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Washington in Brief


This year for the first time, more Americans will die of obesity than of
tobacco use, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson told a
roundtable gathering on how to improve the health of minority men.

"You have to take care of yourself, and we have got to get the message out,
especially to minorities. Exercise and eat properly, fruits and vegetables"
- and avoid tobacco.

For all population groups, the message on good health gets out through
women. As another speaker at the roundtable noted, "The culture men are
raised in does not interface well with the health care system." Seven in 10
Americans who haven't visited a doctor in the past five years are men. They
tend to deny pain and other disorders, and to avoid treatment until late in
the course of a disease. The classic example offered here is the case of a
cancer patient who won't see the doctor because he's convinced of the myth
that exploratory surgery will expose the cancerous cells to air, making
them metastasize. In such a patient's mind, he never really had cancer -
the air made it grow.

Physicians may only be able to laugh off such self-deceiving stubbornness,
but women are on the front lines of intervening to change it. Thompson said
women make 80 percent of all health care decisions. In response to a
question, he declined to single out the often-matriarchal culture of Indian
tribes as a point of intervention for the department in improving the
health of Native men. He said the message on the role of women in improving
the health care of men has got to get out to everyone.

HHS convened the July 9 roundtable along with the Morehouse School of
Medicine and Community Voices in Atlanta, as part of a government emphasis
on disease prevention among men.


A bill has passed the Senate that would provide suicide prevention grants
and establish a Suicide Technical Assistance Center for state strategic
guidance of local efforts against youth suicide.

Senate bill 2634 is available on the Internet at by selecting S from the drop-down
menu under Bill Number and enter 2634.

The legislation includes grant funding to education systems, tribal
organizations, juvenile justice systems, local governments, and private
nonprofit entities active in mental health outreach and treatment, and
suicide prevention and intervention. "State, tribal, and local entities may
use this funding for screening programs for youth that identify mental
health and behavioral conditions that place youth at risk for suicide,"
said Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Senate Minority Leader and one of the bill's
36 bipartisan co-sponsors, in a press release.

Colleges, including tribal colleges and universities, are eligible for
funding to establish or enhance their mental health outreach and treatment
centers, and to improve their youth suicide prevention and intervention

Daschle especially welcomed the bill's intended resources for tribes, which
are included in the bill's language. On the Crow Creek reservation in his
home state, as tribal chairman Duane Big Eagle has noted in testimony
before Congress during the current session, youth suicide has reached
epidemic proportions, with 22 attempts in a population of 2,200 - 1 percent
of the tribal population. Other recent testimony before Congress has
suggested evidence of similar, though less severe, attempted-suicide
outbreaks on other reservations.

At Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, the community is providing activities for
at-risk youth, a community task force and a peer mentoring effort to reduce
the number of suicides. S. 2634 would support such community efforts with
grants, and the technical assistance center would offer guidance in keeping
with state strategic efforts.

The plain-English title of the bill is the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act,
in honor of the son of Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. The younger Smith
committed suicide last September after suffering from bipolar disorder. His
father eulogized him on the Senate floor and provided key leadership for
the passage of the bill that bears his name.

After passing the Senate by a vote of unanimous consent July 8, the bill
goes on to the House of Representatives.


Audited financial statements received by the National Indian Gaming
Commission show that Indian gaming facilities brought in more than $16.7
billion in gross gaming revenues for 2003. The figure reflects a $2
billion, 13.7 percent rise from 2002. The NIGC region that includes
California showed the greatest increase in gross revenues.

The regions with some of the most profitable casinos - Mystic Lake in
Minnesota and Foxwoods in Connecticut, for instance - showed the highest
gross revenues, suggesting that smaller tribes near metropolitan areas
still lead the field of Indian gaming when it comes to generating revenues.

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Philip Hogen, chairman of the commission, said the gross revenue figures
are a result of growth throughout Indian gaming. "This growth has allowed
tribes to create jobs, develop economically, build infrastructure within
their communities and provide services for tribal members."


The Senate passed the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004 in June, sending
it to the president in the same week that soft ash floated into the streets
of Payson, Ariz., from burning forests nearby. Eventually fire burn lines
in Arizona would reach the outskirts of Mesa, and as of mid-July word had
it that any lightning strike could ignite the dry region again.

The Arizona fires were a reminder of summer 2003, when wildfires swept
through 20 reservations from adjacent federal lands, causing extensive
damage and even burning two reservations almost down to the ground.

Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., introduced measures to protect tribal forests
from wildfires originating on federal lands as part of the Healthy Forests
Restoration Act, but they were stripped from the bill in the Senate. In
March, Pombo introduced the tribal-specific measures under a separate bill
in the House of Representatives, H.R. 3846: "To authorize the Secretary of
Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement or
contract with Indian tribes meeting certain criteria to carry out projects
to protect Indian forest land."

The bill passed in the House on June 21. The Senate's June 25 concurrence
means it needs only the signature of President George W. Bush to become

As of July 14, that signing hadn't occurred. Brian Kennedy, Pombo's
communications director on the House Committee on Resources, which Pombo
chairs, said the president's staff is trying to schedule a signing
ceremony, presumably with a tribe.


A bill that would amend the Indian Land Consolidation Act passed the House
Committee on Resources by unanimous consent July 14, setting the stage for
its adoption by the full House of Representatives. That vote is
anticipated, as is the president's signature afterward; for the amendment
is considered key to any lasting resolution of the troubled tribal trust
accounts at the center of the class-action lawsuit that goes by the name of

Of course, anything could happen - this much at least must be said of any
law that isn't final. But the priority on July 14 was to move the bill out
of committee without amendment, and it almost didn't happen. One House
member was intent on offering an amendment. That might have killed the
bill, which has already passed the Senate. Passing it in the House with an
amendment would send it back to the Senate, for reconsideration as amended.
Once back in the Senate, the bill stood a chance of getting clogged up in
the gridlock that is already present there in this presidential election
year, when all of the usual parliamentary maneuvers for gaining credit or
giving out discredit in the public eye become more prevalent.

For the bill's proponents, the next priority in the House is to pass it
without amendment.

The American Indian Probate Reform Act of 2003, the title of the bill to
amend the ILCA, can be accessed on the Internet at Select S from the drop-down menu
under Bill Number and type 1721.

S. 1721 is quite complex. Among its highlights are provisions that permit
owners of "an interest in trust or restricted personal property to devise
such an interest to any person or entity"; provide for "partition and
purchase of highly fractionated Indian land by eligible Indian tribes"; and
streamline the surface leasing process of co-owned trust parcels by cutting
out Secretary of Interior approval.


The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has sent the Tribal Parity Act and
the Indian Gaming Regulatory Amendment Act of 2003 to the full Senate.

The Tribal Parity Act, S. 1530 in the Senate, would provide additional
payments of $137 million to the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and $73 million to
the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, both in South Dakota. The funds would come from
electricity generated by the dams erected on the Missouri River under the
Flood Control Act of 1944 and the related Pick-Sloan Missouri River Basin
Project. Both are infamous among tribes for the flooding and relocations
they caused.

Additional compensation to Lower Brule and Crow Creek would equalize
federal damages payments among Missouri River tribes, according to expert
testimony presented at a previous hearing. Lower Brule and Crow Creek have
received lower damages payments than Three Affiliated Tribes, the Standing
Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes because of varying valuation
methodologies in use by the federal government.

Also on July 14, the committee reported S. 1529, the Indian Gaming
Regulatory Act Amendments of 2003, to the full Senate. Among the bill's
many features is an effort to curb state tribute payments exacted from
tribal casino revenues. The bill is available on the Internet at Select S from the drop-down menu
under Bill Number and type 1529.