Issue 29, July 27, 2016

    A Letter from the Publisher


    Shekóli. It is convention season. The full-court press of the Republican and Democratic parties has filled the primetime TV hours, dominated headlines and filled pages of type with position statements and speeches. For this presidential election cycle, Indian Country Today Media Network has been reporting from inside and outside the convention halls. Although the Democratic National Convention is still in full swing, the approach taken by Native delegates and leaders has been consistent at both gatherings.

    “For Indian tribes, it’s not a binary choice of ‘Democrats’ or ‘Republicans,’” Todd Hembree, attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, told ICTMN’s Suzette Brewer for this week’s feature, “Native Priorities And The GOP,” “but the effort to engage and educate individuals who understand our issues that are in play.”

    In one off-site RNC gathering hosted by the Mashantucket Pequots, close to 40 tribal staffers and leaders touched upon their concerns. To a person, their common goal was to educate both parties on tribal sovereignty. As sovereign nations, tribes must work with the executive and legislative branches of the federal government no matter which party wields power after January 2017 to ensure that the U.S. meets its legally binding treaty obligations.

    Other elements of the GOP convention story concern the specific impacts of various platforms and proposals on Indian country, such as Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. The devil is the details, as they say—particularly when these crucial issues aren’t necessarily the ones being broadcast from the convention speaker’s platform.

    Of course, that’s why Native leaders and activists attend these conventions in growing numbers, and why our coverage of the conventions has grown considerably all of these years. ICTMN will be there for the speeches, and the balloon drop, and the months of campaigning to follow.


    NΛ ki wa,

    Ray Halbritter


    Custer’s Last Stand, 140 Years On

    The Battle of the Greasy Grass resonates still, writes Dave Archambault Sr.—but not for the reasons you might think:

    On June 25, 1976, Hobart Keith, a judge for the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court, kicked the doors of the Pine Ridge jailhouse open and freed its Indian prisoners to honor the famous downing of the 7th Calvary some 100 years before in a valley of the Little Big Horn River.

    Keith declared June 25, 1876 a holiday because Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer attacked a huge encampment of Sioux, Arapahoe, and Cheyenne with the sole purpose of killing them—and to enhance his reputation as the greatest Indian killer commander of all time. His glory notions were literally “smothered to death.”

    Since then, tribes from around the Great Plains have loosely celebrated to honor the great deed, of the warriors at the Greasy Grass, where fearless and fierce fighting defended the women and children and their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    The annual remembrance by tribes and individuals is not a celebration of killing 210 men under the command of one of the Old West’s true antiheros. Custer and his infantry’s one-hour journey into infamy are tragic, as any senseless loss of life should be. So it is important to know that from the Indian perspective, this is not about the victory of killing. Rather it is about honoring the defense of Nationhood.

    One hundred and forty years have passed since the Battle of the Greasy Grass and 40 years since Hobart Keith attempted to bring the importance of the battle to the attention of the Sioux Nations. It should be a grand celebratory time to remember who and why we are.

    Treaty Rights Vs. Inherent Rights

    Mike Myers reflects on several recent Supreme Court decisions that have addressed some aspect of “retained inherent rights”:

    I’ve come to understand that there is a huge difference between inherent rights and interests as opposed to what is often wrongly defined as “treaty rights.” Treaties create obligations and conditions between the parties, through which they agree that a new relationship exists.

    Treaties could affect inherent rights, but only if the parties clearly decide to do this. Usually what happens in treaty negotiations is that the parties create some sort of joint mechanism, process or protocol by which they will jointly exercise or put their inherent rights on hold. In any event, whatever is negotiated is not perpetual. Nor does it spell the end of these rights.

    We have always known that we possess these rights. Oftentimes they are called “god or creator given” and definitely something that has existed since “time immemorial”. This concept is expressed in the “Declaration of the Onyota,” a.k.a. “Lotianeshu Concerning Our Ancestral Lands and Inherent Rights”:

    “From those early times we have always made it clear that we know that it was the intent of the Creation that all peoples were created in their ancestral places for the specific purpose of being the caretakers and custodians of those places. Through that deliberate placement of our nations and peoples on this part of Turtle Island we were conferred a never ending responsibility that in English we could equate to ‘sovereignty’”.

    This is clearly not about laws or legalities because these rights are rooted in the spirituality, the fundamental beliefs a people have about their existence and why the Creation caused them to come into existence.

    The Curious Case Of Misplaced Patriotism

    Steve Newcomb wonders why the victims of oppression should pay homage to their conquerors:

    Attend a local pow wow and you’re definitely going to hear quite a bit of patriotic fervor expressed toward the United States. This patriotism is expressed toward the very same country that has imposed a well-designed system of domination on our nations. It has deprived us of the use of the vast majority of our traditional territories; massacred our ancestors; stolen Native children from our families, our communities and our nations; and worked to destroy our languages, cultures, and spiritual traditions.

    After all that mistreatment, oppression, and destruction, how sad it is that most of our own people never focus on the original independence of our nations.

    That colonized peoples end up feeling deeply patriotic toward the empire that colonized them is, unfortunately, a typical result of the psychological damage inflicted by colonialism. It is doubtful that those expressing that patriotism are particularly aware of, or care, that it was an American empire that George Washington, John Marshall and other elite white men of their time were envisioning and creating. That empire has been used in a successful effort to overrun the lands and territories of our nations.

    I never hear the original independence of our original nations acknowledged or recognized at pow wows. Perhaps this is because the American empire has worked so hard to rub out and expunge our original independence from our own hearts and minds.

    We have barely begun to develop our most powerful counterarguments opposing the claimed right of domination based on the original free and independent existence of our nations.

    ICT News

    Senate Passes Bill To Improve Indian Employment And Training

    The Senate on July 15 unanimously passed a bill that strengthens a comprehensive Native employment and training program.

    The bill, S.1443, also known as the Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Consolidation Act of 2015, permanently expands the so-called 477 Program. That program “allows federally recognized tribes and Alaska Native entities to combine formula-funded federal grant funds into a single plan with a single budget and a single reporting system,” according to the office of Rep. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who cosponsored the original legislation.

    Under the 477 Program, the single-method approach would then allow plans to be developed for economic development, job training, welfare-to-work and tribal work experience, higher education, skill development, facilitation of employment, assisting Indian youth and adults to succeed in the workforce, and for encouraging self-sufficiency.

    In addition to making the 477 Program permanent, S.1443 provides for expanding the types of sources of funding available, resolving plan approval and appeal processes, and ensuring that funds will be transferred and require only one report. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) has introduced companion legislation.

    Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman John Barrosso praised the passage of S.1443. “Unemployment is disproportionately high in tribal communities,” he said. “The Senate passed a bill that will empower tribes to expand employment and training programs.”

    The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs unanimously approved the 477 Program, which is officially identified as Public Law 102-477, on October 21, 2015.

    Yurok, Karuk To Sue Government Over Klamath Salmon Parasite

    Citing extreme danger to salmon in the Klamath River, the Yurok and Karuk tribes of California plan to sue the federal government over its management of water flows that the tribes say has made the fish susceptible to infection by a fatal parasite.

    Both the Yurok and Karuk tribes filed 60-day notices on June 24. Invoking the Endangered Species Act, they intend to sue the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service.

    The aim is to prompt discussions and attempt to find solutions without an actual lawsuit, the Eureka Times-Standard reported. The Hoopa filed notice of a separate action in May.

    In both 2015 and 2014, the Yurok said, 91 percent of juvenile Klamath salmon were infected after federal officials did not release enough water into the rivers to keep the parasite at bay and the salmons’ immune system strong enough to withstand it.

    “Given the nearly 100 percent mortality rate associated with the disease, approximately 90 percent of the Chinook salmon and likely an equal quantity of coho died in the main-stem Klamath River during those years,” the Yurok said a statement. “This year’s predicted adult salmon run is one of the lowest on record, which forced the Yurok Tribe to make a difficult decision to completely forgo all commercial fishing in 2016.”

    “We cannot stand by and do nothing while our salmon hover over the brink of extinction,” said Yurok Chairman Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr. Karuk Chairman Russell “Buster” Attebery added, “Until we have a solution in place, we cannot sit idly by while 90 percent of our fish die from disease.”

    2015 Saw Largest Tribal Gaming Revenue Gain In A Decade

    Revenue generated by the Indian gaming industry in 2015 totaled $29.9 billion, according to data released by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC). The five percent increase from 2014 is the largest increase in 10 years.

    “The strong regulation that tribes as well as federal regulators and other stake holders provides has played a key role in the stability and growth of the Indian gaming industry by providing consistency and predictability,” said NIGC Chairman Jonodev O. Chaudhuri.

    The commission also noted the role of many small or moderately sized Indian gaming operations that support rural economic development. Only 6.5 percent of operations can show a $250 million or more in gross gaming revenue (GGR). The majority of tribes, 57 percent, generate less than $25 million per year in gross gaming revenue. Twenty percent of the nation’s 474 tribal gaming operations produce less than $3 million annually.

    The NIGC’s announcement was made on July 19 from the historically significant homelands of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians in California. The Cabazons’ early efforts to engage in gaming as a means of pursuing self-sufficiency culminated in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of California v. Cabazon, which recognized and reaffirmed the inherent authority of tribal nations to regulate gaming activities within their communities.

    “The Indian gaming industry can look back on tremendous growth and advancement,” said Chaudhuri. “In the 30 years since the Cabazon case was argued before the Supreme Court, Indian gaming has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry annually.”

    The 2015 GGR was calculated based on 474 independently audited financial statements received by 238 tribes.


    ICT News

    Legislation To Foster Tribal Enterprise Is Introduced  

    A bill to help new and existing Native-owned small businesses create more jobs, and consequently support surrounding communities, was introduced in the Senate on July 14. The Native American Business Incubators Program Act is sponsored by Jon Tester (D-Montana), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico).

    The bill would create an annual $5 million competitive grant initiative within the Interior Department to establish or maintain “business incubators” that serve Native communities. It is designed to assist businesses that often struggle in those communities because entrepreneurs must often deal with regulatory uncertainty, geographical remoteness and difficulties in accessing capital.

    “Starting a business is a challenge anywhere, but folks in Indian country face even more obstacles when they try and get a business off of the ground,” Tester said. “This bill will provide critical tools.”

    As envisioned, tribal business incubators will create one-stop-shops for Native entrepreneurs so they can receive assistance in developing business plans that navigate federal, tribal and state regulations and attract outside investment. The incubators would also provide entrepreneurs with a connected workspace and professional networking opportunities.

    Gary Davis, president and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, supports the bill. The legislation, he said, addresses “many requests over the years for Congress to create a business development program tailored specifically to Indian country’s unique sovereign and business characteristics and capabilities.”

    To be considered for a grant, an applicant must serve one or more tribal communities, submit a three-year plan, provide a physical workspace, and offer business skills training and education. Tribes, tribal colleges or universities, and non-profit organizations are eligible.

    Quinault Nation Joins Lawsuit Against FDA For Genetically Modified Salmon Approval

    The Quinault Nation has joined a joint lawsuit being filed by nearly a dozen environmental groups against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its approval of genetically modified salmon for consumption.

    “This is clearly a case of FDA violating its mandate and purpose,” said Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Nation and of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. “The agency does not have the expertise to make this decision, and it apparently has little knowledge about the environmental impacts of these new genetically engineered animals.”

    The FDA approved the altered animal, which is engineered to grow twice as large and mature much faster than regular salmon, last November. “The data demonstrated that the inserted genes remained stable over several generations of fish, that food from the GE salmon is safe to eat by humans and animals, that the genetic engineering is safe for the fish, and the salmon meets the sponsor’s claim about faster growth,” the FDA said at the time.

    The initial lawsuit was filed on March 30 by the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice on behalf of 11 groups. They include the Institute for Fisheries Resources, the Golden Gate Salmon Association, the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth.

    The suit charges a lack of study about the effect of such salmon on wild stocks if the engineered version should escape. It further criticizes the environmental footprint of creating salmon eggs in Prince Edward Island, Canada; raising them to adulthood in Panama; shipping them back to the U.S. and Canada; and questions the legal basis of allowing the FDA to create veterinary medicines.

    In joining the 11 other plaintiffs, the Quinault Nation said that the FDA had overstepped its bounds in approving this “unnatural animal.” The potential for the modified fish to escape and mingle with wild salmon could hurt fish stocks and, by so doing, would infringe on treaty rights, Sharp said.

    Enbridge Reaches $177 Million Settlement for 2010 Oil Spills

    Enbridge Inc., the energy giant that was recently thwarted in its attempt to build an oil pipeline across British Columbia, has reached a $177 million settlement with the federal government for two ruptures in Michigan and Illinois during 2010 that spilled more than 25,000 barrels.

    Under the agreement, announced on July 20 by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department, Enbridge Energy Limited Partnership and several related Enbridge companies will spend at least $110 million to prevent spills and improve operations across nearly 2,000 miles of its pipeline system in the Great Lakes region. Enbridge will also pay civil penalties totaling $62 million for Clean Water Act violations—$61 million for discharging at least 20,082 barrels of oil in Marshall, and $1 million for discharging at least 6,427 barrels in Romeoville.

    The breach occurred on July 25, 2010, but it took at least a day for Enbridge to determine that a six-foot-long rip in the 30-inch pipeline was gushing oil, the agencies said. The company tried to restart the pipeline twice during that time, accounting for 81 percent of the spillage, the government said. The oil flowed into Talmadge Creek and from there into the Kalamazoo, which empties into Lake Michigan.

    “Flooding caused by heavy rains pushed the discharged oil over the river’s banks into its flood plains, and accelerated its migration over 35 miles downstream before it was contained,” said a government statement. “The rupture and discharges were caused by stress corrosion cracking on the pipeline, control room misinterpretations and other problems, and pervasive organization failures.”

    Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia was recently halted by a court decision for lack of consultation with the region’s First Nations. The Canadian government then suspended further reviews.


    Native Priorities And The GOP

    ‘Tribes look to the federal government as partners.’


    Bottom Line: In Cleveland, there was more than gaming and Donald Trump on tribal minds during the Republican National Convention.

    Illinois delegate Christian Gramm, left, and other delegates reacted as some called for a roll call vote on the adoption of the rules during the first day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

    John Locher/AP Images

    Largely overshadowed—but hardly absent—during last week’s unruly Republican National Convention in Cleveland, were the concerns of Native Americans.

    On July 20, about three dozen tribal leaders and their staffs attended a luncheon hosted by the Mashantucket Pequots aboard a boat on Lake Erie. Against a backdrop of convention drama, the tribes gathered calmly to discuss the many policy issues confronting their governments in the near and long terms.

    An article of faith among the group was the importance of maintaining tribal sovereignty and working with the legislative and executive branches to uphold federal trust and treaty obligations, regardless of who occupies the Oval Office―or which party controls Congress―come January 2017.

    “We’re here doing the business of our respective governments in letting those who are here know that we have a seat at the table, regardless of party politics,” said Todd Hembree, attorney general for the Cherokee Nation. “For Indian tribes, it’s not a binary choice of ‘Democrats’ or ‘Republicans,’ but the effort to engage and educate individuals who understand our issues that are in play.”

    Hembree acknowledged that Indian gaming usually attracts most of the attention in the national dialogue about Indian people. But he noted that tribal gatherings held throughout convention week focused on health, education, housing and economic development.

    “We came here to let everyone know that we have a government-to-government relationship with Congress and the President and that they are going to have to deal with us,” he said. “So we’ve been forward-looking in terms of committee appointments and chairmanships in Congress, as well as working with the federal agencies.”

    Healthcare, for example, is one of the biggest challenges confronting tribal nations, many of whom are struggling to meet demand with understaffed clinics and hospitals. In June, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) introduced his healthcare plan “A Better Way” as a replacement for the Affordable Healthcare Act, which specifically included the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act (IHIC). The Ryan plan would remove the IHIC and require Indian people to buy their own private insurance.

    Critics of Ryan’s plan, including Hembree, say the bill that would further defund critical health services that tribal nations provide to their members, which are already underfunded. Further, they contend that many Indian people live well below the poverty line and would struggle to afford health insurance premiums in communities that have few resources or economic development.

    “The Cherokee Nation is building a $170 million expansion to our hospital in Tahlequah that will change the way healthcare is provided to our citizens for generations,” Hembree said. “Under our current agreement, the tribe is expected to receive $75 million a year for the next 30 years for healthcare. But Ryan’s plan would gut the funding for our providers, and that can’t happen.


    Boos and catcalls accompanied Sen. Ted Cruz’s refusal to endorse nominee Donald Trump on the third day of the convention. Matt Rourke/AP Images

    “So we fully expect the government to uphold those agreements because those are not entitlements or line item expenditures. They are legally binding treaty obligations to Indian people.”

    Another concern was a nebulous, unspecified provision in the convention platform to “convey certain federally controlled public lands to the states.” It is a hot-button issue for many tribal nations whose ancestral lands are contained within such national treasures as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks.

    The item has been a part of previous Republican platforms. But it was reignited earlier this year during the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, the ancestral lands of the Northern Paiute tribes, including the Burns Paiute. During the siege, militants defiled culturally sensitive lands by digging trenches and latrines that contained, authorities determined, a “significant amount” of human feces.

    “Tribes look to the federal government as partners and stewards of the hundreds of millions of acres in ancient lands that they inhabited, owned or occupied for many millennia,” said one tribal leader in attendance. “This is not just a matter of simply signing a deed of ownership over to the states. These lands are tribal lands that have been placed under federal protection in perpetuity as a solemn promise to Indian people and we do not want to see them destroyed and exploited. We want them protected as a part of our national heritage for everyone to enjoy.”

    Summing up the convention events of July 18-21, Hembree took the long view.

    “It’s an ongoing effort with every election cycle,” Hembree said. “But our job is to educate and engage both parties so that they have a clear understanding on the issues that face the tribes so that we can work more effectively with them when we have to do the hard, gritty, everyday work when Congress is in session.”

    Indian Health Service Under Fire

    Critical tribal testimony before House subcommittee


    Bottom Line: ‘People are dying’ was the message this month on Capitol Hill.

    Tensions were evident as Rep. Kristi Noem (R-South Dakota) testified before the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs on July 12.

    Courtesy House Committee on Natural Resources

    Babies born on bathroom floors. Stolen narcotics. Surgical instruments washed by hand. Nurses who cannot operate a crash cart or start a dopamine drip. Unlicensed medical personnel. Funds unaccounted for.

    Such were some of the many woes that tribal leaders cited before a legislative hearing of the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs on July 12. The subcommittee was charged with reviewing the HEALTTH (Helping to Ensure Accountability, Leadership, and Trust in Tribal Healthcare) Act, with a view toward improving the Indian Health Service (IHS).

    Many of aforementioned complaints predate both the hearing and “In Critical Condition,” the now-famous 2010 Senate report on conditions at Aberdeen (now Great Plains) Area IHS hospitals. However, their continued presence led to the closure of the Rosebud Hospital emergency department in December. The closure took place after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) determined that conditions were so bad that they would no longer reimburse for services provided there.

    One speaker, Victoria Kitcheyan, treasurer of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, testified about conditions at the Winnebago Hospital. There, her aunt and others died under poorly documented circumstances with no follow-up investigations.

    “We’ll never know how many people died unnecessarily,” said Kitcheyan. “We’ll never know how many people were misdiagnosed.” Until systematic changes are made within IHS, she said, “Winnebago Hospital will continue to be the only place where you can legally kill an Indian.”

    Congressional leaders have heard similar testimony before. However, the responses of some subcommittee members on July 12 sometimes proved frustrating.

    For instance, Dan Benishek (R-Michigan) said he was “not aware of the severity of the problem.” Benishek also said he had not known that the federal government operated any hospitals outside of the Veterans Administration.

    “So this hospital [Rosebud] is run by the IHS?” he asked. “Is that the story?”

    Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) urged tribes to be more forceful in insisting that IHS answer to them. But Kristi Noem (R-South Dakota), who authored the HEALTTH Act, pointed out what she characterized as a fundamental lack of tribal consultation on the part of IHS.

    “Listening to the committee questions,” said William Bear Shield, a Rosebud Sioux Tribe council member and chairman of the tribe’s health board, “there needs to be some education.”

    Mary Smith, principal deputy director of IHS, parried many questions during the hearing by noting that she had been on the job for only a few months. One focus of scrutiny was the appointment of Susan V. Karol (Tuscarora) as Chief Medical Officer for the Great Plains Area, on Smith’s watch. Karol had reportedly said of babies being born without physician assistance at a South Dakota IHS facility, “If you’ve only had two babies hit the floor in eight years that’s pretty good.”

    07b-FEAT.for-web-cover copy

    Subcommittee chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and ranking member Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-California) heard testimony at the legislative hearing.Courtesy House Committee on Natural Resources

    Asked by Noem to explain, Smith said, “There was no chief medical officer in the Great Plains and there was no full-time person, and as I’ve said at this hearing, we have very serious recruitment and retention problems . . . I thought it was important to have a full-time chief medical officer there.”

    Karol apologized for the comment at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing in February.

    “Especially in a time of crisis,” Noem wrote in an email to ICTMN, “it’s important we have a Chief Medical Officer in place in the Great Plains region, but the comments that have been made are indicative of an IHS culture that needs to change. That is one of many reasons why my legislation includes cultural sensitivity training. We must ensure the people who are serving tribal communities respect tribal communities and their way of life.”

    The HEALTTH Act, introduced to the House in June, is similar to the IHS Accountability Act of 2016, which was introduced in the Senate in May.  An oversight/legislative field hearing on the legislation was held in June.

    Noem says her office and that of Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), who introduced the Accountability Act, are working to align the two bills. They hope to send the legislation to President Obama’s desk for his signature in the near future.

    A footnote: On July 14, CMS announced that after seven months—during which five babies were born in ambulances en route to hospitals 50 miles away and the deaths of nine people being transported to other facilities—the Rosebud emergency department was set to reopen July 15. Bear Shield has called for an independent investigation of the deaths.

    Native Woman On A High Court

    ‘I knew I needed to choose another path.’


    Ann McKeig, the first Native woman on the Minnesota Supreme Court, has been a judge since 2008.

    National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

    Editor’s Note: At the end of August, Anne McKeig—a descendant of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe—will become the first Native woman to sit on the Minnesota Supreme Court, the highest in the state. That a Republican governor (Tim Pawlenty) made her first bench appointment, and that a Democrat (Mark Dayton) made her latest, reflects broad confidence in and bipartisan appeal for her abilities.

    Anne McKeig grew up in the tiny town of Federal Dam, Minnesota (pop: approximately 100), bordering the Leech Lake Ojibwe Reservation. She received a bachelor’s degree from the College of St. Catherine in 1989 and graduated from Hamline University School of Law in 1992.

    After law school she joined the Hennepin County Attorney’s office in Minneapolis as an assistant attorney in the Child Protection Division, specializing in the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). She was also a part-time staff attorney for the American Prosecutors Research Institute and joined the American Indian Bar Association. In 2008, she was appointed to her first judgeship; since 2013 she has been the Family Court Presiding Judge in Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District.

    Judge McKeig’s new appointment was announced on June 28; she will take her seat after Associate Justice Christopher Dietzen retires at the end of August. She took time to answer a few questions from Indian Country Today.


    What drew you to law as a career? Was there anything about growing up in Federal Dam that influenced you in this direction? Or what did you plan to grow up to be back then?

    I am not really sure. When I was in ninth grade, we had to do a project regarding our career choice. I chose to be a dentist and researched the job requirements. I then realized being a dentist required a lot of science study—and I was never very good at science. So I knew I needed to choose another path.

    Since I enjoyed helping people—and was never afraid of a good argument—I decided I would be a lawyer. I can see now that I was influenced by both my parents, who were always helping someone in one way or another. My dad was a mechanic and never made much money because he would help anyone who needed it. He would say, “Pay me later” or he would take something in trade.

    My mother, who was the director of Indian Education at Remer (Minnesota) High School for 30-plus years, was always helping a child in some way. Whether it was listening, giving a ride, a hug, or lunch money (that we did not have), she would always do anything she could to help.

    You have mentioned as an inspiration Judge Robert Blaeser, the first and longest-serving Native judge appointed in Minnesota and who is also from White Earth. How do you feel knowing that you, too, as a Native woman, will be an inspiration now for girls and Native youth?

    I was so lucky to have met Judge Blaeser. After his swearing-in, he eventually made his way to the juvenile court where he served not only as a judge, but eventually as the presiding judge. He took an interest in mentoring me as a young Native lawyer in the Hennepin County Attorney’s office. He was truly invested in my future, and I so appreciated it.

    I was not always easy to mentor as I was young, passionate and stubborn, and I am sure I thought I knew more than I did. He was patient but firm and hung in there with me throughout my career. We became close friends over time, and his support for me has never wavered. He was never afraid to tell me the truth, direct and to the point. When I was wrong, he told me. He really helped mold me into the professional I am today, and I am forever grateful.

    As far as me being an inspiration, it is my hope and dream that someone will see in me what I saw in Judge Blaeser, and I intend to work hard to pay forward what he has done for me.

    Early in your career with the Hennepin County Attorney’s office, you specialized in ICWA. Have you seen the benefits of ICWA in your role back then, and do you think recent national court decisions may be eroding it?

    I may not have stayed in the child protection division without the work on ICWA cases. We formulated a really solid team and despite our disagreements, we all understood that everyone was working for the benefit of the best interest of the child. That looked different on occasion depending on one’s view but in the end, we settled the majority of those cases. That took real dedication, hard work and collective collaboration.

    I saw through that work how influential and helpful the court could be in leading the charge to ensure that children were not lost in litigation. Judge Blaeser was also extremely influential in his capacity as the presiding judge.


    Gov. Mark Dayton appointed McKeig to her current post on June 28.Courtesy Anne McKeig’s Office

    The recent national court decisions are fact specific, and I do not believe they are eroding ICWA. The message that I would hope we take from those cases is that stakeholders need to comply with the provisions of ICWA from the beginning so that children do not get lost along the way. Litigation tears people apart and does nothing to bring people together. Working on ICWA cases for so many years, I know that compliance can be accomplished, but it takes dedication and a desire to do the right thing.

    Do you have any thoughts on the larger impact of the provisions within the Violence Against Women Act allowing tribal courts to prosecute non-Native offenders on reservations? How significant is this legal tool, and are there other areas where similar recognition of the tribal courts could or should be recognized?

    It is a very important step to have tribal courts treated equally to state courts. Many states across the country have worked tirelessly to accomplish equal recognition, though we have a long way to go.

    Domestic violence is a very serious issue and one that needs particular attention as it has such a negative impact on families and oftentimes is misunderstood. Statistics show it is a serious problem in our Native communities and thus it is important that tribal courts be given the tools and the power to address this issue.

    There are many other areas where our justice system would benefit from having tribal courts recognized as equal with state courts. One of my hopes is that someday tribal court will have equal access to court information systems and that we have complete sharing of information between state and tribal courts so that we are not working in silos but are working side-by-side. We do not have the resources to duplicate efforts.

    It’s been noted that when you take your seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court in August, it will have a majority of women justices for the first time in 25 years and you will be the first Native member on that court. Given that justice is supposed to be “blind,” why is diversity on the bench so important?

    Without diversity, the judicial system would not reflect the communities we serve and, more importantly, those who come before us. We all bring our personal histories with us and, in some way, I suspect it seeps into our decision-making. Certainly, that is true for me. The ability to look at issues through a different lens, or a lens that is familiar with a litigant, brings humanity to our decisions.

    I think there is nothing more comforting than walking into a courtroom and seeing someone who looks like you and who may have a better understanding of your experiences and where you come from.

    In a related question, what did you think of Donald Trump’s charges that a Mexican-American judge was biased against him because of his heritage?

    As judges, we have to, at times, examine our decisions to make sure that we are not basing it on our personal feelings. I know that I have had to do that. It is not always easy, but it is something we learn to do as lawyers and judges. Our job is to search for the truth and to find justice. I think the judiciary works very hard in treating all people fairly.

    Your heritage is noted as “White Earth descendant.” Can you tell me a little about your family background? Are you enrolled at White Earth?

    My paternal grandfather was raised in Ogema on the White Earth reservation. He was one of 14 children and spoke fluent Ojibwe all his life. He attended Indian boarding school at Morris, was a brakeman for the Soo Line and a veteran of World War I. My father was an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation, and was born in Onigum and raised in Federal Dam.

    My paternal grandmother was Bohemian and my mother is Polish. Thus I do not have the required blood quantum to be a fully enrolled member of the White Earth Nation. Several of my cousins, who have the same blood quantum as me, are enrolled members because they were born prior to 1963, when federal pressure came down for the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and White Earth to establish a blood-quantum rule. Therefore I use the term “descendant” out of respect for enrolled members. In my heart, I am Native, regardless of how much blood is running through my veins.

    What has been the most rewarding part of your career so far?

    I am very proud of the work that I did in child protection. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman allowed me to be creative and gave me the time to go out to the reservations to build relationships that had been lost. That allowed for us to set up a very strong infrastructure on how to best handle ICWA cases. That system is still there today, and I have been gone for over eight years.

    Children are our most important resource in this country, and we all have to care about what happens to them. We cannot leave it to a few professionals who make it their life’s work. It is too important.

    Department of Interior
    Bureau of Indian Education
    Cheyenne-Eagle Butte School
    P.O. Box 672
    Eagle Butte, SD 57625

    The Cheyenne-Eagle Butte is advertising the following positions
    for the 2016/2017 School Year on

    • Teacher (Mathematics)–High School
      (2 positions)
    • Teacher (Science)–High School
      (2 positions)
    • Teacher (Science)–Jr. High School
    • Teacher (Special Education)–Primary School
    • Teacher (Elementary)–Primary School
      (2 positions)

    For qualification and/or more information go to

    AVCP Chief Executive Officer – Bethel, Alaska

    AVCP is recruiting for the Chief Executive Officer position.

    Experience in non-profit senior management is required.

    AVCP employs Federal Law (PL 96-638) which allows for Alaska Native/American Indian preference in hiring. The full job description is located in the employment section of

    To submit your resume and cover letter contact Deborah L. White, HR Director at

    907-543-7308 or email

    Clinic Physician Needed

    Clinic Physician
    Min No Aya Win Human Services Center and Center for American Indian Resources
    Clinic Coordinator
    Pay Basis:

    Position Responsibilities:
    Provide direct medical care in clinic and impatient treatment at local hospital to patients eligible for care, including obstetrical patients.
    Make appropriate diagnoses and prescribe necessary treatments, procedures and medications following established medical practice.
    Record all information gathered and decisions made in the patients regarding their health status, treatments, and medications prescribed.
    Assist in the development of appropriate educational materials pertaining to specific health issues.
    Work with other members of the health care team as needed in the carrying out of prescribed duties.
    Provide on-call coverage usually one evening per week and one weekend per month.
    Serve on CQI committees as requested.
    Provide administrative back up when the Medical Director is on leave when directed by the Clinic Coordinator.
    Perform other related duties as assigned.

    Physical Requirements:
    Normal physical requirements.

    Position Qualifications:
    MD with Minnesota license is required.
    Graduate of approved Family Practice Residency, or five years experience in family practice setting is required.
    Ability to communicate effectively orally and in writing is required.
    Ability to work independently and establish work priorities is required.
    Attention to detail and accuracy is required.
    Subject to pre-employment, post accident, return to duty, follow-up, and random drug testing.
    Subject to pre-employment and annual background checks.
    Some travel is required.

    Native American Preference

    Please include with application your credentials and resume:
    Apply to: Fond du Lac Human Resource
    1720 Big Lake Road Cloquet, MN 55720

    Omaha Tribe of Nebraska is hiring for the following positions:

    Facilities Manager-

    Open 7/6/16 until filled, wage $35,000.00-$45,000.00, provides for the Tribe’s comprehensive Facility Management program, including but not limited to, maintenance, repair and upkeep of buildings structures, and grounds and roads.

    Public Relations-

    Open 7/6/16 until filled, wage $35,000.00-$45,000.00, Responsible for the Public Relations initiatives for the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, the Public Relations Specialist creates, manages, and implements Public Relations campaigns with the goals for enhancing the Tribe’s position within the public.

    Carl T Behavioral Health Mental Health is hiring for the following positions:

    Therapists, CNA, LPN, RN for Dialysis & Nursing Home.

    All positions are Open Until Filled

    Please send your resume, three references, and a complete application to:

    The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska
    Attn:  Human Resources
    P.O. Box 368
    Macy, NE 68039

    Barry Walker, HR Director
    Phone: 402-837-5391 Fax 402-837-4526


    The Week in Photos


    A new book by historian Santiago del Valle Chousa claims the discovery of Hatun Vilcabamba, the last refuge of the Inca warrior Túpac Amaru.


    Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) has introduced legislation to help businesses and create more jobs in Indian country.


    The Quinault Nation has joined a lawsuit against the FDA that opposes the agency’s approval of genetically modified salmon for consumption.

    Jackie McNeel

    Coeur d’Alene tribal chairman Chief Allan posed with a statue of Chief Morris Antelope, his great-great-grandfather, at its dedication on July 18.

    Headlines from the Web

    Upcoming Events


    July 28: Developing a 501 (c) (3) Nonprofit Organization For Tribal Entities
    The second half of this two-part webinar will provide an overview of how to cultivate the most effective way to develop and implement a 501 (c)  (3) charitable nonprofit organization. Attendees will learn about fundraising considerations, grants, donations, charitable giving and contributions; they will also learn to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of 501 (c) (3) vs. 7871 status. Finally, they will be instructed in how to apply to the Internal Revenue Service for determination as a 501 (c) (3) charitable nonprofit organization.
    Contact Information:

    August 1-5: Wisconsin American Indian Summer Studies Institute
    The 20th annual institute is an active, highly participatory, weeklong workshop designed to increase participants’ understanding of issues related to the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the 11 federally recognized American Indian nations and tribal communities in Wisconsin. The goals relate to both American Indian Studies and the education of American Indian students. The institute aims to improve teaching and learning and to enrich student services, resulting in both becoming more culturally responsive. Participants will learn how to adapt or develop new techniques best suited to their unique circumstances.
    Location: Crandon High School, Crandon, Wisconsin

    August 5: Tribal Courts in the 21st Century
    The program will include a diverse panel of experts who will provide practical advice for navigating the complex landscape of tribal jurisdiction in Indian country and beyond. Participants will learn about the challenges of tribal court jurisdiction, with a particular focus on civil and criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. The impact of the 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act and the 2013 Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization “Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction” over non-Indians will be examined. Emphasis will also be placed on the ramifications of the tribal victory in the Supreme Court’s recently decided Dollar General case.
    Location: Moscone West, San Francisco, California

    August 5-6: Native American Pipeline To Law Initiative
    This pre-law program seeks to educate and help Native students successfully navigate the law school application process. Participants will learn about law school and career options; obtain information about the various admissions criteria for law school; work with mentors to develop an effective application, résumé, and personal statement; explore funding options; receive test prep tips for Law School Admissions Test; network with participants, faculty and professionals; and hear from former and current American Indian law students.
    Location: Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan


    Letters to the Editor

    Re Gabriel Galanda’s reflections on disenrollment (June 29):

    I have been afraid of participating in the Cobell land buy-back program for allotment owners, thinking that the tribe might kick me out—even though the sold land would revert to the tribe.

    I am always telling people who like to romanticize about Native Americans that the tribes have all the corrupting tendencies that the general population has. When American Indians and Alaska Natives constitute only one percent of the U.S. population, how can tribes afford to be kicking members out?

    —Susan MacMillan
    Petaluma, California


    Re Rosita Kaa Háni Worl’s plea to repatriate the remains of Kennewick Man, a.k.a. “The Ancient One” (July 11):

    The Ancient One was an ancestor of my tribe. He was one of the travelers who journeyed and shared knowledge with other tribes and cultures. I agree completely that his remains should be returned so that the descendants of those he lived with may give him a proper burial.

    —John Martello
    Pine Hills, Florida



    Top News Alerts


    Five of 10 members of the St. Croix Chippewa Tribe of Wisconsin who were recently disenrolled are appealing the decision; their case will be heard next month before a judge from the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe. Tribal council spokesman Jeffrey Cormell said the members were expelled because they had failed to follow enrollment guidelines, as stated in the tribal constitution. The other five disenrolled St. Croix Chippewa members have either not challenged the ruling or have not retained counsel.


    With the most recent quarterly transfer of nearly $500,000 to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund, the total amount contributed to the fund has been brought close to $40 million. The fund provides financial assistance to AI/AN students who wish to pursue post-secondary and graduate education and training. Funded in part by the Land Buy-Back program for Tribal Nations, the scholarship program is overseen by the Cobell Board of Trustees and administered by the nonprofit corporation Indigenous Education.


    The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has declared that it will continue to use that name, after it had been discovered that certain official documents identified the North Carolina tribe as the “Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation.” As part of a tribal council resolution that unanimously passed on July 7, the tribe also adopted a new seal with the date when the tribe’s charter and government document were officially approved—March 11, 1889. The old seal was dated November 28, 1870, when an earlier constitution was adopted.


    North Dakota is removing a stylized silhouette of Marcellus Red Tomahawk, the Lakota who killed Sitting Bull, from its highway signs. The Red Tomahawk image has been on the signs since 1923. The phasing-out will take several years; the icon is being replaced by an outline of the state. Officials told the Fargo Forum last week that the change was being made in part to convey a unified image ahead of North Dakota’s 100th anniversary next year.


    The Ho-Chunk Nation is donating $25,000 to the Bad River Ojibwe, who were ravaged by flooding throughout Wisconsin that prompted Gov. Scott Walker to declare a state of emergency on July 12. The Ho-Chunk pledged the money after visiting their neighbors with donations of drinking water and cleaning supplies. “We are inspired to see the strength and resilience that has been displayed by our relatives to the north,” said a Ho-Chunk spokesman, “and will continue to stand by to offer our resources to aid in the recovery.”

    How Did I Miss That?

    Toddlers in washing machines, the Hong Kong singles scene and the never-ending search for intelligent life in the universe


    Photo courtesy Steve Russell Steve Russell

    WFLA reported that a Garrett, Indiana teen has been detained regarding an incident that occurred while he was babysitting two neighbors, ages 5 and 3. Some of the babysitter’s “friends” showed up and they all got to drinking …

    Damage to the apartment included wrecked toilets, a broken TV and a smashed window. Worse, the teenagers put the 3-year-old in a washing machine and a dryer. The toddler had bruises all over her body and the 5-year-old told what really happened after the babysitter claimed he had taken the children to the park and the younger girl had fallen off the merry-go-round.

    “It could have been worse.” My cousin Ray Sixkiller was glum. “It could have been the microwave.”

    * * *

    CNN Money reported that Apple is filming a reality TV show that pits software developers against each other for the chance to be mentored and funded by Silicon Valley experts. Naturally, the casting call was limited to developers using IOS. The show will be called “Planet of the Apps.”

    * * *

    The South China Morning Post reported that crunching numbers from a dating app, “Coffee Meets Bagel,” shows the world’s most desperate singles are found in Hong Kong. The app has been running up numbers and has smoked Tinder, which is based primarily on geographical proximity, by screening for tastes and traits that might predict compatibility.

    Cousin Ray pointed out that in Hong Kong, everybody is close. Geography doesn’t do much screening.

    * * *

    Secretary of State John Kerry had his diplomatic neutrality severely tested when he appeared at a joint press conference with the new U.K. foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. Johnson, the former mayor of London, is often called “the Donald Trump of the U.K.” because of his strange hair, racism, xenophobia and loose relationship with the truth.

    Kerry struggled not to react as reporters savaged Johnson with his own words—his references to President Obama’s “ancestral dislike of the British Empire,” Hillary Clinton’s persona as a “sadistic nurse in a mental hospital,” George W. Bush being “a cross-eyed Texan warmonger, unelected, inarticulate, who epitomizes the arrogance of American foreign policy,” and so on.

    Of a diplomatic mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Johnson predicted, “The tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.” He claimed Queen Elizabeth loves the Commonwealth “because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving pickaninnies.”

    As reporters asked Johnson if he should apologize, and Kerry struggled to maintain his composure, the Foreign Secretary admitted he had insulted too many people for such a lengthy apology tour and so he would smooth over relationships one at a time.

    Seeing the Trumpness in Johnson, Cousin Ray was still optimistic. “It may be Trump’s election to lose,” he said, “but Trump is doing his best to lose it.”

    * * *

    Reuters reported that clerics in Saudi Arabia have renewed a 15-year-old fatwa against Pokemon, although they deny the renewal is related to the worldwide popularity of Pokemon Go.

    The original fatwa held that Pokemon is blasphemous in that it promotes the theory of evolution and uses non-Islamic religious symbols, including Shinto, Freemasonry, and Christianity.

    “Evolution?” Cousin Ray was stunned. “I guess they don’t study much biology in the desert.”

    * * *

    The Internet was crackling with claims that NASA cut a video feed from the International Space Station to suppress the discovery of a UFO. NASA claimed that the cameras were on a normal rotation and there was no human being at the controls.

    I believe NASA. No human being would blow the opportunity to prove there is intelligent life in the universe.


    Donald Trump, it has been widely reported, is warning NATO members that if they were to be attacked, he would examine their conduct and come to their defense only if they have been meeting what he sees as their obligations to the U.S.

       Cousin Ray told me to chill out, because it was not that long ago Trump wanted to withdraw from NATO entirely.

    Upcoming Pow Wows


    American Indian Expo

    Caddo County Fairgrounds
    1019 E Broadway St.
    Anadarko, OK

    Saginaw Chippewa 32nd Annual Pow Wow

    7525 East Tomah Road
    Mount Pleasant, MI

    Onigum Traditional 18th Annual Pow Wow

    County Road 13
    Onigum, MN
    218-547-2270 or 218-252-6484

    Wildfire Phillips Annual Intertribal Pow Wow

    13 Sharon Drive Fair
    Fairhaven, VT

    Richard Twiss Memorial and Living Waters Pow Wow

    7790 Marion Road Southeast
    Turner, OR

    Kamloops Pow Wow

    No. 5 Yellowhead Highway
    V2H 1H1  Kamloops
    United States Minor Outlying Islands

    Nipmuck Indian 36th Annual Council Pow Wow

    Lake Siog Park
    Dug Hill Road
    Holland, MA

    Upper Sioux Pejuhutazizi Oyate Wacipi Pow Wow

    5722 Travers Lane
    Granite Falls, MN

    Rocky Boy’s Annual Pow Wow

    31 Agency Square
    Box Elder, MT

    Menominee Nation 50th Annual Contest Pow Wow

    Woodland Bowl
    Keshena, WI
    715-799-5114 ex 1267

    Healing Mother Earth 8th Annual Intertribal Pow Wow

    Fischer’s Pine Lake
    3924 Maple Road
    Jefferson, OH

    Sierra Mono Museum Indian Fair Days and Pow Wow

    33507 Road 230
    North Fork, CA

    Prophetstown 10th Annual Pow Wow

    Prophetstown State Recreation Area
    Park Avenue and River Drive
    Prophetstown, IL

    Bear Mountain Pow Wow

    Anthony Wayne Recreation Area
    Harriman, NY

    Annual Shawnee Woodland Pow Wow

    Zane Shawnee Caverns
    7092 State Route 540
    Bellefontaine, OH
    99370 592-9592


    The Big Picture

    Siera Bearchell (Métis) was crowned Miss Universe Canada in Toronto in June. Photography by Allumski/Courtesy Siera Bearchell, Miss Universe Canada