The SCITAR meeting is part of President Obama's commitment to fulfilling the federal government's trust responsibilities to Native Americans. Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar named five prominent American Indians to a commission that are taking a forward-looking, comprehensive evaluation of Interior's trust management of nearly $4 billion in Native American trust funds.
USET Leadership is making statements on advancing the federal government’s trust responsibility to Indian Country. In response to widespread dissatisfaction in Indian Country with the federal government’s implementation of the trust responsibility and the results on Tribal sovereignty, USET has been exploring the idea of a fundamental review of the federal trust framework for the Tribal-federal relationship that provides Tribes with an equal say to define that relationship. “We come here with the good mind and heart and stand ready to advance our sovereignty. But we must bring ourselves back to a point of equality as true nation-to-nation work where we are all serving and eating from one dish and with one spoon,” USET President Brian Patterson told the SCITAR commissioners in his opening comments.
At Panel Table from Left: USET President Brian Patterson, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Chief Phyliss Anderson, Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana Council Member Brenda Lintinger. In front of panel SCITAR Commissioners (clockwise from left): U.S. Department of Interior Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary Lizzie Marsters, Commissioner Stacy Leeds, Commissioner Tex Hall, and SCITAR Chairwoman Fawn Sharp.
Improving efficiency is the opening message from USET. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Chief Phyliss Anderson is telling commissioners the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) should increase efficiency and effectiveness. Chief Anderson says the current inefficiencies has cost her Tribe economic opportunities and has taken away from educating its children. She says the BIA does not address issues timely, requires unnecessary reports, and should address its internal controls to make these improvements. “There are various reasons why the government to government relationship set up by the federal government is failing. Federal funding must meet the needs of our Tribes. True trust reform will not occur with an overall method of dealing with Tribes. Each Tribe is unique with its own issues and they must be addressed. We know there are rules in place, but they should not hinder the actions of a Tribe. We are all one big family and we want what’s best for our Indian Tribes,” Anderson stated.
Taxation is the second message delivered to SCITAR from USET. USET Secretary Brenda Lintinger, who is also a council woman from the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, spoke on battling illegal taxation on Indian Tribes. Lintinger told the commissioners too many times local and state governments have tried to illegally tax business and commercial transactions on trust lands. “The weapons earlier were liquor, guns, and infected blankets. Now their weapons against us are words and the legal system. Congress has an obligation to recognize the policies and laws of our Tribal government,” Lintinger stated.
Complacency is the final theme USET presented to SCITAR. President Patterson noted the earliest trust work with the BIA was based on the federal government’s opinion of Indian Tribes being incapable to govern its own affairs and the membership of each Tribe would assimilate with the overall American culture and go away. “That has not happened. The government model of trust responsibilities and government to government relationships is antiquated and is in a state of dysfunction. Substantial reform to that model must occur so we are promoting nation rebuilding,” Patterson testified. Patterson gave examples of why the federal government should make Indian programs mandatory and not discretionary. He also requested more Indian programs have a contract or compact component so Tribes may work to exercise its self-determination.
Patterson continued by saying, “Complacency is going to be our biggest enemy. It is going to be a problem for the federal government, but for our Tribes too. We must make advances to change this model so that we can further develop the sovereignty of our Tribal nations. This current model does not foster that growth and if we continue to allow the current model guide us, this complacency will cause great harm to our future.”
USET submitted written comments to SCITAR in addition to the testimony of its three panelists.
The honorable Oren Lyons is making a presentation entitled “UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and International Trust Models.” Lyons is telling the commission not to forget the history of the struggles Indian Country has endured. “So when we have one foot in our canoe and the other in their (federal government) ship, it is a precarious place. That’s where we are like it or not,” Lyons says.
The Honorable Oren Lyons presents to SCITAR
Lyons noted to the commissioners that as Tribes move into new markets and even works to participate on the global stage, changes in thinking has to be made if success if to be attained. “We need to get past the idea of cowboys and Indians when it comes to solving problems and working with things like global warming and climate change. The USET President (Patterson) said it well with the one dish and one spoon. But it goes into a deeper meaning. It means no one owns the woods, but we are all responsible for the woods. We are responsible for each other,” Lyons stated. Lyons is making reference to some Tribes who are working internationally to trade goods and work for strengthen sovereignty at the World Conference on Indigenous People.
Commissioners for SCITAR include Fawn Sharp, Tex G. Hall, Stacy Leeds, Dr. Peter Zah, and Robert Anderson. Fawn R. Sharp is the current President of the Quinault Indian Nation in Taholah, Washington. Ms. Sharp is also President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI). Tex G. Hall is a Chairman of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association. Ms. Stacy Leeds serves as Dean and Professor of Law at the University Of Arkansas School Of Law in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Dr. Peterson Zah is a Diné from the Navajo Nation; the largest tribe in the U.S. Zah has worked for over 40 years to defend the interests of all Native American people and is widely respected among U.S. tribes. Mr. Bob Anderson is a Professor of Law and Director of the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington. SCITAR has been conducting listening sessions and meetings across Indian Country to gather input on what recommendations should be made back to the federal government on how to improve its trust responsibility and government to government relationship with Tribal nations. A thorough and comprehensive reform of the current trust system is necessary for Indian Country to achieve complete self-determination into realized full sovereign authority. “We (Tribal Nations) are at a critical time and have a great opportunity for Tribal leaders to define and determine the future relationship that we Tribal Nations will have with the U.S.,” United States Department of Interior Trust Commission Chairwoman Fawn Sharp told USET.
SCITAR Meeting Number 5 (Nashville) attendees
“Because there is strength in Unity”