Connecticut presses BIA to scrap Indian recognition proposal

By Ana Radelat, The Connecticut Mirror

Washington — The administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy has asked the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to scrap proposed rule changes the state believes could lead to recognition of additional Indian tribes in Connecticut.

The BIA has been considering the rule changes for months. The state says the changes could open the door to large land claims and expanded Indian gaming in Connecticut. Yet Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, has said he’s determined to fix what he’s called a “broken” federal recognition process.

The federal tribal recognition rules in place require a tribe to prove its continuous community and political authority since first contact with European settlers. Washburn’s proposal would change that to allow a petitioning tribe to demonstrate it has maintained a state reservation since 1934. Washburn‘s new regulation would also allow tribes that have been denied recognition to apply again.

“The proposed rules represent a dramatic departure from the standards and process governing acknowledgment decisions for nearly 40 years,” Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said in comments filed before a midnight deadline Tuesday. “If adopted as proposed, petitioners could gain recognition in circumstances completely at odds with fundamental principles of tribal acknowledgement. These proposals…are unjustified and should be rejected.”

A new, final Indian recognition rule will be posted within 60 days. It could be modified again based on the comments of the Malloy administration and others, including Connecticut’s tribes.

Gov. Malloy, the Connecticut congressional delegation and most of the state’s political establishment, have pushed back harder than anyone on the proposed rules, even after the BIA changed them to include a provision aimed at blocking three tribes that have long sought recognition in Connecticut — the Eastern Pequots, the Schaghticokes and possibly the Golden Hill Paugussetts.

The BIA had given the Eastern Pequot and Schanghticoke tribes acknowledgement, then withdrew it after an appeal by the state.

At the behest of Connecticut officials, the proposed rules were modified so those who opposed the tribes’ recognition previously would have veto power over a new attempt at recognition.

That infuriated Connecticut’s tribes.

“The BIA failed to consider the long, oppressive history of the state of Connecticut,” wrote Kathleen Sebastian Dring, an elder of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, in her comments to the agency.

Dring told the BIA that, “The third-party veto undermines the BIA’s attempt to create an equitable and objective process for the tribes” and was “imposed by the BIA after political pressure from Connecticut.”

“As citizens [Eastern Pequot tribal members] are entitled to the equal protection of laws in accordance to the U.S. Constitution,” Dring said.

Chief Richard Velky of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation told the BIA that giving third parties the right to object to new petitions for federal acknowledgement “does not, I believe, comport with the due process and equal protection principles of our Constitution.”

“Nor does the U.S. Constitution provide that a state and its political subdivisions may exercise an absolute veto over the exercise of constitutional authority vested exclusively in the United States government,” Velky wrote.

Meanwhile, Jepsen said the veto provision isn’t a comprehensive enough protection to keep the Connecticut’s tribes from suing the state if it doesn’t  consent to recognition, and “the outcome (of the litigation) is uncertain.”

Jepsen also said he is concerned the proposed regulations wouldn’t block “splinter groups” of Indian tribes from seeking recognition.

Under the proposed rules, the Schagticoke Indian Tribe, a group of Indians that rejected the leadership of the Schagticoke Indian Nation, might be able to apply for federal acknowledgement – and since they were never denied recognition, no veto provision would apply.

Jepsen also called the proposed elimination of the Board of Indian Appeals, which allowed Connecticut to challenge the Eastern Pequot and Schaghticoke recognitions “patently unfair.”

The BIA had granted a Malloy administration request for more time to submit its public comments. The deadline was pushed back from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30.

The entire Connecticut congressional delegation signed a letter that supported the administration’s objections to the proposed recognition rules.

“We…agree the process should be improved,” the letter said, but it recommended more transparency and perhaps a bigger budget, instead of “weakening the longstanding standards for federal recognition.”

The letter backed all of the Malloy administration’s objections and asked the BIA to eliminate the proposal that allowed rejected tribes to petition again for recognition, because the consent requirement or third-party veto, would be challenged in court.

“We note that at least one party is objecting to the consent requirement, contending it may be unconstitutional,” the lawmakers’ letter said.

In all, 255 comments were filed. Many came from tribes and most, like the comment from the National Congress of American Indians, supported Washburn’s efforts.

“Connecticut politicians and their special interests seek to derail justice for Native Americans,” said an unsigned comment. “Please don’t allow the process to become politicized by special interests BIA. Stick to what you believe is fair to Native American tribes.”

NCAI Applauds President Obama’s Historic Visit to Indian Country

Source: National Congress of American Indians
WASHINGTON, DC – The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) applauds President Obama for upholding his ongoing commitment to tribal nations and Native peoples by travelling to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation this Friday, June 13. Since taking office, President Obama has remained steadfast in honoring our nation-to-nation relationship. President Obama has kept his commitment to host the annual White House Tribal Nations Summit in Washington D.C. These summits have facilitated unprecedented engagement between tribal leaders and the President and members of his Cabinet.
At the 2013 White House Tribal Nations Summit, the President announced that he would visit Indian Country himself – a longtime priority of tribal leaders. Friday’s visit to Standing Rock fulfills that promise. This historic visit is the first by a sitting President in over 15 years and makes President Obama only the fourth President in history to ever visit Indian Country.
NCAI expects the President to address the economic development needs of tribal nations and the needs of Native youth.  While tribal youth are included in the Administration’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, this Administration has always known that Native children have specific cultural and education needs that require focused attention.
For this reason, Indian Country has witnessed an unprecedented collaboration between the Secretary Jewell at the Department of the Interior and Secretary Duncan at the Department of Education, to study what is necessary to make sure that all of our Native students – in public schools, tribal schools, and Bureau of Indian Education schools have the tools they need to ensure a strong future for all Native children. In 2013, Secretary Jewell visited the Pueblo of Laguna to see first hand how a tribal education department was improving the quality of schools operations, performance and structure of BIE schools. She witnessed a nation that was engaged and excited to participate in efforts to improve educational outcomes in Indian Country.
It will take visits like this – the agencies working together with tribal governments and national organizations such as the NCAI and the National Indian Education Association to ensure that our students can be the future tribal leaders, teachers, health care workers, and entrepreneurs that our nations and the United States need to thrive for generations to come.
The President’s visit builds on ongoing efforts of his Administration to work closely with tribal nations on policy that affects their citizens. We trust the visit will be a catalyst for more policies that will not only succeed today, but cement the positive relationship between tribal governments and the federal government well into the future. President Obama has made annual summits between our nations in his words, “almost routine.” We trust this will be the continuation of his Administration’s engagement with our nations that makes visits to Indian Country by the President and his Cabinet routine too.
About The National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information visit

National Congress of American Indians joins the Muckleshoot Tribe to oppose genetically engineered salmon

James Miller hoists a chinook salmon at the Muckleshoot Tribe’s White River hatchery

James Miller hoists a chinook salmon at the Muckleshoot Tribe’s White River hatchery


Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and the National Congress of American Indians are taking a stand against the threat of genetically engineered salmon.

“Creating genetically engineered salmon would mean that our traditional knowledge and relationship with salmon would pass out of our hands to a transnational corporation,” said Valerie Segrest, a traditional foods educator with the Muckleshoot Tribe.

The NCAI passed a resolution yesterday asking the federal government to reject a proposal to mix genetic material from chinook salmon and eel-like fish with Atlantic salmon, joining the Muckleshoot tribal council and ATNI. The genetically engineered fish would grow to full size in three months compared to three years for a natural salmon.

Because the genetic modifications to the salmon would be classified as a “food additive,” they would be protected under a patent as intellectual property. “It isn’t a stretch that these fish could eventually escape into the wild and spawn with naturally spawning fish or salmon in our hatcheries,” Segrest said. “At that point, a private corporation would have ownership of salmon in our streams and in our hatcheries.”

In more than 140 cases, a single company that owns patents on genetically modified plants has successfully sued farmers whose crops were unintentionally infected with genetically engineered seed. “These were cases where neighboring farms, obviously not trying to steal trade secrets, had genetically modified seeds cross pollinate with heritage seed stock in their fields through natural processes,” Segrest said. “We don’t want the same sort of thing to happen to our salmon. No one should own the genetic code of our salmon or our culture.”

Genetically modified salmon also wouldn’t provide the health benefits that naturally evolved salmon do. “These fish have less of the healthy proteins and fats that our wild salmon are famous for.” Segrest said.

One of the most worrisome aspects of the fish is that because they grow so fast, they also take in more pollution than a naturally evolved salmon. “Pollution is already a problem for tribal people who depend on fish and shellfish as part of their diet,” Segrest said. “These fish straying into the natural environment would magnify the pollution problems we’re already facing.”

Even though some major chains have vowed not to sell genetically engineered fish, the cost to the consumer would be so low that it would make livelihoods of tribal fishermen that much harder. “This fish wouldn’t have to be labeled in the grocery store,” Segrest said. “So you wouldn’t know if you were purchasing a fish caught by a tribal fishermen or one that was genetically modified.”

Genetically engineered salmon would drive a wedge into a relationship between Indian tribes and salmon, a relationship that has shaped our culture thousands of years. “Our way of life has evolved alongside salmon,” Segrest said. “Allowing genetically engineered fish into the food system, or accidentally allowing them into our streams, would cause irreversible DNA damage and negatively change how we depend on the salmon.”

Senate confirms first Native woman federal judge

by The Associated Press

Hopi citizen Diane Humetewa

Hopi citizen Diane Humetewa

PHOENIX (AP) – A former U.S. Attorney from Arizona will be the first Native American woman to serve on the federal bench.

Hopi citizen Diane Humetewa easily won confirmation on May 14 in the U.S. Senate in a 96-0 vote. The four senators who didn’t vote were Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.)

She will fill one of six vacancies in the federal District Court of Arizona.

Humetewa currently serves as special counsel at Arizona State University, where she is also a professor.

She served as U.S. Attorney for Arizona between 2007 and 2009.

She also was an appellate court judge for the Hopi Tribe.

The National Congress of American Indians praised the confirmation, saying Humetewa has dedicated her time to serving the interests of Native peoples.

“The National Congress of American Indians congratulates Diane J. Humetewa of the Hopi Indian Tribe on her confirmation as federal judge in the U.S. District Court of Arizona. As the newest member of the federal bench, she is the first Native American woman ever appointed to serve in that position,” a NCAI press release states. “The Honorable Humetewa is impeccably qualified for her new role. She has practiced law in federal courts for over a decade – as Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, as Assistant U.S. Attorney, and as the U.S. Attorney for Arizona – and is experienced in a wide array of complex proceedings, hearings, and cases. Further, Judge Humetewa has dedicated time to serving the interests of Native peoples. She has been the Appellate Court judge for the Hopi Tribe, counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and special advisor to the President on American Indian Affairs at Arizona State University. NCAI greatly appreciates the efforts of the President and Senate in achieving this historic confirmation. There are many qualified, talented people like Diane Humetewa in Indian Country who are able and willing to serve. We eagerly anticipate many more nominations of Native people to the federal bench and other offices.”

The overburdened District Court of Arizona remains one of the busiest in the country, having declared a judicial emergency in 2011

NCAI celebrates anniversary of VAWA’s 2013 passage

By Cherokee Phoenix staff reports

WASHINGTON – The National Congress of American Indians marked the one-year anniversary of a great victory for tribal nations and Native women on March 7.

President Obama, joined by Vice President Biden, members of women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates and members of Congress, signs the Violence Against Women Act in March. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

President Obama, joined by Vice President Biden, members of women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates and members of Congress, signs the Violence Against Women Act in March. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

It was on that day in 2013 when President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. At the signing ceremony, the president underscored the “inherent right (of tribal governments) to protect their people.”

For the first time since the 1978 Oliphant decision, VAWA 2013 restored tribal authority to investigate, prosecute, convict and sentence non-Indians who assault their Indian spouses or partners in Indian Country. The law created a pilot project that enabled three tribes to recently begin exercising this authority.

“Today is a day to celebrate what we have achieved together and commit ourselves to ensure the ongoing success of this important law. It acknowledges that tribal nations are the best equipped to ensure public safety in our communities and provides the tools we need to protect Native women,” NCAI President Brian Cladoosby said.

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, the Tulalip Tribes of Washington and the Umatilla Tribes of Oregon–began exercising special criminal jurisdiction over certain crimes of domestic and dating violence, regardless of the defendant’s Indian or non-Indian status in February.

“VAWA 2013 is a tremendous victory. I am grateful to those who have stepped up to take the lead in the implementation phase,” Terri Henry, Tribal Councilor of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and co-chair of the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women, said. “I want to congratulate the three tribes participating in the pilot project and remind everyone, we still have work to do.”

However, VAWA does not mark the end of the NCAI’s efforts to combat domestic violence in Indian Country, NCAI Executive Director Jackie Pata said. “Tribal nations remain steadfast in the important work of protecting our Native women and securing our communities,” she said.

NCAI Encouraged By DOI Opinion On Carcieri; Reaffirms Need For A Robust Fix That Ensures Tribal Equalit

Press Relase, The National Congress of American Indians

WASHINGTON, DC – The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) appreciates the efforts of the Department of the Interior in issuing a new legal opinion and working to provide further guidance in defining the tribes “under federal jurisdiction” as of 1934 in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar decision regarding the Indian Reorganization Act. The opinion, however, highlights the need for Congress to make clear that all Indian tribes are under federal constitutional authority to regulate.

The Indian Reorganization Act was enacted in 1934 to restore Indian tribal governments and tribal lands after the failed federal policies of termination and assimilation. The Act ensured that the tribal way of life would continue and thrive. In its
Carcieri decision, the Supreme Court determined that the Secretary of the Interior does not have authority to take land into trust for tribes that were not “under federal jurisdiction” prior to 1934. However, the Court did not define what it means for a tribe to have been “under federal jurisdiction” as of the enactment of the IRA.

According to the DOI opinion, M-37029, the term “under federal jurisdiction” is ambiguous and undefined, therefore the DOI has the authority to determine which tribes do and do not fall under the statute and will proceed to make decisions about trust agreements accordingly. In previous legal work, NCAI has taken the view that the Constitution devotes authority in Indian affairs to the federal government and that the only question is whether an Indian tribe exists, as in the Supreme Court’s decision in
U.S. v. Sandoval in 1913.

Of the opinion, NCAI President Brian Cladoosby stated:
“NCAI is pleased the Department of the Interior has addressed one of the many problems created by the unclear and damaging language in the Carcieri decision. It is encouraging to see a federal agency work to strengthen the trust relationship – particularly the DOI, as one of their fundamental tasks is fulfilling the United States’ trust responsibility to tribal nations.
The opinion is encouraging, but Carcieri still stands. Tribes need a permanent, legislative solution and NCAI will continue to work towards a clean Carcieri fix. All tribes must be treated equally but as long as Carcieri is upheld, that is not possible and that is unacceptable.”
The Carcieri decision has affected all tribes – even those “under federal jurisdiction” as of 1934. Processing delays in trust land applications, additional bureaucratic red tape for potential economic investors, and confusion over legal jurisdiction are just a few of the consequences.

More importantly, the decision is a direct attack on tribal sovereignty. Indian trust land is the foundation of tribal economies and the only real federal protection of tribal authority from state and local governments.

NCAI is committed to the preservation of tribal sovereignty and ensuring a robust nation-to-nation between tribes and the federal government. We will continue to support and work with tribal leaders to advance these priorities.

Treasury issues tax guidance on per cap payments

Guidance Provides Significant Clarity, Incorporates Feedback from Tribal Nations

By US Treasury Media Release

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued interim guidance this week regarding per capita distributions made to members of Indian tribes from funds held in trust by the Secretary of the Interior.  In response to feedback from tribal nations, the guidance clarifies that, generally, these per capita payments will not be subject to federal income tax.

Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark J. Mazur will be speaking about the per capita guidance, tax-exempt bond options available to tribes, and other tribal tax initiatives during the National Congress of American Indians 2014 Executive Council Winter Session tomorrow.

“Today’s notice provides uniform, clear guidance regarding the tax treatment of per capita distributions of tribal trust assets,” said Assistant Secretary Mazur.  “This announcement and our ongoing tribal consultation process underscore the Administration’s commitment to understanding and addressing the issues facing the Native American community.”

The Department of the Interior is responsible for holding in trust certain funds on behalf of federally recognized Indian tribes.  Under the Per Capita Act of 1983, tribes are authorized to make per capita distributions from these trust accounts directly to tribal members subject to the approval of the Department of Interior.  In September 2012, Treasury and the IRS released guidance on per capita distributions from specific settlements, and have since received requests to address the tax treatment of per capita payments more broadly.

While developing this guidance, Treasury convened listening sessions and other consultations to facilitate a government-to-government dialogue between the federal government and tribes, and to understand key tribal concerns.

Treasury and IRS are issuing this notice as interim guidance to allow Indian tribes time to review and provide feedback by September 17, 2014.  Based on these comments, we will consider revisions before issuing a final notice.

For the Per Capita Distributions notice, click here.

Cladoosby Hopes to Initiate Repatriation Discussion With France

Courtesy Brian CladoosbySwinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby introduces President Obama as the "first American Indian president" of the U.S., at the 2012 White House Tribal Nations Conference. Cladoosby and his wife will be the Obamas' guests at the White House State Dinner for French President Francois Hollande, February 11.

Courtesy Brian Cladoosby
Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby introduces President Obama as the “first American Indian president” of the U.S., at the 2012 White House Tribal Nations Conference. Cladoosby and his wife will be the Obamas’ guests at the White House State Dinner for French President Francois Hollande, February 11.

National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby doesn’t expect he’ll have more than an opportunity to shake the hand of French President Francois Hollande at a White House state dinner February 11.

But he hopes that introduction will open the door to negotiation of an agreement for the repatriation of Native American objects in French museums.

Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Tribe, and his wife Nina were invited by President Barack Obama and Mrs. Obama to the state dinner being held in honor of the French president.

During the French president’s visit to the U.S., Obama and Hollande “will discuss opportunities to further strengthen the U.S.-France security and economic partnership,” Obama said in a statement posted on

“Michelle and I look forward to welcoming President Hollande … on a state visit to the United States,” Obama said.

“The United States and France are close friends and allies, including through NATO, and our countries have worked together to support democracy, liberty, and freedom at home and abroad for more than two centuries.”

The state dinner comes two months after a French judge’s decision to allow an auction house in Paris to sell 24 sacred Native American artifacts, despite the protests of the Hopi Nation, the U.S. Embassy, and indigenous civil rights organization Survival International.

RELATED: Sad But True: Another Hopi Katsinam Auction Planned in Paris

The Annenberg Foundation intervened, submitting a winning bid of $530,000 U.S. for the sole purpose of returning the objects to their rightful owners – 21 items belong to the Hopi Nation, three to the San Carlos Apache.

RELATED: Surprise! Charity Buys 21 Sacred Katsinam for Hopi at Auction in Paris

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act gives indigenous nations in the U.S. a way to reclaim funerary objects and ceremonial items from federal agencies and museums in the United States. The law, however, does not apply to items held internationally.

Christopher Marinello, executive director and general counsel of Art Loss Register London, the world’s largest private database of lost and stolen art, antiques and collectables, told ICTMN in April 2013 that the Hopi and Apache objects should have been repatriated under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. France ratified the convention in 1997.

RELATED: Hopi Katsinam and Nazi Art Theft: An Expert Discusses Principles of Repatriation

According to the convention, “the [Hopi and Apache] pieces should have been pulled off, parties should have had a discussion to see which pieces could be sold, which were not genuine, what were the moral claims, what was important to the tribe, what is the compensation,” Marinello told ICTMN.

Marinello said there are no international agreements specifically addressing Native American artifacts, and said “it is something that the Americans should be convening and discussing because the laws in the USA protecting those Native artifacts have no weight overseas.”

That’s what Cladoosby hopes to initiate, noting, “We want to ensure our most sacred items are treated the same way” as those covered by other repatriation conventions.



Focusing on the National and International Levels

Source: Water4fish

TAHOLAH, WA –  “Securing the rights of sovereign Tribal governments takes constant effort and perseverance at many levels,” said Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and  Northwest Regional Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). This past week, some of the focus was on the national and international levels, she said. Sharp completed a round of talks with the US Department of State in Washington DC early this week, exploring how American Indian governments and the US government can formalize an agreement on policies to be considered by the United Nations-sponsored World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

The World Conference on Indigenous Peoples will be a meeting of the 194 member governments of the United Nations considering how best to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—a document that affects the rights and interests of American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians and hundreds of other indigenous peoples around the world.

“We have begun talks to formalize a framework between our governments so we can more effectively negotiate balanced solutions to problems such as climate change, damages caused by development to indigenous territories, and improving economies in tribal territories,” said President Sharp.

During the course of the week, Sharp consulted with Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby, who was recently elected President of NCAI, and was joined in the talks by Colville Confederated Tribes Chairman Michael Finley who also serves as First Vice President of NCAI. He stressed his strong endorsement of President Sharp’s proposals to the Department of State, which urged development of an intergovernmental framework agreement that will ensure that the US government and Indian governments work closely and harmoniously as they engage UN member states at the World Conference of Indigenous Peoples in September.

President Sharp and other tribal leaders from across the country will continue talks with representatives of the Department of State in February.

President Sharp further noted, “We have been conducting talks with the Department of State since last August and expect we will come to a mutual agreement on an intergovernmental framework concerning the UN conference in February.”

The Quinault government has been leading discussions with the US government and several UN Member States regarding the World Conference and facilitating joint Indian government meetings to ensure the maximum participation of Indian peoples in plans for the World Conference.


Following is a link to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007

A Year of Action for Indian Country


Mark Trahant, Indian Country Today Media Network, 1/30/14

The thing I like about state of unions – the national kind, the NCAI kind, and the tribal kind – is that it’s a to do list. Leaders see this as a list of “action items” while I see this as a list of fascinating issues that are worth exploring in future columns.

I want to start with an idea raised by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union message: “Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want – for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.”

What would a “year of action” look like in Indian country? And, more important, how do we get there?

National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby began this year’s State of Indian Nations by talking about so many of the success stories from Indian country. “Tribal leaders and advocates have never been more optimistic about the future of Native people,” he said. But that sense of possibility is “threatened by the federal government’s ability to deliver its promises.”

President Cladoosby released NCAI’s budget request for the coming fiscal year. That document calls for funding treaty obligations with the “fundamental goal” of parity for Indian country with “similarly situated governments.” As a moral case, and cause, this is exactly right. This is an aspirational document, as it should be.

But in a year of action there needs to be another route forward. This Congress is incapable of honoring treaties. Even in a more friendly era, members of Congress proudly called Indian health a “treaty right” only to appropriate less than what was required. This year’s federal budget essentially is flat (which means less program dollars because Indian country’s population is growing). NCAI puts it this way: “However, the trend in funding for Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior does not reflect Indian self-determination as a priority in the federal budget.”

But it’s not the Interior Department. It’s all of government and especially the Congress.

To my way of thinking, this particular moment in history is especially important. The demographics of Indian country – a young, growing population – exactly matches the greater need of the nation as a whole (a nation that is rapidly aging). Cladoosby said in the past 30 years the number of American Indian and Alaska Natives in college has more than double.

Cladoosby, who is chairman of the Swinomish Indian Community, said that his tribe is providing scholarships for their young people to the colleges of their choice. That’s smart. I wish more tribes could afford that approach. But there are other ways that this can happen, too.

So here is one idea: What if President Obama, when he visits Indian country this year, partners with tribal leaders to raise private money for tribal colleges? How much is possible, a new billion dollar endowment? Why not?

Or what about expanding efforts to forgive student debt? Too many young Native Americans are burdened by loans. If tribal members choose to be teachers or serve tribal governments, erase what they owe. (And expand similar programs for young people who choose health care careers.)

Two other items in the State of Indian Nations that are important and exciting are tribes building international partnerships, President Cladoosby mentioned Turkey, as well as tax reform so that tribes can raise their own funds. He said tribes should get at least the same tax treatment as states. This could be new money. Action dollars.

In a year of action, it seems to me, the most lucrative funding routes do not involve Congress or appropriations.

In his congressional response, Montana Sen. Jon Tester hit on a couple of billion dollars just waiting to be picked up, and that’s the Affordable Care Act. Congress is not going to fully fund Indian Health Service. But that full-funding could happen if every eligible American Indian and Alaska Native signed up for tribal insurance, Medicaid, or purchased a free or subsidized policy through an exchange. This is money that Congress does not have to appropriate.

A couple billion dollars? Just waiting for a year of action.

Mark Trahant is the 20th Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is a journalist, speaker and Twitter poet and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Comment on Facebook at: