Gosar Introduces Bill Aimed at Repairing U.S. Relationship with Native American Tribes

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For Immediate Release 
Date: April 3, 2014


Contact: Garrett Hawkins
Office: (202) 225-2315

Gosar Introduces Bill Aimed at Repairing U.S. Relationship with Native American Tribes
'The comprehensive review established by my legislation will help us start to repair this sacred relationship'

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Congressman Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S. (AZ-04) introduced the American Indian Trust Responsibility Review Act (H.R.4388). This bipartisan legislation will, for the first time since the 1970s, provide a comprehensive overview of the unique trust relationship between the United States and American Indian tribes. Original co-sponsors of Rep. Gosar's legislation include Native American Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Tom Cole (R-OK) and Betty McCollum (D-MN) as well as Reps. Steve Daines (R-MT), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Matt Salmon (R-AZ), David Schweikert (R-AZ), Don Young (R-AK), Scott Tipton (R-CO), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), Mike Honda (D-CA), John Carney (D-DE), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), and Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS). 

The review established by this bill will allow Congress to exercise oversight over the Executive Branch and provide a blueprint for better administration of the trust relationship with federally recognized tribes as well as for pursuing policies that allow tribes maximum self-determination.

After introducing the bill, Rep. Gosar said, "Over the years, the trust relationship between the United States and American Indian tribes has eroded. The comprehensive review established by my legislation will help us start to repair this sacred relationship."

H.R.4388 is supported by the National Congress of American Indians, United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc, National Indian Education Association, Cherokee Nation, Oneida Indian Nation of New York, Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Gila River Indian Community, and the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. 

In the National Congress of American Indians' endorsement letter, Executive Director Jacqueline Pata said: "On behalf of the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest and largest organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments, I would first like to thank you for your willingness to address a very important issue in Indian Country: the need for an updated review of United States’ trust responsibility to American Indians and Alaska Natives. Nearly 40 years after the first review of the trust responsibility it is time for Congress to reassess the state of the trust responsibility."

In the Cherokee Nation's endorsement letter, Principal Chief Bill John Baker said: "Educating others about who American Indians are and the struggles many of us face is the largest issue that Indian Country faces today. It is through leadership like yours that American Indians continue to stay strong throughout this great country." 

In the Gila River Indian Community’s endorsement letter, Governor Gregory Mendoza stated, "The trust relationship may be historically rooted in the Constitution of the United States but it is a living, breathing principle of federal-tribal relations that has eveolved dramatically not just over centuries but in the past decades and years...This bill would address the need for a better understanding of what is necessary for the Executive and Congress to better administer their trust responsibilities."

Over the years, Congress has delegated some of its Constitutional authority in dealing with Native American tribes to the Executive Branch, which often has conflicting interests when it comes to tribal issues. Nearly 40 years have passed since the last comprehensive review by Congress of the United States’ trust relationship with American Indian tribes was conducted by the American Indian Policy Review Commission (AIPRC). AIPRC's final report issued in 1977 made a number of recommendations concerning how the trust relationship might be strengthened and implemented. While several of these recommendations have been incorporated in one form or another, many were never adopted. New challenges and opportunities have arisen in the intervening decades and there has been no continuing review of the trust relationship nor the extent to which the AIPRC final report has been implemented by the United States.

The trust relationship, originally intended principally as a federal protection against intrusions by state and local governments and private sector interests, has eroded over time.  This erosion was caused by a multitude of factors, including conflicting approaches to the administration of trust responsibilities by various federal agencies, successive Supreme Court opinions that define the United States’ trust relationship in increasingly narrow terms, and continued efforts by state and local governments to control and tax tribally held property. These assaults have combined to blunt the efforts of tribes to pursue self-determination and self-governance.

Tribes throughout the nation have expressed the need for this comprehensive review and this legislation was crafted based on resolutions passed by the National Congress of American Indians and United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. Additionally, Ray Halbritter, National Representative of the Oneida Indian Nation and a member of the Wolf Clan, testified before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in May 2012, on the need for a “full review of the Federal trust responsibility, as well as its impact on Tribal sovereignty.”