September 21, 2012

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Explores the Relationship Between Federal Trust Responsibility and Self-Governance

U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, held an oversight hearing on Advancing the Federal Tribal Relationship through Self-Governance and Self-Determination, yesterday.
“From the Constitution, it is clear our Founding Fathers understood the sovereign authority of tribal nations, and their governments,” said Chairman Akaka. “It is also clear Tribal governments came in a diversity of forms. The broad terms Indian and tribes represented a diversity of peoples, with unique cultures, languages and traditions, indigenous to the United States.
“From our earliest days as a nation, we made 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 during the nineteenth century, federal objectives turned to Manifest Destiny and federal policies toward our country’s first peoples changed. The movement to remove the Native peoples began.
“The policy eras that developed from then through the first half of the twentieth century were marked by programs designed to force Natives to abandon their traditional ways and assimilate into mainstream American norms. These programs intended to strip Native Americans of their languages, break up tribal bonds and land bases, and encourage Indians to focus on their identities as individuals, rather than members of tribal communities.
“Policies of assimilation failed to meet the federal trust responsibility to Native peoples, and in fact, often worsened the socio-economic conditions of Native peoples and their communities.”
Presidents Johnson and Nixon, respectively, introduced policies returning to tribal self-determination and in 1975, Congress enacted the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEA), enabling tribes to contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service to administer federal programs.
When asked how this policy shift had affected his tribe, Ian Erlich, President of the Maniilaq Association said, “The Association’s participation in Self-Governance is a true success story.
“Self-governance policies, like ISDEA, are powerful mechanisms as they provide tribes with the opportunity to administer essential governmental services and engage in local economic and resource development that is culturally appropriate and reflects the local population’s needs.”
D. Noelani Kalipi, President of the TiLeaf Group, a Native Hawaiian advocacy organization, said: “The federal policy of self-governance and self-determination empowers native peoples because it recognizes in policy and in practice the right of native peoples to govern themselves and their resources. The success of these policies is evidenced by the steady growth of sustained economic development across the nation among Native governments.”
Lawrence Roberts, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior, said: “Indian tribes are best suited to address the changing needs of their members.”
Kalipi noted that although self-governance is proven to be the most effective form of governance, not all of America’s indigenous people are afforded the same right and that Native Hawaiians still lack the right to self-govern. “Parity in federal policy is key,” said Chairman Akaka. “We have learned that great things can happen when the Federal government embraces the Native right of self-determination, and implements programs that empower Native peoples to deliver federal services and manage their own affairs.”
More information and an archived webcast is available on the committee’s website: LINK
Contact: Emily Deimel
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