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Oversight Hearing on Fulfilling the Federal Trust Responsibility: The Foundation of the Government-to-Government Relationship

Statement of Chairman Daniel K. Akaka

Thu, May 17, 2012

Aloha and welcome.  Today the Committee will hold an oversight hearing to examine the federal trust responsibility.

The federal trust relationship that exists between the federal government and Indian tribes goes back to the very first days of this Country.  All branches of the government - Congress, the Administration and the Courts acknowledge the uniqueness of the federal trust relationship.   It is a relationship that has its origins in international law, colonial and U.S. treaties, agreements, federal statutes, and federal legal decisions. 

The trust relationship carries with it legal, moral, and fiduciary obligations that it is incumbent upon the federal government to uphold.  When the trust responsibility is acknowledged and upheld by the federal government, a true government-to-government relationship can exist and thrive.  When the trust responsibility is not upheld, tribal sovereignty is eroded and undermined.     

I have been pleased by the actions of the Obama Administration in settling long-standing litigation brought by tribes against the U.S. government.  Some of these cases involve claims that go back over a hundred years.  It is only in acknowledging the lapses in the trust relationship that we can move forward in a way that is beneficial to the government, tribes and individual Indians.

Today we will hear from legal scholars and practitioners to discuss the trust relationship - its formation, how it has changed throughout the years, and where it stands now.  I am also pleased to have tribal leaders with us who can share their perspective of what the trust relationship looks like on the ground - and what it means to your tribal members.

What is clear is that the trust relationship has existed since the formation of this country and the first government-to-government contacts between the United States and Indian tribes.  Even though the implementation of that trust relationship may change based on legal decisions, from Administration-to-Administration, and from Congress-to-Congress, the trust responsibility endures.

It is the obligation of Congress, the Administration and the Courts to uphold the legal, moral, and fiduciary responsibilities that are at the core of the trust relationship between the federal government and tribes. 

I look forward to continuing this dialogue with the witnesses at today's hearing and other interested parties and stakeholders.  I also pledge my best efforts to keep the enduring principles embodied in the trust relationship at the forefront whenever this Committee conducts business on behalf of the Native peoples of the United States.


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