage in the narrowly divided Senate.

A Lumbee recognition bill passed the SCIA in the previous Congress, but the close vote of the committee presaged further divisions in the Senate that kept it from advancing further.

The current Lumbee recognition bill would bar the tribe from engaging in gaming activities.

The Lumbee achieved federal recognition in 1956, at the height of the so-called termination era, when the federal government was withdrawing from its trust commitments to tribes. As a result, Lumbee recognition came without federal benefits, and also prevented the tribe from pursuing the appointed recognition process available to other tribes.

In supporting a bill that would bypass the administrative recognition process, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the committee, has often mentioned that the only path open to the Lumbee for full recognition leads through the legislative process.

Artman exit is another setback for federal recognition process

On April 24, Carl Artman told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that a number of changes in the process of assessing applications for federal recognition have improved and streamlined the process, to the point that a 15-year time limit on any new application is now feasible. (Currently, to the consternation of many applicants, an application can take well over 20 years to complete.) He added that changes in the guiding regulations will be finished ''in the next administration'' - that is, after the Nov. 5 presidential election and Jan. 21, 2009, inauguration.

On April 28, Artman submitted a letter to Interior Department Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announcing his resignation as Interior's assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the BIA, effective May 23. He gave no reason.

At the April 24 hearing, Artman mentioned for the first time publicly that some of the many extensions requested by the BIA in its consideration of a Juaneno recognition application were due to the need for more resources - that is, funding from Congress. One Juaneno leader, Anthony Rivera, said he'd heard several reasons for the extensions, but never that one before.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the committee chairman, continued to press for improvements to the glacial process of obtaining federal recognition. ''This has to work at Interior. ... This is a serious problem that we have to correct. How do we make this system work at Interior?''

Given the time involved in recruiting, vetting and voting on presidential appointees, that question too may carry over to the next administration.

Artman also testified that several of the 243 groups on the waiting list for the federal recognition process are under investigation by the FBI, some for attempting to obtain federal funding by fraud and some for trying to speed the immigration process along.

A last hurrah from Domenici on economic development

Sen. Pete Domenici, the New Mexico Republican who is retiring from the Senate after six terms and more than 30 years, waited until the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs was set to approve the conveyance of land to New Mexico pueblos April 24. Then he made his case for modern business development structures in Indian country, and obtained the vote of approval he wanted. The conveyance is the last of a series intended to improve pueblo economic development prospects, Domenici said.

''For about 15 years, while they [pueblo governors] would meet with me regularly about developing their land, they wanted to hold it [land] with each one having an undivided interest, which means that every time they wanted to do something, all 19 had to be present and vote on it or they can't do it.

''I kept telling them they ought to form a corporation and see if they couldn't do business like other corporations. And would you believe, that about eight years ago or nine, they did it. And now they're all stockholders, and they have a president and a board of directors, and you ought to see what has happened through this process. They are now the proud owners of two office buildings that have been financed in a normal manner by finance companies.

''I think they will end up with maybe eight or 10 office buildings that they will own through their corporation. And they themselves have decided that when their profit starts to reap dividends, that the money will go primarily to the education of young people. I for one, having been part of starting it by the original [congressional] conveyance - it took a long, long time, but it finally came around and the Indian pueblos are to be commended for the modernization of their activities of a business nature.

''Instead of wanting to do it the old way, they decided to do it the modern American way, and as a result they are going to become very rich. But their money is going to go to the education of their people.''

He concluded, to the committee as a whole, ''I thank you on their behalf.''