Native Nations to co-manage Bears Ears National Monument with federal government, and other news

In this post:

  • Native Nations, federal government, to co-manage Bears Ears National Monument
  • Native Alaskans’ priority for subsistence fishing gets a court win
  • Latest Payday lender ‘Rent-a-Tribe’ scheme to avoid state usury laws is failing

Native Nations, federal government, to co-manage Bears Ears National Monument

Bears Ears National Monument: Image: U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

And now for some good news: On June 18, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, Hopi Nation, and Pueblo of Zuni signed an historic agreement “to share management responsibilities for the Bears Ears National Monument,” the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) said.

“The tribal coalition will work with the federal government to address land planning, management, and conservation, and to protect traditions ‘that are part of the tribal nations’ way of life on these lands,’” it said.

Bears Ears has been a political yo-yo.

In 2016, President Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument. It was “the first national monument proposed by a coalition of sovereign tribal nations,” NARF said.

“With this designation came protection of thousands of ancient Native American village sites, burials, artifacts, trails and sites of spiritual significance,” according to the website sacredland.org.

In 2017, President Donald Trump reduced Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent, raising concerns about environmental and cultural threats, such as oil and gas drilling, uranium mining, and illegal artifact looting, the website said.

On Oct. 8, 2021, President Biden restored protections for the Monument, a step that led up to the shared management agreement.

This stands in sharp contrast to the federal government’s proposed land swap with a copper mining company that would result in the destruction of Oak Flat, Ariz., a sacred site for the Western Apache.

Native Alaskans’ priority for ‘subsistence fishing’ gets a court win

The landmark 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) gave special protections to more than 157 million acres of land, creating national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other areas.

A lesser known aspect of the law is that it gives “subsistence users” a priority to hunt and fish on a number of these federal land and waters. Many of these subsistence users are Native Alaskans.

The state of Alaska has pushed against the law. The U.S. government sued to stop the state from continuing to flout it.

The case focuses on the 700-mile long Kuskokwim River, Alaska’s largest subsistence fishery. It supports chinook, chum, sockeye, humpback, and coho salmon, court filings said. The river’s lower 180 miles are in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, which brings them under the federal law prioritizing subsistence hunting and fishing.

Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Image: U.S Fish and Wildlife Services.

Many residents along the river are members of one of 33 different federally recognized Tribes.

The Kuskokwim fishery has seen declining numbers. The chinook runs have been well below historic levels, and last year’s chum run was the lowest on record, the federal government’s court filing said.

Effective June 1, 2021, the federal government closed gillnet fishing on the Kuskokwim River main stem for all salmon, except for “limited subsistence uses by local rural residents under narrowly prescribed terms and means of harvest.” It also closed gillnet fishing of Chinook on various tributaries.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game responded June 10, 2021, by opening the 180-mile stretch of river within the Wildlife Refuge to gillnet fishing “for all Alaskans” to do “subsistence fishing.”

On Thursday, the United States Court for the District of Alaska granted the federal government a preliminary injunction against the state of Alaska, reimposing the subsistence user priority. The case will still go to trial, but the judge ruled the federal government was likely to succeed in its case.


Comment: Why doesn’t the state of Minnesota make it a priority to protect wild rice and other subsistence foods of the Anishinaabe, and for others who live off the land, from mining and pipeline projects?

Latest Payday lender Rent-a-Tribe’ scheme to avoid state usury laws

The federal government and many states have consumer protection laws to prevent predatory lending practices.

Pay Day lenders have looked for end runs around those laws.

One such effort is a “Rent-a-Tribe” scheme, where a Payday loan company “partners” with a Native Nation in hopes of shielding itself from lawsuits using the Native Nation’s sovereign immunity.

The Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Nation in Wisconsin finds itself in the middle of such a deal gone wrong.

LCO entered into an agreement with Cane Bay Partners VI, LLLP and other defendants to help LCO develop its own lending business, its court filing said.

LCO is asking the Federal District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin to intervene to address years of defendants’ “predatory and collusive business practices against the Tribe and its business entities.”

Defendants “orchestrated a scheme to exercise de facto control over the Tribe’s lending businesses to facilitate an illegal lending enterprise and charge consumers up to 730% annual interest for loan,” LCO’s complaint said.

“Defendants, playing on the Tribe’s desperate desire to diversify its limited economy by creating new opportunities and governmental support for its people, held themselves out as industry experts and successful businessmen willing to consult on the development of, and provide services for, the Tribe’s lending venture.”

Defendants really sought to create a “’rent-a-tribe’ scheme — a business that was tribally owned and operated on paper, but in reality, merely a front for non-tribal companies and individuals to continue their illegal offshore operations and skim money from the Tribe.”

When LCO tried to reassert control of the business and restore transparency and accountability, defendants threw up roadblocks, LCO said.

They refused to allow LCO “access to their own asset and intellectual property,” the complaint said. They began efforts to “erode the value of the Tribe’s portfolios.”

“All of these efforts were geared toward maintaining [Defendant’s] control and allowing Defendant … to bleed the Tribe’s asset dry.”

There’s no ruling yet on the case, but these Rent-a-Tribe cases aren’t new. In 2013, for instance, the Minnesota Attorney General sued CashCall, arguing that it was trying to avoid states usury laws by using Western Sky LLC as a front company. Western Sky was owned by a man who claimed to be a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, court documents said.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals found that the Tribe “didn’t approve Western Sky’s creation, and Western Sky’s profits do not benefit the tribe.”

This case ended with an out-of-court settlement in 2016.

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