Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn

Eight Not to Be Forgotten Stories from 2014

Gale Courey Toensing

This past year was filled with stories that pushed government-to-government and tribal sovereignty forward for Indian country. The year was filled with ups and downs across Turtle Island as well, with a handful of stories that made headlines and should not be forgotten moving into 2015. Below are eight topics to watch as 2015 nears:

Indian Gaming Tops $28.1B in 2014

The Indian gaming industry across the country continued to grow in 2014 with a 2 percent increase in revenue to more than $28.1 billion, according to Casino City's Indian Gaming Industry Report.

Calendar year 2014 was the third straight year of growth since 2009 when Indian gaming revenue dropped by one percent – the only revenue decline the industry has experienced since it was launched by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988.

No Aloha: Native Hawaiians Just Say No

The Interior Department asked in a press release if the United States and the Native Hawaiian community should enter into a government-to-government relationship.

Judging from the response of Native Hawaiians at a meeting with Interior officials in Honolulu June 23, the answer was a resounding “No.”

With a rapidly growing nationalist or sovereignty movement in Hawaii, an overwhelming majority of Native Hawaiians at the emotionally charged meeting expressed anger and mistrust of the federal government with many saying a government-to-government relationship with the U.S. would end their quest to restore their country to the status of a sovereign independent nation – the way it was before the U.S. overthrew its government and Hawaii became the 50th state.

RELATED: No Aloha: Native Hawaiians Against Interior’s Relationship Proposal

‘Racism Is Central’ in Maine

The new report was co-written by Jamie Bissonette Lewey, chair of the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC) and Commissioner Dr. Gail Dana-Sacco and researched by MITSC Executive Director John Dieffenbacher-Krall. MITSC was created by the Settlement Act and mandated, among other things, with continually reviewing the effectiveness of the Maine Implementing Act.

The report documents the tribal-state conflict surfacing as early as 1984. It remained unresolved and was included in a 1997 report by a Task Force on Tribal-State Relations called At Loggerheads – the State of Maine and the Wabanaki on the relationship between the Wabanaki nations and the state. That report found racism to be at the core of the troubled tribal-state relationship. “Racism is experienced by the Wabanaki, but generally is not recognized by the majority society,” the 1997 report noted. MITSC’s current report says the issue of racism has not only persisted; it is “central” to the tribal-state conflict.

RELATED: ‘Racism Is Central’ to Tribal Conflict with Maine, Says Report

Washburn Hears Frustration

Tempers flared at a July public discussion about proposed rules for tribal recognition that would allow certain third parties to veto a tribe’s ability to re-petition for federal status.

The so-called “third-party veto” was the flashpoint of a three and one-half hour forum held at the Mashpee Wampanoag’s new government offices and community center on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn conducted the meeting. A proposal to revise the federal recognition regulation gives third parties involved in litigation with tribes absolute power to prohibit them from re-petitioning under the new rules.

When Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation Chairman Dennis Jenkins spoke against the provision, many in the crowd of approximately 100 cheered, whooped and whistled.

“This is not only morally reprehensible; it is also arbitrary and capricious and not in accordance with the laws of the United States,” Jenkins said. “It is the worst kind of modern day genocide.

RELATED: Washburn Hears Frustration, Anger Over Third Party Fed Rec Veto

Free Speech Firestorm

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne fired a tenured professor in the American Indian Studies program after he tweeted comments criticizing Israel and its actions in Gaza. The firing has provoked a backlash of opposition from thousands of scholars over free speech and academic freedom and promises to boycott the university.

Dr. Steven Salaita is a Palestinian American scholar in Native American studies, who has done groundbreaking work in comparative analysis of the Native American and Palestinian peoples’ experiences. He was scheduled to begin work at UIUC on August 16. But on August 1, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne (UIUC) Chancellor Phyllis Wise emailed that he would not have the job after all. Wise said that the board of trustees was unlikely to approve Salaita’s appointment so she would not forward it to them. [Salaita had signed the job contract the previous fall.]

RELATED: Free Speech Firestorm Follows American Indian Studies Professor’s Firing

Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Speaks to ICTMN

In September a day after the historic Peoples’ Climate March on the morning when the United Nations General Assembly opened its 69th regular session with the first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn met with some of us here at ICTMN for a few hours in an interview. ICTMN's panel consisted of Ray Halbritter, Publisher; Gale Courey Toensing, staff reporter as moderator; Ray Cook, Opinions Editor; Valerie Taliman, West Coast Editor; and Simon Moya-Smith, Correspondent. These three pieces are the result of that meeting:

RELATED: BIA Head Kevin Washburn Speaks to ICTMN about One of the Toughest Jobs in Government

RELATED: BIA Head Kevin Washburn Speaks to ICTMN About NCAI, Federal Recognition and More

RELATED: BIA Head Kevin Washburn Speaks to ICTMN about Bay Mills and the Need to Resolve Water Rights

‘Test us – you’ll see an Indian uprising’

The day after Keystone’s [November 21] narrow defeat in the Senate and the Republicans’ vow to push it through the next session, Rosebud Sioux President Cyril Scott told National Native News that he doesn’t want violence but he promises that Lakota warriors camping out at the Keystone site are prepared to halt construction by any means necessary.

“We drew a line in the sand. Test us – you’ll see an Indian uprising. The last one was the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the United States government lost one of their great generals that day,” Scott said. ”Let’s see who Keystone XL loses.”

RELATED: Rosebud Leader on Keystone: ‘Test Us – You’ll See an Indian Uprising’

Saginaw Chippewa Appeals NLRB Pro-Union Ruling

In an ongoing battle between tribal sovereignty and federal labor law, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe is challenging the National Labor Relations Board’s claim that it has jurisdiction over the tribes’ employees at Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort. The case could potentially impact all of Indian country.

On October 27 the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a decision ordering the tribe to rehire an employee who had been fired for union organizing, give her four years of back pay, and post notices in the workplace admitting it had violated federal labor law and reiterating employees’ rights to unionize. The board claims jurisdiction over the employees because it claims, among other things, that the tribe is engaged in interstate commerce. The tribe does not acknowledge the board’s authority and refuses to abide by the order, Frank Cloutier, the tribe’s spokesman and an enrolled member, told ICTMN.

“The tribe has filed an appeal in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and that case is currently pending,” Cloutier said. The case could ultimately end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

RELATED: Saginaw Chippewa Appeals NLRB Pro-Union Ruling

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