Author Topic: A Victory for Native Americans?  (Read 1090 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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A Victory for Native Americans?
« on: June 07, 2010, 05:45:58 pm »

A Victory for Native Americans?
Jun 7 2010, 12:21 PM ET

Mistreatment of Indians is America's Original Sin, and the narrative is consistent. They lose their land, get portrayed as caricatures of social maladies, and are ripped off by the likes of Jack Abramoff. So it's no surprise that a tale with a very different ending, namely the righting of a horrible wrong affecting 500,000 Native Americans, proceeds with virtually no notice.
Indeed, you'd think that even Tea Party diehards should rally to this cause, given their anti-government and pro-property rights passion. They might even want to pay homage to the intrepid female accountant-turned-banker, who inspired one of the most fiercely litigated disputes against the federal government in history. But they likely won't. Who will? Not even many Indians believe that belated fairness is now on the way, given more than a century of government abuse and deceit whose undisputed facts strain credulity.
The facts are these: Following the House's approval, the Senate is considering whether to approve a $3.4 billion settlement of a 15-year-old lawsuit, alleging the government illegally withheld more than $150 billion from Indians whose lands were taken in the 1880s to lease to oil, timber, minerals and other companies for a fee. Back then, the government started breaking up reservations, accumulating over 100 million acres, giving individual Indians 80 to 160 acres each, and taking legal title to properties placed in one of two trusts. The Indians were given beneficial ownership but the government managed the land, believing Indians couldn't handle their affairs. With leases for oil wells in Oklahoma, resorts in Palm Springs, and rights-of-ways for roads in Scottsdale, Arizona, some descendants of original owners receive six- and even seven-figure sums annually. But the prototypical beneficiary, now poised to share in the settlement, is a poor Dakotan who struggles to afford propane to heat his quarters and has been receiving as little as $20 a year. More than $400 million a year is collected from Indian lands and paid into U.S. Treasury account 14X6039.

The story turns on theft and incompetence by the Interior and Treasury Departments, with culprits including Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the same Minerals Management Service now at the center of the BP oil spill fiasco. Over the past 100 years, government record systems lost track of more than 40 million acres and who owns them. The records simply vanished. Meanwhile, documents were lost in fires and floods, buried in salt mines or found in an Albuquerque storage facility covered by rat feces and a deadly Hantavirus. Government officials exploited computer systems with no audit trails to turn Indian proceeds into slush funds but maintain plausible deniability.

The lack of accountability is confirmed in the government's own reports and testimony dating to the early 20th century. Conclusions of "fraud," "corruption," "institutional incompetence," "deficiencies in accounting," "the accounts lack credibility," "multifaceted monster," "organizational nightmare," "dismal history of inaction," "criminal negligence," and "sorry history of department mismanagement," are found regularly between 1915 and the present.  Congress ordered an accounting in 1994 but interior secretaries in both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations were held in civil contempt for not forking over records. District Judge Royce Lamberth, a Texas Republican nominated by President Reagan who oversaw the case for a decade, called the whole matter "government irresponsibility in its purest form."

I sat in Lamberth's courtroom in 1999 when Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt both lost his cool and conceded that the government couldn't provide accurate cash balances of most accounts and that "the fiduciary obligation of the United States is not being fulfilled." But the dispute would not end, as the Clinton and Bush administrations fought unceasing adverse rulings in a case inspiring 3,600 separate court filings and 80 published decisions. No single case, including the antitrust action against Microsoft, has been as heavily litigated and defended by the government, say lawyers.

The government's chief nemesis has been Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, the accountant-turned-banker who in 1987 started Blackfeet National Bank, the first national bank on a reservation. With a very small team of attorneys led by a Washington banking specialist, Dennis Gingold, her suit has inspired 3,600 court filings and 80 published decisions. Not even the antirust action against Microsoft was as heavily litigated by the government.

The historic resistance melded with an unsympathetic appeals court often overruling the dispute's two trial judges. It ordered removal of Lamberth, now the district court's chief judge, due to harsh language toward the government. Last year, it threw out a ruling by District Judge James Robertson, Lamberth's successor, that the Indians were owed $476 million, a pittance compared to the reduced, $48 billion they were seeking by then. Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain both urged settlement during the 2008 campaign.

A resolute Judge Robertson then hauled Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and plaintiffs into his chambers last year. He made clear to one and all that, in light of the latest appeals court ruling, both sides had the choice between spending maybe another 10 years in court or trying to finally settle. The initial atmosphere was not necessarily conducive to harmony. Career government employees in the Interior, Justice and Treasury departments felt burned after years of being belittled by both the plaintiffs and Judge Lamberth. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs had minimal trust in the government. But political appointees in the Obama administration, including Salazar and Attorney General Eric Holder, took their cue from President Obama's own support of a settlement. Dozens of meetings ensued, with the many prickly issues including how far back in time one would go to try to determine who should benefit.

Ultimately, Judge Robertson prodded what, given all the legal setbacks, is an impressive $3.4 billion deal announced in December. Ironically, before the recent congressional recess, the House approved the deal and Robertson announced his retirement, meaning District Judge Thomas Hogan becomes the third, and hopefully final, arbiter in the case. He would oversee a so-called "fairness hearing" in which objections can be raised.

There is inherent complexity in wrapping up. If the Senate approves, there will be a media campaign throughout Indian Country, including direct mail, newspaper and broadcast public service advertisements. Garden City Group of Melville, New York, which handled the major class action against Enron, will be claims administrator. It will get computer lists from the Interior Department, with the account information of perhaps 500,000 Indians and then doublecheck names and addresses. How good are the records? Nobody is really sure.

The $3.4 billion will be placed in a still-to-be-selected bank and $1.4 billion will go to individuals, mostly in the form of checks ranging from $500 to $1,500. A small group, such as members of the Osage tribe who benefit from huge Oklahoma oil revenues, will get far more, based on a formula incorporating their 10 highest years of income between 1985 and 2009. As important, $2 billion will be used to buy trust land from Indian owners at fair market prices, with the government finally returning the land to tribes. Nobody can be forced to sell. As for the winning lawyers, their take is capped at $100 million, actually low by class-action standards, though Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, an orthopedic surgeon, has groused about the fees.

The fairness hearing will be interesting since many Indians have a hard time believing they're not still being shafted. "This proposed settlement fixes nothing, the U.S. won by legal weaseling," writes a member of the Upper Midwest's Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe on a message board. He's not alone. Like a family victimized by homicide, Indians may never experience enough healing to truly recover. But, finally, as hard as it is for them to believe, there really may be some justice.

James Warren - James Warren is a journalist who worked for the Chicago Tribune, writes columns for the New York Times and Business Week and is a political analyst for MSNBC.

Offline Battle

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Re: A Victory for Native Americans?
« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2019, 11:15:49 am »
Sunday, 7th April 2019
A sacred trust: We must stand united for Chaco landscape’s protection
by Jonathan Nez / President, Navajo Nation And E. Paul Torres / Chairman, All Pueblo Council Of Governors

Last month, the Navajo Nation and the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) came together for a historic summit to declare our shared commitment to the Greater Chaco Landscape and to call on our congressional leaders and the Department of the Interior to conserve these sacred lands for future generations.

We were joined by many other elected leaders from New Mexico who stand with us in this critical endeavor.

The Greater Chaco Landscape is a truly significant resource that brings together the Pueblos of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.

Including this summit, the Navajo Nation and APCG have only met three times, with each meeting focusing on the importance of protecting the abundance of cultural and historical resources.

New Mexicans and people from all around the world visit the region in large numbers every year to view historical sites and gaze at the breathtaking starry skies that hover above these lands at night.

It captures the imagination like no other place on Earth.

Navajo and Pueblo leaders, along with members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, our governor and our state land commissioner have repeatedly sent a strong and unified message to the Department of the Interior and the BLM:

Protect public lands near Chaco Culture National Historical Park. 

Whether the agency chooses to respect our tribal and state leader's request will be seen as the BLM readies the release of a draft management plan amendment for the area.

In recent months, the agency suggested it would ignore this unprecedented level of support for land conservation by allowing lands within a roughly 10-mile buffer of the park to be developed for oil and gas. 

More than 90% of our public lands in the region are already leased for energy development, and the few remaining unleased areas near the park form a near pristine landscape of cultural objects and sacred sites.

While the BLM works on its management plan, we seek alternative ways to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape.
Last year, we supported legislation sponsored by U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich that would withdraw lands around Chaco National Park from oil and gas leasing. 

last month, our nations renewed our support for this bill and called on New Mexico's federal elected leaders to reintroduce it, along with a similar companion bill in the House of Representatives. 

This important legislation would provide long-term assurances for this critically important landscape, but it should not act in lieu of BLM's responsibility to listen to our communities and protect these lands through the administrative process. 

Either through the legislative or administrative process, our nations are committed to seeing through the widely supported plan to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape. 

We hope Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and lawmakers in Washington, D.C., will respect our reasonable request.

Now is the time for all of us who treasure this landscape to come together.

Please join us in our efforts to demand that the BLM do more to protect the lands near Chaco.

If we continue working together, we can permanently protect the Greater Chaco region.

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Offline Battle

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Re: A Victory for Native Americans?
« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2019, 09:12:40 am »
Wednesday, 15th May 2019
'It's my homeland': the trailblazing Native lawmaker fighting fossil fuels

by Jimmy Tobias

While she was campaigning for a seat in the US Congress last year, Deb Haaland went camping for four days. It was less a surprisingly timed vacation and more a return home.

Her destination was notable: Utah’s Bears Ears national monument, which Donald Trump controversially downsized in 2017 as part of a bid to encourage resource extraction.

She wanted to experience “a living landscape” where the art and artifacts of her people, the indigenous Pueblo, are still abundant.

She spent the trip hiking in and out of steep canyons and marveled at the area’s famed Moon House, a cliff dwelling and storage facility that dates back 800 years.

“There are some pretty amazing ruins there, and you know, I don’t even like to call them ruins,” Haaland says,

“because in our culture, in Pueblo culture, if you acknowledge our ancestors, they are there."

"The spirit of the people never leaves.”

Haaland has now become a powerful advocate for US public lands in the face of the Trump administration.

In November, Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, won her New Mexico seat, becoming one of the first two Native American women ever elected to the US House of Representatives.

“My ancestors migrated to what is now New Mexico, where the Pueblo Indians live, back in the late 1200s,” Haaland told the Guardian in a recent interview.

“No one else can claim that they have been there any longer than our people, than the Pueblo people. I feel like perhaps my voice is important right now to testify to our longstanding care for the land.”

With Haaland in office, “we now have a Native American right there in the decisionmakers’ room,” said Shaun Chapoose, the co-chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and a member of the governing body of the Ute Indian tribe.

“She is a Native American and she understands our traditions and she is in a place where she can educate lawmakers.”

She understands, for instance, that almost every parcel of public land in the US is land that Native peoples have inhabited or used for material and spiritual purposes.

When the United States government used violence and coercion to force indigenous tribes on to reservations, Native people did not suddenly lose their connection to it.

“Our sacred sites are all over the public lands,” said Haaland.

Bears Ears, home to thousands of indigenous ancestral sites, is a prime example.

In December 2017, in response to the desires of conservative pressure groups and oil, gas and mining interests, the Trump administration announced that it would drastically shrink the boundaries of the monument, which the Obama administration established in late 2016.

The move was an affront to the many Native American tribes, including the Navajo, Ute and Hopi people, who had advocated for years for the monument’s creation in order to protect their heritage.

“Trump turned around and basically told the tribes, ‘hey, you ain’t got no say, just sit there and take what I give you,’” said Chapoose.

After joining Congress, Haaland was made the vice-president of the House committee on natural resources, a key legislative body that crafts environmental laws and has jurisdiction over critical issues like climate change.

It was a plum position for someone in office only a few weeks.

Haaland dove almost immediately into the fight over Bears Ears, denouncing the monument downsizing during hearings on Capitol Hill and cosponsoring bills that would restore protections to Bears Ears and prevent the executive branch from shrinking or abolishing national monuments in the future.

Given Republican control of the Senate and the White House, these bills have a murky future.

Bears Ears and the broader south-west, Haaland says, are “my homeland. It is proper for me to want to protect it.”

She feels similarly about New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon national historic park, the site of a high-desert indigenous settlement that was a major center of Pueblo culture dating back to 850 AD.

Today, the park is threatened with a rash of proposed oil and gas development on nearby lands, and Haaland isn’t happy about it.

In April, she helped lead a congressional delegation to the site to build support for a bill she is cosponsoring that would ban all oil and gas drilling within a 10-mile radius of the park.

Haaland and her colleagues toured the park’s abundant ancient dwellings and used infrared cameras to observe the plumes of methane that adjacent oil and gas drilling constantly leaks into the air.

“I just feel like our priorities are so messed up right now,” she said.

“We need to protect every single open space that we possibly can,” including Chaco, Bears Ears and more.

Haaland’s work on behalf of the public lands is not solely about protecting indigenous sacred sites.

She is also deeply concerned about the climate crisis.

Tom Solomon, a co-coordinator for the climate group 350 New Mexico, said that Haaland “has been a pretty fierce climate advocate for a long time”.

Before she went to Washington DC, Solomon says Haaland was “instrumental” in building bridges between the environmental movement and indigenous communities in New Mexico in support of legislation that commits public utilities in the state to stringent clean and renewable energy standards by 2045.

That legislation, called the Energy Transition Act, was signed into law in New Mexico in March 2019.

Haaland says she would ultimately like to see fossil fuel development phased out completely on the federal domain.

“I am wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public lands,” she said.

She is also a staunch supporter of the Green New Deal, a nascent plan to rapidly end America’s reliance on fossil fuels, restore its ecosystems and rebuild its infrastructure.

“Public lands are a statement about who we are as Americans,” Haaland said.

“The most pristine and beautiful places in our country should never belong to one person.”

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« Last Edit: May 16, 2019, 10:57:45 am by Battle »

Offline Battle

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Re: A Victory for Native Americans?
« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2019, 09:02:30 pm »
Monday, 15th July 2019
$12 million Gets Historic Names Back
by Kelly O'Mara

After the National Park Service settled a lawsuit on Monday for approximately $12 million, popular landmarks in Yosemite will go back to being called by the names they were best known for.

Curry Village will again be Curry Village.

The Ahwahnee Hotel will return to being called the Ahwahnee Hotel.

And Badger Pass Ski Resort is once more Badger Pass.

The settlement comes after a dispute over who owned the names.

In 2016, Yosemite changed the names of a number of landmarks following a lawsuit filed by Delaware North, which had served as the park's concessionaire since 1993 but lost the contract to the company Aramark.

Delaware North then filed a lawsuit alleging it owned the trademarks to various historic names of beloved landmarks throughout Yosemite.

While the lawsuit was ongoing, the park officially changed the names of places like Curry Village and the Ahwahnee.

  • The Ahwahnee became the Majestic Yosemite Hotel.
  • Curry Village was Half Dome Village.
  • The Wawona Hotel became Big Trees Lodge.
  • Badger Pass was Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.

In reality, however, most visitors were slow to adapt to the change, which was largely viewed as temporary.

While some materials, such as signs, were printed with the new names, said Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman, many things, like napkins at the hotel, simply weren't.

"We felt strongly about restoring the names," he said, noting the park always intended to return to the original names.

"People feel strongly about places like Curry Village, the Ahwahnee Hotel, places families have been coming for generations."

The settlement requires Aramark to pay $8.16 million and the government to pay $3.84 million to Delaware North for the names, a number of logos and other branded content, Gediman said.

The government money comes out of the Judgment Fund, which is set aside by the Department of Justice to be used in settling lawsuits filed against federal agencies.

Under the terms of the agreement, Aramark will own the names and logos for the duration of its contract — through 2031 — at which point the names and logos will revert to the government.

No one conceded fault or ownership, said Gediman, but rather they felt it was important to settle the lengthy lawsuit.

"Aramark is, in effect, purchasing the use of these historic names," said Gediman.

The changes will be effective immediately.

In fact, some signage has already been switched back — especially in cases like Curry Village, where the switch simply involved removing the temporary signage that had signaled the interim name.

It may take months, though, to make all the changes.

A handful of names won't switch either, because it was felt they were close enough.

The only major one, said Gediman, is the Yosemite Valley Lodge, which will continue to be the Yosemite Valley Lodge, because it was similar enough to the historic name:

Yosemite Lodge at the Falls.

"We're just really excited," he said.

"What's old is new again."

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