DOJ Grants Available for Tribal Justice Programs

The US Department of Justice has announced the availability of multiple grants for organizations working to improve criminal and civil justice systems in Tribal communities.  Tribal and non-tribal non-profit § 501(c)(3)) entities that provide legal assistance services for federally recognized Indian tribes, members of federally recognized Indian tribes, or tribal justice systems pursuant to federal poverty guidelines are eligible for grants to assist with their work. National or regional membership organizations and associations whose membership or a membership section consists of judicial system personnel within tribal justice systems are also eligible. For details on the grant application process click HERE.

Shinnecock Nation Achieves Federal Recognition

After 32 years of bureaucratic battles, the Shinnecock Indian Nation has finally received federal recognition as the 565th Tribe to hold a nation-to-nation relationship with the United States government. The Shinnecock Nation is based in Long Island, New York and has approximately 1300 enrolled members and 1200 acres of Tribal land.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs acknowledged the Shinnecock Indian Nation in a Final Determination in June of this year. During the 30-day comment period following the decision, a group called the Connecticut Coalition for Gaming Jobs and a faction of the Montauk Indians of Long Island filed late challenges, asking the Interior Board of Indian Appeals to reconsider the decision. On October 1,2010 the Board rejected the appeals, ruling that neither group had legal standing.

“This closes a chapter in the tribe’s 32 year long struggle to obtain recognition and opens a door to a bright future that will include new opportunities,” said Randy King, chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Board of Trustees. “We’re finally here,” said Lance Gumbs, Shinnecock senior trustee and vice president of the National Congress of American Indians northeastern region. “It’s been 32-and-a-half years,”

As a federally recognized tribe, the Shinnecock are now eligible for federal funding for housing, health and education – and to open a long-planned casino. Congressman Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., released a statement in support of the Nation. “I am pleased that the Bureau of Indian Affairs swiftly dismissed the baseless challenge filed by opponents to the federal recognition of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. Today, the nation’s long struggle for recognition finally comes to an end, and a new chapter opens in their long and proud history. I look forward to helping the Shinnecock access the housing, educational and other important federal benefits they are entitled to under law. I will also continue my collaboration with tribal leaders to improve the standard of living on the Shinnecock Reservation and encourage responsible, sustainable economic development which benefits the tribe and our entire community,” Bishop said.

Federal recognition will offer new opportunities for the Nation, but Shinnecock citizen Beverly Jensen maintains that the new status is not needed strengthen the Nation’s sense of identity or enhance its culture, which its people have worked hard to preserve for centuries. “It’s not something we can forget; it’s ingrained. We’re not going to run and find our culture now that we’re recognized. It’s what we do. It’s why we’re here. We’re here to preserve it,” Jensen said.

Federal Contracting With Native Businesses Under Scrutiny

Native-owned corporations have benefitted greatly from federal preferences in no-bid and other set-aside contracts worth billions of dollars each year. That success has attracted criticism from other business owners, including Hispanics who remain ineligible for no-bid contracts, in addition to politicians and advocacy groups who say no-bid contracts are a bad deal for taxpayers. As a result, changes to the federal contracting program used by many Native firms are being actively considered in Congress, and one significant change has already been approved.

The rules for the contracting program, created to assist minority-owned businesses and run by the U.S. Small Business Administration, are still being rewritten. One of the proposed requirements is for Native-owned companies to report annually on how the federal contracts are benefiting their shareholders.

The change that has already moved forward is an amendment to a Department of Defense spending bill, which will prevent firms from receiving no-bid defense contracts worth more than $20 million unless a federal Contracting Officer provides a written justification that is then approved by the Department. Native-owned firms routinely obtain defense contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars through the no-bid process, but Native owners were not given a chance to comment on the amendment, which was inserted into the spending bill after the conclusion of public hearings. The Defense Department must create new regulations for the amendment, and the Department has agreed to host Tribal consultations before creating them.
 

White House Releases Tribal Nations Progress Report

“I am absolutely committed to moving forward with you and forging a new and better future together. It’s a commitment that’s deeper than our unique nation-to-nation relationship. It’s a commitment to getting this relationship right, so that you can be full partners in America’s economy, and so your children and grandchildren can have an equal shot at pursuing the American dream.” -- President Obama

 
During the White House Tribal Nations Conference in November 2009, President Obama met with leaders invited from all 564 federally recognized Tribes to forge a stronger relationship with Tribal governments. Acknowledging the history of marginalization of Native people, of promises broken and treaties violated, and of failed government solutions, President Obama called for a new and better future in which Tribal nations are full partners.

The President signed a memorandum at the conference directing Federal agencies to submit detailed plans of actions on how they intend to secure regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with Tribal officials for policy development. Agencies are currently in the process of implementing these plans. In the interim, the White House has released a Progress Report that provides details on the status of federal programs designed to address issues of concern for Tribal communities. The report can be accessed HERE.
 

$84 Million Federal Grant To Boost Broadband Access In Tribal Areas

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has announced a $84 million Recovery Act investment to help the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) deliver new and enhanced broadband capabilities to some of the more remote regions of Washington state. The grant will finance the addition of 830 miles of fiber optic cable and eight new microwave sites to NoaNet’s existing high-speed network. Among other benefits, the project plans to directly connect the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Center, library, and clinic, and the Shoalwater Tribal center and clinic, as well as provide connection opportunities for the Makah Tribal center and clinic.

“This critical investment will expand high-speed Internet service access to Washington libraries and hospitals, and eventually homes and businesses, helping to make them full participants in today’s 21st century information economy,” Locke said. “Having access to the Internet’s economic, health and educational benefits will help to improve the quality of life in these communities.”

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), funded by the Recovery Act, provides grants to support the deployment of broadband infrastructure, to enhance and expand public computer centers and to encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service.

“This grant will help NoaNet take a major step forward in extending its broadband network to rural and underserved areas in Washington, including tribal centers for the Makah, Jamestown S’Klallam and Shoalwater Bay Tribes on the Olympic Peninsula,” U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks said. “This was the goal of our effort 10 years ago to make available excess BPA fiber capacity for this publicly-operated, non-profit project to drive broadband access beyond the major cities in the Northwest.”

Another Tribal broadband project currently awaiting NTIA funding is the Washington Rural Broadband Cooperative (WA-RBC), a non-profit agency started by the Tulalip Tribes. The WA-RBC project is an extremely high bandwidth initiative which delivers 10 Gb/s service to community anchor points (schools, tribal centers, libraries, and chambers of commerce), and leverages significant investments already made by the Tulalip Tribes in a data center and fiber optic infrastructure that can extend to other tribes and rural communities.
 

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.
 

President Obama's Memorandum On Tribal Relations

In conjunction with the 5 November 2009 Tribal Nations conference, President Obama has issued a White House Memorandum on Tribal Consultation to all executive departments and federal agencies. The Memorandum can be accessed here, and its full text is below:

The United States has a unique legal and political relationship with Indian tribal governments, established through and confirmed by the Constitution of the United States, treaties, statutes, executive orders, and judicial decisions. In recognition of that special relationship, pursuant to Executive Order 13175 of November 6, 2000, executive departments and agencies (agencies) are charged with engaging in regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with tribal officials in the development of Federal policies that have tribal implications, and are responsible for strengthening the government-to-government relationship between the United States and Indian tribes.

History has shown that failure to include the voices of tribal officials in formulating policy affecting their communities has all too often led to undesirable and, at times, devastating and tragic results. By contrast, meaningful dialogue between Federal officials and tribal officials has greatly improved Federal policy toward Indian tribes. Consultation is a critical ingredient of a sound and productive Federal-tribal relationship.

My Administration is committed to regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with tribal officials in policy decisions that have tribal implications including, as an initial step, through complete and consistent implementation of Executive Order 13175. Accordingly, I hereby direct each agency head to submit to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), within 90 days after the date of this memorandum, a detailed plan of actions the agency will take to implement the policies and directives of Executive Order 13175. This plan shall be developed after consultation by the agency with Indian tribes and tribal officials as defined in Executive Order 13175. I also direct each agency head to submit to the Director of the OMB, within 270 days after the date of this memorandum, and annually thereafter, a progress report on the status of each action included in its plan together with any proposed updates to its plan.

Each agency's plan and subsequent reports shall designate an appropriate official to coordinate implementation of the plan and preparation of progress reports required by this memorandum. The Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and the Director of the OMB shall review agency plans and subsequent reports for consistency with the policies and directives of Executive Order 13175.

In addition, the Director of the OMB, in coordination with the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, shall submit to me, within 1 year from the date of this memorandum, a report on the implementation of Executive Order 13175 across the executive branch based on the review of agency plans and progress reports. Recommendations for improving the plans and making the tribal consultation process more effective, if any, should be included in this report.
The terms "Indian tribe," "tribal officials," and "policies that have tribal implications" as used in this memorandum are as defined in Executive Order 13175.  The Director of the OMB is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person. Executive departments and agencies shall carry out the provisions of this memorandum to the extent permitted by law and consistent with their statutory and regulatory authorities and their enforcement mechanisms.

BARACK OBAMA
 

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.
 

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.