Our treaties are the last line of defense

Tulalip Tribes educates community on Treaty Rights

Indigenous women were at the forefront of Seattle’s Women’s March on January 21, 2017. Photo by Micheal Rios, Tulalip News.

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News 

If you’re an avid Instagram user, and let’s face it most of us are, chances are you’ve stumbled across somebody’s profile that is filled with gorgeous photos of mountain ranges, waterfalls, beaches and tall evergreens. Every day, more and more people are exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest, hiking hidden trails in search of breathtaking views and secret camping grounds. 

A 2016 study, conducted by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, reported that outdoor recreation generated over twenty billion dollars in this state alone. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, outdoor recreation is a three-hundred-billion-dollar industry and is continuing to grow exponentially. And while it’s important to disconnect, inhale fresh air, enjoy scenery and experience the great outdoors, it’s equally important to remember that this land is sacred and has strong spiritual ties to the original caretakers of this region, who have lived off its resources since time immemorial.  

Let’s use the power of imagination to travel back about two-hundred years or so. You’re a young Coast Salish hunter who has been tasked to provide food for your family and village. After many years of cultural teachings, you’re finally ready to head into the woods to get your first elk.

 While you’re trekking up to the mountains, you recall all of the stories about elk roaming about in abundance in an area your family has hunted for generations. But you arrive only to see that there are hundreds of people hanging out, sleeping beneath the stars and enjoying themselves in a not-so-quiet manner. Because of all the people and constant foot traffic, there isn’t an elk in sight. So, you decide to try nearby areas to see if the elk have migrated, but instead you’re met with more people. Now you face the dilemma of providing another source of sustenance for your people, who depend on that meat for the upcoming winter months. 

Although crowded hunting grounds weren’t an issue two hundred years ago, you can see how big of an impact it would’ve had on tribal villages. When the Coast Salish people signed their treaty one hundred and sixty-four years ago, they kept the right to hunt and harvest on the same lands their ancestors had since the beginning of time.

Fast forward to the summer of 2018. A story was released by a popular local radio broadcast, KUOW, with the headline reading, ‘Seattle Hikers: You may be trampling on tribal treaty rights.’ Within the article, Tulalip Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife Director, Jason Gobin, shared a similar story but in modern time, claiming that many outdoor adventurers are showing a total disregard to the tribe’s ancestral lands. He expressed that due to over congestion, the areas for tribal members to conduct their spiritual work, whether it be hunting, gathering cedar or harvesting huckleberries, has decreased substantially since the signing of the Point Elliot Treaty of 1855. 

The story spread like wildfire across Facebook and Twitter as people shared the link, voicing both their support and concern. Over the course of a few months, the article inspired several outdoor recreational organizations and non-profit conservation groups to reach out to the tribe in an effort to learn more about tribal sovereignty. Because of the inquires, the Tulalip Natural Resources department hosted a daylong event for local non-governmental organizations to learn about treaty rights and the history of the Tulalip Tribes.

On the morning of January 9, around thirty individuals from recreational and conservation groups gathered at the Hibulb Cultural Center to begin the day with a tour of the museum. While having fun with the interactive displays, the group gained a basic understanding of tribal lifeways.

“It was a very powerful cultural exhibit, I learned so much I didn’t know before,” expressed Erika Lundahl of the outdoors publishing company, Mountaineers Books. “Particularly about the woolly dogs and also to see the special relationship the people share with the salmon in the area, as well as the weaving and the residential schools. It was powerful to hear first person accounts, it’s a lot to take in. There were things I’ve heard before, but getting a chance to hear the full story is something we all need to look at very closely to get an understanding of the impacts of generational trauma.”

The group then journeyed across the reservation and made their way to the Tulalip Administration building. In conference room 162, Natural Resources’ Environmental Liaison, Ryan Miller, spoke passionately about protecting the treaty rights his ancestors fought to keep. 

Ryan Miller, Tulalip Tribes Natural Resources Environmental Liaison, speaks on the importance of treaty rights and the need to protect them.

“Treaty rights are an inherent right,” he explained. “Treaty rights were not given to tribes, it’s a common misconception that the government gives Native Peoples special rights. That’s the exact opposite of how it works. Tribes are sovereign nations, they give up rights and they retain rights. Treaty rights are rights that are not given up by tribes and they’re upheld by the federal government as part of their trust relationship with the treaty tribes. The tribes right to self-govern is the supreme law of the land. It’s woven into the U.S. constitution as well as many legal decisions and legislative articles. The constitution says, congress has the power to make treaties with sovereign nations and that treaties are the supreme law of the land. 

“We all love the Pacific Northwest,” he continues. “Other people love it here too and they keep coming back, it’s really getting aggravating. I’m not talking about one person going out and hiking. That’s not the issue. What we’re concerned about, just like the population increasing, is that those people are coming here for what we all love to do, get out into nature. They want to see all those places that you love and I love, that I have a spiritual connection to. We have to figure out a way that we can provide that for people in a way that protects not only the inherent rights of tribes but the resources, so all of us can enjoy it.”

Libby Nelson, Natural Resources Senior Environmental Policy Analyst, gave the group an in depth look at the Point Elliot Treaty. During her presentation, she familiarized the participants with the term, ‘usual and accustomed grounds’. She also touched on the Boldt Decision and spoke of the Tulalip’s current co-stewardship with the U.S. Forestry department, which dedicated an area solely for spiritual use such as berry picking and the annual mountain camp for tribal youth during the summertime. 

Natural Resources Special Projects Manager, Patti Gobin, shared a personal and moving story about her grandma, Celum Young, who was a first generation Tulalip boarding school student. As she shared her grandmother’s painful experiences, she quickly followed with a heartwarming story of Celum, depicting her as a woman full of love who struggled loving herself. Because of years of forced assimilation, Celum endured physical abuse for speaking her language and practicing her traditions while at the boarding school. And as a direct result from the boarding schools, Patti admitted that her grandmother never spoke Lushootseed or taught the language to her children and grandchildren, in fear that they would be punished just as she was. 

Patti Gobin, Tulalip Tribes Natural Resources Special Projects Manager, speaks passionately about the boarding school era and asks that attendees honor the tribal treaties.

Native children who were around Celum’s age also experienced these atrocities at the boarding schools. Indigenous languages slowly began to slip away from their respective tribal communities. It wasn’t until recently that the language saw a major revitalization within the Tulalip community. Patti shared all this information, weaving together tales of happiness during dark times, to paint a picture that showcases how the trauma from the boarding schools trickled down generation after generation. 

Patti then asked the group to help honor tribal treaties, now that they are equipped with more knowledge and understanding of treaty rights and the tribal experience. She suggested signage depicting the tribe’s history as well as murals, such as the ones that will be displayed shortly in Skykomish and the San Juan Islands. 

“You don’t have to tell the intimate story of the Stu-hubs people,” she stated. “You can simply begin with the most general knowledge, that there are Indian tribes in the area and we will respect their treaty rights.”

At the end of the presentations, Ryan handed out a list of principals to the recreationalists and conservationists, stating that the tribe wants to be included in any project proposals and to build strong relationships with each organization. He urged them to bring the principals back to their team and discuss and modify the list to meet their mission and values. 

“Protection of treaty rights protects endangered species and habitat for all of Washington citizens, not just for tribes,” he said. “All the places that you love, all the species you care about, the orca, the salmon; our treaties are the last line of defense. When our state’s governor was telling the Trump administration that they couldn’t drill for oil off of our coast, he said it would be a violation of tribal treaty rights. We’re the last vanguard, help us protect it. Treaties are the supreme law of the land. They’re living documents and they have as much importance today, to us as Indian People, and they should to you as Washington citizens, as they did the day they were signed.”

The Tulalip Natural Resources Department plans on hosting several more Treaty Rights events like this throughout the year, tailoring their presentations to groups such as environmentalists and governmental entities. For more information, please contact Natural Resources at (360) 716-4480. 

Related Articles: 

The Treaty of Point Elliott: A living document

Tulalip prepares for Treaty Days

Tulalip youth exercise treaty rights, learn hunting safety

New colonizer in chief, same fight to protect our treaty rights

Tulalip educates community on habitat restoration and treaty rights

Point Elliott Treaty, 159 years later

Tulalip Tribes stewardship recognized by the Harvard Project

Pacific Northwest Tribes unite to protect and defend salmon

 

 

The Treaty of Point Elliott: A living document

ON THE TREATY FRONT: A new monthly series on the history and meaning of tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, environmental stewardship and issues that threaten these important rights. This is just the first in a recurring series of articles produced by the Tulalip Tribes Treaty Rights Office to help educate and inform the membership. Our Mission is to “Protect, enhance, restore and ensure access to the natural resources necessary for Tulalip Tribal Members’ long-term exercise of our treaty-reserved rights.” 

Longhouse Chiefs.

 

Submitted by Ryan Miller, Tulalip Tribal Member, Treaty Rights Office

As members of the Tulalip Tribes, we hear the words “treaty rights” and “sovereignty” all the time. There is no doubt that to each of us they mean something different, yet there are some core principles that stem from these phrases. 

Sovereignty is the right to self-determination and self-governance. A sovereign government has the right to govern without outside interference from other groups. Our people were born sovereign as the first nations of this land.

This is of course complex, and so are the tribes’ relationships with other governments. We know that we do not govern without interference from outside forces, especially the federal government. The federal government’s policy regarding tribal rights continues to change and has a significant impact on tribes throughout the country. We’ll discuss more issues around tribal sovereignty in a future article.

The second important thing to define is a treaty. A treaty is a legally binding contract between two or more sovereign nations. It outlines the role each side will play in the future of the relationship and sometimes includes the reasons why they have entered into agreement with one another. Treaty rights are generally considered to be the rights reserved by tribes through treaty and are sometimes called “un-ceded rights” which reflects their existence prior to treaty signing.

There were five treaties made with northwest Washington tribes; the Treaty of Point Elliott, the Treaty of Point-No-Point, the Treaty of Neah Bay, the Medicine Creek Treaty, and the Treaty with the Quinault. Compared generally to treaties signed with many tribes to the east of Washington they are much more favorable (that is not to say that tribes did not bear an unfair burden of sacrifice). Part of the reason for more favorable treaties is that the United States had a comparatively small standing army, just 15,911 enlisted men, which were tasked with covering a huge geographical area. They did not have the resources to fight wars with a number of tribes in a far off corner of the country. As a result, Governor Isaac Stevens was assigned to make peace and enter into treaties with northwest tribes in order to secure land for settlers in the Washington Territories.

When our ancestors signed the Treaty of Point Elliot in 1855, the federal government, through its territorial Governor, Isaac I. Stevens, affirmed that the tribes had the inherent right to self-governance and self-determination as outlined in the excerpt from the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Worcester V Georgia,

  “The Indian nations had always been considered as distinct, independent political communities, retaining their original natural rights, as the undisputed possessors of the soil, from time immemorial,…The very term “nation,” so generally applied to them, means “a people distinct from others.” The constitution, by declaring treaties already made, as well as those to be made, to be the supreme law of the land, has adopted and sanctioned the previous treaties with the Indian nations, and consequently admits their rank among those powers who are capable of making treaties.” 

Congress itself defines treaties as the “supreme law of the land” and only signs treaties with other “nations” therefore recognizing tribes as nations and affirming that treaties supersede other laws such as those made by state governments. This excerpt also explains that the U.S. government understood that these rights were “natural rights” implying recognition of tribes’ existence as sovereigns before the creation of The United States. 

In the treaty, our ancestors made great sacrifices by ceding millions of acres of land for the promise of medical treatment, education, and permanent access to the resources they had always gathered, including across all of our ancestral lands that lie outside of the reservation.

Tulalip canoe.

Article Five of the treaty addresses the most commonly known and arguably most culturally important right, 

The right of taking fish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory, and of erecting temporary houses for the purposes of curing, together with the privilege of hunting and gathering roots and berries on open and unclaimed land.”

Though truthfully this article was never well defined in law until in 1974 when Judge George Boldt gave his decision in the landmark Indian law case US v Washington (commonly known as the Boldt Decision), where he affirmed what treaty tribes had already known: the phrase “in common with” was meant to be an equal sharing of the salmon runs minus the number of fish needed to spawn future generations.. This court decision, along with a series of subsequent decisions recognized tribes as having equal management authority with the State of Washington over natural resources. This has given tribes a significant role in how fisheries are managed as well as managing tribal hunting. Washington tribes have contributed greatly to the process of salmon recovery and restoration of critical habitats and species. Tulalip has also worked to conserve and enhance the plants and wildlife that our people need to continue to practice our traditional ways. 

Tribal and court interpretations of Article Five, secures tribal access to these resources until the end of time and recognizes that any entity whose actions diminish either these resources or our access to them violates the spirit and intent of the treaty. 

We know that the treaty is alive and well. It’s as important to us today is it was to our ancestors at the time of signing. We raise our hands to our ancestors and leaders past and present who fought and continue to fight to protect these rights and our way of life. 

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future subjects please send them to ryanmiller@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov

Thank you for reading and we’ll see you next month!

 

 

Native Nations treaty exhibit opens Sept. 21 at NMAI

treaties-exhibit

Source: Native Times

 

WASHINGTON – The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian will open the “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations” exhibit Sept. 21 during the museum’s 10th anniversary on the National Mall.

The exhibit is the museum’s most ambitious effort yet, presenting the Native nations’ individual treaties side-by-side in their largest historical collection ever presented to an audience. The exhibition focuses on eight treaties representing the approximately 374 ratified between the United States and the Native nations, on loan from the National Archives. Each document details and solidifies the diplomatic agreements between the United States and the neighboring Native nations.

More than 125 objects, including art and artifacts, from the museum’s collection and private lenders will be featured, including the Navajo blanket owned by Gen. William Sherman, a collection of Plains nations pipes and beaded pipe bags, peace medals given to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and the sword and scabbard of Andrew Jackson.

Video installations, archival photographs, wampum belts, textiles, baskets and peace medals highlight each historical moment and help tell the story of the early ancestors of the Native nations and their efforts to live side-by-side at the birth of the United States.

The exhibit will be on display through Sept. 1, 2018. The NMAI’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. It is closed on Dec. 25. Admission is free. The museum is located at 4th St. and Independence Ave. SW.

To learn more about the exhibit, email asia.romero@edelman.com, or call 202-772-4294.

What is tribal sovereignty?

By Denise DePaolo, KSFY News

KSFY News – Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

South Dakota’s nine Indian reservations exist as sovereign nations. But what does that mean? KSFY News talked with tribal, state and federal leaders about what it means to lead a nation within a nation.

Sovereignty may seem easy to define on paper, but in practice, it’s complicated. To some, it’s a feeling. A way of life.

“Sovereignty, to me, is something our grandfathers gave us. That we need to respect, because it’s a tool that protects us here in Indian Country,” said Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Cyril Scott.

It’s a way of life that involves an ongoing power struggle, colored by a history of eradication.

“The states, the government, they want to take that sovereignty away from us. They don’t want to acknowledge that Adolf Hitler got his ideas from the United States,” said Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Brandon Sazue.

For tribal governments, sovereignty comes with a limited autonomy.

“When you look at South Dakota, we’re unique in a sense that we have nine different tribes that through treaties and congressional action enjoy a level of tribal sovereignty. That means they have the ability – while they are certainly South Dakotans – that they have the ability to vote in our elections, but they also have a separate sovereignty that allows them to control certain matters within their borders,” said South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley.

“We have control of our schools, our courts, our police, so those do make us sovereign, but there’s a lot of things where we are not sovereign. We are still dependent. We are still dependent on the federal government because they have not met their trust responsibility in meeting our needs through economic development,” said Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer.

“They gave us the treaties 200 years ago, 100 years ago, however long ago. Did that give us our sovereignty? In a way, it should have. But today, we don’t have sovereignty,” said Sazue.

tribal sovereigntyTribes must follow state and federal laws, which can mean problems when those limits are tested.

“For any community in the United States, there are limits. The constitution still needs to be followed and respected. The federal laws still need to be followed and respected,” said South Dakota U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson.

For example, Pine Ridge is looking into the legalization of marijuana within its borders. Jackley says while he respects tribal sovereignty, pot still is illegal.

“He said he’s going to come to Pine Ridge and arrest us if we did do that,” said Brewer, “And we realize that we have to follow federal law and that. But again, we need to exercise our sovereignty. Pine Ridge has already passed an ordinance years ago legalizing hemp – to grow hemp on our reservation. Yet when a person did, they were arrested.”

Another limit to tribal sovereignty is who can and cannot be prosecuted in tribal courts.

“There are further limitations if there is a non-Indian committing a crime against a non-Indian within the reservation boundaries, the state or the state’s attorney would have jurisdiction over that,” said Jackley.

“I believe we’re going to start arresting everybody. Non-Indians. If they commit a crime on a reservation, we’re going to arrest him, take them through our courts and see what happens. We know it will go to the Supreme Court, but we want to test it, we want to test our sovereignty and we talk about our sovereignty. We’re going to test it through the judicial system,” said Brewer.

“We’re seeing tribal courts strengthened. We’re seeing police departments growing and I think that’s very good, because I think the future of tribal sovereignty means more local control for the tribes, less involvement from federal government,” said Johnson.

According to Brewer, many families living in reservation communities depend on the federal government as well, because job opportunities are few and the cost of utilities like propane and electricity are high.

“We’re all wishing and praying one day that we can be completely sovereign, but as long as we’re within the confines of the United States government, we will probably never be truly sovereign.”

A recent emphasis on economic development and inter-tribal trade aims to change that.

“The future of tribal sovereignty, I think, is about creating alliances. Sovereignty is strongest when you’re using it to create alliances, and I think in South Dakota we’re starting to see that now,” said Johnson.

“We all have something to offer. We can trade with each other. So this is something we’re really looking at,” said Brewer, “We’ve talked to tribes in the northwest. They said ‘Bryan, we’d like to have your buffalo. We have so much diabetes out there. Send us buffalo meat. We’ll send you lumber, we’ll send you salmon.’ The Seminoles out of Florida – ‘We’ll send you oranges. You can use those for your people or you can sell them to communities.’”

South Dakota’s tribes are working on many fronts to become more independent.

Wind energy will help cut down on the high cost of electricity. Several tribes have projects in the works.

The launch of dozens of tribe-operated businesses – like Lakota Popcorn on Lower Brule and Tanka Bars on Pine Ridge – are helping to alleviate the unemployment problem.

Many tribes are also putting an increased emphasis on tourism. For example, the Oglala Sioux will likely become the first tribe to operate a national park in the Badlands’ South Unit.

While tribes are using the increasing connectedness of our world for the betterment of their people, assimilation and eventual obscurity aren’t part of the plan.

“What we are telling the people of the United States and the state of South Dakota – we are a nation. The first nation of this country,” said Scott.

Indian rights activists say treaties give them a say on pipeline route

Indian rights lawyers argue that a Sandpiper spill could endanger their rights to gather wild rice.

Indian rights lawyers argue that a Sandpiper spill could endanger their rights to gather wild rice.

 

By David Shaffer, Star Tribune

 

In a new battlefront over energy policy, American Indian rights attorneys argued Wednesday before a Minnesota judge that historic treaties give tribes a say in where to build crude oil pipelines across land ceded by the Chippewa in the 19th century.

“Everybody has kind of forgotten what our rights are, and that is why we are here,” Frank Bibeau, an attorney for the Indian nonprofit group Honor the Earth, told an administrative law judge at a hearing in St. Paul.

Honor the Earth says the proposed $2.6 billion Sandpiper crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota will produce “inevitable oil spills and environmental degradation” on ceded lands. Spills could endanger Rice Lake near McGregor and Sandy Lake in ­Aitkin County where Indians gather wild rice, the group says.

For the first time in Minnesota, Indian rights attorneys are arguing that the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) lacks unilateral authority to approve pipelines. They want the state to reject the proposed route of the Sandpiper pipeline from North Dakota, and have offered an alternative path.

Enbridge Energy’s preferred pipeline route goes southeast from Clearbrook, Minn., passing west of Park Rapids and then heading east to Superior, Wis. It avoids Indian reservations, but passes through ceded lands on which Chippewa bands retain the right to fish, hunt and gather rice.

Attorneys for the company contend that the commission has no business deciding the meaning of federal treaties. Even so, much of the two-hour discussion before Judge Eric Lipman focused on 10 treaties signed between 1825 and 1864 by Minnesota Indian tribes.

“It would represent a dramatic departure from the commission’s precedent and would significantly impact not just pipeline projects but all large energy projects sited in northern Minnesota,” said Christine Brusven, an attorney for the Calgary-based pipeline company that’s proposing to build the 610-mile pipeline to carry North Dakota oil.

Headed for the courts?

Lipman, who is overseeing the regulatory review of the pipeline, is expected to rule on the treaty rights question, but the final decision rests with the Public Utilities Commission. The issue ultimately could land in federal court.

Before the hearing, about 45 Honor the Earth supporters, led by the group’s leader Winona LaDuke, demonstrated outside the PUC’s office.

Some Minnesota tribes have successfully asserted off-reservation rights under 19th century treaties. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1999 affirmed that the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa and seven other Chippewa bands retained hunting, fishing and gathering rights under an 1837 treaty on lands and lakes ceded by the tribes in central Minnesota, including Lake Mille Lacs.

Similar rights have been recognized under other treaties, and state and tribal governments share responsibility for game management in some ceded areas. This year, the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa is exercising rights under an 1854 treaty to spear walleyes in several lakes in northeastern Minnesota’s Arrowhead region.

Honor the Earth attorneys contend that the 19th century treaties and early 20th century court rulings about wild rice reserves give the Ojibwe a present-day right to help make decisions affecting treaty-related resources.

“We are not saying we have an absolute veto,” Bibeau said in an interview.

Cooperation sought

Prof. Peter Erlinder of William Mitchell College of Law, who also represents Honor the Earth, said various treaties “need to be accommodated by state regulatory activities.” He said the state and tribes need to find a way to cooperate on pipeline siting.

But Enbridge attorney Randy Thompson, who represented Lake Mille Lacs landowners in the 1999 case, said Honor the Earth overstates the reach of the landmark decision.

“It is a nonexclusive right to hunt and fish,” Thompson said. “It gives bands the ability to self-regulate hunting and fishing by band members. It doesn’t give bands co-management authority. It doesn’t give the bands the ability to regulate nonmembers.”

Legal experts say protection of natural resources under 19th century Indian treaties is an emerging area of law.

“We have very little idea where it is going to go,” said James Coleman, an assistant professor of energy law at the University of Calgary and Haskayne School of Business.

In the state of Washington, a tribe with rights to fish for migrating salmon has successfully argued that the state Transportation Department must repair hundreds of culverts that block the passage of fish. Federal judges, most recently in 2013, have ruled that the barrier culverts violate treaty promises. Another federal judge in that state upheld in 1996 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ right to deny a permit for a fish farm because it conflicted with the Lummi Nation’s treaty fishing rights.

Most treaty cases have been decided in federal court. Honor the Earth’s legal battle is unusual because it’s in a state regulatory proceeding. Bibeau said he reserves the right to take the case to tribal or federal court later.

Two precedents

In two previous Minnesota utility cases, tribes tried unsuccessfully to assert tribal authority over proposed pipelines or power lines. In 2011, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe objected to a proposed transmission line that skirted tribal lands, but lost in federal court. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa objected to another pipeline in 2007. That project, like the transmission line, eventually won approval of the PUC.

Coleman, who grew up in the Twin Cities, said Indian activists face a difficult legal battle in the pipeline case. Unlike the Washington cases, he said, where judges saw actual harm to treaty-protected resources, the Minnesota concerns are about a potential situation, and depending on how bad the disaster was, maybe at some point it could eliminate those treaty rights.

Native Americans Say US Violated Human Rights

 

WASHINGTON April 14, 2014 (AP)

By JESSE J. HOLLAND Associated Press

A Native American group is asking the international community to charge the United States with human rights violations in hopes of getting help with a land claim.

The Onondaga Indian Nation says it plans to file a petition at the Organization of American States on Tuesday, seeking human rights violations against the United States government. It wants the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to declare that the U.S. government’s decision not to hear its lawsuit asking for the return of 2.5 million acres in upstate New York to be violations of international human rights agreements.

The nation has argued that about 4,000 square miles in 11 upstate New York counties stretching from Pennsylvania to Canada was illegally taken through a series of bogus treaties. More than 875,000 people live in the area, which includes Syracuse and other cities.

U.S. courts have refused to hear the lawsuit asking for the return of their land, with the Supreme Court turning away a final petition in October.

Onondaga Nation lawyer Joe Heath, left. ((AP Photo/Mary Esch))

Onondaga Nation lawyer Joe Heath, left. ((AP Photo/Mary Esch))

“The problem is that we can’t get the governor to sit down with us and the United States to live up to its treaty rights,” said the Onondaga Nation’s attorney, Joe Heath.

While in Washington, the group plans to display a belt that George Washington had commissioned to commemorate one of the treaties that was supposed to guarantee the Onondaga their land and “the free use and enjoyment thereof.”

The group says it is not seeking monetary damages, eviction of residents or rental payments. Instead, it wants a declaration that the land continues to belong to the Onondagas and that federal treaties were violated when it was taken away. Onondaga leaders have said they would use their claim to force the cleanup of hazardous, polluted sites like Onondaga Lake.

The petition against the United States was brought by the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which is made up of the Onondaga, Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga and Seneca Nations.

It could be years before the commission decides whether to hear the nation’s complaint, Heath said. Even then, there is nothing that could force the government to follow international recommendations, Heath said. The hope is that public pressure would bring state and federal officials to the table.

“Yes, they can just ignore it but there’s only so long we think can they do that,” said Heath.

Even if nothing happens, they will have made their stand, they said.

“We’re here, we’re speaking out and they know where we stand,” Onondaga Clan Mother Freida Jacques said. “Maybe you won’t write it in history, but we’ll know we made this effort and we’re not letting the people down.”

———

Follow Jesse J. Holland on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jessejholland

Bill would clear convictions during 60s fish-ins

Ted S. Warren / Associated PressBilly Frank Jr., a Nisqually tribal elder who was arrested dozens of times while trying to assert his native fishing rights during the Fish Wars of the 1960s and ‘70s, holds a late-1960s photo of himself Monday (left) fishing with Don McCloud, near Frank’s Landing on the Nisqually River. Several state lawmakers are pushing to give people arrested during the Fish Wars a chance to expunge their convictions from the record.

Ted S. Warren / Associated Press
Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually tribal elder who was arrested dozens of times while trying to assert his native fishing rights during the Fish Wars of the 1960s and ‘70s, holds a late-1960s photo of himself Monday (left) fishing with Don McCloud, near Frank’s Landing on the Nisqually River. Several state lawmakers are pushing to give people arrested during the Fish Wars a chance to expunge their convictions from the record.

By PHUONG LE, The Associated Press

SEATTLE — Decades after American Indians were arrested for exercising treaty-protected fishing rights during a nationally watched confrontation with authorities, a proposal in the state Legislature would give those who were jailed a chance to clear their convictions from the record.

Tribal members and others were roughed up, harassed and arrested while asserting their right to fish for salmon off-reservation under treaties signed with the federal government more than a century prior. The Northwest fish-ins, which were known as the “Fish Wars” and modeled after sit-ins of the civil rights movement, were part of larger demonstrations to assert American Indian rights nationwide.

The fishing acts, however, violated state regulations at the time, and prompted raids by police and state game wardens and clashes between Indian activists and police.

Demonstrations staged across the Northwest attracted national attention, and the fishing-rights cause was taken up by celebrities such as the actor Marlon Brando, who was arrested with others in 1964 for illegal fishing from an Indian canoe on the Puyallup River. Brando was later released.

“We as a state have a very dark past, and we need to own up to our mistakes,” said Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma, prime sponsor of House Bill 2080. “We made a mistake, and we should allow people to live their lives without these criminal charges on their record.”

Lawmakers in the House Community Development, Housing and Tribal Affairs Committee are hearing public testimony on the bill Tuesday afternoon.

Sawyer said he’s not sure exactly how many people would be affected by the proposal. “Even if there’s a handful it’s worth doing,” he added.

Sawyer said he took up the proposal after hearing about a tribal member who couldn’t travel to Canada because of a fishing-related felony, and about another tribal grandparent who couldn’t adopt because of a similar conviction.

Under the measure, tribal members who were arrested before 1975 could apply to the sentencing court to expunge their misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony convictions if they were exercising their treaty fishing rights. The court has the discretion to vacate the conviction, unless certain conditions apply, such as if the person was convicted for a violent crime or crime against a person, has new charges pending or other factors.

“It’s a start,” said Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually tribal elder who figured prominently during the Fish Wars. He was arrested dozens of times. “I never kept count,” he said of his arrests.

Frank’s Landing, his family’s home along the Nisqually River north of Olympia, became a focal point for fish-ins. Frank and others continued to put their fishing nets in the river in defiance of state fishing regulations, even as game wardens watched on and cameras rolled. Documentary footage from that time shows game wardens pulling their boats to shore and confiscating nets.

One of the more dramatic raids of the time occurred on Sept. 9, 1970, when police used tear gas and clubs to arrest 60 protesters, including juveniles, who had set up an encampment that summer along the Puyallup River south of Seattle.

The demonstrations preceded the landmark federal court decision in 1974, when U.S. District Judge George Boldt reaffirmed tribal treaty rights to an equal share of harvestable catch of salmon and steelhead and established the state and tribes as co-managers of the resource. The U.S. Supreme Court later upheld the decision.

Hank Adams, a well-known longtime Indian activist who fought alongside Frank, said the bill doesn’t cover many convictions, which were civil contempt charges for violating an injunction brought against three tribes in a separate court case. He said he hoped those convictions could be included.

“We need to make certain those are covered,” said Adams, who was shot in the stomach while demonstrating and at one time spent 20 days in Thurston County Jail.

He also said he wanted to ensure that there was a process for convicted fishermen to clear their records posthumously, among other potential changes.

But Sid Mills, who was arrested during the Fish Wars, questioned the bill’s purpose.

“What good would it do to me who was arrested, sentenced and convicted? They’re trying to make themselves feel good,” he said.

“They call it fishing wars for a reason. We were fighting for our lives,” said Mills, who now lives in Yelm. “We were exercising our rights to survive as Indians and fish our traditional ways. And all of a sudden the state of Washington came down and (did) whatever they could short of shooting us.”

Attawapiskat Chief Spence calls for chiefs to form united front and confront Ottawa

 

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence last January on Victoria Island during her fas

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence last January on Victoria Island during her fast.

 

APTN National News
With one of her closest aides on a walk to Ottawa, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence released an open letter Tuesday calling on First nation leaders to form a united front and confront Ottawa.

Spence’s letter is addressed to Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo and senior chiefs in Ontario.

“Chiefs, why are you watching your people agonize when they raise their voices and struggle for their rights and protect our signed treaties?” said Spence, in the letter. “It’s so anguishing to watch the walkers go through the discomfort…as the chiefs are in comfortable zone. What does it take for the leadership to understand and feel the distress for the people that are fighting for the rights for justice, peace, freedom and to renew the treaty relationship and to honour the spirit and intent of the treaty?”

Danny Metatawabin, Brian Okimaw and Paul Mattinas and Remi Nakogee began walking Saturday from Attawapiskat down a snowmobile trail that passes through Kashechewan and Fort Albany before hitting Moosonee, Ont.

The walk is dubbed, “Reclaiming Our Steps Past, Present and Future.”

Metatawabin was one of Spence’s closest aides during the Attawapiskat chief’s liquids-only fast which lasted from mid-December 2012 to mid-January 2013.

Spence said the walk is meant to remind chiefs about the promises that were made to end her fast.

“Danny’s quest is to remind all chiefs and the government of Canada of the undertakings promised during last year’s struggle which remain outstanding,” said Spence.

In her letter, Spence calls on First Nations chiefs to form a united front to confront Ottawa.

“I call upon you, to listen to the concerns of your membership, to heed their advice, and to call upon your fellow chiefs and set up a special meeting to develop a united stand for the future of our nations,” said Spence.

Spence calls on the chiefs to also organize a meeting with the federal government.

“If the chiefs fail to heed the advice contained in this open letter to engage in solidarity with their members to advocate for their members and to protect the needs of our people and treaties, I will call upon my grassroots people, treaty partners, Canadians and our neighbours from other countries to expose all of the wrongful acts and abusive actions…imposed to our people and continue to impact generations of our people to this day.”

IRS proposes rule to address fishing rights income

Source: Indianz.com

Attorneys discuss a proposed Internal Revenue Service regulation that would address income earned from tribal members who exercise their fishing rights:

On November 15, 2013, the Internal Revenue Service published a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) along with proposed regulations regarding the treatment of certain income derived from Indian fishing rights-related activity when it is contributed to a qualified retirement plan such as a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored pension plan. The notice can be viewed at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/11/15/2013-27331/treatment-of-income-from-indian-fishing-rights-related-activity-as-compensation. The proposed regulations clear one of the current hurdles to including employees of an Indian fishing rights operation in a typical employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k) plan. Unlike most types of employee compensation, Indian fishing rights-related income is exempt from both income and employment taxes under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7873(a)(1) and (a)(2). Therefore, Indian fishing rights-related income is not included in a taxpayer’s gross income. The IRS has traditionally taken the position that in order to make a contribution to an individual retirement account (IRA) or a 401(k) plan, an individual must have “compensation” that is included in gross income. The proposed regulations clarify that payments received by Indian tribe members as remuneration for services they perform in fishing rights-related activities will not be excluded from the definition of “compensation” for purposes of IRC Section 415 and underlying regulations, merely because such payments are not subject to income or employment taxes. Consequently, the proposed regulations allow employees receiving such payments to participate in and contribute to a retirement plan qualified under IRC Section 401(a).

Get the Story:
Kathleen M. Nilles, Ariadna Alvarez and Robert B. Bersell: IRS Proposes New Rules On Indian Fishing Rights Income For Retirement Plans (Mondaq.com 11/20)
Username: indianz@indianz.com. Password: indianz Federal Register Notice:

 

Treatment of Income From Indian Fishing Rights-Related Activity as Compensation (November 15, 2013)

Manitoba grand chief challenges AFN

Derek Nepinak tosses Indian status card in trash, promises new direction for First Nations

 

Source: CBC news

Manitoba’s grand chief is promising a new direction for Canada’s First Nations — one that would not include the Indian Act or the Assembly of First Nations — at a gathering of chiefs taking place this week.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is heading up the National Treaty Gathering on the Onion Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, which could result in the creation of a breakaway group separate from the AFN.

Nepinak has been talking about forming the National Treaty Alliance, citing too much rhetoric and not enough action from the AFN on First Nations issues.

“As these institutions have become more politicized and more developed along bureaucratic lines, we’ve lost them,” Nepinak said at the meeting Monday.

In a bold symbolic gesture, Nepinak threw his government-issued Indian status card into the trash — a sign of what he said he wants to do for First Nations people.

“This Indian Act card is done with me and I’m done with it,” Nepinak said, before he stood up and tossed his card into a garbage can.

Currently, Canada’s First Nations people are governed by the federal Indian Act, which was created in 1876. Under the act, a status Indian has rights to health, education, and tax exemptions for which other Canadians don’t qualify.

But Nepinak said he no longer wants anything to do with the legislation.

“Do something with that Indian card but distance yourself from it as much as you can,” he said.

“We need to recreate treaty cards and put our faith back in one another again. I think that’s how we deconstruct the Indian Act.”

Atleo calls for unity

At the Assembly of First Nations’ meeting in Whitehorse, National Chief Shawn Atleo warned an audience of more than 200 chiefs on Tuesday that conditions for Canada’s First Nations won’t improve if they split into factions.

Atleo called for unity and told delegates that the AFN strives to respect the sovereignty of First Nations while “being careful not to overstep” its boundaries.

“Our agenda, the First Nations agenda, requires that everyone come together … just as Treaty 7 pulled First Nations together to deal with the rising water,” he said, referring to the recent floods in Alberta.

A call for unity should not be confused with a call for assimilation or cultural hegemony, said Atleo, adding that the AFN supports individual nations negotiating treaty issues with the federal government.

Potential impact on treaty process

Some have expressed concern that having some chiefs split off into a new group could potentially hurt the treaty negotiation process.

“To create something separate and distinct from the AFN on treaty issues may result in a weakening of positions because not everyone will participate,” said Aimee Craft, a lawyer in Winnipeg.

But Jamie Wilson, Manitoba’s treaty commissioner, said Nepinak is prompting a much-needed dialogue about the state of Canada’s treaties.

“We’re talking about issues that a lot of people don’t understand, and when there’s a lack of understanding, there’s a lot of prejudice,” he said.

Wilson said treaties were signed between First Nations and the Crown to mutually benefit both groups, but those agreements have not been implemented.

A decision on whether a new breakaway group should be created is expected to be made later this week.