November 4, 2011 - Tulsa World
WASHINGTON - A bill by U.S. Rep. Tom Cole to encourage business between American Indian tribes and Turkey received a boost Thursday from a key lawmaker who urged quick passage.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, pledged to move the Oklahoma Republican's bill as a stand-alone measure if necessary, citing the need for economic development in Indian Country.
In his testimony, Cole struck a similar note.
"Statistically, Indians are the most impoverished group of people in our country and suffer from the highest rates of unemployment,'' he said. "Currently, economic development on tribal land is hampered by a restrictive and archaic leasing system.''
Under Cole's bill, the secretary of interior would be directed to create a demonstration project to allow up to six tribes or groups of tribes to develop their own leasing guidelines to engage in business with companies based in Turkey.
After those guidelines win approval by the interior secretary, the tribes would be free to operate under them without seeking approval for every individual lease.
"The single most frequent question people ask me about H.R. 2362 is: Why Turkey?'' said Cole, who as a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma is believed to be the only enrolled tribal member currently in Congress.
"People in Turkey have a genuine affinity towards American Indians. Many Turks believe that Indians share a common ancestry with the Turks dating back millennia."
If his bill succeeds, Cole predicted other foreign governments and corporations may well follow Turkey's example and invest in Indian Country.
His bill also drew statements of support from Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., the panel's ranking member and a cosponsor of the Cole bill, and John Berrey, chairman of the Business Committee of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma.
Berrey spoke of his participation in a trip to Turkey sponsored by the Turkish Coalition of America.
Since that 2010 trip, Berrey said, tribal leaders and Indian organizations have been working with the coalition, and he said his tribe would be interested in being one of those selected for the demonstration project.
He cited the construction industry and animal hides as two areas that offer opportunities for tribes and Turkish businesses.
In response to concerns by Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa, about what he called Turkey's "tough neighborhood" and a potential fallout over foreign policy, Berrey said tribes would be aware of such concerns.
Tribes, he said, would not "give away the farm'' just to do business with Turkey.
Turkish Coalition of America President Lincoln McCurdy spoke of Turkey's interest in pursuing business with American Indian tribes as well as that country's rapid rise as an economic powerhouse.
Mike Black, director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, expressed support for the principles of Cole's bill but said the agency had concerns about certain parts.
Comments by both Black and Young indicated a willingness to work toward resolving the BIA's concerns.