Fredricka Hunter, director of American Indian Student Services at the University of Montana, gives Terry Payne a gift of two Pendleton sashes at an event on Wednesday announcing a new teaching and research facility at UM’s Payne Family Native American Center. (Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian)

Fredricka Hunter, director of American Indian Student Services at the University of Montana, gives Terry Payne a gift of two Pendleton sashes at an event on Wednesday announcing a new teaching and research facility at UM’s Payne Family Native American Center. (Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian)

The Native champion who fought for years against the federal government to secure the historic Cobell land trust settlment is being honored with her own institute at the University of Montana.

The Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute was dedicate in Missoula, Mont., Wednesday and will become a part of the Payne Family Native American Center on UM’s campus.

Missoulian reporter Kim Briggeman was at the dedication ceremony:

    Pending approval by the Montana Board of Regents in Helena this week, the Cobell Institute is envisioned to be a complex of labs, classrooms and a small theater in the unfinished lower level of the three-year-old Native American Center on the southwest edge of the UM Oval.

    University President Royce Engstrom announced creation of the institute Wednesday at a ceremony in the center’s Bonnie HeavyRunner Gathering Place.

    “Her life’s work was the pursuit of justice and we here at the University of Montana are humbled that her family has permitted us to honor her,” he said.

    The institute, said Engstrom, can be a place “where future leaders will meet the challenges around land and asset management as well as understand worldwide cultures of indigenous people.”

Cobell died in 2011 after battling cancer. The Cobell settlement was approved by federal court in 2011 and payments began being distributed in Decemeber 2012.

    (Inside the institute, a) land lab will allow students to work on intensive mapping projects.

    “When you think about mapping in Indian Country, it’s really complex because reservation land has all different kinds of overlapping ownership, from trust land to tribally controlled land to individual fee patent land,” said Dave Beck, who chairs the Department of Native American Studies.

    A sophisticated GIS-centered lab will allow the overlay of historic maps to map landownership patterns with natural and cultural resources. An upstairs room in the Native American Center is dedicated to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, which does similar work.

    The Minnesota-based foundation has been very encouraging of the Cobell Institute project.

    “They’ve basically said if you build this we’ll work with you to help students identify and get into real-world projects for Native communities,” said Comer. “We’re really excited by the prospect of working with groups like that.

    “We don’t want busywork exercise. That’s really Royce’s vision: When they’re working on classroom projects, those projects will produce something that’s helping a community and making a real difference.”

Jenna Cederberg

Kevin Gover is the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. But he hasn’t forgotten his three year tenure as the Bureau of Indian Affairs assistant secretary under the Clinton Administration.

Kevin Gover (Photo by Ken Rahaim, Smithsonian Institution/courtesy of the Smithsonian)

He told ICTMN’s Rob Capriccioso working for the BIA was the best job he’s ever had that he will never do again. Still, Gover has some advice for the incoming BIA assistant secretary, Kevin Washburn, as Washburn begins his tenure.

Gover answered Capriccioso’s questions about the gig here:

    What are some of the major challenges Kevin Washburn is facing?
    He has to confront the reality that decisions about Indian affairs are being made all over the department—not just at the BIA. His predecessor [Larry] Echo Hawk recused himself on a lot of key issues, including Cobell, trust, and the federal recognition cases. That means somebody else, somewhere else in the building, handled those issues. Those are major responsibilities for the assistant secretary to get back under his portfolio.

    Any lessons we can learn from Echo Hawk’s tenure?
    I think Larry was a good assistant secretary who created enormous amounts of goodwill with the tribes by being out there and making clear to tribes that he cared very much about what is going on in Indian country. I think the lesson that Kevin could learn from that is not to lose touch. It’s far too easy to do once you’re inside the Beltway. I learned so much more from being in a community and seeing it firsthand than I ever could learn from meeting with them in Washington. Indian leaders talk differently to you in the formal structure of D.C. than they do when they are on the reservation.

    You end up making decisions that displease some tribes—is it hard as a tribal citizen to know that some of your tribal friends are going to get mad at you over some of these decisions?
    There’s no escaping it. One reality of being assistant secretary is that for the most part you are only exercising authority that has been delegated to you by the Secretary of the Department of the Interior. So, in the end, the secretary is the boss, and you’ve got to be willing to go out and defend a decision that you might not agree with. Ideally, you’re deeply involved in the decision and you have an opportunity to advocate for the protribal position, but once a decision is made that is not your decision, you’re still obliged to implement the decision.

    If you go into this job in order to be popular, you’ve made a bad choice. You can’t be confused about who you work for. The assistant secretary takes an oath to the United States. You are a fed. And there’s no escaping that. You can be a good fed. You can be a friendly and supportive fed, but you’re still a fed. If you get confused about that, or think that popularity in Indian country is going to assist you in doing your job to the exclusion of maintaining your credibility within the department, then you’re probably in for a rough ride. Nobody cares within the department how popular you are with tribes.

    Are there differences in what an assistant secretary can achieve under Democratic versus Republican administrations?
    I do think that Indian affairs have had a higher visibility in the Clinton and Obama administrations than they did in the two Bush administrations and the Reagan administration. There were more people in appointed positions who took an interest and were anxious to be helpful. Having supportive people in the White House is also very important.

    Do you think the increased politicization in Washington is beginning to drift into Indian issues?
    I think that Indian affairs have traditionally been bipartisan, and I think the way Congress is now working on them is bipartisan. The fact that Kevin got easily confirmed during an election period shows that there are some things that don’t get caught up in the partisan battle. It is important that we continue to practice nonpartisanship when it comes to Indian affairs.

Read more here.

Jenna Cederberg

Here’s a noticed the “Cobell/Indian Trust Settlement Fund” sent out Thursday via Bill McAllister:

The $3.4 billion Cobell v. Salazar settlement is approved and payments to Class Members have begun.The Settlement resolves a class action lawsuit that claims that the federal government violated its duties by mismanaging trust accounts and individual Indian trust lands.

Payments of $1,000 to the Historical Accounting Class are underway.The Historical Accounting Class includes individual Indians who were alive on September 30, 2009, and who had an open IIM account anytime between October 25, 1994, and September 30, 2009, with at least one cash transaction in it.The process of considering claims for the Trust Administration Class is ongoing.

The final deadline for Class Members to file a claim form for the Trust Administration Class is March 1, 2013.

The Trust Administration Class includes individual Indians alive on September 30, 2009, who either had an IIM account recorded in currently available electronic data in federal government systems anytime from January 1, 1985 to September 30, 2009, orcan demonstrate ownership in land held in trust or restricted status as of September 30, 2009.

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The first payments from the landmark Cobell land trust misuse settlement will soon be distributed to an estimated 350,000 Natives around the country.

    Approximately 350,000 beneficiaries could start receiving $1,000 checks by Christmas as the first part of the settlement goes forward, plaintiffs’ attorneys said.

    . . .

    The agreement will pay out $1.5 billion to two classes of beneficiaries. Each member of the first class would be paid $1,000. Each member of the second class would be paid $800 plus a share of the balance of the settlement funds as calculated by a formula based on the activity in their trust accounts.

Nearly 12,000 Alaska Natives are elligible to receive payments, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports.

    However, payments to most Alaska Natives would not be based on an accounting of such royalties. Rather, most payments in Alaska would be “basic allocations” of $500 each in exchange for dropping any potential claims against the federal government, according to officials who described the settlement to Congress in 2009.

    A Department of the Interior official testified then that 5,365 Alaska Natives were included in the case.

    Attorneys representing the plaintiffs estimated the number could be 12,000 or more. Many Alaska Natives obtained land individually under the 1906 Native Allotment Act, but decisions about the land remained subject to Interior Department approval. The act gave each adult Native head-of-household the right to apply for up to 160 acres of “non-mineral land” until 1971, when Congress ended the program with passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Elouise Cobell fought for 17 years for the settlement before she died of cancer last year.

    The Blackfeet leader observed that those who leased Indian land made money from its natural resources, while the Indians themselves remained in poverty with no accounting of the royalties from that land that were held in trust for them by the government.

    . . .

    “We all are happy that this settlement can finally be implemented,” lead attorney Dennis Gingold said in a statement Monday. “We deeply regret that Ms. Cobell did not live to see this day.”

Jenna Cederberg

Luana Beavers Sampson of Hot Springs celebrates Wednesday morning after cashing her settlement check at Eagle Bank in Polson. Members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes received $10,000 each as their part of the settlement with the United States government, known as the Salazar settlement. (Photo by Kurt Wilson/of the Missoulian)

By Tristan Scott of the Missoulian:

POLSON – One after another, members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes emerged from Eagle Bank on Wednesday with a broad smile and a thick envelope.

“I’m getting a white Impala tomorrow,” said an elated Barbara Finley, who is one of approximately 7,850 enrolled members who received checks for $10,000 in the mail on Wednesday morning as about half of a $150 million settlement with the United States government was distributed across the Flathead Indian Reservation.

The dispersal is part of a $1 billion settlement in a lawsuit initially filed by the Nez Perce Tribe being paid out to 44 tribes across the nation for mismanaged assets and natural resources held in trust by the government for the tribes.

Known as the “Salazar settlement,” it is separate from the Cobell lawsuit that the federal government settled for $3.4 billion.

The Salazar settlement was for mismanagement of assets and natural resources held by the tribes as a whole, and the $150 million settlement with the CSKT appears to be one of the largest.

“My trailer’s paid off as of today,” said Randy Milliron.

Members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council are still discussing what to do with the remaining balance of the $150 million, which has not automatically gone into the general fund. Among the options being considered are elder care, education, economic development, language and culture preservation, and land acquisition.

But some tribal members are actively campaigning to have the full amount distributed to individuals, and on Wednesday morning, as a long line snaked out of the tribally owned Eagle Bank in Polson, which issued the checks, and petitions to the Bureau of Indian Affairs circulated through the crowd.

“They come out of the bank and you can see the relief on their face. They haven’t felt that way in a long time,” said Revan Rogers, who wore a “100 percent” sticker, and by noon had gathered several hundred signatures supporting full dispersal of the settlement. “This actually helps the membership. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime windfall.”

While the council has made no decision on what to do with the money, Rogers said placing it into a general fund would be misguided, calling it a “black hole.” In June she organized a group called the People’s Voice, and hopes that with enough signatures the BIA will override the council’s resolution.

“It’s overwhelming. The people want their money,” she said. “This is a new beginning for them. It may be as simple as a new washer and dryer, and a refrigerator. But it’s a new beginning.”

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Denise Juneau takes main stage at DNC

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Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau is the first Native American woman to win a statewide election in U.S. history and on Wednesday night Juneau took the main stage at the Democratic National Convention.

Denise Juneau, Montana state superintendent of public instruction, addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Juneau, a member of the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes, took the time to speak to the importance of education and commend the Obama Administration’s work to bolster it.

The Missoulian state bureau reported on the speech:

    HELENA – Speaking to the Democratic National Convention, Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau on Wednesday night praised President Barack Obama for making historic investments in higher education and making college more affordable.

    “As Democrats, we believe that every child, regardless of background or ability, is entitled to an excellent education,” Juneau said in remarks prepared for delivery. “Our determination to strengthen our schools to provide a 21st century education for every child drives us to work to reelect President Barack Obama.

    “President Obama knows that education is the best investment an individual can make in themselves, that a family can make in its children, that a nation can make in its people.”

    Juneau told the crowd at the convention in Charlotte, N.C., that she was proud to be there as a Montanan, as an educator, as a Democrat, as a member of the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes and as the first Native American woman to win a statewide election in U.S. history.

    Her parents, Stan and former state Sen. Carol Juneau, now of Great Falls, told her that education was the path to success, she said, and they showed her by taking her to Head Start while they were pursuing college degrees. Both Denise and Carol Juneau are delegates to the convention.

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Indian Country Today Media Network’s Rob Capriccioso has dug up a lot of history on Paul Ryan, who has been selected as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate.

It’s been highly publicized that Ryan’s wife may have Native roots, but as Capriccioso points out, his voting policy hasn’t always been Indian friendly.

    In his home state, Ryan hasn’t done much work on specific Indian issues while serving in Congress since 1999, but he notably asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) during the George W. Bush administration to approve an off-reservation casino for the Menominee Nation. The administration ultimately rejected the plan in January 2009, but the situation showed that Ryan is perhaps a quiet ally of Indian gaming, especially when it comes to the interests of his constituents.

    In recent sessions of Congress, he’s voted against the Indian Health Care Improvement Act as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; against the Tribal Law and Order Act and the Cobell settlement as part of separate bills; and against some Indian water rights settlements that were part of a relief package for Chile and Haiti earthquake victims. In most cases, his votes against Indian legislation came in instances where such legislation was attached to larger bills that had little or nothing to do with Indian affairs—a growing concern among some tribal advocates who say that Indian issues deserve to be voted on their own merits as stand-alone bills, which would make it easier to understand where legislators truly stand on such issues. This year, he voted in favor of the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership Act; in favor of the Indian Tribal Trade and Investment Demonstration Project Act; and voted with his party in favor of a Violence Against Women Act reauthorization that failed to include Senate-passed tribal provisions that would increase tribal court jurisdiction authorities, but did allow for a battered Native woman – or a tribe on her behalf – to file in U.S. District Court for a protection order against her alleged abuser, whether Indian or not, who committed the abuse on Indian land.

Some have also questioned whether Ryan’s wife, Janna, really is part Chickasaw. Janna is not an enrolled tribal member.

    If Janna Ryan is indeed Native, the situation would seem reminiscent of GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2008, whose husband, Todd is Yup’ik and whose children are Alaska Native Corporation shareholders. Evidence currently supports the notion that, like Palin, Ryan has paid attention to his spouse’s heritage, and it seems to inform at least a small part of his outlook.

    What is known for sure is that Janna Ryan’s family has deep roots in Oklahoma’s Democratic and Indian-focused politics, with her first-cousin Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., set to become president of corporate development with the Chickasaw Nation at the end of his current term. While Boren is a Democrat, he has put out a statement supporting his cousin, as well as her husband, in the race against President Barack Obama: “Janna and I grew up together and I couldn’t be more proud of my cousin. Like my late mother after whom she is named, Janna is a wonderful parent to their children and will be Paul’s strongest supporter on the campaign trail. Paul has a firm moral compass and has always approached his job as a congressman with diligence and honesty. Having many friends on both sides of the aisle, he is an effective and talented leader. Although we belong in different political parties, I see Paul as a friend, a fellow hunter, and most importantly a family man.”

Will Paul Ryan’s Native voting history sway how you vote in November?

Jenna Cederberg

The tribal council on the Flathead Reservation in northwestern Montana has voted how it will spend the $150 million in settlement fund coming from the federal government: Half will go to members and half with be spent for things like cultural programs and economic development.

Some members aren’t happy with that decision, as Missoulian reporter Keila Szpaller reports.

    Ramona Cajune wants the tribal council of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to return more settlement dollars to the people she says need it most.

    On Monday, Cajune and other tribal members protested a council decision last week to pay individual members only half of a $150 million settlement signed with the U.S. government in May.

    The tribal council has been holding meetings on how to spend its portion of the $1 billion going to 41 tribes as a result of a settlement agreement in Nez Perce v. Salazar.

    “In my own family, there are people who are homeless,” Cajune said in a telephone interview. “One of the meetings I was at, there was a girl with no electricity, and I knew there were people in that meeting whose kids were hungry because we had fed some of those children earlier that month. So there is extreme poverty here on the reservation.”

The settlement money is not related to the funds coming from the historic Cobell v. Salazar settlement.

    The tribal council meets again Tuesday, but tribal communications director Robert McDonald said he has heard nothing to indicate elected leaders plan to reconsider their vote. In fact, he said the decision to disperse $10,000 to each of the estimated 7,800 CSKT members – and retain the other half – came directly from tribal members’ input.

    “This action is an effort to strike a balance among the needs presented at the meetings, as well as planning for the future,” McDonald said.

    In public sessions about spending, four priorities emerged, he said: providing for elders, language efforts, cultural programs and economic development. The tribal council has not yet allocated funds to those areas.

    “There’s no timeline, but it is clearly a topic that they are investing time into,” McDonald said.

Jenna Cederberg

The Cobell land trust settlement has been upheld in the courts once again. The panel of appellate judges decision announced Tuesday means settlement checks for the landmark $3.4 billion lawsuit could be sent out within weeks:

Here’s Associated Press report Matt Volz’s story:

    A panel of appellate judges on Tuesday upheld a $3.4 billion settlement between the U.S. government and hundreds of thousands of Native American plaintiffs whose land trust royalties were mismanaged by the Interior Department.

    The ruling means that settlement checks could be mailed to members of the class-action lawsuit within weeks, said plaintiffs’ attorney Dennis Gingold. Further appeals would delay that disbursement, and the attorney for the challenger, Kimberly Craven of Boulder, Colo., said they are considering their options.

    The three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed the challenge by Craven, who had objected that the settlement did not include an actual accounting for how much money the government lost and said that the deal would overcompensate a select few beneficiaries.

    But the judges said in their ruling that the government would be unable to perform an accurate accounting, the deal is fair and it is the best that can be hoped for to avoid years of additional litigation.

    Craven’s characterization of the settlement as taking shortcuts “is to ignore the history of this hard-fought litigation and the obstacles to producing an historical accounting,” the judges said in their ruling.

    The settlement is the result of a class-action lawsuit filed in 1996 by Blackfeet tribal member Elouise Cobell, who died of cancer in October. The lawsuit had originally sought to find out how much money had been mismanaged, squandered or lost by the Department of the Interior, which held the trust money for land allotted to Native Americans under the Dawes Act of 1887.

    “Our deepest regret is that Ms Cobell did not live long enough to see this victory,” Gingold said in a statement
    The lack of records created a problem in creating an accurate accounting of who was owed what, and the cost of creating such a record for each beneficiary would have cost more than what they were actually owed. After more than 13 years of litigation, the government and Cobell made a deal.

    The agreement would pay out $1.5 billion to two classes of beneficiaries whose numbers have been estimated to be between 300,000 and 500,000. Each member of the first class would be paid $1,000. Each member of the second class would be paid $800 plus a share of the balance of the settlement funds as calculated by a formula.

    Another $1.9 billion would be used by the government to purchase fractionated land allotments from willing individuals and turn those consolidated allotments over to the tribe. An education scholarship for young Indians also would be established under the agreement.

    Congress approved the deal in December 2010 and U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan approved it after a June 2011 hearing. Hogan said that while the settlement may not be as much as some wished, the deal provides a way out of a legal morass and provides some certainty for the beneficiaries.

    As part of the deal, Cobell was awarded $2 million and the three other named plaintiffs were awarded between $150,000 and $200,000.

    Craven and others objected and appealed the settlement, claiming the deal creates a conflict between the beneficiaries as some would be overpaid while others would be undercompensated for their claims. Creating a lump-sum award without an accounting creates an arbitrary payout system without knowing who is actually owed what, she argued.

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Breaking news today from the Associated Press:

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — The federal government says it will pay more than $1 billion to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by American Indian tribes over mismanagement of trust lands.
The settlement announced jointly by the Justice Department and the Interior Department resolves claims brought by 41 tribes from across the country.

The Interior Department manages about 2,500 tribal trust accounts for more than 250 tribes, including leases for oil and gas and grazing rights. Dozens of tribes have filed suit in recent years claiming the accounts have been mismanaged.

The agreement announced Wednesday is in addition to the $3.4 billion settlement in a class-action lawsuit brought by the late Elouise Cobell of Browning, Mont. That deal settled cases brought by 500,000 individual Indians over the government’s mismanagement of trust lands.