WASHINGTON - Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter sees economic development becoming a little easier on native land if a new bill is passed by Congress.
Porter testified Tuesday in favor of the American Indian Empowerment Act of 2011, a bill in Congress designed to empower Indian nations and tribes to accept restricted fee tribal lands. The bill, H.R. 3532, would allow Indian tribes to voluntarily transfer tribal trust lands to federally protected restricted fee status. Tribal trust land is land to which the federal government holds legal title, but the beneficial interest remains with the tribe. Restricted fee land is land to which a tribe holds legal title, but it carries legal restrictions against alienation or encumbrance.
The bill also clarifies that a federally recognized Indian tribe that establishes a system of land tenure governing the use of the land holds precedence over any federal law or regulation governing the use of such land, excepting a federal restriction against its alienation and taxation.
"The bill would remove the obstacles to economic development that are inherent in the federal trusteeship," Porter told the committee. "It would authorize other Indian tribes to follow the path taken by the Seneca Nation and restore to other Indian tribes the basic attributes of territorial sovereignty over their own land."
Under the bill, the Secretary of the Interior would be required to transfer the title to land the United States currently holds in trust status to an Indian tribe in restricted fee status within 180 days of formal notice.
Tribes would then be allowed to lease or grant an easement or right-of-way on restricted fee tribal land for any period of time without the secretary's review and approval. notwithstanding the provisions of other applicable laws. Restricted fee land, once conveyed, would continue to remain subject to restrictions imposed by the United States against alienation and state taxation. Porter testified in support of the bill in Washington before the Committee on Natural Resources and the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.