Published On: Mon, Aug 14th, 2017

Report from Birdtown Rep. Smith on recent Washington, DC trip

 

By TRAVIS SMITH

BIRDTOWN TRIBAL COUNCIL REP.

 

Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith, shown in 2015, recently traveled to Washington, DC to meet with federal officials on various tribal issues. (One Feather photo)

First, I want to apologize for not attending the back-to-school giveaway with the community. I hear it was a major success and over 200 kids were helped with this giveaway. Those that did not receive assistance should be receiving your bag this weekend. Next, I would like to apologize to my son, Rayce, for missing his Middle School Orientation.  I know he’s overly excited to move in to middle school and to see his friends again.

Thursday, Aug. 10

Our morning starts off with the flight to DC and meetings start with National Indian Gaming Commission Chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri (Muscogee Creek), Vice Chair Kathryn Isom-Claus (Taos Pueblo), and Associate Commissioner Sequoyah Simmermeyer (Coharie – NC State recognized tribe), and Director of Finance Yvonne Lee. Our discussions covered past oversights and deadlines. We assured the Commission that, with the current administration and the work from our TCGE and TGC, that would not happen again. We also discussed the deficiency report that we have received in the last few days on the management agreement pending. All the merits are being addressed, and there were no major findings. This was also a great time to reassure the NIGC that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians was on sound ground once again and moving forward.

From there, we headed on to the Hart Senate office Building to meet with Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman John Hoeven (R-ND) and Mike Andrews, staff director. The meeting started off on the Discussion of the Lumbee Recognition Bill.  Just so you know, this has been going on for a century or longer. We bring forward the same stance we have had for years that we’re not against anyone receiving federal recognition, but they should go through the process laid out by the Department of Interior, in the Federal Acknowledgment of American Indian Tribes.

The Lumbees have claimed multiple tribal identities and experts question their native ancestry. The new OFA rule clarifies that they will now only show that 80 percent of their membership has Native American ancestry. During the end of the Obama Administration, there was a solicitor’s opinion which recommended allowing the Lumbee to go thru the OFA process. All these, as well as dollars and cents, were discussed. In 2011, the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) estimated the cost to the Federal Government for program funding would top out around $850 million over five years based on 54,000 enrolled Lumbee.

Next discussion was on the opioid abuse, and we all know this isn’t just an EBCI problem but a nationwide problem. Senator Hoeven wanted to hear our story and make sure he had the facts to present to the POTUS during discussion, and the national emergency declared by Trump on Opioid Abuse. We gave him the facts we had and we offered to send his staff more information once we returned.

Senator Hoeven also asked about what he has heard through news on FBI and housing. This was a great time for us to clear the air and make sure he knew, we as the EBCI, were in a better place today and moving forward. We also informed him there were no charges from that FBI show. He was glad to hear from us and eager to meet again. It’s good to have friends like Senator Hoeven in DC.

Off to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Next meeting was at the White House with Ben Keel, White House Council on Native American Affairs, and Billy Kirkland, White House Intergovernmental Affairs. Always a pleasure to meet on the grounds of the White House, just to think about all the great tribal Leaders that have walked the same halls we’re walking for our Tribe now. Makes you think back to the times the EBCI was less fortunate and had to make these trips to try and secure funding for health, education, and public works and most times it was a fight because every tribe was fighting for the same dollar.

Today’s meeting was on the Lumbee Bill. Ben Keel seemed to have done his homework and had some information provided before our meeting. He was a historian on this issue along with others, but we still gave him the truth and what our true feelings were as a federally recognized tribe. It was also noted that we didn’t agree with the “congressional fix” of just allowing congress to vote if a group was Native American or not. The Department of Interior has provided a process that is fair, and that’s the way the Lumbee should proceed if they want to try for recognition again.

We had more discussion about the opioid abuse problem and offered the same help to the White House to help fight this problem in Indian Country and the U.S. We made them aware that everyone knows this is an epidemic, but while we met in Nashville there was no future funding for this problem. This bought up the problem we have of not being able to prosecute non-enrolled members on our lands for dealing drugs.

Long day, time for dinner and some rest.

Friday, Aug. 11

Off to the Department of Interior meeting with newly appointed Jim Cason, Secretary of the Interior, along with Mike Black, Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Again, discussion started with the Lumbee issue, and we gave our stance once again, well received by Mr. Cason. Discussion went on to the opioids and lack of funding in IHS and BIA. First chance we had to discuss our need for help with lands into Trust in Tennessee. We also had some discussion on the lands into trust on Coppers Creek and Kituwah properties. We explained to them we know some of this was our fault and we were fixing our surveys quickly as possible.

Overall very good meetings, felt our message was clear on where we stand on the Lumbee Bill and well received. There will possibly still be hearings scheduled, and we will weigh in at that time also. This was a great trip for also mending the fences on the bad press we, as a Tribe, have received over the past year or so. Washington, DC now knows the EBCI is alive and well and working hard to make sure we continue to prosper and be leaders in Indian country. Working here on the Hill is something I thoroughly enjoy and want to thank our Tribe for allowing me to do this for the last two years, and hope to continue this for years to come. I also want to thank our federal lobbyist, Wilson Pipestem.  He always goes above his contract to make sure we get in the doors we need and meet the people we need to meet. Chairman Taylor has shown me the ropes here and is a great leader of the EBCI.  I’m sure between me and him we can talk to almost any Senator or Congressman to help the EBCI on most issues. These are some of the most important times that we, as Council have, and mostly never even noticed. These are long, tiresome days with many miles walked to make sure we represent our Tribe the best we can.

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