Local tribes continue fight for federal recognition

By Jacob Batte, The Courier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to know about federally run Indian schools

In this photo taken Sept. 25, 2014, students walk between buildings at the Little Singer Community School in Birdsprings, Ariz. on the Navajo Nation. Like other schools in the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Education, remoteness, extreme poverty, bureaucracy and a lack of construction dollars have enhanced the challenges at Little Singer. The Obama administration is pushing ahead with a plan to improve the schools that gives tribes more control. But the endeavor is complicated.
In this photo taken Sept. 25, 2014, students walk between buildings at the Little Singer Community School in Birdsprings, Ariz. on the Navajo Nation. Like other schools in the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Education, remoteness, extreme poverty, bureaucracy and a lack of construction dollars have enhanced the challenges at Little Singer. The Obama administration is pushing ahead with a plan to improve the schools that gives tribes more control. But the endeavor is complicated.

By Kimberly Hefling, AP Education Writer

WINSLOW, Ariz. (AP) — The federal government finances 183 schools and dormitories for Native American children on or near reservations in 23 states. The schools are some of the nation’s lowest performing.

An effort is underway to improve them.

Five things to know about the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Education schools:



The Obama administration wants to turn day-to-day operations of more of the schools over to tribes, bring in more board-certified teachers, upgrade Internet access and make it easier to hire teachers and buy textbooks. The plan also seeks to provide more support to schools to advance American Indian languages and culture.

But many the schools are in poor physical condition. An estimated $1.3 billion is needed to replace or refurbish rundown facilities, and not much money is coming from Washington. There also is much mistrust of the federal government, given the history of forced assimilation.



The system of government boarding schools to educate Native American students was established in the 19th century as part of an assimilation policy to “eradicate Native cultures and languages through Western education,” according to a government study group.

One of the first to be run directly by Washington was the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, which opened in 1879. It was founded by Richard Henry Pratt, an Army officer who said, “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man,” according to Jon Reyhner, an education professor at Northern Arizona University.

Many commissions have called for improvements to Indian schools. One, in the 1920s, said the students should be treated as “human beings.”

In 1966, what was then called the Rough Rock Demonstration School opened in Chinle, Arizona, a prototype of the schools that are today owned by the federal government but run by tribes.



While about 7 percent of Indian students attend a bureau school today, the great majority are at traditional public schools.

Only a few bureau schools fully immerse students in a Native American language or culture. Others offer them in lesser degrees. But this type of instruction is a draw for parents.

About 6,900 students live in dorms operated by the bureau.



Little Singer Community School outside Winslow, Arizona, was the vision in the 1970s of a medicine man who longed for area children to attend a local school. Today, it serves 81 students and school leaders emphasize a nurturing environment. But the rundown classroom buildings have problems with asbestos, radon, mice, mold and flimsy outside door locks. The school has been on a government priority list since at least 2004 for new construction.



Indian students overall score higher overall on assessments than those who attend bureau schools.

Native American students overall have high school graduation rates that are lower than the student population as a whole, 68 percent compared with 81 percent, according to government figures from 2011-2012. They also lag peers on a national assessment known as the “nation’s report card” and have lower rates of college completion.

In a 2011 survey conducted as part of the national assessment, 56 percent of Native American and Alaska Native students reported knowing some or a lot about their tribe or group’s history. The rest reported knowing little or nothing.

U.S. settlement with Navajo Nation is largest ever for a tribe

The Navajo Nation will receive $554 million from the U.S. to settle claims of mismanaged funds. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, left, talks with tribal presidential candidate Kenneth Maryboy this year. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)
The Navajo Nation will receive $554 million from the U.S. to settle claims of mismanaged funds. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, left, talks with tribal presidential candidate Kenneth Maryboy this year. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

In a historic settlement, the federal government will pay the Navajo Nation more than half a billion dollars to settle claims that it mismanaged reservation funds for more than 60 years, the tribe and the government announced Wednesday.

At $554 million, the settlement is the largest obtained by a single American Indian tribe against the U.S. It caps a drawn-out dispute filed in 2006 with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

The settlement goes a long way toward repairing some of the “wrongs that have been done against the Navajo people,” said Rick Abasta, a spokesman for the Navajo Nation.

But it also serves a more practical purpose, he said.

“It’s a great opportunity to address some of the disparities that exist in the [Navajo] Nation,” he said. “This $554 million is like a much-needed cash infusion for the nation.”

The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American tribe, with more than 300,000 members and a reservation that spans 27,000 square miles in three states, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. But some tribal members who live in remote areas lack modern amenities — even electricity and running water.

“This landmark resolution ends protracted and burdensome litigation. It will provide important resources to the Navajo Nation. And it fairly and honorably resolves a legal conflict over the accounting and management of tribal resources,” U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement.

Abasta said Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly planned to hold a series of town hall meetings to hear from tribal members as to what should be done with the money.

The lawsuit alleged that from 1946 to 2012, the U.S. government, which served as trustee for the tribe’s natural resources, did not negotiate appropriate deals with entities that were extracting natural resources such as coal, uranium, oil and gas from the Navajo reservation.

In addition, the tribe contended that the U.S. did not properly monitor royalties to ensure that the tribe was appropriately paid. It also contended that the U.S. did not properly invest the proceeds to ensure that the tribe would receive an appropriate return on its money.

The lawsuit, which sought $900 million, did not go to trial. Instead the Obama administration decided to settle out of court, said Andrew L. Sandler, who represented the tribe with partner Samuel J. Buffone.

“There was a lot of government misconduct for a very long time, but the Obama administration and Justice Department stepped up and did the right thing in this case,” Sandler said.

The settlement was negotiated in June and finalized by senior Navajo and U.S. officials in early August, Sandler said. The U.S. has agreed to pay the settlement in the next 30 to 60 days.

About 100 similar cases have been filed by other tribes, Sandler said; many have been settled, but a few remain in litigation. The second-largest single settlement was for $380 million, with the Osage tribe in Oklahoma. The 2011 deal ended 11 years of litigation over claims of mismanagement of tribal assets.

The Navajo Nation plans to host a signing ceremony in Window Rock, Ariz., where administration officials will join tribal members to complete the settlement Friday.

“The trust litigation has been a protracted battle and, in the end, it was a victory for tribal sovereignty,” Shelly, the Navajo Nation president, said in a statement. “After a long, hard-won process, I am pleased that we have finally come to a resolution on this matter to receive fair and just compensation for Navajo Nation.”

America warming up to new hydropower

performance.govA 46-megawatt hydroelectric facility is being built at Red Rock Lake in Iowa.
performance.govA 46-megawatt hydroelectric facility is being built at Red Rock Lake in Iowa.

John Upton, Grist

Flooding an area with a new reservoir to produce hydropower would seldom, if ever, be a popular idea with environmentalists. But what about the thousands of existing reservoirs that serve other purposes in America — the ones that control floods, entertain boaters, and store drinking water?

Funneling water from those reservoirs over newly installed turbines could be a relatively benign way of boosting zero-carbon hydroelectric power supplies.

That’s the logic that the Obama Administration has adopted as it’s worked with agencies and private utilities to tap underutilized hydropower generation potential, part of its “all of the above” approach to energy policy.

And it seems to be working.

The AP reports that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued 25 hydropower operating permits last year — the most since 2005. And it issued 125 preliminary permits last year, up from 95 the year before. There are 60,000 megawatts worth of preliminary permits and projects awaiting approval nationwide.

“I’ve never seen those kinds of numbers before,” said Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the National Hydropower Association. “We’re seeing a significant change in attitude.” From the AP article:

The Department of Energy concluded last year that the U.S. could boost its hydropower capability by 15 percent by fitting nearly 600 existing dams with generators.

Most of the potential is concentrated in 100 dams largely owned by the federal government and operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. Many are navigation locks on the Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas rivers or their major tributaries.

The state with the most hydropower potential is Illinois, followed by Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania. Rounding out the top 10 are Texas, Missouri, Indiana, and Iowa, the study concluded.

The AP reports that it costs more to build a hydropower plant than a natural gas-fired facility, but unlike natural gas, the kinetic energy in the flowing water that fuels a hydropower plant is basically free.

Administration Pushes Back After Being Labeled Cheaters on Health Costs

By Rob Capriccioso, ICTMN

Indian Health Service (IHS) officials are pushing back against tribal concerns over an Obama administration plan that would cut contract support cost (CSC) reimbursements to tribes as part of the federal budget’s continuing resolution currently being considered by Congress.

At least 45 tribes and tribal organizations have written to Congress, asking for protection against the proposal, which they say cheats tribes out of millions of dollars they are due. They believe the proposed tribe-by-tribe federal cap on CSC funding would wipe out tribal legal claims and put tribes in the difficult position of being required to spend large amounts of money to administer contract support programs without providing them the funding to do so.

RELATED: White House Trying to Cheat Tribes on Health Costs

IHS leaders say the tribal concerns have been heard, but the administration believes the plan still needs to be implemented by Congress due to federal budget concerns and sequestration.

“The Administration’s decision was made after careful consideration of all views,” Dianne Dawson, a spokeswoman for IHS, told Indian Country Today Media Network by e-mail. “This option is a short-term approach in this difficult budget climate and is consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Salazar V. Ramah Navajo Chapter. We are currently consulting with tribes to find a long-term solution for CSC funding.”

Tribal leaders, concerned that they will be shortchanged millions of dollars, are not moved by the administration’s response, and they say it opposes the June 2012 Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that said the federal government must pay for the full CSC incurred by tribes while providing healthcare and other governmental services for their tribal citizens through Indian Self-Determination Act contract agreements.

“Our views were never asked for, and so the only views that were considered were views within the administration,” Edward Thomas, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes, told ICTMN after reviewing the administration’s response.

“This proposal should never be a short-term solution without clarifying what the impact would be,” Thomas added. “[This] interpretation of the Supreme Court decision as a budget or financial issue is wrong and not consistent with promises made by the President to not try to balance this nation’s budget on the backs of the less fortunate.”

Thomas noted that tribes have interpreted the Supreme Court decision to mean that finally the federal government must pay for the cost of tribes administering programs on their behalf. “The Supreme Court ruled in Ramah that the U.S. must pay 100 percent of our tribal CSC costs,” he said. “Maybe President Obama should tell his officials to read Ramah again and again until they get it. It appears to me that White House OMB [Office of Management and Budget] is opposing the President indirectly and this should never happen.”

Thomas said the right “long-term solution is to put 100 percent funding of indirect costs into each and every budget. It isn’t complicated. This can easily be absorbed by the administration.”

Lloyd Miller, an Indian affairs lawyer with Sonosky Chambers who represents several tribes with pending CSC claims, says that the administration framing of this situation as a budget issue is flat-out wrong. “A special account exists in the Treasury to pay any claims over contract shortfalls,” he said. “No other government contractors are being treated this way. The administration’s proposal to cut off tribal contract rights is nothing less than racial discrimination.”

Added Miller, “They seem to think that tribes are comfortable with treating contracts to operate government facilities as mere grants, with the tribes happy to cut services if the promised payments fall short. That is a bad miscalculation. Tribes have far too much knowledge of broken treaties, and they will not sit still while IHS seeks cover to break its contract obligations.”

In light of the administration’s response, Congress members are vowing to continue to fight the proposal. Republican leaders chose not to include the language in their continuing resolution proposal released September 10, but that legislation is on hold, since some conservative members of the Republican caucus want the continuing resolution to include language that would vote down Obamacare. The Senate has yet to decide if it will take up the CSC plan.

There will be a partial government shutdown if Congress can’t pass a continuing resolution by October 1.

RELATED: House Members Howling Over WH Plan to Cheat Tribes on Health Costs

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chair of the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, has taken the lead against decrying the administration’s CSC proposal, and he says their new rationale rings untrue.

“The administration is claiming that their proposed hard cap on contract support cost funding is both short-term and consistent with Ramah, and their claim is false on both fronts,” Young told ICTMN. “Their proposal would deny tribes compensation that they are rightfully due and has harmful long-term implications for health care delivery throughout Indian country.”

Young said that the tight federal budget “may continue to exist long into the future,” yet it “does not diminish the federal government’s trust responsibility.

“The real problem is not the budget climate, but the administration’s unwillingness to prioritize Native healthcare,” Young said.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/09/13/administration-pushes-back-after-being-labeled-cheaters-health-costs-151263

House Members Howling Over WH Plan to Cheat Tribes on Health Costs

By Rob Capriccioso, Indian Country Today Media Network

U.S. House members across the aisles are reacting harshly to a plan by the Obama administration to cut contract support cost (CSC) reimbursements to tribes in the federal budget’s continuing resolution currently being considered by Congress.

“If the administration has its way, tribes would lose their ability to obtain the legitimate contract support cost funds that Indian Health Service has failed to pay,” Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, told Indian Country Today Media Network in reaction to a White House budget proposal shared with some Congress members late this summer that would allow the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to limit how much each tribe would be paid for CSC.

RELATED: White House Trying to Cheat Tribes on Health Costs

Tribes would be left to pay for any CSC funding not appropriated by Congress. President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget request falls copy40 million short of what is required to honor all tribal contracts with the IHS, and copy2 million short of what is required to honor all BIA contracts, according to testimony provided to Congress in April.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the administration for even suggesting this,” Young said. “Fully funding contract support costs is the right thing to do. Providing healthcare services is a critical component of the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribes, and imposing a ‘hard cap’ that limits tribes’ compensation for healthcare services that they provided on behalf of the government would undermine our sacred trust obligation.”

Young promised “to fight to make sure the administration’s proposed continuing resolution language, which would harm healthcare delivery throughout Indian country, is not included in the House version.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a Chickasaw Nation citizen who sits on the House Appropriations and Budget Committees, told ICTMN that the administration’s plan is “outrageous.”

“The record from this administration on Indian affairs has been pretty good, but this as an area it has not been,” Cole said.

Cole added that as of early September 10 he had not seen the final text of the House’s continuing resolution bill, so he did not know if the Republican leadership had included the administration’s proposal.

“I hope and I expect – but I don’t want to tell you I got it for sure – that this is going to be fixed, that we will be offering a continuing resolution that does not cap these payments,” Cole said. “I know the Appropriations Committee has forwarded this matter to leadership. I’m assuming word got through to the guys who put together the final draft of the whole thing.”

Democratic tribal allies in the House also say they are concerned by the administration’s proposal, and they do not want to see the Republican House leadership include it in its continuing resolution.

“We have yet to see the text of the continuing resolution from the Republican leadership in the House, however, any proposal of this nature would be concerning, and the impact on tribal communities would need to be closely reviewed,” Rep. Ben Luján (D-N.M.) told ICTMN.

“The United States has a trust responsibility that must be upheld, and it is critical that tribal leaders and members of Congress work together to ensure we are meeting the funding needs of Indian country,” Luján said. “A key component is undoing the failed experiment of sequestration that I have opposed every step of the way, in part because of the negative effect it is having on Native American communities.”


Late September 10, the House-proposed continuing resolution was filed. It did not include any CSC caps, though it left funding at the 2013 sequestered level.

In the Senate, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has vowed to do whatever she can to quash consideration of the proposal, but Democrats control that chamber, so it remains to be seen if Democratic Senate leaders are willing to counter the Democratic administration’s plan. From the House, Young said he would “continue to work with the Alaska delegation to prevent the harmful language from being included on the Senate side.”

Lloyd Miller, an Indian affairs lawyer with Sonosky Chambers involved in several tribal contract support disputes with the federal government, suggested that tribal officials reach out to Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), chairman of the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, who will have input on this funding proposal in the Senate.

“Sen. Reed will be very important as this plays out in short order,” Miller said, noting that he would like to see the senator to attend a meeting of the National Conference of the American Indians in Washington on September 11.

Congress is scheduled to be in session for only nine days in September. It must pass a continuing resolution by October 1 to avoid a partial government shutdown. If the administration’s language is included in the continuing resolution, tribes would likely lose out on millions of dollars.

The administration’s request comes after a June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said the federal government must pay for the full CSC incurred by tribes while providing healthcare and other governmental services for their tribal citizens through Indian Self-Determination Act contract agreements. It was a rare tribal victory at the Supreme Court, which is one reason why the current White House position has alarmed tribal leaders.

Forty-five tribes and tribal organizations shared a letter with Reed and his subcommittee September 3, expressing their outrage at the administration’s proposal.

Cole predicted legal consequences if the administration’s plan were to pass Congress. “Do you really think this won’t be challenged in court?” he asked. “I suspect it will.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/09/11/house-members-oppose-white-house-tribal-cost-cutting-plan-151227