State, tribal leaders seek to expand Insure Oklahoma program to about 40,000 tribal members

By SEAN MURPHY,  Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — While state leaders remain steadfastly opposed to a Medicaid expansion offered under the federal health care law, some of Oklahoma’s 39 federally recognized Native American tribes are exploring opportunities for a federal waiver that could mean health insurance for about 40,000 low-income uninsured tribal members.

Oklahoma Health Care Authority CEO Nico Gomez said talks are underway about seeking an expansion of the state’s Insure Oklahoma program to include some of the estimated 80,000 Native Americans in Oklahoma without health insurance. Gomez estimated as many as half of those tribal citizens could qualify for the program, depending on where the income threshold is set.

Although still conceptual, Gomez said the idea would involve the tribal citizen paying a portion of the health insurance premium, the tribe paying a portion, and the federal government paying the largest part.

“We’re not looking at tapping into any state revenue, not now or in the future,” Gomez said. “Frankly, if it required any state revenue, I’m not sure we’d even be having this conversation.”

Gomez said the proposal was initially discussed last week with tribal representatives, and that he plans to brief members of the Health Care Authority’s governing board during its regular meeting on Thursday. Some of the state’s largest tribes, including the Chickasaw and Cherokee nations, are involved in discussions, Gomez said.

Insure Oklahoma provides health coverage to about 18,000 low-income Oklahoma residents, mostly through a program in which the cost of premiums are shared by the state (60 percent), the employer (25 percent) and the employee (15 percent). The state portion of the program is funded through a tax on tobacco sales, but a federal waiver that allows the program to operate has only been approved through the end of the year.

Gomez said expanding the program to include a tribal option could help ensure the federal waiver continues.

Billy James, a 31-year-old University of Oklahoma student and a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, said he wants to have health insurance but can’t afford the premiums.

“I’m trying to hold out as long as I can,” said James, who is finishing his master’s degree and currently unemployed. “I’m kind of scared about not having insurance, but I’ve got to tough it out a little while longer.”

A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, a staunch supporter of the Insure Oklahoma program, said the governor is excited about the potential of a tribal expansion.

“We’re particularly excited about the fact that it would not cost the state any tax dollars, which is important as we deal with our current shortfall,” Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said.

Currently, there are about 130,000 Native Americans in the state’s Medicaid program, which is about 16 percent of the overall Medicaid population in Oklahoma.

Largest Settlement a Turning Point in US-Navajo Nation Relations

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly (L) puts a blanket on the shoulders of U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell after a ceremonial signing of a record multi-million-dollar settlement, in Window Rock, Arizona, at the Navajo Nation, Sept. 26, 2014.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly (L) puts a blanket on the shoulders of U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell after a ceremonial signing of a record multi-million-dollar settlement, in Window Rock, Arizona, at the Navajo Nation, Sept. 26, 2014.

By Isabela Cocoli, Voice of America News
WASHINGTON—A record multi-million-dollar settlement between the United States government and the Navajo Nation has been seen as a turning point in relations between the Federal government and the entire Indian nation. It is the largest sum ever paid by the U.S. government to a single Indian tribe.Within the territory of the United States are 562 nations — ethnically-, culturally- and linguistically-diverse Native American tribes recognized by the United States as sovereign governments. The largest is the Navajo Nation, whose territory stretches more than 70,000 square kilometers across three western states.While the tribal governments enforce laws on their territory and license and regulate activities, the federal government holds the vast majority of Indian lands, money and resources in trust for the tribes, and is required to manage them in a way that benefits the tribes and individual Native Americans.

The Navajo Nation sued the federal government in 2006 and sought $900 million in damages for mismanagement of resources and trust accounts since at least 1946.

Significant investment needed

The claims in the case involved essentially three things: one, the Federal government as trustee was responsible for negotiating a contract for the extraction of natural resources for the Navajo Nation’s property; two, the government was responsible for monitoring the performance under the contract to make sure that the Navajo Nation was paid the royalties due; and three, as trustee the United States was obligated to invest the proceeds in a commercially appropriate way.

Andrew Sandler, who represented the Navajo Nation in the suit, said the settlement for $554 million is an equitable deal for both parties. It comes at a time when the Navajo Nation needs significant investment in several areas — from education to housing — and he said it will go a long way toward addressing those needs.

“The Navajo Nation is plagued by an unemployment rate as high as 50 percent. It is in desperate need for educational resources, for infrastructure resources, for roads, for water, and many other things,” said Sandler. “This $500-plus million will go a long, long way to improving the quality of life for the Navajo people.”

The signing ceremony took place late last month in Window Rock, Arizona, which serves as the capital of the Navajo Nation. Navajo official Rick Abasta told VOA that there were compromises on both sides.

“There was a little bit of compromise on the Nation’s part in accepting this $554 million settlement. But I think the bigger picture was to end the litigation against the federal government, because of course that has a cost as well, and move forward with improving the Nation and utilizing these funds,” he said.

Aiding tribal communities

In various public statements, U.S. officials had acknowledged that the Federal government had failed in its obligation as trustee. However, the deal reflects Washington’s commitment to upholding its trust responsibility to Indian Country and to building strong, prosperous and resilient tribal communities.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said the agreement was symbolic of the evolving relationship between the Navajo Nation and the U.S. government.

“The $554 million represented in this settlement is more than just the end of a legal battle. It is not just fulfilling the trust responsibility of our trustee, nor is it full compensation for the loss of revenue and the harm caused by the federal government’s actions over decades,” he said. “This settlement marks a turning point in our relationship with the federal government, and I’m hoping to see that before Obama leaves.”

U.S. tribes have filed more than 100 lawsuits against the federal government. Since early 2012, the government has resolved about 80 of them, amounting to $2.5 billion.

Quest for federal recognition puts regional tribes at odds

 

Canoes from the Snohomish tribe and Chinook Indian Nation head down the Columbia River near Kalama in June 2013. Photo/ Roger Werth, TDN

Canoes from the Snohomish tribe and Chinook Indian Nation head down the Columbia River near Kalama in June 2013.
Photo/ Roger Werth, TDN

By Brooks Johnson, The Daily News

In a fight for federal recognition, the Chinook Indian Nation and Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes are each bringing their own history books to the debate.

A bill introduced in Congress this year would recognize Oregon’s Clatsop-Nehalem tribes, granting them the same rights to sovereignty and self-determination as the more than 550 other federally recognized Native American tribes.

That doesn’t sit well with the leaders of the Chinook Nation — 3,000 members comprising Cathlamet, Lower Chinook, Wahkiakum, Willapa and Clatsop tribes. They say the Clatsop-Nehalem are historically part of the Chinook Nation and that recognizing them separately would undercut the Chinooks’ 160-year-old drive for federal recognition.

“We want people to know we are the Clatsop people, and when it comes to that tip of Oregon there (the Lower Columbia), we’re there and we’re not going away,” said Sam Robinson, vice chairman of the Chinook Nation. “To have a group just come out of nowhere is a little bit disturbing.”

But Clatsop-Nehalem Council member David Stowe said the group hasn’t come out of nowhere, and that the history of the confederated tribes has been well-documented.

“The Chinook have a history of sour grapes,” Stowe said. “… but our restoration doesn’t impact the rights of anybody. They’ll have exactly what they have right now, and we hope they get restoration as well.”

At stake for both tribes is the ability to become sovereign and restore rights to land, hunting and fishing rights as well as partake in services offered by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Competing press releases sent out in September from both tribal councils disagree on the history of the Clatsop people.

The Chinook Nation says its 1950 constitution was drafted by its five member tribes in reference to 1851 treaties, and the federal government recognized the Clatsop’s relationship with the Lower Chinook in 1958.

“The history with the Clatsop-Nehalem is pretty fresh, compared to thousands of years of history the Chinook folks have,” Robinson said.

But the Clatsop-Nehalem say that despite centuries of trade along the Columbia River and marriages with other tribes, the Clatsop have been a distinct entity since before Europeans arrived.

About 25 percent of Chinook enrollment is Clatsop, according to the Chinook Nation, and any splintering could lessen those numbers.

“We just feel it’s not right. Because they won’t take all of our folks” for federal recognition, Robinson said.

The Clatsop-Nehalem don’t see the problem, however.

“Clatsop that are enrolled with the Chinook, Quinault, Grand Ronde or Chehalis tribes or other tribes are free to choose their enrollment status,” the Clatsop-Nehalem press release reads. “Our restoration will not change their status or member benefits in any way. We have no desire to make any claims of any kind in the Chinook homeland in Washington.”

Those of Clatsop descent may also have other tribal connections in their bloodline. Robinson gave the example that he is descended from Lower Chinook, Willapa Chinook and Chehalis tribes. The amount of ancestry needed to enroll in a tribe is up to individual tribes’ governments.

BIA Northwest Regional Director Stan Speaks says it’s impossible to know what will happen before recognition is granted, and it is “premature to think fellow members are going to abandon one group and go with the other.”

The restoration bill before Congress, introduced by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), asks for little more than recognition. Land, hunting and fishing rights have all been left out of the equation.

“That’s very contentious,” said Stowe, the Clatsop council member. “(Asking for more) creates a whole whirlwind and lessens our chances of restoration. At the end of the day what’s important to us, what’s important for our identity is recognition of our tribe.”

The term restoration is used by both sides of the debate. The Clatsop and Nehalem tribes were “terminated” by the federal government in the 1950s under the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act. That severed ties between the government and the tribes in a new policy toward Native Americans. The policy was later reversed for many of the terminated tribes, excepting the Clatsop and Nehalem. Stowe says the act of termination is recognition in and of itself because the Clatsop and Nehalem tribes are listed in the law.

The five tribes of the Chinook Nation — including the Clatsop — were recognized at the end of the Clinton administration, only to have the status revoked 18 months later by the Bush administration.

“We felt it was an injustice for them to be recognized and have it yanked form them, that was horrible, and it was equally an injustice we were terminated in 1954,” Stowe said.

The argument between the groups is centered around those living north or south of the Columbia River, though both sides agree that the divide can be arbitrary.

Dick Basch, the vice chairman of the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes, supports efforts to get his tribes recognized, but he is “saddened” by the fighting it has caused.

“We are Lower Columbia Indians that should be supporting each other and working for the benefit of all of us,” Basch said. “We’re all Indian people and just because some of our families went south and others went north doesn’t mean that we have to battle each other.”

Robinson and the Chinook agree on the principle of unity.

“Some folks say, “Well they’re Oregon Clatsop or they’re Washington Clatsop.’ … But the river wasn’t a divider — it was just a highway for us.”

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.”

Designs Announced for 2015 and 2016 Native American Dollars

By Michael Zielinski, Coin Update

The United States Mint has announced the design selections for the reverse of the 2015 and 2016 Native American Dollars. The theme for the designs will be the Mohawk Ironworkers and Code Talkers of Word War I and World War II.

The Native American $1 Coin Program was authorized under Public Law 110-82 and features annually rotating reverse designs celebrating the important contributions made by Native American tribes and individuals to the history and development of the United States. Since the launch of the series in 2009, themes have included the Three Sisters method of planting (2009), the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy (2010), the Wampanoag Treaty of 1621 (2011), the spread of horse culture (2012), the Treaty with the Delawares of 1778 (2013), and native hospitality ensuring the success of the Lewis and Clark expedition (2014).

2015-na-dollar

The 2015 Native American Dollar celebrates the Mohawk high iron workers as builders of New York City and other skylines from 1886. The Mohawk Ironworkers had a reputation as top notch workers who did not fear the heights or dangerous conditions on high steel. They worked on prominent landmarks within New York City such as the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the George Washington Bridge, and the World Trade Center.

The reverse design of the coin carries a depiction of a Mohawk iron worker reaching for an I-beam as it swings into position. A high elevation view of the city skyline appears in the background. Inscriptions include “United States of America”, “$1″, and “Mohawk Ironworkers”. The reverse was designed by Ronald D. Sanders and will be engraved by Phebe Hemphill.

2016-na-dollar

The 2016 Native American Dollar honors the Code Talkers from both World War I and World War II. The Native American Code Talkers had served in the United States Armed forces and used their tribal languages as a basis for secret communication, which proved unbreakable to enemy forces.

The reverse design of the coin includes two helmets with two feathers in the background that form a “V,” symbolizing victory, unity, and the important role that Code Talkers played. The inscriptions include “United States of America”, “$1″, “WWI”, “WWII”, and “Code Talkers”. The reverse was designed by Thomas D. Rodgers, Sr. with the engraver to be determined.

The obverse design for each coin will feature the design of Sacagawea and child designed by Glenna Goodacre and introduced in 2000. The obverse inscriptions include “Liberty” and “In God We Trust”. The date, mint mark, and motto “E Pluribus Unum” are incused on the edge of the coins.

Brad Pitt’s Make It Right to build houses for Native Americans, website reports

Brad Pitt posing with Janice Porter at the future site of Make It Right in the Lower Ninth Ward, 2007 (Doug MacCash / NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Brad Pitt posing with Janice Porter at the future site of Make It Right in the Lower Ninth Ward, 2007 (Doug MacCash / NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

By Doug MacCash, The Times-Picayune

Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation is partnering with two Native American tribes in Fort Peck, Mont., to build affordable, high design housing, the website beforeitsnews.com reported Wednesday.

According to the report:

“Brad Pitt has been partnering with Fort Peck, MT’s Sioux and Assiniboine nation tribes to build 20 super green homes for residents whose income levels are at or below 60 percent the area’s mean income, with a percentage of the homes reserved for seniors and disabled veterans.”

The Make It Right website defines the existing situation in Fort Peck in these terms:

“Currently, more than 600 people are waiting for housing. Overcrowding is a chronic problem on the Fort Peck Reservation, where multiple families commonly live together in two bedroom homes.
Make It Right’s work on the Fort Peck Reservation began in June 2013 with community-driven design meetings. Tribal leaders and future homeowners met with Make It Right’s architects and designers to discuss housing needs and vision for their new neighborhood. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2014.
The solar-powered homes will have 3-4 bedrooms and 2-3 bathrooms … Home ownership will be structured through a Low Income Housing Tax Credit Rent-to-Own program with ownership transferring to the tenant after 15 years of renting.”

For architecture fans, the Montana development offers the opportunity to see Make It Right-style homes designed for a cooler, more arid prairie environment.

Pitt’s Make It Right began as an altruistic effort to rebuild one of the most flood-ruined neighborhoods of New Orleans. Since 2008 a part of the Lower 9th Ward near the Claiborne Avenue Bridge has blossomed with 100 new homes.

In recent years, Pitt’s organization has taken on somewhat similar projects in Kansas City, Missouri, and Trenton, New Jersey. As of June, there was only one Make It Right home under construction in New Orleans.

Watch Pitt discuss his vision for Make It Right in Kansas City in the video below.

A Wonky Decision That Will Define the Future of Our Food

Governor Inslee Is Now Weighing the Acceptable Cancer Rate for Fish Eaters Against Business Concerns

By Ansel Herz, The Stranger

 

Levi Hastings

Levi Hastings

 

Washington State has two choices: a 10-times-higher rate of cancer among its population, particularly those who eat a lot of fish, or a bedraggled economy. That is, assuming you believe big business in the long-running and little-noticed debate over our “fish consumption rate,” a debate that Governor Jay Inslee is expected to settle, with significant consequence, within the next few weeks.

The phrase “fish consumption rate” sounds arcane and nerdy, for sure, but it really matters, and here’s why: There are a plethora of toxic chemicals—things like PCBs, arsenic, and mercury—that run off from our streets, into our waters, and then into the bodies of fish. The presence of those pollutants puts anyone who eats fish (especially Native American tribes and immigrants with fish-heavy diets) at higher risk of developing cancer.

Knowing this, the state uses an assumed fish consumption rate (FCR) to determine how great cancer risks to the general population are and, in turn, to set water-cleanliness standards that could help lower cancer rates. Currently, Washington’s official fish consumption rate is just 6.5 grams per day—less than an ounce of fish. Picture a tiny chunk of salmon that could fit on your fingertip. That’s how much fish the state officially believes you eat each day. But that number is based on data from 40 years ago. Everyone admits it’s dangerously low and woefully out of date.

Three years ago, Oregon raised its FCR up to 175 grams (imagine a filet of salmon), the highest in the nation. Now it’s up to Governor Inslee to update Washington’s FCR. Jaime Smith, a spokesperson for the governor, says he’ll make the final call in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, as with anything else, there are groups lobbying Inslee on either side. The business community—including heavyweights like Boeing, the aerospace machinists, local paper mills, the Washington Truckers Association, and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce—want our FCR to be lower. In a letter to Inslee on April 1, they warned that a higher FCR would result in “immeasurable incremental health benefits, and predictable economic turmoil.” In other words, the letter says, a one-in-a-million cancer risk for people who eat a lot of fish would hurt the economy, while a one-in-a-hundred-thousand risk is more reasonable.

Smith, the governor’s spokesperson, says the governor wants to raise the FCR in a way “that won’t cause undue harm to businesses. Obviously business has a stake in this.”

But, Smith says, “at the same time, we have people who eat a lot of fish.” Businesses have hired consultants who’ve painted worst-case scenarios, she explains, “that probably aren’t realistic.”

At the end of the day, does the governor’s office have any evidence that raising the fish consumption rate would actually kill jobs? “Not necessarily,” Smith says. She hinted that Inslee will raise the rate to a number close to Oregon’s.

In fact, businesses like the Northwest Pulp and Paper Association made the same dire predictions before Oregon increased its FCR to 175 grams per day. What happened? “We are not aware of any business that has closed that was directly attributable to those rules,” says Jennifer Wigal, a water quality program manager for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Were there job losses? “Not that I’m aware of,” she says. Broadly, Oregon employment rates have continued to trend upward since the recession, while the job availability in the paper and pulp industry, she says, has long been slowly declining.

Opposite the business community are Native American tribes, environmental groups, public-health experts, and the Seattle Human Rights Commission. (In a strongly worded March resolution, the commission said the state should raise its fish consumption rate to same level as Oregon’s.) Jim Peters, of the Squaxin Island Tribe, says the waters of Puget Sound, where tribal members have always fished, need to be better protected from pollutants. “It’s part of our life,” he says. “It’s part of our culture.” The tribes are “pro jobs,” Peters says, but “Boeing has been unwilling to come and talk with us.”

This is a defining moment for Inslee: Where he sets this number, the FCR, will send another signal about his willingness to stand up to Boeing (after his support of $8.7 billion in taxpayer subsidies for the company last year). It will also show whether or not he’s serious about following through on his commitments to do battle on behalf of the environment, promises he ran on. So keep an eye out. And in the meantime, says University of Washington public-health professor Bill Daniell, don’t eat the fish near Gas Works Park.

Quapaw tribe announces discovery of historic burial site in Arkansas

By The Associated Press

QUAPAW, Okla. — Members of the Quapaw tribe are teaming up with descendants of African-American slaves to research and preserve an archaeological site that contains the remains of their ancestors.

The burial sites were discovered on land that the Quapaw Tribe purchased in 2013. The land was part of the Thibault Plantation near the Little Rock Port Authority. Before that, it was part of the Quapaw’s historic reservation.

John House with the Arkansas Archaeological Survey estimated that the Native American graves at the site date back to 1400 to 1600, while the African-American graves in the same location probably date back from before the Civil War to the early 1900s.

House also said it is not uncommon for a prehistoric grave site to later serve as a grave site for other cultures.

“This is a very special place on the landscape,” House said in a statement. “So much of Arkansas’ history is told only through the lens of what occurred after white Europeans came here. But there were centuries of prior history, very much of it involving the Quapaw Tribe and other Native American tribes.”

John Berrey, chairman of the tribe, said, “We aren’t sure yet exactly what we will do at the site, so the immediate desire is to simply not disturb it.”

Tribal members recently met with members of the Preservation of African American Cemeteries to discuss the preservation of the site, but both groups said they wished to keep the burial site’s exact location a secret to prevent looting for historic artifacts.

This discovery comes on the heels of a similar one last summer, this one near Osceola, in northeastern Arkansas.

Berry said at that time that it was a Quapaw settlement, part of the area where Quapaws made contact with Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541, their first contact with Europeans.

Berrey also said that increased revenue that tribes have now from casinos and other businesses aids them in protecting tribal artifacts and cultural sites.

Training begins for Hardin jail; no inmates yet

 

This 2009 photo shows the entrance to the Two Rivers Detention Center in Hardin. / AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File

This 2009 photo shows the entrance to the Two Rivers Detention Center in Hardin. / AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File

By Matthew Brown, The Associated Press

BILLINGS — A private corrections company from Louisiana is starting to train guards — but still doesn’t have any inmates — for a jail in Hardin that has sat vacant since it was built in 2007, company and town officials said Monday.

Steve Afeman with Emerald Correctional Management said a warden and other personnel have been hired and about 30 guards will be training through the week at the 464-bed Two Rivers Detention Facility.

The company intends to solicit inmates from Native American tribes, counties and the U.S. Marshals Service, Afeman said.

No agreements have been reached, and Chief Deputy Rod Ostermiller with the Marshals Service in Billings said he is not aware of any discussions between his agency and the Lafayette, Louisiana-based company.

The $27 million jail rose to notoriety in recent years after its backers failed to get any contracts for inmates, prompting desperate Hardin officials at one to point to offer to take in suspected terrorists held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A California man later duped officials with a grandiose plan to turn the jail into a military training camp.

The jail is owned by Hardin’s economic development agency, Two Rivers Authority. Emerald signed an operating contract with the authority on May 6 to run the jail, Two Rivers Chairman Jon Matovich said.

Two Rivers would receive 50 cents per day for every inmate under the terms of the deal, Matovich said.

“Everything is signed, the ball’s in (Emerald’s) court and they’re doing a great job,” Matovich said. “Anything that goes on at the facility from now on is Emerald’s stuff. As soon as they get their staff trained and get things rolling, I’m sure they will have some inmates.”

Afeman said representatives of Emerald planned to meet with leaders of tribes from Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas beginning Wednesday to gauge their interest.

Afeman said in April that the company had reached a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in which the agency endorsed the company’s plans. But on Monday, Afeman said there was no agreement with the federal agency and that Emerald was working directly with the tribes.

A former employee of the Wyoming Department of Corrections was hired as warden, Afeman said. Kenneth Keller spent three decades with the state agency and in 2008 was appointed warden of the Wyoming Honor Farm, a minimum security facility in Riverton for inmates preparing to re-enter society.

Native americans And Business Leaders Pressure White House To Reject Keystone XL

Chief Tayac of the Piscataway tribe, from left, Naiche Tayac, and William of the Lakota Nation march near the White House in Washington during a rally calling on President Barack Obama to reject Keystone XL Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013.CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Chief Tayac of the Piscataway tribe, from left, Naiche Tayac, and William of the Lakota Nation march near the White House in Washington during a rally calling on President Barack Obama to reject Keystone XL Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

By Katie Valentine, ThinkProgress

As President Obama’s decision on Keystone XL nears, opposition from Native American tribes — many of whom have long spoken out against the pipeline — is getting louder.

Last weekend, members of South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux tribe set up a prayer camp near Mission, SD in protest of the Keystone XL pipeline. Tribe leaders say their plan is to send a message to the White House that Native Americans won’t back down on this pipeline, which they say would run through land guaranteed by an 1868 treaty for tribal use. The tribe members plan to keep the prayer camp up until President Obama denies the pipeline or until the pipeline is approved, in which case the camp will turn into a “blockade camp.”

 

“We’ve been talking about the XL Pipeline. Reading about it, discussing it, having meetings, and I think reality hit today,” Oglala Sioux President Bryan Brewer said at the camp’s opening ceremony Saturday. “This is the first day that we’re actually going to try to stop it.”

Tribe members have erected nine tipis, including one that will stay occupied 24 hours a day until the White House comes out with a decision on Keystone, and surrounded the camp with hay bales. The tribe is planning to enact three more prayer camps — also called spirit camps — near the proposed route of Keystone XL.

“You can feel the power here,” Brewer said. “This will be non-violent; we will take our coup stick and count coup. This Thursday the [Oglala Sioux] tribal council is going to declare war on the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Native Americans are ramping up their opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline after vowing in February to take a last stand against the pipeline, which they’ve called the “black snake.” Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, vice-chair of the House Native American Caucus, said on MSNBC this week that Native Americans’ opposition to the pipeline — especially recently — brings a spiritual dimension to the pipeline’s opposition, and will force people to pay attention to the issue if they hadn’t been before. The Rosebud tribe is also one of several to be planning a trip to D.C. at the end of April to protest the pipeline.

But Native Americans aren’t the only ones adding their voices to the call against Keystone XL. In a letter made public Tuesday, more than 200 business owners, venture capitalists and professors — inlcuding executives at Apple, Facebook, Google and Oracle — called on Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the pipeline as not in the country’s national interest. The letter called Keystone XL the “critical linchpin” for the development of Canadian tar sands and said it “undermines our international commitments.”

“The Obama Administration has expended great time and resources toward establishing America’s leadership on global challenges including the development of clean, low-carbon energy,” the letter reads. “By approving Keystone XL, the country would instead be locking itself into the development of high cost, high carbon fuels for the foreseeable future.”