Friday, February 29, 2008

Senate backs overhaul bill that 'will save lives'

I received this in my nursing news from the ANA so I wanted to share it.

Senate backs overhaul bill that 'will save lives'

Last updated February 26, 2008 11:02 p.m. PT


WASHINGTON -- In the first major overhaul of the Indian Health Service in more than a decade, Congress moved Tuesday toward bolstering health-care screening, illness prevention and mental health benefits for Native Americans.

The Senate-approved legislation would infuse $35 billion over 10 years into the Indian Health Service to improve tribal health care for 1.8 million American Indians and Alaska Natives on reservations. The lawmakers voted 83-10 in favor of the legislation.

In recent years, the Indian Health Service has been funded at about $3 billion annually.

The bill would bolster mental health programs and patient screening for cancer and diabetes, expand disease prevention programs and recruit nurses and doctors to serve American Indian populations. It would also modernize and build health clinics and increase tribal access to Medicare and Medicaid.

The House is expected to take up the measure later this year.

Seattle is home to the largest urban Indian health clinic in the country.

The Seattle Indian Health Board on 12th Avenue South provides a full range of medical, dental, lab and pharmacy services along with programs aimed at drug and alcohol abuse to about 7,000 Native Americans each year.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., hailed passage of the measure as "a major step, something that the Indian tribes have really been pushing."

"It updates the law so they can do the kind of preventive care the rest of America has," Murray said.

The Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which was last reauthorized in 1992 and expired in 2000, will focus on preventive care that can stave off illnesses prevalent on reservations such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, Murray said.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said the federal government has a responsibility to Native Americans after "we took their land, put them on reservations, signed treaties and made promises" we haven't kept, especially with regard to health care.

"This will save lives," Dorgan said.

Under treaties signed by the U.S. government and Indian tribes, the federal government is obligated to provide health care for Native Americans.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said improved health care for Indian tribes is long overdue.

"It's been a neglected part of our health care delivery system," Cantwell said.

The Senate also approved on a vote of 56-38 an amendment by Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., that would grant the Indian Health Service the authority to more evenly distribute funding for construction of its health facilities.

Smith complained about an "archaic formula" under which most of the funding for construction and modernization of tribal clinics goes to fewer than 10 states.

He said states that are not receiving construction dollars for Native American health facilities include New York, Texas, Michigan, California and Washington.

Cantwell said the Smith measure could benefit Northwestern tribes by steering more federal construction dollars their way.

"It's a positive step for a more adequate distribution of resources to the Northwest," Cantwell said.

The Senate also amended the bill to exclude most abortions at Indian health clinics and ban spending on programs that discourage gun ownership.

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, applauded the anti-abortion provision, saying the majority of the Senate "has now shown they agree with most Americans that government funding of abortion is morally wrong."

A similar House bill is expected to come up in the Energy and Commerce Committee in the next few weeks, said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who heads the health subcommittee of the panel. It must clear the House Ways and Means panel before heading to the floor.

Pallone predicts the measure "will move fairly quickly" to approval in the House.

Pallone, vice chair of the Native American Caucus, said health care for American Indians is "far inferior to that of the average American."

He said hospitals and clinics on reservations are in disrepair and have difficulty finding specialized physicians, dentists and podiatrists.

"There is a huge disparity between the health care they get and that of average Americans," Pallone said.


Amount over 10 years that the Senate-approved legislation would put into the Indian Health Service to boost tribal care.


Number of American Indians and Alaska Natives on reservations who would be affected by the legislation. HEALTH CARE


Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., cited these grim health-care statistics for Native Americans:

  • The infant mortality rate is 150 percent greater for Native Americans than Caucasians.

  • Native Americans are 2.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.

  • Life expectancy for Native Americans is nearly six years less than the rest of the U.S. population.

  • Suicide rate for Native Americans is 2.5 times higher than the national average.

  • Health care expenditures for Native Americans are less than half of what America spends for federal prisoners.

    © 1998-2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

  • Sunday, February 24, 2008

    Truth out articles, a new horizon to me

    This article can be found in the Truth Out publication found online at the site above. It is not my writing and I only share the information to stimulate our thinking and strengthen our will to survive as a people and a culture.I may or may not agree, so do not find fault for my sharing it here. Form your own opinions, I only want the Native culture to be educated and this is another way I have found to share.

    Minnesota Case Fits Pattern in US Attorneys Flap
        By Tom Hamburger
        The Los Angeles Times

        Thursday 31 May 2007

    A prosecutor apparently targeted for firing had supported Native American voters' rights.

        Washington - For more than 15 years, clean-cut, square-jawed Tom Heffelfinger was the embodiment of a tough Republican prosecutor. Named U.S. attorney for Minnesota in 1991, he won a series of high-profile white-collar crime and gun and explosives cases. By the time Heffelfinger resigned last year, his office had collected a string of awards and commendations from the Justice Department.

        So it came as a surprise - and something of a mystery - when he turned up on a list of U.S. attorneys who had been targeted for firing.

        Part of the reason, government documents and other evidence suggest, is that he tried to protect voting rights for Native Americans.

        At a time when GOP activists wanted U.S. attorneys to concentrate on pursuing voter fraud cases, Heffelfinger's office was expressing deep concern about the effect of a state directive that could have the effect of discouraging Indians in Minnesota from casting ballots.

        Citing requirements in a new state election law, Republican Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer directed that tribal ID cards could not be used for voter identification by Native Americans living off reservations. Heffelfinger and his staff feared that the ruling could result in discrimination against Indian voters. Many do not have driver's licenses or forms of identification other than the tribes' photo IDs.

        Kiffmeyer said she was only following the law.

        The issue was politically sensitive because the Indian vote can be pivotal in close elections in Minnesota. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has one of the largest urban Native American populations in the United States. Its members turn out in relatively large numbers and are predominantly Democratic.

        Heffelfinger resigned last year for personal reasons and says he had no idea he was being targeted for possible firing. But his stance fits a pattern that has emerged in the cases of several U.S. attorneys fired last year in states where Republicans wanted more vigorous efforts to legally challenge questionable voters.

        Politics have always played a role at Justice and other Cabinet-level departments. But, critics say, Bush administration strategists went beyond most of their predecessors - Democratic or Republican - in seeking ways to convert control of the federal government into advantages on election day.

        And the Heffelfinger episode has contributed to a backlash among some Minnesota Republicans. Sen. Norm Coleman, a Bush loyalist in the past who is facing reelection next year, has called on Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales to resign - largely as a result of the U.S. attorney firings and the revelations about Heffelfinger.

        A hint at why Heffelfinger's name was on termination lists that Justice Department officials and Bush political strategists put together emerged when Monica M. Goodling, the department's former White House liaison, testified last week before the House Judiciary Committee about the firings.

        Goodling said she had heard Heffelfinger criticized for "spending an excessive amount of time" on Native American issues.

        Her comment caused bewilderment and anger among the former U.S. attorney's supporters in Minnesota. And Heffelfinger said it was "shameful" if the time he spent on the problems of Native Americans had landed him in trouble with his superiors in Washington.

        But newly obtained documents and interviews with government officials suggest that what displeased some of his superiors and GOP politicians was narrower and more politically charged - his actions on Indian voting.

        About three months after Heffelfinger's office raised the issue of tribal ID cards and nonreservation Indians in an October 2004 memo, his name appeared on a list of U.S. attorneys singled out for possible firing.

        "I have come to the conclusion that his expressed concern for Indian voting rights is at least part of the reason that Tom Heffelfinger was placed on the list to be fired," said Joseph D. Rich, former head of the voting section of the Justice Department's civil rights division. Rich, who retired in 2005 after 37 years as a career department lawyer - 24 of them in Republican administrations - was closely involved in the Minnesota ID issue. He played no role in drafting the termination lists, which were prepared by political appointees.

        Justice Department officials refused Tuesday to confirm whether particular U.S. attorneys may or may not have been on one of the termination lists prepared by D. Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Gonzales. But Dean Boyd, a department spokesman, did say that "the Justice Department and the attorney general have been and remain committed to working on issues of importance to Native Americans."

        Boyd cited cases in which Justice Department lawyers have gone to court to uphold Indian voting rights.

        Suspicion of Indian voter fraud was strong among Republicans in the upper Midwest in advance of the 2004 election. The GOP blamed what it said was fraud on Indian reservations for the narrow victory of South Dakota Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson over Republican candidate John Thune in 2002.

        It was in this environment, Rich says, that he got an Oct. 19, 2004, e-mail from an assistant U.S. attorney in Minnesota named Rob Lewis, informing him about possible voter discrimination against Indians.

        Described as a matter of "deep concern" to Heffelfinger, the issue arose from Kiffmeyer's directive in the fall of 2004 that tribal ID cards could not be used for voter identification off reservations

        About 32,000 Indians live off-reservation in Minnesota, mostly in the Twin Cities.

        In the e-mail - which Rich described to The Times - Lewis wrote that Kiffmeyer's memo had sparked "concerns regarding possible disparate impact among the state's substantial Indian population."

        "Disparate impact" is a term used in civil rights litigation to describe a circumstantial case of discrimination.

        After reviewing the matter, Rich recommended opening an investigation.

        In response, he said, Bradley Schlozman, a political appointee in the department, told Rich "not to do anything without his approval" because of the "special sensitivity of this matter."

        Rich responded by suggesting that more information be gathered from voting officials in the Twin Cities area, which includes Minnesota's two most populous counties.

        A message came back from another Republican official in the department, Hans von Spakovsky, saying Rich should not contact the county officials but should instead deal only with the secretary of state's office.

        Von Spakovsky indicated, Rich said, that working with Kiffmeyer's office reduced the likelihood of a leak to the news media.

        The orders from Schlozman and Von Spakovsky, who wielded unusual power in the civil rights division, effectively ended any department inquiry, Rich said.

        "It was apparent to me that because of these extremely tight and unusual restrictions on the investigation that this matter had political implications," Rich said in an interview.

        Rich is now working for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which was formed at the request of President Kennedy in 1963 to combat discrimination.

        Schlozman, who served briefly as U.S. attorney in Missouri and brought a voting fraud case shortly before election day last year, was not available for comment, Justice Department officials said. Von Spakovsky, now at the Federal Election Commission, said through a spokesman that he could not comment.

        Kiffmeyer also did not respond to requests for comment.

        With the Justice Department inquiry going nowhere, lawyers for the Indians asked the federal courts to intervene. A few days before the November 2004 election, federal District Judge James Rosenbaum ordered that tribal identification cards be accepted at the polls.

        After Heffelfinger resigned, the Justice Department replaced him with someone more attuned to the administration's views.

        On his way out, Heffelfinger recommended that Joan Humes, the No. 2 person in the office, be named interim U.S. attorney. But Humes was rejected by the Justice Department - in part, Goodling testified, because she was known to be a "liberal."

        The job went to a conservative Justice Department employee, Rachel Paulose. She had Ivy League credentials, brief experience as a prosecutor, and as a private lawyer had helped bring election lawsuits on behalf of the Minnesota GOP. She declined to comment for this article.

        One of Paulose's first acts in office was to remove Lewis, who had written the 2004 e-mails to Washington expressing concern about Native American voting rights in Minnesota, from overseeing voting rights cases.

        For his part, Heffelfinger said, he took Goodling at her word and believed that he was on the termination lists for his zeal in confronting problems facing Indian country. But Heffelfinger said he did not know whether voting rights in particular affected his standing with Washington.

        "I was just flagging an issue and giving an opinion," he said. "I think that's the kind of analysis a U.S. attorney is supposed to do."


    Challenging Indian Land Trusts

    Challenging Indian Land Trusts
        By Michelle Chen
        In These Times

        Monday 18 February 2008

        Across Indian country, two things are never in short supply: rich natural resources and endemic poverty. That paradox is driving a longstanding battle between indigenous people and the government trust that holds money generated from their lands.

        The class-action lawsuit, Cobell v. Kempthorne, targets a federal trust fund that handles revenues from activities like oil drilling and logging on land owned by individual Indians and tribes. The trust's financial operations-covering more than 56 million acres and dating back for more than a century-have left a spectacularly messy paper trail. Many beneficiaries say they are in the dark about how much has been paid out and what is still owed, and charge that the system has drained wealth from Indian communities.

        "We know that the government collected our money, but it hasn't been paid to us as individual Indian beneficiaries," says Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet Nation member who initiated the suit in 1996 on behalf of several hundred thousand account holders.

        The battle is finally drawing to a close. On Jan. 30, U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled that the trust's finances are beyond salvaging. Calling for a settlement, he denounced the Interior Department's "unrepaired, and irreparable, breach of its fiduciary duty over the last century."

        The decision builds on a 1999 ruling that ordered a management overhaul and a complete accounting-to comply with the trust's orignal mandate and federal reforms enacted in 1994. As In These Times went to press, the Interior had not issued a formal legal response to the decision.

        The department has spent years retooling its accounting systems, but various court reviews found the trust in chronic disarray. Not only are financial records inaccurate or missing, critics say, but many landowners have little information on their lands and lease activities, or even the value of their assets, aside from sporadic checks issued by the government.

        The system disbursed about $300 million to individuals and $500 million to tribes last fiscal year, and holds hundreds of millions in individual-account funds.

        Whatever the exact amount that has been unpaid, Cobell says, evidence of a swindle is strewn across Blackfeet territory. Though the earth is replete with oil, timber and other resources, she says, "there is poverty all over the place."

        Around the turn of the 20th century, the government established the trust system to manage lands on behalf of Indians, based on the presumption that natives lacked the competency to control their resources. Today, the government says the trust functions primarily as an institutional conduit for land-based revenues, produced under agreements between landowners and business interests.

        But the trust looks different from Jay Dusty Bull's spread, which spans about 8,500 acres near Browning, Mont. To the 23-year-old Blackfeet member, his family's grazing leases provide a financial boost but hardly compensate for the theft his ancestors suffered.

        "A hundred years ago, were our Indians - who didn't speak English, who couldn't read or write - given that same opportunity?" he says. "No. 'Sign an X here. Here's $40.' Billions of dollars could have been taken off of our land a hundred years ago, and we don't know."

        Defending its ongoing accounting work, the Interior argued that a "statistical sampling" of records for several thousand transactions had uncovered only a small percentage of errors, and that "additional work would neither produce a better result nor be cost effective."

        But official probes haven't be so reassuring. In 2002, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth held then-Secretary Gale Norton in contempt for failing to initiate the historical accounting process years after Congress had mandated it. The Interior Department, he wrote, had "indisputably proven ... it is either unwilling or unable to administer [the trust] competently."

        Court-appointed Special Master Alan Balaran reported similarly dismal findings. Inspecting a Dallas branch of the Minerals Management Office in 2003, he noted the "chaotic" disorganization of financial documents, along with the "unexplained presence of an industrial shredder" - before office staff forced him to leave.

        Outside the courtroom, advocates have pressed Congress for legislation to completely overhaul the trust's management and accounting systems. For many landowners, balancing the government's books would be one small, overdue counterweight against a legacy of injustice.

        "We need to have a much fairer process," Dusty Bull says. "[We need to] make sure that our children, our grandchildren, our generations to come, do not have to go through the same process."