Chairman Tex Hall’s July 19, 2012 testimony to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs reiterated once again the need for the Committee on Indian Affairs, Congress and the entire Federal government to fulfill the solemn trust responsibility they hold for Indian tribes.
His testimony focused on Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rule that would add an additional layer of regulation to hydraulic fracturing. He said, “I’m not convinced that it’s necessary, in light of existing safeguards. What does concern me is the negative effect these additional regulations could put on the development of our oil and gas resources. The proposed federal regulations impose more extensive requirements than those that industry is subject to just off our reservation boundary.”
He said we also need Congress to affirm the exclusive authority of the MHA Nation to raise tax revenues on our Reservation so we can rely on the same revenues that state and local governments use to maintain infrastructure and support economic activity. We need these tax revenues to oversee energy development and provide infrastructure and services to support the energy industry. Current federal case law allows states to impose dual taxes on certain activities on Indian lands without regard to the burden that places on Reservation energy development. Under current federal case law, we must share tax revenue with the State of North Dakota to avoid (development killing) dual taxation even though the State provides few services on the Reservation. In order to avoid double taxation and encourage energy development we had no choice but to enter into a one-sided tax agreement with the State. In 2011, the State collected more than $75 million dollars in taxes from oil and gas development on the reservation, and spent less than $2 million for state roads that run through the reservation. The Tax Agreement needs to be corrected. We need the tax revenue to maintain Reservation infrastructure and to maintain reservation roads so heavy equipment can reach drilling sites but also so that tribal members and others who use these roads can safely reach schools and work sites. We need the roads to provide increased law enforcement, fire emergency response, ambulance and other services to protect tribal members and the growing population of oil workers.
Hall, once again, educated the Committee on the history and tremendous losses that the Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation suffered at the hands of the federal government in the 1950’s with the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Project. The Project was intended to fulfill national public purposes of flood control, navigation and irrigation. From our point of view, he said, it was an appropriation of our lands and resources for public purposes. Our tribal council was pressured and steamrolled into signing away our most prime resources. The infamous photo of Chairman George Gillette weeping as he is forced to sign away our trust lands is an example of how our government failed us. We signed and were promised many things - irrigation, drinking water systems, preferential electric power, financial assistance for reservation farms, development of recreational shoreline opportunities and replacement of infrastructure that was flooded. These promises remain unfulfilled and the new economy brought by Garrison Dam provides little benefit to tribal members, yet we live daily with the most impacts, said Hall.
Hall told the Committee, while we are still working to overcome these environmental impacts and restore our tribal economy, the Federal government continues to treat Indian lands as public lands by imposing public land laws and policies on our lands. He said Indian lands are not public lands. The MHA Nation’s treaty and trust relationship is with the Federal government. The Federal government’s stated policy is to prohibit states and individual citizens from interfering in this Federal-Tribal relationship but there is confusion. Some Federal laws actually impose public lands policy on Indian lands and this can lead to mismanagement of our trust resources.
Chairman Hall said we need legislation to address the negative environmental impacts to our Nation and to promote tribal authority.