Arizona youth among 1,000 at first White House Tribal Youth Gathering

About half of more than a thousand youth at the White House Tribal Youth gathering wore traditional tribal clothing. More than 230 tribes from across the country were represented. (Cronkite News Photo/Aubrey Rumore)

About half of more than a thousand youth at the White House Tribal Youth gathering wore traditional tribal clothing. More than 230 tribes from across the country were represented. (Cronkite News Photo/Aubrey Rumore)

By Aubrey Rumore, Cronkite News

WASHINGTON — Brooke Overturf of Window Rock, Arizona, was momentarily flustered as she stood holding hands Thursday with Michelle Obama, while hundreds of other Native American youth crowded around, hoping for a handshake.

But the Navajo 19-year-old quickly recovered and pulled a turquoise ring from her hand to give to the first lady.

“I told my mom last night that if I met her (Obama) I was going to give her my ring. I gave her a ring my grandmother gave me,” said Overturf, emerging from the crowd one accessory shy of when she went in.

Overturf was one of more than 1,000 Native American youth representing more than 230 tribes from across the country who had come to Washington for what organizers were calling a “historic” first White House Tribal Youth Gathering. Dozens of youth from Arizona were at the event.

President Barack Obama had called for the meeting in April as part of his Generation Indigenous, or Gen-I, initiative.

The event brought together Cabinet secretaries and elected officials – and the first lady – for speeches and small-group sessions to discuss issues in Indian country and share their stories with tribes and various federal officials.

“Your cultures, your values, your discoveries are at the heart of the American story,” Obama told the cheering gathering, but she said tribes rarely receive credit for their contributions.

But the gathering was less about history than it was about finding solutions to current problems on tribal lands. Most Native youth, including those at the gathering, face what Attorney General Loretta Lynch called “tremendous” challenges.

“Many Native American children suffer post-traumatic stress similar to the level of veterans who have come home from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Lynch said.

For a long time the federal government has tried to “prescribe how the nations should live,” but Lynch said the U.S. government needs to recognize that tribal decisions are best left to the tribes.

“You have to lead, and we have to be your partners,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, not the other way around.

Lynch, Burwell and other speakers encouraged the youth there to raise their voices. Lynch noted that “when it comes to civil rights and human rights,” young people have the “determination” to generate change.

“Every movement in this country has really been fueled by the energy of young people,” Lynch said.

The young people at the event had to be involved in order to get invited: The gathering was open to Native Americans ages 14-24 who had took the Gen-I challenge to create and document a project in their communities.

For Overturf, that meant organizing a free basketball camp on the Navajo Nation, recruiting help from a former women’s basketball player at Arizona State University, where Overturf is Miss Indian ASU.

She got her invitation in May and had help getting to Washington from ASU and from various sponsors. But many youth had to raise funds to make the trip.

“I know it was a challenge for a lot of Native youth to get here,” said Elton Naswood, a Navajo who works at HHS’ Office of Minority Health Resource Center in Washington.

Overturf said she reached out to other Navajo youth and other youth through the Indian community at ASU before making the trip.

“I could easily go by myself, but I am representing them too,” said Overturf, who routinely reminds tribal youth to “be proud of who you are and where you came from.”

Youth at the event were lauded by the Washington officials who turned out Thursday.

That was echoed by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota.

“We know one thing is for certain,” Heitkamp said. “We must involve youth.”

Despite the emphasis on self-reliance, however, the U.S. government still has to play a role in the betterment of Indian country, Heitkamp said.

“If by the time I’ve left office we have not changed opportunity, education, safety and healthcare on Indian reservations, then I have done nothing,” she pledged to the crowd.

The comments were well received but the first lady was clearly the star of the show.

“Every single one of your lives is precious and sacred,” Obama said. “And you definitely have a president and a first lady who have your back.”

Bakken: $3M in grants to address violence against women in rural, tribal communities

A Whiting Petroleum Co. pump jack pulls crude oil from the Bakken region of the Northern Plains near Bainville, Mont., on Nov. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

A Whiting Petroleum Co. pump jack pulls crude oil from the Bakken region of the Northern Plains near Bainville, Mont., on Nov. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

By  Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. — Federal authorities have named recipients of $3 million in grants to address violence against women in rural and tribal communities in the oil patch of North Dakota and Montana.

The money from the Office on Violence Against Women will be used to help provide services to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking in the Bakken region, which has seen an increase in population and crime because of the oil boom.

Victims in a “vast rural region like the Bakken” have trouble accessing life-saving services, Associate Attorney General Tony West said.

“With this new, targeting funding, tribes and local communities will be better equipped to respond to the increased need for mental health services, legal assistance, housing and training,” West said.

The grants will be divided among the First Nations Women’s Alliance and Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota, the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes in Montana, the North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services, and the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

“The organizations that will receive funding through this project play a critical role in addressing violence against women in the Bakken region,” said U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who organized visits to the oil patch by two of the nation’s drug czars. “By bringing top administration officials to North Dakota to hear firsthand about the emerging challenges, great strides have been made to make sure local law enforcement and organizations receive needed support to address these challenges and help our state maintain our treasured quality of life.”

Department of Justice officials also announced that the Fort Beck and Fort Berthold reservations will each receive three-year, $450,000 grants to pay for tribal prosecutors who will be cross-designated as special U.S. attorneys.

Johnson Legislation Helps Indian Country Adoption Tax Credit

By Mark Brown, KELO.com

Washington D.C. (KELO AM) – U.S. Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD), James Inhofe (R-OK), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today introduced the Tribal Adoption Parity Act. The legislation ensures parents adopting American Indian and Alaskan Native children through tribal courts are treated fairly under our nation’s tax code by making it easier for adoptive parents across Indian Country to claim the full adoption tax credit for “special needs” children.

“The Tribal Adoption Parity Act will provide financial relief for families in South Dakota by making it easier for adoptive parents in Indian Country to claim the full adoption tax credit,” Johnson said. “It is unacceptable that parents who adopt an Indian child through a tribal court are prevented from accessing the financial relief that is provided to adoptive families in non-tribal areas. This bill addresses an oversight in our tax code by ensuring that adoptive parents throughout Indian Country receive fair tax treatment.”

Under current law, parents adopting a child who has been determined by a State as “special needs” can claim the full adoption tax credit regardless of their qualified adoption expenses.  Congress created the “special needs” determination to provide an added incentive for parents adopting children who might otherwise be difficult to place in adoptive homes.  In Fiscal Year 2011, 84 percent of the nearly 50,000 children adopted through public agencies were designated as having “special needs.”  Parents adopting children through tribal courts, however, are currently ineligible for the special needs adoption tax credit.  This unfortunately results in parents and children throughout Indian Country unfairly missing out on an important tax credit that would make a significant difference in their day-to-day lives.  Becoming eligible for the special needs adoption tax credit would help further reduce the financial costs associated with adoption and lessen administrative burdens.

In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act that gives Indian tribes exclusive jurisdiction over custody proceedings involving Indian children within a reservation.  The special needs adoption tax credit currently fails to recognize the authority that tribal governments have over adoption proceedings of Indian children. The Tribal Adoption Parity Act would amend the Internal Revenue Code to provide fair tax treatment to parents adopting Indian children through tribal courts.  As a result, a tribal government would be permitted to designate an adoptive Indian child as having “special needs.” This legislation would ensure that families in Indian Country are treated fairly by providing the same financial relief that adoptive families currently receive across the nation.

The bill has been endorsed by organizations such as the National Indian Child Welfare Association, the Child Welfare League of America, Voice for Adoption, the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, the Donaldson Adoption Institute, and the Joint Council for International Children’s Services.

In 1996, Congress created the adoption tax credit to ease the initial financial burden for adoptive parents.  The adoption tax credit provides a tax credit of up to $10,000 and is adjusted for inflation. The credit was $12,970 for tax year 2013. Since 2003, families adopting children with “special needs” are allowed to claim the full adoption tax credit regardless of their qualified adoption expenses. The definition of “special needs” varies from state to state. Examples of factors that can qualify a child for the “special needs” determination include: age; membership in a minority or sibling group; ethnic background; medical condition; or physical, mental, and emotional handicaps.

The National Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent organization within the Internal Revenue Service, recommended the adoption tax credit be amended to recognize tribal governments in its 2012 Annual Report to Congress, which can be accessed here.

 

Comprehensive bill introduced to improve lives of Native children

12/9/2013 Cherokeepheonix.org

BY STAFF REPORTS

WASHINGTON – United States Senators Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced a comprehensive plan on Oct. 30 to find solutions to the complex challenges facing Native American children throughout Indian Country.

The bipartisan legislation, Heitkamp’s first bill as a senator, would create a national Commission on Native American Children to conduct an intensive study into issues facing Native children – such as high rates of poverty, unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and few economic opportunities – and make recommendations on how to ensure Native children are better taken care of and given the opportunities to thrive. 

Heitkamp and Murkowski are both members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“We have all heard stories or seen first-hand the struggles that too many Native children and their families face from extreme poverty to child abuse to suicide. Since I’ve been in public office, I’ve worked to address many of these challenges, and I’m proud my first bill as a U.S. Senator will take a serious look at finding solutions to better protect Native children and give them the opportunities they deserve,” said Heitkamp. “Tragically, for children in our nation’s tribal communities, the barriers to success are high and they are the most at-risk population in the country, facing serious disparities in safety, health and education.”

She said the government needs to strive for a day when Native children no longer live in third-world conditions; when they don’t face the threat of abuse on a daily basis; when they receive the good health care and education to help them grow and succeed.

“The federal government pledged long ago to protect Native families and children. We haven’t lived up to that promise. But we can change that,” Heitkamp said.

Murkowski agreed that the federal government must uphold its trust responsibility to tribes, especially to Native children.

“This commission will examine from the lens of justice, education, and healthcare how to improve the lives of our Nation’s native children,” Murkowski said.

Conditions for young people in Indian Country are tragic: 37 percent of Native children live in poverty; suicide rates are 2.5 times the national average for children 15-24 years old; high school graduation rate for Native students is nearly 50 percent, compared to more than 75 percent for white students; and while the overall rate of child mortality in the U.S. has decreased since 2000, the rate for Native children has increased 15 percent.

Tribal governments face numerous obstacles in responding to the needs of Native children. Existing program rules and the volume of resources required to access grant opportunities stymie efforts of tribes to tackle these issues. At the same time, federal agencies lack clear guidance about the direction that should be taken to best address the needs of Native children in order to fulfill our trust responsibility to tribal nations.

To help reverse these impacts, the Commission on Native Children would conduct a comprehensive study on the programs, grants, and supports available for Native children, both at government agencies and on the ground in Native communities, with the goal of developing a sustainable system that delivers wrap-around services to Native children. 

Then, the 11-member commission would issue a report to address a series of challenges currently facing Native children. A Native Children Subcommittee would also provide advice to the commission. The commission’s report would address how to achieve: better use of existing resources, increased coordination, measurable outcomes, stronger data, stronger private sector partnerships, and implementation of best practices.