NATIONAL NEWS BRIEFS (June 2017)

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TRUMP SEEKS CUTS IN INDIAN COUNTRY BUDGET

WASHINGTON, DC – Donald Trump is seeking drastic cuts in education, health, housing and other key programs in Indian Country. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service are among the many losers in Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget. Budget details show both agencies being reduced to levels not seen in nearly a decade, essentially setting the clock back on gains seen during President Obama’s era.

Trump proposed the outright elimination of a grant program that tribes nationwide have used to improve housing and economic development opportunities in their communities.

“…Trump’s budget proposal for pro-grams affecting Indian Country is extremely troubling because of its disregard for the federal government’s responsibilities and its troubling lack of understanding of the challenges facing tribal communities,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said in a press release.

Even Republicans expressed concerns, although in a different fashion. They quickly pointed out that Congress – not the president – has the final say over funding levels for the BIA, the IHS and other federal agencies.

COURT SUPPORTS RELEASE OF$380M IN KEEPSEAGLE FUNDS

WASHINGTON, DC – Another big chunk of funds should be headed to Indian Country as part of a historic settlement that addresses discrimination against Indian farmers and ranchers.

But not everyone is happy with the way everything turned out. Two tribal citizens who have been a part of the Keepseagle lawsuit didn’t want to share $380 million in leftover funds from the settlement. And one appeals court judge ruefully described the entire dispute as a “big payday” for attorneys.

Keith Mandan, one of the named plaintiffs, and Donivon Craig Tingle, a member of the settlement class, wanted the money to go to the ranchers and farmers who experienced discrimination at the Department of Agriculture. They argued that the entire settlement – worth a total of$760 million – belongs to the class and no one else.

On the other side of the saga are a different group of named plaintiffs and their attorneys. They brokered a modification to the settlement that distributes most of the remaining $380 million with Indian Country.

The changes, although controversial, are perfectly legal, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded in May. While the three judges who heard the case were divided 2-1 on the issue, their decision should restart the flow of payments from the settlement, which the Obama administration reached in 2010 after more than a decade of litigation.

“We look forward to putting this money to work to support farming and ranching among America’s first farmers,” attorney Joseph Sellers told The Associated Press after the ruling was issued.

FED. COURT BLOCKS ATTEMPT TO CONDEMN NAVAJO LAND

DENVER, CO – By a unanimous vote, a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said federal law does not authorize condemnation of lands in which the Navajo Nation holds an interest. The decision bars the Public Service Company of New Mexico from maintaining a power line on the reservation without the consent of all of the owners.

“Absent explicit authorization, tribal sovereignty prevails,” Judge Gregory A. Phillips wrote in the 27-page decision.

The ruling, issued in late May, affects the attempted condemnation of two parcels on the reservation. The case drew significant attention in Indian Country because it could have opened up tribes to lawsuits and hindered efforts to reverse the effects of the allotment era.

The parcels at issue in the dispute were allotted to Navajo citizens in the early 1900s. Under federal law, Indian allotments can be condemned, so long as the owners are compensated for “damages,” according to 25 U.S.C. § 357.

The Navajo Nation, however, acquired interests in both parcels through land consolidation programs that Congress authorized to address the harmful effect of allotment. As a result, § 357 does not apply because the allotments at issue are now “tribal,” the 10th Circuit determined.

TRUMP ADMIN. WANTS TO LET COBELL RUN OUT OF FUNDS

WASHINGTON, DC – The Trump administration is prepared to let the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations die after a top official said it wasn’t achieving results.

In the eyes of Indian Country, the$1.9 billion program has been a resounding success. It has allowed tribes to recover lands that were taken away during the allotment era while compensating individual Indians for their small, fractional ownerships.

But during a hearing on Capitol Hill, Jim Cason, the acting deputy secretary at the Department of the Interior, showed clear disdain for the way the effort was carried out by President Obama’s administration. Cason said that Tribal leaders like the program because it means “free money”.

“I don’t think there’s any tribal leader that would say, ‘Gee – I don’t want free money,’” Cason told the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs in May.

Despite bringing more than $1.1 billion to Indian Country since December 2015, “the program unfortunately has made relatively little progress,” Cason said.

Cason said he is prepared to shift how the $600 million left in buy-back fund will be spent.