WASHINGTON – Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell is far from the only lawmaker introducing Native-specific legislation. But as the only American Indian in the United States Congress, the Colorado Republican has become a magnet for the many complex tribal issues that require an advocate on Capitol Hill. While the sheer number and depth of needs across Indian country enforces a selective attitude toward the legislation one senator and his staff can effectively represent, this senator hasn’t sidestepped the hard ones: the initial session of the 108th Congress finds him sponsoring proposals before the Senate on Indian economic development and financial services, land and water rights, air quality, health care, energy policy and more. In addition, he is supporting other bills in different ways, such as the Native Hawaiian bid for federal recognition found in S. 344, “the Akaka Bill.”
S. 519, in short the Native American Capital Formation and Economic Development Act of 2003, would establish a new Native-owned, government-chartered financial entity – a community development financial institution to be exact – to provide financial services to shareholder tribes. The 42-page bill covers a lot of ground, but ultimately it seeks to enhance tribal economies through private sector resources and market discipline. One of its many interesting provisions is a “Native American Economies Diagnostic Studies Fund,” to be established within the proposed new financial corporation. The Diagnostic Fund would support economic analysis designed to expose the systemic weaknesses of reservation economies, especially as they inhibit investment. The new element in these studies is that tribes would commission and direct them with proceeds of the new entity’s investments in government obligations.
S. 523, in short the Native American Technical Corrections Act of 2003, seeks to modify certain items in settled laws that have been found wanting in light of experience, or to extend laws that have proved effective in their initial years. Among the tribes that would benefit under S. 523 are the Ute Mountain Ute, the Navajo and Hopi, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua, the Pueblo de Cochiti, the Chippewa Cree, Mississippi Band of Choctaw, Barona Band, Alaska Natives, the Oglala Lakota, Pueblo of Acoma, Pueblo of Santo Domingo, Quinault Nation, Santee Sioux, Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and the Pueblos of Santa Clara and San Ildefonso. As touched on above ? this is only a part of probably the broadest constituency in the Senate.
S. 521, in short the Indian Land Leasing Act of 2003, would authorize new 99-year leasing activity of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla, the Yurok Tribe and Hopland Band of Pomo Indians; as well as land and water leasing, for a pipeline and water association project, of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of Fort Peck in Montana. Another provision seeks to ease the leasing of restricted Indian land to non-Indian business partners, in ventures that would not involve mineral resources, by eliminating the approval power of the Interior Secretary in certain cases.
S. 551, in short the Southern Ute and Colorado Intergovernmental Agreement Implementation Act of 2003, ratifies a tribe-state trade-off that may hold relevance for other tribes and states. In essence, the tribe will be recognized as the regulatory authority for air quality within reservation boundaries – including non-Indian fee lands – and in turn the tribe will agree to accept federal court jurisdiction over air-quality disputation following exhaustion of tribal court remedies. The tribe’s jurisdiction over its air space is recognized at the state level, in return for a limited sacrifice of tribal court jurisdiction.
S. 555 and 556 are health bills, subjects of a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing scheduled for April 2. For now suffice it to say, in the briefest possible terms, that S. 555 proposes a Native American Health and Wellness Foundation that would take the form of something like a government sponsored enterprise, federally chartered and not-for-profit, yet not an agency of the government. The foundation would facilitate a kind of common sense end-run around federal restrictions and so bring private sector and charitable moneys into the funding pool for Indian health services.
S. 556 is a 300-plus-page document amending the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Among its many provisions are several directed at curtailing the diabetes epidemic in Indian country, through such measures as “patient education” and screening all Indian Health Service patients for their potential to develop diabetes.