Friday, January 29, 2010

Harvard Kennedy School Students Draw Attention to Conditions on Indian Reservations in the Dakotas

Native American Caucus students at the Harvard Kennedy School are taking action in response to the inadequate national response to the crisis on Indian reservations in the Dakotas due to severe ice storms and freezing temperatures, said a press release issued today by the school.

Last weekend, a powerful snow and ice storm hit the region, taking down power lines. Thousands of South Dakotans, with residents of the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Indian reservations among them, are without power and water. Worse still, no one seems to know when they will be restored.

The Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has declared a state of emergency for his community and is calling for immediate assistance.

The Native American Caucus students have launched an awareness-raising campaign to help bring much needed monetary assistance to the tribes.

To assist the tribes, contact Stacy LaCompte at Wakpa Sica Reconciliation Place at (605) 280-8588.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Flintco Is No. 1 Native American-Owned Company

Flintco Cos. took the top spot in’s list of the top 100 privately-held Native American businesses in the United States, as reported by the Memphis Business Journal this week.

The parent company of two construction operating divisions — Flintco, Inc. and Oakridge Builders, Inc. — Flintco Cos. is one of the largest commercial construction companies in the nation and is the largest Native American contractor.

The company, founded in 1908, has offices in Memphis as well as in Albuquerque; Austin, Texas; Oklahoma City; Sacramento; Springdale, Ark.; and Tulsa.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Why Tribes Need Their Own Labor Laws

A lack of employment and labor relations laws on Indian reservations has made tribes too vulnerable to exploitation by unions and leaves too many gaps for federal agencies to fill, according to a column written by Kaighn Smith Jr., a partner at the law firm Drummond Woodsum MacMahon, and published in Indian Country Today on Jan. 26.

Smith explores the issue using a hypothetical scenario that involves female tribal workers being victims of sexual harassment. He looks at how, because the tribe has not enacted laws pertaining to sexual harassment and, thus, the victims can not get justice through the tribal court, the door opens wide for union organization.

With the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino v. NLRB, tribal gaming operations are already open to National Labor Relations Board jurisdiction, as Smith noted.

Smith said tribes have two options: do nothing or enact their own laws.

“The threat of federal authority over labor relations in Indian country is a threat of assimilation,” Smith wrote. “In the case of the NLRB, outside federal agents would impose labor unions upon tribes, upholding the power of such unions to bargain for externally defined 'rights' of employees and to strike against tribes’ economic enterprises – even to thwart tribal employment preferences.”

Click here to read Smith’s column.

Choctaw Housing Employee to Join First Lady at State of the Union

Deborah Powell, Native American Development Specialist for the Housing Authority of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, is among two-dozen guests who were invited to sit in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box at the State of the Union Address, according to a press release issued by the White House.

Powell, a member of the Choctaw Nation, is currently helping to track budgets and ensure bids for independent elderly homes. This project, which is still under construction, will provide homes for more than 86 elderly people in the Choctaw Nation, the release said.

The State of the Union is scheduled for tonight, beginning at 9 p.m. (EST).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Census 2010 Kicks Off in Small Alaska Native Village

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 count kicks off today in the remote Alaska Native village of Noorvik, according to an Associated Press article published today.

Census Bureau Director Robert Groves is flying to Noorvik, located in the northwest region of state and with a population of 650 Inupiat Eskimo, the article said.

Villagers have prepared a day of festivities, including traditional dancing and feasting, at the community’s school, which Groves will travel to via dog sled.

Census workers and trained local workers are expected to spend a week interviewing residents. One of the first to be counted will be the community’s oldest member, Clifton Jackson, who is also a World War II vet.

To learn more about Census 2010, go to:

Friday, January 22, 2010

U.S. Mint to Launch 2010 Native American $1 Coin

The U.S. Mint will launch the 2010 Native American $1 Coin in New York City on Jan. 25, 2010, at 10:30 a.m. It will be introduced at the National Museum of the American Indian George Gustav Heye Center by U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy, joined by John Haworth, the museum’s director.

The coin’s reverse side features designs, which will rotate each year, celebrating the important contributions made by Indian tribes and individual Native Americans to the history and development of the United States. The design for the 2010 coin is based on the theme "Government—the Great Tree of Peace," recognizing the Native American ideals of equality and democratic self-government that influence Western political concepts. It depicts the Hiawatha Belt with five arrows bound together, along with the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, $1, HAUDENOSAUNEE and GREAT LAW OF PEACE.

The coin's obverse (heads side) continues to feature Glenna Goodacre's "Sacagawea" design, first produced in 2000, and the inscriptions LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST. Like the Presidential $1 Coins, the Native American $1 Coins maintain their distinctive edge and golden color, and feature edge-lettering of the year, mint mark and E PLURIBUS UNUM.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Red Lake Band of Ojibwe Opens Doors to New Casino, Hotel and Conference Center

Today, the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe opens the doors to a new casino, hotel and conference center, the Seven Clans Casino, located on the Minnesota reservation. Instead of borrowing from non-Indian financial institutions, the Red Lake Band borrowed money from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community, also in Minnesota, performing the state’s first inter-tribal loan.

The construction of this casino created many jobs and its opening will do the same.

For more details, please click here to view "Red Lake Band of Ojibwe Opens New Casino, Hotel and Conference Center" at

Woman Sues Smith Kline Beecham Corporation in Tribal Court

An enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation has filed a suit in the Cherokee Nation Court against Smith Kline Beecham, an international drug company. The suit alleges that the tribal member was severely and permanently injured when she ingested the drug Avandia, which is used in treating diabetes. The defendant has filed a brief claiming the Cherokee Nation does not have jurisdiction in this matter.

The plaintiff's attorney, Todd Hembree, Esq., has filed a response in the tribal court. This case is worth watching as the defendant will fight tribal jurisdiction aggressively.

For more details about this case, please contact Mr. Hembree at or 918-453-0101.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bill Introduced to Regulate Off-Reservation Native American Practices

Arizona State Sen. Albert Hale, D-Window Rock, has introduced a bill to regulate “traditional and authentic Native American practices” conducted off tribal lands.

If made law, the Arizona Department of Health Services, in consultation with the Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs, would be required to adopt rules for the regulation of any individual or business that charges people to participate in what the individual or business claims are traditional and authentic Native American practices.

The bill is in response to an incident last October, when two people died and more than a dozen were injured in a sweat lodge ceremony at a retreat located near Sedona.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Report Says Torres-Martinez Misused Millions in TANF Funds

Federal audits conducted annually from 2002 to 2008 show that the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians of California misused millions of dollars in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding, according to a special investigative report published by The Desert Sun on Jan. 17.

The Desert Sun's report examines years of questionable spending by the tribe’s TANF program, including inflated salaries and raises for program execs, and accountability problems, such as missing documentation to support expenditures.

The report says that in 2005 the Administration for Children and Families found “potential misuse of federal TANF funds” by the tribal program totaling more than $6 million from FY 2002 and FY 2003.

“A lot of abuse was happening that shouldn't have been able to happen,” Ronald Sells, president of The Sells Group, which conducted the tribal program's audits from 2002 to 2005, told the paper.

The Torres-Martinez has fewer than 500 members. Its TANF program has received more than $123 million in federal and state funding since its inception.

Wells Band Receives HUD ICDBG Grant Application Approval

The Wells Band of Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone has received approval of their HUD ICDBG grant application to construct a Multi-Purpose Community Center on the Wells Colony.

RezBuilders, LLC (Certified Economic Developers) worked with the tribe on this proposal and Falmouth Consulting also offered assistance in the application process.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Member and Employee of Tulalip Tribe Sentenced for Theft of Rewards Club Points

Employed by and an enrolled member of the Tulalip Tribe, Walter Anthony Moses was sentenced to time in prison and supervised release. Moses was a Rewards Club Supervisor until it was discovered that he had withdrawn Rewards Club points from casino customers’ accounts. He then distributed vouchers totaling almost $20,000 to family and friends.

Please click here for more details from Ethiopian Review.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

H1N1 PSA Campaigns Targeting Native Americans Unveiled

On Jan. 12, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unveiled two new public service announcement (PSA) campaigns targeting American Indians and Alaska Natives, urging them to get vaccinated for the H1N1 flu.

At a press conference announcing the campaigns, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the virus has hit Indian Country especially hard, citing a CDC report released last month that showed that Native Americans are four times more likely to die from H1N1 than the general population.

Sebelius said American Indians/Alaska Natives are at a greater risk because they have higher rates of conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease. It is also due to the higher numbers that live in poverty and that lack access to medical care.

“And this message is really urgent in Indian Country,” she said.

The HHS and IHS hope that the PSAs, produced for radio and TV, get that message out. The announcements give strategies for preventing the virus, like hand washing, coughing/sneezing into a sleeve and staying home from work if sick. They also stress getting vaccinated.

The series of six TV PSAs feature Cherokee actor Wes Studi. There are also regional PSAs starring Sebelius and IHS Director Dr. Yvette Roubideaux.

In addition to getting vaccinated, Roubideaux encourages people to educate everyone on how to take precautions and prevent spreading the virus.

As of mid-November, there were 47 million H1N1 cases in the United States, with more than 200,000 hospitalizations and nearly 10,000 deaths, Roubideaux said. And she stressed that there may be a third wave, as influenza typically peaks from January to March.

For more information on H1N1, go to

Employees Not Entitled to Overtime Changing in and out of Required Clothing

Although the Fair Labor Standards Act requires that time spent changing clothes at the beginning and end of a shift be included in hours worked there is a provision that says this time is not compensable if it has been excluded “by custom or practice under a bona fide collective bargaining agreement.” In this case, it had never been included in the bargaining agreement, so the Court of Appeals ruled that the time was not included in hours worked.

This decision points out just how complex the FLSA is for had there been no union contract the time would have been compensable.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Federal Prosecutors Ordered to Increase Crime-Fighting Efforts in Indian Country

Yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered federal prosecutors in 33 states to increase their efforts to reduce violent crime on Indian reservations.

As reported in a New York Times article on the reforms, Native Americans are the victims of violent crime at more than twice the national rate; on some reservations, murder rates against women are 10 times greater than the national average.

In a memo, prosecutors in those districts that include “Indian Country” (44 out of 93) were instructed to meet and consult with tribes in their districts once a year; develop an operational plan addressing public safety in Indian Country; work closely with law enforcement to pay particular attention to violence against women in Indian Country.

The memo also stated that 47 new prosecutors and FBI personnel will be assigned to handle such crimes.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Navajo Nation Denies Payment of Back Alimony and Child Support

Ruby Watson attempted to ensure full payment of her ex-husband’s child support and alimony debt of $500,000 even in the event of his death by having him take out a life insurance policy. Separated since 1988 and divorced since 2001 from Eddie Paul Watson, Ruby did not have her wish granted.

The Watsons’ case had been present in the Navajo Nation court system for so long a time that the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, not the Tuba City District Court, made the final decision on December 14, 2009.

Ruby had waited 13 years (the time between their separation and their divorce) to make an effort to have the court-ruled child support and alimony payments enforced. This delay was considered to be negligence on Ruby’s part, and payment of Eddie’s debt is not going to be enforced.

In addition, Eddie’s alimony payments, which in 1988 had been $800 a month, were reduced to $200 a month, affirming a Tuba City Family Court decision in 2007.

The Supreme Court addressed the situation, saying, “The request to secure a life insurance policy is a bilagáana way of making arrangement for payment of indebtedness,” and that it is not known to the “Diné way of life.” This request, the court said, is as if hoping for the death of another person.

Please click here to view The Navajo Times article, "'Foreign' to Diné way of life" for further details.

EPA Disallows $384,678.00 in Costs

The EPA disallowed $384,678.00 in costs incurred under a grant to a non-profit Nevada Corporation. The reason for the majority of the disallowance was that several sole source contracts were awarded for legal and consulting work with no cost or price analysis done so as to demonstrate the fees paid were fair and reasonable. The regulations are clear that in all procurements, but especially sole source, the grantee must demonstrate that a fair price was received.

The EPA also disallowed $18,265.00 in travel related costs due to a lack of documentation.

To read the entire report, please click here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sen. Dorgan Will Not Seek Reelection

U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) announced yesterday that he will not seek another six-year term.

Dorgan, representing North Dakota in the U.S. Congress for almost 30 years, is chair of several Senate committees, including the one on Indian Affairs (in which he was serving his second term).

Over the last year, Dorgan was making plans to run again, but, as he said in a press statement issued yesterday, he recently started wrestling with the question of whether committing to serve another seven years (next year and the six-year term) was the right thing to do.

“It has been a long and wonderful career made possible by the people of North Dakota. And I am forever grateful to them for the opportunity,” Dorgan said. “Although I still have a passion for public service and enjoy my work in the Senate, I have other interests and I have other things I would like to pursue outside of public life.”

Native People More Likely to Die from Swine Flu

American Indians and Alaska Natives have an H1N1 mortality rate four times higher than persons in all other racial/ethnic populations combined, according to a report published last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report, based on data collected between April 15 and Nov. 13 in 12 states, did not pinpoint the reasons for the disparity in death rates. It suggests, however, that it may be related to a high prevalence of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and asthma, among Native people, which predisposes them to influenza complications; poverty/poor living conditions; and delayed access to care.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Idaho Tribes Want Governor to Create Tribal Relations Cabinet Post

Tribal leaders in Idaho have asked the governor of the state, C.L. "Butch" Otter, to create a cabinet post dedicated to improving tribal relations, according to an AP article published in the Havre Daily News on Dec. 31.

The previous week, leaders from the Coeur d'Alene, Nez Perce, Shoshone-Bannock and Shoshone Paiute tribes met with Otter, but the governor made no commitment.

Over the last decade, the state and the tribes that call it home have quarreled over such issues as water rights and taxes on reservation gasoline. Although many issues get resolved, some are still outstanding, such as the cross-deputization of tribal and county authorities, the AP reported.

At least 34 states have created similar positions, the article quoted Coeur d'Alene Tribe Chairman Chief Allan as saying.

"Tribal economies in Idaho generate at least a half billion dollars annually, provide thousands of jobs, and pay millions of dollars in Idaho tax revenues that flows into state coffers," Allan said. "It only seems fair for tribes to have a place within Gov. Otter's administration."