The Treaty of Point Elliott: A living document

ON THE TREATY FRONT: A new monthly series on the history and meaning of tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, environmental stewardship and issues that threaten these important rights. This is just the first in a recurring series of articles produced by the Tulalip Tribes Treaty Rights Office to help educate and inform the membership. Our Mission is to “Protect, enhance, restore and ensure access to the natural resources necessary for Tulalip Tribal Members’ long-term exercise of our treaty-reserved rights.” 

Longhouse Chiefs.

Submitted by Ryan Miller, Tulalip Tribal Member, Treaty Rights Office

As members of the Tulalip Tribes, we hear the words “treaty rights” and “sovereignty” all the time. There is no doubt that to each of us they mean something different, yet there are some core principles that stem from these phrases. 

Sovereignty is the right to self-determination and self-governance. A sovereign government has the right to govern without outside interference from other groups. Our people were born sovereign as the first nations of this land.

This is of course complex, and so are the tribes’ relationships with other governments. We know that we do not govern without interference from outside forces, especially the federal government. The federal government’s policy regarding tribal rights continues to change and has a significant impact on tribes throughout the country. We’ll discuss more issues around tribal sovereignty in a future article.

The second important thing to define is a treaty. A treaty is a legally binding contract between two or more sovereign nations. It outlines the role each side will play in the future of the relationship and sometimes includes the reasons why they have entered into agreement with one another. Treaty rights are generally considered to be the rights reserved by tribes through treaty and are sometimes called “un-ceded rights” which reflects their existence prior to treaty signing.

There were five treaties made with northwest Washington tribes; the Treaty of Point Elliott, the Treaty of Point-No-Point, the Treaty of Neah Bay, the Medicine Creek Treaty, and the Treaty with the Quinault. Compared generally to treaties signed with many tribes to the east of Washington they are much more favorable (that is not to say that tribes did not bear an unfair burden of sacrifice). Part of the reason for more favorable treaties is that the United States had a comparatively small standing army, just 15,911 enlisted men, which were tasked with covering a huge geographical area. They did not have the resources to fight wars with a number of tribes in a far off corner of the country. As a result, Governor Isaac Stevens was assigned to make peace and enter into treaties with northwest tribes in order to secure land for settlers in the Washington Territories.

When our ancestors signed the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855, the federal government, through its territorial Governor, Isaac I. Stevens, affirmed that the tribes had the inherent right to self-governance and self-determination as outlined in the excerpt from the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Worcester V Georgia,

  “The Indian nations had always been considered as distinct, independent political communities, retaining their original natural rights, as the undisputed possessors of the soil, from time immemorial,…The very term “nation,” so generally applied to them, means “a people distinct from others.” The constitution, by declaring treaties already made, as well as those to be made, to be the supreme law of the land, has adopted and sanctioned the previous treaties with the Indian nations, and consequently admits their rank among those powers who are capable of making treaties.” 

Congress itself defines treaties as the “supreme law of the land” and only signs treaties with other “nations” therefore recognizing tribes as nations and affirming that treaties supersede other laws such as those made by state governments. This excerpt also explains that the U.S. government understood that these rights were “natural rights” implying recognition of tribes’ existence as sovereigns before the creation of The United States. 

In the treaty, our ancestors made great sacrifices by ceding millions of acres of land for the promise of medical treatment, education, and permanent access to the resources they had always gathered, including across all of our ancestral lands that lie outside of the reservation.

Tulalip canoe.

Article Five of the treaty addresses the most commonly known and arguably most culturally important right, 

The right of taking fish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory, and of erecting temporary houses for the purposes of curing, together with the privilege of hunting and gathering roots and berries on open and unclaimed land.”

Though truthfully this article was never well defined in law until in 1974 when Judge George Boldt gave his decision in the landmark Indian law case US v Washington (commonly known as the Boldt Decision), where he affirmed what treaty tribes had already known: the phrase “in common with” was meant to be an equal sharing of the salmon runs minus the number of fish needed to spawn future generations.. This court decision, along with a series of subsequent decisions recognized tribes as having equal management authority with the State of Washington over natural resources. This has given tribes a significant role in how fisheries are managed as well as managing tribal hunting. Washington tribes have contributed greatly to the process of salmon recovery and restoration of critical habitats and species. Tulalip has also worked to conserve and enhance the plants and wildlife that our people need to continue to practice our traditional ways. 

Tribal and court interpretations of Article Five, secures tribal access to these resources until the end of time and recognizes that any entity whose actions diminish either these resources or our access to them violates the spirit and intent of the treaty. 

We know that the treaty is alive and well. It’s as important to us today is it was to our ancestors at the time of signing. We raise our hands to our ancestors and leaders past and present who fought and continue to fight to protect these rights and our way of life. 

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future subjects please send them to

Thank you for reading and we’ll see you next month!

Fawn Sharp Discusses Steps to Stemming the Tide of Climate Change

Courtesy Larry Workman/Quinault Nation“Our Mount Anderson glacier is gone. It was there for thousands of years and over the past few years it simply melted. That is warming the water and making salmon restoration more challenging.”
Courtesy Larry Workman/Quinault Nation
“Our Mount Anderson glacier is gone. It was there for thousands of years and over the past few years it simply melted. That is warming the water and making salmon restoration more challenging.”
Richard Walker, Indian Country Today 


Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp appeared before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee in Washington, D.C. on March 24 to request federal funding to support the relocation of homes, public buildings and schools out of a tsunami zone in the coastal village of Taholah.

Sharp’s testimony came a week after the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, of which she is president, hosted a summit, “Asserting Native Resilience – Protecting and Enhancing Tribal Resources and Sovereignty in the face of Climate Change.”

After her House subcommittee testimony, Sharp – a University of Washington-educated lawyer and former state administrative law judge – talked with ICTMN about the summit and what she believes the next steps must be to stem the tide of climate change and the devastation that would follow.

RELATED: Climate Change: Mankind Must Stop Destroying ‘Our Own Mystical Place’


Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp, during the 2013 Canoe Journey/Paddle to Quinault: “Climate change is expected to significantly alter the ecology and economy of the Pacific Northwest, and Tribes and Native communities are among the most climate-sensitive groups within this geographic area.” (Richard Walker)
Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp, during the 2013 Canoe Journey/Paddle to Quinault: “Climate change is expected to significantly alter the ecology and economy of the Pacific Northwest, and Tribes and Native communities are among the most climate-sensitive groups within this geographic area.” (Richard Walker)


What are some of the extreme examples of climate change that were presented at the meeting?

As we have known for some time, our ocean waters are acidifying due to increased pH levels caused by carbonic acids that result from the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It’s estimated that up to 40 percent of the carbon released by humans enter the ocean, as well as rivers and lakes.

Generally speaking, there is nothing new about this. But the increased levels of carbon released by humans since the industrial age has had major impacts and, as population has expanded in the U.S. and elsewhere, the increased amount of automobile emissions as well as other fossil fuel emissions have led to ever-increasing change in the form of water temperature increases and acidification.

So should this concern us? It absolutely should, because it is impacting the ecosystem. People should never think they live in some form of protected bubble, or that they can ignore the environment and get along just fine.

People are just as dependent on a healthy ecosystem as every other living creature on Earth, and anytime any specie is in danger, we are affected. But, whether due to fear of losing their job or a feeling of helplessness or some inaccurate information they might have heard somewhere, far too many people do nothing about it. They ignore it or even deny it. That’s just not good enough.

Everyone who lives on our Mother Earth has a responsibility to protect her. Everyone who drinks water in one form or another has a duty to assure it is pure. And every person who breathes God’s air is responsible for its quality.

The ocean is warming. It has become acidified. The sea level is increasing, increasing the intensity of storm surges, as well as flooding, erosion, forest fires and habitat loss. Glaciers have melted or are melting, causing rivers and lakes to warm and making them uninhabitable for fish. We feel all of these impacts at Quinault Nation. Our Mount Anderson glacier is gone. It was there for thousands of years and over the past few years it simply melted. That is warming the water and making salmon restoration more challenging.

What are some innovative ways tribal nations are responding to the challenges presented by climate change?

There are innovative approaches being used or planned by some tribal nations but the bottom line is that Mother Nature’s ways are best. Fish and wildlife need a healthy environment, just as people do. Securing those resources and protecting them for future generations requires respect for the environment. It’s an old tribal value to take only what you need from Nature to survive, and use all that you take. It’s also an old value to base the decisions one makes today on the impacts they will have seven generations from now.

As my very good friend Billy Frank Jr. used to say, “You have got to see the big picture.” Those who rush to drill every drop of oil they can now so they can get as rich as they can, regardless of the impact on the environment, do not see the big picture. Those who neglect the environment when they use pesticides or buy high gas-consumption cars don’t see the big picture. Those who neglect instream flows in their quest for irrigation water or build dams on rivers simply do not see the big picture.

But to answer your question, there are many ways that tribes are being innovative in responding to the climate change problem. This is probably the biggest environmental problem that exists in the world today. So tribes have been gathering, as nations, on a national and international scale to share ideas, consolidate plans and garner strength in their efforts to have a strong voice in their call for the countries of the world to change their ways. We want them to stop poisoning the planet, stop killing all the animals and plants and stop destroying all the habitat. We have been working with the United Nations and other international organizations to achieve the level of recognition the Indigenous Peoples of the world deserve.

We have reached out and been a part of many efforts designed to see solutions to climate change. I served on the Governor’s Carbon Emissions Task Force all summer long as we developed a gas tax plan for the state, which is now being considered in the legislature.

Virtually every tribe in the state is involved at some level in protecting, enhancing or restoring habitat. Quinault has been for many years. Those efforts are constantly innovative in their approach – whether our scientists are developing new ways to place trees in the river to regain natural hydraulics in the system or devising new ways to place gravel for spawning habitat. We invest in our science and in our river, lake and marine restoration and protection programs because it supports our future, it is true to our heritage and because it’s the right thing to do.

(Sharp then shared information about the Swinomish Tribe’s Climate Change Initiative, which can be viewed at here.)

What will ATNI do with the information that was presented at the climate change summit?

ATNI will work with a group of tribal representatives from Pacific Northwest Tribes and Inter-Tribal organizations, in collaboration with federal, state and local governments, to prepare summary recommendations on the following by the next ATNI convention in Warm Springs, Oregon on May 18-21:

One, begin to identify Pacific Northwest Tribal needs for climate change and organize tribes regionally to support increased funding, technical support, and capacity to address those needs.

Two, identify strategies to promote and protect tribal sovereignty and tribal resources.

Three, prepare a strategy to engage Pacific Northwest Tribes on developing a policy framework for a “Pacific Northwest Tribal Action Plan on Climate Change, Energy, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” similar to California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia’s “Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate Change, Energy, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”

Four, coordinate Pacific Northwest Tribes’ actions on climate change into a cohesive and effective strategy in order to inform regional, national, and international policy.

Five, adopt a resolution at ATNI’s May 2015 convention to bring climate change issues, policies, and strategies to the National Congress of American Indians national convention.

In addition to the outcomes of this summit, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians support the findings of the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience established by Executive Order 136531.

(Sharp then reviewed those recommendations, which can be read at here.)

How are tribal nations seeing the effects of climate change, perhaps in ways that people outside of Indian country are not seeing them?

Climate change is expected to significantly alter the ecology and economy of the Pacific Northwest, and tribes and Native communities are among the most climate-sensitive groups within this geographic area.

Models predict warmer temperatures, more precipitation as rainfall, and decreased snowfall over the next 50 years which will directly affect the abundance of culturally significant foods, such as salmon, deer, root plants, and berries. These foods are important for ceremonies and subsistence, and access to traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering sites is guaranteed by treaty, constitution, or other agreements with the federal government. Increasing the climate resilience of tribal governments and Native communities is critical to ensuring access to resources protected by right and vitally important to the cultural existence and economic vitality of these communities.

Tribes must proactively begin to address these impacts, assess their vulnerability, and develop adaptation strategies. A few Northwest tribes are developing their internal technical, legal, and policy capacity to comprehensively address climate change impacts – however, much more work is needed. Although many tribes have been involved [in] habitat and climate change-related efforts, less than 5 percent of tribal governments – 25 [federally recognized] tribes out of 566 – nationwide have developed climate change vulnerability assessments or adaptation plans.

What action does ATNI want to see taken in order to see some positive impacts immediately?

Funding of Northwest tribes is critical. The principal funding source for Tribal Climate Change is the Bureau of Indian AffairsIn fiscal year 2013, the BIA had only copy million allocated to tribal governments nationwide. In fiscal year 2014, there was to be copy0 million appropriated for Tribal Climate Change programs, however those funds have either been re-appropriated within the Department of the Interior or have not yet reached tribal governments. The ATNI-member tribes are seeking an increase of $50 million for the BIA Climate Change Program for fiscal year 2016 and beyond.

Support is needed for tribes to prepare for the unique impacts they face as a result of climate change. The federal government must fully incorporate its government-to-government relationship with tribes and Alaska Native communities into existing programs and activities that relate to climate change by enhancing self-governance capacity, promoting engagement of state and local governments with tribal communities, and recognizing the role of traditional ecological knowledge in understanding the changing climate.



An Indian Education for All

By Matt Remle


Matt Remle (blue shirt) with Denny Hurtado and Michael Vendiola from the Office of Native Education providing testimony to the Marysville School Board to adopt the STI curriculum. Photo by: Tulalip News/ Brandi N. Montreuil
Matt Remle (blue shirt) with Denny Hurtado and Michael Vendiola from the Office of Native Education providing testimony to the Marysville School Board to adopt the STI curriculum. Photo by: Tulalip News/ Brandi N. Montreuil


The Washington State legislature has introduced a bill requiring Northwest tribal history, culture, and government to be taught in the common schools.

Washington SB 5433 is an amendment to the 2005 House Bill 1495.  H.B. 1495 “encouraged” Washington State school districts to teach Northwest tribal history, culture, and government.  The Since Time Immemorial tribalsovereignty curriculum (STI) grew out of H.B. 1495 and was developed in partnership with the 29 tribes in WA State and the State’s Office of Native Education.

Since its passage, only two school districts in the state have adopted STI as core, or mandated, curriculum.  The Marysville school district located just north of Seattle and whose school boundaries include the Tulalip tribes became the most recent to do so.

State law makers are now seeking to have the curriculum required in the State’s schools with the introduction of S.B. 5433.

S.B. 5433 states:

The legislature recognizes the need to reaffirm the state’s commitment to educating the citizens of our state, particularly the youth who are our future leaders, about tribal history, culture, treaty rights, contemporary tribal and state government institutions and relations and the contribution of Indian nations to the state of Washington. The legislature recognizes that this goal has yet to be achieved in most of our state’s schools and districts. As a result, Indian students may not find the school curriculum, especially Washington state history curriculum, relevant to their lives or experiences. In addition, many students may remain uninformed about the experiences, contributions, and perspectives of their tribal neighbors, fellow citizens, and classmates. The legislature finds that more widespread use of the Since Time Immemorial curriculum developed by the office of the superintendent of public instruction and available free of charge to schools would contribute greatly towards helping improve school’s history curriculum and improve the experiences Indian students have in our schools. Accordingly, the legislature finds that merely encouraging education regarding Washington’s tribal history, culture, and government is not sufficient, and hereby declares its intent that such education be mandatory in Washington’s common schools.”

If passed, Washington State would become the second state to mandate the teaching of tribal sovereignty curriculum. Montana is currently the only state to mandate Indian education for all state schools when it passed House Bill 528— the Indian Education for All Act, in 1999.

Matt Remle (Lakota) works for the Office of Indian Education in the Marysville/Tulalip school district and was on the curriculum committee that helped pass the districts requirement to teach the Since Time Immemorial tribal sovereignty curriculum in the Marysville schools.

Quest for federal recognition puts regional tribes at odds


Canoes from the Snohomish tribe and Chinook Indian Nation head down the Columbia River near Kalama in June 2013. Photo/ Roger Werth, TDN
Canoes from the Snohomish tribe and Chinook Indian Nation head down the Columbia River near Kalama in June 2013.
Photo/ Roger Werth, TDN

By Brooks Johnson, The Daily News

In a fight for federal recognition, the Chinook Indian Nation and Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes are each bringing their own history books to the debate.

A bill introduced in Congress this year would recognize Oregon’s Clatsop-Nehalem tribes, granting them the same rights to sovereignty and self-determination as the more than 550 other federally recognized Native American tribes.

That doesn’t sit well with the leaders of the Chinook Nation — 3,000 members comprising Cathlamet, Lower Chinook, Wahkiakum, Willapa and Clatsop tribes. They say the Clatsop-Nehalem are historically part of the Chinook Nation and that recognizing them separately would undercut the Chinooks’ 160-year-old drive for federal recognition.

“We want people to know we are the Clatsop people, and when it comes to that tip of Oregon there (the Lower Columbia), we’re there and we’re not going away,” said Sam Robinson, vice chairman of the Chinook Nation. “To have a group just come out of nowhere is a little bit disturbing.”

But Clatsop-Nehalem Council member David Stowe said the group hasn’t come out of nowhere, and that the history of the confederated tribes has been well-documented.

“The Chinook have a history of sour grapes,” Stowe said. “… but our restoration doesn’t impact the rights of anybody. They’ll have exactly what they have right now, and we hope they get restoration as well.”

At stake for both tribes is the ability to become sovereign and restore rights to land, hunting and fishing rights as well as partake in services offered by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Competing press releases sent out in September from both tribal councils disagree on the history of the Clatsop people.

The Chinook Nation says its 1950 constitution was drafted by its five member tribes in reference to 1851 treaties, and the federal government recognized the Clatsop’s relationship with the Lower Chinook in 1958.

“The history with the Clatsop-Nehalem is pretty fresh, compared to thousands of years of history the Chinook folks have,” Robinson said.

But the Clatsop-Nehalem say that despite centuries of trade along the Columbia River and marriages with other tribes, the Clatsop have been a distinct entity since before Europeans arrived.

About 25 percent of Chinook enrollment is Clatsop, according to the Chinook Nation, and any splintering could lessen those numbers.

“We just feel it’s not right. Because they won’t take all of our folks” for federal recognition, Robinson said.

The Clatsop-Nehalem don’t see the problem, however.

“Clatsop that are enrolled with the Chinook, Quinault, Grand Ronde or Chehalis tribes or other tribes are free to choose their enrollment status,” the Clatsop-Nehalem press release reads. “Our restoration will not change their status or member benefits in any way. We have no desire to make any claims of any kind in the Chinook homeland in Washington.”

Those of Clatsop descent may also have other tribal connections in their bloodline. Robinson gave the example that he is descended from Lower Chinook, Willapa Chinook and Chehalis tribes. The amount of ancestry needed to enroll in a tribe is up to individual tribes’ governments.

BIA Northwest Regional Director Stan Speaks says it’s impossible to know what will happen before recognition is granted, and it is “premature to think fellow members are going to abandon one group and go with the other.”

The restoration bill before Congress, introduced by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), asks for little more than recognition. Land, hunting and fishing rights have all been left out of the equation.

“That’s very contentious,” said Stowe, the Clatsop council member. “(Asking for more) creates a whole whirlwind and lessens our chances of restoration. At the end of the day what’s important to us, what’s important for our identity is recognition of our tribe.”

The term restoration is used by both sides of the debate. The Clatsop and Nehalem tribes were “terminated” by the federal government in the 1950s under the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act. That severed ties between the government and the tribes in a new policy toward Native Americans. The policy was later reversed for many of the terminated tribes, excepting the Clatsop and Nehalem. Stowe says the act of termination is recognition in and of itself because the Clatsop and Nehalem tribes are listed in the law.

The five tribes of the Chinook Nation — including the Clatsop — were recognized at the end of the Clinton administration, only to have the status revoked 18 months later by the Bush administration.

“We felt it was an injustice for them to be recognized and have it yanked form them, that was horrible, and it was equally an injustice we were terminated in 1954,” Stowe said.

The argument between the groups is centered around those living north or south of the Columbia River, though both sides agree that the divide can be arbitrary.

Dick Basch, the vice chairman of the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes, supports efforts to get his tribes recognized, but he is “saddened” by the fighting it has caused.

“We are Lower Columbia Indians that should be supporting each other and working for the benefit of all of us,” Basch said. “We’re all Indian people and just because some of our families went south and others went north doesn’t mean that we have to battle each other.”

Robinson and the Chinook agree on the principle of unity.

“Some folks say, “Well they’re Oregon Clatsop or they’re Washington Clatsop.’ … But the river wasn’t a divider — it was just a highway for us.”

Ten Reasons Why Every Native Should Vote

 Tulalip Tribal Board Member Deborah Parker speaking in support of the Violence Against Women Act in 2012. Reason number six to vote.
Tulalip Tribal Board Member Deborah Parker speaking in support of the Violence Against Women Act in 2012. Reason number six to vote.


Mark Trahant, Indian Country Today


Why vote? It takes planning, some time, and the rewards are not always visible. The same problems will surround American Indians and Alaska Natives before and after the election.

It’s easy to be trite and type, “this election matters more than most” and then cite specifics to make that case. But it’s not true. Win or lose (no matter who we support) life will go on.

But there are reasons to vote. Examples big and small that show how we can make a difference. Here we go.

One. Because voting is an act of sovereignty. The late Billy Frank Jr. used to articulate different ways that we practice sovereignty today. Taking a fish is an act of sovereignty. Using an eagle feather is sovereignty. Or picking berries.

I would add voting to that list. There’s a great example going on right now: the Independence vote in Scotland. Every Scot citizen, 16-years and older, will have a say about their future country. But that voice is only possible now because of Scotland’s participation in the United Kingdom’s electoral process. The idea of returning power had to be ratified in Parliament, a proposition demanded and promoted by the elected representatives from Scotland. Other countries have gone to war over independence. But Scotland is voting. The ultimate use of sovereignty.

Two. Because too many folks don’t want you to vote. Across too many government officials are taking steps to make casting a ballot harder, limiting early voting options, alternative polling spots, or failing to account for Native languages. Across the country there are lawsuits seeking resolution.

But in addition the smartest act of defiance is to vote. Every vote is reprimand of the philosophy to limit access. One of the worst examples of that notion surfaced last week when a Georgia state senator said he preferred “educated voters” to any increase in voters.

Three. Because climate change is real and any candidate who says it’s not, should be ruled out as a leader. The science is clear 97 percent of all peer-reviewed papers say the same thing: Global warming is real and humans are the cause. (This graphic from NASA is one way to see it for yourself.)

Why does this matter? Because our political leaders are going to have to make tough choices in the years and decades ahead on issues. Indian country is already being impacted and that will only get worse as communities will need significant new resources for mitigation or even relocation. If you vote for your children, this might be the most important single reason.

Four. Because the Affordable Care Act matters. American Indians and Alaska Natives have been calling for full funding for the Indian health system for, well, since the Treaty era in the 19th century. But never in the history of the country has Indian health been adequately funded. For all its problems, the Affordable Care Act opens up a mechanism to significantly increase the revenue stream for Indian health.

And the alternative from critics? There is not one.

Five. Because the Violence Against Women Act represents how politics can serve the greater good. So roll back the clock to a time when there were not enough votes in the U.S. Senate to pass the Violence Against Women Act with the provisions to give tribes additional authority. Then on April 25, 2012, at a news conference on Capitol Hill, Then Tulalip Tribal Vice Chairman Deborah Parker told her powerful personal story about abuse. Her story carried on YouTube and across the nation via social media as well as legacy media changed everything. The Senate passed the measure. Then the House leadership supported an extraordinary deal. According to Talking Points Memo: “The Rules Committee instead sent the House GOP’s version of the Violence Against Women Act to the floor with a key caveat: if that legislation fails, then the Senate-passed version will get an up-or-down vote.”

That made it possible for Congress (and the president to sign into law) the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act.

Six. Because friends matter. Even when the disagree. Most of the time, anyway. The Violence Against Women Act is a good example of why friends matter. Oklahoma’s Tom Cole was able to convince Republican leadership about the importance of the act. This law would not have happened without him. Cole, and Idaho’s Rep. Mike Simpson, have been important voices within the Republican caucus on matters ranging from VAWA to limiting the damage from sharp budget cuts.

And that brings me to seven …

Seven. Because there should never, ever be another Alaska Exception. If the Violence Against Women Act represents the best in politics, the Alaska Exception is the opposite. Alaska has epidemic levels of sexual violence and rape. So what does Congress do? It takes away a tool that tribal communities might be able to use to turn the situation around.

What’s worse is that the exception was inserted into the bill by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski who owes her election to Alaska Native voters and corporate spending. (I know this undermines Reason Six.) The Washington Post said last month: “Now, after pressure from Alaska Natives, Murkowski is reversing her position and trying to repeal the provision she inserted.” There are no heroes in Congress on this provision, including Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, who also supported the exception. He, too, has reversed himself.

The promise unfulfilled is that Congress would revisit this issue. That has yet to happen. But this whole episode should be a warning; a never again moment.

Eight. Because Congress must pass a Carcieri fix. The Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that limits what land the Department of Interior can take into trust. This has significant impact on tribal economic development. Montana’s Sen. Jon Tester, chairman of the Indian affairs committee, told Indian Country Today Media Network that while he believes in a clean fix, “many of my colleagues in the Senate don’t agree.”

The way to change that is pressure from voters.

Nine. Because your vote counts more than the gadzillions spent by those with money. Turn on a television and you see that money at work, ad after ad, dark images, somber music, and words about the evils of certain candidates. Politics should be about ideas and policies more than personality. What do we want out of government? How do we pay for that? Those are the big questions. The best way to do that is to ignore the campaigns and just vote.

Ten. Because women matter. More than half the population of the country is female yet representation is only about one-fifth in the Senate and even less than that in the House. As The Washington Post reported this week: “The Congress has always been and continues to be the domain of white men.” I think of the words of the late Wilma Mankiller. She said Cherokee treaty negotiators asked the United States team, “Where are your women?” Cherokee women often accompanied leaders at negotiations and so it was inconceivable that the federal government would come alone. There must be balance if we want to become the democracy that we can be.

Finally, in the spirit of Spinal Tap, let’s turn this vote meter to Eleven. Why eleven? Because it’s not ten. Where can you go from there? Eleven. One louder.

So reason number eleven. Because we can win. I started this post by mentioning the election coming up in Scotland. Some 4.2 million citizens signed up to vote, a 97 percent registration. Imagine what would happen if American Indians and Alaska Natives voted with those kind of numbers. It would upend politics in from Alaska to Wyoming. Local leaders would be replaced and we would have a far greater say in programs and policies. Already there’s evidence that the Native vote make a difference, but that influence should be growing. We have a younger population and in a low turnout election, we could call the shots. We could be one louder.

Mark Trahant holds the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.




Treaty Council’s 40th Conference Celebrates Indigenous Peoples Rights

 The first indigenous delegation to go to the UN in Geneva demanding their treaty rights.
The first indigenous delegation to go to the UN in Geneva demanding their treaty rights.


Gale Courey Toensing, 9/1/14, Indian Country Today


The International Indian Treaty Council turned 40 this year and its annual conference will celebrate the past, share experiences and cultures of the present, and develop plans and strategies to meet the ongoing struggles of Indigenous Peoples worldwide.

When the First International Treaty Council of the Western Hemisphere held its first conference on the land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on June 8-16, 1974, around 5,000 representatives from 97 indigenous nations from across North and South America attended. The conference established the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), a non-profit organization that works for Indigenous Peoples’ human rights, sovereignty, self-determination, and the recognition and protection of treaties, traditional cultures and sacred lands. The organization 40th Annual International Indian Treaty Council Conference (IITC) – a huge and historic event – will take place on the family land of Phillip Deere, a Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen and one of IITC’s original co-founders, in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, September 10-12. The theme of the conference is “Commemorating 40 years Defending the Rights and Recognition of Indigenous Peoples.”


A Conversation with Phillip Deere, Muskogee-Creek Elder

The 1974 conference also adopted the IITC’s founding document – the Declaration of Continuing Independence. The groundbreaking document was the precursor to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that followed more than 30 years later – minus the compromising language of Article 46 in the U.N. document.

The first words of the Declaration of Continuing Independence set its tone. “The United States of America has continually violated the independent Native Peoples of this continent by Executive action, Legislative fiat and Judicial decision. By its actions, the U.S. has denied all Native people their International treaty rights, treaty lands and basic human rights of freedom and sovereignty. This same U.S. Government, which fought to throw off the yoke of oppression and gain its own independence, has now reversed its role and become the oppressor of sovereign Native people.”

Bill Means, Oglala Lakota, and an IITC board member, will be one of the many notable speakers at the conference. “It’s a milestone in the history not only of treaty rights in this country but also of the coming together and advocating for Indigenous Peoples’ human rights throughout the world,” Means told ICTMN. “This is a very important conference to mark and record some of that history since 1974.”

Means, along with his brother the late Russell Means, was a leader and participant in the 1973 occupation and resistance action at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation – events that led directly to the first Treaty Council conference. He will talk about the early days of the American Indian Movement (AIM), but, he said, “We didn’t do this by ourselves. We [AIM] did the organizing, but we had the wisdom and the support of the chiefs and headmen as well as the strong women of the Lakota people at the [first] treaty conference. It was a culmination of many different forces coming together at Wounded Knee in 1973.”

RELATED: Native History: AIM Occupation of Wounded Knee Begins

RELATED: A Tour of Wounded Knee: Why It Matters, Why It Hurts

The inspiring message from the chiefs and headmen continues to this day, Means said. “They talked about treaty rights as the foundation of our people as a nation – not necessarily as a tribe. Long before reservation days we were a nation of the Lakota People and that’s how we signed the treaties so it’s important for the recognition of our people as nations in the international community,” Means said. “I think that with the advent of reservations in the United States people forget that we come from very powerful Indian nations and under international law we meet all the criteria for nationhood. So part of our work has always been nation-building and the unity of our peoples throughout the world.”

Chief Wilton Littlechild, a citizen of Ermineskin Cree Nation, an attorney and former Member of Parliament in Canada, agreed that treaties are unparalleled in importance. “It was treaties that first gave Indigenous Peoples their voice at the U.N. and in the international arena,” he told ICTMN. “The 1974 Declaration of Continuing Independence from IITC’s first conference laid the groundwork for what would become the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its international recognition of treaties.”

Littlechild is International Chief for Treaties 6, 7 and 8 in Canada – three of a series of 11 treaties signed between the aboriginal peoples in Canada and the reigning British monarchs from 1871 to 1921. He is currently a member of the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and also served for six years as the Indigenous expert from North America on the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Littlechild will speak at the conference about the 40 years of work for the international recognition of treaty rights on a panel with Means, IITC Board President Francisco Cali, Maya Kaqchikel, and IITC Executive Director Andrea Carmen, Yaqui.

Carmen became involved in the IITC in the mid 1970s. She became a full time IITC staff member in 1983 and has been its executive director since 1992. She reflected on IITC’s work over the past four decades and her involvement with the organization in anticipation of the upcoming conference.

“Working for the IITC for most of my adult life, I have been able to be part of many historic changes for the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ rights internationally, with real impacts ‘on the ground’ – where it counts,” Carmen told ICTMN.



The 30 years of work on the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples from 1977 when the first delegation of Indigenous Peoples – many of whom had attended the first Treaty Council conference three years earlier – went to the U.N. in Geneva to demand their treaty and other rights until 2007 when the Declaration was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, transformed global discussions and understandings about Indigenous Peoples, Carmen said.

“The world community had to realize that we still exist, we have inherent and treaty rights that can’t be ignored and that we also have essential contributions to make in global dialogues on human rights, racial justice, bio-diversity, sustainable development, climate change, food sovereignty and many other issues,” she said. “Many challenges still remain, and our work is far from over. But if we stand together, the international Indigenous movement will continue to prevail in defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights and ways of life. IITC will continue to be an active part of that movement.”

The conference will be held at the Phillip Deere Roundhouse on Muscogee (Creek) Nation land. Deere was a traditional healer, spiritual leader, civil and human rights activist, oral historian and storyteller. He served as a spiritual guide for the American Indian Movement (AIM), spokesman for IITC and participated in the United Nations International Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Deere passed into the spirit world in 1985. The re-building of the Roundhouse has been a dream of Deere’s family. The Muscogee Nation provided financial support for the project and the 40th Annual International Treaty Council Conference will be the first event to be held in the new space.

The two-and-a-half day conference is packed full of presentations, discussions and cultural events beginning with a sacred fire lighting ceremony at 6 a.m. on September 10. An agenda and more information are available on IITC’s website.



What is tribal sovereignty?

By Denise DePaolo, KSFY News

KSFY News – Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

South Dakota’s nine Indian reservations exist as sovereign nations. But what does that mean? KSFY News talked with tribal, state and federal leaders about what it means to lead a nation within a nation.

Sovereignty may seem easy to define on paper, but in practice, it’s complicated. To some, it’s a feeling. A way of life.

“Sovereignty, to me, is something our grandfathers gave us. That we need to respect, because it’s a tool that protects us here in Indian Country,” said Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Cyril Scott.

It’s a way of life that involves an ongoing power struggle, colored by a history of eradication.

“The states, the government, they want to take that sovereignty away from us. They don’t want to acknowledge that Adolf Hitler got his ideas from the United States,” said Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Brandon Sazue.

For tribal governments, sovereignty comes with a limited autonomy.

“When you look at South Dakota, we’re unique in a sense that we have nine different tribes that through treaties and congressional action enjoy a level of tribal sovereignty. That means they have the ability – while they are certainly South Dakotans – that they have the ability to vote in our elections, but they also have a separate sovereignty that allows them to control certain matters within their borders,” said South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley.

“We have control of our schools, our courts, our police, so those do make us sovereign, but there’s a lot of things where we are not sovereign. We are still dependent. We are still dependent on the federal government because they have not met their trust responsibility in meeting our needs through economic development,” said Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer.

“They gave us the treaties 200 years ago, 100 years ago, however long ago. Did that give us our sovereignty? In a way, it should have. But today, we don’t have sovereignty,” said Sazue.

tribal sovereigntyTribes must follow state and federal laws, which can mean problems when those limits are tested.

“For any community in the United States, there are limits. The constitution still needs to be followed and respected. The federal laws still need to be followed and respected,” said South Dakota U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson.

For example, Pine Ridge is looking into the legalization of marijuana within its borders. Jackley says while he respects tribal sovereignty, pot still is illegal.

“He said he’s going to come to Pine Ridge and arrest us if we did do that,” said Brewer, “And we realize that we have to follow federal law and that. But again, we need to exercise our sovereignty. Pine Ridge has already passed an ordinance years ago legalizing hemp – to grow hemp on our reservation. Yet when a person did, they were arrested.”

Another limit to tribal sovereignty is who can and cannot be prosecuted in tribal courts.

“There are further limitations if there is a non-Indian committing a crime against a non-Indian within the reservation boundaries, the state or the state’s attorney would have jurisdiction over that,” said Jackley.

“I believe we’re going to start arresting everybody. Non-Indians. If they commit a crime on a reservation, we’re going to arrest him, take them through our courts and see what happens. We know it will go to the Supreme Court, but we want to test it, we want to test our sovereignty and we talk about our sovereignty. We’re going to test it through the judicial system,” said Brewer.

“We’re seeing tribal courts strengthened. We’re seeing police departments growing and I think that’s very good, because I think the future of tribal sovereignty means more local control for the tribes, less involvement from federal government,” said Johnson.

According to Brewer, many families living in reservation communities depend on the federal government as well, because job opportunities are few and the cost of utilities like propane and electricity are high.

“We’re all wishing and praying one day that we can be completely sovereign, but as long as we’re within the confines of the United States government, we will probably never be truly sovereign.”

A recent emphasis on economic development and inter-tribal trade aims to change that.

“The future of tribal sovereignty, I think, is about creating alliances. Sovereignty is strongest when you’re using it to create alliances, and I think in South Dakota we’re starting to see that now,” said Johnson.

“We all have something to offer. We can trade with each other. So this is something we’re really looking at,” said Brewer, “We’ve talked to tribes in the northwest. They said ‘Bryan, we’d like to have your buffalo. We have so much diabetes out there. Send us buffalo meat. We’ll send you lumber, we’ll send you salmon.’ The Seminoles out of Florida – ‘We’ll send you oranges. You can use those for your people or you can sell them to communities.’”

South Dakota’s tribes are working on many fronts to become more independent.

Wind energy will help cut down on the high cost of electricity. Several tribes have projects in the works.

The launch of dozens of tribe-operated businesses – like Lakota Popcorn on Lower Brule and Tanka Bars on Pine Ridge – are helping to alleviate the unemployment problem.

Many tribes are also putting an increased emphasis on tourism. For example, the Oglala Sioux will likely become the first tribe to operate a national park in the Badlands’ South Unit.

While tribes are using the increasing connectedness of our world for the betterment of their people, assimilation and eventual obscurity aren’t part of the plan.

“What we are telling the people of the United States and the state of South Dakota – we are a nation. The first nation of this country,” said Scott.

Minnesota, Leech Lake Band square off over cigarette tax

Leech Lake Reservation is in a dispute with the state over taxation fairness and sovereignty.

By Jennifer Brooks, Star Tribune

The state of Minnesota and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe are locked in a dispute over cigarettes and sovereignty.

Agents from the Minnesota Department of Revenue intercepted a delivery truck in St. Cloud on Good Friday, April 18. The truck, bound for a tribal gas station in Walker, was loaded with 281 cartons — 2,810 packs of cigarettes — that had been rolled at a Winnebago tribal facility in Nebraska and shipped to Minnesota unstamped and free of the state’s hefty cigarette tax. If they’d made it to their destination, they would have sold for $3.50 a pack — compared to the $6 to $9 smokers were paying everywhere else in the state.

For the state Revenue Department, the seizure was an issue of tax fairness. For Leech Lake’s leadership, it was a violation of tribal sovereignty. The result is a standoff, with millions of dollars in state tax revenue at stake.

In a statement, Leech Lake dubbed the incident “the Good Friday Seizure,” calling it “yet another attack on Native American rights. The Band sees this seizure as an attempt by the state to implement its unfair taxation plan on the lands of the Leech Lake Reservation, this time resulting in the unfortunate economic isolation of a federally recognized American Indian Tribe.”

The Department of Revenue, in turn, has cut off the taps — withholding the state tax equity revenue it normally splits with the tribe for its sale of other state-taxed items like sales, gas and alcohol — until the band agrees to start selling state-taxed cigarettes again.

Losing that shared tax revenue could cost Leech Lake $2 million or more a year, said Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans.

“We just want to make sure cigarette prices are uniform and fair,” he said Friday. “Leech Lake is the only tribe now that insists on selling non-state-stamped cigarettes, and that’s a considerable price differential. It’s really unfair, and it’s a terrible health outcome, as well.”

Ten of the state’s 11 tribes have agreed to sell only state-taxed cigarettes, and Frans said his department has worked with Leech Lake for years to try to reach a similar deal.

“We respect the sovereignty of all the tribes and we take their sovereignty very seriously,” he said.

Leech Lake Chairwoman Carri Jones could not be reached for comment Friday, but in a statement she said the tribe tried to work with the state.

“Every time the Minnesota Department of Revenue requested a meeting on this issue, we came to the table to meet in good faith to offer innovative and creative solutions, which were consistently turned down by the state,” she said in the statement. “We were hoping that by engaging in good faith negotiations we would avoid the drastic measure that Gov. Dayton’s administration took on Easter weekend.”

Minnesota has the sixth-highest state tobacco tax rate in the nation — $2.83 per pack, including a $1.60 increase that went into effect last year.

A familiar fight

But the tribal tax dispute goes back earlier, to 2005, when Minnesota levied a 75-cent-per-pack “health impact fee” on cigarettes. Because it was a fee and not a tax, the state argued that it did not need to split the new revenue with the tribes, as it does with other state taxes.

The decision sparked a dispute that led several tribes to start selling untaxed, out-of-state cigarettes, including Leech Lake. The fee was replaced with an excise tax last year, Frans said.

While other tribes made agreements with the state, Leech Lake held out, selling out-of-state cigarettes with tribal taxes and funneling the money back into the community.

“The majority of revenue generated through tribal taxation is recirculated into funding tribal programs like health and wellness and small business lending,” the band said in its statement. “It provides alternative means for deriving income during difficult economic times.”

Transporting untaxed cigarettes into Minnesota is a violation of state law, subject to stiff fines. The state has already gone after Leech Lake’s supplier. Frans said the trucking company has agreed to stop shipping untaxed cigarettes to the tribe.

Standing Against GMOs Is Standing for Sovereignty




There are plenty of reasons to join the cause to label or eliminate foods that contain genetically modified ingredients: first of all, just because something is deemed legal by the government does not make it safe for humans. Ask any indigenous person in any country: how many things deemed “legal” have done harm to their cultures and communities? GMOs are no different.

Take Hawaii, for example. Last year the chain of islands organized several large demonstrations to speak out against the biotech companies trying to make the island state their home. Because Hawaii is geographically isolated and has an ideal growing climate, plus abundant natural resources, five of the world’s biggest biotech companies have targeted the islands as their testing field for chemical and food engineering. What does this mean? Well, to Hawaiians it means that over 70 different chemicals have been sprayed onto genetically engineered crops during field tests that went undisclosed to the public—meaning the surrounding communities were given no warning nor a chance to protect themselves from exposure through wind, water or contaminated soil. Some of these field tests took place near homes and schools. All of this in a state where adult on-set diabetes and cancer rates have increased over the last 10 years.

Many native Hawaiians are actively speaking out against the genetic modification of their food supply, stating that GMOs are sacrilegious to their indigenous culture. Miliani B. Strask, a native Hawaiian attorney wrote, “For Hawaii’s indigenous peoples, the concepts underlying genetic manipulation of life forms are offensive and contrary to the cultural values of aloha ‘ʻāina [love for the land].”

Across the ocean in a vastly different climate, the Diné are in accord. In 2013 The Navajo Nation declared themselves to be a GMO and pesticide-free nation. This encompasses 10 million acres of land and more than 250,000 people. Their reasoning? In part: Corn is sacred.

In the year 2000, only 25 percent of the corn growing in the United States was genetically modified. In 2013 that number was up to 90 percent. Along with more GMO corn comes more super-weeds and super-pests adapting to live alongside the corn, which then needs even more intense super-chemicals to kill them off. Biotech companies like Monsanto have even been allowed to patent their seeds. If their seeds blow into your field and begin to grow? You owe them money. This has led to thousands of farmers in India to take their own life as they spiral into a debt they cannot pay off.

In their resolution against GMOs and pesticides, the Dine cited the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, specifically Article 31, which states:

“Indigenous Peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect, and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies, and cultures, including . . . seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora  . . .”

GMOs may cause yet-unknown health consequences, but as indigenous people they may also threaten cultural heritage, tradition and even sovereignty. Corn IS sacred. It is our mother and our nurturer. We cannot stand idly by as she is mutated and commoditized into something that poisons the land, the water and the people.

Over 61 countries, covering 40 percent of the world’s population and all of the European Union already label genetically modified foods. And in 50 countries there are severe restrictions or outright bans of GMOs—Canada and the United States are not among any of these countries. Whether you believe genetically modified food can cause cancer or not, this is one cause worth standing up for: plant heirloom seeds in your garden, don’t use pesticides and herbicides, and vote to label GMO foods. If labeling GMO foods isn’t on your local ballot, fight to get it on there.

Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a bee hive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.



Focusing on the National and International Levels

Source: Water4fish

TAHOLAH, WA –  “Securing the rights of sovereign Tribal governments takes constant effort and perseverance at many levels,” said Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and  Northwest Regional Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). This past week, some of the focus was on the national and international levels, she said. Sharp completed a round of talks with the US Department of State in Washington DC early this week, exploring how American Indian governments and the US government can formalize an agreement on policies to be considered by the United Nations-sponsored World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

The World Conference on Indigenous Peoples will be a meeting of the 194 member governments of the United Nations considering how best to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—a document that affects the rights and interests of American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians and hundreds of other indigenous peoples around the world.

“We have begun talks to formalize a framework between our governments so we can more effectively negotiate balanced solutions to problems such as climate change, damages caused by development to indigenous territories, and improving economies in tribal territories,” said President Sharp.

During the course of the week, Sharp consulted with Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby, who was recently elected President of NCAI, and was joined in the talks by Colville Confederated Tribes Chairman Michael Finley who also serves as First Vice President of NCAI. He stressed his strong endorsement of President Sharp’s proposals to the Department of State, which urged development of an intergovernmental framework agreement that will ensure that the US government and Indian governments work closely and harmoniously as they engage UN member states at the World Conference of Indigenous Peoples in September.

President Sharp and other tribal leaders from across the country will continue talks with representatives of the Department of State in February.

President Sharp further noted, “We have been conducting talks with the Department of State since last August and expect we will come to a mutual agreement on an intergovernmental framework concerning the UN conference in February.”

The Quinault government has been leading discussions with the US government and several UN Member States regarding the World Conference and facilitating joint Indian government meetings to ensure the maximum participation of Indian peoples in plans for the World Conference.


Following is a link to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007