The Northeastern Late Woodland Period

The time period from about 400 CE to 900 CE in northeastern North America is called the Late Woodland period by archaeologists. This was a time of major population growth and the introduction of new technology, including the bow and arrow.  

While a native agriculture had developed in North America prior to this time, it was during the Late Woodland that new domesticates-maize (corn), beans, and squash (often called the Three Sisters)-diffused into the Northeast from Mexico. During this time, the Three Sisters became more important to the subsistence of Indian people.

The “Three Sisters” have a long history among Indian peoples, not only in the Eastern Woodlands, but also in the Southwest. These three crops complement each other. The beans add nitrogen to the soil, which the corn consumes and the heavy stalks of the corn provide support for the climbing bean vines. The corn also provides shade which the squash needs to reach maturity.


By 450 CE, archaeologists report that Hopewell farmers along the Scioto River in Ohio were raising corn. Other elements of their diet included deer, rabbit, turkey, hickory nuts, acorns, fish, shellfish, and turtles.

Archaeologists report that by 560 CE, Indian people throughout the region around present-day Rock Island, Illinois, were cultivating the oily-seeded sumpweed and sunflower, as well as pepo squash, bottle gourd, and tobacco.

By 600 CE, maize agriculture had diffused as far north as Michigan. Indian people at the Gard Island 2 site, the Indian Island 4 site, the Sisssung site, and the Leimbach site had corn. All of these sites are located around western Lake Erie.  

At this time in west-central Illinois, Indian people had an economy based on both farming and gathering. Cultivated plants included maygrass, goosefoot, knotweed, sunflower, and tobacco. Small amounts of squash and corn were also grown. The people were living in year-round villages which had earth ovens and pit storage facilities.

By 750 CE, corn had become more important in the diet of Indian people in the American Bottom Region of western Illinois.  The increased importance of corn did not result in the abandonment of local seed crops. Maize required less labor, both in harvesting and processing, while providing greater yields.


With agriculture there was an increased concern with astronomy as a way of predicting the seasons. Astronomy in North America, as in other parts of the world, was often incorporated into ceremonies which both marked and celebrated events such as solar solstices and equinoxes as well as stellar events.

In 492 CE, Indian people were using an underground stone chamber near present-day Putney, Vermont, for making astronomical observations.

About 500 CE, Indian people constructed a feature on a promontory overlooking an oceanic bay in what is now Rhode Island. The feature was a large rectangular enclosure which had a ditch adjacent to a bank of stone and earth. This may have been used as an observatory. While non-Indians later saw this as a fort and named it Ninigret’s Fort, there is no archaeological evidence that any battles were fought here or that it was in fact a defensive structure.

About 600 CE,  the underground chamber at Gungywamp in Connecticut was in use. The chamber was entered through a stone-lined tube which was aligned so that the sunlight illuminates the back wall on the equinox.

In 710 CE, Indian people constructed an astronomical observatory in the Upton, Massachusetts area. The structure, shaped somewhat like an igloo, has a ten-foot wide interior chamber which is entered through a 14-foot- long tunnel. The structure was built from stone using a corbelled arch technique. The chamber is aligned to allow for viewing seasonal constellations. A large rock cairn was also constructed on the hill to line up with the chamber’s entrance. The chamber was used ceremonially in conjunction with other sites in the area.

About 800 CE, Indian people began building a structure at Cahokia in what is now Illinois which archaeologists would later dub as Woodhenge. This was a solar calendar which used a series of wooden posts placed in the ground at certain intervals. The calendar showed the first days of summer and winter, the first days of spring and fall, as well as other special festival dates related to the agricultural cycle.


Indian people have often migrated and the stories told by both linguistics and tribal oral traditions helps to document these migrations. A number of migrations are documented during the Late Woodland period.

About 400 CE, the American Bottom Area in Illinois was occupied by people coming in from the north. The cause of this population shift may have been due to increased population in the Illinois River valley which, in turn, caused pressure on area resources and an expansion into marginal areas.

About 450 CE, the Indian people who had settled in the upland areas adjacent to the Mississippi River flood plain in Illinois had overexploited locally available natural resources. As a result, the villages fissioned as household groups were forced to settle in more remote areas. They continued to follow the pattern of settling on ridges overlooking streams.

By 770 CE, Indian people occupied the Shantok Cove site near present-day New London, Connecticut. The people who occupied this site appear to be ancestral to the Pequot and Mohegan.

Warfare and Violence:

About 500 CE, life appears to have become more violent throughout North America. Biological anthropologists see signs of warfare in skeletal remains. Archaeologists report the presence of more defensive sites.

By 650 CE, there were fortified, moated, and defensively located sites throughout the greater Midwest area. Some archaeologists feel that the development of these defensive sites was a result of the wide-spread adoption of the bow and arrow which increased competition and warfare.


About 700 CE, long-distance trade in southern Ohio became intensified. Coming in from the east were items made from steatite and nephrite. Pipes made from steatite were made on the Atlantic coast and then traded west in finished form. Other trade items included bi-pointed picks which came in from the north. The Indian people in Ohio were also obtaining marine shell beads and columella pendants.  

Walking the Choctaw Trail of Tears

My sister, a friend, and I are planning on walking the Choctaw Trail of Tears on foot. At the moment, I’m working on plotting a route and I’m wondering if anyone knows exactly what the most accurate route to take would be, as I’ve been getting conflicting answers to this question in my searches. We would like the trip to be as accurately relived as possible, without any of us dying, of course. Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated. I figured you guys would be the best people to ask. Prove me right? =)

The Naming of America

America was named on April 25, 1507 after the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci. The process of naming the continent (initially what is now South America) came about through the interface of several processes, including the printing press, advances in geography, and cartography. All of these forces came together in the early 1500s in the town of St. Dié, France, in the mountains of the Vosges, some 800 kilometers (500 miles) from the sea.  

St. Dié was ruled by Rene II, duke of Lorraine. Under his patronage, an academic community had formed at St. Dié which was focused on a new edition of Ptolemy’s Geography. Among the scholars who had come to St. Dié to work on this project was Martin Walsemüller, who was known as a mapmaker. Another of the scholars was Matthias Ringmann, known as a poet and learned in Greek.

The printing press had changed the academic world and had increased the flow of information and the speed at which new concepts were diffused. In 1504 the pamphlet Mundus Novus claimed that Vespucci had discovered a new, previously unrecorded continent south of the equator. Mundus Novus was a hit and was printed in several editions.

At about this same time another publication, generally called today the Soderini Letter, was also printed and widely read. While supposedly written by Vespucci, it is currently viewed as a fake. In the Soderini Letter four voyages to the new lands across the Ocean Sea (the Atlantic Ocean today) were described. The scholars at St. Dié, however, were unaware that this work was a fake and viewed its contents as true. The new information changed geographical knowledge.

In order to disseminate this new knowledge quickly and cheaply, Walsemüller and Ringmann decided to publish their introduction to Ptolomy at once, along with a world map prepared by Walsemüller which would show the new discoveries. The result was Cosmographiae Introductio (Introduction to Geography) authored primarily by Walsemüller with some contributions by Ringmann. The map that came with the book was in sections that, when assembled, covered about three square meters and was intended to be pasted on a wall. On the map, Walsemüller paid tribute to Vespucci by naming the new lands in the south after him: thus the designation America was born. Walsemüller believed that Vespucci had discovered the new lands in the southern hemisphere for the Europeans.

Amerigo Vespucci

Amerigo Vespucci is shown above.

While the America in Walsemüller’s map referred to what is now Brazil, in 1538 the cartographer Gerald Mercator used America for both the northern and southern parts of the new lands.  

Waldseemuller map

Walsemüller’s map is shown above.

The Early Geographies:

Long before the voyages of the European explorers Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and John Cabot in the late fifteenth century, geographers had determined that the world was round and had set forth a number of hypotheses about the dimensions of the planet and its ratio of land to water. At this time-in the fifteenth century-there was an assumption that the planet had three continents-Europe, Asia, and Africa-which where were surrounded by the Ocean Sea.

For at least two thousand years prior to the European voyages of exploration, geographers in many parts of the world had been describing the world as round and before the beginning of the modern era this was common knowledge among educated people.

Claudius Ptolemy’s Geography was well-known to most educated Europeans and was widely studied in the city-states and small republics of what is now Italy. Ptolemy was a first century CE librarian and scholar in Alexandria. He saw geography as more than just a telling of stories: for Ptolemy it was a mathematical undertaking. By taking precise sightings of the stars he could determine the true location of a place. According to Ptolemy, the world was a perfect sphere 24,000 miles around at the equator and was mapable on a grid of lines of longitude and latitude.


Ptolomy Map

Ptolomy and one of his maps are shown above.

Students of geography during the fifteenth century, such as Amerigo Vespucci, were also familiar with the first century BCE geographer Strabo who speculated:

“It may be that in the temperate zone itself there exist two inhabited worlds or even more, especially on or around the parallel of Athens that is drawn across the Atlantic Sea.”

According to Strabo, a Greek philosopher and historian who worked at the Alexandria library, the world was best represented on a globe, but he cautioned that this globe would have to be at least ten feet across to show all of the detail.

Thus, according to both Ptolemy and Strabo it was clear that there was a water route west from Iberia that would reach India. Furthermore, Strabo seems to suggest that it would be worthwhile to explore the western Atlantic to encounter new worlds and their potential wealth. In Florence, Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli was the major advocate of seeking routes to the west. Toscanella’s advocacy of the western routes was one of the things that linked Columbus and Vespucci.

Generally unknown to the European scholars of the fifteenth century were the works of Chinese and Muslim geographers. In China, for example, Chang Heng, a royal astronomer of the Han Dynasty, described the earth as a spherical world suspended in infinity, like a yolk in an egg.

Muslim scholars such as Ibn Haukal and al-Istakhri (both working in the tenth century) and twelfth-century cartographer Muhammed al-Idris viewed the world as round. The Muslim scholars were aware of Ptolemy’s works and often drew upon them in making their maps.

Vespucci and Columbus:

While Columbus might be characterized as a religious fanatic who could hardly speak or write without invoking the Christian God and dwelling fervently on his personal relationship with this God, Vespucci almost never referred to God. Religion was never very high on the scale of values to which Vespucci had been exposed. While he undoubtedly learned a little about the Christian God as a child, he seems to have forgotten all of this by the time he was an adult.

Unlike Columbus, Vespucci never waged war on the natives, nor did he found any colonies. He never commanded a fleet or even led an expedition. Like Columbus, however, he was deeply mired in the slave trade and profited from it.

In 1504-1505, Vespucci lived in Columbus’s house and it is evident that the two men not only knew each other, but that they had often exchanged ideas. Later Vespucci testified in court that he had known Columbus well for twenty-five years and he was thus very familiar with the Admiral’s handwriting.

Vespucci’s Voyages:

Vespucci made at least two voyages across the Atlantic and there are some sources that suggest that he may have made a third. The claim that he made four voyages has generally been discredited by historians as a fantasy created by sixteenth century writers.

Vespucci’s first voyage was in 1499 when he sailed with Alonso de Hojeda. Historians today generally agree that Vespucci was with Hojeda in an unknown capacity. While his writings suggest that he was either the leader of the expedition or at least a co-leader, the historical documents suggest otherwise. Writing after Vespucci’s death, Hojeda characterized him as a pilot. When Columbus sued Hojeda for infringement on his privileges (Columbus was supposed to have the exclusive rights for exploration) and made accusations against all of the leading figures of the expedition, Vespucci was not named.

While it is doubtful that Vespucci had any real expertise in navigation at the time of his first voyage, he may have had some other useful knowledge: he had been a jewel merchant and was knowledgeable in the pearl trade. Since Columbus had brought back pearls, Hojeda undoubtedly expected to be able to trade in pearls as well.

Following this first voyage, Vespucci described himself as a celestial navigator, a master of the art of reading latitude and longitude. His claim of reading longitude is interesting. In theory longitude can be calculated by measuring the difference in degrees between the position of the moon and another celestial body, relative to the observer, at a given time. However, Vespucci did not have available to him the technology to do this.

Vespucci returned to Spain at a time when there was great distrust of foreigners. As a foreigner, he therefore found it expedient to leave Spain and thus his second voyage was for Portugal. On this voyage in 1501-1502, he was a passenger or a representative of some mercantile interest. The expedition explored 2,500 miles of the coast of what would later be called South America. They returned with Brazilwood (a source of dye) and cassia (a condiment resembling cinnamon), but not the expensive and desired spices which they had hoped to find.

Descriptions of Native Peoples:

Under Spanish law, slavery was viewed as unnatural which meant that only people who had forfeited their human rights through unnatural acts such as sodomy, incest, or cannibalism could be enslaved. Columbus, Vespucci, and other early Europeans quickly learned that there was no fast and easy wealth to be gained from the Americas, except for slavery. Thus it was important for them to describe the people of the area as engaging in unnatural acts so that they could then be enslaved, transported to Europe, and sold at a good profit.

Vespucci wandered through lands in which the languages of the people belonged to three large language families. In the north were the Arawaks and Caribs and south of the Amazon, where he spent most of his time during his first and second voyages, were the Tupi-speakers.

All of the early European explorers, including Vespucci, were amazed by the people they encountered. First, they were shocked by the nudity, or what they perceived as nudity. In addition, the people seemed to have no shame in exposing genitalia and female breasts. This raised important Christian theological issues: if these people were exempt from original sin, then were they really human? If they were human, if they had souls, then their lack of shame at their nudity challenged the idea of original sin, an idea upon which much of Christian morality had been based.

Vespucci during his second voyage spent a great deal of time among the natives, eating and sleeping among them in order to understand their lives and customs. He would later describe them as naked, well-proportioned, and cannibalistic. Being cannibals, under Spanish and Portuguese law, meant that they could be slaves, and describing them as naked and well-proportioned might be seen as a form of promotion to make them more saleable.

Vespucci, like other early European explorers, described the natives as having no religion (therefore missionaries were needed) and no government (therefore they should be governed by European powers.) With regard to government, he wrote:

“They have no boundaries of kingdoms or provinces; they have no king, nor anyone whom they obey; everyone is his own master. They do not administer justice, because covetousness does not reign among them.”

Since they had no laws, and thus no knowledge of “natural law,” this meant that they could be slaves. From the European perspective, the natives lived according to nature in the manner of wild animals. The Europeans “knew” that rational people enjoyed the right of lordship over them by divine license.

With regard to religion, Vespucci reported:

“I believe they will very easily be made Christians, for it seemed to me that they belonged to no religion….They have no faith, and no knowledge of the immortality of the soul.”

While Vespucci was not particularly religious, his comments about the lack of religion are probably less about the need for missionaries and more about why Indians should be enslaved.

As further evidence of their need to be enslaved, Vespucci reported that the natives had institutionalized incest. While the Europeans were shocked by the sexual openness of the natives and by the rights of women in choosing sexual partners, the presence of incest, once again, meant that the natives were destined to be slaves.

The Klamath River Salmon War

Traditionally fish were an important food resource to most of the northern California tribes. Indian nations such as the Hupa, Karuk, Achomawi, and Yurok relied heavily on the salmon.  Also important to some of the tribes were steelhead, sturgeon, trout, and lamprey eels.

Yurok Plankhouse

A Yurok plankhouse is shown above.  

Hupa by Curtis

A photograph of a Hupa woman and child by Edward H. Curtis is shown above.

Traditional Fishing:

Fishing was often done by building a fishing platform on the end of a stream and then catching the salmon with a lifting net which was lowered and raised with an A-frame. The sites for these fishing platforms were privately owned. Salmon was sliced thin and then smoked-dried which preserved it for winter use. In this form, salmon was preserved for a long time.

Using weirs, nets, and traps, the Karuk were able to catch the whole winter’s fish supply in just a few days. The tail of the salmon was cut off to drain the blood. Then the head and backbone were removed, leaving two large slabs of salmon flesh which were placed on scaffolds above a small fire to be dried and smoked.

The First Salmon Ceremony:

Since the salmon were an important part of Indian subsistence, they were also important to Indian ceremonies. Many of the tribes held, and still hold, a First Salmon Ceremony to honor the Salmon-people.

Among the Karuk, the First Salmon Ceremony was a ten-day ceremony held in late March or early April at the village of Amaikiaram on the west bank of the Klamath River several miles below its confluence with the Salmon River. It celebrated the beginning of the fishing season. One of the elements of the ceremony was the “crooked immortals” – ten sacred stones which were set on top of the sweat house. During the ceremony, unburned tobacco was given to the stones as an offering.

Among the Hupa, the First Salmon Ceremony included the narration of the mythical creation and journey down the river and back. At the end of the ten-day ceremony, there would be a community feast and public fishing for the salmon would be opened.  

Among the Yurok, the First Salmon Ceremony was held in April at Welkwau, a village at the mouth of the Klamath River. Prior to this ceremony no salmon caught at the mouth of the river could be eaten.

Yurok Festival 2

Yurok Festival 1

The Yurok Salmon Festival is shown above. The photos are from the tribe’s website.

The Salmon War:

In 1978, the State of California imposed a ban on sports and Indian fishing in the Klamath River estuary. The reason given for the ban was the decline in the salmon run even though the findings of the fishery biologists pointed to habitat degradation from logging and offshore commercial fishing as the cause of the decline. The result of this ban was a short-lived (as far as the media was concerned) Salmon War which pitted the tribes of northern California against both the State of California and the Department of the Interior, the federal agency which is supposed to be the guardian of the tribes.

Klamath River

Klamath Map

The Klamath River and a map of the river are shown above.

Federal agents began to assert control over the Indian gillnetting fishery on the Klamath River. About 20 agents armed with billy clubs grabbed five Yurok Indians and confiscated their salmon catch. The Department of the Interior set up a Court of Indian Offenses to prosecute the cases, however, the judge dismissed the charges and ordered the fish returned to the Indians. The Yurok informed the Department of the Interior that they planned to continue fishing in spite of the fishing ban.

In the conflicts which followed, Indian boats were rammed by federal officials and Indians arrested and jailed by heavily armed agents. In one instance, a federal agent held an Indian’s head under water until he was out of air, let him breathe, and then pushed him back under water. In another instance, an Indian woman was sexually fondled while in handcuffs.

The Yurok called for a temporary truce while the Secretary of the Interior visited the area. The Secretary had an Indian salmon barbeque without realizing that the fish for the barbeque had been illegally caught.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, a part of the Department of the Interior, placed a moratorium on all per capita payments to the Yurok and Hupa. The per capita payments, which included timber revenues, were the sole income for many Indians.

As the salmon run tailed off in the fall, the conflicts over the Salmon War dissipated and disappeared from the media. The war was over as far as the media was concerned and they moved on to other stories. There was no real ending to this Salmon War and the Indians and their concerns for the salmon once again became invisible. An agreement reached in 2009 calls for the removal of four dams along the river which should help restore the salmon run.

First Nations News & Views: Lamanites aren’t us, Ely Parker and Johnny Depp reprises sidekick role

Welcome to the 12th edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by Meteor Blades and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find my personal encounter as second-grader with Mormon racism, a look at the year 1869 in American Indian history, Johnny Depp’s meeting with starstruck Navajo leaders and several news bullets. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Born Evil

By navajo

I was probably in the second grade. The Sunday school teacher in my southern Utah town was giving a lesson from the Book of Mormon to a small class of a few girls. It had to have been in very simple terms since we were so young. I can see now that the lesson was meant to be a self esteem-builder. But it backfired on me. The teacher was trying to show us little girls how much God loved us and how important we are on this earth to do his work. I was barely paying attention since I really wanted to be home watching Rocky and Bullwinkle. I resented missing all my cartoons and being forced to go to church, which I considered boring. But I had no choice in the matter.

That day, however, as the teacher recited the lesson and looked from girl to girl, my attention perked up when she said, “and YOU are all white and delightsome to our lord and he has special plans for you in this world …” Just then, she came to me and her roving eyes stalled out. She stammered a couple of times because she had forgotten that her rote lesson was being delivered in a class that now included a little brown girl. An Indian that the Book of Mormon (I later found out) describes as bloodthirsty, fierce and loathsome. An Indian whose skin was dark because of a curse from God.

After gulping a couple of times, she said something like “but Neeta here is a Lamanite (the Book of Mormon’s name for the descendants of Laman, who was cursed with dark skin for displeasing god) and we welcome her. They too, if they work very hard can go to the Celestial Kingdom.” That being the highest of the three kingdoms in heaven. I was told that if I made it to the Celestial Kingdom my skin would turn light.

This promise of skin lightening was commonly preached when I was growing up. In fact, there was a Paiute woman in our town who had vitiligo, “a skin condition in which there is a loss of brown color (pigment) from areas of skin, resulting in irregular white patches that feel like normal skin.” My full-blood Navajo mother, Flora, a devoted Mormon, said that one of the bishops had told Mrs. Kanosh that the skin-color change was her reward from God for going to church. My mother was so pleased with this news. She loved anything that pointed to proof the Mormon gospel was true.

Gradually, over the next few years, I learned more of what Joseph Smith (the founder of the church and the author of the Book of Mormon) had said about Indians. We were innately wicked. We converted ones had to be constantly watched against reverting to our evil, heathen ways. This was on top of the church’s attitudes toward women. The General Counsel (the church’s highest governing body) instructed women to obey their husbands, the priesthood holders. Another instruction I remember: The priesthood holder should love the lord first and then his wife. One really had to accept a lot of demoralization to be female AND BROWN when I was growing up Mormon.

Attitude was bolstered by action. The church’s Indian Placement Program ran from 1947 to 1996. Its mission was to remove children from desolate reservations and help them get an education by placing them in Mormon foster homes. Any child involved had to be baptized in order to participate. Nothing subtle about this virtual kidnapping. The church took children away from their homes to assimilate them into Mormon culture.

As the daughter of a Navajo mother and a white father, I straddled two cultures differently than the foster kids. I had many relatives on the reservation and spent much time in the summers there. But it wasn’t home. In talking with some of the foster kids, I learned they had a hard time when they were younger. Some didn’t want to join the church but were forced into it. They found it difficult to live in two worlds, the white world during the school year and then back on the reservation during the summer. Some of them sadly recounted that they were made fun of back on the reservation because they had lost some of their language and traditional knowledge.

The majority of the Indian students attending school in our town were not foster kids but lived instead at the Indian dormitory on the outskirts. There was no requirement there to join the church. But those kids also told me about being homesick and feeling like an outsider in both worlds.

Today, it’s clear to most people that taking young children away from their families and culture is NOT a good thing. In fact, it’s terrible. And it happened to 20,000 children in the Mormon church’s Indian Placement Program.

These decades-old memories came flooding back to me when I saw a recent report that Lamanite action figures were being sold at the church-owned Deseret Bookstore and online by a private company, Latter Day Designs.

The Book of Mormon descriptions I came to strongly resent are used for each product.



Lamanite Warrior

[01020] $5.95

Lamanite Warriors were lazy and idolatrous … wild and ferocious … believing in the false traditions of their fathers. They trusted in their own abilities and not in the strength of the Lord. The Book of Mormon tells that the heads of the Lamanites were shorn, they were naked, save it were skin which was girded about their loins… (Alma 3) They were armed with bows, arrows, stones and slings. …They had marked themselves with red in their foreheads after the manner of the Lamanites… These wicked warriors … reap their rewards according to their works, whether they were good or whether they were bad, to reap eternal happiness or eternal misery …

This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 30 April, 2009.


[01005] $5.95

Laman, the oldest son of Lehi and Sariah, was stubborn, hard-hearted, and did not believe in the righteous teachings of his father, Lehi. The Book of Mormon records that Laman was so rebellious that he refused to listen when an angel from the Lord told him to change his behavior. Laman was a troublemaker and seldom helped his family. His wickedness caused his parents a great deal of pain and sorrow.


(Laman is available in two versions. The one on the right has been cursed by god with dark skin for his wickedness.)

This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 30 April, 2009.


King Lamoni

[01019] $5.95

King Lamoni was a ruthless leader who ruled his people harshly. He often executed servants for being careless with his herds of sheep. Ammon, desiring to teach the Gospel to the Lamanites, fasted and prayed for guidance from the Lord. He became a faithful servant to King Lamoni. Recorded in The Book of Mormon (Alma 18 & 19) is the marvelous conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ of Lamoni, the queen, servants, and many of his people. Lamoni repented and helped his people become zealous in keeping the commandments of God.

This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 30 April, 2009.

There are three more Lamanite action figures. However, they are good guys and are approved by God for their good works unto him.  It’s curious though. Shouldn’t their skin have been lightened for being such obedient souls? By the way, that hot-buff one is called a Stripling Warrior because he’s young. Conveniently, there were exactly 2000 of them in the Book of Mormon for important plot purposes.


Mormons weren’t the only people who believed that the curse of Cain was dark skin. That was once the standard Christian view. But Mormons took it very seriously and barred African Americans from holding the priesthood because of the curse. I was 22 years old in 1978 when the church back-pedaled and allowed black men to hold the priesthood. That was quite a big step in damage control. But the teachings that produced the racist beliefs in the first place have never been officially repudiated. Still, I never thought I’d see African Americans allowed into the priesthood. It was hardly enough to keep me in the church and I left shortly afterward.

All the derogatory descriptions about Lamanites remain in the Book of Mormon in verses like Alma 3:6:

“And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.”

Those descriptions live on in Sunday school lessons and action figures for impressionable Mormon children. It’s hard to change the word of God in books like that, so the record on what the Mormons think of Indians is written on golden plates, never to be changed.

How one can be Indian and a member of the Mormon church is completely beyond me.

Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

This Week in American Indian History in 1869

By Meteor Blades

Donagä’wa aka Ely S. Parker

On April 21, 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Donehogä’wa, a Seneca Indian who had been his adjutant and military secretary during the Civil War, as the first Native commissioner of Indian affairs. That made him the overseer of the civilian bureaucracy responsible for some 300,000 Indians.  In the white world, he was known as Ely S. Parker.

Born in 1828 on the Tonawanda Reservation in Indian Falls, N.Y, to a prominent Seneca family with a lineage tracing to the famed Red Jacket, he was educated at a missionary school and learned perfect English by age 14 when he became the scribe and translator for his tribe. That proved crucial when the government tried to exile the Senecas to Kansas in the late 1840s as part of Indian removal policy. The tribe fought this vigorously, its leaders arguing that the treaties requiring removal were unfair and had been arrived at without their consent. Parker lobbied Congress at the time, but he was just 19, and despite his diplomatic skills, his efforts failed. Ultimately, however, the Seneca prevailed in court, and most of their descendants now live in New York on the same land they traditionally held. Some Seneca also live in Oklahoma.

Parker studied law for three years. But after completing his studies, he was not allowed to take the bar because he was Indian. With the help of a scholar studying the kinship structure of the League of the Haudenosaunee (the six-tribe Iroquois Confederacy of which the Seneca are a part), Parker enrolled at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, got his civil engineering degree and practiced as an engineer from 1850 until the Civil War broke out. In 1852, he became one of the 10 chiefs of the Seneca nation.

It was as an engineer in Galena, Ill., where he had moved in 1857 to build a customshouse, that he met a demoralized, hard-drinking, ex-Army officer, U.S. Grant, then working as a storekeeper. They hit it off.

When the war broke out, Parker tried to raise a regiment of Iroquois volunteers, but the New York governor nixed the idea of Indians in Union uniforms. Parker then tried to join the Army directly but was again rejected because he was an Indian, this time by the Secretary of War.

But persistence was one of Parker’s key traits. So he contacted Grant who finagled him a job as an engineer with the rank of captain in 1863. He performed well and Grant soon appointed him as his adjutant and later his military secretary, a job for which he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Much of Grant’s subsequent correspondence was written by Parker. He also helped draft the surrender documents signed by Grant and Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. Those documents are in Parker’s handwriting.

Parker remained as Grant’s military secretary until he resigned from the Army in 1869 with the rank of brigadier general when the president appointed him to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

But, as he rose in white society, having married the socialite Minnie Orton Sackett in 1867, the Tonawanda Senecas became increasingly critical of him for neglecting his own people and taking stances they felt reflected an anti-Indian attitude. That wasn’t how Parker saw it. In his 1867 Report on Indian Affairs, he wrote:

“…as the hardy pioneer and adventurous miner advanced into the inhospitable regions occupied by the Indians, in search of the precious metals, they found no rights possessed by the Indians that they were bound to respect. The faith of treaties solemnly entered into were totally disregarded, and Indian territory wantonly violated. If any tribe remonstrated against the violation of their natural and treaty rights, members of the tribe were inhumanely shot down and the whole treated as mere dogs. Retaliation generally followed, and bloody Indian wars have been the consequence, costing many lives…”

Far left, Lt. Col. Ely S. Parker in 1865,

with Gen. U.S. Grant in the center.

But as a man straddling two worlds, as so many Indians did then and today, he was conflicted in his own views and afflicted by those of the dominant society. Obviously having already in mind a plan before he took office, Parker crafted what would become Grant’s “Peace Policy,” a means to reduce military conflicts with the tribes. Despite his views that Indians had been sorely mistreated, Parker still bought into the widespread view of the era that the “savages” should be “civilized” and have the Indian taken out of them. Here’s how he addressed the issue in his BIA report:

Arrangements now, as heretofore, will doubtless be required with tribes desiring to be settled upon reservations for the relinquishment of their rights to the lands claimed by them, and for assistance in sustaining themselves in a new position, but I am of the opinion that they should not be of a treaty nature. It has become a matter of serious import whether the treaty system in use ought longer to be continued. In my judgement it should not. A treaty involves the idea of a compact between two or more sovereign powers, each possessing of sufficient authority and force to compel a compliance with the obligations incurred. The Indian tribes of the United States are not sovereign nations, capable of making treaties, as none of them have an organized government of such inherent strength as would secure a faithful obedience of its people in the observance of compacts of this character. They are held to be the wards of the government, and the only title to the law concedes to them to the lands they occupy or claim is a mere possessory one. But because treaties have been made with them generally for the extinguishment of their supposed absolute title to land inhabited by them, or over which they roam, they have become falsely impressed with the notion of national independence.

It is time that this idea should be dispelled, and that the government cease the cruel farce of thus dealing with its helpless and ignorant wards. Many good men, looking at this matter only from a Christian point of view, will perhaps say that the poor Indian has been greatly wronged and ill treated; that this whole county was once his of which he has been despoiled, and that he has been driven from place to place until he has hardly left to him a spot where to lay his head. This indeed may be philanthropic, and human, but the stern letter of the law admits of no conclusion, and great injury has been done by the government deluding these people into the belief of their being independent sovereignties, while they were at the same time recognized only as it s dependents and wards.

As a consequence of this report and subsequent pressure, no treaties were signed with the tribes after 1871. But most of Parker’s other recommendations for restructuring the bureau and ending the corruption associated with providing goods for the tribes and private acquisition of Indian resources, were ignored. And, ironically, it was a scandal, that of the deeply corrupt Indian Ring, that forced him to resign, even though he was personally cleared of any wrongdoing and the ring had come into being well before he as appointed.

After resigning, Parker made a quick fortune in the stock market, lost it in the Panic of 1873, then got what amounted to a clerk’s job where he worked until retiring. He died in poverty in Connecticut in 1895 and was buried there. At the request of tribal leaders, he was exhumed two years later and reburied in Seneca territory next to his ancestor, Red Jacket.

(First Nations News & Views continued below the frybread thingey)

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Navajo Nation Leaders Welcome Johnny Depp on Film Set in Monument Valley

Navajo Nation Vice President, Rex Lee Jim, Johnny Depp as Tonto and Navajo Nation President, Ben Shelley.

By navajo

We reported in our fifth edition that Johnny Depp had been cast as Tonto in the upcoming Disney film, The Lone Ranger. Some concern had been expressed for casting a non-Native in the role, although Depp says his great-grandmother had some Cherokee blood. The film is currently on location in Monument Valley. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelley, Vice President Rex Lee Jim and Surgeon General Gayle Diné Chacon visited the set to welcome and present Johnny Depp with an authentic Pendleton blanket! Yes, let’s give a product from the number one retailer of Indian misappropriation! (FAIL)  I guess it didn’t occur to anyone to give an authentic Navajo weaving …

The Facebook Indians immediately posted their disdain for such fawning over a role that has long been considered a racist portrayal of American Indians. They also criticized Navajo President Ben Shelley’s lack of backbone regarding Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jon Kyl’s water shell game proposal, SB2109.


One of my concerns is the now-famous makeup Depp wears for the film. Does this reflect the practice of an actual tribe? The Tonto character’s affiliation is unclear from series to series. This underlines a persistent problem we Indians face, homogenization, the representation throughout the dominant culture that we are all one generic Plains tribe rather than the many unique tribes that we actually are members of. In the old radio program, Tonto was Potawatomi. This tribe hails from Michigan and not from the Southwest where the Lone Ranger’s story is played out. Some connect the Tonto name with the Tonto Apache, one of the groups of Western Apache. One of the objections to the name “Tonto” is that in Spanish it means “fool.” So the Spanish likely named the Apache tribe just as they named the Diné people “Navajo,” a corruption of a word meaning “people who grow plants in green valleys.”

A little research shows that Depp’s makeup is based on the work of non-Native artist Kirby Sattler. And while the I Am Crow image is killer cool, is it authentic? The artist has a short promo video here. He says on his web site:

“I purposely do not denote a tribal affiliation to the majority of my subjects, rather, I attempt to give the paintings an authentic appearance, provoke interest, satisfy my audience’s sensibilities of the subject without the constraints of having to adhere to historical accuracy.”

We have issues with this. So often, our story is not told accurately by outsiders. And Hollywood, in particular, has been the grossest example of generating stereotypes and perpetuating misinformation.


So, let’s just do the basic search on the Crow:  The tribe is originally called “Apsáalooke,” which means “children of the large-beaked bird.” Whites later misinterpreted the word as “Crow.” Funny how that happens, huh? President Obama was adopted into the Crow Nation in 2008. Also note at that link the photos. No images like the Sattler piece appear.  An image search produces many photos without any likenesses similar to the one from Sattler. However, lower down you can see his image appear, and it will likely rise as his hits increase due to the popularity of Depp. Thank you again, Hollywood, for influencing another probably incorrect perception of Indian cultures.

This little tangental google exercise still doesn’t address the question of what tribe is Tonto from?

We’ll never know.

Because these are stories told by the conquerers.

NAN Line Separater

News Bullets

Beer Bill Dies in Nebraska Legislature: A bill that would have created “alcohol impact zones” to curtail sales of booze in Whiteclay, Nebr., to Indians from just across the state boundary on the Pine Ridge Reservation has died in a legislative committee dominated by recipients of campaign money from the alcohol industry. Oglala Lakota leaders say beer sales there are a plague on their people. They filed a lawsuit against two major brewers, their distributors and the owners of four beer shops in the unincorporated town, which the 2010 Census showed has a population of 44. The equivalent of 4.3 million 12-ounce cans of beer was sold in Whitelclay in 2011, most of it to Indians. The suit says the businesses encourage the illegal possession, transport and consumption of alcohol on the reservation, where booze is banned. Whiteclay is little different than the “whiskey ranches” set up in the 19th Century to move illegal alcohol onto what was then called Pine Ridge Agency. Alcohol, Oglala leaders say, is behind 90 percent of the crime on the reservation and causes serious health problems.

-Meteor Blades

Asa Carter (alias: Forrest Carter)

PBS Program Shows How Klansman Hoaxed His Way to Becoming an ‘American Indian’ Best-selling Novelist : PBS is airing “The Reconstruction of a Asa Carter: His Greatest Story Was the One He Never Told” throughout April. Carter was a Klansman and George Corley Wallace’s speechwriter, the guy who reportedly invented the Alabama governor’s most famous incantation: “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” He transformed himself into Forrest Carter, claimed to be Cherokee, and wrote The Education of Little Tree, , published in 1976. The book allegedly is about his childhood experiences. Well after his death in 1979, the book took off and sold more than a million copies. It won the 1991 American Booksellers Association Book of the Year (ABBY) award. Oprah Winfrey praised it to the skies. But it was an elaborate, well-written fabrication. The book clashes with the linguistic and cultural realities of the Cherokee.  Noted Native author Sherman Alexie (Coeur d’Alene/Spokane/Flathead) has said: “Little Tree is a lovely little book, and I sometimes wonder if it is an act of romantic atonement by a guilt-ridden white supremacist, but ultimately I think it is the racial hypocrisy of a white supremacist.” A movie of the same name has also been made.

-Meteor Blades

North Dakota’s Oil Boom Disastrous for Many Indians: For the Three Affiliated Tribes-the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations-the phenomenal explosion in oil wealth from the Bakken shale has not trickled down. In fact, for poor Indians in the area, it’s been the opposite. Many are being evicted in New Town to make way for oil-field workers. The lack of housing in the area, a long-term product of failures by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, means there is no place to live for workers coming from outside the area. Solution? Evict people already living there, about 70 percent of whom are tribal members. So who gets evicted? The poorest people. That’s what has happened in a mobile home park that was purchased by a housing developer tightly linked to one of the major oil operations. The housing corporation claims it is both difficult to find housing and difficult to find land suitable for building new housing. So it plans to build new housing after it destroys the park. The eviction deadline is Aug. 31.

-Meteor Blades

Molalla High School mascot

Oregon Town’s Residents Fight to Keep Racist Mascot: Some citizens of Molalla have signed a petition to reject the Oregon Board of Education’s threat to cut off funding for schools that do not abandon Indian mascots within five years. As is so often the case, ignoring sociological studies, including those by Indians with both cultural and academic credentials, the petitioners in Molalla, a town of 6000 in northwest Oregon, say their high school mascot is all about honoring the Indians of the area, the Molale. But, in the common fashion of many such mascots, the depiction is stereotypically Plains style, the head of an Indian dressed in full “war bonnet” and looking a good deal like the composite Indian of the Buffalo nickel. Not as grotesque as Cleveland’s Chief Wahoo, but nothing to do with honor either. The Molale were forced off their land in the 1800s and are now a part of the Grand Ronde Tribe. (Here’s how they traditionally dressed.) The board started the mascot removal effort in 2006. State Superintendent Susan Castillo says six years of gathering evidence have increasingly made it clear that this is a civil rights issue.

-Meteor Blades

Spirit Lake Tribe Suit for ‘Fighting Sioux’ Nickname Gets Court Hearing: Archie Fool Bear (Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux) and the Spirit Lake Tribe of North Dakota took their argument to federal court last week to keep in place the disputed “Fighting Sioux” nickname of sports teams at the University of North Dakota. Some details of the argument are here. See our previous coverage here and here.

-Meteor Blades

Digital Divide Isolates Tribal People in Remote Areas: For Wilhelmina Tsosie (Navajo), graduation day is now two semesters away. It should have been just one. The delay came because she has to drive 30 miles from her home on the Navajo Reservation to a hotel that has an Internet connection. Last term she missed too many assignments and now must take the course again. Like 90 percent of Indians on tribal lands, she lacks broadband service. “Native Americans face an ever-increasing digital divide, because they have been purposefully discriminated against in the business models and rollouts of next-generation networks,” said Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, a public policy think tank. “These are places that have been systematically forgotten by society.” The Federal Communications Commission initiated the Office of Native Affairs and Policy in 2010, one of the recommendations of the National Broadband Plan. ONAP’s mission includes promoting “the deployment and adoption of communications services and technology throughout Tribal Lands.”

-Meteor Blades

Veronica (Family photo)

Cherokee Girl’s Adoptive Parents Want Her Back: Matt and Melanie Capobianco have gone to the South Carolina Supreme Court to get 2 1/2-year-old Veronica back from her biological father, Dusten Brown (Cherokee). He gained custody four months ago under the 1978 federal Indian Child Welfare Act. The Capobiancos adopted Veronica in 2009 when her non-Native mother gave birth to the girl but could not take care of her. She was not married to Brown, who she said didn’t support her. He was in the Army when the adoption occurred and began proceedings to override the adoption when Veronica was four months old.  The law requires that an Indian child whose parent(s) cannot care for him or her should be placed with a member of the child’s extended family, a member of the child’s tribe or a member of another Indian tribe. Chrissi Nimmo, assistant attorney general of the Cherokee Nation, says the law was passed “as a result of studies that found that Indian children were being removed from their families at a disproportionately higher rate than other children. […] “And 99 percent of Indian children in adoptive placements were in non-Indian homes.”

-Meteor Blades (with a h/t to Ojibwa)

Ojibwa ‘Adopt’ Catholic Archbishop in Reconciliation Ceremony: Archbishop James Weisgerber, head of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, was adopted in a traditional rite as a step toward healing old wounds. From 1884 to 1948, First Nations children were legally forced to leave their kin and attend residential schools where their religion, culture and language were systematically stripped away. Many of the schools were run by Catholic religious communities, in which physical and sexual abuse took place. The last residential school closed in 1996. “In so many ways, our presence here has damaged the aboriginal people-their culture, their language, their communities-and they are the ones who are asking us for reconciliation,” Weisgerber said in a speech after the ritual conducted by Ojibwa tribal elders. A Canadian government Truth and Reconciliation Commission is gathering stories of survivors, as many former students of the residential schools call themselves. It has also established a $5 billion compensation fund.

-Meteor Blades

Former Landfill Operator Hopes to Make Big Bucks on White Buffalo: Lynn Pollard, who has been raising buffalo for two decades, has had his ups and downs with the animals. But now, after buying a white buffalo cow and successfully breeding her to produce another white one as well as buying a white bull, he hopes to do well all the time. Fully grown brown buffalo go for $1000 apiece, but a white can bring two to five times more. White buffalo are sacred to the Lakota and other Plains tribes. Pollard says he’s aware of their significance to those tribes but is himself only interested in the financial aspect.

-Meteor Blades

Ojibwe Professor Helps Bridge Cultural Gap in Bemidji: In this town between Minnesota’s three largest Indian reservations, nearly a third of the people are Ojibwe and racial tensions have always been high. But, Anton Treuer (Ojibwe), a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University and editor of the Oshkaabewist Native Journal, and Michael Meuers, a white resident, came up with a simple way to start breaking down barriers-putting up bilingual signs in public buildings such as schools and hospitals.

-Meteor Blades

Manuals Being Developed for Ethical Health Studies of Indians : American Indians have profound health problems that could be aided by research. But Arizona State University’s use of blood samples taken from the tiny Havasupai tribe “put genetic research on the front burner,” says Ron Whitener, executive director of the University of Washington’s Native American Law Center in Seattle. He is working with the National Institutes of Health to put together manuals to help the tribes control research through methodical reviews of study proposals and by establishing protections both for human subjects and the tribal communities. Use of the blood samples for studies the Havasupai had not given their consent to led to a public apology and a $700,000 settlement from ASU. “Probably most offensive [of those uses],” Whitener said was ASU research and publication in journals of articles “looking at inbreeding among this very small tribe located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.”

-Meteor Blades

Klamaths Win Big on Water Rights: An administrative law judge on April 16 gave a resounding victory to the Klamath Tribes’ efforts to secure their treaty-reserved water rights. Water from the Klamath River and Klamath Lake was confirmed in the amounts claimed by the tribes and the Bureau of Indian Affairs as trustee for the tribes. Specifically, the judge ruled that the tribes’ water rights are the most senior in the Klamath Basin, seniority being one of the key factors in U.S. water law. The tribes were guaranteed their traditional rights to hunt, fish, trap and gather plants in the area in an 1864 treaty. But for 36 years, they have been in litigation to secure the water rights necessary to ensure the health of the game and plant life in the basin. The Native American Rights Fund, the nation’s oldest non-profit firm working for Indian rights, has been involved for the entire process.

-Meteor Blades


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.



Looking back at what was going on in Indian country in 1962-fifty years ago-reminds us that many of the problems we face today were being discussed then. Further, we are currently living with the consequences of some of the actions, particularly court decisions, which were made at that time.  

Indians and the President:

At a special White House ceremony, 32 Indians presented President John F. Kennedy with the Declaration of Purpose adopted a year earlier. Included in the ceremony were nine Indians from Indian communities not recognized by the federal government. Denny Bushyhead (Cherokee) read the declaration aloud to make sure that the President received the Indians’ message. Following the ceremony, the Indians met with the Vice-President, Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr., and Congressman Ben Riefel (Lakota) to discuss a legislative program suggested by the Declaration.  

Court Cases:

In Whitefoot versus the United States the Supreme Court found that treaty rights are communal, not individual. The case stemmed from a claim for individual losses from the loss of the Celilo Falls tribal fishing area on the Columbia River.  The falls and its fishery had been destroyed when the river was dammed.

In Seymour v Superintendent the Supreme Court found that a 1906 act opening the Colville Reservation in Washington for homesteading by non-Indians did not wipe out the Indian country status of the land.

In Arizona, the United States District Court ruled in the Hopi-Navajo land dispute. The Court found that the Hopi have exclusive rights to Grazing District 6, but that land outside of District 6 was under the joint use of the two tribes. Neither tribe was satisfied with the ruling.

In California, several Navajo peyoteists were arrested during a Native American Church service for violating a California law which prohibits possession of peyote. The Indians argued that sacramental use of peyote was essential to their religion. The lower courts convicted the Indians, stating that

“Thus in California, the Native American Church must forsake its peyote rituals in deference to the unqualified legislative command of prohibition.”

However, the California Supreme Court overturned the convictions and held that any compelling state interests in prohibiting the possession of peyote were outweighed by the first amendment rights of Native American Church members. The Court noted that

“the right to free religious expression embodies a precious heritage of our history.”

The Court concluded that

“We preserve a greater value than an ancient tradition when we protect the right of Indians who honestly practiced an old religion in using peyote one night at a meeting in a desert hogan near Needles, California.”

In South Dakota, an Oglala Sioux tribal member was arrested by the state highway patrol for drunken driving on a highway running through the Pine Ridge Reservation. The defendant petitioned the state circuit court for a writ of habeas corpus. The court found that the 1961 State Highway Jurisdiction Act was invalid and the defendant was released. According to the court in In re Hankins’ Petition the partial state jurisdiction-solely over highways-was inconsistent with Public Law 280.

In New Mexico an unsuccessful non-Indian candidate for elective office challenged the validity of Indian voting rights by claiming that Indians were not state residents. The state supreme court reaffirmed the rights of Indians to vote in the state.


The Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) was established in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The IAIA replaced the Santa Fe Indian School. The school’s curriculum provided both humanities and artistic training. The students were exposed to a wide range of artistic styles and techniques. They were encouraged to develop their creative impulses using their own cultural heritage and to be open to other artistic traditions. The new school had 130 students representing 69 tribes from 19 states. Chiracauha Apache artist Allan Houser joined the faculty as head of the sculpture department.

In addition to the arts at IAIA, students were to be exposed to modern non-Indian social practices. With regard to eating, for example, the students were told:

“It is therefore essential that we learn to eat graciously and to adhere to the fundamentals of good table manners. When we stop to think that strangers judge us by the way we look and act, we realize that good manners are important.”

At each meal, students were assigned the role of host or hostess, server, or guest.

In Oklahoma, the Pawnee acquired the former Pawnee Indian School which had been vacant for 20 years.

In Oklahoma, the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe established an education program to provide financial assistance to enrolled tribal members who were attending institutions of higher learning.

Land Claims:

In Washington state, the Duwamish were awarded $62,000 by the Indian Claims Commission. This amounted to $1.35 per acre for land which became the city of Seattle.  

The Indian Claims Commission determined that title to Shoshone land in Nevada had been extinguished by the gradual encroachment of non-Indian settlers. The Commission set the “official” taking of the land at 1872. Nothing really happened with regard to Shoshone land in 1872, but this date was established for the purpose of placing a value on the land which was taken.

The Indian Claims Commission determined that several groups of Shoshone (Western, Northwestern, Fort Hall, Wind River, and Bannock), Lehmi, and Gosiute were entitled to a settlement for lands taken from them.

In Montana, the Crow received $10.5 million for land which was acknowledged in their 1851 treaty but not in their 1868 treaty. They used part of this capital to establish the Industrial Development Commission which in turn established a carpet mill and a motel. Neither of these, however, proved to be successful business ventures.

Termination and Recognition:

The Northern Ponca in Nebraska were terminated as a tribe by the federal government.

In Washington, the Chinook were terminated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. No one in the tribe was notified and the tribe was simply considered to be extinct. Ray Gardiner, the tribal vice chair, said:

“Now, I am sure most of you are aware that it takes an act of Congress to legally terminate a tribe. That was never done to our tribe. Someone just took our name off the list.”

In South Carolina, the Catawba were terminated by the federal government.  There were 631 Catawba on the final tribal roll.

The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida gained federal recognition. The Miccosukee adopted a constitution which requires one half Miccosukee blood for tribal membership. The tribe was also given use rights to a small strip of the Everglades National Park just south of the Tamiami Trail.

Tribal Government:

In Arizona, Havasupai tribal chairman Earl Paya and the Havasupai Tribal Council approved resolutions which once again demanded the return of all Havasupai grazing allotments on the national forest and national park lands. They asked for the restoration of 78,720 acres from the Kaibab National Forest and 166,522 acres from Grand Canyon National Park.

In Arizona, Yaqui spiritual leader Anselmo Valencia was gathering plants near Black Mountain, an extinct volcano, when he had a vision of securing this land as a new community for the Yaqui who were currently living in Tucson. The Pascua Yaqui Association (PYA) was formed as a nonprofit corporation. The PYA provided the Yaqui with an entity that could deal with the federal government. Under the leadership of Anselmo Valencia and Geronimo Estrella, the Yaqui defined membership in both Anglo terms (blood-quantum in order to appease the federal government) and Yaqui terms (people who maintained ceremonial associations with the community and/or lived in the community.)

In Oklahoma, the Osage Nation Organization was organized to challenge the Osage Tribal Council. Under the provisions of the Osage Allotment Act of 1906, only headright owners of Osage ancestry were allowed to vote for the council and their votes were weighted according to headright ownership. This meant that most adult Osages, regardless of degree of ancestry, have no voice in tribal government.

In Wisconsin, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa passed a tribal council resolution requesting a study of Lake Superior shorelines and marshes as a potential wildlife refuge.

In Montana, the Blackfeet tribe amended its constitution to require a minimum “blood quantum” of 1/4 or more for tribal membership.

In Washington state, the Nez Perce Indian Association (NPIA) was officially established off the Idaho reservation in Clarkston where many non-reservation Nez Perce live. The NPIA was concerned about the control of the tribal claims settlement funds.  

Parks and Tourism:

Bear Butte was acquired by the State of South Dakota for development as a State Park. It was to have a visitor’s center, campgrounds, and parking lots. Tourists were to be given maps to its trails and provided with viewing platforms and signs that indicated where Indians could be seen while they were fasting. For the Lakota, Bear Butte was where the people originally met with the Great Spirit and remains as the most significant site of Lakota religious ceremonies, including Hamblecha (vision quest), one of the seven sacred ceremonies of the Lakota.

In Alabama, Russell Cave, a site used by Archaic Indian hunters and gatherers, became Russell Cave National Monument.

In Washington state, the Tillicum Indian Village was established on Blake Island. It provided “potlatch-style” salmon served in a longhouse.

In Idaho, the Nez Perce National Historic Park was created. Under the administration of the National Park Service, the new park was to address native culture.

Water and Energy:

Congress authorized two irrigation projects in New Mexico: The Navajo Indian Irrigation Project and the San Juan-Chama Project. In the agreement for this project, the Navajo tribe agreed to 508,000 acre feet of water each year and to sharing water with non-Indian users in the San Juan Basin during dry years.

In Arizona, the coal-fired electric generating station operated by Arizona Public Service Corporation and the coal mine next to it on the Navajo reservation became operational.  

Construction on a dam on the Palouse River in southeastern Washington was started. This would flood part of the homeland of the Palouse, including burial grounds and archaeological sites.  

Legislative Report:

In South Dakota, the Interim Investigating Committee of the state legislature issued a report on Indian jurisdiction problems and the operations of the state department of public welfare. According to the report, the most serious problems were in the administration of the Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) caseload which was 45% Indian. The report noted that the state was prohibited from enforcing state law among Indians and recommended that

“to promote economy and efficiency in the operations of the Department of Public Welfare, the Legislature should accept criminal and civil jurisdiction over Indian Country insofar as such jurisdiction relates to the public welfare program and the related areas of juvenile affairs, commitments, and domestic relations.”

“It’s our river too, dude!”

There is a profound difference between the Dominant Culture’s use of the land, and tribe such as the Winnemem Wintu’s relationship with the land.

“…and in 2010 a boater dumped cremations in the river…”

Outside the towering, gray walls of the U.S. Forest Service’s office in Vallejo, California, April 16, the Winnemem Wintu’s War Dance song pealed out defiantly from nearly 50 tribal members and supporters who held signs reading “Respect Native Women. Close the River” and “Our Ceremony, Our Rights, Close the River.”

Consolidated Indigenous Shadow Report. p. 34.

…the continuation and preservation of traditional Native American Religion is ensured only through the performance of ceremonies and rites by tribal members. These ceremonies and rites are often performed on specific sites…These sites may also be based on special geographic features…For most Native American religions, there may be no alternative places of worship since these ceremonies must be performed at certain places and times to be effective.

Interview with Caleen Sisk, Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe – April, 16 2012

Forest Service officials say they can legally close the river only for a federally recognized tribe, and the Winnemem have delayed Marisa’s ceremony, fearing it will be disrupted by the same vulgar disturbances that have marred the previous two ceremonies within the tribe’s ancestral territory along the McCloud River.

Even though “…for most Native American religions, there may be no alternative places of worship since these ceremonies must be performed at certain places and times to be effective.”

Ignoring voluntary closures, recreational boaters have motored through the ceremony site, now a Forest Service campground, some swilling beer and yelling racial slurs like “Fat Indians!” or disruptive taunts like “It’s our river too, dude!”  In 2006, a drunken woman flashed the tribe with her naked breasts, and in 2010 a boater dumped cremations in the river shortly before a ceremonial swim.

The Dominant Culture doesn’t want “the Indian in us” to survive. It wants “the Indian in us” to convert, to stop seeing the devil in its own heart and to see their devil in the wilderness.


The land is sacred. These words are at the core of your being. The land is our mother, the rivers our blood. Take our land away and we die. That is, the Indian in us dies.

        – Mary Brave Bird

The Winnemem Wintu tribe has tried to have their ceremony on that sacred river for years now, I pray they will finally be able to have it in peace.

Apache Oil in the 1970s

The reservation for the Jicarilla Apache Tribe was established in New Mexico by Executive Order of President Grover Cleveland in 1887.  Following the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, the tribe adopted a formal constitution that provided for the taxation of members of the tribe as well as for non-members of the tribe who were doing business on the reservation.

In 1953, the tribe entered into a series of agreements with oil companies to provide oil and gas leases. The oil companies approached the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior about these leases and negotiated them with representatives from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA then presented the finalized lease agreements to the tribal council, which was expected to approve them without debate.  

Under the terms of the leases, the oil companies were supposed to pay royalties to the tribe. These royalties were not to be paid directly to the tribe, but were to be collected on behalf of the tribe by the BIA. The BIA was less than diligent about collecting royalties.

During the 1970s, Americans became acutely aware of the country’s dependence on foreign oil and the importance of oil to their daily lives. During this time, many American Indian leaders became more aware of the value of the oil and coal resources on their reservations. In 1975, the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT) was established to improve reservation conditions, to gain inventories of resources, to serve as a clearinghouse, to use resources on reservations rather than exporting them, and to supply information on the environmental impact of resource development. Twenty-five tribes were included in CERT. CERT informed the Federal Energy Agency (FEA):

“If our energy resources are to be developed at all, they are to be developed with our informed consent and participation. ”

According to CERT:

“Historical and economic forces have combined to create these problems for the people of America and the world. We have combined to see that these same forces, which we have dealt with before under many forms other than energy, do not cause the United States to react in its historical pattern of wasteful and unlawful exploitation of Native American resources for immediate needs.”

In 1976, the General Accounting Office (GOA) found that an oil well on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation in New Mexico had been flaring gas for six months without approval. The U.S. Geological Service (USGS), the agency responsible for monitoring the oil wells, was unaware of the flaring as their inspectors had not been out in the field. USGS relied upon industry to inform it of problems.

The Jicarilla Apache filed suit against oil producers on their reservation, noting the failure of the Department of the Interior to exercise its fiduciary responsibilities. Had the Secretary of the Interior simply ordered the oil companies to perform as required by their leases this lawsuit could have been avoided. While the tribe was successful in its litigation, the Department of Interior opposed the tribe in the litigation. As the tribe’s trustee, the Secretary of the Interior would not approve the settlement agreements until the tribe agreed to dismiss their claims against the Secretary.  

In 1976, the Jicarilla Apache enacted a tax ordinance to impose a severance tax on mineral development companies. The tax, which was on oil and natural gas severed, saved, or removed from tribal lands, was only 29 cents per barrel and had little impact on consumers. However, New Mexico’s newspapers were filled with derisive letters and editorials criticizing the idea of a little Indian tribe taxing non-Indians.

Major oil companies responded to the Jicarilla Apache tax by filing suit against the tribe, claiming that they were not subject to tribal jurisdiction and should not be subject to double taxation by the tribe and the state. The District Court ruled against the tribe finding the tribal tax to be “illegal, unconstitutional, invalid, and void.” The tribe appealed.

In 1979, the ruling of the District Court was overturned by the Tenth Circuit Court which found that the tribe had the inherent power under tribal sovereignty to impose taxes on the reservation. The oil companies responded by appealing immediately to the U.S. Supreme Court. CERT and the Navajo Nation filed briefs supporting the Jicarilla Tribe.

In 1982, the Supreme Court in Merrion v. Jicarilla Apache Tribe ruled that the tribe could both receive royalties on oil and gas leases as a property owner and tax oil and gas companies as a sovereign power. According to the Court:

“sovereign power, even when unexercised is an enduring presence that governs all contracts subject to the sovereign’s jurisdiction, and will remain intact unless surrendered in unmistakable terms.”

The Court also said:

“The power to tax is an essential attribute of Indian sovereignty because it is a necessary instrument of self-government and territorial management.”

The Court also ruled that the way in which a reservation was established – by treaty or by executive order – did not affect the tribe’s sovereign power. The Court noted that only the Federal Government may limit a tribe’s sovereign authority.

Immediately following the decision by the Supreme Court, the BIA proposed new regulations which would have severely limited the ability of Indian tribes to impose severance taxes. The tribes complained about the proposed regulations and the BIA eventually dropped them. The very fact that the BIA proposed these new rules, however, showed that the BIA was more concerned with the welfare of the oil companies than with the welfare of Indians.

Looking toward the future, the Jicarilla Apache Tribe in 1977 bought the interest of Palmer Oil Company on the reservation. The Jicarilla Apache became the first tribe in the country to own and operate producing oil and gas wells on its reservation.

First Nations News & Views: 11 Native artists in Paris, stealing water, billion-dollar agreement

Welcome to the 11th 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 a review of the Oklahoma Painters exhibit at the Grand Palais in Paris, a look at the year 1883 in American Indian history,  the first in a series on the attempt to steal Hopi and Navajo water resources, the $1 billion government settlement with 41 tribes, an eye-rolling take on an Indian “party theme” and a baker’s dozen of linkable news bullets. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

By navajo

Last November, an art exhibit titled Oklahoma Painters was presented at the prestigious Grand Palais in Paris as part of the sixth annual Art en Capital event. Eleven American Indian artists were featured. The exhibit is the first major one of its kind in Paris since the Kiowa Five were featured in the 1920s. It was curated by Russell Tallchief (Osage), director of Arts & Exhibitions at the American Indian Cultural Center & Museum in Oklahoma City.

Many visitors were intrigued by the modern display of art from American Indians, their expectations having been influenced by the romantic and stereotypical vision that Hollywood movies and the photos of Edward Curtis perpetuate throughout the world. Surprised, some commented about the variety of style among the artists as they had anticipated one uniform product from a unified culture. Instead they were exposed to contemporary pieces from the youth to the elders of various tribes, defining the uniqueness of individuals and their cultures.

The featured artists hail from 10 different tribes in Oklahoma:  

Hock E Aye Vi – Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne/Arapaho)

Edgar Heap of Birds
Edgar Heap of Birds with his painting Smile for Racism

Photo courtesy of Dominque Godreche

(Note the backward words: Cleveland and Mascots)

Born in 1954 in Wichita, Kan., Heap of Birds studied at Haskell Indian School in Lawrence. He took a B.F.A. from the University of Kansas, an M.F.A from Temple University and then studied at the Royal College of Art, in London. Since 1988, he has served on the faculty at the University of Oklahoma as professor of Native American Studies. “Heap of Birds has exhibited internationally in the diverse mediums of signage, monumental sculpture, painting, print, drawing and installation.”

Edgar Heap of Birds, telling many magpies
Telling Many Magpies,

Telling Black Wolf,

Telling Hachivi

[Hachivi, his Cheyenne name, “Little Chief”]

~The artist explains that the backward

word NATURAL means

that it’s not.

He has exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and other institutions such as the Australian Museum of Contemporary Art, Documenta in Kassel, Germany, the Bandung Institution of Technology in Indonesia, the Venice Biennale in Italy, and now the Grand Palais in France.

To my eye, his most impressive installation is theWheel sculpture at the Denver Art Museum, which is named for the symbolic medicine wheel. The project took 10 years to complete. Ten red porcelain-covered, steel-forked trees have been placed in a 50-foot circle and inscribed with references to “extermination, ancient pictography, astrological bodies and pillars of shared understanding like respect, encapsulating the interconnectivity of Indigenous science and philosophy. The positioning and writing of this installation mark millennia of Indigenous knowledge, systematically intervened to commemorate nuanced views of colonial policy and global Indigenous cooperation. The sculpture itself is aligned with astrological bodies.” On the summer solstice the sun rises between two of the forked panels.

Edgar Heap of Birds, Wheel
Wheel or Nah Kev Ho Eya Zim,

is Heap of Birds’s grandmother’s proverb of how Indians

never leave home in their minds, which translates as

“We are always returning back home again.”

In the on-line hEyOkA mAgAzInE, he gives a thought-provoking interview explaining the various messages and meanings of the installation.

He negotiated a 100-year contract to control the land under the installation which was part of the first land that the southern Cheyenne and Arapaho lost in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. The genocide of these tribes began with the Massacre at Sand Creek in Kiowa County, Colo., in 1864. The southern Cheyenne and Arapaho were then moved out of Colorado to Kansas and Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Heap of Birds’s tribes have reclaimed the land in Denver with this sculpture. By using his grandmother’s proverb on the wall next to the Wheel, they have taken back the sacred circle.

Tribal chiefs came for the dedication of the Wheel in June 2005. The tribes now use the site for ceremonies, and it is on the route of the annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run.

In addition, this 26-minute VIDEO of Heap of Bird’s fascinating speech at Otis College of Art and Design on what has influenced his art. It’s a must-view.

Highlights that struck me:

• A photo of a cradleboard decorated with protective symbols showed it was specifically designed so that, if the Army attacked, the baby could be scooped up and run away with.

• Cavalrymen cut out uteruses of Indian women and made them into hats, a symbol of ensuring no Indian babies could be born from the wounded.

• Inspired by the sketches drawn by incarcerated warriors imprisoned at Fort Marion, Fla., in the 1870s, Heap of Birds saw power in rendering one’s oppressors through protest art.

• His great-great-great-grandfather was one of the chiefs imprisoned at Fort Marion. His Cheyenne name is properly interpreted in English as Many Magpies, but the day that Captain Richard Henry Pratt couldn’t pronounce the Cheyenne version, the hasty label Heap of Birds was recorded, trapping his ancestors and his family today, imprisoning them linguistically because they couldn’t speak English and now had to accept the names the invader chose for them. Symbolically then, Heap of Birds’s work with text is a way of reclaiming the power of naming.

• There is, he says, a strange amnesia in America. We all know about the pyramids around the world but there are pyramids in the U.S. For example, Creek pyramids in Georgia are misunderstood because the tribe was forced to walk to Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears. Everyone thinks these pyramids belong to a lost culture. But that culture is alive in Oklahoma.

His brilliant, direct style explains why he is sought after to speak around the world.

Edgar Heap of Birds, Road Signs
Three samples of Edgar Heap of Birds’s public art interventions

Joe Don Brave (Osage)

Joe Don Brave
Joe Don Brave with his piece for le Grand Palais exhibit

Joe Don Brave says he has worked his whole life for something of the caliber of the exhibit in Paris. Born in 1965, he was named Vincent Paul Brave after Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin by his father, Franklin Brave, a professional artist and graphic designer. One day his father nicknamed him Joe Don after Oklahoma football star Joe Don Looney. That nickname stuck.

As a child Brave learned to paint in his father’s studio. Brave studied art at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and has worked at the National Museum of American Indian and the Smithsonian Institute in New York City. He also owns his gallery in downtown Pawhuska, Okla.

Brave was raised in the traditions and customs of the Osage, and he’s still an active participant in the tribe’s annual traditional ceremonial dances.

Anita Fields (Osage)

Anita Fields, Three Dresses
Anita Fields at work in her studio and her “Three Dresses” collection

Anita Fields, born in 1951 and raised in Hominy, Okla., is one of a few American Indian potters who does not live in the Southwest where the many pueblos, Hopi and Navajo dominate that medium.

Fields is probably the first Indian potter to create conceptual installation pieces instead of functional or display pottery. To make her artistic statement she often uses abstract versions of traditional clothing and artifacts. Influenced by American Indian clothing and weaving, she translates these soft features into her hard clay works.

She says her work honors women: “The dresses convey my attitudes toward the strength of women and how native peoples show remarkable resourcefulness and adaptability toward their environment. The clothing Indian women created shows great pride, dignity, and hope in a culture facing insurmountable odds.”

Yatika Fields (Osage)

Yatika Fields
Yatika Fields painting in the courtyard of Indian Market Weekend in Santa Fe

Born in 1980 to Anita Fields, the artist featured just above, Yatika Fields grew up in Oklahoma but currently lives in Brooklyn. 

After living in Boston with bike messengers he developed a passion for cycling. He moved to New York without any cash and got a job in the dangerous occupation of city bike messengering. That’s riding a bike with a fixed gear and NO brakes. After realizing he was pretty fast he ventured into alleycats, illegal street racing where the only prize is honor.

Here is a terrific VIDEO of Fields painting a wall in the apartment Ryan Red Corn (Osage).

His work is currently exhibited at Chiaroscuro Contemporary in Santa Fe, Sam Noble Museum in Norman, Okla., and The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Ariz. Last October he was in Barcelona for three weeks doing live painting events and then in Paris in November where he enjoyed traveling with his mother.

Brent Greenwood (Chickasaw/Ponca)

Brent Greenwood, There goes the neighborhood...
Brent Greenwood with his “There Goes the Neighborhood” piece

Brent Greenwood was born in 1971 in Midwest City, Okla.. He graduated with an AFA in 2-Dimensional Art from the Institute of American Indian Arts and a BFA from the Oklahoma City University.

Greenwood incorporates early tribal history into his contemporary acrylic designs, often with faceless figures but vibrant with color. Some of his artistic inspiration is derived from other artists’ work and energy. He is most proud of his family and the inspiration they provide. His wife Kennetha (Otoe/Missouria) is an artist as well. Greenwood encourages his children to paint alongside him. He enjoys singing Ponca songs at events and shares this spirit with his children and other youth in his community.

America Meredith (Cherokee)

American Meredith
America Meredith painting and her piece “Agalisiga Checks a Box”

America Meredith, also of Swedish descent, “blends traditional styles from Native America and Europe with pop imagery of her childhood. The Cherokee language and syllabary figure prominently in her work, as they are the strongest visual imagery unique to her tribe.”

Meredith “earned her MFA in painting from the San Francisco Art Institute and her BFA from the University of Oklahoma. She has shown throughout the United States and in Canada and Europe in the last 15 years and has won awards at the Heard and SWAIA’s Indian Market as well as at numerous competitive shows” and now featured in Paris.

Her on-line portfolio is an absolute treat, and my favorite page is Present Tense. Check out The Tewa Man in Black, illustrating the importance of corn to American Indians and Cameron Chino, an Indian full-blood who loves the Japanese culture.

A stunning international art exhibit inviting the tight-knit bike messenger community to use its spokecard is the Cherokee Spokespeople Project. “Spokecards are laminated cards that can be held in place by the spokes of a bicycle wheel, which bike messengers create as souvenirs for bike races and other messenger events.” 


The Cherokee language has a unique writing system developed by Sequoyah in the early 1800s and still used today. All American Indian languages are struggling to survive. “According to Cherokee Nation tribal leadership, our current generation, the fourteenth generation since European contact with the Cherokees, is said to be the generation that decides whether the language grows or dies.” So to promote the Cherokee language, Meredith made spokecards available to the bike-messengering community and asked them to document the card on their bikes with a photograph featuring a famous location. Participants received a custom card from Meredith with their choice of any word in Cherokee to display on their bike. Sometimes, words were invented for the prize winners, creating new Cherokee words.

To survive, Cherokee cannot be stuck in the past or confined to one part of the country. Cherokee Spokespeople are introducing new people to their language and bringing it into an international, urban setting.

“This project continued from 2004 to 2011. [Meredith] distributed hundreds of spokecards by hand, at SFBMA meetings, at cycle courier races, and through the mail. The Cherokee Spokespeople Project has been exhibited at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada; IAIA Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico; the Euphrat Museum in Cupertino, CA; the City Arts Center in Oklahoma City, OK; and was finally exhibited as a solo show at the Ho-Chee-Nee Chapel on the grounds of the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, OK.”

Navarre Scott Momaday (Kiowa/Cherokee)

N. Scott Momaday
N. Scott Momaday in front of the Louvre, his book cover and one of the lithographs inside

N. Scott Momaday, born in 1934 in Lawton, Okla., is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. Momaday’s novel House Made of Dawn is credited for launching Native American literature into the mainstream. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969.

He received the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas in 1992. He was awarded a 2007 National Medal of Arts and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2010.

In Paris, Momday’s book The Man Made of Visions, a dozen unpublished poems and signed lithographs were featured. Thumbnails of the lithographs can be seen here.

Thomas Poolaw (Kiowa/Delaware)

Thomas Poolaw
“Eyes #2 and the artist, Thomas Poolaw

Born in 1959 and currently residing in Norman, Okla., Tom Poolaw works primarily with acrylics and digital images. He was heavily influenced by his grandfather, Horace Poolaw, a photographer.

He prefers to let his work unfold rather than knowing what it will look like at the finish. “Process is the focus of my work. I choose formats and situations that encourage spontaneity and experimentation. The journey must be exciting and inspired. I want to produce something nearer to poetry than documentation.

“My work usually deals with Native American subject matter expressed in a contemporary manner. It doesn’t always have to, but that’s who I am and where I come from. I hope the work reflects the status of today’s Native American individual, that is complex, modern and spiritual.”

Marla Skye (Onondaga)

Marla Skye
Marla Skye and her piece that was used for an invitation in Paris

Marla Skye works with several mediums, painting, silversmithing, beading and woodcarving. Her father, Larry Jones, was a skilled woodcarver and artist. He died just two months before her showing in Paris. He was thrilled that she was going to be featured there. Skye is a graduate of The Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M.

D.g. Smalling (Choctaw)

D.g. Smalling

D.g. Smalling was born and raised in Oklahoma City. He is known for his “single line” art in which he creates the initial outline never lifting his pen. He then fills in the spaces with color. This amazing and beautiful technique is captured in this VIDEO

He credits his Choctaw culture whose traditions and lifestyle embrace minimalism. His abstractions begin with the most basic element-the line-the foundation of all design.

The pieces he produced for the Paris exhibit are here.

Smalling hosts The Spy’s Eye on NDN-Country on, Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., Central Time.

Dana Tiger (Creek/Seminole/Cherokee)

Dana Tiger
Dana Tiger and one of her Warrior Women paintings

Dana Tiger was born and raised in Muskogee, Okla. Her legendary father, Jerome Tiger died when she was five years old. She used his art as a way to get to know him and along with guidance from her uncle, Johnny Tiger, Jr. From them, she learned the richness of her culture and carried on the family’s artistic tradition. Her watercolors and acrylic paintings celebrate the strength and determination of American Indian women.

Some of the artists in Paris during their exhibition

And since it is the Grand Palais, pour le pièce de résistance … a grand nod to curator Russell Tallchief (Osage). He gathered these 11 artists in the Salon du Dessin et de la Peinture à l’eau (Room of Painting and Water Colors) at the Grand Palais. As a special treat, on Nov. 24, 2011, he performed an ancient southern style of Osage war dance. He is a Straight Dancer and performed as a Taildancer, a privileged position that serves to set the pace and motivate the other performers to dance harder. The dance symbolizes being on the battlefield.

Russell Tall Chief dancing
Russell Tallchief performing an Osage war dance in Paris

Tallchief is related to the renowned ballerinas Maria Tallchief (born 1925) who danced with the New York City Ballet and Marjorie Tallchief (born 1927) who was the first American to achieve première danseuse étoile with the Paris Opera Ballet.  

The exhibit was viewed by over 40,000 visitors.

Haida Whale Divider

(First Nations News & Views continued below the frybread thingey)

This Week in American Indian History in 1883

1883 ‘Civilizing’ Code Smashed Religion, Culture, Social Relations

Hiram Price, Commissioner

of Indian Affairs 1881-1885

By Meteor Blades

On April 10, 1883, Secretary of Interior Henry Teller approved the Code of Indian Offenses that would henceforth be handled by the new Court of Indian Offenses, the predecessor of today’s tribal courts. The rules of the code were developed by former Iowa Congressman Hiram Price, a “radical Republican” who had been appointed by President James Garfield to the post of Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1881.

It should be remembered that this was a time when Indians, most of whom did not become U.S. citizens until 1924, were not permitted to leave their reservations except by consent and written approval of their superintendent.  

For nearly two years, Price had lobbied his boss to extend state and territorial jurisdiction over Indian reservations. There was dissembling about the purpose of this. He said Congress should enact laws to “make the Indian equally secure with the white man in his individual rights of person and property, and equally amenable for any violation of the rights of others.” But behind those seemingly reasonable words about equal protection and equal responsibility was a sinister effort to knuckle Indians under again, demolishing their religious, cultural and social practices. In other words, ethnocide.

Price presented his proposed rules to Secretary Teller in December 1882, and Teller approved them the following April. Among the true purposes, Price wrote, was “to destroy the tribal relations as fast as possible.” Just as when the Office of Indian Affairs (soon renamed the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was established in 1824, the imposition of the rules was done by fiat of the Secretary of Interior, without congressional action. That would not occur until 1885 when Congress passed the Major Crimes Act.

The rules set forth a Court of Indian Offenses at each Indian agency. Each court was to be presided over by a tribunal, the Indian judges automatically being the three highest-ranking officers of the tribal police. Appeals would be handled by the BIA. An amendment in 1894 allowed judges to be chosen from among other tribal members.

The rules had little to do with laws established to regulate the behavior of non-Indians. With a couple of exceptions, they were more like status crimes, that is, if you’re Indian, you can’t do this without getting into trouble-worshiping as you please or drinking alcohol, for example.

With only minor changes the rules remained in place until 1935, when Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes promulgated fresh regulations as a consequence of the Indian Reorganization Act of the previous year. Here are excerpts from the nine rules set forth in 1883:

• 1st. Establishes the court and selection of judges, each for a one-year term. “[N]o person shall be eligible to appointment as a member of said court who is a polygamist; and provided further, that the judges herein provided for shall receive no money consideration on account of their services in connection with said court.”

• 2d. Requires two regular sessions a month, the time approved by the local (government-appointed) Indian agent (who was a private contractor).

• 3d. Authorizes the agent to “compel the attendance of witnesses at any session of the court, and enforce, with the aid of the police, if necessary, all orders that may be passed by the court or a majority thereof; but all orders, decrees, or judgments of the court shall be subject to approval or disapproval of the agent, and an appeal to and final revision by this office…”

• 4th. “The ‘sun-dance,’ the ‘scalp-dance,’ the ‘war-dance,’ and all other so-called feasts assimilating thereto, shall be considered ‘Indian offenses,’ and any Indian found guilty of being a participant in any one or more of these ‘offenses’ shall, for the first offense committed, be punished by withholding from the person or persons so found guilty by the court his or their rations for a period not exceeding ten days; and if found guilty of any subsequent offense under this rule, shall by punished by withholding his or their rations for a period not less than fifteen days, nor more than thirty days, or by incarceration in the agency prison for a period not exceeding thirty days.”

• 5th. “Any plural marriage hereafter contracted or entered into by any member of an Indian tribe under the supervision of a United States Indian agent shall be considered an ‘Indian offense,’ [… and] shall pay a fine of not less than twenty dollars, or work at hard labor for a period of twenty days, or both, at the discretion of the court. […]  and so long as the Indian shall continue in this unlawful relation he shall forfeit all right to receive rations from the Government. And whenever it shall be proven to the satisfaction of the court that any member of the tribe fails, without proper cause, to support his wife and children, no rations shall be issued to him until such time as satisfactory assurance is given to the court, approved by the agent, that the offender will provide for his family to the best of his ability.”

Steven Moses (Spokane) stood trial in 1913 on the

Spokane Reservation for continuing to practice

traditional ceremonies in violation of the Code of

Indian Offenses. He was acquitted because the

main witness against him failed to show up in court.

(Courtesy of Barry Moses, his great-great grandson)

• 6th. “The usual practices of so-called ‘medicine-men’ shall be considered ‘Indian offenses’ […] and whenever it shall be proven to the satisfaction of the court that the influence or practice of a so-called ‘medicine-man’ operates as a hindrance to the civilization of a tribe, or that said ‘medicine-man’ resorts to any artifice or device to keep the Indians under his influence, or shall adopt any means to prevent the attendance of children at the agency schools, or shall use any of the arts of a conjurer to prevent the Indians from abandoning their heathenish rites and customs, he shall be adjudged guilty of an Indian offense, and upon conviction of any one or more of these specified practices, or, any other, in the opinion of the court, of an equally anti-progressive nature, shall be confined in the agency prison for a term not less than ten days, or until such time as he shall produce evidence satisfactory to the court, and approved by the agent, that he will forever abandon all practices styled Indian offenses under this rule.”

• 7th. Requires restoration or restitution for theft or destruction of property. “Those convicted shall be confined in the agency prison for a term not exceeding thirty days; and it shall not be considered a sufficient or satisfactory answer to any of the offenses set forth in this rule that the party charged was at the time a ‘mourner,’ and thereby justified in taking or destroying the property in accordance with the customs or rites of the tribe.”

• 8th. “Any Indian or mixed-blood who shall pay or offer to pay any money or other valuable consideration to the friends or relatives of any Indian girl or woman, for the purpose of living or cohabiting with said girl or woman, shall be deemed guilty of an Indian offense, and upon conviction thereof shall forfeit all right to Government rations for a period at the discretion of the agent, or be imprisoned in the agency prison for a period not exceeding sixty days; and any Indian or mixed-blood who shall receive or offer to receive any consideration for the purpose herein before specified shall be punished in a similar manner as provided for the party paying or offering to pay the said consideration; and if any white man shall be found guilty of any of the offenses herein mentioned he shall be immediately removed from the reservation and not allowed to return thereto.”

• 9th. The court also has jurisdiction over misdemeanors and civil suits among Indians “and any Indian who shall be found intoxicated, or who shall sell, exchange, give, barter, or dispose of any spirituous, vinous, or fermented liquors to any other Indian, or who shall introduce or attempt to introduce, under any pretense whatever, any spirituous, vinous, or fermented liquors on the reservation, shall be punishable by imprisonment for not less than thirty day nor more than ninety days, or by the withholding of Government rations therefrom, at the discretion of the court and approval of the agent.”

The imposition of these rules, finalized in 1884, was spurred by the U.S. Supreme Court in Ex Parte Crow Dog (1883). The Court ruled that despite explicit extension of U.S. jurisdiction over “certain bands of Sioux Indians” in 1877, they were subject to U.S. law not as citizens entitled to equal protection under the law and the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but as “wards subject to a guardian … as a dependent community who were in a state of pupilage.” Although laws at the time were clear about crimes committed by Indians against non-Indians and vice versa, they did not specify what to do about crimes committed by Indians against Indians. Therefore, the court ruled that Crow Dog’s killing of Spotted Tail was a matter solely for tribal jurisdiction.

As a consequence, in 1885, Congress passed the predecessor to today’s (Indian) Major Crimes Act, which Commissioner Price called a “step in the right direction.” The act established seven major crimes on the reservations as a matter for federal as opposed to tribal jurisdiction. These were (and remain today): murder; manslaughter; rape; assault with intent to commit murder; arson; burglary; and larceny. Crimes in which the maximum sentence is one year or less are still handled by many tribal courts.

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

U.S. Deal for Navajo-Hopi Water Has Familiar Stench

(First of a series.)

By Aji

“Steals Water.”

That should be U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl’s “Indian name.” It would also fit Sen. John McCain, Rep. Ben Quayle and Rep. Paul Gosar.

What these four, with the apparent collaboration of the formal leadership of the Navajo and Hopi nations, have been plotting recently has the potential to become the biggest theft of natural resources from American Indians in years.

Sen. Jon Kyl and Sen. John McCain, conniving again

The bill, S-2109 (HR-4067 in the House), is known informally as the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012. The text defines its purpose as follows:

To approve the settlement of water rights claims of the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, and the allottees of the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe in the State of Arizona, to authorize construction of municipal water projects relating to the water rights claims, to resolve litigation against the United States concerning Colorado River operations affecting the States of California, Arizona, and Nevada, and for other purposes.

In reality, it’s the latest in a line of swindles in the nation’s long history of grabbing tribal resources and telling Indians it’s for their own good.

The bill’s true purpose is to coerce the Navajo and Hopi into surrendering all their rights to the Little Colorado River, the area’s major water source. Kyl, McCain, et al. are offering what amounts to a bribe in the form of much-needed and long-delayed groundwater-delivery projects for the two tribes. In exchange for those two limited-term projects, each tribe would permanently surrender all future claims to Little Colorado River water rights, and would waive all rights to future litigation in the event of damages arising in any way from the settlement agreements. 

The indemnity goes only one way, of course. It’s only the Indians who are barred from suing the state, the federal government and its agencies and the private corporations who stand to benefit most from the diversion of this precious tribal resource. And it turns out that the groundwater delivery projects may be nothing more than a mirage: The funding allocation is limited and appears to be conditioned on the assumption that certain monies, which may or may not exist, will be used.

Those terms alone should have gotten the Republican members of Arizona’s congressional delegation laughed out of the room, out of town, out of state, and all the way back to their insular D.C. offices.

Instead, it appears that a non-Indian lawyer on the staff of the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, with the apparent blessing (some tribal members might say “connivance”) of Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Hopi Tribal Chair LeRoy Shingoitewa, “negotiated” this monstrosity with Kyl and McCain and their staffers without authorization from the Navajo Nation Tribal Council. Stanley Pollack, the NNDOJ lawyer, has been on staff for years and reputedly has experience with water rights issues. But many tribal members believe he and others involved intended to help Shelly to help Kyl and McCain ram through the legislation before anyone got wise. Since tribal grassroots environmental organizations caught wind of the scheme, they and individual members of both tribes have begun vocal protests.

Once it became apparent that the bill could not be passed quietly, Kyl and McCain made a trip to Tuba City in the heart of the Navajo Nation, ostensibly to meet with tribal representatives. It was, in fact, intended to be a private meeting, behind closed doors, with only Shelly and Shingoitewa and their staff members in a strategy session to try to salvage the bill more or less in its current form. That failed miserably. Some 200 protestors from both nations, including former tribal chairs and officers, demonstrated outside the meeting.  

Grand Falls on the Little Colorado River (Mr. Jalapeño)

Navajo Police formed a human cordon, and allegedly physically abused former Navajo Nation President Milton Bluehouse as he tried to enter the building. Eventually, Shelly emerged to try to reassure tribal members that they and the tribal council would have the final word. But his attempt to soothe everyone was met with jeers, catcalls, demands to “kill the bill” and open accusations of “selling out.”

The “sellout” label has only gained traction with reports that Shelly’s administration has hired lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt.  One of its lead lobbyists in this matter is Ryan Smith-a former Senate aide to Jon Kyl.  No word yet on who, if anyone, will be lobbying for the Hopi.

Kyl and McCain, of course, “dismiss” the people’s criticisms as just so much “misinformation” while they continue to pressure both tribes to approve the bill amid vague but dire warnings that time is somehow short.

Time is short for the 70-year-old Sen. Kyl. He’s retiring at the end of this year after 18 years in the Senate. That leaves him just a few months to bestow this particular windfall upon his political benefactors: specifically, mostly non-Native corporate interests, including the Navajo Generating Station, Peabody Western Coal and the Salt River Project. The latter was one of Kyl’s corporate clients before he entered Congress. The bill would also benefit Arizona’s non-Indian residents and other business interests.

Next Week: An analysis of the legal aspects of the case. In future pieces we will examine the many toxic currents-including sovereignty, autonomy, self-representation, politics, media and cultural theft-of contemporary “Indian policy” that have converged into the proposed Little Colorado River Settlement.

Stop SB 2109

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Feds Settle Century of Rip-offs with $1 Billion to 41 Tribes

By Meteor Blades

In just over three years, the Obama administration has done more for American Indians than any administration since Lyndon Johnson called for an end of termination policy 44 years ago. A good deal of that has to do with simply being a good listener. But the administration is also building a solid record of compensating the tribes for decades of government bungling and behavior that, labeled properly, was outright theft.

The latest move, announced April 11, is the billion-dollar settlement with 41 tribes from Maine to California. Funding does not have to be approved by Congress because it has already been allocated in the Judgment Fund. The settlement ends a 22-month-long negotiation between the tribes and the United States over more than a century of mismanagement of concessions granted to non-Indians by the departments of Interior and the Treasury. Interior oversees 56 million acres of Indian land held in trust by the government. The concessions cover various resources, including minerals, timber, oil and gas, and grazing rights.

“They literally could not tell the tribal beneficiary how much money was in the account, or how much money was in it or where it was going,”says Matthew Fletcher.  […]
Matthew Fletcher

“You know there’s sort of a moral trust responsibility of the federal government to Indian tribes. And that plays a key role,” Fletcher says. “That’s why you have press conferences with the attorney general saying ‘We’re doing the things that we should have been doing 50 years ago or 100 years ago.'”

Fletcher, a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, teaches indigenous law at Michigan State University and is director of the MSU College of Law’s Indigenous Law and Policy Center.

The agreement is in addition to the $3.4 billion settlement over trust-land mismanagement in a class-action lawsuit brought by the late Elouise Cobell, aka Yellow Bird Woman (Niitsítapi-Blackfoot Confederacy). The Cobell settlement covered cases brought by 300,000 individual Indians. That settlement is being appealed in federal court.

The federal government settled with the Osage for $380 million in October and $760 million in the Keepseagle v. Vilsack case in 2010. The latter was brought by individual American Indian farmers and ranchers in a class-action suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They accused the department of discrimination in administering loan programs.

“These important settlements reflect President Obama’s continuing commitment to ensuring empowerment and reconciliation for American Indians,” said Secretary [of the Interior Ken] Salazar. “It strengthens the government-to-government relationship with Tribal nations, helps restore a positive working relationship with Indian Country leaders and empowers American Indian communities.”

Hilary Tompkins

On hand for the event was Hilary Tompkins (Navajo), Solicitor General of the Interior Department. She helped work out the details of the settlement. “[W]hen I say the word trust, I don’t mean the legal definition of that word, I mean the dictionary’s definition of that word-assured reliance on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle of a person or thing […] May we walk together toward a brighter future, built on trust, and not acrimony,” she said.

All tribes have had a dark relationship with the federal government, said Gary Hayes, chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, whose reservation covers southwest Colorado, southeast Utah and northern New Mexico. But the settlements will assist tribal governments in supplementing decades of inadequate funding throughout Indian Country, helping to improve public safety, infrastructure and health care, he said.

“The seeds that we plant today will profit us in the future and continue for generations to come,” Hayes said.

The Ute Mountain Utes will receive nearly $42.6 million of the settlement. A government spokesman said the Feds would not announce specific amounts, but leave that up to the individual tribes’ discretion. Known amounts range from the $150 million going to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana to the $25,000 for the Nootsack Tribe of Washington state. In addition to the 41 lawsuits settled in the agreement, another 71 are still in litigation.

The tribes receiving a portion of the $1.023 billion settlement are:

Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation; Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians; Blackfeet Tribe; Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Indians; Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians of Colusa Rancheria; Coeur d’Alene Tribe; Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation; Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation; Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes; Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Reservation; Hualapai Tribe; Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians of Arizona; Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas; Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians; Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Indians; Makah Tribe of the Makah Reservation; Mescalero Apache Nation; Minnesota Chippewa Tribe; Nez Perce Tribe; Nooksack Tribe.

Northern Cheyenne Tribe; Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine; Pawnee Nation; Pueblo of Zia; Quechan Indian Tribe of the Fort Yuma Reservation; Rincon Luiseño Band of Indians; Round Valley Tribes; Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community; Santee Sioux Tribe; Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation; Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians; Spirit Lake Dakotah Nation; Spokane Tribe; Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of the Fort Yates Reservation; Swinomish Indian Tribal Community; Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians; Tohono O’odham Nation; Tulalip Tribe; Tule River Tribe; Ute Mountain Ute Tribe; Ute Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.

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Stereotypes Celebrated for Privileged Children Birthday Party Idea

By navajo

Many things bother me about a blog page of party designer Kara Allen promoting her new book, Kara’s Party Ideas. The page is called Native American Party. Kara uses typical stereotypes Indian people have been fighting for decades and celebrates them as proper for impressionable young children. She has 38 photos illustrating every aspect of her partyscape. Here are the ones that bother me the most:



Calling All Little Indians?????

Plains Indian costume?????

Tomahawks and red licorice braids?????



Fortunately, there are respectful criticisms (the nasty ones are gone now) in the comment section of her blog page explaining why the use of stereotypes is racist. But the replies from Kara and her supporters bother me.

Kara offers one of those “sorry if anyone was offended” apologies:

Kara Allen

I just want to apologize. I had no intention of being disrespectful to any race or ethnicity. I have the highest regard for the Native American culture, in fact, my husband is part Cherokee. I meant the party as a way to honor the Native American heritage {just as a “Luau Party” honors the Samoan, Hawaiian, Tongan, etc. cultures} while also celebrating a birthday in a fun way.

Kara’s perspective falls into the category of ignorant racism. How exactly does this theme differ from a “blackface” party? Would Kara promote that on her blog?

Kara writes that she lives in Utah, my birth state, which was once all Indian land. Land belonging to the Bannock, Goshute, Navajo, Paiute, Shoshone and Ute tribes. All very different tribes. Tribes whose traditional clothing doesn’t resemble the costumes at Kara’s party. Except for the Navajo, these tribes were forced onto small reservations long ago.

Utah tribal landUtah reservations

I wonder if Kara can name any of these Utah tribes and describe a few aspects of their different cultures. I wonder if she knows there are different bands within some of those tribes. I grew up in Utah and I’ve visited nearly all the reservations there. It was visually obvious to me even as a young child that they have higher poverty rates than the rest of Utah.

It’s disturbing to know the reality of the living conditions on our reservations and then see a stereotyped depiction of generic Indians flaunted as a party.

Personally, I don’t think the advice in the comments for taking one tribe and “honoring” them at a privileged child’s birthday party is a good approach. Better to remove this page from the upcoming book. Kara should stick to her other fantasy ideas as party themes.

American Indians are not a fantasy.

NAN Line Separater


Seattle School of Law Debuts American Indian Law Journal: Backed by the Center for Indian Law & Policy, the 96-page journal, whose cover art appears below, contains articles titled, among others: “Can Indian Tribes Sell or Encumber Their Fee Lands Without Federal Approval?”; “The Public Nature of Indian Reservation Roads”; and “Justice Rehnquist’s Theory of Indian Law: The Evolution from Mazurie to Atkinson – Where Did He Leave the Court?”

“€œRunning Eagle Takes Her Enemy”€ by Artist Terrance Guardipee

-Meteor Blades

Miccosukee Indians Allege Lawyers Ripped Them Off: The 600-member tribe has accused former Miami U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis and ex-federal prosecutor Michael Tein of luring it “into unnecessarily paying millions of dollars in legal fees that were excessive and unreasonable, for work that was fictitious, improperly created, unsubstantiated and which did not achieve any reasonable benefit.” Millions of dollars paid out to the two lawyers built the pair a lavish lifestyle that included, among other things, a huge luxury car collection and a zeppelin.

-Meteor Blades

S.D. State Rep. Ed Iron Cloud (Oglala Lakota ) Missed Filing Deadline for Primary: The Democratic incumbent state representative from Porcupine missed the deadline to submit petitions for running as a Democrat in the state primary June 5, but he plans to run as an independent and is gathering signatures to do so. South Dakota has 35 legislative districts, each represented by one senator and two House members. Iron Cloud has represented South Dakota’s heavily Democratic District 27 since 2009 along with Kevin Killer (Oglala Lakota). If he doesn’t make the ballot, Killer and Republican Elizabeth May will automatically get seats in the House.

-Meteor Blades

Jenna Talackova

Aboriginal Transgender Wins Fight to Compete in Miss Universe Canada Contest: A member of the Nat’oot’en (or Lake Babine) First Nation of British Columbia, Jenna Talackova was born male. At 19, four years ago, she had a sex-change operation. And now she is a 23-year-old woman competing in the Canadian Miss Universe Pageant. Three weeks ago, however, the Donald Trump-controlled pageant disqualified her for being formerly male, and Talackova decided to fight back, enlisting Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred in the battle. Which generated some heated words. Allred asked Trump to prove he is a man, and Trump fired back that she would be impressed if she saw his junk. On April 2, the pageant agreed that Talackova can compete as long as she meets Canadian “legal gender recognition requirements” and the standards of other international competitions. The latter may be difficult since some of those, including the Miss USA pageant, require a contestant to be a “naturally born genetic female.” Transgender advocates saw the win as a partial victory. Suzi Parker at the Washington Post granted that Talackova should have the right to compete, but asked why she would want to given Parker’s view that it would be better if no women desired pageant queen status.

-Meteor Blades

National Native News Offers First Nations Radio Briefs Each Day: The operation is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year as a provider of five minutes of radio news each day about American Indians, Alaskan Natives and First Nations peoples of Canada. Programming is available to Native and non-Native outlets. You can also listen on line.

-Meteor Blades

Gov. Brian Schweitzer Honored at 31st Annual Montana Indian Education Association Conference: The association honored the governor Friday in Bozeman for his leadership in Indian education. Among the prominent members of Montana’s Indian community in attendance was Carol Juneau (Mandan/Hidatsa), a former Montana senator. She spoke about the positive impact Schweitzer has had. Her daughter, Denise, is the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, the first Indian ever elected to statewide office in Montana. Schweitzer spoke of the importance of education in bringing down reservation unemployment rates that are six or more times the national average.

-Meteor Blades

Banks Won’t Supports Reservation Contractors for Lack of Collateral: Among the obstacles faced by reservation-based construction companies bidding to work on large construction projects is that fact that the reservation cannot use land to take out bonds to fund projects. That is because reservation land is trust land and not taxed by the federal government. “Banks won’t come anywhere near the reservation,” said Dustin Twiss (Oglala Lakota), who with his father lost a bid on a communication system for a new justice facility on the Pine Ridge Reservation. “You’d be lucky to make a payday loan, let alone a half a million dollar bond down here, unless you have 100 percent of the assets.”

-Meteor Blades

Petitioners Seek Access to “Plan B” Emergency Contraception for Native Women: A recent report by the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center showed that 90 percent of American Indian women have a very difficult time getting emergency contraception because the vast majority of Indian Health Service pharmacies don’t carry it. For reservation women, who often live in rural areas, the next nearest pharmacy may be 100 miles away. You can sign a petition urging IHS Director Dr. Yvette Roubideaux to issue a directive to all IHS service providers to make emergency contraception available on demand without a prescription or doctor visit to all women 17 or older.

-Meteor Blades (with h/t to Land of Enchantment)

Sanford School Teams, No, Not THAT Sanford, Call Themselves “Redskins” : A high school in the Maine town of 21,000 has yet to get rid of the nickname or its stereotypical mascot. Of the 448 students, faculty and staff at the school, only about 40 percent support

Sanford “Redskin” logo

changing the name, the last school in the state whose teams are called “Redskins.” Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission has asked the school’s governing committee to get rid of it. Wiscasset, a Maine town of 3600, dumped the name at its high school last year. Other less incendiary Indian-themed nicknames are still used by some schools in the state. About 50 Indians and non-Indians got together in Sanford on Wednesday for “a peace-building conversation.” Richard Silliboy, tribal councilor of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, said the “R” term is just as insulting as “squaw,” a word that has been removed from all public place names in Maine. Silliboy said he’d taken many insults in his life: “Dirty Indian, stinkin’ Indian, drunken Indian” and a “no-good-for-nothing Indian and the only good Indian’s a dead Indian.” The school committee meets next month to decide whether to change the name and get rid of its logo of a stereotypical Indian in a stereotypical Plains-style “war bonnet.” That other Sanford? The high school has “Sammy Seminole,” a stereotyped very unSeminole mascot dropped in favor of “Chief Osceola” by Florida State University years ago. (Full Disclosure: The latter FSU mascot is approved by the Seminole Tribe of Florida in which I am an enrolled member.)

-Meteor Blades

A Sacred Peak With Rich Ore Deposits: Chicago Peak is a place associated with the creation of the Kootenai world. “It’s one of the most significant sites to the Kootenai because of its association with knowledge and power,” says Maria Nieves Zedeño, an anthropologist who has studied the peak’s importance to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana. They seek to have the peak listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They hope this might spotlight a mining company’s plans to burrow beneath it and haul out its silver and copper. The listing would not legally stop the company from going ahead with its Rock Creek Mine, however. The tribe traditionally uses the spiritual site for praying, fasting and seeking visions.

-Meteor Blades (h/t to BentLiberal)

1300-Year-Old Indigenous Stone Structure Preserved by New Heritage Park: Massachusetts became home to the new Upton Heritage Park Sunday (today) and that means protected status for a stone structure built by indigenous people 13 centuries ago. Site lines in the structure, a chamber that archeologists believe was part of a series of ceremonial buildings, align perfectly with the summer solstice for the year 710 CE.

-Meteor Blades (h/t to ojibwa)

Criminal Justice Training Initiative Begins in Cherokee Nation: The Justice and Interior Departments have completed the first in a series of national level training courses, “Criminal Jurisdiction in Indian Country.” The courses are designed to strengthen the ability of tribal and local law enforcement to participate in the investigation and enforcement of federal crimes in Indian country and fulfill a key training requirement under the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010. Thirty-five class participants representing seven tribes in Oklahoma and one county sheriff’s office took part in the three-day CJIC training. Topics included training in federal Indian law criminal jurisdiction, how to best serve sexual assault and domestic violence victims, as well as the investigation and enforcement of drug and firearm offenses.

-Meteor Blades

Marty Two Bulls Wins Society of Professional Journalists’ Cartooning Award: The Oglala Lakota, editorial cartoonist for Indian Country Today, has won a Sigma Delta Chi award from the SPJ for his acerbic work. The award is divided among cartoonists at publications of 100,000 circulation or more and those of less than 100,000. Matt Bors, who cartoons appear regularly at Daily Kos, won the award for the larger circulation publications. Two Bulls lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation: “My father is Rev. Robert Two Bulls and my grandfather was Peter Two Bulls Sr. I hail from the Red Shirt Table area of our reservation. Our enemies call us the Sioux.”


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.


Ancient America: The Birth and Death of a Pueblo

In 1245 CE, the Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloan) began construction on the Sand Canyon Pueblo in Colorado. The pueblo is located at the head of a canyon with most of the construction below the canyon rim. The pueblo would grow to 420 surface rooms, 90 kivas, 14 towers, and an enclosed plaza. A massive stone wall enclosed the village on the southwest, west, north, and east provided protection against attack and also controlled and limited access to the spring at the center of the village. The enclosing wall was at least one story tall and had very few access openings.  

A number of towers abutted the outside face of the enclosing wall. These towers were in positions providing panoramic views of the landscape west, north, and northeast of the village. They also allowed villagers in the towers to safely monitor the exterior face of the enclosing wall for possible intruders. The towers also provided them with advantageous locations for launching arrows at attackers just outside the village.

It appears that the massive stone wall that enclosed the houses and public buildings was constructed first. The construction of this wall would have been a major community project. It also would have been done by people who did not yet live there.

Archaeologists feel that the construction of the town was pre-planned. Architecturally, the pueblo was laid out in 14 discrete roomblocks, each of which had residential and storage rooms associated with a kiva.

It would have an estimated population of 400-600 people. With regard to subsistence, the residents were heavily dependent on corn and domesticated turkeys. The wild animals most frequently consumed were cottontail rabbits.

In 1277, all construction appears to have stopped at Sand Canyon Pueblo. The abandonment of the pueblo had begun. The residents were now consuming less domesticated turkey and more cottontail rabbit, deer, and pronghorn. Corn was still an important part of their diet and there was no indication of dietary stress. However, the regional drought which started the year before may have reduced the agricultural yield. With crops diminishing or failing because of the drought, the villages were probably forced to consume their maize stores. Since domesticated turkeys were fed maize, the failed crops would have also led to diminished turkey flocks. Archaeologists feel that the low frequencies of turkey bone suggest that few turkeys remained near the time of village depopulation.

Many of the villagers began to emigrate, probably planning to return when the climate improved. It is estimated that from one-fourth to three-fourths of the population emigrated. Those who stayed were forced to use a hunting and gathering strategy which meant that they were now competing with other communities for these resources. Foraging parties travelled away from the village and then returned to the safety of the village whenever possible, bringing whatever provisions they had been able to procure.

In 1280, Sand Canyon Pueblo was attacked and many villagers perished. At least 35 people were killed and were not formally buried.  

One middle-aged man was killed by a face-to-face blow delivered by a right-handed assailant. He was on the roof at the time he was killed. In another roomblock, an adolescent male (12-15 years old) was killed in a kiva by being struck from behind, perhaps while attempting to flee. This individual was scalped. Another man, about 20 years old, was killed on a rooftop by being struck from behind. An eight-year-old child was killed by being struck from behind and was scalped.

Many individuals may have been killed by arrows with stone projectile points that were then retrieved from victims. Wood-tipped arrows may have also been used and these would have left no visible traces for later archaeologists to find. Recent research suggests that wood-tipped arrows were widely used at this time.

Who attacked the village? Archaeologists have concluded that the attackers were residents of one or more Pueblo settlements from within the Mesa Verde region. The attack does not appear to have involved non-Pueblo invaders.

Some of the abandoned kivas were burned. This was not a simple task, but a labor-intensive process requiring a great deal of time, perseverance, and determination.  The roofs of the kivas were set on fire as a part of a closing ritual. This could have been done by villagers who were away from the village when it was attacked or by a delegation of emigrating survivors who returned after the attackers had departed.

In summarizing the reasons for the abandonment of Sand Canyon Pueblo, archaeologists have concluded that these reasons include: (1) overexploitation of natural resources; (2) high population levels, and (3) overdependence on one crop. This left the Ancestral Pueblo residents of the region catastrophically vulnerable to the vagaries of weather and climate, which resulted in social turmoil, massive relocations of population, and far-reaching, permanent changes in Pueblo culture.  

The Flathead and Lewis and Clark

Long before Europeans had even dreamt about the possibility of the Americas, the Bitterroot Salish, also known as the Flathead, were living in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. For many generations the Bitterroot Salish occupied western Montana and the area east of the Rocky Mountains past the red paint caves near present-day Helena. They maintained a winter camp at the confluence of the Madison, Gallatin, and Jefferson Rivers east of the Rocky Mountains and they hunted as far east as present-day Billings and south into Wyoming. They were friendly with the tribes to the west, all the way to the Great Salt Water Mystery (Pacific Ocean).  

With regard to language, Salish is the largest language family in the Pacific Northwest. Salish languages were spoken from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains. The Bitterroot Salish are the western most group of Salish-speakers. According to Salish elders, the various Salish-speaking tribes were separated many thousands of years ago and as a result the different Salish languages emerged. Several Salish bands-which were later misnamed Flathead-camped throughout Montana from the Bitterroot to the Yellowstone Valleys. Linguists estimate that this language family may be 6,000 years old, although some feel it may be as young as 3,000 years old.

With regard to the name Flathead, Father Palladino, who had been a missionary among them in the 19th century, wrote:

“Their heads are normal and shapely, and therefore the name Flat Heads in its obvious meaning and literal sense cannot be applied to them, save as a misnomer or a libel.”

While there are some stories that tell of the Flathead migrating to Western Montana from the Pacific Coast and having practiced cranial deformation, most likely the name comes for a misinterpreted sign. In the sign language of the Plateau Area, which is somewhat different than Plains Indian Sign Language, the sign for the Bitterroot Salish was made by patting the head with the right hand above and back of the ear. In Plains Indian Sign Language the sign was made by placing both hands to each side of the head, which indicated that the people lived between the mountains. Both of these signs were easily misinterpreted by the early Europeans as meaning “Flat Head.”

Bitterroot map

The map above shows the Salish territory between the mountains.

Woman's Dress

Girls dress

Flathead Mocassins


Shown above are some examples of Salish clothing.

Basket Sweet Grass

Flathead Basket

Flathead Basket 1

Shown above are some Salish baskets.

Grinding stone

Shown above is a grinding stone-mano and metate-which was used in preparing nuts, seeds, and berries.

Flathead Beadwork 1

Flathead Beadwork 2

Flathead Beadwork 3

Some examples of Bitterroot Salish beadwork which is on display at the Ravalli County Museum are shown above.

Impact of the Horse:

The first major impact of the European invasion came to the Bitterroot Salish in the form of the horse, an animal which was re-introduced to the Americas by the Spanish in a domesticated form. The Bitterroot Salish did not get the horse directly from the Spanish, but from the Shoshone who had acquired the horse from their cousins the Ute shortly after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Sometime between 1700 and 1730, the Bitterroot Salish acquired the horse and this resulted in a dramatic change in their lifeways.


Shown above is an early Salish-made saddle.

After the acquisition of the horse, many of the hunters from the eastern Plateau tribes traveled over the mountains to the Great Plains to hunt buffalo. Among the Flathead, there were two or three buffalo hunts each year: the big hunt which lasted from the middle of August to the end of November; the spring hunt or little chase from the middle of April to the end of May; and a winter hunt. During the winter hunt, the Indians would obtain buffalo robes of the highest quality.

The Flathead would leave their homes near present-day Stevensville, Montana and follow Sinkakatiiwax (“the People’s Trail”) to the buffalo. The ten-day journey would take them first north, past present-day Missoula, and then east along Pattee Creek to the Clark’s Fork River. They would then follow this river to the Big Blackfoot River. They would travel past present-day Drummond, Avon, and Elliston. Passing through the Rocky Mountains via Mullen Pass, they would emerge at the Missouri River near present-day Helena.

In the fall hunt, the Flathead were usually able to cross the Missouri River-which they called ep iyu nte?tkwus (“river of the red paint”)-without any problems. For the spring hunt, however, the water would usually be higher and they would have to make “tipi-skin boats” to get across. Once east of the mountains, they would travel into the Musselshell area to hunt buffalo.

Sometimes the hunters would drop south into the area of Yellowstone National Park where they could hunt the mountain or woods buffalo (bison bison athabascae Rhoads) which was smaller, tougher, and faster than the plains buffalo (bison bison bison Linnaeus). The mountain buffalo grazed on willow and leaves and their flesh had an aromatic flavor.  

Bow and Arrow:

The primary hunting weapon used by the Bitterroot Salish was the bow and arrow. Flathead arrows were about three feet in length and were tipped according to the use for which they were intended. In hunting small game, arrows were tipped with bone, but when hunting buffalo, stone or metal tips were used. The arrows were distinctively marked so that their ownership could easily be ascertained.

Bow and Arrow

Lewis and Clark:

In 1805, the Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (generally known today as the “Lewis and Clark Expedition), travelled through Montana following the Missouri River. Near present-day Three Forks, Montana they were running out of river and needed to change from boats to horses. Fortunately, they encountered a Shoshone band which was able to supply them with horses, information about the Lolo Trail, and a Shoshone guide.

Guns Lewis Clark

Shown above is part of the Ravalli County Museum display of the material culture of the Corps of Discovery.

They travelled to Ross’s Hole near present-day Sula. Here they camped for a while with the Flathead. Communication was difficult: the Captains would ask questions in English which would then be translated into French by a member of the Corps who had some knowledge of French; Charboneau, their French-Canadian guide, would then translate the questions into Hidatsa for his Shoshone wife, who would translate them into Shoshone for a Flathead man who spoke some Shoshone and, finally, he would translate them into Salish.

While talking to the Salish was difficult, there were other forms of contact. Captain Clark quickly obtained a Flathead woman as a sexual companion. This woman gave birth to a son as a result of the union (commonly called an “in-country marriage”).  Much later, after the Blackrobes (Jesuit missionaries) had come among the Flathead, Captain Clark’s son was baptized as Peteter Clarke.

The Americans smoked with the Flathead using some of their Virginia tobacco, but the Flathead found it too strong. Realizing this, the captains called for some kinikinnick-a trailing perennial whose small leathery leaves were smoked by many tribes-to mix with their trade tobacco. Once mixed, the Flatheads found the tobacco acceptable.


Shown above is a twist of tobacco similar to that which Lewis and Clark would have had with them. (Courtesy of the Ravalli County Museum)

The Corps camped for a while at a centuries-old Native American gathering ground at the hub of travel and trade.  Meriwether Lewis dubbed the area Travellers Rest (today it is Travelers’ Rest State Park). From here, the Americans followed the buffalo hunting roads over the mountains and made contact with the Nez Perce. A year later, in June 2006, they visited this site again on their return trip.

Lewis & Clark 3

Lewis & Clark 2

Lewis & Clark 3

Shown above are the displays from the Ravalli County Museum showing Lewis and Clark and the Salish.

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act

Any careful examination of the religious freedom of American Indians, especially as it pertains to aboriginal religious practices, since the foundation of the United States in 1776 is uncomfortable for those who would like to believe that America has championed religious freedom. American Indian religious freedom has been at best ignored, and more often it has been actively suppressed. As a Christian nation-a concept which has been consistently upheld and supported by the Supreme Court-the United States has been compelled to give Indians the gift of Christianity as a part of its program of forced assimilation. By the 1970s, however, the winds of change began to blow across the political landscape.  

One of the first steps in acknowledging American Indian religious freedom came in 1970 when Congress passed HR 471 which gave Blue Lake back to Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. The Blue Lake area, sacred to the people of Taos and used for ceremonies, had been a part of the Carson National Forest since 1906 and thus exclusive Indian use had been restricted. In signing the bill, President Richard Nixon noted the long history of Indian religious use of this site and said:

“We re¬store this place of worship to them for all the years to come.”  

During the 1970s, there were many issues involving American Indian religious freedom: sacred sites, including respect for these sites and allowing Indian access to them; the religious rights of Indian inmates; the use of peyote (the religious issues here were cleverly concealed through the so-called war on drugs). During the 1970s, American Indian civil rights became more visible through the actions of organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians and the American Indian Movement and through actions such as the occupations of Wounded Knee in South Dakota, Moss Lake in New York, and other locations.

Following two decades of complaints by Indian leaders about the abuse of Indian religious and cultural rights, Congress finally passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) in 1978. AIRFA was designed to pro¬tect and preserve traditional religious practices, including access to sacred sites, the use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through traditional ceremonies. The Act directed federal agencies to survey their rules and regulations and to try to accommodate the practice of Indian religions. AIRFA directed federal agencies to adopt land management policies which would be sensitive to tribal religious needs.

Section 2 of the Act states:

The President shall direct that various Federal departments, agencies, and other instrumentalities responsible for administering relevant laws to evaluate their policies and procedures in consultation with Native traditional religious leaders in order to determine appropriate changes necessary to protect and preserve Native American religious cultural rights and practices. Twelve months after approval of this resolution, the President shall report back to Congress the results of his evaluation, including any changes which were made in administrative policies and procedures, and any recommendations he may have for legislative action.

Under AIRFA, federal agencies were to formally consult with American Indian tribes regarding how proposed federal developments might harm sacred places. However, the law doesn’t provide an administrative mechanism for Indian communities to contest agency decisions on how to treat such places. Thus, grievances must be adjudicated in a court of law, a place which is often hostile toward Indian tribes.  In other words, the Act was purely cosmetic. In the floor debate regarding the bill, Congressman Morris Udall had specifically stated that no major laws were being changed and no disruption of the existing state of affairs would take place.

A year later, the Task Force Report on the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) documented 522 infringements on Indian religious freedom. The report clearly demonstrated the need for AIRFA and the need for administrative changes in federal policy. Some federal agencies appear to be unaware of AIRFA while others engage in only superficial consultation with the tribes, more concerned about notifying the tribes of their decisions than in getting actual input from tribal leaders. The courts continue to rule against Indian religions and religious practices.

While AIRFA called for federal agencies to provide special accommodations for Indian spiritual practices, in 1981 the Forest Service denied a special use permit for Russell Means and other Lakotas which would have allowed them to establish Yellow Thunder Camp in the Black Hills National Forest. While several hundred camps had been established in the area, including many Christian church camps, none of the camps had been established by Indians. In the five years before the application, the Forest Service had received 61 special use applications and approved the 58 applications turned in by non-Indians and had denied the 3 applications by Indians. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals found in favor of the Forest Service.

The major legal challenge to AIRFA came with Lyng versus Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association.  In this California case, members of the Yurok, Karok, and Tolowa tribes sought to halt the Forest Service from building a six-mile road near Chimney Rock and from authorizing logging in the surrounding area. These are areas which are important to the traditional religious practices of these tribes. Indian religious informants and the Forest Service’s own anthropologist concluded that the construction of a road through the area would destroy the very core of the religious beliefs. Forest Service anthropologist Dorothea Theodoratus recommended that no road be built in this area. Tribal religious leaders and elders testified that the proposed government road would slice through and devastate the pristine quality of lands and mountain peaks they regarded as sacred. Religious practitioners gathered plants and other natural resources to use in ceremonial activities while other tribal members regularly visited the sacred praying site. In their testimony, the tribal leaders outlined the burden imposed upon their religious freedom in accordance with the provisions of the AIRFA.

While the Forest Service initially argued that building the road would increase timber harvest in the area, stimulate employment, and provide recreational access to the area, the Forest Service during the trial admitted that timber could be harvested without the road, that there would not be any increased employment, and that the economic value of improved access is minimal.

The Supreme Court’s G-O Road Decision opinion written by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor found that Indian Religious rights were outweighed by society’s broader interest in destroying sacred sites for economic reasons, even when such reasons were speculative. The Court found that unless there was specific governmental intent to infringe upon a religion or the government’s actions coerced individuals to act contrary to their spiritual beliefs, then the First Amendment provided no protection for Indian peoples to practice traditional religions even against federal action that potentially could destroy Indian sacred sites.

With regard to any potential protection from AIRFA, the Court determined that because the tribes had not stated a requisite legal burden on those rights that they could not receive protection under the AIRFA.

By the 1990s, the Supreme Court in both Lyng and in Smith v Oregon, had made it clear that AIRFA was meaningless. In 1994, Congress amended the Act. According to the Amended Act:

The Congress finds that – (1) unlike any other established religion, many traditional Native American Religions are site-specific in that the Native American religions hold certain lands or natural formations to be sacred; (2) such sacred sites are an integral and vital part of the Native American religions and the religious practices associated with such religions; (3) many of these sacred sites are found on lands which were formerly part of the aboriginal territory of the Indians but which now are held by the Federal Government; and (4) lack of sensitivity or understanding of traditional Native American religions on the part of Federal agencies vested with the management of Federal lands has resulted in the lack of a coherent policy for the management of sacred sites found on Federal lands and has also resulted in the infringement upon the rights of Native Americans to religious freedom.

According to the Amended Act, no federal lands are to be managed in a manner that undermines and frustrates a traditional Native American religion or religious practice.

In 1997, the Supreme Court overturned the Religious Freedom Restoration Act saying that Congress does not have the right to make laws protecting exercise of religion free from government interference.  

President James Polk and the Indians

James K. Polk was the dark horse who became President of the United States in 1845. Polk set four goals for his administration and two of these had major implications for American Indians: (1) the acquisition of the Oregon Territory, and (2) the acquisition of California and New Mexico. Polk himself had little direct contact with Indians, but the policies established during his administration had long-lasting ramifications for Indian tribes and Indian people.  

During Polk’s presidency, the concept of Manifest Destiny became popular. In 1845, the New York Democratic Review wrote about

“our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”

In 1846, Senator Thomas Hart Benton said:

“It would seem that the White race alone received the divine command, to subdue and replenish the earth, for it is the only race that has obeyed it-the only race that hunts out new and distant lands, and even a New World, to subdue and replenish.”

Indian Administration:

President Polk appointed William Medill as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Medill felt that Indians must be “civilized” and they had to be instructed in morality, religion, and the work ethic. Medill considered Indians to be ignorant, degraded, lazy, and possessed of no worthwhile cultural traits.

In 1846, Congress created the Smithsonian Institution to fulfill the terms of the will of James Smithson. The Smithsonian was given custody of all federal government museum collections, including collections of Indian artifacts. The Smithsonian’s regents encouraged the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to collect items which illustrated the history, manners, and customs of the Indians.

In a lecture at the inaugural meeting of the Smithsonian Board of Regents, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft pointed out that it was the task of museums to preserve the full array of artifacts produced by each Indian nation before these nations disappeared. He told the Regents:

“It is essential to the purposes of comparison, that a full and complete collection of antiquarian objects, and the characteristic fabric of nations, existing and ancient, should be formed and deposited in the Institution.”

The law creating the Smithsonian also stated that

“all collections of rocks, minerals, soils, fossils, and objects of natural history, archaeology and ethnology [made by or for the government], when no longer needed for investigations in progress shall be deposited in the National Museum.”

In 1846, St. Louis Superintendent of Indian affairs, Thomas H. Harvey, heard complaints from the Plains tribes about non-Indians wantonly destroying the buffalo. He alerted Washington to these complaints and asked for a general council with the Indians to negotiate peace treaties. He also called attention to

“the necessity of buying out a road or roads to the mountains, and paying the Indians through whose country they might pass, such compensation as the government might deem proper.”

In describing Indians in 1847, one Indian superintendent said:

“I consider them a doomed race, who must fulfill their destiny. …I will further remark that I fear the real character of the Indian can never be ascertained because it is altogether unnatural for a Christian man to comprehend how so much depravity, wickedness and folly can possibly belong to human beings… I have never been fully convinced of the propriety or good policy of admitting and acknowledging the right of Indians to the soil.”

The 1848 annual report of Indian Commissioner William Medill stressed the belief that Indians must make way for the superior race of civilized people. He characterized Indians as wedded to savage customs, prejudices, and habits; as finding labor repugn¬ant. Medill felt that education and Christianization were needed.

One of the far-reaching changes in Indian administration came in 1849 when the Office of Indian Affairs (now the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was transferred from the Department of War to the newly created Depart¬ment of the Interior.

Oregon Territory:

Since 1818 the Oregon Territory (which includes present day Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming) had been jointly administered by the United Kingdom and the United States. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 set the new boundary at the 49th parallel and thus the United States acquired sole administration of the territory. The new boundary cut across many traditional Indian territories, placing part of their people under American jurisdiction and part of them under British jurisdiction.  


Indian nations were not consulted about the new boundary. International law recognized that Indians held title to their land, but sovereignty was granted to the European nations – the United Kingdom and the United States, in this case — because of the “right of discovery.”

Congress passed the Oregon Organic Act in 1848 which established Oregon Territory and set the stage for statehood. The Act included five provisions dealing with Indians. The Act:

1. indicated that lands were not to be taken from the Indians without their consent and affirmed the rights of person and property for Indians.

2. granted 640 acres to occupied mission sites at the time of its enactment.

3. created the office of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the territory.

4. extended the Ordinance of 1787 to all of Oregon Territory which included the philosophical idea that Indians are to be dealt with in utmost good faith.

5. appropriated $10,000 for the purchase of presents to the tribes.

California and New Mexico:

Following the Mexican War, the United States acquired California and New Mexico through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Under this treaty, ratified in 1848, the United States acquired what would become California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.

California Territory

The acquisition of New Mexico by the United States brought new dangers to the Pueblos. Under Spanish and Mexico rule, the Pueblos had adopted Catholicism and had combined this with their own religious practices without any loss of the basic fabric of their life. With the American administration, however, they were faced with proselytizing Protestant Christians bent on imposing their own religion upon the Indians.

Pe Sla in Black Hills to be “Sea of Houses” (UPDATE)

(This is a repost from years ago, and now the nightmare is coming true. When the thieves are in their “Heaven” with their streets made of gold, some of that gold will have been ripped from the sacred Black Hills. I won’t be there)


RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA — Yet another federally funded “improvement” project threatens to further undermine the sanctity and integrity of a culturally relevant Native American landmark in the Black Hills, or Paha Sapa.

The Pennington County-initiated undertaking, known as the South Rochford Road Project, seeks to pave an approximately 12-mile graveled stretch of road between the unincorporated town of Rochford and Deerfield Lake, a recreational destination. This particular section of South Rochford Road, which remains as a historical throwback of Rochford’s gold mining boomtown days of the late 19th century, gouges a swath directly through the center of what the Lakota call “Pe Sla,” or the venerated “Old Baldy” of the Black Hills.

– snip –

Due to the nation’s ensuing recession, however, the project was essentially put on the back burner until 2010, when the economy began its slow recovery. At that time, the Federal Highway Administration determined that an environmental impact statement (EIS) was necessary before the proposal could continue.

Consolidated Indigenous Shadow Report. p. 34.

…the continuation and preservation of traditional Native American Religion is ensured only through the performance of ceremonies and rites by tribal members. These ceremonies and rites are often performed on specific sites…These sites may also be based on special geographic features…For most Native American religions, there may be no alternative places of worship since these ceremonies must be performed at certain places and times to be effective.

Such is the case at Pe Sla, “one of the five primary sacred sites in the Black Hills to the Lakota nation.”


The Pe Sla is one of the five primary sacred sites in the Black Hills to the Lakota nation because of its position on their annual pilgrimage/journey of prayers and ceremonies.  It is also the only one held mostly in private hands as others are within state or federal property.  This prairie has only known cattle grazing by a handful of ranchers since the Homestead Act.  Now subdivisions are encroaching upon this one pristine open space left in the Black Hills.

I can not speak for any tribe and here is my opinion. I think the ACLU should be seriously considered in terms of asking them to sue the appropriate parties over suffocating the religious freedom of the Lakota Nation to start with. I’m “seeking a way to protect this place,” so I didn’t mention cultural genocide.

(emphasis and underline mine)


When the Forest Service was asked about a cabin being renovated as a memorial to the ranching history on the Pe Sla, the questioners reminded them that there was a much longer history of this site among the Lakota.  The Forest Service representative told us that the Lakota elders with whom they consult told them no one wanted that information known.  A few months later when an official from the county government was standing on Rochford Road that runs through the middle of the Pe Sla or Reynolds Prairie, he exclaimed with great satisfaction that “soon this road will be a black ribbon (paved with asphalt) and this prairie will be a sea of houses”.
 Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time that further abuse and possible desecration will take place so that we must tell the story of this sacred site.  Action must be taken to preserve this prairie for future generations.  

• Please pray for its preservation and for the awareness of its spiritual significance to all people.  

• Please tell the story to all whom you know.  

Please show your support by seeking ways to protect this place.  Some of those possibilities are outlined below.

Furthermore, I think Joe Garcia, President of the NCAI, should be contacted by the ACLU in order to proceed in the manner which would not damage tribal sovereignty in any fashion what-so-ever.


National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)

1301 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 200, Washington D.C. 20036

Phone: (202) 466-7767, Fax: (202) 466-7797


The ACLU could do a fund and membership drive revolving around this, which would hopefully increase their membership and help raise finances for the case. Everything considered, what are the other alternatives?


The Pennington County Highway Department held a meeting regarding the reconstruction of South Rochford Road at Hill City, SD, on Monday, March 3, 2008, at 6:30 pm. This project runs from Deerfield Lake to the village of Rochford passing through the middle of Reynolds Prairie, or the Pe Sla, one of the most important and sacred Lakota annual pilgrimage sites. Currently it is a gravel road but the plans are to asphalt eleven (11) miles of road with $7.5 million dollars. If the road is blacktopped, housing development and increased traffic will occur. The Hill City Chamber of Commerce is pushing this project.

If they were considering condemning hundreds of churches for the sake of “development” or uranium for that matter, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.  

Leopold Pokagon, Potawatomi Leader

When the Europeans first encountered the Indian nations of North America they assumed that leadership must be inherited through the male line. That is, the “king” was always the son of the previous “king.” The idea of matrilineal inheritance-that is, inheritance through the female line rather than the male line-was inconceivable and baffling to the Europeans, even though it was common among Native Americans. For most Indian people, on the other hand, the idea that leadership should be based on genetics or biological inheritance was ludicrous. Leadership, according to most tribal traditions prior to the European conquest, was based on wisdom, skill, experience, and oratorical skill.  

Potawatomi Background:

The tribes of the Three Fires Confederacy-Ojibwa, Ottawa, Potawatomi-were once a single people living in the east according to oral tradition. They moved westward from the Atlantic seaboard following the St. Lawrence River and then into the Great Lakes area. At the time of separation, the tribes were living in the area of the Straits of Mackinac. The Potawatomi moved south into present-day Michigan. It is estimated that the three tribes may have separated as late as 1550.

While the Potawatomi village chief usually came from one clan, the position was not inherited. Instead, the village council would select the chief from several possible candidates. The actual power of the chief was determined by personal influence as the chief held no formal authority. Part of this influence rested on the spiritual power which the chief controlled.

Leopold Pokagon:

During the nineteenth century, the Potawatomi were under pressure from the United States to leave their traditional homelands and re-establish themselves in the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River. The Americans also demanded that they become Christian and the Supreme Court declared that the payment they would receive for their lands was the “gift” of Christianity.

With regard to leadership, the United States preferred to deal with dictatorships rather than democracies and so it sought to set up and financially support Indian leaders loyal to the U.S. rather than to the Indian people. Whenever possible, the United States sought to ignore the traditional participatory democracies of the Indian people they were attempting to remove.

One of the Potawatomi tribal leaders who emerged during the first part of the nineteenth century was the man whom the Americans called Leopold Pokagon.

Leopold Pokagon

Leopold Pokagon was not born Potawatomi, but being born into a tribe or being able to prove a certain amount of blood quantum to be a tribal member was of no concern to the tribes. These are concerns that would be later forced upon Indian people by the U.S. government. Pokagon was born Anishinabe, one of the Three Council Fires, and had been adopted into the Kitichigumi (Great Lakes) Potowatomi clan. The Kitichigumi was the largest and most influential Potawatomi clan of the St. Joseph River valley region. He married the daughter of Topinabee, one of the leaders of the St. Joseph Potawatomi. The name “Leopold Pokagon” was not, of course, a traditional tribal name, but rather it was a name he assumed when he was baptized.

During the 1820s the United States continually pressured the Potawatomi to give up their lands and move somewhere else. The United States negotiated treaties with the Potawatomi in 1821, 1825, 1826, 1828, and 1829 in which the tribe was pressured to give up more and more land and agree to move. It was at the 1825 treaty council in Wisconsin where Leonard Pokagon first enters into the American historical record. In the 1825 treaty council, hosted by William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame), lavish gifts and promises were heaped upon the Indian delegates. While the treaty council was held ostensibly to promote peace among the tribes, the primary motivation for the council was to promote the fur trade. The treaty also sought to establish firm boundaries regarding tribal lands. While the boundaries were agreed upon in principle, the final determination of the actual boundaries was to be determined by the United States.

The fur trade was an important element in the American strategy for obtaining Indian land. Following the suggestion of Thomas Jefferson, the United States licensed traders simply extended almost unlimited credit to both the tribes and to individual tribal members. Then the traders would turn to the U.S. government who would collect the debts by forcing the Indians to give up more of their lands.

Christianity also played an important role in federal policies regarding Indians. The federal government wanted to force all Indians to become Christians, and more importantly to become Protestant Christians (Catholics at this time were viewed as “atheistic papists” who were only a step or two above the pagan Indians.) The Baptist missionary Isaac McCoy had been initially welcomed by the Potawatomi because of the promise of economic advantages of having a mission and becoming Christian. It was soon apparent, however, that McCoy was an advocate of Indian removal. From the Baptist viewpoint, the only way to save the Potawatomi from the corrupt influence of the American settlers was to have them move far away.

Leopold Pokagon was strongly opposed to removal. Thus, in 1830 he went to Detroit where he met with Father Gabriel Richard and formally requested that a blackrobe (the Indian term for a Jesuit priest which referred to the black cassock which they wore) be assigned to them. Pokagon felt that an affiliation with the Catholic Church would be a countervailing force to the Baptists and thus they would be an important ally in their fight against removal.  By converting to Catholicism, the St. Joseph River Valley Potawatomi assumed a new identity and would become known as the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi.

In 1833, the Americans wanted more Potawatomi land, so they convened a treaty council in Chicago. Here the Americans recognized Billy Caldwell and Alexander Robinson, both of whom were loyal to the United States, as Potawatomi chiefs and negotiated the land cessions with them. Under the treaty, the Potawatomi were to remove to Missouri where they would receive five million acres of land and would be provided with annuities for twenty years. The treaty agreement also covered all debts to the traders. However, Leopold Pokagon emphatically opposed giving up more land. Pokagon was successful in negotiating an amendment which would allow his band to remain in Michigan. In the negotiations he emphasized that he and his people were Catholics and this helped secure the amendment.

In 1835, the Potawatomi moved into the Platte Country of Missouri and soon found that American settlers waned them to move out of the area. Two years later these Potawatomi broke into two groups: one moved to the area of Council Bluffs, Iowa and the other moved to the area of Linn County, Kansas.

In 1838, the Potawatomi who had remained in Indiana were forced to move to Oklahoma. Soldiers simply surrounded the Indians and forced them to march without provisions or possessions. Survivors called this the Trail of Death.

In 1839, Pokagon relocated from the village near the Indiana-Michigan border to land he purchased on Silver Creek (near present-day Dowagiac, Michigan). He used the monies paid to him from the Treaty of Chicago to purchase lands for his people and he patented the land in his name, thus providing his people with a legal title the same as the American settlers. Here they managed to resist calls for their removal, including attempts at using military force to remove them. Leopold Pokagon died in 1841.  Descendents of his band still reside in the area and are known as the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians (Pokégan Bodéwadmik débéndagozwad).

Reclaiming Mohawk Land

The history of Indian nations within the United States has been one of loss of Indian land and sovereignty. There have been some attempts to reclaim those things.

In 1974, New York traditional Mohawk from the Caughnawaga Reserve in Canada and the St. Regis (Akwesasne) Reservation in New York occupied an abandoned 612-acre girls’ camp at Moss Lake, New York. The traditionals declared that they were re-establishing the Independent North American Indian State of Ganienkeh on their homeland. The Ganienkeh Manifesto called the occupation a means to

“regain lost pride, lost belief in humanity, and to offset escapes from reality like alcohol, drugs and suicides that are destroying the Indian people.”


The land occupied by the Mohawk had been purchased by the State of New York from the Nature Conservancy and was under the jurisdiction of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) because the land was within the Adirondack State Park. In response to the occupation the DEC filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking to validate the treaty under which the state claimed the land. The action was later dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

Moss Lake 17

Moss Lake 5

Photos from the Moss Lake occupation are shown above.

Non-Indian support for the Mohawk occupation of Ganienkeh resulted in the formation of a group called RAIN (Rights for American Indians Now) which formed chapters throughout New York State.

As the occupation continued, there were a number of instances of gunfire being exchanged between the Mohawk and non-Indians. The state police gathered evidence of three shootings by non-Indians and offered to prosecute, but the Mohawk refused to testify. In two other instances, a young man and a nine-year old girl were hit by gunfire from the Mohawk.

The state police attempted to enter Ganienkeh to investigate the shootings but were denied access. The police told the Mohawk that they had two hours to remove the women and children before the police were going to enter. A women’s meeting was held and the women said:

“We won’t send our children back to die of alcoholism and drugs on the reservation.”

The police did not attempt to enter.

Citing the Treaty of 1794 the Mohawk insisted that the police complaint must be made to the League of Six Nations (of which the Mohawk are members). Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons, speaking at a press conference, called upon President Gerald Ford to intercede in this dispute and to follow the treaty specifications. The Bureau of Indian Affairs replied to Chief Lyons that his demands based on treaty rights were groundless.

As a result of the shootings, COPCA (Concerned Persons of the Central Andirondacks) was formed in opposition to Ganienkeh.

In 1975, a group of non-Indian landowners in Moss Lake, New York file suit in state court against the state police and the Department of Environmental Conservation for not evicting the Mohawk from the girls’ camp which they were occupying. The judge ruled against the landowners.

After three years, the occupation ended. In 1977, an agreement between the State of New York and the Mohawk at Ganienkeh was reached after nearly 200 negotiation sessions. Under the agreement Ganienkeh was given two parcels of state land at Miner Lake. The Turtle Island Trust was established to receive the state land and to purchase additional private land for the Mohawk.

Initially 25 families moved to Ganienkeh and established a permanent non-reservation settlement. The founding of Ganienkeh is a rare instance in which indigenous people have reclaimed their land from a colonial power.  Today, Ganienkeh functions under the original Kaianerehkowa (the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy) without interference from the United States or Canada. They claim that they have a right to exist as a sovereign entity under international law. As a sovereign people they claim that they cannot be taxed by the State of New York or by the United States.

According to the community:

Ganienkeh is a branch of the original sovereign Kanien’kehà:ka Nation located within the sovereign traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka. Ganienkeh is NOT a reservation nor is it “recognized” as a “Tribe or Band” by the US or Canada. Ganienkeh does not accept funding from the United States or Canadian governments in any form and does not wish to be “recognized” as a “Tribe or Band” under any foreign law, to be such would be the highest form of insult imaginable.

At the present time, Ganienkeh’s economy depends on bingo (they have a 1,500-person hall) and the sale of cigarettes. They also operate a nine-hole golf course.

First Nations News & Views: Sliammon protest singer, ‘Clowns’ and wild bison transfers stopped

Welcome to the 10th edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by Meteor Blades and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find a story about First Nations pipeline protests in Vancouver, a look at the years 603 and 1916 in American Indian history, three news briefs and a big collection of linkable bulleted briefs. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

By navajo

Navajo Night Dance Clown
Navajo Night Dance Clown

Today we feature medicine clowns in honor of April Fools’ Day. Many American Indian cultures have medicine people whose focus is emotional and spiritual healing though humor and parody. The English term clown is translated in various native languages to refer to members of a community who are considered tricksters, riddlers and jokers but who are also healers, mediators, oracles, counselors, storytellers and teachers. The Hopi Hyoka is the best-known example. Some tribes traditionally viewed medicine clowns as shape-shifters and changelings. As with other aspects of indigenous religions, the clowns were suppressed and demonized by invading European religious leaders who considered them a threat to their conversion-to-Christianity crusade. Eventually, Indian religion was banned entirely. But the custom of the clown was kept alive through oral history. An example of their practice is conflict resolution. The medicine clown would reenact the conflict using humor and satire. Once everyone was laughing the conflict could be resolved because of the mood. The Wampanoag Ahanaeenun are an example of contemporary medicine clowns who keep their traditions alive using technology and the written word to maintain the spiritual and emotional well-being of their community in a modern society.

Haunting Young Singer Punctuates First Nations Pipeline and Oil Tanker Protest

By navajo and Meteor Blades

11-year-old singer-protester Ta’Kaiya Blaney in traditional canoe

Just days after the 23rd anniversary of the infamous Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, more than 2000 people came out in support of a March 26 rally in Vancouver organized by First Nations people and environmental groups to protest the oil tanker traffic along British Columbia’s coastline and proposed pipeline expansion throughout Canada.

Rain is an eternal presence in the region and did not stop the large crowd from gathering in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Many First Nations people turned out in full traditional regalia, perfectly designed to deal with rain. Among the many speakers was famed environmental advocate and climate-change activist Bill McKibben:

Along with protecting this most beautiful coastline, and along with protecting all the people and other creatures that have been here for so long, you also have the great honor and the great burden of having to help protect the rest of the planet.

What they want is for British Columbia to be a kind of carbon portal, a kind of carbon gateway for oil and coal … and we just can’t let that happen. That oil has got to stay in the ground.

McKibben’s reference is to the tar sands oil of Alberta, much in the news in the United States because of opposition to the 1661-mile Keystone XL that builder TransCanada has proposed to deliver the hydrocarbon in those sands, bitumen, in a slurry from Canada to the Texas Gulf coast where most of it will be exported. McKibben and hundreds of other pipeline foes, including many American Indians, were arrested for protests around the White House last summer.

The Vancouver protesters object to the proposed $5.5 billion (Canadian) Northern Gateway pipeline to be built by Calgary-based Enbridge. It would carry slurry bitumen the 731 miles from Bruderheim, Alta., to Kitimat, British Columbia. The Despite significant financial and other benefits being offered First Nations people, some 60 percent still oppose it on environmental, social and cultural grounds.

Edwin Newman (Heiltsuk First Nation) one of the main organizers of this event, said, “We are trying to protect a way of life, a way of life that we’ve enjoyed as Heiltsuk people and as coastal people since time immemorial. We’re pleading with our coastal neighbours to stand with us to fight this issue.”

The Heiltsuk, which, with two neighboring First Nations people once populated a large portion of the central coast of British Columbia, are now based at Bella Bella on Campbell Island, 250 miles south-southwest of Kitimat and vulnerable to tanker spills. A Heiltsuk member read a statement in opposition to allowing pipelines and oil tankers passage through their territory.

The most moving speaker, who actually sang her protest, was Ta’Kaiya Blaney (Sliammon First Nation), an 11-year-old actress, singer and songwriter who performed her song “Shallow Waters” (lyrics) for the crowd. Released in early 2011, the song warns that an oil spill along the northwest coast could end all hope of maintaining traditions for coastal First Nations people. A spill would devastate marine life and coastal habitat. The lyrics and melody are hauntingly beautiful.

The studio version is here with amazing images and Blaney in her traditional cedar bark regalia. The documentation is very well done. It’s had 87,333 views. Her crying voice pleads to our emotions to listen, please listen, and do something.

The crowd, led by the First Nations, then marched to Enbridge Northern Gateway offices and surrounded the building, trapping the people inside for a time.

The demonstration ended peacefully.

Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

(First Nations News & Views continued below the frybread thingey)

This Week in American Indian History in 603 and 1916

Pakal the Great, King of Palenque, Born in 603

K’inich Janahb’ Pakal

On March 23, 603, the most famous Mayan king, K’inich Janahb’ Pakal, was born. (If you prefer the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar to mark important birthdays, it was, that is: 9 b’ak’tun, 8 k’atun, 9 tun, 13 winal, 0 kin from the 3114 BCE creation of the world according to the Maya. Yes, that’s a zero, the Maya being among the first to use it.) He was born in Otolam or Lakam Ha (Big Water) in the lowlands of what is now Chiapas state in southern Mexico. The Spanish conquistadors named the place Palenque, already a centuries-old ruin by the time they first visited in the 1500s.

The word “Pakal” means “shield” in the Chol Maya dialect. The king is familiarly known as Pakal the Great. He took the throne from his mother Sak K’uk’ at age 12 and ruled for 68 years. It was in his time that great architecture was built in Palenque, a response to attacks and destruction from another city state. Pakal’s tomb, in the Temple of Inscriptions (named for the extensive text on its walls), was for decades after its 1948-52 excavation by Alberto Ruz Lhuillier considered the richest  and best preserved archeological find of the ancient Americas. It took Ruz four years to dig through the floor of the temple, carefully clear the rubble and discover the elaborately carved sarcophagus. Ruz wrote:

Out of the dim shadows emerged a vision from a fairy tale, a fantastic, ethereal sight from another world. It seemed a huge magic grotto carved out of ice, the walls sparkling and glistening like snow crystals. Delicate festoons of stalactites hung like tassels of a curtain, and the stalagmites on the floor looked like drippings from a great candle. The impression, in fact, was that of an abandoned chapel. Across the walls marched stucco figures in low relief. Then my eyes sought the floor. This was almost entirely filled with a great carved stone slab, in perfect condition.

Under that slab, Ruz ultimately found, was a skeleton, the skull covered with a jade mask. The whole was surrounded by stucco and stone reliefs connecting the occupant with Maya mythology and the afterlife. The inscriptions stated this was indeed K’inich Janahb’ Pakal, but there were scientific concerns. After years of dispute over the age of the man whose bones these were, most scholars agree that the remains really are Pakal’s.  

Ishi, the Last of His Tribe, Dies in 1916

By Meteor Blades

On March 25, 1916, a Yahi Indian of the Yana people named Ishi died of tuberculosis in his quarters at the University of California’s anthropology museum in San Francisco. He was about 55 years old. Thanks to national fascination with him almost from the moment he stepped out of the woods near Oroville, he is possibly the most famous California Indian who ever lived. Except for the final five years of his life, he lived completely outside the white world.

During those five years, he was intensively studied. He became friends and a hunting companion of some of those who studied him, taught them the intricacies of his dialect and aspects of his culture, including how to knapp stone arrowheads the way he had been taught. In the latter case, his techniques are still used by many modern flint-knappers.

He was born about 1862, a time of tremendous pressure from whites on the Indians of northern California. The influx of the gold rush was over, but the flood of immigrants to the state never stopped. Mining and other activities wreaked ecological havoc everywhere they turned, killing off food sources for the Indians and driving down their population numbers by squeezing their habitant and by the California genocide. Ishi was a survivor of that slaughter.

Gov. Peter Burnett

The first governor of California, Peter H. Burnett, didn’t start that genocide, but he added to it. In January 1851, he said: “That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races, until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected. While we cannot anticipate this result but with painful regret, the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power or wisdom of man to avert.” That “painful regret” didn’t stop future governors from supporting volunteer militias to hunt and kill Indians. Between 1851 and 1859, the state spent more than $1.3 million for this purpose. The federal government reimbursed California for some of this spending. In addition, towns offered scalp bounties, as much as $5 each in some cases.

Groups like Humboldt Home Guard, the Eel River Minutemen and the Placer Blades terrorized and murdered local Indians. The 19th century historian Hubert Howe Bancroft wrote: “The California valley cannot grace her annals with a single Indian war bordering on respectability. It can, however, boast a hundred or two of as brutal butchering, on the part of our honest miners and brave pioneers, as any area of equal extent in our republic.”

At statehood in 1850, the Indian population of California was estimated to be 150,000, about half what it is thought to have been when the Spanish arrived. Thanks to the government-funded extermination policy, by 1900 only 16,000 remained. Among them were Ishi, his mother and his sister, survivors of the Three Knolls Massacre of 1865. That is when an impromptu militia of white settlers had killed some 40 Yahi on Mill Creek, a tributary of the Sacramento River near Mt. Lassen in today’s Tehama County. The survivors, including 3-year-old Ishi, had fled.

Half of them were killed in 1867 or ’68 by another ad hoc militia. Its leader, Norman Kingsley, later said that during the slaughter, he had exchanged his .56 caliber Spencer rifle for a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver because the rifle “tore them up so bad,” particularly the babies. The few remaining Yahi fled into the wilderness where they effectively hid out for the next 40 years.

In 1908, a survey team ran across Ishi’s camp. He fled with his sister and another man, but his mother was too frail to run. The surveyors looted the camp, taking everything of value. Soon afterward, the rest of Ishi’s tiny band died. For the next three years, he lived alone. But in 1911, starving, he stole into a slaughterhouse where he was caught by the butchers and briefly jailed.

Ishi’s quiver and arrows

It was at that point that he came to the attention of anthropologists Thomas Talbot Waterman and Alfred Kroeber, who would make the Indian their research assistant and life’s work. When the ambitious Kroeber first heard about Ishi’s appearance, he wrote to linguist Edward Sapir: “Have totally wild Indian at the museum. Do you want to come and work him up?”

Ishi spent a good deal of time teaching the linguists and anthropologists what he knew. But he was also quite involved in the community. He dated, he played with local children. One of the most difficult adjustments for him was crowds. Before he went looking for a meal in that slaughterhouse, he had never seen more than perhaps 50 people all in one place.

After five years living in the white world that he had previously avoided all his life, he died of tuberculosis. In his culture, keeping the body intact for burial was important, but the doctors performed an autopsy, removed his brain and cremated the ashes. Those were buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in San Francisco, but the brain wasn’t interred with them for another 89 years.

Much has been written about Ishi, the most famous being the book published on the 50th anniversary of his emergence from the wild, Ishi in Two Worlds, written by Alfred Kroeber’s anthropologist wife Theodora. In 2003, anthropologists Clifton and Karl Kroeber, sons of Theodora and Alfred, edited Ishi in Three Centuries, a scholarly book on the subject that included essays by American Indians. In 2004, anthropologist Orin Starn wrote Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last “Wild” Indian There was a television film in 1978, a mediocre biopic called Ishi: The Last of His Kind.

In 1996, based mostly on the style of arrowheads that Ishi knapped, research archaeologist Steven Shackley concluded that Ishi likely wasn’t the last pure Yahi, but a mixed blood whose parents, like other California Indians may have been forced by white encroachment and slaughter into tribal mergers with their enemies. Proof of that theory likely will never be known. Today, there are no known members of the Yana, the larger group of whom the Yahi were a part.

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Montana Judge Orders Stop to Further Wild Bison Transfers

Drummers welcome the bison to the

Fort Peck Indian Reservation, March 21, 2012.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, wildlife conservation advocates and members of the Assinibone and Sioux (Nakota) tribes celebrated the arrival of 62 genetically pure, wild Yellowstone bison to the Fort Peck Reservation on March 21. But it will be the last such move for a while. The next day a Montana judge turned objections of white ranchers and property rights groups into a temporary restraining order on such transfers. A hearing will be held April 11 in Chinook. Thus continues a fight that in various forms is a century-and-a-half old.

Unaffected are the four bison already on their way from Yellowstone when Judge John McKeon issued his order. But the transfer of half the herd of 62 to the Fort Belknap Reservation (Assiniboine-A’aninin-Gros Ventre) and a planned transfer from the herd of billionaire Ted Turner are on hold. That puts a major hurdle in the path of a long-term wild bison restoration program that Gov. Schweitzer has enthusiastically endorsed.

Opponents of the transfer who filed the lawsuit that prompted McKeon’s action want the relocation program stopped permanently. They argue that wild bison will hurt their livelihood by spreading disease to cattle herds, eating hay meant for those cattle and damaging fences meant to keep cattle penned in. Tribal leadership at Fort Peck and Fort Belknap have pledged to keep the bison in fenced pastures for several years and monitor them for disease. The message ranchers want to deliver is as clear as it was in the 1870s when bison were being slaughtered in their millions and Indians were being herded into their own pens: This land is our land, not your land.

The 62 bison shipped to Fort Peck were moved without prior public notice and during a snowstorm-a maneuver by the Schweitzer administration and tribes that was meant to get the bison to Fort Peck ahead of a possible court ruling such as the one handed down [March 22].

Opponents of the relocation complained the tactic violated requirements under state law that the transfers be part of an open and transparent process.

Cory Swanson, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said Thursday’s ruling was a huge victory […]

“There’s no more stealthy movement of bison anywhere. No more secret agreements that are not fully part of the process,” Swanson said. “The trust factor is really low here and the judge recognized that.”

The 62 Yellowstone bison spent five years in quarantine to ensure that they were free of brucellosis, a bacterial disease that can infect sheep, cattle, dogs and humans. Some Indian advocates of restoring wild bison to a portion of their former range consider the quarantine not only unnecessary but part of a long-standing pattern.

“Quarantine is an insulting government program force-fed to First Nations as the only way to reconnect with buffalo,” blogs Peet on the Buffalo Field Campaign website. “It is damaging to wild bison and the Tribes that would see them home again. Is that all we can do is abuse wildlife, create livestock situations and call it wildlife restoration? We can certainly do better in our efforts at ‘wildlife restoration’ than to abuse and treat members of America’s only continuously wild population of buffalo like livestock. Quarantine is no more than a fear-based response to unfounded livestock industry complaints that are nothing but efforts to protect a subsidized lifestyle.”

The Buffalo Field Campaign, which works to stop Yellowstone’s 3000 wild bison from slaughter and harassment asserts that these 62 animals were the only survivors of a process of confinement that denied them their natural instincts and caused injuries and deaths from stress and human handling. Several females, the BFC said, were overfed during winter and died while trying to deliver their calves in spring. Other young mothers abandoned their calves. Some bison were gored or crushed to death against the corral pens and many were slaughtered.

The transferred bison aren’t the first at Fort Peck and Fort Belknap. The tribes have worked assiduously since the 1970s to restore the animals. About 700 already graze at Fort Belknap and another 200 can be found at Turtle Mound Buffalo Ranch on the Fort Peck reservation.

Theirs is part of what Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife and a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says is “a much broader effort to restore Yellowstone bison to more places across the entire region and revitalize our prairie ecosystems.”

She was in the small crowd at Fort Peck to welcome the animals:

“The return of genetically pure, wild bison to tribal lands in eastern Montana has been a long time coming, and it’s great to see it finally happening. […] Native Americans have had a special relationship with bison for thousands of years,” said Clark. “The tribes at Fort Peck and Fort Belknap have generously offered to take these wild bison to restore new herds of genetically pure bison, which only adds to the cultural significance of this homecoming. We would like to thank the tribes for making this dream come true, and we’re honored to have been able to play a part in making it happen.”

Her organization has already put up more than $84,000 for bison restoration on the two reservations. It will also help pay for fencing and buying contiguous grazing allotments.

While there are today perhaps 500,000 fenced bison in commercial herds, most of them are genetically intermixed with cattle breeds and sold for meat domestically and abroad. An estimated total of 20,000 genetically pure bison live, but none but those in Yellowstone are completely free roaming.

The connection is direct between the 62 transferred bison and the millions that once roamed the Great Plains until a government-funded extermination policy directed at domesticating and confining the Plains tribes nearly brought the species to extinction. As Ojibwa tells the story:

One hundred-forty years ago, Walking Coyote (Pend d’Oreille) of the Flathead Reservation had, as a consequence of killing his wife, fled to live among the Blackfoot. He became homesick and some Blackfoot told him it might help if he were to capture a few bison and take them back to the Flathead Reservation “as a kind of peace offering.” Together with his Blackfoot companions, he caught some stray, motherless calves and returned with them to his reservation. Twelve years later Charles Allard and Michael Pablo started their own herd with bison bought from Walking Coyote. In 1902, 21 bison from the Allard-Pablo herd were bought by Yellowstone National Park.

“We recognize the bison is a symbol of our strength and unity, and that as we bring our herds back to health, we will also bring our people back to health.”

 – Fred DuBray, former president Inter Tribal Buffalo Council, 2005

The map shows the current distribution of bison herds, the vast majority of them made up of animals with a mixed heritage of bison and cattle genes.

Current Distribution

NAN Line Separater

“Greeks” Apologize for Hosting a “Cowboys and Indians”-Themed party at DU

By navajo and Meteor Blades

Cowboy and Indian party

Two University of Denver “Greek” chapters, Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and Delta Delta Delta sorority hosted a “Cowboys and Indians” party Feb. 25. Photos of the event soon hit Facebook and made their way to the inboxes of members of the DU Native Student Alliance. They were not pleased. Soon their displeasure was felt all the way in the office of DU Chancellor Robert Coombe. He ultimately decried the party and after a months of talking, members of the two Greek houses made public apologies. But did those apologies really mean anything? Only a single representative from each Greek house showed up to read the apologies.

Said Viki Eagle, (Sicangu Lakota Nation) co-chair of the NSA, “This proves to me that our society and our fellow students still view us as nonexistent, [our peers] depicted us as mascots or a Halloween costume.”

Simon Moya-Smith (Oglala Lakota), the DU graduate student adviser to the NSA, said the party was offensive “because it dehumanizes and objectifies American Indians. People think our regalia are costumes to play around in, but they are not costumes. They are very spiritual and, if you want to use the western term, holy garb that would be reserved for elders of title.”

From Indian Country Today:

[S]ome American Indian students feel that the theme party is just another blistering offense to add to DU’s lengthy pattern of racial insensitivity toward its American Indian community.

Amanda Williams, 18, a member of the Navajo and San Carlos Apache tribes, said that last year DU had planned to title their homecoming parade “How the West Was Won” until the Native Student Alliance petitioned and protested against the name.

And according to Williams, on the night of the Cowboys and Indians party, a classmate and dorm neighbor had knocked at her door and asked her if she had “anything Indian” he could wear to the party.

Determined not to let the matter pass, the NSA requested a formal apology. When they finally got a promise in the matter, they sent a letter to supporters:

Last month, two University of Denver Greek Life organizations hosted a piercingly offensive Cowboys and Indians theme party where students donned phony headdresses, face paint, loincloths, and all manner of stereotypical viciousness.


After weeks of correspondence with the director of student activities at DU, the school and the Greek Life organizations – Lambda Chi Alpha and Delta Delta Delta – have agreed to publicly apologize to the members of the Native Student Alliance.

Yet we, the members of NSA, believe that they should not only apologize to us, but to the American Indian community at large for their arrogance and ignorance.

Megan Pendly Pickett, assistant director of campus activities, who acted as a liaison between the NSA and the Greek chapters, revealed in an email to NSA that “the leadership of both Greek communities are baffled as to why an apology is warranted at all. They don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong.” That, of course, calls into question just how sincere the “Greeks” were when they agreed under pressure from students and the administration to make the apology. Native students experience that kind of racial insensitivity on a daily basis. Not at all unlike the attitude of people who who shudder at a sports team called the “Niggers,” but find nothing wrong with “Redskins.”

The public apology was scheduled for late afternoon on March 25 at a spot on the campus green where NSA had erected a tipi. A crowd of more than 100 students, faculty and community members gathered for the event.

“We understand our event was insensitive and hurtful to other members of the DU community,” said [Ross] Larson. “I’m here to make sure we can right our wrongs.” [Larson also said that the party was held “out of ignorance,” and not “racism.”]

Delta Delta Delta representative Molly Gasch said during her apology that the party will “be the last of its kind for our groups.”

“We understand that we have detrimentally affected more than just ourselves by failing to act as the community leaders that we strive to be,” she said, reading from a document. “Both of our organizations will be using this as an opportunity to improve our fraternity and sorority member education programs by increasing awareness and sensitivity of minority groups on campus.”

In an email to the DU community, Chancellor Coomb wrote:

Whether or not anyone meant to be disrespectful or hurtful, their actions did inflict painful wounds. We must all come to understand how our actions affect others, and how cartoonish depictions not only push us apart, but also reflect our limited understanding of one another.

Members of the Native Student Alliance, the Campus Activities office, the Center for Multicultural Excellence, and the involved fraternity and sorority have already embarked on a learning and healing process, meeting several times since the incident to talk, and more importantly, to listen.

Sounds an awful lot like what used to be called “palaver.” While the public apology could be seen as a step in the right direction, the failure of the Greek community to show up indicates that a large group of party-goers still doesn’t understand or care about the issue. From experience, American Indians know what the whisperers are likely still saying: “What’s the big deal?”

NAN Line Separater

Caught with Illegal Animal Parts, Welsh “Apache” Claims Native Heritage

By Meteor Blades

Mangas Coloradas, the Welsh Apache

The reporters have had a fun time with Mangas Coloradas. The 60-year-old Welshman claims to be Apache. Or at least he has since a divorce 20 years ago when he took the name of a famous Eastern Chiricahua leader and began living what he calls the Apache lifestyle out of what the Telegraph smirkily notes is “his three-bedroom detached house in the Townhill suburb of Swansea.” Dasoda-hae-the real Mangas Coloradas (“Red Sleeves,” in Spanish, a translation of his Apache nickname: Kan-da-zis Tlishishen)-would surely be smirking, too. But the failure to go beyond smirking reinforces stereotypes.

The Welshman traveled to the United States in 1997 and tried to live on a reservation, but he says the government would not let him. He lived in Spain in a tipi for a while, too. He keeps snakes as pets and claims to have cured thousands of people of their fear of them. He makes tomahawks and bows and arrows. He also says he loves animals in general. But what got him notice in the newspapers and on-line, starting in January in the South Wales Evening Post was the fact he was arrested with badger paws and bird parts in his house, a violation of the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act and the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

He is fighting the charges based on his claims of Apache heritage. In January, at a preliminary hearing, he showed up in a miserable mishmash of faux Indian garb, fringed jacket, suede moccasins and beads. His solicitor, Anne Griffiths, said: “My client is part of a native American Apache tribe. His belief means he travels abroad and lives in these communities in the summer.” As for Mangas Coloradas himself:

“I dress like this all the time I’m not just some weekend Indian. I don’t put it on to show off, I put it on because I want to wear it,” he said.

“I’m against modern life, nobody cares about anybody else, nobody cares about mother earth.” […]

“I have the motto Hóka-héy, which means it is a good day to die. I live everyday like it could be my last for we are only on this world for a short time.”

Apparently no reporter thought to ask Coloradas exactly which of the six Apache sub-tribes he spends his summers with, where he obtained his outlandish anything-but-Apache clothes or the fake Northern Plains-style headdress no Chiricahua would be caught dead in, or why he adopted face-paint more appropriate to a party rent-a-clown than a warrior of his namesake’s reputation. Nor did any reporter ask him why he chose as his motto a Lakota expression meaning “Let’s get a move on” or “Hurry, hurry” instead of his interpretation.

Perhaps the prosecutor will do so when Coloradas appears at trial in August.

NAN Line Separater

Top BIA Official Resigns to Take LDS Church Post: Larry Echo Hawk (Pawnee Nation) is resigning as the assistant secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, the post to which he was appointed by President Obama in 2009. The assistant secretary oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education, which runs schools for some 50,000 Indian children. The former Brigham Young University law professor is being appointed to the Quorum of the Seventy, which is the Mormon Church’s third-highest governing body. Echo Hawk was elected Idaho attorney general in 1990.


And the 38th Annual Denver March Powwow Princess for 2012 is  .  .  .   :

Calsee Has No Horse (Oglala Lakota) from Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota!

Calsee Has No Horse, Miss Denver March Powwow 2012 PrincessCalsee Has No Horse, Calsee Has No HorseMiss Denver 2012Calsee Has No Horse, Miss Denver March Powwow Princess 2012Calsee Has No Horse, Miss Denver March Powwow Princess 2012

Powwows are one of our richest cultural community events. They take place all across the nation, and there is a powwow circuit that many dancers follow to compete for money rewards. Powwows are also spiritual events, a way to give thanks to the creator and pay tribute to our veterans. Like the Miss Navajo Nation contest, the powwow royalty competes based on skill. There is no, nor will there ever be, a bathing suit contest. If you haven’t attended a powwow, you should but be aware there are cultural rules you need to follow.


Lakota Hunger Strikers Target Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline: The Lakota Hunger Strike for Sacred Water Protection began today at 11 a.m. and will continue through Tuesday, April 3. The strike is in solidarity with First Nations people of Canada who opposed a proposed pipeline that would run from Alberta to Pacific ports to supply supertankers with tar sands oil for shipping along the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest. In a statement, Cheyenne River Reservation participants said: “Mining corporations use and contaminate an enormous, irreplaceable amount of pure drinking water, creating the world’s greatest ecological manmade disaster in the extraction of tar-sands oil.” Strikers will burn a sacred fire at a campsite on the reservation near Eagle Butte for the entire 48 hours they go without eating.

-Meteor Blades

Amnesty Int’l Reports on Abuses of Immigrants, Natives in Southwest: The 85-page report, titled “In Hostile Terrain: Human Rights Violations in Immigration Enforcement in the U.S. Southwest,” says there are systemic failures of federal, state and local authorities to enforce immigration laws without discrimination. “Communities living along the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly Latinos, individuals perceived to be of Latino origin and indigenous communities, are disproportionately affected by a range of immigration-control measures, resulting in a pattern of human rights violations.”

-Meteor Blades

Meet the Vochol, Beadwork on Wheels:

The Huichol Indians of west-central Mexico have poured artisanship into the iconic VW Beetle,

smothering it in their characteristic beadwork. (Courtesy of Smithsonian via ICTMN)

At one time, hailing a cab Mexico City meant that about half the time you would be taken to your destination in a Volkswagen Beetle, the Bug in the United States, but the “Vocho” in Mexico. Indeed, the car was a favorite everywhere. I once rented a brand new one in Nogales, drove it all around Mexico for two weeks before dropping it off in Mérida. But I never saw one like this done up in the intricate style of the Huichol Indians of Nayarit and Jalisco. It’s the work of Huichols Francisco Bautista Carrillo and his daughter Kena Bautista, 227 million beads’ worth. The vehicle is named the Vochol, a combination of the nickname Vocho, and the tribal name Huichol.

-Meteor Blades

Illinois Junior High School Votes to Drop Indian Mascot: Aptakisic Junior High in Buffalo Grove, named after the man who was chief of the area’s Potawatomi tribe nearly 200 years ago, recently announced it’s changing its sport mascot from the “Indians” to the “Eagles.” The principal noted that this generation of kids is very sensitive and more aware of the harmful effects of Native American mascots.

-navajo with a h/t to lexalou

Indian Inmates Challenge S.D. Prison Tobacco Ban: In a federal trial of a lawsuit filed in 2009, a Lakota traditional healer, Richard Moves Camp (Oglala Lakota), has argued that tobacco is an integral part of American Indian religious ceremonies and denying its use can be compared with taking away the Bible from a Christian. South Dakota prisons ban even ceremonial tobacco use. Camp said tobacco has been a central part of prayer for thousands of years. Inmates Blaine Brings Plenty and Clayton Creek, both Oglala Lakotas and members of prison-based Native American Council of Tribes filed the suit.

-Meteor Blades

Department of Labor Announces $60 Million in Indian Jobs & Training Grants: Via the Workforce Investment Act’s Section 166-Indian and Native American Programs (INAP), the grants are targeted to American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities for developing academic, occupational, and literacy skills to individuals making more competitive in the workforce. The grants will be administered in accordance with the community’s goals and values. Of the total, $12.4 million of grants will be focused on youth programs.

-Meteor Blades

ACLU Sues BIA-Run School for Publicly Humiliating Navajo Student for Pregnancy: Last fall, Shantelle Hicks (Navajo) was a 15-year-old student at Wingate Boarding School in Gallup, N.M., who was expelled for being pregnant. Advised that expulsion for pregnancy was discriminatory and a violation of state law, they re-admitted her, but not before forcibly mandating her attendance at an all-school assembly, where they brought her in front of the entire student body and publicly shamed her for having a pregnancy out of wedlock. At the time, only one other person knew of the pregnancy – her sister. Privately, the school told Hicks she was a bad example and should look for another school. On March 6, the ACLU filed a suit against the Bureau of Indian Education school, a teacher and a counselor “seeking punitive damages and declaratory relief for violation of constitutional rights to equal protection and of the Title IX prohibition against sex and pregnancy discrimination in education.” A reporter telephoned the principal, Timothy Nelson, who said the allegations weren’t true and hung up.

-navajo with a h/t to Aji

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Keeps Position: Charlie Murphy (Dakota) has kept his post as chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe whose reservation straddles North and South Dakota. Charges of misconduct and neglect of office were voted down 12-3 and 9-6 in the seven-hour meeting of the tribal council. All charges had to do with recent personnel moves that spurred tribal member Avis Little Eagle to seek Murphy’s removal. Little Eagle is a former managing editor of the on-line newspaper Indian Country Today. Murphy beat incumbent Ron His Horse Is Thunder in an election two years ago. One casualty of the effort to oust Murphy was executive director Cheryl Kary who had pushed through extensive changes in operations of the tribe’s executive branch.

-Meteor Blades

Federal Judge Says No Taxing of Mashantucket’s Slot Machines: An attempt by the town of Ledyard, Conn., will not be able to collect property taxes on slot machines that the Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Tribal Nation leases from non-Indian vendors has run afoul of federal district Judge Warren W. Eginton. He agreed with the Mashantucket’s lawsuit saying the town’s action are pre-empted by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and violate the tribe’s sovereignty. Documents on the case can be found here.

-Meteor Blades

AMC Developing Carlisle School Show: ‘The Real All Americans’: The channel is in the early stages of development for a show directed by Tommy Lee Jones (Cherokee) about the football team at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School that included famed Olympian Jim Thorpe. The exact parameters are not known but will certainly include some focus on Capt. Richard Henry Pratt, who founded the school to “civilize” Indians and made the notorious remark in an 1892 speech in Denver “that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

-Meteor Blades


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.

The Battle of the Rosebud

The expansion of the American empire westward across the Mississippi River was motivated by greed and supported by God. During the nineteenth century American greed was manifested in an obsession for privately owned land and for gold, silver, and other precious metals. Americans believed that the role of government was to obtain land and mineral rights from the Indian nations that owned them and then give them to entrepreneurs for private exploitation. Many Americans believe that their God has made them a chosen people with dominion over both nature and all pagan nations.  

In 1876, American greed focused on the possibility of great wealth in the form of gold in South Dakota’s Black Hills, an area of great historical and spiritual importance to many Indian tribes, including the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and others. Turning a blind eye to U.S. law, international law, and U.S. treaty obligations, the government focused on getting the gold into the hands of non-Indians.

When the Sioux, the tribe declared by the United States to be the owners of the Black Hills, made it clear they did not wish to relinquish this land to the gold seekers, the United States simply declared war on them.  The Sioux must relinquish the Black Hills or starve. Congress passed an act which provided:

“hereafter there shall be no appropriation made for the subsistence of the Sioux, unless they first relinquish their rights to the hunting grounds outside the [1868 treaty] reservation, ceded the Black Hills to the United States, and reached some accommodation with the Government that would be calculated to enable them to become self-supporting.”

Any Indian who hunted in the unceded lands was not able to receive any food or supplies. If an Indian went out to hunt, even if starving, it meant losing all benefits for the rest of the year.

The United States then issued an ultimatum to the Sioux: all of the bands were to report to their agency by January 31 or be considered hostile. The ultimatum was intended to result in war for two basic reasons: (1) moving a band in January was difficult, if not impossible, and (2) most of the bands outside of the agency were unable to get word about the ultimatum.

The army then launched a three-pronged pacification campaign against the “hostiles” who had “refused” to come in. While the prong led by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer is best known, there was also a campaign from the south led by General George Crook.

Traditional Indian warfare on the Northern Plains, while it involved battles and occasional deaths, was very dissimilar to European warfare. Warfare, according to Sioux writer Charles Eastman, was about courage and honor:

“It was held to develop the quality of manliness and its motive was chivalric or patriotic, but never the desire for territorial aggrandizement or the overthrow of a brother nation.”

The motivation for war was personal gain, not tribal patriotism. Through participation in war an individual gained prestige, honor, and even wealth (as counted in horses.) While it was not uncommon for warriors to kill their enemies in battle, this was not in itself considered to be a particularly noteworthy act of valor. The greatest feat of bravery a warrior (male or female) could perform was to touch the enemy. This was the act of counting coup.

At the headwaters of the Rosebud River in Montana, General Crook’s troops, with 176 Crow and 86 Shoshone allies, encountered an encampment of Cheyenne and Lakota Sioux under the leadership of Crazy Horse and engaged them in a day-long battle. Militarily the battle might be considered a draw as neither side won a decisive victory. Some military historians consider it a strategic defeat for Crook because he was unable to take the offensive and strike a decisive blow at the enemy camp. Chief Runs-the-Enemy said of the battle:

“The general sentiment was that we were victorious in that battle, for the soldiers did not come upon us, but retreated back into Wyoming.”

The Americans sustained casualties of 10 killed and 21 wounded. Crazy Horse later estimated that 39 Lakota were killed and 33 wounded.

From the traditional Indian perspective, there were two particularly important acts of valor in the battle and these two warriors were considered to have gained the greatest war honors.

The Shoshone and Crow shot the horse of Cheyenne Chief Comes in Sight out from under him. As they were closing in to finish him off, Buffalo Calf Robe (aka Calf Trail Woman), the sister of Comes in Sight, rode into the middle of the warriors and saved the life of her brother. Buffalo Calf Robe had ridden into battle that day next to her husband Black Coyote. From  the Cheyenne perspective, a woman warrior achieved the highest war honors that day.

One Crow two-spirit (berdache) put on men’s clothes and distinguished himself in battle against the Lakota. For this he was given the name Osh-Tisch which means “Finds Them and Kills Them.” Thus, from the Crow perspective a two-spirit-a person many people today might consider to be a transvestite-won the greatest war honors.

Battle of the Rosebud

Shown above is an artist’s interpretation of the Battle of the Rosebud.