Friday, April 25, 2008

"Losing Ground": Film on Alaska Native Village Involved in NARF Global Warming Case Premieres

Youth from Inupiat Village of Kivalina among subjects of a new film by Jenni Monet and in association with NARF on the impact of global warming on the village of Kivalina. Photo by David Hocs

ALBUQUERQUE, NM- Laguana independent filmmaker Jenni Monet will premiere her new film "Losing Ground" that examines the devastating impact of global warming on the Alaska Native Village of Kivalina this weekend in Santa Fe. The short documentary was made in association with NARF and with the support of the Tzo-Nah Fund.

"Losing Ground will provide an important platform and voice for the people of Kivalina to tell their story of the real and imminent threats they are facing due to global warming," stated NARF Director of Development Don Ragona. "NARF is grateful to Miss Monet and the Tzo-Nah Fund for making this important film possible," added Ragona.

"Losing Ground" will premiere at 6pm, Sunday, April 20th at the National Tribal Environmental Council (NTEC) and the New Mexico Tourism Department's inaugural Global Green Indigenous Film Festival. The film festival will be held in conjunction with NTEC’s 15th Environmental Conference April 15-18, 2008.

The premiere of Losing Ground is timely with the filing of a case representing the Alaska Native Village of Kivalina against 24 major corporations that includes ExxonMobil Corp., Peabody Energy Corp., Southern Company, American Electric Power Co. Kivalina faces imminent destruction from global warming due to the melting of sea ice that formerly protected the village from coastal storms during the fall and winter. The diminished sea ice due to global warming has caused a massive erosion problem that threatens the village’s existence and urgently requires the village be relocated.

The lawsuit filed at the end of February by NARF, The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment and six law firms seeks damages due to the defendant companies’ contributions to global warming and invokes the federal common law of public nuisance. The suit also alleges a conspiracy by some defendants to mislead the public regarding the causes and consequences of global warming.

"Losing Ground" will one of several environmentally-themed films to be shown this weeked at the Global Green Indigenous Film Festival. Both the Film Festival and the conference will be held at the El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (See complete Global Green Film Festival Schedule).

NARF & Tribal Leaders Call on Government to Pay "Fair Share" of Water Settlement Costs

NARF's John Echohawk testifies before House Subcommittee on Water and Power.
Excerpts of article by Noelle Straub, Gazette Washington Bureau reprinted courtsey of

WASHINGTON, D.C. - NARF Executive Director John Echohawk was among several tribal leaders who testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources' Subcomittee on Water and Power on Wednesday, April 16th, at an Oversignt Hearing on "Indian Water Rights Settlements." With several American Indian water rights settlements heading to Congress soon, including three from Montana, NARF, tribal and state leaders called Wednesday for a federal fund to pay the government's share and for a more robust federal role in talks.

Those involved with negotiations for numerous tribes told of a lack of federal funding and problems with the process that result in many settlements moving at a snail's pace. An Interior official said the costs of such settlements could rise to $4 billion.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling 100 years ago gave tribes water rights on their reservations, but since then only 21 claims have been resolved or are near resolution, said Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., who heads the Natural Resources panel's water and power subcommittee.

Four bills addressing Indian water rights are before Congress, and nine more are expected this session, Napolitano said. Montana has concluded agreements with six of the seven tribes in the state and has three settlements being readied for congressional approval this year, said Susan Cottingham, director of the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission. She also testified on behalf of the Western Governor's Association.

The settlements have avoided costly and lengthy litigation, come up with practical solutions to difficult allocation issues and fostered sound management practices, she said. But for years they have faced two problems: the lack of funding and the difficulty states and tribes "have had getting the federal folks engaged at an early stage," Cottingham said. Because there is no permanent fund, settlements have had to compete with other Interior programs, she said. Montana has spent more than $50 million on settlements, she said.

A recent idea to pay for the federal share out of the Reclamation Fund, which takes in revenue from water resource development and some sales, leases and rentals of Western federal lands, is a "very exciting development," she said.

"Even though they seem expensive now, they're going to be even more exorbitantly expensive 10 or 20 years down the road, and they are an obligation that the United States has to these tribes and to Western communities," she said.

The funding and process problems are the same as they were in the early 1990s, said Jeanne S. Whiteing, who is legal counsel to the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana in its water rights negotiations and is a member of the tribe. Despite significant water resources on the reservation, the tribe has been unable to benefit in any meaningful way, she said. The federal negotiating process has made the road to Congress a rocky one, she said. The federal criteria have been used as an "actual impediment to settlements."

"The key in my opinion is a clear and firm funding mechanism. It frees up the department to be involved in the settlements in a more substantive way, and it frees up the department to come up with creative solutions," she said.

The funding issue is the most difficult in negotiations, agreed John Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund. "Getting the federal government to pay its fair share of these settlement costs is still the most important issue that we're facing," he said.

Cottingham and Echohawk also agreed that tribes thought the federal government would be on their side during negotiations, but, actually, states and tribes have agreed on settlements only to have to try to persuade Congress to approve them, usually without administration support.

NARF Helps Defend Tribal Court Jurisdiction in Supreme Court

Ronnie and Lila Long with NARF attorneys Melody McCoy and Richard Guest and members of the Sacred Circle National Resource Center to End Violence against Native Women outside the Supreme Court after the oral argument. Photo by Marsha Miller

WASHINGTON D.C.-On Monday April 14, 2008, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land and Cattle Company, one of the most significant Indian law cases to reach the Court in the past decade. As Chief Justice John Roberts recognized during the argument, “[If we rule in favor of the Long Family], this would be the first case in which we have … allowed Indian tribal jurisdiction to be asserted over a nonmember [defendant in tribal court]." "It's a big 'IF'," commented John Echohawk, Executive Director of NARF which is co-counsel for Ronnie and Lila Long, tribal members who operate a cattle ranch on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota... "But in this case," continued Echohawk, "we have a chance."

Ronnie and Lila Long joined a packed courtroom to watch the Bank argue that the law requires nonmembers to consent expressly to tribal court jurisdiction. But as the Longs countered, for many years, the Bank made multiple loans-with Bureau of Indian Affairs guarantees -- to the Long Company, a majority-Indian-owned corporation. In 1996, the Bank restructured, changed the terms, and refused to provide some of the Company's loans. As a result, hundreds of the Longs' cattle died during the harsh winter of 1996-97, and the Bank sought to evict the Longs from some of their remaining land. A two-day jury trial in Tribal Court resulted in a judgment of $750,000 against the Bank. This judgment and the Tribal Court's jurisdiction were upheld by the Tribal Court of Appeals, the federal district court, and the federal appeals court.

The Longs' Supreme Court position was argued by NARF’s co-counsel, David Frederick, a veteran Supreme Court practitioner who co-chairs the University of Texas Law School Supreme Court Clinic. The argument was the culmination of over three months of intensive preparation and advocacy by a team of attorneys, law professors, and law students assembled by NARF and the Tribal Supreme Court Project to represent the Longs and their supporting amici curiae, including the National Congress of American Indians, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the National American Indian Court Judges Association. The United States as amicus also sided with the Longs although nine states as amici sided with the Bank. "We are very grateful," said Ronnie Long. "The attorneys came to our Reservation, saw the little bit of land and few cattle we have left, and dug into this case night and day for weeks on end. I still can't believe it."
After the oral argument, NARF is "cautiously optimistic." "If ever there was a case where the Court should uphold tribal court jurisdiction, this is it” explained Melody McCoy, a senior staff attorney at NARF. “But will the Court do so? I don't know. It's been almost 20 years since the Court has found any tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians." Nevertheless, at least some members of the Court seemed willing to say that based on the facts of this case, there is tribal court jurisdiction. The Court's decision is expected by the end of June 2008.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Call for artist donations

Where Art & Justice Unite...
NARF 7th Annual Visions for the Future Benefit Art Auction

Friday, August 22, 2008
La Fonda Hotel , Santa Fe, New Mexico

Boulder, CO-The Native American Rights Fund is currently seeking donations of art and other items for its 7th Annual Visions for the Future Benefit Art Auction. The event, held on the eve of the opening of the Santa Fe Indian Art Market, has become one of the premier events during the Market. Last year, the Visions for the Future Auction was NARF's most successful event in our history with over 400 people attending and more than $206,000 raised through art sales and donations. The auction is NARF's largest and most important special event of the year that is attended by tribal and business leaders, Indian art collectors, NARF supporters and people from all walks of life.

NARF is currently seeking donations of art and other items for both our live and silent auctions. This very special event for Native American rights would not be possible without the generous donations made every year by Native artists, organizations, businesses and individuals from throughout the country. Typically we feature 22 pieces of art in our live auction and up to 80 pieces (art, gift baskets, gift certificates, trips, etc.) in our silent auction. In addition, this year we are also planning to hold an online auction in conjunction with our special event that will be promoted heavily nationwide to increase awareness and interest of potential buyers.

In recognition of your donation and support, NARF offers a variety of benefits to those donating artwork and/or items that will help promote your generosity to our large national support base that numbers over 25,000 members. Please click here for detailed information on the benefits of donating to the NARF auction.
If you are interested in donating an item to the auction please click here to download the NARF Benefit Art Auction Pledge Form, complete the form and mail or fax it to our office by Friday, June 13th, 2008.

Another way you can show your support for NARF and Native rights is to forward this call for donations to all of your friends, colleagues, family members, etc. Please help NARF reach and even surpass the historic success of our auction last year and make our 7th Annual Visions for the Future Art Auction an even bigger success for Native Rights!

The struggle of fighting for the rights of Native peoples is very much alive today. In order to continue our existence and the fight for justice, we depend on the generosity of artists and supporters like you who help make a difference in our continued work for Native peoples. Thank you for considering our request. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at 800.447.0784 or via email at

Ta'Tura Tsiksu (With Much Respect),
Crystal Echo Hawk
Assistant Director of Development