On May 12, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs held a hearing titled "Inadequate Standards for Trust Land Acquisition in the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934." The hearing was for oversight purposes and thus no legislation was considered. The specific purpose of the hearing was to examine whether or not there should be any meaningful statutory conditions imposed on the power of the Secretary of the Interior to acquire trust land and what the policy and constitutional risks may be if Congress fails to enact such conditions.
Two main policy points guided discussion at the hearing. The first was whether the Secretary of the Interior should have "blank check" authority under the IRA to develop all rules and policies for the acquisition of trust land. The second was the assertion that if Congress determines that conditions on the secretary's powers are necessary, the conditions should reflect a balancing of the tribes' need and justification for trust lands, and the impact on affected state and local governments, other Indian tribes, and private landowners.
Using this as the framework, witnesses and committee members discussed issues like the provisions within section 5 of the IRA that set the framework for the secretary's authority to take land into trust and whether they set any limits or standards on the exercise of that power. Among the witnesses invited to testify were Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary of Interior for Indian Affairs, Randy Noka, Councilman from the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island, and Sonoma County, Calif. Supervisor David Rabbitt.
To review more information on the hearing and the witnesses' officials statements submitted to the committee, click here .
In March, NACo was invited to participate in a roundtable hosted by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to offer feedback on possible approaches reform the land into trust process. NACo policy supports comprehensive reform that would allow counties to have advance notice of applications for lands to be put into trust as well as more adequate consultation between counties, the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to mitigate the impact on counties when lands are taken into trust.