Pallone Assails Interior Legislation that Prevents Historical Accounting of Indian Trusts

Oct 31, 2003

"Mr. Speaker, for centuries, American Indians were forced to give up their ancestral lands by this country's early settlers. It was one of the most shameful episodes in American history.

"The U.S. Government subsequently placed the Indian lands in trust. But the Department of the Interior has not met its trust responsibility and American Indians were forced to sue in court to protect their rights. Now, the court has made a decision in favor of the American Indians, and this conference report would essentially delay or reverse that courts decision.

"I think it is wrong for this Congress to deny justice to over 500,000 of America's first citizens. Mr. Speaker, instead, we should reaffirm our commitment to Native Americans. That process begins here and now with this vote. By voting to recommit the interior appropriation bill, the antitrust reform language has a chance to be removed from the bill and a proper solution can be reached involving the Indian tribes.

"Keep in mind, the tribes were not consulted in this process. This is something that is coming from the Department of the Interior to reverse a court decision. There is no input from the Indian nations.

"Mr. Speaker, justice delayed is justice denied. Let us begin to rebuild the trust relationship with American Indians so that we can put this ugly stain on American history behind us. We cannot do that by unilaterally doing this in the interior appropriation bill conference report. The only way it can be done is through the hearings that the Committee on Resources is now having. They are having them around the country, and they are allowing the Indian tribes to be involved in whatever solution we come up with.

"Now, I know that the authors here are well intentioned with this provision, but the bottom line is it delays or reverses the court's decision. What kind of signal does that send to Indian country? The wrong decision. Vote to recommit. And then if it does not pass, vote to turn this bill down. Vote against the bill."