Thursday, July 31, 2008

Court Upholds Voting Rights of Alaska Natives

Late yesterday, a federal court ordered Alaska’s state and local elections officials to provide effective language assistance to citizens who speak Yup'ik, the primary language of a majority of voters in the Bethel region of Alaska. The victory came in a legal challenge brought by Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of four Alaska Natives and four tribal governments.

“This is a huge victory, not only for Yup’ik voters, but for all Alaska Natives who want to participate in the democratic process,” said NARF attorney Natalie Landreth, who is lead co-counsel in the case. “The state of Alaska has recently taken the first step towards complying with its obligations under the law. But as the court recognized, the state’s recent efforts to provide Yup’ik language assistance are ‘relatively new and untested’ over 30 years after Alaska was first required to provide that assistance. Yup’ik voters will remain vigilant to work with the court to make sure the state’s first steps are not its last. Voting is too precious a right to be denied by bureaucratic neglect.”

The order granting NARF and ACLU’s motion for a preliminary injunction is online at:

BIA Sued for Buffalo Round-up on Crow Reservation

George and Nelvette Siemion, of Fort Smith, Mont., have filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Indian Affairs for confiscating their buffalo off land they thought they had leased from the agency, according to the Billings Gazette. For almost 40 years, the couple has operated the White Buffalo Ranch on the Crow Reservation. This past spring they discovered the leases they thought they had been awarded through a bid process were awarded to other ranchers. They claim the BIA didn't follow fair bidding practices and bypassed rules that for decades had given Nelvette, a member of the Crow Tribe, preference on tribal land leases. Read more about it here.

Rhetoric and Tensions Continue at Soboba

Leaders of the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians said Wednesday that they would continue to stop Riverside County Deputies at the reservation gate unless they were responding to an emergency. This announcement follows on the heels of Riverside Sheriff Stanley Sniff’s announcement that he had asked the National Indian Gaming Commission to revoke the band’s casino license.

Riverside County sheriff’s deputies have shot and killed four tribal members since December. And despite promises for better communications from both parties, the situation continues to deteriorate. County law enforcement officials have said they will arrest anyone who tries to delay them in entering the reservation. Read more here.

Court Won't Rehear Casino Land-Into-Trust Case

The D.C. U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday refused to rehear an appeal for a rejected challenge of a land-into-trust casino case. Score 1 for Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians -- a.k.a. the Gun Lake Band. Read about it here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Riverside Sheriff Says Soboba's Gaming License Should be Pulled

Riverside County, Calif., Sheriff Stanley Sniff told the county Board of Supervisors that he sent a letter Monday to the National Indian Gaming Commission, requesting that it suspend the gaming license for the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians. Sniff cited the band's “propensity to violence” and apparent reluctance to allow deputies on tribal land. Read more about it here.

Cherokee Officials Can be Sued, Court Says

Officials of the Cherokee Nation, but not the tribe itself, can be sued, according to a decision released yesterday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Overturning, in part, a district court ruling, the court said that the Cherokee Nation could not be joined as an indispensable party in a suit challenging the Cherokees’ right to disenfranchise the descendents of their former slaves.

However, the appeals court said, Cherokee Nation officials could be sued for alleged constitutional and treaty violations, and a prospective request for injunctive relief. “… Officers of the Cherokee Nation cannot seek shelter in the tribe’s sovereign immunity,” the court wrote in a unanimous opinion. The opinion in Vann v. Kempthorne is available here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Stakes are High in Language Preservation Scrabble Game

For most Scrabble players the letters K, H, N, U, A, A, C might not amount to much. But for hundreds of school children using the Official Dakotah Scrabble Dictionary, those letters can be parleyed into the seven-tile word, “canakahu,” meaning “spine.” In the lingo of the game, using all seven tiles is a bingo worth 50 bonus points. The game itself is worth much more to the people working to save the Dakotah language. Read more about it here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Senate Approves Soboba Water Settlement

The U.S. Senate Thursday approved the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians Settlement Act, which is now headed to the President’s desk for approval. The vote puts an end to 75 years of litigation by the Soboba Band and creates new sources of water for California residents. The legislation awards the Soboba Band $18 million from local water districts and $11 million from the federal government. It also gives the tribe the right to 2 billion gallons of water annually from the aquifer. Read more about it here.

Navajo Ban Use of Commercial Tobacco

The Navajo Nation Council voted Friday to ban the use of commercial tobacco in all public spaces on the reservation, including rodeos and fairs. The measure which was approved 42-27, would ban the smoking and chewing of tobacco in public buildings and shared outdoor public areas. It would not, however, restrict the ceremonial use of tobacco. Read more about it here.

Economic Woes Hit Gaming Industry

Once thought immune from the symptoms of a troubled economy, casinos are now feeling the pain as well, according to South Coast Today. “It's ugly,” one analyst said of the revenue losses and declining stock prices. "There's an overall uncertainty in the economy and gaming is feeling the impact. It's really bad."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Indian Country Struggles with Skyrocketing Gas Prices

Rising gas prices are forcing individuals across the country to make tough budget choices as they are seeing their travel expenses and home energy costs rise. This impact is felt even more in Indian Country, where incomes are often lower and energy needs higher.

Reports from across the country are noting that Native Americans and tribal governments are feeling the pinch from higher fuel costs, particularly on more remote and large reservations and in Alaska. At risk are individuals’ abilities to commute to work, obtain health care, visit family members, attend powwows and heat or cool their homes. At the tribal government level, rising prices can affect transportation, meal delivery to elders, law enforcement activities and numerous other services provided to members. Read more about it here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

EPA Disallows $1.2 million for Undocumented Match

The Environmental Protection Agency disallowed $1,241,591 in grant funds awarded to the village of Wellsville, Ohio, in part because the village did not have documentation to support the receipt of required matching funds, a violation of OMB A-87. The moral of the story for tribal governments is that you need to document your matching funds – whether they are received in the form of cash or in-kind services.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

BIA School Employees Lack Proper Background Checks

More than 70 percent of the Bureau of Indian Education employees at sample schools investigated by the Department of Interior’s Inspector General lacked properly conducted background checks as required by federal law. The Bureau of Indian Education was formerly known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Indian Education Programs.

Based on a statistical sample of 1,199 of the 4,501 employees who work for the BIE, the Inspector General found that as of May 2007, 2 percent of the employees working for BIE schools had no security file documenting any investigation and 76 percent had security files that contained material errors in the investigation conducted.

Material errors in the investigations included lack of required FBI fingerprint checks, absence of character background checks, and absence of reinvestigations for employees with over 5 years on the job," the report stated.

Read the report here.

Breast Cancer Among Alaska Natives Leveling

After tripling for nearly three decades, rates of breast cancer among Alaska Native women may be leveling off at last, the Anchorage Daily News reported. At least that is what the latest statistics suggest. While the incidence of breast cancer rose sharply among Alaska Native women toward the end of the 20th century, from 40 cases per 100,000 (from 1969 to 1973) to 138 cases per 100,000 (1994 to 1998), they dropped to 132 cases from 1999 to 2004, according to a recent Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium study. Breast cancer used to be pretty rare among Alaska Native women, but now their incident rates match those of white women nationwide and exceeds by half the rate of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the lower 48.

Women Sue Casino for Employees' Offensive Remarks

Foxwoods may have sovereign immunity to protect it when patrons try to file law suits, but it's not protected from the negative publicity such suits generate.

This week the buzz is about nine separate suits filed by nine women who say they were verbally assaulted by two Hispanic roulette table workers. Various media are reporting that the women, all companions, are suing the casino because the workers reportedly made many offensive and lewd comments — in Spanish — about the women, not knowing that one of the women could understand Spanish perfectly.

"Great, we have a bunch of dumb broads that don't know how to play," said one of the men to the other. They called one of the women a derogatory word for lesbian and with vulgar words talked about wanting to have sex with them. This is just a sampling of the discourse. Each of the women is suing the workers and the Mashantucket Pequot for $500,000.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

IHS Loses Millions in Equipment, Says GAO

The Indian Health Service has lost at least $15.8 million worth of equipment and later falsified documents to cover up some of those losses, the Washington Post reports today.

An investigation by the Government Accountability Office found that over a three-year period from 2004-2007, 5,000 pieces of equipment were lost or stolen, including a computer that contained more than 800 Social Security numbers and sensitive health information. Also missing are trucks, tractors, all-terrain vehicles and information technology items -- including computers, video projectors and digital cameras -- from the agency's headquarters in Rockville, Md. Read the report here.

Tribe Says It's Excluded from OK Water Talks

The Chickasaw Nation has lodged complaints with the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the governor, saying it is being excluded from the state’s efforts to develop a 50-year water plan. According to the Associated Press, a letter from tribal attorney Stephen Greetham to the executive director of the water resources board, Duane Smith, says the tribe supports efforts to develop a water plan, but that the input process has been structured to exclude the tribes. Read more about it here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

BIA Limits Casino Locations

The Bureau of Indian Affairs Friday published a rule that says casinos should be located within 25 miles of a reservation headquarters. However it did allow for exception. Tribes may seek reservation status and permission to operate casinos on newly acquired land away from a reservation if tribes can show that a significant number of tribal members live nearby, can demonstrate a current connection to the property or if other tribal government facilities have been located on the land for at least two years before an application is filed for new reservation land. Read more about it here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

BIA Says Tribe's Court Order Invalid

The Bureau of Indian Affairs says a Seneca-Cayuga court order reinstating former Seneca-Cayuga Chief Paul Spicer is not valid. Last week Spicer attempted to take control of the tribe’s casino, citing the court order as the basis for his actions. Read more about it here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Agua Caliente Appeals IRS Golf Course Ruling

The IRS and tribal governments continue to spar over which government activities can be financed with tax-exempt government bonds. Bond Buyer reports that the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is appealing a proposed adverse ruling that $22.5 million in revenue bonds it issued in 2003 for a golf course and recreation center are taxable.

Baucus Wants Investigation of IHS

The Associated Press reports that Montana Senator Max Baucus has added his voice to those calling for an investigation of the Indian Health Service and how it allocates its resources. Earlier this month, the Ft. Peck Tribal Executive board demanded an investigation into the IHS. Both come on the heels of a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on the contract health services program. Witnesses there told committee members of how people in serious need of medical attention must go without because the program consistently runs out of money each spring and remains unfunded until the new federal fiscal year begins in the fall.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tribal Police About to Lose Internet Access

USA Today reports that the federal government is about to pull the plug on a program that provides Internet and e-mail service for thousands of police officers in tribal and other rural police departments. Police need Internet access for various functions, including criminal investigations. Comanche Police Chief Vernon Griffin told the paper that they use the service to solicit help for basic operations and to respond to officer fatalities. Some tribes have no alternative Internet connection.

The program, known as the Tribal Rural Law Enforcement Internet Project, has operated in some form since 1995. It is based at the National Center for Rural Law Enforcement at the University of Arkansas. Program manager Jimmy Nobles says members are "beside themselves" at the prospect of losing it. Read more about it here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

NCAI Spreads the Word about Meth

Tribes have worked furiously in their own communities to get the word out on methamphetamine, how it destroys lives and culture. Now, through the National Congress of American Indians and with support from a slew of partners, they are coming together to spread the word throughout Indian Country.

The message is being sent via a national ad campaign, launched in April by NCAI in cooperation with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the U.S. Department of the Interior. In the form of a series of free, public service radio and print ads, the goal is reduce usage of this deadly drug among American Indians and Alaska Natives by raising awareness. Read more about it here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Senate Agrees to $1 Billion for Tribal Justice Programs

The U.S. Senate late Friday afternoon agreed to vote next week on a spending-bill amendment pushed by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., to authorize $1 billion over five years to strengthen and expand Native American criminal justice programs. Thune and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., want to add spending authorization for up to $2 billion over five years for both the criminal justice and safety programs and Native American water projects. Read more about it here.

Former Chief Attempts Casino Coup

Former Seneca-Cayuga Chief Paul Spicer Thursday tried to take over the tribe’s casino. Spicer’s attorney, Thomas Hayde, said Second Chief Katie Birdsong, who won her position in a disputed election held in June, and other members of the business council were illegally sworn in. A tribal court order signed Wednesday said Spicer should remain in office. Birdsong says the order is invalid because court was abolished in June. Read more about it here.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Interior IG Accuses Trustee of Steering Lucrative Accounting Contract to Friend

In a report released yesterday, the U.S. Department of Interior Inspector General accuses a special deputy trustee with the Office of Special Trustee for American Indians in Albuquerque of pressuring members of a three-person team in 2005 to give a valuable risk-management contract to a friend, despite what some contractors called a superior and cheaper offer by another company.

The trustee’s friend was a partner in an Albuquerque accounting firm, which won the $987,000 contract. The contract was modified 14 times over nearly a two-year period and ultimately increased to $2.4 million. Read more about this in the Washington Post.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

FCC to Host Workshop for Tribes on DTV Transition

The Federal Communications Commission will host a roundtable and workshop July 16-17 in Salt Lake City as part of the Indian Telecommunications Initiates initiative. Federal officials will discuss the digital television (DTV) transition and telecommunications development in Indian Country. Details of the meeting are available here.

The July meeting will take place at the Indian Walk-in Center, 120 W. 1300 S. St.To register for the free meeting, call 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322), press number 6 and follow the prompts to leave your full contact information. Or fax your information to 202-418-2839, or send an email to

For more information, contact Shana Barehand, FCC senior attorney and liaison to tribal governments, at 202-418-0385 or More information can also be seen at the FCC's Tribal Initiatives website at

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Soboba and Riverside Sheriff Officials Agree to Communicate

Weeks after deadly gun battles between Riverside County sheriff's deputies and Soboba tribal members, leaders from the two sides shook hands Monday over an agreement they say will help them communicate and cooperate more effectively.

Relations between the 900-member tribe and the department have been strained since three deadly shootings and a series of police pursuits that ended with gunfire on the reservation east of San Jacinto.

Tribal leaders and sheriff's officials began negotiating shortly after shootings, meeting behind closed doors almost every week. The five-page cooperation agreement signed in front of reporters and a handful of tribal members was lauded by Salgado as "a start of better communication." Read more about it here.

Judge Vacates NIGC Decision Allowing Buffalo Casino

A federal judge yesterday ruled against the Seneca Nation's Buffalo Creek Casino, saying that casino gambling cannot legally take place on the nine-acre site in Buffalo, NY.

According to the Buffalo News, U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny, in a 127-page decision, vacated the earlier decision by the commissioner of the National Indian Gaming Commission to allow gambling.

It was not immediately clear whether Skretny's ruling will halt construction on the $333 million permanent casino, but it is clear that the temporary casino no longer has the legal right to operate.

Government and NGS Sign Geotourism Agreement

Five U.S. governmental agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the National Geographic Society have signed an agreement promoting geotourism. The agreement was signed Tuesday in Washington, DC, with the goal of preserving and enhancing the natural and cultural heritage of the nation’s public lands and waters.

Geotourism refers to tourism that helps sustain or enhance the geographical character of a place -- its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and well-being of its residents. Read more about it here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs’ Project Sunrise Set to Open Next Week

Project Sunrise, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs’ $208 million Phase II casino and entertainment complex, is scheduled to open to the public following a grand opening ceremony on July 17.
The grand opening date is pending approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board following a test night scheduled for July 15.

Groundbreaking for the 300,000 square-foot complex, owned and operated by the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and the state’s first casino, occurred in May 2007. The announced opening date is two weeks ahead of schedule.

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs President and CEO Robert J. Soper said, “Project Sunrise has been designed to celebrate the people, history and natural resources of northeastern Pennsylvania."

The new Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs will feature 2,500 slot machines and electronic virtual table games. It also will offer nationally recognized restaurants, including Ruth's Chris Steak House and the Rustic Kitchen Bistro and Bar, and 7,000 square feet of retail space, with shops such as Brookstone, Marshall Rousso and Misura.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Ft. Peck Tribes Ask Congress to Investigate IHS

After declaring a health care emergency, the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board has asked Congress to investigate the delivery of medical care by the Indian Health Service on the Montana reservation, The Associated Press reported this morning.

"The crisis we're talking about has been building for years due to a lack of funding and a lack of true leadership in the IHS," tribal Medical Director James Melbourne was quoted as saying in the AP report.

The tribes have spent $16,000 to $20,000 on kidney dialysis machines. Last week, Melbourne had to find $2,000 to buy a coloscope, needed to examine sexually abused children. Other equipment is still needed, including ultrasound machines. But Melbourne said IHS will not pay for any of the equipment because it is not a priority.

In addition to the equipment, the tribes’ health department has staff shortages and lacks vital services, such as addiction counseling and nutrition services.

At its Jan. 28 meeting, the Tribal Executive Board voted for a comprehensive review of the IHS, as it relates to the reservation, and to start gathering evidence to take over portions of it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Dorgan Honored for Extending Special Diabetes Program

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, the American Diabetes Association and the National Indian Health Board have honored Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., with the 2008 Congressional Leadership Award for his efforts in extending the Special Diabetes Program (SDP) in Congress.

The SDP has two programs: the Special Statutory Funding Program for Type 1 Diabetes Research, which funds Type 1 Diabetes research through the National Institutes of Health, and the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI), which funds prevention, treatment and education programs for Native Americans with Type 2 Diabetes through the Indian Health Service.

More than 60,000 people have been involved in clinical research supported by the Special Statutory Funding Program for Type 1 Diabetes Research program, and the SDPI has funded 66 prevention demonstration projects and over 300 tribal community-directed programs.

Dorgan has authored legislation to extend the SDP for an additional five years, and the bill currently has 48 co-sponsors in the Senate. As chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, he has also worked to raise awareness about the significant progress that has been made in tribal communities struggling with diabetes.

"I am deeply honored by this award from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and the other organizations represented here today, and I plan to keep pushing for policies that will support innovative ways to deal with this disease," Dorgan said in a press statement. "Diabetes is a serious problem that hits our American Indian communities particularly hard. It's important that we find ways to educate the public about how to prevent diabetes and how to treat it effectively once they have been diagnosed."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Adam Walsh Sex Offender Guidelines Finalized

The Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, has announced final guidelines for Title I of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). The guidelines provide necessary tools for states and tribes to incorporate SORNA minimum requirements into their sex offender registration and notification programs.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Sedgwick of the OJP said, “These guidelines will provide valuable implementation strategies to enhance their abilities to respond to crimes against children and adults and prevent sex offenders who have been released back into the community from victimizing others.”

The DOJ published the proposed guidelines for SORNA in the Federal Register on May 30, 2007, which were available for public comment until Aug. 1, 2007. More than 275 comments were received from criminal justice professionals, sex offender registration officials, state and local governments, tribal communities, Congress and the general public.

The final guidelines provide general principles for jurisdictions implementing SORNA and clarification on several topics, such as the treatment of juveniles, retroactivity, tribal issues, information subject to Web site posting and duration of registration.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Court Says State Cannot Intrude on Quinalt Jurisdiction

In a case involving Public Law 280, a Washington state appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling that the state cannot intrude on the Quinault Tribe's criminal jurisdiction on tribal land, reports Indian Country Today. The Washington Court of Appeals Division II panel opinion was issued June 3.

The case involves William Peter Pink, an enrolled tribal member who was arrested by Grays Harbor County sheriff's deputies in December 2006 for unlawful possession of a firearm during a search of a vehicle. At the time of his arrest, Pink was a passenger in a car that was stopped for a minor traffic violation - having a defective muffler and a cracked windshield - on a public road within the boundaries of the Quinault reservation. Read more about it here.