When: July 13, 2017
Where: Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee
Title: “Comparing 21st Century Trust Land Acquisition with the Intent of the 73rd Congress in Section 5 of the Indian Reorganization Act”
What Happened: The hearing featured testimony from Republican witness Don Mitchell, a lawyer based in Alaska, who told the Committee that the focus of the Indian Recognition Act was, in fact, to hasten the “assimilation” of Native American communities — a loaded term that Mitchell has used in the past, drawing condemnation and allegations of racism.
He also told the Committee that the federal government has no legal authority to recognize Native American tribes and that every tribe recognized through the Interior Department’s so-called “Part 83” process should lose that recognition immediately.
The Issues at Stake: Republicans on the Committee, including Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), often claim that some Native American communities simply aren’t real tribes. This hearing was part of a years-long series of events Republicans have held on this theme.
Republicans’ major policy focus for Indian Country for many years has been to limit federal recognition of tribes and to limit their access to economic resources. In 2015, a Republican hearing titled “The Obama Administration’s Part 83 Revisions and How They May Allow the Interior Department to Create Tribes, not Recognize Them,” featured Republican claims that the Obama administration was trying to legally recognize (or “invent”) new ‘tribes’ that had no real cultural or historical basis. The hearing was widely criticized across Indian Country, where it was seen as insulting and patronizing.
Chairman Bishop has made his distaste for Native American cultures and histories well known. That same year, when he was asked how he felt about the national monuments President Obama had designated during the summer in California, Texas and Nevada, he called the centuries-old petroglyphs and rock art at the Nevada site “bull crap” and said, “That’s not an antiquity.”
The week before the hearing, Ranking Member Grijalva published an op-ed in SIERRA Magazine questioning Secretary Zinke’s claim that companies shouldn’t necessarily have to pay back the costs of the environmental damage they cause.
The week of the hearing, several major environmental stories broke:
An iceberg the size of Delaware broke off the Antarctic ice shelf.
The Trump administration was found to be removing the phrase “human activity” from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration press releases on global warming.
New analysis established that the planet’s sixth mass extinction of species is already underway.
In what will be a recurring theme throughout the series, the Committee’s Republican majority ignored those issues.
In addition to calling out the wasteful and offensive nature of the hearing itself — Ranking Member Grijalva urged Republican members to repudiate Mr. Mitchell, which did not happen — the Democrats on the Committee:
Pressed Secretary Zinke for information on how he intended to implement the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” strategy, which made little mention of environmental safeguards and offered few specifics of any kind;
Tried to offer multiple amendments to a Republican bill granting valuable water rights in California to well-connected corporate interests — amendments Republicans refused to even discuss;
Questioned Secretary Zinke’s arbitrary announcement that that he would no longer consider recommending status or acreage changes to Craters of the Moon National Monument (Idaho) or Hanford Reach National Monument (Washington) as part of his then ongoing, ill-defined “review” process of more than two dozen national monuments around the country.