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Oneida Nation, MAST continues the fight for expanded Tribal Self-Governance

Government Administrative Office

Oneida Nation photos

Pechanga Band of Indians Chairman Mark Macarro provides MAST membership with a National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) update December 14, 2022, in Minneapolis. Oneida Nation Chairman Tehassi tasi Hill (right) and others participate. 

Government Administrative Office

The Oneida Nation continues to fight for expanded Tribal Self-Governance as a member Nation of the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes (MAST). MAST is an intertribal organization representing the 35 federally recognized tribes and four intertribal organizations in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, and Iowa. Oneida Business Committee (OBC) Chairman Tehassi tasi Hill, Intergovernmental Affairs Director Melinda Danforth, and Councilman Daniel-Guzman King were on hand December 14-15, 2022, in Minneapolis as MAST held roundtable discussions and voted on resolutions aimed at advancing, protecting, preserving, and enhancing the mutual interests, treaty rights, sovereignty, and cultural way of life of the sovereign nations of the Midwest.

“Our MAST meetings have really been gaining traction for us as we continue to successfully address issues of importance for Oneida,” Chairman Hill said. “One of the big things we pushed for was Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) litigation and legislative updates. During our roundtable sessions one of the other things brought up is for all the tribes in the region to start thinking about what prioritized issues need to get completed with the Biden Administration having two years left. Hopefully by the time we hold our Legislative Summit in February 2023 in Washington, D.C., we’ll be able to press for those issues.”

Other roundtable discussions included the Indian Health Services (IHS) Bemidji Area budget formulation, as well as talks on how traditional wild rice is faring in different states across Turtle Island. For instance, tribes in Michigan are currently in discussions with Governor Gretchen Whitmer to make wild rice the official grain in that state. Wild rice is the official grain in Minnesota as well, however that state chose to create their own task force to implement this endeavor without any tribal consultations, and the crop is not producing as anticipated.

Federal legislation is on the board to make wild rice a specialty crop in California, however MAST has expressed, in no uncertain terms, complete opposition to this proposal due to clearly stated false language in the bill. A statement in the legislation saying wild rice is not traditionally grown and harvested by any Native Nation on Turtle Island has drawn the ire of all MAST member nations.

Passage of this bill in its current form would make wild rice a specialty crop in California allowing for access to certain USDA programs. This is problematic as tribes were told this access to federal funds would be positive, however the false language in the bill is concerning because the act could change the status of the crop from a wild, natural product to a commercialized one. This could effectively blur the distinction between paddy grown rice and naturally occurring wild rice. Concerns also exist that growing new strains of wild rice will threaten the native natural rice.

MAST member nations also passed a resolution giving their unequivocal support to Minnesota’s Prairie Island Indian Community to back their ongoing concerns of flooding and the potential for a nuclear accident occurring on their lands and water. This is the result of the federal government’s building of a dam in 1938 and the placing of a nuclear power plant on their reservation land in the early 1970s without their permission. Not surprisingly, the federal government has also reneged on its promise to remove nuclear waste from the power plant causing an already massive stockpile of waste to now triple in size. This waste now comes to within 600 yards of some residents’ homes even as Prairie Island Indian Community attempts to add a property called Elk Run to its reservation despite these troubling environmental issues.

MAST then reviewed items to be addressed on future meeting agendas. Some of these items include opioid litigation and the current status of the opioid epidemic. They will also begin exploring the possibility of creating a Midwest Regional Tribal Drug Task Force and lobbying the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the appropriate funds. Forming a Midwest Tribal Police Chief Association will also be discussed, and the United Southeastern Tribes (USET) will press for a Restorative Justice and Domestic Investment Marshall Plan to address broken promises showing the United States has not lived up to its obligations to Tribal Nations. They also gave their formal support to the Health and Human Services Tribal Advisory Committee which includes Oneida Nation Councilwoman Jennifer Webster.