Cole says proposed Indian land use reforms will help tribes
BY JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
11/29/11 at 8:01 AM
WASHINGTON - Reforms to remove roadblocks to business activities in Indian Country ranging from home purchases to renewable energy projects were unveiled Monday by the Obama administration.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar described the proposal in historic terms and added it is hard to overstate what the changes should mean for Indian Country.
"The proposed changes are the most comprehensive reforms of Indian land leasing regulations in more than 50 years and will have a real impact for individuals and families who want to own a home or build a business," Salazar said.
He said the proposed reforms would replace a current process that allows the Bureau of Indian Affairs to do nothing and let applications languish.
Land held in trust by the federal government on behalf of tribes cannot be bought and sold. If a tribe or tribe member wants to build a house on it or use it for a business or industry, the Interior Department must approve a "lease."
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., welcomed the announcement.
"This is a major step in the right direction," said Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and reportedly the only enrolled member of a tribe now serving in Congress.
"Creating opportunities for economic development in Indian Country is one of the best ways to help tribes succeed. For too long, onerous regulations have created uncertainty and made tribal economic development difficult at best."
He said the proposed regulations complement ongoing efforts in Congress to achieve the same goals legislatively.
"While I would like to see the same reforms applied to all energy production, including subsurface leasing, these proposed regulations are a good start that will ultimately help tribes prosper," Cole said.
Only surface activity on trust land is covered by the proposed changes; leases pertaining to oil, natural gas and coal activity would not be affected.
Larry Echo Hawk, assistant Interior secretary and BIA head, said the proposed reforms support tribal self-determination.
Under the proposed changes, the BIA would have 30 days to act on residential leases and mortgages and 60 days to review leases on commercial or industrial development projects. If the BIA fails to act within those deadlines, the agreements would go into effect automatically.
Separate processes also would be established for the different applications so a lease for a home would be distinguished from a large solar energy project.
In addition, the BIA would be taken out of the process completely for temporary activities such as fairs and parades.
A 60-day public comment period is expected to begin Tuesday with the scheduled publication of the proposed changes.
Echo Hawk said a final rule could be completed by the middle of next year.
Original Print Headline: Land reform would help tribes, Cole says
Jim Myers 202-484-1424
Rep. Tom Cole: He said the proposals would remove roadblocks to tribal progress.
HELPING THE TRIBES
Larry Echo Hawk: The head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs says the proposed Indian land reforms would support tribal self-determination, simplify BIA land use rules and differentiate between activities such as applying for a housing lease as opposed to commercial and industrial development.