Federal Update for November 2009


President Obama will meet with hundreds of tribal leaders in Washington, D.C. November 5th, 2009.  The President had committed to an annual meeting with tribal leaders during his 2008 campaign and is fulfilling his promise. This historic meeting will coincide with the National Congress of American Indians’ Grand Opening of the Embassy of Tribal Nations on November 3rd and a tribal leaders meeting on November 4th.

NWIFC Chairman Billy Frank encouraged tribal leaders to go to Washington as a united Indian Country to begin and carry on a meaningful government-to-government consultation process with the President and his Administration.” Representatives of 564 federally recognized American Indian tribes have been invited to the summit. According to the White House, the Nov. 5 session is part of the president’s sustained outreach efforts.  “I look forward to hearing directly from the leaders in Indian Country about what my Administration can do to not only meet their needs, but help improve their lives and the lives of their peoples,” Obama said in a written statement.  “This conference will serve as part of the ongoing and important consultation process that I value, and further strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship.”  Obama’s session will not be the first White House meeting with all of the tribes. In 1994, then-President Bill Clinton held what was billed as a “listening conference” for leaders of all of the tribes. Held at the suggestion of Wilma Mankiller, who was then principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the session was believed to be unprecedented.  “I hope and trust that natural resources and the environment will factor in as one of the top discussion items at this summit,” said Frank. “It would be very appropriate for the tribes to continue to present themselves as good stewards and natural resource managers with never-ending connections with the land.”

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The President will deliver opening and closing remarks and participate in an interactive discussion with tribal leaders. Other interactive discussions in the areas of economic development and natural resources; public safety and housing; and education, health and labor will be led by representatives from the highest levels of the Administration.  Expected Administration officials include: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, HUD Deputy Secretary Ronald Sims, DHS Deputy Secretary Jane Lute, Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli, and Indian Health Service Director Dr. Yvette Robideaux. The White House Tribal Nations Conference will also be streamed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.  Please check back on the day of the event for the final schedule.


The indigenous peoples of North America — the First Americans — have woven rich and diverse threads into the tapestry of our Nation’s heritage. Throughout their long history on this great land, they have faced moments of profound triumph and tragedy alike. During National Native American Heritage Month, we recognize their many accomplishments, contributions, and sacrifices, and we pay tribute to their participation in all aspects of American society. This month, we celebrate the ancestry and time-honored traditions of American Indians and Alaska Natives in North America. They have guided our land stewardship policies, added immeasurably to our cultural heritage, and demonstrated courage in the face of adversity. From the American Revolution to combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, they have fought valiantly in defense of our Nation as dedicated servicemen and women. Their native languages have also played a pivotal role on the battlefield. During World Wars I and II, Native American code talkers developed unbreakable codes to communicate military messages that saved countless lives. Native Americans have distinguished themselves as inventors, entrepreneurs, spiritual leaders, and scholars. Our debt to our First Americans is immense, as is our responsibility to ensure their fair, equal treatment and honor the commitments we made to their forbears. The Native American community today faces huge challenges that have been ignored by our Government for too long. To help address this disparity, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocates more than $3 billion to help these communities deal with their most pressing needs. In the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, my Administration has proposed over $17 billion for programs carried out by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service, and other Federal agencies that have a critical role to play in improving the lives of Native Americans. These programs will increase educational opportunities, address the scourge of alcohol abuse and domestic violence, promote economic development, and provide access to comprehensive, accessible, and affordable health care. While funding increases do not make up for past deficiencies, they do reflect our determination to honor tribal sovereignty and ensure continued progress on reservations across America. As we seek to build on and strengthen our nation-to-nation relationship, my Administration is committed to ensuring tribal communities have a meaningful voice in our national policy debates as we confront the challenges facing all Americans. We will continue this constructive dialogue at the White House Tribal Nations Conference held in Washington, D.C., this month. Native American voices have echoed through the mountains, valleys, and plains of our country for thousands of years, and it is now our time to listen.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2009 as National Native American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities, and to celebrate November 27, 2009, as Native American Heritage Day.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.



Congress has cleared for the President’s signature the fiscal 2010 Interior-Environment spending bill and its extension of current stopgap funding. In an unusual display of coordinated bicameral action, both chambers have just approved the conference agreement — the House by a 247-178 vote and the Senate in the same day by a 72-28 vote. The measure carries an extension of current stopgap funding for those government agencies whose spending bills haven’t yet been enacted into law. With the current CR expiring midnight on October 31, the agreement extends that stopgap funding until December 18. The Interior-Environment bill is the fifth of 12 fiscal 2010 spending bills to be enacted into law. Two bills, Defense and Transportation-HUD, are pending formal conference action, and five others have yet to be passed by the Senate. This is good news to Northwest tribes as the bill contains the full $12 million increase in the BIA Rights Protection Account that Congressman Norm Dicks originally inserted in the House Bill.  It also contains the significant increase to BIA’s Hatchery Maintenance Account.  In addition it contains the $50 million mark for the restoration of Puget Sound.

House debate on the Interior-Environment agreement largely focused on the bill’s $32.2 billion discretionary cost. Republicans called the bill’s 17 percent increase excessive, with top GOP appropriator Jerry Lewis of California deeming it “irresponsible, especially in light of the fact that Congress must soon consider legislation to increase our national debt limit — this time to over $13 trillion.” Ranking subcommittee Republican Mike Simpson of Idaho said that “while this conference agreement tackles many challenging issues, it also assumes that more money is the answer to every problem we face.” Noting that the bill received a 13 percent increase last year as well as $11 billion from February’s economic stimulus package, he said, “I just don’t believe that a $4.7 billion, or 17 percent increase, over last year makes sense.” Rep. Norm Dicks, who chairs the Interior-Environment Appropriations Committee, countered that the increase was needed as “a catch-up” after years of being underfunded during the Bush Administration. Dicks said that from 2001 to 2008, when inflation is factored in, funding had decreased by 16 percent for the Interior Department, by 29 percent for the EPA and by 35 percent for non-firefighting activities of the Forest Service. “So this bill had been hammered,” Dicks said. “So I felt this was a restoration budget by the Obama Administration, and this is their first budget on Interior, and I think it was justified in every sense of the word.”

To clear the measure in the Senate, Democrats had to once again garner 60 votes to waive a Senate point of order against the CR extension being added in conference. Republicans in both chambers objected to the Democrats’ inclusion of the CR in the measure, saying it should be considered as a stand-alone measure. Such a point of order was raised and narrowly waived by a 61-39 vote during floor consideration of the Legislative Branch spending bill conference report, which included the original CR. On that vote, Republican appropriators Thad Cochran, R-MS, and George V. Voinovich, R-OH, joined with the Democrats (who lost the vote of Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold) to keep the CR in the legislation. However, after Arizona Republican John McCain raised the Rule 28 point of order against the Interior-Environment conference report for containing the CR, no Republicans came to the aid of Democrats — forcing Democrats to generate all 60 votes on their own. The vote to waive the point of order, and thereby keep the CR in the agreement, was successful via a straight party line 60-40 vote.

The overall FY 2010 Appropriations Process is slowly winding down (although we’ve heard the Senate has scheduled to resume consideration of the CJS bill this week). White not exactly on schedule, it still has the potential to be finished much sooner than in the recent past. Time will tell. The Senate has reordered its work and brought the Energy and Water Appropriation bill to the floor, due in part to a failure to invoke cloture on Senate debate over the Commerce, Justice and Science bill. Congress has now cleared just five of the 12 regular appropriations bills — Interior-Environment, Agriculture, Energy-Water, Homeland Security, and Legislative Branch. Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, D-HA, earlier this week said he believed that this year’s appropriations process, which is likely to include a year-end omnibus of those bills that couldn’t be enacted individually, would be wrapped up by early December. As mentioned, the CJS bill was pulled back. Once it is resolved on the floor it will go through the conference process. The Senate version will be about $600 million higher than the House version. The Commerce, Justice and Science bill will contain new funding for the PST Annex and funding to restore the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund Account, but the current House and Senate numbers vary. The Administration has requested, and the House has included $16.5 million for the PST Annex work, including $7.5 million for the Puget Sound critical stocks work as identified through the Annex negotiations. The House has also included about $10 million for Mitchell Act hatcheries, which benefit tribes through Columbia River fish production. The Senate, however, has only included about $10 million for the PST Annex, far short of the President’s request, and none for the Mitchell Act needs. They will have to sort this out in conference. The Senate has included $80 million for the PCSRF account and retained the past language that guides the fund distribution. The House, however, included only $50 million for salmon (and $10 million for stocks at risk) and clarifying language. Tribes have made their preference for the Senate amount and language well known so now it’s a matter of waiting to see the conference outcome.


During the NCAI’s 66th Annual Session in Palm Springs in October, Jefferson Keel, Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, was elected President. Keel has served as NCAI’s First Vice-President since 2005.”Unity is the only way we will make progress, and I pledge to work together to seize the opportunities that are before all of the Tribal Nations,” Keel said upon being elected. Keel is a retired U.S. Army officer with over 20 years of active service. He earned a bachelor’s degree from East Central University and completed his Master of Science degree at Troy University. He has background experience in social services and tribal health programs. Keel is in his third elected term as Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation. In addition, Juana Majel-Dixon, Councilwoman for the Pauma Band of Mission Indians was elected First Vice-President; Theresa Two Bulls, President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, was elected Recording Secretary; and W. Ron Allen, Chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe was elected Treasurer. NCAI will also conduct the opening blessing of the new Tribal Embassy on Saturday, Nov. 3, 6:30-10 a.m. at 1516 P Street NW in Washington DC (open to tribal member only).  A host of other events is available at www.ncai.org.


With the Energy-Water agreement, the hydrogen industry stands to benefit. The conference report would restore $106 million to a hydrogen fuel cell research program that the President Obama tried to slash. And industry backers know just who to thank — Byron L. Dorgan, D-ND, Chairman of Senate Energy-Water Appropriations. He has championed hydrogen fuel cell technology for years, especially since he began earmarking millions of dollars over the past five years for construction of a National Center of Hydrogen Technology at the University of North Dakota. Federal spending on hydrogen fuel cell research soared under Bush. Many scientists — including President Obama’s Energy secretary, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu — question the value of investing in hydrogen fuel cells. They say the expensive, unproven technology would require such a transformation of U.S. energy infrastructure that it is unlikely ever to have an impact on the U.S. auto market.


The U.S. government has made it official—the cost of change and recovery from the recession is adding more zeroes to the federal deficit. CBO is expected to set the 2009 deficit at about $1.4 trillion and at $9.1 trillion over the next decade, in line with estimates that were made in early October. This is not only the first time the annual deficit has spilled into 13-digit territory, but the number also marks a threefold increase over last year’s then-record deficit of $459 billion. Administration officials pin much of the increase on a recession-driven drop in tax collections, the Wall Street bailout, the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the economic stimulus plan.


Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, D-HA, has joined Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and the late Strom Thurmond, R-SC, in the trio of longest-serving U.S. senators. A senator since 1963, Inouye won praise for his work in the chamber and for what Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, called a “remarkable American story.” “Daniel Inouye may be the only American who saw with his own eyes the smoke from Pearl Harbor and the black smoke that rose from the Pentagon on” the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill. Several senators touched on Inouye’s early life — teenage volunteer helping out after the Pearl Harbor attack, war service in Europe that cost him an arm. Inouye “fought for our country while fellow Japanese-Americans were being interned in our country,” said Daniel K. Akaka, D-HA. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-NJ, said he, Akaka and Inouye are the Senate’s three remaining veterans of World War II. Senators also noted Inouye’s work over the years as a lawmaker on behalf of the military. He is a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor as well as many other distinguished citations. McConnell said that Inouye earlier this month traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “It was an arduous journey for anyone, let alone a senator who has served so long,” he said of Inouye, who is 85. Inouye’s term of Senate service on Thursday passed that of the late Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who had served 46 years, nine months and 19 days. Senator Inouye has, of course, also had a highly distinguished career from the perspective of the tribes, have spoken on behalf of the tribes on hundreds of occasions in committees and the Senate floor. He has visited tribes throughout the country and stood with them through thick and thin, earning tribal honors far exceeding those of any other American politician in history.


The Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee is holding its first hearing today on a global warming bill, with a witness list that includes Energy Secretary Chu, Interior Secretary Salazar and Transportation Secretary LaHood. Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, said the legislation he sponsored would lead to higher energy costs in the short run but will create jobs and help protect national security. Among the critics Kerry will have to try to appease is Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, who said this morning that while climate change was a serious issue, “we also can’t afford the unmitigated effects of climate-change legislation.”


Congressman Sam Farr, D-CA has introduced the “Clean Cruise Ship Act,” a bill aimed at limiting damage caused by cruise ship pollution. The legislation will strengthen the Clean Water Act to create coastal zones where cruise ships are prohibited from dumping waste, strengthen current waste treatment standards and increase surveillance to ensure compliance by the industry. The bill was also introduced in the Senate by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL. “Big cruise ships make for big pollution, it’s an unavoidable truth,” Rep. Farr said following the bill’s introduction. “Unfortunately, responsible disposal of that waste hasn’t always been a given. The cruise ship industry is way overdue to take responsibility for its actions. It’s ironic that the cruise industry relies on a clean ocean and pristine coastlines for its livelihood, but doesn’t put in the effort to sustain them. This carelessness must not be allowed to continue.” Laws currently allow cruise ships to dump untreated sewage three miles from shore, a danger to health, environment and economy. Rep. Farr’s legislation would increase the anti-dumping zone to 12 miles from shore and would require waste treatment beyond 12 miles. The bill also creates an observation and monitoring program.

“A recent report on the cruise industry’s environmental performance clearly shows that not all companies are making an equal effort to safeguard the ocean waters on which they depend,” Rep. Farr said. That report card, issued by Friends of the Earth, ranks the major cruise companies according to their efforts to reduce their environmental footprint. It is available online at http://www.foe.org/cruisereportcard. “If the whole industry followed the positive lead of some of the higher-scoring cruise companies, this law wouldn’t be necessary. Since they haven’t, Congress must take action to protect our waters.”  NWIFC Chairman Billy Frank, Jr. said, “Hopefully this act will help protect our ocean and coastal waters and the communities that use them by the cruise industry’s irresponsible dumping. Of course, we’d prefer that any waste being dumped into the ocean be fully treated. But, by introducing this bill, Congressman Farr may continue his long and substantial legacy as a champion for our oceans.”


The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, chaired by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, D-GU, has conducted an oversight hearing on the implementation of the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 2006 (PL 109-479). The Subcommittee explored the progress made by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Regional Fishery Management Councils in setting annual catch limits and accountability measures to end overfishing and rebuild overfished fish stocks, as required by the MSFCMA.  The hearing focused on how annual catch limits are set, efforts to improve the type and quality of information that informs management decisions, and successes and challenges of implementing annual catch limits and accountability measures. Visit the Committee’s Web site at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov to access witness testimony.


The Subcommittee on Water and Power held an oversight hearing on “Water Management and Climate Variability: Information Support at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and Bureau of Reclamation.”  The USGS and the Bureau of Reclamation are responsible for the collection and management of water resource data.  The National Research Council recently completed their review of the USGS water management program and has identified specific recommendations for ensuring data integrity and accessibility.  The oversight hearing focused on whether the agencies are collecting the right information and whether it is adequate for use by water managers and the general public.  Visit the Committee’s Web site to access witness testimony.


The Senate has voted, again, to apologize to Native Americans for historical injustices. The Native American Apology Resolution has been attached to a defense appropriations bill, extending a formal apology from the US to tribal people nationwide. It aims to make amends for years of “ill-conceived policies” and acts of violence against Native Americans by U.S. citizens. It also asks President Obama to “acknowledge the wrongs of the US against Indian tribes” to encourage healing. The President was asked earlier this year by grassroots groups to apologize specifically for atrocities carried out on Indians who attended boarding schools, often forcibly. Obama has not yet said if he will take such action. The Senate resolution does not authorize or serve as a settlement of any claim against the U.S., and it does not resolve many challenges still facing Native Americans. Comparable legislation has been introduced in previous sessions of Congress, even passing the Senate in 2008, but no bills have been signed into law.


The battle waged against a major coal company by Hopi and Navajo activists and against large environmental groups by tribal officials has intensified the conflict playing out in northern Arizona over the control and use of cultural and natural resources.  The Hopi tribal council, challenged in political infighting, said the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, Grand Canyon Trust, and “on-reservation organizations sponsored by or affiliated with the groups, are no longer welcome on the reservation.” The announcement triggered sharp prepared responses from opponents of wider strip mining atop Black Mesa, an area sacred to traditionalists. The ousted organizations were singled out for reportedly asking EPA to study Navajo Generating Station’s possible contribution to smog over the Grand Canyon, raising red flags about economic loss if the plant were to close. A controversial expanded mining permit approved last year ensures a coal supply for the plant’s continued operation. The Hopis are trying to clear the hurdles blocking a life-of-mine permit to continue the destructive surface mining activities which have already destroyed an untold number of archaeological sites, burial grounds, rock art, and cultural resources.”