November 10, 2006

What happens with Democrats in charge

An interview with Senate Committee on Indian Affairs staff member Patricia ZellOnce upon a time, under similar circumstances, the Native-specific answer turned out to be ... more than anyone would have imagined at the outset. Enough to still impress and resonate, 20 years later. Enough to make even hard-nosed Washington politicos believe in the magic dust of empowerment. Beginning in 1986, when Democrats won a majority of congressional seats going into the final two years of the Ronald Reagan presidency, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs became the central player in a period of storied accomplishment on Native issues that hasn't been equaled since. Reauthorization of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act; passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act; initiation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and, growing out of it, the National Museum of the American Indian; and a host of legislation not up to those landmark standards, but still of the first importance, all became law or got their start in the 100th Congress.

“To get just one of them done would be an accomplishment,” said Patricia Zell, then the committee's general counsel for the majority Democrats. “And there were just scores and scores.”

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