Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Column: Native legal advocates continue fight with new beat

- Sunday, May 6, 2007
by Jodi Rave

A bold illustration shows the Lakota Chief Sitting Bull looking stoic in braids, suit and tie, ready for a briefcase battle in the fight for tribal sovereignty. The lettering in this Ryan Red Corn piece reads: “The Indian Wars Never Ended.”The Internet version of this Native American Rights Fund public service announcement leads the viewer to a video in which a team of modern-day Native rights lawyers join forces with (pause) hip-hop artists. If this seems an unlikely alliance, well, the pairing actually works.

NARF, the country's oldest legal advocacy organization for Native issues, has been unfolding its first-ever public service announcements - whether they have a shelf life is yet to be seen - where the nonprofit group shares the stage with hip hop.
Virginia Cross, a tribal councilwoman for the Muckleshoot Tribe in Washington, saw the spring launch of NARF's public service announcement while attending this year's National Indian Gaming Association's annual trade show.Cross viewed “The Indian Wars Never Ended” PSA in Phoenix. She watched and remembered the day when the Muckleshoot Tribe owned a single acre of land in 1971.“We didn't even own a tribal building,” Cross said. The tribe needed to fight one of the most powerful energy companies in the Puget Sound area, but had no money to wage a lawsuit that would protect its treaty-related fishing and water rights.Muckleshoot leaders turned to the Native American Rights Fund, based in Boulder, Colo., to take them to battle.

Today the tribe is a co-manager of the watershed in King County, the most populous county in Washington. And their one-acre land claim now exceeds 1,100 acres. The tribe also now operates a thriving casino in the Seattle area.Seeing the NARF announcement prompted Cross, who has been on the tribal council for nearly 30 years, to go back to her tribe in Auburn, Wash., and ask them to consider making a cash contribution to NARF.

Last week, the Native American Rights Fund's executive director met Muckleshoot leaders in Washington, where they presented him with a $100,000 check.“I thought they did so much for us when we had absolutely nothing for the tribe,” Cross said. “I thought we should do something for them.”

The 67-year-old also said she understood NARF's move to imbue their public service message with a hip-hop theme.“I thought it was pretty good,” she said. “You have to deal with the culture the way it is today.” Fifty percent of Muckleshoot tribal citizens are below age 21. “That's the age group you need to be dealing with,” said Cross.

Crystal Echo Hawk, NARF's assistant development director, led the effort to include a hip-hop theme as a way to reach across generations. After all, NARF's mission affects the young and old.

During the past 36 years, NARF lawyers have battled states and the U.S. government over land claims, religious freedom, tribal termination and water rights.Echo Hawk turned to a 20- to 30-something group of artists to come up with a final product that reflects a trendy blend of mass media pop culture. They knew what they needed to do. They started their work with a basic question: “How do we indigenize that?”

Here are some of the creative team members: Red Corn worked on the graphic illustrations. Culture Shock Camp - which includes hip-hop artists Quese IMC and DJ Shock B, aka brothers Quese and Brian Frejo - provided the sound, lyrics and hip-hop beat.

Artist Bunky Echo Hawk also joined forces with this dynamic group to drive home a message that stands for protecting tribal sovereignty. John Echo Hawk, NARF's executive director, and members of the NARF legal team also take center stage in the video shoots, which can be seen in two 60- and 30-second video clips.

The last time I talked with Crystal Echo Hawk, she told me I was the seed that brought life to the group's message. The seed started growing when I was a journalism student at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

One of my student projects led me to work for NARF. I was asked to write the forward in an annual report for the organization's 25th anniversary.After reading about all the work NARF accomplished in a quarter-century, I was taken by the sheer magnitude of what this team of lawyers was fighting to protect. They fought for Indian rights in several landmark cases, including the Boldt Decision, Maine Land Claims, Menominee Restoration Act, Native American Graves Protection Restoration Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the ongoing Elouise Cobell class action suit,I remember feeling overwhelmed and inspired at these modern-day battles in the courtroom being fought by modern-day warriors, the lawyers.

And I started writing: “The Indian Wars never ended. They merely changed venue. ...”Reporter Jodi Rave can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at jodi.rave@lee.net

To view the NARF PSA "The Indian Wars Never Ended," please visit www.moderndaywarrior.org

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Idaho, Nez Perce Tribe, and Federal Government Finalize Snake River Water Agreement

May 2, 2007
For release immediate release

The State of Idaho, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the U.S. Department of the Interior finalized a major water rights agreement for the Snake River today. The settlement resolves a number of water rights issues as part of the Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA).

Since 1998, the Nez Perce Tribe, the United States, the State of Idaho, and local communities and water users in Idaho have been working to resolve the claims of the Nez Perce Tribe in the Snake River Basin. The SRBA is the legal inventory of about 150,000 water rights in 38 of Idaho’s 44 counties. The Nez Perce claims had been the largest outstanding issue in the Snake River Basin.

The parties have now finalized a settlement of the case. It defines the rights and responsibilities of the parties over a broad spectrum of terms, ranging from quantified tribal water rights to collaborative Endangered Species Act agreements. It also provides federal funding for tribal water and fisheries projects, tribal water supply systems, and mitigation funding for several counties in Idaho.

Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Carl Artman, praised the significant accomplishment “I am pleased that all of the parties have been able to come together to resolve a number of long-standing issues. This settlement will provide benefits to the Nez Perce Tribe, help rebuild salmon and steelhead runs, and provide needed certainty about water rights. It is a model for tribes, states, and the federal government working together.”

Governor Butch Otter noted the significant effort that went into the Settlement. “I want to thank the Idaho Congressional Delegation, members of the Legislature, the Attorney General and his staff, the Idaho water users, and the Nez Perce Tribe for all of their dedication and hard work in finding creative solutions that will provide benefits to the people of Idaho for many years.”

Rebecca Miles, the Chair of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, said “This settlement has been a difficult decision for the Tribe. For generations to come, however, we think it will provide benefits to the Tribe and help rebuild salmon and steelhead runs that are so important to our community.”

Congress passed the Snake River Water Rights Act in 2004 to implement the settlement and authorize Federal funding. The Idaho Legislature and Nez Perce Tribe ratified the settlement in March 2005. The SRBA Court Consent Decree process was completed in March 2007. Today’s actions certify that all preconditions for finality of the Settlement have been completed.

For more information contact:
Idaho: David Hensley, 208-334-2100
Nez Perce Tribe: Heidi Gudgell, 208-843-7355
Department of Interior: Nedra Darling, 202-219-4150

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

NARF Assists the Pawnee Nation in Return of 60 acres of traditional homeland by Nebraska Couple

PAWNEE, OK – On April 21st, over a 100 tribal members from the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and their Nasharo Band Chiefs gathered at the Pawnee Nation danceground to honor writer Roger Welsch and his wife, Linda, for their gift of approximately 60 acres of land in Nebraska to the tribe.
The deed to the land, located near the Loup River and Dannebrog, Nebraska, was given to the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma in a ceremony followed by a feast, an honor dance, and Mr. Welsch and his wife being made honorary members of the Pawnee Nation. Representatives from NARF, including Walter Echo-Hawk, were also in attendance at the tribal ceremony and honoring. Echo-Hawk, a Senior NARF Staff attorney assisted the tribe with the land transfer.

Welsch, a writer, stated in an interview with the Tulsa World that, "It's something we had no choice in because it had to be done," Welsch said. "These people are not guests on our land, but rather we are guests on their land," stated Welsch in reference to the fact that Nebraska once served as part of the traditional homelands to the Pawnee prior to their removal to Oklahoma in the late 1800's.
Speeches were made by a number of tribal officials, including the President of the Pawnee Nation, Ron Rice, and the Nasharo Chiefs. Other speakers included Walter Echo-Hawk, who spoke on the legal work and assistance that NARF has provided to the tribe. NARF currently represents the Pawnee Nation in the reburial efforts of 800 human remains in Nebraska. NARF worked with the Pawnee Nation and its Repatriation Committee to assist in the facilitation of the transfer of Mr. Welsch's land to the Pawnee Nation for use as a reburial and cultural site. Echo-Hawk also assisted the tribe in attaining an opinion from the Nebraska Attorney General last year that clarified the tribe's right to conduct reburials on private land.

While addressing tribal leaders and members during the gathering, Echo-Hawk encouraged Pawnee Nation leadership to consider renaming the tribe to "the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and Nebraska," in light of the return of the lands.
Mr. Francis Morris, Pawnee Nation Repatriation Director explained to a Tulsa World reporter that, "The Loup River was a favored site of the Pawnees," adding "It is our country." Mr. Morris went on to add that prior to the Welsch's gift of the land to the Pawnee Nation, that the tribe had no place to bury the remains of their ancestors. The tribe is currently leading an effort to collect blankets, shawls, and to raise funds to assist with the tribe's efforts to conduct the reburials this fall on the land.
*Photo Credit: Tribal member Junior Pratt dances in honor of land return by Nebraska couple. Photo by Bill Howell

"Administration's Proposed Trust Settlement Unacceptable":

WASHINGTON D.C.-On March 29, 2007, NARF Executive Director John Echohawk testified before the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on the tribal trust funds class action lawsuit against the Department of the Interior. NARF filed a case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for full and complete trust fund accountings on behalf of eleven named plaintiff tribes, Nez Perce Tribe, et al. v. Kempthorne, et al., which seeks class action status on behalf of all other tribes that did not file their own cases for full and complete accountings and that do not wish to exclude themselves from the class for their own reasons. As discussed here in brief, Mr. Echohawk’s testimony addressed three points.

1) Need for Full and Complete Accounting: In 1996 the BIA provided tribal account holders with Arthur Andersen "Agreed-Upon Procedures Engagement Reports" of their trust accounts for the limited time period of July 1972 through September 1992. Even though everyone – including Arthur Andersen itself, the BIA, the Office of the Special Trustee, and the Government Accountability Office – has admitted that the Arthur Andersen reports are not full and complete accountings, the government has tried to get tribes to agree that the Arthur Andersen reports are full and complete accountings.

The pending tribal trust claims in federal district courts seek: 1) declarations that the government has fiduciary obligations to tribal beneficiaries; 2) declarations that the government is in breach of its fiduciary obligations; 3) full and complete accountings of tribal trust accounts and funds; 4) restatement of or restitution to trust account and trust fund balances as if there had been no breaches of trust; and, 5) declarations of future lawful and proper fiduciary accounting for and management of tribal trust accounts and funds.

2. The Administration's Proposal of March 1, 2007 is Unacceptable: NARF has reviewed carefully the Administration's proposal to settle Indian trust litigation as set forth in the letter from Secretary Kempthorne and Attorney General Gonzales to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs dated March 1, 2007. The March 1, 2007 proposal proposes to resolve all Indian trust litigation and other trust reform matters for an "investment" of $7 billion or less. In comparison, it was not that long ago when the government expended $125 billion to bail out the savings and loan institutions industry from a scandal in which the government had no fiduciary trust obligations.

The Administration's proposal is unacceptable for reasons that include: 1) the proposal was developed without consultation with tribal governments; 2) the proposal seeks to resolve arbitrarily trust claims which never have been adequately analyzed or valued due to the government's failure to provide full and complete accountings; 3) the proposal would set unprincipled and impractical limits on federal liability for any and all tribal claims of past and present federal neglect and mismanagement of tribal trust accounts and resources, and it would preclude any future liability for such claims; and, 4) the proposal would negate thirty-five years of federal law and policy promoting Indian self-determination and adhering to federal-tribal government-to-government relations by forcing on tribes involuntary termination of the federal trust responsibility.

3. Exploration of Legislative Settlement Efforts that Tribes Can Support: NARF believes tribes are committed to further educating the Committee about their trust claims, which are legitimate legal claims notwithstanding attempts to label them as "unreasonable." Any legislative settlement effort must respect the claims, rights, and options of each tribe, including the prerogative of tribes to pursue their own claims in court, in alternative dispute resolution forums, in administrative settings, through negotiated settlements, or through other forms of claim resolution. As long as legislative settlement provisions are voluntary for each and every tribe, at least some tribes and their attorneys are willing to work together to help the Committee determine what, if anything, can be done legislatively to resolve tribal trust claims.

For more information on NARF's Class Action Suit, please visit http://www.tribaltrust.com/ or contact NARF at 303.447.8760.