Here’s the story in full from the Missoulian:

EAST GLACIER – No charges will be filed in the death of a well-known Native American traditional dancer along a roadway just outside Glacier National Park, the FBI said Monday.

Clinton Croff ( photo)

Clinton Croff ( photo)

Clinton Croff, 30, of Browning died last month on the eastern edge of Glacier National Park. Park officials said only that he was “involved in altercations” near a road construction zone. Park staff said rangers had found Croff “combative and suffering from multiple wounds.”

Debbie Dujanovic, of the FBI’s Salt Lake City office, said Monday that the agency’s investigation – opened at the request of the National Park Service – into the incident was complete.

Maynard Kicking Woman, a cultural coordinator for the Blackfeet Manpower One-Stop Center, said after Croff’s death that “from the day he was born, Clinton was connected to this culture. He’s going to be missed in Indian Country, because a lot of people knew him.”

Croff’s mother was a champion traditional dancer and his grandfather was central to the Blackfeet Slick-Foot Society, Kicking Woman said. Croff’s funeral attracted a wide circle of drum groups, he said.

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Mark Trahant is a Kaiser Media Fellow examining the Indian Health Service and its relevance to the national health care reform debate. He is a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and writes from Fort Hall, Idaho. Comment at His new book is “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

Mark Trahant

Mark Trahant

A fast year: Lessons from the Indian Health system

A year goes by fast. Way too fast. Thirteen months ago I plunged into my “year-long” exploration of the Indian health system. It’s been fascinating because there has so much activity: Congress enacted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and included with that bill the permanent authorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

My idea was to explore two basic questions. First, what lessons from the Indian Health Service ought to be a part of the national health care reform debate? And, second, what is the impact of health care reform on the Indian Health system? (I’ll write about that next week.)

In some ways the first question is the most difficult because of its complexity. The “story” of the Indian Health Service told in Congress and by news organizations is primarily the story of how the government runs a health care delivery system.

Sometimes that even reflects a positive message.

“It may come as a shock to many that when I compare the private insurance industry to the Indian Health Service, VA, Medicare and Medicaid, it is the private insurance industry that is the worst,” writes Dr. Richard Anderson in the Cody Enterprise. “The reason for this is that when compared to government agencies, insurance companies are not in the business of providing health care benefits as much as the denial of such benefits to make a profit for shareholders. That’s why government agencies have much lower overhead and are more efficient in delivering services.”

Far more often, however, the story is about how government fails as a provider. A recent post on is an example of that narrative: “So, if you’re in the camp that supports a Medicare-for-all-type solution to our health care woes, consider how that same government, whom you’re entrusting to be the single-payer, has neglected the Indian Health Service.”

What’s interesting to me about both these posts is that they were written after Congress enacted health care reform legislation. We’re still fighting over a law that already passed (and, as I have written before, one that will be impossible to repeal until at least 2012).

But this narrative – Indian Health as a single-payer (success or failure) – misses the complexity. It’s hard to find many news stories at all that describe the role of Indian Health Service as a partner and funder of tribal, non-profit and urban health care organizations. Even though that activity represents more than half the IHS budget.

That’s why I would change the name of the Indian Health Service. It’s no longer a “service,” it’s a system. And in the coming decades I believe the IHS will provide even fewer direct health care services, while continuing to grow in areas associated with funding or the support of medical innovation and practices.

So what are some lessons from the Indian Health System that ought to be a part of the national health care reform debate? Three quick ones:
• A demonstration of what it takes to support and operate a rural health network, even in remote locations, using practices such as telemedicine;
• Experiences with an early implementation of an electronic record system for patients, information that will be valuable as other providers move away from paper records;
• Searching for a financial model that is frugal, yet fully funded. Neither the IHS (nor any private or government provider) has discovered the right balance. Not yet, anyway. But the topic should be a part of the discussion.

But perhaps the most important lesson is the Indian Health system’s history with the care and management of chronic diseases, especially diabetes.

Diabetes is the most expensive disease in America. It’s the fifth leading cause of death, surpassing AIDS and breast cancer combined. It represents nearly a quarter of all hospital spending and as much as one out of five health care dollars are spent on caring for someone with diabetes.

Unfortunately this epidemic is not news in Indian Country. American Indian and Alaska Natives are three times more likely to have diabetes than the white population (and four times more likely to die as a result).

Because of these grim statistics, the Indian Health system has much practical experience in disease management. For example the Special Diabetes Program for Indians supports community-directed programs, ranging from increased training to “best practices.” Over the decade the program reports a reduction in mean blood sugar levels of 13 percent in IHS patients as well as reduced LDL (or bad) cholesterol and significant reductions in protein in urine (a sign of kidney dysfunction). There are also promising statistics on fewer cases of end-stage kidney disease and other complications.

The diabetes crisis is not over – but Indian Country’s experiences could be helpful to the larger debate showing the importance of education and community-based efforts.

Additional resources:

New England Journal of Medicine: Article by Surgeon General Regina Benjamin on “Finding My Way to Electronic Health Records.

Financial Times: New report shows diabetes costs $83 billion a year in hospital bills.

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James Odata of the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union is keeping an eye on the situation today as tribal members protest Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s remarks on a tax on Native American cigarettes set to begin Sept. 1.

Odata writes:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (AP photo)

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (AP photo)

    Tribal members from as far away as the Seneca territory planned to meet in New York City this morning to protest outside city hall. Their rally was motivated by comments by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that have spread from tribe to tribe across the country. …

    The National Congress of American Indian representatives and members of the upstate and Long Island tribes have been planning to merge outside the mayor’s offices. The group intends to ask for an apology and discuss sovereignty.

Bloomberg’s comment: According to the New York Post, he suggested the following to Gov. David Paterson. “I said to David Paterson, I said, ‘You know, get yourself a cowboy hat and a shotgun. If there’s ever a great video, it’s you standing in the middle of the New York State Thruway saying, you know, ‘Read my lips: The law of the land is this and we’re going to enforce the law.'”

We’ll be following this throughout the day.

Gwen Florio

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Demonstrators in Scotland are gearing up for Monday’s “day of mass action” in Edinburgh, Scotland, in protest of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s funding of energy projects, including those in the Alberta tar sands in Canada.

Representatives from First Nations who say their health and way of life is threatened by the massive tar sands projects are among those in the so-called Climate Camp in Edinburgh.

Their aim? To keep the bank from doing business Monday.

As Demotix reports here:

    Jasmine Thomas and Riannon Ball, two members of indigenous First Nations in British Columbia, have been briefing climate activists at the Camp on the impact of Tar Sands and oil pipeline projects on indigenous communities.

    Actions against RBS Group over the last few days included mass incursions by up to 150 demonstrators around and into headquarters buildings, street-theatre type protests at bank offices and an RBS-sponsored open air stage at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Protesters also targeted bank branches around the City, letting off stink bombs and super-gluing doors shut.

Stay tuned.

Gwen Florio

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New York tribes to rally tomorrow in protest of Bloomberg’s “cowboy” remark

It’s a shame it takes a subscription to read all of this Newsday story, but the two-paragraph tease is pretty clear: “Native American outrage over New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s broadcast advice to Gov. David A. Paterson to ‘get yourself a cowboy hat and a shotgun’ [read full remarks in the New York Post] to collect Indian cigarette taxes will extend into next week with a rally at City Hall. Harry Wallace, chief of the Unkechaug Indian Nation of Mastic, a frequent target of the mayor, said Friday he was organizing the rally Monday.” Rest assured, we’ll keep you posted. The tax is supposed to go into effect Sept. 1.

Group seeks justice for missing, murdered aboriginal women
Cherry Smiley of the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network in Vancouver deals daily with the worst society dishes out to women – abuse, sexual exploitation, violence. And she has a pertinent question, especially on the issue of young girls finding themselves in these situations: “Why is society not horrified by what is happening here? This is not child labor, it’s child rape, yet the authorities have done little to deal with the pimps and perpetrators.” Valerie Talliman writes about it in Indian Country Today.

Assembly of First Nations seeks probe into police handling of serial killer case
And speaking of missing and murdered women – The Assembly of First Nations has joined other groups seeking a public probe into the way police in Vancouver, British Columbia, handled the caes of serial killer Robert Pickton. Many of Pickton’s victims were First Nations women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, said National Chief Shawn Atleo, who is a hereditary chief from Ahousaht. “A full and comprehensive public inquiry, with the participation of aboriginal people, is the only way to address the need for respect, justice and a better understanding of how we can prevent these tragedies in the future,” Atleo tells the Montreal Gazette here.

Las Vegas union makes contentious move to organize Navajo casino staff
Accusations and counter-accusations are flying as Culinary Workers Union Local 226, based in Las Vegas, attempts to unionize staff at the Fire Rock Navajo Casino. The union says casino management has been intimidating workers and trying to discourage them from signing up; management says it’s following the letter of the law. Bill Donovan, special to the Navajo Times, lays it all out.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to visit Inuit territories this week

Prime Minister Stephen Harper starts a five-day swing through all three northern territories starting tomorrow. The trip will kick off with a visit to Churchill, Man. Aug. 23. Harper will stop in Cambridge Bay Aug. 24, and then to to Resolute Bay on Aug. 25, the Nunatsiaq News reports here.

Gwen Florio

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CASEY RIFFE/Gazette Staff Riders make their way up Gas Cap Hill at the end of the parade at Crow Fair on Friday. (Casey Riffe/Billings Gazette)

CASEY RIFFE/Gazette Staff Riders make their way up Gas Cap Hill at the end of the parade at Crow Fair on Friday. (Casey Riffe/Billings Gazette)

There’s a site that lets us know how many people look at Buffalo Post every day. Yesterday, that number was way down, and we think we know why – it’s because everybody’s out having fun at Crow Fair! We wish we were, too. If you’re like us and couldn’t make it, Susan Olp of the Billings Gazette provides everyone with a great vicarious experience, here:

A horse wears a beaded rosette during the parade at Crow Fair on Friday. (Casey Riffe/Billings Gazette)

A horse wears a beaded rosette during the parade at Crow Fair on Friday. (Casey Riffe/Billings Gazette)

CROW AGENCY — Wandering around Crow Fair, it’s not hard to imagine what an early Crow encampment might have looked like.

Clusters of white canvas tepees are visible as far as the eye can see. Adults talk together, holding babies on their laps, while children run around playing and laughing. And tribal members, young and old, ride by on horses.

But there are a few differences.

Pickups and cars now drive along paved roads. Light-weight nylon tents are scattered among the tepees. Vendors sell pizza, hamburgers, Indian tacos, fresh-squeezed lemonade and tourist trinkets.

If campers run out of food, they can drive to the nearest store. And when the reunion is finished, they go back to life on the reservation or in the city.

Perhaps one of the biggest constants is family. When Crow Fair comes around each August, families gather in the same spots, enjoying a reunion and the opportunity to compete in or watch the powwow, morning parade, rodeo and horse races.

Thousands of Indians gather at the encampment in the middle of town. An equal number of tourists come from as far away as Europe to catch a glimpse of Native life.

On Friday, families set up chairs or just stood watching the first parade of this year’s Crow Fair, which began Thursday and will run through Monday. This is the 92nd edition of the annual summer gathering.

Much of the parade consisted of tribal members on horseback, old men, young girls and everyone in between. Many wore traditional dress, but others sported cowboy hats and neckerchiefs or jeans, T-shirts and baseball caps.

Colorful blankets draped many of the horses. Some were decorated in beads.

At the front of the parade, after the color guard, three teenage girls dressed in traditional elk-tooth dresses rode slowly on horseback. They are called the good girls, said Autumn Whiteclay, watching with her sister, Lissa LaFrance, and watching the parade.

Two of the three are her nieces, 15-year-old twins Joree and Taylor LaFrance of Wyola, Whiteclay said proudly. The third is Heidi Wilson of Missoula.

Her nieces have excelled academically, as well as in sports and on horseback, Whiteclay said, which earned them the honor of leading the parade. A crier followed them on foot who proclaimed in the Crow language all of their achievements.

“My dad, Francis Whiteclay, first put them on a horse when they were 2,” she said. “He taught them their horsemanship.”

The twins wear elk-tooth dresses that their great-grandmother, Joan Horn, received as wedding presents. Altogether, five generations of Whiteclay’s family are at Crow Fair this year.

The parade mirrors early Crow life, said Lissa LaFrance, the twins’ mother. In camp, the women would be the ones to put up and take down tepees, cook and tend to the children. The men’s job would be to hunt, to provide for their families.

“When they would move camp, the women and children would go first,” LaFrance said.

In Friday’s parade, the three girls were followed by a float that carried the girls chosen as the Indian princesses. After that, a long line of riders.

Finally, unlike the early treks, a series of vehicles decorated in colorful blankets and signs, carried adults and kids along the parade route. Many of them tossed out candy, as well as water bottles and small balls to children who quickly gathered them up.

After the parade, participants and watchers scattered to their tepees and tents. Some went for a dip in the river. Others walked over to the arbor, in the center of the encampment, where food is for sale and where the powwow would begin hours later.

Daisy Dineen, from Vancouver, Wash., her brother J.D. Cline of Denver and her daughter Rochelle Rothaus of Olympia, Wash., sat and enjoyed some shade on the covered bleachers. Dineen and Cline grew up in Crow Agency, with their mother a member of the tribe.

This was Rothaus’ third time at the fair, and she brought her husband, daughter and son. It’s kind of a family tradition, she said, but it’s more than that.

“It’s part of our family’s heritage,” she said.

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With the fall semester fast approaching, First Nations University of Canada has cut nearly a quarter of its faculty and staff, in addition to canceling courses and merging departments, Elizabeth Church of the Globe and Mail of Toronto reports here:

View of the foyer of First Nations University. (

View of the foyer of First Nations University. (

    The drastic reductions, which include the elimination of 46 jobs, were announced Thursday as the school scrambles to meet the conditions of federal and provincial funding by slicing $3-million from its annual operating budget by the end of the month. The university is selling its only asset – a satellite campus in Saskatoon – to cover the cost of the massive restructuring and says it has lined up a buyer for the property along with an agreement to lease the building for the coming school year.

“We are doing what is needed to ensure First Nations University is everlasting,” says the school’s interim president, Shauneen Pete.

The University, which shares a campus with the University of Regina, cut 46 jobs, and merged nine departments into two.

The restructuring at the university, the only one of its kind in Canada, follows a funding crisis related to accusations of mismanagement and a subsequent loss of federal funds. The university is overseen by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, which has taken steps to see federal funding restored

Gwen Florio

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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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Indian Country Today raises a question that badly needs asking: Where’s the outrage over New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s crack that New York Gov. David Paterson should “grab a cowboy hat and a shotgun” and go collect cigarette taxes from the Seneca Nation? (See previous post here.)

When New York Mayor Bloomberg asked Gov. Patterson to act like a cowboy to shut down the Seneca tobacco industry, little was heard from mainstream America to condemn such an outrageous statement.

As Indian Country Today’s editorial points out:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (AP photo)

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (AP photo)

    The image of the cowboys shooting and killing Indians, defending settlers and moving them off their lands is the stuff of American legend. Indians were the villains of American expansionism and it created Manifest Destiny to justify their elimination. …

    Bloomberg’s blindness to our history must not be limited to only him. The rest of America seems not to care very much.

    If the mayor had suggested that the Klu Klux Klan be sent in to collect taxes in Seneca territory, there would be outrage. His suggestion for the governor to act like a cowboy is comparable to sending in neo-Nazis to settle the “Jewish problem.”

    Shocking as that may sound, this is the image from a Native American perspective.

Maybe someday it’ll be the image from a human perspective. But not, apparently, quite yet.

Gwen Florio

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Here’s the story from the Associated Press:

Salish Kootenai College hosted the Indian college basketball tournament in 2009. (Missoulian photo)

Salish Kootenai College hosted the Indian college basketball tournament in 2009. (Missoulian photo)

GREAT FALLS (AP) — Six schools have agreed to form the Montana Tribal Colleges basketball league this fall.

Fort Belknap College in Harlem, Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Stone Child College in Box Elder and Fort Peck Community College in Poplar will be adding men’s and women’s basketball programs.

Those schools will join squads from Salish-Kootenai College in Pablo and Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency.

The league will tip off Nov. 6 on the campus of Stone Child College in Rocky Boy for a two-day, round-robin tournament.

Gerald Stiffarm of Fort Belknap College says representatives from the schools will be meeting this week to finalize league rules and regulations.

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