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National Briefs


National Briefs: October 2014
Monday, October 06 2014
 
Written by The Circle Staff,
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FINAL ROUND OF PAYMENTS MADE IN COBELL SETTLEMENT

HELENA, MT – Hundreds of thousands of Native Americans received the final cash payments the week of Sept. 16 from one of the largest government settlements in U.S. history, about three years after the deal was approved.

Checks ranging from $869 to $10 million were sent beginning on Sept. 16 to more than 493,000 people by the administrators of the $3.4 billion settlement from a class-action lawsuit filed by the late Elouise Cobell of Browning, Mont. Approximately $941 million was distributed in this second round of payments.

Cobell, the former Blackfeet tribal treasurer, sued after finding the government squandered billions of dollars in royalties for land it held in trust for individual Indians that was leased for development, exploration or agriculture. The mismanagement stretched back to the 1880s, the lawsuit found. She died of cancer in 2011, after more than 15 years of doggedly pursuing the lawsuit, rallying Native Americans around the cause and lobbying members of Congress for its approval.

Cobell was present when a federal judge approved the settlement just months before her death. But it took years to work through the appeals and then sort through incomplete and erroneous information provided by the government to identify all the beneficiaries. Some 22,000 people listed in the data provided had died, while 1,000 more listed as dead were still alive, according to officials.

The payments are the second of two distributions in the settlement. The first distributions of $1,000 apiece went to more than 339,000 people. This second, final round of distributions is based on a formula looking at 10 years of the highest earnings on those individual landowners’ accounts.

The settlement also includes a $1.9 billion land buy-back program now underway in which willing landowners sell the government their land allotments to be consolidated and turned over to the tribes.

 


National Briefs: September 2014
Monday, September 08 2014
 
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VIDEO CALLS OUT FEDEX FOR WASHINGTON TEAM SPONSORSHIP

PAWHUSKA, Okla. – The Native Voice Network released a video on Sept. 7, urging the courier company FedEx to end its corporate sponsorship of the Washington NFL team. The release was timed to coincide with the team's season opener.

Native Voice Network is a coalition of 25 Native American organizations and commissioned the online Native comedy troupe 1491s' Ryan Redcorn to write and produce the clip titled, “FedEx Fail.”

The video features artist and filmmaker Steven Paul Judd and draws comparisons between racism directed at Native Americans and other ethnicities, Redcorn told media.

NVN spokeswoman Chrissie Castro said what matters most is the mental wellness and stability of Native American children. Castro cited the American Psychological Association’s call to ban Indian mascots on the grounds that such images and language have a negative impact on a Native American child’s self-esteem. "FedEx doesn't think this is a particularly important issue," Castro wrote in a press release. “We do. How can you put a price on our children’s mental health? … We’ve received a lot of negative backlash from proponents of the Washington Team retaining its name. I just have to ask myself, ‘When did America’s pastime become more important than America’s children?’"

National Briefs: August 2014
Thursday, August 07 2014
 
Written by The Circle Staff,
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WASHINGTON TRIBE LEGALIZES GAY MARRIAGE

PUYALLUP, Wash. – The Puyallup Tribe of Indians became the latest tribe to legalize marriage for gay and lesbian citizens.

While the state of Washington has recognized gay marriage since 2012, the tribal council unanimously passed an amendment to the tribe's domestic relations code on July 9.

Council member Maggie Edwards cited equality and tradition for the passage of the amendment. "It's really about equal treatment of all your members – all your members should have the same rights and under the circumstances prior to the enactment of the resolution, they didn't all have the same rights. In the outer culture, people can be mean if you're different. We embrace each other regardless of our lumps, bumps and whoever we love – that's just how it is here."

 

KEEPSEAGLE SETTLEMENT NO LONGER OFFERING PAYOUTS

CATOOSA, Okla. – Despite several pleas from claimants and would-be claimants, there will not be another round of payouts in the Keepseagle v. Vilsack class action settlement.

Settled in 2010, Keepseagle v. Vilsack was initially filed in 1999 by a group of Native American farmers who claimed the USDA discriminated against them while applying for farm loans. Some were denied loans that were given to white farmers with similar histories while others received loans but received little if any service in the process.

The plaintiffs have received $760 million in the settlement, but with fewer claimants successfully able to prove their case than expected, $380 million remains to be spent, prompting a series of listening sessions across Indian Country throughout August, including one July 30 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Catoosa that drew more than 100 farmers and ranchers from as far away as Alabama. Attorney Joe Sellers said at the session that the USDA will not agree to any more payours or claimant classes and neither would the court.

The proposal presented at the session would place $342 million in a trust fund that would be overseen by 11 court-appointed trustees. Those trustees would have up to 20 years to distribute the money to non-profit organizations that have provided advocacy or some form of help to farmer and business owners in Indian Country. Individuals could not directly receive funds from the trust but could be an indirect recipient, such as through a grantee’s scholarship program.

The proposal would also make the remaining $38 million available to non-profit organizations within six months of the settlement’s final approval via a “fast track” portion. Those funds could only be allocated to non-profit organizations that existed prior to October 2010 and provided advocacy or assistance to farmers and business owners in Indian Country.

No funds will be distributed until the court approves the settlement plan.

Additional listening sessions are scheduled for Aug. 12 in Rapid City, S.D.; Aug. 14 in Bismarck, N.D.; Aug. 19 in Spokane, Wash.; Aug. 21 in Billings, Mont.; and Aug. 26 in Raleigh, N.C. All in-person sessions are scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. local time.

Webinars and conference calls are also scheduled for Aug. 6, Aug. 16, and Aug. 20. Participants are asked to sign up in advance and registration links are available through www.indianaglink.com.


National Briefs: July 2014
Monday, July 07 2014
 
Written by The Circle Staff,
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PATENT OFFICE CANCELS WASHINGTON TEAM'S TRADEMARK

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled six trademarks belonging to the Washington football team on June 18, saying they are offensive to Native Americans.

The team, which has said it has spent millions defending trademark over the years, will appeal the decision, a process that could take years. The Patent Office will continue to treat the trademark registrations as though they are valid during the appeals process, according to a spokesperson.

In the meantime, the team can continue to use the logos portraying a Native American profile with feathers. If the decision is upheld, it will be hard for the team to claim ownership of its brand, a crucial step in going after the makers of unlicensed merchandise. Instead, the team will have to illustrate that it has always used the logos, rather than relying official trademark registrations. The decision came in response to a suit brought by five Native plaintiffs.

In May, 49 senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, signed a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying that the "team is on the wrong side of history," and that he should endorse a name change. A week later, a coalition of 77 tribal, civil rights and religious groups, including the National Congress of American Indians and the NAACP, signed a letter urging players to campaign to change the team's mascot.

The team adopted its name and logo in 1933, when it was based in Boston. It had been known as the Braves but changed the name to honor William Henry "Lone Star" Dietz, their coach at the time, who was a Native American, according to a legal brief filed by the team in a previous matter.

The trademark, which was granted in 1967, has been renewed several times, but the Patent Office previously canceled the registration in 1999. A federal judge overturned that decision in 2003, saying there was no proof that the name was disparaging at the time of registration. The team's trademark attorney Bob Raskopf said he believed this decision, like the previous one, would be overturned.

National Briefs: June 2014
Friday, June 06 2014
 
Written by The Circle Staff,
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FIRST NATIVE AMERICAN FEDERAL JUDGE CONFIRMED BY SENATE

WASHINGTON, DC – Hopi citizen Diane Humetewa made history on May 14 when the United States Senate confirmed her to serve on the federal bench as judge for the U.S. District Court for Arizona, the first American Indian woman to serve in the federal judiciary.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs applauded Humetewa’s appointment. “Diane Humetewa is an inspiration to Native people, especially Native women across Indian Country. This is an important appointment and long overdue. I’m pleased that the Senate came together in a bipartisan way to get this done. As the only Native American in active service on the federal bench, Diane provides much-needed expertise on the complexities of federal law and Indian sovereignty.”

Until her confirmation, Humetewa served as Special Advisor to the President and Special Counsel in the Office of General Counsel at Arizona State University. She is also a Professor of Practice at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

From 2002 to 2007, Humetewa was an Appellate Court Judge for the Hopi Tribe Appellate Court. From 2009 to 2011, Humetewa was Of Counsel with Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP. She worked in the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Arizona from 1996 to 2009, serving as Senior Litigation Counsel from 2001 to 2007 and as the United States Attorney from 2007 to 2009. During her tenure in the United States Attorney’s Office, Humetewa also served as Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General from 1996 to 1998.

From 1993 to 1996, she was Deputy Counsel for the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Humetewa received her Juris Doctor in 1993 from Arizona State University College of Law and her Bachelor’s of Science in 1987 from Arizona State.

On February 27, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Humetewa’s nomination. Previously, Humetewa served as a prosecutor and an appellate court judge for the Hopi Nation, and was the first Native American woman to serve as a U.S. Attorney.


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