Friday, 24 May 2024

Treppa: State government should do more to thoughtfully engage tribes

Tribal governments and tribal members have faced, and in some cases overcome, many historic challenges. But many of our challenges continue.

To merely exist and be recognized, tribes have survived contact with hostile foreign governments, plagues, aggressive federal policies, enslavement and cultural destruction. Despite these atrocities, tribal governments and their people have begun the long, arduous path towards self-sufficiency.

Just as with other forms of governments, federally recognized tribes govern themselves, and tribal leaders have a tremendous responsibility to protect their people. Part of this responsibility is to ensure state policies are clear, do not create jurisdictional conflicts, and reflect and understand the significant economic and political challenges – historical and present – Native Americans have had to overcome.

As part of our self-determination strategy, we rely on various economic means to sustain ourselves. One such way is to operate enterprises that offer financial services to those in need. These enterprises are tightly regulated and licensed by our own Tribal Consumer Services Regulatory Commission. Under the provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protect Act, tribes like ours are essentially considered states.

However despite these advancements, tribes are often left out of important policy discussions involving economic enterprises and others.

One such policy discussion involves Assembly Bill 539, which, as written, would create confusion in a loan market where many tribes have transparently operated for decades. This confusion could not only harm a crucial revenue source for tribes, causing devastating impacts, but it would also likely be a recipe for wasteful lawsuits. Whether about lending, environmental protections or other policy priorities in California, responsible legislation requires thoughtful incorporation of tribal interests through clear exemptions so there can be no perceived overlap.

For many years, the U.S federal government exerted harsh control over our people, leaving us with no traditional tax bases such as property, sales or income taxes. Our enterprises provide jobs for tribal members and generate revenue to fund health care, eldercare and education programs designed to reverse the social damage created by 200 years of oppressive federal policy.

To honor the agreement that tribes have an inherent right to self-governance, amendments to this legislation must include clear tribal sovereignty exemption language. We do consider this to be a fair and quite reasonable request, as tribes play a critical role in regional economies, helping to make California a stronger and viable place to live.

Similarly, AB 642 , which seeks to change consumer protection laws, lack clear tribal exemption language and doesn’t consider the many safeguards tribes have already implemented to ensure transparent financial practices. Tribes are also subject to expansive and substantive federal laws such as the Truth in Lending Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

These two pieces of legislation underscore the need for state representatives to thoughtfully and sincerely engage California’s tribes, which are separate, sovereign governments. In the past, tribes have been offered loosely written legislative exemptions to such harmful bills that would leave many of these matters open to interpretation by the courts. We are hoping that won’t be the case this legislative session.

Tribes deserve the basic assurance of having clearly defined language that allows us to continue our path towards and avoid potential legal conflicts between state and tribal governments. We look forward to thoughtful engagement with our legislative counterparts to resolve these important issues.

Sherry Treppa is chairperson for the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake, a federally recognized Indian Nation located in Upper Lake, Calif.

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