Below is the draft letter supplied by IEN Indian tribes and other landowners across the country:
December 7, 2005
We are writing to express our serious concern with a provision the House passed in the Budget Reconciliation Bill that would effectively rewrite federal mining laws. This provision, if enacted, would have devastating consequences on lands significant to Native American people. We urge the removal of this provision.
We understand the provision lifts the moratorium on land patents, removes the requirement that mining claimants show a “discovery of a valuable mineral deposit” before purchasing the land, and allows “sold” public lands to escape federal environmental review and reclamation bonding requirements. This is a fundamental weakening of federal mining law and environmental protection for impacted communities in the West that are adjacent to federal lands. There are thousands of these communities– towns, villages, cities and reservations throughout the west– that could be profoundly affected. As written, this measure would eviscerate existing U.S. mining laws, sacrifice environmental safeguards, and wreak havoc with our traditional communities so real estate speculators and multinational mining corporations can profit from the sale of our public lands.
The measure affects approximately 270 million acres of land across the U.S., many of which are adjacent to Indian reservations or include areas in which federal title is disputed. These lands contain important historic and sacred sites and other culturally sensitive areas. Many of these areas are places where native people exercise their off-reservation hunting, fishing and gathering rights promised in their treaties. Other lands may be the subject of ongoing disputes over the validity of the U.S. claim that the lands somehow transferred from indigenous title to federal title. Examples of such ongoing disputes include: the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Western Shoshone lands of Idaho, Nevada, Utah and California, the San Francisco Peaks of Arizona, and lands in the headwaters region of rivers flowing into Bristol Bay, Alaska.
Additionally, mining and other forms of development that come with privatization could impact the ecological and human health of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities living downstream or downwind from the operations. Mineral extraction impacts ecosystems that sustain Indigenous tribal nations and communities and contributes to the quality of life that all Westerners enjoy.
This legislative maneuver has the potential to cause irreparable harm across the West. Yet, these proposed changes were included without one public hearing or the opportunity for public input. We are particularly concerned that there was no consultation with Indigenous tribal nations. The United States has a trust responsibility to consult with Indigenous tribes on proposed actions or development activities through government-to-government negotiations — clearly this has not occurred.
In addition, the United States Government has a fiduciary duty and trust responsibility to Indian Nations, especially with regard to its management of federal lands that directly impact native communities. This legislation would seriously damage that trust obligation by transferring ownership of federal lands to U.S. or foreign corporations who owe no trust obligation to Indian Nations. This massive shift in policy and land ownership would occur without any consultation with Indian Nations whose ancestors are buried on these lands or who have special legal or cultural connection to the lands.
We are requesting your assistance to remove this proposal. At the very least, democratic principles of fair and open government require that such sweeping changes in federal land policy be debated in the open as free-standing amendments where all Americans, including Indian Nations, can express their opinions. The undersigned Tribal Nations, Traditional Councils, Native Organizations and individuals respectfully request that this proposal be repudiated when House and Senate conferees meet to finalize the Budget Reconciliation Bill.