WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) delivered the following address to the 2016 Executive Council Winter Session of the National Congress of American Indians.
Barrasso’s remarks focused on the work the committee has done, the legislation that remain to be passed, and the committee’s upcoming budget hearing in March.
Senator Barrasso’s Remarks as Prepared for Delivery:
“Hello to all the members of the National Congress of American Indians and tribal leaders with us today. Welcome to Washington.
“Thank you for inviting me to address your Executive Council’s Winter Session.
“I also want to say a special thank you to NCAI President Brian Cladoosby for extending this invitation.
“This morning I’d like to give you an update on the work of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and to give you a road map of what we’ll be working on in 2016.
“Our committee has passed 31 bipartisan pieces of legislation since the beginning of last year. Ten of these have passed the full Senate, and six have been signed into law.
“The Senate passed important pieces of Indian legislation that had previously never been brought to a vote.
“These include the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments, and the Department of the Interior Tribal Self-Governance Act.
“These bills will help to cut Washington’s red tape, and help Indian communities to prosper through energy development and improved self-governance.
“NCAI has been very supportive of both of these pieces of legislation, and I thank you for that.
“With your continued support, I expect both of these bills to pass the House of Representatives, and to be signed into law.
“Because our committee passed the Tribal Infrastructure and Roads Enhancement and Safety Act, we were able to boost funds for tribal road safety projects as part of the new highway law.
“We also lowered the administrative fee the Bureau of Indian Affairs charges tribes to oversee these projects.
“We were able to include important Indian education amendments in the education reform law.
“These included empowering tribes to be able to apply for competitive education grants that were previously only available to state education agencies.
“2015 was a busy year, and there is even more to do in 2016.
“The government’s land-into-trust processes have needed clarity for far too long.
“So I sponsored the Interior Improvement Act to clarify and reform these processes for Indian Tribes.
“I want to take a moment to thank President Cladoosby for his thoughts on this legislation during last month’s “State of Indian Nations Address.”
He remarked that it was a bill most tribes could support, and he asked tribes to consider it.
“My legislation will restore the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land-into-trust for all tribes. It’s passed the committee, and we’ll need your support to move it forward in the Senate.
“This week I am also introducing legislation to restructure the Bureau of Indian Education.
“BIE schools have struggled partly because of a confusing bureaucracy in Washington.
“So we’ve proposed legislation called the Reforming American Indian Standards of Education Act, or “RAISE” Act.
“This would begin modernizing the BIE by creating an independent agency for Indian education within the Department of the Interior.
“This revised structure will make Washington more accountable and more transparent.
It will enable the bureaucracy to begin to address the needs of Indian students.
“We also have the SURVIVE Act, which stands for Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment Act.
“It will help empower tribes to deliver greatly needed, culturally appropriate victim services.
“This legislation passed out of our committee unanimously – and it will make a big difference for victims of crimes in tribal communities.
“The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has indicated that he would like to work on comprehensive reform to the Victims of Crime Act this year.
“Whether it remains a stand-alone bill or a key piece of that comprehensive reform, your support is critical to continued momentum for the SURVIVE Act.
“Finally, we will continue to perform oversight on the issues facing Indian Country.
“A few weeks ago, we held a very important oversight hearing and listening session on the quality of care at Indian Health Service facilities.
“We heard difficult testimony about how negligence and poor management by the IHS is costing lives, especially in the Great Plains area. As a doctor, this hearing was particularly troubling for me.
“Our committee will not stand idly by and let this continue.
“We will hold the IHS accountable, and we will work with tribes to make sure improvements are being made in their communities.
“On March 9, we will hold an oversight hearing to examine the president’s budget requests for Indian programs.
“I am pleased that President Cladoosby will be testifying on behalf of NCAI. I invite all of you to join us for this important hearing.
“When tribes work together, they are a powerful force.
“I am very thankful for all the work that the NCAI is doing and I ask for your continued support on these important issues.
“I want to specifically highlight the work of the NCAI and tribal leaders on the juvenile justice bill, which is now pending in the Senate. Your efforts made that legislation better.
“With your continued commitment, Congress can enact a bill that will provide meaningful assistance to help Indian youth turn their lives around.
“That’s just one example of how we can work together to help build a stronger Indian Country, and a brighter future for tribal members.
“Let’s continue to build on those efforts. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this morning.”