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Cole Urges Passage of Indian Tribal Trade and Investment Demonstration Project Act

July 24, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Tom Cole (OK-04) made the following remarks on the House floor in support of H.R. 2362 - the Indian Tribal Trade and Investment Demonstration Project Act, which he authored.  This legislation would eliminate red tape in the tribal leasing process to facilitate U.S. trade with international partners and help economic development on tribal land.  Capitalizing on the interest overseas companies have shown in working with Indian tribes, H.R. 2362 reforms the current restrictive and archaic leasing system to promote trade with the 155 member nations of the World Trade Organization.

"H.R. 2362 is simply a bill to facilitate economic development in Indian Country and to expand the range of options open to some of the poorest and most disadvantaged of Americans, the first Americans.

"Currently as my friend Mr. Hastings pointed out, economic development is often hampered in Indian Country by restrictive leasing practices on Indian reservations. H.R. 2362 directs the Secretary of Interior to create a demonstration project for up to six tribes engaged in economic development with foreign companies and foreign countries. Tribes will develop the guidelines for their own economic activity with these entities, the secretary will approve them and we will over time learn how to do business between Indian tribes and foreign countries. Something, frankly, we know comparatively little about.  One of the things that comes out of this is the development by the Secretary of Interior of recommendations and best practices, something which needs to be done in this area.

"We have tried in the course of this legislation to recognize the concerns raised by some people. There’s no question that I was approached by the Turkish American Coalition.  There's a deep interest in Turkey  in American Indians; there has been for many hundreds of years. This goes back a long way. They’re the only country that's actually sent a national delegation to an Indian economic development conference; there are scholarships for Native American students at the Istanbul Technical Institute; there's a constant movement of tribal citizens going back and forth. So this interest, apart from these other disputes, is real and genuine and deep. And so we've accepted some of the concerns that were voiced in subcommittee. There is no preferential status for Turkey  in this bill. All 155 World Trade Organization countries will have exactly the same opportunity.

"It’s important to note, I think, that this bill is strongly supported in Indian Country. Maybe we should listen to Indians about what's best for their own economic development. The National Congress of American Indians supports this bill. The National American Indian Housing Council supports this bill. The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development supports this bill. Numerous tribes support this bill. Perhaps they are the real experts here that we should be listening to.

"Passage of this bill would normally be a routine matter in this house. But due to the strong Turkish interest and support for the bill, we have a number of ethnic communities in the United States who have voiced objections. I think that's always legitimate and always appropriate. But sadly, as I pointed out, some of these objections don't have much merit. Again, this is not special legislation for Turkey. All 155 World Trade Organizations can participate. That includes the folks that are so concerned about this.

"Second, the idea that passing the HEARTH bill --  which by the way I strongly supported, co-sponsored, came down here and argued for --  I think it was a wonderful piece of legislation.  It's largely silent save for one phrase on foreign investment. We do not have a lot of experience here. It would be helpful to have demonstration projects. It would be good to have the Secretary of the Interior involved more deeply.

"And third --  and I hope this isn't the case --  I’ve heard recently that there's even a sheet going around --  perhaps not true, I hope not --  that suggests this legislation will cost domestic manufacturing jobs. You've got to be kidding. Putting jobs on Indian reservations is going to take American jobs away? Who were the first Americans? Again, the arguments, I think, largely do not address the legislation.

"I understand something about historical grievances and controversies. I’m the only Native American in this House right now. My great-great-grandfather, when he was 13 years old, was forced to move from Mississippi, where his people had lived for 500 years, to avoid being placed under state restriction. His lands were confiscated; they were guaranteed new land in Indian Territory in the west. He arrived with nothing, ended up being actually the clerk of the Chickasaw Supreme Court. His son, my great-grandfather, was treasurer at the time of the Dawes Commission when, guess what? Those treaties that were going to last forever were revoked again by the United States government. Indian Territory was opened up over the objection of the tribes to white settlement, and Indian governments were ground down. My family has spent much of the time since that time working with other Chickasaws and other Native Americans to see tribal sovereignty restored and those rights given back. That’s why I co-chaired the Native American Caucus, that's why when the Tribal Law and Order bill came to this floor, where there were concerns on our side about process, I got the Republican votes that were necessary to pass it; that's why I was the Republican lead sponsor of the Cobell settlement; that's why I’ve worked with this administration, which has a great record on Native American affairs, on the Carcieri Bill. So I understand grievances and understand the legitimacy of expressing them.

"But legislation must be relevant to the historical experience they we're talking about. And we ought to look for opportunities to make old enemies into new friends. I try to do that on this floor every day. This legislation has nothing to do with ancient or current disputes between Turkey  and Armenia or Greece. This bill is about helping American Indians. We ought to put aside the disputes of the Old World and focus on helping the original inhabitants of the New World. Which is exactly what this legislation will do.


"I want to thank my friends on the other side of the aisle for participating in the debate. Look, I understand passions here are high and I actually respect that a great deal, even when I disagree with the policy conclusions that may have led some of my colleagues. I do ask to you stop and think. There is a sort of contradiction in your argument: 'It's both redundant and yet gives special preferences.' Both those things can't be true. It suggests to me the real argument is fundamentally different than those two points.

"The reality is it gives no one special preferences. We tried to listen to that point. I wish other countries were beating down my door to want to go do work on Indian reservations, to want to partner. They aren't. I know one country that has really cared enough to do this. Now, there's a range of disputes in other areas; those are legitimate disputes. Those are matters that are ought to be subject to serious discussion and debate on the floor. They have nothing to do with this bill. They have nothing to do with this bill. They’re about ancient and current acrimonies and differences that ought to be settled in other forums, on other issues, but not on this bill.  And certainly not at the expense of the least advantaged, frankly the most disadvantaged, part of our own population.

"I wish I could get more American companies that wanted to go on reservations and sit down and work with people about creating jobs. That’s all this bill is about. And to those of that you have other concerns: I recognize the legitimacy of those concerns. But, I just ask you, focus on the nature of the legislation. The New World is supposed to be able to put some of the Old World's controversies behind us. -- and certainly on the topic like this. So, for those of you again that have a different opinion, I respect it. But I also point out: Turkey is an ally of the United States. It has been for decades and decades. It's an important regional partner for the United States. This strengthens that relationship, as well.

"The interest in this area is genuine and real. Shouldn’t that be something we should take and build on? And try and add to and encourage? There needs to be a competition here. Let’s have a competition to go help Indian Country. Other countries can step up;  foreign companies can step up. Let’s get a blueprint on how to do it. It is more complex than we would like to admit or acknowledge. That’s one of the reasons why there's not American investments in these places.

"I can take you to some of the Indian reservations in North and South Dakota where the unemployment rate is 80 percent and the state unemployment rate is under 5 percent. Should that tell you how serious the problem is? So if I get anybody interested in helping and doing it legitimately, and we now have a level playing field for everybody. There are no preferences in this bill. Encourage other people to join the competition. Have them come in, and maybe they've got a better idea and a better way. But, in the meantime, we should pass this bill.  We should get about the business of putting Americans to work -- the first Americans, and certainly Americans on Indian reservations that have every obstacle in the world against them. This bill will give them one more tool in the toolbox. It’s not a panacea, but it's a tool they ought to have."