By Peter N. Jones
Director: Bauu Institute and Press
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced the publication of new proposed rules that will significantly increase access to USDA’s utilities programs and funding opportunities for American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders who are located in Substantially Underserved Trust Areas (SUTA).
To develop the proposed rule, USDA Rural Development conducted consultations with tribal leaders and Native communities throughout the United States as well as in trust areas in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. USDA Rural Development also hosted Internet and teleconference-based webinars to solicit further implementation recommendations for the SUTA initiative. However, anthropologists and social scientists were not part of any of the regularly scheduled consultations, despite our long history of working with Native communities that could be directly impacted by the proposed rule. I encourage all SfAA members to review the proposed rule and to submit comments, as our background and work provide important insights that may not have been covered in the regularly scheduled consultations.
The deadline to make comments on the SUTA proposed rule is on or before December 13, 2011. For more information, please see the October 14, 2011 issue of the Federal Register.
Under the proposed SUTA rule, the Secretary of Agriculture (with delegation to the Administrator for Rural Utilities Service) would be granted the discretionary authority to: Make loans and issue loan guarantees with interest rates as low as two percent and with extended repayment terms; waive non-duplication restrictions, matching fund requirements, or credit support requirements from any loan or grant program to facilitate construction, acquisition or improvements of infrastructure; and give highest priority to designated projects on a Substantially Underserved Trust Area.
Under the SUTA initiative a trust area is legislatively defined as any land that: (1) is held in trust by the United States for Native Americans; (2) is subject to restrictions on alienation imposed by the United States on Indian lands (including native Hawaiian homelands); (3) is owned by a Regional Corporation or a Village Corporation, as such terms are defined in section 3(g) and 3(j) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, respectively (43 U.S.C. 1602(g), (j)); or (4) is on any island in the Pacific Ocean if such land is, by cultural tradition communally-owned land.
I would also like to bring TIG members’ attention to a recently signed historic agreement between First Nations and the Province of British Columbia. The British Columbia Tripartite Framework Agreement on First Nation Health Governance paves the way for the federal government to transfer the planning, design, management, and delivery of First Nations health programs to a new First Nations Health Authority over the next two years. The First Nations Health Authority will incorporate First Nations’ cultural knowledge, beliefs, values and models of healing into the design and delivery of health programs that better meet the needs of First Nations communities. This is an important step for First Nations in British Columbia. Signed on October 13, 2011 the full B.C. Tripartite Framework Agreement can be found here.
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