Monday, December 28, 2009

Drunk-Driving Campaign Underway in Indian Country

Launched on Dec. 21 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a drunk-driving prevention campaign is underway in Indian Country to save lives this holiday season.

The campaign, called “Don’t Shatter the Dream,” is being conducted by BIA and tribal law enforcement in Indian Country through Jan. 3, 2010. It seeks to send a message that driving while impaired will not be tolerated throughout the holiday season and that tribal officers are on alert to protect drivers on reservation roadways. This is the fifth year for this enhanced enforcement effort, which includes such tactics as checkpoints and saturation patrols on federal Indian lands.

A new tool utilized this year is the BAT (Breath Alcohol Testing) mobile. Four were delivered in November to three BIA Office of Justice Services law enforcement districts — Billings, Mont., Albuquerque, N.M., and Muscogee, Okla. These districts serve 77 federally recognized tribes, with a combined population of 581,756, in seven states. The 40-foot long mobile units, costing approximately $300,000 each, use state-of-the art lighting, camera and communications systems. Each has an Intoxilyzer 8000 to precisely measure breath alcohol levels, a containment cell to transport suspects and an interior camera to produce court-quality videos of the testing process.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Choctaw Nation Launches Online Scholarship Database

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has launched an online database to provide its youth and their parents with access to scholarship information.

The database, custom-designed and provided through an exclusive partnership with Reference Service Press, offers information on tens of thousands of scholarships that are open to Choctaw students.

Choctaw members receive free access to the database on the tribe’s Scholarship Advisement Program (SAP) Internet Web site, located at

Friday, December 18, 2009

House Committee Approves Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act

Yesterday, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the “Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009” by a vote of 26-13, according to a press release issued by the committee.

Introduced by Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), H.R. 2314 would provide a process for the reorganization of a Native Hawaiian government entity and to reaffirm the special political and legal relationship between the United States and the Native Hawaiian governing entity.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Niagara County IDA Challenges Indian Preference, Receives Letter from BIA

Deputy Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Kevin Bearquiver responded to an inquiry from the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) that challenged Indian Hiring Preference on the Hickory Stick Golf Course in Lewiston, New York.

The hiring procedures of the golf course are of concern to the IDA because of a property tax break it granted to the course, which is not built on Seneca-owned land. Bearquiver informed the IDA that the Seneca Nation of Indians isn’t in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as the Act allows “any business or enterprise on or near an Indian Reservation” to practice Indian hiring preference.

Please click here to view Bearquiver’s letter to the IDA, via Turtle Talk.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Indian Country Gets $32 Million for Public Transportation Projects

One hundred transit projects on tribal lands will share in $32 million in Public Transportation on Indian Reservations funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration, according to a press release issued by the DOT.

The $32 million, of which $17 million will come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) Tribal Transit Program, will be funding a wide range of projects across Indian Country, including new buses, vans and other capital equipment and the construction of new transit facilities.

A list of winning projects may be found at:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

DOI, DOJ Announce Cobell Settlement -- DOI Press Release

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Attorney General Eric Holder today announced a settlement of the long-running and highly contentious Cobell class-action lawsuit regarding the U.S. government's trust management and accounting of over three hundred thousand individual American Indian trust accounts. Also speaking at the press conference today were Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes and Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli.

Under the negotiated agreement, litigation will end regarding the Department of the Interior’s performance of an historical accounting for trust accounts maintained by the United States on behalf of more than 300,000 individual Indians. A fund totaling $1.4 billion will be distributed to class members to compensate them for their historical accounting claims, and to resolve potential claims that prior U.S. officials mismanaged the administration of trust assets.

In addition, in order to address the continued proliferation of thousands of new trust accounts caused by the "fractionation" of land interests through succeeding generations, the settlement establishes a $2 billion fund for the voluntary buy-back and consolidation of fractionated land interests. The land consolidation program will provide individual Indians with an opportunity to obtain cash payments for divided land interests and free up the land for the benefit of tribal communities.

By reducing the number of individual trust accounts that the U.S must maintain, the program will greatly reduce on-going administrative expenses and future accounting-related disputes. In order to provide owners with an additional incentive to sell their fractionated interests, the settlement authorizes the Interior Department to set aside up to 5 percent of the value of the interests into a college and vocational school scholarship fund for American Indian students.

“This is an historic, positive development for Indian country and a major step on the road to reconciliation following years of acrimonious litigation between trust beneficiaries and the United States,” Secretary Salazar said. “Resolving this issue has been a top priority of President Obama, and this administration has worked in good faith to reach a settlement that is both honorable and responsible. This historic step will allow Interior to move forward and address the educational, law enforcement, and economic development challenges we face in Indian Country.”

“Over the past thirteen years, the parties have tried to settle this case many, many times, each time unsuccessfully," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "But today we turn the page. This settlement is fair to the plaintiffs, responsible for the United States, and provides a path forward for the future.”

The settlement has been negotiated with the involvement of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It will not become final until it is formally endorsed by the court. Also, Congress must enact legislation to authorize implementation of the settlement. Because it is a settlement of a litigation matter, the Judgment Fund maintained by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Treasury will fund the settlement.

“While we have made significant progress in improving and strengthening the management of Indian trust assets, our work is not over,” said Salazar, who also announced he is establishing a national commission to evaluate ongoing trust reform efforts and make recommendations for the future management of individual trust account assets in light of a congressional sunset provision for the Office of Special Trustee, which was established by Congress in 1994 to reform financial management of the trust system.

The class action case, which involves several hundred thousand plaintiffs, was filed by Elouise Cobell in 1996 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and has included hundreds of motions, dozens of rulings and appeals, and several trials over the past 13 years. The settlement funds will be administered by the trust department of a bank approved by the district court and distributed to individual Indians by a claims administrator in accordance with court orders and the settlement agreement.

Interior currently manages about 56 million acres of Indian trust land, administering more than 100,000 leases and about $3.5 billion in trust funds. For fiscal year 2009, funds from leases, use permits, land sales and income from financial assets, totaling about $298 million were collected for more than 384,000 open Individual Indian Money accounts and $566 million was collected for about 2,700 tribal accounts for more than 250 tribes. Since 1996, the U.S. Government has collected over $10.4 billion from individual and tribal trust assets and disbursed more than $9.5 billion to individual account holders and tribal governments.

The land consolidation fund addresses a legacy of the General Allotment Act of 1887 (the “Dawes Act”), which divided tribal lands into parcels between 40 and 160 acres in size, allotted them to individual Indians and sold off all remaining unallotted Indian lands. As the original holders died, their intestate heirs received an equal, undivided interest in the lands as tenants in common. In successive generations, smaller undivided interests descended to the next generation.

Today, it is common to have hundreds—even thousands—of Indian owners for one parcel of land. Such highly fractionated ownership makes it extremely difficult to use the land productively or to provide beneficial use for any individual. Absent serious corrective action, an estimated 4 million acres of land will continue to be held in such small ownership interests that very few individual owners will ever derive any meaningful financial benefit from that ownership.

Additional Information is available at the following sites:
The Department of the Interior website: The Office of the Special Trustee website:

Monday, December 7, 2009

IRS Auctions Tribe’s Land to Pay Back Taxes

An Internal Revenue Service auction to sell 7,100 acres of South Dakota land owned by the Crow Creek Sioux to help pay more than $3 million in back taxes could not be stopped, despite a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Pierre by the tribe on Monday, Nov. 30 to block it. As reported by The Associated Press on Dec. 4, the land was sold at an auction on Thursday for nearly $2.6 million.

The AP report said that the land was part of the tribe's original reservation established in an 1868 treaty, and was at first held in trust. But over time, it was allotted to individual tribal members and was later sold to non-Indians. The Crow Creek purchased it again in 1998, but the land never went back into trust, leaving it open to seizure.

Friday, December 4, 2009

College Football Star Rolls Out Health Program to Native American Kids

College football star Myron Rolle, in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Interior, is rolling out a program to DOI-funded schools that will educate Native American students on important health issues as well as engage them in outdoor physical fitness activities.

Click here to read more on American Indian Report.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Number of Inmates in Indian Country Jails Declines

The number of inmates confined in Indian Country jails declined by 1.3 percent at midyear 2008, dropping to 2,135, according to a study release on Dec. 1 by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

However, the report, titled Jails in Indian Country, 2008, states that the number of inmates admitted into Indian Country jails in June 2008 was about six times the size of the average daily population.

Other key findings in the report include: Inmates held for aggravated and simple assault increased at midyear 2008; domestic violence declined; the number of jails in Indian Country has increased from 68 in 2004 to 82 in 2008; and 36 of the 82 correctional facilities were operating above their rated capacity on their most crowded day in June 2008.

To read the full report, click here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Report Spotlights Deplorable State of Broadband in Indian Country

Broadband penetration in Indian Country is estimated at less than 10 percent, according to a report by Native Public Media and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative.

The report, titled New Media, Technology and Internet Use in Indian Country: Quantitative and Qualitative Analyses and released on Nov. 19, includes a survey of Native American technology use normed against other national surveys as well as case studies of six successful projects, efforts to close the digital divide on tribal lands.

Native Americans live in communities where broadband often is unavailable or unaffordable, a press release announcing the report stated. Adding to the problem is a lack of data on Native broadband adoption, availability and connectivity.

Loris Taylor, executive director of Native Public Media, said in the release, "I've visited Native communities where Internet black holes exist because broadband deployment either ignored them or simply went around them. For the first time in history, we have solid broadband data that underscores the fact that Native Americans are using the Internet when they have access to it and building their own tribal centric broadband highways when no one else will.”

To view the report, click here.