Alaska Native Village Asks United Nations To Help Stop Open Pit Coal Mine In Tribal Territory

Open Pit Coal Mine (Tribal Energy and Environmental Information Clearinghouse)

Chickaloon Native Village, a federally-recognized Athabascan Indian Tribal government in Alaska, filed a communication to the United Nations Independent Expert on the human right to water and sanitation, seeking help in stopping a new open-pit coal mine in the Village’s traditional territory.

Chickaloon Village’s submission asserts that the new mine proposed by the Usibelli Corporation would contaminate local drinking water sources as well as rivers, streams and groundwater that support salmon, moose and other animals and plants vital for subsistence, religious and cultural practices. The US Federal Government and the State of Alaska have, to date, not responded to Chickaloon’s firmly-stated opposition to the mine.

The visit to the US by the Independent Expert, Mrs. Catarina de Albuquerque, a Portuguese human rights expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, includes stops in Washington DC, Boston Massachusetts and Northern California, where she will meet with the Winnemem Wintu and other Indigenous representatives. Her US visit will end on March 2, 2011.

Mrs. De Albuquerque will meet with the US State Department and relevant Federal agencies as well organizations, communities and experts to receive information regarding the human right to water and sanitation and the federal and state policies and practices that affect this right. She is expected to make recommendations to the US government at the conclusion of her visit.

Explaining the reasons behind Chickaloon’s filing, Traditional Chief Gary Harrison stated: "International standards like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognize our inherent sacred right to protect our water and keep it clean for the animals, fish and future generations of our Nation. Our right to water is the same as our right to life. We can’t sit back and allow our human right to water to be violated again".
 

New Tribal Environmental Protection Grants Available

Tribal Environmental Regulatory Enhancement

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requests proposals for Environmental Regulatory Enhancement. This RFP will the support the development, enforcement, and monitoring of tribal environmental quality and regulatory programs. $750K expected to be available, up to 5 awards anticipated. Responses due 4/1/11. For more info, contact Mark Allender at mark.allender@acf.hhs.gov or go to: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/grants/open/foa/view/HHS-2011-ACF-ANA-NR-0142. Refer to Sol# HHS-2011-ACF-ANA-NR-0142.



Safe Tribal Waters

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requests proposals for Support to the National Tribal Water Council. Through this RFP, EPA seeks projects to conduct, coordinate, and promote the acceleration of research, studies, training, and demonstration projects that will support the participation of the National Tribal Water Council and tribes to prevent, reduce, and eliminate pollution to waters, and protect drinking water in Indian Country. $880K expected to be available, up to 1 award anticipated. Responses due 4/11/11. For more info, contact Felicia Wright at wright.felicia@epa.gov or go to: http://water.epa.gov/grants_funding/tribal/. Refer to Sol# EPA-OW-IO-11-01.

Tribal Building Code Legislation Urged To Protect Sovereignty

The International Code Council is mounting an effort to create an amendment to Section 408(d) of the Tribal Self Government Act of 2010, HR4347, that has passed the House and is currently pending in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The purpose is to help preserve the sovereign right of Tribes to establish building codes that best serve their infrastructure development needs, rather than having these codes dictated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Currently, HR 4347 Section 408(d)(1) provides:

"d) Codes and Standards- In carrying out a construction project under this title, an Indian tribe shall--
(1) adhere to applicable Federal, State, local, and tribal building codes, architectural and engineering standards, and applicable Federal guidelines regarding design, space, and operational standards, appropriate for the particular project…"

This language assumes that the codes and standards adopted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) are the same as, or consistent with, the codes and standards adopted by the Tribes, or by the jurisdictions in which Tribal construction projects are taking place. This is not always the case, as the BIA has adopted a building code (NFPA 5000) that is not currently in use by Tribes. If the BIA requires compliance with this code, which is inconsistent in certain areas with the International Building Code used by many Tribes, it could cause significant delays and increase the Tribe’s design and engineering costs.

The language the ICC is recommending to amend H.R. 4347 is as follows, to be added at the end of the first sentence of Sec 408 (d)(1):

"Where the applicable Federal guidelines or building code conflict with the building code adopted by the Tribe, the Tribal code shall be adhered to."

The adoption of by Tribes of civil codes for building projects and other activities is an important measure for the preservation of sovereignty. Federal agencies will more readily seek to impose their authority on Tribal activities if a Tribe does not have its own regulations in place to govern that activity. More information on this legislative effort regarding Tribal building codes is available from the ICC’s website.
 

Seattle University Publishes Landmark Legal Treatise On Tribal Trust Land

Eric Eberhard, Distinguished Indian Law Practitioner in Residence at the Seattle University Center for Indian Law and Policy, has published an 862-page treatise on the principles and issues involved in Tribal trust lands. The treatise was produced in conjunction with the University’s law conference entitled “Perspectives on Tribal Land Acquisitions in 2010: A Call to Action”, and provides in-depth discussions of the legal background and current developments of Tribes’ quest to preserve and protect their traditional lands.

The treatise can be downloaded HERE, and CD copies can be obtained by contacting the Seattle University Center for Indian Law and Policy.

Professor Eberhard also serves as Vice-Chair of the American Bar Association’s Native American Concerns Committee, and is leading the organizational effort to create a new academic law journal focused exclusively on legal issues affecting Native Americans.

USDA Settles Native American Farmer Discrimination Lawsuit for $760 Million

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced an historic agreement to settle a decade-long class action lawsuit known as Keepseagle v. Vilsack, wherein Native American farmers and ranchers alleged discrimination in the USDA's farm loan program dating back to 1981.

Under the agreement, the USDA will pay $680 million in damages to thousands of Native American farmers and ranchers and forgive up to $80 million worth of outstanding farm loan debt. The settlement also initiates new programs to improve USDA's farm loan services for Native Americans. Those initiatives include the creation of a Native American Farmer and Rancher Council, where top USDA officials and Native American advocates will collaborate to make USDA's programs more accessible for Native Americans farmers and ranchers, as well as enhanced delivery of technical assistance to Native American borrowers, the creation of sub-offices on tribal lands, a systematic review of the farm loan program rules to improve accessibility to Native Americans and other measures designed to improve the provision of farm loan services to Native Americans.

The Keepseagle lawsuit alleged that Native American farmers and ranchers were denied the same opportunities as white farmers to obtain low-interest rate loans from USDA. Congress has charged the USDA with serving as the "lender of last resort" for family farmers who can't obtain credit from commercial banks. According to an expert report prepared by a former USDA economist, Native Americans suffered actual economic losses amounting to $776 million between 1981 and 2007 as a result of receiving less than their fair share of credit opportunities from the USDA.

Lead plaintiffs Marilyn and George Keepseagle, ranchers in Fort Yates, N.D.,said "We have been waiting nearly three decades for this day to come. This settlement will help thousands of Native Americans who are still farming and ranching. But more important, through this settlement we will leave to our children and grandchildren a farm loan system far more responsive to our community than the system we inherited from our parents."

The settlement has three major components:
1) Payment of $680 million in damages to class members for the economic losses they suffered due to the denial of loans or loan servicing by the USDA.

2) The USDA will forgive up to $80 million in debt currently held by class members who succeed in obtaining damages. Once the Court gives preliminary approval to the agreement, the USDA will establish a moratorium on foreclosures, debt accelerations and debt offsets not already referred to the Treasury Department. The moratorium will last until the debt relief process has concluded and class members' debt has been forgiven. After the debt relief is provided, USDA will engage in a round of loan servicing for all class members who are delinquent on any outstanding USDA farm loan debt.

3) Changes to USDA's farm loan program to improve the delivery and responsiveness to Native American farmers and ranchers, including through the creation of the Native American Farmer and Rancher Council, a new federal advisory committee. The new Council will have 15 members, 11 of whom will be Native Americans or represent Native American interests and four of whom will be top USDA officials. Members will meet at least twice a year for the next five years to discuss how to make USDA's programs more accessible for Native Americans farmers and ranchers, including changes to Farm Service Administration (FSA) regulations and internal guidance. The Council will report its recommendations directly to senior USDA officials.

In addition to the Council, the USDA will: 1) create 10 to 15 USDA regional sub-offices that will provide education and technical assistance to Native American farmers and ranchers and their advocates; 2) undertake a systematic review of its farm loan policies to determine how its regulations and policies can be reformed to better assist Native American farmers and ranchers; 3) create a customer guide on applying for credit from the USDA; 4) create the Office of the Ombudsperson to address concerns of all socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers; and, 5) regularly collect and report data on how well Native Americans fare under USDA's farm loan programs.
 

Fake Snow On Sacred Peaks: "It's Like Bombing A Church"

San Francisco Peaks, Arizona (Al Hikes)

The legal battle over whether fake snow can be sprayed by a ski resort in Arizona’s 12,000-foot-high San Francisco Peaks has a new venue: the Flagstaff City Council. Tribal elders, U.S. senators, federal judges and senior Obama Administration officials all have weighed in on the controversy of artificially applying frozen water to land where the Hopi, Navajo and 11 other tribes trace their origins. Many Native Americans believe it is sacrilege for skiers and snowboarders to use the area for recreation, and more so for the ski resort owners to tamper with the natural surroundings. The Arizona Snowbowl resort says it's just trying to run a business.

The Snowbowl ski area is located on 777 acres in the Coconino National Forest. Tribes have been battling the resort since the 1970s. For the second time in 20 years, the U.S. Supreme Court last year refused to hear their case, and now the matter will be reviewed by the Flagstaff City Council. Local officials are to vote on whether to pump potable recycled water to the resort to make snow. It's unclear whether this will be acceptable to the Tribes, who were infuriated by a previous plan to use treated sewer water.

"This mountain is where life began; it created us," says Rex Tilousi, a leader of the Havasupai tribe. Native Americans journey to the peaks to collect herbs for traditional healing and worship deities they believe dwell there. Dumping artificial snow there, says Mr. Tilousi, is "like bombing a church."

For the operators of Snowbowl, artificial snow is necessary to ensre a steady ski season, which is the basis for hundreds of local jobs. "If you don't have snowmaking, the question is not if you will go out of business; it's when you will go out of business," says Eric Borowsky, the resort's owner. "We only occupy 1% of the peaks. Can't we share this?"

After years of environmental review detailed in a 600-page report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, which oversees the federal land that the resort sits on, approved the artificial snow plan in 2005.  If the new plan to use potable water goes through, the federal government may contribute funds to off set the cost increase compared to the use of treated sewage. Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl sent a letter in March condemning "the use of taxpayer dollars to subsidize snowmaking at Arizona Snowbowl." At the same time, they called on the government to grant Snowbowl permission to start its expansion "immediately."

$495 Million in Federal Funding Available for Tribal Energy And Environmental Projects

The federal government has announced the availability of nearly $495 million in current or upcoming funding opportunities for state, local, and Tribal governments from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that can be used to support climate and energy initiatives including energy efficiency, regional planning, and community education. For further information on the application process, please contact Greg Guedel.


EPA Funding for Facilitating Tribal Climate Change Adaptation Planning and Communicating Climate Change Impacts - $550,000
Application Due: July 30, 2010

Eligible Entities: States, local governments, territories, Indian tribes, and possessions of the United States, including the District of Columbia; international organizations, public and private universities and colleges, hospitals, laboratories, other public or private nonprofit institutions.

EPA announces the availability of funding to facilitate, communicate, and put in motion tribal climate change adaptation planning to respond to the projected impacts of climate change. The Agency expects to award approximately one to three cooperative agreements ranging from approximately $50,000 to $150,000 per year up to five years. EPA requests proposals to provide direct training, technical assistance, and outreach aimed at increasing and enhancing tribal expertise in adaptation planning and climate change risk communication. For more information, visit: http://www.epa.gov/air/grants_funding.html


DOE Weatherization Assistance Program - $210 million
Application Due: Ongoing to August 1, 2010
Eligible Entities: Agencies responsible for administering annual WAP formula allocation

DOE requests proposals for Weatherization Formula Grants. Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) funds are used to increase the energy efficiency of dwellings owned or occupied by low-income persons, reduce their total residential expenditures, and improve their health and safety. WAP assists persons who are particularly vulnerable, such as the elderly; persons with disabilities; families with children; high residential energy users; and households with high energy burdens. Prime applicant eligibility is restricted to agencies responsible for administering the annual WAP formula allocation. Fifty-eight awards are anticipated. The response due date depends on the fiscal year end of the prime applicant, with range of 2/15/10 – 8/1/10.
For more info, go to:
https://www.fedconnect.net/FedConnect/?doc=DE-FOA-0000216&agency=DOE

EPA Grants and Cooperative Agreements for Greenhouse Gas Reporting Systems: Outreach to Reporting Facilities and Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Opportunities - $2 million
Informal Notice of Intent to Apply: July 16, 2010; Application Due: August 9, 2010
Eligible Entities: States; local governments; territories; Indian tribes; and possessions of the United States, including the District of Columbia; international organizations; public and private universities and colleges; hospitals; laboratories; other public or private non-profit institutions.

EPA is soliciting proposals for communicating to affected facilities the requirements of state greenhouse gas reporting systems compared with those of U.S. EPA’s Final Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Rule (MRR), and to identify options for how the data collected through state reporting requirements and the MRR may be used to facilitate state- and facility-based greenhouse gas programs.

For more information, visit:
http://www.epa.gov/air/grants_funding.html (RFP# EPA-OAR-CCD-10-05). A direct link to the RFP is: http://www.epa.gov/air/grants/ccd-10-05_mrr_state_grant_rfp_r1.pdf


Joint HUD and DOT Community Challenge and Transportation Planning Grants - $75 million
Pre-Application Due: July 26, 2010; Full Application Due: August 23, 2010
Eligible Entities: State and local governments, including U.S. territories, tribal governments, transit agencies, port authorities, metropolitan planning organizations, other political subdivisions of state or local governments, and multi-state or multijurisdictional groupings.

For the first time ever, DOT and HUD will join forces to award up to $75 million in funding: $35 million in TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) II Planning Grants and $40 million in Sustainable Community Challenge Grants for localized planning activities that ultimately lead to projects that integrate transportation, housing and economic development. For more information, visit:
http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/grants/nofa10/huddotnofa.cfm


HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program - $100 million
Application Due: August 23, 2010
Eligible Applicants: Multijurisdictional and multisector partnerships consisting of a consortium of government entities and non-profit partners

HUD is currently accepting applications for the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program. This program will support metropolitan and multijurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of economic competitiveness and revitalization; social equity, inclusion, and access to opportunity; energy use and climate change; and public health and environmental impact. For more information, visit http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/grants/nofa10/scrpg.cfm 


EPA Black Carbon, Climate and Air Quality- $7 million
Application Due: September 22, 2010
Eligible Entities: State and local governments and others


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requests proposals for Black Carbon’s Role in Global to Local Scale Climate and Air Quality. This RFP will support areas including, but not limited to, emission source research, the global- to local-scale emissions inventory, and co-pollutants. This RFP will also support opportunities for early career projects. $7 million is expected to be available, and up to 9 awards are anticipated. For more information, contact Bryan Bloomer at bloomer.bryan@epa.gov or go to: http://www.epa.gov/ncer/rfa/2010/2010_star_blackcarbon.html. Refer to Sol# EPA-G2010-STAR-L1 and EPA-G2010-STAR-L2.
 

EDA Global Climate Change Mitigation Incentive Fund - $14.7 million
Application Due: September 30, 2010
Eligible Entities: State and local governments, nonprofit organizations

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) advances economic growth by assisting communities experiencing chronic high unemployment and low per capita income to create an environment that fosters innovation, promotes entrepreneurship, and attracts increased private capital investment. EDA requests proposals for the following programs: Public Works, Planning, Local Technical Assistance, and Economic Adjustment Assistance. Under the Economic Adjustment Assistance program, EDA has allocated $14.7 million to the Global Climate Change Mitigation Incentive Fund, which supports projects that foster economic competitiveness while enhancing environmental quality. Proposals are being accepted and are being reviewed on an ongoing basis. For more info, including contact info, go to: http://www.grants.gov/search/search.do?mode=VIEW&oppId=48106.
 

History And Property Rights Questions Being Raised From Pequot Battlefields

In 1637, the land that is now known as the town of Mystic, Connecticut was the site of a fierce battle between the Pequot Nation and English settlers resulted in an historic massacre that shaped future relations between Tribes and colonists. Today, researchers are combing the site with metal detectors and archaeological tools to unearth the history behind one of the pivotal events of pre-American history in the region.

The work is funded through grants from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, and is designed to map the battlefields of the Pequot War and unearth artifacts for historical display. Consistent with a Congressional report that found 62 percent of known American battlefields are located on private lands, much of the Pequot battlefield area is now residential property. This has caused some homeowners to fear that the government or the neighboring Pequot Tribes may seek to seize their land if historic materials are found. In reality, researchers only access sites with the express permission of landowners, and none of the land is taken over or otherwise restricted by the government.

EPA Loses Bid To Regulate Uranium Mining Near Tribal Lands

Open Pit Uranium Mine, Wyoming

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has rejected the EPA’s claim that it has primary permitting authority over uranium mining on property near Tribal lands, limiting the federal government’s reach over this controversial mining in major uranium producing states – many of which are also home to Tribal communities.

The Court’s June 16, 2010 ruling in Hydro Resources, Inc. (HRI) v. EPA, et al., sides with industry arguments that the site of a particular uranium mine in New Mexico is not located on Tribal land because it falls outside the Navajo Nation’s boundaries. The EPA had argued for a broader standard which would allow it to regulate uranium mining anywhere that is considered “Indian Country” under federal law, even if the property was outside the defined boundaries of a Reservation. A result of the Court’s decision is that regulation of such mines will be left to state law, which is not consistent from state to state.

In its published opinion, the Court noted: “EPA argued . . . that we should cast our gaze beyond the particular land in question. In the Agency’s view, because some sufficiently significant (though unspecified) percentage of neighboring lands -- what EPA calls ‘the community of reference’ -- is Indian country, HRI’s land must be considered Indian country, too.” The Court stated that the EPA’s analysis presupposes “that every piece of land is part of some community of reference,” but the Court rejected that argument.

The ruling is particularly significant because it was issued by the court which oversees Oklahoma, Wyoming, Kansas, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, all of which are important energy and mineral-producing states and which also have large regions of Tribal lands.
 

Obama Administration Issues Final Columbia River Salmon Plan

Seigning Salmon In The Columbia River, Circa 1914

The federal government has issued its final program for restoring endangered salmon on the Columbia River -- a plan that will have substantial impact on the rights and livelihood of the Tribes that comprise the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

The administration’s revised plan has been updated to reflect new scientific studies and incorporate a flexible "adaptive management" strategy for quick implementation of stronger protective measures if needed. Officials hope that will be sufficient to prevent another rejection of its plans by the federal court overseeing the matter. "While much attention has focused on the courtroom, the region should be proud of what the federal government, states, Tribes and communities together have accomplished for fish," the agencies said in a statement releasing the opinion. "Last year alone, 9,609 miles of wetland habitat were protected and 244 miles of streams were reopened to fish. We've made much progress, and completion of this legal process now prepares us to make much more."

Conservationists had hoped the plan would be much bolder, with less emphasis on hatchery fish and stronger attention to the possibility of breaching dams on the Snake River in eastern Washington that cut off salmon from miles of pristine potential habitat.  The primary argument against the removal of dams is the negative impact on electricity generation, since the Northwest receives a significant portion of its power from hydroelectric sources.

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission is comprised of the fish and wildlife committees of the Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Nez Perce tribes. The Tribes have treaty-guaranteed fishing rights and management authority in their traditional fishing areas.
 

Is the Cobell Settlement Another Bad Deal For Native Americans?

In a pointed editorial in Indian Country Today, Angelique EagleWoman criticizes the $3.4 billion settlement between the federal government and the Cobell lawsuit's Native American trust account plaintiffs as “a scam”.  Ms. EagleWoman is a citizen of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota, is an attorney licensed in Washington, D.C., Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Dakota, and teaches Civil Procedure and Native American Law at the University of Idaho.

In her critique of the Cobell settlement, she notes that the normal rules for class-action lawsuits appear not to have been followed in the case, depriving individual plaintiffs of the right to “opt-out” of the case.  This prevented individual Native Americans from pursuing their own separate legal remedies for the government’s alleged mismanagement of Native trust accounts and lands. She asserts that when the $1.4 billion allocated to trust account payments is broken down among the number of Native Americans with claims, the per-person dollar amount averages out to a mere $1,000.00 – with some plaintiffs to receive as little as $500.

Based on the above, I call the Cobell Proposed Settlement a scam. As a Dakota woman, a lawyer, and a law professor, I am appalled that the U.S. government would attempt to push this through Congress. The U.S. government has imposed the trust relationship on Indian peoples in mid-North America. Surely, the highest fiduciary duty is owed to individual Indians whose lands are managed by the U.S. At every step, the U.S. government has used its attorneys to fight this simple action asking for an accounting. Here in the latest round, Interior wants to sneak through this proposed settlement and stop the accounting, the claims for mismanagement, and the rights of those who are most at the mercy of the U.S. trust responsibility. This would be on par with the bleakest eras of U.S. Indian policy such as removal, assimilation and termination. We need the eagle whistle-blowers to come forth in Indian country to stop this great wrong from being perpetrated by the U.S. government. – Angelique EagleWoman

Tribal Agreement With Boeing Produces $2 Million For Environmental Cleanup Of Ancestral Duwamish Waterway

Duwamish River Bank Near Seattle

To resolve a multi-party federal lawsuit, the Boeing Company will pay $2 million to remediate environmental damage in Seattle’s Duwamish waterway, the ancestral grounds for the Duwamish, Muckleshoot, and Suquamish Tribes. Joining as plaintiffs with several federal and state agencies, the Muckleshoot and Suquamish brought the suit to fund the cleanup of the site where Boeing built many of the B-17 bombers used during World War II. Solvents, oils and other chemicals polluted the property and leached into groundwater that migrated to the Duwamish waterway.

Boeing has agreed to undertake two habitat-restoration projects to benefit salmon and birds. The company will create nearly five acres of new wetlands, restore a half-mile of waterway, and establish a holding area for young salmon. It also will demolish several buildings that were partially constructed on pilings over the waterway during the 1930s and early 1940s. "We'll be taking the pilings out and restoring the bank," said Blythe Jameson, a spokeswoman for Boeing.

In addition to the Tribes, the settlement resolves claims against Boeing by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. The agreement includes the creation of a permanent stewardship fund for the remediation projects. Boeing says cleanup and restoration activities are scheduled to begin in 2012, and will take several years to complete.
 

Another Deadline Passes, But Congress Still Has Not Ratified Cobell Settlement

Despite the passage of three deadlines agreed to between the federal government and the plaintiffs, Congress has still not ratified the landmark $3.4 billion settlement in the decades-long Cobell Native American trust litigation. The previous deadlines for congressional ratification were December 2009, February 2010, and April 2010.

A new deadline of May 31, 2010 has been agreed to by the plaintiffs and the federal government, but it will likely be the last extension. “The district judge [Judge James Robertson, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia] declared that he does not want further extensions of the December 7, 2009 settlement agreement, and he set a date certain in that regard,” says Dennis Gingold, lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

“That is a fair decision in view of representations made by the government that our settlement would be ratified by Congress on or before the end of December 2009. If the settlement agreement expires, plaintiffs will resume intense litigation against Treasury and Interior on all matters relevant to the case, including the renewal of matters that remain unresolved and the refiling of motions that have been dismissed without prejudice as a necessary predicate to settlement.”

The settlement agreement calls for the federal government to provide $1.4 billion in compensation for individual Native American trust fund beneficiaries, and $2 billion for a land consolidation program to be overseen by the Department of the Interior to buy back fractionated trust lands.

Despite Tribal Opposition, US Government Approves Cape Cod Wind Farm

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has approved the nation's first offshore wind farm, despite strong opposition from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and environmental groups. The 130 turbines are to be located several miles from the Massachusetts shore in the waters of Nantucket Sound, which Wampanoag consider part of their sacred cultural heritage.

Salazar declared that Cape Wind, as the project is known, is the start of a "new energy frontier."
"Cape Wind will be the nation's first offshore wind farm, supplying clean power to homes and businesses in Massachusetts, plus creating good jobs here in America," he said. "This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic coast."

"The United States is leading a clean energy revolution that is reshaping our future," Salazar said in announcing the project’s approval. "Cape Wind is an opening of a new chapter in that future, and we are all part of that history."

He did not make reference to another history – the Wampanoag spiritual ritual of greeting the sunrise which requires unobstructed views across the sound, and that their ancestral burial grounds are located in the area. The Wampanoag tribes — whose name translates to “people of the first light” — said their view to the east across Nantucket Sound was integral to their identity and cultural traditions. “Here is where we still arrive to greet the new day, watch for celestial observations in the night sky and follow the migration of the sun and stars in change with the season,” wrote Bettina Washington, historic preservation officer for the Aquinnah Wampanoag, in a letter to federal officials. The Tribes also argued that the wind turbines, which will be 440 feet tall, could destroy long-submerged tribal artifacts from thousands of years ago, when the sound was dry land. Such artifacts could “yield further confirmation of our cultural histories,” according to Ms. Washington.
 

Tribes Work Through National Park Service To Block Windfarm In Traditional Native Waters

 

A controversial wind farm project to be located off Cape Cod, Massachusetts has been stalled after local Tribes convinced the National Park Service to declare Nantucket Sound eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The Mashpee Wampanoag and the Aquinnah Wampanoag applied for the listing last fall, stating that the 130 proposed wind turbines would interfere with their spiritual ritual of greeting the sunrise which requires unobstructed views across the sound, and disturb ancestral burial grounds. The project has been in development since 2001 and is supported by state authorities.

The decision by the National Park Service does not terminate the project, but it requires more negotiations and potential changes to the project and/or its location. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar set a deadline of March 1, 2010 for the Tribes and the project’s developer, Energy Management Inc., to reach a compromise. Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, said the decision confirmed “what the Wampanoag people have known for thousands of years: that Nantucket Sound has significant archaeological, historic and cultural values and is sacred to our people.”

Nantucket Sound, which encompasses more than 500 square miles, is by far the largest body of water ever found eligible for listing on the national historic register. “The decision is without precedent in terms of implicating many square miles of what is, legally speaking, the high seas,” said Ian A. Bowles, the Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

In seeking the historical designation, the Wampanoag tribes — whose name translates to “people of the first light” — said their view to the east across Nantucket Sound was integral to their identity and cultural traditions. “Here is where we still arrive to greet the new day, watch for celestial observations in the night sky and follow the migration of the sun and stars in change with the season,” wrote Bettina Washington, historic preservation officer for the Aquinnah Wampanoag, in a letter to federal officials. The Tribes also argued that the wind turbines, which would be 440 feet tall, could destroy long-submerged tribal artifacts from thousands of years ago, when the sound was dry land. Such artifacts could “yield further confirmation of our cultural histories,” according to Ms. Washington.
 

Podcast: Details and Depth On The $3.4 Billion Cobell Native American Trust Lawsuit Settlement

The University of California Irvine radio station KUCI’s legal program The Docket has aired an extended segment on the settlement of the landmark Cobell lawsuit between 300,000+ Native Americans and the U.S. government. Host Evan Simon interviewed Foster Pepper PLLC’s Native American Group Chair Greg Guedel regarding the background of the case, the details of the settlement, his discussion with lead plaintiff Eloise Cobell, and what work remains to complete the settlement and lay the groundwork for improved relations between the federal government and Native Americans. The interview can be accessed HERE, or via the Foster Pepper podcast page on iTunes.

Arctic Slope Native Association Launches Major Native Hospital Construction Project

Arctic Ocean Beach in Barrow, Alaska (Nels Akerlund)

In a landmark event that will provide a quantum leap forward in health care for Alaska Natives residing above the Arctic Circle, the Arctic Slope Native Association (ASNA) has issued an $82 million contract for construction of a modern hospital in Barrow, Alaska – the northernmost city in North America. ASNA’s project team worked for more than a decade in cooperation with the federal Indian Health Service to plan, design, and obtain funding for the facility, which will provide much-needed health services to Native communities located in Alaska’s northernmost region.

After signing the historic contract, ASNA President and CEO Marie Carroll stated:

“The ASNA Board of Directors from the Native communities in the Arctic region are happy to see progress on a long-awaited project, which will replace a 2x4 constructed, 45-year old hospital opened in 1964. Everyone in our region is looking forward to having a modern hospital to go to where there are no other options for primary care or hospital services -- the next closest hospital is nearly 300 miles away in Fairbanks, Alaska.”

In addition to the ultimate goal of improved health care for the local Native communities, the project will provide a significant economic stimulus to the region during the two-year construction period. Another noteworthy aspect of the project: the prime contractor that will build the hospital is a joint venture between UIC Construction LLC and SKW/Eskimos, Inc. – both of which are Native-owned businesses. Foster Pepper attorney Greg Guedel, who served as ASNA’s legal advisor during the contract negotiations, noted: “This project is an inspiring example of Native government, Native-owned businesses, and the federal government working together to improve the quality of life for Alaska Natives. The benefits of this work will accrue to the Native communities in the region for generations.”
 

Back To The Future? Canadian First Nation To Implement Land Allotment Policy

Flag of the Nisga'a Nation (University of Victoria)

In a break from long-standing land control policies, the Nisga’a First Nation in British Columbia is set to begin allotting property to its members, who can then mortgage, lease, or sell it – even to non-Nation members.

The new policy is part of an ongoing effort to improve the economic circumstances of the Nisga’a. After three years of study, the Nisga’a government has concluded that restrictions on private property ownership by its members has been a significant obstacle to financial growth. The new policy will provide Nisga’a members with freehold title to their homes, which they can then sell or mortgage as they please, and the policy may soon be extended to the Nation’s commercial and industrial properties.

This new policy from a First Nation in Canada will contrast sharply with policies among Tribal nations located within the United States. The property allotment policy implemented by the federal government during the 20th Century is generally viewed as having been an economic and social disaster for Native communities. The selling off of Tribal lands, typically at below-market value in order to obtain much needed cash, resulted in the “checkerboarding” of Native reservations and an alienation of Native peoples from their traditional homelands. Tribes also lost control of significant mineral wealth and water/mining rights due to the loss of ownership of their lands.  Most Tribes within the U.S. have spent the decades since the end of allotment trying to regain lost lands and return them to permanent Tribal status.

Tribes Turn To Federal Court In Pacific Fishing Rights Dispute

In a case with implications for more than twenty Tribes in the Pacific Northwest, the issue of Native American fishing rights and boundaries in the Pacific Ocean has been brought before the federal District Court for the Western District of Washington.

In an earlier proceeding, the Court determined that the Makah, Quileute, and Quinault nations had usual and accustomed fishing grounds in the Pacific Ocean. It was determined that the Makah’s usual and accustomed fishing grounds “included the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca . . . extending out into the ocean to an area known as Swiftsure and then south along the Pacific coast to an area intermediate to Ozette village and the Quileute Reservation,” as well as certain rivers and lakes. The Court determined that Quileute usual and accustomed grounds included certain rivers, lakes and streams and “the adjacent tidewater and saltwater areas”, and that the Quinault utilized “ocean fisheries” in “the waters adjacent to its territory.” See 384 F. Supp. at 374 (FF 120).

However, the Court did not define the precise boundaries of the nations’ “usual and accustomed fishing grounds” in the Pacific Ocean, and the Court’s decision was limited to waters within the jurisdiction of the State of Washington and within three miles of shore. The question of precise ocean boundaries for the nations’ respective fishing rights remains unresolved. The Request for Determination filed by the Makah Tribe alleges:

On the basis of the information Makah assembled in response to the threat posed by Quileute’s and Quinault’s intent to participate in the Pacific whiting fishery in the manner described above, it appears that Quileute and Quinault have authorized and currently are conducting fisheries for salmon, halibut and black cod outside of their actual usual and accustomed fishing areas. Although Makah, Quileute and Quinault have been able to resolve disputes over these fisheries in the past, the Quileute and Quinault fisheries for these species compete directly with Makah fisheries for the same species.

It is interesting to note that the nations had previously worked out such issues through direct negotiation, but now have placed the power over their respective jurisdictions and economic rights in the hands of a federal judge.
 

Cobell Trust Lawsuit Resolved In Multi-Billion Dollar Settlement

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Attorney General Eric Holder today announced a settlement of the long-running and highly contentious Cobell class-action lawsuit regarding the U.S. government's trust management and accounting of over three hundred thousand individual American Indian trust accounts. Also speaking at the press conference today were Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes and Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli.

“This is an historic, positive development for Indian country and a major step on the road to reconciliation following years of acrimonious litigation between trust beneficiaries and the United States,” Secretary Salazar said. “Resolving this issue has been a top priority of President Obama, and this administration has worked in good faith to reach a settlement that is both honorable and responsible. This historic step will allow Interior to move forward and address the educational, law enforcement, and economic development challenges we face in Indian Country.”

“Over the past thirteen years, the parties have tried to settle this case many, many times, each time unsuccessfully," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "But today we turn the page. This settlement is fair to the plaintiffs, responsible for the United States, and provides a path forward for the future.”

Under the negotiated agreement, litigation will end regarding the Department of the Interior’s performance of an historical accounting for trust accounts maintained by the United States on behalf of more than 300,000 individual Indians. A fund totaling $1.4 billion will be distributed to class members to compensate them for their historical accounting claims, and to resolve potential claims that prior U.S. officials mismanaged the administration of trust assets.

In addition, in order to address the continued proliferation of thousands of new trust accounts caused by the "fractionation" of land interests through succeeding generations, the settlement establishes a $2 billion fund for the voluntary buy-back and consolidation of fractionated land interests. The land consolidation program will provide individual Indians with an opportunity to obtain cash payments for divided land interests and free up the land for the benefit of tribal communities.

By reducing the number of individual trust accounts that the U.S must maintain, the program will greatly reduce on-going administrative expenses and future accounting-related disputes. In order to provide owners with an additional incentive to sell their fractionated interests, the settlement authorizes the Interior Department to set aside up to 5 percent of the value of the interests into a college and vocational school scholarship fund for American Indian students.

The settlement has been negotiated with the involvement of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It will not become final until it is formally endorsed by the court. Also, Congress must enact legislation to authorize implementation of the settlement. Because it is a settlement of a litigation matter, the Judgment Fund maintained by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Treasury will fund the settlement.

“While we have made significant progress in improving and strengthening the management of Indian trust assets, our work is not over,” said Salazar, who also announced he is establishing a national commission to evaluate ongoing trust reform efforts and make recommendations for the future management of individual trust account assets in light of a congressional sunset provision for the Office of Special Trustee, which was established by Congress in 1994 to reform financial management of the trust system.

The class action case, which involves several hundred thousand plaintiffs, was filed by Elouise Cobell in 1996 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and has included hundreds of motions, dozens of rulings and appeals, and several trials over the past 13 years. The settlement funds will be administered by the trust department of a bank approved by the district court and distributed to individual Indians by a claims administrator in accordance with court orders and the settlement agreement.

Interior currently manages about 56 million acres of Indian trust land, administering more than 100,000 leases and about $3.5 billion in trust funds. For fiscal year 2009, funds from leases, use permits, land sales and income from financial assets, totaling about $298 million were collected for more than 384,000 open Individual Indian Money accounts and $566 million was collected for about 2,700 tribal accounts for more than 250 tribes. Since 1996, the U.S. Government has collected over $10.4 billion from individual and tribal trust assets and disbursed more than $9.5 billion to individual account holders and tribal governments.

The land consolidation fund addresses a legacy of the General Allotment Act of 1887 (the “Dawes Act”), which divided tribal lands into parcels between 40 and 160 acres in size, allotted them to individual Indians and sold off all remaining unallotted Indian lands. As the original holders died, their intestate heirs received an equal, undivided interest in the lands as tenants in common. In successive generations, smaller undivided interests descended to the next generation.

Today, it is common to have hundreds—even thousands—of Indian owners for one parcel of land. Such highly fractionated ownership makes it extremely difficult to use the land productively or to provide beneficial use for any individual. Absent serious corrective action, an estimated 4 million acres of land will continue to be held in such small ownership interests that very few individual owners will ever derive any meaningful financial benefit from that ownership.

Additional Information is available at the following sites: www.cobellsettlement.com.
The Department of the Interior website: www.doi.gov. The Office of the Special Trustee website: www.ost.doi.gov
 

40th Anniversary of Native American Occupation of Alcatraz

(Britannica.com)

November marks 40 years since Native American activists seized the former federal island penitentiary of Alcatraz and used it to raise the national consciousness on issues facing Native communities.

In November of 1969, Richard Oakes led a landing party named “Indians of All Tribes” onto boats and took up residence on Alcatraz. The prison had been closed six years earlier and was considered surplus property by the federal government. Citing treaty language from the 19th Century that indicated the US government’s intent to set aside such properties for Native peoples, the group occupied the island “to focus attention on broken treaties, broken promises and termination of tribal areas," says Professor Troy Johnson, chairman of the American Indian studies program at California State University. The U.S. 16 years earlier had begun a policy of terminating Indian reservations and relocating the inhabitants to urban areas.

Adam Fortunate Eagle released a public declaration of the group's intentions. To the amusement of local Bay Area residents and the chagrin of federal authorities, he recounted European exploitation over the centuries, and stated that the Native group claimed Alcatraz by “right of discovery” and that they would pay for the island with $24 worth of goods – equal to the amount paid by the Dutch to acquire Manhattan Island from Native peoples in 1626.

At the height of the occupation, 400 Native Americans were in residence on Alcatraz, receiving regular news coverage and logistical assistance from many quarters. In 1971, authorities peacefully ended the occupation after 19 months by going in when the group was at its smallest. President Nixon ended the U.S. tribal termination policy in June 1970, while they still were on the island. Fortunate Eagle says the occupation was the most significant event in Native American history since the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn: "It brought the Indian issues to the forefront of the public awareness."

War On Drugs Opens New Front: Tribal Lands

Washington State Patrol Officers Seize Marijuana On Reservation

The Wall Street Journal reports that Mexican drug gangs are attempting to increase profits and eliminate clashes with border police by growing more marijuana inside the United States – and specifically in remote areas of Native American reservations. In Washington state alone, the number of marijuana plants seized on Tribal lands has increased by a factor of 10 since 2006.

Drug growers typically seek to operate in geographically remote areas that are rarely inspected by law enforcement. In past years, America’s large National Parks were a prime growing area until federal enforcement was stepped up to curtail the practice. Isolation and lack of law enforcement funding has now placed many Tribal territories on the list of desired drug growing locations. For example, the Colville Reservation in eastern Washington state encompasses 2,200 square miles but is patrolled by only 19 Tribal police officers. Many reservations have thousands of acres of uninhabited land that usually go unnoticed by local residents and police, making them desirable target areas for drug growers.

While the upswing in drug growing activity is a troubling development, efforts to counter the trend may also provide an opportunity to improve public safety on reservations. The chronic lack of state and federal funds for law enforcement on Tribal lands has long contributed to increased crime rates and a backlog of unresolved cases. Now that Native American reservations have become part of the front line of the war on drugs, perhaps increased resources will be applied to raise the standard and efficiency of law enforcement activity in Tribal territories.
 

Indigenous Groups Oppose 2010 Winter Olympics On Native Lands

Citing negative impacts including homelessness, ecological destruction to Native lands, huge public debt, and a greatly expanded police state, a movement of Indigenous groups has arisen to challenge the Olympic industry and specifically the 2010 Winter Olympics that will be held in British Columbia, Canada.

Organizers from No2010, an Indigenous anti-Olympics organization, will travel the West Coast of the US to conduct a speaking tour on the resistance to the 2010 Olympics.  The stated agenda is to promote an anti-colonial and anti-capitalist convergence that will coincide with the opening ceremonies of the Games in February, 2010 in Vancouver.

According to the group's website:

Although it can be said that all of the Americas is land stolen from Indigenous peoples, 'British Columbia' is unique in Canada in that virtually no treaties were made in the process of colonization & settlement. Treaties were required under British, and later Canadian, law prior to any trade or settlement (i.e., the 1763 Royal Proclamation). Although today the government seeks 'modern-day treaties' with its Indian Act band councils, the fact is in 'BC' the land is clearly occupied by an illegal colonial system. The slogan 'No Olympics on Stolen Native Land' is a way to raise anti-colonial consciousness about the true history of 'BC'.

Tribes Sue To Improve Fish Habitat

Culvert for Fish Passage (ADF&G)

In a landmark 1974 ruling, U.S. District Judge George Boldt ruled Tribes located near Puget Sound in Washington State hold treaty rights to half the region's fish resources. Thirty-five years later, another federal judge is presiding over a Tribal lawsuit to enforce the state's obligation to actively protect fish habitat. "The judge has already found that there's a treaty right to protect fish habitat," said Robert Anderson, director of the University of Washington's Native American Law Center. The question now is "how far the federal courts are willing to go to compel that result."

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled in 2007 that treaty rights required the state to take action to enhance salmon runs and fish habitat. He urged the state and Tribes to work together on solutions, but negotiations proved fruitless. More than 1,000 culverts between the Columbia River and British Columbia, most of them owned by the Washington Department of Transportation, are presently blocking or limiting access by fish to hundreds of miles of streams. The cost to implement repairs and provide fish with a smooth and unobstructed water flow may exceed $1.5 billion.

"The problem is the cost is just huge," Washington State Department of Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said. "We already don't have enough money to maintain and preserve our existing highway system." The Tribes want the culverts fixed within two decades, but state lawyers say that would cost $165 million every two years — 10 times what the state spends fixing culverts now. The state's alternative plans wouldn't likely change the costs, but the work would take 50 or more years to complete.
 

IRS Allocates First Billion In Tribal Economic Development Bonds

The first billion-dollar tranche of Tribal Economic Development Bonds has now been allocated by the federal government, with the funds being spread over 58 projects for Tribes throughout the country.  The largest dollar allocation for any single project in this financng tranche is $22,565,088.46, which was authorized for over 30 projects, with the remainder receiving smaller authorizations. 

Examples of approved projects in the first financing round include:

Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon: Water Infrastructure and Tourism Facility Improvements -- $22,565,088.46

Lummi Nation (Washington): Environmental and Transportation Infrastructure -- $22,565,088.46

Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska: Health Facility -- $13,539,053.08

Pueblo of Acoma (New Mexico): Manufacturing Facility -- $8,273,865.77

Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe (Minnesota): Education Facility -- $6,279,393.17

The first tranche of bond authorization was significantly oversubscribed, with the IRS receiving many more applications for projects than the available funding could support.  In an unusual move, rather than reject certain projects completely, the IRS imposed an across-the-board percentage cut to nearly all projects that were approved.  As a result, many projects did not receive the full amount of funding sought, and Tribes may need to revise the scope of work to achieve completion with available funds.

The complete list of Tribal projects authorized for bond issues in this first phase is available here.

3rd Annual Native American Economic Development Conference, 16-18 September In Las Vegas

Foster Pepper PLLC and KeyBank are Co-Sponsors of the huge Native American Economic Development Conference to be held at the Westin in Las Vegas September 16-18, 2009. The far-ranging seminar will cover topics of immense importance to Tribal economies, including:

  • Tribal Leaders Roundtable: The Impact of President Obama’s Administration
  • Economic Development Bonds and the Federal Stimulus Package: Effects on Tribal Financing
  • Tribal Enterprises Facing Bankruptcy
  • CEO Roundtable: Private Enterprise Boards vs. Tribal Governments
  • CFO Roundtable- External Diversification vs. Internal Reinvestment: Weighing Risk Management Issues
  • Economic Development Roundtable: Stimulating Revenue Growth
  • Effective Master Planning
  • Design and Construction Roundtable: Climbing out of a Recession
  • Strategic Marketing in a New Economic Era
  • Using Sports and Entertainment to Maximize Casino Traffic
  • Planning for Retirement in Indian Country

The conference presenters possess unparalleled expertise in Tribal economic development issues, and include:

  • Mellor Willie, Executive Director, National American Indian Housing Council
  • Elaine Fink, Chairperson, Northfork Rancheria of Mono Indians
  • Henry Cagey, Chairman, Lummi Nation
  • Bob Garcia, Chairman, The Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians
  • Robert Martin, Chairman, Morongo Band of Mission Indians
  • Georgia Noble, Chairperson, Sac & Fox National Business Enterprise Board
  • Mel Sheldon, Chairman, Tulalip Tribes of Washington
  • Glenn Hall, CEO, Bishop Paiute Tribe
  • Robert Mele, CFO, Seneca Construction Management Corporation
  • Robert Winter, CEO, Navajo National Gaming Enterprises
  • Chris Kelley, CFO, Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians
  • Eletta Tiam, CFO, Nisqually Tribe
  • Michael Marchand, President, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Economic Development Corporation
  • Virgil Moorhead, Chairman, Big Lagoon Rancheria
  • Morris Reid, Chairman, Picayune Rancheria of Chuckchansi Indians
  • Ivan Posey, Chairman, Shoshone Tribe of the Winder River Reservation
  • Theresa Two Bulls, President, Ogalala Sioux Tribe of The Pine Ridge Reservation
  • Cedric Black Eagle, Chairman, Crow Nation
  • Louis J. Manuel Jr., Chairman, Ak-Chin Indian Community
  • Michael Broderick, Director of Marketing, Lake of the Torches Resort Casino
  • Mary Galbraith, Director of Strategic Marketing, Cherokee National Entertainment
  • Michael L. Bearhart, Director of Gaming, St. Croix Casino & Hotel
  • Scott Eldredge, General Manager, Santa Ana Start Casino

Additional conference information and registration information can be accessed through Pier Conference Group.

 

 

 

 

Accounting Ordered For Federal Trust Land Mismanagement

Eloise Cobell (Photo by Karen Kuehn)

A class-action suit regarding mismanagement of lands affecting 500,000 Native Americans recently got a boost, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has ruled in the Cobell litigation that the federal government must provide an accounting for land royalties owed to individual plaintiffs.

The lawsuit was filed 13 years ago and claims compensation for Native Americans for land-related royalties from the profits of oil, gas, grazing, and timber – commodities that were taken from Tribal lands that the government has managed in trust for Tribal members since the 19th Century. In 2008, U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled that an accurate accounting by the Department of Interior was impossible, and awarded the group of plaintiffs $455 million, a fraction of the $47 billion+ being claimed in the lawsuit.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit disagreed with this result, and found that the lower court erred in eliminating the government accounting. Chief Judge David B. Sentelle said the decision essentially allowed the Interior Department "to throw up its hands and stop the accounting." "Without an accounting, it is impossible to know who is owed what," Sentelle wrote. "The best any trust beneficiary could hope for would be a government check in an arbitrary amount."

The D.C. Circuit panel acknowledged that the task is complicated and the Interior Department should focus on the "low-hanging fruit", dealing with clear cases where compensation is owed. "We must not allow the theoretically perfect to render impossible the achievable good," Sentelle wrote.
 

Stimulus Funds For Native American Community Water Projects Announced

The United States government has identified the following Native American and Alaska Native communities to receive $90 million in federal stimulus funds for water and wastewater projects:

Alaska - $3,918,750 for the native Village of Buckland for a lift station, sewer and forcemain, serving 105 homes.

Arizona - $1.14 million to the San Carlos Apache Tribe for regional water system improvements, serving 1,055 homes.

California - $6,371,470 to the Tule River Tribe for a wastewater treatment plant, serving 268 homes.

Kansas - $55,000 to Kickapoo Tribe to rehabilitate tanks, serving 200 homes.

Michigan - $190,600 to the Bay Mills Indian Community for pumphouse upgrades, serving 153 homes

Montana - $1,033,610 to the Crow Tribe for the first phase of a sewer lagoon, serving 564 homes.

New Mexico - $991,700 to the Mescalero Apache Tribe for a windmill water main, serving 612 homes.

New York - $349,000 to the St. Regis Mohawk Indians for water treatment plant upgrades, serving 1,146 homes.

North Carolina - $442,700 to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to repair a leaking storage tank, serving 1,826 homes.

South Dakota - $1,010,300 to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe for backwash piping, serving 549 homes.

Utah - $139,000 to the Ute Indian Tribe to restore an old lagoon site, serving 70 homes.

Washington - $1,052,100 to Lummi Tribe for a water main, serving 1,053 homes.
 

Further program allocation details are available here.

Court Holds Tribes Immune To CERCLA Liability

The Federal Court for the Eastern District of Washington has held that Native American Tribes are exempt from potential liability under 42 U.S.C. Section 9601 et seq., the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”).

The Court first reviewed the statutory construction of CERCLA and the definitions of its applicability:

“42 U.S.C. Section 9607 imposes liability upon certain “persons” (i.e, owner/operator, arranger, transporter) for costs incurred in responding to a release of hazardous substances. “Person” is defined in Section 9601(21) as “an individual, firm, corporation, association, partnership, consortium, joint venture, commercial entity, United States Government, State, municipality, commission, political subdivision of a State, or any interstate body.” “Indian tribe” is not expressly included in this list and indeed, is defined separately at Section 9601(36)…CERCLA’s definition of “person” is plain. It does not include “Indian tribes.”

The Court then reviewed the legislative history of CERCLA with an eye to Congress’ intent:

“Congress has had more than an adequate opportunity to address any oversight regarding liability of Indian tribes under CERCLA. If Congress intended to make Indian tribes liable under CERCLA, one has to ask why it did not specifically include “Indian tribes” among the entities covered by the term “person” in Section 9601(21), nor specifically define “municipality,” “association,” or “consortium” to include “Indian tribes.” It seems extremely implausible that Congress would simply leave it to chance that some court would conclude an Indian tribe qualifies as one of those entities subject to CERCLA liability…the plain language of CERCLA reveals that Indian tribes are not subject to liability under that statute.”
 

Should Tribes Be Allowed To Tax Trust Lands?

(Photo courtesy of Martha Lou Perritti)

In nearly every jurisdiction throughout the United States, local governments derive a significant portion of their operating revenue from property taxes.  The money land owners pay in property taxes goes to fund basic infrastructure such as roads and schools and services such as police and fire protection.

There is however one jurisdiction within which the local government cannot collect property taxes: Tribal lands held in federal trust.

Tribal governments cannot impose property taxes on reservation land that has been taken into trust by the federal government, which is typically most if not all of the land owned by Tribal members within the bounds of a reservation.  Tribes are thus deprived of the benefit of countless millions of dollars in revenue that would normally be available to any other municipality.  With poverty and sub-standard facilities still endemic on reservations throughout America, there is a sad irony in the fact that the place where property taxes could do the most good are the only places they cannot be collected and put back into the community.

The denial of taxing authority to Tribes also has another negative impact on Native Communities, this time in the context of the national consciousness.  In order to make up for unavailable property tax revenue, many Tribes utilize alternative income sources such as casino gaming and discounted tobacco products to finance basic services within their reservations.  Since in most states these offerings are only available within the sovereign territory of a Tribe, many Americans hold an ill-informed view that Native Americans enjoy "special privileges", and that other benefits and services to Tribes should therefore be curtailed.  The lack of understanding of why these alternative revenue sources are necessary could perhaps be overcome by touring the decrepit infrastructure with which many Tribal Communities continue to be saddled, but such ventures by non-Natives are far from routine.

There's no insurmountable obstacle to allowing Tribes to tax land within their jurisdictions.  The federal government could enter into taxing agreements with Tribes that would allow for collection of some form of property tax, which Tribes could help structure so as to increase revenue without placing an undue financial burden on Tribal members.  Numerous models for such agreements already exist, in the form of retail sales tax compacts between state and Tribal governments for business activities occurring on reservations.

Western Shoshone Native People Fight to Protect Land

The Western Shoshone native people are taking an important stand to protect land they believe has great spiritual and cultural meaning. On June 10, 2009 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will decide if a mining company, Barrick Gold (BG), should be allowed to construct an open pit gold mine on Mt. Tenabo, located in Nevada.  The Western Shoshones are arguing, in part, that BG should not be allowed to mine on lands that are spiritually important and have deep cultural significance.

BG’s plans are to construct a large cyanide heap leach processing facility and dump over 1.5 billion tons of mine waste on Mt. Tenabo that would pump over 16.5 billion gallons of groundwater from the land to keep the pit dry for mining. In order to achieve this goal the company plans to blast a new mine pit into Mt. Tenabo. The BG mine expansion would disturb approximately ten square miles of land.

 

The Shoshone people believe that water at Mt. Tenabo “must be protected to sustain life and peace on Mother Earth” because water is sacred and signifies life. The plaintiffs are three tribal groups and two conservation organizations. They hope a preliminary injunction will stop BG from expanding the existing gold mining operation onto Mt. Tenabo. If the court grants the injunction, the merits of the case will be argued later in U.S. District Court in Nevada.

 

Relevant case history goes back to November 8, 2008 when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved the construction of the gold mine on Mt. Tenabo. The following January the U.S. District Court in Reno denied a preliminary injunction sought by the native people that would have stopped mining operations at Mt. Tenabo. The plaintiffs hope the appellate court will overturn the Reno court ruling. The Ninth Circuit ruling will be critical on the legal issue of whether the BLM has the authority to deny such a destructive mining project in such an important place.

It is difficult not to agree with the Western Shoshone’s supporters that the mining industry needs to recognize that there are some places where it is not appropriate to mine and that a company's economic interests should not be put over the rights of the people who have lived sustainably on lands for thousands of years. It will be interesting to see how the court rules on Wednesday.

 

 

From Native Lands To Corporate Pockets -- Navajo Coal Royalty Claim Rejected

Coal Mine In Navajo Territory (Youth Climate Movement)

Stating that “This case is at an end”, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia closed the books on the multi-decade effort by the Navajo Nation to obtain a greater share of mineral royalties from the coal that is mined from their lands by non-Native corporations. The Nation’s claim was for back-royalties in excess of $600 million. The result: No acknowledgement of government wrongdoing, no renegotiation of the mineral lease terms, no more money for the Nation.

The Court’s holding in United States v. Navajo Nation dismissed the Nation’s assertion of a breach of fiduciary duty by the Secretary of the Interior, arising from his failure promptly to approve a royalty rate increase under a coal lease the Tribe executed in 1964.  The lease allowed the corporation currently known as the Peabody Coal Company to engage in coal mining on a tract of the Navajo reservation in exchange for royalty payments to the Tribe. After the initial 20-year lease elapsed in 1984, the Nation requested that the Secretary exercise his power to increase the royalty rate, and the Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the Navajo Area issued an opinion letter imposing a new rate of 20 percent of gross proceeds.  However, the actual new royalty rate was set significantly lower, under circumstances the Nation found highly suspicious. In particular, the Nation alleged that the Secretary, following improper ex parte contacts with Peabody, had delayed action on Peabody’s administrative appeal in order to pressure the economically desperate Nation to return to the bargaining table. This, the complaint charged, was in violation of the United States’ fiduciary duty to act in the Tribal members’ best interests.

Although it did little to dispute the facts alleged in the Complaint, the Supreme Court rejected the Nation’s argument and claim. Scalia’s opinion holds that “The Government’s “comprehensive control” over Indian coal, alone, does not create enforceable fiduciary duties. “ The Court ruled that the Nation was required to identify an explicit statutory provision that created a particular trust obligation, rather than relying on the long-standing principles on which the trust relations between the federal government and Native communities has been based.  “Because the Tribe cannot identify a specific, applicable, trust-creating statute or regulation that the Government violated, we do not reach the question whether the trust duty was money mandating. Thus, neither the Government’s “control” over coal nor common law trust principles matter.”

This case and its ultimate decision highlights the continuing tension between Tribes and the Department of Interior regarding the management – both environmental and financial – of natural resources in Native lands. Although certainly a disappointment for the Navajo Nation and other Tribes seeking to realize fair value for their mineral wealth, the Court’s opinion actually provides a roadmap for correcting the apparent inadequacy of federal fiduciary responsibilities to Tribes. Native communities and their representatives should initiate federal legislation that clarifies and explicitly enumerates the obligations of the federal government in handling Tribal resources, and provides meaningful and efficient remedies for a breach of trust that damages or materially undervalues Native resources.

For Native Hawaiians, An Apology Does Not Return The Land

Ko`olau pali at Kane`ohe Bay (koolaupokohcc.org)

In its recent decision in State of Hawaii v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1993 apology by the US Congress for the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 does not prevent the State of Hawaii from selling 1.2 million acres of land obtained after that “regime change”. The Court held that “nothing in the resolution was intended to serve as a settlement of any claims against the United States”, and that it provided no legal authority for a return of government-managed land to Native Hawaiians.

Congress issued the Apology Resolution on the 100th anniversary of the removal of Queen Liliuokalani as monarch of the Hawaiian Nation. The apology acknowledged the illegality of the U.S. government’s actions in overthrowing Hawaii’s sovereign government, creating a “provisional government”, and five years later passing the Newlands Resolution, which annexed Hawaii as a U.S. territory. The Apology noted that “the health and well-being of the Native Hawaiian people is intrinsically tied to their deep feelings and attachment to the land.” Congress further apologized “to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893 with the participation of agents and citizens of the United States, and the deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination” and recognized that “the indigenous Hawaiian people never directly relinquished their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people or over their national lands to the United States, either through their monarchy or through a plebiscite or referendum.”

Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett, who argued the state’s case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, said he was “very pleased with the nine to nothing ruling by the Supreme Court in our favor. The ruling addressed our two points on appeal. The first, that the apology resolution does not in any way affect the state’s legal rights, and, second, that the state has the same absolute deed title to the public lands that the United States had, and the Supreme court confirmed that very clearly in its opinion. The state owns these lands in fee for the benefit of all of the people of Hawaii.”

Native Hawaiian activists and supporters remain unconvinced. “If the Apology Resolution has no teeth in the court of the conqueror, then how is it that the Newlands Resolution that unilaterally annexed Hawaii does?” said J. Kehaulani Kauanui, associate professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University.

This is a legal fiction to cover up the fact that the U.S. government accepted the stolen lands from the Republic of Hawaii government that confiscated these lands after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom." Professor Kauanui stated. "The Republic of Hawaii could not have ceded these lands in “absolute fee” to the United States because they were stolen. The U.S. government accepted the stolen goods and cannot prove title because they were stolen without Hawaiian people’s consent and without compensation.”
 

Northwest Tribes Sue To Protect Salmon

Click for a bigger picture!

Salmon-friendly culvert - Thurston County, Washington

Nineteen Tribes have teamed up to bring federal litigation against the State of Washington to speed up the pace of dealing with more than 1,800 fish barriers associated with state highways, which block more than 3,000 miles of potential stream habitat for salmon. Washington’s legislature has funded culvert replacement since 1991, but the current pace of construction could take up to 100 years to fix the problems.

The Tribal consortium previously prevailed in litigating a preliminary issue regarding the state’s duty to protect and enhance salmon runs. In 2007, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled that treaties signed in the 1850s impose a duty on the state to “refrain from building or operating culverts under state-maintained roads that hinder fish passage and thereby diminish the number of fish that would otherwise be available for tribal harvest.” Tribes and the state have worked to craft a acceptable settlement since then, but lack of progress and funding prompted a new round of claims.

Dan O’Neal, chairman of the Washington State Transportation Commission, expressed little hope for a legislative solution in the near term.

“The Legislature right now is dealing with all kinds of issues. From a transportation standpoint, revenues are down. Gas taxes aren’t producing as much revenues because people are driving less or using more efficient cars or whatever. I don’t think this thing, frankly, has percolated to the top of legislators’ lists, I don’t think they will change anything unless the court directs it.”

IRS Ruling Provides Good News For Tribal Energy Bonds

Reservation Energy Projects - Oneida Tribe of Indians

A recent Private Letter Ruling by the IRS has held that for certain purposes related to government finance, Native American Tribes are to be treated like states. This allows Tribes to issue financially-attractive tax exempt bonds to finance projects related to “essential government functions”. Normally, commercial or industrial activity by Tribes is not considered an “essential” function of Tribal government, thereby precluding the issuance of tax exempt bonds for such activities. However, the IRS ruling states that an exemption to this rule exists for utilities “if the activity provides substantially all of its service on (a) tribe’s reservation. A utility-type activity includes the furnishing or sale of electrical energy, gas, water, or sewage disposal services.”

Stating that “we find the ownership, operation, and financing with proceeds of tax-exempt bonds of the facilities of municipal power utilities to be both sufficiently prevalent and sufficiently longstanding among state and local governments to be considered customarily performed by state and local governments.” Since Tribes and states are treated the same by the IRS in this context, the IRS held that Tribal utility projects may be financed with tax-exempt bonds when they are “not a commercial activity, (are) indistinguishable from public works projects...focus on benefits to local citizens, and are not in competition with other businesses.” The ruling also allows for some energy generated by Tribal projects to be sold to off-reservation users, so long as “the electrical power generated by (the Tribe) will be used to service the local population with only minimal amounts of power sold to customers in the immediate vicinity of the Reservation that are not adequately served by other power providers.”

At a time when interest in and opportunities for generating renewable energy on Tribal Lands are beginning to soar, the ability of Tribes to finance such projects with desirable tax-exempt investment vehicles will help raise necessary capital even in the current economic climate.
 

NCAI Speaks Out On Tribal Embassy Purchase

W. Ron Allen

John Dossett

In response to recent coverage regarding the planned $8.5 Million purchase of an office complex to serve as a Tribal Embassy in Washington D.C., representatives of the National Congress of American Indians contacted Native American Legal Update to offer the organization’s perspectives.


NCAI General Counsel John Dossett:

“This is a smart economic move for NCAI and for Indian country. NCAI has been renting space in DC since 1951. It is very expensive, year after year. Ownership makes sense for a long term organization. Right now the real estate market is down in DC so it is a good time to buy. Our monthly mortgage payments will be less than current rent, and we will have twice as much space some of which we can sublease. We will work to retire the debt, then NCAI's costs will be much less and we can provide more services to tribes. More advocacy is an investment in Indian Country's future. (NCAI just helped to secure 2.5 billion in funding for Indian country infrastructure through the stimulus bill.) NCAI is also planning to co-locate with our sister Indian organizations, so the plan is to help out all kinds of tribal advocacy in Washington. This is part of NCAI's plan to become more economically self-sufficient so that we can provide the advocacy services to Indian country no matter what the economic climate is. NCAI President Tex Hall started this capital campaign in 2004, and it is a good plan for the economics of NCAI and tribal advocacy in Washington, DC.”


W. Ron Allen, NCAI Delegate and Tribal Chairman/Executive Director of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe:

“I absolutely agree with John Dossett regarding that this project is a great move by NCAI. What makes people think that because we are in a recession it is a bad time to buy. It's actually a great time to buy if your financial situation is strong, particularly because it is during these down turns in the realty business that you can negotiate a great price. That opportunity is what NCAI was able to capitalize. NCAI has continued to grow in its capacity to serve Indian Country and it Tribal membership and has an urgent need to expand it office space needs to accommodate that growth. NCAI has been generating a great deal of financial commitments from its membership because of its vision of finally owning it own Embassy in Washington, DC where the politics significantly affect the rights and interests of the 562 Tribes across America. I have personally been extensively involved in this initiative for over 20 years including when I was the President of NCAI (1995-99). Our time has finally come and I am confident that not only will we secure this facility, but retire the debt on a rapid schedule.

Indian Country has a right and even a duty to have a physical presence in America's Capital to remind the US political leadership of their obligations and commitments to the American Indian and Alaska Native peoples of this nation. AND on a practical note, I want to underscore the fiscal stewardship of the funds NCAI receives from its membership, we must use the funds to own our office assets instead of benefiting some landlord in DC.”
 

A Tax On The Checkerboard

Fractionation of Pine Ridge Reservation (Villageearth.org)

The exterior boundaries of Tribal reservations are usually fairly well defined, and provide a delineation for when one is leaving state land and entering “Indian Country”. However, the ownership and control of land within the bounds of the reservation is often far less clear. Through previous federal policies such as allotment and termination, much Native land was alienated from Tribal ownership. As a result, ownership maps of present-day reservations often resemble a “checkerboard”, with plots of non-Native-owned land interspersed with Tribal trust lands.

For many Tribes, reacquiring the land within reservation boundaries is both an economic and cultural imperative, and Tribal leaders seek creative legal and business methods of eliminating the checkerboard. The Tulalip Tribes in Washington are presently considering a unique economic tool in this regard: imposing a tax on sales of land by Tribal members to non-Natives. The Tulalip Grassroots Committee, an organization of Tribal members, has proposed a 17 percent tax on the land value on real estate transactions to discourage Tribal members from selling land to non-Native buyers. "We believe the reservation is sacred and we wanted to make sure that not as much land goes out of trust status," states Tulalip Chairman Mel Sheldon.

With real estate prices plummeting nationwide in the tumult of the current economic crisis, Tribes with cash are positioned to more quickly eliminate checkerboard spaces within reservations. While a tax such as that proposed by Tulalip may help reduce alienation of Tribal lands, there is also risk of alienating the surrounding business community by raising a new barrier to transactions on reservations. Balancing the interests of internal cohesiveness and positive external relations will become increasingly important as Tribes navigate through the current nationwide economic crisis.
 

Tribes' "Special Privileges" Under Attack In Oklahoma

"It is simply unfair..."  Rep. David Dank

Assailing what he calls “special privileges that give (Native Americans) unique advantages” and declaring “It’s time for our Legislature to restore sanity to Oklahoma’s dealings with the Tribes”, Oklahoma state Representative David Dank has introduced three bills before the state Congress: 1) a constitutional amendment to give private businesses the same right to make corporate campaign contributions as Tribes; 2) a second amendment requiring compacts between Tribes and state government be ratified by the state Legislature; and 3) a bill giving private businesses located close to competing Tribal stores the same sales tax exemptions as the Native-owned businesses. Dank outlines his plan and purpose in an article in this week’s Oklahoman newspaper.

Dank’s reasoning is based on his view that:

Tribes collect no sales taxes on items sold from their grocery and convenience stores, or other Tribal businesses. They collect about half of normal tobacco taxes from Indian smoke shop sales. Tribal businesses pay no property taxes, the state receives little or nothing from Tribal auto tags, and Tribes, unlike private businesses, are free to make millions in corporate campaign contributions.

Meanwhile, the Tribes reap millions from a state-issued monopoly on casino gambling in Oklahoma because of a 15-year compact that cannot be altered.

These are tax exemptions and breaks that siphon tens of millions of dollars each year from local school districts, city and county governments and our state treasury. Non-Tribal citizens and businesses are being taxed to make up those losses. In some cases, non-Tribal businesses are being driven into bankruptcy by the unfair competition made possible by these special privileges.

Dank’s article neglects to mention some other ways in which Native American Tribes are “special”. Unlike every other municipality in the country, and despite being recognized by the US government as sovereign, Tribal governments are not allowed to levy property taxes on the Tribe’s own land. This state of affairs deprives Tribes of untold millions in revenues each year that other municipalities use for roads, police, and other civic services. For Tribes fortunate enough to be located near population centers or interstate highways, gaming revenue is but a partial substitute for the lack of taxing authority, as illustrated by the endemic poverty and substandard infrastructure on reservations.

The private sector of Oklahoma’s economy also reflects a “special” place for Native Americans. As he laments the Tribes’ “special financial privileges” that “cost state and local governments millions and damages competing private businesses”, Dank omits the fact that Native American and Alaska Native householders in Oklahoma had a median income 18.1 percent less than the median level for all households, and an overall decline in median income of 24.2 percent since the year 2000 – the biggest drop of any demographic group in the state. Meanwhile, the Caucasian demographic in Oklahoma has realized a 42.8 percent increase in household income level since the year 2005.

Special indeed.

Mining Leases On Tribal Lands Produce Cash And Questions

 

(Crow Nation gas well - Reuters)

After years of legal wrangling, the Anadarko Agency office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs recently held the largest-ever auction of oil and gas mining leases on Tribal land. The auction offered mining lease rights on over 1500 plots located on Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, Fort Sill Apache, Caddo, Delaware, and Wichita Tribal and allotted lands. The sale netted just over $6 million in purchases, with the majority of the lease rights going to the Sodak, Marathon and Chesapeake oil companies.

Revenues like this are certainly much-needed in Native communities, but the money does not go directly into Native hands. The funds will be managed by the BIA in trust for the Tribes whose lands underlie the mining leases. As the claims in the Cobell litigation highlight, the fiduciary relationship between the BIA and Tribal members has been marred by allegations of mismanagement and breach of trust.  It will be incumbent upon Tribal governments and their members to monitor the revenue flow from these leases to ensure the funds are properly used for Tribal needs. A further question arises regarding future revenue streams from the mineral resources the leases are designed to produce. Whether Tribes will receive royalty payments from wells that begin pumping oil and natural gas on their lands – and how much money can be expected – is undetermined at this time.

Indian trust beneficiaries who have questions about this sale may contact their fiduciary trust officer using the interactive map on the OST Web site , or call OST’s Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 1-888-678-6836
 

Tribal Energy Development - Learning The Rules For Producing The Power

(Solar Panels for Tribal Housing, Romona Band of Cahuilla Indians, Anza, California)

When it comes to developing energy resources, many Tribes appear to be in the right place at the right time in 2009. Native communities blessed with wind, water, solar, or geologic resources are likely to see broad demand for their development, as the United States pushes for increased domestic energy production in general and of alternative/renewable sources in particular. The Department of Energy is actively seeking Tribal participation in energy development, the federal economic stimulus packages currently being debated in Congress contain funding and tax credits for energy projects on reservations, and private entities are realizing and pursuing the untapped energy sources present in many Native lands.

While the potential benefit to Tribes and the rest of the country from this energy drive appears vast, realizing that potential requires navigating various federal laws and regulations. Recent federal legislation such as the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act, 25 U.S.C. §§ 3501–3506 (ITEDSA) sets forth rights and procedures for Tribes to pursue development of energy resources on their lands. Through ITEDSA, Tribes can negotiate energy resource agreements (“TERAs”) with the Department of the Interior, which provide authorization for Tribes to pursue energy development and transmission activities of all kinds. The newness of ITEDSA – the final regulations for which came into effect in 2008 – presents both a challenge and an opportunity for Tribes. Tribes that have a firm grasp of both the nature of their natural resources and the rules for negotiating TERAs can put themselves in the forefront of new energy production, thereby producing a vital resource for their members and new revenue from power sales to outside entities.

Understanding the federal laws and procedures for energy development is critical for Tribes not just to speed up the development process, but also to protect their legal and resource rights. Professor Judith Royster’s recent article regarding Tribal sovereignty and implementation of ITEDSA highlights previous instances when Tribes lost hundreds of millions of dollars in potential energy revenues, primarily due to having less information than their non-Tribal lessees regarding the true nature and extent of the Tribe’s natural resources. While the provisions of ITEDSA are designed to help prevent these egregious scenarios and create a “level playing field” for all parties, it is crucial for Tribes to be knowledgeable of their rights and opportunities -- and to be proactive in exercising them.
 

Colville Tribe Explores Wind Energy

Confederated Tribes of the Colville, a Native American tribe in northeastern Washington, is partnering with Clipper Windpower, a California company, to explore the potential for wind energy. Last July, Clipper placed three wind gauges on the Colville reservation. The wind testing is supposed to continue until about midyear.

If studies prove the wind blows hard enough and often enough there, Clipper will build a wind farm with up to 500 turbines. This would be a big boost to the local economy, as it is predicted that a wind farm of that size could create 50 to 200 temporary jobs during construction, then 10 to 20 permanent jobs to operate and maintain the wind turbines. Eventually, the tribes would own all or part of the wind farm, which is positive from a tribal ownership perspective.

This proposal to Colville is the company's first in a new focus to explore American Indian tribal lands for wind potential nationwide. Hopefully,this project will be successful so that wind opportunities for the tribes continue to grow.


 

Obama Put To Early Test By Tribes

The new Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently told Tribal leaders in Washington D.C. that "First Americans will have their place at the table in the Obama administration."  Less than 24 hours after President Obama took office, Tribes throughout America have put that policy to the test.

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which represents 20 Tribes in the Pacific Northwest including the Tulalip, Stillaguamish, and Sauk Suiattle, submitted a 16-page request to President Obama for additional funding and the adoption of a formal policy supporting Tribal management of natural resources. The Commission's request also seeks:

1. The issuance of an Executive Order reaffirming the government-to-government relationship between Tribes and the US government.

2. An additional $12 million per year in funding for the Commission and an extra $4.5 million per year for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

3. Restoration of expansive water rights to Tribes; and

4. Enhanced legal protections for Tribal resources such as salmon and shellfish.

The Commission’s requests were followed closely by a letter to the President from a group of US Senators representing Native constituencies throughout the country, seeking significant new funding for infrastructure and social/educational programs in Native communities. The Senators’ requests included:

• $1.2 billion for Tribal health facilities construction and support;

• $360 million for construction of Tribal justice infrastructure and support;

• $568 million for construction of road and bridge projects on reservations;

• $658 million for construction of Tribal schools and colleges;

• $50 million for housing construction, weatherization, and heating in Native Communities;

• $80 million for Native job training and business development;

• $600 million for water infrastructure development in Tribal lands;

• $4.4 million for energy development on reservations; and

• $50 million to address Tribal land fractionation.

The proposal was submitted by Senators Tim Johnson, D-S.D., Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn.

During his campaign, President Obama stated:

The American Indians I have met across this country will be on my mind each day that I am in the White House. You deserve a president who is committed to being a full partner with you; to respecting you, honoring you and working with you every day. That is the commitment I will make to you as President of the United States.”

On the strength of such pledges, Obama received the endorsement of over 100 Tribal leaders throughout America. The coming weeks and months will reveal the true strength behind these promises, and provide a realistic view of the future for Native communities.
 

DOE Asks Tribes To Help Develop Alternative Energy Sources

The Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a Request For Information seeking feedback from Tribes and other parties interested in the deployment of renewable energy in Indian Country in the contiguous 48 States. The information will be used by DOE for internal planning and decision making under the federal Tribal Energy Program. Although Tribal Trust land comprises 5% of the land area in the United States (55.7 million acres) and contains an estimated 10% of all energy resources in the United States, (both conventional and renewable), less than a few hundred megawatts of renewable energy has been developed in Indian Country. Moreover, most of those are land lease deals as opposed to Tribes having ownership positions in the projects.

The information sought in the RFI is intended to assist DOE in determining barriers to renewable energy deployment and the most beneficial and efficient way for DOE to help accelerate the deployment of renewable energy in Indian Country. Energy development in Indian Country holds the possibility of providing energy to power local economic development, supporting the growing Native American population, creating businesses resulting in local jobs, or creating a revenue stream to help overcome some of the poverty that exists in many Native communities. Importantly, energy produced locally can also support Tribal sovereignty.

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 extended Production Tax Credits (PTCs) for one year and broadened the eligible technologies, along with provisions for the long-term extension of Investment Tax Credits (ITCs) for renewable energy projects. As non-taxable entities, however, Tribes are not eligible for these credits unless they partner with a for-profit entity with tax liability. This restriction limits the ability of Tribes to have ownership positions in Tribal renewable energy projects. Further, the extension of PTCs and ITCs may limit renewable energy hardware availability and transmission capacity even for those Tribes that have investment funds.

Legislation has recently been introduced which may have enabled Tribes the ability to have ownership positions in energy development in Indian Country by allowing Tribes to transfer their PTCs to a taxable partner. These bills, however, have not been enacted. Hence, current Federal policy has not supported Tribally-owned renewable energy project development from a tax-mitigation perspective. Tribes now have an opportunity to highlight these discrepancies to the DOE and provide advice on how to eliminate current obstacles to energy development on Tribal lands.

Tribes and other interested parties should send responses to the RFI (one attachment only) via email with the title “RFI Response” to tribal@go.doe.gov. Responses should be submitted in Microsoft Word or PDF as an email attachment to the address above and received no later than 8:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time on February 28, 2009.
 

Parting Shot? Bush Administration Removes Uranium Mining Restrictions Near Tribal Lands

Sweetwater Oit

Just weeks before the new Presidential administration takes over in Washington DC, the federal Bureau of Land Management eliminated a regulation that provided congressional committees the power to require the Secretary of Interior to set aside public lands from uranium mining. The Bush administration’s decision may result in uranium mining on public lands near the Grand Canyon, in areas that are the traditional and spiritual home for numerous Tribes. Given the renewed interest in uranium mining as a source of alternative energy, Tribes in the Western United States are expressing concern about the potential environmental risks to their lands.

Charles Vaughn, chairman of the Hualapai Tribe, had previously offered pointed testimony on the issue before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands and the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources:

“Although we understand that this industry may provide clean energy for the world market, it is the aftermath of this endeavor that is of grave concern to my people. We do not want to see the byproducts of uranium production stored in places like Yucca Mountain for the remainder of our lifetimes and leave others with the concern of the potential harm this would bring to our progenitors Grandfather Water and Mother Earth. We as an indigenous people are taught to respect and hold sacred those elements that provide the essence of our life. It is out of this belief that we share our concerns for proposed uranium mining near Grand Canyon National Park.”

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., authored a resolution through the House Committee on Natural Resources that required the Department of Interior to protect lands around Grand Canyon National Park from uranium mining. He expressed regret at the administration’s action to override the resolution:

“I am disappointed that the Interior Department under the Bush administration has chosen to throw out federal rules it finds inconvenient to its goal of allowing uranium mining within a few miles of our nation’s premiere National Park, the Grand Canyon. This last minute change puts at risk the health of millions of citizens of the West who rely on the Colorado River of the Grand Canyon for their drinking water supply, as well as visitors to the park and Tribal communities within and around the Grand Canyon.”

In contrast, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska and the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, applauded the new policy. “We cannot afford to have more of our nation’s vital minerals and energy supplies to be locked up by the ill-advised actions of a single Congressional Committee,” said Young.
 

Hoh Tribe Seeks Congressional Approval For Relocation

With assistance from the local representative in Congress, the Hoh Tribe in northwest Washington state is seeking to relocate its reservation to higher ground on the Olympic Peninsula. On September 25, 2008, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks introduced House Bill 7073 that would designate the land as part of the Hoh reservation and transfer 37 acres of Olympic National Park property to the Tribe.

The Hoh reservation was created in 1893, and has remained in the same location to the present day. The Tribe, located on about 640 acres of flood plain at the mouth of the Hoh River south of the town of Forks, has purchased an additional 425 acres of land over the past year to relocate its village. If the expansion and relocation program is authorized, national park land would connect the current reservation with the newly acquired land. The tribe will assume responsibility for maintaining the natural wildlife corridor on the park property and could not use it for development.

The relocation program was prompted by consistent flood problems that have plagued the Tribe’s lands since the reservation was created over 100 years ago. Over 90% of the reservation’s 133 residents currently live in a flood zone, and the Tribe’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean leaves residents susceptible to potential tidal surges and tsunamis. Upon Congressional approval of the park land transfer, the tribe could relocate housing in about three years.

Track the Status of House Bill 7073.

Find more information regarding the Hoh Tribe.