Navajo Commission Holds Hearings on Sacred Sites

Written by at July 19, 2010

ST. MICHAELS, Ariz. (AP) — The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission is holding public hearings to gather input on how to preserve and protect sacred sites.

The first of five meetings will be held Tuesday in Crownpoint, N.M. Navajo citizens will have other opportunities to voice concerns or submit written comments in Fort Defiance, Chinle, Tuba City and Shiprock, N.M.

The commission was formed by the Navajo Nation Council and has held 25 public hearings since 2008 on race relations between Navajos and non-Navajos. The commission says one of the most common topics has been sacred sites.

The commission will compile the testimony on sacred sites and submit a report with recommendations to the Tribal Council.

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250 Still Without Drinking Water on Reservation

Written by at July 5, 2010

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Hundreds of people on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation are still without safe drinking water two weeks after flooding broke the reservation’s water lines, tore up roads and forced dozens of evacuations.

The flooding hit the reservation in mid-June after more than 5 inches of rain soaked the ground already saturated by an unusually wet spring.

Neil Rosette, the Chippewa Cree executive administrative officer, says the most urgent situation is the lack of drinking water.

Families can pick up two cases of bottled water a day and tribal leaders were delivering water to those who unable to leave their homes.

Rosette says most of the water lines have been fixed, but the reservation’s tanks have not refilled and the system has not recharged as fast as it should.

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Nez Perce Oppose Oil-Gear Shipments Through Idaho

Written by at July 5, 2010

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Nez Perce tribe in north-central Idaho said Friday it doesn’t want 200 over-sized loads of oil-field equipment traveling a reservation highway en route to an oil sands project in Canada.

The tribal government passed a resolution concluding the giant shipments, scheduled to move at night starting this fall along U.S. Highway 12, “would establish a dangerous and unacceptable precedent in one of the most beautiful and pristine federally protected corridors in the U.S.”

The Nez Perce also wrote that extracting petroleum from the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta was an “environmentally destructive method … that will have profound negative impacts on the First Nations communities of Canada.”

The shipment route, starting from the Snake River port of Lewiston, follows the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers through 70 miles of the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho. With its resolution, the tribe joins others who fear potential environmental and safety risks from loads that could weigh up to 140 tons and be 170- to 210-feet long.

“The tribe will explore all options in terms of achieving our policy goals,” tribal attorney Mike Lopez told The Associated Press Friday, adding the Nez Perce haven’t considered a blockade to thwart the shipments.

“The tribe is aware that the state has a right of way though the Nez Perce reservation,” Lopez said. “The tribe hasn’t considered pursuing that possible avenue yet.”

The Idaho Transportation Department has said state law requires the agency to issue permits for the huge loads, provided they can be moved safely and without damaging roads and bridges.

The agency joined Canada’s Imperial Oil, the unit of Exxon Mobil Corp. that’s behind the shipments, in giving presentations in Moscow and Lewiston this week, detailing just how the company will transport the equipment.

But the tribe said it isn’t satisfied with assurances, saying Highway 12, completed in the 1960s, was never envisioned as a transportation route for gigantic equipment that could go crashing into the Clearwater or Lochsa rivers if there’s an accident.

“The tribe fails to see how the nominal benefit of this project to the local area will justify the enormous risks to people and the environment,” said McCoy Oatman, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Imperial, which contends on its website that the oil sands project is “environmentally, socially and economically responsible,” didn’t immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Imperial has said the equipment transports would bring $10.6 million to Idaho, with most going to wages for drivers of pilot cars. Montana is expected to receive about $1,600 a load from the company to cover costs, while the Idaho Transportation Department estimates it will get about $1,000 per load.

The Idaho Transportation Department issues fewer than 10 oversized permits per year for Highway 12, usually for grain silos, boats or wind turbine blades. There have been no reported accidents involving oversized loads here in 15 years.

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John Miller is an Associated Press staff writer.

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Math, Reading Gap Among Native American Students

Written by at July 2, 2010

Native American students at schools overseen by the federal Bureau of Indian Education performed significantly worse on national standardized tests in reading and math compared with those in public schools.

The National Indian Education Study released Wednesday found lags in achievement and persistent gaps among Native American students and their peers. There was also a significant disparity among Native American students depending on the type of school they attend, according to the U.S. Department of Education study.

Those in public schools, and particularly those in schools where Native American students represent less than 25 percent of the population, consistently scored higher than their peers who attend schools heavily populated by Native Americans. The most stark contrast was seen among those who attend Bureau of Indian Education schools, which were created to provide quality education to Native Americans.

The bureau oversees 183 schools on 64 reservations in 23 states, a majority of which are run by tribes. They educate an estimated 44,000 students – less than 10 percent of all Native American children nationwide.

In reading, fourth grade students at Bureau of Indian Education schools scored an average of 181 on a 500 point scale on the National Assessment of Educational Progress – 25 points lower than Native Americans attending public schools. There was a 23 point gap among eighth grade students. Similar gaps were seen in math.

Poverty, less access to resources and difficulty obtaining and retaining teachers to work in tribal areas could be part of the problem, researchers said.

“If I could pinpoint it, I could bottle it and sell it and solve the problem,” said Bart Stevens, deputy director of school operations for the Bureau of Indian Education. “It’s one that we keep plugging at, and a lot of things that impact our students are not necessarily within our control, as with any school system.”

Overall, Native American students are struggling, with more than a third scoring below the basic level in reading and math, according to the study. Those scores have remained basically unchanged since 2005.

“The fact that our American Indian and Alaska Native students have not made any progress since 2005 is alarming and cause for major concern,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

The American Indians’ scores were similar to those of black and Hispanic students.

Kerry Venegas of the National Indian Education Association said the challenges facing Bureau of Indian Education schools are similar to those in large, urban schools – but exacerbated. On some reservations, unemployment hovers at 70 percent and graduation rates are low.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressed his dismay at the situation at a National Press Club luncheon in 2009, in which he described having visited a reservation in Montana where the dropout rate was as high as 65 percent. Teachers told him only one student had graduated from college in the past six years.

“If we can’t help those Native American children be successful over the next couple of years, than I think I personally would have failed,” Duncan said.

The study also included a look at the integration of Native American culture into education. Forty-three percent of fourth grade students said their teachers did integrate Native American culture and history into class.

The issue of retaining Native American culture is not lost among people like Harold Dusty Bull, 60, vice president of the National Johnson O’Malley Association, a nonprofit educational organization. He recalled how in the 1940s Native American children were sent to government boarding schools where they were stripped of their culture and language.

“It started out with bad history, and I don’t think it’s ever really overcome it yet,” he said.

Christine Armario is an Associated Press staff writer.

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Water Test OK’d Despite Threat to Endangered Fish

Written by at July 2, 2010

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — The state Division of Water Resources has decided to proceed with a groundwater pumping test at a planned city being built in the desert north of Las Vegas, even though an independent study suggests it could wipe out a federally protected species of fish.

Martin Mifflin, a hydrologist whose firm prepared the study for the Moapa Band of Paiutes, warned Nevada officials not to proceed with pumping at the Coyote Springs project until they determined why 60 percent of the endangered Moapa dace died in 2007 and 2008. He also said the effect of the tests won’t show up for months after pumping begins.

The fish population dropped after the Coyote Springs development began pumping additional water to irrigate a golf course through existing water rights. Residential development at Coyote Springs has been delayed because of the poor economy.

Bob Williams, state supervisor for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, questioned the accuracy of Mifflin’s study.

He said the dace population has shown a slight increase in the past two years and that hydrologists have been arguing for 10 years whether the pumping will jeopardize the federally protected fish.

He said the dace may have died because of restoration work done at the warm spring pools where the small fish live, about nine miles east of Coyote Springs.

“I am charged more than any other person in this room with protecting the Moapa dace,” Williams said during a recent meeting of water officials. “We want information. Let’s go forward.”

State engineer Jason King said he could order an immediate halt to pumping if studies show the dace population declines.

“That’s our hammer,” added King, who has said he did not want to be responsible for killing off the endangered fish population.

Coyote Springs, the brainchild of developer Harvey Whittemore, is located on more than 67 square miles of desert land about 50 miles north of Las Vegas. Promoters say it could hold has many as 150,000 new homes.

The Moapa dace is found only in the nearby warm spring pools and streams at the headwaters of the Muddy River, between U.S. 93 and Interstate 15.

The entire natural habitat of the finger-length fish is confined within the 117-acre Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the neighboring Warm Springs Natural Area, a 2,000-acre tract the Southern Nevada Water Authority acquired in September 2007.

A further drop in the fish population could have wider ramifications. At risk are water rights that the state engineer tentatively awarded the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Coyote Springs development and the Moapa Indians. More than half of that water is to be pumped into the Las Vegas area by the water authority for use by residents and businesses.

Before they could pump water from Coyote Springs wells permanently, the affected parties were required by a 2002 agreement to carry out a two-year test to pump 8,050 acre-feet of water a year from Coyote Springs wells and determine how that affects the water tables and the fish population.

The test will begin in August or September, said Jeff Johnson, a division manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. His agency plans to pump 6,500 acre-feet of water – about 4,000 gallons a minute – from a well at Coyote Springs. Officials say one acre-foot of water is enough to supply two average Las Vegas homes for one year.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority does not need additional water now because the economic downturn has reduced demand in Las Vegas, Johnson said.

Water taken from the well in Coyote Springs over the next two years will be pumped through a more than $21 million pipeline about 16 miles from Coyote Springs to the Muddy River. Some of it will flow downstream to Lake Mead, the Colorado River reservoir behind Hoover Dam.

Johnson said the water can be credited to Nevada for future years when the state needs it.

Nevada is allowed to draw 300,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Mead each year. That federal allocation supplies the Las Vegas area with about 90 percent of its drinking water.

Mifflin said after meeting with water officials that he was particularly disappointed with Williams’ statements and his and others’ unwillingness to first find a conclusive reason for the fish dying.

“This is the guy who is supposed to protect the dace and he is ignoring our evidence,” Mifflin said. “Sure it is possible that the dace population died because of their improvements to the fish habitat. But until they know for sure, it is crazy to go forward.”

The number of dace fell from 1,172 to 473 in 2007 and 2008. A count in February showed a population of 532.

Mifflin said his study found decreased flows to the springs that feed the dace habitat would not show up until nine or 10 months after pumping begins. He contended that pumping at full levels could continue for a year and a half before the state engineer stops it under the 2002 agreement.

The Coyote Springs development anticipates it will pump about 1,400 acre-feet of water per year for the next two years under its existing water rights.

Carl Savely, a lawyer with the Coyote Springs development, said the proposed master-planned community does not need additional water now because the poor economy has hampered lot sales.

Bill Van Liew, a hydrologist with the National Park Service, defended Mifflin’s conclusions. He said the hydrologist is correct about the pumping damaging the Moapa dace population.

“I have been saying the same thing for the last 10 years,” Van Liew.

Ultimately, though, he said, he must defer to Williams’ view and go along with the additional pumping.

“We have had this battle for the last decade,” Van Liew said. “I think the pumping definitely is going to affect the dace. What happens after that, who knows?”

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Ed Vogel is a staff writer with the Las Vegad Review-Journal. This article is an AP member exchange.

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Melting Ice Reveals Ancient Weapon

Written by at July 2, 2010

DENVER (AP) — Researchers at the University of Colorado have discovered a 10,000-year-old hunting weapon they say had been preserved in ice before being melted out by rising temperatures.

The spearlike dart was discovered in 2007 near Yellowstone National Park and dated in 2008 but CU only announced the find Tuesday. Research associate Craig Lee says he wanted to try to get the findings published in a scientific journal first and avoid attracting amateur archaeologists.

Lee says increased global temperatures are melting ice fields, releasing artifacts as well as plant material and animal carcasses, in Alaska, Canada and Europe.

Later this summer, Lee plans to visit Montana’s Glacier National Park to work with Indian tribes there to find and protect artifacts that may have been freed from melting ice.

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