Washington in brief

Oglala Sioux Tribe and South Dakota come together on commercial code

It is common knowledge, off-reservation, that the key to economic development is credit. It is common knowledge on reservations that credit there is hard to come by. But the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge, S.D., has become the most recent tribe to make headway against the credit shortfall through a secured transactions commercial code.

The tribe developed the code with funding from the Interior Department;s Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development, and adopted it prior to July 31; on that date, the OST agreed with the state of South Dakota to develop a joint sovereign filing system to administer the code.

The secured transaction commercial code is comparable to the uniform commercial code of most states; together with the tribe-state filing system, it will help to create what is often called a ''comfort zone'' for off-reservation creditors in a tribal jurisdiction where state laws, familiar in the business community, may not apply.

Interior's acting deputy assistant secretary for policy and economic development in Indian affairs, George T. Skibine, expressed it another way: ''By adopting a secured transactions commercial code, the tribe has taken a major step in addressing the credit needs of businesses and consumers on the Pine Ridge reservation.''

The significance of a UCC is well-attested. The Northern Cheyenne adopted one in the late 1990s, an indispensable stepping-stone to the location of a first-ever branch bank on the reservation. Since then, other tribes, banks and agencies have followed or modified the Northern Cheyenne lead.

The significance of the Pine Ridge code and memorandum of understanding with South Dakota on a sovereign filing system showed up in the roster of notables who attended: from OST President John Yellowbird Steele to representatives of the state's congressional delegation, from an officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis to South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson, from tribal council members to officials from state government and the IEED.

The IEED has funded the development of secured transaction codes with the Blackfeet, Crow, Chippewa-Cree, Sac and Fox, Seminole, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Tulalip, Shoshone and Arapaho tribes.

Skibine offered the OST-South Dakota partnership as a model that other tribes and states can embrace.

Report provides grim detail on jails

On Aug. 7, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs completed the record of a June 19 hearing by including a report on federal and tribal detention centers in Indian country. The report is titled a ''Draft Master Plan,'' presumably because the Office of Management and Budget has not released it or moved it along toward final draft status. Committee chairman Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., threatened to subpoena the report before receiving two copies.

After examining almost half of the 84 acknowledged detention centers in Indian country, the report found that numerous jails are unsustainable because of staffing shortages, while others are unsafe for officers or inmates; still others are simply inadequate. The report identifies an $8.4 billion construction backlog, separate of staffing and other costs.

''This report confirms what so many in Indian country have known all along - the tribal jail system is unbelievably broken,'' Dorgan said in a release. ''There are not enough beds, facilities must be improved, and there is a lack of trained staff. This is a crisis that allows half of all of those in Indian country who should be incarcerated to go free.''

In Congress, Dorgan has introduced the Tribal Law and Order Act to help improve law enforcement and the systems that support it in Indian country. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., with backing from the committee and senior leadership in both political parties, amended a foreign aid bill that became law July 30 with $2 billion in funding for Indian country, $750 million of it going to law enforcement.

Underscoring the problems in law enforcement on reservations, a committee hearing in North Dakota took testimony to 541 arrests since the advent of a much-applauded BIA initiative, Operation Dakota Peacekeeper, on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation - a positive development for public safety, but one that has all but overwhelmed the tribal court system, according to Associate Chief Justice Curtis Carroll.

And on Aug. 12, the Rapid City (S.D.) Journal reported, Oglala Sioux Tribe police in Pine Ridge, S.D., walked off the job amid conflicting reports of confrontation between management and officers in the field.

No indictments coming down over latest DoJ report

U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has decided against prosecuting former Justice Department staff for politicizing the department's hiring process.

The second of four reports, by the DoJ offices of Professional Responsibility and of the Inspector General, into U.S. attorney firings focused on the politicized hiring practices of Monica Goodling and Kyle Sampson, among others. Mukasey decided, in essence, that they've suffered enough for their misdeeds.

So has the DoJ, said Thomas B. Heffelfinger of Best & Flanagan LLP in Minneapolis, the former U.S. attorney for Minnesota. He had been slated for dismissal, unbeknownst to him, before he resigned for unrelated reasons. He said idealism drives DoJ job applicants and predicted that it will take a while for the department to get it back. But he added that according to his sources within Justice, Mukasey is righting the ship.

Meanwhile, U.S. attorneys like Troy Eid in Colorado, Gretchen C.F. Shappert in North Carolina and Diane Humetewa in Arizona are restoring the solid attention Indian issues were getting within the department before the attorney firings, he said.

Of current DoJ staff member Leslie Hagen, a subject of Goodling-related speculation though she does not appear in the report, Heffelfinger said, ''Leslie has for a long time been a stellar representative of the department,'' especially with regard to delivering justice for abused women and children. ''They're lucky to have her.''

He ascribed the department's damaged morale and purpose to professional immaturity within the decision-making ranks.

''It was a sad era in the DoJ. Clearly the place was being run like the corridors of a high school, and leadership bears the responsibility for that.''

IHS controlled substances are more secure now

A June 18 General Accountability Office report, alleging that the IHS has not kept track of millions of dollars worth of large equipment, brought renewed interest to the question of whether it does any better with smaller items - pills, that is, prescription drugs that come with a high potential for addiction, and accordingly a considerable price tag on the so-called ''street.''

In April 2007, the offices of Inspector General and of Audit Services for the Department of Health and Human Services, the parent organization of IHS, reported on audits of the pharmacies of five IHS facilities. At one of them, in Lawton, Okla., a dentist admitted to stealing painkillers.

''The individual involved is no longer working for Indian Health Service,'' the IHS communications department wrote in response to questions from Indian Country Today.

At the four other facilities, two in Oklahoma (Anadarko, Tahlequah) and two in New Mexico (Santa Fe, Santo Domingo Pueblo), the reports mention no diversion of controlled substances.

''All reports did show instances where the facilities' policies and procedures were not being followed,'' IHS acknowledged - the same deficiencies cited in the reports as the reason for the diversion of painkillers in Lawton.

The IHS accepted a list of recommendations for making its pharmacies more secure.

The agency stated that federal law does not now permit IHS to voluntarily provide the data required by a national prescription drug reporting program.

''IHS is now working to get a[n] exception approved that will allow participation.''

NIEA shapes solutions to BIA schools

By the time the next presidential administration is in power, in January 2009, the National Indian Education Association intends to present it with solutions to the education problems at BIA schools.

Emboldened by the turnout at hearings in Albuquerque, N.M., Rapid City, S.D., and Window Rock on the Navajo Nation, the association is gathering information in support of solutions - ''to support BIA schools,'' said Lillian Sparks, the NIEA executive director.

Further hearings are planned for Seattle and Oklahoma City, with results committed to paper by the NIEA convention in Seattle, Oct. 23 - 26. Convention delegates will work them up into a document ready for circulation by the year's end, and findings and recommendations will be advanced to the new administration, Sparks said. Consultation with tribal communities on academic standards, technical assistance in meeting them, and adequate yearly progress measures toward them are among the topics sure to be addressed, she added.

The immediate occasion for the initiative is a June Government Accountability Office report that suggested the Interior Department could assist the Bureau of Indian Education (a BIA sub-agency) and tribal groups in complying with federally mandated academic standards.

But the emphasis on solutions comes out of NIEA-hosted hearings in 2005 on No Child Left Behind, the national education reform effort of President George W. Bush. The process yielded legislative language and recommendations that got results at the time and still have political traction in Congress, Sparks said, as the NCLB reauthorization process inches along.

Reforming BIA education to meet youth needs will also require a long process of problem solving, said Ryan Wilson, NIEA board member and past executive director, now with the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes' cultural councils at Wind River in Wyoming. ''You have to shine a light; you have to create a venue.''

From both, NIEA hopes to bring solutions.