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.
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.'”
Without a jail or even armed law enforcement, the isolated Alaska village where two state troopers were shot and killed is turning to a traditional form of justice: banishment.
The Tanana Village Council, the Athabascan Indian tribal authority in the village of 250, is taking steps to expel two men whose actions contributed to the homicides and who have threatened other community members, council Chairman Curtis Sommer said.
“This is the only way we have to remove individuals who are — how do we say it? — who are dangerous to members of the community,” Sommer said.
The action is infrequent in Alaska, and when it is used, some question whether a tribal entity has the right to limit access to a community otherwise governed by state law. Those who are banished rarely contest the action publicly, and it isn’t clear if banished residents go on to cause problems in other communities because no one tracks them.
“We like to think that we have the right to travel wherever we want,” said Anchorage attorney Wayne Anthony Ross, who former Gov. Sarah Palin nominated for Alaska attorney general in 2009. “On the other hand, a small village should have the right to decide who they want to live in that village, specifically if that person is a troublemaker. I can see both sides of it.”
If it’s not lawful, it should be, said Heather Kendall-Miller, senior staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund in Anchorage. Tribal councils always have attempted to protect the peace.
“It seems to me like a reasonable approach to avoid violent situations, especially when you have no law enforcement providers within a community,” she said. “Try to pre-empt a bad situation before it happens.”
Tanana is on the Yukon River, a traditional transportation artery in Alaska’s vast interior. More than a century after changing from trading site to permanent community, Tanana has a school, clinic and store but no mental health treatment facilities and no connection to the highway system.
The state can’t afford to pay for law enforcement in small villages like this but they also refuse to let tribes have full authority over law enforcement, beyond an unarmed public safety officer, Kendall-Miller said. State troopers are flown in to deal with violence, but they can sometimes take days to arrive.
The latest trouble in Tanana began when Arvin Kangas, 58, drove into town without a license and pointed a gun at the unarmed village public safety officer, investigators said. He called Alaska State Troopers, and one day later, on May 1, Sgt. Scott Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich flew to Tanana. As they tried to arrest Kangas, his son, Nathanial “Satch” Kangas, 20, shot and killed the officers, investigators said.
The village council later voted to banish Arvin Kangas and a second man who has assaulted tribal employees, Sommer said. The matter, after legal review, will be presented to the tribal court for a final decision at an undetermined date.
Banishment is not limited to Athabascan communities. Last August, a man identified as a drug supplier stepped off a flight to Sand Point, a city with strong Aleut and Scandinavian roots at the beginning of the Aleutian Chain. A semi-circle of residents informed the man he was not welcome. They bought him a return ticket and he never left the airport terminal, said Tina Anderson, who witnessed the exchange. The fishing community has a high rate of drug abuse.
“We’re tired of it, and we’re concerned about the future of the community,” she said.
Akiak, a Yupik Eskimo village in southwest Alaska, voted in April 2013 to ban a man suspected of bootlegging and dealing drugs.
Sommer concedes banishment is a “slippery slope.”
“It’s got to be very significant circumstances that would warrant this, either violent assaults or murder,” he said. “At what point do we draw the line on this? I do not know. I do know it’s not going to be used frivolously just to get back at someone.”
The village council will ask the state to enforce banishments. The Alaska Department of Law said it would carefully evaluate a banishment order. Kendall-Miller has seen unofficial support in the past.
“We have seen state police officers that have attempted to accommodate the tribal council’s blue ticket orders by helping to prevent individuals from coming back,” Kendall-Miller said. “It has been an informal arrangement that was done out of necessity.”
“If they do not enforce it, we will enforce it ourselves. We will get a group of men together and go to that person and tell him to leave and to not come back.”
Suzette Brewer, Indian Country Today Media Network
Echoing the loud thunder of voices from Native communities and organizations across the U.S. and Canada in outcry over yesterday’s decision to return Veronica Brown to South Carolina, the Native American Rights Fund yesterday issued the strongest statement yet in a call to action to join the fight in protecting the girl’s right to be raised by her biological father, Dusten Brown.
“The Native American Rights Fund joins with the Brown family, the Cherokee Nation, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Child Welfare Association, and many others inside and outside of Indian country who are expressing their outrage over the South Carolina Supreme Court’s imprudent order effectively granting the adoption of Veronica without due process of law or a hearing to determine what is in her best interest,” said the statement from the country’s oldest Native legal rights organization.
The Native American Rights Fund encourages all of the state attorneys general, adoption and child welfare organizations, past and present members of Congress, religious organizations, and others who submitted briefs in the case to express their concern and join with Indian country to take all necessary steps to stop the forced removal of this Indian child from her Indian father, her Indian family, and her Indian community.”
As rage over the decision began to take shape on Thursday, Native leaders, community members and legal experts were unanimous in their solidarity toward what they feel is a rubber stamp of approval from the court by taking Veronica from her home. In short, they feel that the Capobiancos “won ugly,” and have been rewarded by removing the child from a fit parent and a community in which she has thrived.
“This is Indian country’s Trayvon Martin moment; we cannot pass on this,” said a Native legal scholar in Washington, D.C., who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing litigation. “The message is clear: They are continuing to take our land, they’re taking our children, they’re taking our identity and now the courts have endorsed this whole pattern of white settler mentality.
This man and his daughter have been denied due process all the way down and he did not even get a hearing to determine what’s in his own daughter’s best interest, which in itself represents the destruction of tribes. He needs to have a fair hearing and we in Indian country support him 100 percent in retaining a child that never should have been put up for adoption in the first place.”
National native organizations and tribes have begun gathering and collaborating in mobilizing support for a case that has struck at the heart of tribal existence perhaps more so than any time since the Termination Era of the 1950s. Advocates say that the course this case has taken has forced many in Indian country from the sidelines to take a public stand and who are willing to take to the streets, if necessary.
“They don’t get it,” says A. Gay Kingman, executive director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association. “Who is thinking and representing the best interests of this child? Like many of our American Indian children in South Dakota, she is being removed from her birth father, her Indian family and her tribe. Shouldn’t the child have due process?”
Whatever shape this case takes over the coming days, grassroots activism and legal mobilization are gaining momentum by the minute.
“This is not over,” said the legal scholar. “It’s not over by a longshot.”