5 Alaska tribes protest groundwork for Tongass logging

Joaqlin Estus

Oct 20, 2020

‘We refuse to endow legitimacy upon a process that has disregarded our input at every turn’

Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

Five tribal nations of southeast Alaska are objecting to a federal agency decision that leaves the U.S. Forest Service poised to open 9 million acres in the Tongass National Forest to logging.

The federal agency recently recommended lifting a 2001 rule that bans new road construction and commercial logging in the Tongass, the country’s largest national forest at nearly 17 million acres.

The five Tlingit and Haida tribes say they’re deeply disappointed with the agency’s choice.

Last week, they sent a strongly worded letter to the U.S. secretary of agriculture and chief of the Forest Service opting out of “cooperating agency status,” which had allowed them to enter the planning process at the earliest stage and contribute to environmental analyses.

“After two years of consultations, meetings, providing input and commenting on drafts, the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement shows that our participation in this process has not actually led to the incorporation of any of our concerns in the final decision,” the letter said. “We refuse to endow legitimacy upon a process that has disregarded our input at every turn.”

The tribes said they had differences among them on details of the alternatives laid out in the environmental impact statement, but they were unanimous on one point. “We were united in our opposition to a full exemption” of the Tongass from the so-called roadless rule.

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Tongass National Forest (Mark C. Brennan, Courtesy of Creative Commons)
Tongass National Forest (Mark C. Brennan, Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Proponents of Tongass logging say the rule change is needed to boost the Alaska economy. They say it would result in logging of only about 1 percent of the most valuable old growth forest, while still allowing other uses, including mining, renewable energy and recreation projects.

But the tribes said the agency’s selection reflects political expediency rather than the public or environmental best interests. It “closes the door to any further collaboration in the Alaska Roadless Rule process, as the agency has shown that they have no interest in addressing the concerns of our Tribes, and the public at large.”

The tribes said they are opting out of cooperative agency status because “we do not wish to confuse the American people into believing that the listing of our Tribes as cooperating agencies on the first page of the impact statement means that the final recommendation made by the document is in any way reflective of the input that we gave during the rulemaking process.”

They said they will not be party to a decision that will lead to the “degradation of our homelands and our way of life.”

The tribes added full exemption from the roadless rule does not provide solutions or contribute to prosperity.

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The Organized Village of Kasaan, Hydaburg Cooperative Association, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Hoonah Indian Association, and Angoon Community Association asked that an updated version of the environmental impact statement be released to reflect their withdrawal as cooperating agencies.

Under the Trump administration, a handful of large resource development proposals in Alaska have already received or appear to be on the verge of getting federal approval. All have been embroiled in controversy for years, most for decades. The proposed projects include the opening of 1.5 million acres for oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, development of the nation’s largest copper mine in the fisheries-rich Bristol Bay region, and construction of a road through wilderness to the Ambler mining district.

The Forest Service will issue a final decision on the roadless rule in the Tongass sometime after Oct. 25.

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Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today, and a long-time Alaska journalist.

Indian Country Today is a nonprofit news organization. Will you support our work? All of our content is free. There are no subscriptions or costs. And we have hired more Native journalists in the past year than any news organization ─ and with your help we will continue to grow and create career paths for our people. Support Indian Country Today for as little as $10.

Schools

Personal Note: I taught for 27 years in elementary education. Overcrowded classrooms, badly ventilated classrooms, and shared water fountains were the norm. No officials cared for the staff and students before, and I do not see how they will be able to address these problems now when the economy is in freefall. If I was not already retired I would be leaving the profession due to this pandemic. Certain politicians were put in high-level positions where they could undermine public education. Well, it occurs to me that I have witnessed the end of public education. It also seems to be following a trend: public postal service, public polling stations, public gatherings…it is almost as if we – the public – are under attack. A virus is being used as a weapon to disrupt and undermine everything we hold valuable. 
There is no talk about what you can do to improve your immune system.
There is no talk about how masks (which, if covered with a deadly virus, should be handled as a biohazard) are to be discarded. Instead, people are throwing them in the regular trash or on the street. Masks are becoming a source of pollution – like we needed another one.
There is no talk about how to take care of the growing amount of homeless as we swelter in the summer heat and head towards fall and winter.
There is no talk about how people will pay for a vaccine – a vaccine that requires two shots so far and will be given to the so-called ¨most neediest groups¨first: remember, it is an experimental vaccine and the pharmaceuticals companies have full immunity if something goes wrong. >The indigenous, the black, the elderly, the poor communities will be first. Something does not sound right to me about this. Since when do the powers-that-be care about what happens to ¨the most neediest groups¨? If they cared they would be discussing establishing Medicare for all – after all – the few who had employee healthcare now are without a job and have joined the large groups of people with no health coverage.

Every educator without a classroom, set up virtual classrooms online. Do not go back unless the proper cleaning and adjustments are made to classrooms. It is a bad idea for educators and a bad idea for students – it has always been that way and now a virus pandemic just shines the light on the bad situation. IMHO

Bureau of Indian Education: Open schools or else

(Photo: S. Hermann & F. Richter, Pixabay)

Mary Annette Pember

School opening during pandemic is a confusing, deadly challenge for reservation residents

Mary Annette Pember

Indian Country Today

The Bureau of Indian Education’s plans to reopen its schools for in-person instruction is irresponsible, according to many Native parents and tribal leaders across Indian Country.

Tara Sweeney, assistant secretary of Indian Affairs, sent a letter to tribal leaders this month indicating that Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools will open Sept. 16 with in-person instruction. Sweeney wrote: “To the maximum extent possible, BIE (operated) schools will operate brick and mortar schools.”

According to its website, the Bureau of Indian Education oversees a total of 187 schools. Of those, 132 are tribally controlled, operating under the direction of individual tribes. Fifty-five are operated by the bureau. Although bureau leaders maintain they actively include input from tribal consultation and stakeholder meetings and surveys in crafting policies for both tribally controlled and bureau-operated schools, many tribal leaders disagree.

“These ‘Dear tribal leader’ letters sent out by the BIE don’t acknowledge the authority of tribal nations and our elected officials,” says Daniel Tso, Navajo Nation council delegate and chairman of Navajo Nation Health, Education and Human Services Committee.

Sweeney wrote: “The guidance in this letter specifically pertains to bureau-operated schools. However, BIE recommends tribally controlled schools take the recommendation included as guidance to inform their general operations and to prepare each learning environment for the 2020-2021 school year.”

Nearly half of the Navajo Nation’s 65 Bureau of Indian Education schools are operated directly by the bureau. Only about a third of all bureau-funded schools are operated by the agency. Most are tribally controlled schools.

During a meeting Wednesday, committee members created a resolution recommending all reservation schools provide virtual or online learning options.

“I realize that Mr. Dearman has to toe the line according to the orders of the Trump administration, but the BIE people in Washington, D.C., don’t know the lay of the land out here,” Tso says.

Tony Dearman of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is the director of the Bureau of Indian Education. In an email response to Indian Country Today, he referred questions about school openings to the Bureau of Indian Affairs office of public affairs.

Neither that office nor the Bureau of Indian Education responded to emails seeking comment.

President Donald Trump is pushing for public schools to open with in-person instruction.

Parents on the Navajo reservation are overwhelmingly opposed to sending their children back to in-person school instruction, according to Tso

“Our dear children need to be protected; On a per-capita basis, we are still experiencing high rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths (on the Navajo reservation),” Tso says.

The Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, has been one of the worst hotspots during the pandemic.

The reservation continues to operate under a declared state of emergency and has enacted numerous weekend lockdowns to curb travel on and off the reservation. Navajo Nation government offices remain closed, offering minimal services.

Overall, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Native Americans have the highest hospitalization rates for COVID-19 of any ethnicity.

KTUU of Anchorage reports that one in 1,600 Indigenous people are impacted by COVID-19, compared with about one in 3,200 for non-Natives. Native people also have higher rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, making them especially vulnerable to the disease.

Many Native people depend on the Indian Health Service, a chronically underfunded federal agency, for their health care needs.

“Our IHS clinics couldn’t handle an outbreak on the reservation. COVID-19 could potentially wipe out half of our nation here on Pine Ridge,” says Dayna Brave Eagle, tribal education agency director for the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe is still operating under a tribal shelter at home ordinance enacted in March prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people and closing its borders to nonresidents and nonessential travel except for state highway entrances for pass-through vehicles.

“I don’t know of anybody who wants to send their kid to in-person school,” says Davidica Littlespottedhorse, who lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Five of the Bureau of Indian Education schools on the reservation are tribally controlled; only one, Pine Ridge School, is a bureau-operated school.

According to tribal council member Valentina Merdanian, the Oglala Sioux Tribe has ordered all reservation schools, including private, public and Bureau of Indian Education tribally controlled and bureau-controlled schools to offer remote instruction to students. Despite the bureau’s insistence that its directly operated schools offer in-person instruction, Pine Ridge School will offer only remote classes, according to Brave Eagle.

“The Oglala Sioux Tribe remains strong in looking after the health and welfare of our people; there are too many unanswered questions surrounding the pandemic for us to risk the health of our children,” Merdanian says.

Several Native leaders expressed concern that the Bureau of Indian Education may force its other bureau-controlled schools to offer in-person instruction regardless of individual tribes’ wishes.

“Yes, it’s totally possible that since the bureau-operated schools are federal, they will offer in-person instruction (regardless of tribal law),” says Carl Slater, Navajo Nation council delegate and a member of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee.

According to both Oglala Sioux and Navajo Nation leaders, communication from the Bureau of Indian Education has always been a problem.

As reported by Rebecca Klein and Neal Morton for the Hechinger Report, the bureau was slow to offer advice and close its schools in March, at the beginning of the pandemic.

According to Tso, the bureau’s Rocky Ridge boarding school on the Navajo reservation didn’t receive the agency-wide March notification to close for several days.

“Somehow they never got the message and remained open for several days. One of their staff died from COVID-19,” says Tso.

Although more students have received devices such as mobile phones, tablets and computers, limited internet access continues to be a problem.

“Many of our families live on a fixed income and can’t afford internet access fees,” says Brave Eagle.

Both the Navajo Nation and the Oglala Sioux Tribe are using their CAREs Act funds to expand internet access to families, but leaders worry funding is inadequate.

Members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs expressed concerns and asked for details regarding BIE’s distribution of CAREs Act funding to tribes during an oversight hearing in July.

“Several of our parents support using jump drives that can be exchanged weekly with the schools, but the BIE schools have not been receptive to these kinds of suggestions,” says Tso.

But schooling during a pandemic is a challenge for all schools serving reservation youth. According to the National Congress of American Indians, only about 8 percent of Native students attend Bureau of Indian Education schools; the remainder attend tribal, public or private schools both on and off the reservation.

“We’ve heard of some students transferring to schools off the reservation in order to access athletic programs,” says Merdanian.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe has been operating under a shelter at home ordinance since March 2020. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember)
The Oglala Sioux Tribe has been operating under a shelter at home ordinance since March 2020. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember)

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is pushing for schools to remain open and is discouraging the use of masks. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control support in-person learning with social distancing, masks and cleaning protocols.

Brave Eagle finds the overall lack of clear, coordinated policies among schools disheartening.

She notes that the recent Bureau of Indian Education letter announcing the Pine Ridge School start date of Sept. 16, which is significantly later than some others, added to the confusion.

“All the schools are starting at different times,” she says.

“The BIE should be ashamed of themselves,” Brave Eagle says. “The federal government has failed us for the past 100 years, but now it’s time for tribes to stand up. We are the ones who know what we need.”

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Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today.

Indian Country Today is a nonprofit news organization. Will you support our work? All of our content is free. There are no subscriptions or costs. And we have hired more Native journalists in the past year than any news organization ─ and with your help we will continue to grow and create career paths for our people. Support Indian Country Today for as little as $10.

Voting Rights >Action Needed!

Voting rights are under attack across America. President Trump’s threat to withhold funding from the U.S. Postal Service is just the latest attempt to limit our power by blocking free and fair elections. Of course, to Native people like me, this is nothing new. That’s why, two weeks ago, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe voted unanimously to team up with the Lakota People’s Law Project, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and U.S. House Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) to make sure Congress passes the Native American Voting Rights Act (NAVRA) as soon as possible.

You can help us realize this vision! Please use your voice to inspire lawmakers to prioritize and pass this bill right now. Use our brand new Action Center to send a letter to your congressional reps today, and tell them it’s critical to support NAVRA. All voices must be heard for the health of our democratic institutions to truly be respected.

Lakota LawWe Standing Rocked the Vote in 2018, and now, with your help, we’ll pass NAVRA and ensure fair elections are held throughout all of Indian Country.

You likely recall that, in 2018, North Dakota passed a voter ID law specifically aimed at disenfranchising Native citizens without street addresses. I remain grateful that you leapt into action at that time, helping us Standing Rock the Vote. Together, we put 100 tribal volunteers on the street, printed 800 new IDs, and doubled turnout over the prior midterm.

But other Indigenous communities around the U.S. aren’t so fortunate. Many face significant hurdles, such as remote or difficult-to-reach polling locations, language barriers, and no vote-by-mail option. NAVRA will address these concerns and more.

I also want you to know that we’re just getting started. We intend to engage the members of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association — the leaders of 16 tribes throughout North and South Dakota and Nebraska. We’ll also organize with tribal nations around the country to gain bipartisan support, and we’ll train a group of ambassadors from Standing Rock to phonebank and turn out the national Native vote, come election time. The tribe has also requested a congressional hearing.

Voter suppression within communities of color must end, right now. We have the opportunity to make a tremendous difference — not just for folks on reservations, but for the future of our nation. Please join us in what could be the most important action we’ve ever undertaken together.

Wopila tanka — my thanks for standing with Native voters!

Phyllis Young
Standing Rock Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

P.S. No less than the fate of our democracy could be on the line if we don’t stand together to protect elections and the right of communities of color to cast our votes. Email your senator and congressperson and tell them to support — and pass — the Native American Voting Rights Act.

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

Important Census 2020 Information

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 5, 2020
CONTACT:
National Native Organizations Issue Joint Statement on U.S. Census Bureau Change to 2020 Census Operations
This week, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it is ending its Census 2020 field operations on September 30, 2020, despite severely low response rates in historically undercounted areas, including in many tribal areas across the country.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and the National Urban Indian Family Coalition (NUIFC) are deeply alarmed and concerned with this unwarranted and irresponsible decision. An accurate Census count is essential to ensure fair and accurate representation of all Americans, including this country’s First Americans, because Census data is used for reapportionment of congressional seats and in redistricting to elect representatives at every level of government. Ending the 2020 Census count early during a global pandemic is not only bad policy, it puts at risk the ability of our communities to access social safety net and other benefits that a complete Census count affords Americans wherever they are.
Our tribal nations and tribal communities have been ravaged by COVID-19, and an extension of the Census enumeration period was a humane lifeline during an unprecedented global health catastrophe that provided critically needed additional time to tribal nations to ensure that all of everyone in their communities are counted. For millions of American Indians and Alaska Natives, whether they live on rural reservations or in America’s large cities, an inaccurate Census count will decimate our ability to advocate for necessary services for our most vulnerable communities. An incomplete count also undermines our representative system of government in violation of the United States Constitution and in derogation of the federal government’s trust responsibilities to tribal nations.
NCAI, NARF, and NUIFC strongly support a complete Census count and call on the United States Congress to take urgent legislative action to include an extension of the Census field operation timelines in the next COVID-19 package.
###
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 Native American Rights Fund:
Founded in 1970, NARF is the oldest and largest non-profit dedicated to asserting and defending the rights of Indian tribes, tribal organizations, and individual Indians nationwide. For the past 48 years, NARF has represented over 275 Tribes in 31 states in such areas as tribal jurisdiction, federal recognition, land claims, hunting and fishing rights, religious liberties, and voting rights. For more information, visit www.narf.org.
About the National Urban Indian Family Coalition
Created in 2003, he NUIFC advocates for American Indian families living in urban areas by creating partnerships with tribes, as well as other American Indian organizations, and by conducting research to better understand the barriers, issues, and opportunities facing urban American Indian families. The NUIFC works to ensure access to traditionally excluded organizations and families, and to focus attention on the needs of urban Indians. Learn more by visiting www.nuifc.org.

“sovereignty hobbyists¨? Racist Comment

Oklahoma attorney general dismisses legislation critics as ‘sovereignty hobbyists’

In this Sept. 12 photo, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter speaks during a news conference in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Mary Annette Pember

Republican Mike Hunter insists Oklahoma wants to preserve tribal sovereignty; Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole Nations disagree

Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

The Supreme Court’s McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling affirmed tribal sovereignty, but the state’s attorney general, Republican Mike Hunter, is disputing its importance in negotiating jurisdictional responsibility with tribes and the state.

Hunter described some of those concerned about the impact of proposed federal legislation related to the case as “sovereignty hobbyists,” during an interview with reporter Scott Mitchell on News 9 in Tulsa.

According to Hunter, hobbyists are worried about “theoretical” problems and have misplaced criticism of the proposed legislation.

“They’ve accused us of eroding the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA); we’ve actually increased the ability to utilize VAWA in protecting women by using concurrent state and tribal jurisdiction rather than limiting it to tribal jurisdiction,” Hunt said.

Under the proposed legislation, announced in an “agreement in principle,” the state would have criminal jurisdiction over non-Native and overlapping jurisdiction over most Native offenders.

Five Oklahoma tribes — Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole and Choctaw — initially signed on to the agreement. Later, however, after many tribal citizens complained that it undermined sovereignty, the Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole tribes announced they were not in agreement with the proposal.

Muskogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill said previously that although he believes in collaboration between federal, state and tribal governments, “that collaboration doesn’t require congressional legislation.”

Seminole Nation Chief Greg Chilcoat agreed and complained that since his tribe was not involved with discussions regarding the agreement, it would not consent to join.

Rosemary McCombs Maxey of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation described Hunter’s words as paternalistic.

“He is trivializing sovereignty. When I hear someone talking like that, I’m reminded of my childhood when the White men got to do all the talking,” she said.

Maxey, 75, lives on her grandmother’s allotted lands on the Muscogee (Creek) reservation. A native Mvscokee language speaker, Maxey has taught the language at the college level. Now retired, she holds Mvskokee language immersion events at her farm.

“Why would Congress be the arbiter of any agreement between the tribe and state? Our sovereignty is intact. We have the ability to negotiate directly with the state,” she said.

Jay Fife of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation agreed. “Hunter’s comments represent how Oklahoma views Indigenous peoples and our fight. Defending sovereignty is not something we do for fun; this is our life,” he said.

Fife, 20, is a rising sophomore at Yale University majoring in American Studies and Linguistics.

Chief David Hill wrote in an editorial Wednesday in Tulsaworld.com that Hunter’s agreement in principle would reverse the Supreme Court decision and disestablish the Muscogee (Creek) reservation.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill. (Photo courtesy of Muskogee (Creek) Nation)
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill. (Photo courtesy of Muskogee (Creek) Nation)

Hill also issued a statement Wednesday announcing an executive order creating the Mvskoke Reservation Protection Commission.

According to the statement, the commission will be made up of Muscogee (Creek) citizens and will conduct an in-depth analysis of major subject areas that will include, but are not limited to: law enforcement and public safety, Indian child welfare and social services, government-to-government relationships and policy, judicial affairs, legal and regulatory matters, business and commerce, and violence against Native women and murdered and missing Indigenous women.

The commission will also collaborate with federal, state, tribal, county and municipal authorities to create mutual understanding and cooperation across jurisdictions.

The commission is expected to continue its work for one year and will issue an initial report in six months.

Critics of Oklahoma’s agreement in principle speculate that state Republican leaders forwarded the agreement as a means to protect powerful oil and gas businesses in the state.

Ostensibly the McGirt decision affects criminal jurisdiction, but its impact on businesses including oil and gas development is unclear.

In his dissenting opinion Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the McGirt decision, “The decision today creates significant uncertainty for the state’s continuing authority over any area that touches Indian affairs, ranging from zoning and taxation to family and environmental law.”

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Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today.

 

 

 

 

Comments (3)
No. 1-3
Warmother
Warmother

They are hobbiests. They will blame the tribal jurisdiction problems for high rates of murder and sexual assault on reservations, yet rejoice to importing those problems into Oklahoma. Natives in Oklahoma deserve the same protection and justice as non-Natives. The tribes need to serve their members within their scope, not subject their members to a degraded and incapable tribal criminal and civil justice system that plagues reservations all across America. It isn’t about our “lives” it is about POWER and MONEY. And they know it.

synnove1
synnove1

It was good that the court ruled in favor of the tribe’s rights and then we hear that it should be in talks again. Like you say you want to first deal with the state not the Congress. It is right to have a protocol. In the news right now it is argued when violence starts in a rightful protest first the local authorities handle it then if needed they have help from the state before the federal authorities are asked to help. this I’m sure is what you want to handle it and if you need help it will be there.

macblackwolf
macblackwolf

Treaties, Supreme Court decision government promises are useless to all native tribes. Not worth the words spoken.


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