How to support tribal self-determination

Why today€’s congressional policies fail to empower tribes economically

By Dennis Worden, Al Jazeera America

Kristoffer Tripplaar / Getty Image

Kristoffer Tripplaar / Getty Image

Nearly 45 years ago, President Richard Nixon delivered a special message to Congress on Indian affairs.

One of his key recommendations was to empower tribes economically. The policy shift was intended to enable tribes to govern their own affairs rather than “terminating” them — a failed policy from the 1950s in which the United States attempted to end its relationships with tribal governments recognized as sovereign.

In the decades since Nixon’s message, there have been significant changes — mostly for the better — to embolden tribes in the areas of health, education and business development. But great needs remain because of widespread unemployment, housing shortages and high suicide rates. While progress has been made since 1970, challenges remain, and the potential to slide back toward de facto termination is real.

The good and the bad

As a result of Nixon’s policy, tribes are recognized as sovereign entities that have the right and responsibility to foster and grow their economies for their citizens. Tribes engage in business ventures on the basis of the needs of and resources available to their communities, and if tribes undertake ventures that utilize local resources and expertise, they are more likely (or at least better positioned) to succeed. Economic growth is essential because many tribal communities have suffered from chronically high unemployment.

This is the essence of self-determination: enabling tribes to decide for themselves what works best. Self-determination is critical because cookie-cutter programs lack the flexibility and nuance to acknowledge the diversity of resources and opportunities that might enable each tribe to create its own strong economy.

There are some examples of economic successes, such as Ho-Chunk Village, in Winnebago, Nebraska, which has garnered praise for its strong economic growth and has dropped unemployment to approximately 10 percent, down from more than 50 percent in 1994, primarily through government contracting. Its reinvestment of profits to create housing and job opportunities in the community has also drawn praise. But such successes are generally considered outliers in the public consciousness, which tends to view tribal communities as destitute, plagued by high unemployment or reliant solely on gaming ventures. Because of that, the public may not fully comprehend the degree of desperation — and potential for success — embedded in Indian Country today and Congress’ role in its continuance.

Though Nixon left other harmful legacies, the ideal of tribal self-determination remains just and powerful.

Recent congressional policies regarding Native American communities gravely erode the possibility for economic success through empowerment. Over the past several years, there have been efforts to restrict gaming and opportunities for government contracting as well as strong resistance to the resolution of legal issues regarding Indian land that deters outside investment.

There are two distinct problems with Congress’ approach to considering and enacting legislation that affects tribal economic development.

First, Congress has largely acted on tribal economic legislation in piecemeal fashion; one hand does not know what the other hand is doing. Instead, Congress and Indian Country need to use a more holistic approach by building consensus around policies that promote continued economic growth in tribal communities rather than tackling individual issues. And legislators need to understand communities’ capital, educational, regulatory and other needs as an entity in order to provide the best chance for success.

Second, in recent years, there have been more deliberate efforts to restrict programs or authorities that facilitate various economic opportunities for tribes. As tribal enterprises grow, so does congressional attention to tribal businesses and, increasingly, proposed policies have emerged that would hinder growth.

For instance, efforts to restrict tribal gaming — particularly off-reservation gaming — have been obstacles for at least a decade. In addition, efforts to take away provisions in federal contracting programs that provide unique participation of businesses owned by entire tribal communities would undermine Native American communities that do not have significant gaming resources and thus must find other economic ventures.

The proposed changes would treat Native American community-owned businesses (providing for hundreds or thousands of people) the same as individually owned businesses for purposes of qualifying for federal small business programs. But these programs work well. Gaming and federal contracting programs account for more than $35 billion in revenue to tribal communities, which is a large sum, though nowhere near enough to meet the needs of 566 communities across the country.

Third, the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act significantly diminished tribal tobacco manufacturing and distribution on reservations. The law prohibits tobacco distribution through the U.S. Postal Service, making it extremely difficult to process tobacco sales made through the Internet, a niche in the market where tribes and individual Native Americans were particularly successful. When it took effect in 2010, the Seneca Nation anticipated the law would result in 1,000 jobs lost on its territory alone.

Land trusts

Perhaps most significant, Congress has not been able to address the devastating 2009 Supreme Court decision Carcieri v. Salazar, which limited the ability of the federal government to take land into trust for tribes. This has had wide-ranging effects on tribal economic development.

The case turned on the court’s interpretation of a key law passed in 1934 that allows the government to take land into trust only for tribes that are “now under federal jurisdiction.”

The court determined Congress meant only tribes recognized by the government in 1934, not a tribe that is currently under federal jurisdiction.

Land trusts facilitate housing, commercial construction and other tribal projects. Trust status ensures the land cannot be alienated and eliminates state and local taxation of that land. With the status of tribal trust land in question, external investors and businesses are wary of investing in tribal communities. Congress’ inability to enact a positive resolution results in lost economic opportunity for tribes.

Critical health

The interstate commerce clause of the Constitution states that Congress has the power to regulate commerce among the states and among the Indian tribes. Now is the time for Congress to reinvigorate this clause and the origins of self-determination in order to empower tribes, create jobs and honor the responsibilities of the United States toward Indian tribes.

As midterm elections loom and politicians on both sides of the aisle fret over unemployment of 6 to 7 percent, unemployment on tribal reservations is nearing 19 percent. In some communities it climbs higher than 60 or 70 percent. The need for economic development in Indian Country is critical to the health of the entire country because tribal communities are part of rural America, and when tribes succeed, surrounding communities succeed too. It means more people are employed, that more capital is circulating in local economies and that the government has to provide less financial assistance to individuals to meet basic needs.

Today we should recall that Nixon urged Congress to “support and encourage efforts [that] help Indians develop their own economic infrastructure.” Though Nixon left other harmful legacies, this ideal of self-determination remains just and powerful. Congress must recommit to the ideals of self-determination by enacting comprehensive legislation to further empower tribes economically.

Dennis Worden is a fellow with the Center for Global Policy Solutions Greenhouse through the OpEd Project. He is a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the legislative director for the Native American Contractors Association.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.

What is tribal sovereignty?

By Denise DePaolo, KSFY News

KSFY News – Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

South Dakota’s nine Indian reservations exist as sovereign nations. But what does that mean? KSFY News talked with tribal, state and federal leaders about what it means to lead a nation within a nation.

Sovereignty may seem easy to define on paper, but in practice, it’s complicated. To some, it’s a feeling. A way of life.

“Sovereignty, to me, is something our grandfathers gave us. That we need to respect, because it’s a tool that protects us here in Indian Country,” said Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Cyril Scott.

It’s a way of life that involves an ongoing power struggle, colored by a history of eradication.

“The states, the government, they want to take that sovereignty away from us. They don’t want to acknowledge that Adolf Hitler got his ideas from the United States,” said Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Brandon Sazue.

For tribal governments, sovereignty comes with a limited autonomy.

“When you look at South Dakota, we’re unique in a sense that we have nine different tribes that through treaties and congressional action enjoy a level of tribal sovereignty. That means they have the ability – while they are certainly South Dakotans – that they have the ability to vote in our elections, but they also have a separate sovereignty that allows them to control certain matters within their borders,” said South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley.

“We have control of our schools, our courts, our police, so those do make us sovereign, but there’s a lot of things where we are not sovereign. We are still dependent. We are still dependent on the federal government because they have not met their trust responsibility in meeting our needs through economic development,” said Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer.

“They gave us the treaties 200 years ago, 100 years ago, however long ago. Did that give us our sovereignty? In a way, it should have. But today, we don’t have sovereignty,” said Sazue.

tribal sovereigntyTribes must follow state and federal laws, which can mean problems when those limits are tested.

“For any community in the United States, there are limits. The constitution still needs to be followed and respected. The federal laws still need to be followed and respected,” said South Dakota U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson.

For example, Pine Ridge is looking into the legalization of marijuana within its borders. Jackley says while he respects tribal sovereignty, pot still is illegal.

“He said he’s going to come to Pine Ridge and arrest us if we did do that,” said Brewer, “And we realize that we have to follow federal law and that. But again, we need to exercise our sovereignty. Pine Ridge has already passed an ordinance years ago legalizing hemp – to grow hemp on our reservation. Yet when a person did, they were arrested.”

Another limit to tribal sovereignty is who can and cannot be prosecuted in tribal courts.

“There are further limitations if there is a non-Indian committing a crime against a non-Indian within the reservation boundaries, the state or the state’s attorney would have jurisdiction over that,” said Jackley.

“I believe we’re going to start arresting everybody. Non-Indians. If they commit a crime on a reservation, we’re going to arrest him, take them through our courts and see what happens. We know it will go to the Supreme Court, but we want to test it, we want to test our sovereignty and we talk about our sovereignty. We’re going to test it through the judicial system,” said Brewer.

“We’re seeing tribal courts strengthened. We’re seeing police departments growing and I think that’s very good, because I think the future of tribal sovereignty means more local control for the tribes, less involvement from federal government,” said Johnson.

According to Brewer, many families living in reservation communities depend on the federal government as well, because job opportunities are few and the cost of utilities like propane and electricity are high.

“We’re all wishing and praying one day that we can be completely sovereign, but as long as we’re within the confines of the United States government, we will probably never be truly sovereign.”

A recent emphasis on economic development and inter-tribal trade aims to change that.

“The future of tribal sovereignty, I think, is about creating alliances. Sovereignty is strongest when you’re using it to create alliances, and I think in South Dakota we’re starting to see that now,” said Johnson.

“We all have something to offer. We can trade with each other. So this is something we’re really looking at,” said Brewer, “We’ve talked to tribes in the northwest. They said ‘Bryan, we’d like to have your buffalo. We have so much diabetes out there. Send us buffalo meat. We’ll send you lumber, we’ll send you salmon.’ The Seminoles out of Florida – ‘We’ll send you oranges. You can use those for your people or you can sell them to communities.’”

South Dakota’s tribes are working on many fronts to become more independent.

Wind energy will help cut down on the high cost of electricity. Several tribes have projects in the works.

The launch of dozens of tribe-operated businesses – like Lakota Popcorn on Lower Brule and Tanka Bars on Pine Ridge – are helping to alleviate the unemployment problem.

Many tribes are also putting an increased emphasis on tourism. For example, the Oglala Sioux will likely become the first tribe to operate a national park in the Badlands’ South Unit.

While tribes are using the increasing connectedness of our world for the betterment of their people, assimilation and eventual obscurity aren’t part of the plan.

“What we are telling the people of the United States and the state of South Dakota – we are a nation. The first nation of this country,” said Scott.

Flathead Reservation in next phase of $1.9B land buy-back program

 

Elouise Cobell, right, looks on as Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes testifies in December 2009 during a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. EVAN VUCCI/Associated Press

Elouise Cobell, right, looks on as Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes testifies in December 2009 during a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C.
EVAN VUCCI/Associated Press

HELENA – The Flathead Reservation is among 21 Indian reservations that will be the focus of the next phase of a $1.9 billion program to buy fractionated land parcels owned by multiple individuals and turn them over to tribal governments, Interior Department officials said Thursday.

Besides the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, other Montana participants are the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation; Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation; Crow Tribe; and the Fort Belknap Indian Community of the Fort Belknap Reservation of Montana.

Government officials will work with tribal leaders to plan, map, conduct mineral evaluations, make appraisals and acquire land on the reservations from Washington state to Oklahoma in this phase, which is expected to last through 2015.

Other reservations could be added to the list, but the 21 named Thursday meet the criteria, particularly tribal readiness, said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn.

“We knew it wouldn’t be successful unless tribal leaders were interested in the program,” Washburn said.

The land buyback program is part of a $3.4 billion settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed by Elouise Cobell of Browning, who died in 2011. The lawsuit claimed Interior Department officials mismanaged trust money held by the government for hundreds of thousands of Indian landowners.

The 1887 Dawes Act split tribal lands into individual allotments that were inherited by multiple heirs with each passing generation, resulting in some parcels across the nation being owned by dozens, hundreds or even thousands of individual Indians.

Often, that land sits without being developed or leased because approval is required from all the owners.

The land buyback program aims to consolidate as many parcels as possible by spending $1.9 billion by a 2022 deadline to purchase land from willing owners, then turn over that purchased land to the tribes to do as they see fit.

So far, the program has spent $61.2 million and restored 175,000 acres, said Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor. To buy even that much land, officials had to locate and contact owners in all 50 states and several countries to find out if they were willing to sell, Connor said.

The work primarily has been focused on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation until now.

Last month, tribal leaders from four reservations criticized the buyback program’s slow pace and complained they were being shut out of decisions over what land to buy. The leaders from tribes in Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington state spoke before a U.S. House panel.

Rep. Steve Daines, R-Montana, who called for the congressional hearing, said he welcomed Thursday’s announcement by the Interior Department.

“However, I am concerned their efforts here may not provide tribes with the necessary tools to ensure the Land Buy-Back program is properly implemented,” Daines said in a statement.

He said the Interior Department should use its authority to give tribes more flexibility, and it should move swiftly to address consolidation problems on other reservations not included in the announcement.

Washburn said Thursday that his agency has entered into or is negotiating cooperative agreements with many tribes in the buyback program, though others say they want the federal government to run the program.


21 reservations next up in consolidation program

These are the American Indian reservations the Department of Interior plans to focus on in the next phase of a $1.9 billion buyback program of fractionated land parcels to turn over to tribal governments. The program is part of a $3.4 billion settlement over mismanaged money held in trust by the U.S. government for individual Indian landowners.

– Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana.

– Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of the Cheyenne River Reservation, Wyoming.

– Coeur D’Alene Tribe of the Coeur D’Alene Reservation, Idaho.

– Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, Montana.

– Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, Oregon.

– Crow Tribe, Montana.

– Fort Belknap Indian Community of the Fort Belknap Reservation of Montana.

– Gila River Indian Community of the Gila River Indian Reservation, Arizona.

– Lummi Tribe of the Lummi Reservation, Washington.

– Makah Indian Tribe of the Makah Indian Reservation, Washington.

– Navajo Nation, Arizona.

– Northern Cheyenne Tribe of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, Montana.

– Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota.

– Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Kansas.

– Quapaw Tribe of Indians, Oklahoma.

– Quinault Tribe of the Quinault Reservation, Washington.

– Rosebud Sioux Tribe of the Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota.

– Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation, North Dakota and South Dakota.

– Squaxin Island Tribe of the Squaxin Island Reservation, Washington.

– Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota and South Dakota.

– Swinomish Indians of the Swinomish Reservation, Washington.

Christina Fallin’s band sparks controversy with performance at Norman Music Festival

By Jerry Wofford, Tulsa World

Christina FallinA performance by Christina Fallin, daughter of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, at the Norman Music Festival Saturday drew criticism from many, including the governor herself.

Many interpreted the provocative performance by her band Pink Pony, which included a cape or shawl with the word “sheep” drawn on the back, as offensive to Native Americans. It comes less than two months after Christina Fallin drew criticism from several groups for a photo of her wearing a Native American-style headdress.

“On Saturday night, while performing at the Norman Music Festival, my daughter acted in a way that I believe was inappropriate,” Gov. Fallin said in a statement Monday. “While she will always be my daughter and I love her very much, I don’t approve of her behavior on that night or that of her band. I have communicated that to Christina.

“I have great respect for Oklahoma’s tribal members and I celebrate their traditions and culture. As governor, I work in hand in hand with tribal leaders on everything from disaster response to economic development. Tribal governments are important partners to our state government, and I value the good relationships my administration has cultivated with them.”

Fallin spent most of Monday touring tornado damage in Quapaw, where one person was killed when an EF-2 tornado struck the town Sunday.

The band posted a lengthy statement Monday afternoon saying “nothing about our performance was connected in any way to Native American culture” and apologized to those who were offended.

Christina Fallin’s band, Pink Pony, performed at midnight Saturday and posted earlier in the day on the band’s Facebook page: “I heard Pink Pony was wearing full regalia tonight.” The band clarified it was meant as a response to the rumors they themselves were hearing, though nothing was planned.

Samantha Crain, a singer based in Shawnee, said the earlier photo and what she felt like was a “non-apology” to the headdress stir led to her and others wanting to express frustration with the actions.

“What I was originally hoping could happen was we could talk to them and let them know how we felt before it even happened,” Crain said.

With the offending photo and the Facebook post the day of the show, Crain said that the Native American community needed to peacefully respond.

“Whether it was a publicity stunt or not, we needed to rally together,” Crain said.

Several people gathered to the side of the stage as the show began holding signs that read, “Don’t tread on my culture” and “I am not a costume” among others, according to accounts. According to the website reddirtreport.com, which posted one protester’s account of the protest, and video posted to YouTube of the performance, the author said it appeared Fallin was wearing a Native American-inspired “shawl” with the word “Sheep” written on the back.

The statement from Pink Pony read that it was “in no way a Native American shawl. It was not designed to look like one.” The word “sheep” on the back refers to those who “blindly follow sensationalist yellow journalism rather than the truth,” the statement read.

Norman Music Festival chair Gene Bertman said in a statement Monday that the festival was unaware of what the band’s performance would include.

“The Norman Music Festival does not support the actions of Pink Pony, and in particular Christina Fallin, at our festival on Saturday night. We had no prior knowledge of the performance content, and we oppose her use and depiction of American Indian artifacts and symbols,” Bertman said. “We certainly understand that these actions do nothing but promote racism, cultural discrimination and religious discrimination. The Norman Music Festival is here to support artists and bring people together — not divide them. We apologize to anyone who was offended.”

The band said in the statement that “it was not our intention to offend anyone.

“Nothing about our performance at the Norman Music Festival was in any way designed to offend anyone,” the statement read. “We hope that people will do their own research before jumping to conclusions or believing the lies being fed to them.”

Crain said the protesters tried to remain to the side of the stage as to not disrupt the show, but at some points the crowd began to taunt them.

“It was very clear from the beginning we were there for a silent protest,; we weren’t there to disrupt the show in any way,” Crain said. “The beginning of it was fine. But they kind of started taunting us from the stage and got the crowd to flip us off and yell at us.”

At the end of the performance, Crain said she felt that overall their presence had some positive aspects.

“I felt like it was positive,” Crain said. “People were looking at the signs and asking questions.”

NCAI celebrates anniversary of VAWA’s 2013 passage

By Cherokee Phoenix staff reports

WASHINGTON – The National Congress of American Indians marked the one-year anniversary of a great victory for tribal nations and Native women on March 7.

President Obama, joined by Vice President Biden, members of women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates and members of Congress, signs the Violence Against Women Act in March. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

President Obama, joined by Vice President Biden, members of women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates and members of Congress, signs the Violence Against Women Act in March. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

It was on that day in 2013 when President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. At the signing ceremony, the president underscored the “inherent right (of tribal governments) to protect their people.”

For the first time since the 1978 Oliphant decision, VAWA 2013 restored tribal authority to investigate, prosecute, convict and sentence non-Indians who assault their Indian spouses or partners in Indian Country. The law created a pilot project that enabled three tribes to recently begin exercising this authority.

“Today is a day to celebrate what we have achieved together and commit ourselves to ensure the ongoing success of this important law. It acknowledges that tribal nations are the best equipped to ensure public safety in our communities and provides the tools we need to protect Native women,” NCAI President Brian Cladoosby said.

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, the Tulalip Tribes of Washington and the Umatilla Tribes of Oregon–began exercising special criminal jurisdiction over certain crimes of domestic and dating violence, regardless of the defendant’s Indian or non-Indian status in February.

“VAWA 2013 is a tremendous victory. I am grateful to those who have stepped up to take the lead in the implementation phase,” Terri Henry, Tribal Councilor of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and co-chair of the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women, said. “I want to congratulate the three tribes participating in the pilot project and remind everyone, we still have work to do.”

However, VAWA does not mark the end of the NCAI’s efforts to combat domestic violence in Indian Country, NCAI Executive Director Jackie Pata said. “Tribal nations remain steadfast in the important work of protecting our Native women and securing our communities,” she said.

DOJ’s ‘Operation Choke Point’ Infringes on Tribal Trust

By Barry Brandon, American Banker

Tribal sovereignty is the most valuable of all American Indian assets. Tribal governments’ inherent rights of self-government and self-determination are the foundation of tribal communities and tribal identity.

Tribal governments have worked hard to strengthen our partnerships with the federal government through self-determined economic development and the co-creation of new institutions, including the National Indian Gaming Commission, housed within the Department of Interior.

The relationship between tribal governments and the federal government goes beyond the DOI, however, to include Congress and the White House, which has a long-running formal policy of consultation with tribal governments. These complex and interdependent relationships, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, are summarized as the “trust relationship” or even “trust responsibility,” so named because it captures the special fiduciary responsibility by the federal government towards tribes.

Recently, however, the relationship between some tribal governments and a particular division of the federal government, located in the Department of Justice, has been severely damaged by an internal campaign known within the DOJ as “Operation Choke Point.”

This behind-the-scenes attempt to shut down legal tribal businesses has disrupted our long-held tribal-federal partnership. It represents a total departure from more than a century of respect for, and engagement with, tribal governments as partners and co-regulators on issues ranging from law enforcement to economic development to education.

At issue in the short term are the legal, licensed and regulated e-commerce lending services that many tribes have established. What is at stake, however, is the long-term viability of the trust relationship itself.

In other economic ventures such as gaming, tribal governments have found strong opposition from state governments who see us as a competitor or, worse yet, as a willful violator of state regulations. It thus disturbs tribal governments that, in the case of legal online lending, the DOJ – our supposed federal partner – continues to attack and undermine our legal businesses.

As a member of the “federal family,” the DOJ has a mandate to exercise their trust responsibility to tribal governments. They have a responsibility to do this in a way that protects tribal businesses engaging in honest business practices, as ours do.

Like gaming enterprises operated by tribal governments, our online lending businesses are legally owned, operated and regulated under tribal regulatory authority. They are created pursuant to tribal law and our authority to create them is acknowledged in the Dodd-Frank Act. As with gaming, we have created partnerships with the federal government and federal regulatory bodies to ensure that consumers across the country have access to the services they need in a way that also drives economic growth on reservations.

Thus, we support and echo the concerns of House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, as reported in American Banker, that the Justice Department’s dragnet does appear to be an effort to stomp out all short-term lending, including legal tribal government-owned enterprises.

In light of the fact that the Dodd-Frank Act treats tribes as states in the context of financial services, tribal governments have created the Native American Financial Services Association to collectively establish a model for self-regulation, and we have sought meaningful consultation with federal regulatory bodies to strengthen and operationalize our relationship as co-regulators.

In an election year, however, the successful negotiation of a co-regulatory environment is not deemed as newsworthy as “choking off” legal tribal businesses. It is this abandonment of the federal-tribal trust relationship that has allowed “Operation Choke Point” to run amok and allowed legislators to blindly prop it up.

In the wake of this abandonment, rather than focusing on the true bad actors in the industry, “Operation Choke Point” is having the opposite effect. As the DOJ’s blanket actions continue to choke the illegal businesses, they also drown the legal ones, like ours, leaving consumers further underserved and tribal communities further isolated. At NAFSA, we will continue fighting to strengthen our tribal laws and regulations, work with our federal partners and educate state governments about our legal right to offer these businesses.

We can only hope that the DOJ, as a member of the “federal family,” will abide by their obligation to consult with us before taking unilateral actions, especially those that do not consider our special “trust” relationship and damage the fragile economic strides we are seeking on isolated reservation lands.

Focusing on the National and International Levels

Source: Water4fish

TAHOLAH, WA –  “Securing the rights of sovereign Tribal governments takes constant effort and perseverance at many levels,” said Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and  Northwest Regional Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). This past week, some of the focus was on the national and international levels, she said. Sharp completed a round of talks with the US Department of State in Washington DC early this week, exploring how American Indian governments and the US government can formalize an agreement on policies to be considered by the United Nations-sponsored World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

The World Conference on Indigenous Peoples will be a meeting of the 194 member governments of the United Nations considering how best to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—a document that affects the rights and interests of American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians and hundreds of other indigenous peoples around the world.

“We have begun talks to formalize a framework between our governments so we can more effectively negotiate balanced solutions to problems such as climate change, damages caused by development to indigenous territories, and improving economies in tribal territories,” said President Sharp.

During the course of the week, Sharp consulted with Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby, who was recently elected President of NCAI, and was joined in the talks by Colville Confederated Tribes Chairman Michael Finley who also serves as First Vice President of NCAI. He stressed his strong endorsement of President Sharp’s proposals to the Department of State, which urged development of an intergovernmental framework agreement that will ensure that the US government and Indian governments work closely and harmoniously as they engage UN member states at the World Conference of Indigenous Peoples in September.

President Sharp and other tribal leaders from across the country will continue talks with representatives of the Department of State in February.

President Sharp further noted, “We have been conducting talks with the Department of State since last August and expect we will come to a mutual agreement on an intergovernmental framework concerning the UN conference in February.”

The Quinault government has been leading discussions with the US government and several UN Member States regarding the World Conference and facilitating joint Indian government meetings to ensure the maximum participation of Indian peoples in plans for the World Conference.

 

Following is a link to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007

Pulling Aid Away, Shutdown Deepens Indians’ Distress

 

Rich Addicks for The New York TimesAudrey Costa at home on the Crow reservation in Montana with her grandson Benjamin Costa and her daughter, Beth Dawes, right. Ms. Costa has not received her federal lease payment.

Rich Addicks for The New York Times
Audrey Costa at home on the Crow reservation in Montana with her grandson Benjamin Costa and her daughter, Beth Dawes, right. Ms. Costa has not received her federal lease payment.

By DAN FROSCH

Published: October 13, 2013 Nytimes.com

 

CROW AGENCY, Mont. — Worlds away from Washington, Audrey Costa wondered aloud about keeping her family warm. A mother of three, she relies on lease payments from the Bureau of Indian Affairs on land owned by her family, which can run up to a few hundred dollars a year, to pay for food and electricity. But since the partial shutdown of the federal government began on Oct. 1, Ms. Costa, 41, has not received a check.

 “We’re having such a hard time,” she said outside her tattered clapboard home in this poor prairie town deep in the heart of the Crow reservation. “I don’t know what I’ll do. Just tough it out, I guess.”

Like other largely impoverished Indian tribes that lean heavily on federal dollars, the Crow have been battered by the shutdown.

Some 364 Crow members, more than a third of the tribe’s work force, have been furloughed. A bus service, the only way some Crow are able to travel across their 2.3-million-acre reservation, has been shuttered. A home health care program for sick tribal members has been suspended.

Though the tribe has enough money to keep a skeleton government operating for now, it is running out.

“They don’t have a clue what’s going on out here,” the tribal chairman, Darrin Old Coyote, said of politicians in Washington from his office in Crow Agency, which sits in the shadows of the Little Bighorn battlefield, itself closed because of the shutdown. “It is hurting a lot of people.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which provides a vast sweep of services for more than 1.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, has kept essential programs, like federal police and firefighting services, running. But it has stopped financing tribal governments and the patchwork of programs and grants that form the thin blanket of support for reservations racked by poverty and other ills.

“You’re already looking at a good number of tribes who are considered the poorest of our nation’s people,” said Jacqueline Pata, the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. “When you are dealing with cutting off food supply programs and even nominal payments to tribal members, it creates a dangerous impact immediately.”

The Yurok tribe in Northern California, for example, relies almost solely on federal financing to operate. Its reservation, which spans parts of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, already has an 80 percent unemployment rate, said Susan Masten, the tribal vice chairwoman. With money suddenly unavailable, the tribe has furloughed 60 of its 310 employees, closed its child-care center and halted emergency financial assistance for low-income and older members.

Financing for an environmental program that ensures clean drinking water on the reservation is running low. A second round of furloughs could affect tribal police officers, Ms. Masten said.

“The saddest thing about this is that the federal government has an obligation to the tribes,” she said. “In times like this, where it’s already extremely difficult, any further damage to our budget would be devastating.”

On the reservation of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians in northern Minnesota, all nonemergency medical procedures have been placed on hold, said Dave Conner, a tribal official who helps manage the Red Lake’s government services.

The Red Lake were supposed to have received about $1 million from the Bureau of Indian Affairs this month to help operate their government, but the money was not released before the shutdown, Mr. Conner said.

The tribe has budgeted enough money to keep the most critical services running until the end of the month.

“This is a poor, rural, isolated reservation,” Mr. Conner said. “A lot of people rely on our services, so there’s a lot of fear right now.”

For some tribes, the pain of the shutdown has been sharpened by federal budget restrictions this year, known as sequestration, that imposed 5 percent cuts to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service.

Aaron Payment, the chairman of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan, said his tribe had already shut down its H.I.V. prevention program and furloughed employees for its Head Start program for a month because of sequestration.

Now, with nearly $1 million in federal money lost since the shutdown, the tribe is scrambling to shift casino revenue from other programs to keep its government afloat.

“We’re in turmoil right now,” Mr. Payment said. “The impact here is going to be felt by the people who need the services the most.”

Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary for Indian affairs, said the shutdown could have long-term effects on tribes and tribal members. Financial deals and economic programs have been suspended. Environmental reviews of tribal projects will be delayed. And the impact on the thousands of Bureau of Indian Affairs employees who have been furloughed is compounded because many support poor relatives, he said.

“The cushion that tribes might have had to help them get through tough times is gone because of sequestration,” Mr. Washburn said.

In Hardin, Mont., a gritty reservation border town, Presina Grant has been caring for her sister, who broke both of her wrists in a fall. Until recently, Ms. Grant, who is Crow, had been reimbursed $8 an hour as part of the tribe’s health care program.

But after the program was suspended because of the shutdown, Ms. Grant, 43, found herself in a long line of other tribal members applying for food stamps. Her daughter is a high school cross-country runner and craves nutrition. But with money tight, she often must feed her three children frozen food.

“Everyone was just sad — you could just feel it,” Ms. Grant said, recalling the day this month when she collected her final paycheck from the tribe. “People are worried. We’re praying every day.”

DOI gives update on land consolidation program under Cobell

indianz.com

The Interior Department will start implementing the land consolidation portion of the $3.4 billion Cobell trust fund settlement by the end of this year, officials said today.

The settlement provides $1.9 billion to buy fractionated interests from willing Indian sellers. The land will be returned to tribal governments as part of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.

“Our plan is to begin … initial purchase offers by the end of the year,” deputy secretary David Hayes, who is leaving the department at the end of the month, said on a conference call this afternoon. “We expect to accelerate that process in the next two or three years.”

As part of the effort, the department has established an oversight board that is chaired by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Members include Solicitor Hilary Tompkins and Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“This is one of the most important parts of President Obama’s agenda,” Washburn said of the effort to restore tribal homelands.

Washburn said ten to 12 reservations are being targeted for initial offers by the end of the year. They include the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the Makah Nation in Washington, the Crow Reservation in Montana and the Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation in South Dakota.

The administration is finalizing cooperative agreements with tribes to encourage and accelerate the purchases. “That means the tribal employees will be doing a heck of a lot of the work on this program,” Washburn said.

Additionally, the department has established a $75 minimum purchase for fractionated interests “no matter how small,” Hayes said on the conference call. So beneficiaries with extremely small ownership stakes stand to gain from the program.

While certain tribes are being targeted, Hayes said landowners across Indian Country will be able to participate because the department has imposed a purchase ceiling to prevent the funds from being exhausted in any one reservation or reservations.

“We heard loud and clear from Indian Country that we need to have equity in this program — that every tribe that has fractionated interests needs to be able to participate in this program,’ Hayes said. “And that is our commitment. We are going to do that.”

“Every tribe can be assured the money will not run out” due to the purchase ceiling, Hayes said.