National Briefs: February 2015

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ASSAILANTS FACING CHARGES AFTER

HOCKEY GAME INCIDENT

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Rapid City Police

Chief Karl Jegeris said officials know the identity of at least one

person who allegedly threw beer on and yelled racial slurs at a group

of Native American students at a Rapid City Rush hockey game on Jan.

24.

Jegeris made the announcement at a

press conference that followed a 2 1/2-hour closed-door meeting that

included parents of the children, American Horse School officials,

Oglala Sioux Tribal representatives, Mayor Sam Kooiker, police and

the Pennington County State’s Attorney’s office.

"We’re going to be looking at

assault. We’re going to look at the hate crimes statutes. We will

look at the child abuse statutes. And, we will look at any other

relevant statutes," Jergeris said of charges that may be filed

against the person or people who participated in the harassment of

the students.

American Horse School is in Allen on

the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The 57 students and seven adults

were on a field trip that rewarded students for school achievement.

Their trip was cut short in the third period of the game because of

the outbursts from a skybox above the section in which the students

were sitting.

The American Horse school group took

up some 65 seats, which included parents, chaperones and students,

during the game. Because of the racially-charge assault, the

chaperones removed the youth from the game before its conclusion and

took to social media via Facebook where the incident was carried by

online advocacy media organization Last Real Indians.

SENATE DEMOCRATS DELAY VOTE ON KEYSTONE

XL

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A bill to approve the

controversial Keystone XL Pipeline remains under consideration in the

Senate after Democrats were able to delay its passage on Jan. 26.

Republicans have made S.1, the

Keystone XL Pipeline Act, their top priority in the 114th Congress.

But their attempts to cut off debate and move towards a final vote

were rejected by a 53 to 39 vote.

The bill, however, is expected to pass

the Republican-controlled chamber eventually. President Barack Obama

has vowed to veto the measure if it comes to his desk.

STATE OF INDIAN NATIONS ADDRESS

REITERATES FEDERAL OBLIGATIONS

WASHINGTON D.C. – Tribes must insist

the federal government honor its commitments to them and create

partnerships with them based on deference, not paternalism, the

president of the National Congress of American Indians said on Jan.

22.

Brian Cladoosby said in the annual State of Indian Nations address

that too many reservations are plagued with high unemployment and

dropout rates, rampant drug and alcohol abuse and an epidemic of

suicides. Congress needs to update laws and regulations on energy,

taxation and education to help tribes overcome those long-standing

challenges, but it shouldn’t dictate solutions, he said.

In the congressional response, Sen.

John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said the relationship between tribes and the

federal government hasn’t always been positive. But as the new

chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, he vowed to lead

efforts to strengthen it.

In exchange for land, the federal

government promised things like health care, education, social

services and public safety in perpetuity for members of federally

recognized tribes. Those vows generally are born out of treaties. The

U.S. negotiated more than 400 treaties with tribes, most of which

were ratified by the Senate.

Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish

Nation of Washington state, said federal funding often falls short of

what tribes need to provide for their membership. He called on

lawmakers to simplify and streamline government regulations that

would give tribes the ability to issue tax-exempt bonds, give tax

credits to members who live on reservations and adopt children with

special needs, and provide tribal law enforcement access to a

national crime database.

The responsibility falls on all

members of Congress, Cladoosby said, whether their districts include

Indian Country or not. "This trust, it’s not a handout," he

said. "It’s a contract. It’s a commitment. And it’s their duty

to honor it."

TRANSCANADA USES EMINENT DOMAIN TO

ACQUIRE NEBRASKA LAND

LINCOLN, Neb. – The developer of the

Keystone XL oil pipeline made good on its promise on Jan. 20 to try

to seize access to the Nebraska land it needs to finish the project –

the first steps it’s taken since the state’s high court removed a

major legal barrier.

TransCanada employees said the company

filed legal papers in nine Nebraska counties to invoke eminent domain

for the land that’s needed to construct, operate and maintain the

pipeline. The filings come just before the company’s two-year window

closed on Jan. 22.

The pipeline still faces legal

challenges in Nebraska, even though the state’s Supreme Court allowed

the route to stand by default. Opponents have sued to try to prevent

the Calgary, Alberta-based company from using eminent domain and to

overturn the state pipeline-siting law that allowed ex-Gov. Dave

Heineman to approve the route in 2013. The pipeline would carry an

estimated 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to Nebraska, where it

would connect with existing pipelines headed for Gulf Coast

refineries.

By law, TransCanada can use the courts

to force Nebraska landowners to sell access to their land. Company

officials say they still need to acquire 12 percent of the total land

easements from owners who have not yet reached a deal. Some holdouts

have said they won’t negotiate no matter how much TransCanada offers.

The company has acquired 100 percent

of the private landowner easements in Montana and South Dakota,

according to TransCanada’s Keystone projects land manager Andrew

Craig. Pipeline opponents argue that many of the landowners in

Montana and South Dakota were "bullied" early in the

process and told they had no other option.

Craig said the company has secured

voluntary agreements with as many as 96 percent of the landowners in

some of the remaining Nebraska counties. And he expects the company

will sign agreements with at least half of the remaining landowners

without having to use eminent domain. Those still willing to

negotiate mostly have concerns about compensation and restoration of

native grasslands that could take three to five years to regrow,

Craig said.

Environmentalists and other pipeline

opponents argue that any leaks could contaminate water sources and

the project would increase air pollution around refineries and harm

wildlife. Supporters, including state and national Republicans and

oil industry members, say those fears are exaggerated and argue that

the pipeline would create jobs and ease the country’s dependence on

foreign oil.

President Barack Obama has downplayed

the project’s benefits, and the White House has publicly threatened

to veto legislation in Congress that would fast-track the project.

WISCONSIN LOCAL SCHOOL BOARD SAYS

MASCOT WILL STAY THE SAME

BERLIN, Wis. – The Berlin High School

Indians Mascot will remain the same. The school board made that

decision Jan. 28 after hearing the results of a community survey on

the subject.

About 23 percent of the Berlin

population took the survey. Of the more than 1,300 community members

surveyed, 92 percent want to keep the mascot as is. And of 452

students who were surveyed, 90 percent voted to keep the Indians

mascot.

After hearing the survey results it

took only moments for the school board to move on from the issue.

“They reached out to their constituents to get their feelings on

the issue. They wanted as much information to make a decision as

possible,” Bob Eidahl, Superintendent of the Berlin Area School

District said.

The board made no motions on the

subject, so the Indians mascot will stay as is. This conversation has

gone on since 2011 when a Berlin alumnus made a complaint about the

mascot to the state. At that time, state law required a complaint

from one community member to hold hearing to change a mascot.

Ultimately, the state Department of Public Instruction ordered the

district to change the mascot.

But since then, the laws have changed,

leaving the decision up to the school board. After the Jan. 28 board

meeting the official conversation is closed for the time being. In

order for the mascot to be changed in the future, 10 percent of the

Berlin population would need to petition the state. That’s under a

new law signed by Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker last year.

BREACHED PIPELINE THAT SPILLED OIL LIES

EXPOSED ON RIVERBED

GLENDIVE, Mont. – Sonar indicates part

of an underground pipeline that spilled almost 40,000 gallons of oil

into Montana’s Yellowstone River and fouled a local water supply is

exposed on the riverbed.

The pipeline is exposed for about 50

feet near where the breach occurred Jan. 17, according to a news

release from public agencies involved with the response. The pipeline

had been buried at least 8 feet under the riverbed, and the depth was

last confirmed in September 2011.

The cause of the spill remains under

investigation. It prompted a five-day shutdown of drinking water

services for 6,000 people in the city of Glendive after oil got into

a treatment plant.

Prior accidents, including a 2011

Exxon Mobil pipeline spill on the Yellowstone near Billings, have

demonstrated that pipelines beneath bodies of water can quickly

become exposed by floodwaters or other natural forces.

Bridger Pipeline Co., which is based

in Casper, Wyoming, says its pipeline will remain shut down from

Glendive to near the Canada border until the river section is

replaced. The company says the pipeline will be buried deeper beneath

the river.

Federal rules require lines to be

buried at least 4 feet beneath riverbeds. The 193-mile Poplar

Pipeline delivers crude from the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and

Montana to a terminal in Baker, Montana, about 55 miles south of

Glendive. It was built in the 1950s and has a capacity of 42,000

barrels of oil a day.

The Yellowstone River is a popular

recreation destination and home to fish, including the endangered

pallid sturgeon.

IOWA REPUBLICANS BLAST MENOMINEE NATION

OFF-RESERVATION CASINO

DES MOINES, Iowa – Republican leaders

in Iowa are urging Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to reject

an off-reservation casino for the Menominee Nation.

The $800 million casino in Kenosha is

not located near the border that two states’ borders but conservative

leaders in the neighboring state say gaming brings social problems.

"As you are contemplating a presidential bid, I sincerely hope

you will consider a ‘No Expanding Gaming’ policy," Tom Coates,

the executive director of Consumer Credit of Des Moines, wrote in a

letter to Walker.

Indian gaming is usually not a

national presidential campaign issue. But Walker’s decision on the

Menominee casino could affect how he is viewed among conservatives in

his own party.

Walker has until Feb. 19 to decide on

the casino.

NORTHERN CHEYENNE REACHES SETTLMENT

WITH CATHOLIC SCHOOL

LAME DEER, Mont. – The Northern Cheyenne

Tribe reached a settlement with the Catholic Church over the

operation of a school on the reservation.

The tribe sued the church in 2005,

alleging that the St. Labre Indian School exploited the conditions on

the reservation in order to raise millions of dollars. In February

2013, the Montana Supreme Court said the case could proceed on the

grounds of “unjust enrichment."

"NCT alleges that St. Labre

raised between $27 and $30 million for two of the four years before

the filing of its complaint," the court said at the time.

Terms of the settlement haven’t been

released and it hasn’t been finalized in the courts.

FORT PECK TRIBES APPROVE USE OF MEDICAL

MARIJUANA

POPLAR, Mont. – The Fort Peck

Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Montana are joining what appears to

be a new wave in Indian Country: legal marijuana.

At its first meeting of 2015, the

tribal council voted 7-4 to legalize marijuana for medicinal

purposes. The tribe set a deadline of June 1 to draft new laws to

regulate the drug.

“Let’s take a healthy risk to take

care of these issues,” council member Tom Christian said during the

meeting. “We can do this but lets do it legally,”

The move comes on the the heels of a

Department of Justice policy that could allow for legal marijuana in

Indian Country. One tribe in California has already announced plans

to host a grow operation while another in Minnesota is undertaking a

feasibility study.

CHEROKEE NATION READY TO COMPLETE $80

MILLION CASINO THIS SUMMER

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation

celebrated a construction milestone at its $80 million casino in

Roland, Okla.

The tribe held a topping-out ceremony

for the new Cherokee Casino in Roland on Jan. 19. The facility was

the site of the tribe’s first bingo operation and now it’s getting a

complete makeover. “The new hotel and casino are not only going to

be bigger and better, but they will create more quality career

opportunities in this region of the Cherokee Nation," Chief Bill

John Baker said in a press release.

The 170,000 square-foot facility is

expected to open this summer. It features a hotel with 120 rooms and

space to host conferences, events, weddings and trade shows. The

tribe is adding 100 more jobs with the expansion. The facility is

located a few miles from the Arkansas border.

CROW TRIBE SPONSORS BILLBOARD ‘JESUS

CHRIST IS LORD’

CROW AGENCY, Mont. – The Crow Tribe of

Montana is sponsoring a billboard that reads "Jesus Christ Is

Lord" on the reservation.

Many tribal members practice a blend

of traditional and Pentecostal beliefs. So tribal leaders feel the

33-foot billboard, which went up last month, accurately reflects life

on the reservation. "We still speak our language, we still

practice traditional beliefs, and we have the largest tribal buffalo

herd and hunt them," Senator C.J. Stewart, a member of the Crow

Legislature whose 2013 resolution referenced God and Jesus Christ,

said. "We’re not trying to assimilate anybody, we’re just

referencing our Lord.”

The resolution used the Crow word for

God, Akbaatatdia. The Crow word for Jesus Christ is

Ischawuuannaukaasua, which means “The One with Pierced Hands.”