Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

Note: Following are two news releases regarding issues that jeopardize tribal culture, safety and rights:

For Immediate Release Photos available on request

 

Testifying on H.R. 2719

Quinault Nation President Asks Congress to Support Tribal Management of Coastal Zones to Ensure Public Safety and Protect Cultural Resources

 

Washington DC (11/4/15)—Destructive weather conditions including persistent flooding, severe storms, intense storm surge and continued drought are placing coastal heritage sites and tribal culture at risk, Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation, told members of U.S. House Natural Resources Indian, Insular, and Alaska Natives Subcommittee here this morning.

Testifying in a hearing on H.R. 2719, the Tribal Coastal Resiliency Act, President Sharp said, “Tribes who have lived in coastal regions since time immemorial do not have the necessary tools to protect their people and culture from the devastating impacts of severe weather events and natural disasters on their communities.”

Sharp, who is also President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and Area Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, said the United States has a trust responsibility to ensure the safety of tribal communities and the protection of tribal culture. “Upon its formation, the United States acknowledged the existing inherent sovereign authority of Indian tribes over our lands. The federal government entered into hundreds of treaties with Native nations to secure peace and trade agreements, to foster alliances, and to build a land base for the newly formed United States. Through these treaties, tribes ceded hundreds of millions of acres of our homelands. In return, the U.S. promised to provide for the education, health, public safety, and general welfare of Indian people. Persistent flooding, tsunami threats, and erosion put tribal members and cultural sites at risk. These threats cannot be adequately addressed by tribal governments alone.”

The Tribal Coastal Resiliency Act, will expand the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) to recognize the severe challenges tribal governments face in implementing coastal and shoreline measures that support public safety, public access, and cultural and historic preservation. The bill will enable tribal governments to access resources currently only offered to state governments, supporting tribal sovereignty and greater self-determination on tribal lands. The bill upholds the federal government’s treaty and trust responsibilities, while strengthening the government-to-government relationship with federally recognized tribes.

Protecting and preserving coastal areas are essential to the continued existence of tribal culture. “Over the past several years the people of the Quinault Nation have had to endure one natural disaster after another and our tribal government has had to respond with disaster declarations instead of being able to mitigate the damage before it happens,” said President Sharp.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06) along with 20 bi-partisan co-sponsors. It is supported by Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, a tribal organization representing 57 tribes in the Northwest as well as the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, which represents 35 tribes in the Midwest.

President Sharp detailed several emergencies Quinault Nation has faced, including a March, 2014 breach of the sea wall protecting the Lower Village. That breach caused severe flooding and property damage. “Our people, our salmon populations, our cultural resources—everyone is suffering. We have been working very hard for a very long time to do all we can to fight back, using every resource at our disposal,” said Sharp. “There is no question that we need the help of Congress and the Federal Administration in these efforts.

She added, “Our culture is intertwined with nature and our connection to the natural resources of the Olympic Peninsula. Our respect for the Creator’s gifts and our ability to harvest, hunt, and gather is at the core of our cultural identity as well as our economy. Intensified weather conditions, natural disasters, and public safety concerns threaten the very existence of the Quinault people.”

 

###

 

CONTACT: Steve Robinson (360) 951-2494 Water4fish@comcast.net

For Immediate Release

 

 

We Stand With San Carlos

 

WASHINGTON D.C. (11/4/15)–The congressional action transferring National Forest Service lands to Resolution Copper, a giant foreign mining company at Oak Flat in the Tonto National Forest of Arizona was “beneath contempt, a violation of Constitutionally-protected treaty law and an infringement on American Indian civil rights,” according to Fawn Sharp, President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.

Testifying at a special forum held by U.S. House Natural Resources Democrats this morning, Sharp said tribes across the continent strongly support the San Carlos Apache, the Yavapai and other tribes in the Oak Flat region which consider the area sacred and oppose the congressional action which would devastate it. Oak Flat is a vast area of rugged natural beauty, punctuated by towering cliffs, stream beds and archaeological and historical artifacts, just 70 miles east of Phoenix, Arizona.

“These tribes have cherished this land for thousands of years. They have valued it beyond any amount of money and beyond any level most non-Indians can easily comprehend. Now the federal government is saying that that this foreign company can come in and dig a mile-wide hole in the ground right in the middle of this precious area, in a search of copper. It is a tragedy that must be stopped,” said Sharp.

Legislative efforts to enable this land exchange repeatedly failed for years, until a rider to the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act was enacted into law in December of 2014. President Obama signed that bill, but the Administration has since reneged on the rider, realizing the error.

In her testimony to this morning’s forum, ATNI President Sharp, who is also President of the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington as well as Area Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, emphasized that the rider was, in fact, a closed door deal. Former San Carlos Chairman Wendsler Nosie, Sr., has called it “the greatest sin in the world.”

The ore being targeted by Resolution Copper is located 7,000 feet below ground level in the sacred area, where the Apache people have gathered acorns and medicinal herbs and held coming-of-age ceremonies since prehistoric times.

“Our homelands continue to be taken away,” said Nosie, decrying what he termed the dirty way in which a land-swap rider had been attached to a must-pass bill that sailed through Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The amended legislation, with the support of Arizona Senator John McCain, was “an action that constitutes a holy war, where tribes must stand in unity and fight to the very end,” according to Nosie.

Tribes have held protests against the deal in Tucson and outside Senator John McCain’s Phoenix office. They have held a two-day, 44-mile march from the San Carlos tribal headquarters, “A Spiritual Journey to a Sacred Unity” at Oak Flat.

At its 2015 Mid-Year Convention at the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon in May, ATNI passed Resolution 15-25, “Support for Repeal of Section 3003 of the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange.”

That resolution emphasized that the United States government has legal and moral obligations to provide access to Native Americans and to protect traditional cultural territories in a manner that respects the cultural, historical, spiritual and religious importance to Indian tribes. It read, “Oak Flat is a place filled with power – a place where Native people go today for prayer, to conduct ceremonies such as Holy Ground and the Apache Puberty Rite Ceremony which some refer to as the Sunrise Dance, which celebrates a young woman’s coming of age, to gather medicines and ceremonial items, and to seek and obtain peace and personal cleansing.”

The resolution emphasized the deep spiritual significance of the Oak Flat location as well as its historical and environmental importance and said the last-minute tactics used to pass the rider represents the antithesis of democracy and everything that is wrong with Congress, as well as a dangerous precedent. It called for Congress to enact legislation to repeal the land exchange and called for full transparency and information sharing with the general public the outcomes of environmental assessment and impacts on tribal religion and culture in the future.

“I can’t emphasize it enough. We stand with San Carlos, just as we stand with any tribe when its sovereignty, its culture and the rights of its people are trod upon by anyone, any time, any place,” said Sharp.

#####

 

CONTACT: Steve Robinson (360) 951-2494 Water4fish@comcast.net

 

Testifying at this morning’s forum:

 

The Honorable Paulette Jordan, Secretary, National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA)

The Honorable Brian Patterson, President, United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. (USET) President

The Honorable Fawn Sharp, President, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI)

The Honorable Terry Rambler, Chairman, San Carlos Apache Tribe

The Honorable Wendsler Nosie, Councilman and Member of Apache Stronghold

Naelyn Pike, San Carlos Apache Youth Tribal Member and Member of the Apache Stronghold

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: