State, tribal leaders seek to expand Insure Oklahoma program to about 40,000 tribal members

By SEAN MURPHY,  Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — While state leaders remain steadfastly opposed to a Medicaid expansion offered under the federal health care law, some of Oklahoma’s 39 federally recognized Native American tribes are exploring opportunities for a federal waiver that could mean health insurance for about 40,000 low-income uninsured tribal members.

Oklahoma Health Care Authority CEO Nico Gomez said talks are underway about seeking an expansion of the state’s Insure Oklahoma program to include some of the estimated 80,000 Native Americans in Oklahoma without health insurance. Gomez estimated as many as half of those tribal citizens could qualify for the program, depending on where the income threshold is set.

Although still conceptual, Gomez said the idea would involve the tribal citizen paying a portion of the health insurance premium, the tribe paying a portion, and the federal government paying the largest part.

“We’re not looking at tapping into any state revenue, not now or in the future,” Gomez said. “Frankly, if it required any state revenue, I’m not sure we’d even be having this conversation.”

Gomez said the proposal was initially discussed last week with tribal representatives, and that he plans to brief members of the Health Care Authority’s governing board during its regular meeting on Thursday. Some of the state’s largest tribes, including the Chickasaw and Cherokee nations, are involved in discussions, Gomez said.

Insure Oklahoma provides health coverage to about 18,000 low-income Oklahoma residents, mostly through a program in which the cost of premiums are shared by the state (60 percent), the employer (25 percent) and the employee (15 percent). The state portion of the program is funded through a tax on tobacco sales, but a federal waiver that allows the program to operate has only been approved through the end of the year.

Gomez said expanding the program to include a tribal option could help ensure the federal waiver continues.

Billy James, a 31-year-old University of Oklahoma student and a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, said he wants to have health insurance but can’t afford the premiums.

“I’m trying to hold out as long as I can,” said James, who is finishing his master’s degree and currently unemployed. “I’m kind of scared about not having insurance, but I’ve got to tough it out a little while longer.”

A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, a staunch supporter of the Insure Oklahoma program, said the governor is excited about the potential of a tribal expansion.

“We’re particularly excited about the fact that it would not cost the state any tax dollars, which is important as we deal with our current shortfall,” Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said.

Currently, there are about 130,000 Native Americans in the state’s Medicaid program, which is about 16 percent of the overall Medicaid population in Oklahoma.

Mainstream entities test the waters of ACA in Indian Country

By S.E. Ruckman, Native Times Special Contributor

Two dancers in regalia work a Native American Professional Parent Resources outreach booth at the 2014 Gathering of Nations powwow in Albuquerque, N.M. | Courtesy Photo
Two dancers in regalia work a Native American Professional Parent Resources outreach booth at the 2014 Gathering of Nations powwow in Albuquerque, N.M. | Courtesy Photo

OKLAHOMA CITY – Despite living in a state where Medicaid was not expanded, Oklahoma’s 38 federally recognized tribes have found a way to state tribal liaison, Sally Carter – and she has found her way to them. In this newly created position, Carter is quick to tell you that she considers Oklahoma to have 39 tribes because even though the Euchee are not federally recognized, they are state recognized. Breathlessly, she says she is learning fast.

“I still count them,” she said.

Carter carries Euchee concerns on health matters back to the state capital as part of a new stance where the health decision makers seek to repair a long and tenuous relationship between historical archetypes. When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, a series of listening sessions between Oklahoma and the tribes occurred at six different tribal jurisdictions across the state to talk about the federal health overhaul.  Replete with opening ceremonies and songs, the state was figuratively stretching its hand toward its Native inhabitants.

From these beginnings, Carter takes the message back to the capital that the tribes want to be at the decision-making table with state leaders, including the newly re-elected Republican governor, Mary Fallin.

Carter said the tribes don’t just want to be told about important developments, they want to help shape the direction the state will take on things such as the implementation of the ACA and how to reduce health disparities like high smoking and diabetes rates in their nations.

To date, 1,638 American Indians in Oklahoma have enrolled for federal health insurance through ACA while 13,061 have enrolled nationally, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report. When compared to the 9.1 million estimated Obamacare enrollees, American Indians number roughly 1 percent of all Americans who now have health insurance who had none before.

But that thing that makes Oklahoma’s Indian Country so different—that thing that separates it from other U.S. states with tribes – is that it has no official Indian reservations. A federal land allotment experiment from the 1900s crisscrossed the state’s territory into a veritable smorgasbord of jurisdictions – federal, tribal, municipal, state.

Carter is working on how to stimulate enrollment among Oklahoma tribes.

If the government wants to reach the American Indians here, it’s best to go to each tribe, Carter said. That was a go-to move state health officials embraced as they discussed ACA with the tribes. The things Carter found surprised her although she is an Oklahoma resident and had lived near various tribal jurisdictions for years.

“They are the only (minority) group that has to show their race,” she said, her voice lilting. “I mean, no other group has to do that. They have to prove it with an enrollment card of some kind.”

Official American Indian citizenship is important because the ACA has special provisions that allow Indians to “opt out” of having to enroll in federal health insurance, if they choose. But Indians need to fill out form OMB No. 0938-1190 that officially removes them, officials said. Not doing so will mean an eventual penalty.

“(ACA) is very complex and not one of us would say that we know it all,” Carter said. So the state took the best of what they knew after weeks of training on the health plan to several tribal jurisdictions. When all sides met, Carter said she was schooled. American Indians have strong opinions about the state/ federal government encroaching on their personal privacy and tribal sovereignty with this new federal health insurance.

Because Oklahoma chose not to expand Medicaid, enrolling American Indians in ACA takes a certain degree of cultural finesse and dogged persistence, Carter said. In other tribally populated states, like North Dakota, the move to expand Medicaid fills in where ACA may not be a strong priority, said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND. The emphasis is reducing uninsured numbers, she said.

“The State of North Dakota expanded Medicaid, which has helped uninsured, low-income individuals and families, including many Native Americans throughout the state, get access to affordable health care,” Heitkamp said. “ Medicaid expansion is giving families opportunities they didn’t have before to afford to see a doctor regularly and get access to needed medications, while reducing costs for everyone – those with health coverage and those without.”

The Oklahoma tribal liaison added that even while enrollment curiosity abounded, many did not qualify for ACA because they did not file income tax returns. American Indians can enroll in ACA at any time – not just during enrollment periods, but their tax filings allow them also to file the exemption – if they chose to forgo coverage.

American Indians have a higher unemployment rate than other groups–peaking in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population survey. Indian unemployment rates averaged 11.3 percent compared to 9.1 percent of the mainstream during that time. High unemployment rates among Indians tend to keep more Indians ineligible for ACA enrollment, Carter said.

What has also dampened Oklahoma’s outreach has been a distrustful relationship between the state and tribes—this makes it harder for federal initiatives to come through the front door, said Terry Cline, Oklahoma’s commissioner of health. He points to the good faith of the tribal/state meetings.

“I considered the listening sessions a good start,” he said. An official summary on the sessions reported 193 attendees at the six sessions, several of which Cline attended.

“We held those sessions to have open dialogue,” he said. “What you hear from one tribe might be different from another tribe says.”

As for ACA and tribes,  a tribe’s type of relationship with the federal government, either Self-Governance or direct service, dictated outreach approaches because that’s how health dollars are administered by tribes in states, especially in Oklahoma, officials said.

Tribes that operate under provisions of the Indian Self Determination Act might outreach on ACA directly to members in their own tribally run health systems and tribes that are direct service entities may forgo outreach to their local Indian Health Service (IHS) service facility. In both regions, IHS and tribal facilities can accept ACA insurance from patients and lessen the amount of contract (out-of-IHS system) health dollars it spends, officials said.

“Tribes have a lot of interest in ACA,” Carter said. “Tribal leaders and the health department can inspire and direct tribal members to enroll.”

Both of the tribal-to-federal relationships are considered when the state of Oklahoma contacts tribes, and the state tends to follow the federal approach, Carter said. Putting on different hats to deal with different tribes is prudent.

“Tribes need to see people they know and that they can trust who know about American Indian provisions,” she said. “I believe in face-to-face interactions.  States usually contact them (tribes) with emails or letters, but a relationship needs to be worked on and allowed to develop.”

Cline said no special state appropriations exist to outreach to tribes for ACA enrollment in Oklahoma but he’s optimistic that other types of federal grants to reduce health disparities will help. The health commissioner said he knows Oklahoma has room for ACA Native growth through grants.

The HHS report points out that Oklahoma has the highest density of Indians among Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) states with 3.5 percent of the population followed by Wyoming, with 3.1 percent. Wyoming’s total Native ACA enrollment stands at 309, the report shows.

At this point, Oklahoma seems to lead the state in the number of Natives it has enrolled, just exceeding figures for California. But as enrollment rolls on, officials expect more American Indians to register.  Indian Country (the term used to characterize where a federal-tribal relationship exists) extends beyond Oklahoma.

Other states with significant Native populations include Arizona, California, New Mexico, South Dakota and North Dakota. ACA data gathering for Native numbers is in its infancy, organizers said. They say the goal is to pool their information from various regions (via Indian advocacy agencies) to get a more precise picture of Native ACA enrollment. Due to their smaller population numbers, American Indian statistics are often overlooked, officials said.

Other mainstream entities who track the progress are unclear about just how many have actually signed up for ACA. Michelle McEvoy, vice-president of survey, research and evaluation for the Commonwealth Fund, said that no Native specific information has been garnered by her group.

“Latinos currently represent about 17 percent of the U.S. population, so they have a greater probability of being sampled than American Indians who represent about 1.2 percent of the U.S. population,” she said.

Likewise, the non-profit Enroll America, relies on Native ACA enrollment numbers from federal sources, wrote Jessica McCarron, deputy press secretary, by e-mail.

“We do work with partners at the local level to reach different communities, like Native American groups in certain parts of the country,” McCarron stated. “We work with a few partners who have made outreach to tribal communities a high priority.”

Meanwhile, Carter is optimistic about ACA enrollment and reaching American Indians in Oklahoma.

“(ACA) is bigger than all of us,” she said. “We can’t do this alone; it only happens when the state extends its hands across the table and says we need to do this for all the people.”

– This story was funded by the University of Southern California’s (USC) Annenberg School of Journalism as one project undertaken by the 2014 class of California Endowment Health Journalism Fellows. S.E. Ruckman is writing a three-part series on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in Indian country. In addition to mainstream viewpoints, American Indian health advocates and American Indian enrollees are visited to gauge the national health plan’s implementation in Native populations. Fellows’ projects can be found at


*Wyoming: 309

*New Mexico: 566

*Oklahoma: 1,635

+California: 1,401

*Arizona: 514

*North Dakota: 82

*South Dakota: 271

TOTAL: 13,061

Sources:  (March 2014) *HHS Summary Report;  +California Department of Health Care Services

Oklahoma House panel approves bill to spend $40 million to complete Native American museum

By The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — A plan to take $40 million from the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund to pay for the completion of a Native American museum in Oklahoma City has cleared another legislative hurdle.

Members of a House budget subcommittee voted 8-2 on Monday, sending the bill to the full House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

Museum officials say the plan is to use the $40 million in state funds to match another $40 million in pledges the tribes and other donors to fund the completion of the unfinished museum.

The bill already has passed the Senate, but House Speaker Jeff Hickman reiterated last week he wants 51 of the 72 House Republicans to support the plan before he schedules it for a vote in the House.


Senate Bill 1651:

16 and pregnant in the Choctaw Nation

Stormy Davidson with her son Aiden in Rattan, Okla. She, and her husband Glen were teenagers when she got pregnant, they have had a characteristically up and down relationship. Ultimately Glen decided to take responsibility for their child and now counsels other young teenage fathers, an underserved demographic in the Choctaw Nation communities.Photo by Peter van Agtmael/Magnum for MSNBC
Stormy Davidson with her son Aiden in Rattan, Okla. She, and her husband Glen were teenagers when she got pregnant, they have had a characteristically up and down relationship. Ultimately Glen decided to take responsibility for their child and now counsels other young teenage fathers, an underserved demographic in the Choctaw Nation communities.
Photo by Peter van Agtmael/Magnum for MSNBC



By Trymaine Lee

QUINTON, Okla.— “He’s still not talking yet,” said Autumn Sisco, staring down at the beefy little boy in the Buzz Lightyear sweatshirt playing at her feet. She scooped him up and swiped at his runny nose with her shirt sleeve.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” she said, sinking back into her living room sofa, watching the two-year-old bounce like a pinball across the living room floor to the kitchen, down a hallway and back.

This isn’t what her life is supposed to look like. She’d imagined herself a college co-ed, partying somewhere with a drink in her hand, giggling with girlfriends, or pulling an all-nighter for an exam she didn’t study for.

Instead she’s an underemployed 19-year-old mother and wife, struggling to keep her young marriage together and raise a kid in a small rural town where opportunities are few and disappointments are many.

“Trouble,” she lamented quietly. “You’re always in trouble here. There’s nothing positive.”

Life as a teen mom could be difficult under any circumstances. But it’s even more so here in the Choctaw Nation, a vast, rural expanse in southeastern Oklahoma where poverty and unemployment are rampant and the teen pregnancy rate is nearly double the national average.

While the teen birth rate has fallen drastically among all racial groups over the last two decades, the pregnancy rate for American Indian teens between 15 and 19 years old is 36.2 per 1,000, 15 points higher than their white counterparts and about 5 points higher than the national average, according to the Center for Disease Control. American Indian teens also lead all other groups in the rate of repeat births.

With so many young parents in the Choctaw Nation— an area larger than the state of Massachusetts— tribal leaders have made outreach to teen parents a priority. Those efforts were given a boost recently when the Obama administration designated the Choctaw Nation one of its first five Promise Zones, a program aimed at strengthening the relationship between impoverished communities and the federal government.

The tribe hopes to use the designation to access grants they’ll use to bolster some of the work they’ve already been doing, particularly around youth and families.

“What we’re doing isn’t just about changing today’s parents,” said Angela Dancer, senior director of the Better Beginnings Program, which serves at-risk and high-needs families. “It’s about changing the parents of the future.”

Dancer’s program helps ease the burdens many of these families face, including food insecurity and access to adequate medical care. The outreach workers, all of whom are Choctaw, do at-home visits and try to walk young mothers through the uncertainty of new parenthood.

They give away free diapers and car seats. And they help overwhelmed teen parents deal with stress management, create a healthy environment and teach them skills to build stronger attachments to their babies, all of which are challenges in the small impoverished communities that dot the Nation.


“They’ve had people come in and out of their lives and tell them all of the negative things about their weaknesses. But we help them understand their strengths,” Dancer said. “If we didn’t go out and touch them where they are, there’s no way we could touch as many as we do.”

But the challenges of reaching this demographic, many of whom are high-school dropouts without much financial or emotional support from their families, can often seem unsurmountable.

They’re geographically spread across very isolated communities within the nearly 11 counties that comprise the Nation’s service area. And emotionally, many are saddled with feelings of shame, guilt and the generational curse of teen pregnancy. Others are victims of domestic abuse.

“So many of them just close themselves off because they’re already worried about being judged – judged for getting pregnant in the first place,” said Hanna Wood, 29, an outreach worker who has worked with Sisco and her family.

The Nation also offers sex-education courses to schools within the Nation’s boundary, an effort that remains somewhat controversial in an area of the state dominated by conservative politics and where abstinence-only education is the preferred model. Outreach workers have found navigating the politics of teaching teens and pre-teens about safe sex and personal boundaries a delicate endeavor.

Nearly all Choctaw Indian students attend public schools where the majority of students are non-Native. And despite high rates of teen-pregnancy and a rate of sexually transmitted disease that is four times the national average, many public school districts within the Nation won’t allow the sex-ed courses taught in their schools.

For More on the Choctaw Nation see our photo essay: Hope on the Horizon for Choctaw Nation

Some schools will allow parts of the curriculum to be taught in their classrooms but won’t allow others, like condom demonstrations. On a recent evening nearly two dozen eighth graders whose school forbade such a demonstration gathered at Choctaw Nation outreach services headquarters, giggling and guffawing as an instructor urged them to slide a latex condom down their fore and middle fingers.

“We’re dealing with some pushback,” said Dancer. “But the statistics don’t lie.”

National politics have also become intertwined with the Nation’s efforts, as much of the funding for Better Beginnings is tied to the hotly-contested Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Last year, sequestration cuts and a shrinking number of grants, stripped funding from many of the tribe’s critical, government-funded programs. Better Beginnings was no different.

“I don’t care about the politics of it. I’m not a political person,” Dancer said. “But that’s what my funds are tied to. If that means it gets reinstated over and over, that’s just fine by me. “

While programs to help at-risk youth in the Nation have grown from just a few 20 years ago to dozens today, there still are major gaps. The nearest substance abuse treatment facility for juveniles is nearly 300 miles away, and there’s no in-patient mental health facility or homeless shelter. And there’s still a stigma around many of the issues these young people face, a hurdle outreach workers must handle with care.

“It’s the cycle. Their mothers went through the same thing,” said Shonda Shomo, an outreach worker with the Better Beginning program. “I was a teen mom. I was 18, so I know what they’re going through. I just keep encouraging them. And that’s something they don’t always hear from their mother figures.”



Cherokee Nation Provides $1.3 Billion Impact on Oklahoma Economy

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker is joined by Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb for economic impact announcement.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker is joined by Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb for economic impact announcement.

Source: Native News Network

TULSA, OKLAHOMA – Touting the phrase “A strong Cherokee Nation means a strong Oklahoma,” the Cherokee Nation announced on Tuesday the Tribe provides a $1.3 billion economic impact to the state of Oklahoma’s economy.

Tribal officials announced its impact Tuesday during a luncheon with several state, county and local officials at its entertainment flagship property, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.

The research study shows, with the $1.3 billion economic impact, the tribe’s activities directly and indirectly support more than 14,000 jobs and provide more than $559 million in income payments.

“The Cherokee Nation is stronger than ever and, as a result, so is the state of Oklahoma,”

said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker.

“What is good for the Cherokee Nation is good for everyone in our state. From the number of jobs we provide to the services we administer to the local vendors we put to work, the Cherokee Nation positively impacts the lives of so many Oklahomans. And we’re not going anywhere. Essentially, the Cherokee Nation is a corporate headquarters that will never leave town.”

Since 2010 study, the Tribe has increased its direct economic output to more than $1 billion, which is a 25 percent growth. Cherokee Nation’s direct pay to employees has increased by more than $120 million, resulting in more than $375 million in income payments to its workers. During the same period, direct employment grew by nearly 250, reaching 9,244 employees, including contract workers.

“Cherokee Nation government and business operations continue to offer expanded economic opportunities in northeast Oklahoma,”

said Dr. Russell Evans, executive director of the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute, who authored the report assessing the Cherokee Nation’s economic impact on northeast Oklahoma.

“The tribe’s operations are a critical source of economic strength for the region.”

With its capital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation provides an array of government services, spurs economic development and provides financial support to the entire region.

Cherokee Nation works alongside county, state and local governments to improve roads and bridges, provide much needed funding to rural schools, ensure communities have good, clean running water and improve access to health care.

Cherokee Nation’s economic development engine, Cherokee Nation Businesses, reported record revenues of more than $715 million during fiscal year 2012. Along with supporting vital government services, the Cherokee Nation reinvests its business profits to create more Oklahoma jobs and further diversify its non-gaming businesses.

Beyond its direct investments, Cherokee Nation supports a number of local, diverse and growing industries that help drive private and public sector partnerships. The tribe assists with child care, career training and development, elder services and contract health. These services, as well as other services, are often met through the private sector and funded by the Cherokee Nation. This impact also comes in the form of goods or services purchased for Cherokee Nation economic activities.

For example, the tribe recently announced a $100 million investment in its tribal health care system, which supports more than a million patient visits each year. This type of activity spurs purchases and subcontracting to many privately owned small businesses throughout the tribe’s jurisdiction.

“It’s very eye opening to people when they begin to understand all the Cherokee Nation does for our state and, specifically, the northeast region,”

Baker said.

“We are extremely proud to support more than 14,000 employees and countless small businesses. As a lifelong small business owner myself, I know how important a strong local economy is and what it means to the people who live here.”

The report was commissioned by the Cherokee Nation and produced by Evans. He and his research team at the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute in the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma carefully collected and reviewed data to paint an accurate picture of the Cherokee Nation’s impact on the state of Oklahoma.

Undercover agents infiltrated tar sands resistance camp to break up planned protest

According to documents obtained by Earth Island Journal, investigators from the Bryan CountySherriff’s Department had been spying on a Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance training campthat took place from March 18 to March 22 and which brought together local landowners,Indigenous communities, and environmental groups opposed to the pipeline. Photo: Photos by Laura Borealis/Tar Sand Blockade
According to documents obtained by Earth Island Journal, investigators from the Bryan County
Sherriff’s Department had been spying on a Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance training camp
that took place from March 18 to March 22 and which brought together local landowners,
Indigenous communities, and environmental groups opposed to the pipeline. Photo: Photos by Laura Borealis/Tar Sand Blockade

By Adan Federman, Earth Island Journal

After a week of careful planning, environmentalists attending a tar sands resistance action camp in Oklahoma thought they had the element of surprise — but they would soon learn that their moves were being closely watched by law enforcement officials and TransCanada, the very company they were targeting.

On the morning of March 22 activists had planned to block the gates at the company’s strategic oil reserves in Cushing, Oklahoma as part of the larger protest movement against TransCanada’s tar sands pipeline. But when they showed up in the early morning hours and began unloading equipment from their vehicles they were confronted by police officers. Stefan Warner, an organizer with Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, says some of the vehicles en route to the protest site were pulled over even before they had reached Cushing. He estimates that roughly 50 people would have participated— either risking arrest or providing support. The act of nonviolent civil disobedience, weeks in the planning, was called off.

“For a small sleepy Oklahoma town to be saturated with police officers on a pre-dawn weekday leaves only one reasonable conclusion,” says Ron Seifert, an organizer with an affiliated group called Tar Sands Blockade. “They were there on purpose, expecting something to happen.”

Seifert is exactly right. According to documents obtained by Earth Island Journal, investigators from the Bryan County Sherriff’s Department had been spying on a Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance training camp that took place from March 18 to March 22 and which brought together local landowners, Indigenous communities, and environmental groups opposed to the pipeline.

An excerpt from an official report on the “Undercover Investigation into the GPTSR Training Camp” indicates that at least two law
enforcement officers from the Bryan County Sherriff’s Department infiltrated the training camp and drafted a detailed report about
the upcoming protest, internal strategy, and the character of the protesters themselves.

At least two law enforcement officers infiltrated the training camp and drafted a detailed report about the upcoming protest, internal strategy, and the character of the protesters themselves. The undercover investigator who wrote the report put the tar sands opponents into five different groups: eco-activists (who “truly wanted to live off the grid”); Occupy members; Native American activists (“who blamed all forms of government for the poor state of being that most American Indians are living in”); Anarchists (“many wore upside down American flags”); and locals from Oklahoma (who “had concerns about the pipeline harming the community”).

The undercover agent’s report was obtained by Douglas Parr, an Oklahoma attorney who represented three activists (all lifelong Oklahomans) who were arrested in mid April for blockading a tar sands pipeline construction site. “During the discovery in the Bryan county cases we received material indicating that there had been infiltration of the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance camp by police agents,” Parr says. At least one of the undercover investigators attended an “action planning” meeting during which everyone was asked to put their cell phones or other electronic devices into a green bucket for security reasons. The investigator goes on to explain that he was able to obtain sensitive information regarding the location of the upcoming Cushing protest, which would mark the culmination of the week of training. “This investigator was able to obtain an approximate location based off a question that he asked to the person in charge of media,” he wrote. He then wryly notes that, “It did not appear…that our phones had been tampered with.”

(The memo also states that organizers at the meeting went to great lengths not to give police any cause to disrupt the gathering. The investigator writes: “We were repeatedly told this was a substance free camp. No drug or alcohol use would be permitted on the premises and always ask permission before touching anyone. Investigators were told that we did not need to give the police any reason to enter the camp.” They were also given a pamphlet that instructed any agent of TransCanada, the FBI, or other law enforcement agency to immediately notify the event organizers.)

The infiltration of the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance action camp and pre-emption of the Cushing protest is part of a larger pattern of government surveillance of tar sands protesters. According to other documents obtained by Earth Island Journal under an Open Records Act request, Department of Homeland Security staff has been keeping close tabs on pipeline opponents — and routinely sharing that information with TransCanada, and vice versa.

In March TransCanada gave a briefing on corporate security to a Criminal Intelligence Analyst with the Oklahoma Information Fusion Center, the state level branch of Homeland Security. The conversation took place just as the action camp was getting underway. The following day, Diane Hogue, the Center’s Intelligence Analyst, asked TransCanada to review and comment on the agency’s classified situational awareness bulletin. Michael Nagina, Corporate Security Advisor for TransCanada, made two small suggestions and wrote, “With the above changes I am comfortable with the content.”

Then, in an email to TransCanada on March 19 (the second day of the action camp) Hogue seems to refer to the undercover investigation taking place. “Our folks in the area say there are between 120-150 participants,” Hogue wrote in an email to Nagina. (The Oklahoma Information Fusion Center declined to comment for this story.)

It is unclear if the information gathered at the training camp was shared directly with TransCanada. However, the company was given access to the Fusion Center’s situational awareness bulletin just a few days before the Cushing action was scheduled to take place.

In an emailed statement, TransCanada spokesperson Shawn Howard did not directly address the Tar Sands Resistance training camp. Howard described law enforcement as being interested in what the company has done to prepare for activities designed to “slow approval or construction” of the pipeline project. “When we are asked to share what we have learned or are prepared for, we are there to share our experience – not direct law enforcement,” he wrote.

The evidence of heightened cooperation between TransCanada and law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma and Texas comes just over a month after it was revealed that the company had given a PowerPoint presentation on corporate security to the FBI and law enforcement officials in Nebraska. TransCanada also held an “interactive session” with law enforcement in Oklahoma City about the company’s security strategy in early 2012. In their PowerPoint presentation, TransCanada employees suggested that district attorneys should explore “state or federal anti-terrorism laws” in prosecuting activists. They also included profiles of key organizers and a list of activists previously arrested for acts of nonviolent civil disobedience in Texas and Oklahoma. In addition to TransCanada’s presentation, a representative of Nebraska’s Homeland Security Fusion Center briefed attendees on an “intelligence sharing role/plan relevant to the pipeline project.” This is likely related to the Homeland Security Information Sharing Network, which provides public and private sector partners as well as law enforcement access to sensitive information.

The earlier cache of documents, first released to the press by Bold Nebraska, an environmental organization opposed to the pipeline, shows that TransCanada has established close ties with state and federal law enforcement agencies along the proposed pipeline route. For example, in an exchange with FBI agents in South Dakota, TransCanada’s Corporate Security Advisor, Michael Nagina, jokes that, “I can be the cure for insomnia so sure hope you can still attend!” Although they were unable to make the Nebraska meeting, one of the agents responded, “Assuming approval of the pipeline, we would like to get together to discuss a timeline for installation through our territory.”

The new documents also provide an interesting glimpse into the revolving door between state law enforcement agencies and the private sector, especially in areas where fracking and pipeline construction have become big business. One of the individuals providing information to the Texas Department of Homeland Security’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division is currently the Security Manager at Anadarko Petroleum, one of the world’s largest independent oil and natural gas exploration and production companies. In 2011, at a natural gas industry stakeholder relations conference, a spokesperson for Anadarko compared the anti-drilling movement to an “insurgency” and suggested that attendees download the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual.

LC Wilson, the Anadarko Security Manager shown by the documents to be providing information to the Texas Fusion Center, is more than just a friend of law enforcement. From 2009 to 2011 he served as Regional Commander of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees law enforcement statewide. Wilson began his career with the Department of Public Safety in 1979 and was named a Texas Ranger — an elite law enforcement unit — in 1988, eventually working his way up to Assistant Chief. Such connections would be of great value to a corporation like Anadarko, which has invested heavily in security operations.

In an email to Litto Paul Bacas, a Critical Infrastructure Planner (and former intelligence analyst) with Texas Homeland Security, Wilson, using his Anadarko address, writes, “we find no intel specific for Texas. There is active recruitment for directed action to take place in Oklahoma as per article. I will forward any intel we come across on our end, especially if it concerns Texas.” The article he was referring to was written by a member of Occupy Denver calling on all “occupiers and occupy networks” to attend the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance training camp.

Wilson is not the only former law enforcement official on Anadarko’s security team; Jeffrey Sweetin, the company’s Regional Security Manager, was a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration for more than 20 years heading up its Rocky Mountain division. At Anadarko, according to Sweetin’s profile on Linkedin, his responsibilities include “security program development” and “law enforcement liaison.”

Other large oil and gas companies have recruited local law enforcement to fill high-level security positions. In 2010, long-time Bradford County Sheriff Steve Evans resigned to take a position as senior security officer for Chesapeake Energy in Pennsylvania. Evans was one of a handful of gas industry security directors to receive intelligence bulletins compiled by a private security firm and distributed by the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security. Bradford County happens to be ground zero for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, with more active wells than any other county in the state. In addition to Evans, several deputies of the Bradford County Sheriff’s office have worked for Chesapeake — through a private contractor, TriCorps Security — as “off-duty” security personnel. TransCanada has also come to rely on off duty police officers to patrol construction sites and protest camps, raising questions about whose interests the sworn officers are serving.

Of course for corporations like TransCanada and Anadarko having law enforcement on their side (or in their pocket) is more than just a good business move. It gives them access to classified information and valuable intelligence — essential weapons in any counterinsurgency campaign.

Oklahoma Tornadoes: New Website Collects Aid for Native Victims

Brian Daffron, Indian Country Today Media Network

The lives of at least 50 Native families have been turned upside down, many of them literally, by the tornadoes that devastated Oklahoma in May. One of the many groups reaching out to help is coordinating and sending aid directly to Indian families affected by this disaster.

As another tornado tore through El Reno, Yukon and south Oklahoma City on Friday May 31—also touching down in Moore, still reeling from the devastating May 20 tornado that killed 24—Native people from throughout Indian country were already reaching out to help their fellows.

The El Reno Indian Clinic, which lies within the Cheyenne & Arapaho tribal jurisdiction, was also damaged in the storms. None of the 42 fatalities reported—18 people, including three well known storm chasers doing research, perished in Friday’s five tornadoes—were American Indian. More than 20 American Indian families lost their homes in the May 20 tornado alone, according to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., from tribes including Arapaho, Cherokee, Choctaw, Comanche, Delaware, Jicarilla Apache, Kickapoo, Kiowa, Pawnee, and Shawnee.

While several individual tribes are offering aid, a new group has sprung up to channel aid directly to Indian families themselves. At Trails of H.O.P.E. (Helping Our People Earnestly), people can donate directly to Native American families.

The website is the idea of Oklahoma City area social worker Cortney Yarholar, who is of the Sac & Fox, Creek, Pawnee and Otoe tribes. He was inspired, he said, by words he had been told while growing up.

“ ‘Don’t ask for permission,’ his family elders often told him. ” ‘If you see something that needs to be done, just go do it.’ ”

Yarholar’s wife is from Moore, so he had seen firsthand the aftermath of both the 1999 and 2003 tornadoes that had hit the area. Her family had lost their home both times. He also knew that although FEMA and the American Red Cross handled immediate relief needs, these types of government and non-profit organizations are not always there for the long term. To fill this gap, Yarholar collaborated with the website Last Real Indians to create Trails of H.O.P.E., which is collecting donations to go directly to the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference disaster response committee. The Oklahoma Indian Missionary is the governing body of the American Indian Methodist churches within Oklahoma and exists to assist American Indian disaster victims.

“They’re really in it for the long haul, the long term, in helping families rebuild their lives—not only their physical homes but also their lives,” Yarholar said.

As of Monday June 3 the site had raised $5,000, said David Wilson, Choctaw tribal member and the conference superintendent of the missionary. The funds are being used to obtain temporary housing and car rental assistance for storm victims. The missionary has also helped funnel grief-counseling referrals through the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic and assisted in cleanup.

“Because of our various connections with the tribes, we usually know what tribes are going to offer, what support we might get from different agencies that the general public might not have access to,” said Wilson.

The missionary has received pledges for more support from throughout the country, Wilson said, adding that the group will continue working with both the individuals and tribes affected for as long as is necessary.

“Families have gone in to recover as much as they can,” said Wilson. “What we’ve worked on for the last three or four days is helping folks with temporary assistance, with housing. We’ll continue to work with that. We’ll begin looking at the rebuilding stage.”

Trails of H.O.P.E.’s efforts will not stop with this spate of tornadoes, Wilson said, even when the Oklahoma Missionary moves on as it travels throughout the country to help with other disasters.

“Thinking realistically, there will  be another disaster somewhere in Indian Country,” Yarholar said. “That way, it will give [the missionary] an opportunity to respond in a timely manner.”

Donations to Trails of H.O.P.E. can be made online through the group’s website, or by sending checks directly to the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, 3020 S. Harvey, OKC, OK 73109. ATTN: Disaster Relief.

More on the Oklahoma tornadoes and relief efforts:

Tornadoes Pummel Moore and Oklahoma City Anew; At Least Five Killed

Oklahoma Awakes to Grim New Reality as Recovery Efforts Begin

President Obama to Oklahoma: Every Resource Is at Your Disposal

More Than 50 Dead as Tornado Decimates Moore, Oklahoma, Hometown of Rep. Tom Cole, and Levels School



Cherokee Nation Developing Largest Tribal Wind Farm in U.S.

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

The site of a former Indian boarding school in Kay County, Oklahoma will soon become the largest wind farm on tribal land in the United States. The Cherokee Nation has partnered with Chicago-based PNE Wind USA Inc. to develop a 90-turbine wind farm, which is estimated to generate copy6 million over the next two decades. Development will start immediately on 6,000 acres of the former property of the Chilocco Indian School, which operated from 1884 to 1980.

The 153-megawatt wind farm will power homes, businesses and farms of the southwest grid region.

“The Cherokee Nation has an opportunity to be a leader among Indian nations in renewable energy,” said Cherokee Nation Deputy Speaker Chuck Hoskin, Jr. “The tribe will be able to utilize an underutilized resource. We talk a lot about protecting our environment and conserving our resources, so this is a prime opportunity to put words into action.”

The Cherokee Nation owns half of the land on which the wind farm will sit. Chilocco was ideal because of its wind resources, and environmental studies show it will not curtail the migratory bird population. The entire Chilocco wind farm will encompass 6,000 acres total.  The other 3,000 acres is owned by four other tribes, the Kaw, Otoe-Missouria, Pawnee and Ponca nations.

The tribal council voted 14-2 to approve the wind farm.

“The Cherokee Nation is playing a significant role in creating new green jobs and expects to play a key role in Oklahoma’s emerging wind energy industry,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in a press release. “The Cherokee Nation is committed to growing the Oklahoma economy, helping reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and creating sustainable jobs for our people in the renewable energy sector.”