Friday, July 30, 2010

Obama Signs Tribal Law and Order Act

On July 29, President Obama signed into law the Tribal Law and Order Act, legislation that takes a comprehensive approach to addressing the shortfalls in fighting crime in Indian Country.

The House passed the legislation last week (see AIR post published last week); and the Senate approved it on June 24, 2010.

Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, was among the many — tribal leaders, federal lawmakers, advocates, tribal law enforcement personnel and others — that attended the signing ceremony.

Keel said in NCAI press release issued yesterday: “Today, by enacting the Tribal Law and Order Act, President Obama and the United States government reaffirmed its federal trust responsibility to work with tribal nations to strengthen our governments, our people and our communities. We will use the tools in the Tribal Law and Order Act to crack down on crime and make our communities safer.”

As highlighted in the NCAI press release, the law’s major provisions include:

o Evidence Sharing and Declination Data: Requires federal prosecutors to maintain data on criminal declinations in Indian country, and to share evidence to support prosecutions in tribal court.

o Tribal Court Sentencing: Increases tribal court sentencing authority from 1 to 3 years imprisonment where certain constitutional protections are met.

o Federal Testimony: Requires Federal officials who work in Indian country to testify about information gained in the scope of their duties to support a prosecution in tribal court.

o Tribal Police Access to Criminal History Records: Many tribal police have no access to criminal history records. The bill will provide tribal police greater access to criminal history databases that provide them with essential information when detaining or arresting a suspect.

o Improves transparency in Public Safety spending by the BIA, and requires greater consultation on the part of the BIA to tribal communities on matters affecting public safety and justice.

o Increased sexual assault training and standardized protocols for handling sex crimes, interviewing witnesses, and handling evidence of domestic and sexual violence crimes in Indian country.

o Increases recruitment and retention efforts for BIA and Tribal Police.

o Expands training opportunities for BIA and tribal police to receive training at State police academies, and tribal, state, and local colleges – where Federal law enforcement training standards are met.

o Increases Deputizations of Tribal and State Police to Enforce Federal Law: Enhances Special Law Enforcement Commission program to deputize officers to enforce federal laws on Indian lands.

o Authorizes deputization of Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute reservation crimes in Federal courts, and encourages Federal Courts to hold cases in Indian country.

o Authorizes the Drug Enforcement Agency to deputize tribal police to assist on reservation drug raids.

o Programmatic Reauthorizations: The bill will reauthorize and improve existing programs designed to strengthen tribal courts, police departments, and corrections centers – as well as programs to prevent and treat alcohol and substance abuse, and improve opportunities for at-risk Indian youth.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

On-The-Job Training Grants to Put Native Americans Back to Work

Late last month, the Department of Labor awarded $75 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funds for On-the-Job Training, National Emergency Grants, and three federally recognized tribes were among more than 40 states that received awards.

The Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma received $850,357; the Orutsararmiut Native Council in Alaska received $286,387; and the Seminole Nation in Oklahoma received $236,668.

The funding is to be used for getting people back to work, particularly in areas disproportionately impacted by the recession. Specifically, they will fund on-the-job training projects, ones that offer participants the chance to develop new occupational skills while earning a paycheck and provide participating employers partial reimbursement to offset the cost of training workers.

In a press release announcing the awards, the DOL said the projects will help workers become proficient in needed skills more quickly, which will encourage employers to hire workers sooner than planned. They will spur private sector hiring of well-qualified individuals and, ultimately, economic recovery.

Kim Carroll, Cherokee Nation Career Services’ director of Grants & Compliance, could not say to what degree exactly Cherokee Nation citizens have been impacted by the recession, but she knows that counties with larger Indian populations usually have higher unemployment rates.

Cherokee Nation jurisdiction spans 14 counties in rural northeastern Oklahoma. “We do know that these counties have seen as much as a five point increase in their unemployment rates since 2008, compared to the state of Oklahoma, which has had a 2.5 point increase,” she said.

The Cherokee Nation’s on-the-job training project will allow more Cherokee citizens to go back to work. Carroll said it will reimburse employers of an on-the-job trainee during the worker’s training period, that period when the employee learns the company’s policies and procedures and specific duties.

“During this time, productivity is low, mistakes are made, and it’s a gamble on the employer’s part,” Carroll said.

By reimbursing employees for a percentage of the trainee’s wages during the training period, Carroll believes employers will be more willing to take a chance.

“We will be working with both employers and employees to match individuals with these opportunities. It will allow employers to expand their businesses and allow potential workers to learn new job skills,” she said.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dorgan Introduces Bill Seeking Resolution of Impacts from Pick-Sloan Dams

Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) has introduced a bill that would seek a comprehensive approach to resolving problems imposed on seven tribes whose lands were flooded by the Pick-Sloan Program dams, a press release issued by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs announced on July 27.

The 1944 Flood Control Act authorized the Pick-Sloan Program to stop flooding along the Missouri River, yet it had other purposes, like navigation and hydroelectric power. It resulted in five dams being constructed on the river, which ended up flooding tribal lands, including community infrastructure and agricultural and hunting areas.

While the tribes received some compensation, each was compensated differently. For several decades, Dorgan said, the federal government has fielded claims from tribes that were impacted, but it has never had a comprehensive approach to resolving them.

The legislation, named the “Pick-Sloan Tribal Commission Bill,” would establish a commission that would hold hearings and study the outstanding issues in order to make final recommendations to Congress and the Administration for a comprehensive resolution of the tribal claims.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oklahoma Universities Take Top Three Spots in Indian Bachelor Degree Ranking

American Indian bachelor degree-producing universities have been ranked by Diverse Issues in Higher Education, and the top three are in Oklahoma, as reported by Tulsa World on July 26.

Oklahoma institutions, in fact, hold six of the top 12 spots and 12 of the top 100.

The three universities at the very top are Northeastern State University, where 370 American Indians earned four-year degrees in 2008-2009; Oklahoma State University, which also reported 370 Native degree earners; and the University of Oklahoma, where 258 earned degrees.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Two Plead Guilty to Stealing from Fort Peck Credit Program

Two former Fort Peck tribal employees pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to their roles in the theft of $1 million from a credit program, according to an AP article published yesterday in

Evadna Running Bear and Angelita Headdress, both who served as accounting technicians for the Fort Peck Credit Program, are accused of embezzling money from the program and attempting to hide it by altering computer information and using different names on loans. The activity occurred from Aug. 1999 to May 2009.

The two are among six people to plead guilty in this case. They will be sentenced in October.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

House Passes Tribal Law and Order Act

Yesterday, the U.S. House approved the Tribal Law and Order Act, legislation aimed at improving all aspects of the justice system on Indian reservations and clearing up jurisdictional confusion among tribal, state and local law enforcement officials.

The legislation was included as part of H.R. 725, the Indian Arts and Crafts bill, which received a 326-92 vote. It passed the Senate last month. It is now on its way to President Obama, who is expected to sign it.

The bill was authored by U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, who describes the legislation as a response to a “crisis” in Indian Country law enforcement.

On many reservations, violent crime rates are far higher than the national average. On the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, for instance, the rate was 8.6 times higher in 2008.

Violence against Native American women has reached epidemic levels, with more than one in three being a victim of rape and two in five that will suffer domestic or partner violence in their lifetimes, as reported by the Department of Justice and Centers for Disease Control.

Getting the bill enacted has been one of Dorgan’s top priorities as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“Every American has a right to live in a safe community. That certainly includes the First Americans,” he said in a press release issued yesterday by the committee.

“The legislation takes several steps toward creating better federal accountability over Indian Country crime,” Stacy Leeds, professor and Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and director of the Tribal Law and Government Center at the University of Kansas School of Law, told AIR.

For example, federal officials have declined to prosecute more than 50 percent of violent crimes in Indian Country. The bill requires the DOJ to maintain data on criminal declinations and share evidence with tribal justice officials when a case is declined.

It also requires Indian Health Service facilities to implement consistent sexual assault protocols and requires federal officials to provide documents and testimony gained in the course of their federal duties to aid in prosecutions before tribal courts.

“The portion of the new legislation which will be most newsworthy to tribal communities is that the legislation amended the Indian Civil Rights Act's previous sentencing limitations on tribal court,” Leeds said.

Under the Civil Rights Act, tribal courts have the authority to sentence an offender to no more than one year in prison. The new legislation increases the maximum to three years.

The legislation includes other provisions. Click here to view the entire bill.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

National Museum of the American Indian to Host “Living Earth Festival”

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., will host a three-day Living Earth Festival to acknowledge Native contributions to managing the environment and sustaining lifeways and foodways.

The festival, running Aug. 6-8, will include a symposium, with discussions focusing on water, wind and salmon; hands-on activities for kids and families; an outdoor fresh-produce market; a fine art market; a cooking competition; and a concert.

“The museum is uniquely positioned to be a point of convergence on this important global issue,” Kevin Gover, director of the museum, said in a press release. “Building on the success of past Mother Earth events, which since 2007 have brought together scientists, Native elders and musicians, the museum will combine the festival celebration with a ‘call to consciousness’ of contemporary environmental issues that affect all peoples as well as showcase contemporary Native environmental efforts.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Native American Youth Gather in Santa Fe for DOJ Summit

More than 110 American Indian and Alaska Native youth representing 21 tribal communities from across the nation have gathered in Santa Fe, N.M., for the Department of Justice-hosted Tribal Youth Summit. The event, beginning yesterday and ending on Friday, is being held at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

The youth attending the summit were nominated by their tribal community and selected by representatives of the department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Office on Violence Against Women.

On opening night, attendees heard from speakers such as Larry Echo Hawk, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior, and Native American actor Wes Studi.

The summit also features sessions on the prevention of substance abuse, teen dating violence and gang involvement as well as strategies for promoting academic success during the middle- and high-school years and career opportunities for youth. Presenters include representatives from OVW, the Office for Victims of Crime, the Bureau of Indian Education, the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Criminal Justice Division and youth advocate George Galvis.

On July 21, DOJ will convene its first Listening to the Voices of Tribal Youth Circle, in which a youth representative from each tribal community will share a high-priority youth issue with top-ranking officials from the department and BIA. The goal is to create a venue for communication between tribal youth and federal government staff as a tool in shaping policy and programs that will affect tribal youth.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cherokee Tribal Council Approves Redistricting Plan

The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council voted to pass a plan that will establish five voting districts within its jurisdictional boundary beginning with the 2011 tribal elections, according to a press release issued by the tribe on July 14.

The plan would establish three council seats for each of the five districts, and candidates would file for one of the three seats in that district.

“The five districts are similar to U.S. Senators, where there is more than one representative in an area. The value of the five districts is that by default it promotes greater cooperation among community members living in that district,” said Chad Smith, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, located in Oklahoma.

The tribe is currently working under a nine-district model.

The plan also calls for the tribe to prepare a plan and budget for 2010/2011 to assist counties within its boundaries to complete the 911 enhanced address location and to determine the last known address for every tribal citizen registered with the Nation. The tribal council would then determine districting for the 2013 tribal elections based on that data.

Click here to view a map of the new districts.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Number of Minority-Owned Businesses Soars

The number of minority-owned businesses increased by 45.6 percent to 5.8 million between 2002 and 2007, more than twice the national rate of all U.S. businesses, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The number of American Indian/Alaska Native-owned businesses increased by 17.9 percent, totaling 237,386, while the number jumped by 60.5 percent for black-owned businesses and by 43.6 percent for Hispanic-owned businesses. The total number of U.S. businesses increased by 18.0 percent to 27.1 million.

In 2007, 30.5 percent of AI/AN-owned businesses were in construction, repair and maintenance and personal and laundry services.

AI/AN-owned businesses accounted for 10.0 percent of businesses in Alaska, 6.3 percent in Oklahoma and 5.3 percent in New Mexico.

Receipts of minority-owned businesses rose 55.6 percent to $1.0 trillion between 2002 and 2007, ranging from a high of 62.9 percent for Native Hawaiian- and Other Pacific Islander-owned businesses to 28.3 percent for AI/AN-owned businesses, which totaled $34.5 billion.

The data comes from the Preliminary Estimates of Business Ownership by Gender, Ethnicity, Race and Veteran Status: 2007, from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2007 Survey of Business Owners. The report is the first of 10 on the characteristics of minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses and their owners to be released over the next year.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mashantucket Pequot Eliminates Per Cap Payments to Members

Burdened with more than $2 billion in debt, the Mashantucket Pequot tribe in Connecticut, owner/operator of Foxwoods Resort Casino, has decided to eliminate per cap payments to its members, according to a piece published on July 13 by The Day of New London, Conn. Payments are scheduled to stop at the end of 2010.

The article said it was not clear if it was a totally voluntary move by the tribe as it strives to restructure its debt or if it was pressured to do so by its senior lenders: Kien Huat, a Malaysian group that financed construction of Foxwoods, and a syndicate that provided a $700 million credit line, which matured on July 13.

A year ago, the monthly per cap payments, received by about 450 adult members, ranged from $7,500 and $10,000.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Native American Domestic Violence Program Showed Dramatic Success

A domestic violence program funded by the Administration for Children and Families and the Indian Health Service has showed dramatic success at improving the health system’s response at IHS facilities across the United States, according to Building Domestic Violence Health Care Responses: A Promising Practices Report, published this week by the Family Violence Prevention Fund.

The program, called the IHS/ACF Domestic Violence Project, began in 2002. It included routinely screening women for domestic violence when they sought services at more than 100 participating IHS facilities in 18 states as well as training staff members at these facilities and domestic violence advocacy programs across the country on domestic violence health system change, the development of community-wide domestic violence response teams, creating patient education materials and other components.

When the program began, only 4 percent of women at IHS facilities were screened by doctors and nurses for domestic violence. By 2009, when the program ended, 48 percent were being screened.

“In Indian country, health care providers are often the first responders to domestic violence, and the health care setting offers a critical opportunity for early identification and primary prevention of abuse,” said Anna Marjavi, FVPF program manager and co-author of the Promising Practices report, said in a press release.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Federal Disaster Funds Now Available to Rocky Boy’s Reservation

On July 10, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that federal disaster aid has been made available to the state of Montana to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the areas struck by severe storms and flooding last month.

Federal funds are available to state, tribal and eligible local governments and some private non-profit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the storms and flooding in Hill County and the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, a press release issued by FEMA said.

Flooding damaged hundreds of homes on Rocky Boy’s reservation, home to the Chippewa Cree Tribe; the tribe’s water distribution infrastructure, leaving thousands without water temporarily; and the clinic.

Friday, July 9, 2010

NLRB Orders Union Election to Be Held at Foxwoods

The National Labor Relations Board’s Regional Office in Connecticut has ordered that a union election be held at Foxwoods Resort and Casino, operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, according to a press release issued by the NLRB on July 8.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 371, had filed a petition for the election that covers about 375 bartenders, beverage servers, lounge hosts and bar porters; however, the tribe argued that the NLRB did not have jurisdiction on tribal land and it wanted the election conducted through its own labor relations agency, created three years ago in response to an earlier union petition.

In issuing his decision, Regional Director Jonathan B. Kreisberg relied on previous decisions by the NLRB: The Board would take jurisdiction on tribal lands except in matters of “self-government in purely intramural matters,” in cases where it would abrogate treaty rights or where there is “proof” in statutory language that Congress did not intend for the law to apply to tribes. He found that none of those conditions applied.

He also found that the tribe’s labor relations law is not comparable to the National Labor Relations Act in that it bans strikes, exempts employee safety and other subjects from collective bargaining and requires tribal licensing of any union business agent.

The NLRB has ordered two previous elections at Foxwoods, one involving the United Auto Workers.

Three union elections have been held at Foxwoods, all for different unions and sets of employees and all under the tribe’s labor relations law.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Navajo Scholar Makes Effects of Uranium Mining Life’s Work

There are many reasons to choose a career, but for Navajo Monica Yellowhair it’s all about doing something positive for her tribe.

Yellowhair, 29 and a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Arizona, has pledged to make researching the causes and prevention of cancer among the Navajo people that were allegedly caused by depleted uranium her life’s work.

Beginning in the mid-20th century, uranium was mined for decades on the Navajo Reservation; it was mainly used by the federal government to make weapons.

“Many of the Navajo men had been willing to work in the mines, but people were exposed to radiation and not told about the hazards. As a result, many miners got sick, and several have died of lung cancer,” Yellowhair said.

While the mines have been abandoned, hundreds of them were not cleaned and sealed. Thus environmental and health risks remain.

Growing up on the Navajo Reservation, which spans four states (Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico), Yellowhair has always been interested in science. Yet her motivation for pursuing a career in pharmacology and toxicology is very personal.

“In the past, I had heard stories from some of the older people in our community about the uranium mining and about a lot of the hardships that their families had to deal with because of the mining,” she said.

Yellowhair completed her undergraduate work at Northern Arizona University, earning a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and a master’s degree in chemistry. While her Ph.D. major is in pharmacology and toxicology, she is working toward a minor in cancer biology. For her research, she is studying depleted uranium to determine how exposure to it might cause the DNA damage that can increase vulnerability to cancer. Now in her last year of her Ph.D. program, she plans to become a professor at a university that is close to the reservation so that she can continue her research.

Although the S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields are challenging, Yellowhair said she would love to see more Native Americans pursuing these kinds of careers.

“There is funding available, no matter where you go,” she said.

Her undergraduate studies were paid for through tribal and private scholarships. As a Scholar of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Indigenous Graduate Partnership Program, which is administered and supported by the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc. (NACME), she has the support needed to complete her Ph.D. program.

NACME, in fact, has played a role in getting more Native Americans into S.T.E.M. fields. Since 1974, it has supported more than 22,000 underrepresented minority students, American Indians/Alaska Natives among them, and has awarded more than $114 million in scholarships through a national network of leading corporate and university partners. It also offers several middle school and high school programs, including innovation grants for teachers and mentorship programs.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

National Indian Education Association Selects New Executive Director

On July 6, the National Indian Education Association, the nation's largest Indian education organization, announced that its board of directors has selected Colin Kippen to serve as its new executive director.

Kippen currently serves as executive director of the Native Hawaiian Education Council, which assesses and coordinates innovative education programs for Native Hawaiians and makes policy recommendations to governmental entities to improve the education and well being of Native Hawaiians.

Kippen has also served as senior counsel to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; deputy administrator for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in charge of protecting and expanding Native Rights; chief judge of the Suquamish Indian Tribe in Washington and appellate judge for several other tribes in Washington and Oregon; and trial attorney and prosecutor in King County, Wash. He is also a former member of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation and Act (NAGPRA) Review Committee, including serving as its chairman.

“Colin Kippen has been a long time friend of the Association, and we welcome his passion and enthusiasm for providing a long time voice for Native education,” NIEA President Patricia L. Whitefoot said in a press release.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Turning 10, National Conservation Lands Threatened

The National Conservation Lands turn 10 years old this month, and the anniversary is being used to raise awareness of the issues that threaten them, including vandalism, looting and irresponsible recreation.

The 28 million acres of nationally significant landscapes were set aside by Congress in 2000 for current and future generations because of their outstanding cultural, ecological and scientific importance. The 800 units within the National Conservation Lands system are home to Native American sites, rare plants and animals, dinosaur fossils and prehistoric track ways.

In a press release issued on July 1 announcing the anniversary, the Conservation Lands Foundation told of Native American rock art being used for target practice or scratched out; boulders containing petroglyphs vanishing; signs warning of the presence of endangered plants and wildlife being repainted or removed; rock shelters and habitation sites having been burrowed into, sifted through and dug out by people looking for artifacts; and looters disturbing human remains.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Your input is needed!

Cherokee Nation Files Suit against Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit in the Davidson County Chancery Court against the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs, arguing that it violated the state's Open Meetings Act when its members voted to grant trial recognition to six Native American groups on June 19, according to an article published by the Chattanooga Times Free Press on July 1. The lawsuit asks the court to declare the commission's action "void and without effect."

The groups recognized include: Chikamaka Band, Cherokee Wolf Clan, United Eastern Lenape Nation, Tanasi Council, Central Band of Cherokee and Remnant Yuchi Nation.

The groups contend that they are “remnant" tribes of Indians who successfully eluded the removal of Cherokees and others from the southeastern United States in the 19th century.

The suit argues that the groups are bogus, that they base their claims on "unreliable information." It also alleges that commissioners secretly discussed and deliberated on the action before their June 19 meeting, which, the article says, constitutes legal grounds to void the formal grants of recognition under the state's "Sunshine Law."

The complaint was filed on June 30, the commission's last day of existence.