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Congresswoman McCollum's Remarks on the Tribal Amendment to H.R. 5544

September 12, 2012
Statements For the Record

[as prepared]

As you’ve already heard here today, H.R. 5544 is missing an awful lot of important detail & taxpayer protections -- creating major problems with its vague and unusual language.  One major omission in this bill is its failure to acknowledge the treaty rights of Minnesota’s tribal nations.  Treaty rights are a prominent concern in this land exchange because the unspecified lands under consideration in H.R. 5544 are all within the Superior National Forest, which is governed by the 1854 Treaty between the Chippewa nations and the United States Government.

The terms of that treaty guarantee that tribal nations can continue fishing, hunting, gathering, and otherwise using the land to support their way of life.  However, in its current form, this bill completely ignores the treaty rights of tribal nations, which include the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.  It also fails to meet the treaty obligations of the U.S. Government.

The tribal council of the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa has contacted my office to express their opposition to this bill.  Chairwoman Karen Diver of the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa has sent letters in opposition to: Governor Dayton, Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack, Senator Franken, Senator Klobuchar, and Representative Cravaack. 

Mr. Chair, I would like to submit a copy of that letter for the record.  Minnesota’s tribes foresee a negative impact of this bill on their guaranteed treaty rights for use of the land.  To quote from Chairwoman Diver’s letter, "We oppose the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act until suitable tribal consultation has occurred.”

The Chairwoman also disagrees with the bizarre conclusion that “the exchange of more than 86,000 acres, all without government-to-government consultation, ‘shall not be considered to be a major Federal Action.'"  It is hard to see how anyone could consider the exchange of land that is governed by a federal treaty with sovereign tribal nations to be anything less than "a major Federal action”.  Yet this bill denies that level of consideration for the exchange.

The amendment I am introducing would recognize the reserved hunting, fishing, and gathering rights of the tribes on the lands under consideration, and ensure that they are not adversely affected by any exchange.  Language for this amendment was drafted in consultation with legal representation from all three impacted tribes, and with input from the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission.  

While this amendment will not solve the fundamental problems of this bill, it is an effort to respond to the threat against tribal interests that the bill contains.  It doesn’t change the fact that this bill is an effort to jump over an established process for Minnesotans to handle the land transfer, but it would at least allow a process for tribal voices to be heard.

Mr. Speaker, H.R. 5544 should not move forward.  However, if this unnecessary and unclear bill is passed, it MUST include these provisions to ensure that tribes are at the table and their treaty rights are protected in any land exchange.