Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee
Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today hailed House passage of a pair of bills affirming Native American tribal land rights, including Rep. Tom Cole’s (R-Okla.) measure to resolve a decade-long conflict over the fate of more than 1 million acres of potential tribal trust land instigated by a widely criticized 2009 Supreme Court ruling. Grijalva’s remarks in favor of both bills on the House floor are available below.
The votes come a week after President Trump tried to derail the effort with a racist tweet denouncing Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) support for one bill by referring to her as “Pocahontas” and calling for Republican obstruction.
Given the timeliness of the issues at stake and the unambiguous level of House support, Grijalva today called on the Senate to act quickly on both measures.
Representative Cole’s bipartisan H.R. 375 updates the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 to affirm that the federal government can take land into trust for the benefit of tribes that received federal recognition after June 18, 1934. Confusion about the current language of the Indian Reorganization Act led to the narrow and widely criticized 2009 Supreme Court Carcieri v. Salazar ruling, which prevented federal agencies from taking land into trust for tribes recognized after that date.
Republicans in Congress vowed for years to address the issue but never sent a bill to either President Obama or President Trump.
Representative Bill Keating’s (D-Mass.) Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act affirms the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s right to develop land taken into trust by the Department of the Interior in 2015. The Obama administration defended the decision to take the land into trust against a legal challenge shortly after trust status was finalized; when the Trump administration took over and subsequently refused to support the tribe, the Mashpee Wampanoag lost their ability to proceed with a housing development, a planned casino and other projects already in various phases of construction.
The Associated Press noted in 2018 that the Mashpee’s case “raises concerns across Indian Country” about tribes potentially losing rights to land they had already been using for economic development. As Grijalva outlined in an April 11 op-ed in The Hill, “the tribe has been forced to borrow thousands of dollars every day to keep basic government functions running, and the tribal government is close to shutting down.”
Keating’s bill restores the tribe’s right to continue economic development on the land. Cole’s bill prevents any future instances of what happened to the Mashpee Wampanoag.
“Putting these issues off has already led to years of unnecessary misery for Indian Country, and tribes are tired of broken Republican promises to move tribal bills, so let’s get these done in the Senate and move on,” Grijalva said after passage. “These should not be controversial issues, but we’ll have to see what Senate Republicans have in mind. Native Americans have waited too long for Congress to act, and I’m proud to say today that the House has done its part under a Democratic majority.”