National Congress of American Indians and Native American Rights Fund Oppose the Nomination of Eric Miller to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit


Source: NCAI Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. | Today, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Executive Committee adopted an emergency resolution opposing the nomination of Eric Miller to the  U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. NCAI and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) had previously sent a joint letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee expressing their grave concerns about Mr. Miller’s nomination.

“Our concern is that [Miller] chose to build a law practice on mounting repeated challenges to tribal sovereignty, lands, religious freedom, and the core attribute of federal recognition of tribal existence. His advocacy has focused on undermining the rights of Indian tribes, often taking extreme positions and using pejorative language to denigrate tribal rights. Indeed, his law firm website touts his record, with over half his private practice achievements coming at the expense of tribal governments,” said NCAI and NARF leadership.

Today’s emergency resolution immediately responds to reports that the Senate leadership will proceed with Miller’s nomination hearing during the Congressional recess next week.

“We are gravely concerned that the Committee is planning to consider this nominee at a time when members of Congress are not in D.C. and will not be able to fully examine his record on Indian law issues,” said NCAI President Jefferson Keel. “This is not how a lifetime appointment to a federal court with jurisdiction over 427 federally recognized Indian tribes should be handled.”

Both NCAI and NARF are committed to protecting the rights of tribal governments. For nearly two decades, NCAI and NARF have jointly advocated for the nomination and confirmation of federal judges who, along with their commitment to uphold the Constitution, are committed to the principles of tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, and the federal trust responsibility enshrined within it. Mr. Miller’s record reflects hostility toward tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, and the federal trust responsibility, or their role in the Constitution and federal law.

Read the full NCAI Resolution #DEN-18-042 here<> along with the joint letter NCAI and NARF<> sent to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on August 21, 2018 on questions and concerns regarding Eric Miller’s nomination.

Udall Addresses National Congress of American Indians

Commits to being ‘a strong voice and advocate for all Tribes’ as vice chair of Senate Indian Affairs Committee

Source: Tom Udall Press Office
WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, addressed the National Congress of American Indians at its 2017 Executive Council Winter Session and Legislative Summit. In his speech, Udall outlined the priorities for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and his commitment to working on issues important to Indian Country – including improving health care and education, cultural preservation, economic development, infrastructure and public safety, Tribal consultation, and the Dakota Access Pipeline – while respecting Tribal sovereignty, holding the government to its trust and treaty responsibilities, and fighting for federal funds for Native communities. 
“I now serve as vice chair of the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate with great humility,” Udall said in his address. “I commit to being a strong voice and advocate for all Tribes, and to make sure that the federal government stands by its trust and treaty obligations, and that Tribal sovereignty is respected.”
Udall denounced President Trump’s callous move to advance the Dakota Access Pipeline without consulting with Tribes or addressing the deep concerns of peaceful demonstrators and people across Indian Country. “Right out of the gate, the president has given you reason to doubt that Tribal sovereignty, lands, and resources will be respected in the new administration. I am very disappointed in the president’s decision to grant the easement to complete construction of the pipeline without first consulting with the Tribe. It is deeply disrespectful,” Udall said. Last week, Udall said that President Trump should make good on the federal government’s promise to engage in meaningful consultation with Tribes affected by the Dakota Access Pipeline. 
“Let me be clear,” Udall said in his speech. “I stand with Standing Rock.”
Udall also committed to using his position on the Indian Affairs Committee, and as the lead Democrat on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, to fight for federal funding for Tribes. “I can promise you this: no one will fight harder to make sure that Tribal programs get the resources they need,” Udall said. 
Udall spoke about the need for Congress to promote economic development and create jobs in Tribal economies. “I want to do all I can to support entrepreneurs in Indian Country, to help cut through red tape and get access to start-up funding. I hope that we can continue to work on a bipartisan basis to grow jobs in Indian Country,” Udall said. 
“I am firmly committed to preservation of Tribes’ cultures and heritages. Your traditions, your languages, practices and beliefs must be strengthened and carried on by future generations,” Udall continued, noting that he chaired an Indian Affairs Committee field hearing last October to discuss the steps that should be taken to prevent the illegal sale and transfer of sacred cultural items. 
Udall also vowed to fight to protect the health care of Native Americans from the disastrous effects of the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Indian Country would be particularly hard hit if Congress repealed an expansion of Medicaid, a key provision of the ACA, which has helped make up for severe under-funding of the Indian Health Service. “With ACA repeal looming, I have prepared legislation to protect Indian Health Services. And I will fight any cuts in federal funding to Tribes if the ACA is repealed,” Udall said. 
Finally, Udall said that he has urged Trump’s nominee for Interior Secretary, Congressman Ryan Zinke, to be a strong advocate for Native Americans if he is confirmed, and to help the president understand the need for Tribal self-determination and consultation on any issue affecting Tribal lands and cultures. In particular, Udall said he believes Trump should continue holding the annual Tribal Nations Conference, which began under President Obama. 
“It’s an opportunity for all Tribes to attend, and to hear from the president and executive agencies about what they have done the past year and what they intend to do the next. It’s been one way to hold the executive accountable,” Udall said. “I hope the new president continues to hold and attend the annual Tribal Nations Conference, and that he maintains the White House Native American Council – so that Native issues are systematically given cabinet-level attention and consideration.”
The full text of Udall’s remarks as prepared for delivery is below. 
“Thank you, President Cladoosby.  
“The National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest, and most representative inter-Tribal organization in our nation. It provides valuable leadership within Indian Country and across the nation. I am honored to be here with you today.  
“I have had the privilege of representing Tribes at the state and federal level for more than 25 years now.  
“My home state of New Mexico has 19 Pueblos, three Apache Tribes, and the Navajo Nation. And New Mexico Pueblos have strong ties to the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo of Texas – who are originally from New Mexico and share the unique Puebloan culture. In New Mexico, 10 percent of our population is Native American. Nationally, we have 567 federally-recognized tribes. And millions of Americans descended from our country’s original inhabitants.
“Over time, I have been able to visit your communities, get to know your leaders, and work on issues important to you. I have seen the dignity in your spirit, your hard work on behalf of your people, and your fierce dedication to preserving your languages, cultures, and sovereignty.  
“And so I now serve as vice chair of the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate with great humility. I commit to being a strong voice and advocate for all Tribes, and to make sure that the federal government stands by its trust and treaty obligations, and that Tribal sovereignty is respected.  
“Right out of the gate, the president has given you reason to doubt that Tribal sovereignty, lands, and resources will be respected in the new administration. I am very disappointed in the president’s decision to grant the easement to complete construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline without first consulting with the Tribe. It is deeply disrespectful.
“Let me be clear: I stand with Standing Rock. Determined men, women, children from Tribes all across the country made their voices heard. We saw the hundreds of tents laid out across the white snow. And, we saw the water cannons sprayed on water protectors in freezing temperatures.  
“Across the country and the globe, people rose in opposition to the pipeline, and urged that Native American sacred sites be protected — that drinking water for Tribal communities be protected.  
“The threat of the pipeline galvanized a social justice movement within Native American communities across the nation, especially Native American youth. They are empowered, ready to take up the mantle. This momentum will not be lost. It will continue.
“The Dakota Access Pipeline was not a zero-sum game. The new administration could have figured out a way to respect Tribal resources and go forward with the pipeline. I believe the president chose short-term political gains and corporate profits over respect for Tribal rights and values. And he missed an opportunity to show genuine leadership.  
“In the wake of Standing Rock, federal agencies under President Obama’s administration held formal consultations with Tribes on infrastructure decision making all around the country. I was pleased to speak at one of the consultations, in Albuquerque. High level officials from across the federal government attended, including from the departments of the Interior, Justice, the Army, Agriculture, and Energy.  
“Tribal consultation must be substantive and meaningful. It is not just a check box of the process. This is a fundamental principle of government-to-government relationships.
“I hope the work of that nationwide, multi-agency effort is not lost, and that the recommendations laid out in the January report are taken seriously by this administration.  
“I will push to ensure that federal agencies seek Tribal input and work to integrate Tribal concerns into planning for infrastructure projects in the future, and to decide whether the Indian Affairs Committee needs to take oversight action. 
“As you all know, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee has a broad jurisdiction. We look at just about any important issue relating to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.  
“Traditionally, Congress has taken a bipartisan approach to Native issues. Native issues should not be red or blue. I want to continue the tradition of bipartisanship to the greatest extent possible, in order to produce the best results for Tribes.
“I will fight hard to protect all existing funding for Tribes, using my seat on the Indian Affairs Committee and my position as the lead Democrat on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. This is a time of great uncertainty about the Federal budget. Congress still needs to pass a budget for the rest of this year. And we don’t know what to expect on Tribal funding from the new president or the majority in Congress.  
“But I can promise you this: no one will fight harder to make sure that Tribal programs get the resources they need.
“On the campaign trail, President Trump promised he would begin a $1 trillion infrastructure program. I hope this might be an area where we can work together. If so, we must use this opportunity to make investments and create jobs in Indian Country
“That’s why I have been working with Senator Schumer and other members of the Democratic Caucus to put together our proposal for a trillion dollar program. That program targets $20 billion over five years for projects on Tribal and public lands.
“I know that many Tribes are working hard to provide basic infrastructure. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that 14 percent of households on Native American reservations do not have electricity — 10 times higher than the national average. More than 13 percent of Natives don’t have reliable access to water. On the Hopi and Navajo reservations, it’s 40 percent. According to a 2015 report from the Federal Communications Commission, 85 percent of rural Tribal members don’t have access to effective broadband, compared to 13 percent of all U.S. households.
“We must address these very basic needs. Everyone should have access to electricity and running water. And broadband is essential to economic development, education, and health care.
“Our Tribal lands need improvements to roads bridges, and waterways, investments in schools, medical facilities, and community centers. And we need to invest in energy – especially in renewable energy sources that that respect Tribal lands and resources.
“It is too soon to know what the president’s massive infrastructure program will look like, or whether we will even have one. But I am committed to working across the aisle on Tribal infrastructure, and to sorting out priorities, so we make wise investments that help sustain your communities for the future. 
“The committee also needs to work on measures that will help fuel Tribal economies and produce jobs. Last session, I joined my committee colleagues from both sides of the aisle to cosponsor the Native American Business Incubators Program Act to help launch Native American-owned small businesses. Small businesses create jobs and opportunity and empower people to shape their own future. I want to do all I can to support entrepreneurs in Indian Country, to help cut through red tape and get access to start-up funding. I hope that we can continue to work on a bipartisan basis to grow jobs in Indian Country.
“I am firmly committed to preservation of Tribes’ cultures and heritages. Your traditions, your languages, practices and beliefs must be strengthened and carried on by future generations.  
“Last week, the Indian Affairs Committee voted S. 254 out of committee. That bill extends the Esther Martinez Native American Language Preservation grant program through 2022. It also makes commonsense changes to the program’s grantee requirements section – changes we put in based on direct input from Tribes. Esther Martinez grants have supported Tribal innovation in Native language programs efforts for many years.  
“I am optimistic we will be able to get S. 254 out of the Senate, on to the House, and signed into law this year.
“I want to make sure the new administration continues to strongly and aggressively enforce the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Last October, in Albuquerque, I chaired an Indian Affairs Committee field hearing to discuss steps that should be taken to close loopholes in the existing law, push federal agencies to enforce the laws, and ensure Tribes play an active part in preventing the illegal sale and transfer of cultural items.
“Native Americans have been the victims of theft and looting for generations. I was pleased Acoma Pueblo was able to stop the sale of their shield when it was put up for sale in a Paris auction house. Now, it must be repatriated. We must do more to stop illegal seizure and sales of your sacred objects. I intend to do all I can to make sure the new administration is a strong enforcer of laws that protect cultural patrimony.
“I am particularly concerned about the proposal by the president and Republicans in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They have no concrete plan to replace the ACA. I am strongly opposed to repeal without a replacement that makes sure no one loses their current coverage and benefits. 
“Native Americans are eligible to receive care through the Indian Health Service. But we all know that IHS has been severely underfunded, that long delays for basic and specialized services are common.
“Tribal members have benefitted from Medicaid expansion under the ACA by being able to access needed services, and so have IHS hospitals through third-party collections. While current federal funding covers less than half their operational costs, increases from Medicaid expansion under the ACA have helped offset those costs.  
“But without Medicaid expansion revenue, necessary services that many are receiving now may no longer be available throughout Indian County. This would be unconscionable. 
“With ACA repeal looming, I have prepared legislation to protect Indian Health Services. And I will fight any cuts in federal funding to Tribes if the ACA is repealed.
“Now, the ACA is by no means perfect. But it has helped millions of Americans secure health care coverage for the first time. So we should be working together, on a bipartisan basis, to ensure this progress is not lost.
“And while it may seem that ACA repeal is on the back burner with all the other shenanigans going on, I assure you it is not. If you do not want to see the ACA and its key Tribal provisions repealed, I encourage you to keep the pressure on your Congressional members. 
“I met with the president’s nominee for Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Congressman Ryan Zinke. This was before the administration’s actions on the Dakota Access Pipeline. During that meeting, I emphasized the need for him to be a strong advocate for Native Americans, if he is confirmed. He assured me that is his intent. 
“I asked him to help President Trump understand the need for Tribal self-determination and consultation on any issue affecting Tribal lands and cultures. There is apparently a steep learning curve there.
“If Congressman Zinke is confirmed, I want to work with him to make sure Tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, and interests are fully respected, and that Tribes can always have their voices heard. 
“In his first year in office, President Obama started the Tribal Nations Conference. And he held the conference every year since. It’s an opportunity for all Tribes to attend, and to hear from the president and executive agencies about what they have done the past year and what they intend to do the next. It’s been one way to hold the executive accountable.  
“I hope the new president continues to hold and attend the annual Tribal Nations Conference, and that he maintains the White House Native American Council – so that Native issues are systematically given cabinet-level attention and consideration.
“I would like to conclude by affirming that, now more than ever, it’s important that we all remain engaged in the political process – at the Tribal, local, state, and national levels.  
“I know all of you here are engaged — that you work hard every day for your communities, your nations, and for our country. I thank you for your work. And I look forward to continuing our work together.”

Native leaders seek more control over assets

Ute Mountain Ute chairman presses for trust-fund reforms

By Mariam Baksh, The Durango Herald


WASHINGTON – Tribal leaders appealed to the federal government for greater control of their assets during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Wednesday.

In the 1800s, the federal government agreed to hold Indian lands for 25 years, promising to allot economic benefits of the land to Indians – a trust. The beneficiaries could not sell, lease or otherwise encumber their allotted lands without government approval. This practice is still in effect today, according to a recent Department of Interior report to Congress.

“Leasing lands should be tribally driven,” said Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Chairman Manuel Heart in a telephone interview. “We know what’s best for us.”

The trust is established in the Constitution and in extensive case law, but it is not codified in any congressional statute. Tribes support legislation by Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, to codify the trust and reform it to give more management control to tribal governments.

The legislation would maintain federal responsibility and oversight for the trust, but seeks to ensure accountability by having Native Americans provide input in management decisions.

Tribal leaders are also calling for the elimination of the Office of the Special Trustee. They say it is superfluous to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and it causes delays and hurdles for tribal management.

The National Congress of American Indians has issued a resolution expressing the importance of the legislation in streamlining rules to promote economic development.

“We go to the BIA, and they say you have to go to the OST, then they send us back to the BIA,” said Ernest Stensgar, vice chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians, describing the permitting process for logging projects. “OST is a problem. Our processes can come to a dead stop as we wait to find out who has jurisdiction.”

Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, acknowledged as many as 43 steps are required for permitting development but said merging the positions would be “like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

“Frankly, this fiduciary function is very important, having that expertise,” Washburn said. “We’re very cautious about claims that the OST position needs to be reformed.”

The committee also discussed the Supreme Court’s ruling on Carcieri v. Salazar. In 2009, the court ruled that only tribes recognized before 1934 should be included in the trust.

“It’s (Carcieri analysis) has been a horrible burden,” said Washburn, who explained that counties often fear a loss of tax revenue from tribes being accepted into the trust. “If there’s disagreement from the local or state governments, proposals to join the trust can languish for years.”

Washburn described another challenge concerning states’ jurisdiction.

“State taxation crowds out the ability of tribes to develop their lands,” he said.

“If we really want to get serious about issues like native youth suicides, then we have to allow development and tackling dual taxation.”

Heart said state control has affected the Ute Mountain Utes. The tribe has about 20,000 acres in New Mexico, but because New Mexico doesn’t recognize the Ute Mountain Utes, the state collects taxes from companies. Heart says that revenue belongs to the tribe.

These types of uncertainties create land insecurity and end up stifling economic interests for both native and non-native people, said Gregory Smith, an attorney working to defend tribal rights in the Southwest.

Heart said the Ute Mountain Utes have casinos and oil and gas developments, and they are looking to invest in solar energy, as well.

Alaska’s largest tribe vows FedEx boycott until Redskins sponsorship revoked

By Brandon Schlager, Perform Media, Sporting News

At 30,000 members strong nationwide, Alaska’s largest Native American tribe has taken direct aim at FedEx in the hope that the shipping giant’s financial clout might persuade the Washington football team to change its racially-charged nickname once and for all.

Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska says it will boycott all FedEx services so long as the company continues to sponsor the Redskins. In doing so, the tribe, one of the nation’s largest, believes its strength in numbers could be enough to hit the NFL franchise where it hurts — its wallet.

FedEx owns the naming rights to the team’s stadium and is one of its top sponsors.

“This isn’t anti-FedEx. We are exercising our strength financially,” tribal president Richard Peterson said, via the Juneau Empire. “If you actively support entities, in this case specifically a sports franchise that has a mascot and name derogatory to our people, we’re going to spend our dollars elsewhere — that’s us voting with our dollars.”

The Redskins nickname is considered by many to be derogatory toward indigenous peoples. By definition, the Merriam-Webster dictionary recognizes the term as “very offensive and should be avoided.”

But team owner Daniel Snyder insists the moniker is intended to honor Native Americans and has refused to accommodate demands to change it, despite intense public and political pushback.

So far, the team’s biggest sponsors have remained mostly silent on the matter. But that’s what the CCTHITA intends to change with the support of joint organizations like the National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Rights Fund.

“We have a longstanding relationship with Washington Football Inc. (the Redskins’ parent company),” FedEx president Fred Smith, a member of the Redskins ownership group, told CNBC in June 2014 — the last time the company has made a public comment regading its relationship with the franchise.

“The Redskins play at FedEx Field. But there are many, many other events there: the Rolling Stones, Notre Dame, and Army and Navy football, Kenny Chesney. That’s our sponsorship, and we really don’t have any dog in this issue from the standpoint of FedEx.”

Peterson said the boycott will remain in effect until FedEx pulls its sponsorship or the Redskins remove a name he says perpetuates racial stereotypes.

“It’s like anybody else using the N-word,” Peterson said. “It’s like calling our women squaws. It may have been popular … with colonial, backwards-minded people back in the day, but I don’t think it’s appropriate and we need to be a voice and a champion.

“Hopefully they’re going to say, ‘You know what, we’re not going to wave our confederate flag or these old symbols of racism.'”

Bills Propose To Reverse National Labor Relations Board Jurisdiction Over Indian Tribal Governments

By Patrick Sulivan, Dickinson Wright PLLC, Gaming Legal News

The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) was enacted by Congress in 1935. The Act, also known as the Wagner Act after its champion, New York Senator Robert F. Wagner, passed the Senate in May 1935, the House in June 1935, and was signed into law by President Roosevelt on July 5, 1935. The Act’s purpose was to encourage workers’ collective bargaining rights and protect them from retribution for organizing unions. The Act created the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”), a new agency, to enforce the new policy.

Despite the fact that Congress had enacted sweeping pro-Indian legislation in the form of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 in the previous year, the NLRA did not mention Indian tribes at any point. Until 2004, Indian tribes and tribally owned businesses were generally assumed to be beyond the jurisdiction of the labor legislation with few exceptions.

In 2004, the NLRB reversed that assumption with a ruling that it had jurisdiction over the San Manuel Casino pursuant to the NLRA. The matter originated from a complaint filed with the NLRB by UNITE HERE!, a large California hotel and restaurant workers’ union, which complained that the Tribe had allowed a competing union, the Communication Workers of America, access to the casino to organize its employees while denying UNITE HERE! representatives access to the site. The Tribe moved to dismiss the proceeding for lack of jurisdiction.

The NLRB held that it had jurisdiction, reasoning that (1) the NLRA applies to tribal governments by its terms, despite any express reference to Indian tribes, (2) the legislative history of the NLRA did not suggest a tribal exception, and (3) federal Indian policy did not preclude the application for the NLRA to the commercial activities of tribal governments. The board found an unfair labor practice and ordered the Tribe to allow UNITE HERE! access to the casino workers.

The Tribe appealed the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. UNITE HERE! intervened as a defendant. The Court determined that the question of the NLRA’s application to Indian tribes turned on two related questions: (1) whether application of the NLRA to San Manuel’s casino would violate federal Indian law by impinging upon protected tribal sovereignty, and (2) whether the term “employer” in the NLRA reasonably encompasses Indian tribal governments operating commercial enterprises.

In resolving these questions, the D.C. Circuit recognized the tension between the Supreme Court’s 1960 holding in Federal Power Commission v. Tuscarora Indian Nation, that “a general statute in terms applying to all persons includes Indians and their property interests,” and other Supreme Court precedents favoring tribal sovereignty, including the 1978 Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez holding that any impairment of tribal sovereignty required a clear expression of Congressional intent in the statutory text. The Court resolved this tension by stating that “if the general law relates only to the extra-governmental activities of the tribe, and in particular activities involving non-Indians, then application of the law might not impinge on tribal sovereignty.” Ultimately, the Court held that the impact of NLRB jurisdiction on the Tribe’s sovereignty was “negligible in this context, as the Tribe’s activity was primarily commercial,” that the Board’s decision as to the scope of the term “employer” in the NLRA was permissible, and affirmed the Board’s jurisdiction over the casino.

More recently, in Michigan, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe has appealed an NLRB ruling that the Tribe violated the NLRA. In October 2014, the NLRB ordered the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe to reinstate an employee allegedly fired for union organizing at the Tribe’s casino. The Tribe appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. If that Court rules that the NLRB lacks jurisdiction over the Tribe, that decision would create a circuit split and likely end up before the United States Supreme Court.

The NLRB website states “The Board asserts jurisdiction over the commercial enterprises owned and operated by Indian tribes, even if they are located on a tribal reservation. But the Board does not assert jurisdiction over tribal enterprises that carry out traditional tribal or governmental functions.”

In January, Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran introduced S.248, the “Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2015.” The Bill would amend the NLRA to exclude “any enterprise or institution owned and operated by an Indian tribe and located on its Indian lands.” At its February 2015 Executive Council Winter Session, the National Congress of American Indians, the largest Native American policy organization, passed a resolution in support of the bill. A similar bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the bill later this month.

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Indian Congress, Pearl Jam join Blackfeet in fight against leases

John Murray, Chief Earl Old Person and Tyson Running Wolf announced Wednesday a national campaign to cancel oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area.(Photo: Courtesy photo)
John Murray, Chief Earl Old Person and Tyson Running Wolf announced Wednesday a national campaign to cancel oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area.(Photo: Courtesy photo)

By Karl Puckett, Great Falls Tribune

The Blackfeet Tribe and National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) announced a campaign Wednesday to cancel the remaining oil and gas leases within the Badger-Two Medicine area.

The rock band Pearl Jam and member Jeff Ament, who originally is from Big Sandy, will be reaching out to their supporters to encourage them to join the campaign, it was announced during a news conference.

The 165,588-acre area is almost entirely within roads and features mountains, ridges, river valleys and wetlands along the Rocky Mountain Front.

The area has 47 oil and gas leases that the Blackfeet and NCAI contend were illegally granted more than 30 years ago without tribal consultation. Today, 18 leases remain. In 2013, Solonex LLC filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government to begin drilling in the area.

The Blackfeet announced a campaign to urge Congress, President Barack Obama and federal agencies to cancel all remaining leases in the Badger-Two Medicine, which is located at the intersection of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Tyson Running Wolf, secretary of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, said drilling in the lands that are at the heart of the tribe’s creation story with so much cultural significance is not an option. The tribe will be putting the full weight of a growing alliance behind efforts to stop drilling, he said.

“The Badger-Two Medicine is a sacred place where the Blackfeet people gather food and medicine,” Running Wolf said.

The fight against the oil and gas leases was announced during a news conference conducted in Browning by Running Wolf; Blackfeet Chief Earl Old Person; John Murray, Blackfeet tribal historic preservation officer; Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of the NCAI.

Old Person led the announcement with a prayer.

Tribal members have been struggling with the possibility of development in the Badger-Two Medicine for awhile, he said. Past leaders of the tribe said wars of the future would not only be with bows and arrows, he said.

Running Wolf said the Blackfeet Nation has been fighting to protect the area for more than 30 years. Under the Reagan administration, 47 oil and gas leases were illegally issued without consulting the tribe, he said. With the announcement, the full weight of the tribe and a growing alliance is behind the effort.

“We will never let this happen,” Running Wolf said.

Murray said the campaign will include billboards and a website, There also is a petition on asking Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to cancel the leases.

The tribe also is reaching out to faith and business communities and national environmental organizations to bring their voices to millions of people around the nation.

Ament, of Pearl Jam, will be helping out as well on social media.

“We’re going to be mobilizing his resources to get the message out about the Badger-Two Medicine,” he said.

Ament, bass player for Seattle-based Pearl Jam, issued a statement through the tribe.

“The Blackfeet Nation sits on the front range of the Rocky Mountains of Glacier National Park, one of the most spiritual and beautiful spots in Montana,” Ament said. “Drilling for oil and gas has no place in the Badger-Two Medicine. Clean water and clean air are precious resources that hold the key to the future of the Blackfeet people and all Montanans. Please cancel the leases in the Badger-Two Medicine.”

On its Facebook page, Pearl Jam urged its followers to join the Blackfeet Nation to protect Badger-Two Medicine region that included a picture of Ament and U.S.Sen Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Johnson Pata, executive director of the NCAI, said Indian access to sacred places is critical responsibility to federal agencies.

“NCAI has requested that the Department of the Interior consult with the tribe on the Badger-Two Medicine, and we are hopeful that the agency will move to cancel all remaining oil and gas leases that threaten the area’s preservation,” she said.

The Blackfeet also announced partnerships with 18 Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Canadian Native tribes and nations, The Wilderness Society, National Parks and Conservation Association, the Montana Wilderness Association and the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance.

America Is Trying to Fix a Mental Health Crisis That It Created

Lawmakers and advocates are trying to help Native American youths, who are dying in record numbers.

(Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
(Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

By Jamilah King,

Julian Juan was only 13 when he noticed the scars. A high school freshman on the Tohono O’Odham Reservation, about an hour and a half southwest of Tucson, Arizona, Juan had a tight-knit group of seemingly gregarious friends. But even in southern Arizona’s desert heat, some of those friends wore long-sleeved shirts. Once, a friend’s sleeve rode up high enough to reveal scarred flesh.

“When I asked about it, they would say, ‘Oh, I cut myself doing yard work,’ or ‘I got caught in a fence,’ ” Juan remembered. He persistently pushed them for the truth. “They would say they were having these thoughts and would never fully explain,” he said. He could tell the people closest to him were suffering. And he wanted to do something about it.

Today, Juan is a 23-year-old junior at the University of New Mexico who serves as a youth cabinet member in the National Congress of American Indians, the largest advocacy organization for Native Americans in the country, where he’s worked with a broad coalition of young people to put mental health among tribal elders’ top concerns.

“This issue is really taboo for people in my community,” he said. “They don’t like to talk about it, and it does hurt to talk about, but it’s not going away.”

There’s a growing mental health crisis among Native American youths, and it’s being driven by poverty, violence, and lack of resources. It’s difficult to definitively assess how pervasive the problem is, partly because cultural stigma about mental illness makes it difficult for experts to access many Native American communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among Native Americans between the ages of 15 and 34—a  rate that’s two and a half times higher than the national average for that age group. The crisis appears to be afflicting Native American communities across the country.

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, nearly 1,000 suicide attempts were reported between 2004 and 2013. In roughly the same period, the local hospital has apparently treated more than 240 people under age 19 who planned or tried to commit suicide.

The crisis is getting national attention. Earlier this month, First Lady Michelle Obama touted the Generation Indigenous Native Youth Challenge, a White House–backed initiative with the U.S. Department of the Interior. The initiative has the lofty goal  of “removing the barriers that stand between Native youth and their opportunity to succeed.”

The first lady outlined a “long history of systemic discrimination and abuse,” ranging from 19th-century laws that forcibly removed Native Americans from their land to the early-20th-century boarding schools that meticulously extinguished many tribes’ language and culture. Those injustices set the tone for the dire situation in many of today’s tribal communities. Here are the statistics, according to the American Psychiatric Association: Native Americans are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than the rest of the U.S. population. They’re also nearly twice as likely as to suffer psychological distress, usually in the form of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Given this history, we shouldn’t be surprised at the challenges that kids in Indian Country are facing today,” the first lady said. “And we should never forget that we played a role in this. Make no mistake about it—we own this.”

In November 2014, a U.S. Justice Department task force, led by retired Democratic U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, submitted a report to Attorney General Eric Holder outlining several actions that could help address the trauma experienced by Native American children. The task force recommended that a Native American Affairs Office be fully staffed within the White House Domestic Policy Council and more federal money be spent on funding tribal criminal and civil prosecutions.

People working in tribal communities are searching for answers. Sheri Lesansee is program manager of New Mexico’s Native American Suicide Prevention Clearinghouse. She says that understanding the diversity of 22 tribal communities is key to accessing their needs. “The outreach and technical assistance really does have to be tailored to meet the needs of that community,” Lesansee told TakePart, pointing to therapists who are well versed in the concepts of generational trauma and familiar with tribal family dynamics. At the same time, Lesanee said it’s important to focus on the tools tribal communities already possess, such as endurance. “We believe—as Native people—we are strong and resilient, and we emphasize that in prevention efforts,” she said.

Jennifer Nanez, a senior program therapist at the University of New Mexico’s Native American Behavioral Health Program, said overt racism continues to play an important role in kids’ lives. “A lot of times the mainstream perspective is that Natives can’t seem to get out of this rut—and that it’s just a characteristic of an American Indian when it’s not,” Nanez said, before echoing the first lady’s sentiments. “[This] is the result of hundreds of years of oppression, and our kids are dealing with it.”

As proof, Nanez pointed to an instance from January when a group of Native American children attending a minor-league hockey game in South Dakota were accosted by a group of white men in a skybox above their seats. The men allegedly dumped beer and yelled racial slurs at the kids, and the story eventually made headlines. “They were getting drunk, and around the third quarter they were talking crap to our kids and throwing beer down on some of them, including our staff and students…telling our students to go back to the rez,” one chaperone wrote on Facebook.

New Mexico is one of a handful of states that have tried to address the problem through legislation. In 2011, the state legislature passed a bill that, in part, created the Native American Suicide Prevention Clearinghouse, which does outreach and consultation for various tribal communities.

Even Native Americans who don’t live in tribal communities feel the impact of the problem. Christian Redbird, 22, was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and has struggled with mental illness while attending community college. Members of her family suffered from undiagnosed mental illness. No one in her family had ever gone to therapy, and instead self-medicated with alcohol, she said. Redbird, the first person in her family to go to college, realized she didn’t have the familial and social networks to help her thrive.

“I work as a server in a restaurant and make more money than anyone in my family does,” she said. “It’s hard for me to know what steps to take when I don’t know what they are.”

Change the Mascot Leaders Call on NFL Players Association Executive Director Candidates to Stand Against D.C. Team’s R-Word Mascot

By Oneida Nation News, Oneida Nation Enterprises- Public Affairs Office

CTM4Logo_change the mascotWith elections coming soon for the position of Executive Director of the NFL Player Association (NFLPA), Change the Mascot campaign leaders have issued a letter to all of the candidates urging them to take a stand against the racist name of the Washington NFL team. The letter, issued by the National Congress of American Indians, the United South and Eastern Tribes, and the Oneida Indian Nation, cites current Executive Director DeMaurice Smith’s recent comments opposing the name. It also encourages the candidates to make public statements on the subject and to pledge to put forward a resolution to NFLPA members proposing that the organization join the Change the Mascot campaign and demand that the league change the name.

The letter notes how sports, and particularly beloved athletes, have unique power in shaping today’s culture. Correspondingly, it calls upon the future NFLPA Executive Director to use his position by being an importance voice for equality.

“Athletes are in a unique position to take up the cause of social justice – especially on an issue like this that is so intertwined with professional sports. In the spirit of solidarity that the NFLPA so often promotes, we hope you will stand with us in this critical campaign,” states the letter.

The letter also cites how continued use of the R-word name is an affront for current NFL players on both a moral level by forcing them to wear and promote the iconography of the slur, and on an economical level by potentially reducing revenues.

The Change the Mascot letter was sent to Executive Director DeMaurice Smith who is running for re-election, as well as other candidates Jim Acho, Jason Belser, Sean Gilbert, Robert Griffith, Rob London, Arthur McAfee, Andrew Smith and John Stufflebeam.

The election for NFLPA Executive Director is scheduled for March 15.

Change the Mascot is a grassroots campaign that works to educate the public about the damaging effects on Native Americans arising from the continued use of the R-word. This civil and human rights movement has helped reshape the debate surrounding the Washington team’s name and brought the issue to the forefront of social consciousness. Since its launch last season, Change the Mascot has garnered support from a diverse coalition of prominent advocates including elected officials from both parties, Native American tribes, sports icons, leading journalists and news publications, civil and human rights organizations and religious leaders.

The full text of the letter to the candidates is included below and can be found on the Change the Mascot website here.

Dear NFLPA Executive Director Candidate,

From Jesse Owens to Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali, athletes hold a special leadership position in history’s crusades for social justice. That has never been truer than it is today: as sports have become such an integral part of American culture, athletes have unique power to shape that culture for the better and to be a voice for the cause of equality.

The National Football League Players Association has been one of the organizations that has consistently marshaled that power for this righteous cause, standing in solidarity with others, just as civil rights groups have stood with the union. Because you are a candidate to become the next executive director of this hallowed organization, we are writing to you with a critical request: we are asking that you pledge that, if elected, you will put a resolution forward to NFLPA members allowing them to vote to have the organization formally join our Change the Mascot Campaign.

Our campaign’s goal is simple: we want the NFL to use its power to finally stop the Washington franchise from promoting a dictionary-defined racial slur as its name. This is a word screamed at Native Americans as they were dragged at gunpoint off their lands — and it was a name originally given to the team by one of America’s most infamous segregationists, George Preston Marshall. As public health organizations have attested, this name has significant negative effects on Native Americans: every Sunday, the promotion of this name tells millions of Americans it is acceptable to denigrate native peoples on the basis of their alleged skin color.

Just as the NFL would never dare allow any other racial slur to brand one of its teams, it should not allow this name to continue to be promoted for the team that represents the nation’s capital. That is a common sense view understood by current professional football players including Richard Sherman and Champ Bailey; by former stars such as Terry Bradshaw, Calvin Hill and Mark Schlereth; and by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the organization that works with the league to promote civil rights. They have all spoken out against the continued use of the team’s current name, as have major Native American organizations, public health organizations, religious leaders, sports media icons, governors, Members of Congress from both parties and the President of the United States.

For current NFL players, this name is an affront on two levels.

Morally, it is unacceptable for the league to continue forcing athletes to wear uniforms that publicly promote the iconography of a racial slur.

Economically, the continued use of the name potentially reduces revenues for players. According to an Emory University study of college teams, “The shift away from a Native American mascot yields positive financial returns.” With the NFLPA generating some of its revenues through merchandise sales, continuing to use the Washington team’s name forsakes the same positive financial returns that players could reap if the name were changed.

Last year, the current NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith issued a statement to The Washington Post correctly noting that the Washington team’s name conveys “racial insensitivity” and declared that “I do not believe anyone should inflict pain, embarrass or insult, especially given the racial insensitivity” of the team’s name.

We applaud Mr. Smith for making such a bold statement, and we are asking that all current candidates for NFLPA executive director make similar public statements. But we are also asking that the candidates take it a step further by pledging to have the full membership of the NFLPA vote on a formal resolution to join the Change the Mascot campaign and to demand that the league change the team’s name.

As noted at the beginning of this letter, athletes are in a unique position to take up the cause of social justice – especially on an issue like this that is so intertwined with professional sports. In the spirit of solidarity that the NFLPA so often promotes, we hope you will stand with us in this critical campaign.

Native American Mascot Issue Stirs Strong Debate In West Hartford

By Suzanna Carlson, The Hartford Courant

hartfordWEST HARTFORD — The high schools’ Warrior and Chieftain mascots were described alternately as proud and respectful or racist and offensive by speakers at a community forum on Thursday night.

About 300 people attended the board of education forum, and about 50 spoke. No decision was made.

Dozens of students from Conard High School wore shirts emblazoned with “Save the Chieftain,” but students, teachers and parents from both Conard and Hall high schools expressed widely opposing views.

Those who support the mascots described them as symbols of pride and said they honored Native American culture. Many of the speakers pointed to the fact that leaders of the local Mohegan tribe, in consultation with students, have said they support the mascots’ use. Some cited a recent poll at Conard showing that 80 percent of students and 60 percent of teachers want to keep the symbol.

But others argued that the mascots are antiquated, racist caricatures that should be eliminated. Several said they have consulted with other Native American groups across the country who vehemently oppose the use of Native American imagery as sports mascots.

Quyen Truong said she attended Conard about 10 years ago and was asked to create the Conard Chieftain logo of a native man in a headdress.

“I genuinely thought at that time that I was honoring the Chieftains,” Truong said.

In college, Truong said, she met Native Americans for the first time and learned how historically marginalized cultures are denigrated by such imagery. She said she realized her work was “deeply offensive” to “a whole group of people that I didn’t really know and understand, and I became very conflicted about what I had done in high school. … My perspective has shifted and I really want to strongly advocate to retire the chieftain.”

Many of those opposed referred to decisions by groups such as the American Psychological Association, the National Education Association and the National Congress of American Indians to reject the use of Native American mascots and imagery, and urged the board of education to end up on “the right side of history.”

Arguing to keep the mascots, Tom Midney said the names are “meant to bestow pride, honor, and respect. … Don’t disrespect that tradition over such folly. That would be truly offensive.”

Parent Ted Mancini said he’s “sick and tired of listening” to what he described as a “PC witch hunt,” and said the majority’s opinion should dictate that the mascots remain intact.

The issue is not only the mascots, but the schools’ cheering sections, The Reservation and The Tribe, as well as the name of the Conard newspaper, “The Powwow.”

School Superintendent Tom Moore said the cost to change the schools’ logos would be around $50,000, and could total $100,000 if the logos and names were all changed.

“This has been both a challenging and invigorating process,” board of education Chairman Mark Overmyer-Velazquez said. “It’s not always been an easy one, it’s not always been entirely graceful … but it’s been a profound example of the democratic process that we have here and our students have learned a lot from it.”

The board of education is expected to meet soon to discuss the issue and decide whether the mascots should be changed.

Cladoosby’s State of Indian Nations: ‘We Must Tear Down Barriers’

Vincent SchillingNational Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby held up an Iroquois Wampum belt as a gesture of mutual respect between all Indian Nations during his State of Indian Nations address last week.
Vincent Schilling
National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby held up an Iroquois Wampum belt as a gesture of mutual respect between all Indian Nations during his State of Indian Nations address last week.
Vincent Schilling, Indian Country Today


The National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby (chairman of the Swinomish Nation) delivered the State of Indian Nations Address Thursday in Washington, D.C. at the Newseum Knights television studios to a full house of members of Congress, senior Administration officials, and leaders of tribal nations.

The event, which was livestreamed on the NCAI channel, was viewed all over Indian country with a reported 50 or more ‘viewing parties’ all over the country.

In addition to Cladoosby’s call on Congress and the Obama Administration to act to improve tribal economies, invest in education, and support innovation, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) the new chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, delivered the Congressional response.

In his opening, President Cladoosby optimistically remarked on the growth of Indian country but mentioned that in order to foster continued growth we would need to tear down further barriers. “Indian country is leading. Indian country is innovating.  Indian country is growing. And the state of Indian nations grows stronger by the day.”

“Today, I bring a simple message from the tribes of the 21st Century: We must tear down barriers to growth, simplify regulations that are limiting opportunities, and acknowledge that tribes have the capability as governments to oversee our own affairs,” said Cladoosby.

“Congress and the Administration need to find ways to help bring federal agencies out of the 19th Century and into the 21st Century. We need them to be partners for growth and not barriers to growth.”

When Cladoosby remarked on the historic visit by President Obama to the Standing Rock Sioux Nation last year, he mirrored the words of President Obama by extending a personal invitation to Speaker Boehner (R-OH), Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) – as well as every Member of Congress to visit Indian country in 2015.

“Make it a goal to come to Indian country this year,” said Cladoosby.

Before outlining the plan and discussing the top level priorities of the NCAI Cladoosby personally remarked about the appreciation he had for his own father and for the contributions of the recently passed activist and leader Billy Frank Jr.

“As Billy put it, he wasn’t a policy guy, he was a getting arrested guy,” to which Cladoosby made the light hearted comment that though Billy was arrested more than 50 times for exercising treaty rights, Cladoosby would not be able to match the arrest record.

Cladoosby stated the priorities for the NCAI in 2015 to include their recent 130 page report The FY 2016 Indian Country Budget Request; Promoting Self-Determination, Modernizing the Trust Relationship, outlining a plan for funding the federal government’s trust responsibility through the budget process.

He also remarked on Congress to advance tribal tax reform to enable tribes to raise tax revenue free from overlapping state taxation, and to create incentives for business and jobs.

Other topics of importance introduced by Cladoosby were asking the federal government to partner with the private sector to increase broad band in Indian country, extending access to capital by recognizing the equal status of tribal governments to access tax exempt bonds and ensuring tribal inclusion in the New Markets Tax Credit Program, energy reform and the passage of Indian energy legislation.

Cladoosby also called on Congress and the Obama Administration to ensure that tribal nations should “have a seat at the policymaking table” by consulting with tribes on all policy issues such as the Keystone Pipeline, renewable energy, health care, and education.

Cladoosby emphasized the importance of Education in Indian country and asked Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and should enact legislation that supports Native language programs.

He also expressed thanks to President Obama for introducing that the first two years of Community College should be free.

“I applaud President Obama’s proposal to make the first two years of tribal and community college free. It will finally make k-14 education a reality,” he said.

During the address Cladoosby also called on the Washington Redskins to change their name stating the #Redskin name to be is “the most offensive name to an American Indian. He also later held up an Iroquois Wampum belt as a gesture of mutual respect between all Indian Nations.

After Cladoosby’s address, Senator Barrasso delivered a congressional response to which he outlined his visions on energy and natural resource development, healthcare, juvenile justice, and tribal self-governance.

“The relationship between the United States and Indian tribes has not always been positive – and has not always served the people of Indian country well… As President Cladoosby stated, ‘we are not where we used to be.’

“My main priority is to help the people of Indian country live better lives. There are two tribes in my home state of Wyoming: the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and the Northern Arapaho Tribe. The tribal leaders of these two tribes have stated to me over the years how important good jobs, health care and public safety are to their communities,” Barrasso said.

“Addressing these fundamental needs can contribute significantly to improving the lives of Indian people. As Chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs, my top priorities are jobs, energy and natural resource development, healthcare, juvenile justice, and tribal self-governance,” he remarked.

“The more progress we can make on these issues, the more progress we can make in helping families.”