Veterans Affairs’ Office of Tribal Government Relations Adds Regional Specialists

Veterans Affairs’ Office of Tribal Government Relations Adds Regional Specialists

Stephanie Birdwell, Director of the Office of Tribal Government Relations (OTGR), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), recently hired field staff to serve as regional liaisons between tribes and the VA across the country. The OTGR Regional Tribal Government Relations Specialists are scheduled to start today on Monday, August 15, 2011, and will advise the VA on policies affecting tribes and to coordinate tribal consultation for the VA. The staff will facilitate communication between the VA and tribes regionally and will serve as the VA’s liaisons with tribal nations and the associations that serve them. The recent additions to the OTGR team include Mr. Peter Vicaire, Mr. Thomas Bird Bear, and Ms. Terry Bentley.

Peter Vicaire is a member of the Mi’kmaq Nation and will serve tribes located in the Great Lakes and Great Plains regions of the country. Vicaire will be the contact person and liaison based out of Minneapolis, MN, for tribes located in the states of Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Thomas Bird Bear is a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota and will serve tribes located in the Southwest region. Bird Bear will be the contact person and liaison based out of Albuquerque, NM, for tribes located in the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.

Terry Bentley is a member of the Karuk Tribe in California and will serve tribes located along the West Coast and Northwest region. Bentley will be the contact person and liaison based out of Roseburg, OR, for tribes located in the states of California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Bentley will also assist with some Native villages in Alaska.

Stephanie Birdwell, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, will work with Ms. Erika Moott to serve tribes located in the South and Eastern regions of the country. Birdwell and Moott will be the contacts based in the Washington, DC, area for tribes located in states from Maine to Texas.

Some of the responsibilities of the Regional Tribal Government Relations Specialists include:

  1. managing a portfolio of relationships with tribes within a specific region;
  2. developing relationships with tribal leaders, federal and state VA personnel, and partnership agencies to enhance the working relationships between the VA and tribes;
  3. serving as a resource to tribes seeking to engage in productive relationships with the VA; and
  4. serving as a resource to the VA in developing productive, positive relationships with tribes.

The focus of the activities for the specialists will be building relationships with federal, tribal, state agencies and other stakeholder entities (veterans service organizations for example) to facilitate increased access to health care (including implementing the MOU between VA and the Indian Health Service), promoting economic sustainability (such as outreach on post 9/11 GI bill opportunities, Native American Direct Home Loans, technical assistance sessions focusing on housing options for the homeless, increasing veteran employment within federal agencies, and promoting veteran-owned small business and entrepreneurship opportunities), and working on implementing the VA consultation policy by facilitating up to 5 formal consultation sessions in FY12 in addition to listening sessions with tribal leaders and veterans groups in Indian country.

August 22, 2011, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Roundtable Discussion on Building Financial Foundations for Native Communities

August 22, 2011, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Roundtable Discussion on Building Financial Foundations for Native Communities

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will be hosting a roundtable discussion in Honolulu, HI, on building financial futures for Native communities. The roundtable titled, “Building a Financial Foundation: Access to Capital in Native Communities,” will take place on Monday, August 22nd, at 9:00 a.m. HST in Room 301B at the Hawai’i Convention Center in Honolulu, HI. The roundtable will be hosted by Loretta Tuell, Majority Staff Director and Chief Counsel, Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
The Committee is interested in gathering information about challenges, solutions, and successes in accessing capital for Native community development initiatives. Topics of interest include:

  • loan guarantees and alternative lenders;
  • economic development and job creation strategies;
  • housing, such as self-help, new construction and rehabilitation;
  • renewable energy, infrastructure and access; and
  • cultural and sacred site preservation.

Please RSVP if you plan on attending this roundtable and include any particular issues you would like discussed at the roundtable.

To rsvp, please contact Christiane Cardoza at 202-224-2251 or roundtable@indian.senate.gov

For more information about the roundtable or the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, please visit: http://indian.senate.gov/

August 17, 2011, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Field Hearing on Economic Development in Native Communities

August 17, 2011, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Field Hearing on Economic Development in Native Communities

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has scheduled an oversight field hearing in Kahului, HI, on economic development in Native communities. The hearing titled, “Strengthening Self-Sufficiency: Overcoming Barriers to Economic Development in Native Communities,” will take place on Wednesday, August 17th, at 9:00 a.m. HST at the Maui Beach Hotel located at 170 Kaahumanu Avenue, Kahului, HI 96732.

Witnesses for testimony are by invitation only, and a list will be posted on the Committee’s website once confirmed. The record will be open for two weeks after the hearing for written comments.

For more information about the hearing or the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, please visit: http://indian.senate.gov/

August 9, 2011, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Field Hearing on Empowering Native Youth

August 9, 2011, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Field Hearing on Empowering Native Youth

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has scheduled an oversight field hearing in Poplar, MT, on empowering native youth. The hearing titled, “Empowering Native Youth to Reclaim their Future,” will take place on Tuesday, August 9th at 1:30 p.m. MST at the Poplar High School located at 400 4th Avenue West, Poplar, MT. The witness panel will include:

  • The Honorable Rusty Stafne, Chairman, Fort Peck Tribes, Poplar, MT;
  • Ms. Deborah Halliday, Policy Advisor for Community Learning Partnerships, Montana Office of Public Instruction, Helena, MT;
  • Mr. Richard Manning, Research Associate, National Native Children’s Trauma Center, University of Montana, Missoula, MT;
  • Miss Fanci Jackson, Fort Peck Youth Council Member, Fort Peck Tribes, Poplar, MT;
  • Dr. Rose Weahkee, Ph.D., Director, Division of Behavioral Health, IHS, HHS, Rockville, MD;
  • Mr. Edward F. Parisian, Billings Regional Director for Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior, Billings, MT; and
  • Dr. Richard McKeon, Lead Public Health Advisor, Suicide Prevention Team, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, HHS, Rockville, MD.

The record will be open for two weeks after the hearing for written comments.

For more information about the hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, please visit: http://indian.senate.gov/

Debt Ceiling Agreement Reached

Debt Ceiling Agreement Reached

As reported by every media outlet in the country, the process of reaching a debt ceiling agreement was dysfunctional, disappointing, and angst-ridden, culminating in the House passing the agreement on August 1 and the Senate passing it on August 2 and signed by the President that day also. The agreement, among other things, calls for a $917 billion reduction in projected domestic spending over the next decade, starting with a $21 billion reduction in the fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1 (FY12). The funding cuts will be achieved by imposing spending caps, with the exact allocations to be determined by Congress. Further, the agreement calls for the creation of a “Super Committee” to be comprised of 6 Republican Members and 6 Democrat Members to find by Thanksgiving at least $1.2 trillion more in funding reductions over the next decade. Congress must vote on the “Super Committee’s proposal on an up-or-down basis without any amendments by Dec. 23, 2011. If the “Super Committee” does not act or if Congress does not adopt its recommendations by January 1, 2013, then a penalty “trigger” would kick in, cutting governmental spending across the board by $1.2 trillion over 10 years with the reductions split 50-50 between domestic programs and defense.

With this debt ceiling agreement, Indian country must do all that it can to educate Members of Congress, including the members of the “Super Committee,” and the Obama Administration about the United States’ treaty and statutory obligations to Indian tribes and Indian people to ensure that its programs are held harmless in the face of efforts to seek cuts and well as to urge that members of the “Super Committee” have a background on Indian issues.

Senator McCain Introduces Off-Reservation Gaming Bill

Senator McCain Introduces Off-Reservation Gaming Bill

On July 28, 2011, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) with co-sponsor Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced S. 1424, the “Off-Reservation Land Acquisition Guidance Act.” The stated intention of the bill is to reinstate the “Artman memo” on off-reservation gaming. This January 2008 guidance memo, issued by former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Carl Artman, required greater scrutiny for tribal off-reservation land into trust applications for gaming purposes. The memo required a determination of whether the land sought was within a commutable distance of the tribe’s current reservation. A finding that the land was beyond a commutable distance weighed against placing the land into trust. The guidance also required that greater weight be provided to state and local concerns regarding jurisdiction, zoning, and removal of lands from tax rolls.

Assistant Secretary Larry EchoHawk rescinded the Artman memo on June 13, 2011. Assistant Secretary EchoHawk reasoned that “IGRA and the Department’s regulations … adequately account for the legal requirements and policy considerations that must be addressed” prior to approving off-reservation gaming land into trust applications. He noted, “the Department rarely has authorized a tribe to engage in off-reservation gaming.”

S. 1424 largely follows and would codify the Artman memo. The bill defines “off-reservation land” as land that is: (1) located outside of and noncontiguous to the reservation of an Indian tribe; (2) likely to qualify for or be associated with Indian gaming; and (3) located beyond a reasonable commuting distance from the reservation of that Indian tribe.

The bill requires the Secretary, before making a determination to place off-reservation land (as defined above) into trust, to prepare a report that examines the on-reservation benefits to the tribe in acquiring the trust land with a focus on on-reservation jobs.

Further, the bill would require the the Secretary to prepare a similar report that examines concerns raised by affected state and local governments. For this report, the Secretary must consider: (1) whether the transfer of jurisdiction to the tribe will disrupt local government operations; (2) the effects on the state and local government tax rolls; (3) compatibility of gaming with current zoning requirements; and (4) increased traffic, noise, and “other negative effects” associated with gaming.

Based on these two reports, the bill would prohibit the Secretary from placing off-reservation land into trust for gaming purposes unless the tribe adequately addresses the concerns raised by state and local governments. Above all, Indian gaming must be compatible with local zoning and planning requirements, thereby making local zoning laws apply to Indian gaming. In addition, under the bill, the tribe must submit the following: plans, contracts, or agreements relating to gaming on the land sought; a request for a written opinion from the Office of Indian Gaming that the off-reservation land is eligible for gaming; and any other information the Secretary requires.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The Committee recently held a hearing on IGRA but did not discuss S. 1424.

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Approves Five Bills

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Approves Five Bills

On July 28, 2011, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a business meeting to discuss and vote on 5 bills that were referred to the Committee for consideration.

Federal Recognition Bills – S. 379, S. 546, S. 1218

Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) brought up 3 bills to extend federal recognition to tribal groups in North Carolina, Virginia, and Montana en banc. The bills included: S. 1218, the Lumbee Recognition Act, sponsored by Senator Burr (R-NC); S. 379, the Virginia Tribes Recognition Act, sponsored by Senator Webb (D-VA) (this bill would extend recognition to 6 separate tribal groups in Virginia); and S. 546, the Little Shell Recognition Act, sponsored by SenatorTester (D-MT). The bills passed by voice vote.

The HEARTH Act, S. 703

The Committee then brought up S. 703, the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Homeownership Act, for consideration. The bill, sponsored by Vice Chairman Barrasso, would amend the Indian Long-Term Leasing Act to authorize any federally recognized Indian tribe to lease its own lands without the approval of the Secretary of the Interior. Tribes have expressed frustration with the slow lease approval process at Interior and argue that the red tape has slowed economic growth in Indian country. Under the bill, tribes would first have to enact tribal leasing regulations, which must then be approved by the Secretary. The bill has broad bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate.

At the markup, Chairman Akaka offered an amendment to HEARTH Act that would add the text of S. 676, his bill to address the Supreme Court’s attack on tribal sovereignty in the Carcieri v. Salazar decision. S. 676 would amend the Indian Reorganization Act to clarify that the Secretary has authority to place land into trust for all federally recognized tribes. The amendment and the bill, as amended, passed by voice vote.

The Quilleute Tsunami and Flood Protection Act, S. 636

The Committee next considered S. 636, a bill that would direct the Secretary to place land into trust for the Quilleute Tribe to extend its current reservation to include land on higher ground out of a tsunami and flood plain zone. To do this, the bill removes current land in the Olympic National Park from wilderness protection status. The bill, however, adds certain tracts of land within Olympic National Park as wilderness or potential wilderness areas. The bill passed by voice vote.