Tribal Sovereignty and Development Colloquium, May 28/29, 2015 in Seattle


The United States and Native American nations have a treaty-based, government-to-government relationship with a unique political and legal dynamic of mutual sovereignty. This colloquium will feature recognized experts presenting in-depth information and current perspectives on U.S./Tribal relations, their evolving sovereignty balance, and innovative strategies and programs for enhancing Native American development and human security.

Please join us in person at the University of Washington in Seattle or via webinar for this extraordinary program focused on strengthening self-determination and quality of life in Tribal communities.

Featured Speakers Include:

• The United States Special Trustee for American Indians
• The President of the National Congress of American Indians
• Leaders of Tribal Governments, Economic Enterprises, and Community Organizations
• Tribal Court Judges, Law Professors, and Legal Advocates
• National Experts in Indigenous Education, Health, and Cultural Heritage


For the Colloquium agenda and to register, click HERE. There is no cost to attend the Colloquium or webinar.


Menominee Nation Offers $220M for New NBA Arena in Milwaukee


The Menominee Nation in Wisconsin has reportedly offered to contribute $220 million toward the cost of constructing a new arena for the NBA basketball team Milwaukee Bucks - if Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker agrees to reverse a decision prohibiting a proposed new Tribal casino in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

In January, Governor Walker announced he would reject the plan for the Menominee Nation to build a $800 million casino in Kenosha. Walker has until February 19 to reverse the decision. The Wisconsin state government currently has an agreement with a Milwaukee casino that mandates no other casinos can be built within 50 miles. The proposed Menominee casino would be located within that radius.

With the tribe’s $220 million, along with the $250 million that has already been pledged by the new Bucks ownership team, the total funding for the new basketball arena would be at $470 million. The current plans for the arena are expected to cost between $400 and $500 million to construct.


Washington Tribes Seek Econometric Adjustments for Gaming Machine Allocations

Gale Courey Toensing/Indian Country Today

Video gaming machines are among the most profitable elements of most Tribal casinos, and the number of machines in a casino can significantly impact the profit potential for the Tribe. In Washington state, gaming Tribes are currently negotiating new compacts with the state government that would provide for growth in the number of authorized machines based on factors indicating market demand.

The number of gambling machines allowed in Tribal casinos in the state of Washington — currently about 28,000 — has been set over the years through negotiations. If the proposed deal is approved, the slot-style machines would multiply based on supply and demand — not bargaining. If approved by the state gaming commission, the Governor, and Tribal and federal officials, the new compacts would increase the statewide cap by 2,700 machines immediately.

The limit would go up by another 1,350 statewide if the Cowlitz Indian Tribe in southwest Washington moves forward with a planned casino. In any year that tribes come close to maxing out their new cap, the limit could rise again by another 1,350 statewide. The state gaming commission would review the market and verify there are fewer than 500 unused machines for lease before an increase would be enacted. Another increase of 1,350 machines could happen any year a new casino opens, such as the Cowlitz tribe’s facility.

The only limit on the number of increases over the years would be existing caps on what individual Tribes can own and lease, which would keep the statewide number of machines from ever going past 90,000. Other conditions could keep the number far smaller. Many small tribes in far-flung parts of the state aren’t likely to open a casino, and Tribal leaders say there isn’t enough demand for a major expansion. “I think it can only go so big anyway, and then the market is full,” said Mel Tonasket, Vice Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.


The Economist Reports on New Tribal Gaming & Poverty Research

The upcoming edition of The Economist features an article on the relationship between Tribal gaming and poverty, based on research conducted by Foster Pepper’s Native American Group and the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies. The article can be accessed HERE.

The research is being led by Foster Pepper’s Native American Group Chair Greg Guedel, who said: “This study provides data on how specific economic activities are impacting quality of life in Tribal communities. The goal of the research is to help empower Tribes to create prosperity on their own terms and consistent with their cultural values.”

Mark your calendars for May 28-29, 2015, when Foster Pepper will host a two-day colloquium on Tribal economic development issues at the University of Washington, featuring presentations from Tribal leaders and experts from across the country discussing innovative pathways for enhancing human security in Native American nations.



Congress Eliminates Dollar-Match Requirement for Native CDFIs

In a significant action that will assist Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), Congress has moved to waive the non-federal dollar-for-dollar match requirement for the Native American CDFI Assistance (NACA) program in the FY 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, now Public Law 113-235. The law appropriates $15 million in funding to NACA for financial and technical assistance, training, and outreach programs without the obligation of meeting the match requirement found in 12 U.S.C. 4707(e).

The removal of the dollar-for-dollar match requirement is an important boost for economic and community development in Tribal communities, as it should provide an easier path for Native CDFIs in raising private capital for investment in Tribal businesses and projects.


New Research on Tribal Sovereignty, Economic Development, and Human Security

The American Indian Law Journal has just published a new research study that provides data on key Tribal economic and human security indicators.  The research was conducted by Greg Guedel in conjunction with the University of Washington Jackson School of International Studies.  

Key findings from the research include:

  • Data indicating that while revenues from Tribal gaming have provided tremendous economic resources since the California v. Cabazon decision, gaming revenue growth has decreased dramatically since 2007 and annual total gaming revenue has effectively plateaued.
  • Tribal political contributions to US Senate candidates since 1997 correlate to a 90% increase in annual BIA funding for Tribal programs, equal to more than $1 billion in additional annual funds.
  • From 2000-2010, gaming Tribes in the Pacific Northwest that did not issue per capita payments to their members did better in reducing poverty rates than the gaming Tribes that issued per capita payments.

The full article is available HERE.

In May of 2015, Foster Pepper and the University of Washington will be hosting a two-day Tribal Development Colloquium featuring Tribal leaders and national experts speaking on issues of Tribal sovereignty, economic development, and human security.  The speakers will explore development pathways that are successfully improving quality of life in Native American communities, and attendees will have the opportunity to network with key policy makers in Tribal and US governance.  The current program agenda is available HERE.


DOJ to Allow Marijuana Farming on Tribal Lands


The United States Department of Justice Department has issued a new memorandum indicating that U.S. attorneys will not prevent Tribes from growing or selling marijuana on their sovereign lands, even in states where marijuana cultivation and sales are banned. The new guidance will be implemented on a case-by-case basis and Tribes must still follow federal guidelines, said Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota and the chairman of the Attorney General's Subcommittee on Native American Issues.

Some Tribes see marijuana sales as a potential source of revenue, similar to cigarette sales and casino gambling, while others remain strongly opposed to the sale or use of marijuana on their lands. Purdon said that the majority of Native American Tribes, mindful of the painful legacy of alcohol abuse in their communities, appear to be against allowing marijuana use on their territory.

The federal government will continue to legally support those Tribes that wish to ban marijuana, even in states that now permit its sale, but the Justice Department will generally not enforce federal marijuana laws on federally recognized Tribes that choose to allow it, so long as Tribes meet eight federal guidelines specified in the memorandum. "The Tribes have the sovereign right to set the code on their reservations," Purdon said.

Tribes Resist Opening of Sacred Rattlesnake Mountain to Public

As reported by Tom Banse of KUOW radio, the Yakama Nation and neighboring tribes have objected to a move by Congress to offer public access to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain, a place tribal members consider sacred. Rattlesnake Mountain is located within the Hanford Reach National Monument near Richland, Washington.

Republican Congressman Doc Hastings authored the requirement that the federal government provide some degree of public access. The provision is now part of a defense spending bill that is expected to pass.

Access to the mountain is currently highly restricted. Philip Rigdon supervises the Yakama Nation Department of Natural Resources, and says the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain should remain off-limits to the general public.

"The mountain is a place that is critical to our culture, our religion and the ceremonies that we continue to perform today,” Rigdon said.

Representative Hastings had long sought to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide greater access to Rattlesnake Mountain. The House unanimously passed such a bill in 2013, but it died without a hearing in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

"The views of Indian tribes are legitimate, and they have a right to be heard and consulted," Hastings said during an earlier House committee hearing. "But the views of local communities and all citizens also deserve to be heard and listened to -- and there is overwhelming local public support for access to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain. The public should expect that if they can visit the summit of Mt. Rainier, then they certainly should be allowed to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain," Hastings said as he described the "unparalled views" of the Columbia Basin from the ridge.

The indigenous name for Rattlesnake Mountain is "Laliik." Rigdon said Columbia Plateau tribes such as the Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce want to preserve the "spiritual" qualities of a holy place. "It's astonishing to me that we continue this total disregard for our religion, our ceremonies and this place that has provided for us," concluded Rigdon. "Laliik is our Mount Sinai," Yakama tribal Chairman JoDe Goudy wrote in a recent letter to U.S. senators. "When our Long House leaders feel that a young adult is ready and worthy, Laliik is where they are sent to fast and to have vision quests. This is not a place for Airstreams and Winnebagos."


Cobell Land Buyback Program Accelerating

The Associated Press reports that the number of Tribal communities participating in the BIA’s $1.9 billion land buyback program is increasing, with 21 communities in 12 states slated to join program by 2017, according to Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor. That will bring the total number of Tribal communities participating in the program to 42.

“Right now the program is accelerating,” Connor said. “Our outreach efforts and coordination with tribal leaders and government is becoming more effective.”

The buyback program was a central piece of a $3.4 billion settlement of the Cobell class-action lawsuit. The program aims to buy land with “fractionated” interests and consolidate ownership of the parcels under tribal governments. “We have some plots of land that have 500 owners on one, little 20-acre tract,” said Grant Stafne, a member of the executive board for the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation in northeast Montana. “We would have control over our land instead of individual Indians. It would make it easier to lease land.”

In the buyback’s first year, $225 million was paid to individual Native Americans for restoring the equivalent of 375,000 acres to tribal governments, Connor said.

Fort Belknap Tribal President Mark Azure said Thursday that a cooperative agreement with federal officials had eased some of his earlier concerns about the program. But Azure said Fort Belknap leaders still have too little say over which parcels are chosen. He added some landowners remain reluctant to participate in the federal program, but if the tribe had more control over it those landowners might be willing to sell. “That’s where we as tribes hopefully provide answers to all of their questions,” he said. “They would lean more toward tribal government in bringing in answers that are going to make sense.”

Roughly 245,000 owners of fractionated land on 150 reservations are eligible to participate in the program.


Navajo Nation Imposes New Tax On Junk Food

The sales tax on cookies, chips, sodas and other junk food sold within the territory of the Navajo Nation is set to increase. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed legislation that raises by 2 percentage points the sales tax on food with little to no nutritional value.

Tribal advocates for the junk-food tax sought a bill that could serve as a model for Tribal communities to improve the rates of diabetes and obesity among Native Americans. "We want them to think twice about buying healthy foods instead of soda pop, potato chips and the junk food," said Gloria Begay, an advocate of the tax. "The effort is really much more in the message of Navajo people making better choices for quality foods."

The bill cited statistics from the Navajo-area Indian Health Service that said about one-third of Navajo citizens are diabetic or pre-diabetic, and the obesity rate for some age groups is as high as 60 percent. Diabetes was the fourth-leading cause of death in the Navajo area from 2003 to 2005, the health service said.

The $1 million-a-year that the tax is expected to generate will pay for projects including farmer's markets, vegetable gardens and wellness and exercise equipment in the tribe's 110 communities. To increase the affordability of healthier foods, another bill to eliminate the 5 percent sales tax on fresh fruit and vegetables sold on the Navajo Nation went into effect October 1.