Senate Indian Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on Tribal Sovereignty, Self-Determination, and Consultation

Dec 11, 2020Congressional Legislation, News

Earlier this week, U.S. Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, convened a hearing on “From Languages to Homelands: Advancing Tribal Self Governance and Cultural Sovereignty for Future Generations.” Testifying at the committee were Tribal leaders and representatives from Tribal organizations. The hearing was also the last for the Committee’s Vice Chairman, Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who is retiring at the end of the current Congress.

“The Committee has continued to convene meetings and move legislation to improve the lives of Native Americans, including passing a number of bills that have been signed into law, as well as advancing additional legislation that we are in the process of passing through the Senate,” Hoeven said. “That includes provisions to promote tribal sovereignty and economic development in Native American communities, improve public safety and to help with health care needs.”

Hoeven also recognized Vice Chairman Udall for his dedication to Indian Country. At the hearing, Udall highlighted that respecting Tribal sovereignty, ensuring meaningful government-to-government relations, and promoting Tribal self-determination have been his baseline principles in developing policies that impact Native communities.

“There have been many times where it would have been easier—more expedient—more popular—to give in and say ‘sovereignty sometimes,’ ‘self-governance when it’s convenient,’ or ‘consultation if there’s time,” Udall said in his opening statement. “But public service isn’t about doing what’s easy. I came here to fight for New Mexico—to fight for Indian country—and to legislate from a place of principle.”

The Committee heard virtual testimonies from three witnesses: the honorable Brian Vallo, Governor of the Pueblo of Acoma; the honorable Kirk Francis, President of United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund; and John Echohawk, Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF).

In Udall’s opening statement, he also noted that the Committee’s jurisdiction is a rare area where bipartisanship can take place.

“Our work in Indian Affairs is proof-positive that bipartisanship can still find its footing here in Washington—that progress and principles need not be sacrificed for political gamesmanship, or political expediency,” he said.

He also asked Governor Vallo how the federal government can improve its relations with Tribes on land management decisions. “There has to be meaningful commitment between the federal government and Tribe or Tribes that leads to meaningful consultation,” said Vallo.

Finally, Udall raised the idea of a “Marshall Plan for Indian Country” to rebuild Tribal infrastructure, which Francis said would “include funding for governmental and judicial infrastructure, historic preservation, economic infrastructure, [and] health care infrastructure.”

“We’ve got to do a much better job of tracking exactly how well the trust obligation to Indian Tribes is being met,” Francis said.

Click here for a video of the hearing.

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