National Briefs: June 2015
Monday, June 08 2015
Written by The Circle Staff,
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GREEN BAY, WI – The Oneida Nation of Wisconsin is the latest in Indian Country to join the marriage equality movement.

Tribal law currently defines a marriage as a union between a "husband and wife." The phrase will now be replaced by the word "spouses."

Members of the business committee unanimously approved the change at a meeting on May 26. The new law goes into effect on June 10.


SALT LAKE CITY – Native American students at public schools in Utah are more likely to face harsher punishment than their peers, according to a new study.

Based on data from the Department of Education, researcher Vanessa Walsh found that Indian students are 3.8 times as likely to face disciplinary action compared to their white counterparts. They are 7.5 times more likely to be expelled and 7.1 times as likely to be referred to law enforcement.

"Utah is pushing American Indian students into the pipeline at alarming rates," Walsh wrote in “Disparities in Discipline: A Look at School Disciplinary Actions for Utah's American Indian Students.” "In 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, this student population comprised the smallest student demographic in the state and the was most frequently expelled, referred to law enforcement, and arrested for school related incidents—all the most severe forms of school disciplinary action," the report stated.

The study contained some alarming examples of how Indian students are singled out. Fifty-five students, from kindergarten through sixth grade, were referred to law enforcement in 2011, compared to zero for white students.

More recently, two Indian students were reported to law enforcement for drinking two soda bottles from a refrigerator in the teacher's lounge. "This is a theft," the disciplinary report stated. Natives represent just 1.3 percent of the student body yet they account for a larger percentage of disciplinary actions, according to the study. In the Murray school district, for example, the disparity was incredibly high – nearly 50 percent of Indian students received a disciplinary action, compared to around 11 percent for white students.

Only 65 percent of Indian students finish high school, according to 2014 data cited by the study.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Two adoption groups have opened a new war against the Indian Child Welfare Act amid the Obama administration's efforts to strengthen the decades-old law.

The National Council for Adoption and Building Arizona Families filed the lawsuit in federal court in Virginia on May 27. It claims ICWA violates the constitutional rights of birth parents by denying them the ability to place Indian children in the homes of their choosing. "It violates birth parents’ rights to due process under the Fifth Amendment by interfering with their ability to direct the upbringing of their ‘Indian’ children," the complaint states.

The lawsuit also questions new ICWA guidelines that were issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in February. It claims that state agencies and adoption agencies are being forced to take extra steps before finding homes for Indian children.

The guidelines do not carry the force of law. However, the BIA has proposed a new ICWA rule that seeks to compliance by state courts and child welfare agencies.

The high court did not question the constitutionality of ICWA although some non-Indian groups were hoping that would happen. The defendants are Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the BIA.


KYKOTSMOVI, AZ – Hopi Chairman Herman Honanie and the Holocaust Art Restitution Project denounced a decision by a French oversight agency to allow the sale of Hopi kwaa tsi on June 1.

“The Hopi people are again deeply saddened by the auctions at the EVE Auction House in Paris, France. A sixth auction scheduled today resulted in the sale of six of eight Hopi kwaa tsi,” Honanie said.

On May 29, both Honanie and HARP’s chair, Ori Z. Soltes, appeared before the Conseil des Ventes (Board of Auction Sales) to request an administrative suspension of the June 1 auction sale, which involved sacred objects belonging to the Hopi tribe and for which, they contend, title never vested with subsequent possessors because to the nature of the objects.

“The decision by the Conseil des Ventes is both insulting and outrageous. The Conseil held that the Hopi tribe, in fact any Indian tribe, has no legal existence or capacity as a group or as a recognized nation to pursue any cultural claim in France. This decision closes the door to any tribal group and their members to file any cultural claims in France involving auction houses, regardless of title-related merits. The French Government is sending a clear and appalling message that its market is wide open to looted property. Furthermore, this complete denial of access to justice flies in the face of international law principles in favor of all tribes and indigenous peoples, as the French government had endorsed, in the UN General Assembly, the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP),” Soltes said.

HARP said that French President Francois Hollande was sent a letter of support by leaders of a number of museums and institutes and that the Senate Judiciary Committee, Foreign Affairs Committee and FBI Art Theft Program were provided information on the continuing auctions and sale of Hopi artifacts.


BISMARCK, N.D. – Tex Hall, a former chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota and a former president of the National Congress of American Indians, has joined the marijuana industry.

Hall's company, Red Tipped Arrow, partnered with Wright Family Organics, a marijuana firm, to launch Native American Organics. The new venture will help tribes explore legal medicinal and recreational uses for the drug.

“Throughout my career, I have fought for advancement and sovereignty of Indian tribes. And a lot of that time was focused on economic development because that that is what our people need and deserve," Hall said in a press release. "As the legal and practical questions surrounding the participation of Indian tribes in the market continue to be settled, there is no doubt in my mind that tribes have a competitive advantage when it comes to cannabis production, processing, and sale."

The company plans to work with tribes in states where marijuana has been legalized. Hall said the drug can bring benefits to veterans in Indian Country. “What really made an impact on me was the potential that cannabis has for healing and easing the pain of our people who suffer from PTSD across Indian Country," he said. "Not least among those who suffer are our veterans. American Indians have always fought fiercely to defend this country. American Indians serve in the military in higher rates than any other group in the U.S. Unfortunately, the Department of Veteran Affairs estimates the rates of PTSD among American Indian veterans at up to 25%.”

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But a new Department of Justice policy could open the door to tribes that want to legalize the drug.


SALLISAW, OK – The Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma held a grand opening for a $10.7 million health expansion project.

The Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw now boasts a 30,000 square-foot annex. The expansion features a physical therapy department, mammography and drive-thru pharmacy and a community safe room.

“The expansion at Redbird Smith will create better access to quality health care for Cherokee people and that is the most pressing issue our people are facing today,” Chief Bill John Baker said in a press release. “Expanding our facilities will allow us to provide more pediatric care, more elder care, a drive-through pharmacy and more services specifically for women. These are the kinds of world-class care options that will improve health care in Sequoyah County for generations of Cherokee families.”

The tribe is investing $100 million in its health system. A $10 million center in Ochelata debuted last month and more openings and expansions are on the way.


PENDLETON, OR – The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon will host a Tesla Motors charging station at its casino.

The "Supercharger" station at the Wildhorse Resort & Casino is due to open this month for owners of the first fully-electric vehicles. It will be located at the south end of the parking lot.

According to the Tesla Web site, the U.S. is home to 431 Supercharger stations with 2,537 Supercharger devices. The station at the casino will offer eight charging stalls. The station at the casino will be the only one in the eastern part of Oregon and will be the only one along a major interstate that connects Boise, Idaho, to Portland.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate passed S.246, the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act, by a unanimous vote on June 1.

The bill would create an 11-member commission to study issues affecting American Indian and Alaska Native youth. Supporters say the effort will lead to recommendations that will improve the lives of the youngest Native Americans.

"Today, the Senate spoke with a strong, united voice and passed my bill – the first bill I introduced in the Senate – to give our Native youth that fighting chance," Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said in a press release. "By creating a Commission on Native Children, we can begin to address chronic issues like abuse and suicide that has shattered the lives of too many young people – and put holistic solutions in place that can positively change the lives of many Native kids."

"Our First People carry a proud tradition and lifestyle that is being eroded by a culture of despair fed by poverty, crime, unemployment, substance abuse, and tragic household violence; this complicated problem deserves a thorough review that brings all the governments’ agencies to bear. Alaska Natives, Native Americans and Native Hawaiians deserve better and the government’s must live up to its trust responsibility and empower them to change this,” added Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), another co-sponsor of the bill.

The bill is named in honor of Alyce Spotted Bear, a former chairwoman of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation in North Dakota who served on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education prior to her passing in 2013. She was a well-regarded educator.

Walter Sobeloff was a revered Tlingit elder who died in 2011 at the age of 102. Murkowski called him a "legend" who dedicated his life to advancing Alaska Native rights and education.

The bill now heads to the House for consideration.



STROUD, OK – The Sac and Fox Nation launched a campaign to bring legendary athlete and Olympian Jim Thorpe back home to Oklahoma.

Thorpe, who was a tribal citizen, was born in Oklahoma. Following his death in 1935, he was going to be buried on Sac and Fox land before his widow interrupted the service and took his body. He was eventually buried in a newly-created municipality in Pennsylvania called the Borough of Jim Thorpe. His sons, backed by the tribe, have been fighting to bring him back home ever since.

The tribe and Thorpe's sons are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Borough of Jim Thorpe. They secured a major victory in April 2013 when a federal judge ordered the municipality to return the remains under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

But Thorpe never came home because the borough took the case to 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. A decision from October 2014 freed the municipality from complying with NAGPRA by claiming that reburial of this nature was never envisioned when Congress passed the law in 1990.

"NAGPRA was intended as a shield against further injustices to Native Americans, Judge Theodore McKee wrote for the majority. "It was not intended to be wielded as a sword to settle familial disputes within Native American families."

The plaintiffs are now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the dispute. The Supreme Court justices only accept a small number of petitions presented to them. They have never ruled in a NAGPRA dispute in the history of the law.

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