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Navajo Nation Washington Office

Wednesday 25, October 2017

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Contact: Jared King
Communications Director

For Immediate Release

Vice President Nez testifies in support of tribal lands bill

WASHINGTON—Vice President Jonathan Nez testified today before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs in support of HR 215, a tribal lands bill that would allow tribal nations to convert some of their lands into restricted fee status so that tribes can have more control and decision making authority over the use of these lands.

"This legislation is a major step forward in self-governance and helps return land management to the true owners of Indian Lands, which are Indian tribes themselves," said Vice President Nez.

Vice President Nez thanked Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) for introducing the bill several years ago and for keeping up with this effort to this day. "I also take this opportunity to thank this subcommittee for holding this hearing and listening to our perspectives and experiences," said the vice president.

The vice president highlighted four important areas contained in the bill and suggested additional improvements.

"Indian land should not be treated like federal ‘public' land – Tribal Nation land should be treated as Tribal Nation land and nothing else. Our land should be treated as ours and we should be allowed to manage and develop with minimal interference from other governments, whether they are federal, state or local," said Vice President Nez.

The vice president said the decision to transfer to restricted fee land should be entirely up to the tribal nation and no one else. “The bill explicitly protects against the loss or alienation of Indian lands. The bill explicitly states, "nothing in this section shall be construed to diminish the Federal trust responsibility to any Indian tribe."

"While we support minimizing federal micromanagement, it should not replace the trust responsibility, which stems from our treaty as well as two hundred years of case law and includes a federal responsibility to protect and enforce laws against external bad actors, to protect natural and monetary resources, and protect tribal livelihood to name a few," said Vice President Nez.  

The vice president provided three additional improvements to the bill. "First, the bill should include one further option for Tribes to elect to revert land back to trust from restricted fee status if they deem it in their best interest. Second, make clear that Indian tribes have exclusive taxing authority over the land, not states and local governments. Dual taxation has been an issue for Indian tribes for a long time and it would be helpful to tackle the issue in this bill. Third, include an explicit acknowledgment that an Indian tribe has exclusive tribal civil jurisdiction for all acts that should happen on restricted fee land," said Vice President Nez.

"The Navajo people have a saying, "T'áá hwó ajit'éego" which is about taking self-action and empowerment. I strive to live by this saying and I think that when Congress takes action on legislation such as this, we are working together to support tribal resiliency, self-governance, and empowerment," added Vice President Nez.


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