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January 2020 Issue

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A Message from the Executive Director

2020! Another year and decade have passed, and we are now looking at a new year and a new decade. What has happened during this last decade that, today, profoundly affects the everyday lives of 5 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives? Ten years ago, Indian Country was talking about the potential passage of a new law called the “Affordable Care Act,” commonly referred to as “Obamacare.”

Concurrently, Indian Country was concerned about how the reauthorization of the “Indian Health Care Improvement Act” should be handled: Should it (the reauthorization) move ahead as a “stand alone” bill? Or should it be attached as a section in the Affordable Care Act? It was decided that it be attached to the Affordable Care Act, and with the passage of the Act, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was permanently reauthorized. This was just one major achievement in the last decade.

What will be accomplished during the next decade? By the end of the decade, I hope to see Indian health be recategorized from being treated as a “discretionary” program to an “entitlement” program. After all, that was part of the “contract” (trust responsibility) between the federal government and American Indians and Alaskan Natives agreed to in exchange for the acquisition of Indian lands and resources.

Moreover, I anticipate more American Indians and Alaskan Natives assuming control over their educational institutions, thereby reaffirming and strengthening their tribal languages and traditions by establishing their own curriculum, not those created by the states. Also, by the end of this decade, I expect there to be a law protecting tribal elders as there is for Indian children.

Our elders have long fought for these ideas to become reality. Some have walked on never seeing the outcomes of their efforts. Remaining elders are in the twilight of their lives. It is time that the youth carry on the fight for the ideas dreamt by their elders and their ancestors. These are not for the faint of heart or the “sunshine Indian”, but for those young Indian people who deeply believe that it is worth fighting for.

The National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA) has long believed that the intergenerational qualities of Indian communities have historically been the bedrock of our resilience. Elders’ life experiences provide them with an understanding of what’s important. It is this knowledge and wisdom gained from living through world wars, economic upheavals and changing demographics that provide them with the strength to stand fearlessly and look to the future with hope. This is resilience. May we in Indian Country look fearlessly to the next decade.

NICOA has and always will advocate to improve the lives of our elders, just as we have for the past 44 years. We thank you for your support, prayers and donations.

Larry Curley
Executive Director

Registration Now Open! 

The National Indian Council on Aging invites you to register for our 23rd conference on aging in Indian Country. Taking place in Reno, Nevada, from August 17-21, at the Nugget Casino Resort, the 2020 American Indian Elders Conference is the only national aging conference in the country focusing exclusively on the needs of American Indian and Alaska Native elders.

Keynote speakers from federal, state, tribal programs and agencies will be present to provide program updates and listen to the aging needs of American Indian and Alaska Native elders. Informational workshops will be provided by service providers and aging network professionals with experience in providing services to American Indian and Alaska Native elders. The workshop sessions include caregiver support, elder abuse prevention, health, nutrition, transportation, disease prevention, long-term services and supports, employment and training, financial assistance and more.

Register for the conference by mail. Pricing is based on your 2020-2021 membership type, which is available for purchase online or by mail. You must apply for or renew your membership before registering for the conference.

Register now to receive the best rates. For questions about registration, membership and the 2020 conference, email [email protected] or call (505) 292-2001.

Call for Artists

NICOA is pleased to announce a special creative opportunity to allow our members and conference attendees the chance to design our conference program cover! Artists should design a vertical cover page that is approximately 8.5 x 11 in size. The artist should create a vision that will reflect our 2020 American Indian Elders Conference theme: "Resilience for Tomorrow… Together."

Please submit your entry no later than May 30 to be considered. The conference program is an important 40-50 page publication received by everyone at the conference. If selected, your submission could be seen by over 4,000 conference attendees. The winner will also receive free registration for our conference and five nights at the Nugget Casino Resort in Reno, Nevada.


Profile: Board Member Lillian Thomas 

Lillian Thomas of Muscogee (Creek) Nation has served on NICOA’s board of directors for over three years. She was asked to join by an outgoing representative of the Eastern Oklahoma Region during NICOA’s 2016 conference in Niagara Falls.

Most of her work with Native elders has been through her job with her tribe as a Social Security representative. She’s assisted tribal members in filing for Social Security benefits, securing information and evidence for entitlement to different programs in housing, Cobell Scholarship applications, waivers on student loans, veteran’s benefits and more.

In her experience, elder advocacy is the biggest challenge facing Native elders in her community. Elders need advocates and caregivers who will transport them to doctor’s appointments, take them grocery shopping and other necessary places. She believes more funding is needed to provide for more caregivers.

“I feel that elder advocates are needed to assist elders in their everyday activities and any business that needs to be transacted,” she said. “Some elders are not physically able to take care of their everyday chores and activities, yet they are reluctant to allow someone they don’t know very well to come into their home to assist them.”

In Lillian’s tribal program, there is only one elder advocate. “Our elders have learned to trust her and do not want anyone else assisting them,” she said.

Exploitation and elder abuse by family members is also evident, she said, yet the elder is not willing to cooperate with law enforcement in resolving the problem because the abuser is a family member or a loved one.

“A lot of our elders have been neglected by families who leave them to struggle on their own. Some elders are raising their grandchildren without any financial assistance from the parents,” she said. “Our elders are not financially able to do repairs on their homes; therefore, they are forced to live in substandard homes.”

As a board member of NICOA she has secured a contribution from the Muscogee Creek tribe and intends to acquire another contribution as soon as their tribal financial situation improves. She plans to continue to find ways to secure funding for NICOA, advocate for the organization and its mission, informing others of how NICOA benefits her tribe and the tribal elders in her area.

NICOA's First Podcast

NICOA has created a podcast as a means to share, inform, advocate for, and educate American Indians, Alaska Native elders, and anyone that is seeking more information about the issues involving these amazing groups of people. This first informational episode is to introduce the listener to NICOA and its Executive Director Larry Curley. It focuses on when, why and how NICOA was founded, its goals and future prospects.

Available on Anchor, Spotify, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Breaker, and Spreaker.

New Ways to Donate

There are a number of ways to make financial contributions to NICOA and we’ve made it more convenient than ever for you to help. Here is a quick look at the types of financial contributions and how you can make them.


Network for Good, Inc., a Delaware nonprofit corporation and a Section (501)(c)(3) tax-exempt organization (EIN: 68-0480736).

GoFundMe’s Trust & Safety team works around the clock to ensure your safety and protect against fraud. They also provide the industry’s first and only donor protection guarantee.

AmazonSmile: Amazon donates 0.5 percent of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to the charitable organization of your choice. Shop and NICOA will be credited a percentage of every dollar you spend.

By Mail

You can use our General Donation Form or our Tribal/Corporate Donation Form.

Send a check, payable to:

National Indian Council on Aging
8500 Menaul Blvd NE
Suite B-470
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Please consider adding NICOA to the charities you support. All donations made to NICOA are tax deductible, per IRS.

Senior Community Service
Employment Program

A Message from SCSEP

I recently visited South Dakota to attend the State Workforce Development Council’s annual meeting. The Workforce Development Council oversees implementation of workforce training programs in South Dakota funded by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Members of the Workforce Development Council represent various business, labor and education interests. A majority of its members are from the private sector.

The meeting was hosted by Daktronics, Inc., in Brookings. Daktronics, Inc. is the undisputed world leader in designing and manufacturing electronic scoreboards, programmable display systems and large-screen video displays. They provided the space and a wonderful lunch before taking us on a tour of their very large facility.

The workforce meeting was very informative, and I was warmly received. I was given the opportunity to introduce NICOA to many who didn’t know that NICOA is a state partner. I was also able to update everyone on the progression of the 2020 American Indian Elders Conference, held in Reno, Nevada, August 17-21, 2020. 

Thank you to the entire South Dakota Workforce Board; Kendra Ringstmeyer, director of workforce training; and Taige Tople, labor program specialist, for welcoming me and inviting me to this meeting.

If you would like more information on NICOA’s Senior Community Service Employment Program, visit our website, call 505-292-2001 or send an email. If you are interested in participating in the program, fill out the pre-application form.

Sue Chapman
SCSEP Director

Kendra Ringstmeyer, director of workforce training; Taige Tople, labor program specialist; NICOA SCSEP Director Sue Chapman; Marcia Hultman, cabinet secretary of the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation.

South Dakota Workforce Development Council membership includes representatives of the state departments of Labor and Regulation, Education and Human Services, the Governor's Office of Economic Development and the Board of Regents.

Elder Equity

A Message from the Elder Equity Program

Prepare, file and save! Tax season is here. There is lots of free help available across the country. Learn about the various options for elders.

The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide offers everyone, regardless of age, access to free IRS-certified volunteers from February 1 through April 15. You don’t have to be a member of AARP to receive advice. Another program also offers IRS-certified volunteers called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). For this service, taxpayers generally must have an annual income below $55,000 to qualify. Here is a checklist to help you gather the documents you will need.

After you receive your tax refund, consider saving some of it to reach your financial goals. Check out the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Tax Time Worksheet to help you decide how to make that first step.

Rebecca Owl Morgan
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Elder Equity Project Coordinator

NICOA Hosts Focus Group With American Indian Caregivers 

Earlier this year, NICOA had the opportunity to host several focus groups with American Indian family caregivers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. NICOA organized four focus groups with a total of 31 participants. The purpose of the groups was to learn more about their experiences helping an older family member or friend with health problems and disabilities. During the focus groups, we learned about their caregiving duties, the challenges they face and their encounters with healthcare professionals.

Our focus groups revealed how caregivers’ lives are impacted by their role. Many American Indian caregivers spoke about skipping appointments and neglecting their own health as well as deferring goals, like continuing education, saying they sometimes felt like they didn’t have a life or that their life was on hold. 

Despite the hardships, American Indian caregivers say they find it difficult to relinquish control and leave their loved one to take a break. Many reported feeling guilty and anxious about someone else caring for their loved one. In general, our participants did not see caregiving as a difficulty and felt that other relatives were missing out by not being more involved in their loved one’s life.

Membership Information
Do you care about helping to improve aging services for American Indian and Alaska Native elders? Then please join NICOA! We need you as an advocate. NICOA is the premier organization calling attention to the needs of American Indian elders.

Your involvement and support can bring attention, education and improved services to elders across the country. Every elder should have the freedom to age in place and access services and resources in every community across Indian Country as well as urban areas.

If you're interested in learning more, email NICOA or call (505) 292-2001.
Elder Wellness

Many tribal communities are experiencing a silent epidemic of abuse of elders. Limited research on elder abuse has suggested higher rates of abuse among tribal elders, yet little is known about promising strategies that can be implemented to prevent or manage cases of abuse. This webinar will provide an overview of elder abuse in Indian Country, including recent research identifying new national-level prevalence rates and predictors of abuse among American Indian and Alaska Native elders.

Rates of various types of elder abuse for Native Americans – almost double that of overall findings from original study findings — are shared in this video. The unique, complex context that intersects to shape abuse correlates for tribal elders such as history of trauma, social support and emotional problems is also discussed. Findings from a recent national needs assessment focused on screening and management of elder abuse in tribal health settings that included tribal health care providers, elder advocates, Title VI staff and tribal Adult Protection Services are also be shared. Presenters will identify promising practices and strategies identified in the needs assessment, as well as a series of recommendations that can be implemented in local tribal communities to help combat elder abuse.

American Indians Twice As Likely To Develop Cervical Cancer

Congress has designated the entire month of January as Cervical Health Awareness Month to educate people about the importance of early detection and remind them to stay up to date on their cancer screenings.

Cervical cancer is a disease where abnormal cells grown on the cervix. It impacts nearly 13,000 people in the U.S. each year with higher frequency among those older than 30. More than 4,000 people die from the disease annually. All individuals who have a cervix should be screened according to national guidelines. This includes transgender, gender non-conforming or “two-spirit” Native patients.

Cervical cancer disproportionately affects Native communities. American Indian and Alaska Native women are nearly twice as likely to develop cervical cancer compared to white women and four times as likely to die from it. Additionally, they are often diagnosed at its later stages, making successful treatment and cure more difficult. 

Cervical cancer is the most common human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated cancer among American Indian and Alaska Native women while oropharyngeal cancer is the most common HPV-associated cancer among Native men. American Indian and Alaska Native women have the highest rates of HPV-associated cancer. Incidence rates vary by geographic region with the highest rates occurring in the Northern Plains, Southern Plains and Alaska.

Social Services

ACL Requests Caregiver Input

The Administration for Community Living is seeking input on the challenges faced by family caregivers from individuals and organizations that capture the breadth of the family caregiving experience. This information will be used to assist the Family Caregiving Advisory Council in developing its initial report to Congress and to inform the development of the national family caregiving strategy.

It also will be used to help the Council plan future activities, including public listening sessions that will begin in 2020. Provide your input by February 7, 2020.


If you are (or once were) a grandparent or other older relative raising children, or if your organization provides support for those who are, the Advisory Council to Support Grandparents Raising Grandchildren needs your help. The Council is looking to identify gaps in available resources, the unique needs of members of American Indian tribes and children affected by opioid misuse as well as best practices, resources, and other useful information for grandparents and other older relatives raising children.

This information will be used to plan the Council’s future activities and ultimately will be included in a report to Congress, which also will be shared publicly. Provide your input by February 7, 2020.


Annual Disability Statistics

In the U.S., disability statistics — information about the population with disabilities and about the government programs that serve people with disabilities — are often difficult to find. Numerous government agencies generate and publish disability statistics, and as a result, the data is scattered across various federal government documents and websites.

The Annual Disability Statistics Compendium and its complement, the Annual Disability Statistics Supplement, are summaries of statistics about people with disabilities and about the government programs which serve them. The Compendium presents key overall statistics on topics including the prevalence of disability, employment among persons with disabilities, rates of participation in disability income and social insurance programs as well as other statistics.

Economic Security

Rez Rising

For decades, Native business owners have been excluded from national and global economies due to the persistent lack of infrastructure on many reservations to establish an online presence or a storefront. 

Rez Rising is a growing platform to connect you with Native-owned businesses across the Southwest. Search the website or app to find a service you need locally or contact an artist whose work you want to support from afar. Rez Rising is an initiative of Change Labs, a Native-led organization supporting Native entrepreneurs by providing creative workspace, tools, resources, and community.

This platform connects you with entrepreneurs who may live down the road and sell breakfast burritos at the local flea market, or with your relative back home who makes beautiful jewelry. Rez Rising already includes 533 Native-owned businesses and is growing fast.

Support The ABLE Age Adjustment Act

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (PL 113-295), signed into law in December of 2014, allows certain individuals with disabilities the opportunity to save resources in a tax advantaged savings account (an ABLE account) where the beneficiary is the account owner and income earned on the account will not be taxed. Funds from these 529A ABLE accounts can help designated beneficiaries pay for qualified disability expenses.

The opportunity provided through the ABLE Act to assist in securing more financial stability for individuals with disabilities and their families is profound; however, it is limited to those individuals with an age of onset of disability prior to age 26. Many individuals who could benefit from ABLE accounts miss out since many conditions can and do occur later in life, including multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease or paralysis. Additionally, veterans who become disabled as a result of their service after age 25 are currently ineligible for ABLE accounts.

The ABLE Age Adjustment Act (S. 817/H.R. 1874) would amend Section 529(e) of the Internal Revenue Code to increase the eligibility threshold for ABLE accounts for onset of disability from prior to age 26 to age 46. The National Indian Council on Aging supports the ABLE Age Adjustment Act. Raising the age of eligibility from 26 to 46 would add 6 million more new potential ABLE account holders. The ABLE Age Adjustment Act would allow a total of 14 million eligible individuals to open an account and provide long-term stability and viability for the ABLE program.

Native News

Upcoming Events & Observances

February 10: 2020 State of Indian Nations
February 18-21: International Meeting on Indigenous Women's Health
February 24-26: National American Indian Housing Council 2020 Annual Legislative Conference
March 2-5: RES 2020 – Reservation Economic Summit
March 17-19: National Tribal Public Health Summit
March 17-18: Indigenous Tourism Forum of the Americas
March 24-27: 2020: New Opportunities for Urban Indian Health
March 29-April 1: National American Indian Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect
April 14-16: Native Women and Men's Wellness and Diabetes Prevention Conference
April 29-30: Our Nations Our Journeys, Indigenous Public Health Forum

5 Recent Tribal Newsletters

Census Takers in Indian Country

The Census that is conducted every 10 years is the only complete count of the U.S. population, and results in data for the nation as a whole and for every geographic area within it — down to the smallest American Indian reservation and Alaska Native village. The Census is the only source of this kind of data, with thousands of uses that may impact American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The federal government and local American Indian and Alaska Native leaders and policymakers will utilize 2020 Census data to benefit Native people and communities. Accurate data is especially important for Indian Country as American Indian and Alaska Natives are the ethnic group with the highest undercount of any defined by the Census Bureau.

The 2020 Census will be available online, but that may not be an option for remote villages where internet connectivity is poor. That’s why Census enumerators will start knocking on doors in Alaska on January 21, 2020 to count people where they live. Less than 1 percent of households will be counted in person by a census taker, instead of being invited to respond on their own. This is performed in very remote areas like parts of northern Maine, remote Alaska, and in select American Indian areas that ask to be counted in person.

Treaty Rights News

Zoning Dispute

Earlier this month, the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians won a federal lawsuit over Bayfield County, Wisconsin’s zoning enforcement. The tribe’s lawsuit centered on whether the county should be allowed to enforce its zoning laws on "fee simple" land owned by tribal members within the reservation.

The tribe claimed that the county overstepped its authority by attempting to enforce its own zoning codes, which were first laid out in 1976, on lands held by tribal members without congressional approval. The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians first sued Bayfield County in October 2018, asserting that the county’s attempts to enforce its zoning ordinances on land held by tribal members violated federal law.

The tribe’s reservation on the south shore of Lake Superior in the northeast corner of the county was first partitioned as part of a historic 1854 treaty known as the Treaty with the Chippewa after decades of negotiations. The federal government executed the treaty with Lake Superior bands of Ojibwe in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The Ojibwe, of which the Lake Superior Chippewa are a successor, ceded more than 7 million acres of land rich in iron deposits in return for a government promise of permanent, tax-exempt reservations.

Netting Case

In a 2-1 split, the Minnesota Court of Appeals recently ruled in favor of the state in an appeal by a Fond du Lac Band member of his gross misdemeanor conviction for netting on Gull Lake in 2015.

James Warren Northrup, 51, was one of two Ojibwe men charged for setting a gill net in Hole-in-the-Day Bay on Gull Lake in 2015 as part of an organized demonstration highlighting what protesters described as off-reservation hunting and gathering rights established by an 1855 treaty. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials issued citations for illegal taking of fish, netting without a license, lack of boating registration and for not having flotation devices.

An attorney for Northrup said pursuing the appeal was a matter of showing the state of Minnesota that all Chippewa Indians — otherwise known as Ojibwe or Anishinaabe — have rights to hunt, fish and gather in the 1855 ceded territory, of which Gull Lake is a part.

Arguing on behalf of the state, Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan said Northrup’s membership in the Fond du Lac Band means he is not party to any treaty establishing those rights in the area. To support this argument, Ryan pointed to an 1854 treaty establishing a north-south boundary between the territory of the Mississippi River Band of Chippewa Indians and the Lake Superior Chippewa Bands. As a Lake Superior Chippewa band, the Fond du Lac Band was not a signatory to the 1855 treaty, he said.

Federal Recognition

Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that a ban preventing the Chinook Indian Nation from reapplying for federal tribal recognition is unjustified. The U.S. District Court Judge ordered the U.S. Department of the Interior to reexamine its justification for the repetition ban or change the regulation to allow for the Chinook Indian Nation to apply again.

Federally recognized tribes are American Indian or Alaskan Native tribal entities that have sovereignty within the U.S. Recognized tribes can do direct business with the federal government and are entitled to certain benefits, services and protections. The people of Chinook Indian Nation are the original inhabitants around the mouth of the Columbia River. They are descendants of a tribal elder who began the campaign in the 1890s to get promised compensation for tribal land that was taken from them illegally after signing a treaty that Congress failed to ratify.

The U.S. Congress never ratified the treaty that the tribe and other coastal bands signed in 1851. The Chinook hired its first lawyers to fight for land rights in 1899 and its legal battles have continued ever since. They were granted official status in January 2001, but the status was rescinded 18 months later by the George W. Bush administration. The judge’s January 2020 ruling vacates a 2015 decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which prevented the tribe from seeking official tribal status.


Sweet Potato Gratin

Recipe from Cheryl Alters Jamison
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
  • 1 tangy apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled and grated
  • 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar (divided use)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried sage
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream Fresh sage leaves, for garnish (optional)

"Generously butter the inside of the slow cooker. Leave excess butter in the bottom. In a mixing bowl, combine the sweet potatoes, apple, two teaspoons of sugar, salt, sage, and several grinds of pepper.

Pat mixture into the slow cooker. Pour cream over it. Sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of sugar over the top. Cover and cook 4-5 hours on low, until sweet potatoes are very tender. Spoon out portions and serve. Garnish, if you wish, with sage leaves."

Honey-Glazed Carrots with Thyme

Recipe from Douglas Merriam
  • 1 pound baby carrots, whole, leafy tops removed
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon thyme, chopped (4-6 sprigs)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

"Place the carrots, butter, honey, thyme, salt, and water in a skillet, cover and bring to a simmer. Cook the carrots until tender, about 5-7 minutes depending on the carrot size, then remove the cover and cook over medium-high heat, occasionally stirring, until the water has evaporated and the carrots are glazed. Serve with lamb. Serves four."

Do you have any healthy, traditional recipes to share, or any stories or tribal news to contribute? Send them to NICOA and they may be featured in our next newsletter.

The National Indian Council on Aging, Inc. (NICOA) is a not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) charitable organization. Please consider adding NICOA to the charities you support.

NICOA needs your financial support as the advocacy and political work we do for our elders is not free. Grants that have helped fund NICOA are under threat in Washington, D.C., but you can help.

Your financial support will go directly to support our mission to improve health, social services and economic wellbeing for all American Indian and Alaska Native elders. Donations are tax deductible.

Support NICOA: General Donation Form | Tribal/Corporate Donation Form | Network for Good | GoFundMe | AmazonSmile

We would like to hear from elders, service providers and tribal programs serving American Indian or Alaska Native elders. You can email NICOA or send information by mail to National Indian Council on Aging, 8500 Menaul Blvd. NE Suite B-470, Albuquerque, NM 87112. We ask that you please share this newsletter with anyone with a limited or nonexistent internet signal.

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