February 2, 2012

Indian Affairs Committee Holds Legislative Hearing on Settlement and Land into Trust Bills

Washington D.C. –
U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, held a legislative hearing today to examine settlement and land into trust bills specific to the Grand Ronde, Siletz and Minnesota Chippewa tribes.
“We are all aware that prior federal policies often resulted in significant land and resource losses for tribes. The bills we will consider today seek to restore some of those losses and make sure tribes are adequately compensated for them and ensure tribal land bases are restored,” said Chairman Akaka. The first bill, the “Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Judgment Fund Distribution Act of 2011” (S. 1739) would distribute settlement funds to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
Senator Franken, who introduced the bill, said “The United States Court of Federal Claims awarded $20 million to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. This money is to compensate tribal members for the improper taking and sale of their land and timber. The Federal government owes the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe this money. But tribal members cannot receive a dime until Congress passes a distribution formula.”
The other two bills considered today, S. 3565 and S. 908, would streamline the land into trust process for two restored Oregon tribes, respectively the Grand Ronde and the Siletz, so they can better provide for the housing, education, and infrastructure needs of their members. According to testimony from the Department of the Interior, the Supreme Court’s 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar decision has made it difficult for tribes to put land in into trust and the processing of trust applications has become increasingly challenging.
“The GAO predicted that, until the uncertainty created by the Carcieri decision is resolved, Indian tribes would be asking Congress for tribe-specific legislation to take land in trust, rather than submitting fee-to-trust applications to the Department,” testified Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Michael S. Black. “As evidenced by S. 908, this prediction is coming to fruition, and Indian tribes are asking their Members of Congress for tribe-specific legislation to take land in trust. This will lead to a patchwork of laws governing the land into trust process, rather than the uniform process that Congress envisioned in enacting the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934. Such a patchwork would be difficult for the Department to administer.”
“I want to thank the Administration for providing their views on these bills,” closed Chairman Akaka. “And I especially want to thank the tribal representatives and parties affected by these bills for speaking on them today. The Committee will continue to work with all of you and with all interested parties as we move these bills through the Committee.”
More information and an archived webcast is available on the committee’s website: indian.senate.gov
Contact: Emily Deimel
Contact Phone: (202) 224-2251
Contact E-mail: emily_deimel@indian.senate.gov