Posts Tagged ‘Bureau of Indian Affairs’

From Indianz.com:

The Bureau of Indian Affairs will see some cuts in the budget bill unveiled by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

But the cuts aren’t significant, given the $38 billion that was put on the chopping block as part of the agreement reached by President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). In some cases, BIA programs actually will be receiving more money under the bill.

According to the committee’s documents, the continuing resolution for fiscal year 2011 funds the BIA at $2.334 billion. That’s only $1.45 million below the amount in the 2010 bill.

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By LEDYARD KING, of the Great Falls Tribine:

WASHINGTON — It’s a double whammy for Indian Country. Crime on reservations is more than twice the national average, but only half of serious incidents are ever prosecuted.

Of some 9,090 cases referred for action nationwide from 2005 to 2009, federal prosecutors declined to take action on about 50 percent, or 4,506, the Government Accountability Office reported Monday. A lack of evidence was most often cited as the reason a case was not pursued. Almost another 1,000 cases still are pending, according to the study by the GAO, the watchdog arm of Congress.

South Dakota and Arizona made up about half of all the cases federal prosecutors received, followed by New Mexico, Montana and North Dakota — states that have relatively large Indian populations and sprawling reservations.

Native American advocates say the numbers of “declinations” are troubling, but not surprising.

“What’s most disconcerting about these numbers is that they probably don’t even tell the full story,” said Katy Jackman, staff attorney at the National Congress of American Indians. “What they do confirm is, as we’ve known for some time, that declination rates in Indian Country are a major problem.”

The lack of evidence can be traced in part to a shortage of police on Indian reservations. About 3,000 police officers — a force smaller than that of the nation’s capital — patrol 56 million acres of Indian Country.

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From Kim Skornogoski, of the Great Falls Tribune:

Almost eight years after federal officers armed with assault rifles drove onto the Blackfeet Reservation to fire every law enforcement officer from the police chief to the jail cook, the tribe is taking back the reins of crime control today.

The tribe has been working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs since 2007 to slowly resume operating law enforcement.

“Getting the program back under the Blackfeet Tribe is in the best interest of the Blackfeet people,” said Henry Devereaux, who has worked for the tribe as the director of the new Blackfeet Law Enforcement Services since February. “It has to grow into a good department and not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

In February 2003, a special BIA report exposed evidence of poorly trained law enforcement personnel, mismanaged budgets, bungled case reports and political interference from tribal council members.

The report prompted the federal agency to head up a surprise takeover, using a SWAT team to confiscate officers’ guns, badges and uniforms.

The BIA initially hired 32 uniformed officers — effectively doubling the reservation’s law enforcement numbers. But in the years since, the department has struggled to retain officers and the number on patrol has dropped as low as five.

Though the BIA will continue to run the Blackfeet jail, the last patrol officers will be gone by the end of December. Most will pack up their files starting today.

Two have agreed to stay on while the tribe completes background checks and trains three potential officers.

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Mark Trahant

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 new book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

Also, here is a link to the Cobell settlement website and the Native American Law blog roundup of department heads/White House statements.

I remember the first time I learned of the Cobell case. It was several newspaper-lives ago. Over the years I collected lots of paper, listened to lawyers explanations and written a bit about the litigation.

The original complaint, filed in 1996, said at least 300,000 individual American Indians were victims of a gross breach of trust because of the way the Interior Department mismanaged Individual Indian Money accounts. IIM accounts hold money for individuals from land or natural resource payments as well as other transfers.

I remember thinking at the time about first-hand encounters with such record keeping. One Bureau of Indian Affairs agency superintendent told me that short-term interest from IIM accounts could even be used as a “secret slush fund” for urgent and unbudgeted expenses.

Elouise Cobell’s fourteen-year litigation was both complex and simple. The sheer volume of paper filed with the courts was extraordinary: Thousands of pages of documents, several trials, appeals, and plenty of contempt of court sanctions along the way. The case was also simple, based on this question: Can the government, acting as trustee, account for how it managed individual Indians’ money?

The U.S. District Court in D.C. answered that question this way: “No real accounting, historical or otherwise, has ever been done of the IIM Trust.” Indeed, as late as 1995 the Interior Department testified it was destroying records that could be used for reconciliation of these account.

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Hundreds of the firefighters battling wildfires around the country are Native American (see video above). Among their most important tools are their expensive boots, which can cost as much as $400 a pair.

But as the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe reports, those firefighters have been fighting the Bureau of Indian Affairs for more than two years over reimbursements for their boots:

    But BIA has failed to respond to a September 2009 federal arbitration ruling that ordered the agency to reimburse firefighters for boots they must purchase as a condition of employment. Some federal firefighting agencies provide at least partial reimbursements, the arbitrator said, citing a previous ruling by the Occupational Safety Health Administration.

    Federal requirements for fire-resistant leather firefighter boots that rise above the ankle and last for more than one seven-month fire season range in price from $250 to more than $400 a pair, depending on the brand, according to union officials.

“If you’re going to have First Americans be the first responders on wildfires in California or in Colorado, it seems to me that you ought to provide the fire equipment,” Michael Jennings, executive director of the Federation of Indian Service Employees, tells O’Keefe.

Gwen Florio

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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 new book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

Mark Trahant

Mark Trahant

By Mark Trahant

Which rally drew more people? One Nation Working Together or Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor? Left or right? Liberal or Conservative?

“Per usual the rally’s attendance numbers are being disputed by the left and right,” writes John Hudson in The Atlantic Wire. “While a number of progressive bloggers claim the “One Nation” rally drew a larger crowd than Beck’s August event, the Associated Press and others are challenging that claim.”

The logic here is counting people at a rally is evidence that Americans want a smaller, less taxing government, the kind of government that the Tea Party advocates.

But if you really want to count numbers then consider that while tens of thousands of Americans marched for or against government policy, compare that to Europe where ten times as many marched against their governments’ austerity measures. (These marches, I should mention, are small by European historical standards.)

Nonetheless: Austerity is our future.

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A month from today, the Native American Rights Fund will celebrate its 40th year.

The occasion will be marked at the Chickasaw Nation’s WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. According to the news release printed in the Native Times:

    Larry Echohawk (Interior Department photo)

    Larry Echohawk (Interior Department photo)

    NARF’s 40 Years of Indian Law Forum will highlight four decades of Indian law and NARF’s role. We will examine current concerns and challenges within each of NARF’s priority areas and their impact on Indian law. Utilizing the tribal leaders and attorneys attending, in each priority area we will craft a shared vision for the future direction for that issue of Indian law. Each session will end with strategic outlines for how NARF can address each issue for the next 40 years. In representing President Obama’s Administration, the keynote luncheon speaker will be Larry Echohawk, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior.

    The NARF’s 40th Anniversary Dinner — “40 for 40″ — will highlight the 40 tribes, individuals and organizations that have helped shape the 40 years of NARF. We will spotlight Native clients, past board and staff members and funding partners. This will be a celebration honoring the impact that NARF has had in Indian Country.

The event will also include fun and games, in the form of the Native Justice Golf Challenge for tribal leaders, with Notah Begay II as the golf pro host.

Gwen Florio

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Scary story by the Associated Press from the Crow Reservation in southern Montana. Fortunately, at least according to early reports, it appears none of the children was seriously injured.

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – Officials say several third-graders were injured in Crow Agency when a pickup truck hit the float they were riding on before a parade meant to celebrate Native American Week.

Gene Grose, principal of Crow School, says the pickup hit a decorated flatbed carrying about 40 students Thursday morning. Witnesses say they think the pickup was traveling at about 35 mph.

The Billings Gazette reports that four ambulances, along with school buses, took the injured children to a Crow Agency hospital, where Grose says they were treated for minor “bumps and bruises.” It is unclear how many students were injured.

The principal says the parade, along with a feast for parents and a mini-powwow planned for the day were canceled because “there are too many traumatized kids and adults.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs police department in Crow Agency is investigating.

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Here’s the full story from the Associated Press:

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — A Bureau of Indian Affairs worker who was driving along a highway in Blaine County says a person in a car heading in the opposite direction fired a shotgun at his pickup.

Ralph Page, a BIA rangeland management specialist from Chinook, was not injured but the blast shattered the driver’s side window. If the window had been rolled down, he likely would have been shot in the head.

“It would have killed me, but I think that glass is just tempered enough,” he said.

Page, 57, said he was driving along U.S. Highway 2 just after noon on Wednesday, headed toward Harlem to pick up a load of hay. The blast came from a gray car headed east just near the Milk River Bridge.

Page did not get the license plate number and did not know how many occupants were in the car, Blaine County Undersheriff Pat Pyette said Thursday.

“I’ve been here nine years and this is the first time that anything like that has happened,” Pyette said.

Pyette said his department was investigating the shooting.

Page doesn’t know whether the attack was random or if someone was targeting him. He said he’s tried not to let himself think about how close he came to being injured or worse.

“Life’s a little different up here,” he said. “I mean I’ve had a few fights, over there at my job, but nothing more than that.”

And while he said he didn’t get too worked up over the incident, Page’s wife and five children — ages 27 to 35 — were upset.

“She wasn’t happy,” Page said.

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Mark Trahant, a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, is a Kaiser Media Fellow examining the Indian Health Service and its relevance to the national health care reform debate. Comment at www.marktrahant.com. His new book is “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard. This column can also be read on the Missoulian website.

TrahantThere’s an old joke: A Native American student comes home from a geography lesson, shows his grandfather a map, and then asks, “What did we call the United States before it was a country?” His grandfather answers, “Ours.”

I thought of this joke recently in the context of the U.S. Indian Health Service. Perhaps the agency’s history, its shortcomings and its chronic underfunding have all been acceptable to Indian Country because the system itself is “ours.” It’s been “ours” for most of our generation – a little more than five decades – where American Indian and Alaska Natives could receive health care in a system that was, and is, unique.

A quick look at the history: Since 1955 the Indian Health Service was transferred from a rickety network of hospitals and clinics run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to a real health care system. In that same time frame, the agency went from being a slice of the BIA to being larger than the BIA with a budget of $4.4 billion and some 15,000 employees. During that time there were substantial improvements in Indian health, including reducing overall mortality by 28 percent in the past 30 years, while still falling short in health parity for Native Americans.

That brings me back to the definition of “ours.”

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