(Senate - December 17, 2012)

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[Pages S8072-S8073]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


      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 

[[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.