Washington in Brief

An overview of 2010 political happenings in D.C. related to Indian Country

Labor announces grant to assist Native fishermen

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Oct. 25 a $3.39 million grant to assist about 300 workers affected by fishing industry layoffs in the Lummi Nation, located near Bellingham, Wash.

“Layoffs in the fishing industry constitute a serious crisis for this community,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Just as we are committed to helping workers in other communities across the country, we will ensure these workers get the opportunity to acquire the skills needed to promptly enter good jobs that pay family-supporting wages and offer real opportunities for advancement.”

Awarded to and operated by the Lummi nation, the grant is intended to assist fishermen dislocated as a result of the decline in sockeye salmon.

Labor officials said the affected workers will have access to dislocated worker services, which may include basic skills training, individual career counseling and occupational skills training to help them transition to stronger areas of the tribal economy.

A Lummi tribal development plan indicates that jobs are available in Lummi- and state-owned fish hatcheries, as well as in the metal fabrication, outboard motor repair and equipment parts businesses.

Of the $3.39 million, $847,644 will be released initially. Additional funding up to the amount approved will be made available as the grantee demonstrates a continued need for assistance.

Commerce invests in tribal energy training

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has announced a $1.167 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant to Mitchell Technical Institute of Mitchell, S.D., to acquire a wind turbine to train and certify wind technicians through the Institute’s Wind Technology Training program.

“This project is about more than just building much needed wind-generation plants in South Dakota – it is about creating jobs and increasing training and opportunities in the community,” Locke said. “EDA’s investment in the Mitchell Technical Institute will help promote a clean energy economy, create jobs, support innovation and keep the region competitive.”

Commerce officials said the training program will enroll 50 MTI students each year, including an average of 10 Native American students being trained at Sinte Gleska University in Mission, S.D.

Martin named director of Indian Affairs’ Office of Budget Management

Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk announced October 14 that he has named Kevin J. Martin, an enrolled member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma, as director of the Indian Affairs Office of Budget Management.

The director is responsible for all aspects of the Indian Affairs budget process including planning, formulation, presentation, justification and execution.

“Kevin Martin brings a wealth of experience with federal budgets at the program, agency and departmental levels, as well as the understanding that Indian Affairs’ unique responsibilities to the federally recognized tribes must be reflected in the budget process,” Echo Hawk said. “I am pleased he has agreed to join my senior management team as director of the Office of Budget Management for Indian Affairs.”

Martin’s appointment was effective September 26.

Energy challenge for BIA students

Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk announced Oct. 7 the second competition for students attending high schools and tribal colleges funded by the Bureau of Indian Education that will promote careers in the fields of green and renewable energy. The competition will be looking for designs of a conversion process that will change biomass into diesel fuel.

The Indian Education Renewable Energy Challenge is being sponsored by the BIE in partnership with the Indian Affairs Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

“I am pleased to see this partnership provide such a wonderful opportunity for students to design an innovative process that will convert biomass into diesel fuel,” Echo Hawk said. “Our BIE students are incredibly talented, and this is an opportunity to take on a real world challenge to demonstrate a renewable energy and technology process that tribes can use to promote economic self-sufficiency in Indian country.”

The challenge is designed as a two-part competition. During Phase I, each school and college will establish a team of students to process designs for converting biomass to diesel fuel using any raw biomass material they wish, and must indicate how their process design ensures safety in view of the flammable product and the properties of any chemicals that may be used in the production. Five high school and five college design teams with the best submissions will receive $3,500 a piece to construct prototypes of their inventions.

In Phase II, the teams will be provided with a diesel-powered generator so each team can conduct performance data collections to submit, along with detailed reports and videos of their prototypes in operation, to ANL for evaluation by a team of judges.

More information and application forms are available online at www.dep.anl.gov/indianed_energychallenge.

Justice celebrates federal Cobell lawyers

The U.S. Department of Justice has paid tribute to federal lawyers for their work in settling the Cobell litigation against Indian plaintiffs.

Michael F. Hertz, deputy assistant attorney general; J. Christopher Kohn, director; Robert Kirschman, deputy branch director; John T. Stemplewicz, special litigation counsel; and Michael J. Quinn, trial attorney, were honored during the 58th Annual Attorney General’s Awards Ceremony in late October.

According to a Main Justice report, they were honored for their “extraordinary work in achieving a resolution of the Cobell v. Salazar litigation that is fair to the plaintiffs, and encourages a better relationship between the Department of the Interior and the hundreds of thousands of Native Americans with whom it has a trust relationship.”

Shakopee makes NIGA donation

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community of Minnesota has awarded a $1 million grant to help support the development of the D.C. headquarters of the National Indian Gaming Association.

NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. said a new center supported by the funds will accommodate meeting space for 150 tribal leaders, a boardroom that can hold 40 people, and several new offices.

“This project is expected to cost between $2.5 million and $3 million and will ensure that NIGA’s headquarters are available as a meeting resource for tribal leaders for decades to come,” Stevens said.

HUD awards tribal planning grants

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced that the nonprofit Thunder Valley Community Development Corp is to get a $996,000 grant in order to help the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota create a plan for sustainable development on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Northwoods NiiJii Enterprise Community Inc. was also awarded $525,000; it is a nonprofit partnership with the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and the Sokaogon Chippewa Community of Mole Lake and eight municipal governments in Wisconsin.