For Native Women, High Price of Rape Goes Untold

The Cherokee Nation has begun an advertising campaign to encourage native women to seek help.Credit: Photo by Suzette Brewer

The Cherokee Nation has begun an advertising campaign to encourage native women to seek help.
Credit: Photo by Suzette Brewer

There’s no way to quantify the damage, but tribal leaders estimate it’s in the billions. “It happens every day in every native community; it’s that common,” says Jodi Gillette, former special assistant on Native American Affairs to the White House.

By Suzette Brewer, WeNews Correspondent

STILWELL, Okla. (WOMENSENEWS)– For six years Brendan Johnson served as U.S. attorney for the State of South Dakota.

During his time as federal prosecutor, Johnson says fully 100 percent of the women and girls engaged in the sex trafficking industry were victims of rape and-or sexual abuse earlier in their lives.

“We had an underage girl from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota who was picked up in Sioux Falls and wound up in a sex ring,” said Johnson, who is now in private practice, in a phone interview from his office in Sioux Falls, S.D. “She was a single mother and had not a penny to her name, which is very common. She didn’t want to rely on government assistance because of the fear that her child would be taken away. She had also been sexually abused prior to this. So the high economic impact of these situations is hard to accurately quantify, because of post-traumatic stress disorder and the related issues for girls who are vulnerable targets for these criminals.”

Tribal women are the most vulnerable group of women when it comes to rape; nearly three times as likely to suffer sexual assault than all other races in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice.

“It happens every day in every native community–it’s that common,” says Jodi Gillette, the former special assistant on Native American Affairs to the White House. “I know literally dozens of women who have told me at one point or another that they were raped or sexually abused, but no one talks about it because of the stigma. So they suffer in silence.”

Gillette, who now serves as a tribal policy advisor for the Sonosky Chambers law firm in Washington, D.C., recently testified at the U.S. Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva that even with recent passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the Violence Against Women Act of 2013, which closed jurisdictional gaps and allowed non-tribal perpetrators to be tried in tribal courts, much work remains to be done.

Basic Services a Struggle

“Many tribes struggle to provide basic victims services, necessary training and staff for courts and adequate mental health care,” said Gillette in a recent phone interview. “To this day, tribes still cannot prosecute non-Indians for child abuse, rape and other serious crimes against women and children and must rely on the federal authorities, who usually only prosecute the worst crimes. This leaves vulnerable many Indigenous women and children unprotected in their own homelands.”

Nearly one-third of tribal women, or approximately 875,000 nationwide, report being raped at some time in their lives. Two-thirds of their perpetrators are non-Indian, who until very recently could not be prosecuted in tribal court and are still unlikely to ever face formal charges for their crimes in state or federal court. This is due, in part, to the fact that–despite the recent expansions of tribal court to prosecute rape–many smaller and-or remote tribes either do not have their own tribal court systems and do not have the resources to establish one.

The scourge of rape in Indian country has impacted every single community among the nation’s 567 federally-recognized tribes, whose total population hovers around 5.2 million.

The costs–both emotional and financial–are staggering for communities already beset by poverty and its attendant social problems in geographically isolated regions.

The American College of Emergency Physicians, based in Irving, Texas, estimates that the tangible costs of rape–for both the victim and the society–are approximately $150,000 per victim. That amount covers a range of categories including expenses for justice and prosecution, physical and mental health issues for the woman and her family, social services including emergency response teams and shelters, loss of education, loss of wages and/or employment.

Emotional costs, including pain and suffering for the victim and her children, possible death of the victim, including suicide and others, are incalculable.

Native American writer Louise Erdrich, in her 2012 book “The Round House,” tells the story of Geraldine Coutts, an Ojibwe woman who has been raped on Indian land. After her attacker goes free because of jurisdictional issues on Indian reservations, her teenaged son sets out on a quest to seek justice for his mother, who has retreated to her bed, paralyzed by grief and trauma.

Though the story is fictional, Erdrich’s book accurately captures the terrible toll of rape for Native women

Tribal leaders estimate that the final tally is in the billions for native communities already strapped by poverty and lack of opportunity.

Overlapping Issues

The pervasive and pernicious nature of sexual assault and abuse overlaps with a variety of other serious issues within native communities.

“Sexual assault presents some of the greatest challenges in Indian country,” Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said in a recent email interview. “Because of the devastating impact that sexual assault can have on self-worth and self-esteem, we know that it may be a contributing factor to the epidemic of youth suicides. As we try to help tribal communities cope with a suicide crisis, it is imperative that we address each of the risk factors. For that reason, we have been working on better responding to the needs of survivors of sexual assault.”

Across the country, geographic isolation and jurisdictional complexities continue to be the biggest obstacles in both the prosecution and restitution of these crimes, particularly in Alaska, which has 229 tribes and is nearly three times larger than Texas.

The Northern Plains and the tribes of the Southwest are similarly situated, with tribal law enforcement and social service departments already bursting with overflowing caseloads and limited resources to prosecute. But with a growing sense of urgency, many tribes are redirecting as many resources as possible to address what is regarded as a human rights crisis in Indian communities.

The two largest tribes–the Cherokee Nation and Navajo Nation, for example–have dedicated agencies to assist their tribal members who are victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes. In 2013, the Cherokee Nation opened the One Fire Victims Service Office, which provides emergency advocate assistance to law enforcement, transitional housing and even legal assistance for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or dating violence.

Help Navigating the System

The Navajo Nation Victims Assistance Program also works closely with the three states within its boundaries–Arizona, New Mexico and Utah–to assist its tribal members with help in navigating the legal system, as well as completing applications for financial assistance for health-related expenses, costs of funerals, lost wages, eyewear, and Native healing ceremonies and traditional medicine people.

The smaller tribes, many of whom have poor economies and high unemployment, still struggle with the enormous legal, logistic and financial burdens of sexual assault in their communities.

For them, not much has changed over the years, in spite of new legislation and programs to help stem the violence against Native women.

Gillette recalls a high school friend from the 1980s whose case is one of the few that have ever gone to trial. She says her friend, who was from the Northern Plains, was skewered and portrayed as a “whore” on the stand after being gang-raped by a half-dozen white teenagers from a neighboring community, even though she was a virgin at the time of the assault. Nonetheless, her perpetrators went free while her friend felt punished for coming forward.

“They made an example of her,” said Gillette, who remains haunted by her friend’s case. “The message was clear, ‘This is what’s going to happen to you if you tell.’ And she was only 15 years old. In this day and age, you’d think we’re past that–but we’re not.”

Arizona youth among 1,000 at first White House Tribal Youth Gathering

About half of more than a thousand youth at the White House Tribal Youth gathering wore traditional tribal clothing. More than 230 tribes from across the country were represented. (Cronkite News Photo/Aubrey Rumore)

About half of more than a thousand youth at the White House Tribal Youth gathering wore traditional tribal clothing. More than 230 tribes from across the country were represented. (Cronkite News Photo/Aubrey Rumore)

By Aubrey Rumore, Cronkite News

WASHINGTON — Brooke Overturf of Window Rock, Arizona, was momentarily flustered as she stood holding hands Thursday with Michelle Obama, while hundreds of other Native American youth crowded around, hoping for a handshake.

But the Navajo 19-year-old quickly recovered and pulled a turquoise ring from her hand to give to the first lady.

“I told my mom last night that if I met her (Obama) I was going to give her my ring. I gave her a ring my grandmother gave me,” said Overturf, emerging from the crowd one accessory shy of when she went in.

Overturf was one of more than 1,000 Native American youth representing more than 230 tribes from across the country who had come to Washington for what organizers were calling a “historic” first White House Tribal Youth Gathering. Dozens of youth from Arizona were at the event.

President Barack Obama had called for the meeting in April as part of his Generation Indigenous, or Gen-I, initiative.

The event brought together Cabinet secretaries and elected officials – and the first lady – for speeches and small-group sessions to discuss issues in Indian country and share their stories with tribes and various federal officials.

“Your cultures, your values, your discoveries are at the heart of the American story,” Obama told the cheering gathering, but she said tribes rarely receive credit for their contributions.

But the gathering was less about history than it was about finding solutions to current problems on tribal lands. Most Native youth, including those at the gathering, face what Attorney General Loretta Lynch called “tremendous” challenges.

“Many Native American children suffer post-traumatic stress similar to the level of veterans who have come home from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Lynch said.

For a long time the federal government has tried to “prescribe how the nations should live,” but Lynch said the U.S. government needs to recognize that tribal decisions are best left to the tribes.

“You have to lead, and we have to be your partners,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, not the other way around.

Lynch, Burwell and other speakers encouraged the youth there to raise their voices. Lynch noted that “when it comes to civil rights and human rights,” young people have the “determination” to generate change.

“Every movement in this country has really been fueled by the energy of young people,” Lynch said.

The young people at the event had to be involved in order to get invited: The gathering was open to Native Americans ages 14-24 who had took the Gen-I challenge to create and document a project in their communities.

For Overturf, that meant organizing a free basketball camp on the Navajo Nation, recruiting help from a former women’s basketball player at Arizona State University, where Overturf is Miss Indian ASU.

She got her invitation in May and had help getting to Washington from ASU and from various sponsors. But many youth had to raise funds to make the trip.

“I know it was a challenge for a lot of Native youth to get here,” said Elton Naswood, a Navajo who works at HHS’ Office of Minority Health Resource Center in Washington.

Overturf said she reached out to other Navajo youth and other youth through the Indian community at ASU before making the trip.

“I could easily go by myself, but I am representing them too,” said Overturf, who routinely reminds tribal youth to “be proud of who you are and where you came from.”

Youth at the event were lauded by the Washington officials who turned out Thursday.

That was echoed by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota.

“We know one thing is for certain,” Heitkamp said. “We must involve youth.”

Despite the emphasis on self-reliance, however, the U.S. government still has to play a role in the betterment of Indian country, Heitkamp said.

“If by the time I’ve left office we have not changed opportunity, education, safety and healthcare on Indian reservations, then I have done nothing,” she pledged to the crowd.

The comments were well received but the first lady was clearly the star of the show.

“Every single one of your lives is precious and sacred,” Obama said. “And you definitely have a president and a first lady who have your back.”

Tester: We must do more to address the youth suicide epidemic in Indian Country

 
(U.S. Senate)—Senator Jon Tester, Vice-Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, today held a committee hearing on efforts to prevent youth suicide in Indian Country.
 
During the hearing, Tester heard from administration and tribal leaders about the lack of resources accessible to Native American youth struggling with mental health issues.
 
“Unfortunately, this year it seems like Congress can provide more spending for Defense budgets, but we can’t put more resources towards saving the lives of native youth,” Tester said.  “To say that this is troubling doesn’t even begin to characterize the situation.”
 
Native Americans have the highest suicide rate of any ethnic group in the United States, and Native American youth commit suicide at twice the rate of their non-Native peers.
  
Currently, IHS only employs 0.44 mental health providers per 100,000 Native American youths and only 1.3 percent of the total clinical service budget for IHS is allocated for mental health services. 
 
Earlier this month the Senate passed two Tester-backed bills that will increase safety and provide additional resources for children in Indian Country.
Press Release, Jon Tester

 

Indian Country All Too Familiar With Rachel Dolezals of the World

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By Mary Annette Pember, Indian Country Today Media Network

The story of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman posing as an African American, shines a light on the strange practice of ethnic fraud. Unfortunately, this practice is old news in Indian Country; non-Natives, mostly Caucasians, have been posing as Native people for years.

“Playing Indian” is so common that most Native peoples have grown inured to the cringe-inducing spectacle of white folks doing ungainly dances at hobby powwows all over the world. Not all participants at these events claim Native ancestry – many just want to be Indian for a day.

There are more and more individuals and groups, however, claiming Native heritage in order to reap benefits, either professional or monetary. Many of these imposters also present themselves to the general public as authorities and spokespeople for Native peoples. These practices are a line in the sand for some Native people like Ben Barnes, Second Chief for the Shawnee tribe of Oklahoma and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO). He and representatives from other Oklahoma tribes are joining together and taking action.

Barnes and leaders from the three federally recognized Shawnee tribal governments all located in Oklahoma (the Shawnee, Absentee Shawnee and Eastern Band Shawnee, as well as the Miami tribe), traveled to Illinois in May to oppose a state bill that would have conferred state tribal recognition to the Vinyard Indian Settlement. The group, located in Herod, Illinois, claims to be Shawnee.

George Strack, THPO for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma described the group as hobbyists.

According to a story on the Daily Register newspaper website in Harrisburg, Illinois the legislation recognizing the Vinyard Settlement would have made the group eligible to receive resources from the federal government and state agencies. The group expected to use that funding to create an elder living center, a daycare center and make improvements to the surrounding environment.

Illinois State Representative Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, introduced the bill into the Illinois House in February, where it passed unanimously and was headed to the Senate for what appeared to be easy passage until representatives from the Oklahoma tribes presented the legislature with historic documentation that called the Vinyard claims into serious question.

Tribal leaders from Oklahoma are hopeful that the bill will not resurface. “Groups like the Vinyard tribe take funding that is earmarked for genuine state and federally recognized tribes,” Barnes said. He also noted that states without federally recognized tribes have little experience in Native affairs and can easily fall victim to claims by hobby groups. “Some of the states are simply unaware of how to verify the claims made by these groups and are often misled.

“There are about 35 groups claiming Shawnee heritage who have formed 501 c 3 (non-profit) status with the government. Some conduct public presentations falsely claiming to present Shawnee culture and tradition,” according to Barnes.

Most of the 35 groups are located in Ohio. Some, such as the United Remnant Band (URB) of Shawnee claim to have formal state recognition.

Ohio has no state recognized tribes nor does it have a recognition process, according to Rob Nicholas Communications director for office of Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

In 2007, the U.S. Mint issued offered customer refunds for pouches produced by the URB for the 2004 Lewis and Clark Commemorative. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the Shawnee group was one of several Indian tribes hired by the federal government to manufacture pouches sold with the limited run of 50,000 silver dollars. The Ohio Shawnees were involved in making about 2,000 pouches, and were cited in the “certificate of authenticity” that came with each coin-and-pouch set.

The problem, the mint said, is that “neither state nor federal authorities recognize the Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band of Ohio as an official Indian tribe.” As such, “the pouch is not an authentic American Indian arts and crafts product.”

According to Barnes, the Shawnee tribe has found all of the claims by these groups to be unfounded. “These groups are misleading the public especially when they are associated with state museums, parks and schools,” he said.

He is concerned with activities at the Fort Ancient Archeological Park in Oregonia, Ohio, where he believes the museum relies on hobbyists, many of them from the 35 groups falsely claiming Shawnee citizenship, to present facts about Shawnee culture and history to visitors.

Fort Ancient is the site of a series of massive earthworks created by the Hopewell, an ancient Native American culture. Shawnee people believe they are descendants of these people. It is one of 58 historic sites and museums owned by the Ohio History Connection, a non -profit organization that serves as the state’s partner in preserving Ohio’s history.

According to the Fort Ancient website, “the sites mission is to provide visitor and educational services focused on archaeology, Native American culture, and heritage stewardship as they relate to the site.”

Fort Ancient site archaeologist Jack Blosser says thousands of school children tour the site each year, where they are presented with information about the site’s history as well as information about contemporary Native culture.

Fort Ancient also sponsors the annual Fort Ancient Celebration that is structured like a powwow with drum groups singing under a central arbor with attendees clad in various interpretations of Native regalia dancing in a circular direction around the arbor. According to the Fort Ancient website, the Celebration features Native heritage experts from whom visitors can learn about ancient and current Native Americans.

Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN) recently published an article about controversy surrounding the event.

Barnes noted that the Ohio History Connection has reached out to the three Shawnee tribes for discussions about pursuing status as a world heritage site with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for some of the earthworks sites. Fort Ancient, however, has not sought any tribal involvement in creating public programs purporting to present facts about the Shawnee.

Barnes believes that the general public is being misled by the information presented at Fort Ancient.

Its managers may be taking note of those concerns; ICTMN visited Fort Ancient’s Celebration earlier in June and observed that several vendors displayed signs indicating that their goods were “Native inspired.”

This was presumably done in response to tribal concerns regarding violations of federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act that prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts.

Additionally Lynn Hanson, vice president of the Dayton Society of Natural History, the organization that manages the Fort Ancient site for the Ohio History Connection said that managers of the site are grappling with a way to address concerns by federally recognized tribes. “Ohio has so little contact with Native peoples, their issues and concerns that we know little about them. We need to address this,” she said.

Hanson indicated that the Dayton Society hopes to follow the lead of the Ohio History Connection and begin to involve leaders of the federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma in conversations about Fort Ancient programming. “We want to work on a way to fix this while still making the site open and available to everyone,” she said.

When fantasy takes over

While people of color may see ethnic fraud as the ultimate luxury of choice for white people, it speaks to a darker psychology that serves a strange need for some. According to an article in Thinkprogress, such self-deception allows people to avoid uncomfortable parts of their lives. It could also be an indication of body dysmorphic – a condition in which people are preoccupied with their appearance and go to great lengths to change it.

The article further noted that humans have the unique ability to keep absolute truths out of their mind so they can lead more pleasant lives.

As we’ve seen in the Rachel Dolezal case, however, the pursuit of a more pleasant and interesting life may wreck havoc on the lives and cultures of others.

Sherri Clemons, THPO for the Wyandotte tribe of Oklahoma the genuine descendants of the ancestors found in Danbury, found out about the reburial two years after the event. “When we unearthed the remains we found they had been buried in plastic garbage bags and an old whisky box,” she said.

“When news of archeological finds gets out to the public, these fake groups come out of the woodwork and try to lay claim to remains,” she said. “This has been going on in Indian Country for a long time. We have to fight these fake organizations every time and convince state governments we are the people they should be dealing with.”

The Wyandottes were finally successful, two years after finding out about the remains, in giving their ancestors a proper burial.

Why do so many people claim to be Native American? ICTMN recently published an article about a new report by the Pew Research Center on the growing number of multiracial adults in the U.S.

“When news of archeological finds gets out to the public, these fake groups come out of the woodwork and try to lay claim to remains,” she said. “This has been going on in Indian Country for a long time. We have to fight these fake organizations every time and convince state governments we are the people they should be dealing with.”

The Wyandottes were finally successful, two years after finding out about the remains, in giving their ancestors a proper burial.

Why do so many people claim to be Native American? ICTMN recently published an article about a new report by the Pew Research Center on the growing number of multiracial adults in the U.S.

According to the report, 6.9 percent of the adult population “could be considered multiracial,” and that biracial adults who claim to be white and Native American “comprise half of the country’s multiracial population – by far the country’s largest multiracial group.”

“Everybody wants to be Indian these days,” Clemons noted.

“I think people want to know where they belong. They come to us with stories handed down through their families about a Wyandotte ancestor,” she said.

“Nine times out of 10 we can’t offer them any proof of their stories and they are disappointed,” said Clemons.

This story was originally published in Indian Country Today Media Network

Montana creates Office of American Indian Health

By Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. – Gov. Steve Bullock signed an executive order last week establishing a state Office of American Indian Health, saying the current health care system in Indian Country limits access to preventative care and quality health care services and providers.

Bullock issued the directive with health officials and tribal leaders at the conclusion of the Montana Tribal Leaders’ Summit at the Capitol.

Feds, tribal police target heroin ring centered on 2 Minnesota reservations

By Elizabeth Mohr, Pioneer Press

Minnesota’s U.S. attorney on Thursday announced an indictment against 41 people and the “dismantlement” of a multistate heroin-trafficking ring that targeted American Indian reservations.

Investigators tracked the ring, led by Omar Sharif Beasley, 37, for the past year and confiscated 2 kilograms of heroin, 1 kilogram of cocaine, hundreds of pills and numerous weapons, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said. The operation netted the traffickers millions of dollars, he said.

“With Beasley out of business, there will be less heroin sold in Minnesota,” Luger said.

The group’s business model allegedly centered on distributing drugs on the Red Lake and White Earth reservations in Minnesota, as well as at least one reservation in North Dakota, though the dealers themselves were not tribal members.

Tribal police who spoke at Thursday’s news conference with Luger said drug use on the reservations has become epidemic and is tearing families apart.

William Brunelle, director of public safety for the Red Lake Tribal Police Department, said, “The pain and suffering surrounding addiction, overdoses … is devastating.”

In 2007, American Indians accounted for less than 3 percent of those seeking treatment for opiate addiction in Minnesota, Brunelle said. By 2014, that figure had risen to more than 13 percent, he said. “We are nearing a crisis.”

Randy Goodwin, director of public safety for the White Earth Tribal Police Department, called the effect on the tribal community “horrific.”

“Many lives, families and communities have been destroyed by this poison,” Goodwin said.

“Our elders have been victims of threats, abuse and theft. Home invasions and crimes of violence have increased. And sadly, even some of our newborn babies have been exposed as a result of mothers using during pregnancy.”

Goodwin said that, while law enforcement focuses on drug trafficking, efforts must be made to ensure a “safe environment for future generations.” Plans and programs are underway to address addiction and to keep families together, he said. “Now the hard work of healing and wellness begins.”

With 35 of the 41 defendants in custody, Dan Moren, special agent in charge of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s office in the Twin Cities, called the bust a “dismantlement of a significant prescription drug- and heroin-trafficking organization.”

Luger said the indictment covers nearly everyone involved in the organization.

He offered a warning “to those who would try to step into the shoes of the Beasley organization to sell heroin in Indian country,” saying his office and law enforcement would investigate and arrest people who bring heroin into the state.

“(We) will do everything we can to protect the people of Minnesota in every corner of Minnesota, from the trafficking of heroin,” Luger said.

A little more than a year ago Luger announced his office’s involvement in “Project Exile,” which launched a focused effort to combat heroin trafficking in Minnesota and netted more than 100 arrests, he said. That investigation produced information about the organization and structure of trafficking rings, as well as names of key players, Luger said. The focused effort led investigators to the Beasley operation, allegedly importing drugs from Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Beasley’s 40 co-defendants range in age from 23 to 67 and hail from the Twin Cities, Detroit, Chicago, Red Lake, White Earth, Duluth, Milwaukee and elsewhere in Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Heroin and opiate use has been a growing problem in Minnesota in recent years.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were 568 emergency room visits for heroin poisoning in Minnesota in 2012, up from 111 in 2001.

According to an April report tracking drug trends in the Twin Cities, “heroin accounted for a record-high 14.6 percent of total treatment admissions in 2014, compared with 14.0 percent in 2013. This compares with 7.8 percent in 2010, and 3.3 percent in 2000.”

Seizures of heroin and prescription drugs in Minnesota declined in 2014, but the DEA and Hennepin County reported increased numbers, the Drug Abuse Dialogues report said.

In Hennepin County, there were 102 opiate-related deaths in 2014, compared with 132 in 2013 and 84 in 2012.

Data for heroin-related deaths for earlier years have been unreliable due to inconsistent or nonspecific categorization, though efforts are underway to better track them.

Moren pointed out that the heroin coming to Minnesota is cheap and relatively pure and that Beasley and his crew peddled both heroin and prescription drugs.

With the bust of a major supplier, Moren said, the focus should now be on treatment and rehab. “When the demand stops, so does the supply,” he said.

Dan Bauman contributed to this report. Elizabeth Mohr can be reached at 651-228-5162. Follow her at twitter.com/LizMohr.

Law Firm Gifts $3.5M to Tribal Health

By Joaqlin Estus, KNBA- Anchorage

A national law firm that specializes in Indian law is donating $3.5 million to improve medical care for tribal members. The decision comes after the firm, which has offices in Anchorage, helped win a case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving hundreds of millions of dollars for tribal health organizations.

The law firm Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Miller and Munson last year was one of the law firms that successfully fought for back payments to tribes from the Indian Health Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs. Attorney Lloyd Miller, a partner in the firm, says the firm wanted to give back to Indian Country, and recognizes the firm’s 40-year anniversary:

“We wanted to give back to Indian Country,” said Miller. “And since so much of our work involves health care issues, we wanted to focus our charitable contribution program on improving health care facilities, either entire clinics or acquisition of critical equipment such as cat scans, MRI machines and the like.”

Four-hundred-fifty thousand dollars each is going to the statewide Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium for patient housing, and to the Anchorage-based Southcentral Foundation for construction of a behavioral health clinic. Last year, ANTHC was paid $153 million for contract support costs, or overhead, that had been in litigation since 1990. Southcentral was awarded $96 million. Miller says $200,000 each is going to the Choctaw, Cherokee, and Chickasaw nations:

“For the most part we’re working with tribes we know very well,” said Miller. “Tribes we’ve had a relationship with since the firm’s founding, in the case of some of the tribes we’ve worked with for 40 years.”

Miller says he hopes their donation will inspire other companies that work with tribes on self governance in health:

“We encourage them to come up with matching funds so that the tribes can do more for their people.”

Miller says in the coming year, the firm will be working on grants to other tribes in Oklahoma, and in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana.

Native Americans Use Sweat Lodge Ceremonies To Recover From Heroin Abuse

(Laurel Morales)Ken Lewis stands in front of Indian Rehab in Phoenix. He says he has been clean for eight years thanks to the people here and the traditional methods they offer.

(Laurel Morales)
Ken Lewis stands in front of Indian Rehab in Phoenix. He says he has been clean for eight years thanks to the people here and the traditional methods they offer.

By Laurel Morales, Fronteras

Native Americans have some of the highest substance abuse rates compared to other racial or ethnic groups. Alcohol and meth are the drugs of choice, but many tribal police have been overwhelmed by a new crop of heroin. Black tar heroin is cheap, addictive and destructive.

A decade ago, Ken Lewis almost lost his arm to an IV drug addiction. Twice he developed cysts in his veins that exploded in the hospital. When he came out of surgery the doctor prescribed pain killers. So he traded his meth and heroin for the prescribed opiates.

“I was at my wit’s end,” Lewis said. “I mean I was mentally gone, dead. Spiritually, I didn’t believe in a god. Emotionally, didn’t feel, didn’t realize I was hurting people or hurting myself. Physically, I probably should’ve been dead.”

A judge finally ordered Lewis to rehab. He went to Native American Connections. Indian Rehab, as it’s called, is an old two-story house in the middle of downtown Phoenix.

“The lady behind the desk came out and she gave me this big old hug,” Lewis recalled. “And inside I’m cussing her out. And she told me, ‘it’s going to be ok.’ And I was more mad because nobody told me that in a long time. I hadn’t heard those words. People gave up on me.”

The recovery program combines western practices like the 12 steps with traditional indigenous healing ceremonies. Lewis, an Akimel O’odham member, said the God talk wasn’t working. It was the sweat lodge that gave him the hope he so desperately needed.

“This is the type of forgiveness of self, of cleansing, of a rebirth,” Lewis said. “And so when you’re coming out you’re feeling purified. You’re feeling worthy and that I can go into recovery. And so you’ve cleansed all those negative feelings and thoughts and decisions you made.”

Lewis has been clean for eight years and now works for Native American Connections. Many aren’t so lucky. A person addicted to heroin often winds up in jail or dead.

At the Coconino County Jail on the edge of the Navajo Nation, half of the inmates are Native American. So the sheriff invited Shannon Rivers to conduct sweat lodge ceremonies. Inside the razor-wire fence, Rivers recently built a fire next to a rebar structure. When the fire has heated a dozen or so stones he covered the frame with blankets. He then poured water over the hot rocks inside the sweat lodge.

(Laurel Morales)Shannon Rivers, an Akimel O'odham member, leads purification ceremonies at the Coconino County jail, where half of the inmates are Native American.

(Laurel Morales)
Shannon Rivers, an Akimel O’odham member, leads purification ceremonies at the Coconino County jail, where half of the inmates are Native American.

“My job here is to help these men down a path of sobriety,” Rivers said. “And how we do that is through these ceremonies. Because what we know is a lot of the ways the western ways aren’t working.”

Rivers, himself a former addict, said the reasons why Native Americans have such high rates of incarceration and substance abuse are complex.

“For me, I still had that baggage that I grew up with as a Native person coming from a reservation,” Rivers said. “So I struggled with my shortcomings, my insecurities, my anger, my jealousy. That baggage is tied to our history as Native people.”

(Laurel Morales)Navajo Nation police officer Donald Seimy says making alcohol illegal on the reservation doesn't stop people from bootlegging and selling drugs.

(Laurel Morales)
Navajo Nation police officer Donald Seimy says making alcohol illegal on the reservation doesn’t stop people from bootlegging and selling drugs.

A history of government-run boarding schools, destruction of language and forced relocation.

And there’s a new problem: a recent FBI report shows the Mexican drug cartels are specifically targeting Indian Country. High unemployment on the reservations means many turn to trafficking and dealing. The cartels know the tribes lack law enforcement resources.

On the Navajo Nation, about 200 full-time officers patrol a reservation the size of West Virginia. On a ride along Navajo Nation officer Donald Seimy said a recent false report of a car accident pulled all four officers on duty to one remote location. Seimy’s theory: the calls came from drug dealers trying to sell or traffic drugs across the reservation.

“And we show up and then there’s nothing,” Seimy said. “I think they have that knowledge of us not being everywhere or the short manpower that we have they know it. So they’re getting smart about it.”

The Navajo Nation and many other tribes just don’t have the law enforcement to keep the drugs out. That means more and more Native Americans are getting hooked.

U.S. Department of Education Announces $3 Million In Grants Available to Help Native Youth

Source:WHITE HOUSE MEDIA RELEASE

The U.S. Department of Education today announced the availability of an estimated $3 million in grants to help Native American youth become college- and career-ready. Funding for the new Native Youth Community Projects is a key step toward implementing President Obama’s commitment to improving the lives of American Indian and Alaskan Native children. The new grants will support the President’s Generation Indigenous “Gen I” Initiative launched last year to help Native American youth.

“We know that tribes are in the best position to determine the needs and barriers that Native youth face,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  “The Native Youth Community Projects will allow tribal communities to come together to improve outcomes for students.”

In a Federal Register notice, the Department said it would award five to seven demonstration grants ranging from $400,000 to $600,000 to tribal communities before Sept. 30. The new program is based on significant consultation with tribal communities and recognizes that these communities are best-positioned to:

·       Identify key barriers to improving educational and life outcomes for Native youth, and
·       Develop and implement locally produced strategies designed to address those barriers.

Each grant will support a coordinated, focused approach chosen by a community partnership that includes a tribe, local schools and other optional service providers or organizations. For example, the program allows tribes to identify ways to achieve college and career readiness specific to their own communities – whether it’s early learning, language immersion or mental health services.  Communities can tailor actions to address one or more of those issues. The success of these first projects will guide the work of future practices that improve the educational opportunities and achievement of preschool, elementary and secondary Indian students.

The President’s FY 2016 budget proposal calls for increased investments across Indian Country, including a total request of $20.8 billion for a range of federal programs that serve tribes – a $1.5 billion increase over the 2015-enacted level. The budget proposal includes $53 million for fiscal year 2016 – a $50 million increase from this year – to significantly expand the Native Youth Community Projects program.

For more on the Administration’s investment in Native American issues, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/nativeamericans.

Wyoming tribe seeks to exclude Andrew Yellowbear from reservation boundary case

By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

The Northern Arapaho Tribe is seeking to exclude one of its members from participating in a lawsuit over the boundary of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Andrew Yellowbear, Jr., is serving a life sentence in state prison in connection with the 2004 murder of his young daughter in Riverton.

State and federal courts have rejected Yellowbear’s claim that the state lacked jurisdiction to prosecute him on the grounds that Riverton remained Indian County. He’s seeking to get involved in the current boundary dispute in yet another attempt to get his conviction overturned.

A federal appeals court in Denver is hearing the state of Wyoming’s appeal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s determination that more than 1 million acres around Riverton remain legally “Indian Country.”

The EPA recently determined that a 1905 act of Congress that opened reservation lands to settlement by non-Indians didn’t serve to remove the land’s legal status as Indian Country. The Northern Arapaho and the Eastern Shoshone Tribe share the reservation in central Wyoming.

Aided by Diane Courselle, a law professor at the University of Wyoming, Yellowbear recently filed papers seeking to file a “friend of the court” brief in the current boundary dispute.

Courselle, in her proposed brief in the case, says the boundary issue is, “crucial to the determination of whether Wyoming had jurisdiction to prosecute Mr. Yellowbear or whether the United States has exclusive jurisdiction.”

The EPA addressed the boundary issue in approving an application from the tribes to treat the reservation similarly to a state in terms of consulting with them about air quality issues. Wyoming, as well as Riverton and Fremont County, are opposing the federal agency’s decision, saying it would have drastic effects on taxation and provision of government services in the disputed area.

Although Yellowbear seeks to side with the tribes’ position that the disputed land remains in the reservation, both tribes filed notice that they oppose his involvement. The Northern Arapaho Tribe filed a brief and Riverton and Fremont County filed a joint brief on Friday spelling out their opposition to his involvement.

“We do not want our legitimate efforts to protect our reservation boundaries to be aligned with someone who does not have the tribe’s best interests at heart and is simply trying to get out of jail,” said Darrell O’Neal, a member of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, in a statement.

Dean Goggles, chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, issued a statement saying that Yellowbear “is just muddying the waters and offers not new facts or viewpoints.”

Efforts to reach Courselle were unsuccessful Friday. Efforts to reach a lawyer for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe were also unsuccessful.

In their briefs, the Northern Arapaho, Riverton and Fremont County state that federal law is clear that Yellowbear’s state court conviction would stand even if the courts rule that Riverton remains Indian Country.

As a state prisoner, Yellowbear has filed several legal challenges seeking access to Native American religious materials and facilities. The American Civil Liberties Union represented Yellowbear in a 2008 federal lawsuit against the Wyoming Department of Corrections that secured his right to have eagle feathers in prison.