WASHINGTON – This week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on H.R. 2362, the Indian Tribal Trade and Investment Demonstration Project Act of 2011. Introduced by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the only Native American member of Congress, the bill had the full backing of major tribal groups and strong bipartisan support. 58% (222) of the members present voted in favor of the bill. Though it did not meet the two-thirds majority required to pass the legislation under suspension vote, a process reserved for normally non-controversial bills, it did receive enough votes to obtain a simple majority on the full House – a major accomplishment for any piece of legislation. This is also the first time the Turkish American community took the initiative to create positive change through substantive legislation in Congress.
H.R. 2362 sought to reduce restrictive and archaic leasing system requirements on tribal land that contribute to high unemployment and stymie economic growth by inviting foreign investment from all 155 World Trade Organization (WTO) member countries. H.R. 2362 would have streamlined the land leasing and application review process by allowing tribes to develop and implement their own leasing guidelines.
"This success brought together Democrats and Republicans for the sole purpose of helping Native Americans, the most impoverished people in our country," said G. Lincoln McCurdy, President of the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA), a US-based non-profit organization which advocated on behalf of the legislation. "TCA remains committed to, and fully intends, to pursue all avenues to help strengthen commercial and cultural ties between Turkey and Indian Country."
For many years Turkey and Turkish-Americans have worked to build bridges with Native Americans. Turkey was the first and only foreign government to send an official delegation to the Reservation Economic Summit, the premiere tribal economic conference. H.R. 2362 was the result of many conversations on how to best facilitate and encourage foreign investment in tribal lands.
During floor debate prior to the vote, six members of Congress rose to support the bill and thank Turkey for being a key supporter of spurring economic growth on tribal lands. In his remarks, Rep. Cole praised Turkey as a key ally of the United States and urged his colleagues to use the opportunity to strengthen the alliance through increased trade.
In arguing for stronger U.S.-Turkey ties, Rep. Moran (D-Va.) highlighted Turkey's long and deep relationship with Israel. He pointed out that trade between the two countries has continually increased despite diplomatic tension, indicating a mutual desire from both countries to overcome their differences and work together to grow their economies.
Opposition to H.R. 2362 came from Armenian and Greek American communities, who raised the Cyprus issue and World War I-era grievances against Turkey, a key supporter of providing Tribes with economic access to fellow WTO states. During the floor debate, Rep. Cole stressed the irrelevancy of the opposition's argument.
"This legislation has nothing to do with ancient or current disputes between Turkey and Armenia or Greece," said Rep. Cole during the House floor debate. "This bill is about helping American Indians. We ought to put aside the disputes of the old world and focus on helping the original inhabitants of the new world, which is exactly what this legislation would do."
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