Tribal leaders welcome Holder’s plan to increase voting access for Indians, Alaska Natives

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder delivers his keynote address at a tribal conference on the campus of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, N.D., on Thursday. Holder announced Monday he is recommending ways to increase voting access for Native Americans and Alaska Natives. (Photo: AP Photo/Kevin Cederstrom )

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder delivers his keynote address at a tribal conference on the campus of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, N.D., on Thursday. Holder announced Monday he is recommending ways to increase voting access for Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
(Photo: AP Photo/Kevin Cederstrom )

 

 

By RACHEL D’ORO, Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday his office will consult with tribes across the country to develop ways to increase voting access for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Holder said the goal is to require state and local election officials to place at least one polling site in a location chosen by tribal governments in parts of the nation that include tribal lands. Barriers to voting, he said, include English-only ballots and inaccessible polling places.

In Alaska, for example, the village of Kasigluk is separated into two parts by a river with no bridge. On election day, people on one side have just a few hours to vote before a ballot machine is taken by boat to the other side.

In Montana, a voting rights lawsuit is pending from tribal members on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations. They want county officials to set up satellite voting offices to make up for the long distances they must travel to reach courthouses for early voting or late registration.

“These conditions are not only unacceptable, they’re outrageous,” Holder said. “As a nation, we cannot — and we will not — simply stand by as the voices of Native Americans are shut out of the democratic process.”

After consulting with tribal leaders, his office will seek to work with Congress on a potential legislative proposal, Holder said.

Associate Attorney General Tony West discussed the announcement later Monday in Anchorage, during a speech to the National Congress of American Indians.

Despite reforms to strengthen voting rights, there also have been setbacks, West told the crowd. He cited last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of Shelby County, Alabama.

The decision effectively stripped the federal government of its most potent tool to stop voting bias — a requirement in the landmark Voting Rights Act that all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting, mainly in the South but also Alaska, get Washington’s approval before changing the way they hold elections. Now, changes do not have to be submitted, and it is up to the U.S. Justice Department or others who sue to prove changes are discriminatory.

West also pointed to a Justice Department court filing last week that sided with plaintiffs in a voting rights lawsuit filed by several Alaska villages. The lawsuit alleges the state has failed to provide accurate, complete translations of voting materials into Alaska Native languages.

The Justice Department also intervened earlier this year in response to a plan by Cibola County, New Mexico, to eliminate voting-rights coordinators.

Remote geography and the inability to speak English do not free Americans from the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship, West said. Neither should they “impede the rights to which we are all entitled,” he said.

American Indian and Alaska Native leaders attending the conference welcomed the announcement.

“I think anything that involves tribes and tribal authority is extremely important,” said Dr. Ted Mala, director of traditional healing at the Alaska Native Medical Center and director of tribal relations for an Anchorage-based tribal health services organization.

He said tribes have had more opportunities for such consultations with the federal government under the Obama administration.

“We even meet with the president once a year, and it’s a wonderful thing,” Mala said.

Carol Schurz is a councilwoman for the Gila River Indian Community in Sacaton, Arizona. She said the community organizes its own elections and consults with state officials on state and federal elections.

Schurz encourages voter registration and said the Justice Department proposal would be well-received. She said it could empower indigenous voters “if we have the opportunity to get all our people engaged.”

Alaska Natives and First Nations Unite to Fight Mining Threat to Salmon Habitat

Tongass Conservation SocietyThe headwaters of the Unuk River, where a company called KSM wants to build a humongous open-pit mine for cold, copper and other metals.

Tongass Conservation Society
The headwaters of the Unuk River, where a company called KSM wants to build a humongous open-pit mine for cold, copper and other metals.

 

Paula Dobbyn, Indian Country Today

 

It has become an all-too-familiar story: Pristine waters. Salmon habitat. Sacred significance. Mining.

The Unuk River watershed, straddling the border between British Columbia and Alaska, is on track to become ground zero in a struggle to stop the world’s largest open-pit mine, Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM). The fight against it is uniting First Nations and Alaska Natives as they battle to preserve stewardship of the pristine region. And it is just one of five massive projects proposed for the region.

If KSM secures the financing and the regulatory go-ahead, the giant mine would turn 6,500 acres of pristine land into an industrial zone that would generate more than 10 billion pounds of copper and 38 million ounces of gold, according to a project summary. As with any large mine, it would employ a hefty workforce—in this case mostly Canadians—and create taxes and royalty payments for Canada. But it would also produce a slew of waste. And that’s what critics say downstream Alaska communities stand to take on: none of the economic benefits but much of the environmental risk.

With its remote headwaters in British Columbia, the Unuk River is one of the world’s most prolific salmon waters. An international river, the Unuk flows into neighboring Southeast Alaska and its temperate rainforest, the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, a place of towering coastal mountains, tidewater glaciers and fog-shrouded islands. The Unuk empties into Misty Fjords National Monument, an attraction for cruise ship passengers viewing glaciers, bears and whales that dot Alaska’s Inside Passage. The Unuk, known as Joonáx̱ in Tlingit, supports large runs of king salmon, a cultural icon prized by commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen alike.

“The consequences for salmon runs on both sides of the border could be devastating, yet Alaskans would see none of the economic benefit,” wrote National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Michael Fay in a 2011 letter to British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, signed by nearly 40 other scientists.

Seabridge Gold, the mine developer, expects KSM to generate more than two billion tons of acidic waste rock called tailings, a byproduct of the mining process than can be lethal to fish. The tailings would be held behind two huge dams—each taller than the Hoover dam—built in the headwaters of the Nass River, one of British Columbia’s most important salmon rivers.

Because KSM is located in sensitive fish habitat, it has raised the ire of Southeast Alaska tribes, fishermen and some Canadian First Nations. They joined forces in early April, forming a cross-border working group to develop a unified strategy to protect their interests.

It’s not just KSM that worries them. KSM is one of more than a dozen mines planned for northern B.C., including five located in salmon-bearing watersheds that arise in Canada and drain into Alaska. The British Columbia government is encouraging the mines’ development, offering tax breaks and relaxed environmental rules. Also spurring development is the construction of a new power line extending electricity into the northwest corner of the province, bordering Alaska. The transboundary projects include Red Chris, Schaft Creek, Galore Creek and Tulsequah Chief. The international rivers they could affect are the Taku, Stikine and Unuk, some of Southeast Alaska’s top salmon rivers.

“These projects could not be in a worse location. Salmon is our traditional food. If anything happens to them, we would be in a world of hurt,” said Ketchikan fisherman and tribal leader Rob Sanderson Jr.

Fishing, seafood processing and tourism are key economic drivers in Southeast Alaska. The seafood industry produced $641 million worth of fish in 2011, which created 17,500 jobs and $468 million in wages. A million visitors tour the area every year, spending about copy billion.

Tribes have passed numerous resolutions of concern about how KSM and the other transboundary mines could potentially contaminate the region, including their traditional fishing grounds. Recently a delegation of tribal leaders and fishermen flew to Washington, D.C.  to lobby for State Department intervention. They delivered a letter signed by 40 businesses, groups and individuals asking for help.

Alaska’s congressional delegation got the message. Shortly after the Alaskans flew home, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, along with Congressman Don Young, contacted the office of Secretary of State John Kerry by letter asking him to get involved to protect Alaska’s interests. Because the mines are located in Canada, Alaska tribes feel they have less influence over the outcome than if they were on U.S. soil.

“It’s happening in a foreign country. We don’t have a lot of control over it,” said Sanderson. “They don’t even have to consult with Alaska tribes.”

The U.S. Environmental Protect Agency has raised issues regarding the KSM project, mirroring the tribes’ concerns. The U.S Interior Department has urged Seabridge Gold to consult with Alaska tribes regarding fishing and clean water.

Recently Seabridge sent its vice president for environmental affairs to Alaska to participate in a tribal meeting on Prince of Wales Island near Ketchikan regarding KSM. Seabridge’s Brent Murphy told the Juneau Empire that “the overwhelming design philosophy for the KSM project is the protection of downstream environments and that is ensuring protection also for Alaskans.”

On its website, Seabridge notes that KSM has undergone extensive review by environmental and technical experts over the past five years to see that salmon and other wild resources are protected.

But Seabridge’s assurances have done little to allay skepticism on the U.S. side. Since the meeting on Prince of Wales in late March, the newly elected president of Alaska’s largest tribe, the Juneau-based Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, has elevated the matter.

“This is a direct threat to the lifestyle and culture of our tribes’ 29,000-plus members,” said Richard Peterson, tribal president.

At Peterson’s urging, the Central Council adopted a resolution giving Southeast Alaska’s 19 federally recognized tribes the green light to work with First Nations to try to slow the development of the transboundary mines.

“We need a collective call to arms,” said Peterson.

Not all B.C. First Nations oppose the KSM mine or the other transboundary projects. The Gitxsan and Nisga’a Nations support the mine’s development. But others, including the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs, who live downstream from where the KSM waste facility would be located, are opposed.

“Nass River fish are critical for the food security of the Gitanyow,” said Kevin Koch, a fish and wildlife biologist with Gitanyow Fisheries Authority. “KSM poses a major threat to the Gitanyow way of life.”

Koch noted that the Gitanyow have constitutionally protected aboriginal rights to fish in the Nass. Seabridge maintains that any ill effects from mine waste on Nass River salmon would be minimal.

Peterson is unconvinced.

“I think John Kerry should be sitting in my office talking to me right now,” he said. “We need face-to-face consultation on this. We’re a sovereign nation.”

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/05/02/tribes-and-first-nations-unite-halt-bc-mine-threatens-salmon-habitat-154681?page=0%2C0

Interior Department rule would set aside ‘Indian country’ lands in Alaska

 

By RICHARD MAUER

rmauer@adn.comApril 30, 2014

The Interior Department announced Wednesday it will consider taking Alaska tribal land into trust, a move that could lead to pockets of “Indian country” in the state where tribal governments and courts would have authority to create their own laws and justice systems.

The move is opposed by the state, which has said that Indian country exists only on the state’s sole reservation, Metlakatla, in Southeast. Alaska Native tribes, supported by nonprofit law firms, said the Interior Department should have been taking land into trust years ago and had sued in federal court to affirm that belief.

A judge in Washington, D.C., agreed last year. The state has appealed to the D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but the Interior Department acted on the ruling by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras.

The Interior Department is opening a 60-day comment period on the proposal.

“Everyone’s going to weigh in,” said Matthew Newman, an Anchorage attorney with the Native American Rights Fund. He expects the state, the Alaska Federation of Natives, Alaska Native corporations and tribes to submit comments, among others. Based on comments, Newman said, it’s possible the proposed rule won’t be adopted.

“I would not be bold enough to say it’s a sure thing,” Newman said. But even if the regulation is adopted, it would only authorize the Interior Department to accept applications for trust status. Approvals could take a long time and are not guaranteed, he said.

“We’re years away from a particular parcel being placed into trust status,” Newman said.

Acceptance of Indian country in Alaska was a key recommendation last year of the Indian Law and Order Commission, a bipartisan presidential and congressional task force. The commission attributed high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in rural Alaska to the state’s top-down, centralized law enforcement and judicial systems. It recommended that tribes get increased authority to create their own local laws and to enforce them in tribal courts.

“Recent blue ribbon commissions have emphasized the need for the (Interior) Department to be able to take land into trust in Alaska,” the Interior Department said in announcing the proposed rule. “The basic thrust of the Indian Law and Order Commission’s recommendation is that the state of public safety for Alaska Natives, especially for Native women who suffer high rates of domestic abuse, sexual violence and other offenses, is unacceptable; providing trust lands in Alaska in appropriate circumstances would provide additional authority for Native governments to be better partners with the State of Alaska to address these problems.”

The rule barring the Interior Department from taking Alaska tribal lands into trust dates back to 1980, when the program was created for Native Americans in the Lower 48. It is one of several “Alaska exceptions” on the books denying Alaska Natives the same rights as Indians in the Lower 48 and in part is the legacy of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Four village tribes sued in 2006 to overturn the rule — Akiachak and Tuluksak in the Kuskokwim River region, the Chilkoot Tribe in Haines and Chalkyitsik in Northwestern Alaska. They argued that the rule discriminated against Alaska Natives, and cited laws going back to the treaty under which Russia ceded Alaska to the United States that guaranteed land rights to the aboriginal people.

Newman said that if the new Interior rule is adopted and the department begins to take Native lands into trust, it would affirm the notion that Indian country exists in Alaska.

“It’s the embodiment of what Indian country is — geography upon which a tribe exerts its sovereign authority,” he said.

In a prepared statement, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said Wednesday he had been urging the Department of the Interior to accept trust applications from Alaska Natives.

“In my view, DOI’s actions today are an important step to ensure Alaska tribes are self-determined and can adequately address public safety, economic development, and other priorities on tribal lands,” Begich said.

Reach Richard Mauer at rmauer@adn.com or (907) 500-7388.

Tulalip TV program explores diabetes in first Tulalip Health Watch episode

Tulalip-Health-Watch-4

Tulalip TV’s Tulalip Health Watch will air this summer and will focus on health issues Native Americans face today.
Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

TULALIP, WA – Tulalip TV viewers will soon be able to watch a new informational program called “Tulalip Health Watch,” which focuses on health issues Native Americans face today.

In the program’s first episode, “Diabetes,” the disease is examined through interviews with health professionals at the Tulalip Karen I. Fryberg Health Clinic. Viewers will learn the fundamental characteristics of diabetes, along with resources available for testing, prevention, and treatment.

Diabetes affects 57 million Americans, and only 8.3 percent are diagnosed. But more shocking are the epidemic proportions of diabetes in Indian Country with 16.2 percent Native Americans and Alaska Natives diagnosed.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Indian Health Service, Native Americans are at a 2.2 times higher risk than their non-Indian counterparts. Between 1994 and 2004 there was a 68 percent increase in diabetes diagnosis in American Indian and Alaska Native youth, aged 15-19 years old.

In “Diabetes,” viewers will learn how a poor diet, lack of regular exercise, and a genetic pre-disposition are the leading contributing factors for 95 percent of American Indians and Alaska Native with Type 2 diabetes, and 30 percent with THW---Diabetes-BryanCooper-2pre-diabetes.

Viewers will also learn how clinic staff incorporates Tulalip culture and traditions into programs available at the clinic for diabetes education, prevention, and management.

“The providers that we have here are great. The Tribe is putting money into this clinic and our goal is to be here with an open mind and heart, and to be a partner here for them regarding their health needs. We have a collaborative team here that you don’t see at other clinics,” said Bryan Cooper, Tulalip Karen I. Fryberg Health Clinic Nurse Practitioner in “Diabetes.”

“Tulalip Health Watch,” will air this summer. Future episodes will explore heart disease, obesity, and other health issues Native Americans face.

You can watch “Tulalip Health Watch” on Tulalip TV at www.tulaliptv.com or on channel 99 on Tulalip Cable.

 

Brandi N. Montreuil: 360-913-5402; bmontreuil@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov

Advocates vow to revive Navajo junk-food tax

By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – Facing a high prevalence of diabetes, many American Indian tribes are returning to their roots with community and home gardens, cooking classes that incorporate traditional foods, and running programs to encourage healthy lifestyles.

The latest effort on the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest reservation, is to use the tax system to spur people to ditch junk food.

A proposed 2 percent sales tax on chips, cookies and sodas failed Tuesday in a Tribal Council vote. But the measure still has widespread support, and advocates plan to revive it, with the hope of making the tribe one of the first governments to enact a junk-food tax.

Elected officials across the U.S. have taken aim at sugary drinks with proposed bans, size limits, tax hikes and warning labels, though their efforts have not gained widespread traction. In Mexico, lawmakers approved a junk food tax and a tax on soft drinks last year as part of that government’s campaign to fight obesity.

Navajo President Ben Shelly earlier this year vetoed measures to establish a junk-food tax and eliminate the tax on fresh fruit and vegetables. At Tuesday’s meeting, tribal lawmakers overturned the veto on the tax cut, but a vote to secure the junk-food tax fell short. Lawmakers voted 13-7 in favor of it, but the tax needed 16 votes to pass.

The Dine Community Advocacy Alliance, which led the effort, said it plans to revise the proposal and bring it before lawmakers again during the summer legislative session.

“We’re going to keep moving on it,’’ group member Gloria Begay said. “It’s not so much the tax money – it’s the message. The message being, ‘Let’s look at our health and make healthier choices.’ We have to go out and do more education awareness.’’

Shelly said he supports the proposal’s intent but questioned how the higher tax on snacks high in fat, sugar and salt would be enacted and regulated. Supporters say the tax is another tool in their fight for the health of the people.

“If we can encourage our people to make healthier choices and work on the prevention side, we increase the life span of our children, we improve their quality of life,’’ said professional golfer Notah Begay III, who is among supporters.

American Indians and Alaska Natives as a whole have the highest age-adjusted prevalence of diabetes among U.S. racial and ethnic groups, according to the American Diabetes Association. They are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to have the disease that was the fourth leading cause of death in the Navajo area from 2003 to 2005, according to the Indian Health Service.

Native children ages 10 to 19 are nine times as likely to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the IHS said.

The proposed Navajo Nation tax wouldn’t have added significantly to the price of junk food, but buying food on the reservation presents obstacles that don’t exist in most of urban America. The reservation is a vast 27,000 square miles with few grocery stores and a population with an unemployment rate of around 50 percent. Thousands of people live without electricity and have no way of storing perishable food items for too long.

“They have a tendency to purchase what’s available, and it’s not always the best food,’’ said Leslie Wheelock, director of tribal relations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Wheelock said the diabetes issue in tribal communities is one that has been overlooked in the past or not taken as seriously as it could be. It has roots in the federal government taking over American Indian lands and introducing food that tribal members weren’t used to, she said.

To help remedy that, the USDA runs a program that distributes nutritional food to 276 tribes. Grants from the agency have gone toward gardening lessons for children within the Seneca Nation of Indians in New York, culturally relevant exercise programs for the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota and food demonstrations using fresh fruit and vegetables on the Zuni reservations in New Mexico.

The Dine Community Advocacy Alliance estimated a junk-food tax would result in at least $1 million a year in revenue that could go toward wellness centers, community parks, walking trails and picnic grounds in Navajo communities in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. It would have expired at the end of 2018.

No other sales tax on the Navajo Nation specifically targets the spending habits of consumers. Alcohol is sold in a few places on the reservation but isn’t taxed. Retailers and distributors pay a tobacco tax.

Opponents of the junk food tax argued it would burden customers and drive revenue off the reservation. Mike Gardner, executive director of the Arizona Beverage Association, said the lack of specifics in the legislation as to what exactly would be taxed could mean fruit juice and nutritional shakes could be lumped in the same category as sodas.

“I don’t think they mean that, but that’s what will happen,’’ Gardner said. “It’s a little loose, a little vague. It’s going to create problems for retailers and … it doesn’t solve the problem.’’

American Indian and Alaska Native death rates nearly 50 percent greater than those of non-Hispanic whites

A patient gets more information about a colonoscopy from his provider at the Alaska Native Medical Center.Photo is courtesy of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

A patient gets more information about a colonoscopy from his provider at the Alaska Native Medical Center.
Photo is courtesy of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

 

Source: CDC Media Relations, April 22, 2014

 

Death records show that American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) death rates for both men and women combined were nearly 50 percent greater than rates among non-Hispanic whites during 1999-2009. The new findings were announced through a series of CDC reports released online today by the American Journal of Public Health.
 
Correct reporting of AI/AN death rates has been a persistent challenge for public health experts. Previous studies showed that nearly 30 percent of AI/AN persons who identify themselves as AI/AN when living are classified as another race at the time of death.
 
“Accurate classification of race and ethnicity is extremely important to addressing the public health challenges in our nation, said Ursula Bauer, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.  “We must use this new information to implement interventions and create changes that will reduce and eliminate the persistent inequalities in health status and health care among American Indians and Alaska Natives.”
 
CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control led the project and collaborated with CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics and other CDC researchers, the Indian Health Service, partners from tribal groups, universities, and state health departments.
 
Key findings:
·       Among AI/AN people, cancer is the leading cause of death followed by heart disease. Among other races, it is the opposite.
·       Death rates from lung cancer have shown little improvement in AI/AN populations. AI/AN people have the highest prevalence of tobacco use of any population in the United States.
·       Deaths from injuries were higher among AI/AN people compared to non-Hispanic whites.
·       Suicide rates were nearly 50 percent higher for AI/AN people compared to non-Hispanic whites, and more frequent among AI/AN males and persons younger than age 25.
·       Death rates from motor vehicle crashes, poisoning, and falls were two times higher among AI/AN people than for non-Hispanic whites. 
·       Death rates were higher among AI/AN infants compared to non-Hispanic whites infants. Sudden infant death syndrome and unintentional injuries were more common.  AI/AN infants were four times more likely to die from pneumonia and influenza.
·       By region, the greatest death rates were in the Northern Plains and Southern Plains. The lowest death rates were in the East and the Southwest.
 
“The new detailed examination of death records offers the most accurate and current information available on deaths among the American Indian and Alaska Native populations,” said David Espey, M.D., acting director of CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. “Now, we can better characterize and track the health status of these populations – a critical step to address health disparities.” 
 
The studies address race misclassification in two ways. First, the authors linked U.S. National Death Index records with Indian Health Services registration records to more accurately identify the race of AI/AN people who had died. Second, the authors focused their analyses on the Indian Health Services’ Contract Health Service Delivery Area counties (CHSDA) where about 64 percent of AI/AN persons live. Fewer race misclassification errors occur in CHSDA data than in death records.
 
The authors reviewed trends from 1990 through 2009, and compared death rates between AI/AN people and non-Hispanic whites by geographic regions for a more recent time period (1999-2009).
 
The report concludes that patterns of mortality are strongly influenced by the high incidence of diabetes, smoking prevalence, problem drinking, and health-harming social determinants. Many of the observed excess deaths can be addressed through evidence-based public health interventions.
 
“The Indian Health Service is grateful for this important research and encouraged about its potential to help guide efforts to improve health and wellness among American Indians and Alaska Natives,” said Yvette Roubideaux, M.D., M.P.H, acting IHS director.  “Having more accurate data along with our understanding of the contributing social factors can lead to more aggressive public health interventions that we know can make a difference.”
 
For more information, the articles from the report will be in the AJPH “First Look” early online section at 4:00 pm EST today.  Visit: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/toc/ajph/0/0
For information on CDC’s efforts in cancer prevention and control, visit http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/.
 
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as the health care law, was created to expand access to coverage, control health care costs, and improve health care quality and coordination. The ACA also includes permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which extends current law and authorizes new programs and services within the Indian Health Service. Visit Healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 (TTY/TDD 1-855-889-4325) to learn more.

‘God Hates Native Culture’: Westboro Baptist to Picket Alaska Natives

 

The Westboro Baptist Church, infamously known for its offensive protest signs which celebrate the death of soldiers, God’s hate toward homosexuals and more, has set their sights to protest the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage on Sunday June 1. Though the former leader of the church Fred Phelps recently died, the members of the WBC are carrying the torch forward.

Shortly after the announcement of the protest by the WBC, a No Westboro Baptist Protest at our AK Native Heritage Center! Facebook page was created to offset the protest. Though the Facebook page had over 600 members on Monday evening, it had doubled in size by Tuesday afternoon to well over 1,200.

According to the ‘No Westboro’ Facebook pages’ mission statement posted by Donna Willoya:

‘We are uniting as Alaskans to honor and embrace our cultural diversity, to preserve our heritage and to teach future generations the importance of acceptance & respect for all people.’

Willoya also posted in the group that though people may get angry at the WBC members for wanting to protest, she wishes the Native community not to respond with violence and sink to their level.

“So many people love the AK Native Heritage Center. Any Westboro Baptist protest will and can invoke a feeling horror in ourselves. It makes us lash out. We almost become like them, those Westboro Baptist people. Some of us want to fight. I do. We must remain non-violent and peaceful. It is the best way to combat the toxic waste of Westboro Baptist protests. Keep it clean in the comments folks. We desire suggestions. We understand the need to spew and basically scream away the toxic waste. Keep it clean and check back for updates,” she wrote.

According to their release posted on their offensively titled website GodHatesFags.com, they will be protesting the Alaska Heritage Center in Anchorage Alaska on Sunday, June 1 from 8:45-9:15 a.m. for two reasons:

“…you make a religion out of the pagan idolatrous practices of past generations. There is nothing appealing or holy about the ‘heritage’ of the eleven ‘distinct cultures’ or ‘diverse population’ of Alaska. They walked in darkness and served idols of every kind, contrary to the direct commandment to have no gods before God.”

“… you fail to give God the glory, instead of the traditions and gods of the past… Stop worshiping dead cultures, man-made idols, and the sinful traditions of past generations. Put the resources into teaching and learning the Bible instead, and warning your neighbor to stop sinning before it’s too late, and he’s sinned away the last day of grace.”

The release is also peppered with bible passages from Acts and Exodus and comments such as “God hasn’t completely destroyed Alaska yet, so there is time to repent of this idolatry.”

Many people in Indian country have already commented on the Facebook page, Twitter and Google+ about the WBC. Comments include the following:

Burt Hanna in the Google+ Native Community wrote: “I thought the Westboro Baptist would settle down after the death of their leader. Now they hate Natives.”

Stacey Duggins of Wasilla, Alaska wrote on the Facebook page: “Maybe a better idea is that they never make it up here at all. Does anyone know anyone that could have them added to the terrorist watch list? That way they would have to stay at least in the Lower 48! And you have to admit, Free speech, Religious Liberty, or whatever, what they do borders on terroristic tactics. Just say’n if they can’t come, they can’t protest!”

Kristin Glitterboots Jones also wrote on Facebook: I would love to see this day set up to be the biggest cultural celebration the center has ever seen!!! Showcase all Alaska’s peoples with dance and events and beauty all day! Perhaps a parade of all our peoples to start at 8:30am? Ignore their stupid protest and don’t give them any power. Don’t cover it on the news, nothing. Instead, cover the beautiful celebration.

According to David Farve, the Public Relations administrator at the Alaskan Native Heritage Center, the WBC while stopping to protest at the center, has also planned to protest at the Governors church that same day. Though he did not have an official statement he did share the following with ICTMN.

“We are not going to release an official statement yet, but most likely in the next 24 hours. We really don’t want to give the WBC any more press that they have already received. Our entire community is up in arms over something that may not even happen.”

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell recently commented on his Facebook page, stating: “Westboro Baptist Church, from Topeka, Kansas, needs to recant its recent despicable position related to Alaska Natives and their culture. There is beauty, depth, and a rich heritage among Alaska Natives, each made in the image of our Creator and each person intrinsically valuable. How about getting to know a few of these fine Alaskans first before pronouncing judgment?”

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/04/16/god-hates-native-culture-westboro-baptist-picket-alaska-natives-154468?page=0%2C1

Alaska Attorney General criticizes suggestions in report on Bush justice

 

By RICHARD MAUER

rmauer@adn.comApril 8, 2014

JUNEAU — Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty criticized a federal commission report on criminal justice in the Bush, declaring its suggestions that tribes should have autonomy for policing and holding court was little more than an invitation to create reservations in Alaska.

“It is an over simplification to suggest that forming reservations where tribes can exert exclusive jurisdiction is a solution to the problems that afflict Alaska’s Native peoples,” Geraghty told the House Community & Regional Affairs Committee on its second hearing into the November report by the U.S. Indian Law & Order Commission. “I disagree with many of their recommendations but not with the problem they have identified.”

That problem is Alaska’s high rates of domestic and sexual violence, and the glaring lack of law enforcement and security for villagers. The commission, mandated by Congress and appointed in 2010 by the White House and congressional leaders of both parties, reported its findings in November. It devoted a whole chapter on Alaska’s troubles, the only state it singled out for such treatment.

On the phone from Denver, the commission chairman, Troy Eid, told the committee that Geraghty was mischaracterizing the report’s conclusion. In calling for greater tribal Metlakatla_AKautonomy, the commission wasn’t seeking reservation status for Alaska’s 229 federally recognized tribes, only one of which is on a reservation — Metlakatla.

Rather, Eid said, the commission said the state should recognize tribes as sovereign governments and that “Indian Country” — the federal term for describing where indigenous people have inherent authority — exists in Alaska. The should state encourage local governments to take over policing in the Bush and not insist on centralized, top-down control from regional hubs.

Geraghty said the state was experimenting in the Interior’s Tanana region with allowing tribal courts to have jurisdiction over non tribal members for some misdemeanors — but only when the defendant agrees, and only by treating the matters as civil cases without the possibility of jail time.

“My differences with the report should not obscure the most fundamental point: there’s more we can do and should be doing with tribes and in tribal courts in particular, to make these communities safer — I don’t quarrel with that point one iota,” Geraghty said.

But Geraghty’s term for the Tanana agreements — a delegation of authority — itself brought criticism from another witness, David Voluck, a tribal court judge and co-author of one of the leading books on laws affecting Alaska Natives.

“I vote that we reform the name of these agreements from limited delegation agreements to intergovernmental agreements,” Voluck said. “Even the word ‘delegation’ has a flavor of paternalism — that ‘OK, we’re going to let you do this now.'”

Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, asked Geraghty about how tribal courts now deal with cases in which a non-member of the tribe is a party.

Geraghty said that issue mainly comes up in child welfare cases, when tribes assume jurisdiction if the child is a member, even if a parent is not.

“There’s a case pending before the Alaska Supreme Court now involving the ability of a tribal court to exert jurisdiction over someone who’s never lived in the community and is not a member of the tribe, and the gentleman objected to tribal court jurisdiction on that basis, and he had his parental rights terminated,” Geraghty said.

Geraghty said he was referring to the case of Edward Parks, a member of the Stevens Village tribe who was convicted in state court in Fairbanks of kidnapping and brutally beating his girlfriend. Their child, “S.P.,” was enrolled in Minto and the Minto tribal court terminated Parks’ parental rights. The state intervened on his behalf in the Supreme Court, seeking to void the tribal court order declaring him an unfit parent because Minto shouldn’t have jurisdiction over him.

Geraghty told the committee he expected the case would clarify the rights of non-tribal members in tribal court.

Voluck testified that the state, by its challenges of tribal court orders, was actually showing hostility to tribal courts.

“One of the courts I work for issues something as controversial as child support orders, for children in need,” Voluck said, a touch of sarcasm in his voice. “We’re not locking up white people, I don’t have an electric chair, I’m not doing anything that’s frightening. I’m not taxing, I’m not zoning, it has nothing to do with land and everything to do with Native children.”

“Your state is battling us tooth and nail and we are now in the Supreme Court over whether it’s kosher for me to issue a child support order for a tribal child. This, ladies and gentlemen of this committee, I posit is a grave waste of your resources.”

The co-chairs of the committee, Reps. Ben Nageak, D-Barrow, and Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, said they would continue to examine ways the Legislature could improve criminal justice in the Bush.

Reach Richard Mauer at rmauer@adn.com or (907) 500-7388.

Sen. Begich Presses VAWA Protections for Alaska Natives

 Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) discusses his pending Safe Families and Villages legislation, as well as a clean Carcieri legislative fix.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) discusses his pending Safe Families and Villages legislation, as well as a clean Carcieri legislative fix.

 

Having just chaired a portion of a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Sen. Mark Begich spoke to Indian Country Today Media Network for an interview focused on his pending Safe Families and Villages legislation, as well as the recently introduced clean Carcieri legislative fix.

Thank you for doing another interview, senator. The last time we talked, you mentioned the need for a hearing focused on strengthening the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to include jurisdictional provisions for Alaska Native tribes. That hearing, which you co-chaired April 2, highlighted yours and Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) Safe Families and Villages legislation, and your desire to repeal Section 910 of VAWA, which excludes Alaska Natives from the VAWA jurisdiction provisions granted by Congress last year to tribes in the lower 48 states. Please explain your desire to repeal Section 910.

RELATED: Sen. Begich Speaks Out on Indian & Alaska Native Concerns

What 910 really does is prevent the Alaska Native community from having full criminal prosecution regarding any crimes that may occur within what we consider tribal land. It also does not allow us to have equal type of law enforcement that reservation tribes do. When someone comes onto reservation land [in the lower 48 states], and they commit a crime on that land as a Native or non-Native, they can still go through a prosecution process. With us, that can’t happen. It really is a problem. We have tribal courts that exist with cooperation and agreement from the state, but they have very limited capacity.

The VAWA with the increased jurisdiction provisions for tribes in the lower 48 just passed Congress just last year with 910 in there. Why was 910 included in that legislation at all?

We attempted to try to get it out, but we did not have agreement, honestly, within our [federal] delegation on this. I’m a very strong supporter of tribal rights and tribal responsibility and self-determination. I’ve always been that way—it’s not a newfound belief since coming to the Senate. I think in a lot of ways I couldn’t get agreement. I knew if it was put in there the way it was written, Section 910, that we would see a backlash from within our Alaska Native communities. And that is what is happening. I wish we could have taken it out, but we also had the state of Alaska being totally against taking that section out of there. They wanted that section. I know they lobbied members of the [Senate Committee on Indian Affairs] when the bill was being reviewed, and they were able to prevail on the idea that 910 was needed so as not to interfere with states’ rights. I wasn’t on the committee at that time. If I was on the committee at that time, I would have done everything I could to prevent that section from being added in there.

Is Sen. Murkowski, part of your Alaska delegation, on board with getting rid of 910?

Yes. She’s agreed to that. We had a lot of discussion after the bill passed. She felt the conversation from the Alaska Native community really moved her to accept this as an important piece.

How about Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) on the House side—has he weighed in on the idea of repealing 910?

He has not to me. That does not mean that his staff and my staff aren’t talking. But I haven’t heard a problem here yet.

Beyond repealing 910, it’s clear that Alaska Native tribal advocates want amendments added to your bill that would increase and enhance Alaska Native tribal jurisdiction over non-tribal offenders. You were supportive during the hearing of adding those kinds of amendments, but is that going to be easy?

It’s not going to be easy, but I will tell you, the Alaska Federation of Natives and a group called the Tanana Chiefs Conference have created a tribal law project that encourages jurisdiction for tribes to implement tribal law and order issues. We know that non-tribal member perpetrators are a problem for tribes in Alaska, yet tribes have no jurisdiction. I’m not sure how far we will get with this. The good news is there are more folks getting aware of this issue. Sen. [Heidi] Heitkamp [D-N.D.], as you heard during the hearing, was not aware, really, of what was going on in Alaska on these issues. And now she is willing to work with us in any way she can to make our legislation have the same impact as the increased tribal jurisdiction in the lower 48.

 

Tribal judge Natasha Singh testified in favor of a tribal law project-inspired amendment at the hearing. What are the political realities in your state of getting that project implemented?

This would deal with curbing child abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and other issues among tribal members and non-members, yet the state is not supporting it at this point. In order to make it work, I want to put it inside the Safe Families and Villages Act, so we have more tools to fight these incredibly big problems. The politics of it—the state will more than likely oppose it. But I hope they are supportive of the people of Alaska.

Is there tribal consensus in your state that this tribal law project amendment is the way to go?

Yes. There is no question. We have received enormous support from individual tribes, groups, the Alaska Federation of Natives—everywhere across the state.

Your legislation currently encourages the state to enter into intergovernmental agreements with tribes related to the enforcement of certain state laws by the tribes. You made it clear at the hearing that this provision isn’t enough. But why not? Why wouldn’t that be a good start, and then you try to do more later on?

Here’s the challenge. Years ago, when the Tribal Law and Order Act passed, I sat with state of Alaska officials, the federal delegation, and others, and I said back then that I wanted these better provisions for Alaska Natives. And they said, ‘Oh no, let’s pass the Tribal Law and Order Act, and it will all get resolved.’ Now here we are several years later with the same story, the same talk, and no results. My view is that the state would like the Alaska Native people to be subservient to them. That is not acceptable when we have outrageous crime statistics facing Alaska Native communities.

Are there a lot of Congress members who would take a stand against allowing tribes in Alaska to be treated the same as tribes in the lower 48 on these matters?

I don’t think so, but you never know. On this one, I think we can make the case.

If state officials don’t agree with repealing 910 and adding the other amendments, is that really going to make this bill tougher to pass?

It may be tougher, but I feel confident that at the end of the day we can prevail. The state’s current administration does not recognize tribes. I think that is apparent to a lot of senators, and as I lay that out more, I think they will be shocked. It’s the same administration that wanted to strip away voting protection rights for our tribes and the same administration that has battled against tribal subsistence. They just don’t support tribes.

I have to ask you about Carcieri again and the controversial 2009 Supreme Court decision that affected the Department of the Interior’s ability to place lands into trust for tribes. Since we last talked, you have cosponsored a clean Carcieri legislative fix that would recognize Interior’s ability to take lands into trust for all tribes, no matter when they came under federal jurisdiction. Give opposition to a clean fix by some Democrats including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), it seems clear that Republican support is going to be needed for it to pass. How likely is that?

Any time you can get a bipartisan bill, it’s a good thing. This is a complex issue. It needs to be a clean fix. I think if we can get some Republicans, it would be very positive. We need to resolve this and get it settled. For us to continue to leave this lingering, it is harming tribes throughout the country. I know Sen. Tester is going to work it to see what he can get.

Have you been surprised that Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, has been rather quiet on Carcieri?

It’s a little bit surprising, but I do think that now that the bill is out there, he knows that this is coming to a hearing, so he’s going to have commentary on it. That will help create the discussion we need. I think he has to figure out if there are other Republicans who will support this if he does. I don’t know what his thinking is, but as the vice-chair, I would expect him to have some commentary on it.

Do you work with Sen. Barrasso on various issues?

I do. I have worked with him on issues surrounding oil and gas. We just had a bill that I sponsored with him.

So you will be encouraging him to support a clean Carcieri fix?

Oh yes.

Finally, how did it feel to have that gavel in our hand when you co-chaired the recent hearing?

(laughs) It’s always a good feeling when you can manage the conversation on issues that you care a great deal about.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/04/07/sen-begich-presses-vawa-protections-alaska-natives-154345?page=0%2C3

 

TCC convention speaker blasts governments’ treatment of Natives

By Jeff Richardson, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

FAIRBANKS — A colonial attitude and lack of tribal sovereignty are contributing to an “unconscionable” record for Alaska Native justice, the head of the Indian Law and Order Commission told a Fairbanks audience on Tuesday.

Attendees watch on a television in the hallway as Keynote speaker Troy A. Eid, Chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission, speaks at the Tanana Chiefs Conference Annual Delegate and Full Board of Directors Meeting Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at the Westmark Hotel.

Attendees watch on a television in the hallway as Keynote speaker Troy A. Eid, Chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission, speaks at the Tanana Chiefs Conference Annual Delegate and Full Board of Directors Meeting Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at the Westmark Hotel.

In a fiery speech at the Tanana Chiefs Conference convention, Troy Eid blasted the state and federal governments for treating Alaska Natives like second-class citizens. The result, he said, has been an ineffective and unequal system for the state’s indigenous people.

“You are not stakeholders,” Eid told TCC delegates at the Westmark Hotel. “You are members of sovereign governments.”

Eid received a standing ovation following his remarks, which were the keynote speech for a conference with the theme “The time is now.” Eid’s independent commission was created in 2010 to review the justice system for American Indians and Alaska Natives and report its findings to President Obama and Congress.

The report, which was released last November, gave a dismal review of Alaska’s system. 

Eid, a former U.S Attorney for Colorado, called the status of Alaska Natives a “civil rights crisis.” A fourth of Alaska Native youth suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, he said, the same rate as military veterans returning from Afghanistan. Suicide rates in Alaska rival those in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Alaska has domestic violence rates 10 times higher than the national average, and 12 times higher against women, Eid said.

He said lawmakers in Juneau and Washington could help change that.

The first step, he said, is to stop excluding Alaska Natives from federal legislation that protects Native Americans in other parts of the country. Eid dismissed the argument that the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act requires that Alaska Natives be treated differently than their counterparts in the Lower 48.

“They’re laws Congress made and Congress can revisit it. … It’s not as if these are immutable, unchangeable laws,” he said.

Eid also criticized the state for battling against tribes who want local courts and police, saying that local efforts to combat crime often prove more effective. Tribal courts are now limited to family issues, such as child custody and adoption.

“It is time for the state of Alaska to stop fighting against Alaska Natives,” he said.

Following the remarks, Fort Yukon Chief Steve Ginnis asked delegates to consider a resolution that would ask the federal government to treat Alaska Natives under the same civil rights legislation as other Native Americans.

President Jerry Isaac echoed the comments.

“It’s undoubtedly a long struggle with the tribes in Alaska to be recognized in a place that they deserve,” he said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who spoke by videoconference with TCC delegates, was asked if she would pledge to support such a resolution. She said ANCSA has set up a system which creates a special distinction for Alaska Natives, and that identical legislation for Alaskans and those in the Lower 48 isn’t always possible.

However, Congress needs to make sure the end result shouldn’t be unequal treatment for Alaskans, she said.

“We need to be sure that Alaska Natives are treated justly and fairly, as are all Natives,” Murkowski said.