Thursday, September 30, 2010

Utah Supreme Court Dismisses Navajo Nation Appeal to Undo Adoption

The Utah Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by the Navajo Nation to undo the adoption of two Navajo siblings by a non-Native American couple due to the tribe's failure to file the appeal with the tribe’s signature on time, according to a piece published by the Salt Lake Tribune on Sept. 28.

The ruling, issued this week, marks the first time that the justices have held that neither the Indian Child Welfare Act nor the quasi-sovereign status of tribes trump state filing requirements, the article said.

Attorneys for the adoptive parents, Ricardo and Suzi Ramos, first argued the case on May 1, 2009.

“We think this is a very fair and just result, especially when taking into consideration the best interests of these two children,” Wes Hutchins, a Ramos’ attorney, told the Tribune.

The children, Ella and Anthony, both enrolled members of the Navajo Nation, were adopted by the couple in 2008, two years after they were brought into the family as foster children. The couple has said that they have kept the kids connected to their heritage.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Picture of Tacoma's Native American Monument

In response to your requests, the City of Tacoma's Community and Economic Development Department has provided an image of the city's first Native American monument. Our post from last week described the monument as "a cedar statue of a Native American woman. Located in Tollefson Plaza, a place that was once an important village site to the Puyallup people (the first people to occupy Tacoma), she stands 22 feet tall and wears a traditional woven cedar hat and white dress with a Thunderbird design. Her hands are outstretched in a welcoming gesture."

Photo provided by City of Tacoma Community and Economic Development Department, taken by Steven Miller.

Saginaw Chippewa Tribe to Erect First Wind Turbine

This fall, the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe in Michigan will erect its first wind turbine, according to an article published by Central Michigan Life on Sept. 27.

The 148-foot, commercial grade, three-bladed turbine will be hooked up to existing power lines and the grid to power greenhouses and cool and heat homes.

The project is the result of a wind feasibility study that the tribe conducted in 2004 with the U.S. Department of Energy. Originally, the turbine, to be located on Tomah Road (near the Elijah Elk Cultural Center), was to only power greenhouses, but the tribe expanded the project to include tribal housing.

The project is being coordinated through the tribe’s Housing and Planning Departments, Seventh Generation Cultural Center, the United States Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Tribal Housing Manager April Borton told Central Michigan Life, “We are happy to make this a reality and lower tenants’ costs.”

The tribe is approaching this project as a first phase. If it is successful, more will be built at other locations in the future.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Recession Not Over for Tribal Casinos

The recession ended in June 2009. That’s what economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research announced last week. But for the many tribal casinos that are still experiencing revenue decreases, it’s far from over.

At the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, owned/operated by the Mohegan Tribe, revenues dropped so much that it had to do something it had tried so desperately not to do since the economy started going downhill: It had to layoff workers. As reported by the AP on Sept. 14, 355 employees will be let go, and another 120 will be reassigned.

Mohegan Sun blames the job cuts on a drop in slot revenues. During the fiscal year ending in Sept. 2009, the casino reported gross slot revenues of around $780 million, almost a 9 percent decrease from the same month last year.

With more than 8,500 workers, Mohegan Sun is one of Connecticut’s largest employers. This is the first time it has ever had to layoff workers since opening its doors in 1996.

In addition to shedding jobs, the casino plans to shut down one of its buffet restaurants and use more third-party operators for its eateries, according to the AP article.

Nearby Foxwoods and the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, owned by the Mashantucket Pequot, are also reporting declines. On Sept. 15, Foxwoods issued a press release stating that slot revenue in Aug. was $59.2 million, a decrease of 6.3 percent in slot win and a decrease of 3.2 percent in total slot handle as compared to Aug. 2009.

“Our August results are a reflection of prolonged economic conditions and the challenges they present to our, and just about every other, business,” said Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprises President William Sherlock in the release.

Foxwoods was forced to layoff workers in 2008, reducing its workforce by approximately 6 percent.

In California, Cache Creek Casino Resort, owned by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, recently decided to suspend a big expansion project, one that included a 2,200-seat event center, 900-car parking garage and other amenities.

"The outlook for the economy, both locally and across the U.S., just made this decision necessary," tribal spokesman Greg Larsen was quoted as saying in an article published by on Sept. 16.

The project is not the first one to be put on hold by the casino. Last fall, it put the brakes on a bigger project, which included a 10-story hotel tower, also due to the bad economy.

In June, the National Indian Gaming Commission released data showing that revenues generated by the Indian gaming industry (233 tribes in the United States engaged in gaming) in 2009 totaled $26.5 billion, a dip from the $26.7 billion reported in 2008.

In 2009, 58 percent of tribal gaming operations reported a decrease in revenue, with about half of those showing decreases of less than 10 percent from 2008. Nearly 40 percent, however, reported an increase, with about 15 percent showing a 50 percent jump. NIGC credits those increases for the most part to casinos opening in 2008 and recognizing the first full-year revenue impact in 2009 and to casino expansions.

Casinos across the country, from Los Vegas to Atlantic City, are seeing revenue drops. Nationwide, revenues fell to $30.74 billion in 2009, a 5.5 percent decrease from 2008, according to a report released by the American Gaming Association in May.

And it does not look like 2010 will be much better. In addition to what the Connecticut casinos are experiencing, tribal operations in Arizona, Wisconsin and other states are still reporting fewer dollars coming in.

Friday, September 24, 2010

New Yorker Cartoon Draws Charges of Racism

Who ever thought The New Yorker would stoop so low? Check out this week's cartoon caption contest winner. The link here is to the Gawker blog, which was quick to question the wisdom of the cartoon editors who chose the cartoon and caption and of the New Yorker readers who voted for it. The comments on the Gawker post are worth reading too. The cartoon is printed on the last page of the September 27 issue of The New Yorker.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tacoma’s First Native American Monument Stands 22 Feet Tall

It took about a decade, but the City of Tacoma has its first Native American monument.

The monument is a cedar statue of a Native American woman. Located in Tollefson Plaza, a place that was once an important village site to the Puyallup people (the first people to occupy Tacoma), she stands 22 feet tall and wears a traditional woven cedar hat and white dress with a Thunderbird design. Her hands are outstretched in a welcoming gesture.

The statue was carved by Puyallup artist Shaun Peterson (Qwalsius). According to an article published by The Olympian on Aug. 15, when Peterson set out on this project in 2000, the piece was to be only eight feet tall. But thanks to his dream, financial support from the community and some luck in finding a log tall enough, he was able to more than double the size.

The piece was unveiled at a celebratory event, hosted by the City of Tacoma, Puyallup Tribe of Indians and Tacoma Art Museum, on Sept. 18.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Native Hawaiians More Likely to Suffer Early Death

A University of Michigan study has found that Native Hawaiians are more at risk of suffering an early death than white Americans, as reported by Medical News Today on Sept. 20.

The study shows that Native Hawaiian infants (less than one year old) and young people between the ages of 15 and 34 are especially vulnerable to early death compared to white Americans in the same age groups.

The research also shows that older Native Hawaiians have higher expected death rates than both blacks and whites age 65 and over.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there were 874,000 Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders in the United States, with Native Hawaiians making up about 46 percent of the race group.

The research, published in the November 2010 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, is the first known study to assess mortality patterns among Native Hawaiians at the national level, including those living outside the state of Hawaii. It was funded by the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Montana Governor Releases 2010 Tribal Relations Report

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer last week released the 2010 Tribal Relations Report, which highlights efforts of the state and the eight tribal nations in the state to work together during FY 2010.

The 72-page report, a result of a 2003 state law, highlights more than 650 cooperative agreements, trainings, projects and collaborative efforts in effect between the state and the tribes during the fiscal year, covering every aspect of governmental operations, including economic development, the delivery of human services, environmental stewardship, cooperation on finance and justice issues and education.

“This report demonstrates the State of Montana’s commitment to sincere and meaningful state-tribal relationships,” Governor Schweitzer said in a press release announcing the report. “We look forward to continuing these historic efforts and strengthening the government-to-government relationship."

The full report is available online at

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mississippi Band of Choctaw to Start Healing to Wellness Court for Youth

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians will next month start a Healing to Wellness Court for youth.

The Youth HTWC is being adapted from the tribe’s successful Adult HTWC, established five years ago with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Wilma J. Simpson, who is with the tribe’s Office of Public Information, said 13 have graduated from the Adult HTWC and 16 are currently in the program.

A Tribal Juvenile Accountability grant, awarded in 2009 by the USDOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, is funding the Choctaw’s Youth HTWC for three years, with the first year a planning year. The tribe is hoping to start it on Oct. 1, 2010, Simpson said.

Also called “drug courts” or just “wellness courts,” healing to wellness courts are now part of many tribal judicial systems. While most that have been started are dedicated to adults, there are a few out there for youth. The Cherokee Nation, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians are just a few examples of tribes that have one for juveniles.

The overall goal of these courts is to rehabilitate the offender, rather than send him/her to prison. They generally include a referral to treatment services, monitoring alcohol and/or drug usage, random drug testing and supervising the progress of the participant’s treatment through frequent appearances in the wellness court. As a rehabbed offender is unlikely to offend again, these courts help reduce crime.

The Choctaw already has an advisory board for its Youth HTWC in place. It is comprised of representatives from the tribe’s Court Services, the Attorney General’s Office, Legal Defense, Police Department and Behavioral Health department. Board members will meet weekly with the judge to review the progress of each participant.

Simpson said it also has an eight-bedroom, dorm-style building, where participants will reside during their transition period.

For participants, progress (or compliance) will be monitored through periodic and random drug tests. Successful completion of the program will result in the dismissal of the charges against them.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Alzheimer's Association Opening Office on North Carolina Indian Reservation

The Alzheimer’s Association has partnered with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina to open an office and counseling center, as reported by Smoky Mountain News on Sept. 15. This will be the first time the association has had a permanent presence on tribal lands.

The new office and counseling center will officially open on Sept. 20. It will be located in the tribe’s Health and Medical Division Building in Cherokee. There will be festivities to mark the grand opening, and on Sept. 21, which is World Alzheimer’s Day, there will be an awareness walk.

While located on tribal lands, the office and center will serve all residents in counties west of Asheville.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Plans Announced for Cleanup of Two Uranium-Contaminated Sites on Navajo and Hopi Reservations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has entered into two enforcement actions, both of which will result in the cleaning up of uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation and Hopi reservations, according to a press release issued by the EPA on Sept. 13.

In one settlement, Rio Algom Mining LLC, a subsidiary of Canadian corporation BHP Billiton, has agreed to control releases of radium (a decay product of uranium) from the Quivira Mine Site, near Gallup, N.M. The company will also conduct a comprehensive investigation of the levels of contamination at the site.

Under the second settlement, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs will begin a comprehensive investigation of the levels of uranium and other contaminants in the waste, soils and groundwater at a landfill in Tuba City. It will also evaluate the feasibility of a range of cleanup actions.

From 1944 to 1986, millions of tons of uranium ore were mined from these lands. While the mines are now closed, the contamination from some 500 of them remains, as do homes built with contaminated mine waste and contaminated water wells. Potential health effects from this contamination include lung cancer, bone cancer and impaired kidney function.

In January 2008, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform directed five federal agencies (Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Energy, Indian Health Services and Nuclear Regulatory Commission) to work together to address this problem. They developed a five-year plan to address contaminated homes, wells, mine sites, mills and dumps. The recently announced cleanup efforts are part of this plan.

The coordinated plan has already resulted in the replacement of 14 homes, the assessment of more than 200 mines and funding for water systems that will serve over 3,000 people with clean water, Jared Blumenfeld, Regional Administrator for EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region, said in the release.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Crow Tribal Leaders Call for Removal of IHS Hospital’s Clinical Director

Leaders of the Crow Tribe in Montana are calling for the removal of Dr. A. Scott Devous, clinical director at the Indian Health Service hospital on the reservation, after learning that he had been convicted of drug distribution charges 27 years ago in Wyoming, as reported by on Sept. 10.

Devous received his license to practice in Montana in 1989, but his Wyoming license was relinquished in 1983, just before he was indicted on federal drug charges, said. He had been found guilty of abusing Demerol and passing the drug to a girlfriend.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Collaborative to Develop Best Practices for Green, Culturally Appropriate Tribal Housing

An alliance of green designers, architects, affordable housing specialists and sustainability advocates is partnering with Native American communities in the Southwest to develop green and culturally appropriate housing best practices.

The alliance, started up with a $55,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Art, is called the Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative. It was founded by Jamie Blosser, AIA, LEED AP, associate and director of the Santa Fe, N.M., office of Atkin Olshin Schade Architects. The main partners are Enterprise Community Partners, a provider of capital and expertise for affordable housing and community development, and Architecture for Humanity, a global non-profit design services firm.

"With this collaborative, we are working to explore sustainable new ways to incorporate green design principles into tribal life that will support healthy, sustainable communities," Ed Rosenthal, vice president and director of the National Rural and Native American Program, Enterprise Community Partners, said in a press release.

The collaborative is not setting out to create new green housing standards. Blosser said that was already achieved with the Green Communities Criteria, developed by Enterprise Green Communities.

“We are really looking at combining cultural and environmental sustainability together,” she said.

The best practices will be developed from six housing project case studies, which will be selected over the next six to eight months. To be selected, projects must be in the planning or design phase, incorporate culturally appropriate design and/or green building practices and have the full support of tribal leadership. They must also be in tribal communities in the Southwest.

“The idea is to listen to the tribal leaders' sustainability goals, provide technical assistance to try to meet those goals and compile best practices guidelines based on the initial case studies,” Blosser said.

Tribes interested in submitting their projects for consideration can contact Blosser at or 505-216-0925, ext. 4.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Oneida Files Lawsuit over New York’s Cigarette Tax

The Oneida Indian Nation filed a lawsuit against New York Gov. David Paterson and the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance yesterday with the Northern District of New York, The Oneida Daily Dispatch reported today. The lawsuit questions the legality of the state’s action to collect tax on tobacco products sold to the tribe and its ability to provide tax-free cigarettes to its members.

Under the state’s current tax law, wholesalers and suppliers would be responsible for paying the state for sales and excise tax on its products, The Oneida Daily Dispatch piece said. The tribe would pay for that tax in the price of cigarettes from the supplier.

In late July, just weeks after New York passed a law that raised the tax on cigarettes to $4.35/pack and made cigarettes sold to non-Indians on reservations taxable, the Oneida announced that it is relocating its western New York cigarette manufacturing plant to a facility in its territory. And just a few days ago, the tribe said it will not buy any cigarettes from suppliers that imbed the state tax.

Last week, a federal judge issued an order barring the state from collecting taxes on cigarettes sold on the Seneca and Cayuga reservations, and the order was extended yesterday.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

IMLS Awards More Than $2 Million to Tribes for Library Services Enhancements

Seventeen tribal communities were selected by the Institute of Museum and Library Services to receive $2,030,562 in Native American Library Services Enhancement grants, according to a press release issued by the IMLS today.

The grants will help fund a wide range of projects, including:

  • The Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma will establish the Virtual Library of Cherokee Knowledge, designed to provide Cherokee citizens and the general public access to a comprehensive digital repository of authentic Cherokee knowledge related to the Nation's history, language, traditions, culture and leaders.
  • The Jemez Pueblo Community Library in New Mexico is undertaking a project focusing on the preservation of the Towa language and Jemez Pueblo culture, traditions and knowledge. The new “Towa Cultural Resource Center” in the library will serve as a central place to collect, house and make resources available to tribal members.
  • The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin is working in partnership with the College of Menominee Nation Library Special Collections Department and Wisconsin Heritage Online to house, preserve, catalog and digitize a large collection of rare and historically significant archival materials, many related directly to the personal, legal and national story of the tribe’s struggle for sovereignty during the Termination and Restoration period (1954 to 1973).
  • The Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma will develop the “Starting Points” program, which will establish a Literacy, Educational and Employment Resource Office within the library to assist community members in need of literacy and employment training. The tribe will facilitate and maintain tools necessary for participants to readily create resumes and easily access job skills training and job search opportunities.
  • The Hopi Tribe of Arizona will add the Kuwanomp’tap Sikisve (Computer Technology on Wheels) to its already very successful Hopi Tutuqayki Sikisve (Library on Wheels) from an earlier enhancement grant. The mobile computer lab will operate in tandem with the current bookmobile's schedule, in order to bring public computer and Internet access to the remote villages throughout the Hopi service area.
The next deadline for Native American Library Services Enhancement Grant applications is May 2, 2011.

For additional information, go to the IMLS Web site ( or contact Senior Program Officer Alison Freese at 202-653-4665 or

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Yocha Dehe Fire Dept. Becomes First in Indian Country to Earn CFAI Accreditation

Last month, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation’s fire department accomplished what few fire departments have accomplished: it earned its accreditation from the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI).

The CFAI program is a comprehensive self-assessment and evaluation model. As a benchmark, it allows fire departments to look at past, current and future service levels and performance and compare them to industry best practices.

It helps fire departments determine community risk and safety needs; evaluate the department’s performance; and establish a method for achieving continuous organizational improvement.

No other fire department in Indian Country has earned accreditation yet, and only 147 fire departments in the United States and Canada have been accredited.

Getting accredited was no easy feat for the Yocha Dehe Fire Department, which has 35 uniformed, full-time employees, three engines and other state-of-the-art fire and rescue equipment. It took six years of rigorous development, self-assessment and peer evaluation of its fire department’s administration, training, operational skills, documentation, equipment and facilities.

The accreditation is good for five years. During that period, the department must submit four Annual Compliance Reports that show that it is in compliance with the main performance indicators as well as report on progress made in carrying out its plan for improvement.

The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation is based in California’s Capa Valley. Its fire department, formed in 2003, provides fire protection, technical rescue and paramedic emergency services to the tribal community, the tribe’s Cache Creek Casino Resort and in surrounding areas. The department is guided by a 10-member fire commission.

"When we set out to build the Fire Department, we set the highest standards," Paula Lorenzo Tackett, tribal chairperson when the fire department was created, said in a press release.

"We were determined to build our fire department to complement services provided by the other departments in our region with whom we proudly work," said James Kinter, a member of the tribal council and Yocha Dehe Fire Commission Chairman.

The Chantilly, Va.-based Center for Public Safety Excellence, which the commission is part of, told AIR that no other tribe has pursued CFAI accreditation and none are in the process. It said via e-mail, “We hope that Yocha Dehe will set the example to others.”