Fixing The Great American Health Care Mistake

Mark Trahant, Indian Country Today Media Network

The Obama administration’s decision last week to delay a mandate for large employers to provide health insurance or pay a fine is both meaningless and significant.

It’s meaningless because it impacts such a small number of employers. Nearly all employers with more than 50 employees already provide health insurance. And those that do not, are unlikely to change course because of the penalty (even at $2,000 per full-time employee that costs far less than insurance).

But it’s significant because it highlights The Great American Health Care Mistake. This country should have never forged health care to work. It was an accident, a way to avoid wage controls during World War II. No other country in the world has such a crazy system. And it makes no sense to let our employers make decisions about our health care. All the basic stuff: What kind of coverage we buy, what should be covered, or even our provider networks and, therefore our doctors.

Mark Trahant
Mark Trahant


This mistake let Americans “pretend” that health insurance did not have a cost. It was a quiet part of our compensation, but because it’s not measured by the employee (although that will change soon), it wasn’t something we were willing to spend money on ourselves.

But employer-sponsored insurance is declining. It’s a trend that began before federal health care reform. The percentage of Americans who receive health insurance through employers dropped from 69.7 percent in 2000 to just 59.5 percent in 2011, according to a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

And even when company insurance is offered, more employees are saying, “no thanks.” In 2000, 81.8 percent of employees who were offered coverage enrolled. A decade later, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study reported, only 76.3 percent did.

The reason for the decline in both employer and employee participation is simple: Insurance costs are out-of-sight. The study said the premium for employee-only coverage doubled from 2000 to 2011, increasing from $2,490 to $5,081. Family premiums went up by 125 percent, from $6,415 to copy4,447, during the same time period.

Across the country, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study did not find a single state where employee-sponsored insurance actually increased, and 22 states saw decreases of 10 percent or more.

And Indian country? Only about four-in-ten workers and their families have employer-sponsored health care. Remember that many tribes and tribal enterprises are large employers that offer competitive benefit packages.

So what does all of this mean? Sure, the U.S. made a huge mistake linking health care insurance and work. Ideally we would have fixed that with health care reform, but that was politically impossible. So we came up with a sort of dual track, encouraging employer sponsored plans (including the large employer penalty that will now begin in 2015) and giving consumers a choice through state exchanges.

It is those exchanges that should be the focus now. In just a few weeks, people can sign up for insurance through an exchange if it’s not offered by an employer or if a policy costs too much. Starting next year there will be good health insurance coverage available with many subsidies for low and moderate income families. (Considering the demographics of Indian country, buying health insurance through an exchange will likely be either free or a really good deal. More on that later.)

Critics say that the Obama administration’s delay of the employer mandate shows that ObamaCare is unraveling. I think the opposite is true. It’s far more significant that both state and the federal exchanges seem to be moving forward and that individuals can sign up beginning in October with insurance options starting in 2014.

It’s true that the Affordable Care Act doesn’t fix The Great American Health Care Mistake. But it least it opens an alternative route.


Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. Comment on Facebook at:



U.S. House committee invites Crow Tribe chair to discuss production expansion

Jul 8, 2013 4:46 PM by Q2 News Staff

BILLINGS- The U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee will meet Tuesday to discuss the expansion of coal production on public lands in the United States.

Montana Congressman Steve Daines, who serves as a committee member, revealed that Crow Indian Tribe Chairman Darrin Old Coyote will be testifying during the hearing regarding a recent agreement with Cloud Peak Energy and the hopes the tribe has for that partnership.

Committee members in favor of coal production expansion, such as Daines, plan on using testimonials to tout the benefits of coal production in the western part of the country.

An expansion could mean a change for Montana and Wyoming, as the Powder River Basin accounts for 40% o U.S. coal production.

Opponents say an increase in production might be detrimental to tax payers, as they say coal is currently undervalued.

The hearing kicks off at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time in the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, D.C..

If you would like to watch the hearing, you can find a live stream at that time by clicking here.

Father, other Oklahoma relatives file to adopt Baby Veronica as James Island couple seek adoption OK

Andrew Knapp The Post and Courier

Tuesday, July 9, 2013 6:42 a.m.

Baby Veronica’s biological father, stepmother and paternal grandparents have filed court papers in Oklahoma to adopt the 3-year-old girl, a move that dissenting U.S. Supreme Court justices warned could happen and will likely complicate the custody dispute.

Attorneys for Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island and for Veronica’s biological mother said Monday that the action defies the high court justices, who asked South Carolina judges to determine where Veronica should live.

The toddler’s mother found the Capobiancos through an adoption agency and, when the girl was born in September 2009, gave custody to them.

Lori Alvino McGill, the Washington attorney for Veronica’s biological mother, said her client, Christinna Maldonado, has not agreed to allow the adoption by anyone other than the Capobiancos and will fight the termination of her parental rights if the couple’s adoption doesn’t go through.

“We believe these frivolous filings in other jurisdictions are designed to further delay the proceedings,” McGill said, “in the hope that it will make it harder for South Carolina to finalize the (Capobiancos’) adoption.”

A Charleston attorney for Veronica’s father said Dusten Brown simply wants to continue raising his daughter.

“We are just trying to follow the direction and guidance of the majority opinion,” Shannon Jones said, “and let the court decide what is in the child’s best interest at this point.”

Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, challenged Veronica’s adoption through the Indian Child Welfare Act, arguing that their shared American Indian heritage gave him preference as a parent.

The Supreme Court ruled late last month that ICWA didn’t apply to the dispute the way a South Carolina judge thought it did. Brown’s parental rights could have been terminated because he never had custody of the girl and never supported her, the justices said.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, tossed the case back to the S.C. Supreme Court and ordered that it be expedited so that Veronica’s custody status could be determined.

But in documents filed with the South Carolina’s top court Wednesday, Brown’s attorneys used portions of the ruling that went against them in Washington to their own advantage.

Veronica has lived with Brown in Oklahoma since he was awarded custody in late 2011, and removing her from the “continued custody” of a loving home wouldn’t be in her best interests, Brown’s filing stated.

His attorneys asked that the case be sent back to Family Court in Charleston so that judges could consider “fresh” evidence. Because 18 months have passed since the custody switch, they argued, much of the information ferreted out during the Family Court trial is stale and wouldn’t serve as a legitimate basis for a custody ruling.

They said she should stay with the “fit and loving father” she’s with now. The girl also has matured emotionally and physically and has developed social skills with her new family, they said.

Veronica “has been extremely well cared for and loved by her father and has thrived,” the document stated.

But if Brown’s parental rights are terminated, his attorneys have a backup plan.

In disagreeing with Alito’s opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling could mean that Brown’s relatives could be considered as adoptive parents and that ICWA would give them preference.

Brown and his wife, Robin Brown, both filed adoption petitions in the District Court of Nowata County, where they lived. Veronica’s stepmother would be a logical choice to raise the girl because they already live in the same home, Brown’s attorneys argued.

But Brown’s parents, Tommy and Alice Brown, also asked the District Court of the Cherokee Nation for a chance to adopt Veronica under ICWA. They have been a certified placement family for the Cherokee Nation since 2011, the court filings stated.

Such petitions could require that the case be transferred from South Carolina to Oklahoma courts.

But those arguments are “absurd” and “offensive to the authority of the United States Supreme Court,” attorneys for the Capobiancos said in a response to Brown’s filing. They noted that some of Brown’s argument was based on the dissenting opinion, not the majority’s.

The Capobiancos had asked the state’s high court Friday to take up the case on an emergency basis, arguing that the ruling in Washington “unequivocally cleared the way” for the couple’s adoption of Veronica to be finalized.

The couple is “willing and able” to move to Oklahoma to ease Veronica’s transition, the document added.

But the competing adoption attempts might further delay a final ruling.

The Capobiancos’ attorneys said the added petitions violate the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, which outlaws “forum shopping” in seeking a more favorable venue when a different court already is addressing the case.

They added that the U.S. Supreme Court could not have possibly overturned the lower court’s decision and asked that South Carolina judges take up the case promptly without intending a tangible outcome.

“(Brown) audaciously treats the (U.S. Supreme Court) reversal as an academic exercise with no real world consequences,” their filing stated. “(He) acts as if a decision … is just a technicality — an inconvenient bump in the road that has no practical effect.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or

Asylum Awaits Snowden in Bolivia as Thousands March at US Embassy

Sara Shahriari, Indian Country Today Media Network

Thousands of protesters marched in La Paz, Bolivia today, calling on their government to close the United States embassy following an incident that saw President Evo Morales’ plane grounded in Vienna overnight last week amid rumors National Security Agency whistle blower Edward Snowden was on board.

(Related story: Grounding of Morales Plane Could Push Bolivia to Give Snowden Asylum)

The incident drew outrage from Bolivia and its allies in the region, and prompted Morales to join Venezuela in offering Snowden asylum.

Today’s march by trade unions began as protesters set fire to the French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and U.S. flags but later proceeded peacefully with very little police presence.

“We’re a small country,” said Braulio Rocha Tapia, a union leader from the nearby city of El Alto, as his fellow workers filed past the embassy. “But we must ensure that our country is respected.”

The U.S. is widely blamed in Bolivia for convincing France, Italy, Spain and Portugal to block the presidential plane’s access to their airspace, a claim Spain and France deny, according to the BBC. Today Bolivian state news reported that President Morales has summoned representatives of those countries to answer questions about the incident.

Last week President Morales said he will consider closing the U.S. embassy, and that if Snowden requests it Bolivia is prepared to offer asylum. (Related story: Bolivia Considers Shuttering US Embassy Following Snowden Plane Hijacking)

“I want to say that now we are going to offer asylum, if he asks, to this North America who is pursued by his countrymen,” Morales said on Saturday. “We are not afraid – they have already accused me of bringing this ex-agent of the CIA.”


Marchers outside the United States Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia call for President Evo Morales to close the embassy, July 8, 2013. (Sara Shahriari)
Marchers outside the United States Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia call for President Evo Morales to close the embassy, July 8, 2013. (Sara Shahriari)

(Related story: Could Edward Snowden Seek Asylum with an American Indian Tribe?)



Geoducks, Crabs and Sea Slugs For Food and Profit

Jackleen De La Harpe, Indian Country Today Media Network

Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe crabbers fish for Dungeness with a seductive perfume—the smelliest squid, herring and oily fish—bait that lures crab into the pot for harvest. Dungeness, a sweet, meaty crab, is an important commercial fishery in the Pacific Northwest and a central fishery for the tribe, located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Fished by size, sex and season—no less than 6.25 inches, no females, and no take during the molt cycle—this management strategy contributes to a successful, sustainable crab fishery. This year, a two-day Dungeness opening in Puget Sound netted more than 150,000 pounds of crab in 48 hours.

Dungeness crab
Dungeness crab


Cliff Prince, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, understands the great value of the fishery, especially for his family. “My son, David, has been on my boat since he was 8 years old,” he said. “Being able to spend summers with him is a big thing for our family.” This may be the last summer that David Prince, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, fishes with his father. Prince, 22, a junior at Stanford, is majoring in American Studies and plans to apply to graduate school after he graduates.

“Most of the money I’ve ever had came from crabbing,” he said. “I learned about work from going out with my dad, getting up at 4 in the morning and getting home at 7 at night. It’s the kind of thing that’s shaped a lot of my life. It’s a few thousand hours I wouldn’t have had otherwise (with my dad), being out there every day.” For the tribe, he said, Dungeness crab is “life, meaning everything. It’s what you’ve got, it’s that and fish, and it’s why we’re still here. Going out on the water to get fish and crab, it’s what sustained the tribe back as far as anyone can remember.”

2. Scavenging the Spineless, Slippery ‘Slug-Like’ Sea Cucumber

Fishermen from Lummi Nation harvest a typical array of Northwest fish and shellfish — Dungeness crab, halibut, salmon, shrimp — and a relatively new fishery, the “exotic” sea cucumber, a spineless, slippery “slug-like” creature that divers pull from the rocks and sea floor. Phillip Jefferson, 43, Lummi Nation, began diving for cucumbers in 2001 when the fishery was just getting underway. Now he helps train some of the 50 people from Lummi who earn their living underwater—serious, difficult work that requires certification and strict adherence to safety procedures. Besides the cold Pacific waters, at near-constant temperatures of 45-50 degrees F, strong currents can tire divers while sharks or sea lions, which can weigh as much as a ton, may startle and alarm divers with limited underwater sight. Equipped with surface-supplied air, full face masks or helmets and mesh bags, fishermen may dive to depths of 60-90 feet to harvest the reddish-brown “ocean detritivore,” which is sold in Seattle and to markets in China, the Philippines, and Japan.

Sea cucumber (Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration; Underwater Photographer Kevin Lee.)
Sea cucumber (Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration; Underwater Photographer Kevin Lee.)


Jefferson’s diving supports his family and allowed him to buy his own boat, named for his daughter, Keesha Rae, 14. On a good day, he said, it’s possible to bag 300 pounds of cucumbers. Dive fisheries, including the sea cucumber, make up a small and important part of the Lummi Nation fisheries, grossing an estimated copy.2 million in 2011. Working underwater can be straightforward, he said, “when it’s really bright, you can see a long way.” At other times, it is complicated and even mysterious “when the tide is moving hard and the current creates a lot of debris, like snow. You can’t use a light and can’t do without one. Divers call it a whiteout.” He’s seen cucumbers curl up like corkscrews to avoid predators and roll away with the tide or stand on their tails like a cobra about to strike, perhaps to spawn or elude a predator, which could well be Jefferson himself. With a rapid reproduction cycle and continued management, Jefferson believes he’ll be able to dive for this thriving fishery well into the future.

3. The Spiritual Experience of Digging for Mollusks

Geoduck, in the Salish language, means dig deep. Northwest locals understand geoduck (pronounced gooey duk) to mean really big clam, which weighs, on average, two to three pounds. Dig deep may also refer to wallets—geoduck is found infrequently in U.S. restaurants because it is so expensive—most is shipped to China where, after it has been brokered, can cost as much as copy50 per pound on the plate. This high market value is one reason that makes it one of the most closely regulated fisheries in the U.S. and Canada.

Five-year-old Elona Bowyer of Gig Harbor, a bay on Puget Sound, holds a large geoduck. (AP Photo/Peter Haley)
Five-year-old Elona Bowyer of Gig Harbor, a bay on Puget Sound, holds a large geoduck. (AP Photo/Peter Haley)


The Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the State of Washington carefully co-manage the geoduck fishery. At the end of a diving day and before a boat is allowed to leave a fishing tract, the catch must be weighed to account for the harvest. Most of edible part of the geoduck is the siphon, which looks like an elephant trunk and can stretch from three or four feet under the sediment stopping just at the marine floor to feed. Divers find the hidden clam by looking for a bit of siphon sticking above the sediment or a cryptic discoloration in the sand. With a shot of high-pressure water, the diver exposes the siphon and catches the clam by the “neck” before it retracts deeper below the surface.

Marvin Johnson, 29, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, a certified commercial diver, has been a geoducker for the last three years. This work is his calling, his talent and a blessing, he said, because it allows him to support his family. But it is not just the economics—digging has made him spiritually and physically stronger.

“It’s a spiritual experience to be out on the water,” he said, “it’s especially spiritual to go underneath the water. Our ancestors didn’t have the ability to put on a dry suit, it’s something that it new to us—the crabs walking with you, fish swimming around you, you can see God’s beauty down there.”

4. Keeping Pace With the Speedy Razor Clams

Skill and speed—that’s the combination of a successful Quinault Indian Nation razor clam digger. Razor clams, identified by thin, delicate bronze shells, are fast; they can dig at a rate of two feet in less than a minute. Diggers look for telltale hole in the sand, jam a shovel down, and plunge a hand behind the blade to stop the clam from getting away. The Quinaults process the sweet clam meat at the tribally owned processor, Quinault Pride Seafoods, and sell the clams primarily in the Northwest for chowder or steaks. In the U.S., other than Alaska, only the Quinault Indian Nation commercially harvests razor clams for human consumption.

When scouring the beach for razor clams, diggers look for a dimple in the sand left by the clam's siphon; then they dig as fast as possible.
When scouring the beach for razor clams, diggers look for a dimple in the sand left by the clam’s siphon; then they dig as fast as possible.


Gerald Ellis, Quinault Indian Nation, starting digging when he was six years old and remembers traveling with his family to Celilo Falls on the Columbia River to trade tubs of fresh-dug razor clams for spring Chinook salmon. Meeting at Celilo was a way of life for his family as it was for so many coastal and river tribes in the Northwest, who traveled to Celilo Falls to trade, fish and reconnect. That tradition of thousands of years ended in 1957 when the roaring falls were submerged with the completion of the Dalles Dam.

“Celilo Falls was probably the biggest gathering place for all tribes in the nation, there was such an abundance of fish,” Ellis said. At 68, Ellis no longer digs commercially but takes his grandchildren with him to harvest his 100-clam limit, carrying on traditions that have existed from the beginning of time, and creating his own. He smokes and cans razor clams with jalapenos, an “awesome” combination that he doesn’t sell but trades and shares with family and friends.



Fighting Mines in Wisconsin: A Radical New Way to Be Radical

Mary Annette Pember, Indian Country Today Media Network

A brand new tribe is emerging in Northern Wisconsin. Enrollment requirements for the Penokee tribe are stringent, according to Paul DeMain, co-founder of the Penokee Hills Harvest Camp—they require all members prove they are at least 70 percent water.

Water, the element that unifies all human life, is the binding force behind a surprising coalition of people and organizations near the Great Northern Divide in the Penokee Hills. Although many of these people have had opposing philosophies regarding economic development, they are united in their desire to ensure clean water. Public concern over the impact on the water and environment of a proposed 4.5 mile wide open-pit iron ore mine is creating a whole new tribe and new way to protest. The fictitious, allegorical Penokee Tribe effectively includes all human beings since everyone needs water to survive. The Harvest Camp and inclusive nature of other groups protesting the mine underscores this binding fact. More than a simple protest by occupation, the residents and supporters of the camp demonstrate and include visitors in traditional plant gathering and preparation. The goal is to instill awareness of the natural resources of the area and how they would be affected by the mine.

Despite opposition from citizens, tribes and environmentalists, Wisconsin’s Republican-led legislature passed a mining bill in March that substantially changed the state’s mining regulations. The bill, which was created with major input from Gogebic Taconite lobbyists, streamlines the mining permit process and weakens environmental protections as well as the responsibilities of mining companies to surrounding communities for damages to infrastructures or property. Gobegic Taconite (GTAC) is doing exploratory drilling in the Penokee Hills in order to get samples of iron ore to submit to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to gain permission to proceed with the mining process. If approved, GTAC can then proceed with “mini-mining,” a greater sampling process of about 10,000 tons of rock that would be extracted with explosives.

Recently, groups opposing the mine have taken a novel approach to building support and awareness of this issue. Instead of picketing, they began by educating county board members and talking neighbor-to-neighbor about the real human and community costs of such a mine.

Mining has been pitched in the state as job-creator for the economically strapped northern region of the state, notes citizen journalist Barbara With, a resident of Madeline Island. She and several tribal and citizen groups have worked together to steer the public discussion in another direction. “Instead of jobs, jobs, jobs, we’ve gotten people to begin talking about water, water, water,” she explains.

In June 2013, the Ashland County board, closest local governing authority to the proposed mine, voted to create county mining regulations that require mining companies to obtain special use permits and deposit copy00,000 in a county fund to address problems such as noise, dust, damage to public roads, etc. Further, the county requires mining companies to maintain the fund at $50,000, and make additional payments as needed. Formerly, Ashland County had been an ardent support of the mine.

According to With, the change in attitude by board members was the direct result of grassroots education efforts about the real economic, quality of life and environmental impact of the mine. She credits the more inclusive, educational efforts by tribes and advocates in the area with this change. For instance she noted that last year the Bad River Band of Ojibwe began inviting non-reservation residents to their monthly potlucks that are organized to educate and share information about the potential impact of the mine. The Harvest Camp is also welcoming to the public. More than an occupation alone, the Camp residents and supporters work to inform visitors about the potential impact of mining on the natural habitat. They do this by actively including visitors in traditional harvesting and cooking methods.

With did a risk management presentation to the Ashland County board that included factual information about how businesses need to create risk management plans in order to protect themselves. “I personally went from a combative relationship with the board to one of support and looking at ways I could support and educate them,” she says.

In February, the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Band of Wisconsin Ojibwe helped created a unique way to draw public attention to the role the Penokee Hills plays in the health of the region by building a Harvest Camp not far from the proposed mining site. An 1842 treaty guarantees hunting, fishing and harvesting rights on ceded territory in the northern third of the state where the Penokee Hills are located. The site of the Harvest Camp is especially important for Wisconsin’s six Ojibwe bands since the area formerly contained almost 200 Indian allotments in the late 1800s that were stolen from Indians in favor of wealthy investors of the original shaft mining in the area. The camp will be open for hunting, fishing, harvesting (wild rice and maple syrup) and public recreational use as defined by treaty and public laws. The public is invited to pitch tents at the camp, join guided tours to the GTAC sample drilling site and participate in the traditional learn.

Residents of the camp are conducting demonstrations to youth and visitors about sustainable harvesting of plants, animals and medicines and in the process drawing attention to the role that clean water plays in a healthy environment. LCO elder Marvin Gasper told Wisconsin Public Radio WPR, “This is a brand-new way [to protest]. It’s a peaceful manner in which we are using a harvest area and showing what can be taken out of this and be saved.”

According to Demain, the camp is immensely popular, drawing visits from racially and socially diverse people. “Grandmothers, kids, county supervisors, journalists are visiting the camp to learn what is going on here,” he says.

Camp leaders also guide visitors to view GTAC’s exploratory drilling sites.

In describing the tribe’s motivation for supporting the Harvest Camp, its website says, “Any activity, mining or otherwise, that threatens water must be the subject of careful and thorough scrutiny so a healthy decision can be made.”

“The water is sacred to our people and vitally important to the survival of all the people in Northern Wisconsin,” says Gordon Thayer, Lac Courte O’reilles (LCO) tribal chair.

Iron County, partially affected by the mine, is also considering passing mining regulations similar to those of Ashland County. A rally is planned for July 1 in Hurley, Wisconsin to draw attention to a public information meeting held by the Zoning Commission about the proposed regulations. The Zoning Commission will pass their recommendations on to the Iron County board that plan to vote on passage of the regulations as soon as this week.

In the past, many Iron County residents and leaders were staunch supporters of mining, especially for its potential of bringing in new jobs. George Myer, former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources secretary and current executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, recently spoke to citizens in Iron County about the need for county level mining regulations.

He explained that the mine would represent a permanent land use change to the county and that local governments need ordinances to protect the property rights of its citizens and to protect taxpayers from shouldering the short- and long-term costs of a mine not covered by state law.

The public discussion about mining is definitely changing in Northern Wisconsin. On June 21, the Ashland Daily Press reported that Ashland County board chairman Pete Russo who represents the city of Mellen (the closest town to the mining site) said, “There are a lot of people with concerns on impacts [of the mine] on property values. They want guarantees on the water. We need that copy00,000 [from GTAC]. Nobody else will take care of us.”

Such sentiments represent a huge turnaround from 2011, when the board voted unanimously in support of the mine.

GTAC spokesman Bob Seitz told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that such county ordinances were unnecessary and may be impossible to meet since state regulations were already in place. In describing Ashland County’s recently passed mining regulations he said, “What they passed is an open checkbook. There is no limit to what the company would have to pay.”

Frank Kuehn, president of the Penokee Hills Education Project, and others opposed to the mine are skeptical about GTAC’s hints at discontinuing their plans. “I’m not convinced of anything that comes out of GTAC’s mouth. They’ve threatened to leave in the past. At one point they closed their offices but never really left. They may be trying to wait us out.”

In a June 22, 2013 interview with the Cap Times of Madison, With said, “Everybody who thinks this mine is good has been completely hoodwinked, and people in Iron County are waking up to it,” With says. “The tide has really turned up here.”



Tribes across the country are re-examining their constitutions

Drummers shared a laugh during a celebration for Ojibwe language revitalization at the Red Lake Indian Reservation last week. The tribe is exploring rewriting its constitution, to better reflect both its cultural values and modern government.Photo by ANNA REED

Drummers shared a laugh during a celebration for Ojibwe language revitalization at the Red Lake Indian Reservation last week. The tribe is exploring rewriting its constitution, to better reflect both its cultural values and modern government.
Photo by ANNA REED

By Jean Hopfensperger, Star Tribune

Erma Vizenor is not exactly a revolutionary. But like America’s founders, she’s on a mission to ratify a new constitution in her homeland — the White Earth tribal nation.

Most Americans don’t realize that tribes have their own constitutions, which set down rules for everything from tribal government to citizenship. But many were built on models written by the U.S. Department of the Interior nearly 80 years ago.

Times have changed, tribal leaders say. Today many Indian nations are expanding their economies, experimenting with gaming and hoping to include their own cultural touchstones and collective priorities in the document that governs them.

As Minnesotans celebrated Independence Day last week, tribes across the nation were re-examining their own constitutions and looking for ways to recreate them for the 21st century.

“We are governed by the Indian Reorganization Act, written by the federal government in 1934,” said Vizenor, chairwoman at White Earth, the state’s largest tribe. “[Our constitution] doesn’t have an independent judicial system. It doesn’t have separation powers. And there are about 27 references about asking permission from the Secretary of Interior in order to do something.”

A new constitution, Vizenor said, could be the key to attracting new businesses, running clean elections, creating an impartial judiciary — and creating a place where more people want to live, work and invest.

White Earth is the movement’s leader in Minnesota. Its Ojibwe members will vote in September whether to adopt a new constitution. Last week, its constitutional reformers began training hundreds of tribal employees about what’s at stake.

“And the new constitution does not have blood quantum [a requirement that citizens have one-quarter Ojibwe blood],” Vizenor said, “which will ensure that the White Earth nation will continue forever.”

Tribes and U.S. law

About 250 of the 333 tribal constitutions in the United States were based completely or partly on the Indian Reorganization Act, according to David Wilkins, professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t apply to Indian Country because tribes are sovereign nations that existed before the constitution was drafted, he said.

Tribal constitutions determine how tribes govern themselves internally and how they relate to other government entities such as counties and states. Having stronger checks and balances in place can help prevent the favoritism and corruption that has prevented some tribes from prospering, supporters say.

Research has shown that tribes with the most capable governments are more successful economically than others, said Steve Cornell, co-director of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and a professor at the University of Arizona.

That rings true to Vizenor.

“If we have an opportunity for an industry to come to White Earth, and it looks at the tribal courts, they see the courts are directly under the control of the tribal council,” she said. “If the tribal court system is not independent, it will not have any credibility.”

About 60 tribes in the United States and Canada are re-examining their constitutions, Cornell said. In Minnesota, Red Lake tribal leaders have thrown their support behind the concept and the Leech Lake band is exploring it. The Mille Lacs band created a draft constitution in 2010, but is no longer actively pursuing it — underscoring the challenges of priority changes within tribal leadership.

Many tribes are taking guidance from nation-building programs at Harvard University and the University of Arizona, which train hundreds of native leaders in effective governance.

Meanwhile, the Bush Foundation of St. Paul has carved a unique philanthropic niche by offering financial support to the efforts through its “Native Nations Rebuilders Program.” That’s helped put Minnesota on the map, said Cornell.

“I look at Minnesota as one of the places most active in this,” he said.

Red Lake begins

Sam Strong, economic development director at Red Lake, and Justin Beaulieu, Red Lake’s newly hired constitution reform outreach coordinator, are graduates of the Bush program. Last week, they helped launch the first community event to encourage members to think about their constitution.

The setting was an outdoor feast to celebrate Ojibwe language revitalization in the town of Ponemah. Fresh walleye and fry bread were served up, as young men pounded on drums and sang traditional songs. In the middle was a table where celebrants could get copies of the Red Lake constitution and take a survey.

“The key thing is to make sure we’re doing the things people want, to get everyone involved in the process,” said Strong.

People stopped by the table, bent over and filled out the survey, which asked, “What topics do you feel are most important to you and the tribe?” Options included: Jobs. Election Process. Language/cultural preservation. Terms of office for tribal officers. Land/Natural Resources.

Elizabeth E. Kingbird, 79, was among those watching. Asked if she supported reforming the constitution, she responded: “It all depends on what’s inside!”

Williamette Hardy-Morrison had a specific concern, namely whether a new constitution would change the criteria for tribal membership. That’s been one of the most contentious issues at White Earth.

“It’s gonna take a lot of bickering,” said Eugene Stillday, a Red Lake retiree, surveying the scene. “Our constitution is pretty much the same as the other reservations. We want to write our own so it’s applicable here. It’s could take a long time.”

White Earth got started on the process in 1997, after several tribal leaders — including former chair Darrel (Chip) Wadena — were convicted of election fraud and bid-rigging related to the tribe’s casino. When Vizenor was elected tribal chair in 2004, she made constitution reform a priority.

White Earth’s proposed constitution contains the first term limits for tribal leaders and an independent court system. Judges must be graduates of a law school accredited by the American Bar Association, but must also have “knowledge of Anishinaabe [Ojibwe] culture, traditions and history.”

It creates a legislative council, but one advised by a “council of elders.” It contains safeguards guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, such as freedom of religion, speech and press. But it also protects “freedom of artistic irony,” a form of satire used in literature that “may not please some citizens.”

Vizenor hopes good governance will attract and keep younger tribal members, who often leave reservations because, in the absence of clear rules, jobs can hinge on political connections.

In the past, Minnesota tribes interested in reforming their governments often lacked the expertise and finances, said Jaime Pinkham, a vice president at the Bush Foundation. That’s why the foundation stepped in.

Even with funding, however, challenges remain. How do you stir up excitement over a constitution in a place grappling with poverty? How do you get buy-in from folks who stand to lose political privilege? How do you deal with the contentious tribal citizenship issue?

“Change is frightening to people,” said Anton Treuer, executive director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University. “But times are changing, and we need to change with them.”


Quebec rail disaster shines critical light on oil-by-rail boom

By Scott Haggett, Dave Sherwood and Cezary Podkul

(Reuters) – The deadly train derailment in Quebec this weekend is set to bring intense scrutiny to the dramatic growth in North America of shipping crude oil by rail, a century-old practice unexpectedly revived by the surge in shale oil production.

At least five people were killed, and another 40 are missing, after a train carrying 73 tank cars of North Dakota crude rolled driverless down a hill into the heart of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where it derailed and exploded, levelling the town centre.

It was the latest and most deadly in a series of high-profile accidents involving crude oil shipments on North America’s rail network. Oil by rail – at least until now – has widely been expected to continue growing as shale oil output races ahead far faster than new pipelines can be built.

Hauling some 50,000 barrels of crude, the train was one of around 10 such shipments a month now crossing Maine, a route that allows oil producers in North Dakota to get cheaper domestic crude to coastal refiners. Across North America, oil by rail traffic has more than doubled since 2011; in Maine, such shipments were unheard of two years ago.

“The frequency of the number of incidents that have occurred raises legitimate questions that the industry and government need to look at,” said Jim Hall, managing partner of consultants Hall & Associates LLC, and a former chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

“The issue here is: are they expanding too rapidly?” he said. “Are they in a rush to accommodate and to make the economic advantage of carrying these?”


There are many unanswered questions about the Quebec disaster that will likely shape the public and regulatory response, including why a parked freight train suddenly began rolling again, and why carloads of crude oil – a highly flammable but not typically explosive substance – caused such widespread disaster.

“There may have been some vapours, maybe? I don’t know. We don’t know exactly what happened,” Edward A Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, said in an interview on Saturday when asked about why the tankers may have exploded.

Apart from the human toll, the disaster will draw more attention to environmental risks of transporting oil.

Much is at stake: Oil by rail represents a small but important new source of revenue for big operators like Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd (CP.TO: Quote, Profile, Research) and Warren Buffett’s BNSF, which have suffered a drop in coal cargo. It is also a flexible and cheaper option to more expensive European or African crude for refiners like Irving Oil, which confirmed on Sunday that the train was destined for its 300,000 bpd plant in Saint John, New Brunswick.

And for producers like Continental Resources Inc (CLR.N: Quote, Profile, Research) which have pioneered the development of the Bakken fields in North Dakota, railways now carry three-quarters of their production; new pipelines that can accommodate more oil are years away.

Saturday’s train wreck may also play into the rancorous debate over the $5.3 billion Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Midwest, which is hinging on President Barack Obama’s decision later this year.

Obama said last month that approval for the line would ultimately depend on its impact on carbon-dioxide emissions. An earlier draft report from the State Department suggested that rejecting the project would not affect emissions because crude would still be shipped by rail.

As a result, the incident may strengthen the resolve of those opposed to the Keystone pipeline rather than soften resistance. The oil industry at large is already broadly supportive of both rail and pipeline transport.

“Committed critics … could conceivably seize upon the Lac-Megantic incident – in tandem with recent pipeline spills – to argue against oil production, irrespective of its mode of transport,” said Kevin Book, managing director of Research at ClearView Energy Partners.


The railway industry has this year mounted a more robust effort to counter the suggestion that rail is a riskier way to transport crude than pipelines.

The American Association of Railroads has declined to comment on Lac-Megantic, but previously said its spill rate – based on the number of gallons of crude oil spilled versus every million miles of transport per barrel – is less than half that for pipelines.

The AAR also said the number of train accidents involving the release of hazardous material has dropped by 26 percent since 2000, and by 78 percent since 1980.

Since the beginning of the year, U.S. railroads moved nearly 360,000 carloads of crude and refined product, 40 percent more than in 2012, according to the AAR. In Canada, year-to-date traffic is up 24 percent.

With that growth has come a number of high-profile spills and accidents, many on Canadian Pacific Railway’s network, which runs through Alberta, the largest oil exporter to the United States, and the Bakken field.

Canadian Pacific suffered the industry’s first serious spill in late March, when 14 tanker cars derailed near Parkers Prairie, Minnesota, and leaked 15,000 gallons of crude. Regulators have not released the results of their investigation into the incident, and Canadian Pacific declined to comment.

Even before Saturday’s disaster, the practice of shipping oil by rail was stirring opposition in Maine.

“It’s a wake-up call of the worst kind,” said Meaghan LaSala, an organizer with 350 Maine, a group that opposes the hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – technology that makes shale production possible. “They say rail is the safest method, but there simply is no guaranteed way to transport such highly toxic and explosive materials.”


Many observers say it is too soon to say if the Lac-Megantic disaster will quell the crude-by-rail boom. Refiners not connected to the Midwest pipeline network will still use rail to access the cheapest crudes.

“On the face of it this should be a boost for pipeline solutions, especially given the improvements in pipeline technology over the past five decades,” said Ed Morse, managing director of commodity research at Citi Group.

But he and other analysts noted that not every devastating tragedy leads to new policy.

“We need all forms of transportation for oil, whether they’re rail, whether they’re pipeline, and no system is failsafe,” Charles Drevna, president of American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said in a phone interview.

For Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, crude oil shipments are a relatively new phenomenon. With just 510 miles of line, the small railway primarily carried paper and forest products until the financial crisis, and had suffered in the years after until the shale boom came along.

In the first four months of the year, it carried about 16,500 barrels per day (bpd) of crude, 10 times more than a year before and up from zero in early 2011, according to data from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

“In the 10 years or so we’ve been in business, this is the only serious derailment we’ve ever had,” Burkhardt told Reuters in the interview.

Henry Posner III, a former business partner who invested with Burkhardt in a railroad in Estonia, said he could not recall any incidents similar to what happened in Quebec during the 5-1/2 years they were in business together.

“Safety is the most important component of railway culture in North America and that’s one of the things we’re most proud of having exported to Estonia,” said Posner, who chairs Railroad Development Corporation, a Pittsburgh-based company that invests in railroads.

(Reporting by Scott Haggett in Calgary, Alberta, Dave Sherwood in Portland, Maine, and Cezary Podkul in New York; additional reporting by P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago, Jonathan Leff in New York and David Ljunggen in Ottawa; editing by Tiffany Wu and Matthew Lewis)

Leonard Peltier Released Fourth of July Statement

Leonard Peltier – Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians

Leonard Peltier – Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians

Source:  Native News Network

COLEMAN, FLORIDA – Leonard Peltier, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, who has been imprisoned for the past 37 years, issued statement yesterday on the Fourth of July.

Peltier is serving a life sentence in the US Penitentiary in Coleman, Florida. He was accused of the 1975 murders of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He was convicted in 1977.

Peltier is considered to be a political prisoner of war by many American Indians throughout the United States and others worldwide. Through the years, Peltier’s supporters have included the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and Bishop Desmond Tutu, among other prominent names.

The following is Mr. Peltier’s statement:

Greetings My Relatives, Friends and Supporters,

I was told that many of you are staging some vigils and demonstrations of sorts on my behalf and that I should perhaps make a statement.

As always and first of all, I want to say how deeply appreciative I am of your concerns and I am humbled by the efforts that you have taken to keep my case alive. I also want to say and quite honestly, that my case at this point in time really isn’t about me as much as it is about wrongful illegal immoral policies that they practice against our people. And at this juncture of history though these practices were for the most part exercised first on my people they have now crossed over into all peoples, especially the poor. Or anyone that doesn’t have the political or monetary power to combat their system and bring to public awareness the transgressions upon those who can ill afford to defend themselves.

I am not as well read on European American history as I am the history of my own people, but I have some knowledge of it and I find it quite ironic that the first recorded death of a person fighting to throw off the yoke of England on the colonies was a man named Crispus Atticus, who was half black and half Indian.

The two most persecuted races in America today, yet he died that the fledgling government of that time would live. And today in Washington DC he is remembered primarily because of a youth center in a predominately black area of Washington DC. I became aware of that fact when a group of people like yourselves in support of me rode into Washington DC on horses on Earth Day 1990; they camped out at Crispus Atticus Center.

At the time the colonies declared their independence the Europeans had already been here for close to 200 plus years. The diseases that were brought by the Europeans had a death rate among native people of 90 something percent and for a long time the history books were saying that when the pilgrims came this was largely an unoccupied land. There were and estimated one million people in America as portrayed by conventional history books. In more recent times however, discoveries have shown that approx 90 million of our people were lost throughout the Americas as a result of disease and wars with the Europeans.

Pardon me

…if I’m getting into a rant, but that’s what comes to mind when I think about 1776 and the Declaration of Independence, which brings to mind the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. I know the Declaration of Independence declares colonizers independent from England and subsequent treaties they declared to be truthful and binding. The treaties they declared to be binding with my people, which number approximately three hundred and seventy something that were ratified by Congress, have been violated feloniously every day. The subsequent Constitution of the United States that in actuality is a treaty between the American government and the people of America is being violated feloniously every day. It declares a person has a right to a free and impartial trial, by an impartial judge, by an impartial jury and enumerates other values of law that were violated feloniously in my case and have been violated feloniously in many cases. And this is still happening.

Freeing me would not change that policy that has been perpetuated against my people; I am only just living evidence of it. And I am as I say, humbly grateful, that you recognize me as such. Freeing me at this time would bring immeasurable joy to my family, friends and loved ones, but we as a people need to address the issues that put me here and that keeps me here because it affects all of us, not just people in prisons, not just people in Guantanamo that have been there for years that have not been charged or tried but it affects all of us; that’s any of you within the sound of the voice that’s reading this statement. And those who can’t hear it or can’t read it – it affects all of us.

Right now in America we not only have the issues of justice and freedom for all so to speak, but we have the issues of clean water and air for all to breath. And to be free from radiation poisoning, and be free from mercury poisoning and a host of chemicals that I can’t even pronounce, that are being released into our environment by wealthy corporations who seem to care less for the people and only for the almighty dollar. This is so hard to talk about because it is so close to my heart and thoughts that it makes me so highly emotional that it disturbs my train of thought sometimes. I want so much to be free but more than that I want you and my children and my children’s children and all our future generations to be declared free. Free to breathe clean air and drink clean water and eat natural clean foods and walk a clean earth. The Declaration on the Rights for Indigenous People by the UN is meant to protect us and our lands for future generations and help us reclaim justly any of our losses. But I really want to get you to think about this because you are quickly becoming another version of the indigenous peoples because you are next in line to be exploited of whatever resources you have, whether it be your land to extend a pipeline across it, or dig a uranium mine somewhere that pollutes the water tables or the air or the land like they did on the Navajo Reservation and so many other places.

I believe Obama has a good heart and is doing the best he can within the confines of the government. And he has said he supports the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and he has signed it, the world is now united on this issue, but implementation has yet to be seen like so many other DECLARATIONS I was somewhat amused by the play on words when one of my native brothers said they should call the upcoming holiday the Fourth of You Lie. I found it momentarily amusing but in reality we are faced with serious consequences if we do not bring about change that puts us in harmony with the Creator and the Mother Earth and one another, and not just here in America but all over the world. People aren’t blowing themselves up because they want to go to heaven they are blowing themselves up because they want corporations and people to stop exploiting them and their resources.

There was a time in history of America when they outlawed our religion.

They declared in another declaration that we should stop sun dancing that we should stop ghost dancing, they declared that we should stop anything that brought us together. And that was because our people would fight to the death for the belief that living in harmony with the Great Spirit, Mother Earth, our fellow man and respecting our brother’s vision was worth dying for.

Before I made this statement I deeply thought about it and I prayed about it, and thought about it some more, and the main thing I want to do is say something that would make a difference in a positive way. I sincerely hope that you will consider my words and I hope that in a positive way what I said will affect you. I want to encourage you to appreciate one another, love one another and do your best to work together, that we can feel good in the fact that we did the best we could. From my heart to your heart, enjoy your life; enjoy the fact that you can hold the ones you love and see them when you want and declare yourselves independent of anything that would take away from you.

In closing I want to say may the Great Spirit be with you always in all ways.

Mitake Oyasin,
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse
Friends for as long as you will have me,

Leonard Peltier

Navajo Nation declares drought emergency

Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – The nation’s largest American Indian reservation is awash in extreme drought, and that has forced its leaders to declare an emergency.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed the emergency declaration Monday along with a memorandum directing all executive branch agencies to develop plans for responding to the drought and educating the public about its effects.

“We are going to do everything we can to bring our people through this drought. We have many needs, and we are a strong people,” Shelly said in a statement. “Water is precious, and we have to learn how to conserve and change our practices to make sure we prevail through these drought conditions.”

Over the last month, drought on the Navajo Nation – from the tribe’s lands in New Mexico and Arizona to southeastern Utah – has gone from bad to worse. The latest federal drought maps show extreme conditions covering the Four Corners region.

Some areas of the reservation have seen just over one-third of their normal precipitation this year. The soil is dry and wells aren’t producing water like they have in the past, Shelly said.

Making matters worse is summer forecasts are predicting continued high temperatures and below average precipitation for the area. Navajo emergency management officials said that will likely result in lower river flows, which could have negative effects for livestock and municipal wells.

There are about 5,000 stock ponds across the reservation, and officials said as water supplies dwindle, more pressure will be placed on the tribe’s windmills and drinking water wells.

The tribe’s commission on emergency management said drought conditions have already created a critical shortage of water and feed for livestock.

“The land condition will continue to deteriorate and the socio-economic framework of the Navajo Nation will be negatively impacted,” the commission stated. “The livestock owners and farmers will need to plan to protect and preserve their land and their livestock.”

The declaration makes available emergency funds for Navajo communities and clears the way for the tribe to seek a federal disaster declaration.