Help Take AZ Back From Corporations: Wenona Benally Baldenegro for CD-1

Wenona Avatar  It’s time for us to take another seat in the circle.

Wenona Benally Baldenegro, a member of the Navajo Nation and a Kossack, is running for Congress in Arizona’s CD-1, encompassing much of northern, eastern, and central Arizona, and a huge percentage of the state’s tribal lands.  That seat is currently held by Republican Paul Gosar, teabagger, tool of corporate interests, and [predictably] exploiter of tribal nations and lands.  Gosar is leaving CD-1 to run in a different district, and thus far, no Republican candidate has mounted a credible campaign.  However, Benally Baldenegro has a tough primary fight on her hands:  Former CD-1 Rep Ann Kirkpatrick wants her old seat back.  

Those of you who read my diaries on Apache Leap back in 2010 may remember that I called explicitly for an Indian candidate to primary Ann, who sold her soul to transnational mining interests while she sold out the tribes and the environment.  Well, now’s our chance.  Over the jump, learn why Ann Kirkpatrick must be defeated, and why Wenona needs our help to win first the primary, and then the general election.

Diarist’s Note:  This diary is not sanctioned by Wenona Benally Baldenegro’s campaign in any way.  I’m writing this because I feel so strongly about the need 1) to have Indian representation at all levels of government; 2) to keep anti-environmental and anti-Indian Blue Dogs away from the levers of power; and 3) to have a truly liberal, “progressive” representative from Arizona with the potential to do tremendous good for the entire state, including its underserved and underrepresented populations.


Meet Wenona, at a farm outside Leupp, wenonaatleuppfarm1

From Kayenta, Arizona, Wenona is the daughter of a Navajo schoolteacher.  She was salutatorian of her high school graduating class, and the first Indian graduate of Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College.  From college, she went on to Harvard, where she earned both a Master’s degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government and her law degree.  She returned home to work for the InterTribal Council of Arizona (ITCA), focusing on public policy issues for a consortium of more than 20 Arizona tribes.  Since then, she has worked as an attorney in private practice, in both Arizona and Washington, D.C., focusing on public interest issues and helping underserved populations.

If elected Wenona would be the first American Indian member of Congress from Arizona, and the first Indian woman ever elected to Congress.  That alone is inspiring.  But to have the opportunity to send to Congress its first American Indian woman member – and to have her be a true liberal Democrat?  This is an opportunity we can’t let slip by us, folks.  Take a look at a few of the policy positions she supports:

On Jobs and the Economy:

  • Sustainable Job Creation

    Transportation and Infrastructure

    Small Business Development

    Fair Tax Reform

    Fair Trade

    Fair Wages and Workers’ Rights
  • On Education:

  • Early Childhood and K-12 Education

    Higher Education

    The DREAM Act
  • On Healthcare and Retirement:

  • Quality, Affordable Healthcare

    Social Security Protection

    Medicare Expansion

  • On Energy and the Environment:

  • Environmental Protection

    Clean Energy Investment
  • On Equal Rights and Civil Liberties:

  • Immigration Reform

    Women’s Rights

    LGBT Equality


    Tribal Sovereignty
  • You can follow Wenona for Arizona here at Daily Kos.  Get to know Wenona and her vision for Arizona, and for the country, at her campaign Web site.  And give to Wenona via ActBlue here.

    The last – giving – is especially important.

    Why?  Because she has a primary opponent:  former Blue Dog and corporate shill Ann Kirkpatrick.  And Ann is way out in front in the money race, having reported a war chest of just under $700,000 as of December 21, 2011, compared with only $51,400 for Wenona in the same period.  

    And the stakes couldn’t be higher.

    Meet Ann Kirkpatrick, and you’ll see why.

    As noted above, a year and a half ago, I wrote at length about three transnational mining corporations – BHP Billiton, the Rio Tinto Group, and Resolution Copper – and the threat they posed to Arizona’s fragile environment and the sacred lands of numerous Indian nations in that state.  You can read here about the plans BHP Billiton and the Rio Tinto Group have for Arizona’s ecosystem – and about their brutal records of damage inflicted on indigenous populations the world over.  Today, I want to focus on some passages from my diary about Resolution Copper’s plans – and Ann Kirkpatrick’s role in aiding and abetting them.


    Here’s what I wrote at the time about the lands in question:


    The land after which Resolution Copper lusts so greedily includes three major areas:  Apache Leap, Devil’s Canyon, and Oak Flat.  All three include areas that are sacred to area tribes, but perhaps the most affecting bit of history surrounds Apache Leap.  As I noted last week:

    Apache Leap.

    The elders tell of a time when invading U.S. soldiers sought to abduct the Apache people, herd them onto reservations, and steal their land.  The people fought valiantly, but were woefully outnumbered.  When the end came, the Apache warriors chose to retain their honor rather than surrender to thieves and thugs:  They leapt off the peak to their deaths below, joining the spirits of their ancestors and depriving the Army of prize captives.  

    At the base of the formation, a nearly-translucent brown-black obsidian is found.  The stones are called Apache tears, and as the story goes, when the surviving women found the bodies of their men at the base of the leap, they mourned so deeply and bitterly that Spirit turned their tears to beautifully, lethally sharp stone, so that no one would forget the crime against the people that had happened in that place.

    Devil's Canyon Devil’s Canyon includes similarly sacred lands, home to specific spirits, and also home to an array of ecologically important plant and animal species.  Among those animal species are fish – sections of Devil’s Canyon include a protected watershed and a riparian habitat found nowhere else in Arizona.  

    Oak Flat is a federally protected area that includes a public campground.  First placed under federal protection by then-President Dwight Eisenhower, the land again received special protection – specifically from mining interests – from Richard M. Nixon during his presidency.  For half a century, Oak Flat has occupied a special niche in Arizona’s outdoor culture.  Oak Flat.

    The lands that Resolution Copper assumes it will get – lands that are under federal protection – include Apache Leap, Devil’s Canyon, and Oak Flat.  These lands are sacred to a number of area tribes, particularly the Apache; they include areas where, since time immemorial, the people have gone to commune with the mountain spirits and those of their ancestors.  These lands also include of some of the most unique, delicately-balanced ecosystems in the Southwest, including a riparian area that is home to a number of distinct animal and bird species, migratory and otherwise.  And these are lands that sit atop what may be the largest copper deposit in North America – and perhaps anywhere on the planet.  

    The Hill reported the measure as follows:

    The measure would see the federal government give Resolution Copper 2,400 acres of the Tonto National Forest in exchange for 5,500 acres of ecologically valuable property across Arizona.

    Which is flatly wrong – but you’ll never see a correction.

    You can get a look at images of the lands in question here.  The land that Resolution Copper proposes to give in exchange is not “ecologically valuable” – it’s the barren, overgrazed desert scrub of abandoned cattle ranches that were given artificial labels like “[Insert Name Here] Creek,” which make it sound as though they may include riparian habitats.  They don’t.  

    It’s not a land swap; it’s a swindle.


    The current incarnation of the land swap bill is HR 2509/S 409.  HR 2509 was introduced on May 20, 2009, by alleged Democratic Representative Ann Kirkpatrick (S 409 was introduced simultaneously by John McCain).  More about Kirkpatrick later.

    Anyone remember Rick Renzi?  The “Quiverfull Congressman” from Arizona who left Congress in disgrace in 2008?  

    The Resolution Project was the catalyst (along with numerous other ethical and legal problems) of his downfall.

    You see, Resolution Copper has no objection to shaking down lobbying members of Congress and state pols for valuable resources, but it gets a little testy when a Congressman tries to shake it down.  In exchange for introducing the land swap bill and shepherding it through to Bush’s desk, Renzi tried to force Resolution Copper to include – and thereby purchase – his friend’s land, which would have given his friend a hefty addition to his bank account.  Unfortunately for poor Rick Renzi, Resolution Copper not only got mad, but got even – and Renzi not only lost his cushy congressional sinecure, but is currently under indictment on numerous corruption charges, including fraud, embezzlement, and extortion.  Oh, and the name of one of the firms from which he allegedly embezzled?  “Spirit Mountain.”  That’s a really sick sacrilegious touch, Rick.

    But all was not lost for Resolution Copper – not by a long shot.  Enter John McCain.  Of course.

    McCain is infamous for engineering land swaps, to the detriment of the environment, the tribes, the public – to anyone but himself and his wealthy corporate pals.  Of course, Indians who’ve followed McCain’s career have always known that his “friend of the Indian” persona is a load of crap, but the rest of the population seems to take it at face value . . . completely missing his other face.  Two-headed snake, forked tongue – all those old spaghetti Western metaphors fit McCain to the proverbial T.

    So McCain very happily picked up where Renzi left off, reintroducing the land swap bill in the Senate.  And while Kirkpatrick faces open opposition from Congressman Grijalva, who is reportedly crafting a different bill, McCain is by all accounts “frustrated” with Grijalva:

    In an interview with The Hill earlier this year, McCain expressed frustration with Grijalva and indicated the bill is a priority for him.


    I think, based on what we learned of John McCain throughout and after the 2008 election, that it’s safe to say that “frustrated” is a euphemism for “enraged.”


    If you’ve spent any time at all among Indians, you know that there are few cultural taboos that are pretty universal.  One of those is the taboo against pointing directly at another person.  Granted, with the assimilation of modern American culture, including its penchant for general rudeness, that’s one stricture that’s increasingly falling by the wayside, but if you go into Indian Country, you’ll still see a lot of us gesture directionally with a nod of the head or a pursing of the lips.  You don’t point directly at someone, you don’t pull a Jan Brewer and stick your finger in a person’s face, and you don’t lean into someones personal space.

    Someone should tell Ann Kirkpatrick:

    But the person who truly infuriates me here is Ann Kirkpatrick.  I expect disrespect and dismissal from McCain and his ilk, but Kirkpatrick has cast herself as a friend in the past – and has certainly been eager enough to take both votes and fundraising dollars from Indians.

    Since 2009, though, corporate support has trumped Native rights.  Wendell Nosie, then tribal chairman of the San Carlos Apache tribe, formerly arranged a fundraiser and GOTV efforts for Kirkpatrick.  That all changed in February:

    “Back in Arizona I’m hearing you’re supporting Resolution Copper,” Nosie recalled saying.

    He asked her directly whether she supported the bill. Kirkpatrick responded that she did. They talked about the tribe’s environmental concerns, and the conversation quickly became tense, according to several accounts.

    “Ann, the reason why I’m here is because you had told me that you would definitely hear both sides of the story,” Nosie said.

    Kirkpatrick leaned forward in her chair.

    “Chairman, tell me, how is your religion going to put food on the table?” she said. “Tell me how your religion is going to help the children getting abused by their parents. How is your religion going to turn the bed sheets of your elders?”

    The chairman stopped her. “Ann, don’t even go there,” he said.

    The meeting broke up minutes later. The chairman and Kirkpatrick haven’t spoken directly since.

    Now, if you’re not an Indian who’s been on the receiving end of this kind of disrespect, you likely won’t get what just happened there.  I can see it all too clearly.  Ann’s nailed and she knows it, and her first reaction is to get angry, so she goes on the attack, body language and all.  I can just imagine her “leaning forward”:  I’ll bet her hand started to come up, too, before she caught herself.  Nonetheless, I guarantee you that Chairman Nosie got “the point,” in both senses of the term:  Whether she literally stuck her finger in his face is irrelevant; she did so metaphorically when she leaned into his space and presumed to lecture him about whether he cared sufficiently about his own people.  All while, of course, she was busily selling those same people out for personal gain.

    Again, as I said then:

    So much for ethnic and cultural sensitivity.  Kirkpatrick should be ashamed that such words ever came out of her mouth.  She owes the members of every tribe in Arizona an apology.  Sadly, I think Resolution Copper’s dollar signs are worth more than our people’s traditions.  Certainly, she’s made abundantly clear that mining is worth more:

    Kirkpatrick does not directly answer a question on whether she’s made the calculation that jobs are more important than the religious practices of the Apache. She talks about finding a balance between the two, but also points to the traditions of Superior and the surrounding mining towns.

    “This region has been a mining region for a hundred years. I talk with miners who are third-, fourth-generation miners in this area. It’s not only their livelihood, it’s also their life,” she said.

    Sorry, Ann.  I’ll see your “hundred years” and raise you a thousand or so.  Wanna talk about tradition?  How about the much older tradition that respects the Earth, that lives in harmony with her, rather than ripping open her womb to extract what is not yours to take in order to make the rich even richer?

    There comes a point when I want to ask these pols – not the company, because I already know what they’re hoping – but politicians like Ann Kirkpatrick:  How stupid do you think we are?  Overgrazed cattle ranch land and bone-dry areas labeled “[Something] Creek” in exchange for sacred tribal lands with fragile escarpments and unique riparian habitats?  Insulting tribal leaders and insinuating you know better than they how to care for their children and elders?  Elevating three- and four-generation “traditions” of non-Native corporate mining as a way of life over thousands of years’ worth of Native traditions than were firmly established long before the first European ever thought these shores might exist?  I mean, really, Ann:  How stupid do you think we are?


    Apparently, pretty stupid.  She wants her cushy sinecure back, and she expects Arizona’s Indians to forget that less than two short years, she was prepared to sell them out as thoroughly as any Republican, all while displaying the kind of paternalistic rudeness I’d expect from her counterparts across the partisan aisle.  But Indians have long memories – it’s a survival mechanism.  As I noted then:

    I was disappointed, last week, to see on my Twitter feed a tweet from INDN’s List, referencing a RezNewsNet article on support for “endangered Dem” Ann Kirkpatrick.  Her actions are openly opposed by Arizona’s Inter-Tribal Council and the leadership of every single Arizona tribe.  INDN’s List should know that.  And while she will undoubtedly be better – at least marginally – on issues important to our peoples than whatever teabagging Republican opposes her, INDN’s List and all Native voters need to send a message to Ann, loud and clear:  Our votes, our money, our support are not to be taken for granted, and they do not come free.  If you get them, we will expect you to do right by us on this issue.  And since you need our votes – 20% of your district’s population – to have any hope of winning, rest assured that if you do not do right by us, we will ensure that you do not return to Congress.


    Sadly, INDN’s List is no more.  However, we’re fortunate to have a real Democrat to support in this race:  A liberal, progressive, Democratic Indian woman who strongly supports tribal sovereignty; clean energy and environmental protection; full access to health care and education; marriage equality and full LGBT rights; the DREAM Act and humane immigration reform; sustainable job creation and fair trade; and a host of other hallmarks of Democratic, liberal, progressive policy.

    We’ve been invisible for far too long.  You can help us change that.

    Help send the first American Indian woman to Congress.

    Help elect Wenona for Arizona.

    This Year, It’s About Saving Lives

    On this day last year, I asked for one thing:  GOTV funds for Democratic Indian candidates.

    This year, I want something more fundamental.

    I want you to help me save some lives.

    That is no exaggeration.  Every year, we lose a few more people – mostly elders – because they freeze to death.  The last few winters in South Dakota have been lethal, and this year’s – perhaps as little as a couple of weeks away now – promises to be no exception.  

    Last week, navajo kicked off our now-annual fundraiser to provide propane and heaters for people on South Dakota’s Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations.  I’ve learned of another heater option that’s both safe and less expensive, and is – for the moment – on sale.  Let’s take advantage of it.

    First, a disclaimer:  We have no stock in Northern Tool.  I know nothing about the company’s politics.  I only know that we’ve bought household, outdoor, and farm and ranch items from them for years, and their prices have always been more reasonable than most other places.  They were certainly the least expensive place I could find last year as a source for the propane heater we’ve been recommending since that time (that heater and order info are near the end of the diary).  We also just bought the heater I’m about to recommend, so I can attest that it’s sturdy and works well.  Here’s a photo:

    Little Buddy Heater

    It’s much smaller than the other heater; it has an O2 sensor with automatic shutoff auto-shutoff if it gets knocked over, no tubes, auto-ignition with simple “on” and “off” buttons, and various other safety features.  It’s also advertised as able to heat a 100-square-foot space, which is about five times the size of Wings’s studio.  And the little propane canisters are much cheaper, obviously than filling a tank.  Yes, I realize that it’s undoubtedly more expensive over the long term, but when you’re in a bind and have only a few bucks, being able to buy a canister when you can’t afford to fill a tank could mean the difference between surviving and freezing to death.

    This particular model normally sells for $59.99 from this source.  Most other places we looked – even Cabela’s – it was $79.99.  At least through next Tuesday, apparently, there’s an additional $5 off; we got ours for $54.99 plus shipping, which came to $63 and change.  The canisters we already had, but I’m guessing no more than $10 a pop, and St. Francis Energy probably sells them, too.

    Order this heater here.  

    Additional info needed for shipping is below.

    Now, on to your regularly scheduled programming, courtesy of navajo:


    PLEASE Share with family and friends and ask them to share.

    My navajo’s earlier diaries explain in more detail why and how we are helping:

    Here we go again: Blizzard hits Dakotas

    Band-Aid for the Lakotas

    Pine Ridge: American Prisoner of War Camp #334

    Revealing Pine Ridge Rez Demographic Information

    Employment Information
    • Recent reports vary but many point out that the median income on the Pine Ridge Reservation is approximately $2,600 to $3,500 per year.
    • The unemployment rate on Pine Ridge is said to be approximately 83-85% and can be higher during the winter months when travel is difficult or often impossible.

      Note that South Dakota boasts of a 4.5% unemployment rate and ranks #2 in the Nation.
    • According to 2006 resources, about 97% of the population lives below Federal poverty levels.
    • There is little industry, technology, or commercial infrastructure on the Reservation to provide employment.
    • Rapid City, South Dakota is the nearest town of size (population approximately 57,700) for those who can travel to find work.  It is located 120 miles from the Reservation.  The nearest large city to Pine Ridge is Denver, Colorado located some 350 miles away.

    We have bypassed the middlemen; the 501c3s, the red-taped strangled Tribal Councils and the pathetic Federal LIHEAP program which runs out three weeks into winter.

    We’ve set up relationships with the propane companies that service Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservation. The kind operators/owners know who needs help and can’t get it from their Tribal, State or Federal government.

    Help buy propane for Lakota families in South Dakota:

    The *fastest* way to help is to pick up the phone and call with your credit card information. A family will get propane delivered either the same day or the next day.


    Sherry Cornelius of St. Francis Energy Co.

    at  6 0 5 – 7 4 7 – 2 5 4 2

    11 AM – 6 PM MST EVERY DAY

    Ask for Sherry or her mom Patsy. Normally a minimum order is $150, but they have an account to accumulate small donations to a minimum order. Credit Cards welcome and they are the only Native owned fuel company on Rosebud.  Rosebud is next to Pine Ridge Reservation and in the same economically depressed condition.

    If you’d like to mail a check:

    [make check payable to: St. Francis Energy Co.]

    Attn: Sherry or Patsy

    St. Francis Energy Co. / Valandra’s II

    P.O. Box 140

    St. Francis, South Dakota 57572

    NOT tax deductible

    You can also call Sherry’s cell phone: 605.208.8888 if the above line is busy.


    Good idea from  Aji in the comments :

    …for $230 plus shipping, Kossacks can get them an LPG safety space heater.  We’ve used this model; very effective; stable and low for safety and energy efficiency; multiple heat settings so you don’t waste gas; and a built-in O2 sensor auto-shutoff.

    You can order a heater  here  and have it shipped to:

    Sherry Cornelius

    St. Francis Energy Co.

    102 N Main Street


    Mr. Heater Big Buddy™ Indoor/Outdoor Propane Heater – 18,000 BTU, Model# MH18B

    You also need to include these accessories:

    Mr. Heater AC Power Adapter for Big Buddy Heaters – 6 Volt, Model# F276127

    Mr. Heater 12-Ft. Hose with Regulator for Item# 173635

    Mr. Heater Fuel Filter for Buddy™ Heaters, Model# F273699

    Order Total   $225.85 (includes shipping)


    The Lakota Plains Propane Company

    at  6 0 5 – 8 6 7 – 5 1 9 9

    Monday- Friday only 8-4:30pm MST

    Ask for Crystal to contribute to someone from Autumn’s list. $120 minimum delivery. This company serves Pine Ridge Reservation.

    NOT tax deductible

    If you live out of the country please use our PayPal link at Native American Netroots, the donate button is in the upper right of the page. This process takes about two weeks for the funds to hit the reservations so telephoning the propane companies directly is the fastest way to help.

    Native American Netroots Web Badge

     An ongoing series sponsored by the Native American Netroots team focusing on the current issues faced by American Indian Tribes and current solutions to those issues.


    Starving in the Land of Plenty: Hunger in Native America. Feeding America Blogathon

    My father knew what it was like to go hungry.  

    Even before the onset of the Great Depression, his family was intimately familiar with hunger.  Mixed-blood Indians living off the rez, in an area where cowards on horseback stalked the countryside in sheets and white hoods, were not the most “employable.”  Gramps traveled miles every day, on foot, looking for work.  Sometimes he’d find something; just as often, he’d come trudging home, late at night, with nothing to show for it but sore feet and an empty stomach.  If he was lucky, someone might hire him for 16 hours of backbreaking labor in exchange for a sack of beans, or a little rice – or on a really good day, a whole chicken (that Grandma had to pluck and dress).  Most often, the beans or rice were served without salt, pepper, butter, or anything else.

    To his dying day, my father hated rice.

    But to hear him tell it, they were still lucky compared to some kids at his one-room schoolhouse.  There were a pair of brothers who we invariably described as “dirt poor.”  He used to tell the story of how, one day as the kids were dropped off by the school bus, one of the wealthier white kids tossed an unwanted hard-boiled egg out of his lunch sack onto the ground (presumably so that his mother wouldn’t know he’d wasted food).  It landed in the dirt; already peeled, it was instantly covered.  One of the “dirt poor” brothers pounced on it, blew a bit of the dirt off, and stuffed it in his mouth.  It was the only food he’d had all day – indeed, probably for several days.

    And, predictably, just like Dad, those two ragged little boys were ostracized and tormented by the other kids and the teachers.  For the crime of being poor.

    I don’t intend to go into the casual racism here that allowed Dad’s first-grade teacher to fail him twice without cause; or his third-grade teacher to refuse to call on him when he knew the answer to question, telling the other kids, “We won’t ask him; he’s too dumb to know anyway); or the systemic privation and malnutrition that destroyed his health and his ability to learn, and caused him to drop out of school at the end of eighth grade.  Nor will I go into detail about the pre-diabetic hypoglycemia that plagued him his entire life, nor the fact that all three of my siblings were diabetic.  

    But I do know what it’s like to wonder where your next meal is coming from.

    I know my father’s humiliation when we had to use food stamps and he drove 35 miles to another town so no one we knew would see.

    I know what it’s like to be hungry during the school day, and to watch my grades plummet because I couldn’t concentrate.

    HUNGER – the real, true, gnawing, tearing, murderous kind of constant hunger that destroys lives – only one generation removed from me, remains a part of my ancestral memory.

    I’m not talking about the sanitized popular term “food insecurity.”  I’m not talking about not being able to afford steak instead of ground beef.  I’m talking about the physical, psychological, and spiritual starvation caused by real poverty and real malnutrition.  And it’s something our peoples battle every single day, all over this country – mostly unnoticed by a comparatively wealthy population that wouldn’t care anyway.


    One of the most pernicious myths surrounding hunger in this country is the one that says that if you’re overweight, you can’t be going hungry.  to the contrary, one of the most obvious manifestations of malnutrition is obesity, and it’s rampant among our peoples.  It’s also killing us at a rate that rivals anything tried in previous centuries.

    In 2003, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights published A Quiet Crisis:  Federal Funding and Unmet Needs in Indian Country.  Pages 99-112 deal with issues of food and nutrition.  The numbers – or, rather, the lack thereof in terms of funding allocations to help Native communities feed themselves – are staggering.  

    But it’s part and parcel of a larger dynamic of poverty, racism, and marginalization.  As I wrote a few months ago in an edition of Sage and Sweetgrass in SheKos:

    As many of you know, I’m part of the Native American Netroots team, founded and led by Kossack navajo. Many of you participated in our diaries on the long-term winter weather emergency that hit several South Dakota reservations, and donated generously of your money, supplies, time, and support. We need your help again. Some background information follows; at the end, what you can do to help.

    Pine Ridge – Some Numbers

    During the winter, we focused on three South Dakota reservations where the weather and its effects were most severe: Cheyenne River, Pine Ridge, and Rosebud. For purposes of today’s edition, I’m going to focus on Pine Ridge, but all three reservations – and many more throughout the nation – are in similar straits.

    At Pine Ridge (like many other reservations), it is not unusual to find women as heads of household. Moreover, they’re often housing and caring for multiple generations: children, grandchildren, sometimes great-grandchildren, as well as elderly parents or grandparents. Frequently, they take in uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, and distant cousins who are in need. Large numbers of women are de facto guardians of and primary caregivers for their grandchildren. None of this is particularly surprising, given that the average household income is less than $3,800 a year.

    Yes, you read that right: The average household income on the Pine Ridge Reservation is less than three thousand, eight hundred dollars annually.

    Further complicating the situation are the inhumane living conditions on many reservations. I’ve seen statistics estimating the life expectancy of the average man at Pine Ridge between age 43 and age 48 – equivalent to that of the average Somali male. At a life expectancy of 52, Pine Ridge women don’t fare much better. The reservation’s unemployment rate exceeds 80%; its poverty rate is one of the worst in the nation; both chronic illness, such as diabetes, and acute illnesses, such as certain forms of cancer, appear at rates between 100% and 800% higher than in the nation as a whole; and the adolescent suicide rate is 150% higher than in the general U.S. population. Alcoholism and methamphetamine addiction long ago reached epidemic proportions.

    The USDA operates the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).  It is via this program that most reservations receive what we call “commodities” – a word that the government no longer considers “politically correct” because of the bad reputation associated with it.  Think “government cheese”:  generic Velveeta.  Generic canned foods.  Processed, refined, bleached flour, sugar, rice, pasta, bread.  Ground beef and other cheap meats from huge factory farms, riddled with growth hormone, antibiotics, and Spirit knows what else.  Dietary crap, in other words.  You can find a list of the foods available for 2010 here.  Someday, I’m going to devote a diary to the damage these programs have done – and yet, for many of our communities, they’re all that stands between our people and literally starving to death.

    Today, I’m also going to crib shamelessly from an earlier diary of mine, In Our Blood:  The Diabetes Epidemic in Native America.  Because another major manifestation of hunger and malnutrition in our communities is diabetes – and it is an epidemic.


    Only in recent years has the federal government become interested in funding research into ethnic disparities in the incidence of diabetes.  Data are further limited by many of the same factors that skew research into any issue that affects underserved communities:  poverty, lack of access to medical, lack of access to studies and clinical trials, language and cultural barriers, distrust of governmental and/or dominant-culture endeavors, and lack of effective outreach to such communities.  However, the issue is now on the radar of the national Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services, which publishes the following 2006 statistics:

       * American Indian/Alaska Native adults were 2.7 times as likely as white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes.

       * American Indians/Alaska Natives were almost twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to die from diabetes in 2006.

       * American Indian/Alaska Native adults were 1.6 times as likely as White adults to be obese.

       * American Indian/Alaska Native adults were 1.3 times as likely as White adults to have high blood pressure.

    And an analysis of the 2005 patient population of the Indian Health Service produced the following statistics:

       *  Data from the 2005 IHS user population database indicate that 14.2 percent of the American Indians and Alaska Natives ages 20 years or older who received care from IHS had diagnosed diabetes. After adjusting for population age differences, 16.5 percent of the total adult population served by IHS had diagnosed diabetes, with rates varying by region from 6 percent among Alaska Native adults to 29.3 percent among American Indian adults in southern Arizona.

       * After adjusting for population age differences, 2004 to 2006 national survey data for people ages 20 years or older indicate that 6.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 7.5 percent of Asian Americans, 10.4 percent of Hispanics, and 11.8 percent of non-Hispanic blacks had diagnosed diabetes. Among Hispanics, rates were 8.2 percent for Cubans, 11.9 percent for Mexican Americans, and 12.6 percent for Puerto Ricans.

    Got that?  American Indian/Alaska Native adults had a diabetes diagnosis rate of 16.5%. compared to 6.6% for non-Hispanic whites.  The Pima in southern Arizona led the rate of diagnosis, at a staggering 29.3%.  In practical terms, what these numbers mean is that Native Americans have the highest age-adjusted incidence of diabetes of any ethnic group.  And these are just those who have been diagnosed.  Thousands more go undiagnosed for years – often until they die from complications resulting from undiagnosed diabetes.  

    In 2006, diabetes was the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.  However, Native Americans constitute a disproportionately high percentage of members of that particular demographic:  Diabetes-related mortality rates are substantially higher in Native populations:  39.6 per 100,000, compared to 1.9 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic whites.  Keep in mind, however, that these number are almost certainly much lower than the reality:  A study of 1986 data found that, on death certificates, Native American ancestry was underreported at a rate of 65%.  The same analysis concluded that diabetes was 4.3 times more likely to be the underlying cause of death for those listed on their death certificates as Native American than for whites.

    And the rates are getting worse, not better.  Part of this may be attributable to higher rates of diagnosis, but the largest part is undoubtedly higher actual incidence.  


    The American Diabetes Association reports that the decade between 1994 and 2004 saw a 68% increase in Type II diabetes among self-identified American Indians and Alaska Natives between the ages of 15 and 19.

    Read that again for a moment:  nearly a 70% jump in diabetes among older teenagers – in one decade.

    According to the Indian Health Service:

    American Indian and Alaska Native children have obesity rates of 40%, four times the rate for the general population.

    Obesity is one of the greatest risk factors for developing Type II diabetes – and obesity among children and teenagers is rampant among American society generally, as well as in Native communities particularly.


    We are a mere 100 years removed from living as hunter/gatherers, our ancestral methods of sustaining our peoples.  Indeed, experts often describe us as coming from “hunter-gatherer societies”, and as having a “thrifty” genetic type, biologically engineered to store food as fat during times of plenty, to provide fuel and sustenance during extended periods when food was scarce, such as winter, drought, or migration.  In other words, our bodies had adapted perfectly to our physical environment.

    But with contact came the reservation.

    With the reservation came deprivation:  of our traditional hunting grounds, including the wanton destruction of the buffalo herds; of the environments where we harvested food, herbs, and medicine; of our ancestral lands when many of our tribes engaged in sophisticated farming and crop rotation practices; of access to many of our cultural and spiritual traditions and methods of healing.

    And with the reservation came new dangers:  of previously-unknown infectious agents and disease; of tobacco (not the old asemaa of our medicine persons, consisting of herbs such as red willow bark, bearberry, and mullein, but the modern asemaa of tar and nicotine); of alcohol (not the fermented medicine and ceremonial drinks of our ancestors, but whiskey, rum, and moonshine); of a diet restricted to non-indigenous foods, that would eventually become a diet consisting almost entirely of refined, processed foods low in protein and complex carbohydrates but high in simple carbs and trans fats.

    And residents of modern reservations, with median household incomes well below the federal poverty line (often well below $10,000 per year) and with staggering rates of unemployment (as much as 85%), often must rely almost wholly on government welfare programs, including refined and processed commodity foods.  Whole grains, fresh produce, and other healthy foods are far too expensive, and on many reservations, there are no grocery stores or markets that carry such items anyway.  And over the years, refined ingredients have infiltrated the recipes for our traditional foods, so that here in the Southwest, for example, people have for decades used bleached, refined white flour in their tortillas – because it is both available and affordable.  And thus is a staple of the traditional diet converted into an instrument of disease.


    On the personal level:

    * If you’re of Native ancestry, get tested.  It only takes a pinprick on the end of a finger.

    * If you have loved ones of Native ancestry, encourage them to do the same.

    * If you or a loved one gets a diagnosis of diabetes, enroll in a diabetes management program.

    * Eat right.  Exercise.  Don’t smoke; don’t drink.  Monitor your glucose levels, and take charge of your own health.

    On the local level:  

    * If you live on or near a reservation, encourage the development of tribal diabetes education and management programs.

    * Support related culturally-appropriate non-profit efforts and local businesses that serve such populations.

    * Encourage cultural education and sensitivity.

    On the national level:  

    * Contact your members of Congress; demand that they fulfill the nation’s statutory obligation to fund the Indian Health Service (IHS) fully.

    * Lobby for additional funding for culturally-appropriate diabetes research and prevention programs through IHS.

    * Lobby for federal funding for tribal initiatives to maintain diabetes management and traditional treatment programs, including tobacco and alcohol cessation programs.

    * Lobby for federal funding for investment and development dollars to bring healthy food initiatives and businesses to reservations.

    * Demand that federal assistance programs distribute healthy foods, such as whole grains, and provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

    * Lobby for funding for research and development, through the National Institutes of Health, the Indian Health Service, and the Association of American Indian Physicians, dedicated to prevention, treatment, and education programs in Native populations.

    And give to Feeding America (FA).  I don’t know yet whether FA explicitly provides funding to food banks and other groups that serve reservations and Native communities, but in the larger scheme of things, it doesn’t matter:  It serves Americans who are our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, children and elders, whatever their ethnicity.  And that’s worth supporting.

    Chi miigwech.

    If you want to donate money, here is the Feeding America donation page.

    If you have time to volunteer, here are some handy tools to find out what assistance is needed:

    –Plug your zip code into this search engine to find opportunities in your area to assist hunger organizations.

    –Typing in your zip code and state in this search engine will locate food banks in your area.

    –Clicking onto to your state on this map will return results for homeless shelters and soup kitchens in your area.

    Feeding America Blogathon Diary Schedule (all EDT):

    Saturday, Sept 25:

    10:00a — rb137

     1:00p — teacherken

     4:00p — Patriot Daily

     7:00p — srkp23

    10:00p — boatsie

    Owls — Jay in Portland


    Sunday, Sept 26

    10:00a — JanF

     1:00p — Aji

     4:00p — Timroff

     7:00p — Chacounne

    10:00p — blue jersey mom

    Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

    Obama Signs Act to Empower Native Americans to Fight Rape

    One in three Native American women will be raped at least once in her lifetime. And that’s why President Obama’s signing of the Tribal Law and Order Act today is so vital. Tribes will now have the right – and the resources – to investigate and prosecute rapes perpetrated by non-Natives on tribal lands.

    For 500 years, rape has been used as a tool of conquest and an act of war against Native women. It carries with it all of the perverted power of violence that every rape survivor endures, with the added yokes of colonialism and cultural annihilation.

    Sadly, not much has changed.

    One in three. At least once.

    Think for a moment about the implications. We know that rape survivors are often reluctant to report the attack, for fear of not being believed; of being told that they “asked for it”; of being humiliated and shamed; of reprisals.

    But in Indian Country, rape survivors bear additional burdens. They must report their crimes to federal law enforcement authorities, whom long and hard experience has told them to distrust. Cultural sensitivity is often nonexistent. Often, the law enforcement officers, investigators, prosecutors and health examiners are white men, and for many Native women cultural traditions may militate against talking to them about such intimate matters. So when you read that one in three Native women will be raped at least once in her lifetime, you can be assured that those numbers are underreported at even greater rates than in the general population.

    Here’s a little context:

    • Native Americans are more than twice as likely, compared to all other ethnic groups, to experience some form of sexual assault.

    • 90 percent of Native women who report being raped also report being physically battered in other ways during the rape, compared to 74 percent of rape survivors in the population as a whole.

    • 50 percent of Native women report experiencing other physical injuries in addition to the rape itself, compared to 30 percent in the population as a whole.

    • 34 percent of Native women report that a weapon was used during the commission of the rape-a number more than three times that of the general population.

    • While most rapes occur within racial groups, this is not true for Native women. More than 86 percent of the offenders are non-Indians, and more than 70 percent are white.

    This last statistic matters a great deal.

    Because until today, Native women raped by a non-Indian assailant had virtually no recourse. With rare exceptions, only federal law enforcement authorities have had jurisdiction to arrest and prosecute non-Native offenders on tribal lands. And historically, federal authorities have cared little about such cases: Federal authorities routinely decline to prosecute more than 50 percent of all violent crimes committed in Indian Country; the rate of declination is much higher for sexual assault cases.

    Today that will change. The Tribal Law and Order Act will substantially expand tribal jurisdiction over non-Native offenders for crimes of sexual violence, and providing desperately needed resources to tribes to help them prosecute such cases. Introduced in 2009 in the House by Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD) and in the Senate by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), the legislation is a watershed in tribal law. Provisions include:

    • Deputizes tribal police to arrest and prosecute non-Natives who commit crimes on tribal land

    • Provides tribal police with access to National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and other federal databases containing criminal records and other information

    • Requires the Department of Justice to maintain records on all declinations and to share that information, as well as any evidence, with tribal authorities

    • Requires federal officials to turn over to tribal authorities any documents and testimony that may aid tribal court prosecutions

    • Raises the maximum sentence that tribal courts can impose on an offender from one to three years

    • Provides tribal police with targeted training in evidence collection and interviewing of sexual and domestic violence survivors

    • Requires the Indian Health Service (IHS) to implement consistent protocols at all facilities for treating sexual assault survivors

    • Reauthorizes and enhances programs to support tribal police, courts, and corrections programs

    • Provides programs for at-risk young people on reservations.

    Is it perfect? Of course not. But it’s an enormously important first step.

    Today, we who have worked in our Native communities with survivors of sexual violence have reason to celebrate. Come and dance with us.

    NOTE:  This post first appeared at, the blog of Ms. Magazine, here.