Coeur d'Alene tribal leaders were in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday in support of proposed legislation addressing trust reform.
The Indian Trust Asset Reform Act, or H.R. 409, was introduced by Congressman Mike Simpson.
This act would allow Indian tribes, on a voluntary basis, to opt to manage their tribal assets - such as land and natural resources - currently held in trust and managed by the federal government. Under this bill, tribes that are interested in participating would submit a management plan - which lists the trust assets and the tribe's management objectives and priorities - to the Secretary of the Department of the Interior.
Ernie Stensgar, the vice-chairman of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, testified in front of the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.
"This is an issue that tribal leaders around the country and especially in the Northwest have been working on for decades, and is one of the few pieces of legislation that originated from Indians in Indian Country and not in Washington, D.C. Who would better know how to manage tribal trust resources than tribes themselves?" said Stensgar, who also serves as the Chairman for the Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest Indians' Trust Reform Committee.
"This bill would give us the flexibility to create our own management standards and make our own choices based on what is best for our tribe. This has been a long time coming," said Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.
The bill would also provide for the restructuring of the Office of Special Trustee, which was intended to be a temporary entity that would oversee certain financial reforms of Indian trust funds at the Department of Interior. Despite having completed the reforms it was tasked with, OST's role and its budget have expanded over the years, taking money from other BIA programs that have been facing budget decreases despite growing need.
H.R. 409 would transfer the necessary and relevant activities OST performs to the Undersecretary of the Department of the Interior. The efficiency gained from this would provide an immediate benefit to Indian Country.
The National Congress of American Indians also testified on behalf of the reforms and, in a written statement, encouraged the subcommittee and full committee to move the bill forward.
"NCAI supports this bill because it helps to put elected tribal leaders in charge of their own tribal lands," it wrote. "... We need to modernize the trust system, and we urge the Committee to support this legislation."