WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), delivered an opening statement and questioned, Bryan Todd Newland, the nominee to be Assistant Secretary—Indian Affairs (AS-IA) at the U.S. Department of the Interior. During the hearing, Vice Chairman Murkowski highlighted the importance and responsibility of the AS-IA job for all Native peoples across the country.
Pictured: Senator Murkowski with Mr. Newland and his family at the Nomination Hearing on June 9, 2021
“There are big shoes to be filled at BIA and important ones. As the chairman noted, the Office of Indian Affairs is an exceptionally important one at the Interior Department. It is a central rallying point for Indian initiatives across the federal government, it is called upon to educate all stakeholders and government officials about the challenges and problems that American Indians and Alaska Natives face in our country, and it provides solutions in a way that affirms Native self-determination,” said Vice Chairman Murkowski.
“As we’ve discussed, the job is not an easy one. There are over 500 federally recognized tribes to serve, with more than 200 of those in my state—all with different histories and cultures. You clearly can’t take a one-size-fits-all and try to superimpose that over Indian Country. There are treaties and unique laws to navigate. Not to mention, there’s the ongoing debates about education, economic empowerment, land into trust, gaming and tribal jurisdiction and the like. It is the position responsible for assisting the Secretary of the Interior in fulfilling the United States’ sacred trust responsibility,” continued Vice Chairman Murkowski.
“When it comes to Alaska, we had talked about two of those unique laws, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act or ANCSA, and the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act or ANILCA.
50 years ago, ANCSA was enacted into law as a new and different approach by the federal government to settling aboriginal land claims. It created Native corporations, referred to as ANCs, throughout the state, which is a very distinct approach to land and economic development from the reservation system of the Lower 48. But ANCs, as we shared, are not like traditional for-profit corporations. Instead, ANCs are mandated by Congress to care for the social, cultural, and economic well-being of their Alaska Native shareholders in perpetuity. It is through the federally recognized tribes, the tribal consortia, and ANCs that Alaska Natives deliver self-determination and self-governance programs at scale. This includes providing services and programs to address the coronavirus pandemic throughout this last year. Even though Congress set up different types of structures for Native peoples across the country, whether tribes are located in PL 280 states or if they have different land claims settlements—it’s important to understand and represent all of them,” said Vice Chairman Murkowski during her opening statement.
Click here to watch Vice Chairman Murkowski’s full opening statement.
During her round of questioning, Murkowski reaffirmed her stance that Mr. Newland, as AS-IA, should continue to familiarize himself with and understand Alaska Native specific federal laws such as the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act and the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act.
“I also need to reinforce and make sure that you are aware of how important it is that ANCs serve as the recognized governing body of an ‘Indian tribe’ under ISDEAA and DOI guidelines, sometimes only in limited circumstances. But I know that you have been looking further into this in not only preparation for this hearing but in the role that you have been nominated to. So again, if you could just affirm to me that you understand the importance of what I have just laid down and if you could share what you are doing to educate yourself now on ANCSA and ANILCA and Alaska’s unique structure that serves tribal communities? And making sure that not only for yourself but for others in your office that you will commit to the ANCSA and ANILCA trainings that are provided, if you are confirmed,” said Vice Chairman Murkowski during her questioning.
Murkowski is Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. An archived video and witness testimony from the hearing are available on the committee’s website. Click here to view Murkowski’s questions for the nominee.