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native american rights fund

The Native American Rights Fund - NARF - is a non-profit legal organisation devoted to protecting the legal rights of Indian people. NARF attorneys, most of whom are Native Americans, defend impoverished tribes who otherwise cannot bear the financial costs of seeking justice in the courts of the United States.

Since its foundation in 1970, NARF has dramatically changed the way that Indian law is perceived. In just three decades of operation it has gained many successes - most notably being the recognition and restoration of tribal sovereignties by the American federalist system. Further, NARF has grown to become a respected consultant to policy-makers and works hand in hand with other Native American organisations, shaping laws that will help assure the civil and religious rights of all Native Americans.

NARF relies on the support of friends and institutions to grow and succeed and has received moral and financial support from Onaway since 1974, covering a broad range of indigenous issues. Recently, Onaway's focus has been to support NARF's efforts to improve and protect the environment on Indian lands.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a United States federal agency devoted to protecting health and safeguarding the natural environment - air, water and land - upon which life itself depends. In a letter to Onaway, Mary Lu Prosser, NARF's Director of Development, reported that: "The EPA has for the past 25 years utterly failed to provide either direct protection for the environmental integrity of their (Native) lands or the programmes and resources needed so that the tribes could provide that protection for themselves."

In recent years on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, Onaway has initiated a variety of indigenous self-help projects and, most recently, has supported NARF's work with the Oglala Sioux Tribe to develop a solution that addresses the wide-ranging environmental problems. Like many tribes, the Oglala struggle with unsafe drinking water, crumbling sewage systems operating without EPA permits, widespread pollution of primary streams which are both unregulated and unmonitored. Photographs sent to Onaway depict diesel spills at Pine Ridge High School which are seeping into the ground water supply. Raw sewage overflows into Knee Creek next to the Wounded Knee sacred site where children regularly play and swim. All in all there are 36 sewage treatment lagoons on the reservation, all of which are over taxed resulting in frequent overflows.

John Echohawk, a Pawnee Indian and NARF's Executive Director, points to an even larger problem: "Over the past quarter century, the United States government has spent billions of dollars on the development and maintenance of programmes and institutions to protect human health and the natural environment in communities and on lands across America - all the while leaving out Indian tribes and their reservations. "Native Americans are disproportionately affected by the burdens of environmental degradation. In a survey of 149 Indian tribes conducted by the National Tribal Environmental Council, the report's findings revealed that tribes face an array of environmental problems including:

  • 51% reported polluted or insufficient drinking water
  • 54% have no water treatment plants
  • 51% of the tribes have no sewage treatment plants
  • 77% have no regulations for discharges into surface water
  • 79% have no regulatory programme for underground storage tanks
  • 85% have no regulations for lead
  • 66% have no capability or plans for addressing a hazardous waste emergency

Today there are an estimated 1,000 open dumps on Indian lands which violate federal standards, 450 of which are potentially dangerous.

Thanks to current and past funding provided by the Onaway Trust and our donors nationwide, NARF is able to continue its work with the Oglala Sioux Tribe to:

  • Draft a safe drinking water code and a hazardous and solid waste code which meets tribal needs and requirements of federal laws
  • Develop operations manuals that will enable other tribes to craft similar environmental codes that meet their specific jurisdictional and resource protection and management needs.

Onaway knows from working with NARF over the decades that lasting change requires commitment, resources and, of course, time to implement. We continue to support NARF and maintain the philosophy that "It is better to light a small candle than to curse the darkness."

"See, Brothers, Spring is here. The earth has taken the embrace of the Sun, and soon we shall see the children of that love. All seeds are awake and all animals. From this great power we too have our lives. And therefore, we concede to our fellow creatures, even our animal fellows, the same rights as ourselves, to live on this earth." (Sitting Bull)

For more information about the Native American Rights Fund, visit their website.