National Briefs: June 2015



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


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


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


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




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.