Secretary Jewell to Kick Off Native Youth Listening Tour

Obama Administration Officials to meet with young people across Indian Country to better understand and act on unique challenges facing Native Youth 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of President Obama’s Generation Indigenous (“Gen-I”) initiative to remove barriers standing between Native youth and their opportunity to succeed, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will kick off the Obama Administration Native Youth Listening Tour tomorrow, Tuesday, February 10, in the Phoenix, Arizona area with tribal visits and student discussions at Salt River Elementary and Gila River Crossing Community Schools.

During the sixth White House Tribal Nations Conference, President Obama announced that members of his Cabinet would visit Indian Country to hear directly from Native youth on how to bolster federal policies to help improve the lives and opportunities for the next generation of Indian Country. Over the coming year, Obama Administration Cabinet Secretaries will hold listening sessions with native youth across the country.

As part of her visit with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Secretary Jewell will learn about the tribe’s Family Advocacy Center which follows a ‘co-location’ model for social services, such as counseling, law enforcement and other professional social services. The Center serves as a national model for taking a ‘whole-of-child’ approach to youth and social services.

At the Gila River Crossing Community School, Secretary Jewell will meet with students who are part of Akimel O’odham/Pee-Posh Youth Council, an active and well-established youth council that has served to provide an avenue for empowerment and mutual support for native youth within the community.

According to a recent White House report, nearly half of Native American people (42 percent) are under the age of 24; more than one-third of Native children live in poverty; and Native youth have the lowest high school graduation rate of students across all schools.

Obama Wants Tribal Contract Support Cost Payments to be Non-Discretionary

IHS Acting Director Yvette Roubideaux
IHS Acting Director Yvette Roubideaux


Rob Capriccioso, Indian Country Today


In a dramatic change of policy that is likely to be welcomed by tribes, the White House is seeking to turn the money tribes annually spend on federally mandated health and social services for tribal citizens into a temporary entitlement.

Under the plan, released February 2 as part of the president’s budget request to Congress, a large portion of federal funding for tribal contract support costs (CSC) for three years starting in 2017 will be moved from the “discretionary” to “mandatory non-discretionary” column within the federal budget.

If the idea passes muster with the GOP-controlled Congress, it will mean that the negative impacts of federal budgetary sequestration in recent years on tribes will no longer impact the tribal CSC bottom line, according to members of the Indian Health Service (IHS) CSC Workgroup. Group members believe that stabilizing this funding will better ensure continuity of essential programs and services to tribal citizens.

“On the national scale, the president’s proposal for [the Indian Health Service] alone would make CSC funding reoccurring and mandatory in the amount of $800 million in the first year, $900 million in year two and copy billion annually in year three,” said Aaron Payment, chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and a member of the IHS CSC Workgroup. The Bureau of Indian Affairs would see more modest mandatory CSC appropriations under the plan, but still vast increases over current levels.

Payment, who serves on the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes and the National Congress of American Indians, added that this CSC funding would not be subject to cuts if tribes do not spend all their funds in a single fiscal cycle.

IHS Acting Director Yvette Roubideaux has told tribal leaders that the plan will not start earlier than 2017 in order to allow for tribal consultation and for the enactment of necessary congressional authorizing legislation.

For years, tribes have been forced to spend tens of millions of dollars on critical health and social services, despite federal law and legal court rulings that have said these costs are supposed to be paid by the federal government due to its constitutionally- and legally-mandated trust responsibility to tribal citizens.

Tribes that could afford to do so have ended up racking up millions of dollars in debt that is supposed to be reimbursed by the federal government, but which has seldom happened. Tribes that could not afford to offer the services did not, and their citizens suffered for it.

In recent years, hundreds of tribes have sued the federal government for reimbursement of unpaid CSC. Legal settlements have been happening more frequently of late after some intense legal negotiations between tribes and the Obama administration throughout 2013-2014. Tens of millions of dollars have been reimbursed in recent months after the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs asked Roubideaux to negotiate in good faith.

A temporary solution to the federal government’s lack of CSC payments was passed by Congress last year after the White House and Congress agreed to pay all CSC for tribes for the current fiscal year. Yet tribes soon found that this promise was a double-edged sword because the full payment of CSC meant that the funds for other services offered by the federal government to tribes, mainly from the Departments of Health and Human Services and the Interior, were cut as budgetary trade-off.

Before that latest quagmire, tribal leaders in 2012-13 had been battling with Obama administration officials, including Roubideaux and the Office of Management and Budget, who offered unpopular plans to dramatically cap CSC payments to tribes–no matter their need and despite Supreme Court rulings that called for full reimbursement. Congress members from both sides of the aisle called out the administration’s actions here, which led to the temporary solution of 2014 that ended up shortchanging other tribal programs in exchange for CSC reimbursement.

Lloyd Miller, a lawyer with Sonosky Chambers who has successfully represented many tribes that have sued the federal government to obtain CSC settlements, says tribal leaders have not let up in demanding that both tribal programming and CSC payments be honored.

“Last year’s reprogramming likely made people [both in the administration and in tribes] realize that the threat to ongoing operations by this mandatory funding obligation is not theoretical, but real, and must be taken seriously,” Miller said.

Geoffrey Strommer, an Indian affairs lawyer with Hobbs Straus, said it is unclear at this point whether the Republican Congress will sign off.

“I don’t know for sure if the Republican Congress will pass legislation implementing this concept,” Strommer said. “This really is the best long-term policy solution to what has been a difficult problem, so I hope they seriously consider it. If the administration can show an offset somewhere else in the budget that should go a long way towards making Republicans comfortable with this initiative.”

Miller is hopeful. “Adding any kind of mandatory funding is swimming uphill in Congress, especially in the face of budget hawks. But then again, this is a Congress that has given pretty bipartisan support for CSC funding,” he said.

A key factor will be how the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores the plan in determining how much it will cost the federal government.

“In my opinion, it should be zero because the contracts by law must be paid, and therefore any funding mechanism, even a ‘mandatory’ mechanism, will not add to outlays from the Treasury,” Miller said. “But the CBO works in mysterious ways.”

Payment said that he and other tribal leaders are preparing to educate the Republican-controlled Congress on why this is a positive solution to a problem that has plagued the federal and tribal governments for decades.

“[We will] urge Congress to uphold their constitutional and trust responsibility in honoring the treaties by permanently enacting this legislation to make CSC funds mandatory,” Payment said. “It looks promising as they insisted on full funding this year and appropriated it.”




Press Release, National Indian Education Association

WASHINGTON, DC – Following yesterday’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Hearing on “Fixing No Child Left Behind (NCLB): Testing and Accountability,” National Indian Education Association (NIEA) President Melvin Monette issued the following statement explaining the need for an Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization that upholds the trust responsibility of the United States and fairly provides Native students education services based on principles of accountability, equity, and excellence. President Monette stated:

The ESEA is in pressing need of updating and we commend the Senate HELP Committee under the leadership of Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) for moving forward the reauthorization through recently introduced draft language. However, the current iteration illustrates a need for improvement, so we request that the federal government honor its’ trust responsibility to tribes and Native education by fairly providing comprehensive educational opportunities to Native students within any ESEA reauthorization.

During the State of the Union Address, President Obama rightfully celebrated the nation’s all-time high graduation rates among high school students. Unfortunately, the stressed graduation rates and academic successes are often not representative of many Native communities. NCLB has done little to address the longstanding challenges affecting Native students. Over the past decade, Native students continue to trail their peers in reading and mathematics (grades four and eight). Nationwide, our students face some of the lowest high school graduation rates with even fewer students graduating from college. Native education is in a state of emergency and tribes have long awaited the opportunity to partner with Congress to take bold action that will significantly improve the education systems serving Native communities.

Tribes and Native communities have an enormous stake in their children’s education. While the ESEA reauthorization must provide effective accountability and protect the civil rights of all Americans, the ESEA reauthorization must also be a commitment to the sovereignty of this country’s First Americans. As such, the ESEA draft should be revised to support tribal nations as they develop their ability to deliver education services as well as coordinate with local and state educational agencies. Only by including the following priorities will an ESEA reauthorization ensure effective and efficient use of funds and delivery of resources to Native communities as well as increase Native student achievement.

NIEA calls on the Senate to include the following priorities:
  • Strengthen Native Participation in Education: Tribes should have the authority to build their capacity to administer education title programs. Native leaders understand their children best and can better address their students’ unique cultural and academic needs.
  • Encourage Tribal/State Partnerships: While the federal government has a trust responsibility to work with tribes, tribal concerns are often excluded at the state and local level. The ESEA reauthorization should require local and state educational agencies to closely work and meaningfully consult with tribes when developing applications and plans for ESEA title programs.
  • Preserve and Revitalize Native Languages: The continued existence of Native languages is crucial to protecting and strengthening Native culture and tribal communities as well as increasing the academic achievement of Native students. Any ESEA reauthorization should provide resources for eligible schools to participate in a program to develop and maintain Native language immersion education models.
  • Increase Access to Native Student Records: Native students often transfer between federal, state, and tribal school districts, which creates information gaps as systems are not required to track and coordinate student data. The ESEA reauthorization should provide the ability for schools and state and local educational agencies to share Native student data with their local tribes. Providing such information will create longitudinal student statistics that will help schools and Native partners alleviate issues that decrease Native student achievement.

NIEA, tribes, and our national and local partners look forward to working with members of Congress to strengthen this initial draft proposal. It is critical the ESEA reauthorization serves Native students and their peers by not only ensuring equity and accountability, but also including tribes within their local education systems. This great country cannot afford to ignore the needs of its most vulnerable students. By reinforcing America’s trust responsibility and strengthening tribal sovereignty throughout the ESEA, Congress will begin to reverse the negative impacts affecting Native communities and ensure local cooperation fosters efficiency and academic excellence for all students.

State of the Union: Climate Change Is Greatest Threat to Future Generations

Mandel Ngan/APPresident Barack Obama delivering his State of the Union address for 2015.
Mandel Ngan/AP
President Barack Obama delivering his State of the Union address for 2015.


Indian Country Today


Though the State of the Union address focused primarily on the economy, President Barack Obama underscored the importance of continuing to deal with climate change and its attendant issues, calling this the biggest threat that modern life faces.

In his hour-long speech, Obama devoted just over two minutes to the subject of climate change—both reiterating that it is real, and listing the major measures that the White House has taken to alter and adapt to its course.

“No challenge—no challenge—poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” Obama said near the end of the address. “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does—14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.”

Answering critics who have said that Congress cannot make scientific rulings because legislators are not scientists, Obama said he is relying on the know-how of the scientists researching and compiling the data. He highlighted some of the measures that his administration has undertaken, such as the landmark emissions agreement reached recently with China.

“The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, and conflict, and hunger around the globe,” Obama said. “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”

View the President’s full climate remarks below.



Tribal Leaders Tell Obama to Reject Keystone XL Pipeline, Request U.S. Interior Meeting

Sue Ogrocki/Associated PressPipeline sections piled up in Cushing, Oklahoma, the hub of the proposed Keystone XL project.
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
Pipeline sections piled up in Cushing, Oklahoma, the hub of the proposed Keystone XL project.



Several indigenous leaders have officially asked President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline, citing concerns about consultation, treaty rights and impact on tribal homelands.

In his letter to Obama, Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association chairman and Oglala Sioux Tribe president John Steele also requested a meeting with U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. The association is among numerous indigenous leaders coming out against the pipeline, which would carry bituminous crude from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico for export.

“The Yankton are adamant about meeting with Secretary Jewell regarding the intrusion of our territory by Transcanada, as it is no small matter,” said Ihanktonwan/Yankton Sioux Tribal Chairman Robert Flying Hawk in a statement from the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Our water rights, protection of our cultural resources and safety of our Oceti Sakowin children and families over ride any Congressional lobby influences by Big Oil. We stand strong with all the other leaders of the Oceti Sakowin and Indigenous peoples affected by tar sands.”

The Yankton Sioux are currently spearheading a challenge to the permit of TransCanada before the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, a process with hearings beginning in May.

RELATED: Yankton Sioux Lead Fight Against TransCanada and Keystone XL in South Dakota

South Dakota Keeps Keystone XL Permit Process Intact for May Hearings

The move is also backed by the Indigenous Environmental Network and other conservation groups.

“We stand in solidarity with our Oceti Sakowin relatives and encourage the Department of Interior to dissent from a KXL permit approval and give President Obama all the more reason to reject this dirty tar sands pipeline,” said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, in a statement. “We ask this for the benefit of the land, the water, our communities, our sacred sites, and the territorial integrity of the sacredness of Mother Earth.”

Debate is heating up over the Keystone XL pipeline, which when complete would stretch 1,700 miles from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico coast of Texas. As Obama mulls a final decision amid Congressional pressure to step up the pace, the southern leg of the pipeline is already built and operational, bringing oil from refineries in the Midwest to the Gulf for export.




Obama Names Two Tribes Among 16 Climate Action Champions Nationwide


Indian Country Today

Two tribes are among 16 communities across the U.S. designated by President Barack Obama as Climate Action Champions, “a diverse group of communities that are defining the frontier of ambitious climate action, and their approaches can serve as a model for other communities to follow,” the White House said on December 3.

The Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe of California and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians each won for a diversity of efforts in preventing, preparing for and adapting to climate change.

The designees “have considered their climate vulnerabilities and taken decisive action to cut carbon pollution and build resilience,” the Obama administration said. All were winners in a nationwide competition launched by the Department of Energy during the fall that was designed to identify and recognize climate leaders as well as provide them with federal support in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

The federally recognized Blue Lake Rancheriatribe of California created its climate action plan back in 2008, the White House said, calling it “a regional leader in strategically planning and implementing both climate resiliency and greenhouse gas reduction measures.”

Such measures include reducing energy consumption by 35 percent, committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2018, powering public buses with biodiesel fuel and adopting other energy-efficiency initiatives.

The tribe’s overall environmental programs date back to 1997, according to its website, and are rooted in a deep-seated sense of responsibility not only to its own lands but to those outside the borders.

“The Blue Lake Rancheria’s responsibility to protect the land does not stop at the boundaries of the Rancheria,” the tribe’s environmental pagesays. “The ancestors of Tribal Membership ranged all across the spectacular landscape of Northern California. Further, they had a relationship with the land that was immediate, personal, and binding—and that relationship continues through their descendants. Respect and stewardship of the environment is a powerful tenet of the Tribe’s philosophy and operations today.”

In Michigan, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians“demonstrates a holistic approach to climate action and preparedness through their energy strategy, emergency operations plan, integrated resource management plan, solid waste management plan, sustainable development code, and land use planning process, with ambitious goals including a net-zero energy goal,” the White House said. “The tribe aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by four percent per year.”

Sault Tribe Environmental Program Manager Kathie Brosemer credited the tribe’s diverse efforts in not only climate change but food security, emergency preparedness, waste reduction and other areas, she said in a statement.

“I am so proud of my administration’s Natural Resources, Health, Traditional Medicine, Housing, Law Enforcement, and Planning in pulling together our call to action to protect our Aki (Mother Earth),” said Tribal Chairperson Aaron Payment in the Sault Ste. Marie statement. “I appreciate the President recognizing our excellence.”

Each community will be mentored and coached by other experts from various federal programs, the White House statement said. In addition, each one will be assigned a coordinator to act as a liaison between the federal agencies, national organizations and foundations that are supporting the designees. The coordinator will also scout out and notify the champions of any funding and technical assistance that they are eligible for.

Such support includes tribal-focused technical assistance geared specifically toward the two designated communities. The two tribes will be eligible to participate in the DOE Office of Indian Energy Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) program, which provides in-depth technical know-how. Other customized technical assistance will be offered as well, the administration said, along the lines of support for projects and programs that promote the development of clean, efficient energy.

RELATED: Ten Tribes Receive Department of Energy Clean-Energy Technical Assistance

Meet DOE Tribal Energy Expert David Conrad



Obama unveils plan to help young American Indians

In this June 13, 2014 file photo President Barack Obama and Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe David Archambault II, left, watch dancers during a visit to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Cannon Ball, N.D. Obama on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014 announced an initiative to improve conditions and opportunities for American Indian youth, more than one-third of whom live in poverty. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
In this June 13, 2014 file photo President Barack Obama and Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe David Archambault II, left, watch dancers during a visit to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Cannon Ball, N.D. Obama on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014 announced an initiative to improve conditions and opportunities for American Indian youth, more than one-third of whom live in poverty. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)


By Blake Nicholson, AP

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — President Barack Obama announced an initiative Wednesday aimed at improving conditions and opportunities for American Indian youth, more than a third of whom live in poverty.

Obama’s Generation Indigenous initiative calls for programs focused on better preparing young American Indians for college and careers, and developing leadership skills through the Department of Education and the Aspen Institute’s Center for Native American Youth. Members of the president’s staff also plan to visit reservations next year.

The White House did not provide a cost estimate for the initiative, but a spokeswoman said the administration plans to fund it with existing money and the help of nonprofit and philanthropic organizations.

The announcement, made as part of the White House Tribal Nations Conference that Obama is hosting on Wednesday, comes five months after the president and his wife visited the impoverished Standing Rock Indian Reservation in the Dakotas.

The 3,600-square-mile reservation is home to about 8,500 people, many of whom live in run-down homes, and where the unemployment rate runs as high as 20 percent. The suicide rate for American Indians aged 15 to 24 is more than twice the national rate.

Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said the president and first lady “were deeply moved” after listening to children’s stories about challenges they faced on the reservation, such as depression and alcohol abuse. Vice President Joe Biden said in a morning appearance before the conference that for Obama, helping Indian youth is “something that he came back from his June visit fired up about doing something about.”

Wednesday’s conference involves leaders from 566 federally recognized tribal nations, along with 36 White House Youth Ambassadors chosen from around the country through an essay contest.

“People who grow up in a poverty culture sometimes need guidance, need values, need a little bit of structure,” said Chase Iron Eyes, an attorney and Native American rights activist from Standing Rock who is attending the conference.

“Through some of the things the administration is doing, it looks like they’re trying to do that,” he said. “Youth — they just need the right tools, and maybe they can empower themselves.”

The White House also released a report Wednesday acknowledging failures in federal policy and highlighting the need for more tribal help in the areas of economic development, health and education. Slightly more than two-thirds of Native youth graduate from high school, according to the 2014 Native Youth Report.

One of the report’s recommendations is to strengthen tribal control of the education system on reservations. Officials are working to overhaul the Bureau of Indian Education, which is responsible for educating 48,000 Indian students in 23 states, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.

Jewell estimated it would cost more than $1 billion to fix schools with crumbling infrastructures. Officials are pursuing money through Congress, existing government programs and philanthropic organizations.

“We have to get creative,” Jewell said.

Obama Allocates $10 Million for Tribal Climate Change Adaptation

Newtok Planning GroupThe Alaska Native village of Newtok is one example of an indigenous community at the forefront of climate change. Erosion due to rising sea levels has required the relocation of the entire village.
Newtok Planning Group
The Alaska Native village of Newtok is one example of an indigenous community at the forefront of climate change. Erosion due to rising sea levels has required the relocation of the entire village.


President Barack Obama on July 16 released another set of climate-change-resilience guidelines, this batch geared specifically toward tribes, and announced the allocation of $10 million to help tribes cope with climate change.

The allocation was one of a number of measures announced at the final meeting of the White House State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, created by Obama last fall. Karen Diver, chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota, and Reggie Joule, mayor of the Northwest Arctic Borough in Alaska, were the tribal officials designated to serve on the task force.

RELATED: A Chat With Fond du Lac’s Karen Diver, Presidential Climate Change Task Force

The money will fund the development of resource management methods, climate-resilience planning, and youth education and empowerment. Climate adaptation grants will also be awarded for the development of climate-adaptation training programs, assessment of vulnerability, monitoring and other aspects of learning about the effects of climate change. Adaptation planning sessions will be offered, and tribal outreach will be funded with the money as well, Interior said. Administration officials said such measures are sorely needed.

RELATED: 9 Tribal Nations Taking a Direct Hit From Climate Change

“From the Everglades to the Great Lakes to Alaska and everywhere in between, climate change is a leading threat to natural and cultural resources across America, and tribal communities are often the hardest hit by severe weather events such as droughts, floods and wildfires,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, chair of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, in a statement. “Building on the President’s commitment to tribal leaders, the partnership announced today will help tribal nations prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change on their land and natural resources.”

Obama has been highlighting the effects of climate change on Native peoples in his efforts to construct a plan for dealing with the inevitable changes.

RELATED: Obama Taps Tribes to Assist in Adapting to Climate Change

“Impacts of climate change are increasingly evident for American Indian and Alaska Native communities and, in some cases, threaten the ability of tribal nations to carry on their cultural traditions and beliefs,” said Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn. “We have heard directly from tribes about climate change and how it dramatically affects their communities, many of which face extreme poverty as well as economic development and infrastructure challenges. These impacts test their ability to protect and preserve their land and water for future generations. We are committed to providing the means and measures to help tribes in their efforts to protect and mitigate the effects of climate change on their land and natural resources.”

The Interior Department will also team up with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a subgroup on climate change under the White House Council on Native American Affairs, the DOI said. This cooperation between Jewell and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will entail working with tribes to pool data and information on climate change effects that are directly relevant to issues faced by American Indians and Alaska Natives. Traditional and ecological knowledge will be a cornerstone of the initiative.

“Tribes are at the forefront of many climate issues, so we are excited to work in a more cross-cutting way to help address tribal climate needs,” said McCarthy in the statement. “We’ve heard from tribal leaders loud and clear: when the federal family combines its efforts, we get better results—and nowhere are these results needed more than in the fight against climate change.”



Obama’s Climate Initiatives in the Northwest

A 3-D map of the Olympic National Forest.Credit Martin D. Adamiker / Wikimedia
A 3-D map of the Olympic National Forest.
Credit Martin D. Adamiker / Wikimedia


By: Courtney Flatt, Northwest Public Radio


President Obama Wednesday announced several initiatives to help prepare for a warming climate. He said wildfires, heat waves and rising sea levels brought on by climate change threaten public safety.

One of the main problems that the initiatives will address in the Northwest is the risk people face from floods and landslides.

Climate scientists say warmer winter storms will lead to more frequent and prolonged periods of rainfall. And that could trigger more landslides like the Oso disaster that killed 47 people last march in Washington’s north Cascades. But detailed 3-D maps can help predict where disasters like the Oso landslide could happen.

Check out our earlier coverage of landslide risks to homeowners and how changing rainfall could lead to more landslides.

Obama’s climate initiative will give $13 million dollars to the U.S. Geological Survey to help map more areas, which is not much money for this expensive technology. But Tom Carlson, a geographer with the USGS, says every little bit helps.

He says only about one-fourth of Washington has been mapped by this technology.

“It’s very patchy. There are lots of doughnut holes out there, lots of blank spots,” Carlson says.

About one-third of Oregon and very few parts of Idaho have been mapped.

Also in the president’s initiative:

  • Tribes will get $10 million to help mitigate and plan for climate change. Tribes will be awarded grants to start planning how to adapt and monitor changes and vulnerabilities. They’ll also get money to help gather and share more data about the effects of climate change.

“Impacts of climate change are increasingly evident for American Indian and Alaska Native communities and, in some cases, threaten the ability of tribal nations to carry on their cultural traditions and beliefs,” said Bureau of Indian Affair’s assistant secretary Kevin Washburn in a statement.

Read about some of the challenges tribes face dealing with climate change:

Obama’s initiative will also help communities build more green stormwater infrastructure, like rain gardens and urban forests, something Northwesterners know about.

EarthFix backgrounders on green infrastructure in the Northwest:

The initiative will also provide funding for coastal communities to deal with rising sea levels. One way to do that, Obama says, is to build stronger sea walls. Seattle officials say parts of the city will be underwater by 2050.

Along with the president’s initiatives, the Centers for Disease Control released a guide for local health departments that outlines the threats climate change poses to human health.

For more on how climate change will affect people’s health, check out EarthFix’s Symptoms of Climate Change series. We explored urban heat islands, increases in wildfire smoke, toxic algal blooms, and farmworkers in a warming climate.

Pushing Obama to Appoint a Tribal Economic Development Council

Rob Capriccioso, Indian Country Today


American Indian leaders and Native-focused legislators are pushing President Barack Obama to use his executive powers to establish a tribal economic development council made up of actual tribal leaders.

Such a move, say advocates of the seemingly common-sense idea, would illustrate that Obama and his administration are serious about creating an overarching economic plan for Indian country, and it would put more weight behind a series of disjointed initiatives his team has already offered.

They note, too, that the President of late has been willing to face scrutiny from Republicans by expanding his use of executive powers on immigration reform, health care, and other issues, so they wish he would add this pressing area to his agenda. And there’s already a model in place for him to do so, exemplified by his creation of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology through executive order in 2010.

“It’s time to diversify the conversation,” says Gary Davis, president and chief executive officer of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, who noted the idea was seriously discussed at the organization’s recently-concluded Washington, D.C.-based Reservation Economic Summit. “We need the Native people who are advancing economic develop in Indian country every single day weighing in, making sure that the proper tribal perspective is being offered.”

Indian leaders know full well that the president has already created a White House Native American Affairs Council, but they widely lament that it is made up mainly of non-Indian agency officials spread throughout the vast administration who don’t have the on-the-ground experience rooted in the realities of tribal economies.

RELATED: No Tribal Leaders at First Council on Native American Affairs Meeting

It makes for a good photo op when the administration’s council gets together, Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, has said, and agency officials can therefore say they are focused on tribal economic development, as well as a bevy of other tribal issues. However, given the limited tribal input built in to this system, tribal leaders have feared that the council misses major opportunities to improve struggling reservation economies.

To be fair, the administration and the council have indeed reached out to tribal leaders to solicit their ideas for bold and wide-sweeping improvement. During last year’s White House Tribal Nations Summit, for instance, Obama held a meeting with a small group of Indian leaders who suggested that the federal government encourage more collaboration between private business and tribes by convening a gathering of such entities. Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation representative and CEO of Nation Enterprises, parent company of Indian Country Today Media Network, said after that presidential meeting, which he attended, that an advantage in having the administration facilitate such an endeavor is that it has power that tribes and Indian organizations lack.

“If the administration backed such a plan, there would be an automatic serious nature to it,” Halbritter said at the time. “Businesses would perhaps feel more obliged to collaborate and to find ways to partner with Indian nations.”

The administration has already made tentative and limited progress in improving reservation economies. During the president’s June trip to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, the White House noted in a press release that the administration has in several instances already partnered with Native communities by granting multi-millions of dollars in funding, by providing increased technical assistance on various federal-tribal programs, and by pushing for legal and regulatory tribal economy-focused improvements.

RELATED: President Obama Follows Visit With Strong Action Plan for Indian Country

New initiatives are also in the pipeline, the White House said, noting that the administration wants to remove regulatory barriers to Indian energy and infrastructure development, increase tribal land development opportunities, and make federal data focused on tribal economic development easier to find and use by tribes. Encouraging the use of tax-exempt bonds for tribal economic development, growing Native small businesses, and supporting Indian veterans were also on the agenda.

Brian Patterson, president of the United South and Eastern Tribes, says he is supportive of the administration’s efforts to date and its plans for the future. “However,” he adds, “none of this will transform the situation without the full engagement of Indian country as an equal partner.”

Says Chris Stearns, a Native affairs lawyer with Hobbs Straus: “[W]ithout the direct input of tribal leaders, scholars, and activists into federal policy, you tend to wind up with piecemeal fixes that are not linked together in a way that makes them effective.

“I can’t imagine that a Council on Native American Affairs led by the tribes themselves wouldn’t be able to come up with 10 times more than what a roomful of federal officials has been able to do so far,” Stearns adds.

One of the reasons the administration has been reluctant in some cases to solicit stronger tribal input on economic development issues is the fact that many tribal leaders want federal laws that they feel impact their growth relaxed or removed. Progressive laws, like the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), are hindrances to development on many reservations, several tribal leaders have testified before Congress.

“These and other laws create conflicting allegiances for the federal Indian trustee, bogging down tribal development decisions to the point that tribes cannot compete fairly in most private sector markets,” says Philip Banker-Shenk, a Native Affairs lawyer with Holland & Knight. “It may be audacious to think the role of the federal Indian trustee should trump laws like the APA, NEPA, or ESA, but it is no more audacious than the present paralysis caused by how those laws now neuter the federal Indian trusteeship.”

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, is one who believes the administration has been slow in supporting economic self-determination for tribes because that goal often conflicts with its more progressive ideals. For instance, the congressman’s recent Native American Energy Act received tribal support from its conception to its passage in the House as part of a larger bill, yet the administration has opposed it all along the way. The bill, if ever signed into law by the president, could open up many opportunities for tribal energy development – both of the renewable and non-renewable type – yet it would also give tribes more of an ability to challenge NEPA and other regulations that hold them back from such development. Thus, the administration has been opposed—a major source of consternation to tribal advocates who note that Indian oil, gas and construction in aggregate garnered copy5 billion for a select group of tribes in 2013. Many more tribes could be able to benefit if Young’s legislation became law.

“The administration continues to focus on endless discussions, but rarely takes actions,” says Matt Shuckerow, a spokesman for Young. “Truly promoting economic self-sufficiency for tribes takes more than hosting a tribal summit each year. The administration should actively work with Congress to allow for responsible development of natural resources on tribal lands.”

Such criticism from a Republican is perhaps expected in partisan Washington, but Jon Tester (D-Montana), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), agrees that the progress of both the administration and current Congress has been too sluggish and not focused on supporting true tribal self-determination.

Tester says that the federal government sometimes holds tribes back from self-determination opportunities, adding that he has tended to see more economic successes from tribes that have been able to take increased responsibility over programs that support their lands and citizens. How to get all tribes to be able to take increased responsibility is one of the major dilemmas of this situation, he says. “Make no mistake, I know how difficult it is,” he adds. “When you’re poor, you’re poor.”

A step in the right direction, Tester says, would be for the president to create a permanent Cabinet-level Native affairs advisor position that could elevate these issues to the highest level of federal government in conjunction with appointing a tribal economic development council to inform such an advisor.

“If in fact this is something that can happen, we will talk about it as a committee, and send a letter off,” Tester says.

Davis, fresh from testifying before SCIA on economic development challenges facing tribes in late-June, says he’d be more than willing to join such a council. “As it is now, I worry we may not be looking as far to the left as we can, nor as far to the right as we can,” he says. “We need to be open-minded, we need to take responsibility, and we need to have a real seat at the table.”