Published June 13, 2016
WASHINGTON —Native American tribes are applauding today’s passage of a congressional bill which will advance Native American self-determination, according to President Fawn Sharp of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI). The Senate has passed The Indian Trust Asset Reform Bill, HR 812. It passed the House of Representatives earlier this year.
“This piece of legislation is a great example of the advocacy and strength of our regional tribal organization—the Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest Indians—and the legacy of strong leadership dedicated and fiercely committed to holding the United States accountable to upholding its trust responsibility.” said President Sharp
“This is the first Indian policy bill to pass this Congress and many tribal leaders are calling it the most significant piece of trust reform legislation to come out of Congress in two decades,” she said.
“This bill will enable tribes to exercise more control over their trust assets without first being approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior,” said Sharp. “We urge President Obama to sign this historic legislation without delay,” she said.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, passed the House in February of this year by a voice vote. It was then forwarded to the Senate for consideration where Senator Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, led the charge to ensure its passage.
“This legislation originated with Tribes, which is where Congress should look when we are dealing with bills that affect Indian Country. Tribes are capable of efficiently managing their own assets and deserve to be in the driver’s seat when doing so,” Crapo said.
Tribes volunteering for the program addressed in the bill will submit a management plan to the Secretary of the Department of Interior to list the trust assets and detail their management objectives and priorities, said Sharp.
“For years, we’ve been asking to manage our own assets and make our own decisions about our resources so we can do what’s best for our tribes. Today we can say we will finally have the flexibility to make choices based on what is best for us. We want to thank Congressman Simpson and Senator Crapo for working so hard to get this bill passed. We’re looking forward to seeing it signed by President Obama,” Chairman Chief Allan of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
“We’re thrilled about this. Many of us have been working on this issue for a decade. After all, who would know better how to manage tribal trust resources than tribes themselves?” said Ernie Stensgar, Vice-Chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Chairman of ATNI’s Trust Reform Committee. Stensgar testified in Congress on the benefits of the bill.
The Indian Trust Asset Reform Bill provides for the restructuring of the Office of Special Trustee (OST), which was intended to be a temporary entity that would oversee certain financial reforms of Indian trust funds at the Department of Interior. Despite having completed the reforms with which it was tasked, OST’s role and its budget have expanded over the years, taking money from other Bureau of Indian Affairs programs that have been facing budget decreases despite growing needs. This legislation will transfer the necessary and relevant activities OST performs to the Undersecretary of the Department of Interior. The efficiencies gained from this would provide an immediate benefit to Indian Country, said Sharp.
ATNI is an organization serving 57 tribes in six northwest states. Sharp is also president of the Quinault Indian Nation and vice president of the National Congress of American Indians.
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