What Will Be Your Holiday Story This Year?

By: Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com

Whether it is Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or even Festivus–the holidays bring us all together to share each other’s company, our stories and celebrate our families and friendships.  They  are also the material for future stories to our children.  How many times in the next week will we hear “remember when . . . . “ or “. . .and the time Uncle [fill in the blank] did [fill in the blank]??”  It often goes unnoticed, but each year we are actually creating the memories for future holidays.

When it comes down to it, isn’t a good story the most important gift that we can give?  Stories last, and when they are repeated, they regenerate the smiles and memories that brings us closer.  We are stewards for the stories that our kids will hear and tell, so why not take a pledge this year to go out and make your holiday memorable.   Do something random and kind, and loving and funny.  Be courageously happy with your loved ones, and see what stories you can create in that 2014 Holiday Season.

The Blogging Circle is about sharing stories.  We hope that you create some wonderful stories during your 2014 Holidays.

Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.

OIG Sends a Warning Shot to Tribal Governments

By: Robert G. Marasco | Attorney | robert.marasco@procopio.com
Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com

Attention Tribal Governments: The Federal Government is watching, and they may be looking deeper into your financial books. A recent cautionary notice issued by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) puts tribal organizations on notice that OIG will be watching how they spend funds issued to them pursuant to the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA). The contracts, compacts or funding agreements that tribal organizations have entered with the Indian Health Service (IHS), as well as other applicable laws, dictate how ISDEAA funds can be spent. Generally, such funds, as well as funds received through Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), carry with them the limitation that they can only be spent on health care services or facilities.

The OIG has revealed that it has been conducting audits of tribal organizations – and will continue to do so – to determine whether ISDEAA funds are being spent properly. These audits have revealed that some tribal organizations have used ISDEAA funds to pay for other tribal expenses, cover tribal deficits or used for personal expenses – all of which are improper. Not only will such instances require the reimbursement of misspent funds to the government, but they may also result in the tribal organization being prevented from receiving ISDEAA funds in the future or from being permitted to directly bill Medicare, Medicaid or CHIP. Moreover, this misspending can be penalized civilly and prosecuted criminally.

Can your government prove that its ISDEAA funds are being spent appropriately? Taking the steps now to self-assess how ISDEAA funds are being used in your tribal organization can go a long way in helping you avoid an OIG audit or sail smoothly through such an audit should it occur. Ensuring the funds are spent properly and fixing any shortcomings will ensure this money is invested where the law requires – in the health of your community. The OIG Notice can be found here.

Robert Marasco is an attorney with Procopio’s Healthcare, Native American and White Collar Defense practice groups, handling governmental investigations and compliance.

Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.

Is Obama Ready to Help Thirsty Tribes?

By: Hazel Ocampo | Attorney | hazel.ocampo@procopio.com
Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com

Last week, President Obama and Vice President Biden met with the leaders of 566 federally recognized Tribal Governments to discuss important topics affecting Tribal Nations, during the Tribal Nations Conference. Environmental and natural resources will figure prominently in the discussion. Topics will include the availability of technical assistance for tribal renewable energy projects, and the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) distribution of $29M to initiate the construction of US infrastructure for 77 wastewater projects and $18M for the construction of drinking water infrastructure projects.

The Conference dovetails with the recent EPA announcement of $43M in funding for environmental projects on Native American grounds in the Southwest. The EPA Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest, Jared Blumenfield noted that 44 tribes in California are in danger of running out of water. He singled out California Native American communities as being particularly at-risk in the multi-year drought the State is presently facing.

The funding will assist tribal environmental programs and water quality projects, including watershed protection and restoration, water and energy efficiency, and wastewater reclamation. It will also fund the cleanup of open dumps, small construction projects, community outreach, drought mitigation and community education.

Of the $43M, the EPA allocated $18.8M to California–$5.4M to Northern California Tribes, $7.8M to Central California Tribes and $5.6M to Southern California Tribes. The remaining $24.2M went to Tribes in Arizona and Nevada.

Projects available for funding include the Hoopa Valley Tribe partnership with the California Indian Health Service, to install a greywater system to serve two homes as part of a wastewater project that also connects the homes to the sewer collection system. Thus, demonstrating that even a small project can make a significant difference in a small tribal community.

The EPA funding acknowledges the dire need for safe drinking water on tribal lands. Most California Tribes are rural and do not benefit from significant public projects which import water to municipalities buffering the effects of the existing drought. Drought conditions threaten the availability of sufficient water resources for many tribal communities, making funding for water projects essential.

While the EPA funding is certainly a step in the right direction, it doesn’t solve the need for safe drinking water resources for tribal communities. Funding is just one tool to realize that goal. It will be critical to send a unified message highlighting the need for water resources while Tribal nations have the President’s ear during the Tribal Nations Conference. The existence of sufficient water resources for tribes is an issue worthy of national prominence, which simply cannot be ignored.

Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.

2015 Procopio Native American Practice Group Internships Awarded to Anna Hohag and Nichole Alex

By: Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com

Procopio is pleased to welcome Anna Hohag (University of Arizona) and Nichole “Nikke” Alex (University of New Mexico) as the 2015 summer interns for the firm’s Native American Practice Group. Each paid internship extends ten weeks, and provides an opportunity for a Native American law student, or law student emphasizing Native American Law, to gain hands-on experience dealing with everyday legal issues facing Native American communities. Procopio Interns also reach out to local Native American youth to provide guidance and inspiration regarding educational direction and opportunities.

Ms. Hohag is a first year law student at the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona, focusing on its Indigenous Peoples’ Law and Policy Program.   Ms. Hohag is a citizen of the Bishop Paiute Tribe in Bishop, CA. Prior to entering law school, Ms. Hohag worked as a Tribal Liaison for Pala Band of Mission Indians from 2012 to 2014, working on land and environmental issues for the Tribe, including educating Tribal members on the American Indian Probate and Reform Act, and working with water and land settlements, sacred sites and the protection of natural and cultural resources.   She has over 4 years of youth mentorship experience, both on the Pala Reservation and for the Bishop Paiute Tribe, providing guidance for youth to succeed in higher education, as well as serving as a positive role model.

Ms. Alex is a second year law student at the University of New Mexico School of Law with an emphasis on Indian and Environmental law. Ms. Alex is a citizen of the Navajo Nation. Ms. Alex is the current student liaison for the New Mexico Bar Association Natural Resources, Energy and Environmental Law Section. Prior to attending law school, she was the Executive Director for the Black Mesa Water Coalition, an environmental non-profit that is dedicated to preserving and protecting Mother Earth and the integrity of Indigenous Peoples’ cultures. She previously worked with the Diné Policy Institute applying Navajo Natural laws, and was an intern with the Tribal Science Council at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington D.C.

Procopio’s Native American practice group extends the firm’s tradition of giving back to the community it serves through its summer internship program for Native American law students or law students interested in Native American law. The firm started this program in 2011 and has now welcomed nine interns since its inception. Notably, Jaclyn Simi, a 2012 intern and a citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and Stephanie Conduff, a 2013 intern and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, both continued to work with Procopio following their internships. For more about the Internship Alumni, click here.

Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.