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Updates from Day 2 of National Congress of American Indians winter session in D.C.

Native American Rights Fund executive director John Echohawk speaks at the National Congress of American Indians executive council winter session in Washington, D.C., on February 23, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

Some highlights from the second day of the National Congress of American Indians 2016 executive council winter session in Washington, D.C.

A Native Nominee
On Monday, National Congress of American Indians executive director Jackie Pata touted Diane Humetewa as a potential pick for the U.S. Supreme Court. Humetewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe, made history in May 2014 as the first Native American woman on the federal bench.

John Echohawk, the executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, followed up by noting that NCAI's executive committee wrote a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to consider nominating Humetewa. He said the nation's highest court needs someone with more direct Indian law experience in order to

"We think that would make a tremendous difference for Indian Country," Echohawk said on Tuesday. "We think that could be a significant, positive change for Indian Country."

Of course, Republicans in the Senate promising to block consideration of any nominee that Obama puts forward even as news reports surface about Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has a favorable relationship with tribes in the state, being considered for the post.

"I think it's going to be an uphill process," Echohawk said of the next few months.

Tribal leaders hear an update about the U.S. Supreme Court at the National Congress of American Indians executive council winter session in Washington, D.C., on February 23, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

Justice Scalia, 1936-2016
The passing of Justice Antonin Scalia might make a difference in Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, one of the Indian law cases pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, tribal leaders were told on Tuesday.

The outcome of the closely-watched case will determine whether Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians can hear a lawsuit against a non-Indian company whose employee is accused of abusing a minor on the reservation. Arguments were heard on December 7, 2015.

“But it wasn't looking good," John Dossett, NCAI's general counsel said of the hearing.

Dossett said it appeared that only four justices were willing to confirm that the tribe can exercise jurisdiction over Dollar General, a publicly-traded company with $17.5 billion in revenues. So the lack of a ninth member might end up improving the tribe's chances, he argued.

"It could be that Justice Scalia's absence could make quite a difference," Dossett said.

On the other hand, Dossett doesn't think that Scalia's absence will matter in Nebraska v. Parker but that's because observers think the arguments on January 20 went well for the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska. The outcome will determine whether the village of Pender lies within reservation boundaries and, by extension, whether the tribe can exercise its jurisdiction there.

"It may be that Justice Scalia would have been on our side," Dossett said.

The Tribal Supreme Court Project is a joint effort of NCAI and NARF. The organizations released a memo on Tuesday with all of the latest developments at the high court.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), at podium, listens to Arlan Melendez, far right, the chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in Nevada, at the National Congress of American Indians executive council winter session in Washington, D.C., on February 23, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

Carcieri Woes, Part 2
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar was not surprisingly on the minds of a lot of people on Tuesday, which happened to mark seven years since the justices threw a major wrench into the land-into-trust process.

As chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) has the ability to take action and he told tribal leaders that he hopes to move a Carcieri fix by June. But he quickly added: "It may not be everything that everybody wants."

Young said his bill will most likely end up looking a lot like the S.1879, the Interior Improvement Act. That measure is not the "clean" Carcieri fix sought by most tribes and the Obama administration but Young said Congress won't pass a "clean" fix because lawmakers want to have a say in the way the Bureau of Indian Affairs handles land-into-trust applications.

"We need to get that done within the next three months," Young told NCAI. “I believe we are on the right track and we can get this done."

A Carcieri fix will ensure that all tribes, regardless of the date of federal recognition, can restore their land bases. The decision currently requires the BIA to prove that a tribe was "under federal jurisdiction" as of 1934, adding more burdens to the process.

Ann O'Leary, a senior policy advisor for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, speaks at the National Congress of American Indians executive council winter session in Washington, D.C., on February 23, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

Presidential Politics
As a non-partisan organization, NCAI invited all of the 2016 presidential candidates to present their platforms to tribal leaders but only two accepted the offer: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, both Democrats.

The Clinton campaign landed on the agenda first and was represented by Ann O'Leary, a senior policy advisor for the former Secretary of State and the former Senator from New York. Also in the audience were three of the campaign's top Native advisors: Holly Cook Macarro (Red Lake Nation), Charlie Galbraith (Navajo Nation) and Rion Ramirez (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians), who promised a Native policy when they appeared at NCAI's annual convention last October.

The campaign made good on that promise with the release of Growing Together: Hillary Clinton’s Vision for Building a Brighter Future for Native Americans. In it, Clinton vows to build on President Obama's successes by holding an annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, working to resolve tribal trust mismanagement disputes, helping to improve public safety and justice on reservations and creating more opportunities for Native youth.

Additionally, Clinton said she will strengthen Indian health care programs and improve services for Native veterans if elected president. But in the shorter term, O'Leary said the campaign was working to get Clinton out to Indian Country.

"She will want to be there herself -- it's something that's important to her," O'Leary said of Clinton. "I will commit to you that we will make sure that happens."

A representative of the Sanders campaign addressed NCAI on Wednesday morning and an update will follow on Thursday.

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