National Briefs: July 2015
Friday, July 10 2015
Written by The Circle Staff,
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – All groups seeking recognition of their status as tribes must follow the same process under a new policy being adopted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The federal acknowledgment process formally began in 1978. Yet some groups have gained recognition, clarification or affirmation of their status through other administrative means.

The forthcoming guidance puts an end to that once and for all. Now that the Part 83 reforms are final, every group will have to follow the same rules.

"The recently revised Part 83 regulations promote fairness, integrity, efficiency and flexibility, Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn wrote in the policy that will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow. "No group should be denied access to other mechanisms if the only administrative avenue available to them is widely considered 'broken.'"

The document doesn't offer specifics but the most recent group that gained recognition outside of the Part 83 process came prior to Washburn's arrival at the BIA. In January 2012, former assistant secretary Larry Echo Hawk placed the Tejon Tribe of California on the list of federally recognized tribes.

Echo Hawk did so without following any sort of "discernible process," the Office of Inspector General at the Interior Department said in an April 2013 report. By that time, the former head of the BIA had left the Obama administration.

In January 2001, the Clinton administration "reaffirmed" the status of the King Salmon Tribe of Alaska, the Sun’aq Tribe in Alaska, and the Lower Lake Rancheria in California. The BIA at the time said they had been mistakenly left off the list of recognized tribes.

Even though questions were raised about those decisions, the new policy won't affect them. The guidance becomes effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register on July 1.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) continues to push for passage of a bill that prevents the Tohono O'odham Nation from using its trust land for a casino.

In 1986, Congress passed the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act to compensate the tribe for a reservation that was flooded by the federal government. McCain was a sponsor of the measure. Two years later, Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The law, generally, bars gaming on land acquired after 1988 but Section 20 contains an exception for land claim settlements.

McCain also was a sponsor of IGRA. Yet he insists that Congress never thought tribes would open casinos in connection with land claims even though that's exactly what's happening with the Tohono O'odham Nation.

McCain at first stayed out of the dispute. During a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing last summer, he said he was worried that Congressional efforts to block the casino went against IGRA. But now McCain is sponsoring S.152, the Keep the Promise Act. The bill doesn't mention any tribes by name but it bars Class II and Class III gaming on newly acquired trust lands in the Phoenix area -- a situation that only applies to the Tohono O'odham Nation.

The Gila River Indian Community and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community are aggressively lobbing for passage of the bill. The two tribes operate five casinos on the southern and eastern sides of Phoenix. The Tohono O'odham Nation already broke ground on the West Valley Resort near Glendale, a suburb on the western side of Phoenix. An initial structure is due to open by the end of the year.

In the history of IGRA only two tribes – the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma and the Seneca Nation of New York – have opened casinos on land acquired in connection with land claim settlements. However, only the Wyandotte Nation's 7th Street Casino, in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, meets the land claim exception in Section 20 of the law.

The Seneca Nation has opened two casinos in connection with a land claim settlement. In that case, the Bush administration determined that Section 20 didn't come into play because the Seneca Nation Settlement Act of 1990 requires that the tribe's lands be placed in restricted fee – rather than trust – status.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Barack Obama nominated Brad Carson, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, to serve in a high-level position at the Department of Defense.

Carson, a U.S. Navy veteran who fought in Iraq, has served as Under Secretary of the U.S. Army since March 2014. Obama nominated him in November 2013 and he was confirmed by the Senate in February 2014.

Before that, Carson served as general counsel of the U.S. Army, the agency's top legal post. He was nominated by Obama in September 2011 and confirmed in December of that year.

Obama's confidence in Carson continues with his nomination as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in which he has been serving in an acting capacity in addition to his other post.

Carson represented Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional district from 2000 to 2005. The district has the highest percentage of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the U.S. He made a run for Senate but lost in 2004. He then went to work as chief executive officer for Cherokee Nation Businesses, his tribe's economic development enterprise, before returning to Washington, D.C., during the Obama administration.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tribes in New Mexico and Nevada will benefit from wildland fire protection projects at the Interior Department.

As part of the Wildland Fire Resilient Landscapes Program, $400,000 will be spent to restore natural landscapes at Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico. The tribe suffered from three devastating fires since 1998 that burned 67 percent of timberland on the reservation and caused significant flooding of cultural and food sites.

Elsewhere in New Mexico, $883,000 will be spent at the Valles Caldera National Preserve, an area also hit by fires. Jemez Pueblo, whose aboriginal connection to the land has been recognized in court, and Santa Clara Pueblo is part of a collaborative effort with multiple public and private partners to protect the land from future blazes

Finally $3,984,250 will be spent at the Greater Sheldon Hart Mountain to restore natural sagebrush and grasses in Nevada, Oregon and California. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead agency on a project that includes the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe of Nevada.

“These projects will help restore critical landscapes, which is essential for mitigating the impacts of fire and climate change,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a press release. “The benefits of increasing the resiliency of our lands and waters to wildfires are wide-ranging, from conserving native species like the greater sage-grouse to restoring rangelands, forests and watersheds. These projects support our efforts to protect our nation’s landscapes for this and future generations.”

A total of $10 million will spent on the program.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Brian Cladoosby is running for a second term as president of the National Congress of American Indians.

Cladoosby, who serves as chairman of the Swinomish Tribe of Washington, was first elected to the post at NCAI's annual convention in October 2013. He defeated Joe Garcia, a council member for Ohkay Owingeh in New Mexico and a former two-term NCAI president, by just 25 votes.

After spending two years as the leader of the largest inter-tribal organization, Cladoosby is gearing up for a second campaign. He vows to unite tribes as they advance their interests across the nation.

On his Facebook page, Cladoosby said he will work to reauthorize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act, improve the Indian Health Service and seek more funding for Bureau of Indian Education schools.

The election will take place at NCAI's upcoming annual convention in San Diego, Calif., this October. The organization's bylaws limit a president to two consecutive terms.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development opens its Reservation Economic Summit DC on June 15.

Hundreds of tribal leaders, Indian entrepreneurs and corporate executives -- along with federal, state and local officials – returned to the nation's capital for the second year of the RES DC event. Attendees participated in sessions on the 8(a) business development program, the burgeoning marijuana industry, online lending, taxation and labor unions at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

This year's event included a "New Day Now" (NDN) rally. Rep. Bennie Thompson, (D-Miss.), the top Democrat on the House Committee on Homeland Security, is joined tribal leaders in front of the U.S. Capitol to discuss economic development issues.

After the rally, attendees participated in a listening session with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. They discussed the Buy Indian Act and community development financial institutions in Room 216 of the Senate Hart Office Building. Tribal leaders heard directly from lawmakers on energy, transportation and other legislative priorities.

“It is an honor to be able to lead a panel with some of Indian Country’s strongest supporters,” Ernie Stevens, Jr., National Indian Gaming Association Chair, said in a press release. “The panel is just one of many sessions planned during what will be another fantastic RES event, and I hope Indian Country turns out in strong numbers to make their voices heard in our nation’s capital.”


WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Indian Affairs Committee focused on economic development issues in mid-June.

The committee held a listening session on the Buy Indian Act on June 16. The 1910 law requires the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service to give preference to tribally- and Indian-owned businesses in procurement matters but regulations weren't finalized until June 2013.

The committee also focused on community development financial institutions, commonly known as CDFIs. Organizations like Lakota Funds in South Dakota and Native American Community Development Corporation in Montana provide loans, grants and financial services to Indian entrepreneurs who are typically unable to secure capital from traditional sources like commercial banks.

"The National Center is pleased Chairman Watchman will be able to shed light on the challenges Native businesses face to the people who craft national policy," Gary Davis, the president and CEO of NCAIED, said in a press release.


KYKOTSMOVI VILLAGE, AZ – The Hopi Tribe and the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, are nearing a settlement over the use of wastewater at the sacred San Francisco Peaks.

The tribe sued the city for signing a five-year contract to supply treated sewage to the Arizona Snowbowl, a privately-owned ski resort. The facility uses the wastewater to make fake snow.

The city extended the contract for another 20 years and authorized a higher volume of wastewater to be sent to the resort, The Arizona Daily Sun reported in March. The changes were adopted without public comment or consultation with the tribes that hold the San Francisco Peaks as a place of worship and the home of spiritual beings.

"The City and the Hopi Tribe are working towards a settlement of the lawsuit and are optimistic about the possibility of a resolution of the claim," the city said in a litigation update. "All of the parties to the lawsuit recently agreed to stay the litigation for at least 60 days as the negotiations continue. The court granted that request in order to allow time to explore resolutions and draft a settlement agreement.

Any settlement will be subject to city council approval.


NEW YORK CITY – Author Sherman Alexie will release his first picture book for young readers in May 2016.

"Thunder Boy Jr." tells the story of a young boy with the same name as his father. It is illustrated by Yuyi Morales.

Alexie's novel for young adults, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," won the National Book Award in 2007.


POPLAR, MT – The Fort Peck Tribes of Montana are planning to spend $2.6 million to install homes that were promised by actor Brad Pitt and his foundation.

The 20 houses are being provided at no cost by Make It Right. It's the infrastructure that the tribe must pay in order to establish the housing development in Poplar.

Some tribal leaders have questioned the high cost. But they agreed to take out a loan to finance the project.

The tribe has already poured the foundations for 13 homes and tribal citizens could move in by August. Each house – designed to be eco-friendly – costs $283,000.


People who test positive for marijuana won't necessarily be barred from working at the casino owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon.

Marijuana remains illegal to use or possess on the reservation. And employees of the Wildhorse Resort & Casino cannot work while impaired by drugs or alcohol. But testing positive for marijuana use won't automatically prohibit anyone from getting a job at the casino. The change in policy was reported by The Confederated Umatilla Journal, the tribal newspaper.

The change comes as Measure 91 goes into effect in July. The law allows residents of Oregon to grow limited amounts of marijuana on their property and to possess personal limited amounts of recreational marijuana.

The tribe, however, has no plans to legalize marijuana and Measure 91 does not apply on the reservation. Marijuana is also illegal under federal law. A new Department of Justice policy could open the door to tribes that want to legalize the drug.

With more than 1,600 employees at the casino alone, the Umailla Tribes are the largest employer in the Pendleton area.


RONAN, MT – Nearly 4,200 acres have been restored to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana as part of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.

Offers went out to about 1,900 individual Indian landowners on the Flathead Reservation last year. About 25 percent accepted, resulting in $5.4 million going into their hands.

The fractional interests were then transferred to the tribe. As of June 12, the equivalent of 4,197 acres were restored, according to a chart from the buy-back program.

The $3.4 billion Cobell settlement provided $1.9 billion for Indian landowners who want to sell their fractionated interests. DOI will pay "fair market value" as required by the Indian Land Consolidation Act.

Participation is entirely voluntary. Any land that is acquired will be returned to tribes.

As of June, DOI has extended $1.5 billion in offers to more than 4,900 individual Indian landowners. Some $445.4 million in transactions have been concluded so far, according to the chart.

The equivalent of more than 795,000 acres have been returned to tribal governments as a result of the program.



TAHLEQUAH, OK – Citizens of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma went to the polls on June 27 to choose their leaders.

According to the unofficial results, Principal Chief Bill John Baker won re-election to a second term. He secured 52.66 percent of the vote, easily beating three other challengers.

Deputy chief Joe Crittenden also won re-election, according to the unofficial results. He secured 62.52 percent of the vote, defeating one challenger.

"Wado. Thank you all for your support," Baker and Crittenden said on their Facebook page. "We are honored to continue to serve the Cherokee Nation."

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