Indian Country headlines for Monday

Deb Haaland campaign sign (Photo by Aliyah Chavez, Indian Country Today)

Indian Country Today

Stories we’re following on Nov. 23, 2020: Tribal leaders rally behind Deb Haaland for Interior post

Push for diverse Biden Cabinet

WASHINGTON (AP) — Native Americans are urging President-elect Joe Biden to make history by selecting one of their own to lead the powerful agency that oversees the nation’s tribes. 

Dozens of tribal officials and voting activists around the country are pushing for the selection of Rep. Deb Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat and Laguna Pueblo to become the first Native American secretary of interior.

People of color played a crucial role in helping Biden defeat President Donald Trump. In return, they say they want attention on problems affecting their communities — and want to see more people who look like them in positions of power.

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., Native American Caucus co-chair, joined at right by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, speaks to reporters about the 2020 Census on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 5, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Deb Haaland speaks to reporters about the Census on March 5 on Capitol Hill . (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

In January, Biden assured a Native American candidate forum that he would “nominate and appoint people who look like the country they serve, including Native Americans.”

Interior is one of half a dozen departments where women and people of color are considered among the top contenders for Cabinet-level posts.

Native Americans say they helped deliver a win in the battleground states of Wisconsin and Arizona and elsewhere, voting for Biden by margins that sometimes hit the high 80th percentiles and above. A record six Native American or Native Hawaiian lawmakers were elected to Congress.

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Court orders BIA to take land into trust for tribe

A federal judge has ordered the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take lands into trust for a California tribe, repeating a 1983 ruling that the BIA didn’t carry out.

Instead, for decades the agency and the Me-Wuk Indians of California had been wrangling over the issue. Lands in trust are owned by the federal government and protected from taxation.

The 1983 court order was to restore rancherias taken from the tribe under federal policies terminating reservations and trust status for more than a hundred tribes. The land in question is the 65.7 acre Buena Vista Rancheria, which is 45 miles southeast of Sacramento and owned by the Me-Wuk Indians.

Read more:
BIA Must Take Land Into Trust For Calif. Tribe, Judge Says
Court document

The dispute came to a head in 2005 when the local county notified the tribe that it was going to seize and sell the land, and the casino on it, for back taxes — taxes the tribe wouldn’t have to pay if the land were in trust status.

The county and tribe went to court. The Nov. 13 judgement by Judge Edward Chen in the US District Court for the Northern Region of California granted the tribe’s motion to enforce the 1983 decision.

Red Lake Nation uses crowd funding to bet big on solar

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A September 2019 photo of the Red Lake tribal government complex on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. (Photo by Dalton Walker, Indian Country Today)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Red Lake Chippewa Indian reservation is starting to build a tribal utility in Minnesota to provide energy self-sufficiency, higher-paying jobs and a healthier environment. 

The effort may become a model for using solar, micro-grids, and a tribal-run utility as a path to energy sovereignty.

“We have to prove that we can do this and we have to do this not only for ourselves but for other tribal nations,” said Red Lake member Bob Blake, the founder and owner of Solar Bear installation company.

The tribe’s two solar projects — a 240-kilowatt solar installation, and a utility-scale 13-megawatt solar farm—were financed through crowdfunding, in which small investors lend to businesses.

The Red Lake Reservation in northwest Minnesota is home to about half of the tribe’s 14,000 members. A 2015 Bureau of Indian Affairs report shows 90 percent of its members qualified as low income and half its working-age population was unemployed.

The tribe’s casino has been a significant economic driver. But tribal leaders four years ago tapped Minnesota solar entrepreneur Ralph Jacobson to conduct a solar feasibility study. Jacobsen developed the Red Lake Nation crowdfunding approach. Tribal Council Chair Darrell Seki has said he sees a future where members receive free energy and the danger of being disconnected no longer exists.

Mississippi Choctaws to install wireless internet in 2 areas

CHOCTAW, Miss. — Having won two federal licenses, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is preparing to install fixed broadband internet service in two communities.

The 11,000-member tribe says it applied for telecommunications spectrum licenses in all eight of its communities. But it only won in two because the other entire spectrum was already leased in the other areas.

The tribe has identified connectivity as a “primary consideration,” said Choctaw Economic Development Director John Hendrix. Better broadband will promote businesses and help keep people connected to school and health care during the pandemic he said.

Watch: Reporters' Roundtable: Art murals, COVID-19

On Friday's Reporters Roundtable, Indian Country Today welcomed Sandra Hale Schulman and Winonah Leader Charge to the show to talk about mural artists and give an update on how the Winnebago are faring in the pandemic.

Sandra Hale Schulman is a freelancer who writes for us quite often, and she just featured some amazing mural artists.

Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate citizen Winonah Leader Charge is the editor of the Winnebago Indian News, and she joins us to give us an update on the Winnebago tribe.

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