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Public Statements

Indian Tribal Trade and Investment Demonstration Project Act of 2011

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. COLE. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding.

H.R. 2362 is simply a bill to facilitate economic development in Indian Country and to expand the range of options open to some of the poorest and most disadvantaged of Americans, the first Americans.

Currently, as my friend Mr. Hastings pointed out, economic development is often hampered in Indian Country by restrictive leasing practices on Indian reservations. H.R. 2362 directs the Secretary of the Interior to create a demonstration project for up to six tribes engaged in economic development with foreign companies and foreign countries. Tribes will develop the guidelines for their own economic activity with these entities, the Secretary will approve them, and we will over time learn how to do business between Indian tribes and foreign countries. Frankly, that is something we know comparatively little about. One of the things that comes out of this is a development by the Secretary of the Interior of recommendations and best practices, something which needs to be done in this area.

We have tried in the course of this legislation to recognize the concerns raised by some people about it. There's no question that I was approached by the Turkish American Coalition, who have a deep interest in Turkey and American Indians. It has been for many hundreds of years. This goes back a long way. They're the only country that has actually sent a national delegation to an Indian economic development conference. There are scholarships for Native American students at the Istanbul Technical Institute. There's a constant movement of tribal citizens going back and forth. This interest, apart from these other disputes, is real and genuine and deep. We've accepted some of the concerns that were voiced in subcommittee. There is no preferential status for Turkey in this bill. All 155 World Trade Organization countries will have exactly the same opportunity.

It's important to note, I think, that this bill is strongly supported in Indian Country. Maybe we should listen to Indians about what's best for their own economic development. The National Congress of American Indians supports this bill, the National American Indian Housing Council supports this bill, the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development supports this bill. Numerous tribes support this bill. Perhaps they are the real experts here that we should be listening to.

Passage of this bill would normally be a routine matter in this House. Frankly, due to the strong Turkish interest and support for the bill, we have a number of ethnic communities in the United States that have voiced objections. I think that's always legitimate and always appropriate. But sadly, as I pointed out, some of these objections don't have much merit. Again, this is not special legislation for Turkey. All 155 World Trade Organizations can participate. That includes the folks that are so concerned about this.

Second, the idea that passing the HEARTH bill--which, by the way, I strongly supported, cosponsored, came down here and argued for. I think it's a wonderful piece of legislation. It's largely silent, save for one phrase. On foreign investment, we do not have a lot of experience here. It would be helpful to have demonstration projects. It would be good to have the Secretary of the Interior involved more deeply.

And third--and I hope this isn't the case. I have heard recently that there is even a sheet going around--perhaps not true; I hope not--that suggests this legislation will cost domestic manufacturing jobs. You've got to be kidding. Putting jobs on Indian reservations is going to take American jobs away? Who were the first Americans? So again, the arguments, I think, largely do not address the legislation.

I understand something about historical grievances and controversies. I'm the only Native American in this House right now. My great-great-grandfather, when he was 13 years old, was forced to move from Mississippi, where his people had lived for 500 years, to avoid being placed under State restriction. His lands were confiscated. They were guaranteed new land in Indian territory in the West. He arrived--nothing. Started it up being, actually, the clerk of the Chickasaw supreme court. His son, my great-grandfather, was treasurer at the time of the Dawes Commission when--guess what--those treaties that were going to last forever were revoked again by the United States Government. Indian territory was opened up, over the objection of the tribes, to white settlement, and Indian governments were ground down.

My family has spent much of the time since that time working with other Chickasaws and other Native Americans to see tribal sovereignty restored and those rights given back. That's why I cochair the Native American Caucus. That's why, when the tribal law and order bill came to this floor, where there were concerns on our side about process, I got the Republican votes that were necessary to pass it. That is why I was the Republican lead sponsor of the Cobell settlement. That's why I've worked with this administration--which, by the way, has a great record on Native American affairs--on the Carcieri bill.

So I understand grievances, and I understand the legitimacy of expressing them.

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Mr. COLE. I thank the gentleman.

But legislation must be relevant to the historical experience that we're talking about, and we ought to look for opportunities to turn old enemies into new friends. I try to do that on this floor every day.

This legislation has nothing to do with ancient or current disputes between Turkey and Armenia or Greece. This bill is about helping American Indians. We ought to put aside the disputes of the Old World and focus on helping the original inhabitants of the New World, which is exactly what this legislation will do.

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Mr. COLE. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

I want to thank my friends on the other side of the aisle for participating in the debate. I understand the passions here are high, and I actually respect that a great deal even when I disagree with the policy conclusions that may have led some of my colleagues to.

I do ask you to stop and think, there is a sort of a contradiction in your argument: It's both redundant and yet gives special preferences. Both those things can't be true. It suggests to me the real argument is fundamentally different from those two points. The reality is it gives no one special preferences. We tried to listen to that point.

I wish other countries were beating down my door to want to go do work on Indian reservations and to want to partner with Indians. They aren't. I know of one country that has really cared enough to do this.

Now, there are a range of disputes in other areas. Those are legitimate disputes, and those are matters that ought to be the subject of serious discussion and debate on the floor, but have nothing to do with this bill. They have nothing to do with this bill. They're about ancient and current acrimonies and differences that ought to be settled in other forums on other issues but not on this bill, and certainly not at the expense of the least advantaged, frankly, the most disadvantaged part of our own population. I wish I could get more American companies that wanted to go on reservations and sit down and work with people about creating jobs. That's all this bill is about.

To those of you that have other concerns, I recognize the legitimacy of those concerns. But I just ask you to focus on the nature of the legislation. The New World is supposed to be able to put some of the Old World's controversies behind us, and certainly on a topic like this.

So for those of you, again, that have a different opinion, I respect it. But I also point out that Turkey is an ally of the United States. It has been for decades and decades. It's an important regional partner for the United States. This strengthens that relationship, as well, and the interest and the commitment in this area is genuine.

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Mr. COLE. The interest in this area is genuine and real. Shouldn't that be something we should take and build on and try and add to and encourage? There needs to be a competition here. Let's build a competition to help Indian Country. Other countries can step up. Foreign companies can step up. Let's get a blueprint on how to do it. It is more complex than we would like to admit or acknowledge. That's one of the reasons why there's not American investments in these places.

I can take you to some of the Indian reservations in North and South Dakota where the unemployment rate is 80 percent and the State unemployment is under 5. Should that tell you how serious the problem is? I'd like to get anybody interested in helping and doing it legitimately.

We now have a level playing field for everybody. There are no preferences in this bill. Let's encourage other people to join the competition. Have them come in, and maybe they've got a better idea and a better way. But in the meantime, we should pass this bill, we should get about the business of putting Americans to work--the first Americans--and certainly Americans on Indian reservations that have every obstacle in the world against them. This bill will give one more tool in the toolbox. It's not a panacea, but it's a tool they ought to have.

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