Indian and Insular Affairs

The Subcommittee on Indian and Insular Affairs oversees the relations between the federal government and Native Americans and U.S. Territories. Under Chairman Grijalva’s leadership in the 116th and 117th Congress, the Committee recognized the distinct differences between these communities and held Insular Affairs at the Full Committee level and renamed the Subcommittee to the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States, to be inclusive of all Indigenous Peoples under the Committee’s jurisdiction.

However, in the 118th Congress, Chair Westerman has decided to rejoin Indian and Insular Affairs once again into one subcommittee. 

Committee Democrats

    Ranking Member
  • Teresa Leger Fernandez
    New Mexico
  • Gregorio Sablan
    Northern Mariana Islands
  • Ruben Gallego
  • Nydia M. Velázquez
    New York
  • Ed Case
  • Raúl M. Grijalva

Indian Affairs:

emblem of the Bureau of Indian AffairsBureau of Indian Affairs: Founded in 1824, originally under the Department of War, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is the primary agency overseeing the relationship between the federal government and the 574 federally recognized tribes and carrying out the United States’ trust responsibility to American Indians and Alaska Natives. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is comprised of four offices, the Office of Indian Services, Office of Justice Services, Office of Trust Services, and the Office of Field Operations. These offices to serve tribes, American Indians, and Alaska Natives with general assistance, tribal criminal justice, and management of trust lands, assets, and resources at the Bureau and tribal levels. 

emblem of departmentIndian Health Service: Founded in 1955, the Indian Health Service is tasked with providing health care services to American Indian and Alaska Natives, providing a wide range of culturally competent clinical health care and community services for American Indians and Alaska Natives. The agency currently operates 24 hospitals, 51 health centers, and an additional 42 facilities across 37 states. The Indian Health Service also partners with tribal governments and urban Indian organizations (UIOs) through self-determination and self-governance compacts, competing contracts, and grants under Titles I and V of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA) to operate tribal and UIO-managed health facilities. 


Engaging in Cultural & Environmental Preservation

Historical policies of cultural violence against American Indian and Alaska Native communities, such as Indian boarding schools, the termination of the reservation system, and the removal of individuals and families from their ancestral lands, barred them from practicing their religions, speaking their languages, and engaging in their cultural traditions within their communities.

The lasting effects of this intergenerational cultural trauma continue to impact American Indian and Alaska Native communities today, which has led many to engage in cultural preservation efforts  at the local and national level. These efforts often encompass various initiatives, including language preservation, youth education, cultural patrimony repatriation, and sacred sites protection. Many Indigenous communities have also incorporated traditional teachings and lifeways into economic development or environmental renewal projects.

Cultural preservation efforts are equally crucial for tribal governments to ensure the wellbeing of their citizens and strengthen their sovereign status and right to self-determination. Congress has supported federal cultural preservation programs in recent years; however, many resources are still needed to help tribal governments and organizations sustain their efforts adequately.

To learn more about how Tribes are engaging in cultural preservation, check out the Subcommittee’s hearing on Strengthening Indigenous Communities Through Cultural and Environmental Preservation here.


Promoting Tribal Consultation

Since the 111th Congress, Ranking Member Grijalva has introduced the Requirements, Expectations, and Standard Procedures for Effective Consultation with Tribes (RESPECT) Act to codify tribal consultation by establishing federal agency criteria for identifying tribal impacts, initiating outreach to tribal governments, and conducting tribal consultation sessions for all proposed projects and regulatory actions.

The RESPECT aims to respect tribal sovereignty by ensuring that Tribes’ voices are heard and incorporated into federal decision-making by promoting tribal consultation within federal agencies to ensure the incorporation of Indigenous points of view prior to policy and regulation implementation.

To learn more about Committee’s efforts to codify tribal consultation, check out the Committee’s hearing on Hearing on the RESPECT Act here and the Committee Factsheet on the RESPECT Act here.


Save Oak Flat

On March 3, 2023, House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) introduced the Save Oak Flat from Foreign Mining Act to permanently protect Tonto National Forest’s Chí’chil Bi dagoteel Historic District, also known as Oak Flat, from foreign mining operations that will permanently desecrate the area and destroy its tribal cultural and religious heritage sites.

In 2015, a non-germane midnight rider was inserted into the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act to mandate the public land transfer of the Oak Flat area to Resolution Copper for proposed copper mining operations. Resolution Copper plans to use block cave mining, which will cause Oak Flat to collapse into a crater approximately two miles wide and 1,000 feet deep. The proposed mining operations will also drain Arizona's water resources at a time of extreme drought, contaminate local groundwater, and cause irreversible damage to the area's natural attractions.

To learn more about the Save Oak Flat From Foreign Mining Act, check out the Committee Factsheet here.


Investing in Federal Facilities & Infrastructure

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), and Indian Health Service (IHS) are responsible for roads, schools, hospitals and other critical structures and buildings. However, the agencies cannot adequately maintain or repair the infrastructure deficiencies of their facilities due to decades of federal underfunding.

Shortages in construction funds instead forces individual tribal governments to take on the responsibility of maintaining and replacing the agencies’ buildings, resulting financial hardship or the potential discontinuity of vital community services. Until the infrastructure concerns across BIA, BIE, and IHS are fully addressed, tribal communities will continue to face steep disparities in their quality of education, health care, and public safety services.

Additionally, Native Hawaiians experience higher levels of financial hardship, housing overcrowding, and cost-share burdens than other Hawaii residents—especially those who remain on the waiting list for Department of Hawaiian Home Lands’ homestead leases. These realities similarly impact Native Hawaiian communities’ quality of life.

To learn more about infrastructure needs in Indigenous Communities check out the Subcommittee’s hearings on Examining Federal Facilities in Indian Country here and Infrastructure in Indigenous Communities: Priorities for American Jobs Plan here.

Insular Affairs:

OIA emblemInsular Affairs coordinates federal legislation for the U.S. territories of American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).  Residents of the territories are U.S. citizens or nationals.

The subcommittee also oversees legislation to provide federal assistance under Compacts of Free Association to the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau, and helps maintain strategic relationships with all U.S.-affiliated insular areas.

American Samoa

American Samoa became a U.S. territory by deed of cession when the matai (local chiefs) of Tutuila, the largest island in American Samoa, ceded the island to the United States in 1900. Manu'a followed in 1904. Swain Island was incorporated into the territory in 1925 by an act of Congress. Some of the most pressing issues in American Samoa today include:

  • Climate change and coastal erosion
  • Diversifying its tuna canning-based economy
  • Economic development
  • Adapting to the U.S. federal minimum wage
  • Addressing U.S. national status

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Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) emerged from the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) that the United States administered on behalf of the United Nations from 1947 until Palau, the last member of the TTPI to choose its own political future, became an independent country in 1994. The federal law (the Covenant) making the CNMI a U.S. territory passed in 1975. The CNMI adopted its constitution in 1977, and its first constitutional government took office in 1978. The CNMI adopted federal minimum wage regulations in 2007 and immigration law in 2008. In June 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security took over the CNMI's immigration and border controls. Major concerns in the CNMI include:

  • Climate change and coastal erosion
  • Reconstruction and aid efforts after Typhoons Mangkhut and Yutu
  • Workforce development
  • Economic development

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Guam became a U.S. territory in 1898 and was placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Navy. The Guam Organic Act of 1950 conferred U.S. citizenship on Guamanians, established the territory's government, and transferred federal jurisdiction over Guam from the U.S. Navy to the Department of the Interior. The first elections were held in 1970. Current Guam issues include:

  • Climate change and coastal erosion
  • Relocation of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force from Okinawa to Guam
  • Economic development
  • Impacts of the Compacts of Free Association
  • World War II Claims and Reconciliation
  • Political status education

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Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory as a result of the Spanish-American War in 1898. In 1917, its residents received U.S. citizenship through the Jones Act. Puerto Rico became a Commonwealth in 1952 and now has its own constitution, legislature, and elected governor. For decades, Puerto Ricans have been considering three significantly different political status options – statehood, new commonwealth, and independence – as an alternative to the present relationship with the United States. In the 117th Congress, the Committee helped advance legislation to decolonize Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico Status Act enables eligible voters to participate in a binding referendum to select among three non-territorial status options: statehood, sovereignty in free association with the United States, and independence. 

  • Climate change and coastal erosion
  • Reconstruction efforts after Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Fiona and other natural disasters
  • Debt restructuring proceedings and austerity measures resulting from the implementation of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA)
  • Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) transformation and investments in renewable energy
  • Economic development

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U.S. Virgin Islands

The United States purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917 for $25 million, mainly for strategic reasons. U.S. citizenship was conferred on U.S. Virgin Islanders in 1927. The Organic Act of 1936 laid the foundation for self-government, and a more elaborate governmental structure emerged from the revised Organic Act of 1954. The first elections for constitutional officers were held in 1970. USVI issues include:

  • Climate change and coastal erosion
  • Reconstruction and aid efforts after Hurricanes Maria and Irma
  • Economic development

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Freely Associated States under the Compact of Free Association

The Freely Associated States (FAS) include the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), and the Republic of Palau. These are independent nations with a unique political relationship with the United States that is defined in a special agreement known as a Compact of Free Association (COFA). The COFA identifies the FAS as sovereign states and outlines certain economic, military, and immigration provisions between these nations and the U.S.

Each of the FAS were formerly part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI), a trusteeship created by the United Nations and administered by the United States after World War II. In pursuit of economic development, greater self-sufficiency, and aligned national security interests, the FSM and the RMI became self-governing states in free association with the United States in 1986. Palau’s free association agreement with the United States began in 1994.

Compact funding and grant assistance to the FAS is set to expire in 2023 for the FSM and the RMI and in 2024 for Palau.

Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI)

Republic of the Marshall Islands consists of 5 islands and 29 low-lying atolls in the western Pacific and is home to just over 60,000 people.

RMI’s economy is primarily services- and tourism-oriented. Cumulative grant assistance from the United States to the Marshall Islands between 1987 and 2023 will total nearly $1.53 billion, and U.S. trust fund contributions that seek to provide a sustainable source of revenue following the COFA’s expiration in 2023 will total $235 million. However, despite targeted investment toward public and private sector development and infrastructure, RMI’s unemployment rate exceeds 30%, and the tourism and fishing industries that offer substantial growth opportunities remain untapped. In addition, governmental corruption and poor prison conditions persist.

RMI entered into a COFA with the U.S. in 1986; however, their relationship continues to be defined by the United States’ controversial nuclear legacy. From 1946 to 1958, the U.S. Military conducted 67 nuclear tests in the Bikini and Enewetak Atolls, inflicting devastating environmental and health impacts on the Marshall Islands and its residents. The adequacy of the United States’ compensation to the Marshall Islands for the lasting damage it afflicted remains contested.

The U.S. Military continues to operate the Reagan Test Site on RMI, from which it has established a base of operations in the western Pacific and conducts long-range missile tests and space surveillance, highlighting the Marshall Islands’ ongoing military and strategic value to the U.S. in the central Pacific.

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Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

Consisting of over 600 islands that span 2,700 square kilometers across the western Pacific, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), or Micronesia, is home to 115,000 residents and includes an economic exclusion zone (EEZ) of nearly 2.6 million square kilometers.

Since 1987, the U.S. has provided around $3.2 billion in technical and grant assistance that targets education, health, the environment, expanding governmental capacity, private investment, and infrastructure projects. However, the FSM’s economy is heavily tied to U.S. funding assistance, and climate change and chronic overfishing threaten future development in the private sector.

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Republic of Palau

A volcanic archipelago just 550 miles east of the Philippines, Palau is home to just over 18,000 people. Driven by an economy that is heavily reliant on tourism and fishing, in addition to heavy U.S. investment, Palau’s per capita income ranks highly among nations in the western Pacific.

Upon becoming a sovereign nation after over a decade of failed referendums stemming from Palauan disapproval of U.S. nuclear weapons testing in their jurisdiction and a long history of colonial occupation, Palau entered in a COFA with the U.S. in 1994. U.S. Compact assistance from 1994 to 2024 will total over $850 million for grant programs, road construction, and establishing a trust fund.

Palau faces similar issues to the other Freely Associated States, such as heavy reliance on U.S. grant assistance and governmental corruption. However, Palau has significantly fewer human and natural resources relative to the other FAS because of its small population and remote location.

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