Washington in Brief

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SELF-GOVERNANCE BILL GETS A NO-SHOW FROM DHHS

WASHINGTON - The Department of Health and Human Services Tribal
Self-Governance Amendments Act of 2003 came before the Senate Indian
Affairs Committee on May 19, but DHHS did not.

The committee listed DHHS Secretary Tommy Thompson as a witness. He did not
appear due to a scheduling conflict, and did not send anyone in his place
because the department has not formulated a position on S. 1696, according
to spokesperson Bill Pierce.

The no-show became the occasion of another broadside from Sen. Ben
Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., against Bush administration appointees who
fail to testify before the committee on bills that concern their
department. Dave Anderson, the Interior Department's assistant secretary
for Indian affairs at the BIA, has become a favorite target of the
committee chairman, but this time Campbell directed his frustration at the
administration itself.

"I'm not at all pleased with the response we've gotten from the
administration when we're taking up Indian issues that I really believe are
measured to try and help Indian tribes become more independent of the
government's tethering."

A roster of leaders from Indian country testified in behalf of the bill,
which would authorize tribal self-governance compacting for DHHS
health-related programs that are not within the Indian Health Service. (IHS
is a part of the Department of Health and Human Services.) Thirteen
programs would be eligible, among them Tribal Temporary Assistance to Needy
Families, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Head Start, and
Family Violence Prevention. At the secretary's discretion, six further
programs could become eligible. Up to 50 tribes that operate their own
programs with federal funds under self-governance compacts would be able to
negotiate and sign similar compacts and funding agreements with DHHS.

"The bill, in other words, is not a radical or large departure from what
the department and Indian country are used to," said Don Kashevarov,
president of Seldovia Village Tribe in Alaska and chairman of the Alaska
Native Tribal Health Consortium. "In fact, the bill would allow a tribe to
simply expand its current impact to include any new programs, rather than
draw up a new compact."

The bill would create a five-year demonstration program. As a good deal of
testimony indicated, the legislation anticipates expanding the program and
making it permanent at the end of the demonstration period, in keeping with
the process of self-governance compacting. W. Ron Allen, chairman of the
Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, cited "the unprecedented positive impact
self-governance has had on Indian tribes over the past 15 years."

COLORADO RIVER INDIAN TRIBE GETS A HEARING ON HISTORIC BOUNDARY

WASHINGTON - The Colorado River Indian Tribe presented its case for a
boundary correction at a hearing last month of the House Resources
Committee.

H.R. 2941 would restore 16,000 acres to the reservation's southern border.
These are the so-called "La Paz lands," lost to the tribe in 1915 by an
executive order of President Woodrow Wilson. President Lincoln created the
reservation in 1865, only weeks before his assassination. Within a decade,
gold prospectors and miners had begun to encroach on the Arizona desert
lands, so that President Ulysses S. Grant expanded the reservation to the
south, both as a buffer zone against further encroachments and in
acknowledgement of the tribe's ancestral territories. The survey performed
at the time of the expansion has never been found in error.

Shortly after the turn of the century though, mining interests tried again.
When they struck out with the tribe, they challenged the original survey.
Finally, they prevailed with an assistant secretary of Interior on grounds
that the land had no agrarian purpose and therefore shouldn't have been
ceded to the tribe. But the mineral purposes they sought to exploit never
materialized.

The tribe did not agree to the taking at the time, and in 1982 they
persuaded then-Arizona Senators Barry Goldwater and Dennis CeConcini to
sponsor a bill returning the La Paz lands. It faltered when Interior
couldn't provide timely guidance on water rights within the area.

Interior was the only nay-sayer April 21, as Michael Olsen, counselor to
the assistant secretary for Indian affairs, raised doubts about
rights-of-way, mineral pits and gold mines if the land were returned. When
taking land into trust, Olsen cautioned, Congress should be clear about
what the new trust obligations mean.

The tribe is asking no compensation other than the land itself. Chairman
Dan Eddy Jr. said the tribe will accept an amendment to the bill that would
statutorily prohibit it from operating any form of gaming on the La Paz
lands, and the bill already states that the transfer will reserve no
further water rights to the tribe.

H.R. 2941 can be accessed on the Internet at
http://resourcescommittee.house.gov. Click on Hearings/Markups at top
right, scroll down to April 21 and activate the underscored text.

JOBS BILL PASSES SENATE

WASHINGTON - The Senate on May 11 passed the Jumpstart Our Business
Strength Act, primarily focused on rewarding businesses that remain in the
United States instead of relocating overseas.

But S. 1637 also has three Indian-specific provisions: a Tribal New Market
Tax Credit program that would provide incentives for capital investment on
reservations with a poverty rate of 40 percent or more, a provision for
tribal governments to issue tax-exempt bonds for purposes of infrastructure
and economic development, and authorization for tribal school boards to
issue bonds for the construction and remodeling of BIA schools.

The bill now goes to a conference committee, where members of the Senate
and the House of Representatives will negotiate to reconcile differences
between their two versions.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., one of 10 cosponsors in the
Senate including Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry of
Massachusetts, has pledged he will work to ensure that S. 1637's
Indian-specific provisions survive in the bill's final version and get
signed into law.

SAKAKAWEA COIN FINDS DEFENDERS IN THE SENATE

WASHINGTON - Days after a House of Representatives subcommittee unveiled a
plan to eclipse Sakakawea on the dollar coin and replace her with
presidents, two senators informed their colleagues by letter that they
would resist the move.

Senators Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., called
the idea a particularly poor one to surface in the bicentennial year of the
Lewis and Clark expedition, which the Mandan (possibly Shoshone) girl
helped to guide. Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes in North
Dakota, called the gold dollar coin a beacon of pride throughout Indian
country. Sakakawea deserves the respect and esteem of all Americans, he
added, for the famed expedition's success would have been doubtful without
her.

Dorgan and Campbell said the bicentennial may spark demand for the coin.

Dollar coins have never circulated well in America. The problem most often
identified is that dollar medallions aren't distinguishable enough from the
quarter, a hurdle the U.S. mint tried to clear with gold coloration on the
Sakakawea coin. Instead the golden patina may have contributed to the
problem by making the coin more collectible.

HOUSE RESOURCES COMMITTEE PASSES TRIBAL FIRE PROTECTION BILL

WASHINGTON - The House Resources Committee passed the Tribal Forest
Protection Act of 2004 unanimously out of committee May 5, to await a floor
vote of the House of the Representatives. If enacted, H.R. 3846 will
establish a process for tribes to work with federal agencies to prevent
catastrophic wildfire, a live issue after the summer of 2003, when
wildfires that began on adjacent federal lands burned through 20
reservations.

"Cooperation with Indian tribes is key to the success of our ongoing
efforts to properly manage our forests in rural Arizona," said Richard
Pombo, R-Calif., the committee chairman who introduced H.R. 3846. "This
common-sense legislation allows tribes, the true and original stewards of
our land, to assist in the removal of hazardous fuels from our forests and
reduce the risk of wildfire. As we enter another fire season, H.R. 3846 is
yet another step in our ongoing efforts to preserve our forests and ensures
that our tribes participate in this endeavor."

The bill authorizes the Secretaries of Agriculture (in the case of U.S.
Forest Service land) and the Interior (for Bureau of Land Management land)
to contract with eligible tribes to carry out projects for the protection
of tribal forest land.