Introduction to the Native American Enterprise Initiative
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recognizing the mutuality of policy interests and objectives with Indian Country, founded the Native American Enterprise Initiative (NAEI) in 2012.
Before the formal founding of the NAEI, the Chamber actively collaborated with Indian tribes in relation to contracting. For years, Congress had failed to appropriate sufficient funds for, and past administrations had failed to pay in full, agreed-upon contracts between the U.S. and federally recognized tribes fulfilling those contracts on behalf of the federal government. When the issue came before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Chamber intervened in support of the tribes’ position by filing an amicus curiae brief emphasizing the importance of contract integrity in the matter of Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter. The high court ultimately sided with the Chamber and the tribes.
Since that ruling, the NAEI has pursued the issue with the administration and before Congress to Indian Country’s satisfaction. The NAEI, in addition, has engaged on a whole host of issues important to Indian Country that seek to drive economic development and reinforce tribal sovereignty.
Over the last eight years, the Chamber has been instrumental in enacting meaningful legislation for Indian Country. Not only did the Chamber play an outsize role in the contract support costs debate, but it worked toward enacting legislation that shifted authority from the U.S. Treasury to the tribes relative to taxation (PL 113-168); provided the tribes with authority to manage their trust assets (PL 114-178); and emphasized tribal decision making relative to energy development (PL 115-325).
Moreover, the Chamber and the NAEI were influential in passing the NATIVE Act (PL 114-221), a bill that increases Indian Country’s voice when it comes to promoting U.S. travel abroad; the Great American Outdoors Act (PL 116-152), which includes a provision to fund the deferred maintenance of Bureau of Indian Education schools and infrastructure; and the PROGRESS for Indian Tribes Act, which authorizes tribes to use a single, streamlined process when it comes to contracting across administrative agencies (PL 116-180).
Efforts and Activities
Besides securing the enactment of major tribal legislation, the NAEI continues to fight for other initiatives that have yet to cross the finish line, including the following:
Reauthorization and amendment of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA)
NAHASDA is a block grant that distributes federal funds for housing (formulaically) to all 574 recognized Indian tribes. Despite it being unauthorized since 2013, Congress has continued to appropriate funds for NAHASDA programs. The Chamber has advocated for changes to the statute and its reauthorization with particular emphasis on provisions that would streamline the regulatory regime tribes face in putting these dollars to work for their tribal membership—thus receiving more value from their housing grants.
Land Into Trust/Carcieri Fix
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar, many bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to amend the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934 to clarify the Interior secretary’s authority to take land into trust for all 574 federally recognized tribes regardless of when they were recognized. The NAEI has been engaged since 2012 in finding a solution that can make it to the president’s desk on this thorny issue, and it continues to work with interested congressional members to move legislation forward.
The Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act
Though lacking a clear statutory basis, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) continues to assert authority over tribally owned businesses for the purpose of union organizing. The NLRB has taken the position that tribes are subject to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) when they act in a more “commercial” fashion as opposed to a more “governmental” fashion—a distinction they do not and cannot apply to other governmental entities. The NLRB asserts authority over tribal governments while acknowledging that they do not have such authority relative to federal, state, or local governments because these other public employers are explicitly carved out of the purview of the NLRA. Current efforts focus on explicitly writing into statute that Indian tribes are likewise not subject to the NLRA, which is intended for private employers, but they should have the ability as sovereigns to craft labor rules relative to their businesses.
The Chamber supports legislative proposals that would provide parity for tribal governments compared to state and local governments in both bond financing and other areas. Regarding bonding, the Chamber supports rescinding the “essential government function requirement” test that the Internal Revenue Service has held applicable only to tribal governments, which places a federal tax burden on tribal projects financed through bond proceeds that states and municipalities do not face. Furthermore, the Chamber lobbies for tribes as sovereign entities to be afforded similar discretion as states and municipalities relative to pension plans, charities, child support enforcement, and adoptions.
Other Significant Issues
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chamber incorporated many tribal policy priorities into its proposals that have been communicated to Congress and the administration relative to general relief, as well as liability protections specifically targeting tribally owned businesses. Also, the Chamber successfully advocated for the flexible use of PPP funds in Indian Country.
The NAEI leads the Coalition for Tribal Sovereignty, a group of close to 200 tribes and tribal associations that message Congress on issues important to furthering sovereignty in Indian Country. The coalition’s (and the Chamber’s) greatest success to date was indisputably its ability to maintain strong and steady pressure on Congress for over four years regarding the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act. The work of the NAEI, close partners, and the coalition had the effect of forcing the first vote on a tribal bill in more than a decade in the Senate. And while the bill failed to attain the necessary 60 votes for cloture, it put the Senate on record on the issue and made clear the work that needs to be done moving forward.
For more information please contact Dan Mahoney at firstname.lastname@example.org.