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National Briefs: February 2015
Friday, February 06 2015
 
Written by The Circle Staff,
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ASSAILANTS FACING CHARGES AFTER HOCKEY GAME INCIDENT

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris said officials know the identity of at least one person who allegedly threw beer on and yelled racial slurs at a group of Native American students at a Rapid City Rush hockey game on Jan. 24.

Jegeris made the announcement at a press conference that followed a 2 1/2-hour closed-door meeting that included parents of the children, American Horse School officials, Oglala Sioux Tribal representatives, Mayor Sam Kooiker, police and the Pennington County State's Attorney's office.

"We're going to be looking at assault. We're going to look at the hate crimes statutes. We will look at the child abuse statutes. And, we will look at any other relevant statutes," Jergeris said of charges that may be filed against the person or people who participated in the harassment of the students.

American Horse School is in Allen on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The 57 students and seven adults were on a field trip that rewarded students for school achievement. Their trip was cut short in the third period of the game because of the outbursts from a skybox above the section in which the students were sitting.

The American Horse school group took up some 65 seats, which included parents, chaperones and students, during the game. Because of the racially-charge assault, the chaperones removed the youth from the game before its conclusion and took to social media via Facebook where the incident was carried by online advocacy media organization Last Real Indians.

 

SENATE DEMOCRATS DELAY VOTE ON KEYSTONE XL

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A bill to approve the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline remains under consideration in the Senate after Democrats were able to delay its passage on Jan. 26.

Republicans have made S.1, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act, their top priority in the 114th Congress. But their attempts to cut off debate and move towards a final vote were rejected by a 53 to 39 vote.

The bill, however, is expected to pass the Republican-controlled chamber eventually. President Barack Obama has vowed to veto the measure if it comes to his desk.

STATE OF INDIAN NATIONS ADDRESS REITERATES FEDERAL OBLIGATIONS

WASHINGTON D.C. – Tribes must insist the federal government honor its commitments to them and create partnerships with them based on deference, not paternalism, the president of the National Congress of American Indians said on Jan. 22.

Brian Cladoosby said in the annual State of Indian Nations address that too many reservations are plagued with high unemployment and dropout rates, rampant drug and alcohol abuse and an epidemic of suicides. Congress needs to update laws and regulations on energy, taxation and education to help tribes overcome those long-standing challenges, but it shouldn't dictate solutions, he said.

In the congressional response, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said the relationship between tribes and the federal government hasn't always been positive. But as the new chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, he vowed to lead efforts to strengthen it.

In exchange for land, the federal government promised things like health care, education, social services and public safety in perpetuity for members of federally recognized tribes. Those vows generally are born out of treaties. The U.S. negotiated more than 400 treaties with tribes, most of which were ratified by the Senate.

Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Nation of Washington state, said federal funding often falls short of what tribes need to provide for their membership. He called on lawmakers to simplify and streamline government regulations that would give tribes the ability to issue tax-exempt bonds, give tax credits to members who live on reservations and adopt children with special needs, and provide tribal law enforcement access to a national crime database.

The responsibility falls on all members of Congress, Cladoosby said, whether their districts include Indian Country or not. "This trust, it's not a handout," he said. "It's a contract. It's a commitment. And it's their duty to honor it."


TRANSCANADA USES EMINENT DOMAIN TO ACQUIRE NEBRASKA LAND

LINCOLN, Neb. – The developer of the Keystone XL oil pipeline made good on its promise on Jan. 20 to try to seize access to the Nebraska land it needs to finish the project – the first steps it's taken since the state's high court removed a major legal barrier.

TransCanada employees said the company filed legal papers in nine Nebraska counties to invoke eminent domain for the land that's needed to construct, operate and maintain the pipeline. The filings come just before the company's two-year window closed on Jan. 22.

The pipeline still faces legal challenges in Nebraska, even though the state's Supreme Court allowed the route to stand by default. Opponents have sued to try to prevent the Calgary, Alberta-based company from using eminent domain and to overturn the state pipeline-siting law that allowed ex-Gov. Dave Heineman to approve the route in 2013. The pipeline would carry an estimated 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines headed for Gulf Coast refineries.

By law, TransCanada can use the courts to force Nebraska landowners to sell access to their land. Company officials say they still need to acquire 12 percent of the total land easements from owners who have not yet reached a deal. Some holdouts have said they won't negotiate no matter how much TransCanada offers.

The company has acquired 100 percent of the private landowner easements in Montana and South Dakota, according to TransCanada's Keystone projects land manager Andrew Craig. Pipeline opponents argue that many of the landowners in Montana and South Dakota were "bullied" early in the process and told they had no other option.

Craig said the company has secured voluntary agreements with as many as 96 percent of the landowners in some of the remaining Nebraska counties. And he expects the company will sign agreements with at least half of the remaining landowners without having to use eminent domain. Those still willing to negotiate mostly have concerns about compensation and restoration of native grasslands that could take three to five years to regrow, Craig said.

Environmentalists and other pipeline opponents argue that any leaks could contaminate water sources and the project would increase air pollution around refineries and harm wildlife. Supporters, including state and national Republicans and oil industry members, say those fears are exaggerated and argue that the pipeline would create jobs and ease the country's dependence on foreign oil.

President Barack Obama has downplayed the project's benefits, and the White House has publicly threatened to veto legislation in Congress that would fast-track the project.


WISCONSIN LOCAL SCHOOL BOARD SAYS MASCOT WILL STAY THE SAME

BERLIN, Wis. – The Berlin High School Indians Mascot will remain the same. The school board made that decision Jan. 28 after hearing the results of a community survey on the subject.

About 23 percent of the Berlin population took the survey. Of the more than 1,300 community members surveyed, 92 percent want to keep the mascot as is. And of 452 students who were surveyed, 90 percent voted to keep the Indians mascot.

After hearing the survey results it took only moments for the school board to move on from the issue. “They reached out to their constituents to get their feelings on the issue. They wanted as much information to make a decision as possible,” Bob Eidahl, Superintendent of the Berlin Area School District said.

The board made no motions on the subject, so the Indians mascot will stay as is. This conversation has gone on since 2011 when a Berlin alumnus made a complaint about the mascot to the state. At that time, state law required a complaint from one community member to hold hearing to change a mascot. Ultimately, the state Department of Public Instruction ordered the district to change the mascot.

But since then, the laws have changed, leaving the decision up to the school board. After the Jan. 28 board meeting the official conversation is closed for the time being. In order for the mascot to be changed in the future, 10 percent of the Berlin population would need to petition the state. That’s under a new law signed by Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker last year.


BREACHED PIPELINE THAT SPILLED OIL LIES EXPOSED ON RIVERBED

GLENDIVE, Mont. – Sonar indicates part of an underground pipeline that spilled almost 40,000 gallons of oil into Montana's Yellowstone River and fouled a local water supply is exposed on the riverbed.

The pipeline is exposed for about 50 feet near where the breach occurred Jan. 17, according to a news release from public agencies involved with the response. The pipeline had been buried at least 8 feet under the riverbed, and the depth was last confirmed in September 2011.

The cause of the spill remains under investigation. It prompted a five-day shutdown of drinking water services for 6,000 people in the city of Glendive after oil got into a treatment plant.

Prior accidents, including a 2011 Exxon Mobil pipeline spill on the Yellowstone near Billings, have demonstrated that pipelines beneath bodies of water can quickly become exposed by floodwaters or other natural forces.

Bridger Pipeline Co., which is based in Casper, Wyoming, says its pipeline will remain shut down from Glendive to near the Canada border until the river section is replaced. The company says the pipeline will be buried deeper beneath the river.

Federal rules require lines to be buried at least 4 feet beneath riverbeds. The 193-mile Poplar Pipeline delivers crude from the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana to a terminal in Baker, Montana, about 55 miles south of Glendive. It was built in the 1950s and has a capacity of 42,000 barrels of oil a day.

The Yellowstone River is a popular recreation destination and home to fish, including the endangered pallid sturgeon.


IOWA REPUBLICANS BLAST MENOMINEE NATION OFF-RESERVATION CASINO

DES MOINES, Iowa – Republican leaders in Iowa are urging Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to reject an off-reservation casino for the Menominee Nation.

The $800 million casino in Kenosha is not located near the border that two states' borders but conservative leaders in the neighboring state say gaming brings social problems. "As you are contemplating a presidential bid, I sincerely hope you will consider a 'No Expanding Gaming' policy," Tom Coates, the executive director of Consumer Credit of Des Moines, wrote in a letter to Walker.

Indian gaming is usually not a national presidential campaign issue. But Walker's decision on the Menominee casino could affect how he is viewed among conservatives in his own party.

Walker has until Feb. 19 to decide on the casino.


NORTHERN CHEYENNE REACHES SETTLMENT WITH CATHOLIC SCHOOL

LAME DEER, Mont. – The Northern Cheyenne Tribe reached a settlement with the Catholic Church over the operation of a school on the reservation.

The tribe sued the church in 2005, alleging that the St. Labre Indian School exploited the conditions on the reservation in order to raise millions of dollars. In February 2013, the Montana Supreme Court said the case could proceed on the grounds of “unjust enrichment."

"NCT alleges that St. Labre raised between $27 and $30 million for two of the four years before the filing of its complaint," the court said at the time.

Terms of the settlement haven't been released and it hasn't been finalized in the courts.


FORT PECK TRIBES APPROVE USE OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA

POPLAR, Mont. – The Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Montana are joining what appears to be a new wave in Indian Country: legal marijuana.

At its first meeting of 2015, the tribal council voted 7-4 to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. The tribe set a deadline of June 1 to draft new laws to regulate the drug.

“Let’s take a healthy risk to take care of these issues,” council member Tom Christian said during the meeting. “We can do this but lets do it legally,”

The move comes on the the heels of a Department of Justice policy that could allow for legal marijuana in Indian Country. One tribe in California has already announced plans to host a grow operation while another in Minnesota is undertaking a feasibility study.


CHEROKEE NATION READY TO COMPLETE $80 MILLION CASINO THIS SUMMER

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation celebrated a construction milestone at its $80 million casino in Roland, Okla.

The tribe held a topping-out ceremony for the new Cherokee Casino in Roland on Jan. 19. The facility was the site of the tribe's first bingo operation and now it's getting a complete makeover. “The new hotel and casino are not only going to be bigger and better, but they will create more quality career opportunities in this region of the Cherokee Nation," Chief Bill John Baker said in a press release.

The 170,000 square-foot facility is expected to open this summer. It features a hotel with 120 rooms and space to host conferences, events, weddings and trade shows. The tribe is adding 100 more jobs with the expansion. The facility is located a few miles from the Arkansas border.


CROW TRIBE SPONSORS BILLBOARD 'JESUS CHRIST IS LORD'

CROW AGENCY, Mont. – The Crow Tribe of Montana is sponsoring a billboard that reads "Jesus Christ Is Lord" on the reservation.

Many tribal members practice a blend of traditional and Pentecostal beliefs. So tribal leaders feel the 33-foot billboard, which went up last month, accurately reflects life on the reservation. "We still speak our language, we still practice traditional beliefs, and we have the largest tribal buffalo herd and hunt them," Senator C.J. Stewart, a member of the Crow Legislature whose 2013 resolution referenced God and Jesus Christ, said. "We’re not trying to assimilate anybody, we’re just referencing our Lord.”

The resolution used the Crow word for God, Akbaatatdia. The Crow word for Jesus Christ is Ischawuuannaukaasua, which means “The One with Pierced Hands.”


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