Friday, November 28, 2008

First Native American Heritage Day Marked

Though few events were organized, because there was so little time to plan, today — and from here on every Friday after Thanksgiving — is Native American Heritage Day, a day to honor the contributions that Native American people have made to the country. The bill designating this day of recognition was signed into law by President Bush in mid-October.

"The Indians kept the pilgrims alive with turkeys and wild game. That's the reason it was attached to the Thanksgiving weekend," The Associated Press quoted Frank Suniga as saying. Suniga, of Mescalero Apache descent, helped spearhead the movement to establish this commemorative day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Three Tribal Housing Authorities Sue HUD

Three tribal housing authorities are suing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for illegally reducing the amount of annual block grant funding they are entitled to by law, The Seattle Times reported this week.

In separate lawsuits, the housing authorities of the Yakama Nation, Choctaw Nation and Grindstone Indian Rancheria of Wintun-Wailaki Indians allege that HUD reduced the amount of their block grant funding by improperly requiring that some of their housing units be eliminated from the grant formula.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Six Native Americans On Obama Transition Team

With less than two months to go before his inauguration and a heap of issues to tackle once he takes his place in the Oval Office, President-elect Barack Obama has wasted no time putting together his transition team. As reported last week by the Missoulian, the team currently includes six Native Americans.

John Echohawk, Keith Harper and Robert Anderson were appointed to the Interior Department Review Team. Echohawk is executive director of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), a non-profit organization that provides legal representation to tribes and Native American organizations and individuals. Harper is a former NARF attorney, as is Anderson.

The other three are Mary Smith, Mary McNeil and Yvette Robideaux, who were appointed to work on justice, agriculture and health issues.

To learn more about the Obama transition team, go to

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tribal Police Will be Able to Make Arrests on Federal Charges

By Monday more than 50 tribal police officers from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and Tohono O’odham Nation may have earned special law enforcement certificates that will allow them to enforce federal laws on Indian reservations, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

The officers are about to complete a three-day training program with the BIA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona. Pending the successful completion of an exam being given today, the officers will be able to make arrests on federal charges, including federal misdemeanors and felony violations. 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

NCAI Statement on Daschle Nomination to HHS

National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Joe A. Garcia released the following statement in response to news reports that President-Elect Barack Obama intends to select former Senator Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services.


"Given the severity of the health care crisis in Indian Country we are very encouraged to hear that President-Elect Barack Obama is likely to nominate someone like Sen. Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services, who has a strong background on tribal issues and understands the realities of the Indian health care system. His past experience and profound expertise on Indian issues will be a tremendous benefit to Indian Country. Sen. Daschle was a strong advocate for Native Americans as the Senate Majority Leader and has always advocated strongly for Native people as a representative from South Dakota. We look forward to working with him to bring the Indian Health Service into the 21st century and address the profound health disparities in tribal communities."  

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Daschle Tapped for HHS

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen former senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota as Secretary of Health and Human Services, which includes the Indian Health Service.

Daschle, who served on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for 18 years, has long been an advocate for Indian tribes and supported increased spending on health care for Native Americans when he was in the Senate. He advised Obama on Indian issues during the campaign and appeared on his behalf at rallies in Indian Country.

Read more in the Washington Post.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Court Upholds Sovereignty in Dram Shop Case

In a dram shop case against a tribal casino, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the plaintiff had established diversity jurisdiction over the case, but that the district court's dismissal of the case was proper on the grounds of sovereign immunity.

In Cook v. Avi Casino Enterprises, the plaintiff, Christopher Cook, a California resident, was seeking recovery for damages suffered when the motorcycle he was driving was hit by a drunk driver. The drunk driver, Andrea Christensen, was an employee of Avi Casino Enterprises, Inc. (ACE), which is incorporated by the Fort Mojave Tribe. Cook sued ACE and several of its employees alleging negligence and dram shop liability. 

ACE employees, including the on-duty manager, gave Christensen (who was off-duty) free drinks at a party even though she was already intoxicated. They let her board a casino-run shuttle bus that took her to her car so she could drive home. Minutes after driving away from the employee parking lot, Christensen drove into Cook, who was driving his motorcycle home from a visit with his mother-in-law. Cook suffered catastrophic injuries, including the loss of his left leg, resulting in more than $1 million in medical bills. Christensen pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and driving under the influence and was sentenced to four years in prison. 

On the subject of diversity jurisdiction, which required establishing the corporate citizenship of ACE, the 9th Circuit ruled that the District Court erred in applying traditional corporate citizenship analysis under 28 U.S.C. subsection 1332(a), which led it to rule that ACE was a citizen of Nevada because its principal place of busines, the casino, was located there; and that ACE was a citizen of California because it was incorporated by the tribe and the tribe's headquarters were there.

The 9th Circuit held that for diversity purposes, a tribal corporation formed under tribal law is not a citizen of a state merely because its incorporation occurred inside that state. ACE is governed by tribal, not state,  corporate law. From the state's perspective, the court said, a trbal corporation is much like a foreign corporation. Therefore, the court said, ACE is a citizen of the state where it has its principal place of business. 28 U.S.C. subsection 1332(c)(1). The principal place of business clause refers to location and does not require the actions or authority of the state government. The said ACE is a citizen of Nevada, which is the location of its principal place of business. 

The entire case is available on Turtle Talk.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Class II Regs More Costly Than Tribes Led to Believe

National Indian Gaming Commission Regulations on Class II bingo will cost tribal casinos millions of dollars more than a flawed economic study predicted, charges the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association. 

The regulations are meant to bring more clarity and integrity to electronic bingo games.

One of the new regulations deals with the physical and communications security of the Class II games and the control of the money and operational systems. A second, the Technical Standards, pertains to the certification of the equipment and ensures the systems operate properly and remain resistant to tampering. 

OIGA Chairman David Qualls charges that the regulations were imposed without congressional oversight. Rep. Tom Cole, of Oklahoma said he too was "deeply concerned about the NIGC's ongoing reliance on flawed and incomplete data to justify irresponsible and unnecessary regulations on Indian tribes.”   

Read more here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Baucus Plan Calls for Increased Funding for IHS

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus will announce his blueprint for health reform at noon today. Baucus describes the plan as his vision for both policy and the process in the upcoming health care reform debate. Noteworthy for Indian Country,  Baucus acknowledges that federal spending on health care for Native Americans is far short of what is needed. His plan would increase funding for IHS and encourage Native Americans to enroll in other programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP for those who are eligible to defray the costs borne by the IHS directly. Read the entire plan here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sisseton Family Sues Feds for Wrongful Death

The family of a Sisseton man who killed himself during his 2006 arrest is suing the federal government for wrongful death. 

A Bureau of Indian Affairs officer arrested 20-year-old Kenneth Block at his home in April 2006, according to the complaint. The police officer allowed Block, who was told he was being arrested on a felony warrant, to go back into his house on his own. 

Block shot and killed himself while the officer waited in his car, the complaint states. The family is seeking $2 million.

Read more about it here.

Fort Berthold Ready to Move on Health Care Facility

The Three Affiliated Tribes on the Fort Berthold Reservation are looking forward to breaking ground on a new health care facility next spring, according to tribal officials. The facility should be competed in 2010. 

In September, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had awarded a $1.48 million contract to launch the design phase to build the health-care facility on Fort Berthold. The contract went to HDR Architecture Inc. of Denver.

Read more here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Parents Sent Back to Tribal Court in Grandparents’ Visitation Case

A Washington mother who wants to prevent grandparent visitation on the Quinault reservation was sent back to tribal court after seeking an injunction in federal district court.

The U.S. District Court in Tacoma ruled that the woman and her husband, who is the child’s adopted father, must exhaust all their remedies in tribal court before seeking relief in federal district court.

The child’s natural father, Jordan Mail, was a member of the Quinault Nation. He and the mother, Shila Eaton, never married. Mail died in a car accident. Eaton married and her husband adopted the child. Jordan Mail’s parents, sought visitation rights in the Quinault Court. The tribal court ruled that the grandparents were allowed to take the child from his mother’s custody every Saturday, without restrictions, for an unspecified duration of time.

The Eatons appealed the decision in federal court. The case is Shila and Jake Eaton v. Michael and Francine Mail (Case No. C08-5538FDB).

Monday, November 10, 2008

Four In 10 Indian Country Jail Inmates Were Held For a Violent Offense

At midyear 2007, an estimated four in 10 inmates in Indian Country jails were confined for a violent offense, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced Friday. Domestic violence (20 percent) accounted for the largest group of violent offenders, followed by simple or aggravated assault (13 percent) and rape or sexual assault (2 percent). Six percent of Indian country jail inmates were being held for unspecified violent offenses. 

The percentage of Indian Country jail inmates held for drug offenses was unchanged from 2004 to 2007 (7 percent each year), and DWI/DUI offenses dropped from 14 percent in 2004 to 8 percent in 2007. 

Eighty-three jails in Indian Country held an estimated 2,163 inmates at midyear 2007, up from 1,745 inmates held in 68 facilities at midyear 2004. The jail population increased an estimated 24 percent since 2004 when the last BJS Survey of Jails in Indian Country was conducted. The survey collects information from correctional facilities operated by tribal authorities in Indian Country or by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of Interior. Read the more here. 

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Blue Ray Technologies plans expansion on Blackfeet land

Spokane, WA-based Blue Ray Technologies, the largest U.S. indie Blu-ray manufacturer, is planning to build a plant on Blackfeet Indian land in Montana, said representatives for the tribe and the company. 

The company plans to build plants on Indian land in the hopes of helping the Blackfeet Nation and soon other tribes to develop a technological source of income and educational skills.

“This is about ‘No American left behind,’” said DVD pioneer and Blue Ray Technologies founder Erick Hansen. “Schools, especially those on tribal lands, are just not preparing kids for the future. It’s not only the outsourcing to China and India in the new tech industries, it is more important. No American left behind. Period.”

Read more about it here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

PBS Documentary Focuses on Navajo Weavers

Zonnie Gillmore, a weaver from Chinle, Ariz., waits for the results of the bids at the Crownpoint rug auction.

Helen Bedonie weaves rugs full-time for her income, using brush and roots outside her home to dye the wool taken from her sheep herd on the Navajo Nation. 

Nicole Horseherder, a 35-year-old Navajo from Black Mesa, Ariz., who has a master’s degree in linguistics, chooses to raise her family on the reservation and continues to practice the art of weaving as taught by her grandmother rather than live in a crowded city. 

Gilbert Begay, a rare male weaver, looks forward to passing on the traditional Navajo art being threatened by capitalism and changing lifestyles. 

The three are among several artisans who share their stories of cultural continuity and pride in a new documentary, Weaving Worlds, presented by Trickster Films and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), in association with American Public Television (APT) and Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT).

Exploring sustainability through art, Weaving Worlds also reveals the often controversial relationship with Anglo traders and the challenges of maintaining aspects of a traditional lifestyle. The documentary is being released to public television stations across the nation starting in November for Native American Heritage Month. Check your local PBS station for air dates and times.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Three Cases of Fraud in Indian Country in the News Today

This morning’s e-mail news alerts contained a sad assortment of cases involving alleged fraud and unethical conduct by tribal government officials.

There was this: The Suquamish Tribe has hired an independent investigator to review the Tribal Council's credit card usage after allegations that one councilwoman had withdrawn more than $6,800 for non-government uses. Councilwoman Linda Holt remains on the board, though some elders have asked for her resignation. Holt is accused of taking out unauthorized cash advances with her government credit card. Read more …

And this: The former Passamaquoddy tribal governor at Indian Township and the tribe’s ex-business manager are due in federal court today to face trial on charges of misusing federal funds. Robert L. Newell and James J. Parisi Jr., are charged with misusing $1.7 million in federal funds, health care center funds and other tribal money over a 4-and-a-half-year period. Newell, who most recently served as tribal governor at Indian Township from 2002 to 2006, and Parisi, who served as Indian Township’s finance director from 2003 to 2006, were indicted on March 19 by a federal grand jury after a nearly two-year investigation. Read more …

And finally this: Last week, Rjay Brunkow, solicitor general for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, revealed that a yearlong "active criminal investigation" by the FBI, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and a Twin Cities law firm hired by the tribe has uncovered massive fraud within the band's Community Development Department, involving tribal building projects. No criminal charges have been filed, but so far the band has fired its commissioner of community development and five department employees, all of whom were implicated along with former Tribal Chairwoman Melanie Benjamin in having personally received services or materials from public projects, Brunkow said. Benjamin was removed from office last month, but denies any wrong-doing. She says she will fight to regain her seat. Read more …

Union and Tribe to Negotiate Contract Under Tribal Law

The Hartford Courant reported Friday that Foxwoods and the union representing about 2,600 table game dealers have suspended an aggressive legal battle in favor of trying to form a labor contract under Mashantucket Pequot law rather than U.S. law.

Dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino voted to form a union affiliated with the United Auto Workers nearly a year ago. Casino management has refused to negotiate a contract under federal guidelines, arguing that the Pequots are a soverign nation where those rules don't apply. The dealers have gone without a contract as the parties fight in U.S. courts.

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Carcieri v. Kempthorne – Narragansett Land-Use Case

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case being closely watched across the country because it could determine how tribes recognized after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act are allowed to buy, govern and use land. The case – Carcieri v. Kempthorne -- centers around whether the Narragansett Indian Tribe can put land purchased in 1991 into federal trust, making the land tax free and exempt from state and local laws.

The Bush administration sides with the tribe, arguing that the IRA allows it to take land into trust to benefit American Indians regardless of when their tribes were recognized. Rhode Island and 21 other states want the Supreme Court to limit that authority because states lose control over tribal trust land within their own borders. They say trust lands can alter the character of surrounding communities, especially when casino income allows tribes to embark on major projects.

Read more in this Associated Press story.

For a history of the case go to Turtle Talk