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U.S. Forest Service report outlines plan for better protection of Native American sacred sites

Tribes say more meaningful collaboration needed

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A decision by the U.S. Forest Service to allow snowmaking with reclaimed water at the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Area soured the agency’s relationship with Native Americans

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — With more than 3,000 miles of contiguous border with American Indian and Alaska Native-owned lands, the U.S. Forest Service wants to work more closely with tribal governments in the protection, respectful interpretation and appropriate access to Indian sacred sites.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary John Vilsack this month released a new report recommending that the agency should take steps to strengthen the partnerships between the agency, tribal governments, and American Indian and Alaska Native communities to help preserve America’s rich native traditions.

According to the report, many tribes have historically managed their forests well and in ways the Forest Service hopes to emulate: “Tribal land management is a testament to the Tribal land ethic, an ethic rooted in traditions, stories, and cultures. Sacred sites … are important facets of that land ethic and a common bond between us,” the report states. The report and related documents are online at this Forest Service website. Continue reading

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Native American land buy-back program to consolidate splintered parcels, benefiting economic development

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The Interior Department will help Tribal Nations consolidate splintered parcels of land. Bob Berwyn photo.

Voluntary program aimed at boosting community land use for Tribal Nations

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Thousands of smaller parcels of land owned by individual Native Americans could be consolidated for beneficial use by tribes under a new $1.9 billion buy-back program announced by the Department of Interior this week.

The buy-back program for tribal nations will purchase fractional interests in American Indian trust lands from willing sellers. Fractionation of Indian lands stems primarily from the General Allotment Act of 1887, when  tribal lands were allotted to individual tribal members, often in 80 or 160-acre parcels. The lands have been handed down to heirs over successive generations, causing the number of shared interests in one parcel to grow exponentially. Currently, more than 92,000 tracts of land held in trust for American Indians contain 2.9 million fractional interests.

When tracts have so many co-owners, it is often difficult and impractical to obtain the required approvals to lease or otherwise use the lands. As a result, highly-fractionated tracts lie idle, unable to be used for any economical or beneficial purpose or for direct use by tribal communities for their members. Continue reading

Feds finalize tribal eagle feather policy

Bald eagle, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Clarity, transparency to help Native Americans and resource agencies

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal officials say that, after consultation with Indian tribes, they’ve clarified a  national policy addressing the right of Native Americans to possess or use eagle feathers for cultural and religious expression.

The policy covers all federally protected birds, bird feathers and bird parts and should help address tribal concerns and uncertainties about how and when eagle feathers can be transported and used. It will also help provide clarity for wildlife officials responsible for enforcing the protective laws. Continue reading

Colorado lawmakers make a bipartisan push to fund for Native American student tuitions at Fort Lewis College

Congress may untangle Native American funding gridlock at Fort Lewis College.

House bill would ensure federal funding for a federal mandate

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Republican Congressman Scott Tipton is reaching across the aisle to try and pass a bill that would ensure federal funding for college tuition of Native American students at Fort Lewis College in Durango.

Tipton’s bill, the Native American Indian Education Act of 2011 ( H.R. 3040), is a companion measure to Senator Michael Bennet Senate  version of this bill that was introduced earlier this year. Read the full text of the Senate version here.

“This legislation will ensure that our country’s pledge to Native American Indians is kept,” Tipton said. “Without increasing federal spending in any way, this bill will ultimately save Colorado taxpayers money, lifting the weight of a federal mandate from their shoulders.”

The bill would require the federal government to pay the tuition for non-resident Native American students at Fort Lewis College. Colorado has spent more than $110,000,000 in the past 25 years to meet the costs of the tuition waivers for Indian students at Fort Lewis College from 44 different States. Continue reading

Colorado pushes for better Native American education

An exhibit in the State Capitol draws attention to new education initiatives for American Indians.

Denver exhibits and new initiatives aim at boosting graduation rates

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia this week launched an initiative to advance American Indian education in the state by unveiling two exhibits about American Indian history, art and culture.

The Denver Public Library, together with Colorado Creative Industries, is hosting “Painting the West,” an exhibit including paintings by George Catlin, who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West, and Karl Bodmer, a Swiss painter whose images are recognized as among the most accurate images of Native Americans and the scenery of the Old West.

History Colorado and Colorado Creative Industries are also presenting “Tribal Paths,” an exhibit that highlights traditions, beliefs and how the record of Colorado’s American Indians is passed down from generation to generation through ceremony, song, dance and oral histories. Continue reading

Travel: Native Americans gather at Denver March Powwow

A Native American dancer at the Denver March Powwow. Denver March Powwow. By Stan Obert for VISIT DENVER

Annual gathering helps sustain cultural traditions

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — With more than 20,000 Native American residents, the greater Denver area has long been a regional hub for tribal culture and activities, and this weekend, the Denver Coliseum will be filled with more 1,600 dancers, artists, drummers, singers and storytellers at the annual March Powwow, one of the biggest Native American gatherings in the country.

Admission is $7 per day, or $20 for a three-day pass, free for kids six and under, $3 per day for elders. Click here to visit the Denver Powwow on Facebook.

Along with giving visitors a chance to experience Native American cultures, the Powwow is a cultural touchstone for tribes, helping to pass on important traditions.

“It began as a youth enrichment powwow to help Native American children in the Denver area learn traditions without having to go back to their reservations,” said Powwow executive director Grace Gillette. Since those early days, the event has grown to include 93 tribes from 33 states and five Canadian provinces, she said. Continue reading

Settlement near on Native American trust funds

A double rainbow arches over Navajo Nation lands in Arizona.

Senate acts to resolve years of litigation and water rights disputes; Obama leadership on settlements called unprecedented

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A measure that’s already passed the U.S. Senate and is now headed for the House could end years of litigation over the federal government’s management of American Indian trust funds.

Authorization of the Cobell Settlement, a $3.4 billion agreement, would also resolve four major conflicts over water rights valued at more than $1 billion and ensure delivery of clean drinking water to Indian communities. The settlements were included in an omnibus bill passed by the Senate earlier this week. Following action in the Senate, the House is expected to take up the omnibus package after the Thanksgiving recess. The Department of the Interior would begin implementation of settlements once they are signed into law by the President. Continue reading

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