Saturday, August 30, 2008

Indians’ Water Rights Give Hope for Better Health

Published: August 30, 2008

GILA RIVER INDIAN COMMUNITY, Ariz. — More than a hundred years ago, the Gila River, siphoned off by farmers upstream, all but dried up here in the parched flats south of Phoenix, plunging an Indian community that had depended on it for centuries of farming into starvation and poverty.

If that was not bad enough, food rations sent by the federal government — white flour, lard, canned meats and other sugary, processed foods — conspired with the genetic anomalies of the Indians to sow an obesity epidemic that has left the reservation with among the highest rates of diabetes in the world.

Now, after decades of litigation that produced the largest water-rights settlement ever in Indian country, the Indians here are getting some of their water back. And with it has come the question: Can a healthier lifestyle lost generations ago be restored?

Reviving the farming tradition will prove difficult, many tribal members say, because the tribes, who number 20,000, including about 12,000 on the reservation, have not farmed on a big scale for generations. Fast food is a powerful lure particularly for the young, and the trend of late has been to move off the reservation, to work or live.

“Nobody wants to get out and get dirt under their fingernails,” said Pancratious Harvey, one of a handful of tribal members who began a community garden a couple of years ago.

Still, the garden, which is filled with vegetables that were once staples in the tribe’s diet, is a sign of enthusiasm for farming that members believe could spread as the water arrives.

On the reservation, the sound of earthmovers fills the air as workers repair dilapidated and abandoned irrigation canals and ditches and dig new ones to distribute billions of gallons of water that the community will soon be receiving.

The water settlement, involving the two principal tribes on the Gila River reservation — the Pima, who call themselves Akimel O’otham, or “river people,” and the Maricopa — as well as a related band, the Tohono O’odham Nation on the Mexican border, took effect this year, after being approved by Congress in 2004.

It will take several more years to complete the irrigation and related projects here, at a cost to the federal government of about $680 million, but when done it will allow the community to double the amount of farming, both an economic and cultural boon.

For the time being, the community garden, with squash, beans and other vegetables is just over two acres. “We’re relearning how to grow them,” said Ed Mendoza, one of the founders of the garden, the Vah-Ki Cooperative Garden. “People get sick with diabetes, they’re obese, and there are heart attacks and stress because we eat an American diet now. Beans regulate the highs and lows of sugar. Okra makes you healthy. You can eat this food and feel the spirit immediately.”

Elsewhere, several members are acquiring plots in hopes of growing traditional crops as well as more profitable ones like alfalfa. Gila River Farms, the largest tribal agriculture outfit, plans to double its farming, to some 35,000 acres, once the water begins flowing again.

Most of the water was diverted in the late 19th century, slowing the Gila River to a trickle. It was a startling turn of events for a tribe whose ancestors had thrived on the river for generations through an elaborate system of ditches and laterals, some of them still visible today.

The construction of the Coolidge Dam, completed in 1928, by the federal government was intended to restore some of the lost water, but the reservation never received enough to bring back farming in any big way. Later diversions also depleted the Salt River, which runs north of the reservation and helped support farming as well.

As the water disappeared and the Pima switched to government rations as their staple, obesity, alcoholism and diabetes exploded.

Where adult-onset diabetes was hardly present a century ago, it is now everywhere and has been the subject of decades of research by government scientists. More than half of the population over 25 has it, and a rising number of children are getting it.

Scientists have found the genetic makeup of the tribe leaves it predisposed to weight gain from sugary foods. That, coupled with the decline in activity from farming and the drop in the consumption of natural foods, probably explains the high rate of the disease, said Larry Sanders, a diabetes specialist on the reservation.

He said the Pima’s sister tribe in Mexico, which has kept up farming and eating off the land, has normal rates of the disease.

The Pima had long wanted the water back and by the late 1980s, buoyed by trends in water-rights laws and a new brand of reservation-born negotiators, serious talks began.

Water claims are usually complicated, hotly disputed affairs in the warm, dry West. Add in issues of Indian rights and sovereignty and it is perhaps not surprising that it took more than 30 years to reach the settlement.

It provides the reservation 653,500 acre-feet of water a year (an acre-foot is equivalent to about one family’s water use annually) coming from a mix of sources, with the Central Arizona Project tapping the Colorado River providing the biggest share. It also includes the $680 million to rebuild the irrigation system and to provide drainage, water monitoring and other benefits.

It may seem a staggering amount of water, but federal and state officials said the reservation might have gained much more had it prevailed in court. It had asked for two million acre-feet, for one thing, based in part on documented use of the river going back to the 16th century.

“It wasn’t a matter of if the tribes would win at trial,” said Gregg Houtz, the lead lawyer for the state’s Department of Water Resources in the settlement agreement. “It was a matter of how much.”

A big reason for settling, federal and state officials said, was to provide all sides certainty and clarity over how much water they will have now and in the coming decades. The reservation had already received or been promised about two-thirds of the water in the settlement, but, Mr. Houtz said, the additional water makes the Gila River Indians major water brokers as they lease some of it to cities and could vault the tribe to the top of farming in the state as well.

The reservation has discussed farming some 150,000 acres, 40 percent of its 372,000 acres, but it is planning to avoid large housing developments.

Said Rodney B. Lewis, the community’s former general counsel who helped negotiate the settlement, “we will be an island” amid suburban Phoenix’s sea of subdivisions.

The Gila River itself will remain largely dry; the water from the settlement will be delivered and distributed through a system of culverts and canals.

And it will take much effort to reverse the legacy of poor health, though programs abound, intended for the young and the old, to combat diabetes. Medical officials are particularly alarmed at a rise in the rate of the disease among the young.

Georgina Charles, 74, a diabetes sufferer, attends a regular exercise class for the elderly and says she watches what she eats, but acknowledges that she and others find it difficult to ignore detrimental food. One recent night she prepared traditional fry bread for a community event, substituting vegetable oil for the usual lard but laughing at the obvious.

“It’s not too good for us, but we eat it,” Ms. Charles said.

Just a few miles away, the community gardeners adjusted hoses as the weekly delivery of water arrived and took stock of their crops. The water they use comes from an underground aquifer, but they are contemplating how they might tap into the settlement water and promote natural foods.

Schoolchildren visit the garden and some of its produce ends up on tables at community functions but, members said, more needs to be done to take full advantage of the water.

“When we lost that water, we lost generations of farming,” said Janet Haskie, a community gardener. “Then people had the attitude like, ‘They owe us. I’m going to take these rations.’ So now we have to start over again, a little at a time.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Aurelius Piper Sr., 92, Paugussett Tribe Chief, Is Dead - Obituary (Obit)

TRUMBULL, Conn. (AP) — Aurelius H. Piper Sr., hereditary chief of the Golden Hill Paugussett Indian Tribe, died on Aug. 3 at the tribe’s reservation in Trumbull. He was 92.

His death was announced by tribal officials.

Mr. Piper, known as Big Eagle, was named chief in 1959 by his mother, Chieftess Rising Star, and later assumed responsibility for the tribe’s quarter-acre reservation in Trumbull.

Though small, the tribe, which has small reservations in Trumbull and Colchester, has been recognized by the State of Connecticut for more than 300 years. In 2004, however, the Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected the tribe’s request for federal recognition.

In the fight to be recognized, the Paugussetts filed claims to more than 700,000 acres of land, setting off a flurry of legal challenges. The land claims, which stretched from Middletown to Wilton and from Greenwich through lower Westchester County in New York, were eventually dropped, but could have been revived if the tribe had received federal recognition.

In 1993, Mr. Piper’s son Kenneth, also known as Moonface Bear, was the central figure in a 10-week armed standoff between state police and the Colchester faction of the tribe, over the sale of untaxed cigarettes on the reservation. Kenneth Piper died in 1996.

Mr. Piper traveled the world as a representative of the Golden Hill Tribe, Native Americans and other minority groups.

He served on many boards and commissions throughout Connecticut, fighting for the rights of American Indians and other minorities. He also served as a spiritual adviser to Native Americans in prison.

Mr. Piper served in the United States military during World War II, and took part in the troop landings in North Africa, according to the tribe.

He is survived by his wife, the former Marsha Conte; five children; and several stepchildren, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Recall Vote in Bolivia Seen as Win for Morales -

Published: August 10, 2008
COCHABAMBA, Bolivia — President Evo Morales seemed to have secured an easy victory in a recall referendum on Sunday, giving him a fresh mandate to advance efforts to redistribute petroleum royalties and private farmlands among the country’s impoverished indigenous majority.

Indigenous women stood in line to vote near the capital, La Paz. Mr. Morales seemed on his way to an easy victory in a recall referendum.
Reports on national television, citing preliminary vote counts, said that Mr. Morales, a former coca farmer whose pro-indigenous policies and alliance with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela have irritated the Bush administration, had won the referendum with 63.5 percent supporting his administration.

Mr. Morales won the presidency in 2005 with 53.7 percent of the vote.

While the early results pointed to strong support for Mr. Morales, they also revealed deep rifts in Bolivia, with voters rejecting by wide margins his policies in three prosperous lowland provinces and in Sucre, the seat of the judiciary. By contrast, Mr. Morales, an Aymara Indian, appeared to win handily in highland provinces where poor, indigenous voters predominate.

“More conflict seems to be forthcoming unless the government is wise enough to enter into dialogue” with Mr. Morales’s opponents, said Eduardo A. Gamarra, a Bolivian political scientist at Florida International University. “Given the history of conflict over the past two years, I don’t see this as occurring in the near term.”

Indeed, Mr. Morales seemed to show mixed interest in reconciliation while casting his vote Sunday morning near his small coca farm in the Chapare, a coca-growing area in central Bolivia. He told reporters that he would soon ask voters to approve a new Constitution, which would polarize the nation and has been rejected as illegally drafted by political opponents.

“We are deepening the process of change under way,” Mr. Morales said later Sunday. But he also said that he would respect the vote in areas where he lost.

In the days leading up the vote, protesters blockaded airport runways and prevented Mr. Morales from traveling to several regional capitals, reflecting the repudiation of his policies in petroleum-rich provinces, called departments, like Tarija and Santa Cruz. One opposition bastion, Sucre, has mounted a seemingly quixotic campaign to be named the country’s capital.

Heinz Dieterich, a political analyst in Mexico who writes widely on leftist movements in Latin America, summed up Mr. Morales’s situation as being “an exile in the majority of the provinces of his own land.”

“The de facto division of Bolivia into two countries” continues, Mr. Dieterich said in a recent essay, “until one of the two antagonistic powers is in a condition to deliver the decisive blow, to liquidate the other.”

The referendum originated in May in what now seems to be a self-defeating effort to remove Mr. Morales from office by Podemos, an opposition party whose influence has eroded.

Many voters here in Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third-largest city and the scene last year of street battles between the president’s followers and his critics, appeared ready to support Mr. Morales going forward, though with some hesitance.

“I don’t support all of his ideas, but Evo is our first indigenous president and should be given the chance to finish his term,” said Yovana Vélez, 25, a publicist. “The last thing we need is more upheaval, more chaos.”

Mr. Morales, 48, appears ready to use the referendum to proceed with policies that have enraged his political opponents, like the acceptance of tens of millions of dollars from Venezuela.

Over the weekend, Mr. Morales’s government said it had secured $225 million in financing from Venezuela and Iran to create a state cement company. The move would deal a blow to a top political rival who controls much of the country’s cement output.

The prefects, or governors, in several rebellious departments have a sharply different view of how Bolivia should develop. Their continuance in office was also part of the referendum on Sunday, with at least three of them winning by a wider margin than the president.

Some opposition leaders also showed little desire for reconciliation. “No to the big foreign monkeys!” Rubén Costas, governor of eastern Santa Cruz, shouted in a televised speech Sunday night, revealing some the racist language used to refer to Venezuela.

While these departments have stopped short of secession in recent months, they have moved forward with votes on statutes seeking greater autonomy, arguing with Mr. Morales over everything from the distribution of natural gas revenues to control over regional police forces.

Perhaps the most contentious issue has been Mr. Morales’s land reform project in Santa Cruz, the economically vibrant eastern department. Rich landowning families in the area have clashed with government officials seeking to distribute their landholdings to Aymara and Quechua Indian migrants.

Despite the apparent victories by some opposition governors, Mr. Morales’s hand was strengthened by the seeming defeat of two governors, in the capital, La Paz, and here in Cochabamba. Another governor, a supporter of Mr. Morales in Oruro department, also lost. Under the rules of the referendum, Mr. Morales can appoint their successors.

Signaling how the referendum may reignite tensions, the governor of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes, said the referendum itself was unconstitutional. “I go on being prefect of Cochabamba,” said Mr. Reyes on Sunday night.

Op-Ed Contributor - Broken Justice in Indian Country - Op-Ed -

Published: August 10, 2008
White River Junction, Vt.

ONE in three American Indian women will be raped in their lifetimes, statistics gathered by the United States Department of Justice show. But the odds of the crimes against them ever being prosecuted are low, largely because of the complex jurisdictional rules that operate on Indian lands. Approximately 275 Indian tribes have their own court systems, but federal law forbids them to prosecute non-Indians. Cases involving non-Indian offenders must be referred to federal or state prosecutors, who often lack the time and resources to pursue them.

The situation is unfair to Indian victims of all crimes — burglary, arson, assault, etc. But the problem is greatest in the realm of sexual violence because rapes and other sexual assaults on American Indian women are overwhelmingly interracial. More than 80 percent of Indian victims identify their attacker as non-Indian. (Sexual violence against white and African-American women, in contrast, is primarily intraracial.) And American Indian women who live on tribal lands are more than twice as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted as other women in the United States, Justice Department statistics show.

Rapes against American Indian women are also exceedingly violent; weapons are used at rates three times that for all other reported rapes.

Congress should step in and clearly establish the authority of Indian tribes to investigate and prosecute all crimes occurring on Indian lands — no matter whether tribal members or nonmembers are involved.

Historically, Indian tribes have exercised full authority over everyone within Indian lands. A number of the early federal treaties expressly noted a tribe’s power to punish non-Indians. Toward the latter part of the 19th-century, however, federal policy shifted away from tribal self-government in favor of an effort to dismantle tribal government systems. Criminal law enforcement, especially in cases involving non-Indians, increasingly came to be viewed as a federal or state matter.

Thirty years ago, the Supreme Court formalized the prohibition against tribes prosecuting non-Indians with its decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe. In this case, a Pacific Northwest tribe was attempting to try two non-Indian residents of the Port Madison Reservation for causing trouble during the annual Chief Seattle Days celebration — one for assaulting an officer and resisting arrest and the other for recklessly endangering another person and harming tribal property. The court held that the tribe, as a “domestic dependent nation,” did not possess the full measure of sovereignty enjoyed by states and the national government, especially when it came to the affairs of non-Indian citizens.

Then in 1990, the court extended its Oliphant ruling to cases involving tribal prosecution of Indian offenders who are not members of that tribe. Congress subsequently passed new legislation to reaffirm the power of tribes to prosecute non-member Indian offenders, but it left the Oliphant ruling intact.

This means that when non-Indian men commit acts of sexual violence against Indian women, federal or state prosecutors must fill the jurisdictional void. But law enforcement in sexual violence cases in Indian country is haphazard at best, recent studies show, and it rarely leads to prosecution and conviction of non-Indian offenders. The Department of Justice’s own records show that in 2006, prosecutors filed only 606 criminal cases in all of Indian country. With more than 560 federally recognized tribes, that works out to a little more than one criminal prosecution for each tribe.

Even if outside prosecutors had the time and resources to handle crimes on Indian land more efficiently, it would make better sense for tribal governments to have jurisdiction over all reservation-based crimes. Given their familiarity with the community, cultural norms and, in many cases, understanding of distinct tribal languages, tribal governments are in the best position to create appropriate law enforcement and health care responses — and to assure crime victims, especially victims of sexual violence, that a reported crime will be taken seriously and handled expeditiously.

Congress should enact legislation to overrule the Oliphant decision and reaffirm the tribes’ full criminal and civil authority over all activities on tribal lands. This law should also lift the sentencing constraints imposed in 1968 that restrict the criminal sentences that tribal courts can impose to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine. In cases of rape, state court sentences typically exceed 8 years, while federal sentences are more than 12 years. Tribes should have the latitude to impose comparable sanctions. (A bill pending in Congress would extend tribal sentencing authority to three years, with more latitude in cases of domestic violence, but its prospects of passage are uncertain.)

Congress recently allocated $750 million for enhancing public safety in Indian country. This money will help tribes hire and train more police, build detention facilities and augment federal investigative and prosecutorial capacity for Indian country crimes. Ideally, the grant process will be efficient enough to make sure that this money reaches the places most in need.

But financial aid will not be enough to stop sexual violence against Indian women. Tribal courts have grown in sophistication over the past 30 years, and they take seriously the work of administering justice. Congress must support their efforts by closing the legal gaps that allow violent criminals to roam Indian country unchecked.

N. Bruce Duthu, a professor of Native American studies at Dartmouth, is the author of “American Indians and the Law.”

Friday, August 08, 2008

Indians Gain a Slim Victory in Suit Against Government -

DENVER — For decades, American Indians have argued that the federal government swindled them under a trust account system created in the closing days of the American frontier more than 120 years ago.

On Thursday, a federal judge agreed, up to a point.

The judge, James Robertson of Federal District Court in Washington, ruled that the plaintiffs, however much they had prevailed in proving government failure, were entitled to only a fraction of the billions of dollars they sought. Judge Robertson said that trust law is applied differently to government trustees than it would be to private citizens, and that instead of the $48 billion that the descendants of the original trust holders claimed, the government was only liable for about $455 million.

“He basically accepted the government’s argument that not that much money is missing,” said Bill McAllister, a spokesman for the plaintiffs, who are led by a member of the Blackfoot tribe in Montana, Elouise Pepion Cobell. “He rejected our methodology and our theory of the case.”

Ms. Cobell said in a statement that lawyers were studying whether to appeal. Lawyers representing the Interior Department, the defendant, did not return a telephone call.

Judge Robertson did not actually order the government to pay; hearings on that question are scheduled for later this month. And he was scathing at times in describing how the case had illuminated government mismanagement, including a long trail of lost or destroyed records about money owed to Indians for timber leases, oil leases and other activities.

“Historical wrongs,” the judge wrote, “could have been — and should have been — settled by the same political branches in recognition of their own failure.”

But the judge disagreed with the argument by lawyers for an estimated 500,000 descendants of the original trust holders, who argued that the accounting should factor in how much the government improperly gained — by using the Indian money for its own benefit, in lower borrowing costs or interest earned, for example — over decades.

The class-action suit was filed in 1996 after other suits by Indian descendants were dismissed.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Energy Boom in West Threatens Indian Artifacts -

DOLORES, Colo. — The dusty documentation of the Anasazi Indians a thousand years ago, from their pit houses and kivas to the observatories from which they charted the heavens, lies thick in the ground near here at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

Or so archaeologists believe. Less than a fifth of the park has been surveyed for artifacts because of limited federal money.

Much more definite is that a giant new project to drill for carbon dioxide is gathering steam on the park’s eastern flank. Miles of green pipe snake along the roadways, as trucks ply the dirt roads from a big gas compressor station. About 80 percent of the monument’s 164,000 acres is leased for energy development.

The consequences of energy exploration for wildlife and air quality have long been contentious in unspoiled corners of the West. But now with the urgent push for even more energy, there are new worries that history and prehistory — much of it still unexplored or unknown — could be lost.

At Nine Mile Canyon in central Utah, truck exhaust on a road to the gas fields is posing a threat, environmentalists and Indian tribes say, to 2,000 years of rock art and imagery. In Montana, a coal-fired power plant has been proposed near Great Falls on one of the last wild sections of the Lewis and Clark trail. In New Mexico, a mining company has proposed reopening a uranium mine on Mount Taylor, a national forest site sacred to numerous Indian tribes.

“We’re caught in the middle between traditional culture and archaeological research and the valid existing rights of the oil and gas leaseholders,” said LouAnn Jacobson, an archaeologist by training and the manager of both the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and the Anasazi Heritage Center here in the four-corners area, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico touch.

Nationally, only about 20 percent of the 193-million-acre national forest system has been surveyed for historical or cultural content, according to a recent report by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. At the federal Bureau of Land Management, which oversees 261 million acres, including the monument here, the figure is only 3 percent.

Heightened awareness of the risk to historic sites has been fueled in part by the growing number of retirees like John Gwin who have flocked to retreats like Durango and Pagosa Springs in Colorado. Mr. Gwin, a burley former F.B.I. agent who has dedicated his retirement to the study and stewardship of the Anasazi landscape, said the region’s mix of ancient past and verdant nature was unmatched anywhere in his travels.

“I enjoy being out there, being quiet and appreciating the people who lived there 1,000 years ago — imagining what Chimney Rock meant to them,” said Mr. Gwin, who leads tours as an unpaid volunteer for the federal Forest Service at the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area, about an hour east of here.

But population growth has also brought people who are not so reverent. Instances of vandalism and illegal raids for relics — as more footprints are found leading out into once-silent Indian mounds — have risen sharply in the last few years, though few offenders are caught.

Federal land managers, tribal leaders and archaeologists call it piling on. Energy companies build roads for access to their drill pads. But then expanding populations, many of them riding off-road vehicles, use those roads for exploration or exploitation. What was once remote becomes less so, and harder than ever to defend for future generations.

“Multiple use worked for a while, but now the uses are in the same place,” said Terry Morgart, a legal researcher for the Hopi tribe in Arizona. “You can’t have recreation, cultural resources, energy development and cell towers all on the same spot. I think the agencies are aware of these conflicts, but because they’re stuck with these archaic laws, they’re between a rock and a hard place.”

Indian leaders, who link modern tribal populations in the Southwest to the ancestral Anasazi, have mounted a campaign to stop the local exploration for carbon dioxide, which would be used to help rejuvenate old oil fields that are now stirring to life in Texas and elsewhere as oil prices soar.

“Fencing dozens of sites for the facilitation of energy development is not what we had in mind when we supported the designation of the monument,” said Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma, the director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, in a letter in April to federal agencies.