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Updates from National Congress of American Indians DC meeting

National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby delivers closing remarks on February 25, 2015. Seated is Dennis Welsh, NCAI treasurer. Photo by Indianz.Com

Some more highlights from the National Congress of American Indians winter session in Washington, D.C.

Leadership in Limbo
Yvette Roubideaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, is a familiar face to many, having served as director of the Indian Health Service for four years and acting director for another two. But she appeared at National Congress of American Indians this week in a different capacity altogether.

"It's been kind of funny to see everybody kind of look at me and say, 'So, what's your situation? What's going on?" Roubideaux said on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama nominated Roubideaux for a second term as director back in April 2013 but the Senate never took action on her position due to concerns about contract support costs. So she served as acting director of IHS while the administration worked to resolve the matter with Indian Country.

Two years later, Roubideaux ran up against a provision in appropriations law that prevents her from continuing to serve in an acting capacity. So she's now working as a "senior adviser" within the Department of Human and Health Services while Robert McSwain, the agency's deputy director, takes over on a temporary basis.

"I have full confidence in his ability to be able to lead the agency while my nomination is in progress," Roubideaux said of McSwain, who is a member of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians.

Native Languages
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) is serving as vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee for the 114th Congress after serving as chair during the last session. He plans to reintroduce legislation to support Native language programs after the Senate failed to clear two bills last year.

"In my home state of Montana, I have seen the difference that these programs can make," Tester, a former teacher, told NCAI on Tuesday.

The legislation will support Native language immersion programs and will reauthorize some existing Native language programs.

Grant Policy at Department of Labor
Thomas Perez, the Secretary of the Department of Labor, came to NCAI to respond to a concern raised by tribes during listening sessions and during the White House Tribal Nations Conference last. year.

Perez announced a memorandum that directs all agencies and offices to include tribes and tribal organizations in grant solicitations whenever possible. Tribes will no longer have to go through states or other entities to receive education and training grants.

"You don't need a permission slip from somebody else," Perez said to applause on Tuesday. "That is long overdue."

A Republican Voice
NCAI typically attracts members of Congress from both parties but this winter session only had one -- freshman Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana), a new member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Daines noted that he visited every reservation and every tribe when he served as the state's sole Congressional representative. He credited his focus to retired Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana.

"He's been a great mentor for me," Daines told tribal leaders on Wednesday.

In 2014, Daines was one of just 87 Republicans in the House who voted for S.47, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that recognizes tribal jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders. He said the provision fit in with his belief that local governments should have control over their own affairs.

"You hear these heartbreaking stories that Indian women are more likely than any other demographic to be victims of domestic violence and yet on a reservation, their legal resources are very limited," Daines told NCAI. He said the law patches up "holes" in the justice system when Indian women are abused by their non-Indian partners.

In the 114th Congress, Daines said he will focus on irrigation projects in Indian Country, water quality on reservations and the implementation of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.

Tribal Court Jurisdiction
A case with a troubling background awaits action in the U.S. Supreme Court and tribal advocates hope the justices won't take it up.

Dollar General operates a store on trust land leased from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The tribe issued a license to the company, whose manager is accused of sexually assaulting a minor who was working at the store through a youth training program.

The minor's parents sued Dollar General and the manager in tribal court, seeking at least $2.5 million in damages. The company, however, claims that it not subject to the court's jurisdiction.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and held that the company entered into a "consensual relationship" with the tribe. That satisfies one of the two exceptions laid out in the Montana v. US decision, a precedent-setting case regarding tribal jurisdiction over non-Indian entities.

Dollar General asked the Supreme Court to review the case and the justices in turn asked the Department of Justice to submit a brief to help them decide whether to accept the case. Tribal advocates expect an answer on that question to come as early as June.

"It puts this issue in front of a scary court in kind of a difficult way," John Dossett, NCAI's general counsel, said on Wednesday.

The case is Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

A Look Ahead
You were promised jokes and jokes will indeed be coming -- but on Monday, not today. So stay tuned for that.

As for NCAI, the organization's next big meeting is the mid-year conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, from June 28 to July 1. The annual conference will take place in San Diego, California, from October 18-23.

Related Stories:
Updates from National Congress of American Indians meet in DC (2/26)
Updates from National Congress of American Indians winter session in DC (2/25)
National Congress of American Indians set for winter conference (2/23)

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