Legislative progress in Indian Country

Here’s a legislative update on three big bills working their way through Congress with major ramifications for American Indians*. One has passed, one is making progress, and one is stalled.

You may remember a post I made in May highlighting the fact that 1 in 3 Indian women will be raped at some point in their lives thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that stripped tribal governments of criminal jurisdiction over whites on Indian lands. Well, both houses of Congress have passed Senator Byron Dorgan’s Tribal Law and Order Act, with the House moving this month. The new law won’t solve the criminal jurisdiction issues, but at least it will beef up tribal resources. From the newspaper Indian Country Today:

In both chambers, it was attached to the Indian Arts and Crafts bill [HR 725], which strengthens the ability to prosecute those who unlawfully sell purported Indian goods.

Under the bill, tribal courts will be allowed to impose sentences of up to three years, but their authority is affected in some ways, like being required to follow U.S. court system procedures. Also, tribes prosecuting individuals for crimes that could land them in jail for more than a year must provide defendants with the same right to a lawyer that they would have in state or federal court…

The bill will also provide tribal police greater access to criminal history databases such as the National Crime Information Center, and will require tribal and federal officers serving Indian country to receive specialized training to interview victims of sexual assault and collect crime scene evidence.

Further, it requires Indian Health Service facilities to implement consistent sexual assault protocols, and requires federal officials to provide documents and testimony gained in the course of their federal duties to aid in prosecutions before tribal courts.

I’m pleased that this bill passed so overwhelmingly, and a bit surprised. Tribal power is a touchy subject with so many mistakenly thinking that it’s about race rather than history and federalism. To see this kind of bill pass with such bipartisan support at a time when obstructionism is the name of the game is really affirming. It’s a shame that we still have to wait for an Oliphant fix – ie, a bill that would allow tribes, like states, to prosecute all criminals on their own land rather than waiting for the never-arriving feds – but for what it does, this is a good bill. I have written my Congressman, Walt Minnick (D-ID), to express my appreciation for his aye vote on this bill.

Another bill, this one making its way through Congress, would ensure that tribal lands are allowed to grow after a 2009 Supreme Court decision basically said certain tribes could only let their land shrink. It is referred to as a “Carcieri fix” because the decision misinterpreted Congressional intent. From another Indian Country Today article:

A legislative Carcieri fix has been successfully inserted into the current House Interior appropriations bill with a similar Senate action expected to be attempted soon...

Tribal officials said a proactive measure is needed to remedy a February 2009 Supreme Court decision, which found that tribes recognized by the federal government after 1934 cannot have lands put into trust for them by the Department of the Interior.

Most tribes, even if not directly affected by the decision, are deeply concerned about the usurping of tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

The article goes on to point out that critics are trying to defeat the bill by linking it to Indian gaming, even though the bill has nothing whatsoever to do with gaming. As is often the case with federal Indian law defeatists, it seems they don't understand the complexities of the issues involved.

Finally, perhaps the weightiest of all these bills is going nowhere for now. You might have heard of Cobell v. Salazar, a case old enough that it was originally called Cobell v. Bennett. This is the prominent lawsuit that charges the Department of Interior with mismanaging countless billions in Indian royalties and trust funds. The latest development is that a legal settlement for over $3 billion has stalled in the Senate. The ICT write-up blames the failure on Democratic in-fighting and Republican partisanship.

The delay may or may not be a good thing. On the one hand, Ms. Cobell supports the settlement, but on the other hand, some tribal advocates claim it needs work, specifically more protections for individuals. I myself don’t know enough about the bill’s contents to pick sides, but I will say that while I usually take the pragmatic side of things, the legal group National Congress of American Indians is siding with the detractors and I do respect the NCAI.

There's more...

Legislative progress in Indian Country

Here’s a legislative update on three big bills working their way through Congress with major ramifications for American Indians*. One has passed, one is making progress, and one is stalled.

You may remember a post I made in May highlighting the fact that 1 in 3 Indian women will be raped at some point in their lives thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that stripped tribal governments of criminal jurisdiction over whites on Indian lands. Well, both houses of Congress have passed Senator Byron Dorgan’s Tribal Law and Order Act, with the House moving this month. The new law won’t solve the criminal jurisdiction issues, but at least it will beef up tribal resources. From the newspaper Indian Country Today:

In both chambers, it was attached to the Indian Arts and Crafts bill [HR 725], which strengthens the ability to prosecute those who unlawfully sell purported Indian goods.

Under the bill, tribal courts will be allowed to impose sentences of up to three years, but their authority is affected in some ways, like being required to follow U.S. court system procedures. Also, tribes prosecuting individuals for crimes that could land them in jail for more than a year must provide defendants with the same right to a lawyer that they would have in state or federal court…

The bill will also provide tribal police greater access to criminal history databases such as the National Crime Information Center, and will require tribal and federal officers serving Indian country to receive specialized training to interview victims of sexual assault and collect crime scene evidence.

Further, it requires Indian Health Service facilities to implement consistent sexual assault protocols, and requires federal officials to provide documents and testimony gained in the course of their federal duties to aid in prosecutions before tribal courts.

I’m pleased that this bill passed so overwhelmingly, and a bit surprised. Tribal power is a touchy subject with so many mistakenly thinking that it’s about race rather than history and federalism. To see this kind of bill pass with such bipartisan support at a time when obstructionism is the name of the game is really affirming. It’s a shame that we still have to wait for an Oliphant fix – ie, a bill that would allow tribes, like states, to prosecute all criminals on their own land rather than waiting for the never-arriving feds – but for what it does, this is a good bill. I have written my Congressman, Walt Minnick (D-ID), to express my appreciation for his aye vote on this bill.

Another bill, this one making its way through Congress, would ensure that tribal lands are allowed to grow after a 2009 Supreme Court decision basically said certain tribes could only let their land shrink. It is referred to as a “Carcieri fix” because the decision misinterpreted Congressional intent. From another Indian Country Today article:

A legislative Carcieri fix has been successfully inserted into the current House Interior appropriations bill with a similar Senate action expected to be attempted soon...

Tribal officials said a proactive measure is needed to remedy a February 2009 Supreme Court decision, which found that tribes recognized by the federal government after 1934 cannot have lands put into trust for them by the Department of the Interior.

Most tribes, even if not directly affected by the decision, are deeply concerned about the usurping of tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

The article goes on to point out that critics are trying to defeat the bill by linking it to Indian gaming, even though the bill has nothing whatsoever to do with gaming. As is often the case with federal Indian law defeatists, it seems they don't understand the complexities of the issues involved.

Finally, perhaps the weightiest of all these bills is going nowhere for now. You might have heard of Cobell v. Salazar, a case old enough that it was originally called Cobell v. Bennett. This is the prominent lawsuit that charges the Department of Interior with mismanaging countless billions in Indian royalties and trust funds. The latest development is that a legal settlement for over $3 billion has stalled in the Senate. The ICT write-up blames the failure on Democratic in-fighting and Republican partisanship.

The delay may or may not be a good thing. On the one hand, Ms. Cobell supports the settlement, but on the other hand, some tribal advocates claim it needs work, specifically more protections for individuals. I myself don’t know enough about the bill’s contents to pick sides, but I will say that while I usually take the pragmatic side of things, the legal group National Congress of American Indians is siding with the detractors and I do respect the NCAI.

There's more...

Legislative progress in Indian Country

Here’s a legislative update on three big bills working their way through Congress with major ramifications for American Indians*. One has passed, one is making progress, and one is stalled.

You may remember a post I made in May highlighting the fact that 1 in 3 Indian women will be raped at some point in their lives thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that stripped tribal governments of criminal jurisdiction over whites on Indian lands. Well, both houses of Congress have passed Senator Byron Dorgan’s Tribal Law and Order Act, with the House moving this month. The new law won’t solve the criminal jurisdiction issues, but at least it will beef up tribal resources. From the newspaper Indian Country Today:

In both chambers, it was attached to the Indian Arts and Crafts bill [HR 725], which strengthens the ability to prosecute those who unlawfully sell purported Indian goods.

Under the bill, tribal courts will be allowed to impose sentences of up to three years, but their authority is affected in some ways, like being required to follow U.S. court system procedures. Also, tribes prosecuting individuals for crimes that could land them in jail for more than a year must provide defendants with the same right to a lawyer that they would have in state or federal court…

The bill will also provide tribal police greater access to criminal history databases such as the National Crime Information Center, and will require tribal and federal officers serving Indian country to receive specialized training to interview victims of sexual assault and collect crime scene evidence.

Further, it requires Indian Health Service facilities to implement consistent sexual assault protocols, and requires federal officials to provide documents and testimony gained in the course of their federal duties to aid in prosecutions before tribal courts.

I’m pleased that this bill passed so overwhelmingly, and a bit surprised. Tribal power is a touchy subject with so many mistakenly thinking that it’s about race rather than history and federalism. To see this kind of bill pass with such bipartisan support at a time when obstructionism is the name of the game is really affirming. It’s a shame that we still have to wait for an Oliphant fix – ie, a bill that would allow tribes, like states, to prosecute all criminals on their own land rather than waiting for the never-arriving feds – but for what it does, this is a good bill. I have written my Congressman, Walt Minnick (D-ID), to express my appreciation for his aye vote on this bill.

Another bill, this one making its way through Congress, would ensure that tribal lands are allowed to grow after a 2009 Supreme Court decision basically said certain tribes could only let their land shrink. It is referred to as a “Carcieri fix” because the decision misinterpreted Congressional intent. From another Indian Country Today article:

A legislative Carcieri fix has been successfully inserted into the current House Interior appropriations bill with a similar Senate action expected to be attempted soon...

Tribal officials said a proactive measure is needed to remedy a February 2009 Supreme Court decision, which found that tribes recognized by the federal government after 1934 cannot have lands put into trust for them by the Department of the Interior.

Most tribes, even if not directly affected by the decision, are deeply concerned about the usurping of tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

The article goes on to point out that critics are trying to defeat the bill by linking it to Indian gaming, even though the bill has nothing whatsoever to do with gaming. As is often the case with federal Indian law defeatists, it seems they don't understand the complexities of the issues involved.

Finally, perhaps the weightiest of all these bills is going nowhere for now. You might have heard of Cobell v. Salazar, a case old enough that it was originally called Cobell v. Bennett. This is the prominent lawsuit that charges the Department of Interior with mismanaging countless billions in Indian royalties and trust funds. The latest development is that a legal settlement for over $3 billion has stalled in the Senate. The ICT write-up blames the failure on Democratic in-fighting and Republican partisanship.

The delay may or may not be a good thing. On the one hand, Ms. Cobell supports the settlement, but on the other hand, some tribal advocates claim it needs work, specifically more protections for individuals. I myself don’t know enough about the bill’s contents to pick sides, but I will say that while I usually take the pragmatic side of things, the legal group National Congress of American Indians is siding with the detractors and I do respect the NCAI.

There's more...

Legislative progress in Indian Country

Here’s a legislative update on three big bills working their way through Congress with major ramifications for American Indians*. One has passed, one is making progress, and one is stalled.

You may remember a post I made in May highlighting the fact that 1 in 3 Indian women will be raped at some point in their lives thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that stripped tribal governments of criminal jurisdiction over whites on Indian lands. Well, both houses of Congress have passed Senator Byron Dorgan’s Tribal Law and Order Act, with the House moving this month. The new law won’t solve the criminal jurisdiction issues, but at least it will beef up tribal resources. From the newspaper Indian Country Today:

In both chambers, it was attached to the Indian Arts and Crafts bill [HR 725], which strengthens the ability to prosecute those who unlawfully sell purported Indian goods.

Under the bill, tribal courts will be allowed to impose sentences of up to three years, but their authority is affected in some ways, like being required to follow U.S. court system procedures. Also, tribes prosecuting individuals for crimes that could land them in jail for more than a year must provide defendants with the same right to a lawyer that they would have in state or federal court…

The bill will also provide tribal police greater access to criminal history databases such as the National Crime Information Center, and will require tribal and federal officers serving Indian country to receive specialized training to interview victims of sexual assault and collect crime scene evidence.

Further, it requires Indian Health Service facilities to implement consistent sexual assault protocols, and requires federal officials to provide documents and testimony gained in the course of their federal duties to aid in prosecutions before tribal courts.

I’m pleased that this bill passed so overwhelmingly, and a bit surprised. Tribal power is a touchy subject with so many mistakenly thinking that it’s about race rather than history and federalism. To see this kind of bill pass with such bipartisan support at a time when obstructionism is the name of the game is really affirming. It’s a shame that we still have to wait for an Oliphant fix – ie, a bill that would allow tribes, like states, to prosecute all criminals on their own land rather than waiting for the never-arriving feds – but for what it does, this is a good bill. I have written my Congressman, Walt Minnick (D-ID), to express my appreciation for his aye vote on this bill.

Another bill, this one making its way through Congress, would ensure that tribal lands are allowed to grow after a 2009 Supreme Court decision basically said certain tribes could only let their land shrink. It is referred to as a “Carcieri fix” because the decision misinterpreted Congressional intent. From another Indian Country Today article:

A legislative Carcieri fix has been successfully inserted into the current House Interior appropriations bill with a similar Senate action expected to be attempted soon...

Tribal officials said a proactive measure is needed to remedy a February 2009 Supreme Court decision, which found that tribes recognized by the federal government after 1934 cannot have lands put into trust for them by the Department of the Interior.

Most tribes, even if not directly affected by the decision, are deeply concerned about the usurping of tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

The article goes on to point out that critics are trying to defeat the bill by linking it to Indian gaming, even though the bill has nothing whatsoever to do with gaming. As is often the case with federal Indian law defeatists, it seems they don't understand the complexities of the issues involved.

Finally, perhaps the weightiest of all these bills is going nowhere for now. You might have heard of Cobell v. Salazar, a case old enough that it was originally called Cobell v. Bennett. This is the prominent lawsuit that charges the Department of Interior with mismanaging countless billions in Indian royalties and trust funds. The latest development is that a legal settlement for over $3 billion has stalled in the Senate. The ICT write-up blames the failure on Democratic in-fighting and Republican partisanship.

The delay may or may not be a good thing. On the one hand, Ms. Cobell supports the settlement, but on the other hand, some tribal advocates claim it needs work, specifically more protections for individuals. I myself don’t know enough about the bill’s contents to pick sides, but I will say that while I usually take the pragmatic side of things, the legal group National Congress of American Indians is siding with the detractors and I do respect the NCAI.

There's more...

Vulnerable communities react to Arizona's new law

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Last Thursday, 10 year old Katherine Figueroa sat in a room in a Capitol Hill building in Washington DC telling Members of Congress about her personal encounter with immigration enforcement. Fighting back the tears, the young girl pleaded to the Democratic Members of Congress who were assembled, “Please tell President Obama to stop putting parents in jail, all they want is a better life for their kids.”She told the story of how her aunt took her in after her parents were arrested by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies. “I would also have bad dreams where the Arpaio deputies would take my aunt, her family and me to jail,” Katherine said. This brings to mind the poignant question from a second grader that caught the First Lady Michelle Obama off guard last month, with her honest fear for her family momentarily forcing the issue out of the political realm and into reality.

Katherine’s testimony was part of an ad-hoc Congressional hearing that took place in a packed committee room on Capital Hill and was attended by Democratic Members of Congress. One of the witnesses, Silvia Rodriguez, thanked Colorado Democrat Jared Polis for referring to her as an “American,” saying that it was one of the first times she had ever been called one. Her testimony and obvious pain brought tears to Rep. Polis’ eyes.

The event, a forum for Members of Congress to hear the stories of  women and children who were directly affected by Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070, had been organized by Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva and a number of labor and civil rights organizations such as the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the National Domestic Worker Alliance, the AFL-CIO, the Family Values at Work Consortium and Jobs with Justice. The aim of the hearing was to illustrate the direct impact that extreme immigration enforcement measures such as SB1070 have on women and children, who are the most vulnerable members of immigrant populations, to demonstrate the extremely urgent need for a comprehensive overhaul of existing immigration laws, and to pressure the Obama administration and Congress to prevent the implementation of SB1070. Silvia Rodriguez, the witness mentioned earlier, appealed directly to President Obama at the end of her testimony. She said,

The only time that I felt to be the slightest happy, or accepted or proud by this country was when President Obama won his presidency. For him to not step up and fulfill his promises, really, really breaks a lot of hearts.

President Obama’s campaign promise of immigration reform fade from memory as such legislation looks less and less probable in this election year. Unless blocked by any of the five legal challenges that have been filed since Gov. Brewer signed the bill in to law on April 23rd, SB1070 is scheduled to take effect on July 29th. In addition to the horrific stories presented by the women at the June 10th hearing, community groups such as Puente, working on the ground in Arizona, have reported a massive increase in incidents of racial discrimination since the law was signed. While race has always been directly linked to immigration law, measures such as SB1070 have spurred on more instances of discrimination such as the case of a blood bank in Arizona refusing to take the blood of people who only speak Spanish.

Opposition to the tough measure has been coming from all sides, and most minority groups and communities of color worry that they will be targeted by its harsh clauses that allow police to stop and question people based on the degree to which they appear “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented. Most recently, the country’s largest Native American reservation, the Navajo National Council, voted to officially oppose Arizona’s new enforcement measure during a special session convened for this purpose. Council Delegate Kee Allen Begay sponsored the measure which he thinks will definitely be used to harass Native Americans, specially given the strong resemblance between the Hispanic communities and Native Americans.

As opposition to the law grows, so does copy-cat legislation in other states across the country. On Saturday, Texas Republicans voted for a law that would require police officers to immediately check the immigration status of people arrested on suspicion of a crime, even before their culpability on the crime has been proven.  It is imperative that the Federal government wakes up to the large-scale detrimental effects that a laws like Arizona’s SB1070 will have on communities, on state unity, and on the economy.

Photo courtesy of csmonitor.com

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