Skeleton found near Wallula Junction

By Davis Wahlman,

WALLULA, Wash. — KEPR investigating into reports of human remains being found just north of Wallula Junction.

A 14 year old and his father were hunting near the river when the came across a skeleton with a hole in the skull.

“I was about 100 yards in front of him, I just walked right up on it,” said 14 year old Mitchell Jackson.

He didn’t snag any geese on his hunting trip this weekend, but he did make a chilling discovery.

“I just see this white thing on the ground and I go walking closer to it. It looked like skull to me and I waited until my dad caught up to me and I said, ‘Dad, I think I found a human skull,” he said.

And he was right.

A skull, jaw bone, vertebrae, and rib cage just sticking out of the ground near their hunting spot along the river near Wallula. Mitchell’s father called the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office who initially thought they could be looking at a homicide. But once the coroner and an archaeologist could took a closer look, they squashed that theory.

The land where they found the remains just north of Wallula Junction is all owned by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. So when they got the call, they knew they had a full plate.

We asked an archaeologist how old he might think the bones are.

“You know, they’re older than ten years old. I can’t tell you if they’re older than 100, 200, years old. They’ve definitely been there for quite a long time.”

Fish and Wildlife archaeologist Dale Earl is tasked with identifying and dating the remains which are now under lock and key at the McNary office in Burbank. He says the body could have been placed where the skeleton was found, or been carried by the river.

They are currently in talks with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to see if it could be one of their ancestors.
While that could be the story, could we possibly be looking ground breaking find?

Reporter: “What are the odds of this being the next Kennewick Man?” Earl: “Very very remote.”

Fish and Wildlife will team up with an anthropologist to date the bones. Archaeologists say the dating process will take several weeks if not longer.

Tribal leaders, Commissioner warn of oil train dangers

Washington’s people and environment potentially at risk

Press Release: Washington State Department of Natural Resources

OLYMPIA – Increased oil train traffic on Washington’s aging rail system puts the state’s people and ecosystems at risk, according to an opinion piece by ten tribal leaders and the Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, published today in the Seattle Times.

“Crude By Rail: Too Much, Too Soon” calls for federal regulators to improve safety protocols and equipment standards on Washington rail lines to deal with a forty-fold increase in oil train traffic since 2008. Trains carrying crude oil are highly combustible and, if derailed, present serious threats to public safety and environmental health.

Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Nation; Jim Boyd, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation; Brian “Spee~Pots” Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community; William B. Iyall, chairman of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe; Maria Lopez, chairwoman of the Hoh Indian Tribe; David Lopeman, chairman of the Squaxin Island Tribe; Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation; Charles Woodruff, chairman of the Quileute Tribe; Herman Williams Sr., chairman of the Tulalip Tribes; and Gary Burke, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation joined Commissioner Goldmark in urging policymakers to address critical issues around the increase of oil train traffic through the state.

“The Northwest has suffered from a pollution-based economy,” said Cladoosby in a statement. “We are the first peoples of this great region, and it is our responsibility to ensure that our ancestral fishing, hunting and gathering grounds are not reduced to a glorified highway for industry. Our great teacher, Billy Frank, Jr., taught us that we are the voices of the Salish Sea and salmon, and we must speak to protect them. If we cannot restore the health of the region from past and present pollution, how can we possibly think we can restore and pay for the impact of this new and unknown resource?

“We are invested in a healthy economy, but not an economy that will destroy our way of life. We will not profit from this new industry, but rather, we as citizens of the Northwest will pay, one way or another, for the mess it will leave behind in our backyard. We will stand with Commissioner Goldmark and our fellow citizens and do what we need so those who call this great state home will live a healthy, safe and prosperous life,” said Cladoosby.

“Good public policy demands that we make informed decisions using information based on the best science and perspective that must include cultural values and traditional knowledge,” said Quinault President Fawn Sharp. According to her statement, the Quinault Tribe is leading a movement against three oil terminals in Grays Harbor and most recently joined more than 700 Washington state citizens to testify at an October hearing held by the Department of Ecology.

“The Quinault are national leaders of long-standing in natural resources protection and strive to protect the oceans and waterways across the Northwest,” said Sharp.

For Tulalip Chairman Herman Williams, Sr., endangerment of fish runs by oil train pollution is a key concern.

“For generations we have witnessed the destruction of our way of life, our fishing areas, and the resources we hold dear,” said Williams in a statement. “The Boldt decision very clearly interpreted the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott to reserve 50 percent of the salmon and management to the tribes. The federal government must now partner with tribes to protect the 50 percent of what remains of our fishing rights. The Tulalip Tribes will not allow our children’s future to be taken away for a dollar today. Our treaty rights are not for sale,” said Williams.

According to Commissioner Goldmark, tribal leadership on the oil train issue is essential.

“Tribal leaders bring unique perspective and concern about threats to our treasured landscapes,” said Goldmark. “It’s an honor to join them in this important message about the growth of oil train traffic in our state and the threat it poses to public safety, environmental sustainability, and our quality of life.”

It’s showtime for Shoni Schimmel as she spotlights Rez Ball

The East's Shoni Schimmel celebrates with her MVP following their 125-124 win over the West in the WNBA All-Star Game Saturday, July 19, 2014 in Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo: David KadlubowskI/azcentral sports)
The East’s Shoni Schimmel celebrates with her MVP following their 125-124 win over the West in the WNBA All-Star Game Saturday, July 19, 2014 in Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo: David KadlubowskI/azcentral sports)

By Bob Young, Arizona Republic

Rick Schimmel’s T-shirt said it all.

“Rez Ball Rules.”

Reservation-style basketball, as demonstrated by rookie Shoni Schimmel, sure ruled the WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday at US Airways Center.

And if you want an explanation of Rez Ball, well, WNBA President Laurel Richie provided a pretty good one when she told Schimmel’s dad, “She plays with such joy, freedom and liberation!”

Schimmel, who probably wouldn’t have been in the game at all without the support of Native American basketball fans, added a whole lot more faces to her following with dazzling ballhandling, long-range shooting and an All-Star-record 29 points that led the East to a 125-124 overtime victory.

Schimmel is the first rookie named MVP in the All-Star Game, but she’s been a most valuable person for Native Americans for quite a while.

Raised in eastern Oregon on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Schimmel’s quest to be the first athlete from her reservation to earn a NCAA Division I scholarship was the subject of a 2011 documentary “Off the Rez.”

Her following grew when she and her younger sister Jude led Louisville to the 2013 NCAA championship game before the surprising Cardinals finally fell to Connecticut.

Atlanta picked Schimmel eighth overall in the WNBA draft and she has started only two games for the Dream, averaging 7.2 points. Yet she was voted into the East starting lineup with the third-highest number of ballots in All-Star voting.

Her jersey is the biggest seller in the league.

And only the Mercury’s three players in the game, Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Candice Dupree, got bigger reactions from the crowd than Schimmel.

“I don’t know if it was meant to be, but it happened,” Rick Schimmel said. “It was exciting that it was in front of so many Native Americans here. It meant a lot.”

Rick said Shoni has taken her role as an example to Native American followers seriously since she began learning those dazzling moves as a kid during her years in high school when she was coached by her mom Ceci and on to Louisville and the WNBA.

“To have the fans look up to me and be a role model not only for my siblings but the Native American fans and Native American people, it’s something that I take on my shoulders because I enjoy it,” she said. “I love being Native American, and for all these fans to come out and be here, and to vote me into this game, means a lot.

“I’m thankful they got to be here or to watch it on TV. It was awesome just to be able to go out there and play my game and have fun, and to feel free to go out there and play Rez Ball. It was a lot of fun.”

Schimmel was relatively quiet in the first half, scoring five points and handing out four assists.

But not long into the third quarter, she cut loose, hitting three shots from beyond the 3-point line in short order.

“I’m not going to lie, I saw it coming in the third quarter,” said Jude, one of 17 family members who made the trip to Phoenix. “She just kept asking for the ball and got more and more comfortable as the game went on. Playing with her for so long, and being her sister, I knew what was coming.

“I was just happy to see her so comfortable on such a big stage, playing so well.”

Rick said Shoni feels a responsibility to set an example, just as former Window Rock and Arizona State star Ryneldi Becenti did as the first Native American to play in the WNBA.

“It offers hope to the younger generation of Native Americans,” he said. “It has been such a struggle, but it gives them hope and the idea that they can go out and do anything they set their mind to.

“Shoni is living her own dream, but at the same time, she represents a lot more to a lot of people, and that’s just the blessing of it all. It’s enhancing other people’s lives and opportunities along the way.

“It’s in her core, really. It’s something she has always represented. It’s not like she comes out and thinks about it that much, but you walk out and see a lot of Native faces, I think in anybody’s mind they’re thinking, ‘Wow, they’re here to see me.’

“I would freeze up, and it’s easy to do that. But she doesn’t. She embraces it. It’s in her heart and something she was born with.”

She was born with it on a reservation, where basketball is a horizontal game more than a vertical one. Where creativity is king and playing with fear will only get you beat.

“Rez Ball is kind of an open-court game, where you feed off of each other,” Jude explained. “It’s free-flowing and fun. It’s more about a feel for the game than thinking about it. It’s not very structured, but it’s a thriller!

“It fits perfectly for an All-Star Game. Ever since we were younger, I’ve seen those kinds of moves, probably a lot more of them, too. But to see her do it on the big stage, I had goosebumps. I normally don’t cheer, but I was cheering.”

Why not? On the WNBA’s biggest stage, Rez Ball ruled.

Tribes: Fishing Rights Not For Sale

About 70 people gathered in May, 2014 to protest the proposed coal export facility in Boardman, Oregon. Yakama Nation and Lummi Nation tribal members spoke at a ceremony before people fished at treaty-protected fishing sites. | credit: Courtney Flatt
About 70 people gathered in May, 2014 to protest the proposed coal export facility in Boardman, Oregon. Yakama Nation and Lummi Nation tribal members spoke at a ceremony before people fished at treaty-protected fishing sites. | credit: Courtney Flatt

July 10, 2014 | Northwest Public Radio


The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have a message for coal shippers: their fishing rights are not for sale.

This blunt response comes after two years of talks between the tribes and Ambre Energy – the company that wants to build a coal export terminal on a part of the river that the tribes consider historic fishing grounds protected by their treaty with the federal government.

For Ambre’s export terminal, 8.8 million tons of coal per year would be transported by rail from Montana and Wyoming to Boardman, in Eastern Oregon. From there, it would be barged down the Columbia River and transferred to ocean-going vessels to be shipped to Asia.

Ambre Energy has offered to pay the tribe up to $800,000 per year (the same amount it’s offered the Morrow and Columbia County school districts). The company is also offering $500, 000 toward salmon and stream enhancements and $100,000 toward culture and history celebrations during the Morrow Pacific Project’s construction.

A tribal spokesman said the tribes have been in discussions with Ambre Energy for two years. Chuck Sams said that’s when the tribe began raising concerns about treaty fishing sites near the company’s proposed dock.

“We will not abdicate, nor will we trade, any of our treaty rights,” Sams said. “We’ve already proven to them time and time again that the place where they wish to site their facility is a usual and accustomed fishing station.”


Yakama Nation fishers protest Ambre
Energy’s coal export terminal.


Sams said there is no way Ambre could make up for damage that could be done to the fishing site because people fish there now.

Members from the Yakama Nation and the Lummi Nation recently held fishing demonstrations at the site where the coal terminal construction is proposed.

An Ambre Energy spokeswoman says the company chose this site specifically because it did not impact fishing sites.

“It’s important to remember that the proposed dock is on private Port of Morrow property in between two existing docks. And even with that, from the beginning we have sought a partnership with the tribes based on mutual respect, shared benefits, collaboration, and cooperation,” said spokeswoman Liz Fuller.

Sams said no formal reply to the company is in the works because the Umatilla tribes have already expressed concerns to Ambre Energy in face-to-face meetings.

Sams went on, however, to say the Umatillas are open to further discussions.

Referring to offers from Ambre Energy, Sams said, “I think that they read the public wrong – our public, our tribal citizens – and where we stand. The tribal members themselves are pretty strong on environmental issues, especially in protection of their treaty rights. … Putting out a letter that dangled out financial gain for the tribe really does not resonate well within the tribal membership.”

The Australia-based Ambre Energy is still waiting on a permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands to build the dock at its Boardman site. The permit decision has been delayed multiple times. Right now a permitting decision is scheduled for Aug. 18.

According to DSL rules, the permit can be issued if the dock doesn’t “unreasonably interfere” with preservation of water for navigation, fishing and public recreation.

Renewable Energy Takes Root In Northwest Indian Country

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Eastern Oregon is home to the Northwest’s first wind turbine on tribal lands. The turbine will generate 25 percent of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute's power.Courtney Flatt
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Eastern Oregon is home to the Northwest’s first wind turbine on tribal lands. The turbine will generate 25 percent of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute’s power.
Courtney Flatt


By Courtney Flatt, Northwest Public Radio

PENDLETON, Ore. — You can spot one of the Eastern Oregon’s newest renewable energy projects from Interstate 84. It doesn’t look like other wind projects east of the Cascades.

A single wind turbine rises over the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The turbine blades gain momentum as the wind picks up. The tribes’ executive director, Dave Tovey, said this cultural institute turned out to be the perfect spot for the first turbine erected in Northwest Indian Country. The place where the tribes broke ground for the cultural institute is notoriously windy.

“A lot of our elders would just shake their heads as say, ‘You guys know, the wind always blows up there.’ We always thought, like Indian tribes, and like we do with so many other things here, we turn a seeming disadvantage into an advantage, or even an opportunity,” Tovey said.

Many Northwest tribes have been exploring ways to get more of their electricity from renewable sources that don’t pollute, like coal-fired power plants do, or harm fish — a concern when it comes to hydroelectric dams.

David Mullon is the chief counsel for the National Congress of American Indians, based in Washington, D.C. He said renewable energy is one way tribes can protect natural resources.

“A major portion of the tribal population is located on the reservation homelands. Protecting and conserving the resources on those very small places is an important consideration,” Mullon said.

There are plenty of examples in Northwest Indian Country: Idaho’s Nez Perce Tribe and Washington’s Yakama Nation are looking into generating electricity by burning woody debris in biomass plants. The Colville Tribes in Eastern Washington get energy from biomass and solar panels, too.

In Oregon, the turbine at the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute will generate about 25 percent of the building’s electricity.


Jess Nowland helps manage the building, which serves as a gathering place and museum for the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes.

Before putting up the wind turbine, the tribes were working on conservation at the center. Nowland said they’ve reduced its energy consumption by about 70 percent, saving more than $700,000.

“The reality is that there are buildings everywhere that you can achieve this kind of savings on,” Nowland said.

This wind turbine is the beginning of renewable energy on the Umatilla reservation. Next up: the tribes plans to install solar panels at the cultural institute.

Related Links:

Coal Export Developer Challenges Tribal Claims To Fishing Sites On The Columbia

The Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission says the white dots in the water are tribal fishing buoys and the wooden stake marks the beginning of the proposed Morrow Pacific coal export project site at the Port of Morrow in Boardman. | credit: Courtesy of CRITFC
The Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission says the white dots in the water are tribal fishing buoys and the wooden stake marks the beginning of the proposed Morrow Pacific coal export project site at the Port of Morrow in Boardman. | credit: Courtesy of CRITFC


By Cassandra Profita, OPB

An Oregon coal export developer is challenging claims that its proposed dock on the Columbia River would interfere with tribal fishing sites.

The Confederated Tribes of The Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation have submitted letters and affidavits to the Oregon Department of State Lands indicating they have tribal fishing sites in the area where Morrow Pacific has proposed to build a dock in Boardman, Oregon for coal barges.

The Morrow Pacific project would transport around 9 million tons of coal per year from Wyoming and Montana to Asia. The coal would be delivered by train to the dock site in Boardman, where it would be transferred to barges on the Columbia River. The barges would carry the coal to another dock site downstream near Clatskanie, Oregon where the coal would be transferred onto ocean-going ships.

Morrow Pacific needs a permit from the DSL to build a dock at the Port of Morrow in Boardman. DSL rules say the state can issue the permit as long as the action would not “unreasonably interfere” with preservation of water for navigation, fishing and public recreation.

The company submitted a letter to the state Thursday arguing that its dock will not “unreasonably interfere” with fishing. It also argues that considering fishing impacts from the dock is outside the DSL’s authority for this permit.

Brian Gard, a spokesman for Morrow Pacific, says the company disagrees that tribes have proven their members fish at the dock site. He says the affidavits submitted to the state either misidentify the site geographically or they fail to show that tribal fishing has taken place in the dock location.

“We do not believe they establish tribal fishing or tribal fishing sites at the Port of Morrow industrial Dock 7 site,” Gard said. “Understanding the site context is important here. The proposed dock site is in a heavily industrial area. It’s on port of Morrow property. It’s situated between two other docks. It’s an area designated by the state as an area where docks are to go.”

The company submitted declarations from local community members, the port director and tugboat operators who say they haven’t seen tribal fishing taking place at the dock site. It also consulted a fishery biologist who says the dock area does not support a healthy fishery.

Sara Thompson, spokeswoman for the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, which includes the Umatilla and Yakama, released a photo (above) she says shows a set of tribal fishing buoys in the water next to the proposed Morrow Pacific project site.

“Not only have we been fishing there since time immemorial, but we continue to fish there at the present time,” said Chuck Sams, communications director for the Umatilla tribes. “We have provided affidavits to the Corps of Engineers and Oregon Department of State Lands, and we’ve spoken directly with Ambre Energy and Morrow Pacific explaining that we have fishing sites, usual and accustomed, at their proposed facility.”

In a recent speech, Gov. John Kitzhaber noted the conflicts flagged by the tribes shortly after declaring his opposition to coal exports in the Northwest. The governor said he will do all that he can “under existing Oregon law to ensure that we do not commit ourselves to a coal-dependent future.”

Umatilla dancers educate, perform at State Fair



Roberta Conner of Tamastslikt Cultural Institute benefits from audience participation as women from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla showcase traditional dances on the last day of the Oregon State Fair. / Thomas Patterson / Statesman Jou
Roberta Conner of Tamastslikt Cultural Institute benefits from audience participation as women from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla showcase traditional dances on the last day of the Oregon State Fair. / Thomas Patterson / Statesman Jou

By Elida S. Perez

Sept 2, 2013 Statesman Journal


The Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation took center stage on the last day of the Oregon State Fair today.

Four members of the tribe, wearing traditional clothing such as eagle feathers, moccasins, shell earrings and braids, performed their native dances on the Americraft Cookware Stage.

Roberta Conner, director of the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute who led the dancers, described the dances before each demonstration.

Conner said the tribes have been in Oregon for 10,000 years and have always been welcoming to visitors. When visitors would reach the tribes they would be offered food and water along with a performance of the welcome dance.

Kirke Campbell, of Corvallis, said his daughter wanted to be at the fair today to see the Umatilla dancers.

Campbell was randomly selected from the audience to participate in the owl dance.

“I was honored to be picked,” he said.

At the end of the performance, all of the audience members were asked to join in a circle dance. About 50 took advantage of the opportunity.

“(This) has been the best turn out for the three performances we have done,” Conner said.

Shoni and Jude Schimmel “It’s Time to Dance”

Published in Indian Gaming Magazine
By Steve Cadue May 2013

For two hours in early April, the largest draw at the Wildhorse Resort and Casino in northeastern Oregon wasn’t at a poker table but on a ballroom’s big screen. The casino, operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, sponsored a viewing party to watch two of the tribes own compete in the NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Championship.

Playing for the University of Louisville, sisters Shoni and Jude Schimmel have become heroes to Native Americans and that native pride is resonating throughout not only their 2,800-member tribe but throughout Indian Country. Louisville’s remarkable run ended with a 93-60 heartbreaking loss to the University of Connecticut, but the sisters’ feat and their continued play will serve as an inspiration for generations in Indian Country.

“We are extremely proud of Shoni and Jude Schimmel and deeply appreciative of the recognition they have brought to our people,” said LesMinthorn, the Tribe’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

The sisters’ love of the game is evident when their playing in a national championship game or in a pick up game at home which can include anyone from their four-year-old brother to their mother and father. “On any given day, I think we’re just ready to play ball,” said Shoni, a 5’9” junior guard. “That’s our competitive nature in us. We just want to go out there and win. We just want to have fun and compete.”

Basketball runs in the Schimmel family’s blood. The sisters’ father, Rick, played for one year at Stanford University and their mother, Ceci, a high school basketball coach played ball for Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon. The sisters began playing ball at around four years old in a co-ed basketball tournament for four-to-six year old players. Pushed in particular by their older brother, Shae, the sisters continued to improve their game and were later the subject of a documentary, “Off the Rez” that featured the Schimmel family leaving the reservation in pursuit of more opportunities for the family.

During her highly successful high school basketball career, Shoni opted to wait until after her senior year to choose a college. Unlike most highly sought after recruits, Shoni said she made the decision to wait because she wanted to enjoy being in high school. “I decided to go to the University of Louisville because – through the recruiting process – Coach (Jeff)Walz and staff stayed with me through the whole thing,” said Shoni describing the respect shown to her by Louisville. “They stayed with me and kept interest and didn’t give up on me.”

When Jude was ready to choose a college, she decided to follow her sister. “It’s really rare to get to play a Division I sport with your sister and I wanted to share the experience with her,” said Jude, a 5’6” sophomore guard.

In August 2011, the Louisville women’s basketball team visited the Umatilla Reservation on their way to Canada to play in a tournament. During the three-day visit, the team held a basketball clinic for youth and visited with tribal leaders. The team also visited the tribe’s Tamastslikt Cultural Institute for a tour of the museum and to learn tribal history and legends.

“Everyone wanted to see what the reservation was all about,” said Shoni noting that some teammates thought tribal members still lived in teepees. The trip was unifying for the team and for the sisters. “It was weird to have our immediate family and our basketball team family there,” Shoni said. “But it all came together. It was the best of both worlds.”

For both, the most remarkable moment in this year’s NCAA tournament run was the 82-81 defeat of the defending national champions Baylor Bears. Going in a 24-point underdog in a Sweet 16 match up, the charge was uphill for the fifth-seeded Louisville team. Late in the game, Shoni ran a fast break and defending the basket was 6’8” Britney Griner. Shoni drove the key, dribbled left and with her back to Griner and the hoop – she popped a shot off the glass for two. The shot exemplifies the next level game. Griner didn’t know what happened and she would have to review the film to see what would be the most exciting play of the tournament.

“We worked as a team and it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment,” Shoni said. “It was very special to all of us and it was amazing to feel like that.” Jude echoed her sister’s sentiments. “It was an incredible feeling and one of the biggest upsets in history,” Jude said.

The sisters’ credit their family for their success and for their strong connection to their tribe. As children, they dressed in traditional regalia handcrafted by their great grandmother and performed the Lord’s Prayer in sign language at local churches. The sisters’ younger family members continue to wear

the regalia as part of their family traditions. The sisters also credit much of their tribal knowledge to their grandmothers and father.

The pair used to dance when they were younger at tribal events such as the tribes’ Fourth of July powwow held at the Wildhorse Resort and Casino. However, the sisters’ college courses and basketball schedule may keep them from attending this year’s powwow.

Both do plan to one day possibly work for their tribe. First, each would like to be in the WNBA or play professionally overseas. However, Shoni, a communications major, and Jude, a sociology major, would like to eventually use their degrees to help Native people on the reservation.

“We both want to give back,” said Jude of returning to the reservation. Shoni also is considering the possibility of opening a restaurant that features traditional Native foods. “I want to make it known that we have our own foods too,” Shoni said. Holding on to their Native heritage is important for both. Jude said she is inspired to succeed by the Native Americans who helped pave the road for the sisters.

The Schimmel sisters will continue to do some paving of their own when the Louisville Cardinals return next year. And because of the Schimmel’s inspiring dedication, a watershed of Native American talented student athletes will begin to flow.

We thank the Creator.


Steve Cadue is Tribal Chairman of the Kickapoo Nation. He can be reached by email at

For tribes, prosecuting non-native abusers still a challenge

“The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon could be the first in Indian Country to assert jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence offenses.”
Originally published in PBS Frontline
March 25, 2013, 4:17 pm ET
By Sarah Childress
Follow @sarah_childress

 When President Barack Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act earlier this month, he spoke of cracking down on domestic abuse in Indian Country, where the violent crime rate is more than 2.5 times the national rate and impunity is deeply entrenched.

“One of the reasons is that when Native American women are abused on tribal lands by an attacker who is not Native American, the attacker is immune from prosecution by tribal courts,” Obama said.

“Well, as soon as I sign this bill, that ends,” he said. “That ends.”

But for most tribes, closing that loophole against abusers will take time. For some, it may not happen at all.

The law has two provisions that already apply nationwide. Tribal governments can now enforce protection orders filed in state or federal court. The law also imposes stiffer penalties on anyone who inflicts substantial bodily injury on a partner, such as strangling or suffocation.

It’s the law’s controversial provision of trying non-Natives in Native court systems — one that initially held up its passage — that poses the challenge.

Tribal justice systems vary in their capabilities. On some reservations, attorneys and judges aren’t required to have a law degree. Defense attorneys may not be provided. Tribal law enforcement officers often don’t have the proper training to handle major crimes cases.

At the moment, no tribe has a system currently capable of enforcing the new law as it’s written. The law requires that tribes provide non-Native defendants with the same rights they would have in U.S. courts, including a right to an attorney, trained judges, and trial by their peers, meaning the court must at least attempt to include non-Indians in its jury pool.

“It’s Going to Start Small”

Only about 100 of the 566 federally recognized are likely to be able or interested in implementing the new protections over the next five years, according to John Dossett, the general counsel for the National Congress of American Indians, a D.C.-based group that represents the interests of Native Americans.

Of those, only 10 to 20 are likely to come into compliance in the next two years.

Many tribes are just too small to have their own justice systems and leave law enforcement to the state and federal authorities entirely. Others have remote reservations with few non-Native residents, so that prosecutorial power isn’t as much of a priority.

As always, there’s also the question of money. The law provides $5 million a year for five years — a total of $25 million — to help tribes strengthen their justice systems. That’s assuming Congress allocates the funding, which could be jeopardized by the sequester.

“The tribal criminal jurisdiction is more of a long-term project, and I think everyone understands that — I hope they do,” said Sam Hirsch, the deputy associate attorney general at the Justice Department’s Office of Tribal Justice.

Hirsch said the office will consult with the tribes before drawing up a written policy outlining the next steps, and work with those who want to take advantage of the new provision. The office will also help the tribes find the funding they need, he said.

“It’s going to start small, and it’s going to spread and build,” he said.

A Symbolic Victory

Even if only a few tribes enforce it, the law is important as a symbolic victory, said Sarah Deer, a professor at the William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota and a tribal justice expert.

“It provides more options to tribes, and that’s what I think sovereignty is about, being able to make decisions that are best for your community,” she said. “The less federal intrusion we have in sovereignty, the better off Indian people are going to be.”

Tribal advocates pushed for this new legislation in part because without it, domestic violence crimes were left to the federal government to prosecute — which often didn’t happen.

The federal government declined to prosecute 50 percent of the cases in Indian country referred to U.S. attorneys from 2005 to 2009, according to a 2010 Government Accountability Report (pdf). That rate was higher for violent crimes, at about 52 percent. For sexual abuse, the rate was 67 percent.

Federal officials have said the high declination rates occur in part because evidence is difficult to come by, especially in assault cases, and witnesses are often reluctant or unwilling to testify.

According to a 2010 law, the Justice Department is required to report its declination rates for cases on Native American reservations to Congress, but has yet to report rates for recent years. A Justice Department spokesman said it would be filing a report to Congress with that information in April.

One federal prosecutor told FRONTLINE that the declination number for major crimes has since gone down, in part because cooperation between tribes and federal officials has improved, making it easier to gather the evidence needed to try and win cases. But he declined to provide specific figures.

One Tribe on the Fast-Track

For the most part, justice on the reservation for the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla in northeastern Oregon looks a lot like justice elsewhere in America.

Tribal law enforcement officers receive the same training as state police, and the judge has a law degree. Defense attorneys are provided for those who ask for them, and the tribe is able to prosecute major felonies. Those who are convicted serve their time in the county jail.

But when it comes to domestic violence, it’s almost as if the system doesn’t exist.

About half of the 3,000 people living on or near the Umatilla reservation are non-Native, many of them married to women from one of three tribes: the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla. Tribal officials have no jurisdiction over non-Native men on the reservation.

Women there often don’t even bother to report abuse, said Brent Leonhard, an attorney for the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla’s Office of Legal Counsel.

“There’s real reluctance because of the belief — which was correct — was that it wouldn’t be prosecuted, which just makes it more dangerous for the victim,” he said.

Leonhard said the lack of domestic violence prosecutions had led some to buy into the false belief that abuse doesn’t even exist on the reservation, further isolating victims and emboldening their abusers.

The law could change that.

At Umatilla, it’s a practical matter of updating the tribal code to allow the tribes’ courts to prosecute non-Indians. Under the Tribal Law and Order Act, passed in 2010, tribes were allowed to prosecute some felonies, and even to impose jail sentences of up to three years. Most tribes didn’t use the new power because their systems weren’t strong enough, and they lacked the funds to upgrade them.

But for the communities that did, like the Umatilla, their legal codes are current enough that they won’t need to make as many adjustments, Leonhard said.

Leonhard hopes to have the provisions in place by the end of the year. Then, he’ll petition the attorney general to expedite the process to begin prosecutions of non-Native abusers.

“I think, and I hope, it will make a very large difference,” he said.