WASHINGTON, D.C. | June 16, 2015
Upholding Native American rights of self-determination has long been a priority. As far back as the 1830s, when the governmental authority of tribes was first challenged, our courts have held that “tribes possess a nationhood status and retain inherent powers of self-government.” For decades, policymakers have agreed on the importance of protecting these fundamental rights. We should never stand idly by while the sovereignty of Native Americans is threatened, and that is exactly why we’re here today.
A little more than 10 years ago, the National Labor Relations Board overturned long-standing precedent with the landmark San Manuel Bingo & Casino
decision and began using a subjective test to determine when and where to exert its jurisdiction over Indian tribes.
This action was met with significant opposition from the Native American community and considered by many to be an attack on tribal sovereignty. In fact, at a hearing of this subcommittee in 2012, Robert Odawi Porter, president of the Seneca Nation of Indians, called the move “unfounded” and a violation of treaty rights. During the same hearing, I myself expressed concern with the board’s policy and its flawed interpretation of the law. Unfortunately, the board has ignored these and similar concerns and continues to exert its authority over Indian tribes.
To make matters worse, the NLRB’s actions have had ramifications that extend beyond threatening tribal sovereignty. The subjective nature of the board’s process for determining jurisdiction has also produced a mess of legal confusion. Years of litigation have produced inconsistent and misguided board decisions, compounding the uncertainty felt by Native American tribes and their businesses.
To help address these concerns and preserve tribal sovereignty over labor policies, our colleague Todd Rokita introduced H.R. 511, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act
. The bill would prevent the NLRB from asserting its jurisdiction over businesses owned by Native Americans on tribal lands, codifying a board standard that existed long before the San Manuel decision. In doing so, it would protect Native Americans from NLRB interference and provide legal certainty to the nation’s Indian tribes. It’s a commonsense proposal that has attracted bipartisan support.
Today, we will hear from tribal leaders who will share their experiences and discuss the importance of protecting their cherished sovereignty. I look forward to hearing their views on the reforms outlined in the bill.
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