Sen. John Barrasso

Empowering Indian Country in the new Republican Majority

It has been eight years since a Republican Majority was elected to lead the United States Senate. No matter which party is in charge, the American people want action and solutions, not dysfunction.

As Chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs, I am committed to a results-driven agenda focusing on enhancing tribal self-determination and self-governance. I think former President Reagan said it best when describing government: “Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.”

Perhaps to the surprise of some, Republicans have been active in establishing or enacting landmark tribal policy. President Richard Nixon authored the Special Message to the Congress on Indian Affairs. President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. My predecessors, as Chairmen of the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell and John McCain championed trust reform, Indian health care, and the protection of women from domestic violence.

The federal government has not done well in meeting that first duty or its specific responsibilities to Indian country. Tribal members face far too many challenges in so many areas including health care, education, and economic development. Solutions, not the status quo, are needed to address these challenges.

During this Congress, the Committee will hold hearings and meet with tribal leaders on how Congress can help empower tribes. We must reverse government policies that work to the detriment of tribes. Based on this discourse, I intend to develop and introduce legislation aimed at cutting red tape to provide a greater opportunity for economic development in Indian country.

The Committee will hold a series of oversight hearings aimed at identifying the many issues impacting tribal development. Many additional issues are poised for and in need of Committee attention. These include housing, education, irrigation, Indian child protection, and substance abuse prevention.

As a doctor, I understand these issues all too well from the two tribes I represent in my home state of Wyoming, the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribe.

The first bill I introduced as chairman is the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self Determination Act. It has six cosponsors and I expect many more members will support us. This bipartisan bill will promote more tribal autonomy and decision making in the energy sector. We are committed to giving the power back to the tribes and not the federal government. As the National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby said recently, this bill will “create careers and capital in Indian country.”

I look forward to working together in the years ahead as we continue to strengthen our relationship based on both respect and trust. Together, we can improve the lives of Native Americans and make progress in helping tribal families, communities, and businesses succeed.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) is the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

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Empowering Indian Country in the new Republican Majority

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