Rep. Daines Talks Cobell and the Need for GOP to Connect With Tribes
Republican Rep. Steve Daines is feeling confident that he can pull off a win against incumbent Democratic Sen. John Walsh in this fall’s closely watched Montana Senate race.
But Daines says he will need the help of his state’s Indian constituents to do it, which is why doing plenty of visits with tribal leaders, making his positions on Indian issues clear, and advocating from within the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs for improved components of the Cobell settlement and economic progress for reservations.
Daines readily admits that Republicans don’t always do the best jobs at reaching out to tribes, and he wants to change that, modelling good behavior for his peers. In an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, he explains his current Indian-centric economic focus, delves into his state’s recent Indian voting controversies, and he explains his Cobell land buy-back legislation.
You recently introduced legislation focused on improving the $1.9 billion land buy-back component of the Cobell settlement that the Interior Department is overseeing. Why is your legislation needed?
We’ve received a lot of feedback on this as I have visited with tribes across Montana. They weren’t happy with the process. They weren’t happy with the uncertainty of the process. And they also didn’t like the fact that it expires in 10 years; there is concern that the settlements won’t all be completed by the expiration date. And at the end of 10 years these dollars revert back to the federal government. So the bill I have first provides more certainty for tribes to contract with the Department of the Interior for implementation of the program, and second, it allows more time for implementation. It also extends [the deadline] to 15 years—we’ve already used up two years since the settlement without much action. Third, it allows the tribes to enter into compacts with Interior. The feedback I’m getting from the tribes is that they really like this bill. In fact, they like this bill better than the bill that Sen. Walsh submitted on this matter.
Now, you released your legislation on this issue and then very soon after that, Interior announced several more land buy-back deals with tribes, specifically with tribes in Montana. Coincidence?
I don’t know for certain, but I do know that we will continue to apply pressure and to be a voice for the tribes in this process. I’m sure that doesn’t hurt.
It’s great for the tribes that have been able to benefit, but do you worry that the administration is reacting to political pressure from both sides of the aisle in ways that could shortchange the process of carrying out a fair plan for all tribes?
I wake up every day working hard for the people of Montana. And I work hard on behalf of our tribes. Montanans expect us to forget about whether we’re Republicans or Democrats and to remember that we’re Montanans. As the Montana delegation, we need to fight for the people who we represent back home. It’s good to have a united delegation, so we can be the voice for our tribes in Washington.
Sen. Walsh and Rep. Peter DeFazio’s(D-Oregon) land buy-back bills differ from yours in that they make the buy-backs subject to contracting and compacting by amending the Claims Resolution Act, not the Indian Land Consolidation Act, as yours does. Why is that distinction important?
We want to provide more certainty for the tribes. We don’t want all this discretion to be left to Interior, creating uncertainty and confusion for the tribes. It also differs in that my bill adds the additional time—increasing it from 10 years to 15 years for implementation.
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