A State of Emergency

We’re in a state of emergency. For months, the Trump administration withheld our COVID relief funding, and now they’re threatening to replace tribal police with federal cops at Cheyenne River, forcing a lawsuit from the tribe. To add insult to injury, the president will descend upon our homelands this Friday, under the guise of celebrating freedom and independence at Mount Rushmore.

We need your help. Please tell the Department of the Treasury and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to respect tribal health, safety, and sovereignty. COVID relief funds must be sent to tribes on schedule, checkpoints protecting our reservations must remain in place, and uninvited BIA police — and Trump — have no business in our territory.

Lakota Law
In our new video, South Dakota State Senator Red Dawn Foster joins me to talk about our showdowns with the Trump administration.

As you know, even when the virus hit South Dakota hard, Governor Kristi Noem failed to institute common sense protective policies. Then she challenged our tribes over the checkpoints, eventually calling on her friend, Donald Trump, for help. That help is arriving.

The Treasury Department has already bullied tribal nations by failing to disburse our CARES Act funds on time. Now, with the pandemic exploding across the Midwest, infecting around 100 people at Pine Ridge, and devastating the Navajo Nation, administration officials are threatening to withdraw our funding for law enforcement and replace our police force with feds if we don’t remove the checkpoints.

And this week, as we close in on Independence Day, President Trump plans to further desecrate our sacred Black Hills with a dangerous fireworks display, literally illuminating Mount Rushmore — the boldest monument there is to Native subjugation. What about our independence? What about our sovereignty? What about our right to live without tyranny in this “land of the free?”

Governor Noem even went out of her way to say there will be no requirements for masks or social distancing at the event, further jeopardizing South Dakota’s 72,000 Native Americans. So I promise you, we will remain vigilant here on the front lines. We will not remove our checkpoints. We will not stand aside or stand down. Will you stand with us?

Wopila tanka — Our sincere thanks for your friendship and your support,

Chase Iron Eyes
Lead Counsel
Via The Lakota People’s Law Project

P.S. Nothing is more important than protecting human lives. Please help by emailing the Treasury Department and the BIA: tell them, right now, to stop undermining our health, safety, and sovereignty. Thank you!

Pipeline Decision

In Lakota Country, and especially here in the Cheyenne River Oyate, we’re now bracing for the worst, because the Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) to lift permit restrictions on the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline.

An April decision by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris of Montana invoked the Endangered Species Act to limit KXL crossing domestic waterways. That ruling, thankfully, put the pipeline behind schedule and kept my people safer during the COVID-19 pandemic, but everything could change as soon as next week.

Lakota Law
Photo credit: Julia Peter

Despite recent, somewhat surprising decisions upholding rights for the LGTBQ and immigrant communities, the Court can’t be relied upon to continue ruling in favor of the people — or the environment — with its current conservative majority.

We expect a ruling from SCOTUS before it leaves session — at the latest, in early July. Justice Elena Kagan, who oversees the 9th District, set today as the deadline for submission of all legal arguments. Without her diligent oversight, the Court might already have given the green light. Now, the environmental groups who brought the suit at least have a fighting chance.

But the reality is, we can’t bank on a third pleasant surprise. As I wrote to you earlier this week, oil companies are adept at finding every end-run available to circumvent proper pipeline procedures. That includes tapping their friends in the Trump administration and Bill Barr’s Department of Justice to try calling in last-ditch favors from the highest court in the land.

As you probably remember, KXL will bring two-man camps — temporary housing for oil workers — near to our reservation borders. These destructive dens of machismo endanger our families by exacerbating the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. In the age of the coronavirus, contact with pipeline workers could bring even more peril, a key reason why we set up health and safety checkpoints on roads entering our reservations.

So, we prepare again to fight. We’ll maintain our checkpoints at all costs. And, of course, we’ll keep engaging allies from other environmental groups and tribal nations (for instance, we’re already working with a Blackfoot activist in Montana to survey ongoing construction near the Canadian border). We remain vigilant, and I ask that you stay ready to assist us in the likely event that SCOTUS reverts to its troubling pattern of enabling this corrupt, racist White House.

Wopila tanka — Thank you for standing with us to protect our water, our land, and our families!

Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Chehalis v. Mnuchin

NCAI Statement on the Negative Decision in
Chehalis v. Mnuchin
WASHINGTON, D.C. | The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is extremely disappointed in today’s decision by the D.C. District Court in Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin.
Although the Court acknowledged that Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) “are not federally recognized Indian tribes but are for-profit corporations established by Congress under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act”, and explicitly limited its decision to “the status of ANCs under [the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act] and the [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act]”, today’s decision would result in critical congressional funding intended for Indian tribal governments being diverted to state chartered corporate entities with no governance authority and no governmental duties to tribal citizens in Alaska.
NCAI continues to believe that Congress intended for Title V CARES Act funding to be distributed to Indian tribal governments.
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About the National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information, visit www.ncai.org.

Mashpee Wampanoag ruling a ‘win for all of Indian Country’

Supporters cheer Massachusetts tribe’s victory in lawsuit against U.S. Interior Department over its reservation status

Kolby KickingWoman

Indian Country Today

Support is pouring in for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe following a ruling in its favor in a lawsuit against the U.S. Interior Department.

On Friday evening, Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., blocked the federal government from rescinding the Massachusetts tribe’s reservation status, ordering the department to reexamine a decision that took the tribe’s more than 300 acres out of trust.

Massachusetts’ two Democratic U.S. senators, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, said in a joint statement that the ruling marks an important victory for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. But they said the fight is not finished, and they will continue to hold the Trump administration accountable.

“The Mashpee Wampanoag have a right to their ancestral homeland,” the statement said. “We are glad that the Court acknowledged the importance of the arguments we made in the bicameral, bipartisan amicus brief we filed with our colleagues opposing the U.S. Department of the Interior’s cruel actions.”

The amicus brief submitted to the court was led by Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblo, and signed by more than 20 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.

Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat, said the relationship between tribes and the federal government must be upheld and that the Interior Department had blatantly abused its power.

“Tribal sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship must be respected, but the Department of Interior clearly used a public health emergency to illegally move land out of trust,” said Haaland in a statement.

FILE - In this June 6, 2018, file photo, Deb Haaland, a Democratic candidate for Congress for central New Mexico's open seat and a tribal member of the Laguna Pueblo, sits at her Albuquerque home. More than 100 Native Americans are seeking seats in Congress, governor's offices, state legislatures and other posts across the country in what political observers say has been a record number of candidates. Congressional races in New Mexico and Kansas could determine whether Congress has its first Native American representative. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras, File)
In this June 2018 photo, Deb Haaland, then-Democratic candidate for Congress, sits at her Albuquerque home. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras, File)

The Interior Department said in a brief statement Monday that it is examining Friedman’s ruling.

“The Department is reviewing the decision and our options to proceed, and remains committed to upholding our trust responsibilities to Indian Country,” the statement said.

The agency previously told The Associated Press that it was obligated by a recent federal court decision to remove a lands designation bestowed in 2015 under then-President Barack Obama.

Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell told Indian Country Today on Friday it was a great day for Mashpee and that Friedman stood up for justice.

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell addressed Indian Country in a video posted to Facebook on Sunday. (Photo by Cedric Cromwell / Facebook)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell addressed Indian Country in a recent video posted to Facebook. (Photo by Cedric Cromwell / Facebook)

“Very happy justice reigned supreme but the battle is not over,” Cromwell said. “We’re praying the Trump administration will do the right thing and stand with Mashpee.”

(Previous story: Mashpee Wampanoag: US Court ‘stood up for justice’)

Also congratulating the Mashpee on its victory was the National Congress of American Indians. The organization’s president, Fawn Sharp, Quinault, said the organization will continue to stand with Mashpee as the process plays out.

“We consider this a win for all of Indian Country,” Sharp said. “The Mashpee Wampanoag relationship with the United States is one of political equality, derived from their inherent sovereignty, powers, and authority that long predates the United States. No federal agency or civil servant has the authority to diminish or in any way undermine that unique political relationship and standing.”

Per Judge Friedman’s ruling, the case has been remanded to the Interior Department, where Interior Secretary David Bernhardt must follow a 2014 “M-Opinion” to determine whether the Mashpee were “under federal jurisdiction before 1934.”

Interior 1
(Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

M-Opinions are opinions from the interior solicitor, the department’s head attorney, and are a source for the department’s interpretations of particular laws.

Robert Anderson, Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe, is a law professor at the University of Washington School of Law and said it seems the Interior Department and the current administration have put a lot of resources into this case, and are splitting hairs to prevent recent federally recognized tribes from receiving the same benefit as other tribes.

The Mashpee Wampanoag gained federal recognition in 2007.

“It’s another example of this administration sort of being, you know, going out of its way to chip away at Indian rights in a sort of a mean-spirited, nitpicky way,” Anderson said. “I think it’s really a bad thing.”

As the Interior Department reexamines its decision, the 321 acres of Mashpee Wampanoag land has been placed back into trust, and Cromwell said the tribe will work so that it remains that way.

“We will continue to work with the Department of the Interior — and fight them if necessary — to ensure our land remains in trust,” Cromwell said.

ICT Phone Logo

Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A’aniih is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter – @KDKW_406. Email – kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com

Indian Country Today LLC is a nonprofit news organization owned by the nonprofit arm of the National Congress of American Indians. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently.

A Victory: Recommitment to Tribal Sovereignty 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 6, 2020
CONTACT:
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and Native Organizations Encouraged by Recent Decision in Mashpee v. Bernhardt and Now Call on DOI for Recommitment to Tribal Sovereignty
Yesterday, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia rendered a decision in favor of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in the case of Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe v. Bernhardt. In its opinion, Judge Paul L. Friedman ruled:
The Court will grant the Mashpee Tribe’s motion for summary judgment and deny the federal defendants’ and defendant-intervenors’ motions for summary judgment. Furthermore, because the Secretary of the Interior’s September 7, 2018 Record of Decision is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law, the Court remands the matter to the Secretary of the Interior for a thorough reconsideration and re-evaluation of the evidence before him consistent with this Opinion, the 2014 M-Opinion, M-37209 – its standard and the evidence permitted therein – and the Department’s prior decisions applying the M-Opinion’s two-part test.
For the first time since the termination era, the Department of the Interior (DOI) attempted to disestablish a Tribal reservation, ordering the homelands of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe to be taken out of trust. The order from DOI Secretary David Bernhardt came on March 27, 2020, as the Tribal Nation worked to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency, during active litigation on the status of the land, and following the rescission of the 2014 Carcieri M-Opinion and the issuance of a new 4-part test to qualify under the first definition of “Indian” in the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). On March 30, 2020, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe asked the Court to issue an emergency restraining order to prevent DOI from taking immediate action to disestablish its reservation.
“The DC District Court righted what would have been a terrible and historic injustice by finding that the Department of the Interior broke the law in attempting to take our land out of trust,” said Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman, Cedric Cromwell. “We will continue to work with the Department of the Interior — and fight them if necessary — to ensure our land remains in trust.”
The Court ruled DOI’s 2018 decision that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe did not prove it was “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934, and therefore did not meet the first definition of “Indian” under the IRA—making the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe ineligible to acquire land in trust—was arbitrary and capricious. It remanded the decision to DOI with clear direction to issue a decision consistent with the 2014 M-Opinion’s standard and the evidence permitted therein, as well as DOI’s prior decisions applying the 2014 M-Opinion test. The Court further directed DOI to properly address each piece of evidence, give a reasoned analysis as to whether it is probative, explain any departure from past DOI precedent, and view all probative evidence in concert rather than in isolation. And importantly, the Court’s decision also mandates that DOI maintain the land in trust pending DOI’s new determination and prevents DOI from applying its new 4-part test in this case.
“USET SPF is pleased that the Court acted swiftly and justly to provide necessary certainty to the Mashpee Wampanoag in these uncertain times,” said USET SPF President, Kirk Francis. “The Department of the Interior was under no order to take the land out of trust, and so to attempt to rob the Mashpee of their homelands is nothing short of shameful. The Department should be assisting Tribal Nations as we work to reestablish our homelands after centuries of federal action designed to assimilate and terminate. Instead, actions by this Administration are aimed at perpetuating antiquated and regressive federal policies, resulting in the destabilization of our governments. While we celebrate this victory with Mashpee and all of Indian Country today, the centuries-long fight to protect and restore Tribal homelands is ongoing and we must remain steadfast in our vigilance. We continue to stand with Mashpee as the Department reexamines its evidence on remand.”
“On behalf of the National Congress of American Indians, we congratulate the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on their historic victory. We consider this a win for all of Indian Country,” said NCAI President Fawn Sharp. “The Mashpee Wampanoag relationship with the United States is one of political equality, derived from their inherent sovereignty, powers, and authority that long predates the United States. No federal agency or civil servant has the authority to diminish or in any way undermine that unique political relationship and standing. We will remain vigilant and stand united with Mashpee who have shaped and supported this country from the arrival of the first European settlers and will coexist as sovereign equals for generations to come.”
USET SPF and NCAI share a profound commitment to Tribal sovereignty and the restoration of Tribal homelands. In light of this commitment, we have been advocating for a fix to the Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar since it was handed down in 2009. Carcieri has created a deeply inequitable 2-class system, in which some Tribal Nations have the ability to restore their homelands and others do not. This 2-class system serves to deny these Tribal Nations a critical component of the trust relationship, vital aspects of the exercise of inherent sovereignty, and the opportunity to qualify for several government programs.
We continue to call for the immediate passage of a fix that contains the two features necessary to restore parity to the land-into-trust process:
(1) A reaffirmation of the status of current trust lands; and
(2) Confirmation that the Secretary has authority to take land into trust for all federally recognized Tribal Nations.
While this decision is an important step toward righting centuries of wrong against the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, our collective work is not finished. We urge and await a positive determination from DOI on Mashpee’s homelands once and for all. Our organizations will continue to fight for the restoration of Tribal homelands and the full delivery of trust and treaty obligations. We call upon DOI to recommit itself to the restoration of homelands, the trust obligation, and Tribal sovereignty.
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About the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe:
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, also known as the People of the First Light, has inhabited present day Massachusetts for more than 12,000 years. After an arduous process lasting more than three decades, the Mashpee Wampanoag were re-acknowledged as a federally recognized tribe in 2007. In 2015, the federal government declared 150 acres of land in Mashpee and 170 acres of land in Taunton as the Tribe’s initial reservation, on which the Tribe can exercise its full tribal sovereignty rights. The Mashpee tribe currently has approximately 2,700 enrolled citizens.
About the National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information, visit www.ncai.org.
About the USET Sovereignty Protection Fund (USET SPF):
Established in 2014, the USET Sovereignty Protection Fund (USET SPF) is a non-profit, inter-Tribal organization advocating on behalf of thirty (30) federally recognized Tribal Nations from the Northeastern Woodlands to the Everglades and across the Gulf of Mexico.  USET SPF is dedicated to promoting, protecting, and advancing the inherent sovereign rights and authorities of Tribal Nations and in assisting its membership in dealing effectively with public policy issues.
National Congress of American Indians
Embassy of Tribal Nations
1516 P Street NW, Washington, DC 20005