Samish Opposes Obernolte Amendments to Terminate Samish's Rights as Sovereign

Obernolte amendments jeopardize Interior Department’s established process for assisting tribal governments in regaining homelands. 

ANACORTES, Wash. , June 10, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Amendments filed by Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.), Acting Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States, to the bipartisan H.R. 6181 pose a clear and present danger to the Samish Indian Nation and to the rest of Indian Country. The bill is slated for mark up on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 in full Committee.

H.R. 6181 would simply reaffirm that the Indian Reorganization Act, a cornerstone tribal law, applies to Samish. This bill is critical in helping to ensure that Samish is on equal footing with other federally recognized tribes.  Samish has amended this bill twice to accommodate concerns of nearby tribes, including adding a provision drafted by the Congressional Research Service to ensure that no treaty rights of any tribe are affected. 

The Obernolte amendments hearken back to the dark “termination era” from the 1940s to 1960s, when Congress passed laws to dismantle tribal sovereignty and sever the government-to-government relationships with tribes across the country.

Obernolte’s amendments would terminate a decision of the Interior Department to take land into trust for Samish and nullify the department’s positive Carcieri determination for Samish, which documents Samish’s historical government-to-government relationship with the United States as required under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Carcieri v. Salazar.

Additionally, Obernolte’s amendment advances the false notion that the Samish Indian Nation is not a federally recognized tribe.

“Honoring our ancestors and their fierce commitment to these lands and our traditional ways of life, we continue to raise our families on these islands that have always been our home,” said Tom Wooten, Samish Indian Nation’s Chairman. “This amendment threatens the land that has belonged to our ancestors since time immemorial, and we cannot give up in our efforts to preserve our culture.”

If enacted, the Obernolte amendments would set a dangerous precedent of Congress reversing a decision of the Interior Department to take land into trust for a tribe and repudiating a positive Carcieri determination for a tribe. Additionally, it would pose a threat to the bedrock principles of the United States that all federally recognized tribes should be treated fairly and treated the same under federal law.

The Samish Indian Nation has historically suffered significant obstacles in our path to self-determination, due to agency mistakes, inaction, delay and decades of litigation.

In 2018, the Interior Department under the Trump Administration issued a decision approving the Tribe’s application to take 6.7 acres of non-gaming land called Campbell Lake South into trust. However, a nearby tribe that opposed our re-recognition and opposes H.R. 6181 filed an appeal of this decision in the federal Interior Board of Indian Appeals. This appeal proceeding has languished over three years with no end in sight. 

The Samish Indian Nation respectfully requests that fellow Tribal Nations and the public contact House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) and Rep. Obernolte before Wednesday, June 15th, to express opposition to the Obernolte amendments.

About the Samish Indian Nation
The Samish have always been an island people. Prior to contact by the European nations, the Tribe inhabited the San Juan Islands. The Samish in pre-contact times moved from island to island depending on the season and the available harvest, with permanent winter village longhouses. The first recorded instance of European contact in the Northwest occurred in 1792 between Samish inhabitants of Guemes Island and the Spanish. The Samish Tribe is a Coast Salish tribe of Indians. Our aboriginal territory stretches over a seven-county region of northwest Washington, ranging from the Cascades to the western shores of the San Juan Islands — bounded by the southeast tip of San Juan Island, Deception Pass, Padilla Bay, Samish Bay, Chuckanut Bay, and the northern end of Lopez Island.

Media Contact: David Jackson or Katie Lindquist for the Samish Indian Nation, [email protected] or 719-352-1116.

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SOURCE Samish Indian Nation

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