Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak: I will respect Nevada tribes’ sovereignty
Special to First Nation’s Focus
EDITOR’S NOTE: In October, Stacey Montooth, Community Information Officer for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, attempted to conduct a Q-and-A with Nevada governor candidates Adam Laxalt (Rep.) and Steve Sisolak (Dem.), with hopes of running responses in the October print edition of First Nation’s Focus, and online, prior to Election Day. Laxalt did not meet the deadline. Sisolak did, however — and considering he was sworn in on Jan. 7 as the 30th elected governor of the State of Nevada, FNF is publishing his answers to the Q-and-A this month to give Native residents in Nevada an idea where he stands on certain issues. Below are his answers, originally submitted to First Nation’s Focus in early October.
What do you believe your responsibility is to Nevada Tribes?
Sisolak: I believe my responsibility is first and foremost to respect tribes’ sovereignty. Tribes are sovereign nations with responsibility and authority for the lands of their colonies and reservations, and for the well-being of their people. My responsibility as governor is to enable tribes to exercise their sovereignty by respecting tribal-federal communication and decision-making without state intervention, yet with the collaboration and support of state government when that is beneficial to the tribes’ objectives. My job as governor is to assure that tribes are engaged with, not isolated from, the planning and decisions that affect their land, their people, and their opportunities. For example, economic development efforts should be approached in conjunction with rural and urban tribes. Also, it is important that tribes receive the sales tax for goods sold on their lands so that they may use it to meet tribal needs and priorities.
What directions/instructions will you give to state agencies as it relates to working with Nevada Tribes?
Sisolak: My direction will be to first ensure that state agencies know what tribal sovereignty means and what their consultation responsibilities are. Further, agencies should work with tribes in coordinating such services as emergency management, law enforcement, and taxation. Many major state departments have tribal liaisons, which I applaud. We need conduits for information, communication, and collaboration. My instruction to agency and department directors will be to include those liaisons in key agency planning and implementation activities, making sure the liaisons feel welcome to bring up potential impacts and opportunities vis-a-vis tribes related to agency initiatives and actions. We need to ensure that the strength of the state benefits and leverages the strengths of Nevada’s tribes and supports them in meeting the needs of their members whenever possible.
How will a tribe communicate with you if the relationship between an agency and a respective tribe breaks down?
Sisolak: I intend to have a member of my team tasked with the responsibility for tribal relations. I would welcome an individual tribe to contact that person or a Tribal Chair to contact me directly if the need arises.
How will you work with Tribal people to overcome the misconception that sacred funerary objects and/or Native “artifacts,” which are inadvertently unearthed (e.g., during construction), belong to the state or federal government (the desire to study Natives and their cultural items rather than respecting them as items belonging to Tribal people is driven by science and a bias that has been present over the history of this country)?
Sisolak: I will work with state agencies and tribes to ensure protocol for these situations when remains or other sacred objects are unearthed or disturbed so that we fully respect tribes’ desires for the return of Native objects and remains to tribes’ possession.
Your opponent has a difference stance regarding the Nevada commerce tax. According to a Legislative Counsel Bureau analysis, a repeal of Nevada’s commerce tax would cost the state government about $161.3 million in fiscal 2019, which, according to the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, is 5 percent of Nevada’s approximately $27 billion general fund. Why or why not do you support the Nevada commerce tax?
Sisolak: I support the Commerce Tax because the funding it provides for our education system is critical. If we want to deliver a bright future for all our children, we need to give them the high-quality education they deserve. That means funding our schools and not cutting these much-needed resources.
Finally, to date, how many and which of Nevada’s 27 Tribal communities have you visited?
Sisolak: I have visited multiple tribes, including the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. I also have had the pleasure of attending the Numaga Days Pow Wow at the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony’s Hungry Valley community over Labor Day weekend. I have invited all Chairs of Nevada Tribes to a meeting with me at the offices of the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada in Sparks, and by teleconference, on October 12 so that I may introduce myself and may learn of their priorities for the next Governor. O