This Week's Program: Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Penobscot Nation Part of Unique Collaboration to Restore River and Salmon; Montana Coal Wars Veteran Gail Small on Energy Policies, Land Rights, Abramoff and More

Cecilia Fire Thunder Refuses to Be Silenced In South Dakota, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Cecilia Fire Thunder is speaking out against a gag order issued by the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council. She says a suspension letter she received from the Tribal council ordered her not to talk to the media. She called it a violation of her constitutional rights in an interview Tuesday, according to the Rapid City Journal. The tribal council suspended Fire Thunder last month for proposing an abortion clinic on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and for allegedly raising money for the clinic. She proposed the clinic in response to South Dakota’s new abortion ban, which has since been referred to a statewide vote in November. The tribal council also banned abortions on the reservation. Last year there were two attempts to impeach Fire Thunder. She was suspended once and reinstated when charges were dismissed. She is the first woman elected as president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. A hearing to discuss impeachment has not yet been set.

The Navajo Nation Declares State of Emergency The Navajo Nation has declared a state of emergency in the wake of ongoing drought conditions and a series of recent wildfires, according to a press release. Of nine fires only one is still burning, said Selena Manychildren, Navajo Department of Emergency Management public information officer, according to the Farmington Daily Times of New Mexico. People who need fires for ceremonial purposes are required to obtain a BIA Burn Permit, which will only be issued for ceremonial use. The law enforcement department reportedly used all their funding last week to provide meals, water and other supplies, she said. The Department is seeking water, energy bars, toiletries and non-perishable food among other items.

US Supreme Court Decision Favors Native Hawaiian Programs A lawsuit seeking to cut off public money used for Native Hawaiian programs has suffered a setback in the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawsuit contended that programs through the Office of Hawaiian Affairs should not receive state funding on the grounds that they only benefit people of Native Hawaiian ancestry. But the Supreme Court Monday told an appeals court to reconsider whether taxpayers have the right to sue over how the government spends their money. A lawyer for the Hawaii taxpayers making the claim said the Ninth Circuit Court could stand by its September ruling that taxpayers can challenge Hawaiians-only programs, or he could refile the lawsuit with new plaintiffs. Chief Justice John Roberts did not participate in the decision and the Supreme Court offered no explanation. Roberts was previously hired by the state to defend the Office of Hawaiian Affair’s Hawaiians-only voting restriction. In the case, the court ruled unconstitutional OHA's requirement that voters for its trustees must have Hawaiian blood.

Appeals Court Blocks Critical Trust Fund Reports A federal appeals court ruled last Friday to suppress reports which contained information that the US Department of the Interior allegedly destroyed documents related to a class action lawsuit brought by Native Americans. The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit against the Department ten years ago, accusing the government of mismanaging an Indian trust in their names for a period of 120 years. The Native Americans say they are owed tens of billions of dollars. The author of the reports, Alan Balaran, was appointed by US District Judge Royce Lamberth. He supervised the exchange of information between parties in the lawsuit and investigated document destruction. Balaran's reports to the judge, including observations from personal visits, found the department had destroyed Indian records, sometimes intentionally, at federal depositories and Indian reservations in the West. According to the Associated Press, Keith Harper, a lawyer for the Indian plaintiffs suing the department, said Friday, "Most of the facts in those reports have been conceded as true" by the Interior Department. Interior officials nonetheless asked a federal appeals court to strike Balaran's reports from the record, saying he had improperly hired as an expert witness a former Interior contractor who had accused the department of fraud. Balaran resigned two years ago, saying the government wanted him off the case after he found evidence that private landowners near the Navajo Nation got as much as 20 times more money than Indian landowners from gas pipeline companies for rights to cross their land. Those findings have not been disputed by the government in the lawsuit.

Caledonia Update From the Six Nations standoff in Caledonia: Violent incidents last Friday resulted in the arrest warrants for seven people. Ontario Premier McGuinty on Monday called an end to negotiations with native protestors and said it’s time the road blockades come down. He said the Native community must help search for the seven wanted people. Talks between the government and Six Nations people are set to resume today. Protestors have now removed barricades from the railway and roads, and say the government now has no excuse to avoid tackling their land claims. Negotiators will update the Six Nations community after the talks end tonight. Yesterday, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the traditional native government, issued a news release saying the seven people wanted by the OPP will not be at the protest site until the Confederacy completes its own investigation, according to the Hamilton Spectator. Also yesterday, Caledonia business owner launched a class action lawsuit to recoup tens of millions of dollars in losses, their lawyers said Wednesday according to the Canadian press. Only two businesses have signed on so far. The suit is expected to grow exponentially as homeowners may join the legal fight. Six Nations and other Aboriginal protestors have been occupying a half-finished housing development since the end of February.

Colorado University Panel Votes to Fire Ward Churchill The committee at University of Colorado looking into charges against Ward Churchill issued a strongly worded report Tuesday. The panel, made up of nine CU faculty, a staff member and a graduate student, agreed unanimously with an investigative committee’s earlier findings that Churchill “has committed serious, repeated and deliberate research misconduct.” This includes plagiarism and fabrication of material. In a vote with secret ballots, a majority of the committee said the ethnic studies professor should be fired. The committee forwarded a 20-page report to the University’s Interim Provost and Dean. They will evaluate the report and then advise the Chancellor on what they think should happen to Churchill. The Chancellor will make the final decision, most likely in the next few weeks, according to the Rocky Mountain News. Churchill’s attorney, David Lane, has said Churchill will sue CU in federal court if he is fired. Churchill and Lane have called the investigation politically motivated and the committees’ findings without merit.

Three South Carolina Tribes Seek Federal Recognition In South Carolina, the Commission for Minority Affairs met last week to consider the recognition petitions of three more tribes. The Croatan Pee Dee, the Piedmont American Indian Association-Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation and the Darlington County Pee Dee Tribe are the latest to seek state recognition. The commission has recognized two tribes so far. The Croatan Pee Dee group has since withdrawn after questions were raised about its status and Indian ancestry. One expert reportedly said the group is making claims that can not be supported by history or documentation.

Abramoff Investigation Update The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will meet on June 22 to vote on the Jack Abramoff lobbying investigation report, is reporting. Back in June 2005, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the chairman of the committee, said the committee would issue a report. He said it would make recommendations to prevent tribes from being duped by lobbyists. Five people have since been indicted in connection with their lobbying activities in Washington, D.C. Four of them have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with federal prosecutors as the investigation targets members of Congress. The committee itself held five hearings as part of its investigation. Tribal leaders, lobbyists, former Bush administration officials and other people connected to the scandal testified, although in some cases, they refused to provide testimony.

Cherokees to Vote on Whether to Admit Freedmen The Cherokee tribal council voted Monday night to have Cherokee voters decide whether the descendents of black freedmen should be allowed to enroll in the Cherokee tribe. The vote could come in a special election, at a cost of $150,000 to $350,000, or at the tribe’s next regular election — in July 2007. The Council failed on Monday to gather the majority needed to call the special election. The Cherokees’ Judicial Appeals Tribunal ruled in March that descendants of black freedmen — emancipated slaves who joined the Cherokees in the 1800s — must be recognized as citizens of the tribe. More than 800 descendants of freedmen have registered with the Cherokee Nation since the tribal high court’s ruling. Amending the constitution would remove them from the tribe’s citizenship rolls. According to the Muskogee Phoenix, most councilors said Indian blood should be required for tribal membership.

Native American Music Awards The 8th Annual Native American Music Awards were recently held in Florida, co-sponsored by the Seminole Tribe. An equal mix of new artists and previous Nammy Award winners were nominated. The Nammys are also designed to make Native American music more accessible to a wide audience. Keith Secola won artist of the year for “Americana” and Best Male artist was Wade Fernandez with “Song of the Black Wolf.” This year’s Best Female Artist was Pura Fe’ with “Follow Your Heart’s Desire.” Jim Boyd won Songwriter of the Year for “Treaties.” Winner for Song/Single of the Year went to Bill Miller for “Sacred Ground.”

IEN Protecting Mother Earth Conference The 14th Annual Protecting Mother Earth Conference will take place July 6 – 9 in Cass Lake, Minnesota at the Leech Lake Memorial Pow-wow Grounds. Hosted by the Indigenous Environmental Network, there will be workshops on Water of Life & Prayer for the Water, Toxic Contamination and Health of All Life, Energy & Climate Justice, Native Youth Resistance Movement, and more. For more information go to or contact Simone Senogles at +1 218 751- 4967 or

Penobscot Nation Moves Forward With River Restoration Project For years, the Penobscot Nation has fought to increase the number of fish annually making it to their homelands. But their journey has been halted by several dams on the Penobscot River owned by the PPL Corporation. In 2004, the federal government, the Penobscot Nation and the PPL Corporation all signed the Lower Penobscot River Multi-party Settlement Agreement. It is a collaborative effort to restore the Penobscot River. The Agreement allows for increased production at some PPL mills and calls for the removal of two dams. Another dam would be decommissioned and bypassed with a fishway. At the end of May, PPL Corporation started generating more power at other dams, signaling a step towards compensating for the loss of power generated by the dams which will be removed and decommissioned. The Penobscot River Restoration Trust is now working to raise $25 million to buy the three dams from PPL. The trust includes six conservation groups and the Penobscot Nation. John Banks, Penobscot and director of natural resources for the Penobscot Indian Nation. Visit this web site for more information: and

Montana Coal War Veteran Gail Small on Energy Policy, Food Politics and More The largest coal strip mine and gasification complex in America lies just 15 miles from the Cheyenne Reservation. The Cheyenne people are living on one of the poorest Reservations in the country and yet for over 30 years, they have refused to strip mine their homeland for promises of riches. As a teenager, Gail Small was immersed in the infamous Montana Coal Wars – a grassroots struggle to reverse government policy allowing energy companies to mine the rich coal reserves underneath the Northern Cheyenne reservation. Prohibited from mining on the reservation, the coal companies have dug into nearby lands scarring the landscape with strip mines. After getting her law degree from the University of Oregon, Small returned to the Northern Cheyenne reservation and founded Native Action, a ground-breaking non-profit advocacy group dedicated to environmental and political reforms, education and other causes that directly affect the life of her tribe. Today Native Action is struggling to keep thousands of methane gas wells from surrounding the Northern Cheyenne reservation. In April 2005, they lost a battle to stop a ruling that is allowing 500 wells per year to be opened up in Southeastern Montana despite the fact that the environmental impact statement the Bureau of Land Management issued was declared invalid. The wells will be right up to the Cheyenne’s borders within two years if the industry has it’s way. Gail Small, Northern Cheyenne lawyer and founder of Native Action. For more information visit: