Interior Dept Rolls Out $1.9 Billion Cobell Settlement Land Buy-Back Program

Native News Network

WASHINGTON – Following extensive consultations with American Indian leaders, the Department of the Interior Tuesday, June 18, made a number of announcements related to the efforts underway for the purchase of fractional interests in American Indian trust lands from willing sellers.

In particular, the Department announced that it has launched efforts to establish cooperative agreements with several tribal nations to facilitate the purchase of individual interests in highly fractionated trust lands for the purpose of consolidating ownership of these acres for the beneficial use of tribal nations.

The Department has also established purchase ceilings to ensure that all qualifying tribes will have the opportunity to participate in the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations. Additional incentives for individual owners to offer their fractionated shares for the benefit of tribal communities also were announced, including minimum payments and Indian scholarship funds.

As part of President Obama’s commitment to help strengthen Indian communities, the Land Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided a $1.9 billion fund to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers, at fair market value, within a 10 year period.

“With a solid foundation built on government to government consultation, the Department is now prepared to begin working with tribal nations so we can proceed with initial offers by the end of this year,”

said David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Interior. Hayes, who chairs the oversight board created to ensure accountability within the Interior Department, emphasized that the goal of the Land Buy-Back Program is to unlock the benefit of fractionated lands for tribal communities.

“We need to be smart about managing the available resources of tribal communities and the federal government, while developing flexible processes for each cooperative agreement,”

he said.

As outlined in the Implementation Plan released in December 2012, Department officials have had extensive consultation with tribes across Indian country over the past several months to determine how to move forward with a process that provides an efficient and fair way for individual owners of fractionated interests to participate in the Land Buy-Back Program, maximizes the opportunity for tribal government involvement, and offers the greatest flexibility for each tribal nation to determine what is best for their community.

Today’s announcements are based on these consultations, which will continue to inform next steps. Department personnel have also been hard at work refining valuation methods, updating title systems, and staffing up appraisal teams to accommodate the significant interest in the program.

Pilot Efforts Underway

Interior holds about 56 million acres in trust or restricted status for American Indians. More than 10 million acres are held for individual American Indians and nearly 46 million acres are held for Indian tribes. The Department holds this land in more than 200,000 tracts, of which about 92,000 (on 150 reservations) contain fractional ownership interests available for purchase by the Land Buy-Back Program.

Approximately 90 percent of the fractionated lands available to purchase are in 40 of the 150 locations.

Following its consultations with tribes, the Department of the Interior has identified key criteria that will determine how and when tribal nations will be engaged over the next several years. The Land Buy-Back Program will move forward based on a number of factors, including the severity of fractionation, degree of ownership overlap between tracts, geographic location to maximize efficiency and resources, appraisal complexity, and readiness or availability of resources.

In particular, the Land Buy-Back Program will ensure that all types of tribal communities are participating in all phases of the program – including tribes that do not have large numbers of fractionated lands. Ensuring this type of tribal diversity in the Land Buy-Back Program was an important and frequently raised issue by tribal nations through consultation sessions, and it will be a key consideration in setting priorities.

Using these criteria, the Department will launch pilot efforts with as many as 10 reservations this year, with the opportunity to make adjustments for lessons learned for future implementation. Land research, valuation work, and outreach efforts are underway at several locations, including the Pine Ridge, Crow, Makah, and Sisseton-Wahpeton reservations.

Cooperative Agreement Development

As tribal communities are identified for implementation, the Department will enter into cooperative agreements that are flexible and responsive to the specific needs of the nation involved. Tribes have the opportunity to actively participate in the process, which will improve the program’s effectiveness and efficiency while minimizing administrative costs. Agreements will allow for resources to be provided to each tribal government to facilitate outreach and education, solicit interest from owners, and further identify tribal priorities.

“This is a program that will not be implemented overnight, but we will be thorough and tailor opportunities for the benefit of each nation,”

said Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

“We must have the flexibility to learn from each buy-back effort and provide transparency for each successive tribe.”

Establishment of Purchase Ceilings and Base Payments

Two key decisions flowing directly from the Department’s nation to nation consultations relate to purchase ceilings and base payments. To ensure that the Land Buy-Back Program will be implemented at as many locations as possible (including less fractionated locations), purchase ceilings will be used to protect against premature exhaustion of funds. Also, the Land Buy-Back Program will provide landowners with a base payment of $75 per offer, regardless of the value of the land, based on estimates for the time and effort required for individual land owners to proceed through the acquisition process and to facilitate sales.

In addition to base payments, the Department discussed the allocation of funds toward Indian educational scholarships as a further incentive for participation. Up to $60 million from sales will be designated for the Cobell Scholarship Fund for American Indians and Alaska Natives. The fund will be controlled by a board of trustees nominated by tribal governments and administered by the American Indian College Fund in Denver, Colorado with 20 percent allotted to the American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Transparency & Availability of Resources

The Department is committed to ongoing consultation with tribal nations and full transparency as it continues to implement the many steps associated with the Land Buy-Back Program, which had been referred to as the Cobell Trust Land Consolidation program.

In addition to future consultations, personnel will hold a workshop prior to remarks by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell at the upcoming National Congress of American Indian’s Mid-Year Conference later this month. The workshop will further discuss the development of cooperative agreements, the ongoing, independent review by the Appraisal Foundation of the Department’s appraisal process, and the pilot efforts and ramp up plans for the acquisition of land at initial locations.

Tribal dispute puts Chukchansi casino at risk of default

Marc Benjamin, The Fresno Bee

The ongoing leadership dispute at the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians has put the tribe at risk of defaulting on its bonds for Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in New York.

A $250.4 million agreement was reached last year when Chukchansi’s economic development authority restructured its financing after the tribe struggled to pay its debts.

But the tribal dispute over who controls the Coarsegold casino’s funds left the development authority unable to make its full May payment.

“The actions of the tribal parties and individual defendants endanger the collateral (casino revenue) and place the financial well-being of the casino in danger,” the suit filed by Wells Fargo Bank said.

The suit is against the tribe, its casino-affiliated corporations and commissions, competing tribal council factions, as well as three financial institutions that hold proceeds from the casino.

Wells Fargo holds the note for casino investors. The Chukchansi Economic Development Authority agreed to a 9.75% interest rate to restructure its debt.

The tribe was supposed to pay off $310 million in loans last year, but couldn’t make the payments. Instead, the tribe arranged an agreement with bondholders to restructure its debt to be due in 2020 and allow a longer-term payback for much of the remaining loan. The previous interest rate was 8%.

Wells Fargo declared itself “an innocent bystander” in the tribal dispute between two factions that contend they represent the tribe — one led by Reggie Lewis and the other by Nancy Ayala.

The bank’s lawyers said Wells Fargo has “done everything it can to resolve the issue consensually, but is left with no choice but to seek the court’s intervention” by filing the suit.

The Ayala group took control of the tribal business complex and casino after a February referendum the Lewis faction contends was unconstitutional.

The Lewis group then took control of a Rabobank account used to pay off casino debt. Rabobank officials didn’t recognize the Ayala group’s leadership and the Ayala group refuses to deposit money into the Rabobank account.

Since the last week of February, “presumably because of the disputes,” the tribe stopped depositing revenues and cash into the Rabobank accounts, which violates the agreement with Wells Fargo and the tribe’s bondholders, the suit said.

The Rabobank account is designed to use proceeds from the casino and make twice yearly bond payments of $11.93 million.

A partial payment was made in May, which constitutes “an event of default,” the lawsuit said.

Wells Fargo lawyers say money was available for the full payment if not for the ongoing factional dispute.

Under its agreement, the tribe is supposed to put casino revenue into the Rabobank account once each week, but can hold out $10 million in cash to run the casino, the suit said.

When the Lewis group gained control of the account, the Ayala faction opened accounts with other banks. Wells Fargo contends those are illegal under its agreement with the tribe.

Rabobank, which is named in the suit, froze its account, leading the Ayala group to move casino revenues in the casino “cage” instead of a bank, the suit contends.

The frozen account has led to employees getting paid in cash or by cash vouchers instead of check or direct deposit, adding security and internal cash concerns, the suit said.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for Chukchansi Economic Development Authority to satisfy the daily cash needs of the casino, including payroll and the amounts required to maintain gaming operations,” the suit said.

Wells Fargo’s lawyers say the bank “takes no position with respect to which faction rightfully should be in control of the tribe and the tribal council,” the suit said. “But that does not change the fact that Chukchansi Economic Development Authority and the tribe have violated their agreements.”

Global Cash Access, which is named in the suit, is a company that reconciles all ATM cash dispensed at the casino. Wells Fargo estimates it holds $14 million in uncashed checks, the suit said.

The Rabobank account is supposed to have a minimum of about $14 million to make the twice yearly payment, tribe officials say. The suit said $10.55 million was in the account when the partial payment was made in May.

Wells Fargo also said the casino could lose its license because checks couldn’t clear through the Rabobank account and the casino was $551,250 in arrears to the California Gambling Control Commission.

Officials with both factions say they agree with the Wells Fargo action.

The Ayala group wants to get the Rabobank account out of the Lewis group’s hands.

“We have been operating the casino and taking care of day-to-day financial concerns,” said David Leibowitz, a spokesman for Ayala’s group. “The Lewis group has successfully sacrificed the biggest asset the tribe has and has ever had.”

But Lewis faction lawyer, Richard Verri, said the Ayala group can put money into the Rabobank account but refuses to because Rabobank recognizes the Lewis group.

“We have been waiting for this and pressuring (Wells Fargo) to get involved,” Verri said. “Now, the Ayala faction will be forced to make the deposits we are calling for.”

Read more here:

Casino Powering Chumash Culture?

Anthropologist Paul H. Gelles Discusses New Book Chumash Renaissance

EYEING THE TRIBE: While working each summer for the tribe from 2003-2005, anthropologist Paul H. Gelles became fascinated with how much casino revenues had boosted the Chumash people’s cultural rebirth; so the Midland teacher spent the next few years researching and writing his academic study of that phenomenon.

EYEING THE TRIBE: While working each summer for the tribe from 2003-2005, anthropologist Paul H. Gelles became fascinated with how much casino revenues had boosted the Chumash people’s cultural rebirth; so the Midland teacher spent the next few years researching and writing his academic study of that phenomenon. Paul Wellman


Thursday, June 20, 2013
By Matt Kettmann (Contact)

After 200 or so years of subjugation, discrimination, and poverty, it only took about a decade for the Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians to completely flip the economic and political tables of Santa Barbara County, where they’re now one of the largest employers, a major philanthropic force, and a lobbying heavyweight. Yet because that rise to prominence came on the back of the Chumash Casino ​— ​a large resort opened in 2004 amid much public outcry on the Chumash reservation at the center of the Santa Ynez Valley ​— ​the success story has never been without controversy. And with plans to annex land across Highway 246 for a cultural center, as well as desires to develop the recently purchased 1,400-acre Camp 4 property into tribal housing, the past, present, and future of the Santa Ynez Chumash will be at the forefront of Santa Barbara politics for years to come.

Against that backdrop comes Chumash Renaissance: Indian Casinos, Education, and Cultural Politics in Rural California, a new book from anthropologist Paul H. Gelles. After studying South American tribes and teaching at UC Riverside for many years, Gelles came to live in the Santa Ynez Valley in 2003 when he was hired by the Chumash as a cultural coordinator for their summer camp. He worked in that capacity for two more summers, and then ​— ​in between teaching classes at Midland School, where he remains a teacher ​— ​Gelles spent the ensuing years researching, writing, and self-publishing this first attempt to show how integral casino revenues have been to saving and restoring traditional Chumash culture.

“Chumash culture was there before the casino, obviously, but the casino revenues have helped the tribe revitalize it and even bring things back,” said Gelles, explaining that, among other triumphs, the Chumash hired a linguist to recover and teach them the old Samala language. “It’s so different from where I worked in Peru, where there was a very strong culture with very little money. Here is a tribe that has financial resources to focus on culture and reclaim what has been taken from them.”

Along with the cultural rebirth has come an educational revolution for the tribe’s 1,200 descendents ​— ​who can tap into college scholarships ​— ​as well as actual political power, too, which Chumash elders wield at local, state, and federal levels in ways that were unimaginable just 20 years ago. “For the 50 million indigenous people from the Americas, probably 98 percent still live in abject poverty and have very little economic or political power,” said Gelles. “It’s not like I love casinos, but the casino tribes are the only indigenous people out of all the Americas that have gained economic and political power.”

While the book looks very favorably on the casino’s impact, Gelles doesn’t give his opinion on future plans, and he agrees that people have a right to oppose development. But he believes that the opposition groups represent a “vocal minority” of mostly “elite, white people” ​— ​many of whom came to the valley in fairly recent times ​— ​and questions their tactics. “What I object to is the way in which they denigrate the tribal members in the process,” said Gelles. “They question authenticity, which is very insulting. It’s very different than what other developments face.”

Gelles believes that’s partly because modern society has trouble reconciling the image of pristine Native Americans with the reality of successful businesspeople. “We like to think of Native Americans as being representative of what we’ve lost as a people,” he said. “We don’t think about the living experience of flesh-and-blood people.” But in his South American research, particularly on a group of Peruvian migrants who traveled regularly between their Andean village and Washington, D.C., Gelles knows that 21st-century success does not wipe out tradition. “What you find are that social mobility and modernity can be compatible with indigenous identity,” he explained.

Gelles mostly hopes his book helps remind his neighbors that they live amid many different kinds of people, not just rich, white ranchers. “I’ve got a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old, and I want them to grow up in a community that respects cultural diversity,” said Gelles. “The public institutions haven’t done a good job of educating people about the diversity that exists in the Santa Ynez Valley. I’m hoping to force a dialogue and discussion about this, and tell what’s largely an untold story.”

Breaking: Occupation launched at Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline in Ontario

Representatives from Six Nations speak to reporters. “Enbridge is operating in our territory without any consultation with us, and that’s outrageous. We’re here for all people and their children – It’s not just native people anymore.” Photo: @AdamCarterCBC

Representatives from Six Nations speak to reporters. “Enbridge is operating in our territory without any consultation with us, and that’s outrageous. We’re here for all people and their children – It’s not just native people anymore.” Photo: @AdamCarterCBC

Swamp Line 9

Canada – As this statement is released, we are digging in and occupying Enbridge’s North Westover Pump Station in the Beverly Swamp. We have done this to stop construction in preparation for the reversal of their Line 9 Pipeline to carry toxic diluted bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands through our communities and watersheds, likely for export.

For the past year, we have organized in our communities across Southern Ontario to raise awareness of Enbridge’s plan to reverse Line 9. Increased awareness quickly lead to concern and to a desire from our communities to at the very least make our voices heard about our opposition to this project. What we found was a rigged game, where the political party most indebted to the oil industry had taken spectacular measures to remove the usual environmental oversights from Line 9 and other pipeline projects. The Line 9 reversal is, from the perspective of the powerful, a foregone conclusion and they have insultingly offered only the most meaningless opportunities for public engagement.

Of course, we understand that even if there had been a full Environmental Assessment, this project would still be going ahead. If anything, the federal government simply had the good courtesy to be honest that they just don’t give a shit what anyone thinks. Although we have few illusions about process, it is very much the case that the removal of the usual process is what has lead to this exceptional step of occupying a construction site. Deprived of all other options for dissent, the move to direct action to stop this reversal is obvious to even the most law-abiding of people. Perhaps we should thank the federal government for removing the usual sham of participation to make it clear that there is no pipeline debate – there is just a pipeline fight.

We are establishing a camp on Enbridge property in the middle of the Beverly Swamp, the largest remaining forested wetland in Southern Ontario. The health of this wetland is crucial to the health of the Spencer Creek, which feeds Cootes Paradise, the beautiful marshland that forms the western end of Lake Ontario. Protecting the water is vitally important — once water is poisoned, it can’t be undone.

This is also stolen Indigenous land and is the traditional territory of the Chonnonton people as well as of the Mississagi Anishinabec and the Onondawaga Haudenosaunee. This pipeline crosses the territories of dozens of Indigenous nations along its route, including the Six Nations of the Grand River who have taken an inspiring lead in building resistance to Line 9. “The whole thing about Line 9 is that it’s going through our territory and Enbride hasn’t consulted us or talked to us at all,” said Missy Elliot of Six Nations. “What’s best for the land is what’s best for our people. We have to protect the land – this isn’t just a side project for us, we have to protect our future. It’s our responsibility.”

If you want to support us, drop by the site! We will be maintaining an info point at the mouth of the North Westover driveway, on Concession 6 W just west of Westover Rd, in Flamborough. We welcome any donations of food, camping supplies, money, or whatever you think would be useful. We also encourage you to come join us, whether just for a few hours or for a few days. We are calling for our supporters to rally in the public park across the street from us on Concession 6 at 11am tomorrow morning, that’s Friday June 21, to show support for the occupation and to call for the Line 9 reversal to be cancelled.

Recipe ideas to make the most of what’s in season

Spectacular strawberries are easy to find right now.

Spectacular strawberries are easy to find right now.

Katie Mayer, The Herald

This is the best time of the year to eat. Farmers markets are in full swing and grocery stores are overflowing with the bounty of summer.

Here’s a selection of what’s in season right now (mostly what I’ve spotted at the farmers market) and a bunch of recipes to help you make the most of it.

Strawberries and rhubarb
I can’t say enough about the superiority of sweet, tender Northwest strawberries. Only peaches taste more like summer to me. Unable to resist buying more berries than one person can reasonably eat, I used up the excess in strawberry lemonade bars and strawberry rhubarb bread (both of which were quickly consumed when I brought them to the office). Now I’m eyeing some ideas from columnist Jan Roberts-Dominguez, such as strawberry mousse, berries with Grand Marnier and cream, and these two rhubarb desserts.

Lettuce and other greens
Yeah, yeah, I know. Lettuce. Could I have chosen anything more mundane? But I beg you: if you haven’t yet, give farmers-market lettuce a chance. There is nothing mundane about it. Fresh-picked butter lettuce, for instance, is crisp, delicate and slightly sweet, and it makes an altogether more delicious salad than the green-leaf lettuce you get in the middle of winter. I like to toss it with chopped hazelnuts, sliced strawberries or grapes, chunks of goat cheese and a simple dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a quick lunch. If you prefer something heartier, check out this recipe for fennel-cumin steak salad, or this grilled steak and spring vegetable salad, which stars arugula and asparagus. And to make salad-making of all kinds easier, consider these tips for storing and prepping lettuce.

Peas and young onions
Since I’m basically a human vacuum where sugar snap peas are concerned, eating them raw as quickly as I can shell them, I never cook with them. But both sugar snaps and English shelling peas are abundant at the moment, and if you have more self-control than I do, 101 Cookbooks’ recipes for peas with butter and crostini with pea puree might be right up your alley.

Both peas and the young onions would also be good in another of my favorite quick meals, perfect all summer long: a noodle bowl with chopped vegetables.

Thinly slice your favorite crunchy vegetables, such as peppers, cabbage, broccoli, or carrots (lettuce is good in this, too, if you cool the noodles first). Cook a handful of long noodles, such as vermicelli, udon, rice or soba. Mix 2 tablespoons sesame oil, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1/2 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 tsp honey and a dash of chili oil or hot sauce (this sauce is to my taste, so if it’s not to yours, experiment with different ingredients or proportions). When the noodles are done, toss them with the vegetables and sauce, and then consume with gusto. Shimp or chicken are good additions if you want more protein. For a noodle meal with less chopping, try Nigella Lawson’s soba noodles with sesame seeds.

Steve Gobin: Retiring after a lifetime of service

Tulalip Quil Ceda Village General Manager Steve Gobin speaks at his last Quil Ceda Village Council Meeting. Steve is retiring July 1st, to enjoy life with his family and especially his grandchildren. Steve Gobin

Tulalip Quil Ceda Village General Manager Steve Gobin speaks at his last Quil Ceda Village Council Meeting. Steve is retiring July 1st, to enjoy life with his family and especially his grandchildren. Photo by Niki Cleary

Niki Cleary, TulalipNews

At 62, short, grey and balding, Steve Gobin is not an imposing figure. He is humble, quiet, enjoys fly fishing and is devoted to his family. But ask him to talk about his tribe, economic development, sustainability, health care or any number of subjects connected to the wellbeing and longevity of his tribe, spark his passion, and Steve goes from mild mannered grandpa to razor sharp advocate in an instant.

After more than two decades of service for his tribe, Steve, General Manager of Tulalip’s Quil Ceda Village, is retiring. His career included labor in fisheries and forestry, 20 years of healthcare experience, work lobbying for expanded CHS (Contract Health Services) programs and funds, a stint in Governmental Affairs and finally his last two jobs, Deputy General Manager and General Manager of Quil Ceda Village. During his lifetime, he’s seen vast changes on the reservation, and he’s been a catalyst for some of them.

“I was born and raised here,” said Steve. “I think the tribe has gone through a lot of different personalities, but the leadership vision for the tribe has stayed consistent through those years. There’s still that consistency in the board today and I think that’s what kept us moving forward step after step after step.”

The tribe’s current prosperity is relatively new. Steve reminisced about his childhood.

“When I was a boy, we cut shakes for $3.00 a day, and we were happy to have the $3.00,” he explained. “We lived on a few thousand dollars a year. We lived on commodities, hunting and fishing. The priorities were making the family whole and feeding everybody.

“A lot of times I didn’t start school in the fall, I had to work and take care of my family,” Steve recalled. “My dad used to fish in Alaska, he used to start in June and go to November, so I got out of school early and started late. But I didn’t know I was poor.”

In his youth, Steve said, unemployment was about 80%. Then in the 1990s Tulalip built a bingo hall.

“The tribe didn’t even have an office until around 1965, and I think we had two or three employees, my mom was one of the employees they hired,” he said. “People didn’t fit in on the outside. There was no place for them to make money, the whole reservation economy was non-existent.”

Although there is always room for growth, Steve is grateful and astonished at what has been accomplished during his lifetime.

“It may seem to a lot of people that we don’t get paid enough, but look at what the tribe has given us, just in the last 20 years. It amazes me,” Steve described a few of the programs now provided. “We’ve funded healthcare, pharmaceuticals, mental health and drug and alcohol programs to help us overcome 200 years of poverty. We have money to pay per-capita payments to our people.

“No one needs to be starving or without a job. This is not the world that I knew growing up. It’s hard for me to look at my kids, even though I wanted them to have what I didn’t, and know they didn’t have the opportunity to experience living on the beach for food and to stay alive. Some of the bonding we did as a family and as a reservation, that really made us strong and we need to find a way to bring that back to our community.”

While some see addiction and social disorder as the pitfalls of prosperity, Steve says those dangers always existed. But now we have a chance to shape our future.

“The killer drug in 1970 was Rainier Beer,” he said. “Today it’s meth and heroin. But the things that stem from addiction are the same; child abuse, not feeling safe in the home, they’re the same now as then, but now there are more of us and it costs more to deal with it.

“But, with economic development,” Steve continued, “I think we have an opportunity to change the past and create a new vision for the future. Where kids don’t have to be hurt and people don’t have to go through those things. We can bring back some of that community pride to the tribe.

“A lot of what we’ve put into the ground, past Board of Directors, John McCoy, I can see it’s a future here, a future for my kids and grandkids and their kids. We’re building a sustainable economy so that our children don’t have to deal with the economic issues that we had. We’re the second largest employer in Snohomish County now. It’s been rewarding to be here.”

Right now, Steve can’t quite envision what the tribe will look like in a hundred years or more. But, family and culture, he described, have to be part of the future.

“I grew up and raised my family with the assumption that the reservation would always be a cultural center for our people,” he said. “But the sheer growth and population over the next 50 to 100 years is going to take that natural resource away from us. We’re going to have to find another way to be culturally connected to our past without fishing, hunting and the things that are the core of who we are. It’s going to be a challenge for our future leaders to take what’s best of the past and bring it forward to make a place for our people.”

Asked what teaching he’d like to leave for future generations, Steve said, “Take pride in yourself, work for your tribe’s future and the rewards that you will get will be enriching and last forever.”

Steve’s last day is July 1st. Like all of our leaders, I have no doubts that for the rest of his days, Steve will be looking out for the tribe and teaching future leaders what it means to be Tulalip. Happy retirement, Steve.

Poarch Creek Student Not Required to Pay Fine, Receives Diploma

Vince Schilling, Indian Country Today Media Network

After nearly a month of not knowing her fate, Chelsey Ramer, of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, and her family have been informed by Escambia Academy officials that she would not have to pay a copy,000 fine for wearing an eagle feather on her cap during her graduation ceremony in May. (Related story: “Poarch Creek Student Fined for Wearing Eagle Feather at Graduation)

Escambia interim headmaster David Walker was not able to comment with any specific details about the matter, but he did confirm that Ramer would receive her diploma and would not pay the copy,000 fine.

“The young lady has her diploma; she received it yesterday. She did not have to pay a fine,” said Walker. “The decision was made before graduation. Chelsey has done everything she needed to do to fulfill her graduation requirement.”

Even if Ramer had been made to pay the fine, enough money was raised by an online campaign to cover the cost, so the family wouldn’t have to pay it. The “Chelsey Ramer can’t graduate because she is proud to be Native American” campaign was started by Dan Morrison, communications director at First Peoples Worldwide, and has raised copy,127 that will now go to Chelsey’s education. (Related story: “Poarch Creek Student’s Fine Raised By Online Donations)

Walker said the Escambia Academy board would be releasing a statement this week to the local news.

The Ramer family says they are pleased with the decision and do not wish to release a formal statement until the school releases their comments.



Senate Unanimously Approves a Tribal Amendment to Immigration Reform

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)

Vince Schilling, Indian Country Today Media Network

On June 18 the Senate voted unanimously (94-0) to approve a tribal amendment to the S.744 Immigration reform bill that will add four tribal government officials to the Border Oversight Task Force that was established originally in the bill.

This amendment was offered by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and cosponsored by senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Begich (D-AK), Patty Murray (D-WA), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Border Task Force established in S. 744 which included representatives from local government and law enforcement, civil rights groups, business, private land owners and the Border Patrol, will now have input from tribal representatives from the Northern and Southern regions.

When introduced for a vote on the Senate floor, Sen. Tester lauded the potential contributions of tribal representatives toward the security of our countries borders.

“This amendment will include tribal representatives from the DHS Border Task Force. In this country, within 100 miles of the border we have 13 Indian reservations, some of them right on the border. If we really want to make sure our borders are secure on the North and the South, Indians need to be part of this conversation, our Native American friends.

“They have a unique government-to-government status and their input is critically important this amendment will not cost anything, it has bipartisan support and it will add to tribal representatives, two in the north and two in the southern region,” Tester said.

According to information provided to Indian Country Today Media Network by Tester’s administrators, the amendment would improve border security by improving coordination and communication between DHS and border tribes and by including tribal leaders on the DHS Oversight Task Force responsible for solving problems related to border security.

They also added that, “Indian lands are often desolate and remote, tribal law enforcement resources are spread thin; and communication is poor. In recent years, Indian Affairs Committee hearings revealed that a rising number of smugglers and illegal immigrants have taken advantage of these factors to travel – virtually unnoticed – into the U.S.”

In a recent report, GAO said, “… coordination challenges with tribes have affected the Border Patrol’s ability to patrol and monitor the border so as to prevent and detect illegal immigration and smuggling. Border Patrol officials … reported coordination challenges related to understanding and collaborating with tribes within tribal government rules. Specifically, officials … reported coordination challenges related to tribal government rules that hindered law enforcement in working together to secure the border.”

In a comment to ICTMN via e-mail, Tester voiced his thoughts as to the importance of an Indian voice in the DHS as well as expressing his appreciation for the unanimous support of the amendment.

“As we improve border security, we have a responsibility to make sure that those who live closest to the border have a voice in the process. With 13 Indian Reservations around the country within 100 miles of the border,” said Tester. “My common-sense amendment makes sure that American Indians have a seat at the table, and I’m pleased it passed with unanimous support.”

During today’s airing of the vote on c-span, ICTMN heard one unnamed Senator exclaim, “It’s a good day for Indians.”