LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES AND LITIGATION
USET remains vigilant in its effort to advocate on legislation and policy that promotes and protects the principles of sovereign authority for Tribal Nations. As a part of this effort, USET works with Tribal, national, and state leadership to create a stronger understanding of Indian Country, its rights, and issues. Below are various issues and initiatives USET has been working to bring greater understanding and education to policy and law makers. For current positions and educational material on these subjects and others click on the following links:
USET continues to be a national leader in aggressively advocating and fighting for a legislative fix to the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision in the case of Carcieri versus Salazar. The consequences of this SCOTUS decision have clearly eroded and threatened the sovereignty rights of all Tribal Nations. The decision effectively created two classes of sovereignty, has slowed down the land to trust process for all Tribal Nations, and has resulted in negative impacts to economic and social development across all of Indian Country.
USET continues to work towards securing parity and fairness for Tribal Nations in the area of taxation. As Tribal Nations work to reverse years of failed federal Indian policy and work towards Nation rebuilding, it is of critical importance that our Tribal government structures retain revenue and profit receipts to spur further economic activity, growth, and prosperity. Additionally, it is important Tribal Nations receive full recognition of its sovereign authority with the related right to determine what is best for its Tribal communities and people. In 2013, USET submitted its Comprehensive Tax Reform Proposal to Congress to ensure awareness and consideration of its tax priorities as part of any potential comprehensive tax reform legislative effort.
Tribal Leadership Tax Summit
Inter-tribal organizations hosted a tax policy leadership summit in Washington in early March to report to Tribal leaders on issues and accomplishments since the first Tribal Leaders Tax Summit was held at Miccosukee in 2011. The Tax Summit drew approximately 125 participants, including elected Tribal leaders, Tribal staff and representatives of inter-tribal organizations. Formal remarks were offered by Mohegan Chief Lynn Malerba, Jamestown S’Klallam Chairman Ron Allen and former Seneca Nation President Robert Porter.
Recognizing the current challenges of the federal trust model, USET continues to advocate for systemic changes that would strengthen this model. As part of this effort, USET submitted its Trust Reform position paper to the Trust Reform Commission that was established as part of the Cobell settlement for review and to consider including in their final report to the Secretary of the Interior. USET continues to take the position that stronger Nation to Nation relations with the United States will only result from a drastically improved federal trust model.
Indian Budget and Federal Budget Sequestration
USET is working to educate members of Congress and the Administration about the federal fiduciary responsibility to Indian Country. Current appropriation levels fall drastically short in fulfilling this obligation threatening the well being of Tribal Nations. Additionally, the recent effects of the budget sequestration have made this situation worse. Because the Unites States holds a sacred trust responsibility to all federally recognized Tribal Nations, USET continues its work to advocate and educate members of Congress and the Administration that Indian Budgets must be fully funded, held harmless from sequestration, and dealt with as a mandatory obligation.
Violence Against Women Act reauthorized with new provisions for Indian Country
During 2013 the United States Congress amended and reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to broaden the ability to address Native needs. During the USET Semi-Annual Meeting in Niagara Falls, New York, the Board of Directors received an update from Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council Chairwoman Terri Henry and National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata. Their report noted work with the U.S. Department of Justice to provide grant funding, training, and technical assistance to Tribal Nations in order to help Tribal police, courts, and jails uphold the new provisions of the law. The new VAWA amendments allow for non-Tribal members to be arrested and prosecuted by Tribal police and courts for charges of domestic violence and sexual assault on American Indian victims.
USET Develops Workgroup to Address Violence Against Native Women
USET is setting goals and taking action to be a facilitator to national efforts to build capacity within Tribal Nations to carry out the new Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) initiatives. During its Semi-Annual Board of Directors meeting, USET adopted a resolution which creates a workgroup on violence against Native women to monitor policy, identify best practices, provide technical assistance and provide public education and awareness to Indian Country.
Stafford Act-Hurricane Sandy Tax Relief Act of 2013
Through the Hurricane Sandy Tax Relief Act of 2013, the Stafford Act was amended to include provisions to allow federally recognized Indian Tribal Nations the ability to directly request financial assistance and a disaster declaration from the President and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and Special Advisor for National Tribal Affairs Richard Flores worked closely with USET, Tribal Nations, and other inter-tribal organizations when developing the amendments to the Stafford Act. USET member Tribe, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians was the first Tribal Nation to receive a Presidential Disaster Declaration shortly after the Stafford Act was amended.
Contract Support Costs (CSC)
For over twenty years, Tribal Nations have been litigating CSC issues with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS). In June 2012 the Supreme Court affirmed in Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter that Tribal Nations carrying out federal programs under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA) are entitled to full CSC. Every Tribal Nation, with federal contracts, is entitled to compensation according to terms of the contract. USET is now working to develop a plan leading to efficient settlements of all claims. Unfortunately the majority of these contractual breaches still exist due to the administration’s slowness in resolving the more than 1600 claims submitted by Indian Country.
Farm Bill Important to Indian Country
The 2008 Farm Bill expired in September 2012, and authorization and funding for certain programs was extended during the negotiations for the 2013 Farm Bill. USET has been working to educate members of Congress on the importance of programs supported by the Farm Bill, which help create healthy Tribal communities. Part of this education is to remind Congress of its federal trust responsibility to Tribal Nations as it relates to the continuity of these services to Indian Country and meet its needs.
2013 Litigation Activities
USET has actively participated in several amicus briefs in 2013 in defense of Tribal sovereignty
Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde v. Jewell (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
This case involves a challenge by Clark County, Washington and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde to a decision by Interior to take land into trust for gaming purposes for the Cowlitz Tribe. Among other claims, Grand Ronde and Clark County assert that the Cowlitz Tribe fails to meet the standard set forth in the Carcieri decision, arguing for a very restrictive interpretation of that decision. If the Grand Ronde/Clark County position were to be adopted by the District Court it would magnify the adverse impact of the Carcieri decision. USET submitted a detailed amicus brief arguing that the restrictions in the Carcieri case should be interpreted as having very limited effect and that the Grand Ronde/Clark County proposed standard is unsupportable in the law.
Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (U.S. Supreme Court)
At least four briefs submitted in this case argued that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was unconstitutional. Such a holding would not only have been devastating with regard to ICWA, but would put in jeopardy many other federal Indian laws. USET joined with other Tribal entities in submitting a brief defending the constitutionality of the ICWA.
Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia)
The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) is challenging the scope of the EPA’s authority to give Tribal Nations “treatment as a state” with regard to Indian Country lands that are not designated reservations. ODEQ’s limited view of EPA’s authority (and expansive view of state authority) runs directly counter to federal Indian law, which presumes federal and Tribal authority over all of Indian Country, to the exclusion of the states. USET joined a Tribal amicus brief in opposition to ODEQ’s position.
USET IN ACTION 2013
USET Leaders meet with Sally Jewell new U.S. Secretary of the Interior
On April 19 members of USET Tribal leadership joined a roundtable discussion of issues with the new United States Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell. Penobscot Indian Nation Chief Kirk Francis, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Tribal Chief Phyliss Anderson, and Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais joined Secretary Jewell for discussions on Carcieri, Restrictive Settlement Act initiative, Indian Budget, protection of sacred sites, and other issues. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn also attended the meeting. Secretary Jewell told USET leaders she is interested in helping find solutions to these issues, including a clean fix for Carcieri.
USET presents to Secretarial Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform (SCITAR) in Nashville
SCITAR held its fifth public meeting in Nashville during the spring. SCITAR has been conducting listening sessions and meetings across Indian Country to gather recommendations to be made to the federal government to improve its trust responsibility and government to government relationship with Tribal Nations. USET President Brian Patterson, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Tribal Chief Phyliss Anderson, and Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana council member Brenda Lintinger spoke to SCITAR. In their presentations, USET Leadership focused on ways to advance the federal government’s trust responsibility to Indian Country, improving efficiency within the U.S. Department of Interior, and eliminating complacency among the federal programs and Tribal Nations. USET submitted written comments to SCITAR in addition to the testimony of its three panelists. Commissioners for SCITAR include Fawn Sharp, Tex G. Hall, Stacy Leeds, Dr. Peterson Zah, and Robert Anderson.
USET Presents at U.S. Department of Education Tribal Consultation and Listening Session
Several educators, school administrators, and Tribal leaders from USET member Tribal Nations presented at the U.S. Department of Education Tribal Consultation and Listening Session in Niagara Falls, New York in May 2013. Support for Native language, cultural activities, and Tribal history were the topics for educators who spoke during the consultation. Members of the Seneca Nation of Indians, Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Oneida Indian Nation, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe spoke or presented comments. Office of Indian Education listening and consultation sessions are conducted by Director Silverthorne (Salish) and White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education Associate Director Sedelta Oosahwee (Mandan, Arikara, Hidatsa, Cherokee).
Economic Development Roundtable in Nashville
In an effort to identify needed resources, goals, and objectives for creating an economic development core competency within USET, various USET member Tribal Nations, Tribal organizations, federal agencies, and consultants, including members of Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management, held a roundtable discussion in April (2013) at USET headquarters in Nashville. The group identified improving access to capital, gathering better demographic data, understanding Tribal challenges and assets, providing workforce training and technical assistance, developing policy, and creating an overall economic development plan as specific actions. The roundtable discussion was facilitated by then USET Economic Development and Entrepreneurship Committee co-chairs Jason Lambert (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) and Karen Nichols (Catawba Indian Nation).
Change the Mascot Name Campaign
USET actively works to educate the public on American Indian issues, culture, and to remove negative stereotypes. USET has affirmed its support of the Oneida Indian Nation’s “Change the Mascot” campaign to change the nickname and mascot of the Washington National Football League team. Washington uses the name redsk*ns, which is a racially offensive slur referencing a colonial effort to exterminate and mutilate citizens of the Penobscot Indian Nation. The USET Board of Directors adopted a resolution supporting the “Change the Mascot” campaign at its annual meeting in Cherokee, NC.
Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI)
USET has been working diligently to educate members of Congress, Indian Country, and the public on the benefits of SDPI. The rate of diabetes in the USET region is approximately one in every four Tribal citizens. SDPI provides critical resources to diabetics for treatment and support to cope with the disease. Buford L. Rolin, Chairman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and Nashville Area Representative to the National Indian Health Board (NIHB), advocates for the reauthorization of the SDPI during a December meeting of the NIHB with key staff to members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.