Senate Passes Legislation to Settle Cobell and 4 Native American Water Rights Suits

Senate Passes Legislation to Settle Cobell and 4 Native American Water Rights Suits

On November 19, 2010, the Senate passed Cobell settlement legislation and settlement legislation for 4 different water rights suits of Native American tribes in a bill captioned the Claims Settlement Act of 2010. The water rights settlements resolved suits brought by the White Mountain Apache Tribe, the Taos Pueblo, the Crow Tribe, and the Pueblos of Tesuque, Nambe, San Ildefonso, Pojaque. After much negotiation and effort, the Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent.

The House must now consider the Claims Settlement Act of 2010 for passage. Even though all the settlements had previously passed the House except for the Crow water settlement, the House must pass the bill due to changes made to the settlements in the Senate. Many in Indian country are working to see if the House can pass this legislation before adjournment. For more information, please see the White House’s statement on the Senate’s passage of the Claims Settlement Act of 2010.

Tribal Leaders Held Successful Rally to Enact Carcieri Fix Legislation During Lame Duck Session

Tribal Leaders Held Successful Rally to Enact Carcieri Fix Legislation During Lame Duck Session

On November 18th, the National Congress of American Indians and the United South and Eastern Tribes held a Tribal Leaders Rally to Protect Tribal Homelands to urge enactment of legislation to address the February 24, 2009 decision of the United States Supreme Court in Carcieri v. Salazar. This decision represents a direct attack on a core aspect of tribal sovereignty — the ability of Indian tribes to restore their homelands. As Congress enters the end of its lame duck session, enactment of legislation to address this decision is one of Indian country’s highest priorities. A number of Members of Congress addressed tribal leaders at the Rally, including Congressman Dale Kildee, Founder and Co-Chair of the Native American Caucus, and expressed their strong support for passage of this legislation this session. Also, that day tribal leaders had productive meetings with 50 plus congressional offices and agencies to discuss the need to pass this legislation.

In Carcieri, the Court overturned 75 years of practice under both Republican and Democrat Administrations in finding that the Indian Reorganization Act authorized the Secretary of the Interior to place land into trust for only those tribes “under federal jurisdiction” as of 1934. The decision creates many more questions than it answers. As of 1934, no federal laws or regulations define the phrase “under federal jurisdiction.” In addition, in 1934, the United States was ending a 50-year period of allotment and assimilation during which the federal government did all it could to destroy the governing structures of Indian tribes, including the suppression of tribal cultures and the forced placement of Indian children in boarding schools where they were forbidden to speak their languages or practice their Native religions.

Since its issuance 20 months ago, Indian country has experienced widespread negative impacts from the Carcieri decision. It has placed an informal administrative freeze on the land-into-trust process, which is used to restore tribal homelands for elder housing, health care and educational facilities, youth recreation centers, and other essential government services. The decision has deterred investment and economic development throughout Indian country because potential investors in the current fragile economy are reluctant to finance projects in light of legal uncertainties. The decision threatens reservation public safety by potentially opening up past criminal convictions based upon the fact that they occurred on Indian lands.

In addition, the decision has spawned at least a dozen federal court challenges that are multiplying to existing and pending tribal land-into-trust determinations. Many of these lawsuits are being defended by the United States Department of the Interior at taxpayer expense and are working their way through the Federal court system back to the United States Supreme Court, which could result in additional attacks on tribal sovereignty and self-governance.

To address these serious problems, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Congressmen Dale Kildee (D-MI) and Tom Cole (R-OK) introduced legislation in the 111th Congress that would reaffirm the Secretary’s authority to place land into trust for all federally recognized tribes. Tribes nationwide are united behind these bills. In July of this year, 21 intertribal organizations signed a letter to President Obama and Congress, urging them to enact legislation this session to reverse the Carcieri decision.

This past July, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously included an amendment of Congressman Cole in the FY11 House Interior Appropriations bill that would reaffirm the Secretary’s authority to take land-into-trust for all federally recognized tribes.

NCAI 67th Annual Conference: Strong Tribal Nations, Strong America

NCAI 67th Annual Conference: Strong Tribal Nations, Strong America

From Sunday, November 14th through Friday, November 19th, thousands of tribal leaders and their representatives will gather at the Albuquerque Convention Center for the National Congress of American Indians’ (NCAI) 67th Annual Conference. The Conference theme is “Strong Tribal Nations, Strong America.”

Tribal leaders will discuss a number of issues facing their communities, including public safety and justice (meth prevention, violence against women, juvenile justice), health care, youth issues, economic development, housing, and transportation, among others. One focus of the conference will be a Tuesday morning session titled “Essential Conversations about the Future of Indian Country.” During this session, tribal leaders will discuss the future of the federal policy supporting tribal self-determination and the federal trust responsibility. Kevin Gover, Director of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and former Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, will provide the keynote address to kick off the session. Mr. Gover will discuss the history, implementation, and future of the tribal self-determination policy, which reached its 40th anniversary this past June (President Nixon formally ushered in the policy in a special message to Congress in June of 1970). Attendees will also hear from Robert McGhee, Treasurer of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation, Jesse Taken Alive, Councilman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and James Ramos, Chairman of the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians.

Tribal leaders will also hear from a number of other federal officials, including Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Senator Byron Dorgan (via live video feed), White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Gil Kerlikowske, National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) Chairwoman Tracie Stevens, and DOI Solicitor Hillary Tompkins, among others.

In addition to the presentations, tribal leaders will engage in government-to-government consultations and tribal dialogue meetings on a wide range of issues. On Monday, November 15th, tribal leaders will meet with officials from the Department of Health and Human Services from 12 noon – 2:00 pm and again from 6:00-8:00 pm to discuss implementation of the Indian Health Care reauthorization and the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, ONDCP Director Kerlikowske will consult with leaders on how to address illegal drug use and trafficking in Indian country. Tribal leaders will also meet with DOI’s Office of Indian Gaming to consult on possible changes to the Department’s practice of placing land into trust for gaming purposes, which involves implementation of Section 20 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). On Wednesday, the Departments of Justice and Interior will meet with tribal leaders to discuss a long-term plan for incarceration, prevention, rehabilitation, and juvenile justice in Indian country as required by the Tribal Law and Order Act.

Throughout the week, tribal leaders will strategize on how to best engage federal legislators during the remaining lame duck session of the 111th Congress as well as how to move tribal priorities forward with the more than 80 new members of the 112th Congress.

For more details on the NCAI Conference, click HERE

Lame Duck Session: Adjournment Sine Die, the End of the 111th Congress


Congress will begin its lame duck session on November 15. The session is dubbed “lame duck” because there are Members of Congress who are returning for the session but will not be back for the next Congress, which starts on Jan. 3, because they lost their races in the November general elections. Hence, they are informally called “lame duck” Members participating in a “lame duck” session.

The focus of the lame duck session will be to pass legislation that must be passed this year or that House and Senate Leadership and/or the Administration have indicated are must-pass priorities for this year. It will be difficult to get much national legislation passed during this time period given the slow pace of the Senate and the chair-shuffling going on, especially in the House. Some of Congress’s top priorities will be enactment of legislation to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, addressing the Bush-era tax cuts, which expire on December 31, extension of unemployment insurance benefits to assist thousands of laid-off workers who will begin losing unemployment benefits on November 30, and a freeze on cuts to doctors’ Medicare reimbursements scheduled to occur on December 1.

Before the fiscal year expired on September 30, Congress passed a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government until December 3. During the lame duck session, the Congress must pass another spending bill to fund the government past December 3. With Republican control of the House commencing on January 3, 2011, fiscal conservatives in Congress will likely oppose any spending increases for FY 2011 and will push for a year-long continuing resolution. Congress is in the process of determining whether to pass some sort of continuing resolution during the lame duck session to fund the government at current levels or to pass an omnibus appropriations bill. Continuing resolutions are typically very streamlined as opposed to omnibus bills, which wrap various appropriations bills and related amendments (also known as “riders”) into one big package. Those who support the President’s budget initiatives and who believe that the fragile economy need additional domestic spending will make a push to pass an omnibus appropriations bill.

Many in Indian country are also hopeful that the Congress passes an omnibus appropriations bill during the lame duck session given the much needed spending increases contained in the pending FY 2011 appropriations bills for severely underfunded tribal programs. These programs are part of the federal government’s legal, treaty, and trust obligations to Indian tribes, which ceded hundreds of millions of acres of tribal homelands to the United States.

It is unclear how long the lame duck session will last. However, one measure of the possible length of the rest of the session is the current continuing resolution, which expires on Dec. 3. It rarely happens, if ever, that the Congress gets its work done early.

2010 Midterm Election Recap


Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives while Democrats retain a slim margin in the Senate.

On Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010, the Republican Party enjoyed significant victories nation-wide, picking up at least 60 congressional seats and taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans also narrowed the Democrats’ lead in the U.S. Senate and swept at least 25 of 37 state governorships. The results will significantly alter the leadership in the House of Representatives, including committee chairmanships as well as the legislative agenda in Congress. Republicans ran on a platform of significant federal spending cuts, extension of the Bush tax cuts, and “repeal and replace” of the recently passed health care reform law.

Democrats will retain a slim lead and control of the United States Senate with only the Senate races in Washington and Alaska remaining undecided. Republicans picked up at least 6 seats in Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.

For results by state, see the detailed information at Real Clear Politics or Politico.