National Briefs: May 2015




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


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


“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




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


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


"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


The House version of the

anti-trafficking bill is H.R.296. It awaits action in that chamber.