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The Chief Reports - May

Aya, aya ceeki eeweemakiki! Greetings to all my relatives.

It is ceecaahkwa kiilhswa, the moon of the sandhill crane, and here in noošonke
siipionki myaamionki, we are busy with preparations for the 2019 National Gathering Week and our annual General Council meeting set for Saturday, June 29. I hope you will make plans to travel home for the many events leading up to the meeting and to attend the meeting as well.

Be sure to “rock your mahks” on that day, that is, wear your moccasins to the meeting as part of the Cultural Resources Office sponsored event “Rock Your Mahks” (see the article on page 5B).

Before I begin, please allow this personal note. It was about this time last year that I informed our community that my wife, Gena, had been diagnosed with cancer. I am thankful to report her treatments are going well, and she is feeling good. We have received many kind messages and cards from community members, and we want you to know that each one was read and appreciated so very, very much! Please continue to pray for Gena as she continues her treatment. Mihši-neewe!

As I begin this report, I want to briefly discuss our identity as a sovereign nation
and how this status impacts our Tribal government and operations and our unique cultural identity as Myaamiaki. As you know, Tribal nations have been recognized as sovereign since their first interaction with European settlers. The United
States continues to recognize this unique political status and relationship. At the heart of tribal sovereignty is the ability to govern and to enhance the welfare of citizens within tribal territory. In addition, as sovereigns, we must protect the
unique culture and identity of the Tribe.

Tribal governments are responsible for a broad range of governmental activities on tribal lands including tribal programs, law enforcement, the judicial system, health care, environmental protection, natural resources management, development and maintenance of basic infrastructures such as roads, bridges, public buildings, telecommunications, broadband, and electrical services. Maintaining government and governmental activities is costly. The Miami tribe is blessed to have Miami Nation Enterprises, our economic arm, to provide revenue to support our governmental activities and the programs we are able to provide for our citizens. With most of our businesses operating out of state
the Tribe’s ability to obtain revenues from taxation is limited, therefore, we do rely solely on our businesses and the success of our businesses for revenue. With our limited revenue stream, the Tribe works to maintain a strict budget to address the many needs of a comprehensive government and a growing tribal membership. We will have a presentation at the General Council Meeting on June 29 from Peter Murphy, our CEO for MNE who will talk about the Tribe’s businesses and areas of emphasis we are working in for some growth in our business portfolios. We continue to grow - and growth is a great thing. But we must work hard and plan so that we may sustain the government and support its growth.

As you know, the Tribe has worked diligently to clean up the mess that was left behind by Scott Tucker and his cronies as a result of the lending operation. Tucker and his lawyer Tim Muir have been sentenced to long prison sentences for their crimes. The Tribe removed itself from the business and is resolving outstanding state court cases relating to Tucker’s lending practices. Since we last gathered, the Tribe engaged counsel with the Fox Rothschild Firm to work at resolving these cases and I am happy to report that this has occurred. The Tribe prevailed in
litigation in New Mexico and most recently in California. The Courts in New Mexico and California found that when the Tribe kicked Tucker out and took back control of those operations, that the sovereignty of those businesses was restored. We are only waiting to see whether the plaintiffs in the California case choose to appeal their loss. We hope that they don’t and, if they don’t, we will have turned the page completely on this chapter.

On the government side, a key area of focus remains our legislative efforts in Washington, D.C. As Chief, each year I travel extensively to Washington, D.C. for the concerns of our Tribal government and to further the invaluable work of relationship building. Our travels include meetings with congressmen, senators and staff members from both parties. Our message is well planned to address concerns before committee hearings take place in order to ensure our issues are heard before a bill is voted on.

A top priority in D.C. again this year is securing federal legislation to resolve
the Tribe’s long-standing land claim in Illinois. For two sessions of Congress, and again this session, our Congressman Markwayne Mullin introduced legislation to address our land claim. This session, Congressman Mullin introduced HR 396, a bill that would give the Federal Court of Claims jurisdiction to consider and decide
the Tribe’s claim for compensation for the taking of 2.6 million acres of land located in east central Illinois.

This land, as many of you know, was guaranteed to the Tribe in the Grouseland
Treaty and was never sold to the United States or anyone else. The bill is co-sponsored by Congressman Tom Cole and Congressman Kevin Hern and we expect other Congressman, on a bi-partisan basis, to join the bill as co-sponsors. We have also worked closely with the Congressman from Illinois where the land is located and the local Illinois political leadership. We expect that a companion bill will be introduced in the United States Senate in the near future sponsored by Illinois’ senior senator Dick Durbin. We continue to aggressively push to move this bill through the process and are hopeful this Congress will act. We are also preparing a lawsuit so that when the bill is passed the Tribe can file its claim right away.

Another area of focus in D.C. concerns Reserve 35 in Kansas. We have worked closely with the BIA and Department of Interior to obtain approval of tribal member applications to transfer fractionated interests in our historic Kansas Reserve to the Tribe. Currently, the federal government is the only obstacle between willing sellers and the Tribe as a willing buyer. We hope to bring this process to a successful completion so that the Tribe can consolidate interests in the Kansas land and make it productive for all Tribal members.

Other work in D.C. includes cultivating new congressional champions for the Tribal enforcement of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and to address with the administration structural issues and lack of responsiveness of National NAGPRA to Tribal enforcement efforts of non-compliance in the state of Indiana. We have spent significant time making in-roads with federal elected officials from Indiana in pursuit of these efforts. 

The Tribe has also continued its leadership regarding the efforts in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing of the Pensacola Dam and to ensure that any relicensing addresses impacts on tribal lands, natural and cultural resources and infrastructure. The Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) has now formally applied for relicensing and the Tribe has worked to ensure that the United States Department of the Interior is an active participant. The Tribe has been joined in these efforts by several Tribes, including the Eastern Shawnee Tribe, the Peoria Tribe, the Ottawa Tribe, the Wyandotte Nation, and the Seneca Cayuga Tribe.

As those of you who live in Ottawa County are aware, for the last several decades, the operation of the Pensacola Dam has caused chronic flooding which has adversely affected the Miami Tribe and other Tribes’ trust lands, fee lands, traditional cultural properties, and economic endeavors. The proposed undertakings will cause further destruction of tribal resources and properties and limit the ability of tribal members to travel to employment or to reach medical facilities in this county.

The Tribe recognizes that Grand Lake is a recreational location and is good for the local economy, including the Miami area economy. What the Tribes are insisting upon is that the impacts of the operation of the dam be assessed and that steps be taken where there are adverse impacts. The Tribe will continue its work in this matter to protect its Tribal lands and resources and will update you as
developments happen.

Finally, the Tribe is working with other local Tribes in the Tar Creek Superfund Site Tribal Coalition in legal actions against mining companies for natural resource damages by these companies in the Tar Creek Superfund Site in Picher, Oklahoma. The Miami, like other local Tribes, is negatively impacted by the mining activities of these companies which resulted in heavy contaminates of zinc, lead and cadmium to thousands of acres of soil, hundreds of stream miles of surface water and associated riparian corridor, millions of cubic yards of sediment,
and tens of square miles of groundwater. The Miami, along with other Tribes in northeast Oklahoma seek funds for damages and costs to restore the lands under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Negotiations for damages and cleanup costs are currently underway. Negotiations with other polluters for additional damages and cleanup costs are
currently underway. 

We continue to seek to put land into Trust status through the Department of Interior. Currently, the Tribe has 160.67 acres of trust land in Oklahoma. The Tribe has submitted trust application packages for an additional 229 acres which have been approved this spring to transfer to the Tribe in trust and are in the final
stages of the administrative process. Once the deeds are issued the tribe will have 389 total acres in trust.

Our fee land to trust land efforts has fully restored 40 acres of Chief Harley Palmer’s Allotment to protected trust status, something we consider historic for the Tribe. Several other significant parcels, including another portion of the former Chief David Geboe Allotment, which includes a portion of our Myaamia Heritage Cemetery property, is also among lands moving into trust status. Once trust status is achieved for these parcels, we will move forward with the next set of applications, continuing to reestablish a land base lost to us over the last 150 years. 

Putting land into Trust status has four key areas of importance. First, the land is restored to the Tribe’s jurisdiction as it was intended when we moved here in the 1860s – for law enforcement, environmental protection, cultural use and protection and on and on. Second, the land cannot be taken or lost – the federal government holds it as a trustee for the benefit of the Tribe and its sovereign authority and title protects the lands. Third, trust land is no longer taxable by the state and local governments. The Supreme Court has held that tribal fee lands can still be taxed but taxation on land ends with trust acquisition. And, finally, there are opportunities available to the Tribe, both in program participation and in
economic endeavors that are available when on trust lands that are not
available on fee lands. We are pleased to have been able to work with the
new leadership at the Miami Agency Office of the BIA to move nearly
250 acres of Tribal fee land into trust status. It is progress that we have been working to achieve for several years and it is now happening under the new BIA leadership.

Tribal budget preparation and oversight are a constant concern for every elected Business Committee. We are in the eighth month of the fiscal year 2019, and in the tenth month since our 2018 General Council meeting. Each year at this time we report on our progress and the many changes and happenings within our Nation. We consistently report growth in all areas of the Tribe, and this year is no different. Your elected Tribal leadership fully understands this growth is good for our Nation, but it is also challenging regarding budget planning, project planning,
and the many citizen services we provide through federal funding/grants and from Tribal monies.

According to Tera Hatley, our Member Services Manager, the Tribal enrollment reported at this time last year was 5,256 citizens. As of this date, we are a Nation of 5,423 citizens. Our average growth in citizenship is approximately 200 persons per year. With this growth trend, our citizenship will be nearing 6,000 by 2021, which is also the 175th anniversary of the forced removal of the Miami Nation from our homelands in Indiana. Most importantly, this enrollment number is the starting point in every aspect of Tribal business planning and management for
each budget year.

Our annual tribal budget for FY19 was conservatively set based on the previous year’s numbers and with consideration of the new year’s projected growth. We remain in a rebuilding cycle following the closure of some businesses by Miami Nation Enterprises. However, MNE is growing and prospering and is reporting a 50% increase in earnings over last year’s $9.9 million reported at the annual General Council meeting in 2018. Our annual tribal budget is completely separate from the budgets of federally funded grants awarded to the Tribe and both are fully audited each year. The audit for the previous fiscal year is reported at each annual General Council meeting and the FY18 audit will be complete soon
and will be reported in the General Council meeting in June. The auditing firm is Rose Rock CPAs out of Edmond, OK (www.roserockcpas.com). Our Accounting Department projects FY19 will end under budget, as did FY18.

As our membership grows, so does the need for growth with our infrastructure. Our grant-funded work to expand the Nation’s Council House is set to begin the week after the 2019 General Council meeting. The expansion will double the size of the current structure providing much needed additional space for this Annual Meeting as well as Winter Gathering and other events held throughout the year.

Those traveling home for the National Gathering Week events will enjoy seeing the new pavilion and speaker stand recently constructed next to the Nation’s pow wow arena. The new structure will provide a shaded area for use during the summer youth education programs, for spectators of lacrosse and other field games, gourd dancing during the Pow Wow and other gatherings.

The revitalization of our culture, language, and traditions is of utmost importance to our people and the duty of this work has been embraced by Tribal leaders for over 20 years. Beginning with our late Chief Floyd Leonard, we have exercised our sovereignty through repatriation under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and have successfully reburied ancestors and their funerary objects on a number of occasions. 

Most recently, in the fall of 2019 the NAGPRA Committee, with assistance from our legal team, helped to bring closure to an extensive NAGPRA concern at Strawtown Koteewi Park in Hamilton County, IN. After six years of consultation, disagreement, challenge, and frustration, the human remains of ancestors, and their funerary objects, disturbed by archaeological fieldwork and placed on museum shelves, were repatriated and returned to the earth. We extend great appreciation and respect to the employees who helped address and bring this concern to closure. Our repatriation reburial work is very important and is done quietly and respectfully so as not to expose the locations of burials to looters or other threats to the peaceful places of our departed relatives and their objects.

Knowledge of our history is very important to each of us as Myaamia. Our story through time is woven into the fabric of our identity as a people, individually and communally. Because of this, we require truth in history and the presentation, or recording, of it when we as a people are named or affected. Misrepresentation of history in publication, the classroom, at the breakfast table, in the boardroom or elsewhere is like planting a weed seed that, when it comes up somewhere in the future, will be something we have to fight against to stop its spread.

Just such a seed was planted in Fort Wayne, Indiana on February 26, 2019, when, during a City Council meeting, Councilman Jason Arp presented a Resolution containing inaccurate historical data in order to establish “General ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne Day” in the city. Arp’s presentation stated that General Wayne was “merciful”, that Native troops were led by the British, and that anyone who did not embrace this new day named for General Wayne would be considered unpatriotic. News of the Resolution was quickly reported to the Miami Tribe by Miami citizens living in the Fort Wayne area.

The Tribe reviewed the video recording of the City Council meeting, as posted on the Fort Wayne City Council webpage, and the text of the Resolution as adopted during the meeting. (It is important to note that Councilman John Crawford, Councilman Glynn A. Hines, and Councilman Russ Jehl voted no on Resolution R-19-02-12.)

In response, the Miami Tribe sent a letter to the Fort Wayne City Council calling for the Resolution to be rescinded, for a correction to the inaccurate history as presented by Arp, and that the Resolution is replaced with a corrected file. The Tribe addressed the concern that the video record and Resolution are now part of the city’s historical record and accessible by the public. The Tribe also spoke with local media to ensure citizen awareness of the issue. While the Tribe remains disappointed in the Fort Wayne City Council for not taking action to correct its historical record, many citizens of Fort Wayne have communicated their support
for our concern.

As reported in our previous newspaper, the Miami Tribe received Honors from Harvard’s 2019 Honoring Nations Program for our revitalization effort we know as Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki – “the Miamis awake”. Secretary-Treasurer Donya Williams and First Councilperson Tera Hatley traveled with me to Denver, CO during the fall session of the National Congress of the American Indian where Harvard was presenting the awards. While we were still basking in the glow of this honor, we received word from Miami University that the Miami Tribe was chosen
as the recipient of the Bishop Medal, named for Robert Hamilton Bishop,
Miami’s first president, an award recognizing distinguished service to
humanity.

My wife Gena and I traveled to Oxford, OH to receive the award for the Tribe on May 3 during the University’s 2019 annual alumni/advancement awards dinner. The Miami Tribe was among twelve different honored guests for the contributions they make to the university, their community, and society as a whole. I was so proud to represent you, our Tribe, at this event. The handsome medal we received, as well as the Honoring Nations statuette, will be on display during the 2019 General Council Meeting.

As you see this has been a busy year but a very good year. It is my honor to stand before you and report that this great Nation continues its legacy as a progressive and sound tribal government which is a leader among tribes, not only in this community but nationally.  It is a great day to be Myaamia.

Mihši-neewe, and we look forward to seeing you, our relatives, in Myaamionki in June for all of the events of our National Gathering Week and our General Council meeting. 

nipwaahkaako, neehi peehkikanaaweeko
Akima Eecipoonkwia
Chief Douglas Lankford

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