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July 2013 Policy Update

July 16, 2013

Wow! What a month of events policy-wise in Indian Country.  Maybe I should say what a week, because most of it happened during the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Mid-Year Conference.

Held in Reno, NV June 24-27, this year’s event was jam packed with events, announcements, special speakers, and news.  Going into the event, we knew that the Supreme Court would make it’s ruling on Baby Veronica, that was expected.  What we didn’t expect was the White House Announcement on the new Native Affairs Council.  There was significant discussion on sequestration, the budget, and other legislative updates. NCAI informed attendees that during the coming year, Congress will take up important national legislation with tribal components, including the Farm Bill, Indian Housing, Education, Native Languages, Workforce Investment and Welfare Reform.

Mid-year Legislative Updates:

Sequestration continues to be a serious issue for Tribal nations.  In their Budget Update provided at the Mid-year event, NCAI indicated that until Congress agrees on a budget with adequate revenue, it is possible that sequester will exist through 2021.  This will hurt every tribal service and program that receives federal funding through the appropriations process.

NCAI is trying to document sequester impacts and requests that Tribes and tribal organizations collect and share specific and concrete examples of sequestration effects on tribal education, public safety, healthcare, child welfare, infrastructure and/or other areas. Please send any information to: Amber Ebarbe.

White House Native Affairs Council:

On June 26th, 2013 President Obama signed an Executive Order creating the White House Council on Native American Affairs.  As part of Obama’s commitment to the government-to-government relationship, the order is a commitment to ensure that the federal government can better carry out its trust responsibilities and to ensure meaningful consultation with Native nations.

Additionally, according to NCAI, the council will:

  • Create effective tribal policy development coordinated with the White House Domestic Policy Council;
  • Enable effective and efficient consultation under Executive Order 13175; and
  • Facilitate the ongoing success of the annual White House Tribal Nations Summit.

Here is a link to the NCAI Statement on President Obama’s Executive Order.

Supreme Court Update:

As you may recall from our February post, the Supreme Court has been considering a case regarding the custody of a three-year old Cherokee girl who was adopted at birth by a a South Carolina couple; her father filed to keep her under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.

The Supreme Court ruled on June 25th, 2013 in a 5-4 decision to uphold the Indian Child Welfare act, but refused to rule on this case and remanded the case back to the South Carolina courts.  While the ruling upholds ICWA, it did not restore the child to her Cherokee parentage either.  Here is a link to NCAI’s press release on the issue.