December 17, 2012 - Issue: Vol. 158, No. 162 — Daily Edition112th Congress (2011 - 2012) - 2nd Session
STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS; Congressional Record Vol. 158, No. 162
(Senate - December 17, 2012)
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[Pages S8072-S8073] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS By Mr. AKAKA (for himself and Mr. Barrasso): S. 3685. A bill to amend the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act to provide further self-governance by Indian tribes, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Indian Affairs. Mr. AKAKA. Mr. President, today I rise to introduce S. 3685, The Department of the Interior Tribal Self-Governance Act of 2012. I am proud to introduce this bill and I am thankful for the cosponsorship of my friend and colleague, the Vice Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, Senator Barrasso. The Department of the Interior Tribal Self-Governance Act of 2012 is an important next step in our Federal policy of recognizing and supporting tribal self-governance. Our country's Native peoples have always had the right to govern themselves. When the earliest explorers arrived in the New World, they recognized the sovereignty of the Native peoples they met. Soon after, European colonial nations began entering into treaties with Indian tribes as they expanded into the American continent. It is clear, from the terms of the Constitution, our Founding Fathers understood the sovereign authority of tribes, and their capacity to be self-governing. From our earliest days as a Nation, we entered into treaties with the Indian tribes, just as we did with a diversity of foreign nations, governing issues such as trade, peace, and other relations. With our westward expansion, and as public sentiment and Federal policy objectives turned to Manifest Destiny during the 19th century, Federal policies toward our Country's first peoples changed, and the movement to remove and assimilate the Native peoples began. The United States, recognizing the sovereignty of tribes, again relied on treaties to facilitate the acquisition of native lands, and promised in exchange to provide for Indian health, education, welfare, and housing. This change in Federal policy devastated Native peoples. It turned out that the Federal Government was not a very effective administrator of programs aimed at fulfilling our country's trust responsibility to its native peoples. By the late 1960's and early 1970's Federal Indian policy shifted again to one that began to reaffirm the inherent right of Native peoples to govern themselves and fully support them in doing so. This policy became formalized by the enactment of the Indian Self- Determination and Education Assistance Act in 1975, which enabled tribes to contract with certain Federal agencies to provide federal programs to their tribal members and communities. Subsequent legislation allowed tribes greater flexibility in designing and operating Indian 410 programs for tribes who have a demonstrated capacity. Currently, about 60 percent of tribes carry out self-governance compacts with either the Department of the Interior or the Indian Health Service, or both. Federal reaffirmation and support of tribal sovereignty through self- governance programs has enabled tribes to generate revenues through their own business enterprises, establish their own courts and law enforcement systems, and remake school curricula to better meet the needs of Native students. Importantly, tribes have done this without forced assimilation to mainstream American traditions and norms. This Federal focus on self-determination and self-governance has proven to be the only Federal policy that has worked for Native communities. Studies show that self-determination policies have enabled Indian tribes to build strong economies, reverse decades of language loss, and tailor programs and services to better meet the needs of their people. It is our responsibility to ensure that our policy of self-governance advances to meet the needs of native peoples. As Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, it has come to my attention that several relatively minor technical changes are needed to the underlying law to ensure the goals of our federal policy are realized. For instance, I understand that the administration of programs under both the Department of the Interior and the Indian Health Service can be unnecessarily cumbersome for tribes due to different requirements for each. At the Committee's hearing on the topic of Self-Determination and Self-Governance held in September, witnesses from the Administration and Native governments alike lauded the positive effects Self-Determination Era policies are having on Native communities and stressed the importance of amending the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act to ensure tribes can manage these programs efficiently. S. 3685 will streamline processes and make it simpler for tribes to manage programs to benefit their members. It has been developed after months of tribal consultation and has been a bi-partisan effort. In crafting this bill, we have been careful to ensure that none of its provisions will affect current law relating to contracting or compacting of non-BIA programs under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, or congressionally approved water settlements. I encourage all of my colleagues to stand with me in support of this important legislative initiative. Mr. BARRASSO. Mr. President, I rise to join my good friend, Senator Akaka, in sponsoring the Department of the Interior Tribal Self- Governance Act of 2012. Congress passed the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act in 1975 to set forth a new dynamic in the Federal-tribal relationship. Since then, we have seen many benefits for Indian communities as a result of the Federal Indian policy of self- determination in general and the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act in particular. Indian self-determination is one of the most successful, if not the most successful, Federal Indian policies in the history of our country's relations with Indian Country. The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act was amended over 20 years ago to include the Self-Governance program. Self- Governance became a permanent program in the Department of the Interior in 1994, and it has been a resounding success. Now, as of 2012, hundreds of Indian tribes are participating in the Self-Governance program in one way or another. It comes as no surprise to me, that the Indian tribes can administer these programs on behalf of their own people far better than the Federal government could ever hope to administer them. Nevertheless, after some 18 years, the time has come for the self- governance program to be reviewed and improved. This bill is intended to provide ``key improvements to the way self-governance works in the Department of the Interior, improvements that have been studied, evaluated, discussed, and negotiated by the tribes and by the Department of the Interior. During the course of this Congress, some issues did arise relating to the [[Page S8073]] self-governance program in Interior agencies other than the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in particular the Bureau of Reclamation. Indian tribal leaders and Senate staff have worked for many months to resolve those issues, and their efforts in that regard are incorporated into this bill. I believe the bill goes a long way in dealing with those issues, and the program will be better off as a result of these efforts. I want to thank Senator Akaka, the Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee and with whom I have worked this past Congress as Vice Chairman, for his leadership on this bill which I support and on advancing initiatives that will improve the lives of Indian people. ____________________