Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Recession Harder on Poor Tribes without Large Casino Operations

The economic recession has widened the gap between wealthy and poor tribes, Indian Country Today reports. 

For wealthy tribes with lucrative casino operations, the recession is only a temporary setback in revenue. Even though some casinos have laid off workers, there was little or no impact on tribal members. 

But for the poorer tribes, the recession has made them “more poor,” says Navajo President Joe Shirley. 

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Community Protests Prison on Tohono O'odham Lands

Town leaders and residents of Rancho Sahuarita, Ariz., are writing letters to Congress and signing petitions in opposition of a proposed prison on Tohono O'odham lands, according to a story published today in the Arizona Republic. Plans for a boycott and protest this weekend at the tribe’s casino are also underway.

The prison, called the San Xavier Regional Detention Center, would be developed and operated by private companies. It would be built on 48-acre parcel located between the Santa Cruz River and Old Nogales Highway, at the eastern edge of the Tohono O'odham’s 2.7 million-acre reservation. The $50 million facility would house 750 federal, state and local inmates.

As reported by the Republic, Texas-based Innovative Government Strategies is leading the project, and Municipal Capital Markets Group, Inc., is financing it. Community Education Centers, a New Jersey company, would operate the prison under a 30-year lease.

While tribal leaders see the prison as a source of jobs and revenue, people living in Rancho Sahuarita, the nearest community to the site, do not want criminals in their backyard and want the site changed.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs must decide on any tribal lease deal, the Republic reported, and plans must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. The BIA has extended a public comment period on the environmental assessment until June 1.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Native Americans to Welcome Global Christian Conference in 2010

Native Americans will take front stage at the inaugural meeting of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, which will be held at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., June 18-28, 2010.

Planners for the meeting are inviting local and regional Native Americans to participate in a special pow wow planned for Tuesday, June 22, at Ah-Nab-Awen Park on the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids.

Native Americans will also provide exhibits at Calvin College, conduct a talking circle and participate in some of the workshops scheduled for conference delegates. And a prominent Native American will be invited to present a keynote address at one of the plenary sessions.

"This world conference will allow us to accurately showcase who we — as American Indians — are in contemporary times to delegates from around the globe," Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi), who is coordinating Native American participation in the event, said in a press release.

Gathering under the theme "Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace," the World Communion of Reformed Churches’ meeting will bring together 1,000 representatives from 250 churches and more than 100 countries. Among the international delegates will be many from indigenous peoples in their own countries.

Scholars Program Prepares Cherokee Students for College

The Cherokee Nation has teamed up with the Oklahoma Scholars Program to help Cherokee students prepare for their future, the tribe announced in a press release.

The Oklahoma Scholars Program is a high-impact, low-cost program that starts with placing business leaders into eighth grade classrooms to share with students the benefits of completing the Scholars Program, such as college preparedness, special recognition for academic achievements and being a stronger candidates for financial aid and scholarships.

Students achieve the Oklahoma Scholar designation by completing the Scholars Course of Study, a specific sequence of academic courses in math, science, language arts and social studies.

The program is offered to all students but is especially aimed at students who might take the path of least resistance if not encouraged to do more. The Cherokee Scholars Program was designed to increase the percentage of Cherokee high school graduates prepared to enter college by encouraging them to take more demanding classes during high school, the release said.

To qualify, students must be a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, must have completed the Scholars Course of Study and have passed each course with a minimum of a 2.5 GPA.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Alaska Native Corps Get Letter from Senator Asking for Internal Records

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill has launched an investigation into the millions of contracting dollars that Alaska Native Corporations have received from the federal government since 2000, The Anchorage Daily News reported on May 18.

McCaskill sent a letter to 20 of Alaska's largest Native Corporations last week. In it, she requested their internal records, including executive and board of directors pay and how many Natives they employed, covering the last eight years.

At issue are the contracting advantages that Alaska Native Corporations have with the Small Business Administration Section 8(a) program. Section 8(a) helps small, disadvantaged companies access the federal procurement market. It is typically for small contracts (those under $5.5 million for goods or $3.5 million for services). Federal law, though, provides the Corporations with an exemption, allowing them to enter into sole-source contracts of any value. They are also allowed to subcontract work to companies that don’t qualify for the Section 8(a) program and to enter into joint ventures and partnerships with non-Native companies for sole-source contracts.

The Corporations that received a letter were asked to provide the information no later than May 29, 2009. A hearing with the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight has been scheduled for July 16, 2009.

UA Awards Certificates in Public Health to Nine Navajo CHRs

The University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and Diné College, a Navajo tribal college, have awarded the first Certificates in Public Health to nine Native American students, according to a press release issued by UA.

The students, who received the certificates at a commencement ceremony at Diné College on May 7, are all Community Health Representatives (CHRs) for the Navajo Nation.

Navajo Tribal CHRs live and work in Navajo communities, providing the tribe’s citizens with hands-on care and information on current medical topics and staying healthy. They are full-time, paid employees of the Navajo Nation government.

The Navajo Nation has 110 chapters, and each chapter has at least one CHR. The entire Navajo CHR/Outreach program currently has about 160 employees. Navajo CHRs are required, in accordance with the tribe’s federal contract, to complete the certification.

The joint certification program launched in 2006, but this is the first year that the certificates were jointly awarded by UA Zuckerman College of Public Health and Diné College. The 12-credit program is tailored to the Navajo Nation’s public health needs and concerns.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Proposed IHS and BIA Budgets Include Contract Support Increases

The recently released proposed Indian Health Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs budgets show increases for contract support. IHS will have a 13 percent increase. The BIA’s increase is not yet known because it has not been finalized.

Tribes that will for the first time be negotiating 2 and 3 rate agreements should be aware of these increases as it will impact the approach that they decide to take when establishing these new rates. Careful planning and strategizing is imperative in order to maximize recoveries.

For additional information, contact Richard Phelps at 1-800 992 4489, ext. 101.

Recovery Act Funds Released for IHS Projects

On May 16, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced in a press release that the Indian Health Service will release $500 million allocated for improvements in Indian health under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.

ARRA funds are to be expended by the IHS as follows: $227 million for health facilities construction, $100 million for maintenance and improvements, $85 million for health information technology, $68 million for sanitation facilities construction and $20 million for health equipment that will help improve health care in Indian Country.

“These Recovery Act funds will provide critical assistance to American Indian and Alaska Native communities,” IHS Director Yvette Roubideaux stated in the release. “These funds will help improve health care, create jobs and make our native communities stronger.”

To see a state-by-state list of all ARRA-funded IHS projects, click here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

UND Must Retire “Sioux” Nickname and Logo

Following a unanimous decision yesterday, the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education directed the University of North Dakota to terminate use of the “Sioux” nickname and logo by it athletic teams.

The board directs UND to retire the nickname and logo, effective Oct. 1, 2009. Full retirement of the nickname and logo will be completed no later than Aug. 1, 2010.

“We are mindful that there is a nearly 80-year tradition with our nickname and related logos. We honor that tradition, which has brought us national honor and distinction, as well as national championships and an outstanding record of student athletes as scholars. I want to be clear that I believe our athletes and our athletic teams — athletic directors, coaches and related staff — have used the nickname and logo with great honor and respect, and with a tremendous sense of pride,” wrote Robert O. Kelley, UND’s president, in a letter published after the board’s decision.

The decision was cause for applause for many who oppose the use of Native American names and imagery in sports.

David Gipp, a UND graduate and president of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, told the Grand Forks Herald that he was not sure of the board’s motivation — whether it was about the membership status of UND teams or human dignity and the institutional and educational values — but he commended its decision.

“As I have said before, letting go of the nickname and logo will lead to a better higher educational system in North Dakota — one that all of the state’s citizens can begin to take part in with pride,” he told the Herald.

Echo Hawk Approved for Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Post

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee yesterday approved by voice vote the nomination of Larry Echo Hawk for the Department of Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs post, the Associated Press reported.

In this post, Echo Hawk will develop DOI policy on Indian affairs-related issues and make budget recommendations that affect Indian education, public safety, social health and welfare, economic development, energy development, federal recognition of tribes and other issues.

He will oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), the Office of Indian Gaming, the Office of Self-Governance, the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development (OIEED), the Office of Federal Acknowledgement, the Office of Budget Management and other offices at the Department of the Interior related to tribes, individual Indians and Indian lands.

Nominated by President Obama in April, Echo Hawk said economic development, education and public safety in Indian Country will be among his top priorities. He also said Indian health is an area that requires special attention.

Echo Hawk, Pawnee, is a law professor at Brigham Young University. He served as Idaho Attorney General from 1991 to 1995.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Clara Pratte Named Director of SBA’s Office of Native American Affairs

The U.S. Small Business Administration confirmed to AIR today that Clara Pratte has been appointed as the national director of the agency’s Office of Native American Affairs.

As national director, she will help ensure that American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians who want to create, develop and expand small businesses have full access to the tools available through the SBA's entrepreneurial development, lending and procurement programs, according to Cecelia Taylor of the SBA’s press office.

Before joining the SBA, Pratte worked for the Navajo Nation as a policy analyst and legislative liaison, focusing on economic and community development, housing and education issues.

Gila River Utility to Utilize Smart Grid Technology

The Gila River Indian Community Utility Authority (GRICUA) on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona will be utilizing smart grid technology to automate its electricity grid, according to a press release issued on May 12 by SmartSynch, a smart grid infrastructure company that is providing GRICUA with the platform.

GRICUA currently provides electric services to about one-fifth of the community’s total meter population, with some of these meters being SmartSynch commercial SmartMeters previously deployed through an existing relationship with a neighboring utility. The rest of the meters are owned by the federal government, which, as part of an agreement with GRICUA, will allow the utility to pursue new customers who want to change service providers, take over service after move-outs and provide service to all new residents and businesses resulting from new development in the community.

SmartSynch will help GRICUA manage the daily collection and delivery of 15-minute interval data from existing SmartSynch commercial SmartMeters via a dedicated Web portal. These meters will be upgraded to include power outage and restoration notification functionality. New SmartMeters will be deployed to any remaining commercial and industrial locations where GRICUA's meters have yet to be automated.

To learn more about smart grid technology, the U.S. Department of Energy has a Web page devoted to the topic:

Yvette Roubideaux Sworn in as IHS Director

The Indian Health Service has a new director. Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, M.D., M.P.H., a member of the Rosebud Sioux, was sworn in on May 12, less than a week after she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

As IHS director, Roubideaux will administer a $4 billion, nationwide program that provides health care to approximately 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Roubideaux previously worked for IHS as a clinical director and medical officer at the San Carlos Service Unit on the San Carlos Apache Indian reservation and as a medical officer at the Hu Hu Kam Memorial Indian Hospital on the Gila River Indian reservation.

She recently served as assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and has conducted extensive research on American Indian health issues.

You can find out more about Roubideaux in the IHS Director’s Corner on the IHS Web site.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Seminole Museum Earns Coveted National Accreditation

It took about five years plus a whole lot of introspection and some big changes, but the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum has received its national accreditation from the American Association of Museums.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, with its main branch located on the tribe’s Big Cypress Reservation and a smaller facility in Okalee, became the first tribally operated museum to earn accreditation this spring. The National Museum of the American Indian, operated by the Smithsonian Institute, was accredited this spring as well.

The main facility, which opened in 1997, is the steward of more than 11,000 artifacts and archives that the tribe started collecting more than 20 years. The campus, visited by people from all over the world, is made up of three buildings, totaling over 5,000 square feet of space, and includes four galleries. Read more in American Indian Report.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

DOJ Asked to Investigate Tribes' Treatment of Freedmen

Several prominent Democrats, some of them members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have asked Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate five Indian tribes for allegedly violating the civil rights of Freedmen, African Americans descended from freed slaves who were once owned by or who lived with Indian tribes. 

According to the Associated Press, in a letter dated April 30, lawmakers asked Holder to investigate the “illegal expulsion” of Freedmen for the Cherokee, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Creek nations. 

The issue has placed the Obama Administration in the middle of a battle between traditional Democrats -- African Americans and Native Americans. 

Two years ago, the Cherokee Nation voted to amend its constitution to restrict tribal membership to blood descendents and the Congressional Black Caucus tried to restrict federal funding to the tribe -- a move that was not supported by then-candidate Barrack Obama. 

Last May, in a statement issued to the Tulsa World, Obama said:

“Tribal sovereignty must mean that the place to resolve intertribal disputes is the tribe itself. Our nation has learned with tragic results that federal intervention in internal matters of Indian tribes is rarely productive . . . This is not a legacy we want to continue.

However, speaking directly to the Cherokee Nation issue, Obama also expressed opposition to unwarranted tribal disenrollment and described discrimination anywhere as intolerable.