NALU: October 2011: Honoring the Life and Work of Elouise Cobell, and More

Oct 25, 2011

In this update:

Honoring Elouise Cobell
Cobell versus Salazar Update
Indian Affairs Committee Approves New Education Bill
Appropriations and Continuing Resolutions

Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Indian Nation in Montana and Native American advocate

Honoring Elouise Cobell

Pat Powers, FCNL’s Legislative Secretary for Indian Affairs from 2003 to 2008, writes of her memories of Elouise Cobell, the leader in the long struggle to claim oil, gas and mineral royalties from Indian lands held in trust by the U.S. government. Cobell died on October 16, 2011.

Cobell versus Salazar Update

The final judgment in this class action, in the amount of $3.4 billion, was entered on August 4, 2011, by federal District Court Judge Thomas Hogan. Disbursement of the judgment to eligible Native Americans was initially expected by Christmas of this year. However, six appeals challenging the final ruling have been filed. The District Court of Appeals has agreed to expedite the appeals process; a resolution of these claims may occur early next year.

Indian Affairs Committee Approves New Education Bill

Native Americans, like many other indigenous populations world-wide, treasure their native languages as an essential connection to their cultural heritage. In response to the impending disappearance of many Native American languages, an impressive number of Indian communities have implemented either a community-based or in-school native language educational program. Research shows that these programs not only lead to a richer cultural awareness among Indian students but also enhance their academic performance. In addition to concerns about the loss of native languages, Indian youth are much less likely to graduate from high school than white youth and are increasingly being incarcerated without having access to other alternative or preventative programs, according to a report by the Poverty and Race Research Action Council in 2008.

Senator Daniel Akaka (HI)

On October 20, the Senate Committee on Native Affairs unanimously approved a bill to address these issues. The Native Culture, Language, and Access for Success in Schools Act (S.1262), also known as the “Native CLASS Act,” was introduced by Senator Daniel Akaka (HI).

Among its many provisions, the bill would establish the Tribal Language Immersion Schools program. This program would provide funding to schools (elementary through university level) that use a native language as the primary language of instruction. It would also expand curricula that include native language and cultural instruction. As a way to expand these programs, it would give tribes the ability to create their own certification program for the teachers of native language and culture classes.

Also, in order to decrease the number of incarcerated Indian youth, the bill would establish the Indian Children and Youth At-Risk Education Program. This program would support educational opportunities within correctional facilities and authorize the creation of educational programs that would be an alternative to serving time in detention or correctional facilities. Furthermore, it will give Indian students a path to employment by creating programs to recruit Indian youth who will go on to be teachers and agree to serve in an Indian school or in schools serving a significant number of Indian students.

Both of these proposals are very positive contributions to the vitality of Indian peoples and to the development and education of Indian youth. FCNL wrote to the Indian Affairs Committee on October 18 expressing support for the legislation and urging its passage. The bill could now go to the Senate floor as a stand-alone bill or as an amendment to the larger education authorization bill (S.280), which is due to be considered in the Senate.

Special Invitation: PBS is broadcasting a film on the preservation and restoration of native languages on November 17. Titled “We Still Live Here,” the film tells a story of linguistic and cultural revival among the Wampanoag in Southeastern Massachusetts. Check local listings.

Appropriations and Continuing Resolutions

Since the new fiscal year of 2012 began on October 1, 2011, all federal programs are operating under a “continuing resolution” – a temporary funding measure that will last until November 18. Meanwhile, appropriations subcommittees continue to churn out bills in each house. The bad news is that all real progress on appropriations has come to a halt because the Senate and the House are unable to agree on a basic figure – the overall amount of discretionary spending available for appropriators. House Appropriations Committees have allocations based on the budget resolution that the House passed last June, while the Senate committee is operating on the overall spending cap that was agreed to in the August 1 debt deal. Bottom line: the debt deal allows more spending for FY2012 than the House Budget. That conundrum will be difficult to resolve, so more “continuing resolutions” are expected after November 18. In the end, the House and Senate may have to agree on a large package that puts all the appropriations bills together – an “omnibus.” The Senate is also attempting to group two or three appropriations measures together to pass as a “minibus.”

Meanwhile, “regular order” marches on. The Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee released a draft of its FY 2012 spending bill on October 14. This bill, the last one that has yet to be considered by the full Senate Appropriations Committee, would provide FY 2012 funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, as well as the national park system, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Smithsonian, and other federal agencies.

Overall, the draft Senate bill totals $29.3 billion, a slight decrease from the FY 2011 total of $29.55 billion, and $1.8 billion more than the House bill for FY2012. (Action on the House bill is still not completed.)

There are interesting differences between the House and Senate bills: The Senate subcommittee draft recommends a total of $2.48 billion in FY 2012 for the BIA, and $4.28 billion for the IHS. The House bill would provide more for those agencies -- $46.3 million more for programs of the BIA, and $179 million more for IHS. While the Senate draft contains more for Bureau of Indian Education programs overall, the House bill would provide double the amount of funding in the Senate draft for Education Construction. The House-reported and Senate draft bills would provide the same funding for BIA law enforcement programs and public safety and justice construction. The House and Senate versions provide different funding recommendations for all Indian Health Services and Indian Health Facilities accounts. Ultimately, the House and Senate will have to resolve these differences in an appropriations bill (or “minibus” or “omnibus”).

Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Jack Reed (RI) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (AK) indicated that the release of the draft Senate bill would serve as a starting point for further discussions with their Senate colleagues and for future negotiations with the House.

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