Tribes Win Lawsuit Granting Full Payment Of Contracts

A long awaited U.S. Supreme court decision is being celebrated by tribes across Alaska and the nation today. The Ramah Navajo case is a 22-year-old class action lawsuit against the federal government that sought full payment for contracts the tribes held for health services, law enforcement and land programs. Anchorage Attorney Lloyd Miller has worked on the litigation. He says government attorneys told the Supreme Court justices during the trial that if it was held responsible for the damages it would be a billion dollars.

Miller says the decision’s impact will most likely mean tribes who have hesitated in the past to contract with the federal government will now do so.

Miller says this is what Congress intended and currently about half of the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget and more than 60 percent of the Indian Health Service budget are under contract with tribes. The amount is more than $2.3 billion. He says because the contract expense the government underpaid were fixed costs such as workers comp insurance, the tribes had to pay for it. And since 70 percent of tribal expense is salaries, this meant reducing positions. He says the impact in Alaska will be huge.

Miller says the funding shortfall averaged about $100 million per year nationally and about a third of that deficit was in Alaska.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori