“Being Frank” Cooperation helps us survive

 

Lorraine Loomis, a Swinomish tribal member, is chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and fisheries manager for the Swinish Tribe.

 

By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

 

I am glad that the treaty tribes in western Washington were finally able to reach agreement with the state on a package of conservative salmon fisheries for Puget Sound. It took more than a month of overtime negotiations to make it happen, but cooperative co-management showed us the way.

Western Washington is unique because 20 treaty Indian tribes and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife jointly manage the salmon resource and share the harvestable number of fish returning each year.

That job was a lot easier when there were more fish to go around. But salmon populations have been declining steadily for decades because their habitat is disappearing faster than it can be restored. Salmon returns the past couple of years – especially coho – have taken a sharp turn for the worse.

Some say just stop fishing and that will fix the problem. It won’t. From birth to death, habitat is the single most important aspect of a salmon’s life. As the habitat goes, so go the salmon and tribal culture and their treaty fishing rights.

For millions of years, salmon were abundant in western Washington. Their sheer numbers, naturally high productivity and good habitat provided resiliency from the effects of disease, drought and a host of other environmental factors. We must rebuild that resilience.

As salmon populations grow smaller, management becomes increasingly difficult, and the co-managers struggle to divide a steadily shrinking pie. We must make the pie bigger.

The non-stop loss of salmon habitat in western Washington must be halted so that our habitat restoration efforts can successfully increase natural salmon production. In the meantime, we need to rely on hatcheries to provide for harvest and help offset the continuing loss of habitat.

We also must build resiliency in the co-manager relationship created by the 1974 ruling in U.S. v. Washington that upheld tribal treaty-reserved rights and established the tribes as salmon co-managers.

We remember the bad old days of the late ’70s and early ’80s when the tribal and state co-manager relationship was new and mistrust ran deep. We spent a lot of time, money and energy fighting one another in federal court hearings rather than focusing together on the resource.

Things didn’t begin to change until former state Fish and Wildlife director Bill Wilkerson said enough was enough and sat down with the late NWIFC Chairman Billy Frank Jr. The result was the birth of cooperative co-management in 1984 which led to the annual development of agreed fishing plans that allowed the tribes and state to focus on managing the fish instead of fighting each other in court.

This year, for the first time in more than three decades, the tribal and state co-managers failed to reach agreement on a joint package of Puget Sound salmon fisheries within the North of Falcon process timeframe. Instead we developed separate fishing plans for consideration by NOAA Fisheries under their ESA authority.

But in the true spirit of co-management, we kept the door open to further negotiations, and it worked. We weathered the storm together and we are stronger for it.

We know our relationship will be tested again in the years to come. But this year has shown us that we can survive those challenges as long as we keep cooperation at the heart of co-management.

Menominee tribal members vote yes on 2 marijuana proposals; advisory vote only

By the Associated Press

KESHENA, Wis. — Members of the Menominee Indian Tribe have endorsed the possible legalization of marijuana for medicinal and recreational use on their northeastern Wisconsin reservation, the tribe announced Friday.

In what tribal leaders called an advisory vote, about 77 percent of members voting said they backed medical marijuana. The vote was closer on recreational use, with about 58 percent of voting members saying yes.

Chairman Gary Besaw said tribal legislators will now study whether to move forward on both issues. He didn’t have a timetable for how quickly that might happen.

The Justice Department announced in 2014 it would let Indian tribes legalize and regulate marijuana, but most tribes have been reluctant to move forward with the new freedom for concern about possible public safety and health consequences. Besaw said the Menominee “have to be cautious.”

“This is all new ground we’re breaking,” Besaw said. “It’s hard to get definitive answers.”

Asked whether the tribe would consider commercial sales — selling marijuana to non-members — Besaw said only that the tribe would defer to the U.S. attorney’s office in Wisconsin in interpreting the Justice Department’s 2014 memorandum. In South Dakota, where the Flandreau Santee Sioux has announced plans to develop a pot-selling operation, the U.S. attorney has warned that non-Indians would be breaking the law if they consume pot on the reservation.

Greg Haanstad, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, had no comment, a spokeswoman said.

Besaw noted the easier vote on medicinal marijuana.

“People more clearly understand the benefit of medicinal marijuana,” Besaw said. “Even those who voted no on the recreational have said … we know there is value in medicinal marijuana and there clearly are individuals who benefit from it.”

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said in a statement he was disappointed in the tribe’s vote, saying eventual legalization could pose “serious challenges for law enforcement.”

About 13 percent of the tribe’s 9,000 members cast ballots.

The possibility comes on the heels of the tribe’s unsuccessful effort to open a casino in Kenosha.

Tribes scramble to avoid $1 million in fines under Affordable Care Act

Diabetes patient Jay Littlewolf says he sought medical help for a diabetic ulcer at a Billings hospital after not receiving "adequate health care through the IHS in Lame Deer." He wants reimbursement from the IHS and sought Sen. Jon Tester's assistance.Photo/Larry Mayer, Gazette staff

Diabetes patient Jay Littlewolf says he sought medical help for a diabetic ulcer at a Billings hospital after not receiving “adequate health care through the IHS in Lame Deer.” He wants reimbursement from the IHS and sought Sen. Jon Tester’s assistance.
Photo/Larry Mayer, Gazette staff

By Tom Lutey, The Missoulian

BILLINGS – Montana’s Indian tribes, which until recently thought the Affordable Care Act would pass them by, could face fines exceeding $1 million for not offering insurance to employees.

Beginning in 2016, businesses with 50 or more full-time workers will have to offer at least a minimum amount of health insurance to employees. Those who don’t comply face tax penalties, and that includes tribal governments.

The requirement has been a surprise to tribes, said George Heavy Runner, Blackfeet Insurance Services health and wellness coordinator. As individuals, American Indians have the option of choosing not to follow Affordable Care Act rules. Many assumed tribal governments, which are sovereign, had that same option.

“We thought this was a ship kind of passing us by,” Heavy Runner said. “But it’s not just a ship passing through the night. We have been identified in this legislation, just not where we thought we would be.”

Tax penalties facing the Blackfeet Tribe for not complying could be as high as $1.1 million. Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote said the size of the fee depends on how many people a tribal government employs.

“If we don’t do the mandate, we’re going to be fined for the number of employees we have, and that number could be up to $1.5 million,” Old Coyote said. “We pay federal tax, and our employees pay federal tax and so we’re part of the large employer mandate.”

The tribes can avoid the fees by offering the insurance to their workers. Old Coyote said the Crow have hired a benefits manager to do just that.

***

The change caught tribes off-guard because American Indians by treaty receive health care via the Indian Health Service on reservations. IHS is much maligned by tribal members for not providing adequate health care and for not covering services by specialists outside the IHS program.

Because IHS is limited, tribal members who work for their government would benefit from having other health care, Old Coyote said. The challenge is having a health care plan to offer by next year.

Suing to get off the employer mandate has already been tried. In February, Wyoming’s Northern Arapaho Tribe failed to convince a federal judge to block the employer mandate. The Northern Arapaho argued that subjecting tribes to the employer mandate was an oversight that overlooked treaty rights related to Indian health care, while also stating that tax credits and benefits granted to Indians under the Affordable Care Act would be denied.

Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., announced a bill to exempt tribes from the employer mandate. Daines called the mandate a job killer for tribal governments, who wouldn’t hire as many employees if they had to pay significant penalties.

Other sponsors of the bill, such as Republican Sen. John Thune, of South Dakota, said it was unfair to exempt individual tribal members and not exempt tribal governments as well.

However, exempting tribes from the employer mandate won’t help the nagging problems with Indian health care, said a representative for Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

“This bill does nothing to solve the underlying problem, which is crisis-level health disparities among Native Americans,” said Marnee Banks. “If we are serious about increasing access to quality health care in Indian Country, we will expand Medicaid and adequately fund the Indian Health Service.”

***

IHS spending on Indian patients was $2,741 per person in 2013, according to the National Congress of American Indians, which asserts that IHS is severely underfunded. Medicaid spending, by comparison was $5,841.

The state of Montana is awaiting federal approval of the state’s plan to begin offering Medicaid to Montanans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Medicaid expansion would extend benefits to as many as 11,000 tribal members over the next four years, said Jon Ebelt of Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services. The program would benefit tribal health care in general, Ebelt said.

“Medicaid expansion revenue will be critical for building health infrastructure, expanding the workforce, and keeping health care providers in tribal communities,” Ebelt said. “Medicaid revenues will bring new funds to the programs and further investment in the Indian health system infrastructure and workforce. This is an opportunity to provide more health care services, create more jobs and employ more Native Americans in tribal communities.”

Old Coyote said he’s concerned that state benefits representatives won’t be able to clearly explain the expanded Medicaid program to some Crow Indians who speak Crow as their primary language. He’s asked the state to provide a benefits representative who is fluent in Crow.

Ebelt said the state is able to provide translation assistance if necessary and in determining an outreach plan with members of the Indian Health Service at Crow Agency.

New Senate committee incorporates tribes into policymaking

By Eastern Arizona Courier

Members of the new state Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs met for the first time in Phoenix on July 15. On the committee is San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler, second from left.

Members of the new state Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs met for the first time in Phoenix on July 15. On the committee is San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler, second from left.

PHOENIX — A new state Senate committee made its debut July 15.

The Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs is designed as a joint undertaking between the state and the tribes. State Sen. Carlyle Begay, D-Ganado, said he launched the committee as a way to foster crucial relationships and open communication between tribal leaders and state government.

“There are 22 tribal communities in Arizona, and it’s essential that we bridge the gap between the tribes and state government so we can work together on some of Arizona’s prominent issues, such as Indian gaming and water rights,” Begay said. “This committee seeks to improve communications and build a sense of trust between Arizona’s tribal citizens, communities and governments.”

Tribal issues often cut across party lines, so with this in mind, the committee was formed with Democrats, Republicans and tribal leaders as members to ensure balanced views and perspectives.

“I want to thank the state Senate for establishing the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs and including tribal leaders. Today our discussions centered on Indian education, and I am hopeful that this is a new era of collaboration between the state of Arizona and Indian tribes. This will not only provide education and awareness, but a joint partnership on improving relations between governments,” said San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler,

During the first meeting, the committee received reports from the Arizona Department of Education on the status of Native American education, on the activities of the ADE Native American Advisory Council and from the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools.

The committee also heard presentations regarding Native American Joint Technical Education District (JTED) program funding and the Indian School Bus Routes Maintenance Program. Representatives from the Goldwater Institute updated the committee on the status of the Indian Child Welfare Act lawsuit. Finally, the committee heard testimony from the public.

The next Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs will be in August.

Eastern Pequot chairman vows to fight new tribal recognition rule

By Brian Hallenbeck, TheDay

North Stonington — Dennis Jenkins, chairman of the Eastern Pequot Tribe, on Monday decried the “dirty politics” he said stand to prevent his tribe from getting another shot at federal recognition.

Responding for the first time to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s adoption of a new “rule” governing the recognition process for Indian tribes, Jenkins said “backroom dealings” in Washington had ensured that Connecticut tribes that had been denied recognition in the past would not get the opportunity to reapply for the coveted status that would make them eligible for federal assistance and enable them to pursue casino development.

Jenkins, in a phone interview, also revealed that Katherine Sebastian Dring, a longtime tribal councilor with a background in education and the law, will succeed him as chairman later this month.

“I knew it was going to happen,” Jenkins said, referring to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs’ removal from the final rule a provision that would have allowed three state-recognized tribes in Connecticut — the Eastern Pequots, the Schaghticokes and the Golden Hill Paugussetts — to reapply for recognition. A draft of the rule had also included a provision that would have allowed parties to a successful appeal of a tribe’s recognition to block that tribe’s reapplication. The Easterns won recognition in 2002, only to have it withdrawn three years later after the state and the towns of North Stonington, Ledyard and Preston objected.

Jenkins testified last year against the so-called “third-party veto” provision, which most observers believed would have been found unconstitutional.

“Everyone knew it was in trouble,” Jenkins said of the provision. “But it doesn’t make sense that tribes can’t repetition, whether they go to the back of the line, or the front of the line. There are tribes that were denied at first and then got recognized. The Mohegans were denied, but they were able to submit additional documentation and they got recognized.”

Jenkins said Connecticut’s elected leaders, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and the rest of the state’s congressional delegation, pressured the BIA to prevent the Connecticut tribes from filing new applications for recognition. But, Jenkins said, when the Easterns sought to meet in Washington with Kevin Washburn, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for Indian affairs, they were turned away.

“They got to the president and the bureau,” he said of the politicians. “But Blumenthal and his co-conspirators shouldn’t be doing their high-fives and partying just yet. We’re not going to go down without a fight.”

Leaders of the Schaghticokes and the Golden Hill Paugussetts expressed similar sentiments in the wake of the BIA’s adoption of the new federal-recognition rule.

Jenkins said Eastern Pequot tribal members who are attorneys are looking into ways the tribe can fight the rule.

Elected in 2013 to complete the term of Brian Geer, the former chairman charged with embezzling from the tribe, Jenkins decided some time ago to not seek re-election. He said Sebastian Dring, the tribal council’s corresponding secretary, was the only eligible candidate for the post and would be elected July 25 at the tribe’s annual meeting. Sebastian Dring will not comment on tribal matters until then, Jenkins said.

“Kathy is a very capable person who knows the tribe’s petition inside and out,” he said.

At the annual meeting, tribal members will discuss and vote on a proposed development project that Jenkins declined to identify.

“We’re broke. We need to generate some funding,” he said.

As chairman, Jenkins has repeatedly stated that he doesn’t believe the tribe should pursue a casino if it ever gains federal recognition.

“We would never give up the right to open a casino, but there are so many other economic development projects,” he said. “We have several people interested in working with the tribe on things other than casinos.”

Oil Impacts Could Be Catastrophic

“The Oil Industry’s Sacrifice Zone”

        

 Source: Water4fish

HOQUIAM, WA (6/11/15)–  Presenters at a Wednesday night public forum here, which focused on the probable economic and environmental impacts of increased storage and transport of oil in Grays Harbor County, concurred that the results could catastrophic, said Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp, who added, “the impacts on tribal culture would be beyond measure.”

“Coastal Washington, The Oil Industry’s Sacrifice Zone,” was held at the Little Theater at Hoquiam High School, organized by a coalition of local organizations rallying against the three proposed oil storage facilities at the Port of Grays Harbor and others along the Washington coast. The facilities, proposed by Westway Terminals, Imperium Renewables and U.S. Development, are currently undergoing environmental impact statements under supervision by the state Department of Ecology. Presenters included Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler, Washington Dungeness Crab Fisherman Association Vice President Larry Thevik and President Sharp. Numerous other local officials attended to demonstrate their opposition to planned oil expansion and the forum was moderated by Eric de Place, of Seattle-based think tank Sightline Institute.

President Sharp pointed out that tribal members have fished and gathered in the Grays Harbor region for hundreds of years and that increased oil traffic will make that more difficult.

 “An oil spill would devastate the fish, shellfish and plants that sustain the QIN identity and culture, and would decimate the Grays Harbor economy,” she said.

To achieve a direct and accurate analysis of the potential impacts to Quinault rights and interests, the tribe hired an economist firm, Resource Dimension (RD) of Gig Harbor to do a comprehensive economic analysis of potential impacts the three proposed terminal projects would have on tribal treaty rights and economic interests. RD researched economic data, interviewed several tribal fishers and gatherers, and considered various oil spill scenarios to evaluate economic impacts to QIN from these facilities.

 “One thing was clear from the beginning. It is impossible to assign an economic value to the cultural and spiritual aspects of our treaty-protected rights,” said President Sharp. “We will always fight to protect those rights, because they define us as a people. It’s who we are. But measureable economics are also important. In this case, the  quantified economics clearly point out the folly of further expanding oil transportation and storage in Grays Harbor County,” she said.

The RD study found that in 2013  668.5 direct jobs were generated by Treaty fishery-based activities and select fishery-related QIN-owned businesses. Purchases made by these entities supported an additional 132.2 induced jobs in the region. The study also found that 107 indirect jobs supported $32.1 million of local purchases made by businesses supplying services to these firms. Direct wages and salaries amounting to $27.6 million were received by the 668.5 directly employed. Re-spending of this income created an additional $5.0 million of income and consumption expenditures in Washington, principally in Grays Harbor County. Those holding induced jobs received $4.3 million in indirect income. Businesses providing services to these firms received $84.7 million of revenues.

Also, in 2013, other QIN businesses contributed 907 jobs, $36.8 million in direct/indirect income, $84.6 million in business revenue, representing $32 million in local spending.

 “These figures, which will continue to increase as we invest more in sustainable businesses, training and cooperative efforts with our neighboring communities, clearly demonstrate the profound importance of tourism and a healthy environment in the Grays Harbor area,” said President Sharp.

RD modeled three oil spill scenarios: one on the lower Chehalis River, one in Grays Harbor and one just outside the entrance to Grays Harbor to demonstrate potential economic losses from an oil spill. Among numerous other findings, it was determined that due to minimal containment due to limited spill response capability and tidal and climactic conditions, a spill in Grays Harbor would spread throughout the entire harbor and seaward in a matter of hours. Oil would not be able to be stopped before reaching sensitive areas in the harbor, and the oil would persist. It would kill salmon and other life forms, from the time it spills, for years to come. Shellfish would be particularly vulnerable and acute mortality would be expected. The crab and clam populations in and around Grays Harbor would be devastated, as would the economies based on them. At the minimum, modeled spill scenarios indicate that over the three years of the worst economic impact from a spill, between 105 and 151 tribal fishing jobs would be reduced. Tribal fishing incomes would be slashed from between $12.8 million and $17.1 million, and overall fishing incomes could reduce from between $24 million to $40 million.

Impacts to QIN businesses, such as the hotels, casino and QMARTS over a three-year period following a major spill could result in a loss of 118 to 229 jobs, along with personal income losses of $14.7 million to $28 million, QIN business losses of $29million to $70 million, and local purchasing losses of $10.3 million to $23.4 million.

 “It’s important to remember that these are non-Indian as well as Indian jobs, and that ultimately the oil industry proposals result in just a handful of jobs. How much clearer can this decision be? The risk the oil industry is asking us to take is not worth it,” said President Sharp.

 De Place first talked about the large number of proposed and active oil storage sites that have popped up in the Pacific Northwest since 2012, saying the amount of carbon in those projects is roughly equivalent to five and half Keystone XL Pipelines. He estimated the three terminals would result in 300 to 400 additional loaded oil vessels per year taking loaded crude oil out of the Harbor, with about 800 to 900 extra oil trains annually, or two and a half to three dangerous oil trains coming through Grays Harbor daily. He said the federally estimated cost to recover from a worst-case scenario derailment is about $5 billion, or at least ten times the amount of insurance most railways carry.

 “If there were an accident, the local community would be left to pick up the tab,” he said.

Thevik, a commercial fisherman for 45 years, said the oil proposals could have severely damaging effects on the Grays Harbor economy. He cited a recent report that said more than 2,000 jobs and more than $200 million in revenue come from commercial fishing activity in Westport, adding that a National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration study stated 67,000 jobs in Washington State were based on seafood-related activity. In Grays Harbor County 31 percent of the local workforce depends on marine resources. Yet the oil that would move through proposed Grays Harbor and Vancouver sites would equal half of the oil moved by rail throughout the entire country in 2014. He noted that the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 spilled 11 million gallons of oil, affecting 1,300 miles of Alaskan coastline. On Grays Harbor, proposed oil transport would see tankers carrying upwards of 15 million gallons each.

 “Our members have witnessed first-hand the difficult task of recovery of oil on water and on shorelines. Many have also witnessed the promise to pay for damages and the reality of payment,” he said, adding that Exxon was appealing judgments for payment 19 years after the Alaska spill. A quarter of a century later, the company still owed $92 million and much of the oil is still there, the cleanup job apparently long since abandoned.

Dingler talked about the “Nestucca” oil spill that occurred in 1988 on the Washington coast. She, too, talked of the severe economic effects a spill would have on the region’s economically.    

 “Ocean Shores is known for our beach,” she said, adding “oil spills can easily change that.”

Local tribes continue fight for federal recognition

By Jacob Batte, The Courier

HOUMA, La. (AP) – For local Indian tribes seeking federal recognition, congressional pushback is disappointing, but nothing new.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is demanding the Obama administration hold off on new rules that could make it easier for Indian groups to win federal recognition as tribes.

American Indians have been pushing for years to revise the process, but proposed regulations nearing the finish line have deeply divided existing tribes and Congress.

Bishop says he’s prepared to use every tool at his disposal to block enactment of the regulations. He criticized the Interior Department for forwarding the regulations to the Office of Management and Budget for final approval last week. He said the administration has ignored lawmakers’ requests to hold off on the rules until Congress has a chance to review them.

Albert Naquin, chief of the Isle de Jean Charles band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, which includes about 600 members, said he’s saddened by the lengths some politicians have gone to hold tribes back.

Asked to comment on the efforts of people like Bishop, whom Naquin likened to anti-Indian President Andrew Jackson, he said he didn’t know how to answer the question, “but to get mad and express my real opinion.”

Federal recognition has been granted to 566 American tribes, and it is sought by others because of the health and education benefits it brings to tribal members, along with opportunities for commercial development.

Under the current recognition process, which dates back to 1978, the Interior Department has recognized 17 tribes and denied 34 requests, including the United Houma Nation in 1996 because, according to the government’s judgment, the tribe failed to prove it had an unbroken connection to the historic Houma tribe.

The Houma Nation, which boasts some 17,000 members, is recognized by the state but has tried since the 1970s to win federal recognition, which tribal leaders say could open the door to grants to address poverty and improve education.

The Lafourche and Terrebonne parish councils have expressed support for both tribes as well as the Pointe-au-Chien tribe.

The tribe isn’t looking for “a check in everyone’s hands” but rather the chance for proper education, health care and a sense of solace knowing where they live won’t vanish into the sea, said Houma Nation Principal Chief Thomas Dardar.

Dardar said the tribe is looking for around 300 acres of land, but 10 acres at the start of the process. Federal recognition would aid in that goal, he said.

The fight for recognition is expensive to the tribes, Naquin said. His tribe has spent money it doesn’t have to research put together the proposal.

A proposed rule issued 11 months ago changes some of the thresholds groups would need to meet to be federally recognized as a tribe. For example, the proposed regulation reduced how far back in time a tribe must demonstrate it has been a distinct political entity with authority over its members.

The National Congress of American Indians, whose members include leaders from dozens of tribes, is supporting the administration’s efforts.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have expressed concern about the cost to the federal government and how approval of new tribes could alter the casino landscape in their home states.

“They think it’s about casinos, which have benefited a lot of tribes in a lot of ways. Not every tribe has casinos,” Dardar said. “That’s not even on our radar. … We’re worried about land loss and becoming more resilient.”

Existing tribes have also raised the casino issue and say that adding tribes would stretch already scarce federal resources allocated for health care, education and housing for Native Americans.

Dardar does share Bishop’s concern over easing the process of obtaining federal recognition. While there’s too much red tape now, he said, it shouldn’t be so easy that “anyone can come along and say we’re a tribe.”

Local tribes are optimistic their fight for federal recognition will soon prove fruitful.

Naquin said his tribe has employed someone to write up its proposal for federal recognition, and he believes it meets all the criteria. Now, he said, it’s a matter of putting it all together in the formal application.

“We did our research and we’ve got it done,” Naquin said. “We’re doing everything we can so they can’t come back and deny us.”

SAD 54 residents argue over keeping the Indian mascot for school sports teams

The SAD 54 school board limited remarks to residents of the districts towns and state legislators.

Harold Bigelow speaks in favor of keeping the use of the word Indian for SAD 54 sports teams. Bigelow and others spoke during a forum in Skowhegan on Monday. Staff photo by David Leaming

Harold Bigelow speaks in favor of keeping the use of the word Indian for SAD 54 sports teams. Bigelow and others spoke during a forum in Skowhegan on Monday. Staff photo by David Leaming

By Doug Harlow, CentralMaine.com

SKOWHEGAN — Whose heritage is honored by the Native American image and the name “Indians” for sports teams?

Is it the players, parents and boosters of Skowhegan Area High School who say the nickname is their tradition, their identity and their way of respecting Native Americans by channeling their strength and bravery in sports competition?

Or does the heritage belong to the native people who lived for centuries along the banks of the Kennebec River, only to be wiped out by disease, war and racism with the arrival of Europeans?

That was the question Monday night during a public forum on the continued use of the word “Indians” as a sports mascot, nickname or good luck charm.

The School Administrative District 54 board agreed to hold the forum, noting that only residents of the school district and state legislators be allowed to speak. The decision drew criticism from those supporting the name change that the gathering would be one-sided, calling it a “mock forum,” but others said it was fair to give residents of SAD 54 their chance to speak out.

Representatives of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac tribes — all members of the umbrella Wabanaki federation in Maine — told a school board subcommittee April 13 that the use of the word Indians is an insult to Native Americans. Members of the four Indian tribes want the name changed. They say they are people and people are not mascots.

The SAD 54 school board will discuss the matter at their regular meeting on Thursday possibly leading to a vote on the issue.

Speakers at the forum appeared to be divided evenly for and against keeping the name. Each speaker was given two minutes to speak.

Harold Bigelow, of Skowhegan, told the assembly of more than 60 people that there are Native Americans “who side with us” in support of keeping Skowhegan the Indians.

“The natives today are being compensated for their past with entitlements and free education,” Bigelow said. “I personally feel they ought to focus on their own problems within, rather than creating problems for others. It is definitely not racist. Do what is right — this is our history, not theirs.”

Mary Stuart, of Canaan, a former SAD 54 teacher, stood to ask with a show of hands how many people in the audience were veterans. She then asked how many had relatives that were veterans. Many more hands were raised.

Stuart then said the people who are veterans get to say they are veterans — not their children and grandchildren — and it’s the same with American Indians.

“I am not a veteran, and we are not Indians,” she said.

School board members said last week that because tribal members had their chance to speak in April, that Monday’s forum was designed to give local people a chance to have their say.

The gymnasium at Skowhegan Area Middle School filled before the meeting with people holding signs saying “Retire the Mascot” and others wearing Skowhegan Indians baseball caps in support of keeping the name.

John Alsop, of Cornville, called for the elimination of the mascot name.

“I contend that if we wish to honor the Indians as we say that we do, we should start first by listening to them,” Alsop said. “If they say they do not want their heritage, their traditions, their culture and identity used as a mascot, then I think we should do as they ask. We should respect their point of view as friends.”

Judy York, of Skowhegan, disagreed, saying she grew up in poverty, just like many other people in the area, including the Native Americans. She said discussion on continued use of the word is all about a name. The school has dropped all of the offensive images of the past, York said.

“We no longer have the images on the shirts, fields or courts, so what is the problem?” York asked. “We have Indians on the brochures for tourism, so what is the difference? It’s who we are.”

Resident Sean Poirier agreed.

“We take pride in our community,” Poirier said. “We will be forever more Skowhegan Indians.”

At issue is not the town seal — an Indian spearing fish on the Kennebec River — or even the image of an Indian painted on the wall of the high school gymnasium, Barry Dana, of Solon, former chief of the Penobscot Nation, has said in the weeks leading up to the forum.

State Rep. Matthew Dana II, who represents the Passamaquoddy tribe in the Legislature, was unable to make Monday night’s forum.

Maliseet Tribal Representative Henry J. Bear was present Monday night and spoke briefly about community spirit and unity, wishing friendship for both sides of a passionate issue. He said after the Revolutionary War the first treaty the new “founders” of the United States made was with the St. John River Indians.

“The first treaty would be signed with the ‘Americans,’” Bear said. “We are the Americans. They were describing tribal people.”

Maulian Smith, a Penobscot woman who grew up and still lives and works on Indian Island, stood to read a letter from Kirk Francis, chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation who authorized her to speak for the tribe. Smith was told that because she is not a resident, she could not speak at the forum as a proxy. A Skowhegan police officer escorted her to her seat, but she would not sit down.

Former Skowhegan selectwoman and county commissioner Lynda Quinn said what the Indian mascot issue has created is fear.

“It’s fear of losing a community identity,” she said. “Fear of being racist. Fear that this is just the beginning of other things that will be forced upon us. Fear of our community being run by and dedicated by people from the outside. Fear begets hate, and hate thrives in political correctness.”

For about 90 minutes people stood to speak of culture and history and respect for what sports boosters grew up loving and honoring and respecting tribal people who say that the word Indian is not respecting them.

Some said it was time to start a new tradition, one based on the actual history of Skowhegan and the Kennebec River. Others said the tradition of Skowhegan Indian pride was here to stay.

Skowhegan is one of the only high schools left in Maine with an Indian mascot, bucking a national trend to end racial stereotyping of American Indians as sports mascots.

The first Maine school to change was Scarborough High School in 2001. The school dropped Redskins in favor of Red Storm. Husson University eliminated the Braves nickname and became the Eagles. In 2011 Wiscasset High School and Sanford High School eliminated the Redskins nickname. Wiscasset teams are now known as the Wolverines, while Sanford athletes are the Spartans.

In Old Town, the nickname Indians was dropped and Coyotes was adopted.

Greg Potter, superintendent of Newport-based RSU 19, which includes Nokomis Regional High School, said the American Indian image has not been dropped entirely at the high school, but has been incorporated along with other images in a kind of coat of arms to represent the district and its history, not a school sports mascot.

Wells High School has been the “Warriors” also and last year was in the process of phasing out Native American imagery to become a more neutral “Warriors,” according to a published report.

“It’s a process that has been ongoing,” Ellen Schneider, who was Wells superintendent of schools, said in May 2014. “It’s a non-issue in our community. We’re trying to do this quietly.”

Wells Town Manager Jonathan L. Carter on Monday said the Native American imagery appears to be still in place.

“I don’t think they’ve dropped it,” Carter said.

Carter said Schneider has since resigned along with the school district’s business manager, but that he does not know why. Helena Ackerson, chairman of the local school committee; Diana Allen, vice chairman; committee member Jason Vennard and Wells High School principal Jim Daly have not replied to email inquiries for comment on the issue.

Discontent over the Indian mascot is not new for Skowhegan schools.

The school board’s Educational Policy and Program Committee voted in 2001 to keep the Indian name and propose a single American Indian symbol to represent the teams. The SAD 54 board had debated the issue for two years after receiving a letter from the American Indian Movement in 1999. The letter called the use of an Indian for the high school’s mascot offensive.

A committee of high school staff and students in 2001 also surveyed 800 students and staff and found the majority felt that the use of the name “Indians” was not disrespectful, although many of the American Indian symbols, including murals and a wooden sculpture in the cafeteria, did not reflect the tribes from the area.

Another problem was that a mascot head with oversized facial features had been used at athletic events. School board directors banned use of that head after parents complained.

Bills Propose To Reverse National Labor Relations Board Jurisdiction Over Indian Tribal Governments

By Patrick Sulivan, Dickinson Wright PLLC, Gaming Legal News

The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) was enacted by Congress in 1935. The Act, also known as the Wagner Act after its champion, New York Senator Robert F. Wagner, passed the Senate in May 1935, the House in June 1935, and was signed into law by President Roosevelt on July 5, 1935. The Act’s purpose was to encourage workers’ collective bargaining rights and protect them from retribution for organizing unions. The Act created the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”), a new agency, to enforce the new policy.

Despite the fact that Congress had enacted sweeping pro-Indian legislation in the form of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 in the previous year, the NLRA did not mention Indian tribes at any point. Until 2004, Indian tribes and tribally owned businesses were generally assumed to be beyond the jurisdiction of the labor legislation with few exceptions.

In 2004, the NLRB reversed that assumption with a ruling that it had jurisdiction over the San Manuel Casino pursuant to the NLRA. The matter originated from a complaint filed with the NLRB by UNITE HERE!, a large California hotel and restaurant workers’ union, which complained that the Tribe had allowed a competing union, the Communication Workers of America, access to the casino to organize its employees while denying UNITE HERE! representatives access to the site. The Tribe moved to dismiss the proceeding for lack of jurisdiction.

The NLRB held that it had jurisdiction, reasoning that (1) the NLRA applies to tribal governments by its terms, despite any express reference to Indian tribes, (2) the legislative history of the NLRA did not suggest a tribal exception, and (3) federal Indian policy did not preclude the application for the NLRA to the commercial activities of tribal governments. The board found an unfair labor practice and ordered the Tribe to allow UNITE HERE! access to the casino workers.

The Tribe appealed the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. UNITE HERE! intervened as a defendant. The Court determined that the question of the NLRA’s application to Indian tribes turned on two related questions: (1) whether application of the NLRA to San Manuel’s casino would violate federal Indian law by impinging upon protected tribal sovereignty, and (2) whether the term “employer” in the NLRA reasonably encompasses Indian tribal governments operating commercial enterprises.

In resolving these questions, the D.C. Circuit recognized the tension between the Supreme Court’s 1960 holding in Federal Power Commission v. Tuscarora Indian Nation, that “a general statute in terms applying to all persons includes Indians and their property interests,” and other Supreme Court precedents favoring tribal sovereignty, including the 1978 Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez holding that any impairment of tribal sovereignty required a clear expression of Congressional intent in the statutory text. The Court resolved this tension by stating that “if the general law relates only to the extra-governmental activities of the tribe, and in particular activities involving non-Indians, then application of the law might not impinge on tribal sovereignty.” Ultimately, the Court held that the impact of NLRB jurisdiction on the Tribe’s sovereignty was “negligible in this context, as the Tribe’s activity was primarily commercial,” that the Board’s decision as to the scope of the term “employer” in the NLRA was permissible, and affirmed the Board’s jurisdiction over the casino.

More recently, in Michigan, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe has appealed an NLRB ruling that the Tribe violated the NLRA. In October 2014, the NLRB ordered the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe to reinstate an employee allegedly fired for union organizing at the Tribe’s casino. The Tribe appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. If that Court rules that the NLRB lacks jurisdiction over the Tribe, that decision would create a circuit split and likely end up before the United States Supreme Court.

The NLRB website states “The Board asserts jurisdiction over the commercial enterprises owned and operated by Indian tribes, even if they are located on a tribal reservation. But the Board does not assert jurisdiction over tribal enterprises that carry out traditional tribal or governmental functions.”

In January, Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran introduced S.248, the “Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2015.” The Bill would amend the NLRA to exclude “any enterprise or institution owned and operated by an Indian tribe and located on its Indian lands.” At its February 2015 Executive Council Winter Session, the National Congress of American Indians, the largest Native American policy organization, passed a resolution in support of the bill. A similar bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the bill later this month.

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National Park Service Proposes Regulation for Gathering Plants

Rule covers members of federally-recognized American Indian tribes

 

Press Release, National Parks Service

 

WASHINGTON – The National Park Service has proposed to modify the regulation governing the gathering of plants in national parks. The rule would allow members of federally recognized Indian tribes with traditional associations to areas within specific units of the National Park System to gather and remove plants or plant parts for traditional purposes. The gathering and removal allowed by the rule would be governed by agreements that may be entered into between the National Park Service and the tribes, and would also be subject to permits that identify the tribal members who may conduct these activities. The rule would prohibit commercial uses of gathered materials.
To be published Monday April 20 in the Federal Register, 36 CFR Part 2, Gathering of Certain Plants or Plant Parts by Federally Recognized Indian Tribes for Traditional Purposes, will be open for public comment for 90 days through Monday, July 20, 2015.
“The proposed rule respects tribal sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship between the United States and the tribes,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “It also supports the mission of the National Park Service and the continuation of unique cultural traditions of American Indians.”
Many units of the National Park System contain resources important to the continuation of American Indian cultures. Indian tribes have actively sought the ability to gather and use plant resources for traditional purposes such as basketry and traditional medicines while ensuring the sustainability of plant communities in parks. At the same time, park managers and law enforcement officers need clear guidance regarding their responsibilities for enforcing park regulations with respect to the use of park resources by American Indians. The proposal provides an approach to plant collecting by members of federally recognized tribes that can be applied across the National Park Service.
In drafting the proposed rule, National Park Service staff met with or contacted more than 120 Indian tribes. Tribal consultation that followed indicates that the approach taken in the proposed rule would address the need for gathering while respecting tribal sovereignty.
Comments on the proposed rule should reference the National Park Service and Regulation Identifier Number (RIN) 1024-AD84, and can be submitted online through the Federal Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov, which provides instructions for submitting comments; or by mail to: National Park Service, Joe Watkins, Office of Tribal Relations and American Cultures, 1201 Eye Street NW, Washington, DC 20005. The National Park Service will accept public comments on the proposed rule through Monday, July 20, 2015.
Comments and suggestions on the information collection requirements in the proposed rule should be sent to the Desk Officer for the Department of the Interior at OMB-OIRA by fax at (202) 395-5806 or by e-mail to OIRA_Submission@omb.eop.gov. Please provide a copy of your comments by e-mail to madonna_baucum@nps.gov or by mail to: Information Collection Clearance Officer, National Park Service, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, DC 20240. Please reference “1024-AD84” in the subject line of your comments. You may review the Information Collection Request online at http://www.reginfo.gov. Follow the instructions to review Department of the Interior collections under review by OMB. Comments on the information collection requirements must be received by Wednesday, May 20, 2015.