Testimony

During the year, USET leadership steps to the microphone to advocate legislation on various issues, subjects, and initiatives.  Click on the year to view testimony made by USET leadership.

Topic Title
Budget and Appropriations USET SPF Written Testimony House Interior Approps Tribal Witness Hearings FY22 – April 16, 2021
SUMMARY: Above all, the COVID-19 crisis is highlighting the urgent need to provide full and guaranteed federal funding to Tribal Nations in fulfillment of the trust obligation. While we unequivocally support budget stabilization mechanisms, such as Advance Appropriations, in the long-term, USET SPF is calling for a comprehensive reexamination of federal funding delivered to Indian Country across the federal government. Because of our history and unique relationship with the United States, the trust obligation of the federal government to Native peoples, as reflected in the federal budget, is fundamentally different from ordinary discretionary spending and should be considered mandatory in nature. Payments on debt to Indian Country should not be vulnerable to year to year “discretionary” decisions by appropriators.
Recently, some in Congress, as well as the Biden Administration, have called for mandatory funding for specific agencies serving Indian Country. USET SPF strongly supports this proposal, which is more consistent with the federal trust obligation, and urges that this be realized via an entirely new budget component—one that contains all of the funding dedicated to Indian Country. Not only would this streamline access to these dollars, this mechanism would reflect true prioritization of and reverence for America’s trust obligation to and special relationship with Tribal Nations. While some will quickly dismiss this as unrealistic and untenable, when compared against the value of the land and natural resources the United States gained as part of the exchange, both voluntarily and involuntarily, it becomes evident that this is only a matter of will and desire.
Policy Change, Priorities for Congress Testimony of United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund For the Record of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing, “A call to action: Native communities’ priorities in focus for the 117th Congress” March 24, 2021
SUMMARY: USET SPF continues to seek foundational and systemic change to our relationship with the United States; change that will lead to a more appropriate, respectful, honorable, and modern diplomatic relationship for the 21st century. From our perspective and given the inflection point in which the United States finds itself, the SCIA has a unique opportunity during this Congress to enact bold, transformative policy that will have lasting impacts on the trust obligation and relationship. With this in mind, we offer the below early items of interest and opportunities for collaboration. This is by no means an exhaustive list of priorities for our member Tribal Nations, who, as governments, have broad and diverse interests across a host of issue areas, including housing, transportation, emergency services, social services, and veteran’s affairs, among others. However, we view the attached as the foundation for our initial engagement.
USET SPF calls upon SCIA and the 117th Congress to join us in working toward a legacy of change for Tribal Nations, Native people, and the sacred trust relationship. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the urgent need for radical transformation in the recognition of our governmental status and the delivery of federal obligations our people. We can no longer accept the status quo of incremental change that continues to feed a broken system. The federal government must enact policies that uphold our status as sovereign governments, our right to self-determination and self-governance, and honor the federal trust obligation in full. We look forward to partnering with this Committee in an effort to advance these policies in the coming months and years.
Sovereignty, Self-Governance Testimony of Chief Kirk Francis, President United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund Before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs For the Oversight Hearing, “From Languages to Homelands: Advancing Tribal Self-Governance and Cultural Sovereignty for Future Generations.” December 9, 2020
SUMMARY: The time is long overdue for a comprehensive overhaul of the trust relationship and obligations, one that results in the United States finally keeping the promises made to us as sovereign nations in accordance with our special and unique relationship.
It is long past time that we create fundamental and lasting change to U.S.-Tribal Nation relations in order to truly improve the delivery of federal trust and treaty obligations. This includes the removal of existing barriers that interfere with our ability to implement our inherent sovereign authority to its fullest extent, without state and/or federal interference, which, in turn, will position Indian Country to realize its greatest potential.
USET SPF calls upon Congress, the Administration, and the whole of the federal government to join us in working toward a legacy of change for Tribal Nations, Native people, and the sacred trust relationship. This year has underscored the urgent need for radical transformation in the recognition of our governmental status and the delivery of federal obligations our people. We can no longer accept the status quo of incremental change that continues to feed a broken system. The federal government must enact policies that uphold our status as sovereign governments, our right to self-determination and self-governance, and honor the federal trust obligation in full.
Health, Broadband, SDPI, Land USET SPF Testimony for the Record of SCIA Legislative Hearing to receive testimony on S. 3126, S. 3264, S. 3937, S. 4079, and S. 4556 10-7-2020
SUMMARY: Our testimony addresses four of the bills, as we defer to those who are more directly affected by S. 4556 for a discussion on its merits. USET SPF appreciates SCIA’s efforts to continue Committee business, given the multiple competing priorities posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and other current events. Though many of these bills are related to COVID-19 in some way, the problems they seek to remedy existed long before the public health emergency, caused by decades of federal under-investment, neglect, and harmful policies. It is our expectation that SCIA will make every effort mark-up these bills, and other pending legislation, prior to the end of the 116th Congress.
Budget USET SPF Written Testimony House Interior Appropriations Tribal Witness Hearings 2-3-2020
SUMMARY: The chronic underfunding of federal Indian programs continues to have disastrous impacts upon Tribal governments and Native peoples. As the U.S. continues to break its promises to us, Native peoples experience some of the greatest disparities among all populations in this country—including, but not limited to, those in health, economic status, education, and housing. Funding Levels and Mechanisms Must be Reflective of the Trust Obligation. The vast majority of funding for Indian programs appears on the discretionary side of the budget. That our funding is vulnerable to governmental inaction and political bickering is a failure of the federal government to honor its sacred duty to Tribal Nations. In the short-term, all federal Indian funding must be protected from shutdowns and continuing resolutions through advance appropriations legislation. We strongly urge this Subcommittee and all Congress to work to enact this legislation immediately, as well as provide advance appropriations authority for both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service via Budget Resolution.
Reforming the Office of Management and Budget. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) asserts that over $21 billion in federal dollars is appropriated to Indian Country annually. From the perspective of Tribal advocates, this number seems to be widely inflated, with far less actually reaching Tribal Nations and Tribal citizens. We suspect that OMB arrives at this figure by tallying the amount for which Tribal Nations and entities are “eligible”, regardless of whether these dollars actually reach Indian Country. Regardless, this represents less than 1/10 of 1% of the annual value that the U.S. enjoys from federal lands and the natural resources derived off of these lands, which once belonged to Tribal Nations.
Invest in and Rebuild Tribal Infrastructure. For generations, the federal government – despite abiding trust and treaty obligations – has substantially under-invested in Indian Country’s infrastructure. As Congress once again considers action on infrastructure, it is critical that this body recognize that while the U.S. faces crumbling infrastructure nationally, there are many in Indian Country who lack even basic infrastructure.
Constitutionality of Federal Indian Programs. Several times now, this Administration, Members of Congress, and even the courts have called into question the constitutionality of programs or targeted accommodations for Native people. Though not an exhaustive list, USET SPF strongly supports the continued funding and increases for all these programs and many many more.