Washington in brief


Navajo Nation Supreme Court holds Washington session

In the latest round of an ongoing effort to raise awareness of federal Indian law and traditional Navajo adjudication practices among the legal profession and the public, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the campus of American University April 5.

The case before the court, Joe v. Black, tests the traditional Navajo concept of nalyeeh, ''there are no hard feelings.'' A district court dismissed a compensation claim over a car accident because the claimant allegedly violated a policy against multiple litigation, having previously received a settlement under the legal doctrine of ''comparative negligence.'' The Navajo Supreme Court remanded the case on grounds the concept of nalyeeh should be consulted. The lower court dismissed again, arguing that nalyeeh and ''comparative negligence'' are in conflict. According to a summary distributed by the court in Washington, ''one reflected an adversarial perspective from Anglo tort law, and the other Navajo traditional thinking on non-adversarial relationships.''

The court adjourned April 5 without ruling. Its decision will be posted on the Internet at www.navajocourts.org.

At a panel discussion prior to the court session, Honorable Chief Justice Herb Yazzie and fellow justices addressed approximately 60 students, many of them law or pre-law students, on the topics of nalyeeh and ''peacemaking,'' a key traditional approach to settling problems by talking about them in a controlled way. The peacemaking process predates the court system and is not a quasi-judicial alternative but a forum of choice, voluntary and apart from the court system.

Following a panel discussion on federal Indian law and the hearing, the Native American Bar Association in the District of Columbia co-hosted an evening reception for the Navajo Nation Supreme Court at the Washington law offices of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld.

Native Hawaiian housing bill gets through House,gears up for Senate

A bill reauthorizing Department of Housing and Urban Development programs for Native Hawaiians passed by simple majority vote in the House of Representatives March 28, a week after falling short of a two-thirds majority vote under special rules that admitted no debate.

The vote after debate was 272 - 150 in favor of the bill, a gain over the 262 - 162 margin that wasn't good enough under so-called ''suspension of the rules.'' All Democrats present cast votes in favor of the bill, H.R. 835 in the House. The improved margin meant 16 more Republicans, 50 instead of 34, had come to support Hawaiian Homeownership Opportunity, as the bill is titled.

Christopher Boesen, a lobbyist with Tiber Creek Associates of Capitol Hill, said he was glad of the gains among Republicans. ''They didn't have to do that, they knew it was going to pass.'' The Democratic majority in the House is sufficient to pass any simple majority vote along party lines.

''I'll tell you the credit I give on that one,'' Boesen said of the extra GOP support. ''Renzi did some really good work.''

Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., co-chair with Rep Dale Kildee, D-Mich., of the Congressional Native American Caucus in the House, told his colleagues on the House floor that the bill does not concern Native Hawaiian sovereignty or confer it.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the Minority Leader in the House, and other House Republicans took issue with the bill on grounds it would grant a preference based on race. That would be unconstitutional if it were so, but in committee debate Democrats dismissed the interpretation as irrelevant to the bill itself.

Boesen agreed. ''They weren't talking about this bill. They were talking about the Akaka Bill.''

The Akaka Bill, after its namesake Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, seeks to authorize a process that would lead to the federal recognition of a Native Hawaiian governing entity. Federal recognition would establish Native Hawaiians as a governmental classification, rather than a racial group. Advocates contend it would complete the country's framework for indigenous relations, following the federal recognition of American Indian and Alaska Native governments. Opponents in the Senate last year successfully opposed the Akaka Bill as race-based legislation. A Senate version of H.R. 835, S. 710, is before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. A bill must pass both chambers of Congress in identical form to become law upon the president's signature.

''The Senate's going to be really hard,'' Boesen said. ''We know that.''

IHS info tech officer earns 'Federal 100'

The chief information officer for the IHS has been selected the winner of the Federal 100 Award, presented each year by the widely regarded Federal Computer Weekly media group to public- and private-sector information technology professionals for making a difference in agency and company development, acquisition, management and use of IT.

The award recognizes Dr. Theresa Ann Cullen for her key role in the 2006 implementation of the Resource and Patient Management System, IHS' health information technology system. Under Cullen's guidance, RPMS has improved health care outcomes at the clinical level through the development and use of appropriate software applications, according to an IHS release.

Under Director Charles Grim, IHS has successfully expanded its uses for information technology. Grim said Cullen is ''representative of the high caliber of health care professionals working within the Indian health system'' and has labored ''tirelessly'' to bring health information technology solutions into the agency.