Court challenge could weaken Clean Water Act; Native Nations weigh in to keep it strong

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and 16 other Native Nations have filed an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that could weaken the federal Clean Water Act.

The case being contested is small in the grand scheme of things, but the precedent it could set is huge. An adverse ruling would mean “thousands of miles of streams and wetlands—many critical to the Tribes—would lose longstanding Clean Water Act protections,” the Tribes said.

In January, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, Sackett v. EPA, in its upcoming session.

Continue reading

When generosity became a crime

The United States made many efforts to forcibly assimilate Indigenous peoples into Christian and European values, with at least one exception: Generosity. Instead of instilling the value that “It is more blessed to give than receive,” the U.S. government punished Indigenous people for acts of generosity.

Continue reading

Blood Quantum, Part II: The Indian New Deal and Tribal Constitutions

Part I discussed why blood quantum rules, often a criteria for Tribal citizenship, are seen as an existential Tribal threat. Part II discusses constitutional reforms to change that rule.

John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, meets with South Dakota Blackfoot Indian chiefs in 1934 to discuss the Indian Reorganization Act. Photo: Unknown

To recap Part I: The 1887 Dawes “General Allotment” Act was devastating to Native Nations, an assimilation policy that imposed private land ownership and capitalism on communal societies centered around reciprocity. The law broke up community-held Tribal lands into small parcels and allotted them to individual Indians and families.

The Allotment era ended with the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, an effort to reverse such assimilation policies.

Passed under FDR’s administration, it’s referred to as the Indian New Deal. (It’s still the basis for federal law regarding Indian affairs.)

The Indian New Deal stopped allotments, restored Tribal land management, and sought to strengthen inherent Tribal sovereignty. It encouraged Tribes to write their own constitutions.

Today, roughly 70 percent of Tribal constitutions define citizenship using the colonial idea of blood quantum, according to attorney Gabe Galanda, a member of the Round Valley Indian Confederation of Northern California.

As Tribal members have intermarried with people from other Tribes or non-Indigenous people, children’s blood quantum often drops below the threshold to be considered a Tribal member.

Native Nations are wrestling with whether to eliminate blood quantum rules.

Continue reading

Blood Quantum, Part I: An existential threat in Indian Country

Prior to European contact, Indigenous people were born into a Tribe and their sense of belonging was never in doubt.

Colonial assimilation policies changed that. A little discussed government tactic used to undermine Tribal identity, divide Indian peoples, and steal Native lands is the legal fiction of “blood quantum.”

Instead of traditional kinship ties of belonging to a Tribe, the government imposed a formula to determine who had enough Indian blood to qualify as a Tribal member and who did not.

Blood quantum falls in that category of things colonists made up to get what they wanted.

It’s a form of genocide.

Continue reading

City of Minneapolis under fire — again — for failing to live up to its equity promises

Division of Race & Equity staff go public with long-standing complaints

The Minneapolis Coordinators Office, which houses the Division of Race & Equity, is under fire for creating a toxic work environment for division employees.

Seventeen of the division’s current and former employees have gone public with complaints, asking Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council to reject hiring Interim City Coordinator Heather Johnston to the permanent post. They wrote that the office “has a history of ‘toxic, racist and unsafe workplace conditions’ and she [Johnston] hasn’t done enough to stop it,” according to a Star Tribune report.

This story shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It’s part of the city’s troubling pattern of failing to live up to its anti-racism and equity promises.

Continue reading

In the courts: Making the case that treaty rights could force government action on climate change

It’s nearly impossible to get politicians who operate on a two- to four-year election cycles to take the long view on the climate crisis. It would require political courage to overhaul our energy infrastructure, disrupt the status quo — and risk voters’ wrath — for a better future. Those of us in Minnesota saw first hand how political leaders and regulators ignored the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline’s projected climate damage.

A recent Harvard Law Review article makes a strong case that treaty rights could be a powerful tool to force state and federal governments to address this existential threat. The argument rests on established U.S. Supreme Court precedents.

It would take a lot of courage for the leaders of Native Nations to sue in court. These cases are costly and drag on for years. Further, Tribes risk losing. That means further erosion of their treaty rights.

Continue reading

MN DNR receives $2.2 million from Enbridge for Line 3 security services, raising more conflict-of-interest questions

Enbridge paid the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) $2.17 million for protecting its Line 3 tar sands pipeline. That’s according to a Feb. 12 letter from Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to the DNR.

The money came from the Enbridge-funded Line 3 Public Safety Escrow Account. The letter provided the following breakdown of the DNR’s reported costs:

  • Conservation Officer time responding to Line 3 “incidents”: $870,283
  • Conservation Officer training: $714,995
  • Personal Protective Equipment: $351,224
  • DNR management costs: $156,870
  • Purchased services for the coordination of supplies and resources: $34,250
  • Miscellaneous DNR Conservation Officer staff time not included in Line 3 response, $24,553
  • Staff meals during Line 3 responses and training: $18,884
Continue reading

Restorative Actions and the power of a single conversation

Part II in a series on Restorative Actions

It all started with a conversation during a two-and-a-half hour car ride in the winter of 2016. Rev. Anthony Jermaine Ross-Allam and Jim Koon were driving to a men’s retreat for members of Oak Grove Presbyterian, a predominantly white church in Bloomington, and talking about things they cared about.

Five years later, as an outgrowth of that conversation, Oak Grove is testing a model for faith communities to surrender wealth in recognition of the historic and ongoing harm done by Christian churches to Indigenous and Afro American communities. Oak Grove itself is surrendering $267,000, or 16 percent of its wealth — in land, property and financial assets.

Organizers hope their model, called Restorative Actions, will catch on with other congregations and secular communities.

Continue reading

Minneapolis City Council’s reasoning to move and expand Water Yard into East Phillips remains a mystery

The city of Minneapolis suppressed a report that said it would be less costly to expand its Water Yard in its current Marcy Holmes neighborhood location than the City Council’s current plan to relocate it to the East Phillips neighborhood.

Surprisingly, the report didn’t sway a majority of councilmembers.

On Oct. 18, I filed a Data Practices Act request with the city for more information on the report.

I am requesting emails and other communication (both internal and external) to and from the Public Works Department regarding the production of the June 2021 report: “Minneapolis Water Yard: Proposal for New Two-Story Structure on Existing Site.” This includes staff directions, discussion around the report’s purpose, drafting, and distribution of the report, and any communications with City Council members.

I had no inside information. I was just curious about the internal conversations around what seemed like an important report.

On Monday, I received an email with 1,022 pages of documents. None of them helped answer my questions.

Continue reading