President Obama hugs Kristie Canegallo and Vice President Biden hugs Denis McDonough President Barack Obama hugs Kristie Canegallo, Deputy Chief of Staff, and Vice President Joe Biden hugs Chief of Staff Denis McDonough as they celebrate the Supreme Court ruling on Affordable Care Act subsidies in the Oval Office, June 25, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama hugs Kristie Canegallo and Vice President Biden hugs Denis McDonough
President Barack Obama hugs Kristie Canegallo, Deputy Chief of Staff, and Vice President Joe Biden hugs Chief of Staff Denis McDonough as they celebrate the Supreme Court ruling on Affordable Care Act subsidies in the Oval Office, June 25, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

MAKING THE LAW WORK BEYOND MEDICAID EXPANSION

MARK TRAHANT

The Supreme Court once again affirmed the legality of the Affordable Care Act. This time the court’s answer is unambiguous.  As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

The 6-3 ruling means that people who buy insurance using tax credits as subsidies — some 6.4 million people — will continue to do so regardless of where they live. Thirty-four states have not set up health insurance exchanges and sao consumers must purchase plans through a federal exchange.

At the White House, President Barack Obama said “the Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”

But Congress has other ideas. The House has voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act some fifty times and this is certain to again be an election year issue in 2016. This ruling will also increase the political pressure for conservatives to try and derail the law using the budget, making it much more difficult for the Congress and the Obama administration to reach a deal over federal spending next year.

There is an interesting twist on this case for American Indian and Alaska Native consumers. Early on both supporters in Congress and in the Obama administration decided to play up the portion of the law that exempted Native Americans from the mandatory insurance requirements. The idea was that delivery of health care is seen as a treaty right, so it was impossible to force Native Americans to buy insurance. But the problem is the Indian health system does not have adequate funding — and the best course for improving that revenue stream is to sign up more Native Americans for some kind of insurance through a job, Medicaid, Medicare, Childrens’ Health Insurance Program, or these health insurance exchanges.

According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly one in three American Indians and Alaska Natives is uninsured and most have far less access to employer-based insurance than other Americans.”Less than four in ten American Indians and Alaska Natives have private coverage, compared to 62% of the overall non elderly population,” Kaiser reported. “Medicaid helps fill this gap, covering one in three non-elderly American Indians and Alaska Natives. Medicaid also provides key financing for IHS providers and has special financing rules and protections for American Indians and Alaska Natives. However, nearly one in three nonelderly American Indians and Alaska Natives remains uninsured.”

One way to improve that insurance rate is to encourage more American Indians and Alaska Natives to take advantage of subsidized plans purchased through exchanges. There are, for example, plans for a family of four earning up $70,650 (or $88,300 in Alaska) that have no cost, including deductibles and co-pays. If a family earns more than that amount, an insurance plan purchased through the exchange could still be eligible for no out-of-pocket costs when using the Indian health system. Native Americans can also sign up for the insurance plans every month, instead of during limited open enrollment periods.

Jim Roberts, a policy analyst for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, said it’s difficult to get data from the federal and state exchanges. However one report, that Roberts said is “suspect,” does have some data showing that approximately 22,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives in the federal exchange Native Americans have received cost-sharing benefits. “What’s interesting about this report is that 41,626 person were determined eligible for cost-sharing reductions, however only 22K were covered by a selected plan.  A very low take up rate despite high eligibility. Indian participation is a real problem,” Roberts said, both in the state and federal exchanges.

Perhaps that should be the outcome of the court’s ruling Thursday: A new emphasis on making certain that American Indians and Alaska Natives take advantage of every dollar eligible under the law. This would be one way of boosting funding for Indian health clinics and hospitals. And this money does not require appropriations from Congress or approval from a state (as is the case with Medicaid).

As he celebrated the court’s ruling Thursday,

President Obama said: “On March 23, 2010, I sat down at a table in the East Room of the White House and signed my name on a law that said, once and for all, that health care would no longer be a privilege for a few. It would be a right for everyone.”

But that right also requires action. Action from the administration informing American Indians and Alaska Natives about the benefits; as well as action from every clinic and patient to make sure we all havel the insurance we’re entitled to receive under the law. Call it, the pre-paid, Treaty Insurance plan.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

Canada's National Aboriginal is an opportunity to talk about larger issues. (Photo by Jaynie Parrish)

Canada’s National Aboriginal is an opportunity to talk about larger issues. (Photo by Jaynie Parrish)

MARK TRAHANT

WHITEHORSE, YUKON TERRITORY, CANADA — Dozens of people, tribal leaders, public officials (including Yukon’s premier and the area’s Member of Parliament) gathered around a fire in a prayer circle. It’s the solstice, the longest day of the year, and National Aboriginal Day. For nearly two decades, Canadians have celebrated June 21 as a national holiday to honor the Inuit, First Nations and Metis people.

“For me, National Aboriginal Day is a day of celebration, acknowledgment, and remembrance,” said Jessie Dawson, a councilor with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation Government.

Especially this year. The recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission report chronicled what it termed as Canada’s physical, biological, and cultural genocide against Aboriginal people. Yet the report said: “Despite the coercive measures that the government adopted, it failed to achieve its policy goals. Although Aboriginal peoples and cultures have been badly damaged, they continue to exist. Aboriginal people have refused to surrender their identity.”

Dawson said that “report represents a break through in time and a new day for our people. It calls on our citizens to make peace. It gives us hope and a restored faith that appropriate measures will be taken.”

It’s that very debate, about what is “an appropriate measure” that Canada has yet to conclude. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission proposes one standard: “Reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country.”

On Friday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police updated its report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, saying that while Aboriginal women make up 4.3 percent of the population, they account for 16 percent of all female homicide victims. The federal policy agency once again said the overwhelming majority of those murders stemmed from family violence.

However First Nations advocates say the report is not broad enough because it does not include statistics from municipal governments.

“All jurisdictions need to look at what they can do to ensure that Indigenous women and girls are safe and secure,” Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Cameron Alexis said in a news release. “We need a national inquiry to get to the root causes and find long-term solutions, and we need immediate action to ensure they’re safe now. All municipal and accredited police services in this country including the military police need to work together on Aboriginal policing issues such as missing and murdered Aboriginal women.”

That again begs the question about appropriate measures as Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dismissed calls for any national inquiry. But federal elections are coming in October. The leader of the New Democratic Party, Tom Mulcair, tweeted:“On , the stands w/ Canada’s Indigenous peoples to celebrate & work towards a better future.” The Liberal Party, too, has demanded action. Its leader, Justin Trudeau, said “Harper is on the wrong side of history. This issue requires national leadership and action to put an end to this violence.”

A three-party election will be an interesting one to watch — as well as how and where Aboriginal voters participate. In a recent provincial election, Alberta voters tossed out the Conservatives after a 44-year run. According to the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, a high number of Aboriginal voters turned out for the New Democratic Party. The new premier, Rachel Motley, is promising a stronger partnership with Aboriginal people. (The big question in any three-way election is can any party win a majority? In nations around the world, multi-party elections mean that governing coalitions must be formed, something that’s rare in Canada.)

Back to Aboriginal Day and why it matters. It’s true that holidays are often dismissed as merely days off. It’s too easy to forget why there’s a Veterans’ Day or especially a Labor Day. It’s true that Canadians are no different — as is this holiday.

But National Aboriginal Day does have the potential to change the conversation. On Saturday, for example, a Aboriginal Day Live broadcast from Winnipeg and Edmonton showcased the incredible wealth of native talent. Thousands of people attended the concerts and shows and more than a million people watched on television (and tweeted their reactions).

That’s not bad. Perhaps every year more people will be inspired by the native artists who are raising issues that celebrate, acknowledge, and remember, the Aboriginal place in modern Canada.

It’s also an idea worth emulating in the United States. It would be fantastic if for a moment, even for a single day, we were defined by our remarkable talent, and not our challenges.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

Kwanlin Dun elder Ann Smith and her "grandbabies" at the Whitehorse celebration. (Photo by Jaynie Parrish)

Kwanlin Dun elder Ann Smith and her “grandbabies” at the Whitehorse celebration. (Photo by Jaynie Parrish)

Screenshot 2015-06-14 12.49.42

MARK TRAHANT

A new White House report details the economic impact of Medicaid expansion and is sharply critical of the 22 states that have not done so. The report is titled, “Missed Opportunities: The Consequences of State Decisions Not to Expand Medicaid.

I like that: Missed opportunities. Why? Because this Council of Economic Advisers’ 44-page report fails to include any calculation of Indian Country as one of those missed opportunities.

I get that the population of American Indian and Alaska Natives is small, one percent or so. But you cannot build an economic case for Medicaid in Alaska, Oklahoma, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arizona, New Mexico (and even Washington and Oregon) without at least back of the envelope estimates. This is important because of the way Medicaid is structured; it’s a shared partnership between the states and the federal government. However American Indians and Alaska Natives are eligible for a 100 percent federal match, so the money spent by a state Medicaid program is fully reimbursed by the federal government.

This system, of course, makes no sense. And it’s probably why the White House failed or forgot to include Indian Country. A much sounder approach would be for the Indian health system — whether federal, tribal, urban or nonprofit — to get funding and administrative rules directly from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Then Alaska, Oklahoma, or the other states that are currently rejecting Medicaid expansion would lose their say about what happens to American Indian and Alaska Native patients.

Let’s dig deeper into the White House report — then I’ll add numbers and context.

The administration is quite right to hail the Affordable Care Act’s economic success story. “Since the law’s major coverage provisions took effect at the start of 2014, the nation has seen the sharpest reduction in the uninsured rate since the decade following the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, and … the nation’s uninsured rate now stands at its lowest level ever.”

However 22 States—including many of the states that would benefit most—have not yet expanded Medicaid (although Montana has passed legislation to expand Medicaid and is working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to determine the structure of its expansion). These 22 States have seen sharply slower progress in reducing the number of uninsured over the last year and a half, and researchers at the Urban Institute estimate that, if these States do not change course, 4.3 million of their citizens will be deprived of health insurance coverage in 2016.”

In Indian Country, the big three non-expansion states are Alaska, South Dakota and Oklahoma.

The Alaska Legislature recently adjourned without a vote on Medicaid expansion (a measure was proposed by Gov. Bill Walker). But an expansion may be still possible if the governor acts without legislative approval.

The White House report estimates Alaska would gain some $90 million in federal funds by expanding Medicaid. But that number, I believe, misses out the intersection between Medicaid and the Indian health system. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium estimated that 41,500 Alaskans would be eligible for Medicaid — including 15,700 Alaska Natives and American Indians. In other words, more than a third of potential enrollees are eligible for a 100 percent federal reimbursement. Forever.

The numbers are similar and striking in South Dakota and Oklahoma.

The White House report says health insurance also reduces the risk of death. “This analysis estimates that if the 22 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid did so, 5,200 deaths would be avoided annually once expanded coverage was fully in effect. States that have already expanded Medicaid will avoid 5,000 deaths per year,” the report says.

This is a bit complicated, but I doubt if that number includes American Indians and Alaska Natives who are at risk of death because of funding shortages in the Indian health system. What’s now called Purchased and Referred Care is better funded than it has been in recent years, but that budget line still runs out of money for some patients needing specialty care outside of the Indian health system.

But the key point is that the Indian health system is underfunded and as the Kaiser Family Foundation noted “not equally distributed across facilities and they remain insufficient to meet health care needs.”

That unevenness is dangerous for the Indian health system — and it’s states that are limiting dollars by refusing to expand Medicaid.

We are seeing the evidence about how the Indian health system is picking up additional resources in states where there has been Medicaid expansion. In Washington, for example, I recently reported that tribal health facilities have increased their Medicaid funding by nearly 40 percent since expansion. This is new money in an era of austerity and it’s automatic funding that does not require appropriation from Congress.

Of course it would be ideal if the White House was making this case with hard numbers. The Indian health system is a federal obligation — a Treaty right —  that costs states little. Yet it’s the states that are setting the rules; so at the very least our advocate ought to be chronicling that impact. It’s a missed opportunity.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, could add American Indian issues into the presidential campaign debate.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, could add American Indian issues into the presidential campaign debate.

Nevada will be the first state where Native voters weigh in

MARK TRAHANT

The first ballots for the 2016 presidential election will be cast in a little more than seven months. That means between now and January there will be a rush of candidates, a winnowing of those who fail to raise money or attention, and, if we are lucky, a philosophical and practical debate about the challenges facing the United States.

In an ideal world that discussion would include American Indian and Alaska Native concerns. But that never happens (unless you read between the lines).

So the Democrats — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and the newest entrant, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (who once was a “liberal” Republican) — campaign on issues ranging from protecting and expanding voting rights to switching the U.S. to the metric system.

And the Republicans? Well, just listing the candidates is kind of like making sure you get all the names right when reporting about a school play. There are so many, you’re bound to miss someone. But here goes (in order of recent polling by Real Clear Politics): Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Donald Trump, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. And that’s only the 15 “major” candidates. So in order to make noise in that large a field some of those would-be presidents rode Harley’s across Iowa this weekend, revving up their engines and their rhetoric. Hardly the right atmosphere for a discussion about tribal sovereignty.

The early primary campaign season is not ideal for a serious discussion about Indian Country’s issues. The election calendar starts with Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in late January.

Nevada will be the fourth state to vote — and the first state with a significant tribal population. There are more than thirty reservation communities, urban residents, and a total Native American population of about 1.6 percent. More important, Nevada remains a caucus state. So if a large number of Native Americans show up in the right locations, well, all bets are off. (Only 33,000 Republicans voted in the last Nevada caucus out of some 400,000 G.O.P. voters.)

And what if there was a Native candidate as a draw? This ought to be the year to make that so.

A Native American candidate could take advantage of a nasty, undemocratic (but legal) structure. The law allows secret donors to spend unlimited sums of money to benefit a single candidate. So what if a few of the wealthy tribes, and, yes, I do mean casino tribes, raised a lot of money for such a super PAC? (Even though the money cannot go directly to a candidate, it still has been used to boost candidates. In 2012, for example, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was on the receiving end of more than $15 million from casino owner Sheldon Adelson and his wife.)

Coming up with a super PAC candidate from Indian Country is a tough sell for Democrats. Even though there are many folks who could (and should) be candidates, there are too few with a large enough political footprint. And taking that much money from a single source runs against what many grassroots type candidates believe anyway.

But on the Republican side, there is someone who has that credibility right now, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a member of the Chickasaw Tribe.

Cole is as conservative as his Oklahoma voters yet he is often the voice of reason in the House of Representatives. He’s said that new revenue — meaning taxes — might be needed to get past the sequester and that repealing the Affordable Care Act might not be possible as long as a Democrat is in the White House. This alone distinguishes him from the other fifteen Republican candidates running for president.

He’s championed tribal sovereignty and was a key player in the House vote for the Violence Against Women Act. Let me be clear here: Cole fits the orthodoxy of the Republican Party. He supports pipeline construction and increasing oil and gas production. Cole also wants less federal spending and votes for budgets that would have negative impact on tribal communities. But for a Republican primary, and for a Republican candidate, Indian Country would still come out ahead, if he were running and raised the issues in Indian Country that call out for a larger debate.

The down side of a Cole candidacy is that he would have to give up his seat in the House — and his seniority and influence. That’s probably too high a cost for an improbable presidential quest. But this might be the year to try something outrageous.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.


  

Do you sleep with your phones? Check during the night? Peek first thing in the morning? A look at Internet trends and opportunities for Indian Country.

Indian Country’s future will be shaped by how we use technology

MARK TRAHANT

Do you sleep with your smart phone? Or first thing the next morning, even during the night, do you peek to see what’s new? If you are a Millennial — between 15 and 35 years old — the answers are likely, yes. 

Every year author and digital analyst Mary Meeker presents her view of Internet trends. Turns out Millennials look at the world differently, starting with the way they see smart phones. Nearly nine-in-ten (87 percent) say their phone never leaves their side and 80 percent say it’s the first thing they look at after waking.

I don’t have numbers for Indian Country but given the lack of universal Internet or even cell phone service, I am sure that the numbers are lower. That said: Just by looking at Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and other social media, it’s clear Indian Country Millennials are similar in their use of social media. (Remember Indian Country’s population skews younger than the general population.)  Meeker says the digital trendsetters are young, 12 to 24, and that group already has different tastes. Facebook, for example, is slightly less important as a medium than it was a year ago while Instagram, Snapchat and even Twitter are growing. Meeker reports that adults spent about 2.7 hours a day with digital media in 2008. Today that number is at 5.6 hours and more than half of that access is via a smartphone.

Perhaps it’s easy to dismiss these numbers as fun and games. But these trends will define much of Indian Country’s future. And there are huge implications for tribal governments — as well as for individuals. The three digital trends I think most important:  The demand for more (and better) data; a need to rethink governance; and, the end of geography as a barrier.

First, let’s explore data.

Indian Country already has a data gap. Many of our statistics, ranging from unemployment to health metrics, are unreliable and out of date. Now, think about how the world works in the data age. Our cell phone knows: Where we are at every moment, how many steps we take, who we call and how long we talk. Facebook learns about our behavior patterns and our friends. When we search a location on Google, we start seeing ads for hotels and B&Bs. (Privacy deserves more debate. Funny thing: When the government collects data people raise hell. When a digital producer collects far more personal information, we’re usually the source of that data.)

We need better, faster data collection in Indian Country. A few years ago a BIA official had to testify with a series of “I don’t knows” about unemployment because his report was unreliable.  That’s too often the case. The National Congress of American Indians says when it comes to data, Indian Country is often the “asterisk nation” because the information we see is scant and presented as a footnote.

Second, we need to rethink governance.

So many of our laws, tribal, state and federal, are written for an era that no longer exists. One of the trends that Meeker identified is the growth of people working in flexible or supplemental jobs. More than a third of the workforce (some 53 million people) is now made up of independent contractors, temporary employees, individual business owners, freelancers, or moonlighters. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed say that “social networking has drastically changed the dynamics of networking.” (I am very much a part of that trend, officially a moonlighter, experimenting with a new business model.) So what will it take to get tribal laws in sync, and further encourage these trends? Meeker’s report says too many laws are written in a world where business is business, and “so what happens when a person becomes a business?”

There is a similar opportunity for government services. Most are designed for people who come into the office or telephone. But if mobile connections are 24/7, then so should government. The reason why apps work well on mobile phones is that you can access information with your thumb. There’s no need to look up a long Internet address. The Navajo Nation has a couple of apps rounding up a lot of information. That’s a good beginning. But eventually governments will need to think of the mobile as the primary connection for citizens, ranging from utility payments to voter registration.

The third trend is the lifting of geography as a barrier. 

In the digital world location does not matter. A business can operate successfully anywhere there’s a good connection to the Internet. The retail site Etsy is a good example. According to Meeker’s research, 35 percent of Etsy sellers started a busienss without much capital (compared to 21 percent of all small business owners). It’s the perfect space for authentic Indian art. Stephanie Pinkham, Nez Perce, sells  high quality Northwest beaded vests and other crafts. Or rent a Navajo hogan in Chinle or near Shiprock on AirBnB. Or one day text Uber and get a ride into a border town. 

The important thing is that we are at the beginning of the digital transformation. Then, American Indians and Alaska Natives have a long history of adapting to new technology. This is just a new and exciting chapter — especially if you’re reading this on your phone in bed.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

 

Al Goozmer, president of the Native Village of Tyonek, explains the significance of land donated to the tribe by The Nature Conservancy.

Al Goozmer, president of the Native Village of Tyonek, explains the significance of land donated to the tribe by The Nature Conservancy.

Culturally significant land represents rebuilding of a tribal land base

MARK TRAHANT

TYONEK, Alaska — This is a great day for Al Goozmer. So the tribal president wants to show us everything in this village of about 200 people.

We start at the airstrip where there’s a new fire station. A mural painted in vivid colors proclaims, “TUBUGHNA: The Beach People.”

Then he shows us the tribal garden growing fresh produce. A few vegetables are already sprouting inside the greenhouse. But this is just a beginning, Goozmer said, “I asked them to look into putting another garden on the other side, that is going to be dealing, primarily, with our native berries, blueberries, salmonberries, and all the other berries here.”

But the real gem is ahead. We’re on our way to visit a piece of land that’s being donated to the tribe by The Nature Conservancy. The land is a couple of miles from the village. On the way, between the beach and a high bank of soil, Goozmer picks up a clump of earth, and explains how the land evolved over time.

He is that passionate about the land.

“I have a son who was 36-years-old and I never have seen him until he was 36. When we first met, we just fell into each other’s arms and cried and cried. It was just an awesome, awesome thing,” Goozmer said. “This is the same thing with the land. Our land, it was traditionally our land for the past thousand years, is coming back into tribal government, tribal hands. It’s like meeting your long lost relative again and reuniting with them.”

Goozmer starts his telling of the story with a coal mine that has been proposed by PacRim Coal. The land is near a deportation point for the minerals that would be shipped out. It’s a 160-acre parcel that had been homesteaded and was later donated to the Catholic Church. Then, in 2008, instead of selling the land for development (for what Goozmer calls “boo koo bucks”) title was purchased from the church by The Nature Conservancy for $400,000. The Nature Conservancy has now donated that land back to its first owners with support from the Great Land Trust. The deal includes a conservation easement, limiting development and allowing  tribal members use of the land for subsistence hunting, fishing, and berry-picking.

The return of such a parcel to an Alaska Native village is historic because the idea of tribal lands in Alaska is growing in both importance and inevitability. However a discovery a couple of years ago made this particular site even more important: It’s a rich cultural and archaeological site showing significant evidence about how Tubughna people have lived for the past thousand years.

“When we learned of the deep cultural significance of this place to the Tebughna people, we realized that the people of the Native Village of Tyonek would be its best long-term stewards,” said Rand Hagenstein, Alaska state director for The Nature Conservancy.

The formal title for this land is now, Etnen Bunkda, or Mother of the Earth.  It comes from the Dena’ina name for the region. There is evidence of several homes from different periods of time, demonstrating a long arc of history for Tebughna as residents.

The site also includes a number of cold storage pits. These were the first refrigerators, deep holes once lined with grass and bark to preserve salmon and other foods for winter consumption. The Mother of the Earth site is a clear example of the Tebughna reliance on fish for a thousand years.

“Land managers do not fully take into consideration the fact that indigenous people have a whole cultural identity that’s related to land and subsistence, an appreciation for what the land provides,” said Heather Kendall-Miller, an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund. So the agencies responsible for making decisions about land, fish and game did not get the subsistence connection to the land. “The Chuitt River is one of the last rivers in the entire Cook Inlet that still has habitat for King Salmon. And that would have been impacted by the coal project,” Miller said.

The Native American Rights Fund represents the village in the land transfer.

In addition to subsistence, the transfer of this land adds to the larger Alaska debate about tribal lands. This agreement recognizes the possibility of the land being taken into trust by the Interior Department once that process is open.

“For us to again have a land base is just awesome. We have our identity refocused and reconnected back to the land of who we are,” said Goozmer. The village was once a part of the Moquawkie Indian Reservation.

However, he said, “the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act took away our ability to own land.”

Instead the land title was conveyed to regional and village corporations. “So we became shareholders instead of land owners. The corporations … are the owners and we have shares, but it’s not the same.” But the transfer of such a significant piece of land is a step in a new direction. “For us, as Natives, to be land owners intricately tied to the land, its resources, its animals, and what it produces, this is our grocery store and our pharmacy,” Goozmer said. “Hopefully this is just a beginning to get our identity back and reconnect us to the land.”

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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