Blog Posts Related to the Native American Community

  • Building Opportunities in Indian Country: Congratulations to the Graduates of Navajo Technical College

    Dr. Jill Biden walks with the procession of graduates of the Navajo Technical College Class of 2013

    Dr. Jill Biden walks with the procession of graduates of the Navajo Technical College Class of 2013, Navajo Tech President Elmer Guy, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and the Board of trustees on the Navajo Tech campus in Crownpoint, New Mexico. May 17, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

    On Friday, I had the honor of addressing a class of graduates at Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint, New Mexico. The Navajo Tech graduating Class of 2013 earned certificates in 34 fields that will provide the tools they need to serve their community as teachers, nurses, engineers, mechanics, bankers, chefs and countless other opportunities all made possible by their commitment and dedication to improving themselves through the pursuit of a higher education.

    Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) play a key role in President Obama’s educational goal of making the United States home to the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world. TCUs are critical institutions that build tribal communities, create good jobs across Indian Country, and provide Native Americans with the skills they need to do those jobs.

    As a community college teacher, I love seeing what a tremendous difference a community like the one I saw at Navajo Tech can make in the lives of its students.

    The impressive class of graduates included veterans like Jerrilene Kenneth, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Army mechanic, before she became the first college graduate in her family with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education. It also included Navajo Tech Student of the Year Sherwin Becenti, who dropped out of college more than ten years ago but returned to school in order to build a better life for his family and set a good example for his children. Dwight Carlston, who grew up with no running water or electricity, was also among the graduates. Dwight maintained a 3.8 grade point average, ran cross country, served as Student Senate President and was recently elected as the Student Congress president of all 38 tribal colleges.

  • Celebrating Two Years of Let’s Move! in Indian Country

    Jodi Gillette at Chimney Rock

    Matthew Mooney, Jodi Gillette, and Dakota Lorenzo at Chimney Rock (by Harry Burell, Southwest Conservation Corps)

    I recently had the honor of attending an event to mark the 2nd Anniversary of Let’s Move! in Indian Country at Chimney Rock National Monument in southwestern Colorado. I hiked and learned about this magnificent landscape on our way to the top with fifty youth from the Southern Ute Montessori Elementary, the Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture Butch Blazer, and a handful of youth from the Pueblos who work with the Southwest Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps partner organization that engages and trains a diverse group of young women and men and completes conservation projects for the public benefit.

    I had lengthy conversations with Aaron Lowden, an Acoma Pueblo, regarding the strength and resiliency of the ancient people who built and lived in that space, and how their journey is connected to his own. Below I’d like to share some of his thoughts:

    Guwaatse howba tu shinomeh kuwaitiya eshte e Aaron Lowden madiganashia kuhaiya haanu stu da aakume’ haanu stu da! Hello everyone my name is Kuwaitiya in Acoma and Aaron Lowden in English and I come from the bear clan of the Acoma people. I am a program coordinator for the Southwest Conservation Corps' (SCC) Ancestral Lands regional office in Acoma Pueblo, NM.

    Our day began in the way I began this blog with a greeting to all attending the Let’s Move! in Indian Country (LMIC) 2nd Anniversary event and by saying a prayer. The prayer was done for the entire group before we entered the ancient Puebloan site of the recently designated Chimney Rock National Monument, CO.  It is as a sign of respect for those who came before to let them know we were there to learn from them. When we started at the trail head we were joined by Southern Ute schoolchildren, the Southwest Conservation Corps, the US Forest Service and US Department of Agriculture to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of LMIC. We were also joined by Jodi Gillette, the White House Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs and Butch Blazer, the Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment at the Department of Agriculture.

    Finally, we were ready to do what we all came there to do: get outside and get active. Led by the Chimney Rock Interpretative Association guides, we hiked with anticipation to see the ruins. Walking through the Great Houses on steep inclined trails the group gained knowledge by experiencing the difficult and active living conditions of the original occupants of these sites. 

    Aaron Lowden Welcomes Hikers to Chimney Rock

    Aaron Lowden welcomes hikers and youth to Chimney Rock (by Harry Burell, Southwest Conservation Corps)

    We learned how every single bit of rock and mortar had to be transported up to the top of this steep peak. If you were to talk with one of the ancestral inhabitants today and ask them about environmental stewardship, exercising, and eating right it’s reasonable to assume that they wouldn’t know what you were talking about, it’s just how they lived.

    Today, Native Americans – particularly youth – have one of the highest obesity rates in the country. Although progress can be a good thing and has made our lives extensively easier, it is imperative that we keep these reminders and retain our old ways to have a healthy future as indigenous peoples. I feel this is even more appropriate when on the subject of Native American issues of our health and environmental stewardship. After all, if we can’t take care of the haatsi (land), how can we expect it take care of us.  By getting outside and being active in our country’s public lands, and by eating right and caring about where our food comes from, we can raise a healthier, more environmentally conscious generation.

    After the group finished the hike, the Southwest Conservation Corps Ancestral Lands staff prepared a popular Pueblo dish: green chili stew. We were all ready to eat after our hike! Everyone enjoyed the nutritious meal and discussed the hike while the students played outdoors.

    As the day winded down and once everything was finished, we all headed home thankful for the beautiful day we had been given.

    Please click here to learn more about Let’s Move! in Indian Country.

    Jodi Gillette is the White House Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs

  • Quinault Indian Nation

    Ed JohnstoneEd Johnstone is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts as a Community Resilience Leader.


    I am a Fisheries Policy Representative for the Quinault Indian Nation, a land of cliff-lined beaches on the Pacific Ocean, evergreen forests, rivers, lakes, and mountains. We fish the same waters and hunt the same lands our ancestors did thousands of years before people from other parts of the world ever came here. We meld our traditions and legacies with technological innovations and provide new opportunities for our hard-working people; however, we always maintain environmental stewardship and sustainability at the forefront of our priorities and spiritual connection.

    The Quinault Nation seeks every opportunity to merge our efforts with those of other governments as well as other people from all walks of life as long as they demonstrate respect for our history, our sovereignty and our land, our treaty-protected rights, and the rights of future generations to inherit a healthy world. Economic prosperity and gainful employment are congruent with these things, as long as care, cultural sensitivity, and wise, long term decision-making are the primary considerations in management planning and implementation. Because of this, I gladly accept the honor of being named a “Champion of Change” because – as you know- change is mandatory. 

    It is important for other Americans to understand the perspective of Native Americans—to learn from it and hopefully adopt elements of it in their own lives. We have lived here a very long time. Survival and adaptation are concepts we Indians know very well. We breathe the same air and walk on the same land as other Americans. We drink the same water. We share a common future. In the long run, humanity will either prosper, or perish, together. Climate change is a major anthropogenic environmental concern, which affects Tribes directly. It has already had major impacts on our lands, causing massive fish kills and transmigrations through hypoxia and ocean-warming, intensified storms and flooding, glacial melting and expanded droughts, eroded beaches and invasive species. 

    Quinault Nation and other indigenous nations have been responding to climate change for years, and the need to support us in our efforts as well as work with us in a team effort to deal with this issue, as effectively as possible, is absolute. I was proud to the co-chair First Stewards, a non-profit organization which presented a major climate change summit at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC this past summer, and which will continue to bring indigenous people for the U.S. and American territories together over climate issues in the years to come. I am currently treasurer of First Stewards. For more information on this program, please visit our website at www.firststewards.org

    I have worked in the timber and fishing industries of the Quinault Indian Nation most of my life. I am a two-term Quinault Councilman, serving from 1996-2002, and serve as treasurer of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. I also chair the Intergovernmental Policy Council, a forum of tribal and state co-managers of the ocean area that includes the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. 

    Edward Johnstone serves as the Quinault Indian Nation Policy Spokesperson on all issues regarding ocean policy and treaty fishing rights

     

  • Getting It Right for Indian Country

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the FEMA Blog

    When you're tackling a new and challenging topic, starting from a solid foundation is crucial to success. Right now, there is an opportunity to change how the federal government provides disaster assistance and we’re looking for tribal leaders to help set a solid foundation for those changes.

    When President Obama signed into law the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013, he amended the Stafford Act to recognize the sovereignty of tribal governments, and this was a big step in the right direction to better meet the unique needs of Indian Country after disasters. However, there's still work to be done to shape disaster assistance programs and processes most effectively. That's where we are now -- we are consulting with tribal governments, tribal leaders, and tribal stakeholders to consider changes to a range of federal disaster assistance processes and topics:

    • Input on the major disaster declaration process,
    • Criteria to declare a major disaster,
    • Program delivery, and
    • The unique aspects of Indian culture that might not be currently considered by the rules.

    I encourage our tribal partners to join us in developing rules through consultation. You’re invited to join a series of upcoming tribal consultation calls, provide ideas to FEMA’s online collaboration community, or send an e-mail to tribalconsultation@fema.dhs.gov. Now is a great time to make sure the unique needs of Indian Country are considered throughout the federal disaster assistance process.

    Why are we looking for input from the community? Up to this point, FEMA has established rules around the disaster declaration process, assistance programs, and other aspects of federal assistance to meet the needs of state governments and individuals in those states. Now, with the recent amendment to the Stafford Act, we have an opportunity to change those rules with regards to the sovereignty of tribal nations.

    In a little more than two months since the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act became law, the President has already signed two disaster declarations directly for Indian Country. The new changes have already resulted in federal disaster assistance going directly to tribal communities.

    But there’s still much to be done. That's why we're having these consultation calls, gathering feedback online, and asking for e-mails. Once the consultation concludes, FEMA will draft proposed rules. Learn more about how to join this discussion by visiting FEMA’s online collaboration community, or send us an e-mail at tribalconsultation@fema.dhs.gov

    Craig Fugate is the Administrator of FEMA.

  • ACHP Adopts Plan to Support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

    The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) formally endorsed a plan to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at its winter business meeting on March 1, 2013.

    I believe this is an opportunity to promote better stewardship and protection of Native American historic properties and sacred sites and in doing so helps to ensure the survival of indigenous cultures. The Declaration reinforces the ACHP’s policies and goals as contained in our Native American initiatives including the Traditional Cultural Landscapes Action Plan and our participation in the interagency memorandum of understanding on the protection of sacred sites as well as in our oversight of the Section 106 review process.

    The plan calls for the ACHP to raise awareness about the Declaration within the preservation community; post information about the Declaration on its Web site; develop guidance on the intersection of the Declaration with the Section 106 process; reach out to the archaeological community about the Declaration and the conduct of archaeology in the United States; and generally integrate the Declaration into its initiatives.

    The ACHP oversees the Section 106 review process which requires federal agencies to take into account the impacts of their actions on historic properties. In carrying out the Section 106 process, federal agencies are required to consult with Indian tribes, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiian organizations when historic properties of religious and cultural significance to them may be affected. The ACHP has an Office of Native American Affairs that provides assistance to federal agencies, Indian tribes, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiian organizations and others. The ACHP, among many other efforts, has also published extensive guidance regarding tribal and Native Hawaiian consultation. See the ACHP's Declaration Plan.

    Milford Wayne Donaldson is the Chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

  • Achieving a Brighter Future for Tribal Nations

    On December 5, 2012, tribal leaders from across the country convened in Washington, D.C. for the fourth consecutive White House Tribal Nations Conference. President Obama has hosted the event each year of his presidency, affirming his commitment to strengthen the government to government relationship with tribes. The President delivered the keynote address at the Conference, which also featured remarks by senior Administration officials. Today we are releasing the synopsis of the 2012 Conference.

    The Conference featured five break-out sessions, connecting tribal leaders and federal agency officials in focused areas of Indian Country priorities. The “Synopsis of the 2012 White House Tribal Nations Conference” reflects the concerns and feedback provided by tribal leaders in each break-out session. The break-out session topics included:

    1. Protecting Our Communities: Law Enforcement and Disaster Relief
    2. Strengthening and Advancing the Government-to-Government Relationship
    3. Strengthening Tribal Communities: Economic Development, Housing, Energy and Infrastructure
    4. Securing Our Future: Cultural Protection, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection
    5. Healthy Communities, Excellence in Education and Native American Youth

    Prior to the Conference, we released the 2012 White House Tribal Nations Conference Progress Report. The Report compiles some of the President’s key accomplishments for Indian Country. These accomplishments include signing the HEARTH Act to streamline the process for tribes to manage their land independently, continuing implementation of the Tribal Law and Order Act by providing critical resources to tribal law enforcement and expanding educational opportunities for Native youth with grants through the State-Tribal Education Partnership (STEP) program.

    The President and his Administration will continue to partner with tribes to accomplish the priorities laid out by leaders at the Tribal Nations Conference. President Obama is proud to have achieved two of those priorities in the first two months of 2013. First, in January, President Obama signed a bill that included an amendment to the Stafford Act allowing tribes to make direct applications for emergency relief, just as state governments do. Second, just in the past few weeks, the President signed into law a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which includes new protections for Native American women. As President Obama said before signing VAWA, “Tribal governments have an inherent right to protect their people, and all women deserve the right to live free from fear.

    While much progress has been made, the President recognizes that works remains, including a legislative Carcieri fix, increased energy development on tribal lands and expanded economic and education opportunities for Native American communities. In pursuing each of these priorities, the President and his Administration are committed to working with tribal leaders in, what the President called, “a true and lasting government-to-government relationship."

    Jodi Gillette is Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs, White House Domestic Policy Council.

  • President Signs 2013 VAWA – Empowering Tribes to Protect Native Women

    Today, President Obama signed into law the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. This Act strengthens the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with increased protections for Native American women and other victims previously left vulnerable by gaps in the law. During the signing ceremony the President emphasized, “Tribal governments have an inherent right to protect their people, and all women deserve the right to live free from fear. And that is what today is all about.

    Making Native American communities safer and more secure has been a steadfast priority of the Obama Administration. Currently, Native American women are more than twice as likely to be victims of domestic violence as non-Native women. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 46% of Native American women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by a partner in their lifetime. One regional survey conducted by University of Oklahoma researchers showed that nearly three out of five Native American women had been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners. Tribal leaders tell us the actual rates of victimization may be even higher, since the justice system’s failure to adequately respond leaves many Native American victims unable to safely come forward with their stories.

    In July 2010, President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA), which provided for enhanced sentencing by tribal courts. Upon signing the TLOA, the President stated that the prevalence of violence against Native American women remains “an assault on our national conscience” that “we cannot allow to continue.”  The tribal provisions included in the reauthorization of VAWA give tribes important new tools to help address this problem.

    Tribal governments — police, prosecutors, and courts — are essential to the response to these crimes, but have long lacked the authority to address them effectively.  Prior to TLOA’s enactment, no matter how violent the offense, tribal courts could sentence Indian offenders to only one year in prison. Even worse, since a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1978, tribal courts have had no authority to prosecute a non-Indian who commits domestic violence, even if he lives on the reservation, works for the tribe, and is married to a tribal member.

    Not surprisingly, abusers who are not arrested are more likely to repeat, and escalate, their attacks. Research shows that law enforcement’s failure to arrest and prosecute abusers both emboldens attackers and deters victims from reporting future incidents. In short, the jurisdictional framework in Indian country has left many serious acts of domestic violence and dating violence unprosecuted and unpunished. The reauthorization of VAWA signed by President Obama will empower Indian tribes to protect all Native American women in Indian country, at long last.

    Following up on countless reports from Native women and tribal leaders, the Administration, led by the Department of Justice, consulted formally with the tribes and then developed and submitted to Congress a proposal to address the jurisdictional barriers that have allowed crimes of domestic violence in Indian country to go unprosecuted. Because the Justice Department’s proposal was ultimately included in the VAWA reauthorization bill, tribes will now be able to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence against Native American women in Indian country. The new law also clarifies that tribal courts have full civil jurisdiction to provide Native American women the safety and security of protection orders. And the new law gives additional tools to federal prosecutors to combat severe cases of domestic violence.

    These provisions were included in the VAWA reauthorization along with other victims who face additional barriers to escaping violence. The strengthened VAWA reminds us that a victim is a victim, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, or tribal affiliation, and all are worthy of protection. A broad coalition of advocates joined in championing those victims’ voices to Members of Congress. As active members in that coalition, tribal leaders and advocates worked with Senators and Representatives of both parties to ensure the victimization of Native American women did not fall victim itself to Washington politics. In the end, the bill passed with broad bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress.

    Passage of VAWA’s tribal provisions is a critical piece of the President’s larger agenda to make Indian country a safer, more prosperous place for the next generation of Native Americans. The Obama Administration looks forward to partnering with Indian tribes to implement all of the new provisions included in the VAWA reauthorization law.

    Jodi Gillette is the Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs

    Charles Galbraith is an Associate Director in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

  • Protecting funds from the Cobell v. Salazar settlement

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Blog

    Hundreds of thousands of Native Americans started getting the first payments last week as part of a long-awaited settlement with the federal government over its management as trustee of Individual Indian Money Accounts. The settlement, commonly known as Cobell v. Salazar, means the arrival of funds for Native Americans across the country. Cash payments like this can be a great opportunity for consumers to build up their assets—but we also anticipate scammers targeting settlement recipients, looking to separate these communities from their money.

    If you received money from the Cobell settlement, here are some simple steps you can take to protect your money:

    • Take your time. Beware of “opportunities” that force you to make a snap decision—high pressure “act now” offers are often used to keep you from understanding the true costs and risks of a product. Never sign anything without asking questions and understanding it first. If necessary, ask a trusted relative, friend, tribal official, or attorney for a second opinion before acting.
    • Pay off debt. If you took out a loan anticipating money from the settlement or use other expensive credit products, the settlement check is a good opportunity to pay down that debt.
    • Save. Consider using the settlement funds to start saving. People with savings are better prepared to handle financial emergencies—like a major car or home repair—and are less likely to rely on expensive debt.

    We also want to remind companies that are planning on doing business with Cobell recipients to conscientiously comply with all consumer protection laws. CFPB is charged with protecting consumers from unfair, deceptive, abusive, or discriminatory financial practices, which could impact Cobell recipients. The enforcement team will continue to be on the watch for scams and other harmful financial products that target Native Americans. Consumers and tribal leaders shouldn’t hesitate to let us know if they are seeing financial practices that are deceptive, unfair, abusive, or discriminatory.

    Report problems with payday loans, settlement anticipation loans, auto loans, or anything bought with credit. Submit a complaint online at consumerfinance.gov/complaint or call us at (855) 411-2372.

    You can also:

    If you think you’ve been scammed, report suspected fraud immediately. The longer you wait, the more difficult it could be to get your money back when appropriate.

    Responding to the Cobell settlement is one part of our broader ongoing collaboration with tribal governments and consumers across Indian Country. We’re excited about opportunities to advance consumer education and empowerment in tribal communities, carefully examine consumer protection concerns in Indian Country, and partner with tribal officials to prevent harmful practices targeting Native American consumers.

    Nick Rathod is the Assistant Director for Intergovernmental and International Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Kent Markus is the Assistant Director for the Office of Enforcement at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.