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The California Indian Nations College is celebrating its first year of offering unique higher-education courses to local Native Americans students.

While the school didn’t start offering courses until the fall of 2018, its genesis occurred in 2015, when Theresa Mike began meeting with local tribal leaders and academic leaders in Southern California. While there are currently 37 accredited tribal colleges in the United States, there is not one in California.

In 2017, CINC received seed funding from the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians. The school’s partners include College of the Desert; the University of California, Riverside; and CSU-San Bernardino. The college’s offices are on the UCR Palm Desert Campus.

T. Robert Przeklasa, CINC’s vice president of academic affairs, said the college fills a disconcerting need.

“The latest figures were put out in 2016. CSU-San Marcos’ California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center put out figures that showed in California and the United States, (Native American college) enrollment is inching down,” Przeklasa said.

Celeste Townsend, the interim president of CINC, suggested a possible reason for that decrease.

“Not everybody claims (they’re) Native American,” Townsend said. “When you go around to these colleges and universities, the enrollment is 1 percent. How many students are claiming Native American as their primary ethnicity, and how many are choosing not to claim?”

Even though there’s a sizable Native American population in the Coachella Valley, Townsend said she’s dealt with a lot of misconceptions.

“During our meetings with College of the Desert as one of the first points of contact we had, they asked us, ‘Where are you going to get your students?’” Townsend said. “We were like, ‘Are you kidding? We’re in the desert. There are so many tribes within this area!’ So there’s a lot of misunderstanding, and misconceptions. … A lot of universities go after those (students) straight out of high schools. We opened it up to anybody and everybody. Having been someone who took 12 years to get an (associate’s) degree, I come from an understanding that you go where you are comfortable. Some of them don’t feel comfortable.”

Townsend said she and her colleagues were surprised by the immediate demand for what CINC was offering.

“We moved in here last year in July, and September was when we were approved to offer the general-education courses for CINC,” Townsend said. “We had 3 1/2 weeks to recruit, and we needed to have 12 students in each class. In 3 1/2 weeks, we landed 40 students. Seeing the age range and the students wasn’t just really exciting; it was really heartfelt. … We were like, ‘Wow! (The demand) is really out there! We’re just trying to start!’

“We’re still developing policies and procedures, and we still need to get our necessary accreditation. We’re cart before the horse, offering these courses through College of the Desert, which is our incubator and our host, with UCR supporting our offices. We’re trying to establish California Indian Nations College as a standalone college.”

Townsend said they learned a lot from their first year of offering courses.

“Our vision at first was to offer these culturally infused courses for our students, but seeing the diversity we have in the age and desires of our students, there has to be that personalized focus,” Townsend said. “We have a personal approach: ‘What can we do? How can we help you?’ We’ve found that (some students) are struggling with writing. You have those who are needing that extra writing and math support, which we have begun to offer through workshops. We concentrated on offering English 1A, which is composition, and a counseling class to develop an educational plan for themselves. … We’re trying to accommodate their needs by offering these classes while still trying to build a college, build a program and build degrees.”

California Indian Nations College is seeking regional accreditation, which can take years to achieve.

“Regional accreditation is quite a process,” Przeklasa said. “You have to become eligible for accreditation. In California, the accrediting body is the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. You have to be operating for three years with students and finances before you can even apply to be eligible. Once you’re granted eligibility, you have to supply more years of records. … Basically you’re looking, at the very earliest, of seven years of operations.

“We wanted to be sure our classes counted. … If we were offering them on our own, it wouldn’t fly. (Other colleges) wouldn’t recognize the courses. So we started with this partnership with UC Riverside, and the plan was to offer classes through their extension. When we started talking more with the accrediting commission, they said, ‘UC doesn’t offer associate’s degrees, so you can’t work with them. Find an institution that offers two-year degrees.’ That’s when we started working with College of the Desert. We’re doing our best to operate and move toward accreditation while still getting our students those courses that can be transferred.”

While looking at the courses offered, I noticed a class for tribal-law-related matters. That led to a discussion of why college education is important for tribal sovereignty to survive.

“We have a student who is from one of the tribes east of here. She is a little older and has said to me, ‘My tribe doesn’t have leaders anymore. They’ve passed on, and somebody needs to take over. I need to educate myself so I can take over,’” Przeklasa said.

CINC is currently offering classes for free.

“During our first term, the Theresa A. Mike Scholarship Foundation gave scholarships to all of our students. They were fully funded in these courses. For this (concluding spring) term, the courses are funded, and students don’t have a financial barrier again; all they have to do is purchase their books and get to school, and everything else is covered,” Przeklasa said. “We’re working hard with our foundation and our development people to ensure that we have the support for the college so we can do that and buy out the classes to ensure that there is no cost for our students. However, should we have to charge the students tuition, it’s going to be the same tuition as College of the Desert. There are a number of programs that College of the Desert has through the state where if you meet the criteria, you can get in for free. There are also Pell Grants and the Promise Grant, so those avenues of financial assistance would be open to the students.”

Townsend said CINC has a lot more work to do.

“When you look at the college as a whole, we need educated board members. We need faculty recruitment. We still need to recruit and focus on these students. We need to continue to work on our curriculum.”

For more information, visit cincollege.org.

Published in Local Issues

Under the direction of President Donald Trump, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services task force is working to strip Americans of their citizenship, attacking immigration through a process known as denaturalization.

Denaturalization—taking away citizenship in court—allows the president to double-down on his insistence that the system is broken. His administration has increased the use of civil denaturalization, which requires a lower standard of proof than criminal denaturalization and has no statute of limitations. That means naturalized citizens are at risk of losing their citizenship and being deported forever.

It’s hard not to see the move as part of an attempt to make America whiter. Even if that’s not the official reason, it’s certainly energizing those longing for mythical, whiter times.

At the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the immigration files of naturalized citizens are scrutinized, and asylum applications are scoured for evidence, even unintentional errors, to justify taking away citizenship. This strategy isn’t just a defining characteristic of the Trump administration, however—some tribal governments share a similar goal.

In Indian Country, it’s not known as denaturalization; it’s called disenrollment.

Non-Indian firms, known as enrollment auditors, are hired to help tribal politicians figure out who will be easiest to eliminate from a particular tribe’s membership rolls. When you’re trying to track how much “Indian blood” a person has, or which ancestor they descend from, it’s easy to find gaps in 19th century records, especially those involving matriarchs, whose lives often aren’t reflected in legal records. Tribes disenroll members for various reasons, including old family disputes and racism—even a desire to reduce the number of people who can lay claim to collective financial resources. There is no unified theory of disenrollment. It is a form of civil entropy whose logical conclusion is the elimination of Indian tribes.

The civil denaturalization of U.S. citizens and the disenrollment of tribal citizens are actions that share DNA in that both deprive individuals of their identity and citizenship. Both actions sow political insecurity in their respective targets and in “other” individuals for political reasons, and eventually both are likely to result in a whiter America. These practices must end, and those responsible should be held accountable.

The United States has been denaturalizing its citizens for decades. In the 20th century, more than 145,000 U.S. citizens, both “native born” and naturalized, were stripped of their citizenship, often for political reasons, including a government desire to purge communists. But the tide began to turn in the mid-1900s, and in 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court made denaturalization more difficult, holding: “Citizenship is no light trifle to be jeopardized any moment Congress decides to do so under the name of one of its general or implied grants of power.”

While Trump’s push to denaturalize citizens may appear to be an aggressive reflection of this political era, the move actually gained force during the Obama administration, when the Department of Justice filed an average of 11 denaturalization cases annually. Since Trump was inaugurated, though, cases have exploded; approximately 2,500 cases have been identified for possible denaturalization. Twice as many as denaturalization cases were filed in federal district court in 2017 as in 2016.

Disenrollment also mushroomed under the Obama administration. Throughout the 20th century, the federal government asserted authority over tribal disenrollment activities. But in the spring of 2010, the Interior Department suddenly assumed a hands-off approach to disenrollment, citing tribal self-determination. That was an overcorrection that proved disastrous. Rampant disenrollment ensued, resulting in the exile of thousands of Indians throughout the country. By the fall of 2016, the feds reversed course, taking deterrent actions at the Elem Indian Colony in Northern California and the NookSack Tribe in Washington, but the damage had been done. The jury is still out on the Trump administration’s approach to disenrollment, but so far, there’s been no attempt to help disenrollees.

Tribal attempts to eliminate the allegedly impure, the “erroneously enrolled” and the landless reflect Trump’s efforts to police citizenship. Whether driven by greed, their own insecurities about identity, or a pseudo-fascist drive to “purify” a tribal community, tribal politicians who disenroll members encourage tribal factions that seek to “other” Indians within their own communities. Ironically, disenrollment requires today’s politicians to ignore and dishonor the decisions of past tribal leaders. Like the anti-immigrant enthusiasm that has solidified Trump’s base, tribal politicians exploit anti-“other” sentiments and populism to push disenrollment agendas.

But tribal councilmembers are empowered by their constituents. Disenrollment politicians do not force tribal populations to cannibalize themselves; that would deprive Indigenous people of agency in a way unknown in any other aspect of tribal political life. Members of tribes who disenroll their kin bear responsibility for their leaders’ actions, just as American citizens share the blame for illegal denaturalization.

Denaturalization has already delegitimized American citizenship by making it something that can be taken away for political gain. Similarly, disenrollment diminishes tribal nations by making tribal membership an identity that can be erased when politically expedient.

Both tribal members and U.S. citizens should demand more from their elected leaders and begin treating citizenship as the sacred foundation of good, representative government.

Anthony Broadman is a partner with the law firm of Galanda Broadman PLLC in Seattle. His practice focuses on federal Indian law. This piece originally appeared in High Country News.

Published in Community Voices

The Albuquerque ambiance, as we rolled into town to cover a tribal energy conference, was tinted with doom.

It was 7:30 on a June evening, and the car thermometer read 99 degrees. To the north, a massive plume of smoke rose up from the newly ignited Jaroso fire, joining the plumes of the Tres Lagunas and Thompson Ridge fires that had been burning nearby for several days. Dust, kicked up by a vicious wind, shrouded the downtown buildings. The gusts tossed tiny pieces of Styrofoam, reputedly from a luxury condo project gone belly-up, like little pieces of snow.

“I’m not sure if this is a drought,” said Roger Fragua, of Jemez Pueblo and the former deputy director of the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, as he introduced the conference the next morning, “or our new reality.” The attendees could think of the scorching planet in the abstract for the moment, at least, as we were all ensconced in the cool, opulent Sandia Resort and Casino—the pueblo is not an energy tribe, but does OK with its own extractive industry, namely mining the pockets of gamblers.

The drought, and climate change, as both opportunity and threat, were recurring themes throughout the conference. But a much bigger menace, it seemed, was the sequester, and a general movement toward austerity on a federal level, which will deal a big blow to tribal budgets even as native populations grow. To face that threat, and to become financially independent, it was generally agreed that tribes must develop their resources, be they wind, coal, oil or sunshine.

Indian lands hold around 20 percent of the nation’s extractable fossil fuels, and 10 percent of its renewable resources. Yet only 1.3 percent of all fossil fuel production in the U.S. happens on tribal land; the figure for renewables is probably far lower. It’s clearly not because tribes don’t want to develop their resources; it’s just that they’re in an awkward position: Many lack the human capacity or capital to develop their own resources, leaving them, potentially, to be exploited by outside corporations and the feds, as has been done for decades. The bureaucratic red tape around resource development on tribal lands is especially thick, and tax incentives for renewable projects carry less weight for tribal projects because tribes aren’t taxed.

Tex Hall, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes, wearing a straw cowboy hat and a pony tail, holds a bit of rock-star status for getting past that. His tribe’s land—situated atop the famous Bakken shale formation—has 800 oil wells with 30 rigs currently drilling, pushing it to the top of the oil-producing tribes in the nation. (He emphasizes that his tribe has strictly regulated drillers, and fines them substantially for violations.) The Navajo Nation has been an oil giant for decades, and president Ben Shelly made waves at the conference by demanding that the red tape be ripped down, threatening to leave the event if the assembled group of leaders didn’t come up with a plan to streamline the permitting process for resource development in Indian Country.

Shelly’s tribe derives a huge portion of its budget from fossil fuels, including some $48 million from oil and gas and $55 million from coal. “We are dependent upon coal,” Shelly says, and the feds created that dependency by foisting oil and coal leases on them in the first place. Now he says wants time to wean his tribe off the fuel by, yes, investing in it. He’s interested in buying the Navajo coal mine, which fuels the Four Corners Power Plant in northwest New Mexico. The purchase would help keep both the mine and plant—providing a total of 800 jobs, mostly held by Navajos—alive, and would entail building a rail line south from the mine to the main BNSF Railway line to enable the mine to sell coal to distant markets. Shelly’s also fighting to keep the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Ariz., going, because of the revenue and jobs—critical given the 50+ percent unemployment rate—that it and the mine that supplies it provide.

Which is not to say that everyone at the conference was in a fossil fueled frenzy. A handful of gadflies were on hand to call out Shelly and his coal boosterism. Vernon Masayesva, a former Hopi Chairman and founder of the Black Mesa Trust, was there, along with Milton Bluehouse Sr., former Navajo president. Both asked tough questions about the environmental and cultural impacts of coal. Glenn Manygoats, an engineer from Flagstaff, described the activists’ plan to replace Navajo Generating Station with a combined cycle, solar and natural gas power plant, with wind and hydropower backup, using natural gas from the Southern Ute Tribe’s wells. Jemez Pueblo, over which one of New Mexico’s big fires now looms, is making a second, more-ambitious attempt to build a utility-scale solar plant after the first one flopped. It’s relying on help from the Albuquerque-based Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute and its students, including some from Jemez.

Perhaps they can use the radical turbine designed by Johann Steinlechner, who stood out in the bolo-tied, dark-suited crowd with his big black cowboy hat, a Western sort of polo shirt with a graphic of a horse herd trampling across it, and a thick Austrian accent as incongruous as the wing tips he was wearing. He retired at 40, went on a tour of casinos, “living the high life,” until a friend was killed in Iraq “for da oil,” inspiring him to delve into the wind industry. Now he’s invented a giant turbine that lies flat—from the outside, it resembles a parking garage, while the turbine looks like a giant roulette wheel—reducing bird kills and aesthetic concerns.

For the time being, though, it appears that drill rigs will outnumber wind turbines in Indian Country. T. Greg Merrion, president of Merrion Oil and Gas, seemed ready to burst from his skin with enthusiasm over the riches in the mostly untapped Mancos Shale formation that underlies a huge swath of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona—and several Indian reservations. Though most of the land in question is already pocked with thousands of conventional oil and gas and coalbed methane wells, the hunt for Mancos Shale oil will require horizontal drilling and “very very large fracking jobs,” with each $5 to $10 million well requiring as much as 1 to 2 million pounds of sand and 5 to 10 million gallons of water. This is no Bakken, said Merrion, but “our future looks bright.”

As he said this, golf carts rolled by outside the wall-sized window of the room, along a path carved from the emerald green grassy hilltop. Sprinklers sprayed a glimmering stream into the smoky air all day long, in a desperate attempt to keep the desert at bay.

In one of those unscripted moments that such conferences can produce, Shelly worried that global warming and rising sea levels would force urban folk inland, and they'd seek out Indian land for their new homes. The only way to avoid such a fate, he said, would be to develop the land, and develop the economies. It's a bit far-fetched, and contradictory. But outsiders have long gone after the resources on tribal lands; it's only natural that the tribes would want to have some control over the onslaught, and to get as much from it as they can.

After all, said Monique LaChappa of the Campo Band of Mission Indians, a small tribe about a three-hour drive from the Coachella Valley, near San Diego, that has a 50 MW wind farm: “Whoever has the water and the energy, in the end, is going to win.”

Cross-posted from High Country News. The author is solely responsible for the content.

Published in Environment