Indian Country headlines for Monday

Ralph Bowen on the Main Street bridge in Salamanca with a little cousin, Cecil “Zeke” Johnnyjohn. (Photo courtesy of the Bowen family)

Indian Country Today

Stories we’re following: Seneca elder recalls forced 1965 removal, Shinnecock Nation announces casino venture, appeals court rules on coronavirus relief money, and more

Oldest Seneca citizen shares story of tribe's survival

In 1961, eight months into office, President John F. Kennedy dealt a traumatic blow to the Seneca people with the swoop of a pen.

In a letter to the Seneca Nation, Kennedy ended the tribe’s fight to protect its lands along the Ohi:yo’ — Seneca for “beautiful river," the Allegany — from being flooded by the building of the Kinzua Dam. In one sentence, Kennedy changed the lives and the lands of the Seneca people forever.

The letter and the completion of the dam would sink the hopes of the Seneca people and submerge their lands, directly impacting more than 130 families on the Allegany territory with a forced removal.

Ralph Bowen was in his late 30s, a member of the Seneca Nation Council, and one of those whose homes were leveled by the Army Corps of Engineers to make way for the dam. 

On Saturday, he and his fellow Seneca Nation members reflected on the momentous and wrenching days of dispossession they went through in the annual Remember the Removal commemoration.

Ralph Bowen and family (Photo courtesy of the Seneca Media & Communications Center)
Ralph Bowen, seated, and family (Photo courtesy of the Seneca Media & Communications Center)

UCLA law school receives largest-ever tribal contribution

The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria have donated $15 million to advance the study of Native American law at one of the nation’s top-ranked law schools.

The donation to UCLA’s School of Law will go toward scholarships for Native and other students interested in pursuing careers as tribal legal advocates, the tribe announced in a statement Wednesday.

The gift is the largest-ever contribution that a tribe has made to UCLA’s law school and is estimated to be one of the biggest in history from a tribe to a university.

“Tribal law is a cornerstone of Native Americans’ quest for equality and inclusion within the U.S. justice system,” said Greg Sarris, the tribe’s chairman. “UCLA’s commitment to educating and preparing the next generation of tribal legal advocates is personally known to me, as an alumnus and former UCLA professor. We hope this gift will begin the drive for equality for our people in our native land.”

Graton Rancheria, in northern California, is a federally recognized tribe made up of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo Indians.

Alaska Native Corporations ineligible for coronavirus funds

Alaska Native Corporations are not eligible to receive any of the $8 billion of the federal coronavirus relief money set aside for tribes, an appeals court ruled Friday.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit determined Alaska Native Corporations are not tribal governments.

In March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, commonly known as the CARES Act. The U.S. Treasury Department concluded in April that Alaska Native Corporations were eligible to receive portions of the CARES Act funds set aside for tribes.

Shortly thereafter, three separate groups of tribes filed lawsuits to challenge the decision. They argued the money should go only to the 574 tribes that have government-to-government relationships with the U.S., not Alaska Native Corporations.

This June 6, 2019, file photo shows the U.S. Treasury Department building at dusk in Washington. Multiple published reports say that the U.S. government has launched a national-security review of the China-owned video app TikTok, popular with millions of U.S. teens and young adults. Several senators have recently noted concerns about censorship and data collection on TikTok. The Treasury Department, which houses CFIUS, says it does not comment on specific cases. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
This June 6, 2019, photo shows the U.S. Treasury Department building at dusk in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Shinnecock partner with Seminole Hard Rock on casino venture

As a relatively new federally recognized tribe, the Shinnecock Indian Nation has had to fight for every bit of advancement.

The tribe is based in Southampton, Long Island, one of the most expensive parcels of oceanfront land in New York state. It was granted recognition in 2010 and has had only an annual powwow, tobacco stands, oyster farms and recent highway billboard ads for revenue. This year's powwow was canceled due to the pandemic.

Now, the Shinnecock Nation has taken a giant step, partnering with tribal gaming giant Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment on a proposed resort-casino.

The partnership with the Seminole to develop a “world-class entertainment destination” includes the tribes and developer Tri-State Partners, headed up by billionaire Jack Morris who has developed several casinos.

Details on a specific location have not yet been released, and the Shinnecock Nation still needs to negotiate a compact with New York. The state is conducting an economic feasibility study to determine if it will award new licenses downstate.

Shinnecock-billboard in Southampton (Photo courtesy of 27east.com/The Express News Group)
Shinnecock-billboard in Southampton (Photo courtesy of 27east.com/The Express News Group)

Shoshone leader competes for US House seat

For too long, Native Americans have not had a seat at the table, says Darren Parry, Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation. This November, he is trying to change that.

The former tribal chairman and father of nine is running for election to the U.S. House, vying for an open seat in northern Utah's 1st Congressional District. Parry is running on the Democratic ticket after having defeated Jamie Cheek in a close June primary.

Parry faces Republican Blake Moore and two independents, Taylor Lee and Mikal Smith, in the general election.

It is Parry’s first time running for the position. His main opponent, Moore, a regional businessman, also is new to politics. There isn’t an incumbent in the race — Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, who has held the seat for almost 17 years, is not seeking reelection.

The region is historically GOP-dominated and hasn’t had a Democratic representative for 42 years.

Darren Parry
(Photo courtesy of Darren Parry)

Montana judge tosses law, saying it restricts Native voting rights

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana judge has struck down a voter-enacted law that restricted third-party collection of absentee ballots after several Native American groups argued they rely on ballot collection efforts to vote.

The Ballot Interference Prevention Act exacerbated the barriers many rural Native Americans face in voting, which include difficulties in traveling to post offices and polling places, and is unconstitutional, District Judge Jessica Fehr ruled Friday. The law is known as BIPA.

The law said caregivers and family members who turn in someone else's ballot are asked to sign a registry. The law also limited each person to collecting six ballots.

Watch: Reporters' roundtable: Oregon fires, BIA dispute

On Indian Country Today’s reporters’ roundtable, we talk with journalists covering stories that affect tribal lands and people. Brian Bull joins us from Oregon to give us an update on the forest fire.

Joe Martin covers the dispute the Eastern Band of Cherokee is having with the local Bureau of Indian Affairs Superintendent, as well as a COVID-19 update for tribes in his region.

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