National Briefs: May 2015
Monday, May 04 2015
Written by The Circle Staff,
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – President Barack Obama reached out to Native youth on April 25, inviting them the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering this summer.

In a video message delivered to the 32rd annual Gathering of Nations powwow in New Mexico, Obama said he was inspired by the youth he and First Lady Michelle Obama met during their visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in June 2014. The historic trip was his first to Indian Country as president.

"Their resilience, pride and optimism in the face of incredible obstacles moved us deeply," Obama said of the youth from the reservation, whom he later invited to Washington, D.C., in November. "I know that many Native youth share the same experiences."

Obama is hoping that same spirit will return to the nation's capital on July 9, when his administration hosts the inaugural Native youth event. He urged powwow participants to join Generation Indigenous and engage their communities through the Youth Challenge. Applications are due May 8 so Native youth only have two more weeks to complete the challenge. The conference is open to Native youth ages 14-24 from "rural or urban communities," the White House said.

The goal is to select some 800 Native youth to attend the gathering, whose theme is "Two Worlds, One Future: Defining Our Own Success." The event will be held at the Renaissance Downtown Hotel.

The youth will meet with administration officials and the White House Council on Native American Affairs, an inter-agency body chaired by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Additional details will be shared as the event approaches, so it's likely the conference will also include a visit to the White House by some participants.

Although Obama wasn't at the powwow, two representatives of the White House were there – Raina Thiele, who is Alaska Native, and Jodi Gillette, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Thiele works in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Gillette serves as the president's senior advisor for Native American Affairs.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – About a dozen Native actors walked off the set of an Adam Sandler film in New Mexico after they felt insulted by the way Native people were being portrayed.

Several of the actors are members of the Navajo Nation who said they were being forced to dress in culturally inappropriate costumes. They also complained about some of the language in “The Ridiculous Six,” which is described as a satire of the Western genre.

“Nothing has changed,” Allison Young told Indian Country Today Media Network, which broke the story on its Web site. “We are still just Hollywood Indians.”

The film is being produced exclusively for distribution through Netflix. The company defended the script despite criticism from the Native actors about insensitivity towards women and elders. “The movie has ridiculous in the title for a reason: because it is ridiculous. It is a broad satire of Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized, featuring a diverse cast that is not only part of – but in on – the joke.”

Ben Shelly, the outgoing president of the Navajo Nation, praised the actors for walking off the set. He said stereotypes have no place in film on April 23. “Native people have dealt with negative stereotypes on film for too long," Shelly said in a press release. “Enough is enough."

The cast features a handful of Native actors – including Danny Trejo (Yaqui) and Saginaw Grant (Sac and Fox). The ones who walked off the set did not appear to have name billing in the film, based on IMDB listings.


MURPHY, N.C. – Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina are upset over pay raises for the tribal council.

The council approved a budget last October that includes a $10,000 raise. The decision was retroactive to 2010 so all current and former leaders are eligible for the increase.

“At a time when vital tribal programs in the areas of health, elder services, families and children continue to be underfunded, such exploitation of public office for personal gain is simply unconscionable,” a group called the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for Justice and Accountability said in a letter to the council, the Associated Press reported.

The group plans to file a lawsuit in tribal court if the council doesn't rescind the pay raise. The increase is expected to cost the tribe an additional $500,000.

The council has 12 members, all of whom are up for election this fall. The tribe will also choose a principal chief and vice chief, whose salaries apparently were not affected by the new budget.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nearly everyone agrees that the federal recognition process at the Bureau of Indian Affairs is broken but solutions remain elusive.

Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the BIA, ran into that conundrum at a hearing before the House Subcommittee Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs on April 22. Although witness after witness said the existing process takes too long, costs too much money and requires significant resources, they criticized the Part 83 reforms that have been in development for more than two years as going too far.

"I will be one of the first in line heading to the courthouse door," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), whose federal recognition battles earned him a reputation as an Indian fighter, told the subcommittee. "I'm sure there will be litigation resulting from it."

The problem with the criticism was that no one – except for Washburn and a few others – has seen the rule that has been sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget for final review. Lawmakers and tribal leaders based their opposition on a proposal that appears to have been scaled back considerably in response to their concerns.

"Our final rule will yet again be more conservative," Washburn told the subcommittee. He invited lawmakers to step into the "hot seat" and come up with their own reforms to the process. Washburn also tried to deflect concerns that the BIA lacks the authority to recognize tribes. "I've heard some really troubling things at this hearing," Washburn said as the proceeding drew to a close.

The BIA has recognized 17 tribes since the start of its federal recognition process in 1978. "We treat them just like any other Indian tribe," Washburn said of the newly recognized groups. "The Constitution just says 'Indian tribes' – it doesn't name any Indian tribes," Washburn added, referring to the Commerce Clause that mentions tribes, states and foreign nations.

"So the question then is, 'Who is that?'" Washburn said. "The executive branch has a responsibility to figure that out sometimes because we've got a trust responsibility to Indian tribes."


WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Navajo Nation citizens went to the polls on April 21 and chose Russell Begaye as their next president.

Unofficial results showed Begaye with 25,745 votes. Challenger Joe Shirley, Jr., a former two-term president, received 15,439. "I think this is the first step to reconciling and the nation to heal," Begaye said, referring to the controversy surrounding the delayed election.

Begaye, a former delegate to the Navajo Nation Council, is due to be inaugurated on May 12. He will be joined by his vice president Jonathan Nez, a current delegate. The team will replace President Ben Shelly and Vice President Rex Lee Jim. The pair was sworn into office in January despite being ousted in the last year's primary.

The November general election was delayed after former candidate Chris Deschene was removed from the ballot due to his lack of fluency in the Navajo language. The tribe has scheduled a referendum in June to address that issue for future elections.


TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is seeing its bison herd grow. The tribe accepted 50 bison from the InterTribal Buffalo Council last October. Since then, the herd has grown by nine animals, all born in April.

“The birth of these spring calves is an excellent sign for the growth of our bison herd. It means the herd has settled into its new home and they are flourishing,” Chief Bill John Baker said in a press release.

The first calf was born on April 8. Eight others have been born since. The herd is the tribe's first in four decades.


PEMBROKE, N.C. – The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina is once again looking to Congress to pass a federal recognition bill.

The tribe's first documented request for recognition dates to 1885. After decades of lobbying, leaders and members thought they secured federal status with the passage of the Lumbee Act in 1956.

The tribe quickly discovered otherwise. The law recognized the Lumbees as "Indians" but denied them any benefits that would come with federal recognition.

“There are a lot of us who work in Indian affairs, and we are perceived by the rest of Indian country as basically second-class Indians because we're not federally recognized,” attorney Locklear, a prominent attorney who was the first Native woman to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court, said.

Efforts to rescind the law have drawn support in Congress. But the bills always hit a snag in the Senate after passing the House. This year appears no different. H.R.184, the Lumbee Recognition Act, has the backing of a bipartisan group of lawmakers. But no companion has been introduced in the Senate. And Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the new chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, has openly stated that he opposes legislative recognition bills.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the only federally-recognized tribe in North Carolina, does not believe the Lumbees are legitimate.


MT. PLEASANT, Mich. – The Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan is not interested in legalizing marijuana for any purpose, a spokesperson said.

Last October, the tribe declared a war on substance abuse to combat heroin on the reservation. Just last month, the tribe banished two people who were found with a large amount of the drug.

But marijuana also remains a concern. Marijuana was involved in a sexual assault that occurred on the reservation. Joshua Todd Kress, 37, was sentenced to 64 months in prison and five years of supervised release for providing the drug to a 14-year-old girl.


PLUMMER, Idaho – The Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho is seeing success with its diabetes prevention and treatment programs.

According to a 2014 report from the Indian Health Service, 61 percent of patients at the Benewah Medical and Wellness Center on the reservation were successfully managing the disease. That's a marked improvement from 2010, when fewer than half – around 49 percent – were taking steps to control their diet and maintain an exercise routine.

"We’re trying to get them in to get a diagnosis earlier,” Carla Patterson, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the center, told media. “Because some people don’t realize they’re walking around with diabetes or with pre-diabetes.”

The tribe is making changes elsewhere on the reservation too. The Benewah Market is adding more fresh produce and another market inside a convenience store is also bringing in more healthy options. “We’re creating access to healthy, traditional foods and access to physical activity, with a cultural emphasis,” LoVina Louie, the coordinator of the tribe's Hnqhesnet Project, said. Hnqhesnet means "it is our well-being" in the Salish language.

To help tribes nationwide combat the disease, Congress recently renewed the Special Diabetes Program for Indians for another two years as part of H.R.2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act. The program provides $150 million in annual diabetes prevention and treatment grants to tribes and tribal organizations.

President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on April 16.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate voted 99 to 0 on April 22 to pass S.178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.

The bill creates a fund help law enforcement combat trafficking and to assist victims of trafficking. Although tribes weren't included in the introduced version of the measure, they are eligible for grants from the under a substitute that was accepted by lawmakers.

Tribes, states and local governments are eligible for grants to "reduce the occurrence of trafficking of Indian children or provide support services to Indian children who are victims of human trafficking," the new version of the bill states.

"This effort to help end modern-day slavery should have been above politics all along, but it's good to see that bipartisanship has once again prevailed in the Senate so these victims can receive much-needed resources," Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who had been pushing for tribal inclusion, said in a press release.

The Senate's action clears the path for a vote on the long-delayed nomination of Loretta Lynch to serve as the next leader of the Department of Justice. She was confirmed April 23 and will be the first African American woman to serve as attorney general.

The House version of the anti-trafficking bill is H.R.296. It awaits action in that chamber.

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