National Briefs: March 2015
Wednesday, March 11 2015
Written by The Circle Staff,
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate failed on March 4 to override President Barack Obama's veto of legislation approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, leaving the controversial project to await an administration decision on whether to permit or deny it.

The Senate mustered just 62 votes in favor of overriding the veto, short of the two-thirds needed. Thirty-seven senators voted to sustain Obama's veto. The Senate action means the House of Representatives will not vote on override. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said pipeline backers will try again to force Obama's hand, by attaching Keystone approval to another bill this year.

The proposed TransCanada pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels a day of mostly Canadian oil sands crude through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, en route to refineries and ports along the U.S. Gulf Coast. It has been pending for more than six years over the objection of tribes, landowners and environmental activists.

Republicans support building the pipeline, saying it would create jobs. Obama questioned Keystone XL's employment impact and raised concerns about its effects on climate change.

Obama last month vetoed the bill authorizing the pipeline's construction, saying it had bypassed a final State Department assessment on whether the project would benefit the United States. The department is handling the approval process because the pipeline would cross the U.S.-Canadian border.

Once that State Department assessment is in, expected in the coming weeks or months, Obama is expected to make a final decision on permitting for the project.


PINE RIDGE, S.D. – Leaders of the Oglala Sioux Tribe are asking the Lakota Nation Invitational board of directors to move the popular event out of Rapid City, S.D.

Tribal leaders are upset by an incident, in which 57 students from the American Horse School on the reservation were allegedly had beer poured on them and racial slurs made about them by white patrons at a Rapid City Rush hockey game last month. They also believe city authorities have not handled the situation well, which resulted in only one misdemeanor of disorderly conduct charge against one person.

Bryan Brewer, a former OST president, founded LNI in 1977 and still sits on the board of directors, he believes leaving Rapid City isn't the right response to the controversy.

But current tribal leaders say they will encourage the tribe and its citizens to boycott LNI if it takes place in Rapid City this December. The tournament, which injects $5 to $6 million into the city's economy, is held at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, the venue where the children were victimized.



MT. PLEASANT, MI – The Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan banished two women after they were arrested in the largest drug bust in local history.

Kristy Posthumus, 33, and Audrey Shipman, 31, were found with 13 bindles of heroin and 12 bindles of another unidentified drug. Both are being held on various tribal and county charges.

“Today our people have shown that we are no longer going to tolerate people who peddle unhealthy and life destroying substances onto the reservation. Today we took necessary steps to protect and uphold our members and their families against this plague called addiction,” Chief Steve Pego said in a press release.

The tribe described both women as Native American and as non-tribal citizens. But only Posthumus is being prosecuted in tribal court. Shipman is being prosecuted in Isabella County.

Since Posthumus is Native, the tribe is referring her to federal prosecutors for potential charges.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court declined a petition in Stockbridge-Munsee Community v. New York, a land claim case on March 2.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Community, now based in Wisconsin, sued the state of New York to recover its ancestral territory. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the claim, saying it was too "disruptive" to non-Indians.

"[I]t is now well‐established that Indian land claims asserted generations after an alleged dispossession are inherently disruptive of state and local governance and the settled expectations of current landowners, and are subject to dismissal on the basis of laches, acquiescence, and impossibility," the court said in a June 20, 2014 decision.

After the Second Circuit declined to rehear the case, the tribe asked the Supreme Court to review it. The justices, without comment, denied the petition. The development marks the latest loss for tribal land claims in the northeast. In addition to the Stockbridge-Munsee Band, the Oneida Nation, the Cayuga Nation and the Onondaga Nation have all seen their cases dismissed by the Second Circuit.

The movement started after the Supreme Court issued its decision in Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York in 2005. Although the case had nothing to do with land claims – it arose out of a dispute over the Oneida Nation's attempts to assert sovereignty within its ancestral territory – the Second Circuit used it to keep tribes from trying to recover land that was stolen by the state of New York.


JUNEAUA, AK – The Tlingit and Haida Tribes in Alaska are the latest to join the marriage equality movement in Indian Country.

The tribe's seven-member executive council adopted a new statute that recognizes marriages as a union between two persons, regardless of gender. The vote in favor of the law was unanimous.

“The impetus for the new tribal code on marriage came from two places; exercising our self-determination and sovereign authority and making sure that we provide for equal treatment of our tribal citizens,” President Richard Peterson said in a press release. “All of our tribal citizens should be provided the same rights. It’s an important statement for the tribe to make and one that was not difficult for our executive council to stand behind.”

At least 21 tribes have adopted same-sex marriage laws or equality laws. The Tlingit and Haida Tribes appear to be the first in Alaska to do so. "We are pleased to expand our tribal court to meet the needs of our tribal citizens," Chief Justice Debra O’Gara said. "Our court can now be utilized by tribal citizens for the happy occasion of marriage without discrimination and regardless of gender.”


TOHATCHI, N.M. – The Coalition for Navajo Equality is still working to bring marriage equality to the Navajo Nation.

Same-sex marriages are recognized in three states that border the reservation -- Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. But tribal citizens are being left out because the Dine Marriage Act bars unions between persons of the same sex.

"These states surrounding the Navajo Nation are taking big steps forward — steps for equality,” Alray Nelson, the lead organizer of the Coalition for Navajo Equality, told The New York Times. “The Navajo Nation is not.”

Nelson is an aide to Joe Shirley Jr., who vetoed the Dine Marriage Act when he was president of the tribe. The Navajo Nation Council overrode him and the bill became law.

“Our culture dictates acceptance,” Shirley, who is running again for president, told the Times. “They are part of our family, they are our children, and we don’t need to be partial.”

Shirley's successor, President Ben Shelly, supports repeal of the Dine Marriage Act. Shelly remains in office despite losing his re-election bid.

A repeal, however, doesn't seem to be on the council's agenda. One delegate, Otto Tso, told the Times he doesn't support same-sex marriage.

“It’s not for us,” Tso told the paper. “We have to look at our culture, our society, where we come from, talk to our elders.”


OMAHA, NE – U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon ruled that Nebraska's ban on marriage for gays and lesbians was unconstitutional on March 2, saying county clerks will be permitted to begin issuing gay marriage licenses on March 9.

One citizen of the Omaha Tribe hopes to be the first Native person in line when it becomes legal. Brandon Stabler grew up on the reservation feeling ostracized. When he turned 21, he moved to Florida but he has since returned home. "All my life, I was told that being gay was wrong, especially at the reservation," Stabler, now 32, told The Lincoln Journal Star. "I felt like nobody liked gay people."

After learning about same-sex traditions within his tribe, Stabler said he feels more welcome. The Omaha word for a two-spirit person is "mexoga." "Maybe I wouldn't have felt left out and lost. I'm very happy and proud for those tribes who still believe in it," Stabler told the paper.

The Nebraska constitution defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. A legal challenge failed in federal court but a series of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court will likely affect the dwindling number of states where same-sex marriages aren't recognized.


YERINGTON, NV – The Yerington Paiute Tribe of Nevada called in law enforcement agencies to investigate a disturbance at a youth facility on the reservation.

A fight and two fires broke out at the Silver State Academy on Feb. 28. According to witnesses, more than 40 fire fighters and officers from various jurisdictions responded to the incident, the third of its kind in the last three months.

"Another riot broke out with two structure fires and 10 escapees. I do not know the riot’s root cause," Lyon County Sheriff Al McNeil said on Facebook. All 10 youth were located and returned to the facility, which provides residential treatment services to at-risk male youth. It's not technically a detention center.


BOX ELDER, MT – Ken St. Marks continues to win elections at the Chippewa Cree Tribe in Montana but his fellow leaders keep removing him office.

The tribal council claims St. Marks engaged in "gross misconduct" and "neglected his duty," according to news reports. The decision marks the third time in less than two years that he's been ousted.

"They just keep on making up lies, they keep on saying I stole money and I keep on telling them the same thing – 'Go get me indicted,'" St. Marks told media.

Despite the allegations against him, St. Marks has never been charged with any crimes in tribal or federal court. However, 18 other tribal leaders, officials and their associates have been convicted in connection with a wide-ranging corruption investigation on the Rocky Boy's Reservation.

The Guardians Project, as it is known in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Montana, has put the state on top of a nationwide list of judicial districts with the most government corruption prosecutions.


TACOMA, WA – A federal judge has scheduled a trial to resolve a dispute over the "usual and accustomed fishing grounds" of three treaty tribes in Washington.

The Makah Nation accused the Quileute Nation and the Quinault Nation of fishing beyond their boundaries. The two tribes countered by claiming the Makahs waited too long to assert their rights and by raising other defenses that have previously have never been allowed in treaty cases.

For that reason, Judge Ricardo Martinez rejected the attempt by the Quileute and Quinault tribes to dismiss the Makah Nation's complaint. He noted that the Makah were trying to resolve the dispute amicably out of court and shouldn't be penalized for doing so.

The dispute is a sub-proceeding in the long-running U.S. v Washington treaty rights case. In 1974, the late Judge George Hugo Boldt held that tribes in the state were entitled to half of the entire catch. Since then, several tribes litigated the areas where they can and cannot fish. Martinez set a March 2 trial to resolve this particular dispute.


TAHLEQUAH, OK – The Cherokee Nation named one of its own as the general manager of a new $80 million casino in Roland, Oklahoma.

Chad McReynolds started off as a card dealer at the Cherokee Casino in Roland back in 2003. He was a cashier and poker manager before being named operations manager in 2011.

Now that the tribe is getting closer to opening an entirely new facility, McReynolds is running the show. The 170,000-square-foot casino is set to open in May. The facility was the site of the tribe's first bingo operation.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Tribes shared nearly $16 million in gaming revenues with the state of New Mexico in the last quarter of 2014.

Under their Class III gaming compacts, tribes share a percentage of their net win with the state. Sandia Pueblo – whose casino is the closest to Albuquerque, the state's largest city – had the largest net win, according to the New Mexico Gaming Control Board. For the entire year, tribes shared about $66 million with the state.

Compacts with a handful of tribes are expiring this summer so lawmakers have been considering an updated agreement that includes a new revenue sharing provision. The Committee on Compacts held a hearing on Feb. 24 to discuss the deal and another on Feb. 28 to hear from the public.


TULSA, OK – A man who had been banned from an Osage Nation casino died after an altercation with tribal and local law enforcement in Oklahoma on Feb. 20.

Terry Price, 41, initially fled the Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino in Tulsa but later returned. He scuffled with several officers and was struck with a stun gun by a tribal officer.

Authorities were preparing to transport Price to jail when he collapsed. He was reported dead at the scene. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has opened an inquiry.

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