National Briefs: April 2015
Thursday, April 02 2015
Written by The Circle Staff,
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Navajo student Keanu Jones was selected as one of 15 young filmmakers across the country to participate in the second annual White House Student Film Festival.

Jones, an 18 year-old senior at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, said he hopes his three-minute film on his family’s daily struggles helps raise awareness about the fight for water and other natural resources taken from reservations.

The American Film Institute helped select the videos, which were on the theme of “the impact of giving back.” Students behind the 15 winning films, some as young as age 6, were at the White House on March 24 where they got to screen their movies for an East Room audience of filmmakers and celebrities, including Steve McQueen, the Oscar-nominated director behind “12 Years a Slave,” and Academy Award-winning actress Hillary Swank.

“These aren’t just great films, but they’re a great example of how young people are making a difference all around the world,” Obama said to applause from the audience.

Obama used the event to unveil his “Call to Arts” initiative through the Corporation for National and Community Service to help inspire and mentor young artists across the country. The program will work with the American Film Institute, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, whose members have pledged to provide 1 million hours of mentorship to young artists over the next three years.

Keanu’s film, “Giving back the Navajo Way,” told of the Navajo tradition of serving elders despite the sometimes-arduous work needed to do so in Indian Country. Keanu said “simple necessities Americans enjoy like electricity, automatic heaters and running water” may be non-existent in the rural area of Arizona where he is from.

“I’ve never really thought that making a simple three-minute film would even take me to the White House or to see Obama,” Keanu said.



MADISON, Wis. – The Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin has raised its minimum wage to $10 an hour.

The amount is $2.75 above the federal level. It will go into effect in July.

“The cost is high but the return is much greater,” President Jon Greendeer said in a statement. “We can wait until the perpetual debate is resolved or we can just take action ourselves. We chose to make our move and I feel it’s the right one.”





WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The Navajo Nation Supreme Court issued another decision that orders tribal officials to hold a presidential election on April 21.

The election was supposed to take place last November but was delayed after one of the candidates was disqualified and removed from the ballot. Since then, the tribe's highest court has expressed frustration with the Navajo Nation Council for meddling with the process.

Despite a Feb. 20 decision calling for a vote as soon as possible, the council passed a bill that appeared to place priority on an entirely different election that could help the disqualified candidate get back on the ballot. That prompted the court to issue another ruling on March 20 that clears the way for next month's match-up between Joe Shirley Jr. and against Russell Begaye.

President Ben Shelly has remained in office as a result of the delay in choosing a new leader. He came in seventh in last year's primary but was sworn into a new term in January.




SANTA FE, N.M. – An aptly-named law firm reportedly hosted 10 tribes in New Mexico on March 26 for a meeting on marijuana.

Blaze America said the tribal attendees wouldn't be publicizing their presence at the session. Still, they hoped to learn more about the emerging marijuana industry that could gain a foothold in Indian Country.

"They have the ability to create this from scratch,” Yaseen Archuletta, the tribal director for the firm, told media. "They are able to get into this industry with complete immunity.”

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. A Department of Justice policy that was made public in December has sparked interest among tribes, who might be able to grow and sell the drug for medical and commercial purposes.

Marijuana has been decriminalized in New Mexico for medical purposes. Possessing or selling the drug can still lead to jail time and fines, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.




FORT PECK, Mont. – The Fort Peck Tribes of Montana are moving forward with a casino thanks to a loan from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

The Montana tribe agreed to accept $29 million for the Buffalo Rivers Casino and Lodge in Fort Kipp. Plans call for a facility with 400 gaming machines, four poker tables, an events center, a restaurant/buffet, a snack bar, a lounge and a 75-room hotel.

The tribe plans to break ground on June 15. The casino would open by May 2016 with 220 full-time employees. "The Ft. Kipp location is chosen due to its aesthetic beauty and its proximity to a nearby population base," the casino Web site states. Fort Kipp is about 50 miles from Williston, N.D., an area that has seen big growth due to energy development.

The casino is expected to cost between $33 million and $34 million so the Shakopee loan could cover most of the expenses. The money must be repaid over 15 years with a 6.5 percent interest rate. The tribe anticipates earning about $5.8 million a year from the casino.


WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Flags flew at half-staff on the Navajo Nation in honor of a police officer who was killed in the line of duty on March 19.

Alex Yazzie, 42, was killed in a shootout with a domestic violence suspect in Arizona, not far from the New Mexico state line. The U.S. Marine Corps veteran, who had worked for the Navajo Police Department for 14 years, leaves behind a wife and two daughters.

“The Navajo Nation mourns the loss of Alex Yazzie, a dedicated Navajo Police officer that gave his life in the line of duty to protect the lives of others,” President Ben Shelly said said in a press release. “We are deeply saddened over his sudden departure.”

Two other officers were also injured by gunfire with the suspect. Herbert Frazier, 41, and James Hale, 48, are hospitalized and expected to recover fully.

The suspect was identified as 24-year-old Justin Fowler. He was allegedly beating his partner and fired a gun towards his mother at the family's home on the New Mexico side of the reservation when officers responded. Fowler fled the scene but not before firing an assault rifle at an officer. He then led police on a chase to the Arizona side of the reservation, where Yazzie was killed and Frazier and Hale were injured. Fowler was killed during the shootout.

Yazzie was laid to rest on March 20 in New Mexico.


DOWAGIAC, Mich. – The Bureau of Indian Affairs will hold a public hearing in April to discuss a potential casino for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.

A draft environmental impact statement outlines plans for a $480 million tribal village in South Bend, Indiana. The project would include 44 housing units, a clinic, a governmental building, along with a casino and hotel on 166 acres.

The meeting takes place at 6 p.m. on April 14 at the Century Center in South Bend. Written comments can also be submitted to the BIA.

The next step would be a final environmental impact statement, to be followed by a record of decision. There is no timeline for an answer. Pokagon headquarters are located in Dowagiac, Michigan, but many members live in the South Bend area, less than 25 miles away. The tribe maintains an office in South Bend.


SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – The Mishewal Wappo Tribe of California lost a major decision in its federal recognition lawsuit on March 24.

Judge Edward J. Davila said he would not force the Bureau of Indian Affairs to restore federal recognition to the tribe. He said the tribe waited too long to file a lawsuit after being designated for termination under the California Rancheria Act of 1958.

"A timely action challenging the distribution and termination of the Alexander Valley Rancheria under the CRA should have been filed between 1961 and 1967," Davila wrote in the 19-page decision. "Since this action was not commenced until forty years later, the court finds that all of the claims asserted by plaintiff in this action are untimely," Davila concluded as he granted a motion for summary judgment submitted by the federal government.

After filing the lawsuit in 2009, the tribe attempted to reach a settlement with the Obama administration but talks failed. The parties went back to court and the government said it would not recognize the tribe.

The tribe could take the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.



WASHINGTON, D.C. – Five lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, are asking the Obama administration to delay the Part 83 reforms to the federal recognition process.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been working on the rules for more than two years. But the lawmakers say the agency needs to spend more time on the proposal, which could be finalized in the next few months.

“We do not support the sweeping changes that have been proposed to the criteria,” states the letter written by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the new chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Two Democrats from Connecticut joined the letter. The state is home to three tribes that could resubmit their federal recognition petitions under the proposed reforms even though they were previously rejected by the BIA.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) also signed the letter. On March 24, he cheered a federal judge's decision that denied recognition to the Mishewal Wappo Tribe. The final signatory to the letter was Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs.


CEDAR CITY, Utah – The Paiute Tribe of Utah held a hearing on March 31 to consider removing Chairwoman Gari Lafferty from office because she accepted gifts from the Washington NFL team.

The tribal council adopted a notice of charges against Lafferty last week. The document accuses the leader of accepting a free trip to Washington, D.C., to attend a game in September 2014.

"Your actions in soliciting and accepting gifts from the Redskins for yourself and your family could reasonably be considered to be separate from or adverse to the best interests of the tribe," the charges state.

The document notes that tribal citizen Phillip Gover is one of the plaintiffs in Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc., the case that seeks the cancellation of the team's trademarks. Gover and Lafferty are first cousins and he believes the team and its Original Americans Foundation specifically approached his tribe to sow division in Indian Country.

"It's so diabolical and underhanded, it just smells of Dan Snyder," Gover added, referring to owner Dan Snyder, who has vowed never to change the name of the team.

After Lafferty attended the game last September, she agreed to accept two vans from the Original Americans Foundation. According to media reports, Gary Edwards, the CEO of the non-profit, suggested that he could help the tribe secure an economic development deal but nothing ever came of it.


DENVER, Colo. – A bill under consideration in the Colorado Legislature restricts the use of Native American mascots, nicknames and imagery in public schools.

House Bill 1165 creates a Subcommittee for the Consideration of the Use of American Indian Mascots by Public Schools. The panel would review existing Indian mascots to determine whether they are offensive and schools that fail to eliminate an offensive mascot within two years will face fines.

The House Education Committee voted 6-5 along party lines to approve the bill. It still requires consideration in another committee before it goes to the full House.

At least 10 schools in Colorado continue to use Indian mascots, nicknames and imagery. The most glaring offender are the "Savages" in Lamar. The Arapahoe High School Warriors developed its logo in consultation with the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming and was hailed as an example of a mascot that is not a caricature of Indian people.


BELLINGHAM, Wash. – The Lummi Nation of Washington hosted the Crow Tribe of Montana at its fishing grounds to express opposition to a coal terminal, Chairman Tim Ballew said.

The Lummi Nation believes the Gateway Pacific Terminal will harm its treaty-protected rights. The project would be built at Cherry Point, a historic village and fishing area known as Xwe’chi’eXen in the Lummi language.

“We’ve done extensive fact finding with other governments, including the federal government and other tribes,” Ballew told media. “We’ve come to the decision that our treaty right cannot be mitigated.”

The Crow Tribe is not an official part of the Gateway Pacific project. But its reservation is home to a large coal deposit that could be mined and exported through the terminal. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing the project and the Crows asked the agency to set up a "safe place" for meeting with the Lummis. The agency suggested the Bureau of Indian Affairs might be better able to accommodate the request.

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