House Passes Farm Bill Reauthorization, Sending Legislation to the President’s Desk >>

December 13th, 2018

House Passes Farm Bill Reauthorization, Sending Legislation to the President’s Desk

This evening, the House easily passed the Farm Bill reauthorization by a vote of 369-47, sending the bill to President Trump to sign into law. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) told reporters that he has “all the confidence in the world he’ll [the President] sign it.”

The overwhelming bipartisan vote ends a divisive eight-month long fight over the reauthorization, largely based on disagreements over modifications to the SNAP program. “After a rocky start, I’m just proud to turn a partisan bill into a bipartisan bill,” said House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson (D-MN). “That’s the way Congress is supposed to work.”

Senate Advances Farm Bill Reauthorization >>

December 11th, 2018

Senate Advances Farm Bill Reauthorization

This evening, Senators voted 87-13 to pass the Farm Bill reauthorization legislation with the final conference report. The bill will now head to the House, where it is expected to pass.

The following Senators voted against the bill:

Cotton (R-AR)
Flake (R-AZ)
Grassley (R-IA)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Rubio (R-FL)
Paul (R-KY)
Lee (R-UT)
Enzi (R-WY)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Toomey (R-PA)
Kennedy (R-LA)
Johnson (R-WI)
Murkowski (R-AK)

Final Conference Report Released for 2018 Farm Bill Reauthorization >>

December 11th, 2018

Final Conference Report Released for 2018 Farm Bill Reauthorization

This evening, House leadership released the final conference report (H. Rept. 115-1072) accompanying H.R. 2, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. The report is the result of months of negotiations between the House and Senate members of the farm bill conference committee to reach consensus on the important legislation.

The final legislation contains numerous wins for Indian country, including authorizing 638 contracting for forestry on adjacent Forest Service and BLM lands, a huge increase in funding for broadband programs administered by Rural Development, tribal promise zones, industrial hemp legalization, and the creation of a USDA tribal advisory committee.

The next step is for the House and Senate to pass the bill with the conference report. Congressional leadership is hoping for both chambers to pass the legislation by the end of the week.

Congress Passes Two-Week Continuing Resolution, Funding the Government Through December 21st >>

December 8th, 2018

Congress Passes Two-Week Continuing Resolution, Funding the Government Through December 21st

On Friday, President Trump signed a two-week spending measure (H.J. Res 143) that averts a government shutdown. The stopgap measure gives the President and Congress two weeks to come to an agreement over the President’s demand for $5 billion to fund border wall construction.

Trump is scheduled to host House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for a meeting on the border wall dispute early next week. While the President has demanded $5 billion in funding for this fiscal year, Democrats say they will not provide the needed votes for anything beyond the $1.6 billion approved earlier this year by the Senate. The $1.6 billion would fund fencing projects rather than the concrete wall preferred by the president.

Bill Repealing Prohibition on Distilleries in Indian Country Moves to the President’s Desk >>

December 6th, 2018

Bill Repealing Prohibition on Distilleries in Indian Country Moves to the President’s Desk

H.R. 5317 (“To repeal section 2141 of the Revised Statutes to remove the prohibition on certain alcohol manufacturing on Indian lands”) repeals a portion of the 1834 Indian Trade and Intercourse Act, which prohibits the production, sale, and trade of alcohol on Indian lands, among other things. The bill passed the House by voice vote on September 12th and passed the Senate on November 29th by unanimous consent. It now goes to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

H.R. 5317 was introduced by Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler (R-WA) with bipartisan co-sponsors Reps. Tom Cole (R-OK), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Denny Heck (D-WA), and Don Young (R-AK). Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) sponsored the Senate companion bill, S. 3060, with bipartisan co-sponsors Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The 1834 Indian Trade and Intercourse Act requires the federal government to impose restrictions on the sale, exchange, or barter of spirituous liquors to Indians in Indian country. The Act provides that if any person constructs, or continues, a distillery for the manufacturing of ardent spirits in Indian country, the penalty shall be $1,000, and the Superintendent of Indian Affairs shall destroy the distillery. Most of the 1834 law remained in effect until 1953, when Congress passed An Act to Eliminate Certain Discriminatory Legislation against Indians in the United States. Under the 1953 law, the production and distribution of liquor is permitted in Indian Country, subject to the laws of the applicable State and Tribal ordinances.

Because some of the 1834 law remains in effect, it is uncertain whether the Federal Government would take enforcement action in Indian Country. This uncertainty has stymied investment in tribal businesses and prevented tribes from lawfully constructing and operating distilleries on their reservations. The repeal effort was led by the Chehalis Tribe of Washington, which is planning to build a tribally owned and operated craft brewery on its lands.

“There’s no place for laws that discriminate against our Native American communities and limit their economic opportunities,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell. “Getting this outdated law off the books is a crucial step to support entrepreneurship, economic development, and tribal self-determination throughout Indian Country,” she said.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing on “Missing and Murdered: Confronting the Silent Crisis in Indian Country” >>

December 5th, 2018

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing on “Missing and Murdered: Confronting the Silent Crisis in Indian Country”

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has scheduled an oversight hearing on “Missing and Murdered: Confronting the Silent Crisis in Indian Country.” The hearing will take place on Wednesday, December 12 at 2:30 EST in room 628 Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.

Witnesses for live testimony are by invitation only and a list will be posted on the Committee’s website once confirmed. A webcast of the hearing will be available on the scheduled date on the Committee website. For more information about the hearing or the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, please visit http://www.indian.senate.gov

Midterm Elections: Historic Night for Indian Country – Split Decision in Congress >>

November 9th, 2018

Historic Night for Indian Country – Split Decision in Congress

The 2018 Midterm Elections delivered historic firsts for Indian Country, as voters sent the first two Native American women to Congress, and elected the first Native American governor and Native female Lt. Governor at the state level.

Tuesday’s election delivered a split decision at the federal level. Republicans expanded their majority in the U.S. Senate by at least 2 seats, while Democrats return to power in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since 2010. While divided government will likely bring more gridlock, there are potential openings for positive policy gains for Indian Country.

Key U.S. House and Senate committee assignments will not be finalized until December. The lame-duck session of Congress that will begin on November 14 and is scheduled to close on December 14.

Urgent Need to Get Out The Vote In Indian Country >>

November 2nd, 2018

Urgent Need to Get Out The Vote In Indian Country

The Midterm Elections are days away. It is critical that every Native American exercise their right to vote and actively educate all candidates for elected office. At stake is respect for the status of Indian tribes as governments—a fact acknowledged in the United States Constitution. The most basic principles of federal Indian law and policy are under direct attack. The decisions made by American voters on November 6, 2018 will prove crucial to the future of tribal sovereignty.

ICWA is in jeopardy. Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978 in response to reports that thirty-five percent of Native children were being removed from Indian homes by state and private adoption agencies—despite the fact that fit and willing relatives were available. On October 4, 2018, a U.S. District Court in Texas ruled that ICWA’s jurisdictional definition of “Indian children” uses ancestry as a “proxy for race” and is unconstitutional.
In January of 2018, the HHS–Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) encouraged state governments to impose work and other eligibility requirements for individuals to receive Medicaid. Ignoring the federal government’s solemn treaty and trust obligation to provide health care to Native Americans, CMS later stated that would not provide exemptions for Indians from state work requirements, because of civil rights concerns based on the race of individuals. This not only ignores treaty rights, but again ignores the fact that Indian tribes are separate distinct governments recognized in the U.S. Constitution. If upheld, the decision could jeopardize more than $800 million annually in third party billing from Medicaid that has helped address significant funding shortfall in the Indian Health care system.

In 2017, the Administration issued Executive Orders to expedite development through Reservation lands over objections of the Standing Rock Sioux and other Tribes. The Tribes’ objections were based on the fact that the path of the development runs through Native burial sites and has and will continue to cause adverse human health and environmental impacts on Reservation lands. Later in 2017, the Administration ordered the reduction of the Bears Ears National Monument and other monuments that were established to protect and preserve Native sacred places on federal lands. Finally, in 2017 and 2018, the Interior Department issued a proposal that would make it more difficult for Indian tribes to restore Native homelands.
Too much is at stake to sit out this election. Indian Country must unite and stop these attacks on tribal sovereignty and our way of life. Our first step must be energizing the Native voice at the ballot box on November 6, 2018.

Importance of the Native American Vote

The first Americans were the last to be granted voting rights. Throughout the 1800s—without the right to vote and with no voice in Congress—federal decision makers imposed the devastating policies of Removal, Allotment, and Assimilation. These policies cost millions of lives, took hundreds of millions of acres of tribal homelands, and authorized the forced removal of Indian children into boarding schools—prohibiting them from speaking their language or practicing their religion.
Tribal governments fought these policies and many Native Americans gave their lives to protect tribal sovereignty and to preserve Native culture, religion, and ways of life. Through it all, Indian Country persevered.
Native Americans were afforded the right to vote in federal and state elections with passage of the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act. However, it took decades to exercise these rights. Indians first voted in elections in the State of Maine in 1955. New Mexico did not amend its prohibition on Indian voting until 1962. To this day, state governments continue to establish barriers to the constitutional rights of Native Americans to vote in federal and state elections. Barriers to voting include locating polling stations hundreds of miles from Native communities and strict voter ID laws that ignore tribal culture, language, and facts on the ground in Indian Country.
While some states work with tribal governments to expand polling locations, too many others expand barriers. The most notable example of Native American voter suppression in the 2018 Midterm Election is the effort of the North Dakota state legislature to implement a new law that requires voter IDs to include a street address. This law is directly targeted at suppressing the Native vote, because many rural tribal communities do not have street addresses—and instead rely on P.O. boxes.

Tribal leaders and Native activists in North Dakota and advocates nationwide are working to make voting in Indian Country a community-wide event. Tribal newspapers and radio stations are publishing detailed voter guides to educate our people on the voting process and the potential impacts of the election. Tribal schools and community centers are being opened to distribute voter information. We can and must do more. Too much is at stake in this election.
The power of the Native vote in federal elections is proven. In the past decade, the Native vote made the difference in several important elections. Sitting U.S. senators of both parties in Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, and Washington acknowledge that Native votes put them in office. In addition, dozens of Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are in office because of the Native vote. Indian country has the potential to swing federal elections at an even greater rate IF we get out the vote. With many elections coming down to only hundreds of votes—even a 1% bloc can swing an election.
The Native Vote is non-partisan. Indian affairs issues cross all party lines. At its core, tribal governments fight for local control, for parity and respect as governments, and for the United States to uphold its solemn treaty promises and trust obligations that have no expiration dates.

Our ancestors fought and many died to protect tribal sovereignty and our rights to self-governance. All of Indian Country must honor the sacrifices of those who came before us by energizing your community, educating candidates for elected office from all political parties, and supporting those candidates who have earned our vote.

Indian Country Today will stream a live coast-to-coast newscast on election day partnering with First Nations Experience and Native Voice One. The newscast will begin at 7:00 pm Mountain / 9 pm Eastern. Hashtag: #NativeElectionNight

Congress Fails to Reauthorize the Farm Bill >>

October 2nd, 2018

Congress Fails to Reauthorize the Farm Bill

On Friday, the 2014 Farm Bill (The Agricultural Act of 2014) expired without the congressional conference committee reaching an agreement on a compromise bill. While the top members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have been in ongoing negotiations, disagreements over changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) and modifications to the conservation title have created challenges in getting to a final bill.

The failure to reauthorize the Farm Bill will immediately impact 39 programs that have authorization and funding tied to the September 30th farm bill expiration date. The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) is one of these programs. About a quarter of Native Americans receive food assistance, and in some communities, as many as 80%. FDPIR allows agencies or tribal communities to order food that USDA purchases and ships to local distribution centers. Without a reauthorization of the farm bill, USDA does not have funding to purchase food. While FDPIR users can switch to using the SNAP program, tribal communities without easy access to groceries rely on FDPIR to bring food assistance to those who need it.

Other programs immediately impacted include government-funded agriculture trade promotion, organic agriculture programs, certain bioenergy programs, beginning farmers programs, and the farmers market programs.

There are no immediate ramifications for the majority of programs authorized under the Farm Bill. The two largest programs in the bill, SNAP and crop insurance, are funded through the annual appropriations process and will operate regardless of the status of the Farm Bill. Other Farm Bill programs, including important USDA dairy programs, are set to expire on December 31.

There is a history of legislative delays during Farm Bill reauthorizations. While past bills have lapsed and led to short-term extensions, there is no talk of moving forward with an extension at this time. The Agriculture Committee Chairs are optimistic they can reach an agreement and that the bill will be taken up after the November midterm elections during the lame-duck session of Congress. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS, who chairs the Farm Bill conference committee, said in a statement Friday that the focus is “on getting a conference agreement on the Farm Bill as soon as possible to minimize the impact.”

Should Congress fail to pass a Farm Bill during the lame-duck session, they will have to pivot to pass a short-term extension and then re-start the legislative process in 2019.

President Signs Continuing Resolution to Fund Government >>

October 2nd, 2018

PRESIDENT SIGNS H.R. 6157 – FY19 DOD AND LHHS APPROPRIATIONS AND CONTINUING RESOLUTION

Today, the President signed H.R. 6157, the Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act, 2019 and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2019. Earlier this week, the House passed the bill by a vote of 361-61 after the Senate had previously passed the bill last week. The bill provides appropriations for FY19 for the programs funded under the Defense Appropriations Bill and the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations Bill, and the bill also provides a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund programs from other Appropriations Bills that are not funded for FY19 through December 7. The CR includes the Interior Appropriations Bill which funds the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service, the EPA, and many other programs that affect Indian country. In addition, the bill reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) through December 7.