June 24, 2016

Legislation Providing Tribes Greater Autonomy Managing Assets Signed by President

Crapo, Simpson Joint Measures Streamline Tribesâ?? Ability to Manage and Use Assets, Maintain Oversight.

Legislation led by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo and Idaho Representative Mike Simpson providing Indian tribes with greater autonomy over the management and use of their non-monetary assets currently held in trust by the Federal Government was signed into law Wednesday by the President.

A member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Crapo introduced S. 383, the Indian Trust Asset Reform Act, last year.  Cosponsored by Idaho Senator Jim Risch and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the bill allows tribes to manage their assets on a voluntary basis through long-term demonstration projects approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior.  Through these projects, tribes, not the federal government, would be the leaders on management decisions involving tribal assets.  The legislation provides flexibility for tribes to pursue long-term economic development opportunities and reduces the need for repeated government approvals.  Identical companion legislation, H.R. 812, was introduced in the U.S. House by Idaho Representative Mike Simpson and co-sponsored by Idaho Representative Raul Labrador and a coalition of bipartisan members.  The House acted on its bill first, sending H.R. 812 to the Senate on February 24, 2016.  Crapo ushered the bill through the Senate, which unanimously approved it on June 10, 2016.

"Tribal leaders know best the needs of their communities and members.  Through this law, they will be granted greater autonomy to use their own tribal assets to pursue needed economic development, employment and conservation opportunities," said Crapo.  "In fulfilling the federal government's trust responsibility with Indian Country, we must enact policies that do not unnecessarily hold tribes back.  This law is a positive step forward in trust asset reform and strikes a balance between delegating more autonomy to Indian tribes, for those voluntarily seeking it, while retaining a degree of oversight by the federal government." 

"I am very excited to see H.R. 812 signed into law," said Simpson.  "This bill was closely crafted with the input of tribes and just like the intentions of the underlying bill, Indian Country deserves to be in the driver's seat when making decisions about their future. Instead of the complicated and inconsistent bureaucratic process tribes currently go through, H.R. 812 will streamline this practice to provide tribes with the tools to promote economic development."

"For years, we've been asking to manage our own resources and tribal assets and this law gives us the ability to set our own priorities and make our own choices based on what is best for our tribe," said Chairman Chief Allan of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. "We're grateful to Congressman Simpson and Senator Crapo for working so hard to get this bill passed and to President Obama for handing the control of tribal assets back to tribes," he added.

Tribes in Idaho and the northwest exemplify the need for this legislation as many in the region have timber resources held in trust, but presently, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is the final decision maker on how those assets may be used.  Should these tribes choose to participate in the demonstration project established in the new law, they would submit a ten-year plan outlining how they would like to manage and use those timber resources.  The plan could include a variety of management scenarios for economic or conservation purposes.  Thanks to Crapo and Simpson's legislation, tribes will only have to receive one approval on long-term asset management plans rather being subjected to multiple, time-consuming approvals by the federal government for transactions involving trust assets.  The flexibility and certainty provided by the new law is expected to promote economic development and opportunity in tribal and neighboring communities.      

The legislative proposal was crafted largely by members of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, of which Idaho tribes are members.  Crapo and Simpson's efforts were supported by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Intertribal Timber Council and other tribal organizations across the country.

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