Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Department of the Interior proposes regulations to make trust land acquisitions for Alaska Natives

Native American Rights Fund (NARF) logo
The Department of the Interior issued a proposed regulation today authorizing petitions for lands to be taken into trust status on behalf of Alaska Native Tribes and individuals.  Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, announced the long standing regulatory prohibition on Alaska petitions would come to an end.  The proposed regulation comes nearly one-year after the historic court victory for Alaska Native Tribes in Akiachak Native Community, et al. v. Salazar, which affirmed the ability of the Secretary of Interior to take land into trust on behalf of Alaska Tribes and also acknowledged the rights of Alaska Tribes to be treated the same as all other federally recognized Tribes.

In 2006, four Tribes and one Native individual—the Akiachak Native Community, Chalkyitsik Village, Chilkoot Indian Association, Tuluksak Native Community (IRA), and Alice Kavairlook—brought suit challenging the Secretary of the Interior’s decision to leave in place a regulation that treats Alaska Natives differently from other Native peoples.  On behalf of our clients, NARF and Alaska Legal Services Corporation sought judicial review of 25 C.F.R. § 151 as it pertains to federally recognized Tribes in Alaska.  This federal regulation governs the procedures used by Indian Tribes and individuals when requesting the Secretary of the Interior to acquire title to land in trust on their behalf.  The regulation barred the acquisition of land in trust in Alaska other than for the Metlakatla Indian Community or its members.  Plaintiffs argued that this exclusion of Alaska Natives—and only Alaska Natives—from the land into trust application process is void under 25 U.S.C. § 476(g), which nullifies regulations that discriminate among Indian Tribes.  The State of Alaska intervened to argue that the differential treatment is required by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).  The District Court for the District of Columbia agreed with Plaintiffs on all counts. 

Today’s announcement from the Department of the Interior, along with the District Court’s ruling last year, will allow Alaska Tribes to begin petitioning the Secretary to have their tribally-owned fee lands placed into trust status.  With such status, Alaska’s Tribal governments will have the opportunity to enhance their ability to regulate alcohol and generally protect the health, safety, and welfare of tribal members. 

For more information, please contact Heather Kendall Miller or Matthew N. Newman in NARF’s Alaska office at (907) 276-0680.

Friday, April 25, 2014

NARF co-sponsors Niwot Native American Film Festival showing of River of Renewal

On Friday, May 2 at 7:30pm, NARF will co-sponsor the Niwot Native American Film Festival showing of River of Renewal. Please join us!

Photo of fishing in the Klamath BasinThis movie is about one of the great rivers of America in crisis.  It tells the story of Jack Kohler, an urban Indian who discovers his roots among the Klamath River tribes. 

The movie examines the water and wildlife crisis in the Klamath Basin - a bioregion larger than nine of the fifty states.  The communities that harvest food from the Klamath Basin - raising crops and cattle, catching salmon in the river and offshore - have all suffered due to the lack of enough water to serve the needs of irrigation and fisheries alike.

The crisis began in 2001 when the federal Bureau of Reclamation - responding to biologists' warning that the over-allocation of Klamath water was endangering several species of fish - cut off irrigation water that farmers and ranchers had long depended on.  Irrigators responded with a dramatic civil disobedience campaign: a bucket brigade that carried federally banned water for a mile along Klamath Fall's Main Street and into an irrigation canal.  Their protest paid off during the election year of 2002.  Circumventing the Endangered species Act, Vice President Dick Cheney made sure that the farms and ranches within the federal Klamath Project got all the water they could use.  That September, 80,000 spawning salmon died in the estuary.  Also that year, more than 80% of the juvenile salmon died after reaching the mainstem of the Klamath River. 

In the years since then, a remarkable conflict resolution and consensus building process gained influence among the communities of the Klamath Basin. Eventually, they found common ground, recognizing that economic revival could occur only if ecological vitality were restored.  The Klamath River tribes' ethos of world renewal, or pikiawish, "fixing the world" now influences the entire Klamath Basin.  The film shows leaders of different communities coming together to seek a way beyond economic stagnation, environmental disaster, and polarized politics.

Visit the film's website for more information.

Sponsors:  Native American Producers Alliance (NAPA), Ni-wot Prairie Productions (NPP), Elysian Fields Auction Company, Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and WHIZZBang Studios

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day, Large and Small

We often share stories about the big things NARF does for the environment: Opposing mines that threaten subsistence hunting and fishing.  Representing tribes during U.N. climate negotiations.  Securing safe drinking water on reservations.

Lesser known, are the little things NARF also does for the environment.  Our Green Task Force searches out small steps we can take, like weatherization, low-power appliances, composting, and commuting alternatives.  We have reduced our carbon footprint, even though we have more attorneys working on more cases than we did two years ago.  NARF employees also contribute to the Tribal Renewal Energy Program, to support the installation of solar heating systems for Native American families in need, bringing clean energy and green jobs to tribal lands.

These are small steps and, viewed by themselves, they won’t make much of a dent in climate change issues.  Big solutions will take small steps from all of us. Please join NARF this Earth Day by taking your own small steps for our planet.

Friday, April 11, 2014

NARF attorneys participate in Indian Law Conference

This week NARF attorneys participated in the Federal Bar Association's 2014 Indian Law Conference at the Pueblo of Pojoaque in New Mexico.  NARF Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth was a Conference Co-Chair and moderated the panel "Elections 2014 – Shelby County and the Impact on Indian Country."  In addition, Natalie also moderated the panel titled "Texting Paternity Away and Bringing ICWA into the 21st Century" and NARF Staff Attorney Erin Dougherty participated in the panel and discussed issues related to the Supreme Court's decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl.

To learn more about the conference, click here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

NARF co-sponsors Niwot Native American Film Festival showing of Once We Had a River

On Friday, April 11 at 7:30pm, NARF will co-sponsor the Niwot Native American Film Festival showing of Once We Had a River, a Native American social justice film by Jack Kohler and Anecita Agustinez.  Please join us!

In 1880, five tribes were moved onto reservations along the San Luis Rey River through treaties enforced by the United States. Then in 1895, a diversion dam was built on the La Jolla Indian Reservation without their consent, diverting all of the water for the five reservations, to the newly founded City of Escondido. The United States sanctioned that act, uncontested until 1967. Then the newly formed California Indian Legal Services filed a lawsuit on behalf of the tribes. For forty seven years CILS and the tribes have been fighting for water that once ran through their reservations. Today, they must buy back that water from the City of Escondido. Once We Had a River uncovers the history of this struggle.

Film maker Jack Kohler is a Hoopa Tribal member from Northern California whose people reside along the Klamath and Trinity rivers. Jack is the Media Director for the United Auburn Indian Community tribal school. He has worked for the American Indian Film Institute mentoring students on reservations and rancherias in California on how to make films.  He has been an independent producer for Native American Public Telecommunications since 2000.  Jack graduated from Stanford University with a Civil Engineering degree. He became a member of the Actor's Equity Association in 1995 and became a SAG actor in 1997. He was the lead in the Outdoor Epic Drama Tecumseh for 5 summers before he began producing films. He won the Eagle Spirit award from the American Indian Film Festival in 2006. He co-produced California's Lost Tribes and River of Renewal which is currently still being aired on PBS. Awards include Cine Award and Best Documentary Feature at the American Indian Festival and the Native Film Festival of South Carolina. He co-directed, co-wrote and edited Behind the Door of a Secret Girl which has won 14 awards to date. His series On Native Ground began airing in 2012.

Sponsors:  Native American Producers Alliance (NAPA), Ni-wot Prairie Productions (NPP), Elysian Fields Auction Company, Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and WHIZZBang Studios
For information, please contact: Elizabeth Darling at: or 303-931-3084.  Native American Producers Alliance and Ni-wot Prairie Productions are 501(c)(3) organizations.