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California conference attacks governmental barriers

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Breaking down communication barriers between tribal, state and federal entities was the goal the Tribal State Leadership Meeting II, organized by the northern California Hoopa Tribe.

The July 6 meeting featured presentations by representatives from several California tribes as well as a wide variety of public officials at the state and local level and was the second in a series of conferences. Participants plan a follow-up conference later this year.

"With tribal sovereignty under attack by Washington state Republicans, the timing of this conference could not have been better," Hoopa Chairman Duane Sherman said.

In his opening address, Sherman stressed that tribal governments deal with a host of local, county, state and national issues, citing the importance of fostering open communication so tribes can earn their rightful place among governmental entities.

To Susan Masten, chairwoman of the Yurok Tribe and president of the National Congress of American Indians, it was important to recognize appearances. She asked that all tribal leaders be addressed as "Honorable" to add dignity to their positions.

Masten spoke of the relationship many tribes have forged with the U.S. Forest Service and the success of tribes in forging government-to-government relationships with that agency. She singled out the stewardship program that gives more money to tribal governments.

Sonia Tamez, Forest Service tribal relations program manager, said she feels it is important to make sure decision-makers are knowledgeable about tribal sovereignty and issues. She said collaboration should be encouraged through grants and joint ventures between the two governments to deliver programs to the tribes.

Law enforcement was another topic but unfortunately only two of 52 California sheriffs attended, Tony Craver of Mendocino County and Dennis Lewis of neighboring Humboldt County.

Lewis has developed a unique way to foster governmental relations in regard to law enforcement. He has the distinction of being the first sheriff in California to cross-deputize tribal police. Humboldt County is large and rural and Lewis pointed out that it would take a deputy almost an hour to respond to a call at Hoopa Valley.

"It's a matter of practicality," Lewis says. "We need law enforcement to be able to say to all of our citizens that we're here to help. By cross-deputizing the Hoopa police we're able to share information and help ensure that there will be proper law enforcement on tribal lands. It also sends a message to the tribe that we're working with them and not against."

Craver says he likes the Humboldt program, adding he has trouble keeping deputies at distant Indian country outposts in Mendocino County. He feels if tribal members had more personal familiarity with law enforcement, it would foster better relations.

Grantland Johnson, a spokesman for California Gov. Gray Davis, focused on a variety of programs the governor has worked on for American Indians including child care, transportation and health. Davis had to cancel at the last minute.

Johnson announced that Indian health clinics would receive $8 million in retroactive payments that Gov. Davis believed were owed to tribal clinics by his predecessors.

He also announced that the Department of Health and Human Services would re-establish a Native American committee.

"I think that it is important that your issues are focused on in the scheme of a large bureaucracy like the state of California and it is our job to help you move through it," Johnson told the crowd before he reiterated that Governor Davis takes tribal sovereignty seriously.

After lunch the conference broke down into groups to address specific issues regarding inter-agency relationships in law and order, natural resources, education and social and economic development.

Discussions on hunting and fishing rights, water rights, cultural awareness programs in the schools and Welfare to Work programs continued until late afternoon.

Sherman says the conference arose out of a need to address problems of the past in California. He says the specter of tribal termination still clouds the relationship with state and federal agencies.

Some specific problems can be linked to lack of communication, he said. During a 10,000-acre fire last year, the California Department of Forestry cut a fire line that damaged a sacred Hoopa site. Sherman said he believes incidents like this could be avoided with closer communication.

Asked what he thought of the conference, Sherman replied, "I felt that the conference was a step in the right direction. We need to figure out policy and protocol. This isn't going to happen overnight, but at least we're moving in the right direction."