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Thunderbird Strategic LLC

Customized and Focused Washington, DC Advocacy and Communications

An American Indian Owned and Operated Business

Knowledge provides us with the power to help others, in a variety of ways. It is also something that is good for our own self esteem. In addition, knowledge imbues us with authority and enables us to act and interact with others in a more moral way. It's important for all decision makers to have up to date information on current events. Knowledge drives change, and in order to fill the toolbox of those seeking to effectuate change, the Thunderbird Strategic team will keep our clients abreast of current events. Knowledge is power.  

Podcast Series: American Indian Advocacy: Strengthening Tribal Sovereignty

Thunderbird Strategic Launches its Podcast Series: American Indian Advocacy: Strengthening Tribal Sovereignty

(January 21, 2021)

The Thunderbird Strategic Team is excited to announce the publishing of Episode 1 of tis podcast series titled, American Indian Advocacy: Strengthening Tribal Sovereignty. The episodes will provide tribal leaders with information of what's occurring in Washington DC that impacts Indian Country. The episodes will roll out about every two weeks.  

Click on the above image to access the podcast.

News & Events

Detroit News: First lady Jill Biden visits Saginaw Chippewa center to discuss youth mental health

Arizona Capitol Times: Ducey gives tribe $30M for water rights

NYTs: Can This Tribe of ‘Salmon People’ Pull Off One More Win?

WaPo (April article): Canada’s Supreme Court says some Native Americans who are not Canadian citizens can hunt in British Columbia

Grist: EPA finally has an action plan to improve water infrastructure and sanitation for US tribes

AP: Oklahoma court adds Quapaw Nation to those covered by McGirt ruling

Curbed: A Lenape Tribe Finally Wrests Its Sacred Site Back from Developers

AZ Central: Indigenous peoples seek greater voice and more influence at COP26 climate conference

NYTs: How Is ‘Dune’ So Prescient About Climate Change? Thank This Native American Tribe.

KTAR: Apaches ask appeals court to oppose transfer of Arizona land

The Hill: Human rights panel will hear case claiming US regulators violated Navajo tribe’s rights: report

Tulsa World: Tulsa, Owasso join state in seeking to overturn McGirt ruling

Great Lakes Now: Enbridge temporarily stops Michigan pipeline due to protests

NYTs: Film Club: ‘A Conversation With Native Americans on Race’

Salt Lake Tribune: Survivors see a link between Indigenous boarding schools’ harsh discipline and later domestic violence

Keloland: South Dakota ACLU says Dept. of Education may have violated federal and constitutional law by removing elements of Native American culture

 and history from draft of state social studies standards

NYTs: “‘‘A Sadness I Can’t Carry’: The Story Of The Drum“

Guardian: “Native American tribes enforce mask mandates regardless of state bans“

Native America Calling: “Revisiting the idea of reparations“

Roll Call: “Biden breaks pledge to Indian Country by keeping wolves off endangered list“

WaPo: “A push to get more recognition for Native Americans who once called D.C. home”

Popsugar: “Stoodis! Reservation Dogs Has Officially Been Renewed For a Second Season”

First Ever Water Shortage Declared on the Colorado River

Federal officials ordered the first-ever water cuts on the Colorado River system that sustains 40 million people, the latest blow from a decades-long drought across the U.S. West that has shrunk reservoirs to historic lows, devastated farms and set the stage for deadly forest fires. The move will deal a harsh setback to Arizona farmers, who will suffer the largest cuts. Water deliveries to Nevada and Mexico will drop as well under a system hammered out in 2019 by the communities that rely on the river. And with the possibility of another dry La Nina winter looming, more reductions could follow.

Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the Department of Interior in a press release stated “Like much of the West, and across our connected basins, the Colorado River is facing unprecedented and accelerating challenges, [and] the only way to address these challenges and climate change is to utilize the best available science and to work cooperatively across the landscapes and communities that rely on the Colorado River.”

The Colorado, running 1,450 miles (2,330 kilometers) from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, is a primary water source from Denver to Los Angeles, while also irrigating crops and supplying hydropower plants. So much water is taken out of the Colorado, in fact, that it rarely ever makes it to its historical delta in the Gulf of California, even in relatively wet years. 

And such years have grown scarce as a “megadrought,” a dry period of unusual length and severity, grips the West. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the amount of water flowing unregulated into the river’s Lake Powell from 2000 to 2020 was lower than in any other 21-year period since the reservoir’s inception.  The water level at Lake Powell now stands at 3,551 feet above sea level, or just 32% of capacity. At Lake Mead, it’s at 1,068 feet above sea level, or 35% of capacity.

Both reservoirs are close to a point once considered unthinkable -- where the flow is so small that hydropower dams are forced to shut. Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam, for example, can’t generate electricity if the water level drops below 3,491 feet.  Rights to use the Colorado’s water are governed by nearly a century of agreements among states, the U.S. government and Mexico, a legal edifice collectively known as the Law of the River. The Bureau of Reclamation on Monday declared a Tier 1 shortage.

Arizona’s annual allotment will be cut by 18% starting next year. Nevada and the nation of Mexico will incur reductions of 7% and 5%, respectively. (The other states that draw water from the river are California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.). Arizona’s reduction will be equivalent to the amount used by about 1 million average households in a year. The cuts will not affect any municipal, industrial, commercial or tribal users. Instead, almost all the cutbacks will fall on farms that receive their water from the Central Arizona Project.

The rationing will likely hit hardest in Arizona's Pinal County, where farmers tend to have the most junior water rights. Farms there will have to let lands go fallow or rely on groundwater that’s already over pumped. While Arizona is trying to cushion the blow by building out groundwater infrastructure, some observers say the cuts will provoke litigation.

Drought in the Southwest has burdened farmers in desperate need of water to grow cotton, corn, barley and alfalfa in the desert. Pinal County farmers have previously said they expected deliveries from the Colorado River to drop by half next year and disappear altogether in 2023.  Should the drought continue next year, California could face supply reductions if Lake Mead falls below 1,045 feet.  Forecasting suggests that’s a strong possibility. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center last week forecast a 62% chance that the La Nina phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean will return this autumn, its second appearance in two years. La Nina typically brings dry winters to the Southwest. And while the summer monsoon season this year has brought frequent thunderstorms, they have not made a dent in the drought.

Culture and Tradition

Coalition wants 'misleading' statue removed at NSU (Tahlequah Daily Press) 5/24/21

Lawmakers focus on justice reform, racist mascots (Indian Country Today) 5/24/21

Petroglyph vandalism is not a victimless crime (High Country News) 5/24/21

Colonization’s dark history puts heavy burden on tribes seeking repatriation of remains, objects (Alaska Public Media) 5/21/21

Bill would prohibit export of sacred tribal items (The Cordova Times) 5/20/21

Cherokee Nation breaks ground on historic Durbin Feeling Language Center (Native News Online) 5/19/21


Regalia seized at Anchorage graduation ceremony forces school district to look deeper (Native News Online) 5/21/21

Environment and Energy

Enbridge pipeline showdown looms in Michigan (Indian Country Today) 5/23/21

Health and Welfare

Indigenous healthcare professional and student discuss their journeys in the healthcare field (The Daily Northwestern) 5/26/21

The fight for racial justice in Montana, one year out (High Country News) 5/26/21

Bipartisan bill brings long-overdue boost to urban Indian health providers (Indianz) 5/25/21

Racial disparities persist in vaccinations (Indian Country Today) 5/24/21

Health care is paid for with treaty land… and then some (Indianz) 5/24/21

Protocol will help guide Indigenous knowledges and data collecting, sharing, interpretation and storage (Turtle Island News) 5/24/21

The Lakota are building an equitable food future for their tribe (Dothan Eagle) 5/24/21

ICWA: Reclaiming Indigenous identity (Indian Country Today) 5/19/21


Washington State Tribal Coalition passes unprecendented climate change bill, puts consent instead of consultation into law (Indianz) 5/21/21

Washington tribal leaders, legislators slam Inslee over vetoes in climate bills (The Seattle Times) 5/21/21

Land and Water

The Gila River Indian Community innovates for a drought-ridden future (Casa Grande Dispatch) 5/24/21

Gov. Noem's Mount Rushmore lawsuit sparks legal fight with tribe (Rapid City Journal) 5/19/21

Recognition and Enrollment

Act providing State recognition of Alaska Native Tribes passes House of Representatives (Alaska Native News) 5/19/21

Sacred Places

In new ad campaign, tribal coalition urges Biden to ‘restore and expand’ Bears Ears monument (The Salt Lake Tribune) 5/24/21

Looking through the telescope (Indian Country Today) 5/24/21

House Passes Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act

(March 25, 2021)

On March 17, 2021, the U.S. House voted (244-172) to reauthorize for five years grant programs in the Justice and Health and Human Services departments to prevent and respond to violent crimes, such as domestic abuse and sexual assault.

The measure would authorize the following annual amounts through fiscal 2026:

  • $222 million for STOP Grants to support law enforcement, victim services, legal assistance, and data collection in domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking cases.
  • $110 million for grants to support rape prevention and education programs through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At least 15% of funds would be allocated to state, territorial, and tribal sexual assault coalitions for coordinating prevention activities.
  • $75 million for grants to private nonprofit entities, tribal governments, and publicly funded organizations such as law schools to provide legal assistance to victims, including dependents.
  • $73 million for grants to aid state, local, and tribal governments for improvements and alternatives to criminal justice response efforts.
  • $60 million for grants to create and expand rape crisis centers and other nongovernmental or tribal programs for sexual assault victims.

The bill would clarify that American Indian tribes have jurisdiction over non-American Indian perpetrators of certain crimes that occur on their land. The crimes would include domestic violence, dating violence, obstruction of justice, sexual violence, stalking, sex trafficking, child violence, and assault of a law enforcement or corrections officer.

The Justice Department could award grants to tribes to improve enforcement of special tribal criminal jurisdiction, including to create a pilot project that allows as many as five Alaskan tribes to exercise such jurisdiction. DOJ also would be authorized to reimburse tribal governments for enforcement-related expenses. The measure would authorize $7 million annually through fiscal 2026 for the grants, reimbursements, and other assistance. Tribal law enforcement entities would be allowed to access and enter information into federal criminal information databases. The measure would authorize $3 million annually through fiscal 2026 to increase the capacity of tribal governments to access such databases.

Grijalva Re-introduces Save Oak Flat Bill

(March 25, 2021)

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) reintroduced legislation this week to permanently protect a sacred Apache site in the state from a mining company that's planning to build a copper mine there. Chairman Grijalva introduced the Save Oak Flat Act on March 15, 2021 to provide permanent protection for Oak Flat, or Chi'chil Bildagoteel, in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. The congressman also introduced the act in 2015, 2017 and 2019; it's never made it to a House floor vote.

Oak Flat, utilized for religious and traditional ceremonies, is considered a sacred place for many Apache tribes, including the San Carlos Apache, which has been fighting the Resolution Copper project for years. Led by mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP, Resolution Copper would use Oak Flat land for an underground mine.

The reintroduction of the bill comes two weeks after the Biden administration, facing mounting pressure from activists, paused to transfer more than 2,400 acres of Oak Flat to Resolution Copper as part of a land exchange that was completed during the waning days of the Trump administration.

The land exchange was paused by the US Forest Service at the direction of the US Department of Agriculture, which said it wanted more time to review the concerns raised by tribes and the public, as well as to determine the mining project's impacts on environmental resources and to ensure the agency's compliance with federal law.

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante Further Protected

(March 23, 2021)

A federal district judge on Monday stayed litigation over the fate of two Utah national monuments, giving the Biden administration time to review a 2017 decision by then-President Donald Trump to shrink the size of the areas. The court’s indefinite stay affects Bears Ears monument cases, including Hopi Tribe v. Trump and Grand Staircase-Escalante lawsuits, including Wilderness Society v. Trump.

Both monuments, which hold deposits of coal and other minerals, have been politically contentious since they were created—Bears Ears in 2016 and Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996—under the Antiquities Act. Utah and Republican lawmakers oppose mining, grazing and recreation restrictions within monument areas. Trump shrank Bears Ears to about 200,000 acres from the 1.4 million set aside by then-President Barack Obama and cut Grand Staircase-Escalante by nearly half.

Biden issued a January order requiring Interior to review the action and recommend by later this month possible ways to restore the original boundaries. Five regional Native American tribes, which manage Bears Ears in cooperation with Interior, want Biden to expand the monument beyond the original size. Recently, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) sent a letter to the White House demanding that the Bear Ears boundaries reduced by the Trump Administration stays in place.

House passes bill that amends the National Labor Relations Act: What does it mean for Tribal Sovereignty?

(March 16, 2021)

Yesterday, primarily on party lines, the House passed a bill that would expand protections for private sector workers’ right to unionize. The PRO Act (H.R. 842) would amend the National Labor Relations Act to strengthen workers’ rights to organize and win union contracts. It has support from all but a handful of Democrats, as well as from several House Republicans.

The bill, which is endorsed by Biden, would bar state right-to-work laws, crack down on employer retaliation against union organizing drives, and force companies to recognize many independent contractors like gig workers as employees, among a slate of other legislation sought by labor groups. In the Senate, the filibuster rule — which would require the measure to have some Republican backing — could doom it.

This bill raises many questions and concerns with Indian Country’s strong desire to have tribal gaming facilities and business, on tribal lands, be afforded the same protections and consideration that states possess.

The bill would modify federal labor laws to:

  • Allow unions and employers to negotiate agreements that would require bargaining unit employees to pay for costs of representation.
  • Bar employers from discriminating against workers who strike.
  • Impose penalties on employers for violating workers’ rights.
  • Change the criteria used to classify someone as an employee or independent contractor.

The measure would also authorize “such sums as may be necessary” to implement its provisions. It also includes a severability clause stipulating that a court decision rendering any portion of the bill invalid wouldn’t affect its other provisions. The bill would preempt state “right-to-work” laws that generally prohibit agreements between unions and employers that require workers who aren’t union members but benefit from collective bargaining to pay dues or fees. Currently, there are 28 states with such laws in addition to some Indian Tribes.

The measure would allow collective bargaining agreements to require all bargaining unit employees to pay fees to cover the costs of union activities as a condition of employment. The bill would stipulate that strikes couldn’t be prohibited based on their “duration, scope, frequency, or intermittence.” It would repeal existing restrictions on unions engaging in “secondary” picketing, strikes, or boycotts with workers from another union.

The measure also would designate several activities as unfair labor practices, effectively prohibiting them under the National Labor Relations Act, including:

  • Permanently replacing or discriminating against an employee who strikes.
  • Locking out or otherwise withholding employment to influence employees’ position in collective bargaining before a strike.
  • Misclassifying an employee covered by the NLRA.
  • Requiring employees to attend employer campaign activities unrelated to their job.

The National Labor Relations Board, the independent agency responsible for addressing collective bargaining and unfair labor practices, would have to award lost wages and damages to employees who have been discharged or suffered serious economic harm because of an employer’s violation of the NLRA. The bill also would allow additional amounts as liquidated damages in such cases.

Relief couldn’t be denied to workers on the basis that they are residing in the U.S. illegally. The change would effectively overturn the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB. In that case, the court held that the NLRB couldn’t order reinstatement or award lost earnings to those workers because their employment violated federal law.

Federal district courts would have to grant temporary relief to employees who were terminated or significantly affected by an employer’s interference with their labor rights, unless the court rules that there isn’t a reasonable likelihood that the claim will succeed.

Employees could bring a civil action against an employer in a federal district court after 60 days of filing a claim with the NLRB for labor rights violations. A court could award an employee any lost wages, damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

The bill also would effectively overturn a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Epic Systems v. Lewis, which held that employers could enforce arbitration agreements with class-action waivers. It would bar employers from enforcing a pre-dispute agreement that requires an employee to waive their right to support work-related class actions, as well as retaliating against an employee for opposing the waiver.

Under the bill, the NLRB would be authorized to impose penalties on employers for each NLRA violation, including as much as:

  • $50,000 if an employer’s violation results in discharge or other serious economic harm to a worker. The board could double the penalty to as much as $100,000 for multiple violations in the preceding five years.
  • $500 if an employer doesn’t post a notice of employee rights and protections, inform new employees of such information, or submit the bargaining unit voter list.

Under current law, when employees file a petition with the NLRB to certify a union as their bargaining representative, employers are considered a party to the proceedings. The measure would remove the employer’s standing and require the board to consider a union’s proposed bargaining unit to be appropriate if its employees share a “community of interest” that’s sufficiently distinct from employees outside the unit. The measure would require employers to provide unions with a list of all bargaining unit employees within two business days after the board approves an election.

The board would be permitted to certify a union and issue an order that requires an employer to begin collective bargaining when a majority of employees in the unit have voted in favor of the union, or if they haven’t voted in favor of the union because of election interference by an employer but signed authorization cards designating the union as their representative.

Following a union’s certification as the employees’ bargaining representative, the employer and union would have to meet and negotiate an initial collective bargaining agreement within 10 days of the union’s written request, or within an additional period agreed to by the parties.

Accurate FCC Maps on Broadband & Spectrum Coverage

(March 20, 2021)

U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and John Thune, R-S.D., ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, along with U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Robert Latta (R-OH), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, today sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel inquiring about the agency’s status on completing its mapping process to ensure accurate broadband data collection.

The letter stated in part: “The United States faces a persistent digital divide. The pandemic has made connectivity more important than ever, yet millions of Americans continue to live without high-speed broadband. Any delay in creating new maps would delay funding opportunities for unserved households, meaning they will have to wait even longer to access the economic and social opportunities broadband provides. The effect of this delay is especially troubling given your assertion last year that the FCC should reduce funding for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction until the agency produces new maps. Such a decision would create additional delays to broadband deployment for millions of Americans.”

The letter goes on further to outline the following demands: “Producing accurate broadband maps in an efficient way is critical to ensuring all Americans enjoy the benefits of broadband. Congress must ensure that the FCC gets this right. We therefore ask that your staff provide us with a quarterly briefing on the status of this implementation. Additionally, we ask that you provide the following information no later than March 22, 2021:

  1. Detailed information on why your estimated timeline for completing new maps has changed from three-to-six months to at least one year.
  2. A detailed timeline for the development of new maps.
  3. Any steps you plan to take to expedite the timeline for completing new maps.
  4. Detailed information on whether the contracting process required by statute will affect the timeline for completing the first new map. Please also provide the anticipated dates for completing the contracting process and development of the IT platforms for the collected data.
  5. A detailed breakdown of how the FCC plans to spend the $98 million Congress provided for the development of new maps.
  6. Detailed information on whether the revised timeline will delay planned subsidy disbursements, including the 5G Fund and the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase II Auction.
  7. A detailed plan for how the Commission plans to incorporate its biannual data collections in a timely manner to ensure broadband maps remain up-to-date over time.
  8. Detailed information on how the FCC, as required by law, is coordinating with the NTIA and using NTIA’s National Broadband Availability Map to inform the Commission’s broadband mapping efforts. Please include information on the FCC’s actions to coordinate with NTIA on their Broadband Infrastructure Program, and the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.”

Indian Country, which continues to be the most underserved communities in the country when it comes to access to the broadband, has always been concerned regarding FCC map accuracy. The effort, and letter, signals a positive movement, that without questions who provide data helpful for broadband tribal advocacy.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to Vote on Haaland Nomination on March 4th

(March 3, 2021)

In a very positive sign for Indian Country, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (ENR) has announced that it will move forward with Rep. Haaland's nomination for Secretary of the Interior on Thursday, March 4 at 10:00 AM. ENR Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) recently stating that he would support Haaland's nomination, along with the calling for this committee vote, is a strong signal she will have the necessary support in the Committee to move forward. Once ENR votes Haaland "out of Committee," her nomination will be eligible for a vote by the full Senate.

Biden Administration listens to Tribes, and pulls environmental review that would have triggered a land exchange

(March 3, 2021)

Citing the Presidential Memorandum signed by President Joe Biden on Jan. 26 on tribal consultation and strengthening nation to nation relationships, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) has put on hold the transfer of 5,439 acres of high-value conservation land in Arizona to Resolution Copper.

The acres include Chich’il Bildagoteel, known as Oak Flat, which is the heart of several southwest tribal religious and cultural beliefs.

During the last days of the Trump administration, federal officials attempted to speed up the transfer to Resolution Copper that would mine the land. On January 15, 2021, five days before Trump left the presidency, the Tonto National Forest released the Resolution Copper Project Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and draft Record of Decision (ROD) for objection. In the time since these documents were released, the agency and USDA have received significant input from collaborators, partners, and the public through a variety of means, all noting the significant legal deficiencies with the contents and findings in the published Final Environmental Impact Study. After a review, the Biden administration’s USDA paused the findings of the Trump administration.

Interior Rolls Back Trump Changes to Conservation Progaam

(February 15, 2021)

The Interior Department rescinded changes to a major conservation program after a bipartisan group of lawmakers pushed against last-minute moves by former Secretary David Bernhardt.

  • New secretarial order revokes restrictions Bernhardt put on the federal land acquisition portion of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in implementing the Great American Outdoors Act.
  • Bernhardt also had shifted some funds to bolster the state-side program; the new order reverses that
  • Department directive restores Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program Congress created in 2014 to increase green space and outdoor access in urban, underserved communities.
  • NOTE: Letter from 90 House Democrats and Republicans to Interior Wednesday asked the department to reverse the Trump-era changes, saying they’re “inconsistent with statute and contradict Congress’s express intent.”

New legislation aimed at delivering $5 billion in direct relief to Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic farmers and other agricultural producers of color to help them respond to the devastating consequences of the pandemic and resulting economic downturn, as well as address longstanding inequity in agriculture.

(February 15, 2021)

Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) has wasted no time in getting involved in the 117th Congress. Last week he introduced the Emergency Relief for Famers of Color Act (S.278) that would provide $5 billion to Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and other farmers of color. Of the $5 billion, $4 billion would be sent to farmers in direct relief payments to help them pay off outstanding USDA farm loan debts and related taxes. The money will also go to minority farmers suffering from the pandemic. Warnock is trying to get his bill included in President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

The legislation provides $4 billion in direct relief payments to help farmers of color pay-off outstanding USDA farm loan debts and related taxes, and help them respond to the economic impacts of the pandemic. The legislation also provides another $1 billion fund to support activities at USDA that will root out systemic racism, provide technical and legal assistance to agricultural communities of color, and fund under- resourced programs that will shape the future for farmers and communities of color. Specifically, this $1 billion fund will include:

  • Grants and loans to improve land access & address heirs’ property issues;
  • Support for one or more legal centers focused on agricultural legal issues of farmers of color;
  • Pilot projects that focus on land acquisition, financial planning, technical assistance, and credit;
  • A racial equity commission and related activities to address systemic racism across USDA;
  • Support for research, education, and extension at HBCUs and other institutions of higher education that historically serve communities of color;
  • Scholarships at 1890’s land grant universities and for indigenous students attending land grant institutions;
  • Outreach, mediation, financial training, capacity building training, cooperative development training and support, and other technical assistance; and
  • Assistance to farmers, ranchers, or forest landowners of color that are former farm loan borrowers and suffered related adverse actions, or past discrimination or bias.

Democrats Push for New Money in Job Training

(February 1, 2021)

Congressional Democrats introduced legislation in the 11th Congress that would authorize $15 billion for workforce development purposes like on-the-job training and registered apprenticeships. The Relaunching America's Workforce Act includes $150 million to Indian Country under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). It also affords Tribal Colleges and Universities access to competitive grant funding.

The purpose of Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Native American programs in Section 166 is to support employment and training activities for American Indians in order to (1) develop more fully the academic, occupational, and literacy skills of such individuals; (2) make such individuals more competitive in the workforce and to equip them with entrepreneurial skills necessary for successful self-employment; and (3) promote the economic and social development of American Indian communities in accordance with the goals and values of such communities. The principal means of accomplishing these purposes is to enable tribes and Native American organizations to provide employment and training services to Native Americans and their communities. Services should be provided in a culturally appropriate manner, consistent with the principles of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 450 et seq.). (WIOA sec. 166(a)(2)).

Biden’s Health Equity Task Force to Spotlight Social Disparities

(February 1, 2021)

President Joe Biden is taking the first step into addressing this problem with a health equity task force that will provide specific recommendations on mitigating and preventing health inequities in underserved and minority communities. The group, which has a leader but whose other members have yet to be announced, will focus its recommendations on allocating Covid-19 resources fairly, equitably disbursing relief funds, collecting demographic data, and ensuring there is culturally aware communication to hard-hit communities. This is comforting news for Indian Country, as the American Indian experienced a death rate at 3.5x the national average, and hospitalization rates at 5.2x the national average.

Handling the health and economic effects of the coronavirus remains the top priority for tribes. In the first Covid-19 package Congress passed last March, tribes received $8 billion in direct aid. It was less than the $20 billion sought by the Congressional Native American Caucus — co-chaired by Representatives Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) — but more than the $3 billion White House counteroffer.

However, problems with how the Treasury Department calculated the amounts to disburse left hundreds of tribes shortchanged. Restrictions on how the money could be used further caused problems in getting the money to where it is needed most. In addition to more money, they’re also seeking a fix to those issues in a new package now being considered by Congress. The aid it received last year couldn’t be used for revenue replacement, which has hurt tribal governments that, unlike municipalities, don’t have a tax base and depend on their own businesses, many of which were shut down due to the pandemic.

South Dakota House Bill to Move Office of Indian Education to DOE fails

(February 1, 2021)

South Dakota House Bill 1044, which would transfer the Office of Indian Education to the Department of Education, was effectively killed in the House Education committee last Wednesday after it was moved to the 41st legislative day.

The Office of Indian Education used to be under the Department of Education until Gov. Kristi Noem signed an executive order moving the office to the Department of Tribal Relations in 2019. This office was established to assist the Secretary of Education, working in conjunction with the Indian Education Advisory Council, to address the educational challenges that face Native American students in South Dakota. It works to identify strategies that aim to close the achievement gap between Native and non-Native students; promote educational models that are culturally relevant; and create partnerships between public schools, the Bureau of Indian Education and tribal schools, according to its webpage.

The bill, sponsored by all the representatives and senators on the Committee of State-Tribal Relations, came at the request of tribal education directors statewide. Chair of the State-Tribal Relations Committee Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, D-Mission, gave proponent testimony that the committee vetted the bill and took testimony from people on both sides. Bordeaux said the bill would simply put the Office of Indian Education back where it belongs.

Early Biden Actions Signal Good News for Indian Country:

Bears Ears Boundary Review/Revoking of Permit for Keystone XL Pipeline

(January 20, 2021)

On Day One of his Administration, President Joe Biden announced that he will have the Department of the Interior review the boundaries for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. The previous Administration severely downsized these monuments in favor of energy exploration. Bears Ears, created by the Obama Administration under the Antiquities Act, is a remote location in Utah sacred to American Indians. The site is filled with Native American cultural artifacts. Under Trump’s watch, Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) worked hard to convince Trump to reduce the boundaries set by the Obama Administration. Since then, numerous Tribes and Tribal organizations have voiced great concern, demanding these national parks be restored and protected.

In another swift action, President Biden revoked a key cross-border presidential permit needed to finish the 1,200 mile Keystone XL pipeline. In the early days of the Trump Administration, the project was revived after being vetoed by the Obama Administration over environmental concerns. Tribes have expressed great unease as to the negative impacts the pipeline could have on tribal lands, the environment and climate.

Fast Tracked Mining and Energy Projects Threaten Tribal Nations

(January 1, 2021)

The Trump administration is rushing to approve a final wave of large-scale mining and energy projects on federal lands to try to ensure that these projects move ahead even after President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes office.

In Arizona, the Forest Service is gearing up on the transfer of federal forest land — sacred by a neighboring Native American tribe — to allow construction of one of the nation’s largest copper mines. In Utah, the Interior Department may grant approval as soon as next week to a team of energy speculators targeting a remote spot inside an iconic national wilderness area — where new energy leasing is currently banned — so they can start drilling into what they believe is a huge underground supply of helium. In northern Nevada, the department is close to granting final approval to construct a sprawling open-pit lithium mine on federal land that sits above a prehistoric volcano site.

When he takes office on Jan. 20, Biden, who has chosen Representative Deb Haaland, Democrat of New Mexico, a Native American, to lead the Interior Department, will still have the ability to reshape, slow or even block certain projects. Some, like a planned uranium mine in South Dakota and the helium drilling project in Utah, will require further approvals, or face lawsuits seeking to stop them. But others, like the lithium mine in Nevada and the copper mines in Arizona will already have the need approvals, and will be hard for the next administration to stop.

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency gave its final approval for the construction of a new uranium mine called the Dewey-Burdock project, spread over 12,613 acres near the Black Hills region of South Dakota. The Oglala Lakota Nation, whose 2.8 million-acre reservation is adjacent to the 

proposed uranium mine, has sued to block the project. The mine would be built on property that the Sioux tribe has long claimed was illegally taken by the United States. A small piece of the project is on Interior Department land. The department has not approved the mine and will not act until after Mr. Trump leaves office, one of several ways that the Biden administration could slow or block the project.

For the proposed Resolution Copper mine east of Phoenix in the Tonto National Forest, adjacent to Apache tribal land, the Forest Service is expected to issue its long-awaited final environmental assessment by mid-January. This means that a 2,422-acre chunk of the Tonto forest, an area called Oak Flat, will automatically be transferred to the mining companies in exchange for land nearby, a deal mandated by Congress in 2014. The Interior Department’s own National Register of Historic Places lists the Oak Flat area as “a holy place and ancestral homeland to the Western Apache Indians” that is also “a venue for ongoing Apache participation in traditional social activities, and is associated with traditions rooted in the history” of the tribe. Under the current Forest Service plan, much of Oak Flat would eventually be forever destroyed. A Forest Service employee working on the Arizona project acknowledged to community leaders in a recent conference call that pressure to get the evaluation of the project done quickly was “coming from the highest level,” mentioning the Agriculture Department, which oversees the service. Federal records show that the environmental study until recently was expected to continue until the middle of 2021. It is now slated to be finished by mid-January.

As the 116th Congress concludes in the next few days, and the 117th Congress convenes, tribal leaders across the nation need to consider voicing strong concerns regarding the damage such projects will inflict upon Indian Country… damage that can never be remedied. Moving forward on each is counter to the treaty and trust obligations the United States has to Indian Country, and the incoming Biden Administration needs to be educated on the harm these projects pose, and how they violate the government’s trust obligations.

The time is now… there is no time to waste, and all Tribal Nations must all come together to ensure, solidify and further strengthen their rightful place as sovereigns. Thunderbird Strategic is eager to assist in Washington DC on efforts to shut these projects down… not just for now, but forever.

Biden Taps Haaland for Interior Secretary

(December 18, 2020)

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland to head the Interior Department, which would make her the first Native American to lead the agency that oversees the country's natural resources and public and tribal lands if she is confirmed by the Senate.

Tribal leaders had strongly advocated for Haaland to lead Interior, Haaland is a member of Pueblo of Laguna, a tribe that has lived on the land that is now New Mexico for eight centuries. The Interior Department has long had a contentious relationship with the 574 federally recognized tribes, and Haaland's nomination indicates that the Biden administration is willing to listen and address the concerns of Indigenous people.

Haaland faces Resistance from House Leadership

(December 16, 2020)

Representative Deb Haaland is President-elect Biden's preferred candidate to lead the Interior Department though a final decision has been delayed as House leaders express concerns about filling her seat and other vacant spots. If chosen and confirmed as interior secretary, Haaland would become the first American Indian cabinet secretary in U.S. history. Haaland, a Democrat, was just elected to her second term representing New Mexico in the House.

But top House leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, have warned the Biden-Harris transition team against picking another Democratic lawmaker for a cabinet post. While a Democrat is governor of New Mexico and the seat would likely stay in Democratic hands, it could take months to hold a special election.

Biden previously tapped two other Democratic representatives, Cedric Richmond of Louisiana and Marcia Fudge of Ohio, for administration posts. While the seats are likely to remain in Democratic control, the wait to fill them in special elections will leave House Democrats with a narrower majority.

Under New Mexico law, Haaland would not have to resign her House seat until her confirmation is complete. The New Mexico secretary of state, now a Democrat, would then have 10 days to set the date of a general election to fill the vacancy, to occur within 77 to 91 days of the vacancy taking effect.

The Interior Department runs the national park system and oversees grazing, recreation, energy development and other activities on about a fifth of the U.S. The department holds trust title to more than 56 million acres of lands for tribal nations and its Bureau of Indian Affairs works directly with all federally recognized Native American tribes.

Canada's Government Introduces Bill to Align Laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

(December 5, 2020)

Canada’s government has introduced a long-awaited bill to align Canadian laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, following through on a 2019 campaign promise. Bill C-15, titled the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, would require the government to implement the rights and principles of the international declaration, UNDRIP, in federal law. It would also oblige the government to draft an action plan that would set out measures to fight systemic discrimination against Indigenous peoples.

The U.N. declaration, which Canada fully endorsed in 2016, affirms the rights of Indigenous peoples, including to self-determination and equality, as well as land and treaty rights. The Liberal bill would not transform the declaration into Canadian law, but would require the government to ensure that federal laws — both existing and new legislation — are aligned with it.

Bill C-15 would also require the government to introduce an action plan within three years of the bill’s passage that would include measures to “address injustices, combat prejudice and eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination” against Indigenous peoples. The action plan would include oversight mechanisms related to the declaration’s implementation, and the government would also have to report annually on its progress.

However, the bill’s passage is unlikely to be smooth. A similar bill, introduced in 2015, died on the order paper before the last election in large part due to concerns about whether it would give Indigenous people a veto over natural resource projects. In 2015 Conservative senators used procedural tactics to delay the bill in the Upper House, and it ultimately died on the order paper. The Conservatives were especially concerned about language in the U.N. declaration that says states must obtain “free, prior and informed consent” before enacting measures that could affect Indigenous peoples. They argued that would amount to giving Indigenous people a veto over any resource project they oppose.

What's next: The Liberals promised during the 2019 election campaign to introduce UNDRIP legislation by the end of 2020. However, that plan was delayed due to nation-wide protests related to construction of a natural gas pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia. Parliament then suspended in mid-March due to Covid-19, and didn’t fully resume until September. In the fall Throne Speech, the Liberals recommitted to introducing legislation before the end of the year. The Liberals have a minority government, meaning they will need opposition support to get the legislation passed before the next election, which many observers believe could happen in the spring. Supporters in the Liberal party point to the fact that Bill C-15 is a government bill, instead of a private member’s bill, will help prevent the procedural delays that allowed the Conservatives to block its predecessor.

Harvard Law Review Article on the Meaning and Impact of McGirt v. Oklahoma

(December 1, 2020)

On July 9, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark decision on Native American rights. The opinion, authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, acknowledged that many of this nation's treaty rights and promises to American Indians have gone unfulfilled. The opinion found that a large portion of Oklahoma still falls into territory for the Muskogee Creek Nation. "Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word," Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Muskogee Creek Nation citizen, Jonodev Chaudhuri, a former President Barack Obama appointee, passionately authored the following Harvard Law Review Article that expresses the meaning of this historic decision.

Reflection on McGirt:

Six Native Americans now hold seats on Capitol Hill

(November 25, 2020)

Native Americans make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population, but they’ve long been underrepresented in Congress. Since the founding of the country, just 23 Native Americans have served in the legislative body. That slow pace is starting to pick up, however. The 2020 election resulted in victories for a record six Native Americans who will serve as voting members of Congress. Four were reelected, and two were elected for the first time, bringing the historical total to 25. The victors represent Hawaii, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Representative Debra Haaland (D-01-NM): Pueblo of Laguna

Representative-Elect Kai Kahele (D-02=HI): Native Hawaiian

Representative Sharice Davids (D-03-KS): Ho-Chunk Nation

Representatives Markwayne Mullin (R-02-OK): Cherokee Nation

Representative Tom Cole (R-04-OK): Chickasaw Nation

Representative-Elect Yvette Herrell (R-02-NM): Cherokee Nation

Hill Appropriators approve FY2021 spending package

(November 24, 2020)

The top appropriators in the House and Senate on Tuesday struck a deal on spending allocations, clearing a hurdle in the path toward reaching a broader deal to avoid a government shutdown on Dec. 11. "This agreement allows bipartisan, bicameral negotiations to proceed at the subcommittee level and provides further momentum for enacting full year appropriations bills by the December 11 government funding deadline," a House Democratic aide said. Though overall spending levels for the 2021 fiscal year were hammered out last summer as part of a two-year spending deal, the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate differed in their approaches to divvying up the funds between agencies in 12 spending bills.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), have been negotiating since shortly after the Nov. 3 election to find a compromise that would allow the 12 appropriations subcommittees to get on the same page with clear spending limits in order to iron out further differences. Both Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mi(R-Ky.) say they want to pass all 12 bills in an omnibus package by the Dec. 11 deadline in order to avoid a shutdown or the alternative of approving a stopgap measure, which would kick the can to the new year and the next administration on longer-term spending. The President has remained mum on whether he will object to any of the provisions or use his veto power to insist on any specific policies, such as funding for a wall along the southern border.