NRCS California Accepting Applications for Tribal Initiative

SOURCE USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service

DAVIS, Calif., Feb. 12, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in California is again partnering with California’s tribal nations to make financial assistance available to help tribal farmers, ranchers and non-industrial private forest operators put additional conservation on the ground.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Tribal Initiative provides financial and technical assistance to Tribes and tribal producers who voluntarily agree to NRCS guidelines for installation of approved conservation practices that address program priorities related to addressing soil, water, air quality, domestic livestock, wildlife habitat, surface and groundwater conservation, energy conservation, and related natural resource concerns.

While applications are taken continuously throughout the year, eligible farmers and ranchers are encouraged to submit their applications as soon as possible. Applications will be screened and ranked in four batching periods (February 20, April 17, June 19 and July 17).

Eligible applications will be considered based on the following priorities:

Five landscape resource priorities are aimed at improving and managing forest health and reducing wildfire threats, as well as rangeland health and water quality. The five priorities areas are:

  • Northern Coastal Tribal Forestland in Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, western Shasta, western Siskiyou, Sonoma and Trinity
  • Northern Coastal Tribal Rangeland in Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, western Shasta, western Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma and Trinity counties
  • Inter Mountain/Central Sierra Forestland in Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, eastern Shasta, Sierra, eastern Siskiyou, Tulare and Tuolumne Counties.
  • Inter Mountain/Central Sierra Rangeland in Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Kings, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, eastern Shasta, Sierra, eastern Siskiyou, Tulare and Tuolumne Counties.
  • South Coast and Desert Tribal Forests and Rangeland in Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Mono, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

Two statewide resource priorities are aimed at reducing soil erosion, improving irrigation water efficiency, water quality, restoring and managing native plants for traditional Native American food and fiber production. The two statewide priorities are:

  • Statewide Tribal Poly-farms: small, biologically diverse farms and medium size agricultural operations for subsistence, intra-tribal and external commerce.
  • Native Plants Restoration: culturally important tribal plants for food and fiber.

There are 109 federally recognized American Indian tribes in California. There are at least 69 non-federally recognized tribes in California petitioning for federal recognition. The federally recognized tribes have jurisdiction over 635,739 acres of Tribal trust land in California.

NRCS has provided leadership in a partnership effort to help America’s private land owners and managers conserve their soil, water and other natural resources since 1935. For more information on NRCS, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov.

 

Tribes join effort to keep Yellowstone grizzlies protected

By Matthew Brown, Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – Leaders of American Indian tribes in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains have joined an effort to retain federal protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide this year whether it will move to lift protections for the roughly 1,000 grizzlies that scientists say live in the Yellowstone region of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

The campaign to enlist tribal backing for continued protections is being coordinated in large part by wildlife advocates. Organizers say more than two dozen tribes have signed on with resolutions and other declarations of support.

Tribal leaders cited their ancestral connection to the Yellowstone area and the cultural importance of grizzly bears to their people.

“Any move to delist the sacred grizzly bear on this ancestral landscape must involve consultation with the affected Tribal Nations,” wrote Ivan Posey, a member of the Eastern Shoshone and chairman of the Montana Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, in a letter last month.

Lifting protections and allowing state-sponsored hunting “not only represents a threat to tribal sovereignty, but also contravenes the American Indian Religious Freedom Act,” Posey said.

The council includes representatives from 11 tribes.

Tribal leaders from Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota and Oklahoma have submitted similar letters through an advocacy group known as Guardians of Our Ancestors’ Legacy, or GOAL.

Federal grizzly recovery coordinator Chris Servheen said letters seeking comment were sent in April to four tribes in Wyoming and Idaho but none responded. The four tribes that received the Fish and Wildlife Service letters were identified by the agency’s tribal liaisons as having a direct interest in grizzlies in the Yellowstone region, Servheen said.

“We would welcome their input and ideas, and we asked for the input and ideas,” he said.

Grizzlies received federal protections in the Lower 48 in 1975 after getting wiped out across much of their range. The Yellowstone region is home to one of the largest remaining populations.

The region’s bears temporarily lost protections in 2007 before they were restored by a federal judge. No tribes raised concerns during that time, Servheen said.

Lifting protections would transfer jurisdiction over grizzlies to states that have said they would likely allow some trophy hunting of the animals. Wildlife managers have said hunt quotas would be kept small because of the size of the population and the bears’ low rate of reproduction.

Kaine urges Bureau of Indian Affairs to be more flexible in recognizing Va. tribes

The Associated Press

RICHMOND, Virginia — U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine is arguing anew for federal recognition of Virginia’s Indian tribes.

The Virginia Democrat is appealing to the Bureau of Indian Affairs regarding the federal acknowledgement of American Indian tribes. He’s encouraging the bureau to adopt greater flexibility in its recognition process to overcome the barriers Virginia’s tribes have confronted.

One hurdle to recognition is that many of the tribes’ records were held in courthouses that were burned during the Civil War.

Kaine and Sen. Mark R. Warner introduced legislation in 2013 to grant federal recognition to six Virginia Indian tribes. A companion bill in the House was introduced by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran.

Kaine says he continues to push for passage of the legislation.

Senate Passes Sens. Moran and Heitkamp Bill to End IRS’ Unfair Treatment of Indian Tribes

Sep 24,2014 – Senate Passes Sens. Moran and Heitkamp Bill to End IRS’ Unfair Treatment of Indian Tribes

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), a member of the Committee on Indian Affairs, to end the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) practice of taxing crucial programs and services that aim to support the health and safety of Native families. The Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week and next heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

“Tribes are sovereign governments that often provide services to their citizens,” Sen. Moran said. “I am pleased Congress has come together to make certain tribal citizens are not unfairly taxed while respecting tribal sovereignty. By clarifying the definition of general welfare programs, this legislation will enhance economic development and the quality of life in Indian Country.”

“As a former attorney general and as a lawyer, I view these Native American treaty rights and trust responsibilities as a contract between the U.S. and our American Indian tribes. Yet for far too long, that contract has been broken. Our legislation takes an important step to repair it,” said Sen. Heitkamp. “This week, the Senate and House took a huge step forward and came together to pass our bipartisan bill which levels the playing field for Native families. It will enable tribal governments to decide which programs best help their communities thrive, just as local and state governments do. For too long, that hasn’t been the case. I’ve heard stories of the IRS questioning a tribal government’s ability to provide school supplies to elementary school children, or levying a tax on a ramp erected for a tribal elder to access her home. This law shows that we respect tribal sovereignty by making sure tribal citizens get the rights they deserve.”

The Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act will fully recognize that Indian tribes – as sovereign nations – are responsible for making certain their government programs and services best fit the needs of their citizens, just as other local governments across the country do. For years, Indian tribes have been taxed for providing health care, education, housing, or legal aid to those in need. Local and state governments throughout the United States frequently offer such services to those who need assistance, but the people receiving help are not taxed by the IRS.

Once signed into law, the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act will:

• Mandate tribal government programs, services and benefits authorized or administered by tribes for tribal citizens, spouses and dependents are excluded from income as a “general welfare exclusion”;
• Clarify that items of cultural significance (e.g., paying someone to lead sacred Indian ceremonies) or cash honoraria provided by tribal governments shall not represent compensation for services and shall be excluded from taxable income;
• Direct the Secretary of Treasury to require education and training of IRS field agents on federal Indian law

Tribes from US, Canada sign bison treaty.

Tribes from US, Canada sign bison treaty.

By Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Native tribes from the U.S. and Canada signed a treaty Tuesday establishing an inter-tribal alliance to restore bison to areas of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains where millions of the animals once roamed.

Leaders of 11 tribes from Montana and Alberta signed the pact during a daylong ceremony on Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation, organizers said.

It marks the first treaty among the tribes and First Nations since a series of agreements governing hunting rights in the 1800s. That was when their ancestors still roamed the border region hunting bison, also called buffalo.

The long-term aim of Tuesday’s “Buffalo Treaty” is to allow the free flow of the animals across the international border and restore the bison’s central role in the food, spirituality and economies of many American Indian tribes and First Nations — a Canadian synonym for native tribes.

Such a sweeping vision could take many years to realize, particularly in the face of potential opposition from the livestock industry. But supporters said they hope to begin immediately restoring a cultural tie with bison largely severed when the species was driven to near-extinction in the late 19th century.

“The idea is, hey, if you see buffalo in your everyday life, a whole bunch of things will come back to you,” said Leroy Little Bear, a member of southern Alberta Blood Tribe who helped lead the signing ceremony.

“Hunting practices, ceremonies, songs — those things revolved around the buffalo. Sacred societies used the buffalo as a totem. All of these things are going to be revised, revitalized, renewed with the presence of buffalo,” said Little Bear, a professor emeritus of Native American studies at the University of Lethbridge.

Bison numbered in the tens of millions across North America before the West was settled. By the 1880s, unchecked commercial hunting to feed the bison hide market reduced the population to about 325 animals in the U.S. and fewer than 1,000 in Canada, according to wildlife officials and bison trade groups in Canada. Around the same time, tribes were relocated to reservations and forced to end their nomadic traditions.

There are about 20,000 wild bison in North America today.

Ranchers and landowners near two Montana reservations over the past several years fought unsuccessfully against the relocation of dozens of Yellowstone National Park bison due to concerns about disease and bison competing with cattle for grass. The tribes involved — the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation and the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of the Fort Belknap Reservations — were among those signing Tuesday’s treaty.

Keith Aune, a bison expert with the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the agreement has parallels with the 1855 Lame Bull Treaty, a peace deal brokered by the U.S. government that established hunting rights tribes.

“They shared a common hunting ground, and that enabled them to live in the buffalo way,” Aune said. “We’re recreating history, but this time on (the tribes’) terms.”

The treaty signatories collectively control more than 6 million acres of prairie habitat in the U.S. and Canada, an area roughly the size of Vermont, according to Aune’s group.

Among the first sites eyed for bison reintroduction is along the Rocky Mountain Front, which includes Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation bordering Glacier National Park and several smaller First Nation reserves.

“I can’t say how many years. It’s going to be a while and of course there’s such big resistance in Montana against buffalo,” said Ervin Carlson a Blackfeet member and president of the 56-tribe InterTribal buffalo council. “But within our territory, hopefully, someday.”

Source: sfgate

Limits on Access to Eagle Feathers Questioned

By Cameron Langford, Courthouse News Service

(CN) – The Interior Department may be infringing on the religious freedom of Native Americans by limiting the right to possess eagle feathers to federally recognized tribes, the 5th Circuit ruled.
Understanding golden and bald eagles are essential for the religious practices of many American Indian tribes, Congress amended the Eagle Protection Act in 1962, adding an exception “for the religious practices of Indian tribes.”
Under the law, Native Americans could apply for a permit to take and possess eagles by attaching a certificate from the Bureau of Indian Affairs that verified them as Indian to their application.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt narrowed the eligibility in 1999 to members of federally recognized Indian tribes.
The National Eagle Repository in Colorado takes in dead eagle parts and distributes them to qualified permit applicants, with whole bird orders taking more than three years to fill, and loose feather requests taking about six months to turn around, court records show.
At a 2006 powwow a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent found Robert Soto in possession of eagle feathers.
Soto told the agent he was a member of the Lipan Apache Tribe, and after the officer determined the tribe is not federally recognized, he met with Soto, who voluntarily gave up his eagle feathers in return for the government dropping its criminal case against him.
As pastor of the McAllen Grace Brethren Church and the Native American New Life Center in McAllen, Texas, Soto uses eagle feathers for his ministry’s religious ceremonies.
Soto “has been a feather dancer for 34 years and has won many awards for his Indian dancing and artwork at various powwows throughout the nation,” according to his self-published biography.
After the Interior Department denied Soto’s petition for the return of his feathers, he and 15 other plaintiffs sued, claiming the feather confiscation violated religious freedoms established by the First Amendment.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa sided with the feds and Soto appealed to the 5th Circuit in New Orleans.
Writing for a three-judge panel of the appellate court, Judge Catharina Haynes found the government had not carried its burden of showing its regulations are the least restrictive means of protecting what it claims are its compelling interests: protecting eagles and fulfilling its responsibility to federally recognized tribes.
Noting that the 1962 Amendment to the Eagle Protection Act “did not define ‘Indian Tribes,'” Haynes wrote on Wednesday, “We cannot definitively conclude that Congress intended to protect only federally recognized tribe members’ religious rights in this section.”
She added: “The Department has failed to present evidence at the summary judgment phase that an individual like Soto-whose sincerity is not in question and is of American Indian descent-would somehow cause harm to the relationship between federal tribes and the government if he were allowed access to eagle feathers, especially given congressional findings that the exception was born out of a religious concern.”(Emphasis in original.)
The law also grants the Interior Secretary authority to OK the taking of eagles or eagle parts for public museums, scientific groups, zoos, wildlife and agricultural protection.
Haynes took issue with the fact that the government did not bring up these various nonreligious exceptions to the law.
The feds additionally argued that removing barriers to possession would lead to a spike in poaching to supply a black market in eagles and eagle feathers.
But Haynes dismissed that as “mere speculation” by the federal agents who testified in the case.
“This case involves eagle feathers, rather than carcasses. It is not necessary for an eagle to die in order to obtain its feathers. Thus, speculation about poaching for carcasses is irrelevant to Soto’s request for return of feathers,” the 25-page ruling states.
In coming down on the side of religious freedom, the panel relied heavily on the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby ruling, which found that requiring some corporations to supply contraceptives to their employees against their religious objections violates the Religious Freedom of Restoration Act.
The panel reversed and remanded the case to Hinojosa and urged the government to prove the permitting system does not violate the RFRA.
In a one-page concurring opinion Judge Edith Jones said the ruling should be read to only apply to American Indians.
“Broadening the universe of ‘believers’ who seek eagle feathers might … seriously endanger the religious practices of real Native Americans,” she wrote.

Bill seeks to allow states to manage wild horses

 This 2013 file photo shows some of the hundreds of mustangs the U.S. Bureau of Land Management removed from federal rangeland. (Photo: Scott Sonner/AP file photo )

This 2013 file photo shows some of the hundreds of mustangs the U.S. Bureau of Land Management removed from federal rangeland. (Photo: Scott Sonner/AP file photo )

 By Martin Griffith, Associated Press

A Utah representative has introduced legislation to allow Western states and American Indian tribes to take over management of wild horses and burros from the federal government.

U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart said the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has mismanaged the animals on public rangelands and states should have the option of managing them.

An overpopulation of horses is pushing cattle off the range, the Republican lawmaker said, and leading to the destruction of important habitat for native species.

“States and tribes already successfully manage large quantities of wildlife within their borders,” Stewart said in a statement. “If horses and burros were under that same jurisdiction, I’m confident that new ideas and opportunities would be developed to manage the herds more successfully than the federal government.”

But Anne Novak, executive director of California-based Protect Mustangs, said her group opposes the legislation because it would lead to states and tribes killing the animals or selling them off for slaughter for human consumption.

The government is rounding up too many mustangs while allowing livestock to feed at taxpayer expense on the same rangeland scientists say is being overgrazed, she said.

“We’ve had firsthand experience with states and tribes managing wild horses, and it’s horribly cruel,” Novak said in a statement. “They ruthlessly remove wild horses and sell them to kill-buyers at auction. Severe animal abuse would be the result of the (legislation).”

The Bureau of Land Management says it’s doing all it can, given budget constraints, overflowing holding pens and a distaste for the politically unpopular options of either ending the costly roundups or slaughtering excess horses.

The bill’s introduction comes at a time when the bureau has been under increasing pressure from ranchers to remove horses that they say threaten livestock and wildlife on rangelands already damaged by drought.

In Utah, Iron County commissioners had threatened to gather up hundreds of mustangs themselves, saying the government refuses to remove enough horses in herds that double in size every five years.

Iron County Commissioner Dave Miller said he and commissioners from Utah’s Beaver and Garfield counties are trying to drum up support for a resolution in support of the legislation at the National Association of Counties annual conference in New Orleans, which ends Monday.

“The resolution will be instrumental in getting Chris Stewart’s bill through Congress because it shows support across the nation,” he told the Spectrum in St. George, Utah.

Stewart said his Wild Horse Oversight Act would extend all protections that horses and burros enjoy under the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 while giving states the opportunity of implementing their own management plans.

Under the bill, the states could form cooperative agreements to manage herds that cross over borders, and the federal government would continue to monitor horses and burros to ensure that population numbers as prescribed by the 1971 act are maintained.

The bureau estimates 40,600 of the animals — the vast majority horses — roam free on bureau-managed rangelands in 10 Western states.

The population exceeds by nearly 14,000 the number the agency has determined can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses.

At a glance

Some 49,000 horses and burros removed from the range are being held in government-funded short- and long-term facilities.

SOURCE: Associated Press

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Making Natives Copy White Parents Destroys Indigenous Families

Tanya H. Lee, Indian Country Today

 

Working closely with four American Indian tribes and four Canadian First Nations, Les Whitbeck, professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and his colleagues have developed a model of adolescent development for indigenous youth, based on data collected during an 8-year longitudinal study of 746 tribally-enrolled kids. “Indigenous Adolescent Development: Psychological, Social and Historical Contexts” (Routledge), the first book based on the research, details the findings from the first four years of this landmark study, when the kids were ages 11 to 15.

The study began as part of an effort to create culturally-based prevention programs for adolescents in tribal communities. “It became really apparent,” says Whitbeck, “that majority cultural measures just weren’t going to explain what was going on with these kids. We became more and more aware that what we needed was a whole different developmental model that took into account their historical context, their geographical context, community context, family context and peer context.”

This conclusion is consistent with Whitbeck’s earlier work. For example, he is vehement in his defense of indigenous parenting practices. “I have especially strong feelings about parenting programs. When people go out, well-meaning, good people go out onto reservations with parenting programs that are based on two-parent nuclear families that don’t take into account cultural variations in family structure, particularly extended family influence, clans and that kind of thing, they’re basically doing what the boarding schools did. They’re going out and teaching white parenting and undermining the traditional strengths of indigenous families, which are huge.”

The developmental model the researchers constructed for adolescents, explains Whitbeck, has concentric circles representing each of the developmental contexts for indigenous kids. “Then we have a wedge that goes right down through those circles.” The wedge represents historical cultural losses. “Ethnic cleansing,” he says, “has impacted every single developmental context that these kids are experiencing.”

The model has provided the basis for creating the kind of prevention program Whitbeck was looking for. The program, explains Whitbeck, is intended to delay the onset of substance use among kids. It has been adapted for several tribes—Lakota, Dakota, a couple of pueblos and one Navajo community—but Whitbeck stresses that tribes will need to adapt the model and the prevention program to fit their own kids and communities.

“We’re trying to think in terms of community-wide intervention,” says Whitbeck. One extremely important finding from the research is that negative, stressful life events, on which there has been a lot of focus recently as predictors of poor outcomes for kids, do not necessarily cause permanent damage.

“We saw something that was totally unexpected,” he says. “If you take positive life events—and positive life events were defined by the kid getting community recognition, being recognized by the tribal council, recognized in school, participating in community activities—they blow those negative life events out of the water! So now we’re thinking that maybe there’s a key there. Involving kids early in tribal community activities, recognizing them, honoring them, getting them involved in community things. I think there’s a real opportunity there.”

Community is key to this work in more ways, too. Whitbeck describes the eagerness with which adult study participants (researchers interviewed family and caretakers as well as the kids) embraced communal activities that were part of the research.

And it was the tribal communities themselves that helped develop and oversaw the study. “We started out with the partnership model where they approved first of all us being here. There was great support for the study. The tribal councils appointed advisory boards on each of the reservations and reserves. They literally approved every word of the questionnaire.

“We also developed through the elders, service providers and our advisory boards a concept of major historical loss, which is a different kind of approach to historical trauma. With this concept we use a measure of stress caused by repeated thoughts of historical losses suffered and then see how that impinges on everyday functioning and mental health,” explains Whitbeck.

And much of the research—leading focus groups with elders, parents, relatives and the kids themselves, for example—was carried out by American Indians, among them Melissa Walls, Bois Forte and Couchiching First Nation Ojibwe, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, who led the focus groups on parenting, which addressed questions such as, “How does the act of taking care of a little one from birth to even through adulthood look unique or similar to what we see in non-Native populations?”

Several scholarly papers have come out of the research. But the book is different. “We write these very technical articles that involve very sophisticated statistical analyses and approaches. Our tribal advisory boards read the articles that we were putting in the book. And they came back to us and they said, ‘You know, Les, can you write in English?’” So the researchers wrote the book for a lay audience so the information would be accessible and useful to service people, tribal leaders and educators.

Then they went out and bought dozens of copies to give to the tribes that participated in the study because the price of the book is so high. “The worst ethical thing you can do is take people’s lives and sell it back to them,” says Whitbeck. He’s hoping to convince the publisher to put out a paperback edition.

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/07/07/making-natives-copy-white-parents-destroys-indigenous-families-155590

Report: Pedestrian Deaths Disproportionately Affect Native Americans In Wash. State

Screen_Shot_2014-05-20_at_1.40.46_PM

Bill Kramme Flickr

By Rae Ellen Bichell, KPLU

Listen to report

 

Pedestrians of American Indian descent at are at higher risk of death in Washington state, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a branch of Smart Growth America.

Washington placed 36th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in a ranking of the most dangerous states to the least dangerous based on the Pedestrian Danger Index, a combined measure of total pedestrian deaths, annual pedestrian deaths and the percentage of people commuting by foot over the past five to eight years. The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area ranked 49th out of 51 large metro areas.

But for Washingtonians of American Indian descent, the statistics aren’t as reassuring. Nationwide, Native Americans  have higher rates of fatal traffic accidents than other ethnicities. But that difference is particularly notable in Washington state where all other ethnic groups’ fatality rates are consistently lower than national averages.

Credit Rae Ellen Bichell

Credit Rae Ellen Bichell

‘The Gap, Unfortunately, Is Widening’ 

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission doesn’t plot pedestrian deaths against ethnicity, although it does publish statistics on factors like age and gender. A report on factors in Washington pedestrian fatalities from 2008 to 2012 acknowledges that “Native Americans are disproportionately killed in pedestrian crashes, representing 8.4 percent of pedestrian deaths but less than 2 percent of the total population.”

“The gap, unfortunately, is widening,” said MJ Haught, a program manager and tribal liaison for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Over the course of the past few decades, Haught said, the rate of Native American fatalities went from about 2.4 times that of the general population to 3.3. And in 2013, she said, “the data told us that Native American fatalities are 3.9 times higher than the general population. This is obviously not the way we want to go.”

Unlike Other Groups, Native Americans More At Risk On Rural Roads

Both statewide and nationwide, most pedestrian deaths occur in the more populated urban areas. But according to state data, more Native Americans were killed in crashes on rural roads than on urban ones, opposite the pattern seen with pedestrians of all other ethnicities.

Why? There’s no easy answer, but here are a few factors to consider.

Washington state has 29 federally-recognized American Indian tribes. Alaska, California and Oklahoma are the only other states with more tribes within their borders. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, only six states have American Indian and Alaska Native populations greater than that in Washington.

Each reservation is its own sovereign nation with its own laws, which means roads and signs are built and distributed differently. In rural areas, on tribal lands or off, there aren’t always sidewalks, and not all roads are well-lit.

According to the Center for Disease Control and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Americans of Native American and Alaska Native descent tend to be at higher risk of car injuries overall, not just as pedestrians. Some tribes don’t have seat belt laws.

“If you drill down, a huge factor is unbelted fatalities,” said Haught. “The unbelted fatality rate for native Americans is 7.2 times higher for Native Americans in Washington.”

Alcoholism is often cited as a contributing factor. But intoxication, particularly intoxicated pedestrians, is a contributing factor across the board and is not limited to one ethnicity.

Fatality Rate Likely Underreported

Even with the comparatively high rate of Native American pedestrian deaths reported, we may not be getting the full picture. Because each reservation is a sovereign nation, not every tribe shares data with the state, and the data that is available is conservative.

“The rates for fatalities are coming in with death certificates. We’re pretty good at getting all the reports that happen on Washington land, but not necessarily the reports from reservation land. That varies very much by the tribe and the reservation,” said Haught. “We are confident that the traffic deaths are underreported, so it’s an even worse problem than we realized.”

Thomas Holsworth is commander with the Colville Tribal Police Department in Nespelem, in northwest Washington. The reservation covers 1.4 million acres and, as in many rural areas, most of the roadways that crisscross it are narrow, windy country roads without sidewalks.

“The pedestrian walkways are basically the dirt shoulders of the roadways,” says Holsworth. “But I think a lot of it is, they just tend to walk more, sometimes out of necessity, because … they may not own an operable vehicle. There are others that just like to get out and walk, and there’s not a whole lot of safe places to do that.”

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have gone to great lengths to try to reduce traffic-related deaths on tribal lands, assimilating state traffic codes into their tribal code and launching multiple highway safety programs. Funded by a state grant, the tribes ran a public education campaign to increase awareness about using seat belts, driving under the influence, and launched projects to identify problem roads and walking paths.

In the last five years, Holsworth says, there has only been one pedestrian fatality.

Justice Long Denied Comes to Indian Country; First Post-VAWA Trial Set

Santa-Fe-Indian-School-for-VAWA

 

Tanya Lee, Indian Country Today

 

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Arizona is making history. Nearly 40 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe (1978) that American Indian tribes did not have jurisdiction over non-Indians who committed crimes on reservations, the Pascua Yaqui are preparing to try as many as 10 non-Indians alleged to have committed domestic violence crimes on their reservation.

The stats for crimes against women in Indian country are appalling. A Department of Justice report states that American Indian/Alaska Native women are significantly more likely to be raped, physically assaulted and stalked than are white women. If, on an Indian reservation, that abuse was committed by a non-Indian, tribal law enforcement was not authorized to arrest the perpetrator and tribal courts did not have the jurisdiction to try him. Both arrest and prosecution were the responsibility of the federal government. But these are such challenging crimes to successfully bring to justice, federal resources are seldom deployed to deal with them.

RELATED: President Barack Obama’s VAWA Law Signing Spotlights Native Women Warriors

The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization of 2013 radically changed that. Under VAWA Indian tribes will have jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence crimes on reservations. The law will go into effect for all tribes in March 2015, but the Justice Department in February designated three tribes – the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Tulalip Tribes of Washington – for a pilot program that allows them to exercise the authority immediately.

RELATED: Three Tribes to Begin Prosecuting Non-Indian Domestic Violence Offenders

Troy Eid, chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission mandated by TLOA, says, “The Pascua Yaqui Tribe has put a lot of energy into being ready for this day. My impression is they really tried to err on the side of caution so there would be no justification for overturning a tribal court verdict on federal review.”

RELATED: Troy Eid on Why Tribes Need Control Over Their Justice Systems

Listening to Pascua Yaqui Tribe Chief Prosecutor Alfred Urbina describe what has gone into this moment makes “a lot of energy” seem like an understatement. Urbina detailed some of the issues the tribe has had to deal with and what has been learned in an effort to help other tribes put their justice systems in order to begin prosecuting these cases. “The ability to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence brings up a lot of questions for the tribe,” he says.

Urbina explains that there have been 11 recent incidents on the reservation with American Indian victims and non-Indian suspects; some are still in investigation or waiting for warrants to be served, while some are in the process of being prosecuted. The first trial is scheduled to begin August 19, but some cases could be resolved through plea agreements before that.

One thing that has been surprising is the number of cases. “We thought we’d have 5 to 10 cases for the whole calendar year,” Urbina says. “But in just the first two months since the tribe has had the authority to arrest non-Indians, there have been more than 10 arrests.”

Demographics are critical to predicting how many cases tribes will need to prepare for. So is location – whether or not the reservation is near an urban center or a major highway. Among the questions tribes will have to address is: Who is actually living in tribal housing? The perception is that tribal members live in tribal housing, but there are probably other people as well, especially if there are a lot of single mothers, says Urbina.

Other questions shed light on matters such as – What is the composition of law enforcement on the reservation? Do people trust law enforcement? Urbina explains that if people have seen non-prosecution of DV cases for many years by both tribal and federal authorities, distrust may have built up and this will affect the success of the cases the tribe brings to trial. How does the tribe get a warrant served off-reservation and the suspect extradited back to the reservation for trial? What if a suspect does not speak English—will an interpreter be available for court proceedings and for conferring with an attorney?

Then there is the question of public defenders. “Some tribes are saying we just need to hire a lawyer, but that person would need to have a background in Indian law, Indian sovereignty issues, different ways of doing things in Indian country and tribal court history. If the lawyer doesn’t have that kind of information it will impact the case.”

One compromise that had to be made to get the law passed was that the attorneys and judges in cases where whites are being tried have to be state-licensed. This brings up the question of access. How will public defenders hired by the tribe have access to their clients on rural reservations?

And that in turn brings up the question of costs—of public defenders, judges, travel, housing of both legal personnel and of those being held for trial and medical care for prisoners. These are issues that if not handled correctly could lead to federal appeals on constitutional grounds, Urbina explains.

Urbina estimates it could cost up to $500,000 for a tribe to get their justice system set up to meet the prerequisites to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence crimes. “The process will be out of reach for some tribal governments without significant assistance from the federal government, but in order to get this law passed, no money was appropriated for that purpose,” says Urbina.

Nonetheless, the Pascua Yaqui are in a financial position to bring justice long delayed to women on their reservation and they are wasting no time in getting started. Says Eid, “Nothing could be more important for a tribal government to do. This has been an area where law and order breaks down. It’s important that this works.” Urbina puts it this way: “There is nothing more basic than the right to live in peace. Everything else flows from that.”

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/05/20/justice-long-denied-comes-indian-country-first-post-vawa-trial-set-154945?page=0%2C2