A publicity still picture from the movie “Chickasaw Rancher” (Photo courtesy Chickasaw Nation Productions)
by Liz Ruskin
President Trump proposes to cut the Indian Health Service budget by $300 million, and the head of the IHS had trouble justifying that 6 percent cut at a Senate hearing Wednesday. Senators on both sides of the aisle say they’re outraged at the state of affairs at IHS, and it goes beyond the budget cut.
The acting IHS director would have had a rough hearing anyway. Chairman Lisa Murkowski and other members of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee have spent years shaping the IHS budget. Some represent large Native populations. They weren’t likely to welcome cuts to drug abuse treatment, mental health services, clinics and hospitals in their states.
But just last week, the Wall Street Journal put a spotlight on the agency’s dire faults. Murkowski says she was horrified to read the Journal’s accounts of fatal misdiagnoses, and inept staff at IHS facilities in the Great Plains.
“Because this is our IHS,” Murkowski said. “These are our facilities that are supposed to care for our First People. And the stories that were detailed were shocking.”
Murkowski says she’s normally laser-focused on home-state issues, but Alaska’s Native health facilities are run by tribes, under contract to the IHS, so their problems aren’t the same. Murkowski, though, says, the national problems are far too big to ignore.
Sen. Steve Daines, a Montana Republican, suggested changing the name of IHS to ‘Indian Health Suffering.’
“These are real families–single moms, single dads, aunts, uncles, elderly tribal leaders –that are suffering greatly. It’s a tragedy.”
Acting IHS director Michael Weahkee acknowledged none of this in his statement at the hearing. He portrayed the proposed cut to his agency as small.
“(It) will allow us to maintain and address our agency mission to raise the physical, mental, social and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaskan Natives to the highest level,” Weahkee said.
Murkowski was incredulous.
“I know that your job is to defend this budget but I just have to say ‘wow’ after listening that,” she said. “I would think that we don’t have a problem within the IHS system”
Several senators expressed frustration IHS didn’t provide data on Medicaid reimbursements, the revenue IHS gets when it treats a Medicaid recipient. Murkowski says the information is important, because senators are supposed to vote soon on a health care bill that would cut Medicaid, without knowing the effect it would have on IHS.
Jon Tester, Montana’s Democratic senator, was calm when he started questioning Weahkee.
Tester: “Were you told not to answer any questions here by the way?”
Weahkee: “No. No.”
Tester: “Because I think it’s absolutely unbelievable that you can separate how much money that Medicaid has helped to a third party billing.”
Tester’s impatience built as he repeatedly tried to get the acting director to answer one specific question.
Tester: “What does this budget do to your ability to hire staff?”
Weahkee: “We have a lot of efforts under way ….”
Testser: “Is there an increase in dollars for hiring staff or decrease?”
After a few minutes of a fruitless back-and-forth, Tester became exasperated.
“I’m going to tell you something,” Tester said. “Indian Health Service is in a crisis. And if you have served in Indian Health Service for 10 years and you have answered the questions in Indian Health Service like you have today it’s no wonder that it’s in crisis. I cannot believe what has transpired in this hearing today. All I want is some damn answers.”
The White House hasn’t nominated anyone to head IHS permanently. Health Sec. Tom Price said at his confirmation hearing he was aware of problems at IHS and wanted to fix them.
By Jacob Resneck
An Alaska Native weaver of Chilkat blankets has received one of the nation’s top awards recognizing traditional folk art. The National Endowment for the Arts’ director of folk and traditional arts, Clifford Murphy, says his organization is honoring 62-year-old Anna Brown Ehlers for her outstanding weaving.
“National Heritage Fellowships are the highest national honor in folk and traditional arts. So this is really a lifetime recognition for mastery of traditional arts,” Murphy said.
Chilkat weaving is an indigenous art-form practiced by coastal people in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. Traditionally, mountain goat wool is woven on a loom and blended with thin strips of cedar bark to create elaborately patterned blankets.
Born and raised in Juneau, Ehlers’ Tlingit ancestors come from the village Klukwan.
“The designs on the Chilkat blanket represent our clans,” Ehlers said. “So the designs say who you are and by knowing that I’m from the Whale House–people know where you’re from. And it’s not an ownership of the land, it’s our identity.”
She says her children have helped her since they were old enough to use a knife.
“We prepare the materials in the springtime and whenever mountain goat hunters call me and ask me to meet them at the ferry terminal or they send me a hide on a plane, my children and friends and relatives of mine, all show up and work the mountain goat together,” Ehlers said. “And it’s not a fun job, that part I can tell you – but it’s a necessity.”
Ehlers and the other eight National Heritage Fellows which include a Hawaiian slack key guitarist and an African-American blues harmonica player will each receive $25,000 and be feted at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. this fall.
by Antonia Gonzales
Randy Phelan, vice president of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, was among governors, mayors and stakeholders meeting with the Trump administration this week to discuss how to improve U.S. infrastructure, which included energy talks.
The tribe has been working on oil and gas development for the last nine years. The reservation sits in the heart of Bakken oil and gas reserves.
Phelan met with the president, vice president and senior administration officials at the White House.
“Across Indian Country we need to listen and be part of the process–be heard and make sure our people are represented,” Phalen said. “Opportunity’s there. we just have to make sure we key on opportunity.”
In March, the tribe’s chairman, Mark Fox, told National Native News there are pros and cons of this type of energy development. He says one benefit is revenue.
“On Fort Berthold, with well over a billion dollars paid out in royalties paid out since 2008, two-thirds of that have gone out to individual allottees or tribal members who own land,” Fox said. “For the first time in the history of our tribe since we’ve interacted with the United States government, many of our families, many of our elders have been able to realize royalty revenue that they can do things like get new homes, better car, take care of their grandchildren–do things that they’ve never been able to do that before. So we’ve fostered and supported that development.”
Royalties are also helping the tribe with education, health care and housing. Fox says cons include negative influences from the industry such as crime and environmental impacts.
The Trump administration has vowed a new era for American infrastructure, which included green-lighting the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipeline projects, saying they create jobs and will boost the economy.
By Antonia Gonzales
Talks among Dakota elders, Walker Art Center officials and artist Sam Durant will result in the dismantling and burning of a controversial art installation.
Officials with the renowned art center in Minneapolis delayed the grand re-opening of its outdoor sculpture garden scheduled for this weekend after Native community members voiced concerns the scaffolding piece emphasizes a painful history for the Dakota people. In an original narrative about the scaffold installation Durant mentioned it was partly based on the structure used to hang 38 Dakota men in 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota. Critics say the piece inappropriately recalls that tragedy as well as the 1865 executions of leaders Medicine Bottle and Little Six at nearby Fort Snelling.
Sheldon Wolfchild, a relative of Medicine Bottle, was with the group of elders who organized to respond to the artwork.
“We’ve been affected for 500 years for all of our First Nations people on this whole process of injustice,” Wolfchild said. “When it came to the hanging sculpture, it just brought back all the generational trauma and emotions again for our people.”
Wolfchild says part of the process working with the art center involved sharing Dakota perspectives.
“Finally, educating the people of Minnesota and the rest of this country about the negative things they have done to get our land,” he said. “We are going to have part of a closure here in the burning of (the scaffold) and the terrible, terrible thing that happened to our people.”
The artist and the art center committed to never create the Dakota gallows again.
In a written statement, the Walker Art Center said this is the first step in a long process to rebuild trust with the Dakota and Native communities throughout Minnesota.
Plans call for crews to take the wooden structure down June 2. Native American leaders intend to hold a ceremony and burn the wood from the installation at Fort Snelling at a future date.
A year after the abduction and death of a girl on the Navajo Nation, Congressional leaders are taking steps to ensure funding for the AMBER Alert system for tribal communities. Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs heard comments from tribal leaders, law enforcement officials and others this week on a bill authored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. to amend the PROTECT Act.
Navajo Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty was among those speaking at the meeting in Washington, D.C. in favor of Senate Bill 772.
“It’s important as a Navajo Nation leader–as a mother–to make sure that our children not only feel protected, but our community feels that their leadership is responding to their needs,” Crotty said in an interview. “We’re working swiftly with our federal partners to make that a reality, and that we not only prevent—but if a future incident may occur that we’re well-prepared and that child is returned safely home.”
Crotty stressed the importance of allowing tribes to continue to be part of discussions. She urged the committee members to keep the dialog going. Challenges to implementing a notification system include covering the vast reservation that spans 27,000 square miles. Nearly 40-percent of the reservation has no cell service.
Crotty, chair of the Navajo Sexual Assault Prevention Subcommittee, is leading the effort for an effective notification system following the death of Ashlynne Mike on the Navajo Nation in May 2016. Officials issued an AMBER Alert several hours after she disappeared while walking home from school. Her body was found later. Tom Begaye Jr., of Waterflow, Ariz. is charged in connection with her kidnapping and murder. The girl’s death led her family to call on the tribe for enhanced technology and alerts. Tribal officials have since formed a task force to create a more effective notification system.
The official hearing on May 10 was cancelled after President Donald Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey. The Senate invoked a two-hour rule which cancelled all hearings. Senators McCain, Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., instead participated in an informal listening session with people, like Crotty, who traveled long distances to give their testimony. The committee consists of eight Republicans and seven Democrats. The Indian Affairs Committee is rescheduling the business meeting for a future date to consider a bills on Indian education and to extend federal recognition to six Virginia tribes.
By Jim Kent
The Nebraska Supreme Court says it will hear an appeal by four Whiteclay liquor stores forced to close by the state’s Liquor Control Commission. The Omaha World Herald reports the decision means the ultimate ruling over the closures will come sooner rather than later. It’s the latest in a back-and-forth legal battle playing out even as the stores in the tiny town on the edge of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were forced to clear their shelves over the weekend.
The commission voted April 19 to deny liquor license renewals for the four stores in the tiny town. Then, a district court judge voided the decision and ordered that the stores be permitted to sell beer pending an appeal. Just hours later the tables were turned again when the state Attorney General challenged the judge’s ruling. Noting that Nebraska law places lower court decisions on hold for up to 6 months when an appeal is in process, the Attorney General overrode the judge’s decision.
As a result beer sales halted over the weekend and supplies were removed from the stores on Monday in the next chapter of a battle to stop Whiteclay alcohol sales that’s been ongoing since 1998.
“I saw the pictures of them loading the beer up too and the trucks moving out…which seemed so odd because you always saw the trucks arriving and dropping off beer not picking it up and leaving with it,” said Nebraska state Senator Tom Brewer who is an Oglala Sioux tribal member and was among those who pushed to close down the stores. “For me I think it’s a good day for Whiteclay. We’ve gone to a lot of expense and time to start the process of cleaning up Whiteclay.”
Brewer said a meeting of the Whiteclay Task Force later this month will bring together Nebraska legislators, medical specialists and economic development experts to chart a new path for the town. He believes the legal appeal to reinstate the liquor licenses is compromised because of charges—including alleged bootlegging—pending against the stores.
Meanwhile, the lawyer for the four stores says he’s considering filing a civil rights lawsuit against the state’s governor. The Omaha World Herald reports attorney Andy Snyder accuses Gov. Pete Ricketts of political meddling that ultimately forced the stores to close their doors. Snyder also filed a motion this week to dismiss nearly two dozen citations against the stores by the attorney general.