ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Janay Jumping Eagle is on a mission to curb teen suicide in her hometown on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Dahkota Brown of the Wilton Band of Miwok Indians in California wants to keep American Indian and Alaska Native students on track toward graduation.
The teenagers are at the heart of Generation Indigenous, or Gen-I, a White House initiative that kicked off this week with a brainstorming session that happened to coincide with tens of thousands of indigenous people gathering in New Mexico for the Gathering of Nations, North America’s largest powwow.
The Generation Indigenous program stems from a visit last year by President Barack Obama to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Meetings followed, the president called for his cabinet members to conduct listening tours, tribal youth were chosen as ambassadors and a national network was formed.
The goal is to remove barriers that stand in the way of tribal youth reaching their potential, said Lillian Sparks Robinson, a member of the Rosebud Sioux and an organizer of Thursday’s Gen-I meeting.
“This is a community-based, community-driven initiative. It is not something that’s coming from the top down. It’s organic,” she said.
The teens are coming up with their own ideas to combat problems in their respective communities.
For example, a string of seven suicides by teenagers in recent months has shaken Pine Ridge, and close to 1,000 suicide attempts were recorded on the reservation over a nearly 10-year period. Jumping Eagle, a high school sophomore, said her older cousin was one of them.
“That was really devastating. I just wanted to at least try to stop it from happening and I’m still trying,” she said, noting that a recent basketball tournament she organized as part of her Gen-I challenge to bring awareness and share resources with schoolmates was a success.
Brown, 16, said he sees Gen-I as a tool to “shine a light on the positive things that are happening in Indian country rather than all the other bad statistics that go along with being a Native teen.”
From New Mexico’s pueblos to tribal communities in the Midwest and beyond, federal statistics show nearly one-third of Native youth live in poverty, they have the highest suicide rates of any ethnicity in the U.S., and they have the lowest high school graduation rate of students across all schools. And for American Indians and Alaska Natives overall, alcoholism mortality is more than 500 percent higher than the general population.
Federal agencies are working with the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute to pull off Generation Indigenous, and the White House is planning a tribal youth gathering in July in Washington, D.C.
In one of her last tasks before passing on the Miss Indian World crown, Taylor Thomas spoke to Gen-I participants Thursday. She shared with them her tribe’s creation story, which centers on the idea that every animal, plant and person has a purpose. She encouraged the teens to be leaders.
“No matter the difficulties we have in our communities, we have so many bright lights shining from all over Indian country. And when I say that I’m talking about all of you,” she told the crowd of about 300.
FARMINGTON — The acting head of the Indian Health Service has highlighted the federal agency’s proposed 2016 funding to provide health care services to Native Americans.
During a teleconference on Thursday, Acting IHS Director Yvette Roubideaux outlined the proposed budget for the agency, which is included in the proposed $4 trillion federal budget announced this week by President Barack Obama.
The IHS is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It provides health care services to approximately 2.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives through more than 650 hospitals, clinics and health stations on or near reservation lands.
The proposed budget for the IHS would total $5.1 billion, which is an increase of $461 million from the fiscal year 2015 budget, Roubideaux reported.
Among the funding proposals Roubideaux mentioned is $718 million for contract support costs. She noted that the budget proposes mandatory appropriation for contract support costs starting in 2017.
The budget proposes a $70 million increase to the Purchased/Referred Care Program, which pays for health care services obtained from the private sector or for services not available by the IHS.
A total of $185 million has been requested to provide funding for construction projects listed under the Health Care Facilities Construction Priority List.
Under the proposal, about $20.5 million would be used for the facility design and to start construction of the Dilkon Alternative Rural Health Center in Dilkon, Ariz.
Funding would also be used to complete construction of the Gila River Southeast Health Center in Chandler, Ariz., and to start the construction of the Salt River Northeast Health Center in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the Rapid City Health Center in Rapid City, S.D.
The budget proposes that $115 million be allocated for the Division of Sanitation Facilities Construction, which supplies water, sewage disposal and solid waste disposal facilities to homes.
The budget proposes an annual appropriation of $150 million for the next three years for the Special Diabetes Program for Indians, which started in 1997 and provides diabetes prevention, awareness, education and care programs to IHS, tribal and urban facilities.
Joining Roubideaux for the teleconference was Jodi Gillette, special assistant to the president for Native American Affairs, who said the president’s approach to funding the programs and services that address Indian Country were outlined during the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference.
She noted that last year, the president and first lady Michelle Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation in North Dakota.
During their visit, they heard from young tribal members who shared stories about dealing with social issues like alcoholism, poverty and suicide.
In response to that visit, a new initiative focusing on Native American young people — Generation Indigenous — was launched, Gillette said.
Investments to start Generation Indigenous were included in the proposed IHS budget, including $25 million to expand the Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative.
That funding would go toward increasing the number of child and adolescent behavioral health professionals working to provide direct services to Native youth.
Another $50 million has been requested within the Health and Human Services Department to start the Tribal Behavioral Health Initiative for Native Youth.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.
This coming Wednesday December 3, President Barack Obama will be hosting the sixth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington D.C. In addition to leaders and representatives of the 566 federally recognized tribes who will be attending, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Deputy Secretary Mike Connor and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn will join President Obama and other cabinet secretaries during the conference.
According to a U.S. Department of the Interior release, “Secretary Jewell will deliver remarks during the opening ceremony of the 6th annual conference and will join panel discussions on Indian education reform and climate change, along with other stakeholder meetings and briefings.”
Additionally, Connor will participate in discussions on protecting natural and cultural resources and Washburn will join sessions on government-to-government relations, economic development and upholding federal trust and treaty responsibilities.
Each year, the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference has provided tribal leaders the opportunity to interact with President Obama as well as with Secretary Jewell and members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs.
In an Executive Order establishing the White House Council on Native American Affairs in June 2013, President Barack Obama made the following assertions:
As we work together to forge a brighter future for all Americans, we cannot ignore a history of mistreatment and destructive policies that have hurt tribal communities. The United States seeks to continue restoring and healing relations with Native Americans and to strengthen its partnership with tribal governments; for our more recent history demonstrates that tribal self-determination – the ability of tribal governments to determine how to build and sustain their own communities – is necessary for successful and prospering communities. We further recognize that restoring tribal lands through appropriate means helps foster tribal self-determination.
This order establishes a national policy to ensure that the Federal Government engages in a true and lasting government-to-government relationship with federally recognized tribes in a more coordinated and effective manner, including by better carrying out its trust responsibilities. This policy is established as a means of promoting and sustaining prosperous and resilient tribal communities. Greater engagement and meaningful consultation with tribes is of paramount importance in developing any policies affecting tribal nations.
According to the Executive Order, the mission of the White House Council on Native American Affairs is to honor treaties, recognize tribal sovereignty and right to self-government in relation to such matters as promoting sustainable economic development, promoting greater control over health and health disparities, improved access to education and supporting tribal justice systems.
The Council which is chaired by Secretary Jewell has convened four times since 2013 and Secretary Jewell has visited over 20 Native communities. The Obama’s have also made efforts to reach out to Native communities including their historic visit to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation earlier this year.
On Wednesday Secretary Jewell will offer her opening remarks at approximately 8:30 a.m. EST with additional panels on Energy and Climate Change at 2 p.m. EST and supporting Native Youth at 2:45 p.m. EST. President Obama is expected to offer closing remarks at the end of the day Wednesday.
After decades of grassroots advocacy and calls to action, the Violence Against Women Act is putting justice back in the hands of tribal authorities in cases of abuse and violence against Native American women.
WASHINGTON — In March 2013, following nearly two decades of grassroots work and advocate work, President Barack Obama signed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that offers expanded protections for Native American women.
The reauthorized act extends tribal jurisdiction to non-Native Americans who commit acts of violence or sexual assault against their Native American spouse or partner. While such incidents often go unreported, the amount that are reported reflect a disproportionate number of Native American women will be raped, stalked or physically assaulted compared to their non-Native American peers.
“One of the most basic human rights recognized under international law is the right to be free of violence. While many in the United States take this right for granted, Native women do not,” –Jana Walker, senior attorney and director of Indian Law Resource Center’s Safe Women, Strong Nations.
Federal authorities currently maintain jurisdiction over offenses committed by non-Native Americans coming onto the territories, but with prosecuting attorneys often located hundreds of miles from these areas, reporting is infrequent. From October 2002 to September 2003, 58.8 percent of cases the Bureau of Indian Affairs referred for federal prosecution were declined, compared to the national average of 26.1 percent.
However, VAWA will now allow territories to impose a penalty on non-Native Americans married to a community member, as well as those living in the community or employed by the community. Many hope this newly granted authority will put an end to the notion of reservations as hunting grounds where offenders have impunity.
The initial Violence Against Women Act resulted from grassroots efforts that started in the late 1980s, with advocates from the battered women’s movement, law enforcement, victims services and prosecutor’s offices. It was signed into law in September 1994 as Title IV sec 4001-4073 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act to fund the investigation and prosecution of acts of violence against women and impose restitution. It also established the Office on Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice.
Throughout its 20 years of reauthorizations, tribal leaders had partnered with the advocacy groups, having to explain to many in Congress the realities of living on a reservation. Tribal jurisdiction continued to be debated last year — largely around questions of whether non-Native American offenders would be treated fairly in tribal judicial systems.
To be eligible, tribes must have a criminal justice system that provides representation for defendants, provide non-Native Americans in a jury, and inform defendants of their right to file federal habeas corpus petitions. The U.S. Attorneys, state and local prosecution offices continue to hold the same authority to prosecute crimes in Indian country if tribes cannot afford prosecution costs or if further charges are pending.
According to the Indian Law Resource Center: “One in three Native women will be raped in their lifetime, and three in five will be physically assaulted. Native women are more than twice as likely to be stalked than other women and, even worse, Native women are being murdered at a rate ten times the national average.”
These statistics only take reported cases into account, and they also fail to include data on violence against Native American girls, which is estimated to also be “disproportionately high.”
“Young women on the reservation live their lives in anticipation of being raped,” said Juana Majel Dixon, 1st vice president of the National Congress of American Indians and co-chair of the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women. “They talk about, ‘How will I survive my rape?’ as opposed to not even thinking about it. We shouldn’t have to live our lives that way.”
The Indian Law Resource Center, the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women, Clan Star, Inc., National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, and other Native American women’s organizations have also turned to the international human rights community for help in the past.
In the summer of 2010, nearly 2,000 Indigenous representatives from around the world gathered at the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York for the ninth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Discussion turned to the issue of people from outside Indigenous communities entering these communities to commit abuses against Indigenous women, effectively making such behavior part of these women’s homes and communities. Speakers from Mexico, Kenya and New Zealand emphasized the necessity of Indigenous communities establishing programs relevant to them, as well as holistic approaches, environmental health and government policies to eliminate abuses such as genital mutilation.
Women of the Haudenosaunee, the Maori of New Zealand, Wara Wara of Australia, the peoples of the Lakota, Tibetan and Hawai’i nations came out of the shadows and spoke of disruptions to womanhood.
The U.N. and the Organization of American States began examining the situation of American Indian women. In 2011, Rashida Manjoo, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, presented her report to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, telling the United States to “consider restoring, in consultation with Native-American tribes, tribal authority to enforce tribal law over all perpetrators, both Native and non-Native, who commit acts of sexual and domestic violence within their jurisdiction.”
After touring Native American territories for a month in the U.S., James Anaya, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, went before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in September 2012 and recommended that the U.S. put creating legislation to protect Native American women as an immediate priority.
The reality of the lives of women around the world started being documented in 1946, when the U.N. created a Commission on the Status of Women. At first focusing on the need for education and employment, by the spring of 2013 the theme of the 57th session of the commission was “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”
When it became clear that a cooperative environment could promote protections, space was made to include the Indigenous voice to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the U.N.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
The 2013 report by the U.N.’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the International Indigenous Women’s Forum was called “Breaking the Silence on Violence against Indigenous Girls, Adolescents and Young Women,” based on analysis of data from Africa, the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America. The Indigenous Women’s Rights, Violence and Reproductive Health forum, meanwhile, underlined the need for grassroots programs that reach community members and can set precedents.
In February 2013, Manjoo and Anaya urged the U.S. House of Representatives to approve a revised version of VAWA that would extend protections to not only Native American women, but also to immigrant and gay victims of violence and sexual abuse.
“Congress should act promptly to pass key reforms to the Violence Against Women Act that bolster indigenous tribes’ ability to prosecute cases involving violence against indigenous women,” Anaya said, urging the House to approve the version of the act already approved by the Senate that month.
The OAS’ 2011 Inter-American Human Rights Commission also produced a report, “Violence Against Native Women in the United States,” expressing concern about violence against women in Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia and the U.S., urging laws, policies and programs in collaboration with the women.
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon
Given the porous borders of reservations, there’s usually frequent interaction between Native Americans and non-Native Americans and a limited scope for ensuring public safety in Indian country.
“VAWA was really needed in Indian Country,” said M. Brent Leonhard, an attorney for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla who was instrumental in crafting the language of VAWA applied in the tribe. “Historically, the federal government didn’t prosecute and it didn’t get reported to them.”
According to statistics cited by the Indian Law Research Center, more than 88 percent of violent crimes committed against Native American women are committed by non-Native Americans over which tribal governments lack any criminal jurisdiction under U.S. law. In 66 percent of the crimes in which the race of the perpetrator was reported, Native Americans victims indicated that the offender was not Native American.
Leonhard told MintPress that the latest changes to VAWA will give communities more confidence in their tribe’s ability to deal with an assault and be more comfortable in reporting it.
“We’re seeing at least 80 percent of those who come to our family violence program have not reported incidents to the police,” he said. “They seek help here but they won’t go to outside systems.”
The Umatilla are located near the city of Pendleton, where the FBI is stationed and can respond quickly to crimes. But for other reserves, federal law enforcement bodies may be as many as four hours away. For example, in Alaska, Leonhard said, “the problem is horrendous.”
The act legislatively reversed the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Oliphant v.Suquamish Indian Tribe, 435 U.S. 191 (1978), which held that inherent tribal sovereignty did not exist and “Indian tribes do not have inherent jurisdiction to try and to punish non-Indians.”
Leonhard said the Obama administration has been supportive of issues in American Indian territory. On July 21, 2011, Ronald Weich, assistant attorney general for the Office of Legislative Affairs, wroteto Vice President Joseph Biden and proposed the amendment to VAWA thatwould create the pilot project.
Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona
Since the pilot program began in March, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe has tried more than a dozen cases involving non-Indians abusing Native American women.
VAWA does not cover crimes committed against Native American women by strangers or those who may live or work on a reservation but are not considered to be dating or in relationship with a Native American woman.
There’s a lot being defined as the process moves forward. “Dating,” for instance, is being questioned: Can it apply to a chance meeting at a restaurant between two people who have just met?
“We’ve found most of our defendants have been in relationships,” Alfred Urbina, the tribe’s attorney general, told MintPress. “Most have been contacted by tribal police six to 10 times, already have felonies on their record or are unemployed.”
To exercise the authority, a tribe must guarantee that a defendant’s rights are similar to those guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, such as the right to a public defender and effective assistance of counsel. Tribes must also include non-American Indians in jury pools. For tribes with many enterprises that employ non-Native Americans, this is not an issue, but for those without such enterprises, this presents a problem.
Meanwhile, tribes must provide a public defender only if the offender is indigent,which also raises questions regarding who pays the costs associated with probation or treatment, or if an offender is homeless or if an offender needs to be monitored in another town.
“These are all questions we’re running into,” Urbina said. “We’re near Tucson and able to draw on defense attorneys and other resources. But for others who are remote from metropolitan areas, for instance the Diné, this will be difficult.”
Under the Indian Civil Rights Act, nations are limited to the amount of time they can sentence an offender to prison. The Yaqui constitution currently limits sentences to one year, while other tribes can sentence offenders to up to three years. For a case involving strangulation or another form of attempted murder, these sentencing limitations often mean that the cases are sent to U.S. Attorneys for further prosecution.
Meanwhile, some opt to leave criminal matters to the Bureau of Indian Affairs or FBI. The federal government deals with regional problems, so one reservation may be just a small part of an agent’s 100-mile radius. “It could be days before a person gets out to investigate a crime,” said Urbina.
While it’s brought benefits to those under the three pilot projects, Urbina said most reserves won’t have resources to put the program in place. (He estimated that about 30 would have adequate resources for implementing the program.)
The number of Native American women reporting abuse represents just small percentage of the reality, he added.
“If you don’t have jurisdiction over these crimes, you’re not going to collect data,” he said. “It can be decades a community puts up with rape and violent cases. You’re not going to find trust.”
Most tribes have victims services and access to federal grants to fund help for victims, and VAWA strengthens the trust Urbina mentioned by putting the response back into the hands of the nation’s people.
The 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was heralded by President Barack Obama as a significant step for Native American women because it allows tribal courts to prosecute certain crimes of domestic violence committed by non-Native Americans and enforce civil protection orders against them.
Before the bill passed the Senate, however, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, added Section 910, known as the “Alaska exception,” that exempted Alaska Native tribes. Murkowski argued that her provision did not change the impact of the bill since even without it, the bill pertained only to “Indian country,” where tribes live on reservations and have their own court systems. As defined by federal law, there is almost no Indian country in Alaska.
Now, after pressure from Alaska Natives, Murkowski is reversing her position and trying to repeal the provision she inserted.
The senator’s change of mind is the subject of much debate in Alaska, with state officials saying that ending the exception won’t make any difference for Alaska Natives because it only applies to Indian country and the state already takes action to protect Native women and children. Tribes and the Justice Department, on the other hand, argue that repealing the provision will have a significant impact.
Associate Attorney General Tony West, who called for the repeal of the “Alaska exemption,” says that the state needs to enforce tribal civil protection orders in cases of domestic violence and that the legislative change would send a strong message about tribal authority.
“It’s important to send a very clear signal that tribal authority means something, that tribal authority is an important component to helping to protect Native women and Native children from violence,” said West, who testified in June before a hearing in Anchorage of the Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence. “Those civil protective orders can help to save lives.”
Murkowski’s provision, which was originally an amendment she co-sponsored with Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, in 2012, was supported by state officials. Begich has also changed his position since then.
Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty and Gary Folger, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, have said that Alaska is already enforcing civil protection orders issued by tribes to try to keep one person from stalking or committing abuse or violence against another person.
But Murkowski’s “Alaska exception” reopened a contentious debate surrounding criminal jurisdiction over Alaska Native villages, and it has created confusion among law enforcement officials.
Alaska Native women protested Murkowski’s exception, and the Indian Law and Order Commission called it “unconscionable.”
“Given that domestic violence and sexual assault may be a more severe public safety problem in Alaska Native communities than in any other tribal communities in the United States, this provision adds insult to injury,” the commission said.
Troy Eid, a former U.S. attorney and chairman of the commission, said that only one Alaska Native village has a women’s shelter. He and the other commissioners were stunned by what they heard in remote Alaska Native communities, he said.
“We went to villages where every woman told us they had been raped,” Eid said. “Every single woman.”
On her Facebook page last year, Murkowski wrote: “It hurts my heart that some Alaskans may think I do not fully support protecting Native women from violence with every fiber of my being.”
“In Alaska, we have one, and only one reservation: Metlakatla,” Murkowski wrote. “The other 228 tribes have been described by the U.S. Supreme Court as ‘tribes without territorial reach.’ The expansion of jurisdiction over non-members of a tribe is a controversial issue in our state, and what works in the Lower 48, won’t necessarily work here.”
Murkowski said she still has concerns about repealing the exemption but said in a statement: “We must turn the tide of the rates of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse in our state.”
In the wake of the historic Presidential visit to Indian country by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Senator Heidi Heitkamp [D-ND], talked to ICTMN about being the receiving Senator of the day.
Soon after the President and First Lady arrived in North Dakota, Heitkamp joined them on Marine One and made their way to the Standing Rock Sioux celebration in Cannonball where the President and First Lady met with tribal leaders, talked with Native youth and enjoyed a powwow celebration.
Heitkamp also had an opportunity to speak at length with the Obama’s to share her concerns about Indian country and her recent initiatives to include her cosponsored legislation to support Native American language immersion programs and her first Native American Veterans Summit to connect Native vets with resources, support, and benefits.
Last week [week of June 13] was quite a week for Indian country.
The country got some insight into a powwow announcer.
You were the receiving Senator of the President and First Lady. How did that feel?
We shared such a concern for all of these issues. I was proud to show him the great traditions that we have down in Standing Rock. I was proud to be part of the day but this really was about a day for the Standing Rock Sioux Nation.
Yes, I was there and I was given a chance to participate, but what I really appreciated was how respectful they were of tribal sovereignty.
What types of things did you talk about with the President and First Lady – including the issues of course, but anything else?
I spent a lot of time visiting with the President about Native American housing, I think that is one of the critical issues and concerns that we have regarding how we are going to revitalize and improve conditions for Native American people.
I also spoke about the critical need to not only build more housing, but we need to destroy the housing that I think is dangerous to kids, such as houses with black mold. We need to make sure those homes are replaced.
We also spent a lot of time talking about education and the need for nutrition, including some of the work that the First Lady is doing in keeping our kids healthy.
We also gossiped a little bit about the Senate. (laughs)
Can you tell me any gossip? (Laugh in return)
No, I am not telling you that.
Was this the first time you’ve met them both at the same time?
This was the first time they were in North Dakota together, but it was also the first time I have been with the both of them.
It was an impressive day. What was the Presidents take?
If you take a look at where the President’s priorities are as it relates to Native American people, I think you will see a very sincere appreciation for the culture but also to the challenges in understanding the role that the federal government plays in making things better for Indian country.
Considering you are Senator of North Dakota, there is a lot to share about Indian country.
We have five tribes that are my constituents in North Dakota. I have a unique relationship with them. I was just talking about how I used to challenge federal officials to do something to improve the conditions for Native Americans and their families. Now I am in the position where I do not get to ask the questions, I am the one who must answer the questions. Now it is my job.
I come from a long tradition of North Dakota senators who have been champions. Quentin Burdick was beloved in Indian country and North Dakota. His dad Usher Burdick was a congressman who also worked on these issues for years. Sen. Byron Dorgan really picked up the mantle. If you think about what Dorgan is doing now he just does not give up. He is still trying to figure out what we can do and he has been a great help for me.
He was a witness for me on the child commission bill He is still a full partner. You can’t spend time in Indian country and not be motivated to take up the mantle of working with sovereign nations to improve conditions.
You are also an advocate for sustaining Native American languages.
[W]e [recently] had a great hearing on Native languages. A lot of people wonder what the big deal about a Native American language is. But in terms of recovery of the community, so much of Native culture is in their language – There are so many different words for different things which are things we can just take for granted.
The Senate committee on Indian affairs, Maria [Cantwell (D-Wash.)] was a great chair and I think now Sen. Jon tester [(D-Mont.)] will be a great chair, and we’re doing some very important collaboration for Indian country and we are also holding federal officials accountable for the decisions they are making.
In your discussions with the First Lady and the President, I am certain you discussed a lot of issues but did you discuss any possible workable solutions?
I will be talking to Jodi Gillette in the next couple of days as a follow-up to the President’s visit. But I will tell you, as persuasive as I like to believe I might have been in coming up with solutions, I do not think I could match the conversation that the President and First Lady had with six Native American youth who told their stories.
The things that the president is going to remember Is not me yacking on about housing, I think their take away will be those six amazing youth leaders who have had life challenges that most people could only imagine. They experience things that children their age should not have to have been confronted with – whether it be experiences involving suicide, parental addiction or whatever else there was.
I think if you ask the White House what they will remember other than the beauty of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and the beauty of the people and ceremony – I think they will say they will remember those conversations with the six Native youths.
Considering such a historic day, what was your take on the entire experience?
I will tell you, there are two visual things that I will always have other than the panoramic beauty of what went on there at the Standing Rock powwow.
What I will really remember is a young Native American girl sitting next to Nicole Archambault the chairman’s wife who was literally shaking with excitement. When the president turned and looked at her, she burst into tears.
It was a reminder to me, as the President and First Lady were spending that time there, they were demonstrating: ‘You children are valued and you are important, that is why we’re here.’ You could see that pride in the people that participated.
The second thing I will remember is that I have never seen the President happier or more relaxed. I think those are my two emotional takeaways.
As tough as the conversations with those kids might have been, I think it was a joyful experience because he was seeing the best of their culture. They were not phoning it in, they were not checking a box – they were engaged and committed.
What do you hope will come out of all of this?
I hope what comes out of this will be the continuing of his efforts and improving education. Sally Jewell was there looking at the Cannonball school and I am hoping we can get a new school built. I think this was a stressful day for the President because he was speaking about Iraq on the same day. And with all of the stresses of his day-to-day life, it was nice to see this propelled to the front of his issues. We need to keep it that way.
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
An effort by the Obama administration to overhaul the troubled federal agency that is responsible for the education of tens of thousands of American Indian children is getting major pushback from some tribal leaders and educators, who see the plan as an infringement on their sovereignty and a one-size-fits-all approach that will fail to improve student achievement in Indian Country.
As Barack Obama makes his first visit to Indian Country as president this week, the federal Bureau of Indian Education—which directly operates 57 schools for Native Americans and oversees 126 others run by tribes under contract with the agency—is moving ahead with plans to remake itself into an entity akin to a state department of education that would focus on improving services for tribally operated schools.
A revamped BIE, as envisioned in the proposal, would eventually give up direct operations of schools and push for a menu of education reforms that is strikingly similar to some championed in initiatives such as Race to the Top, including competitive-grant funding to entice tribal schools to adopt teacher-evaluation systems that are linked to student performance.
The proposed reorganization of the BIE comes after years of scathing reports from watchdog groups, including the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and chronic complaints from tribal educators about the agency’s financial and academic mismanagement and failure to advocate more effectively for the needs of schools that serve Native American students. It also comes a year after U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell called the federally funded Indian education system “an embarrassment.” The BIE is overseen by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is housed within the U.S. Interior Department.
Pushback From Tribes
The proposal, released in April, was drafted by a seven-person “study group” appointed jointly by Ms. Jewell and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Five of the panel’s members currently serve in the Obama administration.
Some of the nation’s largest tribes, however, are staunchly opposed to the proposal, including the 16 tribes that make up the Great Plains Tribal Chairmans Association, which represents tribal leaders in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Nebraska.
“It’s time for us to decide what our children will learn and how they will learn it because [BIE] has been a failure so far,” Bryan V. Brewer, the chairman of the 40,000-member Oglala Sioux tribe in Pine Ridge, S.D., said last month in a congressional hearing on the BIE.
In the same hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Charles M. Roessel, the director of the BIE and a member of the panel that drafted the plan, said the agency’s reorganization “would allow the BIE to achieve improved results in the form of higher student scores, improved school operations, and increased tribal control over schools.” (Despite multiple requests from Education Week, the BIE did not make Mr. Roessel or any other agency official available for an interview.)
Visit to Standing Rock
President Obama will visit the Standing Rock Sioux reservation on June 13 in Cannon Ball, N.D., and expectations are high that he will announce a major education initiative for tribal schools, which are some of the lowest-performing in the nation. In an op-ed article published last week in Indian Country Today, the president signaled two areas in dire need of federal attention in tribal communities: education and economic development.
Indeed, the achievement picture for American Indian and Alaska Native children is grim. According to federal data, the four-year graduation rate for American Indian and Alaska Native students in 2011-12 was 67 percent, lagging behind all other major student groups except for English-language learners. BIE students, compared to their Native American peers in regular public schools, also scored lower on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, reading and math tests in 4th grade.
While roughly 90 percent of Native American children attend regular public schools, both on and off reservations, more than 48,000 are enrolled in the BIE system, which includes tribally run schools that are supposed to have autonomy over their operations but rely almost 100 percent on federal funding that flows through the bureau.
Over the years, BIE-operated and -funded schools have faced daunting challenges not unlike those in some of the poorest urban school districts: difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers and school leaders, funding shortfalls, and dilapidated school facilities, to name a few. Mr. Roessel told senators last month that in the current fiscal year, the agency is able to fund just 67 percent of the operational costs needed by the tribally controlled schools it oversees.
Tribal educators have complained for years that the agency has not respected tribes’ sovereignty over the schools they run, as spelled out in the Tribally Controlled Schools Act, and has imposed policies that have restricted a major priority for tribes: providing Native language and culture classes.
That history, said one tribal educator, makes the new BIE plan for overhauling itself highly suspect among tribes.
“How we see this plan is simple. The bureau is asking for more money and more staff to continue doing nothing,” said Christopher G. Bordeaux, the executive director of the Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium, a group of tribal schools on the Pine Ridge reservation and other reservations in South Dakota. “For years, we’ve asked the bureau for help, but we never get it. We figure out how to do this stuff on our own. The bureau really has no idea what tribal schools are all about, and they’ve not taken the time to ever listen and learn how to help us, and then they turn around and point to us and say the schools are failing.”
Under the reorganization plan, the BIE would evolve into an “agile organization” that would focus on supporting school improvement efforts in tribal communities by funding and providing professional development to tribal educators; scaling up recruitment and retention programs to attract talented teachers and school leaders to the often-remote schools; and building and upgrading school facilities, including grossly outdated technology infrastructures in many schools. The plan also calls for developing a single accountability system for BIE schools. Currently, federal law requires BIE schools to adhere to the accountability systems of the 23 states in which they are located, making meaningful comparisons impossible.
Education in Indian Country
On most measures of educational success, Native American students trail every other racial and ethnic subgroup of students. To explore the reasons why, Education Week sent a writer, a photographer, and a videographer to American Indian reservations in South Dakota and California earlier this fall. Their work is featured in a special package of articles, photographs, multimedia, and Commentary.
The study group’s proposal looks to another set of schools that are also federally run—those operated by the U.S. Department of Defense for the children of active military personnel—as a model for BIE to emulate on how to improve school facilities and student achievement.
The plan also argues that the Tribally Controlled Schools Act “should be made more conducive to reform” so that the BIE can attach conditions to the schools that it funds. For example, the plan calls for requiring the schools that it funds to adopt performance-based evaluation systems that include student achievement results and policies that make it easier to remove underperforming employees. It recommends that BIE launch a pilot of performance-based evaluations this fall in some of the schools it directly operates and expand those into tribally controlled schools in the near future.
To do that, however, the study group said BIE would need funding from Congress that could be used to provide incentives for tribal schools to adopt such reforms. The group recommended that the Interior Department “consider adapting the successful, competitive grants currently being used by the U.S. Department of Education as models” that would help tribes “align tribal educational priorities to President Obama’s education reform agenda to improve student outcomes and ensure all BIE students are college and career ready.”
Looming Court Battle?
Only tribes that operate three or more schools should be eligible for such grants, the study group said.
Any attempts to get around the Tribally Controlled Schools Act would spark major pushback from tribes, said Mr. Bordeaux, who lives on the Pine Ridge reservation and is an elected member of the board of directors for the Washington-based National Indian Education Association.
“Under the law, the BIE does not have this kind of authority over our tribal schools,” he said. “If they continue to do this, the only course we’ll have left is to go to court and file a lawsuit.”
What happens next with the BIE’s proposal is not yet clear. Tribal communities had until June 2 to submit comments on the draft, which will eventually be submitted to Ms. Jewell and Mr. Duncan for their review.
But at last month’s Senate hearing focusing on the BIE’s proposal, Mr. Roessel, the BIE director, assured the panel that the agency wants to improve and is already taking steps to do so.
“We will not build a bigger bureaucracy,” he said. “We will not infringe on sovereignty, and we will not continue to fail.”
While U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, who is the chairman of the Senate committee on Indian Affairs, expressed support for BIE’s improvement efforts, he was also skeptical about the agency’s capacity to follow through. He pointed to Mr. Roessel’s inability to provide answers on how many teacher vacancies are in BIE schools or how many rely on housing provided by tribes.
He said that the Interior Department didn’t provide the committee’s staff with basic information on BIE schools in time for the hearing, despite a request to do so 30 days in advance.
“It almost appears that we’ve got a systemic problem here,” Sen. Tester said. “We don’t have lists on school construction needs, teachers that are not there, very basic stuff.”
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 visitwww.ncai.org
On Friday the 13th, President Barack Obama will be visiting tribal Leaders and other tribal members during his visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. In light of this historic day, we know that you in Indian country will be there in person or spirit.
We want to hear from you tomorrow on Twitter.
So, if you want to join us or tweet to us, correspondent @VinceSchilling will be listening and tweeting live from our @IndianCountry twitter account. All day long, we are asking for your comments, pictures, thoughts and tweets.
So whether you are on site in North Dakota, watching coverage in Alaska or Florida or blogging from San Francisco, ICTMN wants to hear your thoughts and see your pictures from the day. We will be retweeting you and might include among the day’s best tweets in our follow up article.