Navajo Vice President Rex Lee Jim praises USDA child hunger initiative

WASHINGTON— Navajo Nation Vice President Jim applauded the Navajo Nation in their selection by the USDA to receive a $2.4 million award to initiate a two-year Food Access Navigator pilot project. This project will address food gaps and improve local economies in four to five chapters in the Eastern Navajo, Fort Defiance, and Shiprock agencies in the Navajo Nation.

The grant will allow the Navajo Nation to create 19 jobs in the Navajo Nation Department of Health to develop anti-hunger policies and best practices throughout the Navajo Nation. For this project, the Navajo Nation will hire and train people called Food Access Navigators to promote access to anti-hunger and healthy food programs. These programs such include school meals, food stamps, food distribution, and the Women, Infants and Children Program.

Speaking in a live USDA radio program yesterday, Vice President Jim thanked USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, for their leadership to end child hunger.

“Rural and tribal communities have unique barriers that prevent them from participating in USDA food and feeding programs. There are many logistical issues we need to overcome. For instance, there is no asset inventory map of refrigerators, kitchens, and transportation. Many communities do not know about USDA feeding programs and if they find a program, they discover that there are innumerable barriers to participation from infrastructure to filling out an online application for a community where there is no Internet access,” said Vice President Jim.

New Mexico Appleseed, a non-profit organization, will provide training for staff and will produce training materials, and provide ongoing technical assistance to the project.

Made possible by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the projects target areas or populations with elevated levels of food insecurity or gaps in nutrition assistance program coverage. The Act requires at least one project be carried out on an Indian reservation in a rural area with a service population having a prevalence of diabetes that exceeds 15 percent.

 

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SURPASSES $2 BILLION IN AWARDS UNDER THE RADIATION EXPOSURE COMPENSATION ACT

DSC00397WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that it has awarded more than $2 billion in compassionate compensation to eligible claimants under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).

The RECA was enacted in 1990 as a non-adversarial alternative to litigation for individuals who contracted certain illnesses following exposure to radiation as a result of the United States’ atmospheric nuclear testing program and uranium ore processing operations during the Cold War.  Congress expanded the scope of the law’s coverage in 2000.  In its present form, the RECA provides lump sum compensation awards to individuals who contracted specified diseases in three defined populations: uranium miners, millers and ore transporters who are eligible for $100,000 per claim; participants in atmospheric nuclear weapons tests who are eligible for $75,000 per claim; and individuals who lived downwind of the Nevada Test Site (downwinders) who are eligible for $50,000 per claim.

“RECA claimants worked in hazardous occupations and were subjected to increased risk of disease to serve the national security interests of the United States,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “This extraordinary statute provides partial restitution to these individuals and their families for the sacrifices they made during a critical time in our nation’s history.”

Compensation has been awarded to individuals residing in every state.  Since 1990, nearly 43,000 claims have been filed and 32,000 claims have been approved.  Residents of the Four Corners Region of the American southwest have filed the majority of RECA claims.  The department has awarded more than 9,400 claims filed by residents of Arizona, valued at more than $500 million.  Approximately 3,800 claims filed by residents of New Mexico have been awarded, valued at nearly $350 million, and approximately 5,800 claims filed by Utah residents have been awarded, valued at approximately $330 million.  Colorado residents have received awards in more than 3,200 claims, valued at more than $213 million.

Awards to Native American claimants total approximately $264 million distributed among members of 17 different tribes.  The department has awarded more than 2,800 claims filed by members of the Navajo Nation, valued at more than $212 million.  In addition, the department has awarded more than $24 million to members of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe and more than $9 million to members of the Apache Tribes.

Since 1990, the department has awarded more than 3,600 claims filed by veterans, civil servants and contractors who participated onsite in atmospheric nuclear tests, valued in excess of $266 million.  Nearly $100 million of this compensation was awarded following a surge in claims filed in 2011 and 2012.

“This benchmark reflects the department’s efforts to help thousands of U.S. citizens reach closure on a unique chapter of our history,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kali N. Bracey of the Civil Division’s Torts Branch.  The RECA is administered by the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program, a component of the Constitutional and Specialized Torts Litigation section within the Torts Branch.

The Department of Justice is a part of a broad inter-agency network that includes the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Energy, comprising the comprehensive federal radiation compensation system.  Eligibility determinations are routinely coordinated with these agencies.

The RECA will expire on July 9, 2022, and claims received after that date will be barred.  Individuals interested in filing a claim may visit the department’s RECA website or contact the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program at 800-729-7327.

Navajo Nation President Shelly advocates for trust modernization legislation

WASHINGTON—Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly conveyed the Navajo Nation’s recommendations for Indian trust modernization legislation in a special meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday.

“We are advocating for trust ‘modernization’ instead of trust ‘reform’ because we want to do more than mend a flawed system. We want to bring the relationship into the 21st century to empower tribes to manage their resources if they want and are able,” said President Shelly.

The president said the two trust reform bills now being considered by Congress, S 383 and HR 812, do not go far enough in implementing the top recommendations by the Congressional American Indian Policy Review Commission or the U.S. Department of Interior’s Secretarial Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform for more firm direction for all federal agencies on federal trust responsibility obligations. 

“There have been countless studies, workgroups, taskforces set up to look at this issue. Indian people, the administration and Congress already know what needs to be done. We need to work together to get the processes, roles and responsibilities in place. We want Congress to support a bolder bill that goes further in recognizing greater tribal sovereignty,” stated President Shelly.

“We are looking to a new era where tribes are truly able to enjoy autonomy in their internal affairs,” the president added.

In his meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the president said that the whole purpose of trust reform should be to empower tribes so they can manage their own trust assets. “Our recommendations will enable tribes to grow our own economies, spur job creation and develop a middle class for Indian Country. Tribal people deserve a middle class and it is our responsibility as leaders to provide that opportunity,” said President Shelly.

“Congress should merge, improve and oversee the existing Tribal Interior Budget Council and the White House Council on Native American Affairs and reconstitute the National Council on Indian Opportunity. These and other recommendations will invigorate the federal trust dialogue between the federal government and tribal nations,” stated President Shelly.

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER STATEMENT ON THE DEPARTURE OF BRENDAN JOHNSON AS THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY OF THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH DAKOTA

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Eric Holder released the following statement on the departure of U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson:

“During Brendan Johnson’s tenure as United States Attorney for South Dakota, he has distinguished himself as an exemplary leader, a passionate advocate for his fellow citizens, and an extraordinarily dedicated public servant,” said Attorney General Holder.  “As a lawyer and as a leader, Brendan has set a standard of excellence that will not soon be surpassed.  Particularly with regard to public safety challenges on tribal lands, he has served as a key advisor to senior Justice Department officials – including me.  As past Chair of the Native American Issues Subcommittee, he is not only a respected champion for tribal justice in his own right, but a critical national leader – offering sound guidance, wise counsel, and candid advice on a host of pressing issues.  In standing against violent crime, fraud, drug trafficking, violence against women, and countless other threats, Brendan’s fierce and determined service, on behalf of the people of South Dakota, has been without equal.  Although he will be greatly missed, his many contributions will endure.  I thank him for his outstanding service – to South Dakota, and to our nation – and wish him all the best as he takes on new challenges and opportunities.”

Interior Department to Announce $8 Million for Tribal Climate Change Adaptation and Planning Projects

Adaptation Funding to Help Strengthen Resilience for Communities
on the Front Lines of a Changing Climate

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of the Obama Administration’s effort to prepare communities nationwide for the impacts of a changing climate, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced that the Interior Department will make available $8 million to fund projects that promote tribal climate change adaptation and ocean and coastal management planning through its Tribal Climate Resilience Program.

Sea level rise, coastal erosion, drought and more frequent and severe weather events are impacting Alaska Native villages and American Indian tribal communities across the nation,” said Secretary Jewell. “As governments at all levels work on these challenges, we are committed to partnering with American Indians and Alaska Natives to build more resilient and sustainable communities and economies. This funding can help tribes prepare and plan for climate-related events and build capacity to address these evolving challenges.”

No one is impacted by climate change more than Native communities in Alaska, but we have also seen serious problems developing for tribal communities across the West and on both coasts. We must act to help protect these communities,” said Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn. “The cultural and economic needs of tribes are tied to the land and protecting that land is a critical component of advancing tribal sovereignty and self-determination.”

Of the $8 million, $4 million will be available for Climate Adaptation Planning and another $4 million for Ocean/Coastal Management Planning. Funding will support tribal climate adaptation planning, training, and participation in technical workshops and forums. In addition, funding will support coastal tribes in addressing the challenges of coastal erosion and development, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and emergency management.

The $8 million in tribal climate resilience funds will build on the nearly $2.3 million previously awarded last December to more than 40 federally recognized tribes and tribally chartered organizations to support tribal climate preparedness and resilience activities. The awards included more than $100,000 to benefit 22 Alaska Native villages, tribes and cooperative associations. The full list of awardees is available here.

As part of Executive Order 13653 of November 1, 2013, all federal departments and agencies are expanding efforts to help tribes, states, cities and localities prepare for the impacts of climate change. To comply with this Executive Order, the Secretary of the Interior’s Tribal Climate Resilience Program responds to the Recommendations and Supplemental Recommendations of the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and helps to implement President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. A key part of the Climate Action Plan is to build more resilient communities, and strengthen defenses for community’s already on the front lines of a changing climate.

Furthermore, the President’s proposed budget for FY 2016 includes $137 million to prepare communities and ecosystems for the challenges of a changing climate. Included in this request is $50 million to support competitive resilience projects in coastal areas. The budget also proposes to expand the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Tribal Climate Resilience Program to specifically address the changing Arctic landscape and offer support to Alaska Native Villages and other critically vulnerable communities in evaluating options for the long-term resilience of their communities. Additional funding is requested in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to increase understanding of the Changing Arctic and the linkages between climate, glaciers and impacts to the people who live there.

A Request for Proposal (RFP) will be available in the coming days and requests for the application can be sent to climate.funding@bia.gov or to the attention of Helen Riggs, Deputy Bureau Director, Office of Trust Services, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1849 C St., N.W., MS-4620-MIB, and Washington, D.C. 20240.

The Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs oversees the BIA, which is headed by a director who is responsible for managing day-to-day operations through four offices – Indian Services, Justice Services, Trust Services and Field Operations. These offices directly administer or funds tribally based infrastructure, law enforcement, social services, tribal governance, natural and energy resources, and trust lands and resources management programs for the nation’s federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages through 12 regional offices and 81 agencies.