On June 22, 2016, the President signed HR 812 as PL 114-178, the Indian Trust Asset Reform Act (Act). The Act reaffirms the responsibility of the United States to Indian tribes; authorizes a demonstration project for tribes to voluntarily negotiate with the Secretary of the Interior to manage their own trust assets; creates the option for the Secretary to establish an Under Secretary for Indian Affairs; and sets up a process to terminate the Office of the Special Trustee.

In other words, this is a VERY big deal.  There have been numerous lawsuits filed against the federal government for failing to appropriately manage tribal trust assets and, in the spirit of self-determination, this legislation begins to hand some of that management back over to tribes.  In a Congress bogged down by election partisan politics, Indian Country continues to chip away at issues important to us and find some success.

HR 812 was introduced by Representatives Simpson (R-ID); Cole (R-OK); and Heck (D-WA). Companion legislation was introduced by Senator Crapo (R-ID). A copy of HR 812, as presented to the President for signature, is here: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-114hr812enr/pdf/BILLS-114hr812enr.pdf

Read more from our General Memorandum here

Happy Tuesday!

Did you know that tourism supports more than 8.1 million jobs in the United States?

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, this means that one out of every 18 Americans is employed by travel and tourism related businesses – most of which are small firms.

In 2012, President Obama launched the National Travel and Tourism Strategy, charting a new course toward making America a more attractive and accessible destination than ever before. The Strategy sets a goal of drawing 100 million international visitors by 2021, which is expected to generate $250 billion annually in visitor spending by 2012. The strategy also encourages more Americans to travel within the United States. In 2013, international visitors spend $180.7 billion dollars on U.S. travel and tourism related goods and services.

How can Indian Country benefit from this booming industry? 

As Indian gaming began to boom, gaming tribes began to think about how to draw their customers to their facilities. Soon magnificent facilities like the Tulalip Resort Casino and the Pueblo of Pojoaque’s Buffalo Thunder Resort sprang up.  At the same time, a small tribal organization with a mission “to define, introduce, grow and sustain American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian tourism that honors traditions and values” was steadily growing.  Today, the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Organization (“AIANTA”) is flourishing.

This week AIANTA was in D.C. in support of H.R. 3477, a bill “To enhance and integrate Native American tourism, empower Native American communities, increase coordination and collaboration between Federal tourism assets, and expand heritage and cultural tourism opportunities in the United States. ”  This bill would authorize a MOU between AIANTA and the Department of Interior in consultation with the Department of Commerce to provide technical assistance to tribes and tribal organizations to participate fully in the tourism industry.

H.R. 3477 requires the Department of Interior and Department of Commerce to update their respective management plans and tourism initiatives to include a Native American Tourism Plan.  The Native American Tourism Plans are to do the following:

(1) IN GENERAL.—The plans shall outline policy proposals—

(A) to improve travel and tourism data collection and analysis;

(B) to increase the integration, alignment, and utility of public records, publications, and Web sites maintained by Federal agencies;

(C) to create a better user experience for domestic travelers and international visitors;

(D) to align Federal agency Web sites and publications;

(E) to support national tourism goals;

(F) to identify agency programs that could be used to support tourism capacity building and help sustain tourism infrastructure in Native American communities;

(G) to develop innovative visitor portals for parks, landmarks, heritage and cultural sites, and assets that showcase and respect the diversity of the indigenous peoples of the United States;

(H) to share local Native American heritage through the development of bilingual interpretive and directional signage that could include or incorporate English and the local Native American language or languages; and

(I) to improve access to transportation programs related to Native American community capacity building for tourism and trade, including transportation planning for programs related to visitor enhancement and safety.

If you or your tribe is interested in this legislation or want to learn more, you can contact the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.  A link to the hearing on H.R. 3744 is here.

Tell our own story and protect our sacred sites.

For two hundred years, American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian history has been told by the “conquerors” and not by us.  Tourism gives us the opportunity to tell our own story in our own words in our own places.  The Desert View Tribal Heritage Project is a great example of this.  Groups including AIANTA  and the Grand Canyon’s ItAC, established in 2013, composed of representatives from the park’s 11 Traditionally Associated Tribes (Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Havasupai, Hualapai, Yavapai-Apache, and five bands of Southern Paiute represented by the Kaibab Paiute) collaborate with the NPS on issues that affect each of the tribes and the park including working on programs such as youth development, tribal tourism opportunities, and cultural demonstrations. Today, Desert View represents the physical and cultural gateway from Grand Canyon National Park to the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

A signature project for next year’s National Park Service Centennial, the revival of Desert View as a cultural heritage site will provide opportunities for the public to connect with Grand Canyon’s Traditionally Associated Tribes. This transformation also ensures that future generations of tribal members and visitors will have an opportunity to make and share meaningful experiences and stories. “This project re-envisions how visitors experience Desert View and the entire park and will lead us and the NPS into the next century. We are grateful for the support of ArtPlace America and the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association and the hard work of our Inter-tribal Advisory Council,” said Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga.

This is just an example of what can be accomplished for the benefit not only of Native People but those tourists who would like to learn more about us and the places we live.  I know that there is some hesitation about inviting non-Native people into our homelands but there are ways to do it that keep our communities safe while participating in a booming industry in a culturally appropriate way.  Done right, tourism can be not only an economic development opportunity but an education opportunity and a means to protecting our cultural resources.  Big thanks to AIANTA for leading the way!

With Respect,


BIA extends comment period for Proposed Alaska Land into Trust Rule to July 31, 2014.

We posted in June about the opportunity to comment on the proposed Rule which would eliminate the “Alaska exception” to acquiring land into trust for Alaska Natives. 25 C.F.R. Part 151 Land Acquisitions lays out the regulatory framework by which the Secretary reviews land into trust applications. See my previous blog with suggestions for comments.

The Comment period has been extended to July 31, 2014. Comments can be submitted via:

  • Federal rulemaking portal: http://www.regulations.gov. The rule is listed under the agency name ‘‘Bureau of Indian Affairs.’’ The rule has been assigned Docket ID: BIA–2014–0002.
  • Email: consultation@bia.gov. Include the number 1076–AF23 in the subject line of the message.
  • Mail: Elizabeth Appel, Office of Regulatory Affairs & Collaborative Action, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW., Washington, DC 20240. Include the number 1076–AF23 in the submission.
  • Hand delivery: Elizabeth Appel, Office of Regulatory Affairs & Collaborative Action, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW., Washington, DC 20240. Include the number 1076–AF23 in the submission.


  • The State of Alaska makes up approximately 17.5 percent of the United States.
  • There are 229 federally recognized Tribes in the State of Alaska. Alaska Native villages are those federally recognized tribes.
  • The Annette Islands Reserve is the only reservation in the State of Alaska.
  • A reservation is land held in trust by the Unites States for the benefit of federally recognized tribe.
  • A tribe with trust land can govern those lands.
  • The ability to govern ones land and people is the definition of sovereignty.

Key Fact

So why do these facts matter?

Here’s the deal. Since the discovery of oil on the North Slope, the state and federal government have struggled with how to eliminate the inherent right of the Native people of Alaska to govern their traditional homelands, so that the oil could flow from the Slope to Valdez. Money talks, and…well you know the rest of the saying.

One way to do that was to restrict the ability of the Secretary of Interior to acquire land into trust on behalf of Tribes. That restriction was in place until the Native American Rights Fund www.narf.org litigated and won Akichak Native Cmty. V. Salazar. That case is still winding its way through the court BUT the positive opinion has motivated the BIA to draft a proposed rule that would eliminate the “Alaska exception” from 25 C.F.R. 151.

The “Alaska exception” to the rule has meant that while land can be placed into trust for the benefit of all federally recognized tribes in the lower 48 states, land could not be placed into trust on behalf of the tribes in Alaska (except for the Metlakatla Indian Community which is located on the Annette Island Reserve in Alaska).

The proposed rule, if made final, will give Alaska Native tribes another tool in their toolbox towards exercising self-determination.

There is the very valid point to be made that trust land and the resulting federal oversight over that land, and the inability to use it as collateral, has limited the ability of the Lower 48 tribes to truly exercise self-governance without the United States stamp of approval. The trick will be to learn from what has happened elsewhere and find an outcome that suits that particular community.

I do have a recommendation, however. I’ve worked on these land-into-trust applications in the Lower 48. The current rule distinguishes between “on-reservation” applications and “off-reservation” applications. The current interpretation of the rule would mean that applications submitted by Alaska tribes would be treated as “off-reservation” applications. This means additional hoops AND additional opportunity for the State to weigh in on the application.

My recommendation?

Any comments submitted in support of this proposed rule (and there should be comments submitted in support of the proposed rule) MUST include a recommendation that so long as the application includes land located within the exterior boundaries of the ANSCA (Alaska Native Settlement Claims Act ) regional lands to which that tribe belongs, that application should be treated as an “on-reservation” application.

Will it happen?  I don’t know. BUT I do know that while I was at the federal government, I worked on almost 20 proposed rules. And that while serving under this Obama Administration, I was required to respond to each comment that was submitted in response to the proposed rule. The more comments in support of a reasonable recommendation, the more difficult it was to disregard those reasonable recommendations.

This Administration is working diligently on our behalf. This proposed rule is a solid representation of their dedication to the ideal that the United States Government is our trustee and that the trust responsibility is a real responsibility. The comment period is our opportunity to ensure that the implementation of the rule truly addresses the need of our communities.

Comments are due June 30, 2014.

Lael is a proud member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and granddaughter of Katie John of the Headwater people of Mentasta Lake Village, Alaska. http://www.chenafresh.com/storage/alaska_grown_noFresh.GIF?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1274902076177