Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Clean Water Act’s Waiver of Sovereign Immunity

In an apparent whistle-blower action, the former head of public works for the Viejas Indian Tribe is asking for $3 million in damages and his old job back, because, he says, he was fired after complaining that a tribal elder's cattle were polluting a creek that drains into the Loveland Reservoir. The courts have ruled that under the provisions of the Clean Water Act, tribes cannot get the suit dismissed by claiming sovereign immunity.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Jamal Kanj, 50, was fired in 2005, but tribal officials say it was because of his poor work. Lawyers for the tribe tried to get the case thrown out, claiming sovereign immunity, but the Department of Labor has held -- and the courts have affirmed -- that Congress abrogated tribal immunity with regard to the whistle-blower sanctions of the Clean Water Act. In Osage Tribal Council v. Department of Labor, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that since Congress included tribal governments within the definition of municipalities, they were subject to the whistle-blower provisions of the act just as municipalities are.

CDC Releases Comprehensive Report on Cancer Incidence in AI/AN

Overall, incidence rates for most cancers among American Indians/Alaska Natives are lower than those for whites, but they are higher in certain cancers, such as stomach, liver, kidney, gallbladder, nasopharynx and cervical cancers, according to a report just released by the Centers for Disease Control.

The report, the most comprehensive look at cancer incidence in Native Americans, also found that cancer rates vary greatly depending on what region of the country Natives live in. For instance, lung cancer rates are at their highest among those living in the Northern Plains and Alaska, while the lowest rates are in the Southwest. Rates for colorectal cancer are at their highest in the Northern Plains and Alaska. Breast cancer rates among Native women vary significantly, the report said, with the highest in Alaska and the Northern and Southern Plains and the lowest in the Southwest.

The report, titled “Cancer Incidence in American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) Populations,” will be published as a supplement issue to the journal Cancer, Sept. 1, 2008. The full report can be downloaded at

CBCA Rules on Indirect Cost Disputes

The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals in July ruled on claims submitted by tribal governments or Alaska Native villages with awards under the Indian Self Determination Act. A number of these claims were dismissed because the statute of limitations had run out, but in the claims that were not dismissed, the main issue focused on t he payment of contract support from the Indian Health Service. The board ruled that the IHS must demonstrate that it has actually paid the full amount of ISD contract support dollars allocated to it by Congress for the years in questions. If the IHS cannot document that it has paid the full allocation, then the tribes will have a claim against the agency.

NBC Will Drop Challenge to Council Expenses, for Now

The National Business Center will not challenge the inclusion of expenses related to the tribal council as part of indirect cost negotiations. Previously the NBC had said it would only agree to those council expenses that can be documented and that are allowable in OMB Circular A-87 (see section 19), which meant it would not allow council stipends and salaries. However, according to an August 26 letter from James Cason, of the Department of Interior, Interior will defer implementation of that provision until 2010. In the meantime, Interior will be consulting with tribal governments on the provision and will be consulting with legal experts on the applicability of OMB Circular A-87 to tribal governments.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

NCAI Data Shows Native Americans Could Decide Election

The National Congress of American Indians national Native Vote campaign released data this week that confirms that Native American voters could influence the outcomes of the presidential and congressional elections in key states.

In Alaska, for instance, where there are 226 tribes, the Native voting age population is 81,762, or 19 percent of the total population. In Montana, home to seven tribes, the Native voting age population is 46,669, or 6 percent of the total population. In New Mexico, home to 22 tribes, Native voters number 140,401, or 11 percent of the total population.

"While political analysts have been focusing on the Hispanic vote in Florida, Arizona and New Mexico, the Native Vote continues to be overlooked as a secret weapon in this election," NCAI President Joe A. Garcia said in a press release.

The NCAI Native Vote initiative is mobilizing voters in 20 states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Historic Native Charter School Closed for Financial Mismanagement

A school founded 30 years ago to provide a nurturing atmosphere for Native American children is on the verge of collapse because financial oversight is so lacking there the state of Minnesota and the Minneapolis school district have withdrawn support for the school. Without the sponsorship of the school district, the school cannot stay open. The school board's decision to sever ties with Oh Day Aki/Heart of the Earth beginning Sept. 9 comes after a recent state-mandated audit revealed more than $160,000 missing, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The executive director is under investigation. Another story in the Star Tribune, detailed the director’s lavish lifestyle and the fact that his resume included false information about his background and education. About 220 students attended the school.

Here's a question. Doesn’t the school board have to bear some of the blame for this? According to the Star Tribune, the director was writing checks to himself, in contradiction of school policy, which he somehow managed to thwart. And where was the due diligence when he was hired. If the newspaper could find out he’d lied on his resume, why didn’t the school board?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Coquille First Tribe in the Country to Recognize Same-Sex Marriage

Kitzen Branting, 25, a member of the Coquille Indian Tribe on the southern Oregon coast, will wed her long-time companion, Jeni Brantings, next spring in what may be the first tribally sanctioned same-sex marriage in the country. In May, the Coquille adopted a law that recognizes same-sex marriage and extends to gay and lesbian partners, at least one of whom must be a Coquille, all tribal benefits of marriage. The tribe’s law runs afoul of Oregon state law and federal law, neither of which recognizes same-sex marriage. Read more about it here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dorgan Objects to BIA's Police Shuffle

Last week the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent 25 additional police officers to the troubled Pine Ridge Reservation to supplement the police force there. The problem is, according to North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, the agency took six of those officers from the Standing Rock Reservation in his state.

“The Standing Rock Reservation had a crime rate that was more than five times the national average," Dorgan told the Bismarck Tribune. "The additional police officers moved there by the BIA have substantially reduced the crime rate. This is not the time to reduce the number of police officers."

The BIA should use the $23.7 million appropriated last year by Congress for the Safe Indian Communities Initiative to put more officers in American Indian communities with high crime rates, Dorgan said.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Report Cites Indian Gaming Revenue

California and Connecticut generated 39 percent of the total gaming revenue nationwide from Indian casinos, according to a report released this week by Casino City Press. The report, authored by Dr. Alan Meister, an economist with Analysis Group, Inc, provides calendar year 2007 nationwide statistics and state-by-state statistics. Gaming revenue in 2007 grew by approximately 5 percent in 2007, down from 10 percent the previous year, a slowdown the author attributed to economic conditions. Read more about it here.

Court to Decide if Racial Slurs Warrant Dismissal

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals will decide whether an assault case should have been dismissed because jurors made racially inflammatory comments about the defendant, who is a member of Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and resident of the Ute White Mesa Reservation. The man was found guilty last year of assaulting a Bureau of Indian Affairs officer.
On appeal a federal judge dismissed the case because, he said, statements made by two jurors during the deliberation phase of the case indicated they had "failed to honestly answer a material question during 'voir dire."

During deliberations, a juror stated in an affidavit, the jury foreman said "that he used to live on, or maybe he lived by an Indian reservation. He then stated 'when Indians get alcohol, they all get drunk' and then added when they do get drunk, they get wild or violent or something to that effect." In another statement given to a defense investigator, a juror said that "at least two other jurors agreed with the foreman about Indians and drinking." Read more about it here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Supai Village Evacuated by Helicopter

Rescue workers worked through Sunday night to evacuate members of the Havasupai tribe living in the village of Supai, which was cutoff by flooding caused by a breached damn near the Grand Canyon. Read more about it here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Court Rules P.L. 280 Does Not Extend to Civil Laws in Minnesota

Here’s another case that points to the complexities of Public Law 280, which gives certain states criminal jurisdiction on tribal land. The state of Minnesota charged an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa tribe with DUI and refusing to submit a chemical test, which triggered an automatic seizure of his vehicle. The offense took place on the White Earth Reservation. The Court of Appeals for Minnesota ruled that although the state had jurisdiction over the crime of DUI and refusing to submit to a chemical test, the law that allowed for the vehicle seizure was civil and therefore the state did not have jurisdiction. The case is Morgan v. 2000 Volkswagen, Court of Appeals of Minnesota.

Feds Ignoring NAGPRA

The federal government neither assures compliance with or enforcement of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, according to a study released yesterday. In fact, the study says, in some cases federal agencies have withheld or changed information about objects or human remains in their possession. The study was conducted by the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers and is available at its website.

Moody's: Tribal Casinos Down But Not Out

A combination of competition and a drooping economy could spell trouble for Indian casinos, according to a recent economic report. Moody's Investor Services released a report Wednesday that says American Indian casinos are impacted by the nation's economic downturn, but most have a strong financial profiles that will see them through. Read more about it here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pine Ridge Police Officers Resign Following Council Meeting Brawl

At Tuesday’s meeting between Pine Ridge police and the tribal council, officers stood up one by one and told the council of the many ills that plague their department – overworked, understaffed, lack of training, lack of funding. But some on the council were having none of it. One council member told the police their testimony was hearsay and that they were just looking to lynch someone. According to a Black Hills Fox News reporter who was there, as police officers started to walk out, a fight broke out in the back of the room and when all was said and done, 30 police officers – more than half the force – resigned, leaving fewer than 20 police officers to patrol the vast reservation with its well-publicized crime problem. Tuesday afternoon the FBI sent agents to the reservation to patrol, according to the Rapid City Journal. The tribal council is meeting today to address the issue.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bush Administration Proposes Changes in Endangered Species Act

A proposed overhaul of the Endangered Species Act would eliminate the need for independent scientific review of how proposed federal projects might impact endangered animals and plants, The Washington Post reports. According to the regulatory change proposed by the Bush Administration, federal agencies would be able to determine on their own whether their construction projects would harm endangered species. The new rules will be subject to a 30-day comment period.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Congress Should Allow Tribal Courts More Jurisdiction, Professor Says

Writing on the Op/Ed page of the New York Times Sunday, Bruce Duthu, a Dartmouth professor of Native American Studies, has called for Congress to clearly establish the authority of Indian tribes to investigate and prosecute all crimes occurring on Indian lands — no matter whether tribal members or nonmembers are involved. Citing the sexual assaults against women that are not prosecuted, Duthu suggested that tribal courts be given jurisdiction of over non-members and non-Indians.

Monday, August 11, 2008

BIA Closes Pine Ridge Jail

The Bureau of Indian Affairs closed down the jail at Pine Ridge Thursday, saying it was unsafe for inmates and staff, the Associated Press reports. Prisoners were transferred to a newer facility operated by the tribe. Tribal officials said they received little notice that the BIA planned to close the jail. Last Thursday, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., released a draft study on the state of BIA jails. “The report confirms what so many in Indian Country have known all along—the tribal justice system is unbelievably broken,” Dorgan said in a statement announcing the release of the report.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Per Caps Enough, Court Says. Mom Doesn't Need Child Support from Dad

A mother seeking child support from her children’s father was denied because, a Florida appeals court determined, the children’s needs were more than adequately covered by per caps from the Seminole Tribe. As members of the Seminole Tribe, the mother and the father each received $10,500 a month. Each of their four children received $2,625 a month and an additional $7,600, which was deposited in a trust account that would be paid to each child when he or she turned 18. The court affirmed a lower court ruling that under Florida law, it could depart from the presumption of parental support for the children because other sources of income made it unnecessary. The case is Cypress v. Jumper, Court of Appeal of Florida, Fourth District.

Feds May be Sued for Actions of Tribal Employees Paid by Federal Grants, Court Says

A tribal employee paid under a federal grant may be considered a federal employee under the Federal Tort Claims Act, according to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota. In Fire Cloud & Wilson v. U.S., the court found that since the tribal employee, whose actions formed the basis for the suit, was paid through funds from a federal program and was closely supervised by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he was under the agency’s control and could be considered an employee for the purposes of an FTCA lawsuit.

Crow Tribe Strikes $7 Billion Coal Deal

The Crow Tribe has partnered with an Australian company to build a $7 billion industrial plant that would convert coal into diesel fuel on the Montana reservation, the Associated Press reported yesterday. Read more about it here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

N.Y. Tribe Wants Its Own Broadband Network

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in New York is considering developing its own broadband network, the Press Republican reported today. The $25 million network, which could be financed through a low-interest, long-term Rural Utilities Service loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, would save the community $300,000 a year, which is what its members and businesses pay to outside providers, and create 30 to 40 reservation-based jobs. "We'd like every home and business in the community to have access to a fiber-optic system," Chief Monica Jacobs told the Press Republican. Eight other tribes have similar plans in the works.

Children Found Dead in Trunk in Salt River Community

Two children, ages 4 and 6, were found dead by their mother in the locked trunk of a car on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, which is located east of Scottsdale, Ariz., according to an Associated Press piece published on Aug. 6. Salt River Spokeswoman Janet Johnson said the mother found the children on Saturday evening, but she did not confirm the name of the mother or details about the children because the case is under investigation. Autopsy results are pending. During the summer months, daytime average high temperatures in the community range above the 100-degree mark.

Tribal Reps to Meet to Form Water Working Group

On Aug. 13 and 14, leaders and representatives from tribes around the country will meet in Billings, Mont., to discuss forming an “Indian Water Working Group.” The meeting, sponsored by the Indian Land Working Group, will provide a forum for tribes to discuss critical issues, including major issues surrounding federal Indian reserved water rights, tribal water code development and allottee water rights. For more information, email Wes Martel or Theresa Carmody. The meeting agenda and other details can be found at the ILWG’s Web site.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Museum Honors Native Americans in Baseball

A half century before Jackie Robinson officially integrated Major League baseball in 1947, Louis Sockalexis of the Penobscot Nation quietly slipped onto the roster of the Cleveland Spiders. Though his presence in the major leagues did not receive the same attention as that of Robinson’s celebrated stint with the Brooklyn Dodgers, it may be said that Sockalexis and many other Native Americans who have played in the major leagues since the turn of the 20th Century, were trailblazers for Robinson and other African-Americans to break through later on. Their story is the centerpiece of an exhibit at the Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave, N.Y. Read more about it here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Regents, Tribes Want Haskell President Out

The Board of Regents at Haskell Indian Nations University are seeking the dismissal of Linda Warner who has served just one year as university president. In a letter to the Bureau of Indian Education, the 15-member board cited irregularities in accounting, procurement and hiring practices at Haskell under Warner’s supervision. The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and the Kickapoo Tribe have passed resolutions in support of the board’s letter. Read more about it here.

Monday, August 4, 2008

FinCEN Updates Suspicious Activities Guidance

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, FinCEN, Friday issued updated guidelines intended to help casinos and card clubs recognize suspicious activities, including money laundering, terrorist financing and other related financial crimes. The guideline contain examples of “red flags” based on actual reports.

NIGC to Visit Soboba

Inspectors from the National Indian Gaming Commission will visit the Soboba Casino this week and talk with tribal officials, according to the Associated Press. Ongoing tensions between the tribe and the Riverside, Calif., Sheriff’s Department last week prompted Sheriff Stanley Sniff to ask the NIGC to close the casino. Read about it here .

Friday, August 1, 2008

Sault Ste. Marie to Lay Off Tribal and Casino Workers

The Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians and Kewadin Casinos will reduce its workforce by 2 percent this month. The move will affect all Tribal and casino facilities in the Upper Peninsula.
"Unfortunately, over the years, millions in tribal reserves has been dwindled down to nothing. According to financial analysts, if changes are not made, the tribe will not recover," said Joe McCoy, Sault Ste. Marie tribal chairman in a press release.

The announcement was made to team members earlier this week.

"Although it appears to be a very dim situation right now, it is one that we will fix," said McCoy. "We are making adjustments, as hard as they are, so that we can maintain what we have and move the tribe forward."