Native American Legislative Update: May 29, 2009
Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009
Last month, Senator Byron Dorgan (ND) and Representative Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (SD) introduced the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009 (S. 797 and H.R. 1924.) As described in the Spring 2009 Indian Report, there is a public safety crisis in Indian Country. The Tribal Law and Order Act takes several positive steps toward establishing safety and security in Native American and Alaskan Native communities. The bill would create more effective communication among tribal, state, and federal authorities, and would address the need for tribal authorities to have more control over their own public safety concerns. FCNL will be working both to strengthen this legislation and to ensure its passage in the 111th Congress. Please urge your representative and your senators to cosponsor the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009. For more information, see FCNL's Spring 2009 Indian Report as well as Amnesty International's report, Maze of Injustice.
Carcieri v. Salazar Supreme Court Decision
In 1991, the Narragansett Indian Tribe purchased a 31-acre parcel of land in Charlestown, R.I., to build affordable housing for the elderly. In 1998, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) moved to take the land into federal trust, placing it largely under federal and tribal control. However, Rhode Island officials opposed the move, claiming that the DOI lacked the proper authority because the Narragansett tribe was not recognized until nearly 50 years after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act took effect.
The Indian Reorganization Act allows the Secretary of Interior to put lands into trust for federally recognized tribes. The area of dispute arises with the definition of "Indian." The language states,
The term "Indian" as used in this Act shall include all persons of Indian descent who are members of any recognized Indian tribe now under Federal jurisdiction, and all persons who are descendants of such members who were, on June 1, 1934…Rhode Island officials held that the word "now" in the phrase "now under Federal jurisdiction" meant "June 18, 1934" (the date the IRA was enacted) rather than "currently." According to this literal interpretation, all federal recognition of Native American tribes since 1934 is invalid.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit both ruled in favor of the Narragansett Tribe. The Supreme Court however, ruled in favor of Rhode Island's interpretation of law.
The Supreme Court's decision has caused an outcry from Native American leaders. Both the House Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee have held oversight hearings on the Supreme Court decision and have called for a legislative fix to the unfortunate ruling.
Racist Sports Mascots
Recently, FCNL and the General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church teamed up to host a roundtable strategy session on sports mascots that are based on Native American themes or caricatures . Native American activist Suzan Shown Harjo led the group in a discussion concerning the movement to rid schools and community teams of racist images that are offensive to Native Americans.
Last week, the University of North Dakota's school board voted 8-0 to get rid of the "Fighting Sioux" mascot. The hard work of grassroots activists like Suzan has brought public awareness about the inherent racism of "Native American" based mascots and helped bring about these important changes.
There's still more work to be done, though; right here in Washington, DC, the Washington "Redskins" football team, owned by Fed Ex, is a large presence and has been resistant to change. What can you do? Write letters to the editor of your local publications, especially if you reside in a town or city that portrays these racist images.
Larry Echohawk Confirmed to Lead Bureau of Indian Affairs
The Senate recently confirmed Larry Echohawk to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs - a position that has been vacant for half of the last eight years. Echohawk served as Idaho's attorney general from 1991 to 1995, and was the first American Indian in U.S. history elected as a state attorney general. He is expected to face many challenges as he works to negotiate federal and tribal interests.
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