NMAI Seeks Design Input for Native American Veterans Memorial

July 27, 2016

Native American soldiers have fought in every war since the American Revolution, up to and including the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now representatives from the National Museum of the American Indian are traveling across the country seeking input from tribes on a design for a memorial to honor them. They recently visited with tribes in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Representatives from the NMAI are on an 18-month tour of Indian Country gathering advice on a design for the National Native American Veterans Memorial, which was authorized by Congress in December 2013. It will stand on the grounds of the NMAI near the U.S. Capitol and like other recent memorials in Washington, D.C., it will be built entirely with private donations.


Yurok Salmon Festival Goes on Without the Salmon

July 25, 2016

Predicted salmon runs on the Klamath River are so low this year that for the first time in its 54-year history, the Yurok Tribe’s annual Klamath Salmon Festival on Aug. 20 will not be serving any salmon.

Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke called it a “manmade catastrophe” and said there are not even enough salmon to feed Yurok families. O’Rourke and officials from other tribes along the Klamath River say federally regulated dams are to blame for the low salmon run. They say not enough water is being released leaving salmon susceptible to parasitic outbreaks. Read more about it here.

Lack of Health Services Puts Native Lives at Risk and Violates Treaties, Advocates Say

July 21, 2016

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer among Native Americans, behind lung cancer. Northern Plains Native Americans, for example, face an incidence of the illness 53 percent higher than non-Hispanic whites, and among Alaska Natives the incidence is 115 percent higher. Yet screening for this type of cancer is not typically covered by the underfunded Indian Health Service. 

“Congress would rather let Indians die than adequately fund the Indian Health Service,” Dr. Donald Warne told Newsweek. Werne, is a Native American and an advocate for better health services for Native communities. Some say that failing to provide adequate health care for Native Americans is a violation of the treaties the government signed with the tribes. Read more about this here.

National Labor Relations Act Applies to Tribal Casinos in the Sixth Circuit

July 18, 2016

Recently, two Michigan tribes petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) authority to regulate labor practices at their casinos. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review either the Little River Band’s or the Saginaw Chippewa’s petition, leaving the Sixth Circuit rulings that the NLRB has jurisdiction as binding precedent.

In both NLRB v. Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Tribal Government and Soaring Eagle Casino v. NLRB, the Sixth Circuit held that there is a presumption that federal laws generally apply equally to tribes on their reservation lands. However, a statute will not be applied to reservation lands if the law touches exclusive self-governance rights, if applying the law to the tribe would abrogate treaty rights, or if legislative history shows congressional intent to exclude tribes from the law’s application. The Sixth Circuit held that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) vests the NLRB with the fullest jurisdictional breadth constitutionally permissible under the Commerce Clause, and that enforcement of the Act in Indian country is not restricted by one of the exceptions to general applicability.

You can read more about the cases here.

To read an analysis of how the applicability of the NLRA to tribes has evolved over the past decade go here.


Panel Looks into Sentencing Reform in Indian Country

July 7, 2016

Are Native Americans living on reservations disproportionately dealt harsher punishments for crimes than other Americans? A federal panel is looking into this question.

Ralph Erickson. a chief federal district court judge for North Dakota. and an outspoken proponent of sentencing reforms for Native American reservations, is spearheading the federal review. Called the Tribal Issues Advisory Group, the panel is made up of 22 judges and law enforcement administrators, 11 of which are Native American.

“No matter how long I have been sentencing in Indian Country, I find it gut-wrenching when I am asked by a family member of a person I have sentenced why Indians are sentenced to longer sentences than white people who commit the same crime,” Erickson told the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Frosch. The Wall Street Journal interview is here.  A similar article published by Quartz is here.

SCOTUS Rules in U.S. v. Bryant

June 15, 2016

A decision in U.S. v. Bryant was released Monday. The case raises the question of whether a provision in the Violence Against Women Act, which allows tribal court convictions to be considered when determining repeat offender status for the purposes of sentencing, is a violation of the Sixth Amendment. The Sixth Amendment guarantees indigent defendants appointed counsel in any state or federal criminal proceeding in which a term of imprisonment is imposed, however the Sixth Amendment does not apply in tribal court. In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that Bryant’s convictions in tribal court, where he was not represented by counsel, were valid at the time they were entered and therefore they were valid as prior convictions in determining Bryant’s status as a repeat offender. A copy of the decision is here. For an analysis of the court’s decision, check Turtle Talk.

Supreme Court Discusses the Source of Sovereignty

June 9, 2016

In majority and dissenting opinions regarding Puerto Rico and double jeopardy, the Supreme Court headed down the road to defining the source of Tribal sovereignty. Is it inherent or is it bestowed by Congress? An Indian law crisis was averted, as the justices landed on inherent, but it’s interesting to read their reasoning on the subject. 

The opinions are summarized here on Turtle Talk by Matthew Fletcher. 

This Day in History: Congress Passes Indian Citizenship Act

June 2, 2016


President Calvin Coolidge with Sioux Chiefs

Though many Native Americans were already citizens through marriage or military service, the Indian Citizenship Act, passed by Congress on this day in 1924, extended citizenship to all Native Americans. Even though they were granted citizenship by the Congress, Native Americans were denied the right to vote in many states for a good part of the 20th century.

Army Agrees to Repatriate the Remains of Children who Died at Carlisle

May 16, 2016

The remains of Indian children who died at the Carlisle Industrial Indian School in Pennsylvania may soon be returned to their respective tribes. During formal government-to-government consultations that took place in Rosebud, S.D. last week, Army officials surprised a tense meeting-hall gathering by consenting to the demands of the Rosebud Sioux to return the remains of 10 Rosebud children – and to pay the cost of doing so. Two other tribes have made similar requests. The government pledged that, through the official process for disinterments, it would accommodate all tribes that come forward. To read more and view photos from the school, go here.

Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative Awarded Grant to Study Tribal Food Systems

April 26, 2016

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded a $189,983 grant to the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, based in the University of Arkansas School of Law, to study the link between tribal food policy and community health.

The study of the linkage between tribal food policy and the health in tribal communities comes at a time when the health disparities related to food insecurity in Indian Country are at crisis levels.

According to the 2015 report “Feeding Ourselves,” Native Americans continue to suffer from serious health problems and their average life expectancy is nearly five years less than other Americans. In addition:

The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative enhances health and wellness in tribal communities by advancing healthy food systems, diversified economic development and cultural food traditions in Indian Country. The initiative empowers tribal governments, farmers, ranchers and food businesses by providing strategic planning and technical assistance; by creating new academic and professional education programs in food systems and agriculture; and by increasing student enrollment in land grant universities in food and agricultural related disciplines. 

Read more about this initiative here.

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