White Earth Nation Taking over Human Services Cases from Surrounding Counties

In 2011, the Minnesota legislature authorized White Earth to take over all human services programs for tribal members and families in surrounding counties.

Bill text here.

With more tribes looking at options to provide more services for tribal members residing off reservations, it will be interesting to see how this implementation process will work for White Earth.

News coverage on the transfer here.

Before the transfer began, White Earth was offering some human services programs, including tribal child care assistance, child welfare programs, disability waivered services and food distribution programs.

However, people also qualified for several other programs that only the counties offered.

That meant a lot of back and forth and confusion for recipients who were juggling programs from different agencies.

The complete transfer – the first of its kind in Minnesota – will mean people will have their cases streamlined into one place where they can receive all benefits together.

Document with the transfer proposal for Mahnomen county cases here.

H/T to Adrea Korthase!

News Coverage of Honor the Earth Arguing For a Voice in Pipeline Route in Front of Minnesota ALJ

Here.

Attorneys for the company contend that the commission has no business deciding the meaning of federal treaties. Even so, much of the two-hour discussion before Judge Eric Lipman focused on 10 treaties signed between 1825 and 1864 by Minnesota Indian tribes.

“It would represent a dramatic departure from the commission’s precedent and would significantly impact not just pipeline projects but all large energy projects sited in northern Minnesota,” said Christine Brusven, an attorney for the Calgary-based pipeline company that’s proposing to build the 610-mile pipeline to carry North Dakota oil.

Headed for the courts?

Lipman, who is overseeing the regulatory review of the pipeline, is expected to rule on the treaty rights question, but the final decision rests with the Public Utilities Commission. The issue ultimately could land in federal court.

H/T Jean O’Brien

MN DNR Releases 1,800 page Environmental Impact Statement for Proposed Copper-Nickel Mine Located in 1854 Treaty Ceded Territory

The Bois Forte, Grand Portgage, and Fond du Lac tribes, along with GLIFWC and the 1854 Treaty Authority have raised concerns about the impact of this project. The proposed mine exists within territory ceded by the tribes in the 1854 Treaty. The tribes reserved usufructuary rights in the area.

The public comments period began with the release of the document. At least 3 public hearings will be held.

Link to the Environmental Impact Statement here.

Press coverage here.

Excerpt from article:

In September, staff from all three Chippewa bands, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission and the 1854 Treaty Authority submitted a 100-page “cumulative effects analysis” outlining their objections to the revised environmental-impact statement.

The tribes were included in the process both times as “cooperating agencies,” which meant an advisory role with no direct control over the data collection, writing or editing for the statement. Still, their influence on the latest draft is easy to spot.

This level of tribal engagement is not limited to the PolyMet project or the Minnesota tribes, says Nancy Schuldt, the Fond du Lac water-projects coordinator: “Today, tribes are exercising environmental authorities to a greater extent. There has been a tremendous amount of capacity building in terms of tribal staff and expertise to actually follow up on our request for a seat at the table when decisions like this are being made.” . . .

The mining of iron ore, meanwhile, has been altering northern Minnesota ecosystems for more than a century, and Schuldt wants that to be the starting point for any conversation about the impact of mining what is sometimes called nonferrous, or noniron, metals.

In northern Minnesota, copper, nickel and other nonferrous metals are embedded in rock that also contains sulfide. (That’s why this kind of mining is often called sulfide mining.) When you expose the rock to air and water, sulfuric acid is created. It’s the acid runoff from the exposed rock that somebody will have to be watching and treating for hundreds of years.

In their response to a recent draft, the tribal cooperating agencies write that current and historic mining activities have “profoundly and, in many cases, permanently degraded vast areas of forests, wetlands, air and water resources, wildlife habitat, cultural sites and other critical treaty-protected resources within the 1854 Ceded Territory.”

If the PolyMet proposal promises pollution control, the position of the tribes is, we don’t buy it.

“The State of Minnesota has existed for 155 years,” they write. “The United States of America has existed for 237 years. The notion that a mining company and financial assurance instruments will be available to work on a mine site 500 years from now is not believable.”

Minnesota Files Suit Against CashCall (Western Sky Financial)

Complaint – Minnesota v CashCall

From an article about the suit:

Minnesota regulators are, for the first time, challenging a practice in which an Internet lender is allegedly hiding behind tribal sovereign immunity to skirt state laws.

A lawsuit filed Thursday against California-based CashCall Inc. takes aim at the rent-a-tribe phenomenon, which Attorney General Lori Swanson described in an interview as “an emerging problem” that has come under fire elsewhere.

The complaint, filed jointly by Swanson and state Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, accuses CashCall and subsidiaries WS Funding and WS Financial of engaging in an “elaborate ruse” to deceive borrowers and regulators and fleece them with illegally high rates on Internet loans.

A lawyer for the company would only say the lawsuit contains inaccuracies.

Previous coverage about CashCall and Western Sky Financial here.

Article on Tribal Constitutions and Constitutional Reform

This article focuses heavily on the current constitutional reform movement going on at the White Earth Nation in Minnesota, but also makes some interesting points about tribal constitutions in general.

A few quotes from the article:

Most Americans don’t realize that tribes have their own constitutions, which set down rules for everything from tribal government to citizenship. But many were built on models written by the U.S. Department of the Interior nearly 80 years ago.

Times have changed, tribal leaders say. Today many Indian nations are expanding their economies, experimenting with gaming and hoping to include their own cultural touchstones and collective priorities in the document that governs them.

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“We are governed by the Indian Reorganization Act, written by the federal government in 1934,” said Vizenor, chairwoman at White Earth, the state’s largest tribe. “[Our constitution] doesn’t have an independent judicial system. It doesn’t have separation powers. And there are about 27 references about asking permission from the Secretary of Interior in order to do something.”

A new constitution, Vizenor said, could be the key to attracting new businesses, running clean elections, creating an impartial judiciary — and creating a place where more people want to live, work and invest.

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About 250 of the 333 tribal constitutions in the United States were based completely or partly on the Indian Reorganization Act, according to David Wilkins, professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t apply to Indian Country because tribes are sovereign nations that existed before the constitution was drafted, he said.

Tribal constitutions determine how tribes govern themselves internally and how they relate to other government entities such as counties and states. Having stronger checks and balances in place can help prevent the favoritism and corruption that has prevented some tribes from prospering, supporters say.

Research has shown that tribes with the most capable governments are more successful economically than others, said Steve Cornell, co-director of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and a professor at the University of Arizona.

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White Earth got started on the process in 1997, after several tribal leaders — including former chair Darrel (Chip) Wadena — were convicted of election fraud and bid-rigging related to the tribe’s casino. When Vizenor was elected tribal chair in 2004, she made constitution reform a priority.

White Earth’s proposed constitution contains the first term limits for tribal leaders and an independent court system. Judges must be graduates of a law school accredited by the American Bar Association, but must also have “knowledge of Anishinaabe [Ojibwe] culture, traditions and history.”

It creates a legislative council, but one advised by a “council of elders.” It contains safeguards guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, such as freedom of religion, speech and press. But it also protects “freedom of artistic irony,” a form of satire used in literature that “may not please some citizens.”

Vizenor hopes good governance will attract and keep younger tribal members, who often leave reservations because, in the absence of clear rules, jobs can hinge on political connections.

In the past, Minnesota tribes interested in reforming their governments often lacked the expertise and finances, said Jaime Pinkham, a vice president at the Bush Foundation. That’s why the foundation stepped in.

Even with funding, however, challenges remain. How do you stir up excitement over a constitution in a place grappling with poverty? How do you get buy-in from folks who stand to lose political privilege? How do you deal with the contentious tribal citizenship issue?

“Change is frightening to people,” said Anton Treuer, executive director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University. “But times are changing, and we need to change with them.”

Full article here.

Lake Superior Tribes Studying Chemicals in Lake

From 91.3 FM:

News From 91.3 KUWS
Tribes studying chemicals in fish, and what it might do to people

Story posted Monday at 5:13 p.m.

11/12/2007

 

Chequamegon Bay tribes are investigating the effects of fish contaminants in the greatest of the Great Lakes. Danielle Kaeding reports from Superior.

Lake Superior is facing threats on all sides: from development on it shores to invasive species to the air we breathe. Matt Hudson of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission says most chemicals in Lake Superior come from the atmosphere. “There’s residual sources of some of these chemicals–like toxifine was used in the southern United States on cotton crops. When you get the right weather pattern, some of that toxifine that’s still in that soil down there can get up into the atmosphere and carried in conveyor belt fashion up to the Great Lakes Region and dumped in rainstorms over the Great Lakes.” Hudson says the Bad River, Fond du Lac and Red Cliff bands sought out GLIFWC’s help. They hope to sort out which chemicals are in fish and what that means when people eat the fish. “Tribal members came to GLIFWC and said, ‘We’re concerned about mercury in fish.’ This was focused more on walleye on inland lakes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan. So, GLIFWC started a contaminant monitoring program. We’ve been measuring mercury in walleye in inland lakes since 1989. We recently started testing Lake Superior fish as well.” Hudson says larger fish tend to contain more contaminants like mercury. “We’re trying to get as much information as we can about fish species that tribal members are eating and concerned about so we can give them the tools to make choices. They’re always going to eat fish. It’s a part of their culture, so we try to give them the species of fish and sizes of fish and information that will help them reduce their risk and maximize benefits.” Hudson says eating fish like herring and whitefish are low in contaminants and can improve heart health over time.