Sioux reservation has mixed feelings about Obama’s visit

Obama visits to address education, economy; tribal leaders use opportunity to voice opposition to Keystone pipeline

By Al Jazeera America

President Barack Obama made his first presidential visit to Indian Country on Friday – and some residents of the Sioux reservation used the opportunity to voice their opposition to a proposed pipeline that would carry tar sands oil through their land.

The president and first lady arrived by helicopter at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles the border between North Dakota and South Dakota. Native Americans, some dressed in full feathered headdresses and multicolored, beaded outfits, greeted the couple.

“We can follow the lead of Standing Rock’s most famous resident, Chief Sitting Bull. He said, ‘Let’s put our minds together to see what we can build for our children,” Obama said. Sitting Bull was a Sioux chief who defeated Gen. George Custer at the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn.

The Obamas also spoke privately with tribal youth about their challenges growing up on the 2.3 million-acre reservation, home to nearly 1,000 residents who struggle with a lack of housing, health care, education and economic opportunity.

Some Sioux leaders used the visit to tell Obama that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — which would run through their land — would be a treaty violation.

Bryan Brewer, president of the Ogalala Sioux Tribe, said in a statement that the Keystone pipeline was “a death warrant for our people,” and that it would violate treaty rights. Critics of the pipeline warn of possible oil spills, environmental impact from the line’s construction, and Keystone’s overall effect on raising carbo

NCAI Applauds President Obama’s Historic Visit to Indian Country

Source: National Congress of American Indians
WASHINGTON, DC – The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) applauds President Obama for upholding his ongoing commitment to tribal nations and Native peoples by travelling to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation this Friday, June 13. Since taking office, President Obama has remained steadfast in honoring our nation-to-nation relationship. President Obama has kept his commitment to host the annual White House Tribal Nations Summit in Washington D.C. These summits have facilitated unprecedented engagement between tribal leaders and the President and members of his Cabinet.
At the 2013 White House Tribal Nations Summit, the President announced that he would visit Indian Country himself – a longtime priority of tribal leaders. Friday’s visit to Standing Rock fulfills that promise. This historic visit is the first by a sitting President in over 15 years and makes President Obama only the fourth President in history to ever visit Indian Country.
NCAI expects the President to address the economic development needs of tribal nations and the needs of Native youth.  While tribal youth are included in the Administration’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, this Administration has always known that Native children have specific cultural and education needs that require focused attention.
For this reason, Indian Country has witnessed an unprecedented collaboration between the Secretary Jewell at the Department of the Interior and Secretary Duncan at the Department of Education, to study what is necessary to make sure that all of our Native students – in public schools, tribal schools, and Bureau of Indian Education schools have the tools they need to ensure a strong future for all Native children. In 2013, Secretary Jewell visited the Pueblo of Laguna to see first hand how a tribal education department was improving the quality of schools operations, performance and structure of BIE schools. She witnessed a nation that was engaged and excited to participate in efforts to improve educational outcomes in Indian Country.
It will take visits like this – the agencies working together with tribal governments and national organizations such as the NCAI and the National Indian Education Association to ensure that our students can be the future tribal leaders, teachers, health care workers, and entrepreneurs that our nations and the United States need to thrive for generations to come.
The President’s visit builds on ongoing efforts of his Administration to work closely with tribal nations on policy that affects their citizens. We trust the visit will be a catalyst for more policies that will not only succeed today, but cement the positive relationship between tribal governments and the federal government well into the future. President Obama has made annual summits between our nations in his words, “almost routine.” We trust this will be the continuation of his Administration’s engagement with our nations that makes visits to Indian Country by the President and his Cabinet routine too.
About The National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information visit

Pine Ridge: A broken system failing America’s most forgotten children

Students leave class and wait for the bus on the last day of classes at the Wounded Knee District School in Manderson, South Dakota.Photo by Peter van Agtmael/Magnum for MSNBC
Students leave class and wait for the bus on the last day of classes at the Wounded Knee District School in Manderson, South Dakota.
Photo by Peter van Agtmael/Magnum for MSNBC

By Trymaine Lee




MANDERSON, South Dakota — In almost any other context it would be a given, an expectation as simple as a dark cloud spitting rain. But when 12-year-old Carleigh Campbell tested proficient on the South Dakota achievement test last year, it was a rather astonishing feat.

Campbell is a student at a school where four students have attempted suicide this year alone. Roughly four out of five of her neighbors are unemployed and well over half live in deep poverty. About 70% of the students in her community will eventually drop out of school.

It’s against this backdrop that Carleigh met expectations on the state’s mandated exam, the only student out of about 150 in her school to do so. To state the obvious, Carleigh’s academic achievement is a bright spot in an epically dark place.

Carleigh is a Native American sixth grader at the Wounded Knee School located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where a well-documented plague of poverty and violence has festered since the Oglala Sioux were forced onto the reservation more than a century ago. There is virtually no infrastructure, few jobs and no major economic engines. Families are destabilized by substance abuse and want. Children often go hungry and adults die young.

These realities wash onto the schoolyards here with little runoff or relief, trapping generations of young people in hopelessness and despair.

“We’re in an urgent situation, an emergency state,” said Alice Phelps, principal at the Wounded Knee School. “But underneath all the baggage is intelligence, potential, and these children all have that.”

Few communities in America are as eager for a silver lining as the Lakota of the Pine Ridge reservation, situated on more than 2 million rambling acres, nudged up against the Black Hills and Badlands National Park. Nowhere is it more palpable than in the reservation’s schools, a jumble of public, private and federal systems that often overlap but rarely ever bolster the academic prospects of the most forgotten children in America.

Carleigh Campbell, 6th grader at Wounded Knee school. She was the only student of 150 students who tested proficient on last year’€™s state exams.Photo by Peter van Agtmael/Magnum for MSNBC
Carleigh Campbell, 6th grader at Wounded Knee school. She was the only student of 150 students who tested proficient on last year’€™s state exams.
Photo by Peter van Agtmael/Magnum for MSNBC

While the 565 Native American tribes recognized by the U.S. government enjoy sovereign status as separate nations, nearly all Indian education funding is tied up with federal strings. Unlike most public schools that rely largely on local tax money, there are virtually no private land owners on the reservations, so no taxpayers to tax. The government often pays as much as 60% of a reservation school’s budget compared to just 10% of the budget of a typical public school. When last year’s federal sequestration cuts kicked in, Indian country was hit first.

The government is starting to own up to its failures. In a startling new draft report released in April by the federal Bureau of Indian Education, which oversees 183 schools on 64 reservations in 23 states, the agency draws attention to its own inability to deliver a quality education to Native students. BIE-funded schools are chronically failing and “one of the lowest-performing set of schools in the country,” according to the report.

“BIE has never faced more urgent challenges,” the report said. “Each of these challenges has contributed to poor outcomes for BIE students.”

During the 2012-2013 school year, only one out of four BIE-funded schools met state-defined proficiency standards, and one out of three are under restructuring due to chronic academic failure, according to the report. BIE students performed lower on national assessment tests than every other major urban school district other than Detroit Public Schools, the report says.

BIE students also perform worse than American Indian students attending regular public schools. In 2011, 4th graders in the BIE scored 22 points lower in reading and 14 points lower in math on national proficiency tests than their Indian counterparts attending public schools.

BIE schools are typically located in some of the poorest, most geographically isolated regions of the country. Four of the five poorest counties in America are located on reservations. Shannon County, where Pine Ridge is located, is the second poorest with a per capita income of just $6,000-$8,000 a year. It’s also extremely difficult to attract quality teachers willing to relocate to remote outposts with limited quality housing and extreme quality of life issues.

052014-south-dakota_graduationThe BIE blames its failures on “an inconsistent commitment from political leadership,” institutional, budgetary and legal barriers as well as bureaucratic red tape among federal agencies. Those systemic issues have produced a disjointed system that has even clogged up the delivery of required materials, including textbooks.

The BIE has had 33 leaders in 35 years, making a chaotic system that has not operated efficiently for decades even worse.

Dr. Charles Roessel, director of the BIE, told msnbc that the agency is actively consulting with tribes across the country to identify ways the bureau can help tribes bolster the academic outcomes of their students. The draft report was the product of those consultations.

Some challenges are obvious. “How do you get a quality teaching staff at a very remote part of the country where you don’t have a city to support or you don’t have the infrastructure and the salaries are lower?” Roessel said, adding, “The greatest impact in a classroom is the teacher and we need to improve the quality of that instruction. And we have to do it with our hands tied behind our back and our feet tied together, too.”

Never Gave Up Sovereignty

Poor academic performance plagues American Indian students both on and off federal lands.

Even as other historically oppressed minority groups like African Americans and Hispanics have made steady academic progress over the last decade, achievement among American Indian youth has stalled. Huge spikes in black and Hispanic high school graduation rates have pushed the country’s overall graduation rate to an all-time high, while the rate for Native American students is trending in the opposite direction.

Compounding the poor academic outcomes is what advocates in Indian country describe as a history of broken treatises, lingering racism and chicanery.

While tribes operate some of the BIE schools, the funding comes with various restrictions and benchmarks. And in the case of traditional public schools that operate near reservations and have a large number Indian students, funding goes directly to states and does not provide culturally relevant Indian education.

“The central offices, they take their big cut out and they have everything, so by the time it gets to our children there’s very little money left and that’s one of the big problems,” Bryan Brewer, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said on a recent afternoon during a town-hall style meeting between tribal members and BIE officials. “We don’t have enough money for facilities. If we need to buy something, a furnace, something like that, we have to cut out a teacher. It’s that bad.”

The economic and political implications are worst in states with the largest populations of American Indians, including New Mexico, Montana, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

“There are challenging state and tribal dynamics. There’s history involved here and the reality of sometimes incompatible bureaucracies, the lack of capacity and understanding of one another and even alternative goals,” said William Mendoza, the executive director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education. “The experience has been one of a history of tragedy where the effort, both real and perceived, was to assimilate American Indians.”

Continue reading article here.


Washburn Names Dr. Charles Roessel Director of the BIE

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

On December 11, Dr. Charles M. “Monty” Roessel was named Director of the Bureau of Indian Education while touring a BIE tribally controlled grant school located on the Pueblo of Laguna in Laguna, New Mexico.

The announcement came from Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, who accompanied Roessel and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on the tour.

The Navajo Nation member had been serving as the acting director since February 2012.

The initial tour included a roundtable with principals from other local tribally controlled grant schools and BIE-operated schools and will be used by Interior for it’s “American Indian Education Study Group, a group that is working to improve educational outcomes for American Indian students attending BIE-funded schools,” according to a Department of the Interior release.

“The BIE plays a major role in the education of thousands of American Indian students across Indian country,” Washburn said. “As acting director, Dr. Charles M. Roessel has proven to be an effective steward of our Indian education programs, bringing to the Bureau extensive experience in school leadership and administration, and an understanding of what’s needed at the local school level. He is a strong and effective member of my senior management team.”

Roessel brings a background of educational wealth into the Washington, D.C. based position. In 2007 he started his service as superintendent of Rough Rock Community School, a BIE-funded, tribally operated K-12 boarding school near Chinle, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation reservation. He had been with the school since 1998 where he started as director of community services. In 2000 he became the schools executive director. In 2011 he was named the BIE’s Associate Deputy Director for Navajo Schools. In the position Roessel oversaw 66 BIE-funded schools throughout Arizona, New Mexico and Utah on the Navajo Nation reservation. From 2010 to 2011 he served as chair of the DOI’s No Child Left Behind Negotiated Rule Making Committee and on the Sovereignty in Navajo Education Reauthorization Task Force with the Navajo Education Department of Diné Education according to the release.

“I want to thank Assistant Secretary Washburn for his confidence in me for this important post,” Roessel said. “I am looking forward to working with Assistant Secretary Washburn and his team to ensure that the Bureau of Indian Education continues to fulfill its two-fold mission of providing our students with a quality education while respecting tribal cultures, languages and traditions.”

Roessel will now be reporting directly to Washburn and will head a staff that includes three associate deputy directors who are responsible for education line offices serving 183 BIE-funded elementary and secondary day and boarding schools, along with peripheral dormitories located on 64 reservations in 23 states. Throughout the BIE-funded schools more than 40,000 American Indian and Alaska Native students from federally recognized tribes receive their education.

In addition, the Bureau “serves post-secondary students through higher education scholarships and support funding to 26 tribal colleges and universities and two tribal technical colleges.” The Bureau also runs Haskell Indian University in Lawrence, Kansas and the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico – two post-secondary institutions.

While Roessel was at Rough Rock Community School, the first American Indian-operated, and the first Navajo-operated school when it opened in 1966, he oversaw a major school replacement and improvement project funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The project was carried out by the Indian Affairs Office of Facilities, Environmental and Cultural Resources with the new facilities opening its doors on August 5, 2011.

Roessel holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Photo-Communication/Industrial Arts from the University of Northern Colorado-Greeley (1984), a Master of Arts degree in Journalism from Prescott (Arizona) College (1995) and a Doctorate of Education degree in Educational Administration and Supervision from Arizona State University in Tempe (2007).



Limited Services Provided by Indian Affairs During Government Shutdown

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

With the government shutdown now in its second day and around 800,000 non-essential government workers being furloughed, some offices working directly with Indian country will have limited services.

RELATED: Government Shutdown Frustrates Tribal Leaders

The Department of the Interior – Office of the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) will provide limited services to tribes, students and individuals during the shutdown of the federal government. Of the total 8,143 employees, a total of 2,860 will be furloughed.

The BIA that provides direct services to 566 federally recognized tribes that include contracts, grants and compacts will continue functions that are necessary to protect life and property. These services include law enforcement and operations of detention centers; social services to protect children and adults; irrigation and power – delivery of water and power; firefighting and response to emergency situations according to a BIA press release.

As for the BIE, school operations are forwarded funded meaning operations should carry on as normal during the shutdown. BIE funded schools will remain open and staffed; transportation and maintenance of schools will continue. Other schools that will remain open are tribally-contracted schools that are also forward funded. Education services are provided by BIE to approximately 41,000 Native students through 183 schools and dormitories and providing funding 31 colleges, universities and post-secondary school according to the release.

Additional information on Indian Affairs’ contingency plan for operations during the government shutdown can be found at:



President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Indian Affairs Budget Focuses on Strengthening and Supporting Tribal Nations

Request supports Indian Affairs’ mission to serve federally recognized tribes and individual Indian trust beneficiaries

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

WASHINGTON – President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget request for Indian Affairs, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), is $2.6 billion – a $31.3 million increase above the FY 2012 enacted level. The proposed budget maintains the President’s commitment to meeting the government’s responsibilities to the 566 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, while exercising fiscal responsibility and improving government operations and efficiency.

“The President’s budget request for Indian Affairs reflects his firm commitment to keeping our focus on strengthening and supporting tribal nations, and protecting Indian Country,” said Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn. “While realizing the benefits from improvements to Indian Affairs program management, the request supports our mission to federally recognized tribes, particularly in the areas of trust lands and natural resource protection. The request also promotes economic development, improves education, and strengthens law enforcement and justice administration.”

Strengthening Tribal Nations Initiative

The Strengthening Tribal Nations Initiative is a comprehensive, multi-year effort to advance the President’s commitments to American Indians and Alaska Natives to improve conditions throughout Indian Country and foster economic opportunities on Indian reservations.

The FY 2014 budget request includes $120 million in increases for this initiative to support sustainable stewardship and development of natural resources in Indian Country, public safety programs that apply lessons learned from successful law enforcement pilot programs, operations at new and expanded detention facilities, contract support costs to facilitate tribal self- governance, and new and expanded payments for water rights settlements. Additionally, it

provides increased funding for post-secondary education and an elementary and secondary school pilot program based on the U.S. Department of Education’s turnaround schools model and concepts.

Advancing Nation-to-Nation Relationships

The FY 2014 budget request for Contract Support Costs is $231 million – a $9.8 million increase over the FY 2012 enacted level. The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, as amended, allows federally recognized tribes to operate federally funded programs themselves under contract with the United States – an expression of the federal government’s policy to support tribal self-determination and self-governance. Tribes rely on contract support costs funds to pay the costs of administering and managing contracted programs. It is a top priority for many tribes.

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter, the FY 2014 budget request includes the Administration’s proposed interim solution to budgeting contract support costs. The Administration proposes Congress appropriate contract support costs on a contract by contract basis and will provide Congress with a contract funding table for incorporation into the Department’s FY 2014 appropriations legislation. Through tribal consultation, this interim step will lead to a long-term solution that will result in a simpler and more streamlined contract support costs process.

Protecting Indian Country

The FY 2014 budget request for BIA Public Safety and Justice programs is $363.4 million with targeted increases over the 2012 enacted level of $5.5 million for Law Enforcement Operations, $13.4 million for Detention Center Operations and $1.0 million for Tribal Courts.

The request also includes a $3.0 million programmatic increase in BIA Human Services to address domestic violence in tribal communities. A partnership between BIA Human Services and Law Enforcement will address the needs at tribal locations with high levels of domestic violence. The initiative will improve teamwork between law enforcement and social services to more rapidly address instances of domestic violence, and expand services that help stem domestic violence in Indian Country and care for its victims.

The FY 2014 budget request for Law Enforcement Operations is $199.7 million, a $5.5 million programmatic increase over the FY 2012 enacted level. The increased funding for Criminal Investigations and Police Services will enable the BIA to hire additional bureau and tribal law enforcement personnel. The request includes $96.9 million for Detention Center Operations, a program increase of $13.4 million over the FY 2012 enacted level. The additional funding for staffing, training and equipment will strengthen BIA and tribal capacity to operate existing and newly constructed detention facilities.

The request also includes $24.4 million for Tribal Courts, an increase of $1.0 million above the 2012 enacted level. The funding will be used for judges, prosecutors, public defenders, court

clerks, probation officers, juvenile officers, and support staff, as well as for training and related operations and administrative costs for tribal justice systems and Courts of Indian Offenses.

The FY 2014 budget request also supports the BIA’s successful pilot program, launched in 2010, that carries out the President’s Priority Goal of reducing violent crimes by at least five percent within 24 months on four initial reservations. The targeted, intense community safety program successfully reduced violent crime by an average of 35 percent across the four reservations. In 2012, the program was extended to two additional reservations. After a year, the two new sites have experienced an increase in reported crime – a trend similar to that seen at the initial four sites. The BIA will continue to support the efforts of all six programs in 2014 with funding, technical assistance, monitoring and feedback.

Improving Trust Land Management

Taking land into trust is one of the most important functions the Department undertakes on behalf of federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, whose homelands are essential to their peoples’ health, safety and economic well-being. The BIA’s trust programs assist tribes and individual Indian landowners in the management, development and protection of trust lands and natural resource assets totaling about 55 million surface acres and 57 million acres of subsurface mineral estates.

In 2012 and 2013, the Department undertook the most substantial overhaul of the federal fee-to- trust process in over half a century. In 2012, Interior placed 37,971 acres of land into trust on behalf of tribes and individual Indians and approved 299 fee-to-trust applications. Over the past four years, Indian Affairs has processed more than 1,000 separate applications and acquired over 196,600 acres of land in trust.

The FY 2014 budget request for the Trust – Natural Resources Management program, which assists tribes in managing, developing and protecting their trust lands and natural resources, is $189.2 million, a programmatic increase of $34.4 million over the FY 2012 enacted level. The increases support sustainable stewardship and development of natural resources and will support resource management and decision making in the areas of energy and minerals, climate, oceans, water, rights protection, and endangered and invasive species.

The FY 2014 budget request for Trust – Real Estate Services is $128.9 million, a programmatic increase of $7.7 million increase over the FY 2012 enacted level. This program carries out the BIA’s trust services, probate, and land titles and records functions, as well incorporates the Department’s trust reform improvement efforts. The request proposes a $5.5 million increase to fund authorized activities related to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement at $7.0 million and provides $1.5 million for litigation support for Indian natural resource trust assets management.

Advancing Indian Education

The FY 2014 budget request for the Bureau of Indian Education of $802.8 million, a program increase of $6.7 million above the FY 2012 enacted level, advances the Department’s continuing

commitment to the education of American Indians and Alaska Natives from the federally recognized tribes. The Advancing Indian Education initiative addresses the full spectrum of educational needs throughout Indian Country from elementary through post secondary levels and adult education. The 2014 budget supports student academic achievement in BIE schools by initiating a $15.0 million pilot program to turnaround lower performing elementary and secondary schools, provides $2.5 million in increased funding to meet the needs of growing enrollment at tribal colleges, and provides $3.0 million in new funding for a Science Post- Graduate Scholarship Fund. The budget also proposes an additional $2.0 million for tribal grant support costs.

Achieving Better Results at a Lower Cost

Administrative Cost Savings Over the last few years, Indian Affairs has taken significant steps to reduce the administrative costs associated with the wide range of services it delivers. In addition to $7.1 million in cost-saving measures from information technology standardization and infrastructure consolidations, the FY 2014 budget request includes a reduction of $19.7 million to reflect anticipated cost savings from streamlining operations. The request also includes $13.8 million in savings from reductions to contracts, fleet management, awards, and travel.

Indian Arts and Crafts Board The budget proposes to transfer the $1.3 million funding for the IACB from the Office of the Secretary to Indian Affairs, thereby allowing Indian Affairs to oversee the implementation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, as amended, which contains both criminal and civil provisions to combat counterfeit activity in the American Indian and Alaska Native arts and crafts market, and the Board’s management of three museums in the Plains Region dedicated to the promotion, integrity and preservation of authentic American Indian art and culture.

Program Reductions and Eliminations:

  • Housing Improvement Program (-$12.6 million) Eliminates the HIP. Tribes are not precluded from using HUD funding to provide assistance to HIP applicants.
  • Law Enforcement Special Initiatives (-$2.6 million) Reflects decreased participation on collaborative activities such as intelligence sharing.
  • The Indian Student Equalization Program (ISEP) (-$16.5 million) Offsets $15.0 million for a turnaround school pilot program.
  • Replacement School Construction (-$17.8 million) The construction program will address improving physical conditions of existing school facilities through the Facilities Improvement and Repair program.
  • The Indian Guaranteed Loan Program (-$2.1 million) The funding level of $5.0 million will guarantee over $70 million in loans.

    Indian Affairs’ responsibility to the federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes is rooted in Article I, Section 8, of the United States Constitution, as well as in treaties, executive orders, and federal law. It is responsible for the management, development and protection of Indian trust land and natural resources, providing for public safety and justice in Indian Country, and promoting tribal self-determination and self-governance. Through the

Bureau of Indian Education, it funds 183 elementary and secondary day and boarding schools, of which two-thirds are tribally operated, located on 64 reservations in 23 states and serving in School Year 2011-2012 a daily average attendance of 41,000 students. It also provides funding to 27 tribal colleges and universities and two tribal technical colleges, operates two post- secondary institutions of higher learning and provides higher education scholarships.