Monday, February 2, 2009

Native American Legislative Updates

Inaugural Festivities and More

On January 20 many Native Americans braved the cold and joined the throngs of people at the historic inauguration of President Barack Obama. Some viewed the inauguration from the National Museum of the American Indian and enjoyed the Native American ball in the museum later that evening. Several tribes were represented in the inaugural parade. Native Americans, who overwhelmingly supported Obama in the election campaign, expect the president to be attentive to Indian concerns.

At a national summit of tribal leaders the day before the inauguration, Interior Secretary-designate Ken Salazar told the crowd that Native Americans will be a very high priority for the new administration. NCAI also laid out its priorities for the 111th Congress during this conference.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan: What's in It for American Indians?

As Congress continues to work out the details for the next economic recovery package, FCNL is working hard with other Native American advocates to ensure that Indian concerns are included. Many Native Americans and Alaskan Natives suffer from inadequate and unsafe roads, buildings, and utilities. A quarter of the Indian population lives in poverty, and Indians have the largest percentage of unemployed adults of any ethnic group within the United States.

Native Americans had a chance to explain the needs for an economic stimulus geared specifically for Indians at a Senate committee hearing on January 15. NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Johnson Pata, noting that many "shovel ready" jobs on tribal lands easily fit Congress's conception of how the money should be used, asked senators for $6.12 billion to fund these projects. The proposed Senate economic package sets aside $2.8 billion for Indian Country.

Native American Sacred Site Is Threatened

A ski resort near Flagstaff, Arizona, plans to blow artificial snow made of recycled sewage on top of the San Francisco Peaks, a sacred site for several tribes in the area. A lower court, after looking at recent religious freedom cases and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, has concluded that spreading sewage on this sacred site does not constitute a "substantial burden" on the practice of the various native religions involved. In order to reach that conclusion, the court came up with a very narrow definition of "substantial burden" - one that comes from cases decided before Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The definition is narrow enough that it would eliminate protection of many religious practices in addition to Native American ones. This is a threat not only to Indians but to all groups that enjoy religious freedom. FCNL is joining an amicus brief in a petition to have the case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

State of Indian Nations Address

Joe A. Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians, will deliver his eighth annual State of Indian Nations address on February 10, 2009, at noon EST. The speech will be broadcast live at If you are interested in watching it, please log on to the website five minutes early.

Friends Committee on National Legislation
245 2nd Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002

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