Being Idle No More: The Woman Behind the Washington Movement

Sweetwater Nannauck, Director of Idle No More Washington. Photo/Micheal Rios

Sweetwater Nannauck, Director of Idle No More Washington.
Photo/Micheal Rios


Article and photo by Micheal Rios

Idle No More encourages all Native and Indigenous peoples to stand in solidarity with our First Nations brothers and sisters and allies for Treaty Rights, water and land rights, and environmental protection on the sacred land of our ancestors. Decolonization is a vital part of Idle No More, as it is necessary to decolonize ourselves and our way of thinking to keep our Native culture going strong. As our elders have taught us, “what we do today is not for us, but for our children and our children’s children.”

Last month, members of the Idle No More movement held a “Native Women Rising” rally at the Don Armeni Park in West Seattle. Activists joined in a circle for drumming and singing, and reminded those listening about the importance of the Alaskan wilderness soon to be drilled by Shell Oil’s drilling rig, called the Polar Pioneer. The hashtag #ShellNO was born as the Native led protests garnered local and national news attention.

But who was responsible for coordinating the rally and bringing together activists, both Native and non-Native, to stand together in protest of Shell Oil Company? That would be Sweetwater Nannauck, Director of Idle No More Washington. Sweetwater was kind enough to be interviewed by Tulalip News in order to help spread the message of being Idle No More to the Tulalip community.

“I am Sweetwater Nannauck from the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian tribes of southeast Alaska. I am the Director of Idle No More Washington and I’m here in Seattle standing up for our people in Alaska. I’m here today joined by Native and Indigenous peoples from all different tribal nations, who came to stand united in a spiritual and cultural way. We are bringing our prayers and calling our ancestors for help as we try to bring a peaceful resolution to stopping the arctic oil drilling.”


What is the impact when the Indigenous peoples of Canada, Alaska, and the Coast Salish peoples collaborate together?

“Well, I’d say it speaks to all of our ancestors, as our people have traveled down here from Alaska and mixed cross-culturally. I have stories of our people coming down here for trade, so really we’re following in the footsteps of our ancestors by coming together and showing we can stand united for our people and our future generations.”


What is the meaning behind having an Idle No More rally titled Native Women Rising?

“I was raised traditionally in Alaska, my grandparents had an arranged marriage, and we only ate our traditional foods. We had a matriarchal society which made my grandmothers strong women, so what I find in doing this work is we come along a lot of patriarchy. In western society, the way protests and activist movements are coordinated and received is usually male dominated. I want people to know, especially our Native and Indigenous peoples that for us our women have power, our women are the life givers, our women were out there on the water singing our songs of strength and healing, and we have that ability in us. What many Indigenous cultures have said and prophesized is when the world gets out of balance our women will step up and bring back that balance. That’s what all the women who take part in Idle No More are here to do, bring balance to our world.”



What advice do you have for any Native person who wants to become involved with Idle No More?

“I advise that they find other likeminded people and become active. What I’ve found since Idle No More started in 2012, we here in Washington have become much more active. I’ve organized over fifty events since 2012, and I’ll be focused on working with our Native youth in Washington throughout the summer. There are many ways to be active, such as sharing our voice and our message through music, through spoken word, through our culture, and through our ceremonies and prayers.”


How do you plan to get Native youth to become active participants in Idle No More?

“I’ll be working with Nataanii Means (Lakota), son of Russell Means, who is an amazing hip-hop artist and we’ll be teaching workshops with Native youth that include video making, spoken work, and how to be active in a cultural and spiritual way. We realize because of colonization and historical trauma that we can’t realistically expect the youth to step up and do this kind of work without addressing their concerns that we face and teach them how to heal from our historical trauma.”


What are your thoughts as they relate to oil drilling in the arctic and how that impacts our culture?

“My first thoughts are directed at its name, the Polar Pioneer, and to the other two arctic oil drillers who have similar names, the Noble Discoverer and the Arctic Challenger. To me these represent the colonization that is coming back to our shores again and it’s really time for our people to unite because this impacts all of us. The climate change effects, we’re in a draught presently, our waters are being contaminated, the air is dirty, our animals on land and in the sea are dying. This really is important for every single person who is walking on this planet. We feel Mother Earth’s pain.”


Some argue that oil drilling is a necessary evil to sustain the modern day way of living. What is your response to that kind of thinking?

“It’s not a perfect system, it never will be, but these are the cards we’ve been dealt. We need to stand together and fight for our lands, otherwise they are going to take everything away from us because of that greed. Fifty years from now, we want our children and their children to say that their ancestors stepped up and fought for what they believed in, just as today we can say about our ancestors.”


There are many tribes and tribal members in the U.S. and Canada who yield great monetary profits from following in western type thinking. They’ve built tribal enterprises that are based on their casinos and because of this they refuse to take an active role in anything that could tarnish their image or result in lost profits. What is your message to them? 

“It’s hard because I understand the root cause of it is colonization. An elder once told me that the colonized have become colonizers, we are part of that system, but we can easily remove ourselves from it. The western term is ‘decolonization’, but it’s really reclaiming ourselves, reclaiming who we are, our culture, reclaiming our ways of doing things, going out on the water, being proud and knowing who we are. That’s where our strength lies, our culture is our medicine and it is healing for us. I invite any and all Native peoples to join us and sing our songs and say our people’s prayers, so that we are standing together because when we stand together, united, we have real power.”

For more information on how to join the Idle No More movement and to follow their events, please LIKE their Facebook page ‘Idle No More Washington’ or visit

State money to fix salmon-blocking culverts falls far short

State biologist Melissa Erkel looks at a culvert along the North Fork of Newaukum Creek near Enumclaw. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

State biologist Melissa Erkel looks at a culvert along the North Fork of Newaukum Creek near Enumclaw. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

By  PHUONG LE, The Associated Press

Washington state is under a federal court order to fix hundreds of barriers built under state roads and highways that block access for migrating salmon and thus interfere with Washington tribes’ treaty-backed right to catch fish.

But it’s not clear how the state is going to come up with the estimated $2.4 billion it will take to correct more than 825 culverts — concrete pipes or steel structures that allow streams to flow under state roads and highways.

The state has appealed the judge’s decision. But in the meantime, the Legislature last week approved millions to correct fish barriers statewide.

The 16-year transportation revenue bill includes $300 million for fish passage, dramatically more than in the past but far short of what the state estimates it needs. The House still needs to pass two Senate-approved bills to complete the transportation package.

“I would like to have seen us put more money toward that,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, ranking member of the House Transportation Committee. “We do need to be working on this. I think it’s a good start and I’m glad we’re doing it.”

Lawmakers have referred to this case as the other McCleary decision, which told the state to fix the way it pays for public schools.

“Ultimately it’s something we’re going to have to address; it’s just a question of timeline for when we’re going to get done,” Orcutt said.

The injunction issued by federal Judge Ricardo Martinez stems from the landmark 1974 Boldt decision, which affirmed the treaty rights of Northwest tribes to catch fish. The judge said fish-blocking culverts contribute to diminished fish runs.

“It is a treaty right. Tribes ceded the entire state of Washington to the federal government. In return, we asked that we have salmon forever,” said Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.

He said he was disappointed with the state’s appeal and questioned how much money the state had spent in appealing the case that could have gone toward fixing the problem.

 The state Department of Transportation, which is responsible for correcting the largest number of culverts under the court order, has been working on fish passage for a number of decades, said Paul Wagner, the agency’s biology branch manager.

This year, the agency plans 13 fish-passage projects across the state. It also completed 13 such projects in each of the past two years.

But Wagner acknowledged that significantly more money will be needed to meet the terms of the injunction.

 Culverts can be a problem for fish in several ways. Stream flows running through a small pipe can be too fast, making it harder for fish to swim upstream to spawn or downstream to reach the ocean. Perched culverts also can be too elevated for fish to jump through.

“It’s a big, big problem,” said Julie Henning, state Department of Fish and Wildlife habitat division manager.

When culverts are removed or fixed, the benefits are immediate because it opens up miles of critical habitat upstream to fish, said Henning, who also co-chairs the state’s Fish Barrier Removal Board.

 That board, created by the Legislature last year, is working to coordinate with counties, private landowners, tribes, state agencies and others to get the most benefit out of projects to remove fish barriers and recover salmon runs.

“When you think about a fish swimming upstream, it goes through all these jurisdictions,” Henning said.

Counties, cities, forest owners and others have worked independently to remove fish barriers only to find that culverts elsewhere on the stream continue to block fish passage.

 On the North Fork of Newaukum Creek near Enumclaw one afternoon, Henning and Department of Fish and Wildlife fish biologist Melissa Erkel pointed out a project King County did several years ago to replace two aging pipes with a large box culvert that is wide enough to allow the stream to meander.

But less than a quarter-mile upstream, two culverts block access for fish.

Erkel said she has provided technical assistance to the private landowner, who plans this fall to replace them with a 35-foot span bridge to allow more water to pass under the private road.

“Fish passage is really important work. We’re not just doing it because of the lawsuit. It’s something that needs to be done,” Henning said.

The Legacy of Billy Frank Jr.

By Lorraine Loomis, Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

It has been a long year since Billy Frank Jr. walked on from this world on May 5, 2014. We deeply miss our longtime leader and good friend. We will continue to stay on the course he set for us as sovereign nations with treaty-reserved rights who co-manage the natural resources given to us by the Creator.

During this past year, Billy’s life as a champion of tribal sovereignty, treaty rights and natural resources has been honored widely by tribal, state and federal governments, conservation organizations and others.

His March 9 birthday has been declared a holiday by many of the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington. At the Squaxin Island Tribe, a street leading to the tribe’s natural resources building has been named Billy Frank Jr. Way.

The state of Washington gave Billy a Medal of Merit to honor his lifetime of service to all of the people of Washington. The award recognizes that Billy’s “courage, determination and leadership resulted in unique and meaningful contributions to our state and helped make Washington a better place to live,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

The state Senate passed a resolution recognizing his legacy. “Through his lifetime of kinship with the natural world, Billy Frank Jr. helped create a healthy environment that can sustain salmon, achieved change, and brought diverse communities together around shared desires through nonviolent means,” according to the resolution.

At the federal level, a bill to rename the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge for Billy has been introduced by U.S. Rep. Denny Heck. The bill also would create a national historic site at the refuge to mark the place where the Medicine Creek Treaty was signed in 1854.

There is no question that all of these awards and honors are sincere and well-deserved. They are important because they help us to remember Billy and what he stood for: the protection of tribal cultures, sovereignty, treaty rights and the natural resources that sustain Indian people.


Mike Williams, KRITFC chair, speaks at a recent meeting of the NWIFC.

Mike Williams, KRITFC chair, speaks at a recent meeting of the NWIFC.


But it is a recent event in Alaska that is perhaps the best example of Billy’s legacy.

When the indigenous Yupik people of southwestern Alaska were being denied their right to harvest salmon by state and federal fisheries managers, they called Billy. He visited several times to provide encouragement and help the Yupik achieve their dream of co-managing their shared natural resources.

On May 5, the first anniversary of Billy’s passing, 33 Yupik villages on the river came together to create the Kuskokwim River Inter-tribal Fish Commission. Through the KRITFC, the Yupik will no longer serve only in an advisory role, but will work as co-managers with state and federal fisheries managers.

“It was a great day for the Yupik people,” said Mike Williams, who was elected as the first chairman of KRITFC. “The legacy of Billy Frank is stronger now than ever before, and will get stronger,” he said.

We will continue to honor that legacy by carrying on Billy’s work to recover salmon and safeguard our treaty-reserved rights as co-managers of the natural resources that have always sustained us.




7th Annual Tulalip Tribes and U.S. Forest Service MOA Meeting

Representatives for the Tulalip Tribes and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest staff sat down to discuss changes to forestry projects and future developments.Photo/Mike Sarich, Tulalip News

Representatives for the Tulalip Tribes and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest staff sat down to discuss changes to forestry projects and future developments.
Photo/Mike Sarich, Tulalip News


By Micheal Rios Tulalip News Scenic photo courtesy Libby Nelson, Tulalip Tribes Natural Resources

In November 2007, the Tulalip Tribes signed an historic Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the U.S. Forest Service to work together on a government-to-government basis regarding the Tribes reserved hunting and gathering rights on off-reservation ancestral lands, specifically the 1.7 million acres that total the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie (MBS) National Forest. Every single acre of the 1.7 million that totals the now MBS National Forest was ceded land as part of the Treaty of Point Elliot of 1855. The MOA lays out a framework for increased communication and collaboration in areas such as planning, policy making, and sharing of technical expertise and data, to provide stewardship and conserve the natural resources that the Tribes value and depend upon.

Continually developing an effective partnership in stewardship of national forest lands and resources is critical to maintaining a positive relationship between the Tulalip Tribes and the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest Service. Ensuring this effective partnership, both parties attend a government-to-government MOA meeting once a year. The annual meeting creates a forum to address the Tulalip Tribes specific concerns as they arise and allows for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest Service to update the Tribes with any forestry policy/project changes or developments. This year’s annual meeting was held Thursday, January 15 at the Tulalip Administration Building.

The representatives for the Tulalip Tribes and the Forest Services staff from the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest sat down to discuss topics ranging from the Beaver Relocation project to the co-stewardship areas to ways to improve upon communication. Three important issues raised as a result of the open forum were the Forest Service’s sustainable roads directive, sacred sites protection on national forests, and improved communication with the national and regional level of the Forest Service.


Sustainable Roads

One of the issues that came up again this year is the ‘sustainable roads’ directive given to the Forest Service. The directive calls for the Forest Service to close a certain percentage of their roads by going through their entire road system inventory and prioritizing roads they want to keep. The roads that don’t come high on the list would be the first to be closed.

A sustainable road system means keeping only those roads that they can afford to keep maintained and in proper repair so they don’t fail and create risky situations for drivers or environmentally risky situations for the habitat.

MOA liaison with Treaty Rights Office of Natural Resources Department Libby Nelson describes the importance of having the Tribes input considered when prioritizing which roads to sustain and which to close. “The public tends to be recreational and they are going to want to preserve trailheads and certain places that the Tribes may not feel quite the same way about. Making sure that the Forest Service is really looking at how they are going to ensure treaty rights needs to take a front and center role in their analysis and evaluation of what roads to keep open and what roads to close. So that’s an issue. [For the Forest Service] it becomes a matter of budget allocation and this is where we think it is really important to say, ‘What is important to honor the rights we have to protect of the Tribes through their treaty? How do we plan to integrate that into are analysis?’ Their duty as a federal trustee to the Tribes is to ensure access for treaty right exercise.”


Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.Photo courtesy Libby Nelson, Tulalip Tribes Natural Resources

Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Photo courtesy Libby Nelson, Tulalip Tribes Natural Resources


Sacred Sites

Executive Order 13007 Indian Sacred Sites requires Federal land managing agencies to accommodate access to and ceremonial use of Indian sacred sites by Indian religious practitioners and to avoid adversely affecting the physical integrity of such sacred sites. It also requires agencies to develop procedures for reasonable notification of proposed actions or land management policies that may restrict access to or ceremonial use of, or adversely affect, sacred sites.

Sacred sites are defined in the executive order as “any specific, discrete, narrowly delineated location on Federal land that is identified by an Indian tribe, or Indian individual determined to be an appropriately authoritative representative of an Indian religion, as sacred by virtue of its established religious significance to, or ceremonial use by, an Indian religion; provided that the tribe or appropriately authoritative representative of an Indian religion has informed the agency of the existence of such a site.” There is no review of such determinations by a Federal agency.

Executive Order 13007 was discussed in the MOA meeting because it appears that one of the conflicts, potentially, would be the executive order and some other federal statutes don’t specify or differentiate treaty rights from federally recognized tribes across the country. This leads to situations where you could have members of other federally recognized tribes coming onto treaty rights lands to practice their culture and/or religion.

The issue that surfaced was that there would be concern if that was happening on the ancestral territories of Tulalip. There should be a protocol for talking to the Tribes here first who have reserved rights on those lands. The Tulalip Tribes and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest staff will have further discussions about this potential conflict, while also focusing on the general issue of continued co-stewardship of maintaining sacred sites.


Improving communication

Local-level communication between the Tulalip Tribes and the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest staff has developed quite nicely since the signing of the MOA eight years ago. However, the Tulalip Tribes has observed the communication from the national and regional Forest Service offices needs improvement.

“We do have a good working relationship locally now, and that’s great because a lot of things do happen on the forest level, but when the national and regional issues come up we have a ways to go to achieve good communication. On a regional and national level with the U.S. Forest Service, as whole, we often get their policies last minute. Sometimes we don’t hear about them until it’s really late to comment. So we talked about ways to improve that,” says Nelson.

To further increase the capacity for open dialogue on the local level, the Tulalip Tribes are focused on getting the District Ranger and Forest Service staff from the nearby Snoqualmie District to attend future MOA meetings.


Overall, the meeting was a success as both the Tulalip Tribes and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest staffs were able to discuss a range of topics, have an open dialogue regarding potential issues that may arise in the foreseeable future, and exchange ideas about foreseeable projects as a result of the MOA. Most importantly, the meeting served as a reminder of the efforts the Tulalip Tribes has remained steadfast to in the always on-going battle to protect Tulalip’s treaty rights.

As Libby Nelson states, “In order to protect the real exercise of treaty rights reserved Tulalip in their treaty, it’s going to take continued vigilance and pushing back.  The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie is surrounded by a lot of people—most of the State’s population lives within easy driving distance.  There is now, and will continue to be a lot of pressure from people in urban centers, like Seattle, who would like to see the forest become more and more park-like and provide for their recreational uses.  Treaty hunting, gathering and other cultural uses aren’t always very compatible with these other recreational uses or too many people.”



Tribal Leaders Tell Obama to Reject Keystone XL Pipeline, Request U.S. Interior Meeting

Sue Ogrocki/Associated PressPipeline sections piled up in Cushing, Oklahoma, the hub of the proposed Keystone XL project.

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
Pipeline sections piled up in Cushing, Oklahoma, the hub of the proposed Keystone XL project.



Several indigenous leaders have officially asked President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline, citing concerns about consultation, treaty rights and impact on tribal homelands.

In his letter to Obama, Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association chairman and Oglala Sioux Tribe president John Steele also requested a meeting with U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. The association is among numerous indigenous leaders coming out against the pipeline, which would carry bituminous crude from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico for export.

“The Yankton are adamant about meeting with Secretary Jewell regarding the intrusion of our territory by Transcanada, as it is no small matter,” said Ihanktonwan/Yankton Sioux Tribal Chairman Robert Flying Hawk in a statement from the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Our water rights, protection of our cultural resources and safety of our Oceti Sakowin children and families over ride any Congressional lobby influences by Big Oil. We stand strong with all the other leaders of the Oceti Sakowin and Indigenous peoples affected by tar sands.”

The Yankton Sioux are currently spearheading a challenge to the permit of TransCanada before the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, a process with hearings beginning in May.

RELATED: Yankton Sioux Lead Fight Against TransCanada and Keystone XL in South Dakota

South Dakota Keeps Keystone XL Permit Process Intact for May Hearings

The move is also backed by the Indigenous Environmental Network and other conservation groups.

“We stand in solidarity with our Oceti Sakowin relatives and encourage the Department of Interior to dissent from a KXL permit approval and give President Obama all the more reason to reject this dirty tar sands pipeline,” said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, in a statement. “We ask this for the benefit of the land, the water, our communities, our sacred sites, and the territorial integrity of the sacredness of Mother Earth.”

Debate is heating up over the Keystone XL pipeline, which when complete would stretch 1,700 miles from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico coast of Texas. As Obama mulls a final decision amid Congressional pressure to step up the pace, the southern leg of the pipeline is already built and operational, bringing oil from refineries in the Midwest to the Gulf for export.




Will More Coal, Oil Trains Rumble Through Northwest?

By Chris Thomas, Public News Service
PHOTO: Eleven oil-by-rail projects have been proposed for the Northwest since 2012. This car, known as a DOT-111, is the type that carries Bakken crude oil. Photo courtesy U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

PHOTO: Eleven oil-by-rail projects have been proposed for the Northwest since 2012. This car, known as a DOT-111, is the type that carries Bakken crude oil. Photo courtesy U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

SEATTLE – About two dozen projects have been proposed in the past two years to move the Northwest toward becoming a transportation hub for coal, oil and gas to Asia.

A new Sightline Institute report examines the combination of rail, pipeline and fuel terminal proposals across Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Report author Eric de Place, Sightline’s policy director, said public input is critical as local land-use agencies determine the fate of each project. Regionally, he said, he thinks Native American voices also will be important.
“It’s almost impossible to overstate the potential for the Tribes to derail these plans,” he said. “They have treaty rights with the U.S. government that allow them to, in many cases, put a stop to these plans almost immediately.”
Last week’s meeting of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians included a three-hour workshop on climate change. Last year, the coalition of 72 tribes passed a resolution opposing the transport and export of fossil fuels in the Northwest.
Deborah Parker, a council member of the Tulalip Tribes, said they are prepared to do more.
“Co-Salish Tribes, we’re in 110 percent agreement,” she said. “We do not want to see these oil trains here. Turning our region into a fossil-fuel depository and port of departure? It will not be economically beneficial – not anywhere near the degree that it’ll be economically disastrous.”
For the most part, she said, the tribes haven’t been convinced that the job potential of the coal, oil and gas projects is significant enough to offset the damage to land, fish and wildlife.
Estimates in the Sightline Institute report indicate that Washington’s ambitious plan for reducing carbon pollution can be tossed if all the fuel-transport proposals are approved. De Place said the changes would increase the Northwest’s carbon footprint by three to five times.
“I think it’s fair to say that most people are astonished at the scale of the transformation that this region is about to embark on if fossil-fuel companies get their way, and that decision is all happening within the next couple of years,” he said. “The scale is much, much bigger than most people realize.”
The Sightline Institute report is online at

Senate Passes Sens. Moran and Heitkamp Bill to End IRS’ Unfair Treatment of Indian Tribes

Sep 24,2014 – Senate Passes Sens. Moran and Heitkamp Bill to End IRS’ Unfair Treatment of Indian Tribes

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), a member of the Committee on Indian Affairs, to end the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) practice of taxing crucial programs and services that aim to support the health and safety of Native families. The Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week and next heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

“Tribes are sovereign governments that often provide services to their citizens,” Sen. Moran said. “I am pleased Congress has come together to make certain tribal citizens are not unfairly taxed while respecting tribal sovereignty. By clarifying the definition of general welfare programs, this legislation will enhance economic development and the quality of life in Indian Country.”

“As a former attorney general and as a lawyer, I view these Native American treaty rights and trust responsibilities as a contract between the U.S. and our American Indian tribes. Yet for far too long, that contract has been broken. Our legislation takes an important step to repair it,” said Sen. Heitkamp. “This week, the Senate and House took a huge step forward and came together to pass our bipartisan bill which levels the playing field for Native families. It will enable tribal governments to decide which programs best help their communities thrive, just as local and state governments do. For too long, that hasn’t been the case. I’ve heard stories of the IRS questioning a tribal government’s ability to provide school supplies to elementary school children, or levying a tax on a ramp erected for a tribal elder to access her home. This law shows that we respect tribal sovereignty by making sure tribal citizens get the rights they deserve.”

The Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act will fully recognize that Indian tribes – as sovereign nations – are responsible for making certain their government programs and services best fit the needs of their citizens, just as other local governments across the country do. For years, Indian tribes have been taxed for providing health care, education, housing, or legal aid to those in need. Local and state governments throughout the United States frequently offer such services to those who need assistance, but the people receiving help are not taxed by the IRS.

Once signed into law, the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act will:

• Mandate tribal government programs, services and benefits authorized or administered by tribes for tribal citizens, spouses and dependents are excluded from income as a “general welfare exclusion”;
• Clarify that items of cultural significance (e.g., paying someone to lead sacred Indian ceremonies) or cash honoraria provided by tribal governments shall not represent compensation for services and shall be excluded from taxable income;
• Direct the Secretary of Treasury to require education and training of IRS field agents on federal Indian law

Olympian: State’s failure to fix culverts violates treaty rights


Billy Frank Jr. stands on top of a culvert in 2008.

Billy Frank Jr. stands on top of a culvert in 2008.


Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission


The Olympian wrote an editorial urging the state to heed a federal injunction to fix fish-blocking culverts:

Imagine you are driving on the freeway, returning from a long trip, longing with all your heart just to be home. Suddenly you are forced to a complete stop because the freeway is broken and you are facing a 10-foot cliff. There’s no way forward, and as cars pile up behind you, no way back.

That’s pretty close to what a salmon experiences when, returning to its native stream from its long journey out to sea, it confronts an impassable culvert under a highway. Every cell in its body is consumed by the desire to go upstream; that is the life goal of every salmon. If it can’t go upstream to spawn, it can’t perpetuate its species.

According to the Washington Department of Transportation, there are 1,987 barriers to fish passage in the state highway system. As of 2013, 285 fish passage projects have unblocked 971 miles of potential upstream fish habitat. But a U. S. District Court injunction has mandated that 1,014 more be corrected by 2030.

Failing to correct culverts that block fish passage violates the treaty rights of tribes whose way of life depends on healthy salmon runs. Treaties are, by definition, the supreme law of the land. We like to think that the days of breaking treaties with Indian tribes are in the past, but the sad fact is we’re stilling doing it – and the result is the same as it has always been: broken treaties threaten the survival of tribal culture and livelihood, as well as the extinction of wild salmon.

Culvert repair is part of the state’s transportation budget – or would be, if the legislature could muster the political will to actually pass a transportation budget, which it has repeatedly failed to do. And even if and when a transportation budget is passed, there will be intense pressure to put the transportation needs of people ahead of the needs of fish and treaty rights.

The Washington Department of Transportation estimates the cost of complying with the federal court injunction – which applies only to tribes in Western Washington – at $2.4 billion, or $310 million per biennium. In the current biennium, they will spend $36 million. At this rate, it will take centuries, not decades, to complete this work.

Secretary of WSDOT Lynn Peterson wryly describes the federal court injunction as “Transportation’s McCleary decision,” a reference to the state Supreme Court order for the Legislature to fully fund public education, even if it means taking truly drastic action, such as closing down other state agencies. When a federal court orders the state to do something – in this case, obey treaties – the state surely ought to heed the injunction.

We understand the Legislature’s dilemma. Voters hate taxes. Legislators like to get re-elected. But when both state and federal courts rule that we’re not meeting our obligations to the next generation of children or of salmon, it ought to be a wake up call.

Both legislators and voters must recognize that it’s time to move beyond our own self-interest, and to do what’s right for our children, the tribes, and the salmon.

Ontario First Nations ready to die defending lands: chiefs

5 chiefs serve notice that they’ll assert treaty rights over their traditional territory


Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy and Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister speak at a Toronto new conference on Monday. On Tuesday, Ontario chiefs said the provincial and federal governments haven't respected the agreements their ancestors signed more than a century ago, which give First Nations the right to assert jurisdiction over lands and resources. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy and Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister speak at a Toronto new conference on Monday. On Tuesday, Ontario chiefs said the provincial and federal governments haven’t respected the agreements their ancestors signed more than a century ago, which give First Nations the right to assert jurisdiction over lands and resources. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)


By Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press Posted: Jul 30, 2014

Aboriginal people in Ontario are prepared to lay down their lives to protect their traditional lands from any unwanted development, a group of First Nations chiefs said Tuesday.

Five aboriginal chiefs served notice on the Ontario and federal governments, developers and the public that they’ll assert their treaty rights over their traditional territory and ancestral lands.

That includes the rights to natural resources — such as fish, trees, mines and water— deriving benefit from those resources and the conditions under which other groups may access or use them, which must be consistent with their traditional laws, said Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy.

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy says "all those seeking to access or use First Nations lands and resources have, at a minimum, a duty to engage, enquire and consult with First Nations with the standards of free, prior and informed consent."

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy says “all those seeking to access or use First Nations lands and resources have, at a minimum, a duty to engage, enquire and consult with First Nations with the standards of free, prior and informed consent.”


“All those seeking to access or use First Nations lands and resources have, at a minimum, a duty to engage, inquire and consult with First Nations with the standards of free, prior and informed consent,” he said.

“We will take appropriate steps to enforce these assertions.”

‘No respect’ for agreements with ancestors

Tuesday’s declaration follows a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in late June which awarded 1,700 square kilometres of territory to British Columbia’s Tsilhqot’in First Nation, providing long-awaited clarification on how to prove aboriginal title.

The ruling also formally acknowledged the legitimacy of indigenous land claims to wider territory beyond individual settlement sites.

But in a separate decision a few weeks later, the court upheld the Ontario government’s power to permit industrial logging on Grassy Narrows First Nation’s traditional lands. Grassy Narrows is different from the Tsilhqot’in decision because it involves treaty land, not aboriginal title.

Grassy Narrows argued that only Ottawa has the power to take up the land because treaty promises were made with the federal Crown.

The high court ruled that the province doesn’t need the federal government’s permission to allow forestry and mining activity under an 1873 treaty that ceded large swaths of Ontario and Manitoba to the federal government.

The Ontario chiefs who spoke out on Tuesday said the provincial and federal governments haven’t respected the agreements their ancestors signed more than a century ago, which gives First Nations the right to assert jurisdiction over lands and resources.

‘Land has become sick’

Aboriginal communities have seen what Canadian and Ontario laws have done to their land over the last 147 years, Beardy said.

“The land has become sick,” he said. “We become sick. We become poor, desperate and dying.”

The people of Grassy Narrows First Nation are still suffering from mercury poisoning decades after the Wabigoon river around their land was contaminated by a local paper mill, Beardy added.

Grand Chief of Treaty 3, Warren White, argued that Prime Minister Stephen Harper recognizes the state of Israel, but not the lands of Canada’s aboriginal peoples.

“He needs to have the same principles that he’s saying about Israeli lands to Treaty 3 territory and native lands in Canada,” White said.

“Clean up your own backyard before you go and spill a lot of money into disasters in other countries.”

Grand Chief Harvey Yesno of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation added that the province’s aboriginal people will draw a line in the sand, put a stake in the ground and tie themselves to it if that’s what it takes to protect their land from unwanted resource development.

Grand Chief Harvey Yesno of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation says Ontario's aboriginal people will put a stake in the ground and tie themselves to it if that's what it takes to protect their land from unwanted resource development.

Grand Chief Harvey Yesno of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation says Ontario’s aboriginal people will put a stake in the ground and tie themselves to it if that’s what it takes to protect their land from unwanted resource development.

“We’re no longer just going to be civilly disobedient. We’re going to defend our lands, and there’s a big difference there,” he said.

“Our young people are dying, our people are dying. So let’s die at least defending our land.”

Aboriginal communities don’t want to harm others, said Beardy. But they’ll do what they must to stop an incursion on their lands, such as forming human blockades to stop the clearcutting of trees, he said.

“Anything that happens on our aboriginal homeland now, they must consult with us,” said Roger Fobister Sr., chief of Grassy Narrows First Nation. “Even if they’re going to cut down one tree, they better ask us.”

Tribes: Fishing Rights Not For Sale

About 70 people gathered in May, 2014 to protest the proposed coal export facility in Boardman, Oregon. Yakama Nation and Lummi Nation tribal members spoke at a ceremony before people fished at treaty-protected fishing sites. | credit: Courtney Flatt

About 70 people gathered in May, 2014 to protest the proposed coal export facility in Boardman, Oregon. Yakama Nation and Lummi Nation tribal members spoke at a ceremony before people fished at treaty-protected fishing sites. | credit: Courtney Flatt

July 10, 2014 | Northwest Public Radio


The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have a message for coal shippers: their fishing rights are not for sale.

This blunt response comes after two years of talks between the tribes and Ambre Energy – the company that wants to build a coal export terminal on a part of the river that the tribes consider historic fishing grounds protected by their treaty with the federal government.

For Ambre’s export terminal, 8.8 million tons of coal per year would be transported by rail from Montana and Wyoming to Boardman, in Eastern Oregon. From there, it would be barged down the Columbia River and transferred to ocean-going vessels to be shipped to Asia.

Ambre Energy has offered to pay the tribe up to $800,000 per year (the same amount it’s offered the Morrow and Columbia County school districts). The company is also offering $500, 000 toward salmon and stream enhancements and $100,000 toward culture and history celebrations during the Morrow Pacific Project’s construction.

A tribal spokesman said the tribes have been in discussions with Ambre Energy for two years. Chuck Sams said that’s when the tribe began raising concerns about treaty fishing sites near the company’s proposed dock.

“We will not abdicate, nor will we trade, any of our treaty rights,” Sams said. “We’ve already proven to them time and time again that the place where they wish to site their facility is a usual and accustomed fishing station.”


Yakama Nation fishers protest Ambre
Energy’s coal export terminal.


Sams said there is no way Ambre could make up for damage that could be done to the fishing site because people fish there now.

Members from the Yakama Nation and the Lummi Nation recently held fishing demonstrations at the site where the coal terminal construction is proposed.

An Ambre Energy spokeswoman says the company chose this site specifically because it did not impact fishing sites.

“It’s important to remember that the proposed dock is on private Port of Morrow property in between two existing docks. And even with that, from the beginning we have sought a partnership with the tribes based on mutual respect, shared benefits, collaboration, and cooperation,” said spokeswoman Liz Fuller.

Sams said no formal reply to the company is in the works because the Umatilla tribes have already expressed concerns to Ambre Energy in face-to-face meetings.

Sams went on, however, to say the Umatillas are open to further discussions.

Referring to offers from Ambre Energy, Sams said, “I think that they read the public wrong – our public, our tribal citizens – and where we stand. The tribal members themselves are pretty strong on environmental issues, especially in protection of their treaty rights. … Putting out a letter that dangled out financial gain for the tribe really does not resonate well within the tribal membership.”

The Australia-based Ambre Energy is still waiting on a permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands to build the dock at its Boardman site. The permit decision has been delayed multiple times. Right now a permitting decision is scheduled for Aug. 18.

According to DSL rules, the permit can be issued if the dock doesn’t “unreasonably interfere” with preservation of water for navigation, fishing and public recreation.