All posts by Eliza Racine

Disregarding Native Rights and Health, from PetroPeru to Dakota Access

Not too long after federal Judge James Boasberg denied the Standing Rock Sioux’s request to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Friday, the Obama Administration stepped in as the Department of Interior, Department of Justice and Army Corps of Engineers issued a joint statement, temporarily halting DAPL construction bordering Lake Oahe. The Army Corps of Engineers will reconsider the decisions which authorized the pipeline’s construction. The agencies also called for more formal discussions with tribes on what they can do to ensure full tribal input.

As we wait again for the fate of the Standing Rock Sioux, it cannot be reiterated enough that there is no good to come from pipelines carrying crude oil. Companies may claim they’re for energy independence, even though there are much cleaner sources of renewable energy like solar and wind, but they are more concerned with their own profits. The threat of development against public safety for Indigenous communities is not isolated to the Standing Rock Sioux, it’s become common across the globe, and isn’t limited to oil companies alone.

Just this year alone in Peru, a 40-year-old trans-Amazonian pipeline spilled four times, one of which in February spilled three thousand barrels of crude oil into the River Chiriaco, one of the country’s largest Amazon tributaries. The oil company, PetroPeru, assured that cleanup was going well, yet they didn’t provide adequate assistance to the indigenous communities. Children were paid by company officials to clean up oil without any protective suits and many became sick as a result of the chemicals. Community members are still eating the contaminated plants and fish because they have no other resources for food and so become sick, and farmers will not be able to plant new crops or sell their produce. Even PetroPeru’s doctors just assured patients affected by the spill that they just had the flu and would get better, yet never returned for any follow up.

Despite the devastation against the Wampis and Awajun communities, PetroPeru continued pumping oil against government orders, leading to two more spills in June and August without allotting any time to fix the damaged pipeline. Even during cleanup after the February spill, site chief Victor Palomino said accidents were “inevitable.” It is unethical to continue pumping oil, knowing fully well that the pipeline is an environmental disaster waiting to occur every few months. All that does is show how little the companies care about quality-reassurance and safety.

Meanwhile in Canada, approval for the tar sands pipeline, Northern Gateway, was overturned in July after an appeal by eight First Nations, four environmental groups and a labor union found the approval unconstitutional. The consultation was “brief, hurried and inadequate,” and disregarded any environmental concerns. If the pipeline was still underway for construction, it would pose risk against their resources for food.

Oil companies are not the only ones who seem to get away with such neglect, it’s also reached to conservation groups and national agencies as well. UN special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz found in her report for the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress that conservation groups like the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society were forcibly displacing indigenous people around the world from their homes for infrastructure projects like hydroelectric dams. In worse cases like with the deforestation in Mato Grosso in Brazil for agriculture, indigenous people are killed by ranchers and farmers who take over their land. Not only do these conservation groups neglect to consult the people who’ve been living in such areas for years, but they also seem to find Natives incapable of taking care of their own sacred land like when people were evicted from India’s Kanha tiger reserve despite that humans and tigers can co-inhabit the same area.

“[Native peoples] are best equipped to protect the world’s most threatened forests, and have been doing so for decades,” said RRI (Rights and Resources Initiative) Coordinator Andy White in the gathering. “Yet many conservation organizations and governments still treat them as obstacles to conservation rather than partners.” Despite whatever good intentions these groups have, the good is lost when they take over sacred indigenous land.

Even national agencies garner distrust among Natives such as the EPA’s insufficient response to the Gold King Mine Spill of 2015 which damaged Navajo water supplies in the Animas River, resulting in dried up crops. Even though the EPA was found at fault and supposedly took full responsibility, they still waited two days to notify people along the river of the spill and never gave details, much less provided any adequate clean up. After a year waiting for compensation for lost crops and reassurance that the water is safe to use, the Navajo Nation sued the EPA for its neglect.

The Standing Rock Sioux face similar risks as DAPL is proposed to be built through sacred burial sites and their main water source on the Missouri River– which also provides water to 18 million people and more than 50 cities downstream–, despite obvious violations of historical preservation, indigenous treaties and environmental protection. So it’s a very strange turn of events that now the Army Corps is reversing their decision, and ordering Dakota Access to stop construction. Does it mean that they acknowledged that they made a mistake in approving DAPL?

At the moment, it doesn’t seem to be that way given that the Administration’s joint statement suggested the Corps of Engineers complied with the National Historic Preservation Act. That cannot be further from the truth, as twenty-seven identified graves have already been dug up by Dakota Access, and the company also desecrated sacred land where pledges were made and gifts were received from spirits as detailed by Tim Mentz. This announcement is in the right direction for some reconciliation with the Standing Rock Sioux, but if construction is to be halted indefinitely and the agencies want to fix relations with tribes, the Army Corps needs to admit their neglect in approving DAPL’s construction.

Whether it’s oil companies, conservation groups or national agencies, the indifference towards human rights abuses seems to carry at a higher level when it comes to Indigenous lives at stake. They need to be held accountable for their recklessness whether they want to admit fault or not. Native peoples deserve better than to be ignored and forced away from their land, or even worse die because of a company’s selfishness and neglect. When properly supported and given sovereignty over their land, both the Indigenous peoples and land thrive.

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Navajo Nation Sues EPA for Neglect in Toxic Spill

After waiting a year for compensation, the Navajo Nation sued the EPA last week for the Gold King Mine Spill of August 2015 when three million gallons of toxic waste contaminated the Animas and San Juan Rivers. Contracted workers from the EPA were trying to drain the toxic water from a dam when it ruptured from built up pressure and leaked into the rivers from Colorado to Utah and New Mexico. The chemicals turned the water yellow and made it unsafe for drinking or farming.

“For nearly two days, the USEPA did not call, alert or notify the Nation that this toxic sludge had been released and was headed into their waters and land,” the Navajo Nation said in their 48-page complaint. Even when they were alerted of the spill, they were not told details as to when it would arrive and how long it would last. This was especially concerning to more secluded communities which are farther away from outside resources like Mexican Water, Utah and waited weeks until EPA crews came out to assess damage in the area.

The color faded and the EPA reported the river was restoring itself and  was safe for use two weeks after the spill began. However, Navajo President Russell Begaye warned residents against using the water with concerns of toxins remaining in the sediment until the Nation conducted their own analysis of the river, indicating distrust in the EPA. Tanks of non-potable water were taken to farmers as an alternative to sustain their crops and livestock, yet by then approximately 2,000 Navajo farmers along the river had their crops dry up after they stopped using irrigation pumps.

Two months after the incident, the Department of Interior found in their 132-page report that the spill resulted from improperly rushed and insufficient engineering which didn’t even consider possible consequences if something went wrong. Therefore, the spill could have been prevented in the first place.

Despite the EPA taking full responsibility, there have still been no significant efforts for proper clean-ups, compensation for lost crops or health protection for the Navajo. The Nation still worries about long term health effects, including eating produce or livestock that has come into contact with the contaminated water. The health concerns also prevented farmers from effectively selling their produce, resulting in loss in profits.

The aftermath of the Gold King Mine Spill parallels to concerns of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which faces stalled construction on the Standing Rock Sioux’s land. From the EPA to the Army Corps of Engineers, these organizations show almost no real concern to the potential damage affecting these people and their environment. If construction isn’t stopped now, history will repeat itself as another tribe’s livelihood faces disaster.


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Protesters Sued for Delaying Pipeline Construction

Dakota Access LLC sued Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault, who was arrested for trespassing but later released from jail, and other protesters on Monday for stalling construction of the their pipeline and threatening employees and law enforcement. The next day, the Houston-based company was granted a restraining order against the defendants on the grounds that their construction permits were valid.

Dakota Access and its parent company, Energy Transfer, are also going so far as to blatantly lie and try to appear like they are in the right to construct the pipeline. An anonymous Energy Transfer spokesperson said in an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network that “Dakota Access does not cross any reservation land and is compliant with all regulations regarding tribal coordination and cultural resources.”

This absolutely contradicts the fact that maps of the pipeline obviously show it crossing through reservations, including vital water sources on the Missouri River and ancestral burial sites, which construction crews began digging up last week amid protests. The Standing Rock Sioux voiced their concerns for months now and remain ignored.

They are scrambling to justify their actions, but they can’t sweep under the rug the environmental, tribal sovereignty and historical preservation violations they continue to openly commit. There is still a major risk in damaging vital water sources given that pipelines leak thousands of gallons of oil far too often. If any concerns from Standing Rock about the pipeline’s construction were taken seriously, then Dakota Access LLC shouldn’t be at all surprised from the outrage as they dig up sacred burial sites.

Meanwhile, protests show no signs of stopping as Archambault calls for more support nationwide, including for American citizens to contact their senators and representatives, and he even hopes for intervention from President Barack Obama. Other tribes like the Oglala Sioux and Crow Creek Sioux are sending members to the construction site to protest alongside the Standing Rock Sioux. Even celebrities are joining the fight against Dakota Access, like Shailene Woodley and Jason Mamoa.

No matter how much Dakota Access tries to justify their federal violations, their relentless greed and lies will never be overlooked. Protests will not end until Standing Rock takes back their land and Dakota Access is properly held accountable for their deplorable actions.

Support the Standing Rock Sioux by signing petitions in the movement Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline to demand a stop to the piepline’s construction.


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Tribal Leaders Arrested in Pipeline Protest

The Standing Rock Sioux remain unmoved in North Dakota this week as they blocked construction crews attempting to work on the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would transport crude oil across North and South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. The pipeline poses a threat to the natural environment and native water sources of the local people. More than a dozen protesters were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and trespassing out of the boundaries set by law enforcement.

Among those arrested include tribal officials like Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault, who is a long time fighter for tribal sovereignty. Their arrests came after construction workers dug up human remains on a sacred cultural site, and the leaders crossed the fence in outrage. This sparked more anger among protesters as they blocked the roads and began chants and war cries, which can be viewed here.

“We want to hold them back until we can get to court,” said tribal historian, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard to the Washington Times. The Standing Rock Sioux await trial after suing the Army Corps of Engineers last month for their approval of the pipeline, neglecting the obvious violations of historical preservation, environmental safety and tribal sovereignty.

Meanwhile the pipeline developers, Energy Transfer, persist in their ignorance to continue construction regardless of protest, while insisting that they care for the safety of their employees and those who live in the area.

“To that end, we will press charges against anyone who interferes in the construction of the pipeline. Construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline will continue across all four states along the route,” Energy Transfer said in an emailed statement to the Bismarck Tribune.

If they truly cared about safety, they wouldn’t be building a pipeline which has a high likelihood of leaking and contaminating the environment, especially when it is proposed to be built over the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, which are vital water sources for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. North Dakota’s oil industry already has a massive history of leaks and spills with 8,690 reported between 2006 and 2014, including 2,390 that were not contained. With how frequently leaks and spills happen, it does little to convince that Dakota Access will be any different from all the other pipelines, especially with Native American lives at stake if Dakota Access is built.

Energy Transfer has clearly disregarded tribal sovereignty and historical preservation by going around the tribe for the sake of profit. They didn’t even so much as ask anyone at Standing Rock for permission to build the pipeline over their water sources and their sacred land. Their blatant ignorance to the Standing Rock Sioux’s concerns shows how little they really care, and will do anything in their power to continue construction, to the point of desecrating human remains and ancestral burial sites .

The irresponsibility from the Army Corps and Energy Transfer will not be ignored and neither will the justified anger from the Standing Rock Sioux. Until they realize their neglect or the courts rule in favor of the Standing Rock Sioux, the fight will continue until the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is halted for good. The Lakota People’s Law Project stands in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their fight.

Tribal Court Convictions Upheld by Supreme Court

Two months ago, the case of United States v. Bryant went to the Supreme Court to challenge if tribal court convictions could be used in federal court for habitual offenders. To some, this case posed a potential threat in protecting Natives from repeat domestic abusers. Now, the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling of tribal courts being “unconstitutional” has been overturned as the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the legitimacy tribal court convictions.

Michael Bryant Jr, an enrolled member of the Northern Cheyenne, appealed his convictions of domestic violence to the Ninth Circuit Court in 2014. He argued that using his previous uncounseled misdemeanor convictions to prove habitual offender status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) violated his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights, despite pleading guilty to five different cases of domestic abuse. The Ninth Circuit Court agreed with Bryant, reversed his indictment and 46-month prison sentence, and took the case to the Supreme Court for its 2016 session.

However, the Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that the Bill of Rights do not govern over tribal courts because they pre-date the Constitution. Instead, the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA) provides defendants in tribal courts similar legal protections and rights to those of the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment. According to ICRA, tribal courts only have to provide a lawyer when the defendant faces a prison sentence of more than a year. Because Bryant’s previous sentences were less than that and he was still ensured due process of law, his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights were not violated.

The ruling on June 13th is a major victory for tribal sovereignty and the legitimacy of their courts to protect Native women and children from habitual offenders of domestic violence. Domestic violence in Native communities was addressed by Ginsburg as she noted that Native women face the highest rates of domestic violence in the United States, where they constitute 46 percent of cases according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Domestic abusers exhibit high rates of recidivism, and their violence often escalates in severity over time,” said Ginsburg in the ruling, presenting a real fear in Native communities if offenders like Bryant did not have proper justice delivered. If the Ninth Circuit Court ruling was upheld instead, then tribal courts would be delegitimized, especially for VAWA, and Bryant would likely go back to abusing more women with little to no consequences.

VAWA is a very crucial law in the fight against Native American domestic violence since it was amended in 2013 to allow tribal convictions to count towards habitual offender status as well as prosecute non-Natives, who make up 86 percent of reported abusers against Native women. Nullifying these aspects of the law would make tribal courts useless to defend Native women and to keep repeat offenders out of their communities. With Native women facing twice the rates of violence compared to women of any other race, these problems cannot be allowed to persist and tribal courts need the proper power to implement justice.

This ruling is a milestone for the tribes being properly seen as sovereign entities and their courts legitimate by the Supreme Court. It shows that the Supreme Court is able to take the problems in Native American communities into consideration, and make the proper decisions to ensure that they receive the protection they deserve.


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Navajo Trademark Not “Famous” Enough Says Judge

In an ongoing battle against misrepresentation, the Navajo Nation took a hit earlier this month as they lost two counts in their lawsuit against Urban Outfitters.

In 2012, the Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters for its line of “Navajo” styled merchandise from panties to flasks, which was first released in 2001. This violates the Navajo trademark and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act which illegalizes selling arts and crafts that falsely suggest they were created by Native Americans. The Navajo Nation demanded either all the profits from the items labeled as “Navajo” or $1,000 per day that the items were sold.

U.S. District Judge Bruce Black in New Mexico dismissed those two counts against Urban Outfitters in May, saying that the trademark was not “famous” enough and siding with Urban Outfitters’ argument that Navajo is just a generic name for a style.

Navajo isn’t a trend, it’s the name of an entire culture and people dating back hundreds of years before hipster clothing. It’s deplorable that companies like Urban Outfitters can get away with this form of exploitation—they’re making money by using Navajo to describe their goods, and at the same time they’re m2011-10_Urban-Outfitters-Navajo-Hipster-Panty.0isleading their customers into thinking they are purchasing Navajo-made products.

With more than 300 thousand enrolled members, the Navajo Nation is the second largest federally recognized tribe in the United States. How is that “not famous enough” to have their trademark, which was registered in 1943 to ensure consumers won’t buy knockoff Navajo products, respected?

Even though Urban Outfitters relabeled and removed their “Navajo” products, they and their sister companies, Anthropologie and Free People, still sell products described as “tribal.” On Free People alone, they currently sell more than 90 products labeled as “tribal.” It just goes to show how little Urban Outfitters cares about respecting Native American culture, which sadly isn’t too surprising given their history of insensitive clothing alluding to events like the Holocaust or the Kent State Massacre.

However, the fight is not over just yet. The Navajo Nation still has six more counts in the case against Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie and Free People for trademark infringement, unfair competition and false advertising.


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Faulty Poll Won’t Change that “Redskin” Remains a Slur

A recent development in the Washington Redskins name controversy has team owner Daniel Snyder cheering, while angering Native Americans in support of changing the blatantly racist name. The recent Washington Post poll, where 90 percent of 504 self-identified Native Americans were surveyed saying they were not offended by the name Redskins, is misleading and does not take into account the social implications of the term.

The word redskin is a hateful pejorative with colonialist connotations intended to dehumanize Native Americans as inferior to White people. Some scholars like Professor Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz argue that the term refers to when White settlers used to scalp Native Americans for profit and genocide. Using a fallacious poll to sway the public into thinking it has no horrid history is unconscionable.

Surveying only 504 people out of the 5.4 million Native Americans living in the United States does not suggest that “9 in 10 Native Americans aren’t offended by Redskins name.” It’s nonsensical and baneful for a respected news organization to suggest that a fraction of a percent of a population, 0.0093 percent, can represent the entire racial group. The study is also flawed because 56 percent of the respondents said they “heard not too much or less” about the controversy, and that same percentage of people surveyed had no tribal affiliation, leading some to question the validity of self-identification.

Despite the term’s derogatory roots, surveyed Native Americans like Chippewa teacher, Barbara Bruce, say the imagery in sports provides them some representation in society because they do not have much to begin with. Some even argue it’s a term of friendship among other Natives.

Others see the controversy as a non-issue, like Aric Mitchell who says there are bigger problems for Natives to worry about like mass incarceration, poverty and unemployment as opposed to a football team’s name.

“Like the past sins of this country against its ‘Native American’ population are behind us and we are so unaffected by the modern world that Snyder’s franchise is all we have to be worked up about,” Mitchell wrote to Inquisitr.

While he is correct that Native Americans face a great number of issues, that does not make the Redskins controversy any less valid of an issue. Even if these results were anywhere close to accurate, that doesn’t change the fact people are still offended and still want the name changed. Native American leaders and activists like Tara Houska who think about the future well being of their cultures and children are speaking out against the name, and there are more than 100 Native American organizations that have condemned it. 

“A poll is not going to change my mind. A poll is not going to tell me I’m not offended. A poll is not going to tell me that this doesn’t harm the self-esteem of Native American children,” said Houska to the Washington Post. “And you’re going to tell me you’re going to prioritize a football team over that? I find it very frustrating and very upsetting that people are going to point to the poll and say this is not offensive to Native Americans when we know this is harmful to Native American youth.”

The imagery of the Washington Redskins is anything but flattering to Native Americans. It hinges on the stereotype that Native Americans are stuck in the past as “savages” and nonexistent in contemporary society. Representation is important, but certainly not at the expense of settling on racist stereotypes which are known to lower self-esteem among Native American youth.

It’s also hypocritically insulting for a professional football team to make a profit off of commodifying stereotypical imagery. How is it acceptable for non-Natives to wear the racist image when Native Americans are still pressured to assimilate to a society that too often shames and even physically attacks them for their appearances and cultural practices?

If Snyder and his fans think an incomplete and suspiciously biased poll is “overwhelming support from the Native American community” and that the fight is over, they are poorly misguided. A racial slur is still a racial slur. The fight will not stop until the Washington Redskins change their name and stop profiting from racist stereotypes.


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Canada Finally Supports UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

In a major step toward healing for the First Nations people of Canada, the Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced Canada’s full support of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) at the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the United Nations in New York City last week.

Enacted in 2007, the UNDRIP recognizes Indigenous people’s human rights to self-determination, culture, language, land, and other issues. While 144 countries passed the declaration, four originally opposed it: the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. However, Australia endorsed UNDRIP in 2009, and New Zealand and the USA followed in 2010, leaving Canada — who was actually involved in drafting UNDRIP — as the last country to change its objector status.

Canada’s formerly conservative government was concerned about states needing to obtain consent from First Nations before passing new laws, arguing that they would likely veto major resource projects and their rights would prioritize over Canadian rights.

Now, there is optimism among some Indigenous groups for a more open path to reconciliation and an improved relationship with the Canadian government, and for their rights to finally be recognized. First Nations leaders like Chief Wilton Littlechild and Chief Isadore Day look forward to begin conversation with the government on what issues need to be addressed.

“This is a turning point in our relationship and the recognition of our rights but I must point out that we are only regaining what we had previous control of — our right to the lands, territories and resources which we have traditionally owned and occupied,” Day said in an interview with The Record.

However, some lawyers and First Nations people are concerned as to the details of implementing UNDRIP, especially since it is technically not a legally binding document. Bennett cited Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, which recognizes Indigenous treaty rights, as a “robust framework for the protection of Indigenous rights.” But she did not provide any further details, leaving many questions as to what exactly will happen next and how long it will take for those changes to be carried out, which heightens concern given some communities are currently facing human rights violations.

Two First Nations, Prophet River and West Moberly, called the announcement “hypocrisy in the making” and doubt the government genuinely changed their position. If UNDRIP were to be enacted, the two First Nations already face conflict with BC Hydro, an energy corporation planning to build the controversial Site C Dam which will flood 5,340 hectares of land along the Peace River Valley, almost a third of which is devoted to agriculture.

“Allowing Site C to proceed is a violation of the UNDRIP and of the Liberal party’s election promise to rebuild its relationship with Canada’s First Nations,” reads a press release from the Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations, noting the declaration’s statement that “Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.”

Even though there is hope for better relations between First Nations and the Canadian government, those are the types of issues that need to be immediately addressed. It requires open and detailed discussions on how UNDRIP can be incorporated into Canadian law and serious enforcement to protect First Nations rights.

The hopes and worries for the Canadian government’s change reflects on the little effect the United States government had to better Native American lives, despite their support of UNDRIP. When they changed their position in 2010, the Obama Administration promised to address many issues in Native communities such as health care and protecting Native lands and cultures.

As part of the change, the Administration increased budgets for organizations like Indian Health Services to better address issues like behavioral health and diabetes in Native communities. The Department of Education also consulted with tribal officials about preserving Native languages to which the Administration proposed changes to the Elementary and Secondary Act to improve Native education and include funding for Native language restoration programs. These changes were implemented in the Every Student Succeeds Act which was signed in December 2015.

While it is progress, it isn’t enough and more can still be done. Native Americans communities still face high rates of unemployment, poverty, violence and suicide which keep increasing. Their rights are also still violated, like the Standing Rock Sioux who face the Dakota Access Pipeline being built over their water supply.

Simply supporting UNDRIP and making promises isn’t enough to enact change, especially when Indigenous people have waited far too long to have their problems recognized. If these governments are serious about protecting Indigenous rights, they need stay true to their word and take immediate action when those rights are violated and when the people are still facing serious infrastructure issues.


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Native Americans Facing Highest Suicide Rates

Rates of suicide among Native Americans are the highest compared to other groups, and they keep increasing over the years. This is especially true among Native American youth, who are three and a half times more likely to commit suicide compared to other groups, according to a Indian Health Service study in 2012. This crisis is long overdue for some serious aid.

Rising suicide rates led to the Oglala Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation declaring a state of emergency last year, after 14 youth suicides between August 2014 and April 2015 scarred the community.

Native Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 have the highest suicide rates compared to other groups, according to the CDC. A study of suicide rates from 1999 to 2014 revealed that Native Americans have the largest suicide rate increase among all groups, and that national suicide rates are the highest in thirty years. The study showed a 38 percent increase among Native American men, and a 89 percent increase among Native American women.

Native American youth are also twice as likely to be exposed to domestic violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse, and poverty compared to other groups. With unemployment rates at more than 70 percent, poverty rates at more than 50 percent, and high school graduation rates at 67 percent on the reservations, “[Native] children carry the outlook that things may not get better for them,” said C.J. Clifford, a tribal leader from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in an interview with the Huffington Post.

These factors lead youth to develop post-traumatic stress disorder which, according to Theresa M. Pouley, the chief judge of the Tulalip Tribal Court in Washington state, is at a similar level to that of soldiers who returned from service in Afghanistan.

Canada is also grappling with high rates of suicide among First Nations people, where last month the Attawapiskat First Nation community declared a state of emergency after eleven people attempted suicide in one night. The community faces major issues of poverty and violence, and is more than 300 miles from the nearest city, which limits access to mental health care.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to the Attawapiskat community’s declaration of emergency by proposing a $8 billion dollar budget in the coming years to improve healthcare and infrastructure in the First Nation communities. The United States must follow in Canada’s footsteps. This issue will not mend itself, and it is our nation’s responsibility to address this tragedy plaguing the communities that we have time and again abused.

In 2012, the U.S federal government began a round of 23 youth-suicide prevention grants which totalled $500,000 per year for three years. However, only 43 of the 566 federally recognized tribes received these grants, and given that these suicide rates are only increasing, it’s not sufficient funding to heal more than a century’s worth of damage. Native American leaders like Clifford are still asking Congress for more aid to adequately provide health care and school counselors to help these children and prevent suicide.

It is disconcerting how little attention the high rates of suicide are receiving. This is a national crisis and must be addressed immediately, the epidemic of children taking their lives is unacceptable and must be investigated.
Long-term aid fairly distributed among all the tribes is one key way to help decrease the rates of suicide. Native Americans must receive better education, healthcare and housing, otherwise, poverty, depression, and a feeling of hopelessness will continue to fester within the younger generations.


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Supreme Court Case May Endanger Native Women


The legitimacy of tribal courts and the Violence Against Women Act is being questioned in a case that could cause severe negative repercussions for Native women. United States v. Bryant will determine if uncounseled tribal court misdemeanor convictions in domestic violence cases can be used in federal court for repeat offenders.

This case is a life and death matter for Native women according to legal experts like Tim Purdon, co-chair of the American Indian Law and Policy Group at Robins Kaplan Law Firm.

“Because I had the ability to use tribal court convictions, I could charge serial offenders and better protect Indian women and save lives. This is a tool that allowed us to intercede a lot earlier,” said Purdon in an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network. “No victim should be put in the position where their abuser goes free because he doesn’t accept the legitimacy of tribal court convictions.”

A member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, Michael Bryant Jr. already has more than 100 tribal court convictions from 1997 to 2007, including five domestic abuse convictions to which he pled guilty. After being convicted in 2011 for two different cases of domestic violence, Bryant was found eligible for a habitual offender status and was indicted by Montana’s federal district court.

However, Bryant appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and asked to have the federal indictment dismissed. He argued that using his previous misdemeanor convictions to prove habitual offender status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) violated his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. The court agreed with Bryant in September 2014 and his indictment and 46-month federal prison term were thrown out.

The case appealed to the Supreme Court in December 2015 for its 2016 session, and arguments were heard last month. A decision on the legitimacy of tribal convictions is expected by late June.

Bryant is arguing that tribal court convictions should be treated as non-existent for the purposes of prosecution under federal law. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Bryant, this would damage the tribal court’s’ ability to protect Native women from repeat offenders.

Steven Babcock, Bryant’s lawyer, asserts that the use of prior convictions in prosecuting Bryant on new charges violated his constitutional right to an attorney. The justices were skeptical because Bryant never challenged his earlier convictions or prison sentences of up to a year. While the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel, the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 does not guarantee defendants an attorney provided by tribal courts unless the defendant faces a prison sentence of more than a year.

Elizabeth Prelogar, who’s representing the United States, pointed out that Bryant was represented by appointed counsel through his case and admitted guilt to all his prior convictions. She added that a previous Supreme Court ruling held that uncounseled convictions remain valid in determining when to classify a defendant as a repeat offender.

Tribal courts are necessary in ensuring public safety on Indian reservations, this case has the potential to delegitimize them to the point where the tribal courts wouldn’t be able to protect Native American women from being attacked by repeat offenders.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was amended in 2013 to allow tribal courts to prosecute non-Natives, also allows tribal convictions to count toward the number of offenses needed to be charged as a habitual offender. This helps protect Native women from abusers, which is much too common.

Forty-six percent of Native American women have been victims of domestic violence, rape, or stalking, according to the U.S. Center for Diseases Control and Prevention. Native American women face the highest rates of domestic violence — twice as much as women of any other race. It doesn’t help that tribal courts have been severely limited in handling such cases until the past three years.

VAWA has become crucial in the fight against domestic violence in Native communities because most abusers are non-Native men– who make up 86 percent of attackers in reported rape and sexual assault cases against Native American women– and could come back repeatedly and continue abusing Native American women without legal repercussions.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Bryant, then tribal court convictions would not be able to count towards habitual offender status, making it much easier for abusers to get away with their crimes in Native communities.


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