Archive for June, 2012

Mark Trahant

A special addition of Trahant Reports, as Mark responds to the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act:

The entire debate over “ObamaCare” is now fundamentally different. It’s the law of the land that has been upheld by the Supreme Court. And, deep in the pages of the Affordable Care Act, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, is permanent. It no longer requires going back to Congress every few years and arguing for reauthorization.

It’s important to note that the Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday does not end the debate over health care reform. There are still fights to be had over the law itself, funding, and the where we go from here.

We should remember that this country (and much of the developed world) has a demographic imbalance that is driving up the cost of health care. The entire federal budget deficit can be wiped out, if we can figure out how to deliver health care at a lower cost. The Affordable Care Act is a small step (not a solution) in that direction. The smartest way to control cost is to also improve the quality. These two elements go hand in hand.

Of course improving quality of health care is what the Indian Health Care Improvement Act is all about. To my mind: It’s one of the most successful pieces of legislation ever enacted. If you look at the health care disparity of American Indians and Alaska Natives before the law was passed there was a 24-year gap between life expectancy for Native Americans and the general population. Now that difference is only about 2-and-a half years (depending on where you live). There has been significant progress in most Indian health statistics since 1976.

But despite the law’s success, Congress did not have the votes to reenact the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, so it was folded into the Affordable Care Act by House committee chairmen, George Miller, D-Calif., and Nick Rahall, D-WV. It was a strategy many thought risky at the time. But it paid off.

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Mark Trahant

The Supreme Court will most likely issue a decision on Thursday that will leave a mess behind. I doubt there will be a clean decision – up or down – it’s far more likely that court will focus on the most narrow of issues. Then the political process can sort out what’s left standing.

Consider one real problem for the court: Many of the provisions of the Indian Health Care Act have already been implemented by the Indian Health Service. The Affordable Care Act makes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, first enacted in 1976, permanent. This is important because the reauthorization has been wrapped up in partisan politics.

Remember that most the general provisions of the Affordable Care Act are waiting for the 2014 deadline for minimum coverage (the so-called mandate). But American Indians and Alaska Natives are exempt from that, so the Indian Health Service has been free to implement the law.

Another part of the law that impacts Indian Country: The provision that says tribes can purchase insurance for individual members without tax consequences. The IRS has rules that required tribes to report these purchases as income – even though they represented coverage that was purchased because of inadequate IHS funding.

In a friend of the court briefing filed by the National Indian Health Board:

    If this court declares the minimum coverage provision unconstitutional, there may be legitimate questions whether it is integral to implementation of certain other provisions included in the ACA. But there can be no question about the fact that the IHCIA and other Indian-specific provisions are distinct from the controversial minimum coverage provision and related insurance industry reforms included in the ACA.

I also think it’s important to pull back and think about the big picture. The cost of health care is the budget deficit. We fix this one issue and the rest of the annual deficits will melt away. But to get there we have to take a number of difficult steps requiring consensus. The Affordable Care Act is only a beginning, not an end. If the law is upheld, we have more work to do. As I wrote in January: This should be the only election issue for 2012. It’s that critical to get right.

My plan is to post tweets shortly after 10 am, Eastern. A Storify will compile that information. I should have a column ready to go before 1 pm, Eastern.

Author Gyasi Ross is celebrating “modern-day warriors” in his new series for Indian Country Today Media Network, and this week he introduces readers to a man who is “a proxy for ALL great Native fathers.”

Albert Pooley (Courtesy of ICTMN)

In his usually humorous-but-poignant way, Ross explains just how Albert Pooley’s Fatherhood/Motherhood Is Sacred program is helping share just how important parenting is to the future generations.

    (Pooley) took away the romance and misperception that Native people always think about and plan for the next seven generations; instead, he understood that the lack of fatherhood training is a genuine problem within Indian Country and will hurt all future generations. Without making excuses or judgments, Mr. Pooley decided to do something about this very real problem. Therefore, using non-religiously-specific curriculum and teaching methods, the Fatherhood/Motherhood is Sacred program teaches exactly that—that being a father/mother is a blessing from the Creator. And like most of our cultures require, we must sacrifice in exchange for our blessings—there is a corresponding obligation and steps that we must take to make sure we do it right!

Pooley’s program lays out the following principles:

    – It is important that real and lasting change comes from within.
    – The program inspires and ignites self motivation through natural techniques in bringing change to a person.
    – Understanding ones self worth and the value they bring to their family will change their very nature, drawing them closer to loved ones.
    – Native people must be a forward thinking, forward looking and forward moving people.
    – When Native people truly understand the past it should inspire and motivate us to work toward a richer better future this is accomplished through strong fathers and mothers who are devoted to strengthening their families.

Pooley is a modern-day warrior, Ross says, because “We need more examples like Albert Pooley and the many Native men that champion fatherhood; there are a lot of them that do. However, there is also a lot that do not—we need programs and training like Mr. Pooley’s to assist those amongst us that do not.”

Read more of Ross’ “The Thing about Skins” columns here.

Jenna Cederberg


Solar trees saving energy in Cherokee, N.C.

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Solar trees have been installed in downtown Cherokee to help make the downtown Visitors Center a “net-zero building” which means it should produce as much energy as it consumes. (Photo by SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photos)

The town of Cherokee, N.C., is branching out and using new technology to save energy.

As the Cherokee One Feather reports, newly designed “solar trees” have been installed throughout town. The bundles of solar panels will help save money and energy. The project was put together by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Strategic Energy Committee.

    Damon Lambert, EBCI Building Construction manager, said the project includes “retrofitting the three buildings (Visitors Center located downtown, Cherokee Welcome Center, and Boundary Tree restrooms) to make them more energy efficient, installing solar thermal systems, installing solar photovoltaic panels on two facilities…”

    He related that the project was funded by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation and implemented by EBCI Building Construction. It came out of the Generations Qualla initiative started four years ago by the Foundation in support of Principal Chief Michell Hicks’ Qualla Environmental Resource Proclamation.

Solar thermal panels will also be installed to provide hot water in the buildings.

    Susan Jenkins, Cherokee Preservation Foundation executive director, stated, “I believe the Cherokee community and out-of-town visitors will really enjoy seeing these energy-saving projects and be impressed that this Tribal project is a model for the region and state of North Carolina.”

Jenna Cederberg

Archaeologist Larry Todd, with Greybull River Sustainable Landscape Ecology, discusses the area’s past and the inventory techniques volunteers would use in the field when looking for evidence of the Nez Perce passage. (Photo by Martin Kidston/Billings Gazette)

No one is sure exactly what route the Nez Perce managed to take, back in 1877, to elude the U.S. Army as they fled to Canada.

The hunt was on this week for clues about where the exact escape path lies.

Billings Gazette reporter Martin Kidston followed a group hoping to find route:

    “We want to figure out how the Nez Perce got off that mountain and crossed into Montana,” said Jim Evans, director of the Nez Perce Trail Foundation. “We want to figure out where the route is so we can preserve and protect it for future generations.”

    Led by archaeologists from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, a team of volunteers set out recently to carefully walk several miles of terrain near the Absaroka Front, hoping to find artifacts that might pinpoint the route taken by the Nez Perce during their 1877 flight.

    The teams walked transects along the Montana-Wyoming border, covering several miles of ground in rattlesnake country. They turned up a stone cairn built to mark the border by an earlier geological survey, along with a few rusting artifacts likely stemming from mid-20th century agricultural activities.

Three different maps show different routes the Nez Perce may have taken.

    On this trip, organized in part to celebrate National Trails Day, volunteer crews didn’t find any evidence indicating the passage of the Nez Perce or of the 7th Cavalry.

    But in a landscape this large and varied, results don’t come overnight. Crume plans to continue the investigation, working with private landowners who farm along the Clarks Fork.

    “The cavalry may not have been right behind them,” said Crume. “Different bands may have gone different ways. There’s also a good chance they were down there in the bottoms, as close to the river as they could get.”

Jenna Cederberg


Trahant Reports: Bring voter registration to health clinics

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Mark Trahant

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard. He is writing a book about the impact of government austerity.

Voting should be easy, almost routine. If it’s election day … we should vote. It’s that simple because it’s the very foundation of democracy. It is only when “we” have a say in what happens next, in our future, that governance meets the basic test of a democracy.

But, too often, that’s not the case for American Indians and Alaska Natives. This week the National Congress of American Indians called the problem of access to voting a “civic emergency” requiring an immediate fix.

“Native people have remained one of the most disenfranchised group of voters in the United States. Today as a result, only two out of every five eligible American Indian and Alaska Native voters are not registered to vote, in 2008 over 1 million eligible Native voters were unregistered,” said Jefferson Keel, president of NCAI, the nation’s oldest and most representative tribal advocacy organization. Keel said that starting this week, “we all must be unified we all must be unified by one mission – we must mobilize like never before – register tens of thousands of people, and turn out the largest native vote in history.”

One way that can happen is to increase the velocity of voter registration by going to places where Native Americans already gather. One such magnet is the local clinic. A new report from Demos explains why the Indian health clinic is ideal: “Appropriate IHS facilities should be designated as official voter registration agencies along the same lines as state based public assistance agencies are now designated under the National Voter Registration Act.”

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Louis Adams and his daughter, Arleen, stand beside the grave of his great-great-grandfather in the Bitterroot Mountains southwest of Darby recently. (Photo by Tom Bauer/Missoulian)

“They are not like us. The earth is more real to them – much. They’re barely separated from it – each generation is born back to it, while we get further away all the time. We lose touch with our beginning, our senses get thick-skinned. But they are everlastingly sensitive.”

– Indian agent Ephraim Morse, in the 1944 D’Arcy McNickle short story “Snowfall”

Missoula reporter Kim Briggeman introduced Missoulian readers last week to Arleen and Louis Adams, who together found the almost forgotten grave of their ancestor deep in the Montana wilderness. A fitting read for Father’s Day:

    NAM-A-SHA (Trail To Move On) – Arleen Adams wasn’t expecting this.

    One day she was at home in Arlee, her dad’s great-great-grandfather the farthest thing from her mind.

    The next she was up here at Francis Adams’ grave, high in the Bitterroot Mountains southwest of Darby, on the Stateline Trail with her father.

    Louis and Arleen Adams stood side by side on the last afternoon of May, her open hand patting her heart as their voices blended in a Salish honor song. High school students from Missoula Sentinel and a knot of mentors listened spellbound as the joyful strains drifted over the mountain ridge.

    “In the back of my mind, I really didn’t feel or know the significance of this until today,” Arleen said afterward, smiling away tears.

    Now she understood why her father himself quietly wept on that day in 1975, when 11-year-old Arleen scrambled down this slope and found the overgrown grave site – or rather an almost hidden sign that marked it. Louis knew it wasn’t up the trail where Pete Pierre had placed the headstone that read:

    Francis Adams/ 80 years old/ Died 1900/ Salish Indian

More photos of the Adams’ and a video about the trip to Francis Adams’ grave

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Missoulian reporter Vince Devlin spent the day in the Mission Mountain Wilderness to celebrate its 30th birthday:

ST. IGNATIUS – One of the iconic views on the Flathead Indian Reservation comes when northbound vehicles top Ravalli Hill west of here, and the snow-capped Mission Mountains explode into view and rise thousands of feet from the valley floor.

Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness managers past and present, from right, David Rockwell, Hershel Mays, Tom McDonald and Les Bigcrane. (Photo by Michael Gallacher/of the Missoulian)

There’s a reason the view doesn’t include clearcuts and roads winding up the mountains, and they threw that reason a birthday party Thursday.

The 93,000-acre Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness turned 30 years old.

It was a first – no American Indian tribe had ever before designated its own lands to forever remain wilderness – but it wasn’t the first time the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes had moved to protect the western front of the Missions.

The very first Tribal Council, back in 1936, had tried to establish an Indian-maintained national park there. It was an idea that had the backing of the local Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent, but the proposal died on a desk in Washington, D.C.

Nearly half a century later, a “very courageous” Tribal Council, Germaine White said, voted to establish the nation’s first tribal wilderness area where the national park would have been.

See more photos and a video from the 30th anniversary celebration.

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Longtime Bighorn battle re-enactor dies at 56

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Sad news today out of Montana, where Leland Rock Sr., known to many as Crazy Horse, died Sunday of natural causes.

Crazy Horse, played by Leland Rock of Hardin, charges his horse during the Custer's Last Stand Reenactment east of Hardin in 2009. (Photo by James Woodcock/Billings Gazette)

Rock played Crazy Horse for decades during the Battle of the Little Bighorn reenactment. Organizers say the aannual event won’t be the same without him.

Susan Olp of the Billings Gazette has the story:

    Leland Rock Sr., a longtime actor in the Custer’s Last Stand Re-enactment in Hardin, died Sunday.

    Rock, 56, who portrayed Crazy Horse for more than 20 years in the annual re-enactment of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, died at home in Hardin of natural causes. Services are scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church in Lodge Grass.

    Dressed in warrior garb and a headdress, he is well known to people familiar with the re-enactment.

    “In any brochures for the re-enactments, he’s the Indian on the brochure,” said Laurie Tschetter, of Hardin. “He was the face of Native Americans for the re-enactment.”

    Rock, who also enjoyed Indian relays, was at ease riding bareback during the performance, Tschetter said.

    “He’d been riding bareback so many years, it was second nature,” she said.

    Portraying Crazy Horse wasn’t his first performing role. According to the re-enactment’s website, Rock had a part in the movie “Little Big Man” when he was 14. He also appeared in documentaries about the Battle of the Little Bighorn on the BBC and A&E networks.

    Betty Sader, re-enactment secretary with the Hardin Chamber of Commerce, said Rock took the part very seriously.

    “And he was so proud to do it, playing that part, that was his life,” she said. “And most of his children and grandchildren played parts.”

    Sader said Rock’s son, Leland Rock Jr., will assume the role of Crazy Horse this year, Sader said. The re-enactment is scheduled for June 22-24 just outside the town of Hardin.

    Sader said a few moments will be set aside during the 1:30 p.m. show on June 24 to remember Rock.

    “He’s been a tremendous asset to the entire performance, and he will be missed,” Sader said.

Jenna Cederberg


ND vote lets school scrap Fighting Sioux nickname

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It’s as official as it can get – for now. The University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname is dead.

Buck Striebel holds up a University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux T-shirt while his wife, GaeLynn, sorts through other shirts on sale at a sporting goods store in Bismarck, N.D. (Photo by James MacPherson/Associated Press)

Voters across North Dakota overwhelmingly gave the OK for the state to scrap the nickname, which has been deemed hostile and offensive by the NCAA.

As AP reportor Dave Kolpack reports, the fight over the Fighting Sioux has been a long one.

    Voters in Tuesday’s North Dakota primary were being asked whether to uphold or reject the Legislature’s repeal of a state law requiring the school to use the nickname and American Indian head logo. The vote sends the matter back to the state’s Board of Higher Education, which is expected to retire the moniker and logo.

NCAA would have allowed the nickname to stay if two ND tribes had given the OK, but only Spirit Lake passed a resolution supporting the name, Kolpack reported.

    Advocates for retiring the nickname say the issue is hurting the athletic department in recruiting and scheduling. Some fear it could affect the school’s standing in the Big Sky Conference.

    Supporters of the name say coaches and administrators are exaggerating the harmful effects, including the conference threat, and don’t believe the NCAA sanctions are a big deal.

    The NCAA banned UND from hosting postseason tournaments and said the school could not use the nickname or logo in postseason play, or else it must forfeit those games. The men’s hockey team wore Sioux-logo jerseys in the regular season but switched sweaters in the playoffs.

    Voter Mark Kolstad, of Fargo, said he feels that the state has no choice but to let UND dump the Fighting Sioux moniker.

    “I think it’s kind of dead issue,” he said. “If you keep the name and you keep the logo, who do you play?”

Will the Fighting Sioux be dead forever? We’ll have to wait until fall to see.

    Sean Johnson, spokesman for the nickname group, said the results were disappointing but said they plan to continue gathering petitions for a constitutional amendment.

Jenna Cederberg