Tag Archives: Carcieri

White House Launches Centralized Site for Indian Country

There have been ups and downs when it comes to President Barack Obama’s clout in Indian country since his platform run that consisted of improving the quality of life for American Indians throughout the country.

On the upside since his presidency Indian country has seen the permanent authorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the Tribal Law and Order Act, Cobell and Keepseagle settlements, and two Tribal Summits.

The cons since taking office have consisted of budget cuts in Native programs, a constant battle over a Carcieri fix, the amount of the Cobell settlement and the use of Geronimo as code name for Osama bin Laden.

The most recent move to improve the communication between the president and American Indians comes in the shape of a webpage. On June 28 the White House announced the launch of “Winning the Future: President Obama and the Native American Community.”

“This webpage is meant to serve as another tool to help Indian country navigate the federal government and learn about how the President’s Agenda is helping to win the future for Native Americans,” according to a blog post by Charles Galbraith, associate director, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement on the White House website.

This site is the result of a request by tribal leaders in attendance at a recent listening session looking for a centralized list covering everything that involves Indian country that would be accessible by American Indians.

More to come.

Support a Carcieri Fix and Aboriginal Lands Protection

I recently went to Washington, D.C. to support legislative efforts to clarify the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take lands into trust for all federally-recognized Indian tribes; or what is commonly referred to as a “Carcieri fix.” The National Congress of American Indians and the United South and Eastern Tribes organized a rally and meetings with members of Congress to urge them to address the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in the Carcieri v. Salazar case where the Court held that the Secretary of the Interior could only take lands into trust for tribes that were “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934.

The event was mostly positive and productive. I was troubled, however, by the significant misperception conveyed to members of Congress that tribes who oppose certain off-reservation gaming projects also oppose a Carcieri fix. In fact, some were surprised to learn that the Gila River Indian Community supports a Carcieri fix since we are actively opposing efforts by another tribe to conduct off-reservation gaming within our aboriginal territory.

Every tribe should support a Carcieri fix. I am not aware of any tribe that opposes one or advocates that a Carcieri fix must also include an off-reservation gaming prohibition. I can only assume that those tribal leaders and members of Congress under this belief have received misinformation from lawyers, lobbyists and gaming developers.

Addressing the Carcieri decision has nothing to do with off-reservation gaming. And failing to address Carcieri will result in two classes of Indian tribes; something we all should oppose. It is unfair for the press to try and connect a Carcieri fix to off-reservation gaming, and it is unfair for certain tribes and their lobbyists and lawyers to do the same.

The Gila River Indian Community is in the troubling position of having to fight against encroachment by another tribe into our aboriginal territory. This is not a position we enjoy having to take or want to take. But all tribes have the sovereign right to protect their aboriginal lands from others. Our efforts to protect our aboriginal lands have nothing to do with our support for a Carcieri fix. Those suggesting otherwise are hampering the larger effort and creating an unnecessary tension between tribes.

Tribes may not agree on off-reservation gaming, but we should all be able to agree on fixing the Supreme Court’s decision in the Carcieri case. There are members of Congress who strongly oppose any more lands being taken into trust for tribes, and some who simply oppose off-reservation gaming. Their views are not new, and will continue to exist regardless of whether a Carcieri fix is passed by this Congress. Tribal leaders need to work together, in an inclusive manner, to right the wrong perpetrated by the Supreme Court’s Carcieri decision.

Joseph Manuel is Lieutenant Governor of the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona.

Carcieri-based Challenge Reaches Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to review a federal appeals court ruling that challenges the Interior Department’s decision to take into trust the land that the Gun Lake Casino is built on. This crucial case is the first challenge based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar to reach the high court, but it also raises issues that potentially threaten not only the security of Indian trust lands, but also public lands such as forests and national parks held in trust by the federal government.

The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, known as the Gun Lake Tribe, and the federal government have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review a ruling issued by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last January that said David Patchak, a former trustee in Wayland County, Michigan, has standing to bring a lawsuit against the Interior Department for taking into trust 147 acres near Grand Rapids where the tribe operates its casino. The casino opened in February.

Patchak, who lives near the casino, alleged that the rural character of the area would be destroyed and the value of his property would drop. “As a practical matter, it would be very strange to deny Patchak standing in this case,” the appeals panel said in ruling in Patchak’s favor. The ruling reversed a decision by the Washington federal district court that said Patchak did not have standing and was barred from filing the complaint by the Quiet Title Act (QTA), which says the federal government cannot be divested of title to Indian trust lands. The appeals court expanded the previous criteria for “standing”—the right to initiate a lawsuit—which basically requires someone to be injured or affected by an action by granting Patchak “prudential standing.” Under constitutional standing, a plaintiff has suffered an “injury-in-fact” that was caused by the defendant’s action and that can be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. In prudential standing, a judge-driven decision, the plaintiff must show that his or her injury is within the “zone of interests” that the statute or constitutional provision at issue is meant to protect. The appeals court ruling was a departure from rulings in similar cases from four other circuit courts.

The questions presented to the Supreme Court by Gun Lake are: “I. Whether the Quiet Title Act and its reservation of the United States’ sovereign immunity in suits involving ‘trust or restricted Indian lands’ apply to all suits concerning land in which the United States ‘claims an interest” … as the Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits have held, or whether they apply only when the plaintiff claims title to the land, as the D.C. Circuit held. II. Whether prudential standing to sue under federal law can be based on either (i) the plaintiff’s ability to ‘police’ an agency’s compliance with the law, as held by the D.C. Circuit but rejected by the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits, or (ii) interests protected by a different federal statute than the one on which suit is based, as held by the D.C. Circuit but rejected by the Federal Circuit.”

Although the questions presented do not directly reference the Carcieri case Patchak’s basic claim, which he filed under the Administrative Procedure Act, is that the Interior secretary was not authorized to take Gun Lake’s land into trust because the tribe was not under federal jurisdiction in 1934 when the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) was passed—a challenge that relies on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Carcieri v. Salazar ruling in 2009. Carcieri v. Salazar was filed in the Supreme Court by the State of Rhode Island earlier that year. Named after former Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri, the lawsuit claimed that the Interior secretary did not have the authority to take 31 acres of land into trust for the Narragansett Indians for elder housing, because the tribe was not “now under federal jurisdiction” in 1934 when the IRA was passed. In ruling in Carcieri’s favor, Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Steven Breyer, and Samuel Alito. Breyer filed a concurring opinion. Justice David Souter filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Ginsburg joined. And Justice John Paul Stevens filed a dissenting opinion.

Patchak’s lawsuit continues 10 years of struggle on the Gun Lake Tribe’s part to secure its reservation land against a group of powerful and heavily funded anti-Indian casino opponents in Michigan who filed lawsuit after lawsuit through state and federal courts to try to stop Interior from taking the land into trust. The Gun Lake Tribe was federally acknowledged by the BIA in 1999. Patchak’s opposition dates back to early 2001, when Gun Lake first filed its trust land application under the Indian Reorganization Act and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. On March 9, 2001, Patchak wrote a racist screed to then-President George W. Bush opposing Gun Lake’s application and Indian trust lands in general. “What happened hundreds of years ago is the past, these treaties were made between a fledgling nation and groups of people who lived here but had no rights,” Patchak wrote. “Today, this is the United States of America and these tribes of Indians are full citizens … If the government feels that this nation owes the Indians more that [sic] it owes it’s [sic] average citizen, then let the nation contribute equally. Give them federal lands that are owned by all the people and controlled solely by the government to build their casinos. Do not let them come into private areas, buy land and then claim that land is now Indian land controlled by the federal government and the local people have nothing to say in what that land can be used for.” In August, 2001, two anti-Indian casino groups with which Patchak had ties – 23 Is Enough and MichGO (Michigan Gaming Opposition) – filed a lawsuit opposing Gun Lake’s trust application. A consistent player throughout the 10 years of opposition against the tribe is the Michigan law firm Warner, Norcross & Judd, which represented both 23 Is Enough and MichGO, and now represents Patchak.

On May 13, 2006, Interior published a final notice to take the land into trust in the Federal Register. Although the opponents had lost every lawsuit they had filed against the department up to that time, they appealed the decision, delaying the finalization of the trust land until January 30, 2009. Just days before Interior placed the 147 acres into trust on that date, the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court in Washington denied two motions from MichGO to stop Interior’s action. Both motions were based on the Carcieri case, which was pending at that time. One motion presented the same challenge as Carcieri against the Interior Secretary’s authority to take land into trust, and the other asked the court to stop Interior’s action until Carcieri was decided. Almost immediately after MichGO’s motions were denied, Patchak filed a motion for an emergency stay to stop the secretary from going ahead with the land transaction, but the federal district court denied his request and Interior finally took Gun Lake’s land into trust on January 30, 2009. Three weeks later, however, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Carcieri opinion, agreeing with Patchak’s argument that the IRA limits the secretary’s trust authority to tribes “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934. Patchak’s case then wended its way through the Washington federal district court and the appeals court, which ruled last January.

The Patchak case is “very complex,” said Matthew L.M. Fletcher, an associate professor of law and the director of the Indigenous Law & Policy Center at Michigan State University College of Law. The best outcome for Gun Lake would be if the Supremes review and reverse the appeals court ruling. That would mean the district court decision denying Patchak standing would prevail and the case would be over. If the Court denies review or reviews and upholds the appeals ruling that Patchak has standing to sue, then the case will be remanded to the federal district court for a trial to determine whether Interior Department can take the Gun Lake’s land into trust under Carcieri. “So this isn’t exactly a Carcieri case yet. It could be if Patchak prevails here one way or the other,” Fletcher said. Under this scenario, the case theoretically could circle through the federal and circuit courts and reach the Supreme Court a second time.

If Patchak wins the Carcieri argument, it’s likely that nothing will change for the time being, Fletcher said. “Frankly, no one knows what happens if Patchak ultimately wins on the merits. The land is already owned (in trust) by the federal government, and I’m unaware of any federal court ordering the United States to divest itself of land. That’s a whole new constitutional question, perhaps, if it gets that far. The Quiet Title Act is supposed to end all discussion when it comes to Indian lands, because Congress chose expressly not to waive federal sovereign immunity once Indian lands are in trust. However, if it means the government has to return the land to the Gun Lake Band in fee, then the question becomes whether the National Indian Gaming Commission and/or the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Grand Rapids will force the tribe to shut down its gaming enterprise.”

So, the potentially huge question for Indian country revolves around the Quiet Title Act, Fletcher said. “If the immunity barrier in the QTA can be gotten around, then much trust land recently taken into trust could be challenged by virtually anyone who is strongly opposed to trust land acquisitions. What’s remarkable about this case is the standing holding. Basically, all Patchak can prove is that he very strongly opposes Indian gaming. He’s not actually injured by it at all, other than worries about the ‘rural character’ of his community, whatever that means. Wayland and its surrounding townships long have hoped for more industry and economic growth – I know, I grew up there. So it’s just one guy for all we know who doesn’t want that. He’s pretty firmly in a tiny minority,” Fletcher said.

Gun Lake presents a number of arguments in seeking the high court’s review. Because the appeals court decision is on conflict with four other appeals court decisions in similar cases it has “opened a substantial gap” in the federal government’s sovereign immunity under the QTA from litigation challenging its title to trust or restricted Indian lands, as well as federal lands generally, the lawsuit says. If the appeals court ruling is left in place, that means anyone with a gripe could create a challenge in any case in which the federal government “claims an interest” whether it is Indian lands, national parks, public lands, easements or any other lands covered by the QTA’s terms and exceptions.

Also, because the D.C. Circuit hears almost all lawsuits against the federal government, prospective plaintiffs will now be able to “forum shop” their way around the United States’ sovereign immunity in disputes challenging the federal government’s title to land or “avoid the QTA and controlling circuit law altogether by simply filing their lawsuits in the District of Columbia,” the Gun Lake petition says.

The federal government’s petition asks the high court to consider “(w)hether (the Administrative Procedures Act) waives the sovereign immunity of the United States from a suit challenging its title to lands that it holds in trust for an Indian Tribe,” and more directly seeks the high court’s review of the Carcieri ruling in asking “(w)hether a private individual who alleges injuries resulting from the operation of a gaming facility on Indian trust land has prudential standing to challenge the decision of the Secretary of the Interior to take title to that land in trust, on the ground that the decision was not authorized by the Indian Reorganization Act.”

Among the arguments presented by the federal government in seeking the high court’s review is that the Administrative Procedure Act under which Patchak filed his lawsuit against the Interior Department does not allow an end run around the Quiet Title Act’s provision that precludes any person from seeking to divest the United States of title to Indian trust lands.

“If left unreviewed, the circumvention of the QTA countenanced by the court of appeals will therefore frustrate the purpose of trust acquisition, which is to provide a land base for Indians in order to encourage tribal self sufficiency and economic development,” the federal government petition says. The appeals court ruling implies that whenever the Interior Secretary takes final action on trust land, “plaintiffs could bring an APA suit contending that his action was contrary to law because the land is not properly held in trust for Indians. That might even be so when the United States has held the land in trust for years and the tribe has made substantial investments in it. Allowing such never-ending attacks on the trust status of lands would severely undermine the United State’s longstanding recognition of tribal sovereignty, self government and self determination. “

Resolution of the Carcieri problem may come down to a race between actions by the courts and Congress. But even within the legislature, there’s a battle between the House and Senate over Indian trust land. There are efforts in Congress with the HR 1291 sponsored by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and HR 1234, sponsored by Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) to pass “a clean Carcieri fix” that would clarify the Interior Secretary’s authority to take land into trust for all federally acknowledged tribes. In the Senate, however, Senators John McCain (R-Az.) and Jon Kyl (R-Az.) have introduced a bill that would make it almost impossible for the Interior Department to acquire trust lands for gaming or any other purpose that are not already reservations.

Tribal Leaders Present United Front to Congress

WASHINGTON – Dozens of tribal leaders embarked on the nation’s capital this week in an effort to present a united front to Congress on a swath of issues impacting Indian country—most important among them, protecting Native programs from cuts in the current budgetary climate.

The three-day gathering, hosted by the National Congress of American Indians, culminated October 11 in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building with a sometimes-tense strategy session. Among the top issues discussed were protecting the Indian affairs federal budget; securing a congressional Carcieri fix to the land-into-trust mess created by the Supreme Court in 2009; and best practices for uniting the divergent interests of 565 unique federally-recognized tribes. Ideas for preventing violence toward Indian women were also highlighted.

On the federal budget, tribal leaders generally appeared apprehensive because they know that the current atmosphere in Washington is filled with a desire by lawmakers to cut funding to a variety of programs in an attempt to make up the large budget shortfall. In many cases, tribal leaders feel that some uninformed Congress members do not understand how much good funding for tribal programs does—and how much more is needed to rectify issues of poverty on many reservations.

“There is still an effort to do away with [federal] trust responsibility for tribes,” said Jefferson Keel, president of NCAI, in a speech kicking off the session. He was referring to specific proposals released this year by some Republican lawmakers that would slash funding to Indians—without regard to the unique constitutional- and law-based status that is supposed to protect tribes.

Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., a member of the all-important congressional “super committee,” charged with finding an additional $1.5 trillion in debt savings over a ten-year period, told tribal leaders that there is “nothing like pressing the flesh” to be sure they are heard. “Make sure you explain how much folks where you live have sacrificed,” he said in remarks.

Most of the tribal leaders in town visited congressional offices throughout Capitol Hill to do just that—with talking points in hand. Their main messages on the budget, Carcieri, and other issues were highlighted in a letter sent from NCAI members to Congress members, which noted, “Tribes and tribal entities have patiently participated in the political process, but recognizing the urgency of these pressing issues, we are now increasing our call for congressional action.” The letter said, too, that tribes expect Congress to “act in a timely manner” on issues of tribal sovereignty and governance. A Carcieri fix, supported by the Obama administration even when Democrats were in control of both congressional chambers, has already been stalled for over two years and counting.

Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of NCAI, told Becerra that tribes have long worked hard to make economic progress and to be efficient in their spending of federal dollars. “We’re a good investment,” she said. In response, Becerra urged that Indian country needs to be able to specifically show how infrastructure investments have been working.

Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, said later in the session that federal investment in trust responsibility is more complex than just talking macro-budget level issues. “The super committee needs to be talking about trust responsibility and what can be done to enhance tribal economies” to, in turn, bolster the overall U.S. economy, Cromwell said. He noted that investments in tribes do much more than just help tribal communities, but also the localities and states that the tribes are in. Plus, tribes enjoy a legal status that can make certain investments easier, he noted.

Some tribal leaders said that a summit with Congress members, similar to the two White House mass tribal meetings held to date with President Barack Obama, would be useful. Under such a scenario, tribal leaders could educate specific Congress members on trust responsibility and other Indian issues that they may not be intimately familiar with. Keel expressed support, saying, “That’s exactly what we need” in response to the idea. A motion was presented for NCAI and the United South and Eastern Tribes to make it happen.

On Carcieri, John Dossett, NCAI’s general counsel, noted that a fix has been stalled in Congress for over two years, and the land-into-trust picture remains murky for tribes, especially given a recent D.C. Circuit Court ruling that found that the Quiet Title Act does not protect Indian lands. He said that the combined decisions “threaten all tribes.” Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, agreed, saying in remarks that one of his legislative priorities remains amending the Indian Reorganization Act to make clear that the U.S. Department of the Interior can take land into trust for tribes regardless of when they were recognized by the federal government. “It is the responsibility of Congress to fix this,” he said.

Beyond specific issues, many tribal leaders spent some time during NCAI’s “Unity Week” pondering what exactly it means to be united. On the topic, Keel said during his opening remarks that, “Together we can make a difference; individually we will continue to struggle.” Akaka agreed, saying in his remarks that, “By working together, you are demonstrating what we Native people have always knows—we are more alike than we are different.”

But it is not always so easy to present a united front, Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo Nation, later told the group, expressing his view that sometimes the ideas of what he called “smaller tribes” appear usurp the will of the larger tribes, like his own. “We need to support each other,” he said, adding that his tribe plans on building a United Nations-like entity of Indian governments to be hosted on Navajo lands.

Hiawatha Brown, a tribal councilman for the Narragansett Indian Tribe, touched on the complications of unity via an impromptu talk to his peers, lamenting that many did not support his tribe in its battle involving Carcieri until it was too late—after the Supreme Court had ruled, impacting all of Indian country for the worse. “We had been fighting for years, but it is only in the last two that you all have come to support us,” he said. “Collectively, many of our tribal leaders have become complacent…. There are only about 150 people in this room,” he added. “That’s pathetic!” he said, noting that there are over 500 tribes throughout the country. With that, he called for prayer.

Akaka: ‘It Is the Responsibility of Congress To Set Carcieri Right’

The Obama administration’s head of Indian affairs told a Senate committee that fixing the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling on Indian trust lands is the “top priority” among Indian issues.

Interior Department’s Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk urged the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to encourage Congress to quickly pass a bill amending the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) to affirm the Interior secretary’s authority to take land into trust for all federally acknowledged Indian tribes.

Such a bill would reverse the Supreme Court’s 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar ruling, which stripped the secretary of authority to take land into trust for tribes for tribes not “under federal jurisdiction” in June 1934 when the IRA was passed. “This is the top priority that we’re talking about,” Echo Hawk said. “It goes right to the heart of the trust responsibility of the United States.”

Echo Hawk and several witnesses testified at a standing room only hearing October 13, called the “Carcieri Crisis: the Ripple Effect on Jobs, Economic Development and Public Safety in Indian Country.” After numerous hearings, round tables and listening session on Carcieri, the subject is not new to Congress or Indian Country, SCIA Chairman Sen. Daniel Akaka said.

“Following the Carcieri decision, tribal leaders, legal scholars, and administration officials predicted that the ruling would lead to an increase in litigation in Indian country, make it more difficult for tribes to develop economic opportunities to benefit their members and surrounding communities and create confusion regarding pubic jurisdiction,” Akaka said. “I believe it is the responsibility to set this right.”

In the Carcieri decision, the majority of Supreme Court justices ruled that the Interior secretary could not take 31 acres of land into trust for the Narragansett Indian Tribe, which intended to use the property for elders’ housing, because the tribe was not federally recognized in 1934. They interpreted the word “now” in “now under federal jurisdiction” to mean then in 1934 rather than “as of now” going forward. The witnesses talked about the damaging impacts the ruling will continue to without a “Carcieri fix.”

Rep. Thomas Cole (R-Okla.) said that whether or not a tribe signed onto the 1934 legislation “bears no relation on whether a tribe existed at that time or not. Many tribes in existence in that year were wary of the federal government, and for good reason.”

He said Carcieri creates two classes of Indian tribes – those that can have trust land and those that cannot. “This two class system is unacceptable and it is unconscionable for Congress not to act to correct the law as the Supreme Court interpreted it in the Carcieri decision.”

Cole, Chickasaw Nation, is the only indigenous legislator in Congress. Echo Hawk described how trust land is the foundation of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. It provides economic development opportunities in housing, energy and natural resources development, helps offset high unemployment rates, and protects subsistence hunting and agriculture that are important elements of tribal culture and ways of life, he said. The Carcieri ruling has led to increased litigation about tribal status, causing extra stress on the department’s limited human and budgetary resources. “Without the enactment of legislation, the Department, Indian tribes, and the courts will continue to face this burdensome process,” he said.

Echo Hawk also debunked the misperception that the IRA’s trust provisions have much to do with gaming. Of the last 541 trust land applications, 89 were for housing, 191 for agriculture, 47 for economic development projects, 211 for tribal infrastructure such as tribal offices, health and child care centers, habitat restoration, and law enforcement and justice department projects.

“And how many were for gaming out of 541? Three,” Echo Hawk said. “Not to dismiss the importance of gaming, but this is not about gaming.” Richard Guest, a staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, called Carcieri a “judicially-created crisis” that needs a prompt and clear legislative fix to begin repairing the damage and uncertainty it has already wrought. “For over 70 years the Department of the Interior applied an interpretation that ‘now’ means at the time of application and has formed entire Indian reservations and authorized numerous tribal constitutions and business organizations under the IRA. Now, there are serious questions being raised about the effect on long settled actions, as well as on future decisions,” Guest said.

Carcieri’s “ripple effects” will not only impact tribal economic development opportunities, but also eliminate revenue for state and local governments, and destroy jobs for both Indians and non-Indians, he said. And the ruling has “opened the floodgates to frivolous litigation” such as Patchak v. Salazar, which is now pending before the Supreme Court on two petitions for writ of certiorari.

Sen. Tim Johnson (D- S.D.) said the Carcieri ruling could have far-reaching negative impacts on tribes in South Dakota, “not only on their culture, but on economic development and public safety. I support a clean fix to this issue both as a standalone measure and as an amendment.”

His statements clarified that Carcieri impacts tribes all over the country and not just in the east, as some people have claimed. Colette Routel, an assistant professor of Law at William Mitchell College of Law, highlighted two impacts that Carcieri has had: it has generated a large number of frivolous challenges to trust acquisitions and it’s created the kind of uncertainty that will prevent access to capital for many types of economic development projects.

Even tribes that were thought to be safe, such as the Fond du Lac Band of Superior Chippewa and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, both of which voted to accept the application of the IRA a few months after it passed in 1934, are embroiled in litigation, Routel said. Rosebud’s trust application includes sacred sites in the Black Hills that are threatened by development. “While that land remains in fee status it is not protected. And the surrounding areas are quickly being developed. If a company sought to construct power lines or a pipeline, say the Keystone pipeline across the property, state or federal eminent domain power could be used to take a right of way destroying sacred sites. If this land was in trust, consent would be needed,” Routel said.

No one knows what “under federal jurisdiction means,” said Willaim Lomax, president of the Native American Finance Officers Association, because “no one ever interpreted the IRA the way Carcieri court did“ and neither the courts nor the Interior Department have agreed on a definition. “You do not need a business degree to understand that banks and other investors are hesitant to lend money where they perceive risk,” Lomax said.

Already fewer and fewer “reputable” lending institutions and private investors are willing to take the risk of lending money to a tribe that might find itself outside of the Carcieri’s new “under federal jurisdiction” test, Lomax said. “Of all of the hurdles to economic development and job creation in Indian Country, the uncertainty caused by Carcieri should be the easiest and most straightforward hurdle that can be removed. NAFOA and its members urge the Congress to act as swiftly as possible to make clear that the benefits of the Indian Reorganization Act apply equally to all federally recognized tribes,” he said.

Tribal Leaders Gather in D.C. to Protect Indians from Budget-Slashing

Hundreds of tribal leaders, according to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), traveled to the nation’s capital in mid-October to present a united front to Congress on a variety of issues important to Indian country—most prominent among them is protecting Native programs from cuts, given the dire budgetary situation.

The three-day gathering, hosted by the NCAI, culminated October 11 in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building with a sometimes-tense strategy session. Among the issues discussed were protecting the Indian affairs federal budget; securing a congressional Carcieri fix to the land-into-trust mess created by the Supreme Court in 2009; and best practices for uniting the divergent interests of 565 unique federally recognized tribes. Ideas for preventing violence toward Indian women were also discussed.

Tribal leaders are apprehensive about the federal budget because they know lawmakers are desperately seeking to cut funding to a variety of programs in an attempt to make up the large budget shortfall. Tribal leaders feel that some uninformed Congress members do not understand how much good comes from the funding for tribal programs—and how much more is needed. “There is still an effort to do away with [federal] trust responsibility for tribes,” said Jefferson Keel, president of NCAI, in a speech kicking off the session. He was referring to proposals released this year by some Republican lawmakers to slash funding to Indians—without regard to their unique constitutional- and law-based status, which is supposed to protect them.

Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-California, a member of the all-important congressional “super committee” charged with finding an additional $1.5 trillion in debt savings over a 10-year period, told tribal leaders that there is “nothing like pressing the flesh” to be sure they are heard. “Make sure you explain how much folks where you live have sacrificed,” he said.

Most of the tribal leaders visited congressional offices throughout Capitol Hill to do just that—with talking points in hand. Their main messages were highlighted in a letter sent from NCAI members, which noted that “[tribes] and tribal entities have patiently participated in the political process, but recognizing the urgency of these pressing issues, we are now increasing our call for congressional action.” The letter also said that tribes expect Congress to “act in a timely manner” on issues of tribal sovereignty and governance. A Carcieri fix, supported by the Obama administration back when Democrats were in control of both congressional chambers, has now been stalled for over two years.

Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of NCAI, told Becerra that tribes have long worked hard to make economic progress and to be efficient in their spending of federal dollars. “We’re a good investment,” she said. Becerra said Indian country needs to be able to specifically show how infrastructure investments have been working.

Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, said later in the session that federal investment in trust responsibility is more complex than just talking macro–budget level issues. “The super committee needs to be talking about trust responsibility and what can be done to enhance tribal economies” to, in turn, bolster the overall U.S. economy, Cromwell said. He noted that investments in tribes do much more than just help tribal communities, but also the localities and states that the tribes are in.

Some tribal leaders said that a summit with congressional members, similar to the two White House tribal meetings with President Barack Obama, would be useful. Tribal leaders could educate members of Congress on trust responsibility and other Indian issues that they may not be intimately familiar with. Keel expressed support for this, and a motion was presented for the NCAI and the United South and Eastern Tribes to make it happen.

On Carcieri, John Dossett, NCAI’s general counsel, noted that the land-into-trust picture remains murky for tribes, especially since a fix is stalled in Congress and a recent D.C. Circuit Court ruling found that the Quiet Title Act does not protect Indian lands. He said that this situation “threatens all tribes.” Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, agreed, saying that one of his legislative priorities remains amending the Indian Reorganization Act to make clear that the U.S. Department of the Interior can take land into trust for tribes regardless of when they were recognized by the federal government. “It is the responsibility of Congress to fix this,” he said.

An idea that seemed to be on everyone’s mind during NCAI’s Unity Week was what exactly it means to be united. On the topic, Keel said during his opening remarks that “together we can make a difference; individually we will continue to struggle.” Akaka agreed, adding, “By working together, you are demonstrating what we Native people have always known—we are more alike than we are different.”

But it is not always so easy to present a united front, Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo Nation, later told the group, expressing his view that sometimes the ideas of what he called “smaller tribes” appear to be in opposition to the will of the larger tribes, such as his own. “We need to support each other,” he said, adding that his tribe plans on building a United Nations–like entity of Indian governments to be hosted on Navajo lands.

Hiawatha Brown, a tribal councilman for the Narragansett Indian Tribe, touched on the complications of presenting a united front via an impromptu talk to his peers, lamenting that many did not support his tribe in its battle involving Carcieri until it was too late—after the Supreme Court had ruled in a way that hurt all of Indian country. “We had been fighting for years…but it is only in the last two years that you all have come to support us,” he said. “Collectively, many of our tribal leaders have become complacent.… There are only about 150 people in this room,” he added. “That’s pathetic!” he said, noting that there are more than 500 tribes throughout the country. “There are hundreds of thousands of us, how can our voices not be heard?”
With that, he called for prayer.

2011: Leaders Place New Emphasis on Indian Perspective

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), and the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) all shared the same overlapping concerns in 2011 – the priory of seeking land restoration through a “clean Carcieri fix,” the four “e’s” – economic development, education, energy, and the environment – taxation issues, Internet gaming, and the perennial concern with protecting sovereignty. But a different tone entered the discourse in 2011 as leaders began to place a new emphasis on seeing and addressing issues and relationships from an Indian perspective – a perspective detailed in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On January 27, NCAI President Jefferson Keel, Chickasaw Nation, delivered the State of the Indian Nations address in which he touched on the growing assertion of Indian rights – a theme that was restated in different contexts by both NIGA and USET leadership. “I’m pleased to report that the state of Indian nations is strong and driven by a new momentum. We stand at the beginning of a new era for Indian country and for tribal relations with the United States,” Keel said. “Previous eras were defined by what the federal government chose to do – the Indian removal period when tribes were forcibly removed from their homelands to reservations, the reorganization and termination eras, the allotment era, even the more recent promise of the self determination era. But this new era is defined by what we as Indian nations choose to do for ourselves.” Keel went on to suggest names for the new era: the Era of Recognition, the Era of Responsibilities or of Promises Kept. “Whatever it is called, it brings us closer than ever to the true Constitutional relationship between the United States and Indian nations,” he said.

Less than a week later, USET President Brian Patterson, Oneida Indian Nation, presented his vision to Indian Country Today Media Network of what the new relationship should be. The goal is to redefine and reshape the trust relationship between the U.S. and Indian nations based on the nations’ inherent sovereignty and equality so that the relationship works—as it should—for Indian people, Patterson said. The first step is to redefine the trust relationship from an Indian perspective, he said. “This current game is not our game,” Patterson said of the politic system that dominates Indian country. “We’re spending money and resources hand over fist on lawyers and lawsuits and what not, but it’s not our game and we’re losing it.”

Patterson talked about an important moment in his life when he realized the importance of language and the fact that the Indigenous Peoples of the U.S. are shaped and dominated by a language that’s not their own. “I realized I had been living my entire life under the context of terminology—domestic dependent nations—that’s used throughout this country, but it’s not our terminology or our definition,” Patterson said. The term “domestic dependent nations” not only defines the trust relationship between the federal government and the 565 federally acknowledged Indian nations on Turtle Island, it also demarcates the boundaries of Indian sovereignty and self determination, and prevents the nations from realizing their full potential, Patterson said.“This is no time to be timid in Indian country,” he said. “There’s a need to engage in a discussion about identifying areas of the failed trust responsibility, about building a platform that will allow Indian country to define self-determination and the trust relationship as we see best, as we see the value of it—and then advance it.” The work has already begun in partnership with the National Congress of American Indians, Patterson said. Will USET ultimately challenge Congress’ assumed plenary power over Indians? “Absolutely,” Patterson said.

In discussions over the hot button issue of proposals to legalize and control Internet gaming, NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr., Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, spoke about the federal government’s obligation to protect the economic benefits and revenues that Indian gaming provides tribal governments to deliver services to their citizens. NIGA developed a series of guiding principles for federal Internet gaming legislation that would, among other things, provide positive economic benefits for Indian country. “This principle requires the United States to acknowledge its Constitutional, treaty and trust obligations to Indian tribes as well as the significant stake that tribal governments have in the existing gaming industry. To meet this principle, federal legislation legalizing Internet gaming must set-aside and dedicate funding to meet the significant unmet needs of tribal communities. . . .[T}ribal governments ceded and had taken hundreds of millions of acres of tribal homelands to help build this Nation. In return, the U.S. promised to provide for the education, health, safety and welfare of Indian people. These solemn promises have not been kept,” Stevens reminded the government at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing November 17.

All three organizations continued efforts to get Congress to pass a “clean Carcieri fix” that would assert the Interior Secretary’s authority to take land into trust for all federally acknowledged Indian nations, “fixing” the disastrous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar. Their efforts were unsuccessful as the third anniversary of the ruling approaches on February 24.

There were a few successes this year, including Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk’s announcement in November of what they called a “sweeping reform of federal surface leasing regulations for American Indian lands that will streamline the approval process for home ownership, expedite economic development and spur renewable energy development in Indian country” – a move that tribal organizations and nations had requested for decades. “The lease regulation reform was a step in the right direction,” said NCAI spokesman Thom Wallace. “It’s not seen as a final produce and work on energy legislation is something we continue to this day.”

In other issues, USET took the lead on developing an Intertribal Tax Initiative involving national and regional organizations working together “to defend and promote tribal sovereignty, nation-building and economic development.” The project’s short term and long term goals and proposed actions for 2012 are described here. And in August, NCAI took a principled stand against the proposed Keystone Pipeline project, issuing a resolution that said, in part that the pipeline “would threaten, among other things, water aquifers, water ways, cultural sites, agricultural lands, animal life, public drinking water sources and other resources vital to the peoples of the region in which the pipeline is proposed to be constructed.”

In October, dozens of tribal leaders gathered in Washington during Tribal Unity Impact Week – an event co-hosted by NCAI, USET and almost a dozen other organizations — to present a united front to Congress on an array of issues impacting Indian country. Part of the discussion involved exploring exactly what it means to be united. Keel said that, “Together we can make a difference; individually we will continue to struggle.” But Hiawatha Brown, a Narragansett Indian Tribe councilman, lamented that other tribes failed to support the Narragansett’s battle involving Carcieri until it was too late. “We had been fighting for years, but it is only in the last two that you all have come to support us,” he said. “Collectively, many of our tribal leaders have become complacent…. There are only about 150 people in this room.  That’s pathetic!” he said, noting that there are more than 500 tribes throughout the country. With that, he called for prayer.

2011’s Memorable Quotes: Good and Bad Part 3

Every year Indian country is filled with leaders, politicians, broadcasters and talking heads provide memorable quotes for anyone listening to catch. Some ignorant, some out of touch, and some commendable. Indian Country Today Media Network has compiled a list of quotes that we will break down into three parts, Perceptions, Politics, and On The Past, the Present, the Future, that will be shared over the New Year’s weekend.

On the Past, the Present, the Future

“I remember the chaos. I remember bullets whizzing through the windows.”—Jessica Lynch, recalling the circumstances of her capture during the Gulf War and the heroism of her fellow soldier, Lori Piestewa who was killed in the attack.

“I had no one to turn to, not even God, because God’s representative on Earth was the one hurting me.”—Howard Wanna, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, in discussing the sexual abuse he remembers while attending a South Dakota boarding school.

“All those people burning and jumping out. Oh, I felt it.”—Les Albany, former World Trade Center worker, reflecting ten years later on the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

“We want to make sure that our way of life is not destroyed.”—Chief Roger Wesley, Constance Lake First Nation of the Matawa First Nations, lobbying for the Canadian government to change their environmental assessment plans for a massive chromite mine in the resource-rich Ring of Fire in Northern Ontario.

“Apathy is killing us with what we are eating now.”—Jamescita Peshlakai, making a case for American Indians to turn to the principles of the ‘Paleolithic Diet.’
“We’re going to try to make sure that all you kids grow up healthy, knowing what to eat, knowing how to exercise”—First Lady Michelle Obama to Native American children attending an event at the White House in June.

“Elouise will always be remembered by me as a woman who fought the battle many of us didn’t know how to fight, and she did it with integrity despite the bullets to her chest and the arrows in her back. She will be remembered as the one and only modern-day female warrior who honored all those individual land owners who passed before her.”—Jackie Trotchie, a friend of Cobell’s and an Indian advocate in Montana, upon Cobell’s death from cancer in October.

“Andrew Jackson was a total complete bastard! Some Native people refuse to use twenty dollar bills because of his face on it.” –Donna Loring, a Vietnam veteran, former representative for the Penobscot Indian Nation to the Maine legislature, and author of In the Shadow of the Eagle: A Tribal Representative in Maine, expressing her astonishment at the government’s use of Jackson as a legal precedent.

“I’m in everybody else’s books. It was never a priority to me (to have my poems published in book form). It was important to get my work out and there are other ways to do that, so I’ve been in a lot of journals and newspapers and anthologies. A lot of them are community poems written to serve the people and give people a way to articulate certain kinds of issues. Books have not been my choice of outlet. They take too long.” – Suzan Shown Harjo in talking about the work she has done throughout her career earlier this year with ICTMN.

“It really is a crisis. We are in a third-world situation.”—Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence on the substandard housing in her community that has put many people at risk as the onslaught of winter approaches.

Indian gaming should be an American success story of an impoverished people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and addressing the social and economic needs of their people. Instead it’s painted as a special interest, with so many negative connotations. I’m sure Indian country would rather do something else, but gaming has proved to be the sole source of major economic development to lift up and build economies in Indian country.”—Brian Patterson, President of United South and Eastern Tribes discussing what gaming has meant to Indian country as a whole.

“We’re doing exactly what Tecumseh said we’d do 150 years ago – we’re splintering and each going our own way. What’s most important here is we’re losing the narrative, we’re losing our ability to tell our story, and pretty soon we’ll just become like Las Vegas – commercial gaming – because it’s becoming about the money. We need to be reminded that when you do something, it’s not just about you. Everyone in this room knows what’s the right thing to do about Carcieri. The question is will you do it?”—Lobbyist and activist Tom Rodgers on those lobbying against a clean Carcieri fix.

“Anytime tribal nations had something of value, someone was waiting in the wings to take it away from us!”—James C. Ramos, chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, discussing the paradox of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in its almost 25 years of existence.

“The per capita income of American Indians on reservations has been growing approximately three times more rapidly than the United States as a whole since the early 1990s…”—Kennedy School of Government Report

“I would hope that at some point OWS announces that it seeks, among other things, a true-cost ‘global market’ in which we incorporate real costs of continuing down the oil-slicked road and further engaging the carbon economy.”—ICTMN columnist Chase Iron Eyes on the potential for Occupy Wall Street to empower real change.

USET Tribes Talk Up VAWA, Carcieri, Budget, Voting and More at Tribal Unity Impact Week in Washington

Indigenous leaders from around the country joined colleagues from the United South and Eastern Tribes in Washington, D.C., for the annual Tribal Unity Impact week.

The United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) in partnership with the National Congress of American Indians hosted the annual gathering, which took place this year during the week of September 17. The goal of Tribal Unity Impact Week is to educate members of Congress on the issues that are crucial to American Indians. This year’s top concerns are land restoration, protection for Native women against violence and abuse, a legislative fix for the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous Carcieri v. Salazar ruling, the federal government’s Indian budget, and emergency response action. Other issues topping the USET/NCAI agenda include the confirmation of Kevin Washburn as the Interior Department’s next Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, Native voting and vote identification, economic development and housing.

USET President Brian Patterson acknowledged in a press release issued September 19 that change in Washington is slow and reminded tribal leaders of their responsibility not only to the current generation but also to future generations. “Every time we come here we take food and resources from our people to see very little resolved. I am reminded that this is the work of legacy,” Patterson said. “What will our children see from our work here? Will we protect our land, our women, and resources to take care of our people? We need to hold each other accountable and let’s advance this legacy work. We are small but strong,” Patterson said.

USET is a non-profit, inter-tribal organization that collectively represents and advocates for its 26 member tribes at the regional and national level through workgroups and committees, and provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and information amongst tribes, agencies and governments. USET tribes are located in the eastern part of the continent.

A briefing session took place on the morning of September 19 at the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing Room. Various tribal leaders and non-government organizations scheduled meetings with members of Congress to provide education on the state of affairs in Indian country and discuss why certain provisions, amendments, and laws are needed. This is what the leaders were talking about:

A Carcieri Fix: The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 2009 said that the Interior Department secretary could only take land into trust under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) for tribes that were “under Federal jurisdiction” in 1934, without defining the term. The ruling creates the risk of having two classes of tribes – those with trust land and those without trust land. Three bills – S.676, H.R. 1234, and H.R. 1291 – have been introduced to fix devastating impacts of the Carcieri decision. “Failure to address the Secretary’s authority to place land into trust for all federally recognized tribes will lead to decades of costly federal litigation, threats to reservation public safety, and further harm to tribal economies. It would also erode the federal trust responsibility, which is founded in the Constitution and includes a federal commitment to support Indian tribes seeking to take land into trust for a wide range of social, cultural, and economic purposes necessary to the well-being and growth of their communities. Passing the proposed legislation comes at no cost to the federal taxpayer and will save federal dollars by putting a stop to potentially decades of costly litigation,” Patterson said in his press release.

The press release quotes Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), who has made a Carcieri fix a priority. Akaka says, “We need a clear fix for Carcieri. We are looking at a real struggle in the next four years in Indian country, regardless of who goes into the White House. We have the poorest of the poor in this country.” The damage caused by Congress’s failure to fix Carcieri has been compounded by the high court’s ruling in June in Patchak v. Salazar, which allows anyone to challenge trust acquisitions under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) even if the land was already permanently in trust. “Patchak would not exist if Congress had passed a Carcieri Fix,” Patterson said.

The Stafford Act: The Stafford Act of 1988 gives the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), states, and local units of government the ability to receive assistance in the wake of disasters, but does not recognize American Indian tribes and Alaska Native communities as sovereign governments authorized or eligible to directly request a disaster declaration for an emergency or disaster. This makes each tribe dependent on the state(s) for disaster assistance from FEMA. FEMA and American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives have been working to support bills in the Senate (S. 2283) and House (H.R. 2903); amendments in the two bills will offer the option for federally recognized Indian tribes to make direct requests for emergency or disaster declarations by the President of the United States.

Resolving the issues presented in the current Stafford Act begins with the definition of a tribe according, to FEMA Chief Counsel Brad Kiserman. “The Stafford Act is the nation’s pre-eminent disaster response and recovery legislation. It is the law under which vast amounts of natural and other disasters in this country are dealt with in terms of what services are available, what funds are available, and what federal programs can be made available once the President issues the declaration. [The current Stafford Act] defines tribes as local governments. That is so 17th century it is just ludicrous, frankly. We think that from a pure philosophical view tribes are not local governments. They are co-equal sovereigns. It seems to us that the pre-eminent disaster legislation ought to reflect that.”

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization: New VAWA legislation would authorize tribes to arrest and prosecute anyone accused of domestic violence, sexual assault or abuse. Statistics show that almost 40 percent of all American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped, assaulted or abused in their lifetime. Over half of American Indian women have non-Indian husbands. Those living on tribal trust land with non-enrolled spouses or partners and are victimized by domestic violence generally have no legal recourse or justice. Well-documented cases show tribal police officers and courts have no jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators. Federal, state, and local courts have no jurisdiction since the crimes occur on tribal property or the cases are never prosecuted.

Congressional representatives at the Tribal Unity Impact Week briefing agreed that there is support and enough votes to pass S. 1925 in the House. One of the challenges has been a House of Representatives bill (H.R. 4970) that has been introduced to reauthorize VAWA, but it excludes key tribal jurisdiction provisions included in the Senate version of that bill, which protects Native women who are abused by non-Indian relations.

The Indian Budget: Senators and representatives at the Tribal Unity Impact Week briefing spoke of possible shortfalls in funding for tribal programs as a result of tax and automatic spending cuts, which are due to expire at the end of 2012 and are not being addressed. The Congressional Budget Office has been issuing warnings that doing nothing will cause another recession. Under the Budget Control Act, most programs will suffer drastic cuts of more than eight percent across the board in January 2013. The impact could be detrimental to Indian programs.

National lawmakers are working to avoid a “fiscal cliff” which is a series of deadlines for the tax and spending cuts, according to Minnesota Fourth District Representative Betty McCollum. (This process is commonly known as sequestration.) “We need to start setting the table for what is going to happen after the election. We have passed a continuing resolution, which is going to take us through until next year. The good news is you can do a little bit of planning. The bad news is that sequester is still out there looming. What the sequester has in cuts across the board it will take in no urgencies and no priorities,” McCollum told tribes.

Patterson said there is still more work that needs to be completed on each of these issues. “The legacy of our future generations and accountability are things to have in mind and heart going forward,” Patterson said. He said that unity is key for success in Indian country. “That’s the way we must go forward today to address this platform with unity in principle, unity in conviction, unity of one mind, one heart, one voice. And we must hold each other accountable,” Patterson told tribal leaders.

Patterson: USET’s Leaders Using ‘The Good Mind’ to Build a Legacy

During the United South and Eastern Tribes’ upcoming annual meeting, two students from member tribes will be honored for their participation last summer in a program at Vanderbilt University that will help them realize their dream careers in science and medicine.

USET and Vanderbilt partnered to sponsor Taloa Berg, a senior at Choctaw Central High School in Mississippi, and Nicodemus Bushyhead, a junior at Cherokee High School in North Carolina, in the Aspirnaut Program, a six-week internship program for students with dreams of succeeding careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The two students and a presentation about the USET-Vanderbilt initiative are at the top of the agenda after the opening ceremonies on Tuesday, October 9 – the first day of the annual meeting. The meeting will run through Friday, October 12, and is held this year at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

Supporting the education of these outstanding students is a fine example of how the collective leadership of USET is using the good mind to create a legacy for future leaders and Indian country, USET President Brian Patterson told Indian Country Today Media Network. “USET has experienced much success, however, there’s much more for USET and Indian country to do – and it’s all in pursuit of the advancement of true sovereignty and self determination to secure our future. That’s the sole focus,” Patterson said. The task at hand is to use the good mind to get there. “I really compliment my USET leadership for their courage and strength, and during this next annual meeting we’ll begin to identify the visioning and the strategic path forward,” he said.

LO RES FEA Photo USET Water Brian Patterson copy 270x411 Patterson: USET’s Leaders Using ‘The Good Mind’ to Build a Legacy

USET President Brian Patterson

When Patterson, a citizen and council member of the Oneida Indian Nation, talks about the good mind, he’s referring to a specific Haudenosaunee tradition that goes back thousands of years to when the Peacemaker brought a message of peace and unity to the warring Haudenosaunee nations—the Oneida, Seneca, Onondaga, Mohawk, and Cayuga. (The Tuscarora nation joined later.) The good mind is “a discipline, rather than just a description of a person’s state of mind,” says Onondaga Nation citizen Frieda Jacques. “The good mind recognizes that we are connected to the good, that we have access to a loving source of good thoughts. With discipline we can become aware of each thought, see its substance, realize its intent and then determine if we should follow and build on that thought.”

The good mind is needed more than ever now as Indian country faces so many challenges, Patterson said. ”While there have been advances in Indian country, during our last USET meeting our general counsel in making a presentation to the board of directors used the metaphor of being on the Titanic to describe the position of Indian country. Our challenge as an organization is to take a proactive aggressive approach to prevent a disaster and the destruction of the core principles of sovereignty,” Patterson said. “We see the writing on the wall – sequestration cuts to the budget, impediments to economic development from (the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in) Carcieri and Patchak, land uncertainty, ever increasing encroachment on sovereignty with taxation efforts. These issues are not resolved and they are significant barriers and challenges in Indian country nation building and re-establishing our homelands.”

Patterson said. “We need the good mind at the table to forge solutions to these issues.”

All of those issues and more will be discussed at USET’s annual meeting next week. The agenda at the general assembly on the first day includes: Legislative Update – a Senate Perspective with Loretta Tuell, staff director and chief counsel of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; comprehensive Tax reform Panel discussion with Richard Litsey, counsel and senior advisor on Indian Affairs for the Senate Finance Committee, Dante Desiderio, executive director of the Native American Finance Officers Association, F. Michael Willis, a partner in the firm Hobbs, Straus, Dean, & Walker, and Derrick Beetso, staff attorney for the National Congress of American Indians. The Interior Department’s Solicitors Office will provide a perspective on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Patchak ruling. USET’s dozen committees will also meeting. They are culture and heritage, social services, economic development and entrepreneurship, transportation, education, tribal administration, health, tribal emergency services, housing, tribal justice, natural resources, and veterans affairs.

Patterson was quick to point out that Indian country has had some significant victories, such as the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership (HEARTH) Act, which allows tribes to enter into certain surface leases without prior expressed approval of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, promising to speed up a bureaucratic process long considered broken. President Obama signed the HEARTH Act into law on July 30. “The challenge now for Indian country is to identify how to realize the full potential of the Act,” Patterson said.

Patterson speaks often of USET’s motto – “Because there is strength in unity” – an approach that embodies the good mind, he said. An example of that strength took place during the recent Tribal Unity Impact Week, a collaboration between USET and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). Patterson said, that the tribes’ unified approach yielded good results: By the end of the week, the House of Representatives had passed the FEMA Reauthorization Act of 2012, which includes tribal amendments to the Stafford Act, and the Senate had confirmed the nomination of Kevin Washburn, Dean of the University of New Mexico’s School of Law, as the Interior Department’s new Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs. NCAI President Jefferson Keel noted that “[t]he unified efforts of tribal leaders and advocates [the week of September 17] brought an immediate impact and offers encouraging signs for our remaining priorities.” Patterson said the unified efforts are another example of the good mind. “I think it’s a common approach whether it’s realized or not.”

USET will hold its biannual elections during its annual meeting this year and Patterson is making a pitch for re-election, not only for himself, but also for the other officers – Vice President Randy Noka, Treasurer Penobscot Indian Nation Chief Kirk Francis, and Secretary Brenda W. Lintinger – because they are such an effective team, he said. “For the first time in USET’s 44 year history, we have an annual report. And we developed a one-year strategic plan for goals and objectives, but I need to push that measure even further and if I’m re-elected I‘ll establish a long-range three-to-five year strategic plan based on our tribal nations’ priorities as well as a visioning document that reflects what we need to be successful.”

Being successful means “finding solutions proactively and aggressively” to today’s issues in order to building a legacy for future generations, Patterson said. “Our duty and responsibility is to make a place for those children that are still to come into the world,” Patterson said. “I think it’s time for Indian country once again to dream the dream that our fathers and mothers dared to dream – the one that allowed our generation to advance on the path of sovereignty and self determination.”