November 12, 2011

Spirit of AIM Inspires USET Meeting

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The United South and Eastern Tribes called on the revolutionary spirit of the American Indian Movement to inspire its annual meeting in early November.

USET President Brian Patterson told the gathering of tribal leaders November 8 that a group from among them would sing the AIM song. “It will take the place of the morning prayer,” Patterson said.

Cedric Cromwell, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe chairman, introduced the song with a brief history of the AIM movement. “The American Indian Movement is a Native American organization in the United States, founded in 1968 in Minneapolis by urban Native Americans,” Cromwell read from a prepared statement. “The national AIM agenda focuses on spirituality, leadership, and sovereignty. AIM was founded in 1968 by Dennis Banks , George Mitchell, Herb Powless, Clyde Bellecourt, Harold Goodsky, Eddie Benton-Banai, and a number of others in Minneapolis’s Native American community. Russell Means born Oglala Lakota, was an early leader in 1970s protests.”

The spirit of AIM lives on, Cromwell said. “Just to share with you that the AIM is still alive and well today and we’re going to sing the AIM song representing that movement that we all partake in today, that continues to move our people forward and advances Indian country to be a strong sovereign in today’s world.”

Joining in the song were Hiawatha Brown, Narragansett Indian Tribal council member, who offered tobacco for the prayer/song; Mark Harding, Mashpee Wampanoag treasurer; and Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright, Shinnecock Indian Nation Representatives.

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November 14, 2011

Political Forecast: Continued Stormy Weather

Here’s something to ponder: The congressional and presidential election campaigns next year are likely to spend around $8 billion – more than the federal government’s budgeted amounts for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Indian Health Service (IHS), Indian education and Indian housing combined.

Here’s something else to think about: Sixty percent of the new senators and 40 percent of the new representatives elected in 2010 have personal wealth of $1 million or more.

Those factoids – awful or admirable, depending on one’s perspective – were just a few of the many attention-getting statistics in Eric Eberhard’s presentation, “Political Landscape Overview,” at the United South and Eastern Tribes annual meeting at Choctaw November 6 -10. Eberhard is a Distinguished Indian Law Practitioner in Residence at the Law School at Seattle University. He has been practicing Indian law since 1973 and has represented Indian tribes, organizations, individuals and entities doing business with Indian tribes in federal, state and tribal judicial, legislative and administrative forums. He is highly regarded throughout Indian country.

Eberhard analyzed elements of the 2010 elections and what is already known about the 2012 races to present an assessment of what’s ahead. “The 2010 elections really set the stage for what’s going to happen next year,” Eberhard said. “Obama called it a ‘shellacking,’” Oddly, despite the extent of the Republican victories in the House, Senate and at the state level in 2010, there was not major party realignment – voters continued to dislike both parties just about equally, Eberhard observed. But Republican voters continue to be more engaged in the process, which along with other facts is leading him to believe that what’s past may be prologue. “It’s the same phenomenon going on now as in 2010 except the gap is bigger; 58 percent of registered Republicans say they’ll vote; only 45 percent of registered Democrats say they’re going to vote. If it plays out that way, the Republican nominee is most likely the next president.”

The next president may appoint as many as four Supreme Court justices whose decisions affect everyone’s lives, Eberhard noted. The average retirement age on the court is 80; Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, now 75, were appointed by President Ronald Reagan. President Clinton appointed Justices Stephen Breyer, 73, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 78. President George H.W. Bush appointed Clarence Thomas to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall, the country’s first African American Supreme Court justice, who ended legal segregation in the United States and won victories breaking the color barrier in housing, transportation and voting. President George W. Bush appointed Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito to replace Justices William Reynquist and Sandra Day O’Connor, respectively. “If you think about the elections that occurred in that time period and how much the appointments might have gone differently with different presidents, you can see the power involved here,” Eberhard said.

Democrats went into the 2010 House elections with a 77-seat advantage – 255 to 178 Republican seats – and came out with a 49-seat loss – 193 Democrat-held seats to 242 Republican seats. Going into the 2010 elections, Democrats had 57 Senate seats, Republicans had 41, and Independents had two. Now Democrats have 51 Senate seats, Republicans have 47 and Independents have two. What drove the 2010 elections? “Unemployment, the economy, anger at the government, the intensity of electors voting Republican – they turned out in large numbers. Thirty-three percent of those who voted in 2008 stayed home. That made a huge difference. Eighty percent of those who voted in 2010 were white and overwhelmingly old,” Eberhard said.

Additionally, women, who usually vote overwhelmingly Democrat, split their vote evenly between Republicans and Democrats. Forty-three percent fewer African Americans voted in 2010. Hispanics and young people turnout was down by almost 55 percent, Eberhard said

Another factor in the 2010 elections was the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission, Eberhard said. The controversial 5-4 ruling granting “personhood” and First Amendment rights to corporations said the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. The ruling resulted in a flood of funding for independent expenditure campaigns. Groups aligned with Republicans outspent groups aligned with Democrats by 2 to 1 and most of the groups were new organizations formed after 2008 with the intention of taking back Congress and the White House, Eberhard said. “One of the big changes was 60 percent of new senators and 40 percent of new House members have personal wealthy of $1 million or more. We’re coming to the point where you have to be a millionaire to run for office in this country,” Eberhard said.

The trend continues and these “non-profit” organizations are poised to spend even more money in 2012. “It’s quite likely in the congressional and race for the White House that you will see spending in the magnitude of $8 billion for 2012. Eight billion dollars. That’s more than the entire budget in 2012 for the BIA, IHS, Indian education and Indian housing,” Eberhard said.

Going into 2012, the polls are “terrible,” Eberhard said. Twenty-six percent of voters think the country is moving in the wrong direction. President Obama has a 41 percent approval rating. “No president has been reelected on that kind of a number in history,” Eberhard said. “Congress – this is just stunning – has a nine percent approval rating and 84 percent disapproval. Congress can’t be reelected under those kinds of numbers.”

Eberhard warned that voter suppression efforts will potentially impact Indian country. Voter laws have changed in 14 states making it more difficult for poor people and people of color to vote, he said. “Have your tribal lawyers check out what the voting laws are. Tribal IDs are not going to be sufficient. It’s not going to be sufficient to take in your utility bill. You’re going to have to have state-issued ID with your photo on it. This is all being controlled in state legislatures and state houses that are Republican,” Eberhard said. Legislators are shortening the period for early voting and tightening the rules for absentee ballots, “The bottom line is somewhere between one and five million people will be disenfranchised in 2012 because they won’t meet the new requirements, so it’s important to educate tribal citizens,” Eberhard said. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School said in a new report that the new restrictions will have the biggest impact on “young, minority and low-income voters, as well as voters with disabilities.” The report is available here.

During the discussion, Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter called for “a more balanced strategy” with regard to Indian country’s relationship with the political parties. “I feel as though we’re hurting ourselves by being so perceived as partisan for the Democrats. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican. I’m the president of my nation and my concern is the best interests of my people,” Porter said. “I’ve seen this for years that at the National Congress of American Indians and the USET level we’re too perceived as being in the pocket of the Democrats and we are largely written off when the time comes when we need Republican support. With the government divided the way it is now, we can’t afford to be so partisan.”

Porter reminded the group that it was Republic President Richard Nixon who ended the termination era. “If we go back to looking at people as people and not labels, overall that will always be the best solution,” Port said.

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December 31, 2011

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.

Read more @ Indian Country Today Media Network.com2011’s Memorable Quotes: Good and Bad Part 2 - ICTMN.com.

January 1, 2012

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.

Read more @ Indian Country Today Media Network.com2011’s Memorable Quotes: Good and Bad Part 3 - ICTMN.com.

August 2, 2012

USET’s Michael Bolt Appointed to National Ocean Council Governance Coordinating Committee

Michael Bolt, United South and Eastern Tribes’ water expert, has been appointed to President Barack Obama’s National Ocean Council Governance Coordinating Committee where he will be a new advocate and voice for eastern woodland Indigenous Peoples.

Bolt, who served on the USET’s Natural Resources Committee as secretary for three years and now as its chair, and who also chairs the organization’s Wastewater and Laboratory Analysts Certification Board, has been appointed by the president for a two year term.

Obama created the Cabinet-level national Ocean Council by Executive Order in July 2010, to coordinate ocean policy across the federal government. In February 2011, the council established the inter-governmental Governance Coordinating Committee (GCC) to serve as the key coordinating body on inter-jurisdictional ocean policy issues. The 18-member GCC members are selected from a pool of nominees submitted by state governors and tribal and local officials. The committee includes three at-large tribal representatives, one state representative from each of nine regional planning areas, one state legislative representative, two at-large representatives from inland states, and three local government officials from coastal states.

USET President Brian Patterson said in a media release that the organization was proud of Bolt’s appointment on the GCC. “USET works to improve the way of life in Indian country through economic development, health and medical programming, housing, emergency management, social services, and natural resources. All of those initiatives will be meaningless if we do not have a sound environment,” Patterson said. “We must be ready to address today’s issues and be prepared for the next seven generations. We believe Michael’s experience, education, and character will proudly serve Indian country. Our relationship with the federal government, our tribes, and community at large are paramount to accomplishing our goals at USET.”

Bolt is a seasoned technician, operator, analyst and manager of water treatment and wastewater treatment. Bolt has superlative knowledge and education on environmental and ecological systems and related issues. He worked as a wastewater operator in the southeast United States for more than 20 years. He earned a Higher National Diploma (the equivalent of a master’s degree) in public administration from Wiltshire Technical College in England and has almost completed postgraduate studies in environmental law and management at the University of Wales.

In addition to his committee and board work with USET, Bolt serves as vice chair of the National Tribal Water Council and on the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf of Mexico’s Hypoxia Task Force.

“I think it’s a great honor to serve on the GCC because, hopefully, my experiences with the other committees will enhance the problem-solving capacity especially with regard to the tribal interests with the coastline being eroded in the manner it is in certain parts of the country,” Bolt said. “This is a big issue.”

The GCC is indeed charged with major environmental challenges: the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone, climate change, and the problems created by BP’s disastrous Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. “These are the kinds of issues that have such a detrimental effect on the wonderful resource we have out there,” Bolt said. “To me the Gulf of Mexico is like the cradle of life. That’s a resource well deserving of our protection.”

Several tribes in Alaska and USET tribes in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island are directly affected by variables in the ocean with some tribes experiencing extensive difficulties from erosion and pollution. All tribes will feel the direct effects of climate change that is brought about through rising ocean levels and an increase in water temperature, Bolt said. “The GCC works to make effective changes to legislation that will identify and implement solutions for these issues. My goal is to make sure that tribes are included in these processes and that they are consulted so their voice is at the table,” he said.

Bolt will serve with other committee members with expertise in environmental and oceanic issues. The National Ocean Policy establishes a cooperative planning process among federal, state, tribal, and local authorities, and solicits extensive input from the public and stakeholders for approaches that are tailored to the unique needs of each region. It is designed to foster communication among all levels of government, save taxpayer dollars by eliminating waste, and reduce the conflict and inefficiency resulting from various federal agencies implementing a maze of nearly 100 different laws, policies and regulations affecting the oceans.

USET Executive Director Kitcki Carroll said Bolt’s appointment to the National Ocean Council Governance Coordinating Council is important not just to USET tribes, but to all of Indian country. “We will continue to have a strong voice in shaping policy that will ultimately give definition to our communities,” Carroll said.

Founded in 1969, USET is a non-profit, intertribal organization that collectively represents 26 member tribes at the regional and national level. USET dedicated to promoting Indian leadership, improving the quality of life for American Indians, and protecting Indian rights and resources on tribal lands.

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September 22, 2012

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.

Read more @ Indian Country Today Media Network.comSacred Sites Illuminated on First Day of Fall - ICTMN.com.

October 6, 2012

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.”

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October 23, 2012

USET: Patterson and Entire Officers Slate Re-elected by Acclamation

The plan was to call for nominations from the floor for the United South and Eastern Tribe’s officers on October 9, the first day of the organization’s annual meeting at Mohegan Sun in Montville, Connecticut, and then hear the candidates present their platforms and vote the next day. But when no nominations were forthcoming, the slate of incumbent officers was re-elected by a vote of acclimation.

The re-elected team includes USET President Brian Patterson (Oneida Indian Nation), Vice President Randy Noka (Narragansett Indian Tribe), Secretary Brenda Lintinger (Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana), and Kirk E. Francis Sr. (Penobscot Indian Nation). The offices collectively are called the Administrative Operations Committee (AOC). The AOC officers will serve a two-year term until October 2015.

The motion to re-elect the officers was made by Narragansett councilman Hiawatha Brown and seconded by Catawba Indian Nation Chief William “Bill” Harris and passed unanimously by the USET Board of Directors.

Patterson is beginning his fourth term, as president of the 26 member inter-tribal organization that focuses on enhancing the development of Indian tribes, improving the capabilities of tribal governments, and assisting the member tribes and their governments in dealing effectively with public policy issues and in serving the broad needs of Indian people. USET advocates for Indian nations both regionally and in Washington. Indian Country Today Media Network interviewed Patterson right after his re-election.

How do you feel about being re-elected without a challenge?

It speaks to the USET Board of Director’s commitment to the continuity of leadership and direction to move forward and develop our strength in unity. It’s not about running unopposed. We have a great set of officers that perform well in their duties and responsibilities. It also speaks well of the staff and senior leadership that they put forth. If they did not perform well it would not have been possible for us to run unopposed. It speaks volumes about our board leadership and the organizational leadership to help fulfill USET’s vision, goals, and objectives.

What are your top three priorities for this term?

The first one is to accomplish the goals and objectives that we have identified in our strategic plan for fiscal year 2013. It is the third year that USET has had a one-year strategic plan. So the USET officers have a duty to meet those priorities. In the next term for USET officers and leadership, we need to build out our planning to a three-year strategic plan to be able to measure our progress, success, and use it as a tool to further develop the strengths of our organization. Second our children have a dependence on older generations to help pave the way for their futures back in their ancient homelands. That includes looking after their health, providing opportunity for education, and overall community health. The third priority has to be protecting the sacred trust responsibility that the federal government has to our nations. There are so many things to consider like Carcieri, Patchak, and Cowlitz cases and other frontal attacks on our sovereignty. To work on that USET is building its internal capacity and has filed for a 501(c)4 to help us become more engaged with national and state leaders. [USET’s current non-profit status does not allow lobbying. With 501(c)(4) status it ill be allowed to further its social welfare purposes through lobbying as its primary activity without jeopardizing its exempt status.] So it is not enough to build those meaningful collaborative relationships, we must bring structure to leverage those relationships so Indian country can speak with a cohesive voice and a cohesive message. This has to be a top priority.

What are your top concerns (or fears) for the future for Indian country?

Indian country must be ready to meet the challenges. We have many different layers of challenges on social and economic platforms in Indian country. We see actions and decisions that are made in Indian country that are narrow in focus, in my opinion. In my opinion, I have seen decisions made while only thinking about the economic benefits. The best decisions are those that are rooted in culture, heritage, and in the treaty relationship or in a manner that defines us as a people. Decisions are made solely on economic fronts without looking at what defines our community, our people, and traditions; well, that is a concern for all of Indian country. And we need to be cognizant of what defines us as a people and nations and use that as a starting point to develop cohesive strategy to Indian country that allows it to flourish. It is a fear that I see this trend with our nations where we only make decisions on profit. But I also see an opportunity too. It is an opportunity to gather and have discussions and use the power of the good mind and create solutions and a better future for our children.

What are your proudest achievements in you first three terms?

That would be bringing structure to the Tribal leaders’ vision at USET. Forty-four years ago four founding tribes gathered under a great oak tree in Florida to create this great organization. They were the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, Mississippi Band of Choctaw, Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. And they put their minds together and created a vision. Forty-four years later we are still advancing that vision. We are bringing our moccasins on the path that those leaders created. We are now challenging our leaders to think critically, be proactive, and develop resources to lift the bitter yoke of poverty. In order to be successful we must have a strategic plan that sets out our goals and objectives. This is the third year that we have implemented a one-year strategic plan. We are now working on a three-year plan and this promises to help define where we are going and evaluate our progress. This may not seem like a great movement or innovation. But, it is critical to identify the needs of our nations and create strategy to provide them resources. This has not been done historically at USET. This also will empower USET’s dedicated and highly capable staff.

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October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Passes, Tribes Begin Assessing Damage

As the Eastern Seaboard sorted out the devastation from the worst storm in U.S.–recorded history, tribes affected by the winds, tidal surge and rain of Hurricane Sandy assessed damage and called for assistance.

Parts of New York City and environs were devastated by the storm, which left millions without power and killed nearly 50 people, the Associated Press reported. A fire in Breezy Point, Queens, destroyed 80 houses, and the southern half of Manhattan Island, where the Lenape once lived, was without electricity. The transit system was shut down indefinitely, and both the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Con Edison, the main utility company, called it an unprecedented disaster.

Reports were trickling in from the Shinnecock Indian Nation, Mohegan Tribe of Indians and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, all members of the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET), and the Lenape tribes of Delaware and New Jersey were also still checking in with one another late Tuesday.

“Widespread power outage, downed utility lines, and mobile phone towers out are making communications difficult for some tribes,” USET said in a press release on Tuesday October 30.

On Sunday the Shinnecock Indian Nation, Mohegan Tribe of Indians and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation had declared states of emergency. The Shinnecock Indian Nation was completely evacuated after losses of power, Internet and cable even before the storm hit on Sunday.

“Shinnecock, out on Long Island in New York is reporting all power is down, damage to several homes, and homes that are still standing have flooding,” USET said after the storm. “Shinnecock is also requesting a large number of generators, fuel and food.”

Several Indian Health Service clinics were closed, USET said, though inland clinics from Seneca up to Micmac were open.

More updates were coming following an afternoon conference call with the Tribal Assistance Coordination Group (TAC-G), a group of U.S. Government agencies that cooperate on emergency management for the 560 federally recognized tribes as well as American Indian, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiians, and Native Pacific and Atlantic Islanders, USET said.

The Shinnecock reservation is on the water in Southampton, Long Island, less than a mile from the beach. The tribes of Delaware and New Jersey may have fared a bit better because they front the bay, not the ocean directly, said Pastor John Norwood, a tribal council member of the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape.

“When we heard it was coming, our tribal council began immediately canceling our weekly events,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network. Aside from some basement flooding, he added,“we haven’t had any damage to our facilities.”

The three communities around Delaware Bay comprise the Nanticoke-Lenape, a confederation between the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation in New Jersey, the Central Delaware Lenape Indian Tribe and the Nanticoke Indian Tribe, the latter two in Delaware. About 4,000 enrolled members stood to be affected, Norwood said, 2,000 in New Jersey and 1,500 in the two Delaware communities.

“The community in New Jersey is on the bay closer to the mouth of the Delaware River, kind of away from the New Jersey Atlantic Ocean coastline but is on the Delaware Bay,” he said. “We’re all pretty close to a coastline but it’s the bay. So we’re not right on the ocean itself.”

For the most part, the news seemed good for the Lenape tribes, Norwood said.

“Facilities closest to the bay for our tribe seem to have weathered the storm,” he said. “We haven’t gotten any information about major damage. Our community center seems to have weathered the storm.”

Some people had evacuated, moving to higher ground with neighbors or family, though Norwood didn’t have firm numbers because many of them were without power.

“I did receive word back from the two communities in Delaware,” Norwood said on Sunday evening by e-mail. “Both indicated that there was minor flooding, downed trees, and some scattered power outages. Apparently, our position in regard to the Atlantic spared us from the worst of it.”

More on Hurricane Sandy:

Hurricane Sandy Headed Straight for Northeast, Under a Full Moon

Hurricane Sandy: Tribes Pull Together as Monster Storm Takes Aim

Elections 2012: Climate Change Largely Missing From Election … Until Sandy?

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November 20, 2012

United South and Eastern Tribes Urges Congress to Pass Carcieri Fix

On November 19, the United South and Eastern Tribes announced its strong urging for Congress to pass a Carcieri fix, one week after retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, announced during the 69th National Congress of American Indians convention that he would push for a Carcieri fix during the lame duck session of Congress.

In a statement released by Brian Patterson, president of USET and Earl Barbry, chairman, Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, USET raised the issue of tribal lands and the integral role it plays in communities and the economy of Indian country.

“The economy and jobs, during the election season, dominated the national debate with many Americans going to the polls motivated by the same questions and concerns: How can we, as a nation, best provide for our families and create more and better opportunities for our children? Tribal nations and their citizens ask these same questions. And while much is uncertain, one thing is clear: tribal lands are integral to our communities and our economies, and now and forever, will provide the key to assuring the future success of our cultures, our families, and our children,” the release stated. “That is why, as Members of Congress return to Washington and set their priorities for the lame duck session, the ‘Carcieri Fix’ must top the agenda.”

The USET release pointed out how since the Carcieri decision the consequences have “spread like a cancer to all tribes through the Supreme Court’s decision in Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish v. Patchak.” In that case, the Court overturned years of jurisprudence that protected tribal lands once they were in trust—a case based on a Carcieri challenge.

“There is a real opportunity to secure the ‘Carcieri Fix’ in the Congressional lame duck session. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has put this legislation on his list of uncompleted items for this Congress that should be addressed in the lame duck. This is a welcome development,” according to the release.

USET even calls attention to a fix that should be non-controversial, while asking leaders from both sides of the aisle to show “leadership in supporting a measure that would work to strengthen all of Indian country.”

“From a moral standpoint, all tribes should be treated the same. They should be accorded like respect for their sovereignty and they should have an equal right to add to their tribal land base,” the release states. “From a practical standpoint, intentionally or not, by adding conditions to the Fix, Indian country can never truly unite around legislation that protects and strengthens the sovereignty of some tribes while undermining and eroding it for others.”

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