Natural Resources Committee Advances Slate of Federal Indian Policy Reforms
ICT editorial team
House Committee on Natural Resources
Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed a slate of reforms to federal Indian policy including H.R. 3744 (Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah), H.R. 2606 (Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.), and H.R. 5874 (Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.).
“Federal Indian policy today is characterized by inconsistency, conflicting interpretations of the law, paternalism, and plain bad public policy. As a result, policy outcomes are dictated by bureaucrats and judges rather than the legitimate social and economic needs of Indian tribes. This is a profitable arrangement for unscrupulous tribal lawyers and Washington lobbyists, but it’s bad for the Indian tribes and for the public. Tragically, health disparities, infant mortality, alcoholism, drug abuse, and unemployment plague Indian reservations across the country. Today, the Committee advanced three bills to make long overdue reforms to federal tribal policy and benefit Indian tribes,”Bishop said.
H.R. 3744, the Tribal Recognition Act of 2017: The current process for Federal acknowledgement of Indian tribes was created within the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs without congressional authorization. As documented in previous Committee hearings, the BIA process is fraught with delays, lacks public transparency and is susceptible to political manipulation by unelected officials, as proven in prior Inspector General reports. Under H.R. 3744, the BIA retains its role of studying documented petitions to establish if they meet minimum criteria, but Congress will make the final decision – a decision informed by BIA’s comprehensive analysis, one that can no longer be subject to the whims of unelected officials.
Members adopted an amendment to H.R. 3744 offered by Ranking Member Grijalva to reaffirm the legal status of lands taken into trust before 2009 by the Department of the Interior for the benefit of Indian tribes, a high priority for a number of Indian tribes who have trust lands in jeopardy because of the 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar Supreme Court decision.
The 2009 decision held that the Secretary may not acquire land for Indians pursuant to the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA) unless they are members of a tribe that was “under federal jurisdiction” at the time the law was passed.
H.R. 5874, the Restoring Accountability in the Indian Health Service Act of 2018, amends the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to improve the recruitment and retention of employees in the Indian Health Service, restore accountability in the Indian Health Service, and improve health services.
H.R. 2606, the Stigler Act Amendments of 2017, amends the Act of August 4, 1947 (commonly known as the Stigler Act), with respect to restrictions applicable to Indians of the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma.