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Tony Belcourt, a former Montana state legislator and Chippewa Cree leader, is facing more fraud charges this week.
The newest charges, according to Associated Press reporter Matt Volz, involved an alleged kickback scheme.
Belcourt has now been arraigned on four separate indictments in which he is accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal aid meant for the poverty-stricken Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation while he was CEO of the Chippewa Cree Construction Corp. He also served as a Democrat in the state Legislature during the time of the alleged thefts.
He faces a total of 19 charges on the four indictments, and has pleaded not guilty to all of them.
Belcourt’s attorney, Chuck Watson, said federal prosecutors are piling on increasingly weak indictments in hopes of forcing a conviction against a man who conducted his business openly and above board.
Belcourt, along with several other tribal members, has also been charged with conspiracy, false claims and theft.
The first indictment is related to the 2010 flooding that damaged a large part of the northern Montana reservation, including the Rocky Boy’s Health Clinic.
The tribe collected about $11.6 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist in the flood recovery, and $25 million more in insurance proceeds to cover the loss of the health clinic, federal prosecutors said in the indictment unsealed Tuesday.
Belcourt, who awarded tribal construction contracts funded by the FEMA aid and insurance money, paid companies run by Huston nearly $700,000 between May and November 2011 using the FEMA aid and insurance money.
The charges (here’s a story about other cases) comes on the heels of a push by the Montana U.S. Attorney’s office to push it’s Guardian Program, which aims curb the theft of federal money intended for Montana’s seven Indian reservations.
It’s the only one of it’s kind in the nation.
(As of August 2013), the project has netted the indictments of 25 people, including six arraigned Thursday on fraud, conspiracy and embezzlement charges in a Blackfeet program for troubled children.
. . .
U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter said he began the project after tribal leaders asked his office to do more to put a stop to corruption and theft in the administration of their federal programs. The prosecutions to date — and the ones still to come — are meant to send a message that federal authorities will go after anybody who embezzles or steals tax dollars meant for their community.
Story by Vince Devlin, of the Missoulian:
BROWNING – For Native American toys and games that have been handed down through hundreds, and often thousands, of years, 17-year-old Larissa Scott is an important link in the local chain.
Her father was among the first to begin recovering the rules, constructing the gear and playing the games of his ancestors back in 1990, when he was a student at Browning Middle School.
Now Larissa is the first child of that first batch to formally continue the effort.
Over three cold and windy days at the Browning powwow grounds earlier this month, Scott was busy with several activities. One was fashioning a shinney ball out of buffalo hair, sand, suede and sinew, part of the process in being certified at the introductory teaching level by the International Traditional Games Society, located nearby in East Glacier.
“I like having the knowledge of what my dad went through,” says Scott, a student at the Blackfeet Academy in Browning. “He passed it on to us. Sometimes we wouldn’t have toys. Dad would tell us the stories he learned, and we’d go out and make toys ourselves.”
If she continues through all three levels of certification at future clinics, Scott will be fully vested in the skills necessary to pass the knowledge of traditional games on to others.
That’s important to more than just the survival of the games themselves, according to International Traditional Games Society executive director Craig Falcon.
It’s also a key to the survival of native languages, he says.
“Language cannot survive without cultural knowledge,” Falcon says, “and culture cannot survive without the language. If you only teach language, and not the culture, you end up with what I call ‘Rosetta Stone natives.’ ”
To see a slideshow of the games, click here.
There’s a faded picture in the metal building where about 25 people are taking part in the clinic. It shows Mitchell Stripped Squirrel, Thomas Little Plume, Joe Carlson and Wyle Wells (Larissa Scott’s father) playing a game of hoop and long arrow as kids.
That was shortly after the beginning, back in 1990, according to Falcon.
“This started in a classroom at the middle school in Browning,” Falcon says. “The kids asked their teacher, ‘What kind of games did we play?’ ” Falcon says. “The teacher sent the students to tribal elders to gather the knowledge.”
Traditional games were on the verge of being lost, he says, the victim of the reservation and boarding school era when the federal government’s goal was to wipe out Indian cultures that had been thousands of years in the making.
There was a protocol to the students’ research, Falcon says, to show respect for the person passing on the knowledge, and respect for the information being given.
“The kids brought tobacco and gifts, and it was done in a sweat lodge ceremony,” he says.
The research eventually spread to some of Montana’s tribal colleges, and by 1997, the society was formed to promote the heritage of traditional games.
“The games were used to prepare for hunting, fishing, and practicing war,” Falcon says.
He grabs a piece of wood less than a foot long and shaped like two cones glued together at their bases.
“Stick pull” is the name of the game, and Falcon says two Eskimos would grease the wood, each grab an end by the hand, and then try to wrestle it away from their opponent. The more Eskimos mastered the game, Falcon says, the better they were at holding onto slippery fish.
Even a child’s game as simple as “run and scream” – where youngsters run as fast and as far as they can yell without taking a breath – had its purpose.
“It was used to train young people to bluff, rather than kill or get killed,” Falcon says. “It was also stamina-building, and increased the vocals for buffalo runs.”
DeeAnna Leader, director of development for the International Traditional Games Society, goes far beyond the rules and regulations when she teaches at the clinics.
“The concept of team games came from the Americas,” Leader says. “It’s difficult to find a team game in Europe that wasn’t brought there. The games played in the Coliseum were primarily individual versus individual, things like chariot racing and wrestling.”
But traditional Native games were the forerunners to all sorts of team games played today, Leader says, from lacrosse to basketball.
James Naismith may have invented the modern version of the latter, but Leader says Mayans played team games on courts that involved putting a round object through hoops long before Naismith nailed peach baskets to posts.
A little Internet research will reveal the round object may at one time have been the decapitated skulls of conquered opponents, and that losers sometimes paid with more than their pride. The leader of a losing team was sometimes killed as a sacrifice to the gods.
“There were deadly consequences for not winning,” Leader says. “Village would go up against village for extra hunting territory, or to decide who would put on a feast. They’d play just for power.”
Despite the human sacrifice, team games were a key to the survival of the human race, Leader believes.
“We’re the last hominids standing,” she says, “because we went past the family unit. You can’t build an airplane by yourself. We’re here because we work together, because there is cooperation.”
Leader even presents a unit on the neuroscience of games, contrasting brain development between children who play traditional games with those who sit glued to computer games.
Modern society, she says, “tells 3-year-olds to sit in chairs so we can give them a head start. It’s all about technology – but if you take their gadgets away, they don’t know what to do. We’re evolving so fast, we don’t know where we’re going.”
The goal of the International Traditional Games Society is that people not forget where they’ve been.
Outside on the powwow grounds, Jeremy Red Eagle of Helena introduces some of the level 1 participants to shinney and double ball, which he describes as “another way of fighting without fighting.”
The smallest fields were the length of three football fields, he tells the younger people getting ready to play, and the longest could go three miles.
That was the distance between the goals, often tree branches, that competitors would travel while using sticks to try to hurl or catch a ball or balls over or under the goals or, in the case of double ball, wrap around the branch.
In reality, however, the fields had no boundaries. There are stories, Red Eagle says, of teams with 100 players apiece, and while they are physical games, there were rules, he adds: “Men can’t get rough with women, and women can’t get rough with kids.”
“You played for the creator,” Red Eagle says. “It’s about challenging ourselves.”
For Salish Indians, shinney was a game for women, according to Arleen Adams of Arlee.
“My grandma would tell us how they would take all summer to gather a set of shinney sticks,” Adams says. “She would say everything speaks to you, and the spirit would call to you to take a certain stick.”
You left something in return, Adams says, be it a prayer or something tangible.
These are the things – things that go beyond a traditional game’s rules, beyond the knowledge of how to make the equipment – that must be passed down as well, Adams says.
“Our colleges will teach people how to play the game, but they need to be connected with the spirit of the game,” she says.
Homemade equipment for dozens of traditional games are on display at the Browning clinic: ring the stick, stick long arrows, snow snake, four hoops, bark ball, shinney ball, double ball, run and scream sticks, guessing stones, slingball, spear the whale, caribou toe game and more.
Level 2 participants are each crafting an atlatl used to heave spear-length arrows long distances.
At one table, 12-year-old Joesiah Longfox of the Fort Belknap Reservation is done with his atlatl – and has already given it a test run outside. Now he’s painting designs on the equipment for his favorite game, snow snake.
The equipment is a piece of wood that looks like a cross-country ski, minus a binding, for a stick-person. It’s quite narrow.
“Last year we had to carve them from wooden blocks,” Longfox says. “I still have the one I made – I got one coat of paint on it before we were done.”
This year, he and 13-year-old Terrell Johnson are painting fancier designs on already-made snow snakes. The game is simple – rest the ski-like tip end on the snow, hold the back end with one hand, shove it and send it gliding.
“You want to see how far it will go without flipping,” Longfox explains. “Like any game, it takes practice.”
“I think maybe there was wagering,” Johnson says. “The person who went the farthest would get arrows or a buffalo robe for winning.”
Wagering on many of the games was common, but Leader says “There was always a value or purpose taught.”
Even guessing games or dice games honed the senses, intuition and the ability to read body language, according to Leader.
“Games were developed as a way of observing and relating to the world,” she says.
Falcon, the society’s executive director, says the society stands ready to send its certified teachers most anyplace to share their knowledge.
“We go into public schools and any program that works with people – alcohol treatment, stay-in-school programs, tobacco-prevention programs,” he says. “We also want to start doing horse game clinics – games that are way more advanced, because you’re going full-speed on a horse.”
Those include rescue races, where several riders try to get to a lone person 100 yards away first, lift them to the back of the horse, and return to the starting before the others can. Other variations, Falcon says, include night shirt race (picking up regalia and returning to the finish line) and chiefs race (riding horses to war bonnets lined up in the distance, putting them on, and racing back).
Bringing traditional games back, Falcon says, is one way to battle health issues that plague Indian reservations in the U.S., and Indian reserves in Canada.
“You’ve got diabetes, cancer, drug and alcohol abuse, car wrecks,” he says. “A long time ago you’d hear the phrase, ‘He had a good death.’ You don’t hear that no more. Too many people die violent, tragic deaths.”
Traditional games can pull Native peoples back into healthier lifestyles and enhance their cultural identity, Falcon says.
“It gets us back to what we were before the reservation and boarding school period,” Falcon says. “Those things wanted to strip us of our culture. What we’re doing here sets in pride and self-esteem.”
Falcon says it began with a question asked by middle school students in Browning.
Now the child of one of those students helps carry on the legacy.
To create what the adviser calls a “beautiful opportunity to heal,” the Coconino County Jail near Flagstaff, Ariz., is getting ready to rebuilt its sweat lodge for Native inmates.
Andrew Knochel of the Arizona Daily Sun has the story:
The jail houses around 500 people, about half of them are Native Americans, and many inmates, along with advocacy groups, have asked the sheriff to build a sweat lodge.
The structure will be ready for use later this year. Each inmate will be allowed to use the sweat lodge about once every three months.
“This is a great opportunity that the sheriff and the staff are providing for the inmates here,” (Kevin Long, Navajo spiritual adviser said.) “It’s a really beautiful opportunity for healing to happen.”
. . .
The Coconino County Jail had established a sweat lodge in 2001 but discontinued its use a few years later because smoke was getting into the jail’s air ventilation. The new structure and fire pit will be located farther from the jail.
The yard where the sweat lodge will be placed currently has a hogan, a traditional Navajo structure, that is used for other religious ceremonies.
Long said sweat lodges mean different things to different religions and practices. When he enters a sweat lodge, he seeks balance — to center his mental, emotional, physical and spiritual identity.
“We bring those four back together to create a whole human,” he said. “We believe it takes all four of those to be whole.”
The four cycles of ceremonies help people rebalance and recenter themselves to get their lives back on a good path, he said.
Jim Bret, program coordinator of detention services, compared sweat lodge experiences to other volunteer-driven programs that help inmates, such as Bible studies or educational programs.
“Any program is important,” Bret said. “It gives the inmates something to do, and it gives them motivation, it gives them hope.”
With just over a week until Halloween, take a look at this new “I am not a costume” campaign designed by students at Ohio University in 2011.
Noel Altha, a blogger at Last Real Indians produced a video based on the campaign.
Powwows.com has the story:
Many children and adults across the country wear culturally based costumes such Pocahatas, terrorist, and more.
This controversial topic has been discussed many times in the past. But each year the costumes still remain.
In 2011 students at Ohio University started a campaign – “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume“. They produced a series of posters to help raise awareness of this issue.
Altha said the response to her video has been largely positive.
Watch closely, because they’re riding fast. The sport is the focus of a new Montana PBS documentary that tells the story of several relay riders.
As Marga Lincoln, Helena Independent Record reporter writes, Indian relay is a fairly unknown sport that is fast and dangerous.
In this sport, riders race bareback at top gallop around a track. After one lap, barely slowing down, they switch horses by leaping down from one and onto another. After galloping around the track the second lap, the riders again leap onto a fresh horse and race to the finish line.
“These riders are very athletic and very fearless,” said (Kendall) Old Horn, who has been involved in Indian relay racing for 37 years.
“You could take any Indian relay rider and he could play with the best basketball and football players,” he said. “But you can’t take the best football or basketball player and put them in Indian relay. Professional jockeys wouldn’t touch Indian relay with a 10-foot stick. The degree and skill it takes to be an Indian relay rider is night and day from any other sport.”
With the sport comes a whole set of lingo – besides the rider, there’s a mugger who catches the rider’s horse when he dismounts, the set-up guy (or exchange holder) who holds the fresh mount, and then a back holder with the next fresh horse.
After the rider gallops off, the back holder passes the fresh horse to the set-up guy, while the mugger passes the horse he’s just caught to the back holder.
Old Horn hopes the film will promote the sport, leading to sponsorships and more crowds at the races.
“Indian Relay” will screen on Montana PBS 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31.
It’s also been selected by PBS’ five-time Emmy Award-winning series “Independent Lens,” and will premiere before national public television audiences on Nov. 18.
In one of the closest votes in NCAI history, Brian Cladoosby, the chairman of the Swinomish Tribe of Washington, won election as president of the organization on Thursday.
Cladoosby defeated Joe Garcia, a council member for Ohkay Owingeh in New Mexico and a former two-term NCAI president, by just 25 votes. The results were announced after a run-off that was conducted when none of the four candidates won enough votes in the first round.
“I can’t tell you how honored I am,” Cladoosby told tribal leaders after winning the second round. “I will not let you down.”
Cladoosby was sworn in Friday
For secretary, Robert Shepherd, the chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of South Dakota, defeated incumbent Ed Thomas, the president of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes in Alaska. Shepherd vowed to improve NCAI’s communications efforts and adopt new technologies to share information.
Dennis Welsh, a council member for the Colorado River Indian Tribes, will serve as treasurer. He ran unopposed but noted that he was defeated two years ago in his first attempt for the job.
“I’m just so happy to be here,” a highly-enthusiastic Welsh told NCAI.
The officers will be installed this morning along with the vice presidents for the 12 different areas of Indian Country.
For highlights from previous days at the convention, click here.
By Talli Nauman, Native Sun News health and environment editor:
WANBLEE – Recent dilbit spills and extreme weather events highlight the need to prevent increasing tar-sands crude-oil transport, Anishinaabe environmental leader Winona LaDuke said Oct. 13.
“The Keystone XL is like the climate-change express,” said LaDuke, founder of the non-profit Honor The Earth.
“The Keystone XL accelerates climate change because it accelerates extraction of tar-sands, which is the dirtiest fuel on earth,” she said.
TransCanada Corp., based in Calgary, Alberta, is seeking a Presidential Permit from the U.S. State Department to build a pipeline link across the U.S.-Canada border and finish a proposed 1,179-mile stretch of the Keystone XL project that would carry diluted bitumen (dilbit) along a route between the Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River Indian reservations.
The State Department is expected to rule in 2014 on whether the permit is in “the national interest,” and U.S. President Barack Obama is on record as supporting it “if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
Having already quashed two attempts to approve the permit, Obama has warned that “the net effects of the pipeline’s impacts on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”
TransCanada Corp. notes that “two of Canada’s most respected climate scientists – Andrew Weaver and Neil Swart of the University of Victoria – published research in the British scientific journal Nature Climate Change. They confirmed the climate impact of producing the oil sands is nowhere near a ‘doomsday scenario’. The research found that even if every single barrel of the oil sands is produced (a near impossible feat); it would result in a cumulative global warming impact of 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit.”
The International tar-sands opponent’s organization 350.org quotes scientists as saying that exploitation of known tar-sands would unlock 240 of the 350 ppm considered to be the safe upper limit for CO2 in the atmosphere.
“You might just want to not do the tar sands,” LaDuke told the Native Sun News. “This is about protecting the earth and water,” she said.
The four-day ride to Bridger was sponsored by Honor The Earth, 350.org and the Swift Family fund.
Kicking it off with a prayer was Lakota elder Marie Randall.
“She talked about our culture and why they need to do this ride to prevent this tar-sands pipeline from happening, to protect our land and water,” Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Eagle Nest District Rep. Ruth Brown told the Native Sun News.
Brown and several dozen participants in the ride gathered at the Wanblee meeting hall on the evening of Oct. 12 for supper served by community members supporting the activity, she said. After camping in the hall and breakfast, the riders set out for the first-day’s destination of Kadoka.
They were slated to intersect with the pipeline route, which crosses the Cheyenne River at the convergence of Meade, Pennington, Haakon and Ziebach counties. That is located in treaty lands adjudicated to the Great Sioux Nation, which has led to numerous tribal and treaty council declarations opposing it.
Their journey also went through ranchlands where some 100,000 head of cattle are estimated to have died in an extreme weather event that resulted in record-breaking snowfall and postponed the ride for a week. “One-hundred-thousand dead cattle is the price you play for climate change,” LaDuke said. “These animals are helpless in the face of it.”
LaDuke cited severe flooding in the Rocky Mountains and Boulder, Colorado- area a week before as another example of the cost of climate change.
Among recent pipeline ruptures she cited was a Sept. 29 break in the Tesoro Corp. line that reportedly polluted a farmer’s wheat field in Tioga, North Dakota, with more than 20,000 barrels of crude oil and only came to public attention after 11 days thanks to an Associated Press inquiry.
With the equivalent of 800,000 gallons of oil spreading across seven acres, the incident was deemed the largest spill in state history. Authorities calculate cleanup will last about two years.
LaDuke rode 70 miles in an Anishinaabe Ride for Mother Earth beginning Sept. 29 and following Enbridge Corp.’s Alberta Clipper tar-sands crude-oil pipeline through three northern Minnesota Indian Reservations.
Line 6 of that route ruptured three years ago near a tributary of the Kalamazoo River, causing dilbit to spread through wetlands and creating the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. The EPA and other agencies continue to work on cleanup.
While business owners and investors in the oil industry continued to lobby the White House in favor of the profits the Keystone XL Pipeline and others like it would generate, numerous actions in opposition were held across North America in Idle No More’s Oct. 7 Global Day of Action to “Honor Indigenous Sovereignty and to Protect the Land & Water”.
Contact Talli Nauman Native Sun News health and environment editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright permission by Native Sun News.
As Clifford Ward and Ted Gregory of the Chicago Tribune report, the Rausa’s led the charge to restore the Black Hawk, or “Eternal Indian” statue. The statue must make it through winter before upgrade work begins in spring.
The slightly mournful face of what some might consider Illinois’ Statue of Liberty has weathered its 102 years remarkably well. It’s a focal point of The Eternal Indian, a 50-foot statue that towers over the Rock River about 100 miles west of Chicago near Oregon, Ill.
But the body is so deteriorated that a flip of the finger can loosen chunks of its concrete surface. Deep cracks and gaping pockmarks spread throughout the statue.
The restoration of the statue is set to begin next spring.
“When we were there the other day, I just said, ‘Hold on, chief. Help’s on its way,’” said Charron Rausa, 77, of Sterling, Ill. “We’re praying that we don’t have a really bad winter because he’s in bad shape.”
Its prospects would be much bleaker if it weren’t for the Rausas, both retirees who in 2008 read a local newspaper story about the loss of state funding to restore the statue, which draws about 400,000 visitors a year. They’d grown deeply fond of the statue as a contemplative local landmark that preserves important history of the region.
“I sat there at the kitchen table and said, ‘Frank, the American people fixed the Statue of Liberty. Now, doggone it, we need to fix the Black Hawk statue.’”
To raise the money for the statue restoration, the Rausa’s started a “Pennies for Black Hawk” campaign. The NHL Chicago Blackhawk teams also contributed to the cause.
To view a video about the restoration, click here.
For Natives across the U.S., there’s nothing much to celebrate on Columbus Day.
The holiday is something that highlights the beginning of decades of atrocities and wrongs done to Native people across the north and south American continents.
Talal Al-Khatib wrote “After Columbus: Native American Traditions Alive Today” for Discovery:
Unlike Europeans, whose traditions endured even after the collision of the Old World and the New, the indigenous people of the Americas saw their cultures crumble, as entire populations were wiped out or displaced in the centuries following Columbus’ voyage.
Despite 500 years separating the modern age with the pre-Columbian era, some Native American traditions still endure.
Click here to see the entire slideshow, which includes the Aymara peoples new year celebration and Apache Sun Rise Dance.
Char-Koosta News reporter Lailani Upham reports about the work the students are doing at SKC’s Division of Sciences.
CubeSats are small “low cost” satellites in the shape of a cube 10 centimeters in size used by universities, government agencies, and private businesses to orbit the earth to produce images utilizing solar power.
The SKC CubeSat selection is one to be proud of as the tribal college’s satellite design matches building and design along with big name colleges such as Cal-Berkeley, Notre Dam, Texas, MIT, and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
CubeSats are effective opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in space flight missions and NASA recognized the importance of the next generation of space scientist and engineers through build and design of the mini-satellites at their higher education institutions.
The CubeSat is set to go to space sometime in 2014.
The design is complete and the SKC team is working on the stages of testing equipment.
The aim of the project is to motivate and prepare Native students to go into careers at NASA centers, as NASA contactors, or attend universities performing NASA-sponsored research.
That was one suggestions offered up as an alternative to the Washington Redskins mascot name. There is growing demand for the NFL team to change its name, according to USA Today sports reporter and “For the win” blogger Nate Scott who compiled a list of examples of new name suggestions for the Redskins.
The website 99 Designs, which asks graphic artists to compete in designing logos for clients, launched a new contest this week in which they asked their artists to design a new look for the Washington Redskins.
With growing demand for the team to change its name, the site also gave a few alternative team nicknames that were suggested by journalists.
As Scott points out in his column, there were hundreds of submissions to the 99 Design site.
The Associated Press released an in-depth piece last weekend on what it said is a multimillion problem on reservations across the country: The mismanagement and abuse of federal funds coming to tribal governments and nonprofits.
The story details several instances of mismanagement of federal funds but notes that examples of fraud aren’t unique to any one tribe.
Fraud and theft occur across the range of nonprofits and local governments that get federal money. But tribes are five times as likely as other recipients of federal funds to have “material weaknesses” that create an opportunity for abuses, according to the review. Overall, 1 in 4 audits concluded that tribal governments, schools or housing authorities had a material weakness in their federally funded programs; the rate was 1 in 20 for nontribal programs.
Thousands of pages of audits and dozens of reports by federal investigators, obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act, show evidence of embezzlement, paychecks for do-nothing jobs and employees who over-billed hours and expenses. The audits, conducted by private firms, are required of tribes that spend more than $500,000 in federal funds annually.
What is the root of the problem? Too many programs with too few people to properly manage them? Is oversight lacking? How can it be fixed? The questions were addressed by several Native sources in the story.
Gary Collins, a former chairman of the business council who serves as the Northern Arapaho liaison with the state, said the tribe participates in more than 60 federal programs, a number that presents challenges for auditing and accountability. “There’s nothing really intentional,” he said of any shortcomings.
Since the early 1970s, federal policy has favored letting tribes manage housing, health, welfare, law enforcement and other programs as they see fit. As this “self-determination” approach took hold, many tribes developed the financial savvy and governmental infrastructure to handle millions in federal money without major incident. But others, like the Northern Arapaho, have not.
Federal officials try to coach tribes to self-correct rather than punish them — both in deference to tribal “self-determination” and because there aren’t enough staff to closely monitor the thousands of service contracts between tribes and the government.
“There were less people in that hallway than you would find working in a McDonald’s,” said Walter Lamar, a former deputy director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ law enforcement program. His Washington, D.C., headquarters staff of six or seven oversaw 100 tribal police agencies that patrol an area one and a half times larger than New York state.
What do you think?
Read the rest of the story here.
And they’re “little killers.”
Great Falls Tribune reporter Karl Puckett explains:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 32 endangered black-footed ferrets Thursday into a 1,000-acre prairie dog colony on the Fort Belknap Reservation.
. . .
John Hughes, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, drove the ferrets to the Montana reservation from Wellington, Colo., stopping at a convenience store to meet officials from the tribe, Defenders of Wildlife and World Wildlife Fund, who are partners in the restoration effort.
The back of his pickup was loaded with small cat-carrying cages. Inside, ferrets, hiding in long tubes, looked out and “chattered,” making loud clicking noises. Hughes says it’s the noise they make when they are agitated.
“This is kind of a joyous occasion for us,” Hughes said.
The ferrets were raised at the Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center.
Ferrets were released previously at the reservation in 1997 and 1998 but plague killed them and prairie dogs, the main prey of the ferret, Hughes said. Fort Belknap was chosen as a release site because it has a healthy prairie dog population and tribal officials were willing to have them.
Be sure to watch the great video about the release, produced by the Great Falls Tribune.
The federal government shutdown could have “painful” consequences for Indian Country.
ICTMN spoke to a set of tribal leaders around the country on what the impacts could be. Here’s some of the story:
Tribal leaders, widely tired of political games surrounding the federal budget – as well as the profound impacts of ongoing sequestration – are frustrated, to say the least.
“What is just partisan game playing in Washington, D.C. is a battle for survival in Indian country where many of us barely subsist,” said Edward Thomas, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes. “Many of our 28,000 tribal citizens live at the very edge of survival and depend upon our tribe’s ability, with federal funding, to provide critical human services.
“Any interruption in federal funding, especially for a self-governance tribe like ours without gaming or other substantial economic development, means we must borrow money – from an expensive line of credit we cannot afford – to meet our payroll obligations to child welfare workers, to job trainers, to housing workers, and to natural resource subsistence protection,” Thomas said.
The unknowns may be the biggest threat at this point.
Dozens of tribal leaders have voiced similar concerns to officials with the Departments of the Interior, Health and Human Services, and other federal agencies that serve large amounts of American Indians, according to federal officials. The White House, heeding that concern, held a teleconference with some tribal leaders on September 30 during which administration officials blamed the House Republicans for the shutdown. Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at Interior, also sent a letter to tribal leaders explaining the department’s contingency plan.
. . .
Despite progress on the contract support cost front, the continuing resolution supported by the House, Senate and White House maintains funding for Indian country at a sequestered level, which means programs that support tribes continue to face dramatic cuts.
A joint decision by Congress and the White House, first made in 2011 and carried out on March 1 of this year, allowed an across-the-board 9 percent cut to all non-exempt domestic federal programs (and a 13 percent cut for Defense accounts). This sequester has dramatically harmed Indian-focused funding, and tribal leaders across the nation have claimed it is a major violation of the trust responsibility relationship the federal government is supposed to have with American Indians, as called for in historic treaties, the U.S. Constitution and contemporary American policy.
“The tribes would rather their budgets be exempt from this stuff,” Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe
said. “But the political ability for that to happen is next to nil. The new options that people are considering is pushing for two years or longer forward funding for Indian health programs and essential government services, like some programs for veterans.”
Tribal leaders have been pushing hard to get sequestration on Indian programs removed, Allen noted, but the White House has said that it is not going to protect any programs.
The discovery prompted the tribal government there to issue a resolution ordering the BIA to stop construction.
David Murray, of the Great Falls Tribune, has the full story:
Blackfeet tribal officials allege the Bureau of Indian Affairs failed to conduct a proper environmental assessment of the site before initiating the project or to consult with the tribe regarding their plans to build a new dormitory at the Cut Bank Boarding School. If true, the BIA would be in violation of both the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. The construction project sits immediately adjacent to a well-known prehistoric bison jump that was extensively excavated in the 1950s
“It’s kind of a big thing because the BIA never really consulted at all with us,” said Blackfeet Tribal Business Council Chairman Willie Sharp Jr. “There’s been a stop order placed on all work and for people not to enter the site. They’ve halted everything down there and the Tribal Historic Preservation Office has secured the site because people were trying to steal some of the artifacts.”
Hundreds of pounds of bison bones have been discovered at the site.
One Blackfeet archaeologist called the Boarding School site a “once-in-a-lifetime” discovery.
Sharp said construction work at the site has been halted for a minimum of two weeks while tribal officials attempt to sort out how to proceed. The tribal council is hoping Department of Interior officials from Washington, D.C., will travel to the Blackfeet Reservation to view the excavation and consult with tribal officials.
Group seeking distribution of settlement funds successfully petitions BIA for right to recall tribal council members
A group on the Flathead Indian Reservation that wants 100 percent of the money from a large federal settlement to go directly to members has successfully petitioned the BIA for a chance to change the tribal constitution to allow the recall of tribal council members.
Last year, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal council voted to hold and use $72 million from the Salazar Settlement for other purposes.
The People’s Voice wants a popular vote on whether or not that money should be distributed to tribal members.
Missoulian reporter Vince Devlin has the full story:
In a letter from BIA Northwest Regional Solicitor Stanley M. Speaks, a group on the Flathead Indian Reservation that is seeking an election to decide whether 100 percent of what’s known as the Salazar Settlement should be distributed among the CSKT membership learned this week it had successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a secretarial election to amend the tribes’ constitution.
Presently, only the Tribal Council can remove a council member from office.
The proposed amendment would give the membership “the power to recall any tribal council person for malfeasance, or any part of the Confederated Tribes’ Constitution.”
A recall petition would require the signatures of at least one-third of the eligible voters qualified to vote in the most recent tribal election. That would trigger a recall election.
. . .
On Thursday the group’s attorney, Howard Toole of Missoula, filed a complaint in Tribal Court alleging the council violated the CSKT constitution by twice rejecting petitions from the People’s Voice requesting that the entire membership be allowed to vote on whether to distribute all of the Salazar money.
“We’re claiming the tribes mishandled, and inaccurately counted, the signatures,” Toole said, “and that the council is unwilling to implement Article 9 of the constitution.”
That article says that with the submission of the signatures of one-third of the eligible voters, any enacted or proposed ordinance can be submitted to a popular referendum. Toole said the council found an initial petition on the matter “legally inadequate,” and rejected a second petition on the grounds that it lacked enough eligible signatures.
CSKT spokesman Rob McDonald said Thursday the council could not yet comment on either the complaint, or the recall election.
“As for the court case, council has not seen or been able to review its contents,” McDonald said.
Achievement of Native youth in schools across the county has remained stagnant and gaps between Native students and their peers have widened.
ICTMN’s Rob Capriccioso’s story on the recent report “The State of Education for Native Students,” release by the Education Trust shows the situation is dire for Native students.
The hard numbers are eye-opening. “In 2011, only 18 percent of Native fourth-graders were proficient or advanced in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), compared with 42 percent of white fourth-graders,” the report states. “In math, only 17 percent of Native eighth-graders were proficient or advanced, and nearly half (46 percent) performed below even the basic level. For white students, the pattern was almost exactly the reverse, with 17 percent below basic and 43 percent proficient or advanced.” NAEP results for Native students improved more slowly between 2005 and 2011 than for any other major ethnic group. “As a result, while Native students were performing better in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math than African American and Latino students in 2005, by 2011 that lead had all but disappeared,” the report finds.
On the higher education front, the report finds that of the Native students who enrolled in a four-year college in the fall of 2004, only 39 percent completed a bachelor’s degree within six years. It was the lowest graduation rate for any group of students.
“Our country’s focus on raising achievement for all groups of students has left behind one important group—Native students,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, in a statement. “To ensure that all Native students succeed, we must do more and better for them starting now.”
. . .
Heather Shotton, president of the National Indian Education Association, said her organization is “troubled” by the achievement statistics highlighted in the report, but it helps to focus on some success stories that illustrate these trends are not irreversible.
“As noted in the report, some states are currently raising Native academic achievement outcomes,” Shotton said. “Among other successes, increased tribal and Native community involvement in Oregon and Oklahoma ensure Native-serving schools include culture-based education and provide resources for language immersion, which as research shows, increases academic outcomes.”
Read the rest of the story and the full report here.
By Kim Briggeman, of the Missoulian:
STEVENSVILLE, Mont. — Somewhere along the line, history flip-flopped here in the Bitterroot Valley. In September 1841, the Salish Indians joyously welcomed the Black Robes to their homeland in the shadow of what to them were the “Red Top Mountains.”
On Sunday, a couple of days short of 172 years later, the people of the valley welcomed back the Salish.
Elders and cultural leaders and their children from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Reservation were central figures as the Historic St. Mary’s Mission celebrated its annual Founders Day.
“We should enjoy ourselves, gather together and eat a lot of hot dogs,” said Pend ‘Oreille elder Stephen Smallsalmon, drawing chuckles from the more than 200 people who gathered on a drizzly day for the occasion. “It’s good to have that laughter,” he said. “Laughing is one of the best medicines to honor your elders and your children.”
Smallsalmon, clad in full regalia, played the part of Chief Tjolzhitsay in a brief re-enactment of the arrival of three Jesuit priests and three lay brothers. The priests baptized Tjolzhitsay as Paul, and Father Pierre Jean DeSmet christened him “Big Face,” the moniker that has stuck through the ages.
Between 1831 and 1839, Big Face had sent four delegations to St. Louis requesting the Jesuits come as their teachers. Only the fourth entourage was successful, resulting in the arrival of DeSmet and fathers Gregory Mengarini and Nicolas Point and the Jesuit brothers, all of whom were represented at the program Sunday.
Mere months later, Big Face died at age 90.
His successor was Victor, who gained great prestige after the Hellgate Treaty of 1855 and in 1866 successfully requested Jesuit missionaries return to rebuild St. Mary’s.
Victor’s cabin, built for him by Maj. John Owen of Fort Owen in the winter of 1861-62, remains on the museum grounds, and Sunday tribal members raised the Flathead Nation Flag in front of it.
Victor was succeeded as chief by his son, Charlo, and it was Charlo who led his tearful people from the Bitterroot Valley to the Jocko Reservation in October 1891.
On paper, it’s been somebody else’s homeland ever since.
Among those on hand Sunday was Victor Charlo, a poet/playwright from Old Agency near Dixon. A direct descendant of the two chiefs, Charlo is now hailed as a spiritual chief and a man who has “lifted the heartbeat of his people to a great and better understanding,” said publisher and historian Dale Burk, who wrote and narrated Sunday’s skit.
Charlo was accompanied by the latest two generations of the Victor-Charlo line – daughter Claire, a tribal attorney, and her two children. As a light rain began Vic Charlo told the audience, “I’m glad that you could all be here and I welcome you to this place, even though I don’t belong here any more.”
He said he wished there could be “a home that we could come to” in the Bitterroot, “so that we could say, ’Yeah, this is still our place.’ I think that would be really good.”
Past Founders Day celebrations have included the Salish but focused on other aspects of St. Mary’s long history. Last year it was Father Anthony Ravalli, the man who was the face of the rebuilt mission, on the occasion of his 200th birthday.
Steve Lozar of Polson, a tribal councilman and executive committee member of the Montana Historical Society Board, thanked the museum staff and its director, Colleen Meyer. They’ve worked hard over the past four or five years to enhance the Salish presence at St. Mary’s.
They “recognize in a very open and sure way that this is our place, this was our place, this will continue to be our place,” said Lozar.
He spoke from under the robe of a white wolf, and represented in the reenactment a distant relative, Gabriel Prudhomme. A Cree and French-Canadian who was adopted into the Flathead tribe and died in the Bitterroot in 1856, Prudhomme is one of the truly overlooked heroes of pre-territorial Montana.
He was an invaluable guide to DeSmet’s party as well as those of Lt. John Mullan, who explored the mountain passes of the Rockies for Gov. Isaac Stevens’ railroad survey in 1853 and 1854.
Prudhomme was “very multi-lingual,” Lozar said, and that skill placed him front and center in many of the era’s important moments as an interpreter — including the interaction with the Jesuits from Italy and Belgium as they set about establishing St. Mary’s Mission in 1841.
“They were no sooner settled in camp than Father DeSmet, together with some Indians who knew a little French, began translating prayers into the Flathead tongue,” wrote historian Lucylle Evans in “St. Mary’s in the Rocky Mountains. “His best interpreter was Gabriel.”
Evans said many of the Salish had yet to return from the summer buffalo hunt when DeSmet and Co. arrived that September day via two-wheeled ox carts. There was little food in the larder, and a lay Brother asked Father Mengarini what to do.
“Cook what you have. God will provide,” answered Mengarini, who Sunday was represented by Jesuit father Rich Perry of St. Francis Xavier in Missoula.
That very afternoon the hunting parties began to arrive from the eastern plains, each with a load of dried buffalo meat, some 70 bales in all, weighing more than 2 1/2 tons.
According to Evans, the Black Robes “took possession of the promised land” on the first Sunday of October, planting a cross on the banks of the Bitterroot River to mark the spot they first chose for a residence. (The site was moved back from the river twice in the next nine years before the missionaries abandoned the site and Owen took it over to build a trading post in 1850. The present site of the mission and of Stevensville was established when Ravalli re-established the mission in 1866.)
On Sunday, the men portraying the Jesuit Brothers planted another wooden cross on the “stage” on the grounds of the mission museum.
“We have indeed located our mission in the exact right place,” said Father Point, a.k.a. John Winthrop. “For there can be no doubt we could not have found any place better anywhere else.”
The mining of coal on the rolling prairie lands of central Montana where Natives first settled and thrived, then export of the natural resource to the Pacific Coast’s shores where Natives fished for centuries will put the lands in grave danger.
That’s the message sent last week by a diverse group of people, from tribal members to ranchers, during a gathering near the Otter Creek area in central Montana where large oil and gas companies have proposed coal exploration.
Exploration, the groups argue, could change the landscapes forever.
Great Falls Tribune reporter John Adams has the full story. Adams was at a ceremony attended by area ranchers, Northern Cheyenne and Lummi Indians last week to highlight the dangers of coal exploration.
Among the onlookers are five members of the Lummi Nation, an Indian tribe from Washington’s Puget Sound, who traveled some 1,200 miles to this remote prairie not far from where Gen. George Armstrong Custer famously made his last stand nearly 140 years ago.
The Lummi brought with them a 22-foot totem pole hand-carved from a 300-year-old Western redcedar tree so that Medicine Bull could offer it as a blessing. The Lummi people have created a tradition of carving and delivering totem poles to areas struck by disaster or otherwise in need of hope and healing.
Ranchers who work nearby land also attended the ceremony.
“We’re looking at country here that could be impacted by coal mining,” (Brad) Sauer said during an interview on the ranch earlier in the day. “There are coal mines close to here.”
Sauer said ranchers raise food on these lands, and they can’t do that without ample supplies of clean water. Industrial mining operations could threaten both the quantity and the the quality of the water that nurtures these valleys.
. . .
Many people see Otter Creek as ground zero in the battle over the future of coal development in America. If Otter Creek coal is ever to be mined, then its probable its final domestic destination will be coal export terminals on the West Coast.
One of those terminals is proposed to be built on the Lummi people’s ancestral homeland, a place called Cherry Point. From there, the coal would head to Asian markets.
Natural gas and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are making coal less desirable as an energy source here in the United States. Arch Coal, the company that bought the leases to mine coal at Otter Creek, admitted that fact in recent filings with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.
Read the rest of Adams’ story here.
Health advocates pointing to horrifying statistics of rape and assault of Native women are heralding a step forward by federal government officials to help expand access of Plan B to Native women.
As Associated Press reporter Felicia Fonseca reports, women seeking Plan B can now get it at Indian Health Services facilities without consultation or prescription.
IHS said more than a year ago that it was finalizing a policy to provide the drug directly to patients. That policy hasn’t been released, but the agency told The Associated Press that all IHS facilities run by the federal government are now under a verbal directive to provide Plan B to women 17 years and older at pharmacy windows without a prescription.
‘‘I want to reassure you that we have taken this issue seriously, and the IHS has, on several occasions this year, confirmed access to FDA-approved emergency contraceptive products in all IHS federally operated facilities with pharmacies,’’ the agency wrote in response to questions from the AP.
The verbal directive to IHS area directors came as welcome news and a sign of progress to the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center in Lake Andes, S.D., and to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California. The resource center said it is moving forward with educating women on misconceptions about the morning-after pill and how to access it, focusing on South Dakota, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
The next step is getting a written directive.
According to Fonseca’s story, 1/3 of all American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetime, and nearly three of five had been assaulted by their partner.
The IHS said Plan B One-Step would be available without a prescription for all ages once products with the FDA labeling are available.
While Native women can go to any pharmacy at a federally managed IHS facility and get Plan B without a prescription, the rules can be different at facilities run by American Indian tribes. More than half of the IHS budget is administered by tribes through self-determination contracts or self-governance contracts.
The medication is free for Native women because of the federal government’s trust obligation to provide health care to them. Any woman 17 and older can buy Plan B from behind the counter at retail pharmacies.