At the urging of Tribal leaders from across the continent, United States Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer is eager to allow Tribes full and permanent use of the Old Senate Chamber — which sits empty except for historic preservation purposes — so that Tribal governments could be better situated to participate in the federal legislative process and, perhaps, future treaty-making with the United States Senate.
But Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is technically responsible for the Capitol’s building and grounds, has been slow to agree — delaying a firm approval for more than four months. The delay has puzzled tribal leaders, who received private assurances from Schumer months ago that Schumer’s plan would proceed quickly.
“I can’t imagine Pelosi denying tribal leaders the ability to use the Old Senate Chamber, especially when better engagement with Tribal governments has been deemed essential by the Democratic caucus and in the Democratic National Convention’s party platform,” an aide to Schumer explains. “Schumer is fully on board with allowing Tribes full and permanent use of the chamber, but the Speaker still needs to sign off.”
The staffer is unsure of why Pelosi would delay making a decision, unless it is being saved for midterm elections next year when she might be able to campaign on the issue in some Western swing districts in Arizona, New Mexico, or Minnesota.
But Schumer — who hasn’t been particularly attentive to the needs of Tribal governments in New York — isn’t satisfied with the delay. Schumer faces a prospective primary campaign challenge from the left, likely led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, who has made overtures to Tribal leaders in recent months. Ocasio-Cortes could have the monied backing of Indian gaming corporations across the country unless Schumer can deliver his already-made promise of the Old Senate Chamber.
Tentative planning inside Schumer’s office would contract the National Congress of American Indians, the largest association of sovereign tribal governments in North America, to manage the space and its use by Tribal governments for a slew of functions ranging from ceremonial observances to policy advocacy, to legislative hearings. Schumer hopes that much of what happens inside the chamber leads to newfound collaboration between Tribal governments themselves, in addition to collaboration with Congress.
Indigenous artists and artisans from across the continent are eager to contribute their works to furnish the redecoration of the Chamber — likely to include handcrafted animal furs, leathers, and beadworks of every sort.