Border-control bill an affront to American Indians
Would the Congress pass laws that tell other countries what to do, or dictate how their natural and cultural resources will be used and abused in whatever way Congress sees fit? Tribes are nations, and within this nation there is a protocol for this type of action.
Special to The Times
THERE are dozens of tribal nations with lands along the U.S. borders.
Our families, sacred sites and cultural treasures and traditions are based here, and protecting this heritage is critical to our identity and our sense of community. That's why a bill recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives was so disconcerting to American Indians. It proposed to waive protections for public lands and those who live or hunt or graze cattle within 100 miles of the northern or southern borders — under the guise of national security.
The border-control bill was buried in a massive public-lands bill, passed by the House, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. H.R. 2578, as amended and approved by the House, allows U.S. Border Patrol to build roads and airstrips and forward-operating bases, erect vehicle barriers, and close off national parks, forests, and grazing lands to the public at a moment's notice within that 100 mile radius.
The 100-mile zone includes iconic locations in Washington state — North Cascades and Olympic National Parks; the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie, Okanogan-Wenatchee, Kaniksu and Colville national forests; and the San Juan Islands, Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge.
As passed, the bill also authorizes Border Patrol to ignore 16 key laws protecting our heritage, including the National Historic Preservation Act, National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the Wilderness Act.
The bill removes public participation in land-management decisions and amounts to what some have dubbed a land and power grab by the U.S. government.
Thing is, Border Patrol didn't ask for the bill and testified before Congress that it doesn't need it. The agency is already working hand-in-hand — and increasingly effectively — with tribal governments, private landowners, and national park and forest land managers.
Tribal nations weren't consulted when the bill was drafted, either, and the National Congress of American Indians has registered its concern by approving a resolution in opposition to the bill.
Individual tribes have also weighed in with Congress. The original version of Rep. Bishop's bill even overrode tribal sovereignty, but that was redacted in the final version passed by the House.
Tribes have a nation-to-nation relationship with the United States. The U.S. government has a responsibility to consult with tribes when an action such as this will affect their homelands. President Obama has upheld the rights of our people.
But these types of bills and actions by the House and Senate upset this relationship and responsibility. Would Congress pass laws that tell other countries what to do, or dictate how their natural and cultural resources will be used and abused in whatever way Congress sees fit? Tribes are nations, and within this nation there is a protocol for this type of action.
Despite efforts by some members of Congress to strip the border bill from the broader package of lands bills, the overall act passed the House in a 232-188 vote.
In Washington, only Reps. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton; Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens; Adam Smith, D-Tacoma; and Jim McDermott, D-Seattle; supported the effort to throw out the border bill. In addition to those members, Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, voted against the overall bill.
A Senate version of the border bill is sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
We'll be looking to see that our Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray don't allow the same railroading of our rights and responsibilities to protect our heritage for the next generation.Kesner C. Flores Jr., is of Wintun and Paiute descent and is a member of the Cortina Indian Rancheria Band of California. He works for the National Tribal Environmental Council, a nonprofit that works with tribes to preserve the environment.