Post-Irma, Trump Administration Assists Seminole Tribe with First Presidential Emergency Declaration Ever for a Tribal Nation

Seminole Chairman Marcellus Osceola briefing BIA and other volunteer officers
about the condition of Seminole Tribal areas affected by Hurricane Irma

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke today thanked President Trump for signing a Presidential Emergency Declaration for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which was hard hit by Hurricane Irma last week. The tribe made its request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as soon as it was able to do so. This is the first such declaration ever approved for a tribal nation according to FEMA.

“I want to thank President Trump for quickly responding to the Seminole Tribe’s request for a Presidential Emergency Declaration to help it address the severe damage it suffered from Hurricane Irma,” Secretary Zinke said. “The Interior Department and, specifically, the Bureau of Indian Affairs are actively working to provide the tribe with law enforcement and emergency services that will help fill in gaps in its own resources and supplement the assistance it receives from FEMA.”

The declaration came with a surge of 75 volunteer officers from the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, various other Interior bureaus, and other Tribal Nations. Two dozen BIA and tribal officers remain this week to provide law enforcement and emergency services.

The Seminole Tribe is headquartered in the city of Hollywood, and is one of two federally recognized tribes in the state of Florida. The Tribe has tribal members on the Hollywood, Big Cypress, Brighton, Immokalee, Fort Pierce, Lakeland and Tampa Reservations as well as communities in Naples, Tamiami Trail, and around the central Florida area.

“To be able to have the relationship with the federal government to ensure the support and safety of all Seminole Tribe of Florida Reservations and our members is a testament to the relationship of two sovereign governments,” said Seminole Chairman Marcellus Osceola. “I would like to thank President Donald Trump for his commitment to deploy all necessary resources to assist the Seminole Tribe of Florida during this difficult time.”

“The President’s fast response to the Seminole Tribe’s request for an emergency declaration was critical for the tribe to receive the assistance it needs to recover from the effects of Hurricane Irma,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs John Tahsuda III. “By specifically asking for BIA law enforcement personnel to help relieve the Seminole tribal police officers, who have been on duty for over a week straight, the declaration allows us to move forward quickly to render such assistance and protect lives and property.”

With the President’s action, the BIA’s Office of Justice Services (OJS) will be able to provide law enforcement officers to support the Tribe under a Direct Federal Assistance (DFA) mission. The mission is being staffed by the BIA and supplemented by tribal and DOI law enforcement officers. The Bureau sent radio technicians to the site along with staff who delivered mobile sleeping quarters for mission personnel. BIA and other DOI Bureaus deployed 75 of the 125 personnel approved under the mission to support the Seminole Tribe at the Big Cypress, Brighton, Immokalee and Hollywood Reservations

The BIA’s Emergency Management office is leading a Tribal Assistance Coordination Group (TAC-G), which is responsible for coordinating emergency management actions of federal and state agencies, as well as volunteer organizations and other TAC-G partners, in support of tribes in Texas and Louisiana impacted by Hurricane Harvey and those impacted by Hurricane Irma.

Dennehotso Man Sentenced to 13 Months for Assault on a Navajo Nation Police Officer

PHOENIX– Yesterday, Reed O’Brien Thomas, Jr., 27, from Dennehotso, Ariz., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow to 13 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Thomas had previously pleaded guilty to assaulting a federal officer.

The investigation revealed that on August 17, 2016, Navajo Nation police officers responded to a domestic dispute on the Navajo Indian Reservation. Thomas fought with the officers, and during the struggle, one of the officers sustained a broken finger. Thomas is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. The officers at the time were delegated authority to enforce federal law.

The investigation in this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The prosecution was handled by Dimitra H. Sampson, Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona, Phoenix.

CASE NUMBER: CR-16-08219-PCT-GMS

RELEASE NUMBER: 2017-070_Thomas

Third Pinon Brother Sentenced For Violent Assault on Juvenile

PHOENIX – Today, Roneldo James, 28, of Pinon, Ariz., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow to eight years of imprisonment, to be followed by three years of supervised release. James had previously pleaded guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon. James committed the offense with his two brothers, Delfred Lee and Milfred James, who were previously sentenced to seven and six years of imprisonment, respectively, for their roles in the offense.

On Dec. 1, 2015, James and his brothers held a juvenile victim and others at gunpoint against their will in a Pinon, Ariz. residence on the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation. All parties involved are members of the Navajo Nation. All three brothers are affiliated with the Red Nation Warriors street gang.

The investigation in this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Samuels, District of Arizona, Phoenix.

CASE NUMBER: CR-16-8167-PCT-GMS

RELEASE NUMBER: 2017-078_James

Kayenta Man Sentenced to More Than 27 Years for Kidnapping and Violent Assault

PHOENIX – This week, Eli Sloan, 45, of Kayenta, Ariz., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Douglas L. Rayes to 330 months of imprisonment, to be followed by a lifetime term of supervised release. Last year, Sloan was convicted of six offenses following a jury trial, including kidnapping, two counts of aggravated sexual abuse, assault with intent to commit aggravated sexual abuse, assault resulting in substantial bodily injury to an intimate partner, and assault by strangling an intimate partner.

On Oct. 4, 2015, Sloan kidnapped the victim and held her overnight in a rural area near Kayenta, Ariz. Eventually, he took her to a trailer, where he held her until the next day. Both Sloan and the victim are members of the Navajo Nation.

The investigation in this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Navajo Nation Department of Public Safety. The prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alexander Samuels and Sharon Sexton, District of Arizona, Phoenix.

CASE NUMBER: CR-15-8232-PCT-DLR

RELEASE NUMBER: 2017-085_Sloan

Secretary Zinke Advises Trump to Leave a Legacy of Broken Promises with Tribes

Native American communities in San Juan County, Utah, feel shut out of the process they have worked in good faith with now that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has issued an insensitive report recommending reducing Bears Ears National Monument. In his final report to President Trump, called the National Monuments “review,” he has silenced the voices of Native Americans in Utah and across the country by dismissing our deep ties to the Bears Ears landscape. Even though Americans emphatically support National Monuments, Secretary Zinke seems to unfairly discount the concerns of NGO’s without a basis for doing so. Astoundingly, he ignored the 2.6 million American voices, 98% of whom commented in favor of protecting national monuments.

If Secretary Zinke had met with “local stakeholders,” he would have learned that Navajo and Ute residents (who are the county majority) have been greatly impacted by uranium and oil and gas pollution since the 1930’s which is in part why we worked so hard to protect our traditional cultural uses and sacred sites. Even as he recommends exclusions, he does not comment on the future roles of the grazing, timber, fishing and mining industries. Furthermore, by eliminating protections for everything outside any new boundary, Secretary Zinke failed to explain how these important traditional cultural resources and uses can still be preserved.

In fact, five out of seven Utah Navajo Chapter Houses as well as Secretary Zinke’s adopted Tribe in Montana, the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, all passed resolutions defending Bears Ears this past month. Among Native American residents living adjacent to Bears Ears, 97% of these Chapter members voted in favor of leaving Bears Ears alone, and not a single Tribe in the entire United States has stepped forward to ask the Secretary to shrink or eliminate Bears Ears National Monument. We now understand why this report, which is an insult to Tribes, was held so tightly by this administration.

“Any and all recommendations by Secretary Zinke regarding Bears Ears National Monument are fundamentally flawed because the Secretary failed to take the time to meet with and listen to local Native Americans, despite numerous invitations. Tribal people, whose ancestors have dwelled in and around Bears Ears for millennia, are keepers of traditional knowledge. We have a vision for our future that includes both land protection and building a sustainable economy for our children and grandchildren. It is frustrating that the State of Utah and the U.S. Department of Interior refuse to include us in policy making.”   Willie Grayeyes, Board Chairman, Utah Diné Bikéyah

 

Interior Announces $62 Million Construction Contract on Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project

WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior announced today that the Bureau of Reclamation is awarding a construction contract of almost $62 million for part of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project in New Mexico to increase the supply of clean drinking water to surrounding communities.

“This contract is a big step toward completing the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, which is a top priority as it fits into the administration’s commitment to improving infrastructure,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said. “The project is critical to providing a much-needed, long-term, sustainable water supply for people on the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache reservations and the City of Gallup. It is also the cornerstone of our commitments under the Navajo Nation San Juan River Water Rights Settlement.”

The contract was awarded to Oscar Renda Contracting Inc. of Roanoke, Texas. It covers Block 9-11, an integral component of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. When completed, the entire project will consist of approximately 300 miles of pipeline, two water treatment plants, 19 pumping plants, and multiple water storage tanks.

Under the new contract, Reaches 9 through 11 of the San Juan Lateral portion of the project will include construction of approximately 28 miles of 48-inch and 42-inch diameter water transmission pipeline between the community of Naschitti, New Mexico to the Twin Lakes, New Mexico area. Work on this segment of the project is anticipated to begin in January 2018 with completion scheduled for March 2020.

Upon completion of the entire Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project in 2024, Block 9-11 will include turnouts to provide water to the communities of Naschitti, Buffalo Springs, Tohatchi, and Mexican Springs.

“This contract on a critical infrastructure project is the result of tremendous work by our Reclamation team and partners,” said Alan Mikkelsen, Reclamation’s Acting Commissioner. “The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project will improve the safety and quality of life by providing an increased supply of clean drinking water to communities within the project area.”

Arizona’s bald eagles expand breeding sites in 2017

PHOENIX — Arizona’s bald eagle population continues to soar as the number of breeding areas expanded statewide and a record 82 young hatched during the 2017 breeding season, according to an annual Arizona Game and Fish Department survey.
While the number of hatchlings rose from the previous high of 79 in 2016, the number of young that actually fledged dipped slightly to 63 birds that made the important milestone of their first flight. In Arizona, at least 95 eggs were laid, which was slightly less than the 97 laid in 2016, and a record 85 breeding areas were identified, including two new areas.
“We continue to see phenomenal growth of Arizona’s bald eagle population,” said Kenneth Jacobson, AZGFD bald eagle management coordinator. “An increase in breeding areas and increasing numbers of hatchlings is a testament to the resiliency of these magnificent animals and our ongoing efforts to help recover bald eagles in Arizona.”
Arizona’s bald eagle populations have flourished since 1978, when 11 pairs were counted within the state and the species was listed as endangered. Today there are an estimated 67 adult breeding pairs.
Bald eagles in Arizona were removed from the federal Endangered Species Act in 2011. The department’s conservation efforts contributed to the species recovery. Nationally, the birds remain protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
The impressive growth of the population is attributed to the continued efforts of the Southwestern Bald Eagle Management Committee – a coalition of AZGFD and 25 other government agencies, private organizations and Native American tribes – and its years of cooperative conservation efforts, including extensive monitoring by the nationally-awarded Bald Eagle Nestwatch Program.
The breeding season for bald eagles in Arizona runs from December through June, although eagle pairs at higher elevations nest later than those in the rest of the state.
Continued support from the committee, State Wildlife Grants and the Heritage Fund (Arizona Lottery ticket sales), will help ensure that Arizona’s bald eagles continue to thrive.

Secretary Zinke Directs Interior Bureaus to Take Aggressive Action to Prevent Wildfires

WASHINGTON– Today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke directed all Department of the Interior bureaus, superintendents, and land managers at all levels to adopt more aggressive practices, using the full authority of the Department, to prevent and combat the spread of catastrophic wildfires through robust fuels reduction and pre-suppression techniques. 

This year-to-date, 47,700 wildfires have burned 8 million acres across the country, with the majority of the devastation in the states of California and Montana. High-profile fires in Yosemite and Glacier National Parks have caught national headlines, however millions of acres of forest and grassland have burned in recent months.

“This Administration will take a serious turn from the past and will proactively work to prevent forest fires through aggressive and scientific fuels reduction management to save lives, homes, and wildlife habitat. It is well settled that the steady accumulation and thickening of vegetation in areas that have historically burned at frequent intervals exacerbates fuel conditions and often leads to larger and higher-intensity fires,” said Secretary Zinke. “These fires are more damaging, more costly, and threaten the safety and security of both the public and firefighters. In recent fire reviews, I have heard this described as ‘a new normal.’ It is unacceptable that we should be satisfied with the status quo. We must be innovative and where new authorities are needed, we will work with our colleagues in Congress to craft management solutions that will benefit our public lands for generations to come.”

The Secretary is directing managers and superintendents of units that have burnable vegetation to address the threat of fire in all of their activities, and to use the full range of existing authorities, to reduce fuels.

Bryan Rice, Director of the Office of Wildland Fire, said, “It is critical to fully consider the benefits of fuels reduction in the everyday management activities that we carry out for our public land management objectives, such as clearing along roadsides, around visitor use areas like campgrounds and trails, near employee housing areas, and within administrative site areas subject to wildfire.”

The Department has lost historic structures in wildfires like Glacier National Park’s historic Sperry Chalet lodge. In an effort to help prevent future losses, the Secretary is also directing increased protection of Interior assets that are in wildfire prone areas, following the Firewise guidance, writing: “If we ask local communities to ‘be safer from the start’ and meet Firewise standards, we should be the leaders of and the model for ‘Firewise-friendly’ standards in our planning, development, and maintenance of visitor-service and administrative facilities.”

“I welcome Secretary Zinke’s new directive and his attention to the catastrophic fires taking place in many western states,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “Treating our landscapes mitigates wildfire risk, increases firefighter safety, and makes our forests and rangelands healthy and resilient. We can no longer delay the implementation of this important work.” 

House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop said, “We must ensure our land management agencies have the tools and resources they need to protect communities and landscapes from catastrophic wildfire. Over the long term, Congress and the Administration must work together to reverse the sorry state of our federal forests and grasslands. I’m heartened to finally have an Administration that’s focused on actively managing and addressing the on-the-ground conditions that are contributing to our historic wildfire crisis. I hope to build on this by enacting comprehensive legislation to restore the health and resiliency of federal lands.”

“If we don’t start managing our forests, the forests are going to start managing us,” said Montana Senator Steve Daines.”The fires burning across Montana are a catastrophe, and we need all available resources to combat this threat. I applaud Secretary Zinke’s action to focus resources on attacking wildfires.”

“I applaud Secretary Zinke’s effort to thin the threat. If we can reduce the fuel loads in our forests and rangelands we will provide our fire fighters more defensible space to do their jobs,” said Idaho Senator James Risch. “We need bold actions like this not just for the hurricanes in the south and east but also to avert the devastation caused by the wildfires in the west.”

“More than 50 million acres in the United States are currently at risk for catastrophic wildfire. That is why we must act to prevent calamitous fires. Management actions taken by Secretary Zinke today will not completely stop the risk, but it is an important step forward in our fight to turn unhealthy, overgrown, and infested forests into thriving, healthy ecosystems,” said Congressman Bruce Westerman. “I commend Secretary Zinke for recognizing this emergency situation and taking steps to address prevent further loss of life and property due to these preventable, catastrophic wildfires. I am committed to working with him and my colleagues in Congress to find a permanent solution to this problem that emphasizes active forest management as the first line of defense against catastrophic wildfires.”

With Western Fire season reaching its natural peak in September, the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) elevated the National Fire Preparedness Level to “5”, the highest level NMAC declares, on August 10, 2017. Above normal major-fire activity continues to be observed across portions of the Pacific Northwest, Northern Rockies, northern Great Basin, and northern California. Fuel moisture levels and fire danger indices in these areas are at near-record to record levels for severity. Drier and warmer than average conditions across the central Great Basin and Southern California are allowing for the fine fuels to become more receptive to fire activity.

Secretary Zinke’s Final Report on National Monuments Undermines Trust Among Native Americans Across the United States

Grassroots Native American people in Utah and beyond are deeply disappointed and aggrieved that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke appears to have recommended reducing Bears Ears National Monument in his final report to President Trump regarding the National Monuments “review.

Utah Diné Bikéyah Board Chairman Willie Grayeyes, a community leader from Navajo Mountain, Utah, and appointed member of the BLM Utah Resource Advisory Council, stated, “Written and unwritten history tells us that Native Americans were the first occupants on the Bears Ears landscape. What we are asking for is just a small acreage compared to what was taken away from us. We ask for this simple honor to be given by the President and Secretary: do not alter or change our Proclamation.”

A report summary published by the Department of Interior strongly implies that the final report, which has not yet been made public, continues to perpetuate recommendations to shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. Secretary Zinke’s June 10 interim report suggested “the existing boundary of the BENM be modified.”

Any and all recommendations by Secretary Zinke regarding Bears Ears National Monument are fundamentally faulty because the Secretary never took the time to meet with and listen to local Native Americans, despite numerous invitations. Tribal people, whose ancestors have dwelled in and around Bears Ears for millennia, are the exclusive keepers of traditional knowledge regarding the Bears Ears cultural landscape and 100,000+ cultural/archaeological sites presently protected within its boundary. Zinke met for just one hour with tribal officials in Salt Lake City in early May.

The Department of Interior report summary duly notes, “Comments received were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments.” In May 2017, Interior invited public comments and 2.8 million American citizens responded: 99.2% support continued protection for National Monuments.

Mark Maryboy, Utah Diné Bikéyah Board Member and former San Juan County Commissioner, stated, “The Antiquities Act was put in place for this exact purpose of protecting our Native American heritage. We followed the law in creating the Monument. If Trump attempts to reduce Bears Ears, we will challenge that action in court.”

Additional Resources

• Native Wisdom Speaks at Bears Ears National Monument: Will American Listen? – new Media Kit details the purpose of BENM and what’s at stake for Tribes • Tribal Resolutions of support for Bears Ears National Monument – from Utah Tribal Leaders, Utah Navajo Chapter Houses, plus the Fort Peck Tribes of Assiniboine & Sioux, of which Secretary Zinke proudly claims to be an adopted member

 

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ANNOUNCES ACTIONS TO STRENGTHEN PUBLIC SAFETY IN INDIAN COUNTRY

Department Will Expand Program that Gives Tribes Access to Federal Crime Data

Opioid Awareness Trainings in Alaska and California Starting This Week

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced recent developments under the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety to strengthen law enforcement and public safety in Indian country, including the continued expansion of a program that gives tribes access to federal crime data, addressing the opioid crisis, serving victims of sex trafficking, and strengthening investigations into crimes against children.

“We have listened to the concerns of tribal law enforcement, who are dealing with public safety challenges including rising violent crime, the opioid crisis, and human trafficking, often with limited resources and manpower,” said Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand.  “The Justice Department is committed to a strong government-to-government partnership with tribal nations, including sharing valuable crime data and supporting Native American victims of crime.”    

Listening sessions with tribal law enforcement in May and June clarified some of the most pressing public safety issues in Indian country. The following actions will strengthen efforts to address these challenges.

The Department of Justice is expanding the Tribal Access Program (TAP) for National Crime Information in Fiscal Year 2018. TAP provides federally-recognized tribes access to national crime information databases for both civil and criminal purposes.  TAP supports the selected tribes in analyzing their needs for national crime information and provides access, technology and training.

In its first two years, the department has worked collaboratively with tribal governments on the TAP program to help resolve long-standing public safety issues in Indian country, such as the inability to access national crime information databases. 

Any federally-recognized tribe interested in joining TAP is invited to submit an expression of interest between Aug.16, 2017 and Sept. 15, 2017.  For more information about TAP and instructions on submitting a statement of interest, please visit www.justice.gov/tribal/tribal- access-program-tap.

The Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior are hosting two upcoming Opioid Awareness Outreach meetings in August.  The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Executive office for the U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA), and the United States Attorney’s Offices (USAOs) in Alaska and Eastern California, in conjunction with the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services (OJS), are sponsoring and co-hosting these important events. The outreach meetings will commence immediately after tribal consultations on Aug.16 in Anchorage, Alaska and on Aug. 29 in Sacramento, California.  The opioid awareness outreach will include presentations from DEA on the signs of opioid abuse, especially heroin and fentanyl awareness; from BIA’s OJS on Narcan deployment initiatives in Indian country; and from the USAOs on federal drug laws.  These discussions are part of an inter-departmental initiative to address the opioid crisis in Indian country.

“The developments announced today by Attorney General Sessions are vitally important to aiding tribal governments in dealing with and seeking solutions to serious drug, sex trafficking, and crimes against children issues afflicting their communities,” said acting Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior for Indian Affairs Michael S. Black.  “I urge tribal leaders and their police departments to take advantage of upcoming opportunities to provide their input on and learn more about ways of addressing these critical areas of public safety in Indian country.  I also want to thank Attorney General Sessions and DOJ for their work in supporting BIA and tribal law enforcement efforts to strengthen public safety in these vulnerable communities.”

The Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center, a training and technical assistance resource, is expanding its presence in Indian country.  At the request of interested tribes, the Diagnostic Center provides customized assistance on a wide range of public safety issues.  Among the issues being addressed in current tribal engagements include information sharing in tribal justice systems and jurisdictional coordination among tribal and local police departments.  For more information about the Diagnostic Center, please see www.ojpdiagnosticcenter.org.

The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) is developing programs in partnership with Native organizations in Seattle, Chicago, and Albuquerque to provide urban American Indian and Alaska Native victims of sex trafficking with access to culturally appropriate, comprehensive victim services. Funded under OVC’s Project Beacon grant award program, these organizations will work collaboratively with state and local human trafficking task forces, as well as tribal communities, to ensure that American Indian and Alaska Native victims have an opportunity to receive a full complement of services designed to aid them in their recovery and healing from the experience of being trafficked.

Associate Attorney General Brand added: “We are committed to partnering with tribal nations, Native American organizations and others to meet the particular needs of Native American victims of sex trafficking, and to end the scourge of human trafficking more broadly.”

The Department of Justice’s National Indian Country Training Initiative, together with the FBI’s Indian Country Crimes Unit, recently co-sponsored an Indian Country Homicide and Child Abuse Training Seminar. The seminar was attended by FBI Special Agents, Assistant United States Attorneys, Bureau of Indian Affairs Agents and tribal law enforcement from across the country.  The training covered a variety of topics meant to strengthen investigations into crimes against children, such as crime scene management, evidence collection, forensics, interviews, and dealing with victims of violent crime and sexual abuse. 

The Attorney General remains committed to combatting violent crime and maintaining public safety in tribal lands, and will continue to pursue partnerships in support of American Indian and Alaska Native communities.