Sioux reservation has mixed feelings about Obama’s visit

Obama visits to address education, economy; tribal leaders use opportunity to voice opposition to Keystone pipeline

By Al Jazeera America

President Barack Obama made his first presidential visit to Indian Country on Friday – and some residents of the Sioux reservation used the opportunity to voice their opposition to a proposed pipeline that would carry tar sands oil through their land.

The president and first lady arrived by helicopter at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles the border between North Dakota and South Dakota. Native Americans, some dressed in full feathered headdresses and multicolored, beaded outfits, greeted the couple.

“We can follow the lead of Standing Rock’s most famous resident, Chief Sitting Bull. He said, ‘Let’s put our minds together to see what we can build for our children,” Obama said. Sitting Bull was a Sioux chief who defeated Gen. George Custer at the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn.

The Obamas also spoke privately with tribal youth about their challenges growing up on the 2.3 million-acre reservation, home to nearly 1,000 residents who struggle with a lack of housing, health care, education and economic opportunity.

Some Sioux leaders used the visit to tell Obama that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — which would run through their land — would be a treaty violation.

Bryan Brewer, president of the Ogalala Sioux Tribe, said in a statement that the Keystone pipeline was “a death warrant for our people,” and that it would violate treaty rights. Critics of the pipeline warn of possible oil spills, environmental impact from the line’s construction, and Keystone’s overall effect on raising carbo

Regulators Discuss The Future Of Coal-Fired Power In The West

This image of the coal-fired plant in Colstrip, Mont., was made in the 1980s by Montana native David T. Hanson. It was part of an exhibit at Modern Museum of Art in New York. | credit: David T. Hanson |
This image of the coal-fired plant in Colstrip, Mont., was made in the 1980s by Montana native David T. Hanson. It was part of an exhibit at Modern Museum of Art in New York. | credit: David T. Hanson |

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

SEATTLE — The Obama administration’s new rules to cut carbon emissions fueled energy sector leaders’ conversations about the future of coal in the West during their gathering here this week.

The Western Conference of Public Service Commissioners on Wednesday wrapped up its conference — a gathering of the people who decide where the region’s power comes from and how to regulate it.

Now that the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing that states cut CO2 emissions from power plants by 30 percent over the next 16 years, regulators are turning their attention to coal. Does it have a future?

“The answer is a resounding yes, the question is how much?” said Travis Kavulla with the Montana Public Service Commission. He’s one of the guys calling the shots on what kind of power his state produces, and what it will cost consumers. Montana mines and burns a lot of coal. So, as you might imagine, Kavulla’s not too pleased with the EPA right now.

“The bottom line is that the EPA seems set on establishing state by state goals, based on particular building blocks, a particularly infantilizing term, I think,” he told the crowd.

The “building blocks” include boosting energy efficiency, getting more renewable energy on the grid and using less coal.

Puget Sound Energy, an investor-owned utility based in Bellevue, Washington, gets more than 15 percent of its power from Montana coal. PSE is under mounting pressure from voters and the state government to kick its coal habit, and the new EPA rules add to that pressure.

“It’s very easy for part of our country to be rejoicing after yesterday and say ‘There, we’re just going to shut it all down.’” Well, that’s not going to work,” said Kimberly Harris, president and CEO of Puget Sound Energy. “You cannot just shut down coal units and expect for the grid to continue to operate. And we have an obligation to serve.”

Harris says that transitioning off of coal is possible, but it will take time – and states will have to work together.

“Any type of a retirement has to be transitional because we have significant decisions to make and investment and planning to do as a region. This really needs to be a regional approach,” Harris emphasized.

Washington’s in good shape to meet the EPA requirements, pretty much just by phasing out its only coal plant, which operates in Centralia. But Montana is going to need help lowering its CO2 emissions and getting more renewables online.

But who will will pay for it?

“From an investor’s point of view, all of this looks like a giant investment opportunity,” said Mike Weinstein, an investment analyst with UBS Securities in New York.

Weinstein said investors will be looking to throw money at new technology to cut CO2 emissions at the smokestack or sequester those emissions underground.

Some other winners, according to Weinstein? Renewable energy, natural gas and maybe nuclear power.

He also stressed the role of energy efficiency in helping utilities meet the EPA requirements, and keep costs down.

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.”

Mike Connor Confirmed as Interior Deputy Secretary

Mike Connor pictured with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Mike Connor pictured with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
Rob Capriccioso, ICTMN, 2/28/14


Mike Connor has been confirmed to become the Obama administration’s next deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior, the number two position at the agency under Secretary Sally Jewell.

Connor was confirmed February 27 by a vote of 97 to 0 in the Senate.

“Mike is exactly the right person to help lead this Department—thoughtful, smart, organized and full of energy,” said Jewell in a statement. “His wealth of knowledge, experience and collaborative approach to complex challenges will be of great benefit to me and to this Department. Mike is a true public servant, and this new role will tap all of his experiences for the benefit of the American people.”

“Mike Connor is a dedicated public servant with the experience and background needed to help meet our nation’s goals for energy independence and our environment,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) in a statement. “He is passionate about finding solutions on a range of issues important to New Mexico, including land and water conservation and addressing climate change.

“Mike is a staunch ally of Indian country and has a strong record of working effectively and collaboratively with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents,” Heinrich added.

Connor has in the past worked for Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), served at the Secretary of the Interior’s Indian Water Rights Office as director from 1999 to 2001 and as deputy director there from 1998 to 1999, and he worked as a lawyer at multiple offices at Interior from 1993 to 1997, including the Southwestern Regional Solicitor’s Office, the Division of Indian Affairs, and the Solicitor’s Honors Program. He has served as the commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation at Interior since 2009 where he implemented five Indian water rights settlements.

Connor has received strong tribal support to replace David Hayes, who retired from the position in 2013 after tribal officials raised concerns about his role in some Indian-focused dealings, especially involving the stalled Carcieri land-into-trust legislative fix situation. Many tribal leaders hope Connor will be particularly strong on Indian energy and water issues, given his background.

While not an enrolled tribal citizen, Connor does have roots with the Taos Pueblo, as his maternal grandmother was an original member of Taos Pueblo’s water rights task force.

According to Interior officials, Connor is the first person with ties to Indian country to serve in the number two position at the department, which oversees many of the nation’s federal Indian affairs.



Oglala Sioux vow to stop Keystone XL on the ground if Obama won’t say no

Chief Phil Lane Jr. (left) participates in the Vancouver signing of the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred From Tar Sands Projects. Photo courtesy of Phil Lane Jr.
Chief Phil Lane Jr. (left) participates in the Vancouver signing of the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred From Tar Sands Projects. Photo courtesy of Phil Lane Jr.

By Erin Flegg, Source: Vancouver Observer

In the latest in a series of announcements escalating resistance to oil and gas development in North America, the Oglala Sioux nation and its allies have committed to stopping the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on their territory if Obama approves the project.

In response to the US State Department’s environmental report that says Keystone wouldn’t increase the country’s carbon emissions Oglala Sioux president Bryan Brewer, along with organizations carbon emissions, Owe Aku and Protect the Sacred, released a statement declaring they will stand with the Lakota people to block the pipeline. The statement, seen by many as a significant step toward approval, sparked solidarity action across the US on Monday.

Moccasins on the Ground is a grassroots direct action training organization, and trainer Debra White Plum of the Lakota Sioux nation said the group has been working toward this moment, giving nations the skills they need to defend their land, for years now.

The training is available to anyone who invites the group onto their land, and it consists of four days of training in areas such as knowing your rights, blockading and self-defence, first aid and social media. White Plume said a large part of the impetus for offering the training is the size of the territory at risk. Tribes can be several hundred kilometres away from each other, often making quick help hard to come by.

“This way a community can do whatever they need to do when threatened and they’ll have the skills right here, and that’s really important out here where we live,” she said. “We want this non-violent, direct way that everybody engaging in across the country to be successful,” she said. “But if it’s not and if the final door is closed, then that’s why we’re doing the training.”

The organization has toured the United States and has received requests for training from several nations in Canada. She said the political process has left the people with little choice.

“Every door has been closed through this process. Court decisions have been made that favoured the corporations and there are a few cases here and there where the landowners are still asserting their rights under American law.” But if the government can’t be counted on to uphold its own laws, she said, there’s nothing to stop them violating indigenous treaty rights.

“As red nations people we have seen the federal government violate treaties clear to this day.”

The violation of the treaties—in the case of Keystone it’s primarily the Fort Laramie Treaty between the American government and the Oglala Sioux—is the key reason Phil Lane says it’s unfair to call direct action by indigenous people civil disobedience.

“It is not civil disobedience. This is simply acting out of an aboriginal legal order to stand up for what is right. It is standing up for an ancient aboriginal legal order that has never been extinguished.”

Just as the US and Canada and any other sovereign nation has the right to enter into legally binding treaties, so do First Nations. When a treaty such as the one between the Sioux and the American government is broken by one of the parties bound by it, Lane said a third legal party is required to resolve the situation. Because the governments of the United States and Canada are handling the administration of the treaties they themselves have broken, Lane said it’s impossible to expect justice from them.

What direct action resistance against Keystone looks like will ultimately be up to the Obama administration.

“What’s going to happen if he chooses to give in to the oil companies and their allies is he’s going to empower the rising of indigenous people everywhere on Mother Earth,” he said. “This will be another final violation people aren’t ready to take.”

Ottawa-based Idle No More organizer Clayton Thomas-Muller added that it’s crucial to remember that opposition to Keystone XL was initiated and pushed forward by indigenous people. And what’s more, that much of the progress made has been thanks to the indigenous peoples who have demanded recognition of their rights, namely consultation.

In December of 2011 at the annual White House Tribal Leaders Summit, indigenous leaders, including former president of the Rosebud Sioux nation Rodney Bordeaux, presented President Obama with Mother Earth Accord, a document stating indigenous opposition to Keystone XL. The document was endorsed by numerous nations from both sides of the border, NGOs, landowners and the NDP party. Thomas-Muller said it’s the only such document that was delivered into Obama’s hands directly.

“It was only through native rights-based framework being used by indigenous organizations and networks that provide that unparalleled access to the state department and White House,” he said.

He traveled to New York City on Monday night to speak at one of more than 300 actions across 44 states this week. He read a statement written by Debra White Plume and spoke on behalf of Idle No More in Canada.

So many people have been preparing for this moment, he said, and are now coming together for a final push.

“Moving forward, we have a very short timeline. Within the next couple of months we will see a variety of very direct messages like the one we heard from Bryan Brewer of Oglala Sioux nation.”

John Podesta, climate hawk and Keystone opponent, joins Obama team

This post has been updated at the bottom with news that Podesta will recuse himself from the Keystone XL decision.

By Lisa Hymas, Grist

President Obama is getting a new high-level adviser who cares a lot about climate change and doesn’t care much at all for the Keystone XL pipeline.

John Podesta is no stranger to the White House; he served as chief of staff to President Clinton. And he’s no stranger to the Obama team; he led the president’s transition into office after the 2008 election. Since then, he’s served as an “outside adviser,” The New York Times reports, and “has occasionally criticized the administration, if gently, from his perch as the founder and former president of the Center for American Progress, a center-left public policy research group that has provided personnel and policy ideas to the administration.”

For the coming year, he’ll be advising from the inside. He will help out on health care and “will focus in particular on climate change issues, a personal priority of Mr. Podesta’s,” according to the Times. Podesta is expected to encourage Obama to take action through his executive authority, as Congress is unwilling and unable to pass legislation on climate change or much else. “Podesta has been urging Obama for three years to use the full extent of his authority as president to go around Congress,” Politico reports.

Podesta is also an outspoken opponent of Keystone, and his move to the White House is making some Keystone boosters nervous, National Journal reports.

InsideClimate News has more:

His arrival comes just as the decision on TransCanada’s proposal to build a controversial pipeline to deliver tar sands crude from Alberta across the midsection of the United States approaches a critical turning point: the completion of a final environmental impact statement by the State Department. That will be followed by a crucial 90-day period in which Obama must decide whether the pipeline is in the U.S. national interest. …

Podesta has allied himself closely with some of [the environmentalists opposing the pipeline], including the wealthy investor Tom Steyer, who has been mobilizing opposition to the project. They appeared together at CAP’s conference to celebrate its 10th anniversary this fall.

Just last week, CAP co-sponsored a daylong conference with Steyer’s team in Georgetown to argue that the pipeline could not pass the litmus test Obama set back in June — that the Keystone could only be approved if it didn’t significantly exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions. …

[A]s the various interests in the Keystone decision make their final arguments at the White House, Podesta could not be better positioned as a particularly close adviser to voice his own views — and to debunk the arguments of those who favor the tar sands pipeline.

Will Podesta make the difference on Keystone? Don’t count on it. There are already plenty of people in the administration on both sides of the issue. Ultimately, the call is Obama’s alone.

But Podesta could make the difference on UFO issues

UPDATE, from The New Yorker:

A White House aide emailed late Tuesday that Podesta would recuse himself from working on the Keystone Pipeline decision.

“In discussions with Denis,” the aide said, speaking of White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, “John suggested that he not work on the Keystone Pipeline issue, in review at the State Department, given that the review is far along in the process and John’s views on this are well known. Denis agreed that was the best course of action.” Podesta’s climate change portfolio will therefore be limited largely to overseeing implementation of E.P.A. regulations, which are already moving along, and not the far more controversial and politically sensitive decision about the pipeline.

Still, Podesta is on record strongly opposing the pipeline. If Obama approves the project, he will have to do so knowing he is contradicting the assessment of his new climate-change adviser.

Full disclosure: Grist periodically reprints posts from ClimateProgress, a Center for American Progress blog.

Lisa Hymas is senior editor at Grist. You can follow her on Twitter and Google+.

Triple threat: Obama orders federal agencies to boost clean energy use threefold

Lisa Hymas, Grist

Two bills in the Senate would require the country to get at least 25 percent renewable electricity by 2025, but neither has a chance in hell of making it to Obama’s desk. Thanks, Republicans! So the president is doing what he can without approval from Congress: requiring the federal government to get more of its power from renewable sources.

From NPR:

President Obama says the U.S. government “must lead by example” when it comes to safeguarding the environment, so he’s ordering federal agencies to use more clean energy.

Under a presidential memorandum out Thursday, each agency would have until 2020 to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable supplies. …

Agencies are supposed to build their own facilities when they can, or buy clean energy from wind farms and solar facilities. …

The memo also directs federal agencies to increase energy efficiency in its buildings and its power management systems.

The U.S. government currently gets about 7.5 percent of its electricity from renewables, so the new goal would almost triple that percentage.

With today’s memorandum, Obama follows through on a promise he made in his big climate speech in June. We’re looking forward to him keeping the rest of the promises from that speech.

Obama approves major border-crossing fracked gas pipeline used to dilute tar sands

By Steve Horn. November 26, 2013. Source: DeSmog Blog

Although TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has received the lion’s share of media attention, another key border-crossing pipeline benefitting tar sands producers was approved on November 19 by the U.S. State Department.

Enter Cochin, Kinder Morgan’s 1,900-mile proposed pipeline to transport gas produced via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of the Eagle Ford Shale basin in Texas north through Kankakee, Illinois, and eventually into Alberta, Canada, the home of the tar sands.

Like Keystone XL, the pipeline proposal requires U.S. State Department approval because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border. Unlike Keystone XL – which would carry diluted tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) south to the Gulf Coast – Kinder Morgan’s Cochin pipeline would carry the gas condensate (diluent) used to dilute the bitumen north to the tar sands.

“The decision allows Kinder Morgan Cochin LLC to proceed with a $260 million plan to reverse and expand an existing pipeline to carry an initial 95,000 barrels a day of condensate,” the Financial Post wrote.

“The extra-thick oil is typically cut with 30% condensate so it can move in pipelines. By 2035, producers could require 893,000 barrels a day of the ultra-light oil, with imports making up 786,000 barrels of the total.”

Increased demand for diluent among Alberta’s tar sands producers has created a growing market for U.S. producers of natural gas liquids, particularly for fracked gas producers.

“Total US natural gasoline exports reached a record volume of 179,000 barrels per day in February as Canada’s thirst for oil sand diluent ramped up,” explained a May 2013 article appearing in Platts. ”US natural gasoline production is forecast to increase to roughly 450,000 b/d by 2020.”

Before Eagle Ford, Kinder Morgan Targeted Marcellus

Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale basin was Kinder Morgan’s first choice pick for sourcing tar sands diluent for export to Alberta. It wasn’t until that plan failed that the Eagle Ford Shale basin in Texas became Plan B.

Known then as the Kinder Morgan Cochin Marcellus Lateral Project proposal, the project fell by the wayside in February 2012.

“The company’s Cochin Marcellus Lateral Pipeline would have started in Marshall County, West Virginia, and transported natural gas liquids from the Marcellus producing region of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio,” wrote the Mount Vernon News of the canned project. [It] would [then] carry the [natural gas] liquids to processing plants and other petrochemical facilities in Illinois and Canada.”

“Kinder Magic”: More to Come?

Industry market trends publication RBN Energy described Kinder Morgan’s dominance of the tar sands diluent market as “Kinder Magic” in a January 2013 article.

“These are still early days for the developing condensate business in the Gulf Coast region,” RBN Energy’s Sandy Fielden wrote. “Plains All American and Kinder Morgan are developing the potential to deliver at least 170,000 barrels per day of Eagle Ford condensate as diluent to the Canadian tar sand fields in Alberta by the middle of 2014.”

Fielden explained we could see many more of these projects arise in the coming years.

“We have a sense that before too long there will be many more condensate infrastructure projects showing up like ‘magic’ in midstream company presentations.”

While the industry press coverage sounds optimistic, it doesn’t account for the concurrent rise of public opposition to dirty energy pipelines and expansion plans in the fracking and tar sands arenas, so only time will tell the fate of Cochin and its kin.

13 Cabinet Comments From Tribal Nations Conference Morning Session

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network, November 14, 2013

Tribal Leaders from many of the 566 federally recognized tribes were present for the fifth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference held at the Department of the Interior on November 13.

The all day conference that has been a staple of President Barack Obama’s administration and its hopes to improve the government-to-government relations began at 9 a.m. with Cabinet members speaking on behalf of their respective departments.

The speakers addressing the tribal leaders, who were able to voice their concerns later in the day, were: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Energy Secretary Ernest Monitz, and the Department of Justice Attorney General Eric Holder.

Each speaker addressed progress in working with Indian country over the past year as well as announced key programs in front of the Native leaders.

Below are 13 clips from the morning session as the Cabinet members addressed the gathering:

Holder: “[C]ountless tribal leaders – both in and beyond this room – have stepped to the forefront of our efforts to preserve cultural values, to enforce treaty obligations, and to secure the rights and benefits to which all American Indians and Alaska Natives must always be entitled. Together, through many generations, you and your predecessors have faced down tremendous adversity – standing up to those who once sought to terminate the federal government’s relationships with tribes. You’ve galvanized support for the rights of American Indians to maintain tribal governments – and to have a seat at the table before major reforms are enacted. You’ve mobilized tribal nations to win passage of long-overdue laws not simply to regulate tribal affairs, but to allow all Native peoples to fulfill their own promise and chart their own paths.”

Shinseki: “I cannot change the records of injustice in our history, and they are many or the lack of trust about the government and this department, but I intend to make things better and I need your help.”

Sebelius: “Our research shows that nearly one in three American Indians and Alaskan Natives don’t have health insurance, one in three. That compares to 62 percent of all non-elderly Americans who are covered with insurance. But in Alaskan Native and American Indian communities only six percent are covered – here the challenges they face are real.”

Foxx: “The department of transportation’s position is clear. Residents of our tribal nation need and deserve safe roads and bridges and access to reliable public transportation. You well know, as well as I do, that transportation is a life-blood to communities, families. When we deliver on the promise of connecting every person on these shores to 21st-century opportunities, that includes tribal communities all across America.”

Moniz: “We want to work closely with tribal leaders to develop renewable resources on tribal lands, in particular. Today, we are very pleased to announce that nine tribes have been selected to receive over $7 million to further deploy clean energy projects.”

Jewell: “I came in at an interesting time as far as the budget. It was with my predecessors and some of the things they faced. We think long-term. We think the future of the culture that you represent, of the land you represent, we think by generations forward, as do I. And yet we are all faced with a crazy budget situation, continuing resolutions, no budget since 2012. Sequestration has hit Indian country harder than any other part of the federal government through the sequestration period we have been enduring since I started in the job seven months ago.”

Holder: “Today, we declare that we must never forget. We must never deny the injustice that – for decades upon decades – was inflicted on Native peoples. And we affirm that this painful past has informed, and given rise to, a sustained period of cooperation and self-determination – a period that began in a moment of national challenge, when the nation confronted a New Frontier.”

Jewell: “I know that when I speak to individual members of Congress they care about Indian country, and your voices to them are really, really important. But when it comes down to actually getting a budget done, they aren’t delivering. We need to hold them accountable to that and we will certainly be your partners in that effort.”

Sebelius: “Before President Obama took the oath of office, there was a steady decline in the number of children in Head Start who spoke a tribal language at home. Today we are using the Head Start new performance standards to integrate tribal language and culture into classrooms and curriculum. That is a big step forward for the next generation.”

Moniz: “This department has a major challenge in terms of cleaning up – there is no nice way to say it – the cold war mess. Much of this has an impact on traditional tribal lands. When it came to establishing our programs, I have to say, tribes in the affected areas, they have been fantastic partners in making us focus on the long-term cleanup to a level where sufficient activities could be removed. That has been a tremendous help as we structure the programs.”

Shinseki: “President Obama and I are committed to providing equal access to all veterans. If you understand the spread and the difference in the landscape, you will appreciate that the commitment means that whether or not you are living in an urban area or are a rural veteran, you are in the most remote of locations, like the outer banks of Alaska, or maybe even Guam, seven miles beyond Honolulu. Our commitment is to provide as best we can equal access to every veteran, no matter the condition, and that includes veterans on tribal lands. With the support of the congress, the president has increased the budget request for V.A. by over 50 percent since 2009. Rural, urban, remote, Native American all in the same benefits.”

Foxx: “We know and you know that a rebuilt road or a new transit system can be the difference between a child getting to school on time or the difference between an elder going to the doctor or not. No one knows better than the American tribal leaders that safe, reliable transportation is a key to accessing good jobs. It is why last year the federal transit administration awarded more than copy5 million from our tribal transit program to help 72 tribal governments provide the critical transportation services that thousands depend on every day.”

Holder: “We must recommit ourselves to collaboration on an unprecedented scale – no matter the obstacles we face. And we must declare – together – that, despite everything that’s been achieved, we will not rest as long as crime rates in so many tribal communities continue to exceed the national average.

“We will not accept the shameful fact that American Indians are disproportionately likely to become victims of crime and violence.”



Fawn Sharp: Conference Appreciated but ‘We Need More’

fawn-sharpFawn Sharp, Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

The following are comments by Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp in advance of today’s 2013 White House Tribal Nations Conference, the fifth of its kind since President Barack Obama took office in a way to improve the government-to-government relationship between federally recognized tribes and the United States government.

Today, President Barack Obama and top officials of his administration are meeting with hundreds of elected chairs, presidents and other key leaders from Indian tribes across the country. It is the fifth annual such gathering, an event promised by the president when he first entered the White House, intended to improve federal/tribal government-to-government relations.

We truly appreciate this opportunity to visit President Obama and listen to his thoughts about the various issues affecting Indian country. But we need much more than a listening session. These annual gatherings do comprise a gesture of good will well beyond any ever made by any president. But we need more than gestures. We need more than progress reports and we need more than promises. Our people are suffering and we need a “paradigm shift,” from the way tribes have been treated by this country in the past to the way they must be treated in the future.

I call upon the president to take a stand—a genuine stand—in favor of a true, democratic, nation-to-nation dialogue regarding the pressures and afflictions facing Indian country today. We need to establish a formalized and permanent intergovernmental framework between the tribes and the United States to, among other objectives, establish agreement on revenue restoration and trust reform through amendment of the self-governance compact.

What this means in layman’s terms is that it’s time for America to wake up to the fact that there are still Indian nations in this country. We haven’t gone away, and we’re not about ready to go anywhere. Our people have been ignored, mistreated, lied to and cheated throughout our history with the United States and the time has come for it to stop.

Indian, Alaskan Native and Hawaiian peoples have endured, and are enduring, the worst possible conditions, from extreme poverty to early death. Our children go to the worst schools. We have the worst health care and we are on the front lines facing the very real impacts of climate change and ocean acidification. The glaciers in our mountains are melting. Our lands and waters are being eroded, poisoned with pollution and displaced by careless development.

Too often, federal agencies ignore our rights and our sovereignty. To name just a few examples:

— Three years after 144 countries passed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples through the U.N. General Assembly in 2010, President Obama finally decided to sign it—the final country to do so. But even then, the Department of State said the U.S. government didn’t agree with provisions affirming the principle that Indigenous Peoples must directly participate in policies and actions that directly affect their rights and interests. The principle opposed by the U.S. says that indigenous nations have the right to “free, prior and informed consent” before a government’s actions may be carried out. It is a fundamental right of any government. This effectively means the U.S. denies tribes the basic democratic principle that people have a right to know and consent to planned state government policies and actions that affect their livelihood, their social, political, economic and cultural interests and their future survival—a fundamental human right.

— Indians pay as much in taxes as they receive in federal payments under treaties and compacts. So, Indians are paying the U.S. to fulfill its treaty commitments. Also, non-Indian citizens receive approximately 50 times more in return benefit for taxes paid than Indian citizens do. Still, federal appropriations to tribes are being slashed—funds that belong to the tribes and are desperately needed for everything from medical care to education. These are topics for bi-directional dialogue along with implementation of the U.N. Declaration at the World Conference.

We have been supportive of President Obama and his policies, and we hope to continue to do so. But the time has passed when one-sided listening sessions can be counted as true progress in U.S.-tribal affairs. Democratic dialogue between our nations and the U.S. is needed to validate any consent requested of Indians. It’s not happening. Nor will it, until the “intergovernmental framework” to implement the government-to-government policy is formalized.

I challenge President Obama to make his administration a time for real progress for the Indian people—one that will be marked in history as a cornerstone of change, when true intergovernmental dialogue commenced between us and when the tribes finally received some of the respect they deserve.