National Briefs: August 2014
Thursday, August 07 2014
Written by The Circle Staff,
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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."



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


WORLEY, Idaho – The Coeur d'Alene Tribe on July 21 cancelled a performance by Ted Nugent scheduled for Aug. 4 at its casino.

The tribe said that the cancellation of the concert was because of what it called the performer's "racist and hate-filled remarks." It said it booked Nugent without realizing he espoused "racist attitudes and views." The tribe did not detail which of Nugent's specific views it opposes. However, early reports indicated that the Southern Poverty Law Center brought Nugent's public comments to the tribe's attention.

“We adamantly do not want our casino to be used as a venue for the racist attitudes and views that Ted Nugent espouses,” casino director of marketing Laura Stensgar said. “Unfortunately, when we booked him, we were looking at him from an entertainment perspective, as an 80s rock and roller, who we thought folks might enjoy,” she said. “We take the comments and concerns of our community very seriously and we apologize to anyone who was offended by the idea that we would promote these kinds of attitudes. We will do our best to avoid such mistakes moving forward.”

Following suit, the Puyallup Tribe of Washington also cancelled an Aug. 2 and 3 concert at its Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Wash.

Nugent subsequently called protestors and the Southern Poverty Law Center, “unclean vermin” opposed to his success. On Aug. 1, he appeared on Glenn Beck's radio show, defending his relationship with Native people. Nugent told Beck that he had been invited to Indian schools for 40 years to teach Native youth about bow-hunting and sobriety. “And my lifestyle, as a white guy, though I'm hard to accept that designation, is more in the Indian tradition than many of the Indians themselves.”


WASHINGTON – Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) announced July 30 that the Native American Languages Reauthorization Act (S. 2299) successfully passed out of the Indian Affairs Committee and will now head to the Senate Floor.

“Native languages are a link to previous generations and will help preserve Native cultures for future generations,” Johnson said. “This bill will reauthorize one of the few federal funding opportunities available to tribes and tribal organizations to ensure that Native languages are not lost.”

Following Administration and tribal stakeholder input during an Indian Affairs Committee hearing in June, Johnson worked on the bill during committee markup. His changes to the bill are intended to increase the sustainability and flexibility of the Native language grant program. In addition, more language schools and language nests in low populated and remote areas will be eligible to access this important grant funding. The duration of grant awards could be extended up to five years to give projects a more stable funding source and increase the impact of each project.

Johnson introduced the Native American Languages Reauthorization Act in May. The Native American Languages Act was first signed into law in 1992 and established a grant program within the Native American Programs Act of 1974 to ensure the survival of Native American languages. The Native American languages grant program was last reauthorized by Congress with the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act in 2006. It reauthorized and expanded the Native American language grant program to include a grant initiative to support and strengthen Native American language immersion programs.


HELENA, Mont. – The leaders of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians have worked to draft a bill that would remove “halfbreed” and “breed” from landmark names around Montana to the state's Tribal Relations Legislative Committee on Aug. 4.

Nicholas Vrooman, who works with the tribe, presented the bill draft on behalf of the tribe, saying the words are racist terms that demean Native people. “Using the terms is a way to really denigrate people; place them on lower rung of society,” he said. The idea for the bill came out of work with tribal members on the Montana Indian Languages Preservation Pilot Program.

The bill would require state and other agencies to identify places with the terms and remove them from maps, signs and markers when age or vandalism calls for an update. It would also create a volunteer advisory group that would determine replacement names. Under the proposed bill, replacement names would come from the tribe’s three traditional, historic languages: Chippewa, Cree and Michif.

Halfbreed Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of 17 places throughout Montana with the word “halfbreed” or “breed” in the name, according to Vrooman’s research. He said he modeled the bill after one that passed through the Montana Legislature in 1999 to remove the word “squaw” from place names in the state.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is the interagency panel that approves all names on maps put out by federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service. In 1963, it changed all geographic names containing the derogatory form of Negro, and in 1974 it changed all names containing the disparaging form of Japanese.

Vrooman’s next task involves finding a legislator to sponsor the bill and introduce it during the 2015 legislative session, which begins in January. Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer, (R-Superior), who sits on the State-Tribal Relations committee, said whether the bill is introduced by members of that committee or by another legislator, he thinks it will come up in January.


WINNEBAGO, Neb. – The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska faces an Oct. 25 deadline to address deficiencies at the hospital on the reservation.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services investigated the Winnebago Hospital after a patient died there. Patients also made complaints about the service.

Chairman John Blackhawk said the hospital was given a 14-page list of corrections. “I think administratively we’re looking at how we can prevent this from happening and how we can respond better,” he told media.

CMS threatened to cut Medicare due to non-compliance issues.



WASHINGTON – The Bureau of Indian Affairs is still reviewing the land-into-trust application submitted by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts.

Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn initially promised a decision in spring 2013. That didn't happen and now he's not saying when he will take action.

"The process takes a long time," Washburn told media. "I haven't seen all the evidence yet so I can't prejudge it."

The application – the tribe's first – was filed in August 2007 but the process slowed as the tribe changed gaming sites, changed gaming partners and changed leadership. The draft environmental impact statement wasn't published until November 2013.

The next step for the BIA would be the final environmental impact statement. That's usually followed by a record of decision and then the actual placing of the land in trust.

The tribe's main hurdle is the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar. The ruling restricts the land-into-trust process to tribes that were "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934.

The Mashpees didn't gain recognition until May 2007.


STANFORD, Calif. – Navajo/Pueblo golfer Notah Begay, III is being recognized by his alma mater, Stanford University.

Begay will be inducted into the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame this October. As a student there, he helped lead the golf team to the 1994 national championship and was named All-American in 1992, 1994 and 1995.

In related news, Begay is hosting his seventh annual Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge on Aug. 27. The event takes place at the Atunyote Golf Club on the Oneida Nation in New York.

This year's lineup includes Tiger Woods, who was Begay's teammate at Stanford. The tournament will raise money to fight obesity and diabetes among Native youth and to promote leadership development for Native youth.

“We couldn’t do this without the strong support of my friends on the PGA TOUR,” Begay said in a press release. “The draw of these amazing golfers is essential in raising the resources to fund change. Thanks also to Oneida Indian Nation and all the passionate fans. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to return to Central New York and continue strengthening our partnership."



WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The Navajo Nation Council is considering a bill that would put a term-limit referendum on the ballot.

Tribal law imposes a two-term limit on the office of the president. The Navajo Nation Supreme Court, ruled recently that the restriction only applies to two consecutive terms.

The bill would change that by barring a person from serving more than two terms as president during his of her her lifetime. If it's approved by the council, the referendum would go before voters this November.

If the referendum passes, it goes into effect in 2018. Meaning that former president Joe Shirley, Jr. can continue his campaign this year for a third, non-consecutive term as president.



MT. PLEASANT, Mich. – Members of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan who are being disenrolled held a protest on July 26.

The tribe is removing 234 people from the rolls. Most have been targeted in the past and had their cases dismissed so they question why the effort has restarted. “This isn’t just a membership issue or an employment issue,” Lisa Kennedy told media at the protest, which took place along with the tribe's 30th anniversary powwow. “This is an issue of human rights.”

The tribe's Office of Administrative Hearings has allowed the disenrollment proceedings to move forward.



MONTVILLE, Conn. – The Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut saw declines in revenues and profits at its gaming enterprise.

For the quarter ending June 30, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority said profits were $13.9 million, down from $22.3 million in the same quarter last year. That represents a 37.7 percent decline.

Net revenues were $326.3 million, down from $344.2 million a year ago. That represents a 5.2 percent decline.

“Although we were able to gain market share in both Connecticut and Pennsylvania during the quarter, the overall lack of confidence in the economy and decline in discretionary dollars continue to be a challenge,” Mitchell Grossinger Etess, Chief Executive Officer of the MTGA, said in a press release.

The tribe operates the Mohegan Sun, an Indian gaming facility on its reservation in Connecticut, and the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, a commercial facility in Pennsylvania.

In related news, the tribe gave up the lease on a proposed commercial casino in western Massachusetts. The tribe continues to pursue a commercial license in the eastern part of the state.

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