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Indian Country Today: Heinrich Leads In Advancing Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act

The Ohkay Owingeh became the 23rd tribe to move further towards tribal self-governance as acting Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Lawrence S. Roberts announced it has the sovereign authority to lease tribal lands.

The federally recognized tribe in north-central New Mexico is the latest to be granted this authority consistent with the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership (or HEARTH) Act and is another example of President Barack Obama’s commitment to tribal self-governance and strengthening tribal economies.

Roberts made the announcement at a signing ceremony January 5 while accompanied by tribal Governor Earl N. Salazar and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

“I congratulate Governor Salazar and the Ohkay Owingeh council for their leadership in using the HEARTH Act to end the paternalistic policy of federal approval of tribal leasing decisions,” Roberts said in an ASIA release following the announcement. “Ohkay Owingeh joins a growing number of tribes that are exercising sovereignty over the leasing of their lands to promote the health, welfare and prosperity of their people. By this action, decision-making over the use of tribal land is now squarely in the hands of the tribal government. I am very pleased that Ohkay Owingeh has exercised this power to use its own judgment for its own lands.”

Governor Salazar said, “We are now able to establish and carry out these laws. As an entrepreneurial tribe, we look forward to working with local businesses. It all comes back to sovereignty and, finally, we have control over our land to help support our people.”

The HEARTH Act was signed into law on July 30, 2012, following a unanimous vote in the Senate. The Act allows federally recognized tribes “to develop and implement their own land leasing regulations that includes restricted lands for residential, business, public, religious, educational, or recreational purposes without needing the approval of the Secretary of the Interior,” as reported by ICTMN following the signing.

The Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo will now be able to negotiate and enter into surface leases without further approvals by the Secretary. Tribes can execute agricultural and business leases of tribal trust lands for a primary of 25 years and up to two renewal terms of 25 years each under the Act. Leases for tribal lands for residential, recreational, religious or educational purposes can be granted a primary term of up to 75 years.

The goal of the Act, according to the ASIA release, was to eliminate the paternalistic approval process while recognizing the ability of tribes to develop and implement their own laws governing the long-term leasing of their trust lands. The HEARTH Act procedure removes the Bureau of Indian Affairs approval process all together, providing an expedited process for the surface land leases.

Taxation of the leases are subject to tribal rather than state and local taxation in accordance with the federal law and the DOI’s regulations governing surface leasing of trust and restricted Indian lands. The HEARTH Act was intended to promote sovereignty and to speed up the leasing process, assessment of state and local taxes would obstruct the Act’s purpose of supporting tribal economic development and self-determination.

"I’m honored to join the people of Ohkay Owingeh to mark this milestone in strengthening self-determination and tribal sovereignty, and open doors to more jobs and economic development in Indian country,” Sen. Heinrich said.  “The last thing the federal government should do is stand in the way of a family who wants to buy a home.  This agreement through the HEARTH Act will make it easier for Native families to buy houses and open businesses in the communities where their families have lived for generations.”