Rosebud Delegation has busy, productive trip to Washington

Submitted by Brian Dillon

Elected officials of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (RST) attended the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Executive Council Winter Session. The conference was held February 22 – 25, 2016, at the Capital Hilton, Washington DC and is a working session where members assemble for extensive conversations about policy, legislation, and the future of Indian Country.

Tribal Council Representatives William Bear Shield, Royal Yellow Hawk, Brian Dillon, Wayne Frederick, Patti Douville, and Legislative Affairs staff Ray Crow Eagle and Travis Jansen used this opportunity to attend various informative breakout sessions. Session topics included Indian Health Service – Contract, Support Costs, Tribal Tax Parity, Native Student Education, Transportation Implementation and Funding, and many other items of importance.

Besides participating in NCAI conversations and listening sessions, RST Tribal representatives also attended meetings with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), U.S. Treasury, Small Business Aministration, (SBA) and congressional delegates to advocate on behalf of the tribe and remind the federal government of their trust responsibilities. 

Rosebud Sioux Tribe representatives met with Acting Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Larry Roberts, and Director-Bureau of Indian Affairs, Michael Black, to discuss equitable compensation for Rosebud Sioux Tribe lands taken by the Army Corps of Engineers through the condemnation process to complete projects mandated by the Flood Control Act of 1944 (Pick-Sloan). The Army Corps took more land than they needed.  Title VI of the Water Resources Development Act of 1999 transferred title to provide perpetual lease rights to nearly two hundred thousand acres of Army Corps lands along Missouri River shoreline to the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks. Ownership of or perpetual lease rights to corps lands was also transferred to the Cheyenne River and Lower Brule tribes. 

Another topic of discussion, briefly, was the reclamation of lands, in the vicinity of the Sioux San Indian Health Service Hospital in Rapid City, SD.  Our request was for approximately 100 acres of land to be returned to the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation.  Support for the return of the land was given verbally and we informed them that we were meeting with the Department of Interior Arts & Crafts Board who was given the responsibility of management of the land on behalf of the Sioux Tribes of South Dakota.  The DOI-A&C Board, in 1974, was to construct a cultural center/museum on the land.  To date, this has not been done.  We were met with opposition at the meeting with the DOI A&C Board and they did not return a favorable decision. 

In meetings with Senators Thune, Rounds, Moran, and Congresswoman Noem many important topics were discussed. All delegates were reminded of the looming Affordable Care Act (ACA) Employer Mandate. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe faces an exorbitant “shared responsibility payment” if it does not provide health insurance for over 800 employees.  Nearly all of our employees are exempt from ACA provisions as individual members of a federally recognized tribe.  However, without a change in federal policy and/or interpretation, our Tribe will face these exorbitant payments. 

A subsequent discussion on the Employer Mandate with the United States Treasury, Deputy Benefits Tax Counsel Robert Neis, did not yield a favorable outcome.  The Treasury is charged with interpretation and enforcement of current legislation and has assembled a group within to assess the applicability of an exemption.  We were informed the current language contained in the Affordable Care Act does not allow for an exemption.  With this in mind, we still requested an exemption and we were informed that we would have to provide all pertinent information to support the request.  The US Treasury will not lead an investigation on our behalf to address our concerns.  We will still provide all necessary information to the U.S. Treasury and we will hold them accountable for their actions.

Appreciation was conveyed to Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) for the introduction of the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act (TLSA). The TLSA amends the National Labor Relations Act to provide that any Indian tribe or any enterprise or institution owned and operated by an Indian tribe and located on its lands is not under the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board. Doing so will provide parity for tribes by offering them the same protections already enjoyed by other governments. Senators Thune and Rounds were thanked for their support of the TLSA.

The importance of reauthorizing the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) of 1996 was expressed to the Senators. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe requested support for S.710. Senator Barrasso (R-WY) introduced the bill which would reauthorize NAHASDA. Section 706 of S.710 amends the Public and Assisted Housing Drug Elimination Act of 1990 to permit grants to be used for the implementation of methamphetamine clean-up projects. Such funding could help the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in the ongoing battle against methamphetamine.

As part of the requirements outlined in the Tribal General Welfare Exclusions Act of 2014, the Treasury Tribal Advisory Committee was formed. The U.S. Department of Treasury appointed three members to the committee. Four members still need to be appointed by the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House Ways and Means Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee. 

Congresswoman Noem (member of the Ways and Means Committee) and Senator Thune (member of the Senate Finance Committee) were encouraged to remind the Chairs and Ranking Members of their respective committees to appoint individuals to these positions so they may commence with their significant work. 

A topic of interest for both tribal and federal delegates was the current condition of the Indian Health Service (IHS) Rosebud Unit. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe delegation thanked Senators Thune and Rounds for their support and powerful statements at the recent Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing in regards to the substandard care being delivered at IHS facilities. Information was shared about the current status of the unit and efforts being made to comply with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulations by the IHS. This is of critical importance and the magnitude of the impact is unprecedented since the inception of the Indian Health Service.  

A meeting was also attended with a representative of the White House, Associate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement Raina Thiele.  The Rosebud delegation emphasized the responsibility of the Indian Health Service to provide safe quality health care to our people and the crisis that currently exists.  The delegation also made clear the need for the Obama Administration to work with Congress to eliminate the ACA employer mandate, and for the Department of Interior to ensure that the Department of Interior Arts & Crafts Board return the  Sioux San lands in Rapid City to the Great Sioux Nation.

While attending the Coalition of Large Tribes (COLT) meeting, we addressed/updated them on our issues with the Indian Health Service.  Chairman Darrin Old Coyote, Crow Agency, expressed his concern with our plight and likened to situations within the Billings Area that are occurring in his homeland.  At a future session this summer, we may call on the COLT for support in our efforts with the Indian Health Service.  

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s presence in our nation’s capital is crucial to the enhancement and prosperity of our tribal members. For sovereignty to continue, we must expound on our rights, and strongly exercise our sovereignty by demanding that we are heard. One of the healthiest ways to exercise sovereignty is by consulting with the federal government to remind them of the trust responsibility and the unmet obligations that exist in Indian country.

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