Senecas endorse bill that would ease regs
By JAMES FINK
[email protected] | 716-541-1611
A Congressional bill that could give more power to Indian nations to accept restricted-fees tribal lands has been endorsed by the leader of the Seneca Nation of Indians.
President Robert Odawi Porter said he supports the bill working its way through Congress. The House bill - designated H.R. 3532 and introduced Nov. 30 by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Rep. Dan Boren, D-Oklahoma - was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.
It would do the following: allow tribes to voluntarily move tribal trust lands into federally protected restricted-fee status; eliminate the burdensome federal review process before a tribe can lease or grant easements or rights of way in such restricted-fee lands; and clarify that tribal law pre-empts federal law with respect to use of restricted-fee lands.
Porter said the bill would significantly enhance tribal self-determination and self-governance by removing the unnecessary federal review processes and restrictions that often stifle economic development opportunities.
Restricted fee is landownership status in which the owner holds title to and control of the property and the owner can make decisions about land use, but there are specific government-imposed restrictions on taxation of the land and the owner's ability to sell the land to third parties, Porter noted.
The title for trust land is held by the federal government for the benefit of an individual Indian or tribe. Day-to-day use of such land is subject to myriad administrative restrictions on usage.
"This bill is a significant step toward fulfilling the promises and expectations of Indian tribal self-determination and self-governance policies yet to be realized," Porter said. "Indian nations should be able to truly make their own laws and decisions governing the use of tribal lands, free from the paternalism embodied in the federal land use oversight system that has developed over the centuries, and free from the paralysis in federal decision making that oftentimes accompanies federal efforts to fulfill the United States' trust responsibilities to Indian nations."
He added: "The Seneca Nation has repeatedly demonstrated the positive effects of such status by establishing businesses in Western New York that are part of an employment base of 6,000 and a $1.1 billion economy. And a key factor to the Seneca Nation's success story is our land ownership and unique ability to make quick and decisive decisions about land use, free from the constraints of the federal oversight and approval system.
"I have no doubt that if other Indian nations had the flexibility we enjoy, they, too, would see a significant boost in their economic development and job creation endeavors."
The bill would require the Secretary of the Interior to transfer to an Indian tribe in restricted-fee status the title to land the United States currently holds in trust status within 180 days of formal notice. Restricted-fee land, once conveyed, would continue to be subject to restrictions imposed by the United States against alienation and state taxation.
Such restricted-fee lands are and remain "Indian country" for purposes of other existing laws covering the 565 federally recognized Indian nations and tribes.
The bill would confirm a tribe's right to lease or grant easements or rights-of-way across its restricted-fee lands for any duration without review or approval by the Secretary of the Interior, notwithstanding provisions of other applicable laws.