Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Green Bay Urban Indian Clinic Loses IHS Contract

The Indian Health Service will not be renewing its annual contract with the Native American Services Center in Green Bay, Wis., which means the center will have to shut down its urban Native American health program, according to an article published this morning by the Green Bay Press Gazette.

Only a year in operation, the contract provided the center’s clinic with a one-year grant of $276,000 with the option to renew. Mid-month in September, the center received a letter from the IHS Bemidji Area office saying, "The agency has simply exercised its option not to renew the contract," the Press Gazette reported.

About 3,555 Native Americans who live off reservations are eligible for health services that the center provides, including substance abuse counseling and diabetes testing. The center serves between 166 and 523 people per month, according to the Press Gazette.

Monday, September 29, 2008

State Supreme Court Rules Coushatta Can Be Sued in State Court

The Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled that the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana waived its sovereign immunity and can be sued in state court rather than tribal court. The state’s high court, overturning an appellate court’s decision, ruled that the exhaustion doctrine does not apply when bringing suit against a tribe in state court. The court ruled that an agreement signed by the tribe contained an explicit waiver of sovereign immunity and that issue of whether immunity was waived rightfully belongs in state court.

Federal District Court Rules Fair Labor Standards Act Applies to Tribal Casino

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington has ruled that the Spokane Tribe of Indians must comply with a subpoena issued by the U.S. Department of Labor. The subpoena requires the casino to provide information regarding payroll records in order for the DOL to conduct an investigation regarding a complaint by an employee.

In its opinion, the court separates tribal business activities from tribal government activities and finds that, although the law might not apply to tribal government operations, it does apply to business activities.

Bill Reauthorizing NAHASDA Sent to President

Looks like federal lawmakers did not spend the entire weekend working on the $700 billion bailout proposal. As announced this morning by the National American Indian Housing Council, it found the time to complete work on H.R. 2786, a bill reauthorizing the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, and it is now on its way to the president.

H.R. 2786, introduced by Congressmen Dale Kildee, D-Mich., last year, authorizes $2.2 billion in federal dollars for tribal housing from FY 2008 to FY 2012. The bill contains several new provisions, including language to ensure the continued provision of NAHASDA programs/services to the Cherokee Freedmen.

"Dilapidated and over-crowded houses lead to weak performance in school, poor heath, and contribute to a hopelessness that few Americans witness as part of their daily lives. By reauthorizing NAHASDA, Congress has demonstrated incredible dedication to improve the dire housing conditions that Native Americans face," said Marty Shuravloff, NAIHC Chairman.

Drugs and Alcohol Cut Seminole Lives Short

Despite the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s economic success — its annual revenues from gaming operations and other enterprises is around $1.4 billion — alcohol and drug abuse plague its young people, according to an article published by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Sept. 28.

With the year not even over, 17 Seminole tribal members have died in 2008, and alcohol or drug use is linked to 11 of these deaths, whether it be car crashes or suicide, the Sun-Sentinel reported. The 27-year-old daughter of Tribal Councilman David Cypress, who died in a car crash last spring, is among the fatalities.

Each of the tribe’s 3,300 members receive about $120,000 a year, free education and a guaranteed job, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Over the last 10 years, the life expectancy of Seminole people has dropped from 59.7 years to 48.5 years, according to the paper, citing the state's Bureau of Vital Statistics as the source of these statistics. The average life expectancy for all Floridians is 73. Is the low rate related to substance abuse?

Although the tribe did not officially comment on the death rate of its members, a few members were interviewed and had insight to share on the substance abuse issue, including Jarrid Smith, 23, who said, “I'm not sure the tribe is doing enough to address the problem."

Friday, September 26, 2008

NCAI Program Brings Wall Street to Tribal Schools

Now may not be the best time to invest in the stock market, but it is an ideal time to learn about it. That’s what some Native American students are doing through the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Tribal Exchange program.

The pilot program, a vessel of the Stock Market Game (SMG), is only available to tribal schools and Native American organizations. It teaches students the basics of critical thinking, decision making, cooperation and communication through stock market investment.

A handful of tribal schools, federal agencies and national organizations are participating in the program. They are divided up into teams, with each team given a hypothetical $100,000 to invest as it chooses.

The program ends on Oct. 10. The top three teams will receive awards at NCAI's 65th Annual Conference and Tradeshow in Phoenix, which runs Oct. 19-24.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tribal Water Systems Lack EPA Oversight, Report Finds

Although tribal drinking water supplies are meeting regulatory requirements, some internal control deficiencies exist in administering U.S. Environmental Protection Agency oversight of tribal community water systems (CWSs), according to “EPA Assisting Tribal Water Systems but Needs to Improve Oversight,” an evaluation report issued by the agency last week.

The report found that internal control deficiencies exist in administering EPA oversight of tribal CWSs in two of the five EPA regions. Tribal drinking water records in four of the five regions were incomplete due to failure to maintain oversight of system operations and/or poor records management.

The EPA made several recommendations in the report, including establishing national and regional tribal drinking water program standard operating procedures and directing regions to issue monitoring and reporting violations and take appropriate enforcement actions against tribal CWSs with health-based violations or that fail to monitor or submit monitoring reports.

Senate Passes Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act

The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (H.R. 6893) — legislation that would authorize tribal governments to operate programs under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act for children under their jurisdiction — cleared the Senate on Monday by unanimous consent.

H.R. 6893, introduced on Sept. 15, includes many other significant changes to Title IV of the SSA, including a provision for payments to grandparents and other relatives who have assumed legal guardianship of children they are caring for and extending federal support for youth in foster care to age 21.

The bill was passed by the House on Sept. 17. The legislation may now go to a conference committee of senators and representatives to work out differences in its two versions, according to Gov Track. It will then be sent to the president for signing.

Following the House's vote, National Indian Child Welfare Association Executive Director Terry Cross said, "American Indian children have been waiting a long time for the same protections and support afforded to other children in foster care.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tribal Colleges to Improve Campuses with USDA Grants

On Sept. 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that 17 tribal colleges in eight states were awarded $4 million through its Rural Development Tribal College Grant program, created to help the colleges buy equipment, build or renovate classrooms, make repairs and finance infrastructure improvements.

Stone Child College in Box Elder, Mont., for example, received a $272,350 grant to repair infrastructure and build a greenhouse and mobile computer lab. Tohono O'odham Community College in Sells, Ariz., was awarded $272,350 to repair classrooms and other college buildings. The Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College in Michigan received $137,000 to pave parking lots, demolish and remove old dorms, do site preparation, install a new drain field at the main campus and buy two 16- passenger accessible buses and a new seven-passenger van. Oglala Lakota College in Kyle, S.D., received $272,350 to build a Head Start program building at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation.

"Education is one of the most effective economic development tools we can put into the hands of our tribal communities as they build their economic, business and social opportunities," Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Wisconsin May Revive Native Language Initiative

Wisconsin State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster has proposed reviving a state-funded program that supports Native American language instruction, the Wisconsin State Journal reported on Sept. 21.

In the 2009-2011 Education Agenda submitted last week to Governor Jim Doyle, Burmaster requested $250,000 for the Tribal Language Revitalization and American Indian Academic Achievement Initiative, which would allow tribes, in partnership with a school district, Cooperative Education Service Agency (CESA) or university, to apply for funding that could be used for instruction materials and/or to hire staff. The superintendent also requested $10,000 for FY 2010 and FY 2011 for Department-sponsored activities related to instructional leadership in tribal languages.

In a series published in June, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that only about one-half of 1 percent of the state’s tribal members can speak their native languages. And of the state's 426 school districts, only 10 offer classes in a tribal language, and only one is an immersion class. There are five endangered languages in the state.

The former state-funded tribal language initiative, which ended in 2003, supported efforts for more than two decades.

Reminder from IRS for Casinos and Card Clubs

The Internal Revenue Service wants you to know that effective September 1, 2008, casinos and card clubs are required to file Currency Transaction Reports using a revised form. FinCEN announced in April that it was revisingFinCEN Form 103, the Currency Transaction Report for Casinos and Card Clubs (CTR-C). This revision incorporates regulatory changes and accommodates database-programming requirements.

Additionally, FinCEN has issued revised specifications for casinos and card clubs who wish to electronically file (E-File) the revised form.

Questions regarding the revised form may be directed to the FinCEN Regulatory Helpline at 1-800-949-2732. Casinos and card clubs with questions regarding E-Filing of the new form should call the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) E-Filing Helpline at 1-888-827-2778.

Rosebud Grapples with Suicide Epidemic

Yesterday the Argus Leader reported on the epidemic of suicides on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Since 2005, at least 28 tribal members - most of them teens and 20-somethings - have killed themselves by various means. In 2007 alone, the reservation's suicide rate was 141 per 100,000 people - and 201 per 100,000 for males ages 15 to 24. Some experts say that is the suicide rate in the world. That compares to a national rate in America of 11 or 12 per 100,000.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Kempthorne Testifies on Mineral Management Service Scandal

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne told the House Natural Resources Committee Thursday that he might fire employees in the Mineral Management Service for unethical behavior. Kempthorne was summoned to testify on a series of scathing inspector general reports that detailed a culture of ethical failure” within the agency that is charged with collecting oil and gas royalties for, among others, Indian tribes.

The reports released last week cites some MMS employees for “a callous disregard for the ethical rules by which the rest of us are required to play.” The OIG investigation found that some MMS officials ignored government procurement regulations and that some employees were accepting gifts from and having sexual relationships with oil and gas company employees.

Kempthorne said Interior would follow all the recommendations from the inspector general, including enhanced oversight of the agency and a stronger ethics program. He said he would be considering the full spectrum of disciplinary action, including termination. Go to the New York Times for more.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tribes Fight for Water Rights

There are about a half-dozen water settlements at various stages on Capitol Hill this year. With only about 25 ratified over the last two or so decades, many will conclude with congressional action. Some, though, will end in court. No matter how tribes fight for their water rights, they can count on a long battle and investing a lot of resources. In fact, for any tribe that has not yet pursued its reserved water rights, the fight could get tougher. As the nation’s population grows, the demand for water will increase. Water supplies in some regions, such as the West and Southwest, are drying up from droughts caused by climate change. Read more about the struggle for water rights in this month’s issue of American Indian Report.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Senate to Hold Hearing on Federal Recognition for Virginia Tribes

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will hold a hearing September 25 on legislation to recognize six Virginia Indian tribes. The House of Representatives has already approved the bill.

The bill, H.R. 1294, would qualify six of Virginia’s tribes for federal recognition and allow tribal members to receive services through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service. The tribes are the Chickahominy Tribe, the Chickahominy Indian Tribe-Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, the Monacan Indian Nation and the Nansemond Indian Tribe. Read more about it here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Banishment Case in Federal Court

Nine people banished from the Snoqualmie Tribe are awaiting a decision by U.S. District Court Judge James L. Roberts on whether the tribe violated their civil rights when it ousted them this past April. The ousted members charge that their banishment is an effort by some within the tribe to control the distribution of per cap payments. The tribes new casino is scheduled to open in about two months. The tribe alleges that the nine were involved in forming a shadow government. Roberts agreed to hear the case even though the tribe argued that it was an internal tribal matter and subject to federal jurisdiction. Read more here.

Eleven Indicted in Casino Cheat Scam

Eleven people believed to part of an organized crime ring of casino cheats were indicted by a federal grand jury in San Diego on conspiracy and racketeering charges. The indictment, announced Friday, accuses the gang of targeting dozens of casinos across the United States, including five Indian casinos. The indictment was reported in the San Diego Union Tribune.

According to the indictment, the defendants and others executed a "false shuffle" cheating scheme at some of the listed casinos during blackjack and mini-baccarat games. The indictment alleges that the suspects bribed casino card dealers and supervisors to perform false shuffles during card games, thereby creating "slugs" of un-shuffled cards. After tracking the order of cards dealt in a card game, a member of the organization would signal to the card dealer to perform a "false shuffle," and then members of the group would bet on the known order of cards when the slug appeared on the table, the indictment said. By doing so, the indictment alleges that members of the conspiracy repeatedly won thousands of dollars during card games. More details on the scheme are available here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Washington Supreme Court to Review Tribal Sovereignty Case

Without comment, the Washington State Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from Division Two of the Washington Court of Appeals regarding a tort suit against the Puyallup tribe. At issue is whether the Puyallup tribe waived its sovereign immunity when it agreed to cooperate with the state to collect sales tax on liquor sales at its casino, thereby exposing itself to tort claims arising from the sale of that liquor. The case revolves around the injuries suffered by a driver on the Puyallup reservation. The driver was struck by another car, driven by someone who was intoxicated and who had been drinking at the Puyallup casino. The trial court granted the tribe’s motion to dismiss the case on the ground that the Indian tribe was entitled to sovereign immunity. Now the state Supreme Court seems to want to open the case up again and make a ruling of its own and that can’t be good for the tribe. The original case that forms the basis for the appeal is Foxworthy v. Puyallup Tribe, 141 Wn. App. 221.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Former Paiute President Charged with Stealing from Tribe

It was reported in the Arizona Republic that the former president of the San Juan Southern Paiutes was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on 65 counts of theft, money laundering and false statements. The information came from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Southern Arizona. Evelyn James, 53, of Tuba City, has been under investigation by the FBI for 15 months. Between 2003 and 2005, the indictment says, San Juan Southern Paiutes received more than $2.6 million in federal grants for law enforcement, health care and other programs. According to the indictment, James began writing checks on tribal accounts, embezzling about $300,000 in 2005 alone. The indictment says nearly $225,000 earmarked for police salaries vanished in 2004, and officers were never hired. The story goes on to describe a tribe in chaos -- disputed elections, corruption and embezzlement. James served three terms as tribal president. During her reign, opponents said, tribal members were not allowed to see budgets, expense records or other financial documents.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

HUD Awards $5 Million to Tribal Colleges

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Steve Preston today awarded $5 million to seven Native American colleges and universities to expand, renovate, and equip their own facilities, to improve student housing, and to support construction of new facilities. The funding announced today is provided through HUD's Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP).

Most of these institutions serve remote areas and a growing number of local residents depend heavily on the education, counseling, health, and employment services they offer. "These institutions of higher learning are critical to the health and vitality of their communities," said Preston. "HUD and these tribal colleges and universities are working hand-in-hand to improve their facilities so they can continue to be a vital resource for their students, faculty and the communities they serve."

Monday, September 8, 2008

Tribe Gives BIA Peace Plan for Pine Ridge

The Oglala Sioux tribe has presented the Bureau of Indian Affairs with a three-part plan for maintaining peace on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the Associated Press reports.

The tribal police force has been short staffed Since August 12, when nearly 30 police officers resigned or were relieved of duty after a scuffle that broke out between some members of the tribe's executive board and police at a council meeting. In the wake of those staffing shortages, the BIA sent 25 officers from throughout the country to supplement the remaining tribal police force and added another 10 officers this week.

Pat Ragsdale, director of the BIA's Office of Justice Services, said he will review the proposal and continue to work with the tribe.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Excessive Alcohol Consumption is Leading Cause of Preventable Death in Indian Country

Excessive alcohol consumption is the leading cause of preventable deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives, according to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and the Indian Health Service. The report, the first of its kind, says that alcohol-related deaths account for 11.7 percent of all deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives – nearly twice that of the general population.
“These findings underscore the importance of implementing effective population-based interventions to prevent excessive alcohol consumption and to reduce alcohol-attributable morbidity and mortality among AI/ANs,” researchers concluded.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

BIA hopes more police and community policing will ease crime on reservations

A surge of police officers and a concept known as community policing is having results on the Standing Rock reservation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs is hoping the same approach will work in other areas, according to the Associated Press. Pat Ragsdale, executive director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said he thinks the same approach will help on the Pine Ridge reservation.