Professor Ron Whitener Honored By White House As A "Champion Of Change"

Professor Ron Whitener, Director of the University of Washington’s Native American Law Center and Of Counsel attorney at Foster Pepper PLLC, has been named a “Champion of Change” by the White House. Professor Whitener will be honored at an official dinner hosted by Attorney General Eric Holder on October 13, 2011.

As part of President Obama's Winning the Future Initiative (whitehouse.gov/champions), the Champions program is featuring lawyers who dedicate their professional lives to closing the justice gap in America. The program seeks to honor a small group of people who are “Winning the Future” and inspire others to follow their lead.

Professor Whitener’s work in improving access to justice in Tribal communities has won national acclaim. His clinical program at the University of Washington serves as the public defender office for the Tulalip Tribes, and he has received a MacArthur Foundation grant for his work in developing a model juvenile justice system for Native American youth.

Tribes Seek Protection Of Native Health Care Gains In "Obamacare" Lawsuit

The National Indian Health Board and a consortium of Tribes and Tribal agencies have filed an amicus brief in the “Obamacare” lawsuit, where a federal judge in Florida ruled the federal government’s landmark healthcare reform unconstitutional. The lawsuit was filed after President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is designed to provide health care coverage to all Americans.

The primary issue in the lawsuit, which is now on appeal, is whether the Constitution allows the federal government to require individual Americans to purchase health care insurance. Over two dozen states joined together to oppose the reform legislation, arguing that the federal government does not have the power to compel individuals to purchase health care insurance. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Florida, and the trial judge ruled the legislation unconstitutional. The matter is now being reviewed by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Within the federal health care reform legislation, there are sections that provide significant benefits for Native American health care programs. The legislation permanently re-authorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which provides funding and administrative support for health care in Native communities throughout the country. In their amicus brief, Tribes have asserted that the portions of the health care legislation that impact Native Americans are constitutional and should be “severed” from any portions of the legislation that are ultimately determined to be unconstitutional. That would allow for funding and other improvements to Tribal health care to continue even if other portions of the new law are overturned.

Interestingly, the portions of the law applicable to Native American health care actually provide and exemption for Native Americans from the individual insurance purchase requirement – which is consistent with the goals of the states seeking to have the new laws overturned. This provides a potential opportunity for agreement between the states and Tribes, where all sides could concur on the validity of the sections that improve health care for Native communities.

President Obama Announces US Support For The UN Declaration On The Rights Of Indigenous Peoples

The President has announced a change to the United States’ status as the sole holdout in supporting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, stating:

“And as you know, in April we announced that we were reviewing our position on the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And today I can announce that the United States is lending its support to this Declaration.”

The President’s remarks came during the close of the second Tribal Nations Conference held by the White House. His full statement on the Declaration and other Tribal issues can be viewed HERE.

While the statement declares a change in US policy, there will be much practical work required to implement the provisions of the Declaration and assess its impact on relations between the federal government and Tribal communities.

Senate Passes Cobell Settlement Funding - House And Presidential Approval Still Pending

The United States Senate has formally approved legislation enabling the funding of the $3.4 Billion settlement in the Cobell trust litigation, an action that has been on hold for many months as Congress wrestled with health care reform and other issues.  For payments to finally begin flowing to the Native American plaintiffs in the Cobell lawsuit, the House of Representatives must also give a corresponding approval and President Obama must sign the final bill.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar praised the Senate’s action:

“With the Senate’s approval of the Cobell settlement and the four Indian water rights settlements, this is a day that will be etched in our memories and our history books. The Cobell settlement honorably and responsibly addresses long-standing injustices and is a major step forward in President Obama’s agenda of reconciliation and empowerment for Indian nations. I am also deeply proud of the passage of the four water rights settlements that will deliver clean drinking water to Indian communities, end decades of controversy and contention among neighboring communities, and provide certainty to water users across the West. The progress we have made over the last two years in reaching critical Indian country settlements is unprecedented and I am hopeful that the House will soon act to pass these settlements as well.”

White House Announces Next Tribal Nations Conference, 16 December 2010

On Thursday, December 16, 2010, President Obama will host the second White House Tribal Nations Conference. This conference will provide leaders from the 565 federally recognized Tribes the opportunity to interact directly with the President and representatives from the highest levels of the Administration. Each federally recognized Tribe will be invited to send one representative to the conference. 

New Federal Law Boosts Housing For Native American Veterans

President Obama has signed into law new legislation supporting affordable housing for Native American veterans and their survivors, fixing a problem that resulted in many Native veterans who receive federal disability and survivor benefits being denied support under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act.

Until now, the benefits had been considered income under NAHASDA, thus reducing Native veterans’ eligibility for further support. NAHASDA was passed in 1996 to allow tribal communities to more easily access housing grants by providing support to families who make less than 80 percent of the median income of their area. The new legislation remedies the problem by specifically excluding veterans’ benefits from the definition of income.

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., introduced the bill last September at the request of the Navajo Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners “Native Americans have made incredible sacrifices to keep our country safe, and it is unacceptable that Native veterans and their families have been unable to receive the benefits they have earned for so many years,” Kirkpatrick said. “We cannot let our nation’s heroes be punished for their service to our country. Enacting this bill into law will finally right this wrong.” Kirkpatrick is now asking the BIA to correct a similar problem with its Housing Improvement Program that is also causing problems for Native veterans.

Senate efforts were led by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and John Thune, R-S.D. “These Native American veterans are already struggling with wounds they suffered from serving our country and certainly shouldn’t shoulder extra financial burdens because of some legislative defect,” Wyden said. “Fixing this unjust flaw in the system is the right thing to do for our veterans, and should be done as fast as possible.”

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."

Another Deadline For Cobell Settlement Approval To Expire

Despite a July 9 deadline from the parties, approval by Congress of the landmark settlement in the Cobell v. Salazar Native trust asset case is not imminent.  The tax-related legislation to which the approval amendment was attached has stalled in the Senate, and the recent death of Senator Robert Byrd made passage of the bill by the latest deadline essentially impossible. 

A half-dozen deadlines set by the Cobell legal team have now come and gone, and the settlement is no closer to Congressional approval than it was nine months ago.  The deadline concept has no discernible impact on the members of Congress, and setting unenforceable deadlines appears to have become a waste of time.  A change in tactics is clearly needed, either through attaching the settlement authorization to legislation that is ready for near-term passage, or by calling on President Obama to utilize his political capital to push for Congressional approval.

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.
 

Cobell Settlement Deadline Extended Again, Now 15 June 2010

Congress failed to act prior to the Memorial Day recess to approve the $3.4 billion settlement in the Cobell v. Salazar lawsuit, so the deadline has again been extended to June 15, 2010. This is the fourth extension of the deadline for Congress to approve the settlement. Although the House of Representatives voted to approve the deal prior to the deadline, the Senate did not.

Dennis Gingold, the lead lawyer for the Native American plaintiffs, previously said that if Congress did not meet the May 28 deadline that had previously been set, the case would proceed toward trial. However, the plaintiffs agreed to another extension in light of the perception that Congress is close to approving the deal.

The Senate returns to business on June 7, but a list of other items -- such as confirmation hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee – may be acted on first. Also, Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs John Barrasso (R-Wy) has expressed concern about aspects of the deal such as attorney fees and incentive awards for the lead plaintiffs, and may seek to have the deal modified in the Senate legislation.
 

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.
 

Does Supreme Court Nominee Kagan Have A Firm Grasp Of Indian Legal Issues?

Scholars have begun to question the Indian law credentials of Elena Kagan, President Barack Obama's nominee to the to the U.S. Supreme Court. Other than serving on the American Indian Empowerment Fund, which was established by the Oneida Nation, Kagan lacks a record on Indian law or Indian issues. Since joining the Obama administration as Solicitor General at the Department of Justice, she has written briefs in at least five Indian law cases. All of them went against tribal interests.

A particular fact of note regarding Kagan’s approach to Native legal issues is that she never filled a fully-endowed Indian law post at Harvard Law School, where she served as dean. The Oneida Nation of New York funded the The Oneida Indian Nation Professorship of Law with a $3 million donation. The position was created in 2003, under the condition that Harvard hire a full-time, tenured faculty member dedicated to Indian law. Kagan never hired a permanent, tenured faculty member dedicated to Indian law in her six years at the school.
 

National Native American Bar Association Issues Statement On Kagan Nomination To Supreme Court

May 11, 2010

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500

RE: Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s Nomination to the Supreme Court

Dear Mr. President:

Congratulations on your nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the United State Supreme Court. We are pleased you chose a woman, and clearly General Kagan is a well qualified jurist.
NNABA does not currently have a position on General Kagan’s nomination. We are not yet familiar with her experience with Tribal nations or Federal Indian law. However, we very much look forward to hearing from General Kagan about her views on the Constitutional status of Tribes and the protection of Native American rights. We would like to extend an invitation for General Kagan to meet with NNABA and invite her to Indian Country to visit one of our Nations, to visit our Tribal courts, and meet with our elected Tribal leaders.

Importance of Working Knowledge of Federal Indian law.

Due to the unique Constitutional status of Native American Tribes, a disproportionate percentage of cases before the Supreme Court deal with Tribes and Indian law issues. In addition, federal court decisions often disproportionately affect Natives. Most Indian reservation lands continue to be under “federal trust” and federal criminal law applies in conjunction with tribal law. The Supreme Court oversees this relationship with Tribes and the Federal treaty and trust responsibility to Tribal citizens. There are over 560 federally-recognized Tribes in the United States, located in 35 out of the 50 states.

No Native American Supreme Court Justice, Federal Judge, Or Supreme Court Clerk.

A Native American has never served on the Supreme Court, there is not currently a Native on the federal bench and to the best our knowledge there have been almost no Native American Supreme Court clerks.

NNABA continues to be hopeful that your administration will nominate a Native to the federal bench, and we appreciate any efforts to ensure that all of your federal nominees have a strong working knowledge of Federal Indian law.

Respectfully,

Lael Echo-Hawk
President, National Native American Bar Association

Justice Department Unveils Plan of Action for Consultation and Coordination with Tribes

The Justice Department has made public its plan of action, submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to improve consultation and coordination between the Justice Department and tribal nations, as directed by President Barack Obama’s Memorandum on Tribal Consultation. The Presidential Memorandum, signed on Nov. 5, 2009, at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, directed each federal agency to submit to OMB within 90 days a plan of action to implement President Clinton’s Executive Order 13175 on Consultation and Coordination with Tribal Governments. The Justice Department’s plan was submitted to OMB on January 27, 2010.

The Justice Department’s plan, which is available HERE, identifies the steps it will take to develop a comprehensive consultation and coordination policy with tribal nations, after robust tribal input. In addition, the department’s submission makes a commitment to:

• expand the role of the Office of Tribal Justice;
• create a Tribal Nations Leadership Council to ensure ongoing communication and collaboration with tribal governments;
• convene consultations between tribal leadership and U.S. Attorneys whose jurisdictions include federally-recognized Indian tribes;
• mandate annual meetings between the department’s grants offices and tribal leadership to discuss grants policies, concerns or funding priorities;
• create a new federal-tribal taskforce to develop strategies and guidance for federal and tribal prosecutions of crimes of violence against women in tribal communities; and
• publish a progress report within 270 days of the Presidential Memorandum evaluating the implementation of these reforms.

The Justice Department’s plan of action was driven largely by input gathered from the department’s own Tribal Nations Listening Session in late October 2009 and from the department’s annual tribal consultation on violence against women, as well as from written comments submitted by tribal governments, groups and organizations to the Justice Department and tribal consultation conference calls conducted by the Office of Tribal Justice.
The department’s plan to improve consultation and coordination with tribal governments comes a month after Attorney General Eric Holder announced sweeping reforms within the department to improve safety on tribal land. The Attorney General also announced that the Justice Department’s FY 2010 appropriation included an additional $6 million for Indian Country prosecution efforts, enabling the department to bring the federal justice system closer to Indian Country. More information is avalable HERE.       

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
 

Hope for Change: Improving Health Care in Indian Country

Last month President Obama invited leaders from 564 American Indian tribes to discuss important issues in Indian Country, including the delivery of better health care.

Congress is currently debating a health care overhaul and it might just be the catalyst for significant improvements to the Indian health system. According to experts, if the overhaul was to happen there would be direct streams of money to the Indian health care system which would give Native Americans more treatment options over time. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will meet this week to discuss other Indian health issues that could end up in the overhaul bill.

 

President Obama also proposed a budget increase of 13 percent for the federal Indian Health Service, which provides free care to 1.9 million Indians who are members of federally recognized tribes, most of whom live on tribally owned land. The service, which had a budget this year of $3.3 billion, has also received $500 million in stimulus money for construction, repairs and equipment. Many Native American leaders believe this is a positive step in narrowing the gap in Indian health care, which is substantially underfunded.

 

The Indian Health Care Improvement Act also stands a good chance of being reauthorized by Congress for the first time since 2001, and it would enhance programs, physician recruitment and hospital construction. Although it approves no funding, advocates hope it will prompt additional money.

Given the current climate in Congress, and the President’s support, some believe it will be easier to get Native American provisions in the health care bills, but for now there is no guarantee, just hope.

 

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
 

President Obama's Address To Tribal Nations

 

President Obama's opening address at this week's Tribal Nation's conference can be viewed HERE.

White House Tribal Nations Conference Underway

President Obama's summit conference with Native American leaders is happening today, and can be followed live HERE.

There is a live discussion about this event on Facebook. Click here to participate.

Watch C-SPAN's coverage of the conference from earlier today.

After Federal Recognition Is Denied: "Why Didn't They Just Tell Us 'No' 30 Years Ago?"

You have your community and your place to go.  We don't have that.  But we're still together…


They've got their rules, and you've got to fit into the slot.   But we know who we are.


It kind of hurts, naturally, but it's not the end of the line…

These sentiments were expressed by members of Montana's Little Shell Tribe, after receiving notice this week that their petition for federal recognition had been denied – more than 30 years after it was first filed.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ 242-page rejection decision acknowledged that 89 percent of the Little Shell can trace their lineage to the Pembina Band of Chippewa Indians, but stated the Little Shell had failed to show enough "cohesion" during the early 1900s, after many of the Tribe's members had been uprooted and migrated between northern Montana and southern Canada. The Tribe has not had a secure homeland since the late 1860s, when Chief Little Shell and his people were excluded from a federal treaty signed with related Tribes.

As discussed previously on this site, the BIA uses an extremely complex and subjective set of criteria in analyzing petitions for federal recognition. For Little Shell, the BIA decided that members of the Tribe in Montana lived primarily in "already existing, largely multiethnic settlements." According to the BIA, "In none of these multiethnic settlements did the petitioner's ancestors constitute a majority or even a significant percentage of the population." Little Shell’s petition was thus denied based on a perceived lack of social and political cohesion.

For Tribes like Little Shell, the next step in the struggle for recognition is to seek legislative backing in Congress, in the hope that recognition can be obtained through pressure and laws enacted by elected representatives. Hopes for progress in this area were briefly raised by the announcement of President Obama's upcoming Tribal Nations conference in November. Unfortunately, invitations to the event were only sent to a select group of Tribes – those that already possess federal recognition.
 

Details On White House Tribal Nations Conference - 5 November 2009

(Dailyyonder.com)

President Barack Obama will host a White House Tribal Nations Conference  on November 5, 2009 from 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., with leaders of all 564 federally recognized Tribes invited.  Each federally recognized Tribe can send one representative; it is unclear whether Tribes that do not yet have federal recognition can attend. Indian Country Today reports that the meeting will be held at the Sidney R. Yates Auditorium of the Department of the Interior in Washington D.C..

“I look forward to hearing directly from the leaders in Indian country about what my administration can do to not only meet their needs, but help improve their lives and the lives of their peoples,” Obama said. “This conference will serve as part of the ongoing and important consultation process that I value, and further strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship.”

W. Ron Allen, a member of the executive board of the National Congress of American Indians and Chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, said the White House would have been a more impressive setting, but believes it’s important to hold the meeting in an environment that will be conducive to constructive dialogue. Allen emphasized that Tribal leaders expect to be able to present their views and receive specific answers and policy outlines from the President. “We do not want this to be a photo op.”

Allen said many NCAI members want the President to begin showing action on campaign promises to advance self-determination, self-governance and self-reliance for all 564 American Indian and Alaska Native nations. “We are hopeful that he will reaffirm and strengthen his administration’s commitment to the ‘government-to-government’ relationship including clear instruction to all departments and agencies under his executive authority,” Allen said.

MyTribeTV, a Native-owned business in Seattle, will provide online coverage of the conference. The event will be streamed at tribalsummit.mytribetv.com.
 

Obama To Host National Tribal Nations Conference - 5 November 2009

(Resource Centre for The Rights Of Indigenous Peoples)

President Barack Obama will host a Tribal Nations Conference discussing issues of importance to Native Americans on November 5, the White House announced Monday.  Representatives from each the country’s 564 federally recognized tribes will be invited to participate.


“I look forward to hearing directly from the leaders in Indian Country about what my administration can do to not only meet their needs, but help improve their lives and the lives of their peoples,” Obama said in a written statement.  “This conference will serve as part of the ongoing and important consultation process that I value, and further strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship.”
 

American Indian Movement Statement On Free Speech And Indigenous Rights

The Grand Governing Council of the American Indian Movement (AIM) has released the following statement in response to President Obama's recent address before the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

In President Obama's speech to the United Nations on September 23, 2009, he spoke of a 'new direction'. Two years ago, four solitary nations voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, they were Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States of America. The Australian government has since reversed its vote and now support the international human rights standard toward Indigenous people. The American Indian Movement asks the question of the Obama Administration: Will his administration recognize and support the international standard approved by the vast majority of the world's nations?

The United Nations' 64th year brings world leaders together to our sacred homeland to discuss the effects of the world's problems to humankind. The American Indian Movement respects the right of all world leaders to speak. We support the right of Moammar Al Gathafi, leader of Libya. We respect the right of Evo Moralas, President of Bolivia. We respect the right of Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela. We respect the right of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran. We respect the right to speak at the United Nations of all the world leaders visiting our homeland.

We often talk in terms of the first world, or the west; or the second world, the east; or the third world, or the non-aligned nations. Another important dimension to this concept is the fourth world of natural and Indigenous people. Peoples whose populations oftentimes go beyond geo-political boundaries. While these struggles have been going on for hundreds of years, the international community has, for the most part, ignored this reality. One of the greatest crimes against humanity occurred right here in the United States of America. Support for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People is a start to right this great wrong.

AMERICAN INDIAN MOVEMENT GRAND GOVERNING COUNCIL
MINISTRY FOR INFORMATION
P.O. Box 13521
Minneapolis MN 55414
612/ 721-3914 . fax 612/ 721-7826
Email: aimggc@worldnet.att.net
Web Address: http://www.aimovement.org

Clyde Bellecourt, co-founder American Indian Movement
612.251.5836

Bill Means, International Indian Treaty Council
612.386.4030

Chief Terrance Nelson, Vice Chairman American Indian Movement
204.782.4827
 

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.
 

Senator Ken Salazar Selected To Lead Department of Interior

Salazar tapped as interior secretary

President–Elect Obama has selected Senator Ken Salazar, a Democrat from Colorado, to lead the U.S. Department of Interior, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “Among the many responsibilities Ken will bear as our next Secretary of the Interior is helping ensure that we finally live up to the treaty obligations that are owed to the first Americans,” Obama said. “We need more than just a government-to-government relationship – we need a nation-to-nation relationship, and Ken and I will work together to make sure that Tribal nations have a voice in this administration.” “I look forward to helping address the challenges faced by our Native American communities all across this nation,” Salazar said.

Salazar currently holds the Senate seat formerly occupied by Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Republican and member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. Despite being from opposing political parties, Nighthorse Campbell has endorsed Salazar’s selection to head the Department. “President-Elect Obama couldn’t have picked a better person,” Nighthorse Campbell said. “Kenny has a really strong voting record on Indian water rights, land claims, and things of that nature – he’s just a wonderful candidate. I think, very frankly, that Native America is going to be very happy with him.”

Salazar previously led Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources and worked as the state’s Attorney General. He also served on the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee. While in the Senate, he co-sponsored numerous legislative bills focused on Native American issues, including the National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month Act, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Trust Act, and a bill honoring Native Code Talkers.