April 18, 2018

Udall: Future of Tribal Self-Governance is Bright, but Much Work Remains

Committee assesses progress over the last three decadesCommittee assesses progress over the last three decades

WASHINGTON — Today, at an oversight hearing on Tribal self-governance, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, urged Congress, federal agencies, and others to continue to work with Tribes to ensure more opportunities for shaping policies and programs that affect their land, people and communities.


“When the self-governance compacting program was made permanent in 1994, bureaucratic regulation and control of Indian programs administered by Tribes should have been a thing of the past. But the reality is the road to the full exercise of Tribal self-determination in the 1970s, and now of Tribal self-governance, has not been swift or without detours,” said Udall, during the hearing on “The 30th Anniversary of Tribal Self-Governance: Successes in Self-governance and an Outlook for the Next 30 Years.”

Udall is a cosponsor of S. 2515, the PROGRESS for Indian Tribes Act, with Chairman John Hoeven (D-N.D) to improve current law by creating consistency and building efficiencies for Tribes that operate self-governance programs. The bill would amend Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 (ISDEAA) for the first time since 2000, fixing current statutory gaps that hinder the full exercise of Tribal self-governance.
“The future of self-governance over the next 30 years and beyond is bright,” Udall said. “But … despite all the gains that have been made over the past three decades, self-governance Tribes continue to confront new challenges to old problems, problems such as agency inertia and historical resistance to expansion of the program and inequitable access to BIA funds for new programs.”


Currently, self-governance is only available for programs within the Department of the Interior, the Department of Transportation, and the Indian Health Service in the Department of Health and Human Services. During the hearing, several Tribal witnesses, including Arthur “Butch” Blazer, president of the Mescalero Apache Tribe of New Mexico, testified about the need for expansion within and beyond these agencies.


The Mescalero Apache Tribe is a leader in forestry management with firsthand experience managing its own forest lands. Its Division of Resource Management and Protection provides high-quality forestry services that are critical for watershed protection for the entire basin, said Udall, adding that he and Hoeven are working on bipartisan farm bill-related legislation that would authorize Tribes to exercise self-governance for U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, such as food distribution and forestry.

The full text of Udall’s opening statement as prepared for delivery is below.

Thank you, Chairman Hoeven, for calling this oversight hearing to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Tribal Self-Governance. I would like to begin by welcoming Butch Blazer to his first Indian Affairs hearing, as President of the Mescalero Apache Tribe. President Blazer has many years of experience in public service and his wealth of knowledge on Tribal-Self Governance is invaluable to our discussion. Thank you for being here.


Made permanent at the Department of Interior and Health and Human Services through amendments to the Indian Self-Determination and Indian Education Assistance Act, Tribal Self-Governance programs acknowledges that Tribes have the right to govern themselves with minimal federal oversight and maximum flexibility to meet local Tribal needs.


Tribal Self-Governance has been so successful that over 50 percent of all federal Indian programs are being carried out by approximately 360 of the 573 federally recognized Indian Tribes. These self-governance Tribes, including those represented by our witnesses here today, are fully responsible for federal programs, functions, services, and activities – as well as associated funding – resulting in effective self-rule for participating Tribes.
When the self-governance compacting program was made permanent in 1994, bureaucratic regulation and control of Indian programs administered by Tribes should have been a thing of the past.

But the reality is the road to the full exercise of Tribal self-determination in the 1970s, and now of Tribal self-governance, has not been swift or without detours.

Congress passed the Indian Self-Determination Act in 1975 intending to provide Tribes and Tribal organizations with the option to step into the shoes of the federal government. But for years, federal agencies continued to exercise heavy-handed control that inhibited Tribes from adapting programs to local needs.


So in 1988, Tribes like Mescalero Apache persuaded Congress to strengthen the Act by including the Tribal Self-Governance Demonstration Project – an initiative that expanded programs Tribes could take over and reduced federal oversight after Tribes assumed control. Based on the success of the demonstration project, Congress acted again to improve the Act by making the DOI and HHS self-governance programs permanent in 1994 and 2000, respectively.

And self-governance compacting continues to evolve: in 2015, President Obama expanded self-governance to include Department of Transportation programs, in addition to several non-BIA and non-IHS programs.
Today, self-governance Tribes have more options than ever to exercise self-rule. But more needs to be done. And so I’m proud to cosponsor S. 2515, the PROGRESS for Indian Tribes Act with Chairman Hoeven.

Our bipartisan bill makes a number of improvements to current law, such as creating consistency and building efficiencies for Tribes that operate both DOI and HHS self-governance programs.

Just last week, this committee reported S. 2515 without amendment. It is now primed for floor action.

On another legislative front, Chairman Hoeven and I are also working on bipartisan farm bill-related legislation that would authorize Tribes to exercise self-governance for U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, such as food distribution and forestry.


In fact, Mescalero Apache is a leader in forestry management and has firsthand experience managing its own forest lands.

Its Division of Resource Management and Protection provides high-quality forestry services that are critical for watershed protection for the entire basin.

In short, the future of self-governance over the next 30 years and beyond is bright. But as our Tribal witnesses today will attest, despite all the gains that have been made over the past three decades, self-governance Tribes continue to confront new challenges to old problems, problems such as agency inertia and historical resistance to expansion of the program and inequitable access to BIA funds for new programs.


I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses today. Their leadership contributes to the continuing successes of Tribal Self-Governance and enables it to grow.


Thank you, Mr. Chairman.