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House subcommittee hearing on land-into-trust turns heated
Thursday, May 14, 2015
|A bizarre and shocking scene unfolded on Capitol Hill on Thursday afternoon at a heated hearing on the land-into-trust process.Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the chairman of the House Subcommittee Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, set an ominous tone at the start of the proceeding when he singled out the National Congress of American Indians. He accused the largest inter-tribal organization of questioning his commitment to Indian Country.
“I don’t appreciate it,” Young said. “I know who’s involved and if you want to have open access to this chairmanship — as long as I sit here, I will be chairman — I’m going to suggest we play ball straight.”
Young insinuated that NCAI was going to face retribution for pouring “a lot of fire and gasoline on an issue that shouldn’t have been an issue.”
“To bring me into question does yourself a disservice,” Young said, singling out anyone from NCAI who was in the audience. “When I’m not happy, you’re not going to be happy either.”
Later on, Young turned against one of his Democratic colleagues. Rep. Norma Torres (D-California) questioned the motivation for the hearing — the title alone sowed doubts about the process that was authorized by Congress through the Indian Reorganization Act — and the chairman appeared to take insult.
“Divide and conquer has been the business of this subcommittee,” observed Torres, a new member of Congress who noted that the IRA ended the “racist and misguided” allotment policy that robbed tribes of 90 million acres between 1887 and 1934.
“I just want to assure the lady that this committee never divides and conquers,” Young said after Torres gave her statement and after she asked a few questions of Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“Whoever wrote that testimony I want to talk to them a little later on,” Young added, again implying a sense of retribution. “You did a good job of slamming the chairman.”
Young then shut off his microphone but continued to engage Torres. “I’m happy to come to your office” to discuss the statement, she replied.
“Why don’t you, instead of taking a shot at me in the committee,” Young said.
“You’re the one taking a shot at the people in the audience,” Torres responded.
At one point, it looked like Young thrust one of his hands in Torres’s direction, a few seats away on the dais. “Are you acting like you’re shooting at me?” she asked as the audience watched in shock.
The negative tone of the hearing appeared to come as no surprise to Washburn, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. Last month, he endured an equally pained proceeding in which some members of the subcommittee questioned the legitimacy of tribes that have successfully completed the BIA’s federal recognition process.
“Three weeks ago, when a fuselage was launched towards Indian Country, the other members who were present said nothing,” Washburn said during his testimony. “That worries Indian Country a great deal.”
“It’s on your conscience and it’s on mine if this attack on Indian Country is allowed to succeed,” Washburn added. “I don’t intend to stand idly by and let it happen on my watch and I ask the same of you.”
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), the only member of a federally recognized tribe in Congress, also questioned the motives behind the hearing. He took issue with a memo circulated by the Republican majority staff that described the General Allotment Act as a “humane” law that was designed to help Indian people break out of poverty.
Cole, whose ancestors were forced to walk the Trail of Tears to present-day Oklahoma, said that characterization couldn’t have been farther from the truth. The Chickasaw Nation, like many other tribes, enjoyed prosperity and maintained a well-functioning government before allotment destroyed everything, he told his colleagues.
“The Indians in Oklahoma were neither impoverished nor backward,” Cole said. “They were actually more progressive — they had their own governments, their own written languages, their own territory — they were all opposed to what happened to them.”
“The Dawes Commission was an egregious violation of every treaty that the United States had signed,” Cole said, referring to the federal body that stripped tribes of their land. “The Indian Reorganization Act was an effort to reverse that awful and tragic mistake.”
At the end of the hearing, Young tried to address fears that he was somehow questioning the legitimacy of the land-into-trust process. On the contrary, he said he supports a fix to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar.
“That’s really what we’re trying to solve here,” Young said.
The Obama administration, the National Congress of American Indians, the United South and Eastern Tribes and most other tribal organizations support a “clean” Carcieri fix. They want to ensure that all tribes, regardless of the date or method of federal recognition, can follow the land-into-trust process.
But a fix has been held up for six years amid concerns on Capitol Hill about gaming and other issues. The landscape becomes even more complex when state and local governments, plus community groups, are added into the mix.
Only one county representative testified at the hearing, which lasted about an hour and 24 minutes. Audio can be found on the Indianz.Com SoundCloud.
After the hearing ended, Torres offered her assesment on Twitter. “No intent to insult, only have a frank conversation abt serious issues,” her post stated.
Reps Trade Barbs Over DOI’s Tribal Land To Trust Process
Share us on: By Andrew Westney
Law360, New York (May 15, 2015, 6:25 PM ET) — The Republican chairman and a Democratic member of the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs exchanged sharp words Thursday over the panel’s role in overseeing the U.S. Department of the Interior’s land-into-trust process for Native American tribes.
During a hearing before the subcommittee on the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ procedures for taking land into trust for federally recognized tribes, subcommittee member Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., blasted the panel for allowing intertribal disputes to be aired during hearings, saying “divide and conquer has been the business of this subcommittee.”
Shortly afterward, subcommittee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, retorted, “I just want to assure the lady this committee never divides and conquers. Whoever wrote that testimony, I want to talk to them a little later on. You did a good job of slamming the chairman.”
The pair continued talking with their microphones off, with Torres saying she would “be happy to come to your office.”
“Why don’t you, instead of taking a shot at me in the committee,” Young said.
Torres answered, “You’re the one taking a shot at the people in the audience.”
Young then apparently pointed at Torres before raising his hand.
“Are you acting like you’re shooting at me?” Torres asked.
Young said that he was not.
The exchange came toward the end of the hearing, titled “Inadequate Standards for Trust Land Acquisition in the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934,” which saw BIA Assistant Secretary Kevin K. Washburn defending the DOI’s approach to taking land into trust amid Young’s criticism that the method suffered from a lack of uniformity, with different DOI secretaries applying different criteria.
“Let us pass a law so every tribal member in here has the right to know fully why it’s rejected or why it’s accepted, not have one tribe get it and the other tribe not,” Young said.
Young asked Washburn for a list of applications for taking land into trust that were accepted and denied, to compare then side by side. When Washburn said such a list wouldn’t show many that had been formally disapproved, as the BIA won’t act on many problematic applications or will ask tribes to withdraw them, Young said, “Don’t ever cross me that way, Kevin. If I ask you, you will give me that information.”
The combative Young also took a swipe at representatives of the National Congress of American Indians, saying they had communicated little with him but had put “a lot of fire and gasoline on an issue that shouldn’t have been an issue.”
“I know who’s involved,” Young said. “And if you want to have an open access to this chairmanship, and as long as I sit here I will be chairman, I suggest we play ball, straight.”
Young added emphatically, “Not once have I not served the American Indian and Alaska Native. To bring me into question does yourself a disservice. When I am not happy, you’re not going to be happy either.”
Earlier, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., objected to the word “inadequate” in the hearing’s title, saying the DOI’s current regulations have provided a “balanced, transparent and structured process” to give all parties a role in the decision-making on land-into-trust applications.
McCollum, along with Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., called for passage of legislation they co-sponsor to provide a so-called Carcieri fix, which would amend the Indian Reorganization Act to allow the DOI to take land into trust for all federally recognized tribes, not just those recognized before the law was enacted in 1934, as decided in the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar decision.
Representatives of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, respectively from Alabama and Oklahoma, appeared before the committee to discuss their dispute over land used by the Poarch Band to build a casino that the Muscogee claim as sacred ground, with the tribe’s representative calling for an exclusion of the Poarch Band’s gaming land from any proposed Carcieri fix.
The Muscogee have brought a pending suit in Alabama federal court over its claims that the Poarch Band obtained Hickory Ground, an historical ceremonial site, under false pretenses in 1980, saying it would preserve the land while eventually using it to build the $246 million Wind Creek Casino & Hotel in Wetumpka, Alabama.
Torres later referred to the “common practice” of intertribal disputes being discussed during subcommittee hearings.
Washburn said that very few land-into-trust applications during the Obama administration have had to do with gaming, but added that Congress has made clear that tribes in certain circumstances can have land taken into trust for gaming even if they weren’t recognized at the time of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act’s passage in 1988.
Washburn also backed congressional legislation as a way to straighten out problems for tribes and the government that the Carcieri decision has created.
“We’ve got a ‘full employment for lawyers act,’ basically, is what Carcieri is,” Washburn said. “So we’ve got a lot of lawyers that are having to look at every single new trust land application and make sure Carcieri does not pose a problem.”
–Editing by Edrienne Su.
Office of Congresswoman Norma J. Torres
PRESS RELEASE Contact: Anna González
May 15, 2015 Phone: (202) 225 – 6161
TORRES STATEMENT ON HEATED SUBCOMMITTEE EXCHANGE
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA) released the following statement in response to the May 14th Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs hearing:
“I am disappointed in the hostile tone the hearing took, but I find it more disconcerting that instead of focusing on the serious issues affecting Indian Country, this subcommittee is being used as a forum to air inter-tribal grievances. Rather than meddling in these disputes, the Subcommittee should be working to promote tribal sovereignty and self-determination throughout Indian Country.
“From an inflammatory hearing memo that seemed to defend some of our nation’s most egregious policies against Native Americans to this very hearing questioning the well-established authority of the Secretary to take land into trust for tribes granted under the Indian Reorganization Act, our Native American communities deserve better. I hope we can move on from this incident, and get on with the work we were sent here to do.”
A full video of the exchange can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Unxsf63S2XY. The memo circulated by the majority staff of the Subcommittee can be found here: http://naturalresources.house.gov/uploadedfiles/hearingmemoiian5_14.pdf.