Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Shinnecock Indian Nation is One Step Closer to Federal Acknowledgement

Boulder, CO - The Shinnecock Indian Nation (Nation) and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) welcomes the announcement by the Department of the Interior of the proposed finding in favor of acknowledgement of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. As a result of this finding, a 30-year plus effort for final federal acknowledgement of the Nation is finally within grasp.

"After 31 years of fighting for justice, the Shinnecock Indian Nation has today received a preliminary decision from the federal government to acknowledge it as an Indian Nation under federal law. During that fight, the Native American Rights Fund has stood side by side with the Nation and its peoples." Mark C. Tilden, NARF Senior Attorney.

The Nation and NARF first started their acknowledgement efforts more than three decades ago. The petition for federal acknowledgement was filed on September 25, 1998. The petition was finally placed on the Office of Federal Acknowledgement's (OFA) "Ready, Waiting for Active Consideration" list on September 15, 2003. On November 10, 2008, the OFA placed the Nation’s petition on active consideration.

The OFA must now publish the findings by December 20, triggering a 90-day comment period. During this period, anyone can comment. At the end of the comment period, the Nation has 30 days to respond. Once the comment period is completed, the BIA has 60 days to issue a final ruling. While it is possible the comment period could be extended, the Nation is on course to be formally and finally acknowledged by mid-summer 2010.

The Nation's Board of Trustees would like to thank those responsible for their active support, "As a result of this ruling, our more than 30-year quest for federal recognition is finally within our grasp . . . We look forward to reclaiming our rightful place on this list, which will enable us to qualify for federal programs long denied to our people. To be denied the ability to partner with the federal government on housing, healthcare, educational, and economic justice initiatives is no longer tolerable . . . This final recognition, when it inevitably comes, will come after years of anguish and frustration for many members of our Nation, living and deceased."

The Shinnecock Indian Nation is located on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation, adjacent to Southampton, New York.

To read the DOI news release click HERE.

To read the NY Times article click HERE.

©2009 Native American Rights Fund

Thursday, December 10, 2009


A settlement agreement was announced on December 8 between Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff in the Cobell v. Salazar class action lawsuit over federal mismanagement of individual Indian trust fund accounts, and the Obama Administration. Under the terms of the settlement, the federal government will create a $1.4 billion Accounting/Trust Fund and a $2 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund. The settlement also creates an Indian Education Scholarship fund of up to $60 million to improve access to higher education for Indians. The settlement agreement must be approved by Congress and a federal district court.

John Echohawk, Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund, expressed support for the settlement. “We have been waiting for President Obama and his Administration to fulfill his campaign promise to settle the Indian trust fund litigation and he has met that commitment. We are very pleased," he said. The Native American Rights Fund was co-counsel for the Cobell plaintiffs when the case was originally filed in 1996 and participated in the case until 2006 when it undertook the filing of a similar case for Indian tribes over federal mismanagement of tribal trust fund accounts, Nez Perce Tribe, et al. v. Salazar.

Echohawk said that he is hopeful that the Obama Administration can soon focus its efforts on settlements for the tribal claims. The Native American Rights Fund currently represents 42 tribes in the Nez Perce case. There are also about 100 other tribal cases asserting claims stemming from federal mismanagement of tribal trust fund accounts. By the government’s own figures, tribal trust accounts hold five times as much money as the individual Indian trust accounts involved in the Cobell case.

Information on the Cobell settlement can be found at

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Walter R. Echo-Hawk II, honored by Federal Bar Association

Walter R. Echo-Hawk II, former NARF staff attorney, was selected by the Federal Bar Association to receive the Sarah T. Hughes Civil Rights Award. The award - one of the major awards by the FBA - honors a person that has promoted civil and human rights and who exemplifies Judge Hughes' spirit of devoted service and leadership in the cause of equality.

The award recognizes Walter's lifetime of service, including his more than 35 years service as a lawyer for the Native American Rights Fund and his myriad civic, legislative, professional and other contributions. In addition to his active writing, Walter is also currently a member of the Carter Center's International Human Rights Council and serves as Chairman of the Board for the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation, a new foundation dedicated to tribal philanthropy to preserve Indian art and culture. Walter is currently an attorney at Crowe & Dunlevy.

NARF congratulates Walter R. Echo-Hawk II, on this well-deserved recognition of his accomplishments and service.

John Echohawk honored with Mary G. Ross Award

John E. Echohawk was honored with the Mary G. Ross Award from the Council of Energy Resources Tribes at the American Spirit Award Dinner on November 4th in Tulsa, OK. John was flattered to be acknowledged for his 40 years of dedication to asserting and defending the rights of Indian tribes, organizations and individuals nationwide.

The Mary G. Ross Award, named for the Cherokee woman who became the first Indian and the first woman engineer at Lockheed, is presented to an American of indigenous heritage who has brought notable attention to the contributions by American Indians to the development of American society, and whose life reflects credibility upon and brings honor to all Americans.

John Echohawk was unable to attend the event because of the National Tribal Leaders Summit with the Obama Administration on November 5th, to see his acceptance speech click here.

NARF Testimony Strengthens the Indian Child Welfare Act

In September, NARF Staff Attorney Mark Tilden represented the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) and provided testimony for the Wisconsin Legislature on a LRB 0150/3, which would enact a state Indian Child Welfare Act into law.

To begin, Tilden testified that the bill is designed to remedy the continuing problem of Native American children being disproportionately over-represented in the substitute care system. Tilden discussed the history of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), stating that Congress intended to give the ICWA a broad scope because of the massive problem it meant to remedy.

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