This week on Capitol Hill

Bill passed out of Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that would put land into trust for California tribe

This week the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs asked the Department of Interior to rewrite memorandum with consultation of tribes as a result of the oversight hearing.

Summary: Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Land Affirmation Act of 2019

Before holding an oversight hearing on the 477 program, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a quick business meeting on H.R. 317, the “Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Land Affirmation Act of 2019”.

The bill would take 1,427.28 acres of land into trust for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. The bill was passed through the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs last year during the 115th Congress but no further action was taken. Once again, the bill was passed through by unanimous vote by the committee but it is unclear when it will be taken up for debate or voted on the Senate floor. 

Summary: “Examining the 477 Program: Reducing Red Tape While Promoting Employment and Training Opportunities in Indian Country.”

Originally signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, Public Law 102-477, or the program, was aimed at creating employment opportunities in Indian Country by utilizing principles of tribal self-determination and reducing unnecessary federal bureaucracy.

Why are we here: The law was amended by Congress in 2017 but some participating tribes raised concerns the current administration was not implementing the amendments the way Congress intended. Wednesday’s hearing was a step to look into some of those concerns.

What happened: This past Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing, “Examining the 477 Program: Reducing Red Tape While Promoting Employment and Training Opportunities in Indian Country.”

What is the 477 program: The 477 program is intended to help tribal governments foster employment opportunities and economic development in their communities by utilizing funding from a number of federal programs.

Who testified: The four individuals who testified include Acting Deputy Bureau Director Spike Bighorn, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux, of the Office of Indian Services at Bureau of Indian Affairs; Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr.; Ralph Anderson who is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Bristol Bay Native Association at Village of Clarks Point; and Margaret Zientek, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, who co-chairs the P.L. 102-477 Tribal Work Group.

Why it’s important: The 477 program gives flexibility to tribes that allows for the combination of services into a single plan, therefore making tribes more efficient in the manner they use their time providing services as well as the way dollars are spent.

Hoskin gave an example of how the program has been and could be used to help his tribal citizens.

“Suppose a young mother comes to the Cherokee Nation asking for help but she has barriers to employment. No driver’s license, no high school diploma, no training, no childcare. Before the 477 Program began, we would have separate files for adult education, for childcare, for training. Thanks to this program, we develop one plan and we integrate all of the services,” he said. He also added the program is used to create jobs for Cherokee citizens.

While the program could be considered a success, not everything has gone smoothly. Anderson, Village of Clarks Point, said his organization has had difficulties when dealing with the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the concerns he raised was departments could continually extend the plan review process by repeatedly asking tribes for more information and declaring plans “incomplete.”

Next step: The committee was concerned that the Memorandum of Association sent out after the passing of the 2017 amendment was done without consultation to tribes. The committee then asked the Department of the Interior to redo the Memorandum of Association with the consultation from tribes.

Looking ahead: The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs does not have another hearing scheduled until November 20.

A recording of the hearing and testimony from the witnesses can be found here.

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Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com

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