Welcome to the ninth edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find news briefs a look at the year 1622 in American Indian history, and some linkable bulleted briefs. Click on the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.
Editor’s Note: We recently reported that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given an extremely rare and extremely controversial approval for the Northern Arapaho of Wyoming to kill two bald eagles for religious purposes. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act forbids non-Native people to kill the eagles or possess any parts of the birds. American Indians can apply to obtain eagle feathers or carcasses from a federal repository in Colorado for ritual use. The USFWS permit states that the Northern Arapaho may kill or capture and release the birds after the ceremony. Just how controversial this decision is can be seen in the fact that not just environmental advocates but also members of the Eastern Shoshone tribe, who share the Wind River Indian Reservation with the Northern Arapaho, oppose the killing of the birds.
Because of the controversy, we asked two highly respected veteran diarists at Daily Kos to explore the issue from their distinct points of view. Lineatus is a longtime birder and raptor bander. Ojibwa is an academically trained Indian historian who regularly carries out traditional ceremonies.
Few birds inspire the sense of awe that eagles bring out in us. Their size, their power, their presence. Not just a predator, but a flyer that can soar without effort, circling ever higher until it disappears from sight into the very ceiling of the sky. Small wonder that they’ve had a place of significance to humans virtually since the dawn of our days on the African savanna.
We have two eagle species in the US – Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Golden Eagles are found primarily in the West and North, where they favor grasslands, mountains and other open country. (They are also found in Europe and Asia.) They prefer to nest on rocky cliffs, but will use trees if they are large enough to support their massive nests. Their prey is primarily mammals, especially ground squirrels and rabbits. But they have been recorded killing prey as large as antelope and deer.
Bald Eagles range across the country, especially in the winter when they wander widely, and prefer to live near water. They primarily nest in trees. They take a wider variety of prey than Goldens, with an emphasis on fish and waterfowl, along with mammals, birds and scavenged food (i.e., carrion). They sometimes gather in large groups when there is an abundant food source, like a salmon run or a waterfowl wintering area.
Typical for a large bird at the top of the food chain, eagles are slow to mature and slow to reproduce. They take at least five years to reach sexual maturity, and their first breeding attempts are less likely to be successful. They lay one to three eggs (most commonly two) with an interval of two to three days between eggs. These hatch after incubating for five to six weeks, normally a few days apart, and the eaglets fledge 10-12 weeks later. (Males, being smaller, typically leave the nest earlier than females.) Young birds will spend several months learning to hunt with their parents before heading out on their first migrations.
Because the time from first egg-laying to independence is so long, eagles begin nesting very early in the year, even in snowy regions. If the nest fails past the first few weeks, it’s usually too late for them to make a second attempt for the year. Frequently, only one chick will reach fledging stage. Second (and third) eggs and chicks are an “insurance policy” to make sure that at least one bird survives to fledge.
If food is abundant, the adults will feed all of the chicks, but if prey becomes scarce, they will focus their efforts on the larger, more vigorous eaglet(s) and the smaller, weaker siblings will likely die. After leaving the nest, young birds still need to learn to hunt; more than half don’t master the skills and die before their first winter is over. About 10 percent to 20 percent of eagles actually make it to breeding age.
Such a low reproductive rate is sustainable. Over the course of a lifetime, a breeding pair only need to produce two offspring who themselves live to breeding age to maintain a stable population. Unfortunately, human activities (especially over the past century) have led to population declines. Habitat loss is one factor as is loss of hunting grounds to agriculture, and loss of nesting sites to logging. Intentional and unintentional killing is another. Eagles were early on targeted by ranchers who thought they killed livestock, especially calves and lambs. In one of the first laws protecting animals, intentional killing of eagles was outlawed in 1940 by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. But the birds still face accidental killings from electrocution on power lines, hitting wind turbines, and secondary poisoning from baits set for ground squirrels and other prey species.
And for Bald Eagles, a devastating population crash caused by widespread use of DDT occurred in the post-World War II years. The pesticide didn’t kill them outright but built up in their systems through their prey base (especially fish and waterfowl) and caused eggshell thinning, leading to breeding failures. When DDT was banned nationwide in 1972, several generations of breeding birds had been lost, and the species was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1976. Since the DDT ban, numbers have rebounded solidly with the help of major reintroduction efforts in the earlier years. The species was officially delisted in 2007. Some raptor biologists opposed the delisting. They weren’t sure populations had recovered sufficiently and some saw it as a ploy by the Bush administration to try to tell an environmental good-news story while allowing various areas to be opened to oil, gas and coal interests with fewer constraints.
Though delisted, the birds remain protected by the Eagle Protection Act. That law has been amended to acknowledge the significance of eagles to Native Americans to some extent, but still limits possession of feathers and other artifacts with tight regulations. With healthier eagle populations now, should those regulations be revisited to allow taking of eagles by Native people for ceremonial purposes? If so, what revisions are appropriate? Should there be different policies for Golden and Bald Eagles, based on differing population trends?
I am myself conflicted.
My main problem is with killing a member of a species that is long lived and slow reproducing, especially in the name of religious freedom.
My objection is not about killing as part of a ritual in and of itself. If the rituals involved killing, say, ducks, then no problem. They are abundant and reproduce quickly. It’s not even really about killing raptors, as much as I love them. If they wanted to take a certain number of redtail hawks every year, I would be okay with it (although admittedly not thrilled). But redtails are doing reasonably well in the world, even expanding their territory in many areas. The loss of a few would have minimal impact on the population.
It’s also not about exemption from laws in the name of religious freedom, in and of itself. If a religious practice has no harmful effect on anyone other than the practitioner, I have no objection. Muslim women (and Sikh men) should be allowed to wear head coverings in their workplace; Native Americans should be able to use peyote (though not, say, when they’re driving buses).
So that’s what it’s not about for me. What is it about?
It’s the conflict between religious freedom and other legitimate concerns. An analogy is a church that wants to get a permit for a religious procession that will block city streets. The city should make the process as transparent and reasonable as possible, but it should also be able to say, “You can’t block the streets around fire stations and hospitals.” There are sound reasons why these protections for eagles were enacted. The rules were not created with the intent of discriminating against Indians, though they have had that effect, they were created because populations of slow-reproducing birds were threatened (critically, in the case of Bald Eagles).
The Eagle Protection Act has been modified some to accommodate Indian concerns and should be further amended to make it more workable. But any changes should be made with consideration of both biology and tradition. The government should make the process less opaque and open it up as much as is reasonable.
If it was a very limited take, and it was timed so as not to cause problems for breeding birds or fledglings, it would be easier to support. I think the loss of a handful of eagles each year (Bald or Golden) would not have a significant impact on the population and could be safely allowed. Oddly, the thing that I’m sure many people might find hardest to deal with is the thing I could best accept the practice of taking an eaglet from a nest, raising it to a certain age, then killing it ceremonially. (Nest cams have got a lot of people very attached to baby eagles.) As I explained, eagles often have more than one chick hatch, but only one lives to fledge. Taking a young bird that would likely have died anyway seems the least bad option. It also frees the parents to concentrate their efforts on the remaining youngster both before and after fledging, thus giving it a better chance at survival.
If an adult bird is captured and killed, then I have more concerns, mostly related to breeding. Also, there’s something inherently upsetting in thinking about ritually killing a bird that might have survived 20 to 30 years in the wild, with all the obstacles we’ve created for their survival. That’s the bird we want in the gene pool, and that’s the bird who should be teaching youngsters how to survive.
At the minimum, I’d hope that the hunt would be limited to fall and early winter and after youngsters have fledged, learned to hunt from their parents and departed and before the next breeding season begins.
One argument I totally don’t accept is: A lot of the birds are killed by power lines and autos and windmills, so what’s a few more for ceremonial reasons? I have been involved in trying to stop those deaths too, so this one just doesn’t cut it for me. If it’s bad for them to die by accident, how is it not bad for them to be killed intentionally?
Eagles have a special spiritual significance for many, but not all, American Indians. In some cultures the spirit or soul of the eagle might visit a person during a vision quest; in some cultures eagle medicine was associated with war and the wearing of eagle feathers symbolized war honors.
courtesy of Montana State Historical Society
On the Northern Plains, eagles were seen as a source of spiritual power. Hunting eagles, particularly golden eagles, was a dangerous feat performed by men who possessed special power to do so. Among the Cheyenne, the only eagle hunters were old men who had ceased being active warriors. On a hilltop, the hunter would hide in a pit covered with poles, twigs and grass, with a dead rabbit or other small mammal placed on top as bait. When an eagle swooped down to take the meat, the hunter would try to grab it by both feet, pull it into the pit and wring its neck. The eagle’s feathers were used in making bonnets and for decorating shields.
On the Central Plains, Omaha warriors recognized for bravery were allowed to wear a Crow Belt bustle: two trailers of hide covered with feathers hung from the belt with eagle wing pointer feathers protruded upward from the base of the bustle. The main body of the bustle was made of an eagle skin with head and tail still attached. For the Omaha, the eagle was associated with the destructive powers of the Thunder Being and the destructive nature of war. To wear the Crow Belt, a warrior had to be the first to strike an unwounded enemy in battle; to be the first to touch a fallen, live enemy; to be the second to touch a fallen, live enemy; and then to repeat all three of these deeds of valor.
The Cahuilla in California believed that the eagle lived forever and, by permitting itself to be killed by people, assured them of life after death. Eagles’ nests were closely watched and a feast was held when the eggs were laid. When the birds were well-feathered, one would be removed and raised in a cage. When the bird was grown, the Eagle-Killing Ceremony would be held. This included singing songs about the death of eagles and dancing with the eagle.
During the reservation era, U.S. officials, as leaders of a “Christian nation,” felt they had not only the right but also the obligation to eradicate all symbols of Indian religions, including the wearing of eagle feathers. On some reservations those who wore or displayed eagle feathers were imprisoned. In 1884 the United States formally outlawed all Indian religions.
The war against Indian religions abated during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. But in 1940 it took on a new dimension with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of Interior issued regulations restricting the taking, possessing and transporting of bald and golden eagles and their parts, which directly undermined traditional Native peoples who use eagle feathers for religious purposes. Under the act, individual spiritual leaders and traditional practitioners were persecuted. As with most federal legislation affecting Indians, there was neither testimony from Indians nor any consideration of Indian religions before the vote was taken.
In 1962 Congress modified the act slightly to provide an exception for Indian religious purposes.
But in 1974, 14 Indians were arrested in Oklahoma on charges relating to the possession and sale of illegal feathers. From the government’s viewpoint, the arrests were made to stop trade in the feathers of protected birds, viewing this trade as contributing to the near extinction of the birds. Some Indians, on the other hand, felt that the government’s action was really an attempt to retaliate for actions such as the 1973 takeover of the hamlet of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota by traditional Lakotas and other members of the American Indian Movement.
In subsequent court cases, lawyers argued unsuccessfully that Indians had no choice but to buy religious objects and clothing from craftsmen who knew the old skills that are needed to make them. The government pointed out that the arrests had been made of Indians selling feathers to white undercover agents not to trade or sale among Indians.
In 1978, the Eagle Protection Act was further amended to let the Secretary of the Interior allow Indians to take eagles for religious purposes.
In 1986, the Supreme Court stepped in with its ruling in United States vs. Dion. This involved a Yankton Sioux who was convicted of hunting eagles. The Court found that Congress had abrogated treaty hunting rights with both the Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
(photo courtesy of his family)
While the 1858 treaty with the Yankton did not place any restrictions on Indian hunting rights, the court was unanimous in its disagreement with the argument that the treaty allowed hunting of eagles. The Court felt that by passing laws protecting eagles and migratory birds, Congress intentionally relieved the Yankton Sioux of that hunting right.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order allowing eagle feathers and other animal parts to be made available to Indian tribes for religious and ceremonial use. As part of this process, the National Eagle Repository was established in Colorado. It receives bodies of eagles killed by cars or power lines and provides them on request to Indians for ceremonial use. It’s an imperfect situation, with an average wait of three-and-a-half years for obtaining an eagle carcass. Also, some traditionals feel the eagles that have been killed accidentally are not ritually clean and should not be used in ceremonies.
In 2005, Winslow Friday (Northern Arapaho) killed an eagle on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming to help with his family’s Sun Dance obligations. Among the Arapaho, Sun Dance sponsorship is both an honor and a responsibility. For the sponsors’ relatives, this is a communal obligation, including the need to obtain an eagle for use in the ceremony. This eagle must be pure: It cannot have died through poison, disease, accident (often the case in roadkill) or electrocution.
In response to Friday’s arrest, the Northern Arapaho tribe filed suit in a challenge to the Eagle Protection Act. While federal law allows tribal members to kill bald eagles for spiritual purposes, there is no clear way of obtaining a federal permit, they said. In fact, none had been granted since amendments to the act. Since the eagle was killed by Friday for religious purposes, the tribe argued that government’s requirement for a “fatal-take permit” runs counter to their First Amendment guarantee to the free exercise of religion, and wanted the Feds to make it easier for tribal members to kill eagles for ceremonial purposes.
Federal District Judge William Downes dismissed the case against Friday:
“Although the government professes respect and accommodation of the religious practices of Native Americans, its actions show callous indifference to such practices. It is clear to this court that the government has no intention of accommodating the religious beliefs of Native Americans except on its own terms and in its own good time.”
The government appealed. In 2008, in U.S. v. Friday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturned the lower court’s ruling and ordered Friday to stand trial. He appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. In the appeal, his attorney pointed out that the government’s fatal-take permit for eagles was not well known, and tribal members as well as the government’s own field agents were unaware of it.
Friday’s attorney wrote:
“Yet still the government wants to punish criminally a tribal member who took a bird, no longer listed on the Endangered Species List, for a religious ceremony performed for centuries by his tribe, even though that bird faces a far, far greater threat from utility companies, whose power lines kill thousands of raptors, including eagles, every year.”
In 2009, the Supreme Court refused to grant certiorari and Friday dropped his fight, pleading guilty to killing an eagle. The prosecution then transferred the case to the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Court at Wind River. He was fined $2500 and his hunting privileges on the reservation were suspended for a year. In federal court, Friday had faced a possible sentence of a year in jail and a $100,000 fine. Those charges were dismissed.
By Meteor Blades
On March 22, 1622, Indians from a dozen tribes of the Tsenacommacah (Powhatan) Confederacy made a surprise attack on 36 settler communities along 50 miles of the James, Appomattox and York rivers in Virginia Colony, ultimately killing 347 men, women and children, a fourth of the white population of the time. It is often mistakenly called the Good Friday Massacre of 1622, but it didn’t happen on Good Friday, which fell that year on April 19. Mary Miley Theobald writes:
Warriors from perhaps a dozen of the thirty-two affiliated tribes -Quiyoughcohannocks, Waraskoyacks, Weanocks, Appomatucks, Arrohatecks, and others - fell on men, women, and children in their homes and in their fields, burning houses and barns, killing livestock, mutilating the bodies of their victims. Planned by the Pamunkey headman Opechancanough, kinsman of the deceased paramount chieftain Powhatan, the offensive slew about 350 whites …
with fortified Jamestown shown surrounded by a moat.
(Matthaeus Merian, sometime before 1634).
Because of an early warning from an Indian who changed his mind before joining the attack, Jamestown itself was mostly spared. After the one-day uprising, many plantations and small settlements were abandoned and the English retreated to more defensible positions. But the loss of food stores and loss of land on which to plant more crops led to the starvation of another 400-500 settlers in the coming months.
Still Opechancanough did not achieve his objective, that having been to permanently push the English off Indian lands they were steadily encroaching as ever more colonists arrived and multiplied, many of them running plantations of the first export crop, the sweet Orinoco tobacco first cultivated by John Rolfe. His 1614 marriage to Pocohantas, daughter of the confederacy’s headman or werowance, Wahunsenacawh, whom the English knew as Powhatan, brought an end to the first Anglo-Powhatan War and eight years of peace.
During that time, trade between the English and the Indians became widespread. Christian ministers sought to convert and “civilize” as many as they could.
Large numbers of settlers, under relaxed rules allowing them for the first time to privately acquire their own farms, took little heed of official warnings not to settle “straglingly in divers places.” [...] By 1619 only servants, potentially the most rebellious segment of society, were restricted from freely trading. Debating how to treat Indians who frequently found employment “in killing of Deere, fishing, beatting of Corne and other workes,” Virginia’s general assembly finally decided “neither to utterly reject them nor yet to drawe them in.” Although “five or six” could be admitted to “places well peopled,” “lone inhabitants” were “by no meanes to entertain them” – precaution that often went unheeded.
When Wahunsenacawh died in 1618, Opechancanough, whom many historians believe was his younger brother, became werowance of the confederacy. He viewed the English expansion as a problem that needed to be stopped and, while nobody can ever be certain, it is thought that the plans for the uprising began months, possibly even years before it occurred. George Percy, twice governor of the Virginia colony, wrote afterward:
My opinion is that their heathen priests, who are the tools of the devil, were constantly working upon the credulity and ignorance of this people to make them believe that the English had come to exterminate them in the same way as the Spaniard had done in other parts of the West Indies, and to prevent this the murderous attack was decided upon and brought into execution.
Theobald writes, “Although Percy scoffs at the idea that the English intended to exterminate the Virginia Indians, time would tell a different story.”
Early that spring morning, the Indians took advantage of the friendliness that had developed over the years to launch their attack. In some cases, they killed whole families in houses where they themselves had eaten and slept. With tomahawks and farm tools, they struck. Even some English who had been the most friendly were not spared.
Opechancanough had figured that the English would behave as tribes typically did when attacked in such force, which was a rare occurrence: They would submit or they would move somewhere else. The English did neither. Already considered a death-trap because of disease, Virginia as an investor-owned company collapsed and came under direct rule of the British Crown. Retaliation against the confederacy began that autumn and would soon take the lives of many times more Indians than English who died on March 22. In 1623, for instance, some 200 Indians were lured with talks of peace to a meeting at which they were all well fed and killed with poisoned wine.
There would be no peace for another decade during which time English war captains became the dominant leaders in Virginia colony, with absolute power. A deep-seated racial hatred developed, as epitomized by the words of Edward Waterhouse, who urged the use of bloodhounds and mastiffs to “teare them, which take this naked, tanned deformed Savages, for no other than beasts.”
of the Mattaponi tribe of the old Powhatan
Confederacy. She fought to keep her Indian
identity at a time when the Virginia Bureau
of Vital Statistics was classifying all Indians
as “Negro” to subject them to Jim Crow laws.
She also kept the feather-weaving craft alive.
Her grandson, Kenneth Adams, is the
Mattaponi chief today.
Gradually, the Virginians took back the land and extended themselves over far more, established eight fortresses and scores of plantations, and, three times a year, sent military expeditions against the confederacy of tribes designed to keep them in check and edge them farther and farther from the settlements. A shaky peace was agreed to in 1632.
In 1644 came another uprising, led again by the now-ancient Opechancanough, who thought to take advantage of colonial divisions brought on by the English Civil War. Some 500 English died, but by this time there were nearly 9,000 colonists in Virginia and the Indian losses were far greater. The old werowance was captured and plans were made to ship him to England. Before that could happen, an English guard shot him in the back.
A treaty was signed in 1646, but unlike previous ones, this was not between equals. The new headman Necotowance agreed to pay symbolic tribute, accept the sovereignty of the king of England and yield more territory. Stephen D. Feeley writes:
The treaty’s main points (along with successive addendums) would form the basis of Virginia’s Indian relations for the remainder of the colonial period, laying out the theoretical justification for English authority, delineating separate territories, limiting freedom of movement, and curtailing cross-racial contacts. The overarching theme was containment of Indians and settlers into more strictly defined spheres. To this end the Virginia government assigned “Necotowance and his people” an area on the north side of the York River and to the southwest, beyond the Blackwater River.
These boundaries proved to be, let us say, highly permeable, with settlers soon extending as far as the Potomac in search of ever more land suitable for growing lucrative tobacco. By 1669, the non-Indian population excluding slaves had reached 41,000. The Indians of the Powhatan Confederacy, about 15,000 when Pocohantas became a bride, had dwindled to 3,000.
Today, the only two reservations in Virginia are those of two tribes that were part of the confederacy, the Pamunkey, with some 200 enrolled members, and the Mattaponi, with 1025 enrolled members in two bands. Together, their reservations encompass a mere 1232 acres. Both tribes continue to deliver tribute in the form of game or a “peace pipe” each year to the governor of Virginia, just as they have every year without exception since the treaty of 1646. They have been seeking federal recognition without success for several decades.
Recently, a very thoughtful and informative article at High Country News about a street artist who has lived on the Navajo reservation for the past 25 years caught my eye. I recognized the roadside art from my last trip through the rez and wanted to know more. He goes by the moniker Jetsonorama for his art, but his full-time job is as the only permanent physician at the Indian Health Service at Inscription House in Arizona.
I first became aware of his work with a report of his contribution to 350.org’s challenge to street artists around the world to create art that reflected local effects of climate change. His piece was a beautiful Navajo baby with a large lump of coal looming over its
note traditional Navajo leggings and moccasins on baby.
This is one of several installations in Arizona
head – “a metaphorical black cloud over the head of future generations if we keep burning fossil fuels.” The Navajo Nation is home to the largest coal-mining operation in the Southwest run by the largest private-sector coal company in the world, Peabody Energy. The electricity generated on the rez supplies cities from Denver to Los Angeles. The Navajo often burn coal for fuel in their homes, causing respiratory illnesses. Jetsonorama’s piece serves as a message that energy from coal is contributing to climate change.
installation in Flagstaff
Last year, Jetsonorama teamed up with activists who have been fighting a legal battle since 2005 to prevent the Snowbowl ski resort from further desecrating the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff by making artificial snow from 100 percent reclaimed sewage water. These are sacred to 13 surrounding tribes. He asked friends and activists what their thoughts were about what’s happening to the peaks. Those thoughts were written on their faces. Jetsonorama photographed them and the installation went up in Flagstaff last year. Unfortunately, the latest ruling allows Snowbowl to continue using sewage water, something not done anywhere else in the world. But the battle isn’t over.
Before Jetsonorama hit the street scene, one of his hobbies was photography. Dinétah (Navajoland) made a lovely subject. Today for a big installation he enlarges his photos in 2-foot by 2-foot sections, trims them, makes his own wheat paste using Bluebird Flour - a staple on the rez for making fry bread - and leaves these love notes around the rez, often where they can be seen from the highways. One of his first installations was on one of the numerous and often abandoned roadside kiosks of Navajo jewelry vendors. He noticed after his installation of the Code Talkers on one kiosk that the owners were making repairs. He stopped to find out why, and the owners said that many more tourists were attracted by the murals and business had picked up. He was asked to install more art on the other walls attracting traffic in the opposite direction.
when Yote anonymously added his woodblock coyote
to Jetsonorama’s work.
Thus, The Painted Desert Project was born. Launched a few weeks ago, a collaboration with Yote, another street artist, the project aims to invite their favorite street artists to the rez and show it some love. Painting the numerous roadside kiosks – which are usually barren plywood – is the main goal.
Jetsonorama said: “The purpose of the project is three-fold. It will increase interactions between travelers and the local population hopefully fostering dialogue and challenging negative stereotypes. The second objective is to involve youth from the local communities in mural making workshops and thirdly, weâll have incredible art along the roadside in northern Arizona.”
The project is already moving fast and the following artists are on board for personal apperances: Breeze, Gaia, Over Under, Doodles, Chris Stain and Caledonia. If this ambitious tour de force project moves you, visit this link and you’ll see how you can help.
I cannot wait for my next road trip through the rez!
Coincidentally: Aaron Huey (amazing new project from him in the works, btw) told me I needed to connect with Jetsonorama. My mother was born at Inscription House where this good doctor is practicing. He knows all my relatives who live in nearby Shonto and Kaibeto. What a delight to see street art, relating to my heritage, on the vast Navajo rez. I urge you to click on the links above to see more of the artists’ work. The videos are simply wonderful.
while it just stood there. Now that’s a trophy!
The Lakota Sioux and other tribes consider the white buffalo to be sacred. The animal is part of the Lakota creation story and a key component of their spirituality. White buffalo are considered sacred omens when they are born. Last year, a naming ceremony was held for a white buffalo born in a thunderstorm in May 2011 on the Lakota Ranch near Greenville, Tex. He was named Lightning Medicine Cloud. That name is also a tribute to a female white buffalo calf born in 1933 and called Big Medicine. Lightning Medicine Cloud is thought to be the first male white buffalo calf born in 150 years. The National Bison Association say white buffalo naturally occur about once in every 10 million births.
Traditionalists believe that Whope, goddess of peace, appeared in the form of a white buffalo calf once, and that she will return when four white calves are born. That will bring about a new age. Thus, it was no surprise that the arrival of Lightning Medicine Cloud generated widespread celebration among the Lakota and other tribes across the nation. In June last year, 2,000 Indians traveled to the ranch to take part in ceremonies honoring the white calf.
But there are some white buffalo that aren’t born in natural, luck-of-the-draw circumstances. They are bred for a specific purpose, the kind of captive “hunting” favored by the likes of Dick Cheney.
It was noticed recently by Indian Country Today that a big game company was offering a $13,500 hunting package to bag an enormous white buffalo:
Texas Hunt Lodge allows the opportunity to hunt and harvest the Authentic and Rare White Buffalo. There are no seasonal restrictions on hunting the White Buffalo, or White Bison, in Texas, which makes it a suitable trophy year round.
We typically let our hunters choose the method of hunting White Buffalo that they prefer. Hunters of White Buffalo can choose the Spot and Stalk method, Bow Hunting, Rifle Hunting, Black Powder, Safari Style Hunting, Handgun, as well as hunting from a Blind. We can accomodate [sic] hunters of any age and experience level, as well as hunters which have physical disabilities or may be confined to a wheelchair.
Our White Buffalo bulls weigh 1200-1500lbs, and have horns in the 17-20 inch [range] … your white buffalo trophy will be a huge!
The outrage over this quickly came to a boil:
“The company started the white buffalo hunts about two years ago, and there was a big outcry about it then,” said James Swan (Cheyenne River Sioux), founder and president of the Rapid City-based United Urban Warrior Society.
The lodge acquiesced to pressure from Native Americans at the time and ceased its white buffalo hunts, according to Swan.
“But now it’s started back up again,” he said. “It’s a slap in the face for our people.”
That was two weeks ago. Soon, a social media uproar forced the lodge to remove the content from that page.
Indians and other people took issue with a business making money off a white buffalo kill. But the whole purpose of the company is to provide access to exotic animals that clients can pretend to have stalked and killed in the wild so they can mount them on the wall and regale their beer buddies with tales of their daring.
Aaron Bulkley, owner of Texas Hunt Lodge, told ICT “We’ve had a ton of feedback from people since the white buffalo story came out, and I understand the white buffalo is sacred to Indians,” he said. “It’s been on the website for three years and all of a sudden people are excited about it. I do understand their point. I’m not saying I disagree with it or agree with it but I am going to take it off the website.”
Asked directly if he would be offering white buffalo hunts at all, he responded, ”Not for white buffalo.”
But, apparently, there’s still a market for it.
• Former AIM Activist Appeals Conviction in Aquash Murder: One of the two men convicted in the 1975 slaying of fellow American Indian Movement activist Anna Mae Pictou Aquash (Mi’kmaq) is appealing on the grounds that the government should not have been allowed to move his case from federal to state court after he was extradited from his Canadian home to the United States. Prosecutors claim that John Graham (Southern Tutchone) helped kidnap Aquash from Denver and then shoot at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota on suspicion that she was a government snitch.
• Washington Governor OKs a Bill Allowing End of State Jurisdiction Over Tribes: Gov. Chris Gregoire has signed legislation that would sets up a procedure to cede state jurisdiction over some criminal and civil matters to American Indian tribes seeking that authority. A tribe could also ask that the state give the authority to the federal government. The federal government already has jurisdiction on Indians reservations when it comes to major crimes, including homicide, child sexual and physical abuse and violent assault as well as crime related to casino gaming.
• The Quandary of American Indian Quasi-Dual Citizenship: Attending the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Convention got Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton Wahpeton/Mdwakanton/Hunkpapa) at The Last Real Indians web site to thinking about what it means to be Native in America. She went specifically to hear Bill Clinton speak and came away thinking: “Part of me would like to wash my hands of the whole American political process, not necessarily because of our notable absence in Clinton’s speech, but because of the entire twisted, ruinous history of U.S. and Tribal relations.” On the other hand, she concludes that voting to protect Indian rights, women’s rights and poor people’s rights as well as to support good programs is crucial: “If we don’t, those decisions will be made for us, and against us; and I for one know that my ancestors didn’t fight for my freedom just so I could close my eyes to it. In this case, silence could spell our doom. Stand up and be counted.”
• Indians Unhappy with Nevada Bear Hunt, Racist Remark: Some American Indians have joined the fight against Nevada’s black bear hunt. They also a comment made last week by the chairman of the Washoe County wildlife advisory board, Rex Flowers. Flowers told the group of eight Paiute, Washoe and Shoshone that he didn’t want to “hear of bows and arrows” because his panel was committed to the bear hunt, according to Raquel Arthur (Pyramid Lake Paiute), spokeswoman for the northern Nevada chapter of the American Indian Movement.
• Oglalas Win Full Early Voting-for 2012: Shannon County, S.D., has always sought ways to keep Oglala Lakota people from exercising their voting franchise. But thanks to a settlement forced by a lawsuit, they will for first time be able to early-vote during a 46-day period leading up to the June primary and November general election, just like other South Dakotans. They originally had just 6 days, something their lawsuit called “a denial of the right to vote” and “discriminatory.” With access assured for 2012, the request for a preliminary injunction ordering that access became moot, Judge Karen Scheier declared.
• California Tribes Fight Ocotillo Wind Farm Near Sacred Sites: Kumeyaay, Cocopah, Quechan and other American Indian tribes in southern California have banded together to oppose a massive wind energy project proposed for construction on publicly owned Bureau of Land Management land. They say the project will damage hundreds of cultural and archaeological sites. Their opposition makes them allies of desert conservation groups and recreation enthusiasts. The project would put up as many 155 wind turbines on towers as tall as 450 feet.
• Little River Casino Agrees To Second Union Contract: The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Manistee, Mich., have announced that the tribe has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the United Steelworkers Union. The agreement covers slot machine technicians at the Little River Casino Resort. Security guards also signed an agreement at the end of last year. Many tribes argue that they are, as sovereign nations exempt from federal and state labor law, and refuse to allow unions in tribal casinos.
Indians have often been referred to as the “Vanishing Americans.” But we are still here, entangled each in his or her unique way with modern America, blended into the dominant culture or not, full-blood or not, on the reservation or not, and living lives much like the lives of other Americans, but with differences related to our history on this continent, our diverse cultures and religions, and our special legal status. To most other Americans, we are invisible, or only perceived in the most stereotyped fashion.
First Nations News & Views is designed to provide a window into our world, each Sunday reporting on a small number of stories, both the good and the not-so-good, and providing a reminder of where we came from, what we are doing now and what matters to us. We wish to make it clear that neither navajo nor I make any claim whatsoever to speak for anyone other than ourselves, as individuals, not for the Navajo people or the Seminole people, the tribes in which we are enrolled as members, nor, of course, the people of any other tribes.