Mr. McCLINTOCK. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days to revise and extend their remarks and include extraneous materials on the bill under consideration.
Mr. McCLINTOCK. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume. [Page: H883]
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 812, which is sponsored by our respected colleague from Idaho, Congressman Simpson. This measure reforms tribal sovereignty made to America's Indian nations.
Specifically, this bill provides new authority to tribal governments to manage and develop their trust assets according to their own best judgment and the wishes of their own constituencies rather than an historically inept and often clueless bureaucracy in Washington. These nations are either sovereign or they are not, and the essence of sovereignty is self-determination.
Under this act, participating tribes will have the option of entering into disagreements with the Department of the Interior to take over management of the resources within their own jurisdictions. This bill also builds upon other congressional initiatives like the HEARTH Act of 2012, which deferred to a tribe's own judgment about what is in the best interests for their own lands.
This bill has strong bipartisan support both here in the House as well as the U.S. Senate. Additionally, the bill is supported by the National Congress of American Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Intertribal Timber Council, and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, which include 57 tribal governments in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, southeast Alaska, northern California, and Montana.
I urge passage of the bill, and I reserve the balance of my time.
Ms. TSONGAS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, H.R. 812 will take an important step in fulfilling our fiduciary responsibility to Indian tribes by modernizing the Indian trust asset management system.
The Indian Trust Asset Reform Act will streamline the bureaucratic process that has often been a hindrance to successful trust management, while also rightfully giving tribes the options to manage their own assets.
Through the trust asset demonstration project created in the bill, tribes can, at their own election, develop asset management plans with the Secretary of the Interior in order to better manage and develop their lands and natural resources.
As has been shown time and time again, tribal governments are the ones best suited to make decisions for their own people and their own communities.
Additionally, while the Office of the Special Trustee, or OST, has implemented positive reforms since its creation in 1994, the time has come to transition to a more modern, efficient, and accountable system for the management of Indian trust resources.
To that end, H.R. 812 would consolidate the functions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the OST into one office within the Department of the Interior, headed by a new undersecretary of Indian Affairs.
Mr. Speaker, we fully support H.R. 812, and I urge its swift adoption.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. McCLINTOCK. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to the distinguished gentleman from Idaho (Mr. Simpson), the author of this measure and an indefatigable fighter for the Indian nations of our country.
Mr. SIMPSON. Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the full committee chairman, Mr. Bishop; the ranking member, Mr. Grijalva; the subcommittee chairman, Mr. McClintock, and the ranking member, Ms. Tsongas, for considering this bill.
The relationship between Native Americans and the United States Government is complicated, not well understood, and filled with inconsistencies. Today Indian Country faces a number of serious challenges, ranging from addressing abject poverty to trying to promote economic development in the face of inefficient bureaucracy.
The Federal Government has a trust responsibility to meet its commitments to Indian Country. Yet in many cases, Federal agencies hinder, rather than help, tribes provide for their members. This is illustrated by the settlement of the Cobell litigation and the scores of tribal trust lawsuits over the past few years, which have cost taxpayers more than $5.5 billion.
A number of tribes, including many in the Northwest, have been working to address some of the challenges that they face in managing tribal trust assets. Many tribes are capable of effectively and efficiently managing their own assets--and often are better equipped to do so than the agencies currently responsible for that management. Yet, in order to have a say in how these assets are managed, they must swim upstream against a muddled Federal bureaucracy.
This is why I introduced H.R. 812, the Indian Trust Asset Reform Act. This legislation had its origins with the tribes themselves, which is where Congress should always start when it takes up issues affecting Indian Country. H.R. 812 was developed and has been endorsed by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the National Congress of American Indians, the United South & Eastern Tribes, the Intertribal Timber Council, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
H.R. 812 will do several things to modernize the Federal Government's role in managing Indian trust property. First, it would establish a voluntary demonstration project to give Indian tribes more control over the management of their trust assets. This will provide Indian tribes with new flexibility to direct management of these assets under tribal standards rather than Federal standards that are often outdated and inefficient.
As part of the negotiated demonstration project, Indian tribes would be able to conduct forest management activities on their own tribal lands through a process similar to the HEARTH Act of 2012, which the administration has strongly supported and has proven successful in promoting tribal self-determination and self-governance.
H.R. 812 would also authorize the Indian tribes and Indian beneficiaries, on a voluntary basis, to obtain appraisals of their trust property without having to wait for the Department of the Interior to approve them. This new authority would provide relief to all in Indian Country who currently endure lengthy delays in selling or leasing their trust land while they wait for the Department to review and approve appraisals.
Finally, the bill would direct the Secretary of the Interior to consult with Indian Country and provide certain information to Congress about the Office of the Special Trustee. OST was originally intended as a temporary entity to oversee certain financial reforms of Indian trust funds at the Department of the Interior. More than 20 years later, OST has significant involvement in the day-to-day transactions. Tribes have long complained about the miscommunications, delays, and inefficiencies that
result from trying to navigate the processes of both OST and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The information the bill requires the Secretary to provide will assist Congress in determining the future of OST.
It is worth noting that this bill has undergone a number of changes since introduction. The bill has been revised to incorporate input not only from the committees of jurisdiction in both Chambers, but also from the Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice, tribal organizations, and individual Indian tribes.
The Congressional Budget Office has found that H.R. 812 would not affect the Federal Government's overall costs.
I would also point out that H.R. 812 is a voluntary program intended to provide tribes with new flexibility to promote economic development. Where tribes are not willing or able to take on these responsibilities, they will not have to.
H.R. 812 is just one aspect in a larger conversation on improving the management of tribal trust assets. If enacted into law, this bill would be an important step in providing tribes with the autonomy they need to manage their assets and spur economic growth in their communities.
I want to thank Chairman McClintock and his committee, and Chairmen BISHOP and YOUNG and their staffs for their work on this bill. They have held two hearings and graciously taken input from tribes and the administration, which is why we are here today with this legislation.
Finally, I want to thank the tribes that have offered their expertise in the crafting of this bill. Just like the intentions of the underlying bill, Indian [Page: H884]
Country deserves to be in the driver's seat when making decisions about their own future.
Mr. HECK of Washington. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support H.R. 812, the Indian Trust Asset Reform Act, and I commend it to you for your positive consideration.
When you stop and think about it, this word ``trust'' actually has two pretty distinct meanings. It can be the belief that someone or something is honest, trustworthy, the belief that you can take them at their word.
On the other hand, ``trust'' can also be a financial or a property arrangement. A trust is legally held or managed by someone else. It could be for your kids or your grandkids or any beneficiary.
But the irony is a trust in the property management sense is that that often arises out of a lack of trust, as in honesty, when it comes to the person or source receiving the money. It is not a check handed over. It is a financial arrangement with conditions or requirements.
When it comes to Indian Country, they have plenty of historical reasons to lack trust when it comes to the Federal Government; but, the Federal Government does not have reasons to not trust Indian Country's ability to manage their own resources, and natural resources are what have always been the most important asset in Indian Country.
The Indian Trust Asset Reform Act is based on the simple notion that Indian Country prospers when tribes have the opportunity to make their own decisions and chart their own paths. This is what self-determination looks like. This is what sovereignty looks like.
Many tribes, particularly those in my home State of Washington, are among the largest employers and natural resource managers in the entire region. Tribes in the Pacific Northwest have an abundance of trust resources on their land, from timber to rangeland, to fishery resources.
These tribes count on the ability to make decisions quickly to adjust to changing circumstances and to maintain vibrant communities for their members and the region as a whole.
H.R. 812 advances this idea by giving tribes new authority to propose and enter into management plans with the Department of Interior, plans that put the tribes in the driver's seat.
H.R. 812 also returns more control to tribal members, who are often frustrated by, as has been noted earlier, years-long delays that they must go through in obtaining Federal approval to sell or lease or otherwise manage their trust lands.
H.R. 812 would give individuals and tribes a new option to complete these transactions without having to wait for the Department of Interior to go through all that lengthy review and approval process.
Accordingly, it will save time, it will save money, but, most importantly, it will allow the tribes to make their own decisions about how to use their historic lands.
When we find commonsense fixes like this, we restore some of the trust, in the first meaning of the word, and build upon the trust that is already there.
Twenty-seven years ago, if I may make a personal note, I had the privilege to join the office of Governor Booth Gardner in a role that would quickly become chief of staff. Fairly shortly, we signed off on a document known as the Centennial Accord. My good friend and colleague from Washington State will recall it well.
Basically, it was the first memorialization in the history of the United States that recognized the government-to-government relationship between the tribes and the State of Washington.
I have said regularly since, in an intermittent public service career extending back 40-some years, I have no higher point of pride than the small role I played in that, lo, those many years ago.
Accordingly, I would like to thank Congressman Simpson very much for his leadership on this bill and for allowing me the privilege to be the Democratic lead cosponsor.
I would like to add my expression of gratitude to Chairman McClintock and the gentlewoman from Massachusetts (Ms. Tsongas) as well as our ranking member, all those involved.
I would like to thank the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and its Trust Reform Committee. Let it not go unsaid that there was a decade of work leading up to today, a decade of work.
``Sovereignty'' means sovereignty. ``Government-to-government'' means just exactly that. The fact of the matter is we have a moral and a legal and sometimes a treaty obligation to fulfill that government-to-government relationship. It is the right thing to do.
It is in that spirit that I submit H.R. 812 for your favorable consideration.