National Briefs: October 2014

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FINAL ROUND OF PAYMENTS MADE IN COBELL

SETTLEMENT

HELENA, MT – Hundreds of thousands of

Native Americans received the final cash payments the week of Sept.

16 from one of the largest government settlements in U.S. history,

about three years after the deal was approved.

Checks ranging from $869 to $10

million were sent beginning on Sept. 16 to more than 493,000 people

by the administrators of the $3.4 billion settlement from a

class-action lawsuit filed by the late Elouise Cobell of Browning,

Mont. Approximately $941 million was distributed in this second round

of payments.

Cobell, the former Blackfeet tribal

treasurer, sued after finding the government squandered billions of

dollars in royalties for land it held in trust for individual Indians

that was leased for development, exploration or agriculture. The

mismanagement stretched back to the 1880s, the lawsuit found. She

died of cancer in 2011, after more than 15 years of doggedly pursuing

the lawsuit, rallying Native Americans around the cause and lobbying

members of Congress for its approval.

Cobell was present when a federal

judge approved the settlement just months before her death. But it

took years to work through the appeals and then sort through

incomplete and erroneous information provided by the government to

identify all the beneficiaries. Some 22,000 people listed in the data

provided had died, while 1,000 more listed as dead were still alive,

according to officials.

The payments are the second of two

distributions in the settlement. The first distributions of $1,000

apiece went to more than 339,000 people. This second, final round of

distributions is based on a formula looking at 10 years of the

highest earnings on those individual landowners’ accounts.

The settlement also includes a $1.9

billion land buy-back program now underway in which willing

landowners sell the government their land allotments to be

consolidated and turned over to the tribes.

TRIBES PETITION GOVERNMENT TO RETURN

BOARDING SCHOOL LAND

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Sixteen tribes

from South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska want the federal

government to turn over to tribal care the three parcels of land

where an American Indian boarding school sat in the late 1800s.

The Great Plains Tribal Chairmans

Association, along with other tribal governments and citizens,

petitioned the government to release the roughly 165 acres of land to

federal tribal trust, on Sept. 26. The tribes consider the parcels as

spiritual land guaranteed to the Sioux Nation under the 1868 Treaty

of Fort Laramie.

The boarding school opened its doors

in 1898 under federal assimilation policies. It was one of dozens of

government-operated schools where students were forced to speak

English and were punished when they were caught speaking in their

native languages.

Children from tribes in the Northern

Plains were funneled into roughly 1,200 acres dedicated by the

federal government to the Rapid City Indian Boarding School. A 1928

government-commissioned report found that Indian children at boarding

schools were severely punished, malnourished, overworked and poorly

educated. The failed school closed in 1933 and the land eventually

was dissolved into the lots that remain under tax-free federal trust.

Only the Sioux San Hospital, an

original structure of the facility, continued to operate when the

school was shuttered. According to the association’s executive

director, Gay Kingman, while there are no definite plans for the

acreage, she said the hospital would remain under control of the

Indian Health Service. She added that the hospital has been a focal

point for the Native American community.

“All of the tribes had people who

attended the boarding school,” Kingman said. “I can’t say

enough about what we’re trying to do here. The Sioux San Hospital

itself means so much to our people.”

PROJECT AIMS TO PRESERVE TRIBAL

LANGUAGES IN MONTANA

FORT BELKNAP, MT – A major effort is

underway to record Native American languages in Montana so they won’t

vanish completely.

Statistics show that out of about

6,000 residents of Montana’s Native communities, there may be five

percent or fewer actual speakers of traditional tribal languages.

A recent grant from the Montana

Legislature resulted in a two-year pilot program for recording and

archiving these endangered languages.

"What we’re trying to do now is

get it electronic – make it more feasible make it more accessible

to everybody – not just in the schools here," Ray Cichosz,

Gros Ventre Tribe project coordinator said. "They could go on to

the Web site, they could go click on links. Say there’s Gros Ventre

living in Wyoming, Washington, California and they’re always

wondering, ‘My grandma was so and so. Where do I come from’?"

The video production phase of the

program was completed in September.

CATHOLIC WOMEN URGE ROME TO RENOUNCE

DOCTRINE OF DISCOVERY

NASHVILLE, TN – In August, the

Leadership Conference of Women Religious joined an effort to urge

Pope Francis to renounce a series of 15th century Catholic Church

documents used to justify colonization of the Americas and the forced

conversion and murder of indigenous peoples.

In November of last year, Sister

Maureen Fiedler hand-delivered a letter to Pope Francis’ ambassador

in Washington, D.C., calling on the pontiff to renounce the concept

of the “Doctrine of Discovery.” She doesn’t know if the letter

made it to the Vatican. But she’s hopeful the recent resolution by

LCWR will spur the pope to repudiate the doctrine.

The Doctrine of Discovery is a series

of papal bulls, or decrees, that gave Christian explorers the right

to lay claim to any land that was not inhabited by Christians and was

available to be “discovered.” If its inhabitants could be

converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or

killed.

The doctrine’s modern influence

re-emerged recently in the debate about the racism and exploitation

of Native American sports mascots, Fiedler said. It has justified

efforts to eliminate indigenous languages, practices and worldviews

and it affects Native American sovereignty and treaty obligations.

Since 1823, it was enshrined in U.S.

law and in 2005, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited the

Doctrine of Discovery in a land-claim ruling against the Oneidas, one

of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee.

In August, LCWR members overwhelmingly

approved a resolution during its annual conference in Nashville,

Tenn.

Indigenous groups repeatedly sought to

overturn the doctrine since 1984. In its 2007 Declaration of the

Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations criticized policies

like the Doctrine of Discovery as “racist, scientifically false,

legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust.”

LCWR’s resolution calls on the pope

to publicly acknowledge the continuing harm indigenous peoples

suffer; clarify and repudiate any remaining legal status of the

doctrine; dialogue with indigenous people and collaborate in planning

a sacred ceremony of reconciliation; and issue a pastoral statement

to courts of settler nations, urging them to change laws derived from

the doctrine.

The Vatican said that later bulls and

papal apologies show the church no longer supports the doctrine. “The

wrongs done to the indigenous people need to be honestly

acknowledged,” Saint John Paul II said in 1998. He also delivered a

sweeping apology in 2000 for the church’s mistreatment of groups,

including indigenous peoples.

SENATE PASSES BILL TO EXEMPT TRIBAL

WELFARE BENEFITS

WASHINGTON – The Senate passed a bill

Sept. 18 that would stop the Internal Revenue Service from taxing

tribal welfare benefits.

The House passed the bill by voice

vote earlier in the week and the Senate cleared it through a

unanimous consent agreement. The legislation was signed into law by

President Obama on Sept. 26.

Previously, the IRS doesn’t include

state and local welfare benefits as part of a person’s taxable

income, but because Native American tribal jurisdictions are not the

same as a state’s, the IRS has taxed tribal welfare benefits in the

past.

The Tribal General Welfare Exclusion

Act, H.R. 3043, would ensure that tribal housing assistance,

emergency medical care and education assistance are treated as

nontaxable income.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron

Wyden (D-Oregon) said the bill is about parity and ensuring that

tribal members are treated the same as other federal taxpayers.

The bill also establishes a Tribal

Advisory Committee to help the Treasury Department and the IRS to

understand how best to address tax issues affecting Indian country.

Wyden said the legislation was necessary to stop aggressive IRS

audits that hindered economic and social development within tribal

communities.

“Tribal governments have a long

history of providing critical benefits to tribal members, and these

programs are fundamental to the sovereignty and cultural integrity of

tribes,” Wyden said. “Tribes, and not the IRS, are in the best

position to determine the needs of their members and provide for the

general welfare of their tribal citizens and communities.”

TRIBAL COURT CONVICTIONS MAY NOT COUNT

IN FEDERAL COURT

HELENA, MT – Federal prosecutors

can’t always use past tribal court convictions as proof of a

defendant’s criminal history, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court

of Appeals found in a Montana case.

The determination came on Sept. 30 as

the three-judge panel ruled that two federal counts of domestic

assault filed in 2011 against Michael Bryant, Jr. must be dismissed.

The judges said Bryant was convicted

of previous crimes in Northern Cheyenne Tribal Court and served time

in custody but didn’t have an attorney. The judges said those

convictions would not be considered legal under the Sixth Amendment

of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees a defendant the right to

an attorney.

Northern Cheyenne tribal court rules

say defendants can hire their own attorneys but it does not guarantee

an attorney will be appointed.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Montana

argued that tribal courts aren’t governed by the U.S. Constitution,

and that Bryant’s convictions were legal under tribal law. The 8th

and 10th circuits have agreed with similar arguments.

While Justice Paul J. Watford agreed

with the decision in Bryant’s case, he argued the case law on which

the judges based their decision case should be revisited. He also

noted that the 9th Circuit is inconsistent because another decision

allows tribal court convictions to be used as a basis to charge

someone with being a felon in possession of a firearm, even if that

conviction didn’t meet Sixth Amendment standards.

The U.S. Attorney’s office could ask

for the entire court to consider the matter or seek to raise the

issue with the U.S. Supreme Court.

SIX CHEROKEE NATION NURSES AMONG

OKLAHOMA’S GREAT 100 NURSES

TAHLEQUAH, OK. – The Cherokee Nation

boasted six of its citizens named named as winners of the Great 100

Nurses of Oklahoma.

The national Great 100 Nurses

Foundation honors standout nurses for their contributions to health

care. The state of Oklahoma participated in the celebration for the

first time this year.

A dinner was held Sept. 30 for the

recipients at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The honorees were

selected based on their contribution to the nursing profession and

for serving as role models after being nominated by patients, peers,

administrators or their community.

The six Cherokee recipients include:

Mona Brown, W.W. Hastings Hospital; Katherine Hollenbeck, Sam Hider

Jay Health Center; Marguerite Parker, W.W. Hastings Hospital; Dorothy

Snider-Peters, Cherokee Nation Home Health; Lisa Woodworth, Muskogee

Three-Rivers Health Center; and Sheryl Young, public health community

nurse.

“It’s an honor to get this award

since I’m just doing what I love to do,” Brown said. “Really,

every one of our nurses at Cherokee Nation deserves this award.”