The findings of the realm inside the dark shadows

since I was a child, The darkness and night has been calling me. I am a Grandchild of an indian from arizona named Trumand Powell. Named after the president and lake Powell. He died in a motor cycle accident i think in the 60,s. i have had some amazing and unbelievable things happen to me in my life. will discuse with proper people that can guide me in this journey. I dont know who to contact or talk to , I just know im being called to my haritage. threw the realms of the spiritual world. The right person will know what im talking about. I home these words will make it to the right person that can help me. Let me just say this, I have been to the realm where woodsmen people dwell. Anceint dwellers may i say.not of or kind but one with nature and all knowing. I could see there movments and they mine just not eachother. They guided me along safe from danger that was after me. I didnt know the danger but coulld feel it. A danger like no other i could feel. With there powers and knowing my special abilities as theres, I was a familuar presence they known befor. They alowed me to see there way and one with nature. I have no explanation of who these wonderful creatures are. Nothing short of fairy tales that is. But its all part of my calling. I am strong with mother earth. The calling is stronger then ever befor. I am needed for something, something that has been lost for a long time has been given to me. Need the right guidence so as not to miss use what has been given. Please find me help.  

Posted in Uncategorized

First Nations News & Views: Invisible Indians at Netroots Nation, Navajo artist Tony Abeyta, 1895

Welcome to the 15th 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 condensed history of the Narragansetts, the tribe whose ancient lands Netroots Nation participants will be holding their conference on in early June, a look at the year 1895 in American Indian history, two news briefs and some linked 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.

Invisible Indians at Netroots Nation

By Meteor Blades

Fanciful view of Roger Williams meeting the Narragansett in 1636.
Fanciful view of Roger Williams meeting the Narragansett in 1636.

When participants at the Netroots Nation annual conference head out for dinner in Providence, R.I., less than three weeks from now, one of the menu items they’ll see everywhere will be quahog chowder and, for the really adventurous, exotic dishes like jalapeño-stuffed quahogs. These delicious clams can be found elsewhere, from Prince Edward Island to the Yucatán peninsula. But they got their name from the people who lived in Rhode Island ages before the colony was a gleam in Roger Williams’s eye – the Narragansetts.

Though there are some 2400 tribally enrolled Narragansetts living in Rhode Island today, many of them feel they are, like Native people elsewhere in the United States, invisible. Small wonder. Just 20 miles south of Providence, in Exeter, is a museum devoted to the culture of the Narragansetts and Wampanoags, who also live in Rhode Island, just as they did before the first Europeans stepped onshore. Seventy percent of the museum’s visitors are surprised to learn that neither tribe is extinct. Despite hundreds of years of prodigious work to extinguish them – to take their land, their culture, their language – they live on. But I’ll get to all that momentarily.

Quahog comes from the

Narragansett word poquauhock

Still visible throughout Rhode Island today are linguistic hints of the Narragansetts’ presence. In their Algonquin language, the name for quahog was poquauhock. Similar words can be found in the tongues of other Indians in the region, like those Wampanoags, the Narragansetts’ neighbors who kept the Mayflower Pilgrims from starving during their first grim winter 50 miles to the east.

All around Rhode Island, Narragansett words name towns, bodies of water, islands and streets. The word “Narragansett” itself, which is an apparent English corruption of Nanhigganeuck, means “small point of land.” There’s Pawtuxet (“Little Falls”) Village, which will commemorate its 375th birthday next year, one of the oldest villages in New England. The Hotel Manisses on Block Island takes its name from what the Narragansetts called that island, the “little god place.” A ride to the north edge of the city will take you to Wanskuck (“the steep place”) Park.

Succotash comes from the

Narragansett word msíckquatash

If you want to add some vegetables to your quahog selection (or if you are vegan), you might try succotash, (msíckquatash: “boiled corn kernels”) or squash (askutasquash: “a green thing eaten raw”). Thanks in part to Roger Williams’s study, A Key Into the Language of America, a handful of Narragansett words didn’t just remain in New England. There are, for instance, papoose (papoos: “child”) and moose (moos: the well-known member of the deer family). Plus a word far removed today from its original meaning, powwow (powwaw: “spiritual leader.”) Here you can see Narragansetts dancing at their August 2011 Powwow.

Today, the descendants of the Narragansetts live throughout Rhode Island. Their tiny reservation is at Charlestown, just 1800 acres (2.8 square miles) surrounding the three acres that was once all the tribe had left. Some 60 tribal members reside there now. That in itself is practically a miracle given the more than three centuries settlers and militias and government bureaucrats spent trying to obliterate the tribe. In addition to the 2400 enrolled members, there are perhaps another 2000 or so people in Rhode Island and the rest of the United States who can trace their line to a Narragansett ancestor.

The inevitably flattened nuance that is a consequence of compressing the tribe’s long past into a few paragraphs no doubt would make historians cringe. But even a few words can help bring the invisible into the light. Readers interested in something more thorough can find it here, here, in The Narragansetts and in Robert Geake’s A History of the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island: Keepers of the Bay, just out last year in paperback. Except for Simmons’s book, which I’ve only just begun reading, I’ve adapted the next dozen paragraphs freely from these and the linked sources in the text.

First Encounters


By the time, the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano cruised the coast around Narragansett Bay in 1524, there had been people in the area for thousands of years. Just how many thousands has long been disputed. Contact for the next few decades was so infrequent that even “sporadic” doesn’t cover it. But in 1617, that contact had similar consequences to what had happened when Hernando de Soto meandered through the South and Hernán Cortes pillaged his way through Mexico: plague. The bacterial infection leptospirosis is now believed to have been the culprit. Whatever it was, huge percentages of the tribes in Massachusetts were wiped out in just three years. Tisquantum, the Pawtuxet Indian we know as “Squanto,” became the last of his tribe because he wasn’t around for the plague to kill him.

The Narragansetts were fortunate. They were barely affected by the plague. Already strong before the illness struck down their rivals, by the time the Mayflower landed its passengers at Plymouth in 1620, they were the most powerful tribe in southern New England, comprising perhaps 10,000 people. They were enemies of the Wampanoag, the “Thanksgiving” Indians, and the Pequot, with whom they fought  regularly. The English, who they called ciauquaquock (“people of the knife”), would not trade with them directly.

In 1636, Roger Williams, who openly said colonists had no right to take Indian land was forced out of Massachusetts. He bought land from the Narragansett and ushered in a period of trust between him and the Narragansett that lasted until his death near half a century later.

That trust was early on reinforced when the Narragansett briefly joined the Puritans in a three-year war against the Pequot. In the last year of that war, 1637, the English slaughtered hundreds of Pequot women, children and the elderly by burning them alive inside their palisade fort at Mystic River and selling the survivors into Caribbean slavery. In disgust, the Narragansett went home. Although they gained some benefit from the war, their Mohegan rivals under the sachem Uncas, who had also allied with the English, got the most.

The Narragansett sought to maintain their superiority in southern New England, but events ran out of their control. Over the years of shifting alliances and steady English immigration, many skirmishes occurred, there were a couple of real battles, and the Narragansett wound up paying annual tribute to the English. But they remained good friends with Williams. He was still considered a radical outsider by the Puritans, who excluded Rhode Island from the New England Confederation in 1643. Isolated, their traditional turf threatened by a tribe the English protected, the Narragansett grew weaker every passing year.

Narragansett seal

In 1675, Metacomet, the Wampanoag sachem known to the English as “King Philip,” became fed up with continuing English expansionism onto Indian land, the aggressive conversion of Indians to Christianity and other injustices. He began negotiating with allies and traditional rivals, all these tribes now vastly reduced by waves of epidemics over the decades. By the time Metacomet decided on war with the English, the Narragansetts numbered perhaps 5000.

The sachem began his attacks and the English countered. Surrounded on all sides by people they did not trust, the Narragansett remained neutral for the first six months of what we call King Philip’s War. But they took Wampanoag refugees into a fort they had constructed for themselves and waited things out. The English in pursuit of Metacomet left them alone. But he managed to elude them and make his way back to the fort, soon departng with most of the Wampanoag refugees. The English saw this as a violation of neutrality and sent 1,000 colonial troops and 150 Mohegan scouts to lay siege. In the fighting, the Narragansetts lost 600 warriors and 20 sachems.

The principal Narragansett sachem, Canonchet, continued to fight in alliance with Metacomet. But returning on a mission to obtain seed corn he was captured by Mohegans and handed over to the English who promptly sent him to a firing squad.

King Philip’s War was at first a close thing. Some scholars say the allied Indians had a narrow possibility of driving the English out altogether. But after nine months, the insurgent tribes, outnumbered from the beginning, were running short of food, gunpowder and warriors. Metacomet was hunted down, shot in the heart, hanged and then decapitated. His head was sold for 30 shillings.

The Narragansett Fight to Keep Their Identity

Bella Machado-Noka, reigning champion of the Eastern Blanket Dance
Bella Machado-Noka, reigning champion

of the Eastern Blanket Dance

And the Narragansett? After Canonchet was executed, the 3000 survivors had been mercilessly hunted down. Warriors were almost always killed. Women and children were sold into slavery in the Caribbean. Some managed to join other tribes, particularly the Eastern Niantic around Charlestown, who had remained neutral. By 1782, only 500 Narragansett were left to sign a peace treaty with the English. Some emigrated to Wisconsin in the late 1780s, but the main body remained in Rhode Island.

In 1830 the state sought to portray the them as unworthy of being called Indians. “Forty years ago this was a nation of indians now it is a medly [sic] of mongrels in which the African blood predominates,” read a report from a committee of the legislature. The real motivation behind this claim could be found in the recommendation that a white overseer be appointed and the land be sold for “publick uses” as soon as the tribe was deemed extinct.

The legislature tried again in 1852. A report stated: “While there are no Indians of whole blood remaining, and nearly all have very little of the Indian blood, they still retain all the privileges which belonged to the Tribe in ancient times.” And those, it said, should be extinguished. The Narragansetts successfully resisted.

In 1866, they resisted again. This time, that resistance against the effort to break up their tribe and make them citizens was couched in language that explicitly attacked racial prejudice:

“We are not negroes, we are the heirs of Ninagrit, and of the great chiefs and warriors of the Narragansetts. Because, when your ancestors stole the negro from Africa and brought him amongst us and made a slave of him, we extended him the hand of friendship, and permitted his blood to be mingled with ours, are we to be called negroes? And to be told that we may be made negro citizens? We claim that while one drop of Indian blood remains in our veins, we are entitled to the rights and privileges guaranteed by your ancestors to ours by solemn treaty, which without a breach of faith you cannot violate.”

The Narragansett had responded that they were a multiracial nation, culturally Indian, thereby turning the emerging “one-drop” rule on its head. Once more, their resistance succeeded.

But in 1880, just as the federal government would seek to do with all the tribes, Rhode Island detribalized the Narragansetts. This was illegal under federal law, but Washington did not intervene. At the time, there were 324 people the state considered part of the “mongrel” tribe. The government broke up the reservation, sold the remaining 15,000 acres at auction using most of the money to cover incurred debts, and leaving only the three acres around the Indian church founded in 1744. The state ended all treatment of the tribe as a political entity.

Despite detribalization, however, the Narragansetts took great pains over the next half century to continue meetings and ceremonies, maintaining the customs as best it could under trying circumstances. In 1900, it incorporated. After the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Narragansetts began the long process of regaining tribal status.

Modern Times

It was not until 1975, however, that the tribe filed a federal lawsuit seeking restoration of 3200 of the acres taken nearly a century before, five square miles. Three years later, it signed an agreement with Rhode Island, the muncipality of Charlestown and white property owners for 1800 acres to be turned over to the tribal corporation and held in trust for the descendants of the 1880 Narragansett Rolls.

Narragansett Indian Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas, right, tries to hold back a Rhode Island State Police officer from entering the Narragansett 
Indian Smoke Shop in Charlestown, RI
Narragansett Sachem Matthew Thomas, right,

tries to hold back a Rhode Island State Police officer

from entering the Narragansett Indian Smoke Shop

in Charlestown, R.I., in 2003. The tribe claimed it had

the sovereign right not to collect taxes there.

But there was a catch. Except for hunting and fishing, all the laws and rules of Rhode Island would apply because the tribe did not yet have federal recognition. It got that in 1983 and officially became the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island. But, while recognition provides the tribe with some financial and other benefits from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the 1978 pact with the state, city and local residents stands in the way of anything approaching real sovereignty. The Narragansetts can’t build a casino or sell cigarettes without paying taxes on them as other tribes can do. If a tribal court were established, it wouldn’t even have jurisdiction over violation of traffic laws on the reservation.

The lack of sovereignty was punctuated in 2009, when U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Narragansetts and other tribes in the case of Carcieri v. Salazar. The tribe had purchased 31 acres that it wished to have brought into federal trust lands governed by the Department of Interior. The department agreed to do so. Rhode Island appealed administratively and then in the courts, losing until the case reached the Supreme Court. The state argued that the vague wording of the Indian Reorganization Act did not allow the federal government to transfer land into federal trust for tribes that were not recognized before 1934. The Court agreed in a decision affecting not just the Narragansetts but 30 other tribes. Since then, bills have been drafted for a legislative “fix,” but none has yet emerged from committee. President Obama has made a statement hinting that the Department of Interior should be able to transfer land to tribes recognized after 1934, but the executive branch cannot take unilateral action. Meanwhile, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance and the RI Statewide Coalition continue to oppose anything that would give the Narragansett more control over their own affairs.

Thus, politically, the Naragansetts remain in a kind of tribal limbo, without the full rights of other tribes, but better off than the many unrecognized tribes with no rights at all.

Culturally, it’s a different matter. The Narragansett know who they are. All that resistance in the face of great odds has bound them together in pride over the generations. While their blood mingled, their spirit and unforgotten traditions has kept them united.

Photo f Lorén Spears, curator of Tomaquag Museum
Lorén Spears, curator of Tomaquag Museum

One of the keepers of the flame today is Lorén Spears (Narragansett), the executive director of that museum in Exeter I mentioned. It’s the Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum, tomaquag being the Narragansett word for “he who cuts,” the beaver, an animal that once thrived throughout Rhode Island in great abundance.

The museum’s exhibits focus on the Narragansetts’ past, both distant and recent, but its mission is educate everyone, including Waumpeshau (white people), about Native history, culture, art and philosophy:

[Visitors can explore] Narragansett history through The Pursuit of Happiness: An Indigenous View, which reflects on the denial of our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The exhibit focuses on Education, Spirituality, Political and Economic Sovereignty, Love and Family, and the importance of traditional language.

Cover of Ellison Brown book

Visitors can also learn about Narragansett notables like marathon runner Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, known as Deerfoot among his own people. He won the Boston Marathon twice, once in 1936 and in 1939. He was the first ever in the Boston event to break the 2:30 mark (2:28:51). He was also at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

Citing the marathon historian Tom Derderian, Gary David Wilson writes of Brown:

He was regarded by most as a freak – undisciplined and uncontrollable, a child of nature, an awesome natural talent – and if he won or lost it was because of his unalterable nature. Thus, as an Indian with physical gifts, he would never get personal credit for what he accomplished. It was expected he could run – he was an Indian, after all – so he got no credit for character, courage or work ethic. If he succeeded it was because he did what his handlers prepared him to do, like a thoroughbred racehorse. When he failed, it was his own fault, because he was “just an Indian.”

As Wilson says, few even in the running community know of him today, though there is now a book on his life.

The museum is only part of Spears’s work. Her teaching background with at-risk kids spurred her to establish the Nuweetoun School adjacent to the museum to teach kindergarten through 8th grade children in a supportive environment that adds Native culture and history to all areas of study. For her work, she was chosen as one of 11 Extraordinary Woman honorees for 2010 in Rhode Island. Writes Leslie Rovetti:

The building that houses the school used to be her grandparent’s business, the Dove Crest Restaurant, which served raccoon pot pie, cornmeal pudding, cod cakes, succotash, venison and native clam bakes, in addition to more common foods like steaks and “the most amazing double-stuffed potatoes,” Spears said. When the building that was the restaurant’s gift shop became the museum, she said her grandmother was on the founding board.

Because of flooding, the school is on hiatus. But Spears is busy with a new grant-funded project, building a curriculum the tribe would like to be used throughout all schools in Rhode Island. The curriculum would be used together with the film, Places, Memories, Stories & Dreams: The Gifts of Inspiration. Spears says she  remembers “being in a history class during my elementary days and actually reading that I supposedly didn’t exist, that my family didn’t exist, that my people didn’t exist.”

The film features traditional Narragansett stories and an oral history presented by tribal elder Paulla Dove-Jennings (aka SunFlower), a renowned Indian storyteller. Once the project is complete, the film’s six segments narrated by Dove-Jennings will be organized within the 43-page curriculum. That will be available for downloading from the museum’s website, free to teachers who want to use it for lessons.

If the curriculum comes to be widely used in Rhode Island schools, it might go a long way toward ending the Narragansetts’ invisibility in the very place they lived for so many milleniums. That would be a very good thing.

Indeed, no reason exists why such a curriculum couldn’t be developed for every school district where Native people once lived and many still do, even if nobody notices until there’s trouble. But widespread adoption of such curriculums tailor-made to local circumstances means discomfort for many people when Indians and all we represent in this country – culturally, politically, historically – emerge from invisibility. Strong opposition could be expected. What are they afraid of after all these years?  

Invisible Indians Banner for NAN

Haida Whale Divider

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1895

By Meteor Blades

On May 23, 1895, the smallest and last federally approved land rush in Oklahoma Territory got under way as “surplus lands” of the Kickapoo were thrown open for settlers to homestead. That rip-off had begun in 1889.

The Kickapoo had fled their homeland in southwestern Wisconsin after the Blackhawk War in 1832. By a circuitous route over many years, they had wound up in Indian Territory. The territory had been the turf of Caddo, Osage, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Wichita and Comanche. But in the 1830s, it became the new home of the “Five Civilized Tribes” who were removed at gunpoint from their east of the Mississippi homelands. Over the next several decades, 20 more tribes were shipped to what became Oklahoma.

In 1889, there were in the western part of the territory areas originally meant to be filled with other removed tribes, two million acres of so-called “Unassigned Lands.” As part the Indian Appropriation Act of that year, those lands were set aside for white settlement. Out of that came the first Oklahoma land rush.

A Kickapoo family photo taken
 in 1898 by Rinehart
A Kickapoo family photo taken in 1898 by Rinehart

Also in 1889, the Cherokee Commission or Jerome Commission was established. It was a tribunal, comprising two generals and a civilian. But the chief negotiator was David Jerome. His mission was to legally acquire Indian-owned lands. In practice, this meant intimidating the tribes into dissolving their reservations and accepting allotment under the Dawes Act of commonly owned land to individual Indians in 80- to 320-acre plots. What was left over after allotment, the so-called “surplus,” was sold to the government at the government’s price. This surplus was then opened up to  homesteaders, 15 million acres in all, in a series of land rushes.

The corruption involved – with sheriffs, their deputies, minor federal officials and others getting a head start on the best land, the so-called “Sooners – is a story for another time. For the Indians, that part is irrelevant. It was all over for them when they were agreed or were forced to sign away their rights. By June 1890, agreements had been “obtained” from the hold-outs, the Iowas, Sacs and Foxes, Pottawatomies, and Absentee Shawnees. Only the stubborn Kickapoo remained.

After a commission visit with the Kickapoos, Jerome wrote to his superiors on July 1:

The Kickapoos are altogether the most ignorant and degraded Indians that we have met, but are possessed of an animal cunning, and obstinacy in a rare degree. We were prepared, by what we had heard before our coming for an exhibition of these qualities. […]

The Commission, each member in turn, made speeches to them, explained our business with them, told them of the impending changes in their mode of living, earning a living &c, and submitted to them a proposition in writing, which is hereto attached and made a part hereof, and placed a copy of it in the hands of the Chief, and asked them to go with their Interpreter and consider it. […]

When the paper, containing the proposition, was placed in the hands of the Chief, the Kickapoos seemed to become somewhat uneasy-a little Indian jargon was exchanged-when he, the Chief, handed back the paper and refused to keep it. They then took their leave, and promised to return in the afternoon. At the time appointed they came back, and promptly told us, that they would not make any contract, because it would offend the Great Spirit.

Jerome went on to say that if the president were to set a deadline for allotting land, this would speed the process with recalcitrant tribes.

A year later, the commission met with the Kickapoos again, this time letting them know that the allotment process was going to happen whether they wished it or not. So, they should sell and get the best deal they could. Hence it was considered better to let the white crowds overrun the reservation than to sell it. Ock-qua-noc-a-sey was the chief speaker of the Kickapoo. He had a lot to say about the land being given by the Great Spirit who would be angry if the Kickapoos sold it. The allotment deal was something that came “someone under the earth,” he said, adding that the Kickapoos would be better off to let the whites overrun it than sell it. “Whenever the white people take all the land from the Indians,” he said, “we believe the land will be destroyed. […] We have a small reservation here and you have the biggest part of the United States; and you should be satisfied and we are doing well.”

Dissident Indians from the tribes that had already been forced to sign came to warn the Kickapoos not to “touch the pen.” And Ock-qua-noc-a-sey and others who had been speaking did not. On June 18, they got up from the negotiations and went home.

Later, all but three of the adult male Kickapoos showed up for another meeting. Four had already signed the allotment agreement. Others seemed ready to sign. But then Chief Wape-mee-shay-waw showed up, and after some talk, all but the signers came to the chief’s side. The commission had failed.

But, in August, at the instigation of John T. Hill – who, wrote Berlin B. Chapman in 1939, was probably as much Kickapoo as David Jerome – Ock-qua-noc-a-sey and Kish-o-corn-me signed the allotment deal and used dubious power-of-attorney to sign for 51 other Kickapoos, the adult male population of the tribe in September 1891. So seven men, one of doubtful heritage made a deal for the whole tribe. Washington considered the document binding. The majority of Kickapoos did not, and they continued to resist right up until the allotments were handed out three years later.

Of 206,080 acres on the reservation, 22,640 acres were allotted to 283 Kickapoos, 80 acres each by March 27, 1895. The remaining 183,440 acres purchased by the federal government were opened to settlers in a land run. The Kickapoo lands were added to Lincoln, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie Counties.

Today, the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, federally recognized since 1936, has 2,720 enrolled members, some 1800 of whom live in the state. About 400 Kickapoo, including children, speak the tribe’s Algonquian language. Two other federally recognized Kickapoo tribes totaling a few hundred enrolled members live in Kansas and Texas.

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Navajo Artist Tony Abeyta is a “Living Treasure”

By navajo

Tony Abeyta

-Photo by Jennifer Esperanza

Every year, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe holds the Native Treasures Indian Arts Festival. Tony Abeyta (Navajo) is being honored as this year’s “living treasure.”  

At age 46, Abeyta finds it a little strange to be considered a living treasure. He was selected for “his style, his time spent mentoring other young Native American artists and his refusal to fall back on formulas when it comes to creating art. Abeyta is among the artists who are pushing the envelope when it comes to redefining American Indian art.”

Abeyta grew up in Gallup, N.M., but left at age 16 to attend the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe. He has studied art across the nation as well as in France and Italy. He now has studios in Santa Fe and in Chicago. In addition to oil paintings, Abeyta also works on large-scale drawings, large sculptures and designing jewelry.

Thumbnails of Tony Abeyta’s art

Narciso Abeyta

His father, Narciso Abeyta, was also an artist. Born in 1918, he began his art career at the early age of 11 by drawing his first creations on canyon walls on the land of the Navajo Nation. By 32 he was published in Art in America. During World War II, he was one of the famed Code Talkers. He walked on in 1998.

The festival opens May 26. More than 200 native artists from some 40 tribes and pueblos have been invited to the two-day festival. A wide range of art forms –  pottery, carvings, jewelry and more – will be on display, much of it for sale. There will also be an “Emerging Artist” section to showcase new talent.

Thumbnails of Narciso Abeyta’s art

NAN Line Separater

Day and Time for American Indian Caucus at Netroots Nation is Announced

By navajo

NN12 American Indian Caucus

Meteor Blades and navajo are pleased to announce the date and time for the American Indian Caucus, which has been held every year since 2006 at Yearly Kos/Netroots Nation. Please join us! In light of the Elizabeth Warren controversy, we will be discussing and answering questions about what it is to be Indian, voter suppression on and near Native reservations and what can be done about it, and our experience in building First Nations News & Views.

navajo (aka Neeta Lind) will be giving a presentation again this year during the Promoting People of Color in the Progressive Blogosphere panel.

Friday, June 8, at 4:30 PM to 5:45 PM
This panel will address the needs, successes and obstacles to having greater participation from people of color in the blogosphere. Using the models of  Native American Netroots and Black Kos as a beginning point for the discussion, we’ll cover topics such as color blindness vs. representation and how to get historically underrepresented groups and their views heard. We’ll discuss how to organize outreach between the larger blogosphere and blogs that are specific to communities of color and how to form stronger connections to ongoing organizing efforts and activism in communities of color. We’ll also focus on how organizations can promote diversity within new grassroots organizations.

Another panel that was created to house the numerous proposals for voter suppression panels:

Protecting Voting Rights in Communities of Color in 2012

Thursday, June 7, at 4:30 PM to 5:45 PM

Black and brown voters turned out in record numbers in 2008. However, the introduction of voter ID initiatives in many states creates a new barrier for many Americans, particularly in traditionally disenfranchised communities of color. Voters in these communities-as well as students, seniors, the working poor and those with disabilities-will be most impacted. What coalitions and campaigns are underway to ensure these voters have equal access to the polls? How can we ensure that their voting rights are safeguarded and their voices counted? Panelists will provide case studies of campaign strategies and community solutions and tackle tough questions concerning voter ID laws.

NAN Line Separater

BIA Disputes GOP Claim About Violence Against Women: In their truncated reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act, House Republicans have relied on a House Judiciary Committee report which claims non-Indian offenders commit a “very small percentage” of domestic violence crimes on reservations. Citing this as a reason not to include better protection for Indian women on reservations as part of the VAWA renewal, Republicans last week rejected a proposed revision of the VAWA to allow tribal jurisdiction in cases of violence against women by non-Indian men on reservations. Since domestic violence on reservations is poorly handled by non-reservation jurisdictions, the women are pretty much left to fend for themselves. Michael S. Black (Oglala), acting director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said of the “small percentage” claim, “This is not true.” Black wrote: “…the BIA recognizes that over half of all Indian married women have non-Indian husbands and that Indian women experience some of the highest domestic-violence victimization rates in the country. There can be no doubt that there is a very real problem of non-Indian on Indian domestic violence in Indian Country today. Nonetheless, and regardless of any arguments over the verifiability of statistics in any studies or reports, we should not lose sight of the simple fact that there is no acceptable rate of domestic violence by non-Indian men on Indian women. To argue otherwise is an assault on our national conscience.”

-Meteor Blades

Tribes Contribute More Than $1 Million to Obama: American Indian tribes have generally been quite pleased with how Barack Obama has treated Native matters since arriving in Washington. Consequently, they have collectively contributed more than $1 million to his re-election campaign compared with $264,000 in 2008. They’ve given Mitt Romney just $3,000. In addition to establishing a Senior Advisor on Native Affairs, pushing to get the Tribal Law and Order Act passed, settling the long-standing Elouise Cobell lawsuit to the tune of $3.4 billion, and settling another $1.1 billion multi-tribal conflict with the federal government over royalties due the tribes, Obama is seen as having achieved a lot for the tribes and, most important, done a lot of listening. He “has done more for Indian country than any president I can remember,” said Chief James Allan, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in northern Idaho, which donated $35,800 this year to Obama and his joint fundraising committee.

-Meteor Blades

Important Navajo Taboo, Don’t Look at the Sun Today:

Bahe Whitethorne
Painting by Bahe Whitethorne

An annular solar eclipse will be in full view over the Navajo Nation today (Sunday) because it lies directly in the eclipse path. In addition to the common warning not to look directly at the sun’s eclipse, Navajos have more rules to follow. Bahe Whitethorne Sr. (Navajo) wrote and illustrated in one of his many children’s books called Sunpainters: Eclipse of the Navajo Sun about the taboos to observe while the sun is being eaten.

“The Navajo word for eclipse is ‘eating the sun.’ In the Navajo tradition it is believed that the ‘sun dies’ during a solar eclipse and that it is an intimate event between the Earth, Sun and Moon.

“People are told to stay inside and keep still during the dark period. There’s no eating, drinking, sleeping, weaving or any other activity. Traditionalists believe that not following this practice could lead to health problems and misfortune to the family.”

Once the Na’ach’aabii – the Little People – have repainted the sun and all the colors of the earth, you can resume your activities.


Tribe Works to Resurrect Game of Cherokee Marbles:

Two women in Cherokee marbles game
Nan Davis and her daughter Andrea Cochran compete in an elimination round of Cherokee Marbles in 2011. (Photo by Will Chavez)

The Cherokee Nation seeks to bring back various cultural traditions of the tribe. Among other things, it’s just graduated its first class at an immersion school to teach children their native tongue so they become fluent at a young age. It’s also bringing back Cherokee marbles (di-ga-da-yo-s-di in the Cherokee language), a game that may date to 800 CE or earlier. The traditional stone marbles are much larger than modern marbles, and some carvers have turned them into an art form. But they’re expensive and they can crack, so today’s players men and women typically use billiard balls. The playing field is a five-hole course in an L shape covering about 100 feet. It’s like croquet (without the mallets) and bocce ball and golf (without the clubs) all rolled into one. The Cherokee Nation holds annual tournaments in September for the Cherokee National Holiday, but more and more people are playing the game casually at family get-togethers.

-Meteor Blades

Indian Students Touch Their Culture in Wyoming Museum: Twice a year, students from the 128-year-old St. Labre Indian School next to the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Ashland, Montana, travel to Cody, Wyoming, to get a first-hand look at Native items housed at the Plains Indian Museum. In addition to their teachers, three Cheyenne elders accompany the students to Cody to pray for them and protect them on their journey. Many of the items the students see and touch have never been on public display. Levi Bixby (Northern Cheyenne) said he recognized the tribal colors on a horse ornament because he had learned beadwork from his grandmother. “I’ve learned, over the years, the difference between Cheyenne, Crow and Lakota, and I’ve kinda picked up on other things like Cree; they use flowers, and I do find it interesting, and I do love it because it’s part of my heritage.” He wants to learn as much as he can about his tribal history and culture, so he can pass along his heritage to his kids and grandkids, “…so we don’t fade away.”

-Meteor Blades

Oregon Bans Indian Mascots at Schools:

Banks High School (Oregon)
Banks High School (Oregon) “Brave”

Six years after it adopted a non-binding resolution urging an end to the use of Indian nicknames and mascots at the state’s high schools, the Oregon Board of Education voted Thursday to ban their use. The eight schools that still use Indian mascots and names have until 2017 to get rid of them. Seven other schools calling themselves “Warriors” can keep the names but must change mascots and graphics if they depict Indians. Se-ah-dom Edmo (Shoshone-Bannock/ Nez Perce/ Yakama), vice president of the Oregon Indian Education Association, told the board before the 5-1 vote that the nicknaming practice “is racist. It is harmful. It is shaming. It is dehumanizing.” The nicknames and graphics must be removed from uniforms, sports fields, websites, trophy cases and school stationery. Schools that do not comply will face funding reductions. The Philomath School Board will vote on a resolution Monday objecting to the ban. Its high school mascot is “Warriors” and its middle school uses “Braves,” both with depictions of American Indians.

-Meteor Blades

Ethnic Studies Ban in Arizona Not Keeping Indians Out Native Classes: Arizona’s public and charter schools now prohibit ethnic studies. But students in the state can still enroll in classes that include Indian content because both federal and state statutes require it. The state specifically bars classes that are said to promote the overthrow of the U.S. government or create resentment toward a race or class of people, those meant to create ethnic solidarity or designed for specific ethnic groups. Debora Norris (Navajo), director of the Arizona Department of Education’s Office of Indian Education, says that since the law passed 17 months ago, she has received calls, letters and e-mails from Indian parents worried about how the it will affect their children. The influx of questions was so great that her office issued a statement pointing out the statute’s exemption for Native students as long as the classes are open to all students and do not incite a rebellion against the federal government or hatred toward races or classes. She pointed out that another state law requires school boards to “incorporate instruction on Native American history into appropriate existing curricula.” But she concedes that she doesn’t know how many schools are in compliance. Of the more than one million students enrolled in Arizona, about 65,000 are Indian, mostly Navajo. About 100 of the 2200 schools in the state are all-Indian.

-Meteor Blades

School Board Nixes Lakota Honor Song at Graduation:

Photo of Lakota drum by Ardis McCrae/Native Sun News
(Photo by Ardis McCrae/Native Sun News)

The non-Native school board of Chamberlain, S.D., has rejected a request for the honor song to be performed at high school graduation this year on the grounds that it is religious in nature. Chamberlain sits between two “Sioux” reservations, Crow Creek (Lakota/Dakota) and Lower Brulé (Kul Wicasa Oyate), separated only by the Missouri River. Total population of the two reservations is about 3500. Jim Cadwell (Santee Sioux), who grew up at Crow Creek, made the request. He told the weekly Lakota newspaper, Native Sun News, “There has never been such a ceremony before, and I didn’t just ask for the Native kids, I asked the school board to have an honor song for all of the seniors.” The rejection based on the song’s being religious in nature doesn’t wash, Cadwell said, because Chamberlain High School’s annual baccalaureate is a pre-graduation religious service. Cadwell decried the “double standard.” “I told them they can’t have it both ways.” Nineteen of the 50 seniors set to graduate this year are Indian, bused in from the two reservations.

-Meteor Blades

University of Denver Funds Student Powwow to Improve Inclusiveness Image: The University of Denver and Lambda Chi Alpha are making efforts to ameliorate the damage caused by the “Cowboys and Indians”-themed party two Greek houses threw last February. Members of the Native Student Alliance were offended by the party that encouraged participants to wear “Indian” costumes and makeup. The NSA declared this to be yet one more offense to add to DU’s lengthy pattern of racial insensitivity toward its American Indian community. As we reported, a pro forma apology was made by Lambda Chi Alpha and Delta Delta Delta to the NSA in March. A hundred NSA and local Indian community members gathered, but only the two Greek house representatives showed up to deliver the apology.

The DU administration recently allocated $6,500 to the NSA for its 2nd annual powwow. It was designated as a DU Presidential Debate signature event under the name New Beginnings Spring Powwow.

The Lambda Chi Alpha hosted an information booth during the powwow to show its support of the NSA as well as the greater American Indian community. Members passed out flyers giving background information and a history of the powwow.

This large donation raised the powwow to competition status, which, it was hoped, would encourage larger turnout and more contestants. Vendors were given free booth space.


American Indian Population Increases: The Census Bureau has estimated there are 6.3 million people designating themselves as American Indian in the United States as of 2011. That’s up 2.1 percent from 2010. The problem with the count is that it is self-designation. The total is far more than the number of Americans who are enrolled or otherwise associated with a recognized or unrecognized tribe. The report stated California had the highest number of American Indians with about 1,050,000. Alaska had the highest ratio of Natives, at 19.6 percent. At 93.6 percent, Shannon County, S.D., home to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, had the highest percentage of Indians of any county. And Los Angeles County, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, had the highest number of Indians, with around 231,000.

-Meteor Blades

‘Twilight’ Star Chaske Spencer Pushes American Indian Vote: Spencer (Fort Peck-Lakota/Nez Perce/Cherokee/Creek), known for his work to improve Indian lives, has with Native Vote in a new video. Native Vote is a non-partisan initiative of the National Congress of American Indians.

Video will not embed here.


-Meteor Blades

Oglala Sioux Tribe Veterans Cemetery Approved: A $6 million tribal veterans cemetery on the Pine Ridge Reservation will allow Oglalas to hold traditional ceremonies for military veterans beginning in the spring or summer of 2013. The burial grounds will allow for Lakota ceremonial rites that aren’t permitted at other veterans cemeteries. Talli Naumann of Native Sun News reports that Lakota traditions such as horseback escorts of the deceased and the ritual of taking food to the interment site to feed the dead will be kept in mind by the architects in their design. In addition, the cemetery will include provisions for burial scaffolds that allow traditional blessings to be offered before interment and a shelter designed as a medicine wheel. In keeping with custom, the cemetery’s entrances and all its buildings will be located on the east side.

-Meteor Blades

Native Language Advocate Dies at 88: Tim Parsons, the first director of Humboldt State University’s Community Development Center, which became the Indian Community Development Center at the California university, has died. Over several decades he tirelessly sought to keep American Indian languages alive in the Pacific Northwest. Among other things, Parsons helped develop a phonetic alphabet for the Hupa, Karuk, Tolowa and Yurok languages that had previously been passed down solely through the spoken word. He also developed textbooks and curriculums to facilitate formal teaching of the languages.

-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.


Native American Netroots, First Nations News, American Indian, Civil Rights, First Nations, First Nations News & Views, Invisible Indians,  Native American, Racism, Indians 101,  

Fishing in the Western Great Lakes Region

The western portion of the Great Lakes area was inhabited by Algonquian-speaking tribes such as the Anishinabe (Ojibwa or Chippewa), Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Menominee, Shawnee, Ottawa, and Sauk and by Siouan-speaking groups such as the Winnebago, Iowa, Oto, and Missouria. The Siouan-speaking groups probably emerged from the Oneota cultural tradition that began to flourish about 1000 AD in the upper Mississippi Valley.  


Fish were a major portion of the Indian diet. The archaeological record shows that Indian people in the western Great Lakes area used a wide variety of different kinds of fish. These included suckers, catfish, and sunfish.

Among the Algonquian-speaking Indian nations in this area, fishing was a year-round occupation, but at certain times the fish were more plentiful than at others. During the spring and fall, when the fish crowded into shallow water, the Indians caught them by the thousands. During this time, when there were plenty of fish to catch, the bands lived in fairly large groups on the shores of the Great Lakes.

Among the Anishinabe of Minnesota, families would move to their fishing grounds in mid-October. Here they would catch fish to last them over the winter. At some sites, such as Sault Sainte Marie, where fish were abundant, the Anishinabe would remain at the fishing site during the winter. One of the important fish at this site was the whitefish. Some groups would make regular or irregular trips to the fishery at Sault Sainte Marie in the fall.

Fish were taken with fishhooks, nets, spears, traps, lures, and bait. It is important to understand that this was not sport fishing: it was a subsistence activity which was vital to the survival of the people. The focus was on harvesting as many fish as possible in a relatively short time.

Many tribes, such as the Chippewa and Ottawa, used gill nets for fishing. Working with basswood, nettle, and other natural fibers, the women would fashion mesh nets. The men would then make cedar floats for the net and they would cut grooves in small stones which would serve as sinkers.

In many of the tribes, the women would set nets made of basswood and twine. With this system, they would catch as many as 200 fish in a night. The nets would then be washed and cleaned with a sumac leaf solution to get rid of the fish odor. Herbal medicines would then be applied to the net to attract the fish.

On the rivers, the Indians would often fish from a canoe using a dip net. Two men working from a canoe could harvest several hundred pounds of fish in just a few hours. The man in the bow would handle the net while the man in the stern would guide the boat in a backward drift downstream. At Sault Sainte Marie, a bark canoe would be paddled out into the rapids. One individual would then stand up and thrust a dip net deep into the water to catch the fish. Typically, six or seven large fish would be obtained with each dip. The fish would be dumped into the canoe and the operation repeated until a full canoe-load of fish had been obtained.

Chippewa Fishing

St. Mary's River Rapids

On the Great Lakes, the fishermen would take their canoes far offshore and set their nets in deepwater.

In addition to using the nets, fish would also be speared at night using a birch-bark or pine-pitch torch. The light from the torch would draw the fish to the area around the canoe where they could be easily speared. The fishing spear was usually tipped with a bone or horn point.

In some places, the Anishinabe used fish traps. Rocks would be piled across a small stream to form a V. This would form a trap to bring the fish into the small area of the V where they could be easily caught. John Rogers, recalling his Anishinabe boyhood during the 19th century, writes:

“Later, when we had no use for the trap, it was removed from the river. The fish must not be caught except for eating, for such is the belief of the Chippewa and other Indian tribes.”

During the winter, Indians would spear trout and sturgeon through the ice. They would first cut a hole in the ice and then build a small hut so that the fisherman would be out of the light, hidden from the fish. The fisherman would drop a small lure into the water and use it to decoy the curious fish into spear range. In some instances, they would use spears up to forty feet in length to reach into the depths of the water. Sometimes they would use gill nets when fishing through the ice.

The fish would be processed by smoking and drying. In colder weather, the fish would be frozen for later use.

One of the ways of preparing the fish among the Anishinabe was to carefully pack the fish in clay and then bury it in the coals of the fire. After several hours the fish would be ready to eat. John Rogers, writing in the 19th century, recalls:

“…when they were taken from the fire and clay, the scales would cling to the clay, so the fish were all ready to eat. And, oh, how delicious they were!”

First Nations News & Views: Living in two worlds, ‘An Overdue Apology’ & rally against racism

Welcome to the 14th 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 account of living in two worlds, a look at the years 1541 and 1885 in American Indian history, four news briefs and some linked 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.


Half Breed

By navajo

I am trying to live in two worlds.

I was born in Utah. My white father descended from the Mormon pioneers. His grandparents were polygamists. My full-blood Navajo mother – who was taken from her family at age five to be assimilated into white culture at the Tuba City Boarding School – joined the Mormon church in her 20s.

Mom had the typical boarding school experience. Overwhelming homesickness, having her mouth washed out with soap for accidentally speaking forbidden Navajo, witnessing others endure severe punishment for being incorrigible in some Navajo way and a constant curriculum of You Need to Become White Now. My mom was smart, she learned fast to conform, to survive. She excelled at the school and even skipped grades.

Many of her supervisors there were Mormon and the church also had a strong presence on the rest of the Navajo reservation. It was everywhere. Mom eventually served a two-year mission for the church, doing her work among the Zuni. When she completed her mission, the local paper, the Richfield Reaper, reported her accomplishment. Someone mailed the announcement to my father because he had an interest in Indians and a strong love of the church. He was so impressed that she had devoted two years of her life to the church while leaving her three-year-old son with friends. Her first husband, another Navajo, had been killed at a young age. My dad wrote her a letter and asked to meet her. Later they married and started a family in rural Utah.

1959. As you can see, we assimilated quite well with our modern hairstyles and contemporary dress in the dominant culture’s approved fashions. From left to right: My little brother Spence, (named after Spencer W. Kimball, who was an apostle of the Mormon church at that time), my mom Flora, my older half-brother Tom, my dad Rulon, and me, age four.

Being Indian, being Navajo, is one world. I’ll get to that shortly.

The majority of my life was spent living in the world of white where I often hid my real blood by altering my appearance as best I could. All around me was a common attitude that my brown skin made me inferior to the white townfolk. See my essay Born Evil for my experience growing up as a “Lamanite.” That’s what the Mormon church still calls Indians. In those days not so long ago, it went further and called us fierce, bloodthirsty, lazy, idolatrous and loathsome because God cursed us with dark skin. In that essay you can read about my being told in public that I was not preferred by God the way my white Sunday school classmates were. And that I must work hard to make up for it.

The common belief system supported directly by the Book of Mormon and emphasized by public comments from the leaders of the church fostered an attitude that being “white and delightsome” was superior in the eyes of God. Thus white was the preferred skin color in the community as well.

It was hard growing up where I was considered a second-class citizen, even by Utahns who were non-Mormon.

There are two reasons my memories have come flooding back now. The news about Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren in which her alleged “Indianness” has been made an issue and the bullying by presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The right-wing’s instant response regarding Warren’s claims of a Native heritage was to make fun of her by slurring Indians with a flurry of insults using stereotypes and calling her “Pinocchio-hontas,” “Faux-hontas,” “Chief Full-of-Lies,” “Running Joke” “Sacaja-whiner” and “Spreading Bull.” A name like Sitting Bull should be treated with respect. Why is this the first thing people think to do when they want to make fun of Indians?

The slurs reminded me of the same sad treatment I received as I was growing up.

In 1973, after the American Indian Movement and Oglalas on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota took over the village of Wounded Knee, my bully of a high school political science teacher, who was also the football coach, took to calling me Wounded Knee in class. Every time I raised my hand to ask a question he would say, “Oh, Wounded Knee has a question!” I was deeply annoyed but did not want to draw more attention to myself, so I did not respond publicly with anger or sadness. I went on as though nothing had happened. Fortunately, the majority of my classmates were fond of me and did not themselves adopt this racist dig of a nickname. They also never used the slur “half breed” to me.

But when I was nominated to be homecoming queen the next year, I knew that that fondness had its limits. No way would I be chosen since I was running against two of the prettiest and most popular girls in my class. White girls. I was certain one of them would win. I was honored just to have been nominated. That was enough for me. The three of us were called on stage during an assembly to announce the new queen. I wondered which of them would be chosen. Then my name was announced! I couldn’t believe it. The other two burst into tears. Like me, neither of them thought I would be chosen. As I looked out into the cheering audience, I saw why the three of us had misjudged. All the Navajo Dormitory students were jumping up and down with huge grins. They were the students separated from their families and brought to town from all over the Navajo Nation to have the Indian taken out of them in the Richfield schools. My mother worked in the cafeteria at the Navajo Dormitory. I had forgotten the alliance I would have with those students. I had the swing vote!

Another time I felt very unsafe. The sheriff’s son, who was a senior when I was a sophomore, said harshly and menacingly close to my face, “Ho.” For NavaHO. That’s what jerks like him called all Indian students in town: Hos. This was well before the word was slang for “whore,” as it is today, so that was not his intent. But it was meant to be derogatory. I stayed away from him after that. Fifteen years later I was in my hometown with my young daughters at a restaurant. In walks the guy, and I see that he’s now the sheriff! I quietly grabbed my girls, got in the car and left town. I saw his gaze follow me as we left. He seemed to being trying to place me. I checked my rearview mirror several times on the way to the freeway. I’m always afraid of lawmen in small towns.

When I finally started to pursue a career, I found I advanced faster if I didn’t dress to match like my ethnic background. Dressing with Indian elements was viewed as a caricature, as if I were wearing a costume rather than expressing ethnic pride. In the workplace my ethnic clothing and jewelry were met with raised eyebrows. I got the distinct impression I needed to dress more conservatively, to fit in better. And I did. I tried to look as white as possible. I cut my long brown hair very short. I didn’t wear any Navajo jewelry.

Decades later, I finally took a break from working as a result of too much travel and burnout. It was during that quiet interlude I found that I regretted not having embrace my Indianness and especially regretted that my daughters didn’t know much about their heritage. I made a concerted effort after that to take regular road trips to the reservation with my daughters so they could meet their relatives and taste the wonderful, rich culture. I wanted them to feel a part of the reservation even though they are assimilated.

I’m also assimilated. Born and raised off the reservation, never taught my Native language and existing more or less comfortably within the dominant culture. I’m invisible to non-Indians, so we get along well. In the past few years, I have made strong statements with my appearance, but no one ever asks if I’m Indian. They just assume I’m of the hippie culture that is very much alive and well here in urban Northern California.

Now for that other world.

In spite of my Navajo grandparents having to give up their children to the government-run boarding schools to have the Indian removed from each child, our extended family miraculously retained its culture. My grandparents plotted to hide half their children from the Bureau of Indian Affairs kidnappers in the deep canyons of Inscription House on the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona. Those kids did not learn English and they kept to the traditional lifestyle of living in hogans without electricity or plumbed water. Shi cheii (the term meaning “my maternal grandfather” in Navajo) was a renowned medicine man. He passed on his hathalie (healing and spiritual) knowledge to his eldest son Robert. I became very close with my Uncle Robert in his last few years. That’s another story I’ll tell another day.

In the previous century, my mother’s ancestors defeated one of the myriad government actions meant to destroy our culture. In 1864, thousands of Navajo were forcefully removed from their lands and force-marched almost 300 miles away to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. Fortunately, the tribe was able to return four years later, but it was devastated by the trauma of incarceration. Our family was lucky. They were able to hide deep in the canyons and high on top of Navajo Mountain. They did not go on The Long Walk. But it was still difficult for them to endure this wartime atmosphere and recover from it. In order for the Navajo to return to their lands they had to sign a treaty with many demands. One was that all the children would be given up to the government boarding schools to be assimilated. That led to the boarding school experience my mother survived. Her older sister Zonnie didn’t survive.

Because this family culture wasn’t destroyed, my mom’s Navajo roots remained strong. She visited her family on vacations and she remained steeped in the culture. She maintained fluency in the language. She took us along for several weeks every summer to herd sheep, enjoy the wonderful food, play with our cousins and live in the traditional style. We watched shi cheii perform ceremonies. I treasured every moment on the Rez.

1958. My father took this photograph of us all standing next to the hogan where my grandparents lived. My mother is to the far right holding my little brother Spence. I’m the little one at her feet in the red moccasins. Next to me is my grandfather (shi cheii) who was a medicine man. He’s the one in the tobacco-colored trousers. I loved sitting on his lap. He was so accepting of me, as was my grandmother (shi choi) who is to his right.

However, years earlier when my mom was at boarding school, she was advised to marry a white man and not teach her children the Navajo language. She was told this would raise her out of poverty and not hold her children back from advancing in the white world. It was curious that with such a strong cultural background that my mom followed this terrible advice. I think it points to how forceful the directives were from the government and how much of a survival instinct my mom had.

She felt that she was doing the right thing for us.

I admire non-English speakers who immerse their children in their mother tongue. As a result, as adults they can communicate more broadly and understand other cultures in ways monolingual people cannot. Sadly, neither I nor my siblings are fluent in Navajo, a result of the government assimilation policy and a compliant Indian woman who took the path of least resistance in her struggle to get by, to fit in.

I pay a price for not knowing the language when I visit my relatives on the Rez. Every time I go, I’m completely left out as my relatives converse in Navajo. I have to patiently wait for someone to translate for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked for a translation and no one could go back that far in the conversation to help me out. And then the talk forges on while I sit in the dark.

Once, a few years ago at a family reunion for a traditional Navajo marriage, my cousin said deliberately within earshot of me, “Well, we are certainly getting whiter and whiter every time we get together …” I felt unwelcomed by him. The same cousin later laughed when I tried to pronounce a word in Navajo. Another time I asked a question of my Uncle Robert and this cousin interrupted: “We don’t share our stories with outsiders. You can ask all the questions you want but we won’t answer them.”  

So here I was, again in the same situation I dreaded in the white world. Not fully accepted in either world. Half breed.

But my uncle Robert, who usually sat quietly and merely observed, slowly started to speak, in Navajo. He spoke a long time with many hand gestures indicating distance, of travel. When he finished, this cousin, his son, sat silent. Everyone sat silent. When I realized no one was going to fill me in without prompting I asked what had just been said. My cousin Judy said that Uncle Robert had told his son that I was not an outsider. He had described the story of how I found him and reunited him with my mother, his sister he had not seen for 30 years. There’s much more to that story, one I’ll tell another day. Uncle Robert told his son I was blood and that I should be included. His son stood down and sat quietly the rest of the visit.

So in both worlds, there are inclusive people and exclusive people. Fortunately for my mental health there were many more nice people than mean ones. But the adverse experiences take a toll, especially on a young heart and mind.

One tends to never forget them.

Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1541 and 1885

By Meteor Blades

portrait of Hernando de Soto in armor
Hernando de Soto

On May 8, 1541, on a fruitless search for gold and other riches, the thief, slaver and conquistador Hernando de Soto reached the Mississippi River somewhere south of present-day Memphis, Tenn. About a month later, having built crude boats, he and the remaining 400 men of the expedition that had begun in Florida two years before managed to evade the patrols of Indian war canoes and become the first-known Europeans to cross the great river. From there, they wound through what are now Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. In a year, de Soto would be dead.

Another Spaniard took his place and continued the expedition. But the Spaniards had lost more than half their number, including their translator, a slave whose death made communication difficult with the Indians they encountered everywhere they went. They were harried by warriors constantly. They could not find enough food after having consumed most of their horses and all of the 200 pigs they had brought with them (except for those that escaped to form the ancestors of the razorback population of wild hogs now prevalent throughout the South). Most of all they could find no gold or silver. It was decided to pack it in and head back to the Mississippi and eventually to Mexico City. When a further expedition into North America was announced there in 1545, almost none of them signed on.

Even in that era, de Soto was considered a brutal man. Born and raised in the northwest Spanish province of Extremadura, a region of poverty that spawned many conquistadors, he first came to the “New World” in 1514 at age 17. He gained a reputation for loyalty and cleverness in the conquest of Central America and became wealthy in the Indian slave trade. He was made governor of Cuba and gained estates in Nicaragua and Guatemala worked by Indian slaves. But he longed for greater success and finally was sent on his own expedition to Yucatan in 1530 to hunt for a passage to China, the quest that Spain had been on for four decades. He did not succeed. But in 1532 joined Francisco Pizarro for the conquest of Peru. From the loot of that slaughter, de Soto became fabulously wealthy and returned to Spain, married well beyond his social station to a relative of someone close to the queen and seemed set for life.

But he was soon restless and champing at the bit for another adventure and more gold. That’s when the North American expedition was hatched. And, according to what we know now, that was when the fate of the Mississippian culture of the Southeast was sealed. De Soto’s three-year trek from village to village, sometimes trading peacefully, sometimes fighting, as they did at the Battle of Mabila – Mobile, Ala., takes its name from that one – under Chief Tuskaloosa. They won the battle and burned Mabila. But it was a Pyrhhic victory. By the time they reached the Mississippi, de Soto’s original expedition was in a bad way, its crossbows no longer working, the horses gone, the heavy armor cast off and most of the survivors of the trek weakened and diseased.

They were spreading disease, too. The populace in towns and forts throughout the region was dense and diverse, agriculture abundant, culture sophisticated. The next time Europeans would encounter the region, it was depopulated, having been wiped out by the germs the Spaniards brought with them. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people who had never seen a European lost their lives to them as smallpox and other diseases against which they had no immunity took out as much as 90 percent of village after village. That kind of plague destroys more than people. It obliterates entire societies, which is exactly what happened.

Because de Soto had assured the Indians he was an immortal deity related to the sun, when he died of fever on May 21, 1542, his men weighed his body down with sand and secretly deep-sixed him in the Mississippi.


On May 12, 1885, the Metís of Canada surrendered and brought an end to the Second Riel Rebellion. The Metís were people of mixed European and Indian blood, often with French (sometimes Scottish or English) fathers, and mothers of one of several First Nations tribes, mostly Cree, Ojibwe, Saulteaux or Miqmaq.

The Francophone Metís were increasingly upset about an influx of Anglophone settlers and the impending transfer of land from control by the Hudson Bay Company to Canadian sovereignty. They had no title to the land and feared they would lose their de facto control of it under the new arrangement. They were led by Louis Riel. He first spoke out publicly in early October 1869 – saying that nothing should be done before Ottawa negotiated with the Metís. Ottawa was not listening. So the Metís blocked the arrival of the new lieutenant governor and seized Fort Garry on Nov. 6. Thus began the Red River Rebellion or the First Riel Rebellion. The Metís soon set up a provisional government, the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, with Riel as president, to handle affairs in the North-West Territory and Rupert’s Land. They established their own newspaper, New Nation.

Statue of Louis Riel
Louis Riel statue on Manitoba

Legislative Building Grounds, Winnipeg.

After several months of negotiation with Ottawa and much internal wrangling, an agreement was reached allowing the Manitoba Act to be passed, bringing that province into the Canadian Confederation. The provisional government had arrested people who resisted its authority and executed one of them, Thomas Scott. The killing meant there would be no amnesty for leadrs of the provisional government. When military force was sent from Canada to enforce federal law, Riel fled to the United States. The rebellion ended. But a complicated dance took place over the next few years as Riel won election in Manitoba but could not take his seat in parliament for lack of amnesty.

Ultimately, in 1875, he was given amnesty but only if he agreed to remain in exile in New York for the next five years. During that time, his already strong religious obsession took such fierce hold of him that he was given to outbursts of irrational behavior and speech that he was finally committed for some time to an asylum.

Meanwhile, the Metís had moved west. With the buffalo herds rapidly dwindling from the U.S. government-backed assault on them as part of its cultural genocide against the Plain Indians, and with Canadian government assistance reduced in violation of treaties, the Metís found themselves forced to take up agriculture but faced the old problems of land titles.

In early 1885, emissaries were sent to Ottawa to work out some arrangement. Instead, more troops of the North-West Mounted Police were sent and rumor had it, wrongly, that still more would come. Once again, a provisional government was established, this time for Saskatchewan and once again led by Riel, now back in Canada and recovered from his mental aberrations.

In March, a militia of the provisional government clashed with mounted police they encountered by accident while on patrol, a battle ensued, and the militia won. The Metís soon were in open rebellion. They were joined by other First Nations. Some hit-and-run battles were won, but Riel chose to concentrate his forces in Batoche, and after a three-day battle it became clear all was lost. Riel surrendered and was incarcerated. After a trial for treason, he was hanged in November 1885.

He remains a popular hero in Quebec and Manitoba.

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Killing of White Buffalo Seen As Possible Hate Crime

By Meteor Blades

Photo of the buffalo Lightning Medicine Cloud and his mother
Lightning Medicine Cloud and his mother

(Photo by Kathy Old Crow)
Photo of Arby Little Soldier, the Hidatsa Indian owner of the white buffalo yearling slain in Texas
Arby Little Soldier

As we reported previously, Lightning Medicine Cloud, the all-white yearling buffalo, was slain and skinned April 30 on the Texas ranch where he was born in a thunderstorm. Because of the sacredness in which white buffalo are held by Lakota and other Plains tribes, a $45,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the conviction of his killer.

Said rancher Arby Little Soldier (Three Affiliated Tribes-Fort Berthold): “Local people here are pushing for this to be considered a hate crime. They’re contacting their senators, their congressmen. There is no penalty for killing a buffalo in the state of Texas. If you kill a horse, you get hung. If you kill a buffalo, nothing happens. So some people around here would like to see this classified as a hate crime, which would make it a federal crime.” Investigators say they have no suspects so far.

Meanwhile, Cynthia Hart-Button, president of the Sacred World Peace Alliance, has donated a white 7-year-old buffalo bull to Little Soldier from the group’s own herd in Oregon. He is named Chief Hiawatha, and Hart-Button said she is sending him to Texas “to protect not only the buffalo but to protect him (Little Soldier) and his family.”

Hart-Button said her organization doesn’t open its sanctuary up to the public because of safety concerns. “We’ve been threatened, people have offered me millions of dollars for their heads and hides,” she said. “I’ve even been offered money for their meat. These are the rarest animals in the world.”

The peace organization’s bull may not carry the same spiritual significance, as Little Soldier said it was bred to be a white buffalo. But he said he’s grateful and excited for the gift.

NAN Line Separater

Indians Plan Rally Over Racist Attack on Blind Lakota Man

By Meteor Blades

The American Indian Movement, and Lakota elders and others are planning a rally May 21 in Rapid City, S.D., to protest a racist hate crime. As we reported in the 13th edition of First Nations News & Views, Vernon Traversie (Cheyenne River Sioux) had the letters “KKK” carved or burned into his abdomen while recovering from heart surgery in a Rapid City, S.D., hospital. The 68-year-old is blind. He spent two weeks in recovery at the hospital. During this time, he said, a nurse named “Greg” refused to give him pain medication and otherwise treated him disrespectfully.

When Traversie was discharged, a co-worker, shocked at what she saw, told him he should have photographs taken of his stomach because someone had used a knife or some other means to put three “K’s” on his stomach. That’s the acronym of the racist Ku Klux Klan. Tribal police investigated and took their own photos. They sent copies to Rapid City police. They investigated but filed no charges. FBI agents told Traversie they were going to take a statement from him, but Traversie says he hasn’t heard from the bureau in months.

Traversie said he plans to file a lawsuit.

Harry Smiskin, the chairman of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation wrote a scathing letter regarding the incident. It reads, in part:

As a former tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs police officer, I am particularly disturbed by what has not taken place in the aftermath of the assault upon Mr. Traversie. Upon the Yakama Nation’s inquiry of his tribal leaders and other relatives, I understand that there has been a complete failure of any federal, state or local law enforcement agency to take any initiative on the matter – despite that the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Police have determined conclusively that a hate crime has been committed against Mr. Traversie. In particular, the United States seems to ignore the trust responsibility it owes Mr. Traversie as a Sioux Indian. Like the assault itself, this federal and state inaction is grossly unjust. […]

Rapid City Hospital and its medical and convalescent “care providers” seem to have violated Mr. Traversie’s civil rights as an American and his fundamental freedoms as a human being. If everything is as it seems, there could be no clearer case of discriminatory treatment, depravation of the equal protection of law, and violation of human rights than here: “KKK” was somehow etched across Mr. Traversie’s abdomen – literally etched in his own blood – because he is a Sioux Indian. Our Lakota Brother was viciously violated because he cannot see. This simply would not have happened to an Anglo American elder or an affluent patient, or to any non-Indian person with sight.

Based on Mr. Traversie’s account and the corroboration of photographs, it appears that Rapid City Regional Hospital allowed a hate crime and a racially motivated attack to take place, at the hands of its “health care professionals.” It does not take a medical professional to observe that three separate incisions across his abdomen that read “KKK” were not the result of open-heart surgery or post-operative care. […]

Again, I have been told that federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have been formally notified of the attack, but have failed to investigate the crime, obtain a search warrant, or apprehend any suspects. This inaction, too, stands as a clear violation of Mr. Traversie’s federal civil rights and his basic human rights. Were Mr. Traversie an Anglo American, we can be sure that federal and state law enforcement would not have handled the referral from the Cheyenne River Police with such disregard.

We urge the United States Department of Justice and the South Dakota U.S. Attorney’s Office to immediately cause an investigation of this hate crime. Anything less would be a violation of the trust responsibility that the United States owes to Mr. Traversie.

Poster announcing rally for Indian man who had KKK carved on his chest while he was in hospital

NAN Line Separater

Samuel Tso, VP of the Navajo Code Talkers Association Has Walked On

By navajo

Samuel Tso

Photo Courtesy of the Navajo Nation

Samuel Tso, 89, of Lukachukai, Ariz. died at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, N.M. on May 9th after battling cancer.

Tso was Vice President of the Navajo Code Talkers Association whose president, Keith Little died this past January at the age of 87.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelley said, “The Navajo Nation has lost another Code Talker and that saddens my heart. The Code Talkers have brought great pride to our Nation and the loss of Samuel Tso saddens not only myself, his loss saddens the Navajo Nation. On behalf of the First Lady, the Vice President, and the Navajo people, we offer our prayers, condolences and words of encouragement to the Tso family. Samuel Tso was a true Navajo warrior.”

The Navajo Nation flag was flown at half staff from May 10th through May 14th to honor  the Code Talker for his service to the Navajo Nation and his country in World War II.

Tso enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 17 by claiming to be 21 years old. He was sent to Camp Pendleton where he mastered the second version of the code as the original 29 code talkers were being deployed. Tso had to learn both versions.

Tso was of the Zuni Tachii’nii clan and born for the Naakai Dine’e clan on June 22, 1922, at Black Mountain near Many Farms, Ariz. The Navajo introduce themselves first by naming their mother’s clan, since they’re a matrilineal society, and then they say they are born for their father’s clan.

See our previous coverage of Code Talker history here.

NAN Line Separater

U. of Minnesota Students Produce Film Calling for Apology to Dakota Indians

Photo of Indian Jail in Minnesota
Indian Jail

By Meteor Blades

For a dozen years, Carter Meland has taught American Indian literature in the University of Minnesota’s American Indian Studies program. This term 60 students in his “American Indians in Minnesota” class explored an issue we too have examined in FNN&V here and here: the 1862 Dakota War. They came away so appalled that they made a video.

The Dakotas (also known as Santee Sioux or Eastern Dakota) had been promised 1.4 million acres in perpetuity in exchange for giving up 23 million acres. Cut off from their hunting grounds, faced with two bad harvests, encroached on all sides by white settlers and having their treaty-guaranteed food distributions delayed, they sought confirmation of the land deal. They also asked for a loan so they could buy food to hold them over to the next season. The government-appointed Indian agent, Andrew Myrick, said, “If they are hungry, let them eat grass.” Five days later, the long-standing tensions exploded and white settlers were attacked. Myrick was soon found dead, his mouth stuff with grass.

President Lincoln’s advisors and the president himself thought perhaps this uprising was engineered by the Confederacy, speculation which was found to be false later. Lincoln at one point contemplated sending 10,000 Rebel prisoners of war under Union command to “Attend to the Indians.” Congress set a $25 bounty for each scalp of an Indian killed in the state. More than 1600 Dakota were placed in a concentration camp where hundreds starved. When the conflict was over, an estimated 500 whites and more than a 1000 Dakota were dead, although the actual numbers will be forever unknown. Several months after the six-week the conflict ended, 38 Dakota were executed on Lincoln’s orders in the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

That, however, was not the end of the maltreatment the state dealt to the Dakota and Ojibwe. A good portion of this was delivered in the cultural genocide that was the mission of the residential boarding schools which many Indian children were forced into after being grabbed from their parents.

When the UofM students were done with their exploration of this history, they decided that a government apology to the Dakota and Ojibwe people was in order. To make their case, they put together a five-part, one-hour video, An Overdue Apology,offering a brief history of those people and their interactions with non-Indians and the U.S. and state governments.

Video will not embed, Part 1 here:…  

As you can see, it is an amateur film, created by non-historians, and it suffers from the speed with which it had to be produced. As the Minnesota Post‘s Paul Udstrand writes, “it’s not as polished as a Robert Redford documentary.” But it covers the ground and provides the kind of information that ought to be taught about local tribes in every middle school, high school and college across the nation.

As Udstrand says:

The demand for an apology is quite provocative, but it shouldn’t be. In many ways it’s simply a request that history be recognized and accounted for. Nevertheless many people seem to take reflexive offense at the proposal, as if it’s a personal attack of some kind. This is a request for an apology from the US government and Government of MN, not a request for a personal apology from people who obviously did not participate in historical crimes or injustices. A president or governor may be the voice of that apology, but no one is claiming that they are personally responsible. This is not a bizarre concept, Government[s] are durable entities that are accountable for the duration of their existence.  […]

Before you declare an apology to be “meaningless” you need give those requesting the apology a chance to explain what it means to them. And since any consequences of an apology are created by the apology, one cannot declare an apology that has not been rendered to be inconsequential. Obviously an apology could be a meaningless gesture, but it could also be a bridge to a better understanding of history and more respectful relationships among people. You may be able to argue that an apology is useless as long as it’s theoretical, but once an actual apology is issued, it may well create a powerful significance.

Part 2: The Dakota War’s atrocities, Dakota and Ojibwe traditions and daily life.

Part 3: Land allotment, blood quantum issues, the boarding schools and renaming of Indian children with Christian names.

Part 4: Economic revitalization, Indian gaming, interviews with UofM students on their knowledge of the tribes.

Part 5 : Gaining justice, the rationale behind an apology, nine UofM students from Meland’s class express support for Minnesota Indians by giving their own apologies for the injustices that have occurred in the state:

“The fight for indigenous rights fits into a larger struggle for social justice. Social justice is the upholding of the natural law that all persons irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, possessions, race, religion, etc. are to be treated with equity and without prejudice. The path to justice for American Indians in Minnesota starts with recognizing the implications that these historical events have on relations between Native and non-Native communities. Things like the Dakota War and the dispossession of White Earth are part of a colonialist system that damages Native sovereignty and identity.”

An apology isn’t the end-all, be-all of reconciliation. But it’s always a good start.

NAN Line Separater

Lakota Farmers Reluctantly Join Loggers In Beetle-Infested Forest: The last thing Joe Shark (Oglala-Lakota) wants to be doing is cutting down trees in the forests of the Black Hills sacred to the Lakota. In fact, he has been opposed to logging there for a long time. But the Pine Beetle has killed many trees throughout the West, and the Black Hills are no exception. Left uncut, the infested trees provide an incubator for another generation of the destructive pests. So now Shark and other Oglalas have joined the Lakota Logging Project to cut the infested trees as a means of rescuing the still-healthy ones. Dave Ventimiglia, who co-founded the Lakota Logging Project, said he hopes to eventually raise $150,000 to build a saw mill on the Pine Ridge reservation. Oglala loggers could take the downed trees there and perhaps replace the run-down mobile homes occupied by so many of the tribe.

-Meteor Blades

Government Cannot Satisfy Indian Need for Eagle Feathers : Officials at the National Eagle Repository in Denver say they cannot keep up with the demand for carcasses needed by American Indians for bald and golden eagle carcasses used in ceremonies. The repository is the only place Indians can legally obtain the carcasses because the birds are heavily protected and their killing outlawed. Nobody can keep eagle feathers or other parts of the birds without a federal permit.  

-Meteor Blades

Federally Recognized Tribes Worry About State-Recognized Tribes: Kerry Holton, president of the Delaware Nation (aka Western Delaware) based in Anardarko, Okla., fears that state recognition of tribes could hurt tribes that are only recognized by the federal government. About half the states, mostly east of the Mississippi, give recognition to tribes based on widely varying rules. At an Indian business group luncheon recently, Holton said of federal aid to the tribes from Washington: “They’re taking some of our pie. That’s our money.” The problem, he said, is that “nobody has defined what that means, to be state-recognized. There are 800 to 1,000 unrecognized entities out there,” he said. He noted that the Lumbee, a state-recognized tribe in North Carolina, recently got $13 million through an Indian Housing Block Grant. The Western Delawares, on the other hand, only received $87,051 for that purpose. The Lumbee population is 55,000; the Western Delawares have 1440 enrolled members, which means that on a per capita basis the Lumbees got four times what the Delawares received. At the request of U.S. Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.), the Government Accountability Office drafted a report on the issue of state-recognized tribes. Boren has seen it, but it hasn’t been released to the public. The Lumbees have protested, saying the GAO report was written from the point of view of opponents to state recognition.

-Meteor Blades

Photo of Crooked Arrows Lacrosse game underway
(Photo by Kent Eanes)

Independent Film on Native Lacrosse Players Debuts: It took six years to get made, but Crooked Arrows opened in a few theaters this past week and will get a wider audience June 1. It’s the story of a troubled team of Indian lacrosse players whose coach is determined to help them win against a better equipped prep-school team. Finding enough Indians who could also play lacrosse and act was the task of Neal Powless. He is a member of the Eel Clan of the Onondaga Nation and director of Native Student Program at Syracuse University. “I was told if I did this movie I was no longer Neal Powless of the Onondaga Nation,” he said. “I was no longer Neal Powless of Syracuse University. I was on my own.” None of the eight players eventually chosen had ever been in front of a movie camera before. Lacrosse is a tradition of the Haudenosaunee nations (also known as the Iroquois Confederacy), which include the Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca and Tuscarora nations. The film tells the history of lacrosse as well as a more or less familiar feel-good tale of a team that starts out without a chance and proves itself capable of more than the individuals in it thought possible. Some of the actors talk about the movie here.

-Meteor Blades

Sanford “Redskin” logo

School Committee in Maine Town Dumps ‘Redskin’: After several meetings and extensive community discussion, plus the demands of a state commission, the governing body of the schools in Sanford, Maine, voted May 7 to stop using the racist slur “Redskin” for its high school sports teams. The vote was 4-1. The Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission has been working for years to get all schools in the state to replace offensive Indian nicknames, logos and mascots with more neutral team names. As we reported in the 11th edition of First Nations News & Views, only about 40 percent of the faculty, students and staff at the Sanford High School favored getting rid of the “Redskin” name and a logo depicting an Indian wearing a “typical Plains Indian headdress, nothing like the traditional attire of Maine’s Indians. At a public meeting in April, Richard Silliboy, tribal councilor of the local 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.” Meanwhile, the other Sanford in the news, the one in Florida, continues to use a racist mascot by the name of “Sammy Seminole.”

-Meteor Blades

Boston-Area Indian Center Asks Elizabeth Warren to Come Visit: The head of the North American Indian Center of Boston has extended an invitation to Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren to come visit the center in Jamaica Plain, an historic urban area of the city where she has made many campaign stops. Warren came under fire two weeks ago after it was revealed she listed herself as Native American in a widely circulated law school directory starting in the 1980s. Also, Harvard Law School and the University of Pennsylvania both listed her as a minority professor. No record exists of her objecting to this claim. The right-wing Boston Herald, Republican Sen. Scott Brown and several conservative political pundits have attacked Warren, who is campaigning for Brown’s seat. The attacks have included racial slurs and stereotypes and displayed profound ignorance about Indians. But the critics’ implications that Warren may have used her Indian heritage to gain a hiring or matriculation advantage over other students have not been borne out by records from several universities she attended or was employed by, including Harvard. A reference to Warren’s great-great-great grandmother being listed on a 19th Century marriage certificate as Cherokee was found by a genealogist. But no copy of the marriage certificate itself has been uncovered. “We’ve never heard from Elizabeth Warren, unfortunately,” said NAICOB Executive Director Joanne Dunn in an interview. “We would like to see her. It would be nice if she reached out to us. She can come on down. We’ll make her some frybread.”

-Meteor Blades

Is ‘One Drop’ Rule Overruled for Indians? Columnist Clarence Page weighs in on the Elizabeth Warren controversy:

If Warren was claiming Indian ancestry when it worked to her benefit, she was following another American tradition, writes David Treuer, an Ojibwe Indian from northern Minnesota and author of Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life.

“An Indian identity has become a commodity,” he recently wrote in the Washington Post, “though not one that is openly traded. It has real value in only a few places; the academy is one of them. And like most commodities, it is largely controlled by the elite.”

-Meteor Blades

You can read our take on the Warren affair in the 13th edition of First Nations News & Views.

Mother’s Day Native American Powwow Celebrates 21st Year: Mittie Wood started the powwow in Dade City, Fla., when her twin grand-daughters were 5 years old in 1991. She did it to honor the Muscogee (Creek) ancestry her mother had quietly inculcated in her and other young kin since she was a young girl. But when she decided to go public with the powwow in Withlacoochee River Park, her mother, then 78, spoke of her fear that exposure would mean the whole family would be shipped off to Oklahoma. Wood’s great-great grandmother had been one of the 70,000 Indians of several tribes forced at gunpoint to go to what is now Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears in the 1830s. Thousands died on the trip. Eventually, Wood’s mother became comfortable with the powwow, which brings out up to 3000 visitors each year. The park on the river (whose Muscogee name means “crooked river”) includes an authentic replica of a Creek village built years ago specifically for the powwow, as well as an arena where storytelling, demonstrations, drumming and performances are held. “It’s like you’re stepping back in time,” said the powwow’s organizer Sharon Thomas, Wood’s daughter.

-Meteor Blades

Native Kids Participate in Solar-Powered Drag Race: In Albuquerque last Friday, some American Indian elementary students raced drag cars they built with solar technology. It was the 18th Annual Zia Solar Car Race. The goal, besides having fun, is to prepare kids to be future alternative energy leaders. Students from the Santa Ana, San Felipe, Santo Domingo, Cochiti, Tesuque and Isleta Pueblos participated in the event along with a group from Mesa Elementary School on the Navajo Nation.

-Meteor Blades

Eco-Advocates, Tribes and Others Fight Wind Project: A coalition of environmentalists, tribal representatives, recreational vehicle users, hunters and community residents are calling for a national moratorium on the “fast-tracking” of large energy projects on federal lands. The coalition’s action was kindled by local approval of the Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility, a massive project that will cover 12,500 acres of desert in Imperial County, Calif. In a press release, Terry Weiner, Imperial County Projects Coordinator for the Desert Protective Council, said: “This industrial wind project is symbolic of what’s wrong with the current federal fast-tracking process. We are the canaries in the coal mine. If this is not stopped here, destruction of millions of acres of public lands across the Southwest will likely soon follow.” Unless blocked, the project on Bureau of Land Management land will be going forward under new executive-ordered rules that open up previously protected lands. It will consist of 112 wind turbines-each perched atop a 450-foot-high pillar-with a total generating capacity of 465 megawatts, the 12th largest wind farm in the United States, enough to power 140,000 homes.

In a letter to President Obama in February, Anthony Pico, chairman of the Viejas

band of Kumeyaay Indians, wrote: “We believe that the Department of the Interior is poised to violate the law and our rights to religious freedom and our cultural identities guaranteed by DOI’s own policies, the United States Constitution, and international declarations. We need your help.”

-Meteor Blades

Photo of Curley Youpee in ceremonial dress
Curley Youpee in ceremonial dress

Smuggled Cultural Items Returned to Tribes: Sixteen Native items a smuggler was caught trying to sneak across the Canadian border into Montana have been returned to the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes at Fort Peck. Eight other items have been returned to other tribes in Montana and one in North Dakota. The items, which include a knife in a beaded sheath, date to the 19th and early 20th centuries. Four of them have distinct Nakoda and Dakota designs; the origins of the rest are less certain. Fort Peck Tribal Cultural Resources Director Curly Youpee (Pabaksa-Dakota and Minicoujou/Hunkpapa-Lakota) said: “These will help with the identification of our own culture for future generations. That’s what we lack, an identity for our children. They need something to grasp onto that’s bigger than them. These are not artifacts. They are cultural items to us, and we need to maintain that.”

-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 Red River War

After 1871, the United States’ policies regarding American Indian nations was no longer based on negotiating treaties, but on concentrating Indians onto reservations where they could be “civilized” by forcing them to become English-speaking Christian farmers. In his annual report to Congress in 1872, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Francis A. Walker wrote:

“There is no question of national dignity, be it remembered, involved in the treatment of savages by a civilized power. With wild men, as with wild beasts, the question whether in a given situation one shall fight, coax, or run, is a question merely of what is easiest and safest.”

On the Southern Plains, American policy regarding the so-called “nomadic” tribes, was to destroy the buffalo herds on which they had traditionally depended for subsistence. Once the buffalo had vanished, these tribes would be forced to remain on the reservations or starve. On the other hand, they also starved on the reservations when the supplies which had been promised them as payment for their land failed to arrive.

With regard to the Comanche and Kiowa in Oklahoma, Indian Commissioner Francis A. Walker reported:

“The United States have (sic) given them a noble reservation, and have provided amply for all their wants.”

The Comanche, however, felt that the United States had not “given” them a reservation: they felt that the United States had only recognized their claim to a small portion of their traditional territory.

To pressure the Indians to stay on the reservations, the United States waged an active war against the buffalo. By 1873, non-Indian buffalo hunters (known as “runners”) were crossing into Comanche territory to hunt and the army did nothing to stop them. Instead, the army took a proactive role by providing protection for the runners and by supplying them with both equipment and ammunition.

In 1874, the Comanche held a Sun Dance. This is not a traditional Comanche ceremony, but was borrowed from the Cheyenne. This Sun Dance coincided with the emergence of a new medicine man:  Eschiti (Coyote Droppings; also spelled Esa-tai). Unlike most Comanche medicine men, he did not wear a buffalo skull cap or ceremonial mask. He was attired only in breechclout and moccasins. He wore a wide sash of red cloth around his waist. A red-tipped hawk feather was in his hair and from each ear hung a snake rattle.

Eschiti had been given strong powers in a vision quest. In his vision, Eschiti ascended to the home of the Great Spirit, a place which is far above the Christian Heaven. It was reported that Eschiti was capable of vomiting up all the cartridges which might be needed for any gun; that he could raise the dead; that he was bulletproof and could make others bulletproof; that he could control the weather. His messianic message to the people was that he had been sent by the Great Spirit to deliver them from oppression.

In 1874, in the panhandle of Texas, buffalo hunters armed with high powered telescopic rifles capable of killing buffalo at 600 yards, set up camp at the abandoned trading post of Adobe Walls. The camp was attacked by an intertribal war party of about 300 made up of Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Arapaho warriors. War party leaders included Tabananaka, Wild Horse, Mowaway, Black Beard, and a rising new leader, Quanah. The Indians were confident that Eschiti’s power would render the hunters’ guns useless.

Adobe Walls

Eschiti had warned the warriors not to kill a skunk on their way to Adobe Walls. His medicine had foreseen that the hunters would be asleep when attacked; they would not use their big guns, and his anti-bullet protection would never be put to the test.

Just as the war party prepared to attack the sleeping buffalo hunters, there was a loud crack which awakened them. The hunters, fearing that the ridge pole had snapped, were suddenly awake and scrambling around.

The hunters settled down for the siege, and with plenty of ammunition and good marksmanship, they repelled the war party. Eschiti blamed the failure of his medicine on the actions of a Cheynne member of the war party who had killed a skunk. Since skunk meat was a favorite of many of the southern plains Indians, killing a skunk was not unusual. Hungry members of a large war party would eat whatever strayed into their path.

One of those who was wounded in the battle was Quanah Parker. After his horse was shot out from under him, he crawled to a buffalo carcass for protection and was shot in the side. He then crawled to a thicket where he remained until another warrior rescued him.

This was the second battle of Adobe Walls-the first battle of Adobe Walls had taken place in 1864 when American troops under Colonel Kit Carson fought against Comanche and Kiowa warriors. The second battle of Adobe Walls marked the beginning of an Indian war known as the Red River War or the Buffalo War.

Army troops were called in to capture the war party, but their movement was hampered by drought and by temperatures well over 100 degrees. Eschiti took credit for arranging the weather. The troops, however, were relentless and managed to destroy lodges and capture horses.

In the battle of Palo Duro Canyon, an American force of 700 was attacked by 75 Cheyenne warriors. The Indians were driven back to a steep wall of the canyon where the full force of about 500 warriors made their stand. The army had superior firepower, including Gatling guns and artillery. The Army troops at this time were armed with .45-caliber single-shot Springfield rifles. Many of the Indians had repeating rifles, such as the 16-shot, lever-action Henry and the .50-caliber Spencer. While the Spencers could fire more rounds in less time than the Springfields, the single-shot army rifles could reach farther across the plains to keep the enemy at bay. It may well have been the better weapon for its time and place.

The Indian warriors under the command of Iron Shirt (Cheyenne), Poor Buffalo (Comanche), and Lone Wolf (Kiowa) were scattered by the superior firepower of the Americans. There were few Indian casualties (it is estimated that only 25 Indians were killed), but the Americans killed more than 1,000 horses and destroyed the Indians’ winter food supply.

This was the last major conflict fought by the Indians of the Southern Plains. It was a last desperate and hopeless resistance to the new order which the United States was to impose upon them.    

First Nations News & Views: Elizabeth Warren, UN Special Rapporteur, Indian energy, Apache skaters

Welcome to the 13th 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. Our last edition is here. In this edition you will find an exploration the Elizabeth Warren imbroglio, a look at the years 1877, 1916 & 1969 in American Indian history, three news briefs and some linkable bulleted news 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.

Elizabeth Warren & Indianness

Rendering by Dennis Joseph Weber

The outpouring of right-wing outrage over the revelation that Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren had checked the “Native American” box in directories of the Association of American Law Schools has followed a familiar trajectory. No surprise since it’s election campaign season. Given the right’s modern efforts to destroy or at least undermine tribal sovereignty and extinguish Indianness altogether, the racist hypocrisy exhibited in the accusations that Warren was lying and, in the words of Japanese internment praiser Michelle Malkin, playing “oppression Olympics” sent more than one Indian on a hunt for a barf bag.

On the other hand, Warren’s stated reasons for having made professional note of her Native heritage are hard to swallow. Other than that Cherokee great-great-great-grandmother listed on a 19th Century marriage certificate, her connection to Indians is tenuous. There is a cousin deeply involved in Cherokee affairs and Native causes in general. Warren, however, isn’t enrolled in any of the Cherokee bands, she doesn’t speak the language, she doesn’t go to ceremonies or otherwise practice the culture, she never made an attempt to discover who that three-greats grandmother really was, she doesn’t hang around other Indians, she apparently has never attended a conference on Native law to network with Indians as she has said was trying to do when she checked that box, and she has made no effort that anyone has unearthed to speak to Indians about their legal and political concerns or for them in public forums. The reality for her seems to be that a mantle photo of her grandfather showed him with “high cheekbones.” Well, I have those, too. But it is hard to call someone with that background an Indian, Cherokee or otherwise.

What Warren did is widely known as “box checking.” Assigning oneself Native heritage on job applications and elsewhere even if that heritage is no more than family legend. For some, and this is especially true in Oklahoma, making note of an American Indian in the family tree is perfectly innocent and accurate even if there is no real evidence and no current connection. Some individuals lie outright and go further. The tribe-shopping Ward Churchill made claims to be Creek and Cherokee – claims he made to my face in the late 1970s – but could provide no evidence of Indian ancestors in any tribes back the six generations that investigators could trace documents.

He and others falsely claiming such ancestry, by checking boxes or more elaborate means, may do so for personal benefit. That is, of course, what Warren’s detractors say. Others may make the claim out of real pride, in remembrance of a grandparent or more distant ancestor whom they know for sure was Indian or have been told was so in family lore.

[Box-checking] was precisely what the Coalition of Bar Associations of Color was getting at when they passed a “Resolution on Academic Ethnic Fraud” last July. The resolution, signed by the presidents of the Hispanic, Asian, Native American and National bar associations, states, among other things, that “fraudulent self-identification as Native American on applications for higher education … is particularly pervasive among undergraduate and law school applicants.”

It goes on to say the phenomenon is “so pervasive, it is commonly understood and referred to within the Native American Community as ‘box-checking.'”

It’s clear that Warren didn’t lie. She does have a Cherokee ancestor. And, if that long-dead woman was a full-blood, that makes Warren 1/32nd Cherokee, the same as the current Principal Chief Bill John Baker of the Cherokee Nation, which has some 317,000 enrolled members. But Baker has never been disconnected from his heritage, which includes well-known Cherokees. His great-great-grandmother was orphaned when her parents died on the “Trail of Tears,” the infamous death-march of the Cherokees from their homes in the Southeast to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma where both he and Warren were born.

Rendering by Dennis Joseph Weber

His ancestors are on the Dawes Rolls, on which Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Oklahoma Seminole and some Florida Seminoles were enumerated. So far, nobody has found a Warren ancestor on the Dawes Roll. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one there. And it doesn’t mean More than a quarter-million people applied to be included. Fewer than a 100,000 actually made it. People were chosen to be listed by whites who inspected their appearance. In some cases a brother was included and another was not. One unstated goal of the rolls was to exterminate Indian identity after the period of actual slaughter had ended. Thus, many who legitmately claimed Indian blood were denied a listing. Warren’s ancestor could easily have been one of those. If one is found, she could apply for membership in Cherokee Nation. Any amount of “blood quantum” is acceptable to those on the Dawes Rolls. Without that connection, however, she is not legally an Indian.

What’s unclear is whether Warren checked the “Native American” box solely out of pride or because it might perhaps give her a one- or two-percent edge over some other job candidate without that heritage. She says she didn’t. She says, in fact:

“I listed myself in the directory in the hopes that it might mean that I would be invited to a luncheon, a group something that might happen with people who are like I am,” she said. “Nothing like that ever happened, that was clearly not the use for it and so I stopped checking it off.”

This sounds like after-the-fact excuse-making to me. But there is no evidence contradicting her. And Warren has a record for being a straight-shooter. So one either takes her at her word on this or not, assigning it small or great significance depending on one’s point of view about the rest of her career.

What Warren also didn’t do, however, was step up in 1996 when it became clear that Harvard, under pressure from students and others about the lack of diversity on its law faculty, was touting her Native heritage in order to be able to claim another minority professor. What Harvard did was despicable. What Warren didn’t do enabled Harvard to get away with it. She was wrong, very wrong, to let that pass. It was an error in judgment, the kind of thing many, many people make in their lives. Was it also a moral lapse? Perhaps.

But the fact of the matter is Warren is a pre-eminently qualified person to be a Harvard professor of law. And she has demonstrated repeatedly and courageously against elected politicians and political appointees that she stands up for the average American, the ones on the precarious edge of economic existence today, against the austerity-mongers and New Deal-dismantlers and tax-cuts-for-the wealthy/program-cuts-for-everybody-else crowd that have grasped the nation by the short hairs and refuses to let go. Her opponent is a lite version of that crowd. Which is why – my finger-wagging over her box-checking and clumsy campaign response to its revelation aside – I was glad to see her enter the Senate race, have contributed money to her and will continue to do so, and would vote for her enthusiastically if I lived in Massachusetts.

The focus on Warren has done something that always has some value: made us invisible Indians visible. Of course, that has elicited gobs of the usual racism, like this putrid column by Howie Carr in the Boston Herald, whose only redeeming feature is that it didn’t actually make a joke about “injuns” or “Redskins.” But the Warren affair also provides the opportunity to explain to non-Indians what Indianness is about.

What it is not about is appearance. Not about skin tone. Not about high cheekbones. Not about looking like somebody in an Edward Curtis photograph. As I wrote previously in a comment in Joan McCarter’s excellent diary about what Warren should do campaign-wise regarding this flare-up, I am a white-looking tribally enrolled Seminole, with about 3/8s Indian blood. At reunions when the older generation of my extended family was alive, people went from lighter than me to as dark as Michelle Obama. All of us Seminole, all of us related by blood. Many tribal chiefs today, are light-skinned with a mix of Indian and European or Indian, European and African blood. In fact, most tribally enrolled Indians today, on and off the reservations, are mixed bloods. They can look very non-Indian but be thoroughly Indian culturally.

Most of us, on or off the reservation, are cultural hybrids. We may or may not have an Indian-sounding name. When we do, it is typically a translation, like Deborah White Plume (Oglala-Lakota). We, or our ancestors may have adopted a non-Indian religion. Or, there too, we may practice a hybrid, or stick exclusively to a clearly defined Native religion. Or we may, like a significant portion of other Americans, practice no religion at all. My partner in this series, navajo, as she has written, was raised a Mormon. I was raised a Catholic and subsequently a Lutheran. We both abandoned those religions decades ago.

Rendering by Dennis Joseph Weber

Most of us Indians speak English and no longer speak the language of our ancestors beyond a few words or expressions. Among the Navajo and the Cherokee and Lakota, however, fluent speakers are numerous, and efforts have been made to educate the younger generation in the Native tongues, a counterweight to decades of boarding schools that did everything they could to crush those languages. To age 9, I spoke the Seminole Creek dialect just to be able to communicate with my grandmother, my surrogate mother for those first years, because she would not speak English even though she understood it perfectly from her boarding school days. Over the years, I have lost almost all of it, which is the case with most Seminoles in Florida and Oklahoma today. navajo never was taught her language, although she has made attempts to learn in the past 10 years.

About half of people identifying themselves as American Indian today were born on or near reservations, but many of us who were not have a strong connection to reservation life. But others were not and do not. Yet they maintain a strong Indian identity. A modern identity. One shaped by our unique personal stories, by our tribal history and the entangling interactions of both these with others of our own tribe and the tribes of people whose histories are far different, and with the dominant culture and other sub-cultures of the American populace.

Whether we live on or off the reservation, in an urban or rural setting, whether we speak the language or not, whether we’re tribally enrolled or for various reasons not, we have one thing in common, we are connected to other Indians and we are appalled at how dreadful the existence of so many of our brothers and sisters remain 120 years after the last massacre of our people. We seek a better life for us all, on our collective and individual terms, blending or separating, but never forgetting how we can to be who we are 20 generations after Columbus arrived.

Haida Whale Divider

This Week in American Indian History in 1877, 1916 & 1969

By Meteor Blades

On May 5, 1877, nearly a year after Lakota and Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho warriors stunned the United States by wiping out five of the seven companies Lt. Col. George A. Custer’s regiment at the Battle of the Greasy Grass, the man who saw a vision of it beforehand – “soldiers falling into his camp like grasshoppers from the sky” – Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake, Sitting (Buffalo) Bull (Lakota-Hunkpapa) – led his beleaguered people across the border into Canada.

Knowing full well that their victory against the 7th Cavalry would bring down the Army’s wrath, the various bands making up the great encampment in Medicine Tail Coulee had scattered within 48 hours, hoping to make the job of revenge more difficult. In the next months, the Army clashed mercilessly with these bands and forced thousands of Indians back onto reservations at gunpoint. It was the beginning of the end of the Indian wars, and these POWs were treated in ways that would make the drafters of the Geneva Conventions shudder.

Photo of Sitting Bull and his mother, wives and daughter
Sitting Bull, his mother, his daughter and granddaughter,

seated, and two of his wives (date unknown)

Sitting Bull’s band of Hunkpapas had managed to evade the troopers, however, with only minor clashes. They hunted the dwindling buffalo herds all summer. In late autumn, Gen. Nelson A. Miles met with him and demanded that he surrender. Sitting Bull knew the odds and he wanted no more fighting. But he was to his dying day a proud man and, as victor, he thought he should be dictating terms.

That caused Miles, who had defeated the Kiowa and Southern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne two years earlier, to step up his actions. Sitting Bull decided to strike out for what the Indians called the “grandmother’s land,” named for Queen Victoria.

They remained there for four years. At first, all went well. The Canadian government was not on a campaign to wipe out the buffalo as a means to destroy Indian culture and game was plentiful. But his warriors got tired and started needling other tribes in the area. That brought the Royal Canadian Mounted Police into the picture. They pressured Sitting Bull to go home and take his young troublemakers with him. With the nomadic buffalo falling prey to hunters and habitat shrinkage from ever more white settlers in the States, the effect of their extermination soon became felt farther and farther north, and times became tougher. Many of the band gave in to emissaries who said reservation life in the U.S. was better than what was becoming a hand-to-mouth existence in Canada.

By 1881, Sitting Bull’s band was made up mostly of the old and sick, and he reluctantly surrendered in July, with just 187 others. After a few transfers, he the rest were incarcerated at Fort Randall in southeastern South Dakota for the next two years. They were allowed to return to the Standing Rock Agency (the Lakota reservation that now straddles North and South Dakota) in mid-1883.


On May 5, 1916, U.S. Army Indian Scouts, all of them Apaches, were part of what some claim is the “last cavalry charge” against Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa at Ojos Azules ranch in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. They were an element of the 11th Cavalry, which had entered Mexico as part of Gen. John J. Pershing’s Punitive Expedition.

Indian Scouts Andrew Paxton, Charley Shipp and Joe Quintero

with Dr. McCloud, on horseback, at Fort Apache in 1918.

Some 39 Apaches, mostly Tontos, were part of the expedition, but they arrived too late to search for Villa. In fact, the attacks on Villa had been officially ended because the Mexican government had protested the presence of U.S. troops on Mexican soil. Nonetheless, Villista bands remained at large, and there was clean-up to be done. Apaches, in general, despised Mexicans, and they were eager to kill any, no matter who they were aligned with during the constantly changing allegiances of the Mexican revolution. Six of the Apache Scouts, armed with pistols rather than sabers, led the charge. None was killed, but 44 Villistas were.

In Mark Van de Logt’s 2010 book, War Party in Blue: Pawnee Scouts in the U.S. Army, Pawnee Scout leader Luther H. North is quoted as saying, “Neither the Wild Tribes, nor the Government Indian Scouts ever adopted any of the white soldier’s tactics. They thought their own much better.” Apache scouts were no different.

The Indian Scouts were not officially deactivated until the last member retired in 1947. Their memory lives in the cross-arrows insignia still worn on the uniforms of U.S. Army Special Forces with the motto: de oppresso liber, which in bad Latin has been taken to mean, “to free from oppression,” but more accurately means, “from the captured man is one made free,” rather ironic given the origin of the insignia.

Col. H.B. Wharfield, a lieutenant at the time of the Punitive Expedition, later wrote:

During my service in 1918 at Fort Apache the scouts wore cavalry issue clothing shoes and leggin[g]s, but some retained the wide car[tridge] belt of their own construction and design. An emblem U.S.S. for United State Scouts was fastened on the front of the issue campaign hat. The regulation emblem was crossed arrows on a disc with the initials U.S.S.; but I never saw such a design on the scouts’ uniform nor in the Quartermaster supply room.


On May 5, 1969, Navarre Scott Momaday (Kiowa-Cherokee) became the first American Indian to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with his House Made of Dawn. That same year, “he was initiated into the Gourd Dance Society, the ancient fraternal organization of the Kiowas.” He went on to have a highly distinguished career as a writer and professor, having obtained his doctorate in 1965.

Photo of Navarre Scott Momaday
Navarre Scott Momaday

Included in his works: The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969), Kiowa tales illustrated by his father Al Momaday; Angle of Geese and Other Poems (1974); and a second volume of poems, The Gourd Dancer (1976); and a memoir, The Names (1976); The Ancient Child (1989); In the Presence of the Sun (1991); Circle of Wonder: A Native American Christmas Story (1993); and The Native Americans: Indian Country (1993); and a play, The Indolent Boys (2003).

His 1971 essay “The American Land Ethic” drew public attention to the tradition of respect for nature practiced by the native peoples and its significance to modern American society in an era of environmental degradation. It was partly written while he was lecturing in Moscow in 1974. At the same time, he took up drawing and painting seriously for the first time in his life. Since then his work has been exhibited throughout the United States. His newer books are frequently illustrated with his own paintings and etchings.

He has taught at Berkeley, Stanford and the University of Arizona. President George W. Bush awarded Momaday the National Medal of Arts in 2007 “for his writings and his work that celebrate and preserve Native American art and oral tradition.”

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

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

UN Special Rapporteur Calls for Restoration of Some Indian Lands

By Meteor Blades

Photo of UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya
James Anaya

James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, recently spent 10 days working his way across the country to examine the situation of Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. He held meetings with federal and state government officials, as well as with indigenous nations and their representatives. The first meeting was April 23 at the Navajo Washington Office in D.C. He also met that day in a closed-door session with elected tribal officials at the Embassy of Tribal Nations in Washington. It was a whirlwind afterward in six states, Oregon, Oklahoma, Alaska, Arizona, Washington and South Dakota.

Before he departed on Friday, Anaya said that restoring some lands, such as the Black Hills, to Indian control could help build reconciliation between Indians and non-Indians.

“The sense of loss, alienation and indignity is pervasive throughout Indian country,” Anaya said in a statement released Friday.

“It is evident that there have still not been adequate measures of reconciliation to overcome the persistent legacies of the history of oppression, and that there is still much healing that needs to be done.”

He pointed to the loss of tribal lands as a particularly sore point, naming the Black Hills of South Dakota and the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona as places where indigenous peoples feel they have “too little control.”

“Securing the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands is of central importance to indigenous peoples’ socio-economic development, self-determination, and cultural integrity,” Anaya said.

You can learn more about his mission and what he did on his first visits at his web site here.

What follows is testimony given by several Indians at various meetings with Anaya.

Debra White Plume’s (Oglala Lakota) testimony:

Debra White Plume
Debra White Plume

There are uranium, oil, and gas corporations here now, and more want to come. We did not invite them. America welcomes Canadian-owned Cameco uranium corporation, TransCanada oil pipeline corporation, and PowerTech uranium corporation to come and obtain permits to mine uranium and slurry oil in our Territory against our wishes, this extraction and pipeline threatens our [Ogallala] Aquifer, which gives 2 million people drinking water and irrigates the world’s bread basket. We have not given our free, prior and informed consent as required by the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, we know not everyone is satisfied with the Declaration, but it is a minimum standards document.

Mr. Anaya, I ask you to keep this message clear, do not pretty up my testimony. I am saying that America is committing ethnocide against our way of life, eco-cide against our Mother Earth, and genocide in our Lakota Homelands. Our Human Rights are being violated and our Inherent Right to live as Lakota People and Nation is being violated as well. Without access to our lands and waters we cannot live our collective Inherent Rights to be who we are.

We must have our lands. Share this message with the world. The United States Supreme Court agreed our Territory was stolen by the United States and was the ripest, rankest case of land theft in the United States of America’s history and thus awarded us millions of dollars. Tell the world we refused the money. We want our lands and our waters. We want our Treaties upheld. We must have our lands.

In Tucson, Damon Watahomigie (Havasupai) testified: “As the first born warriors of the Grand Canyon we refuse to become the next millennium’s world terrorists by allowing mega nuclear industrial complex mining industries to mine in the Grand Canyon.”

As did Leonard Benally (Navajo):

Leonard Benally

Ben Shelly [president] of the Navajo Nation is working with Senator Kyl and McCain to pass legislation for the Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement that gives away our water rights to Peabody Coal Company and Navajo Generating Station. We believe the Settlement is a tragedy not only due to the minimizing [of] Navajo rights but is waiving hundreds of millions of dollars in potential compensation for rights waived.

Our liberty is being sacrificed for an economic bonanza based on fraud and corruption. Our justice has been prostituted by hand-outs, hopelessness, and conformity elevated to the status of the national security doctrines. We are the historical lot of the dispossessed. Democracy has been whitewashed with imported detergent that allows reclaimed sewer water to get dumped on our sacred San Francisco Peaks.

Peabody’s collusion with the U.S. government has resulted in a dark infamy of genocide and crimes against my people and the environment – relocation, the Bennett Freeze, uranium mining, all in the pursuit of energy resource development fueled by corporate and governmental greed and collusion.

Glenna Begay with

Fern Benally translating

From Glenna Begay (Navajo):

“Residents in the mining area have been jailed or threatened with jail for trying to protect their burial and sacred sites. Other residents have watched the unearthing of graves.”

From Hathalie [Medicine Man] Norris Nez (Navajo):

“In Big Mountain, Black Mesa, on Hopi Partition Land (HPL) there were many sacred sites where offerings were given.The Holy People, the Star People recognize us by these sites that are sacred where we Diné, five fingered humans give offerings. They acknowledge that we are doing our duty to give our offerings to the Holy People. These places are for the wellness of the people, not only the Diné. Our prayers are said for all mankind.”

NAN Line Separater

“Ramp It Up” Exhibit Opens at the San Diego Museum of Man

By navajo

4-Wheel Warpony skateboarders, 2008

From left to right, White Mountain Apache skaters Armonyo Hume, Jess Michael Smith, Aloysius Henry, Ronnie Altaha and Lee Nash. The skate team was founded by award-winning filmmaker Dustinn Craig (White Mountain Apache/Navajo), who got his start making skateboarding videos in Arizona.

-Photo Courtesy Dustinn Craig (White Mountain Apache/Navajo)

Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America
Bryant Chapo (Navajo),

Minneapolis, Minn., 2007

Discovered by a local skateboard shop

in his hometown of Fort Hall, Idaho,

Bryant Chapo’s win at a 2006 Utah

skateboarding competition brought

him to national attention and his

first major sponsor. Chapo trains

and skates full-time and makes it

a point to participate in as many

Native skateboarding competitions

as he can. Here he performs a

varial heel flip.

-Photo Courtesy Brandon Flyg

Owing its origin to the surfboard of Native Hawaiians, the modern skateboard, or deck, grew in popularity on the mainland beginning in the 1960s. Since that time, skateboarding has become one of the most popular sports on Indian reservations and has inspired and influenced Native American and Native Hawaiian communities. Today, skateboarding is a five-billion-dollar industry that includes shoes, apparel, camps, music tours, reality TV, and worldwide competitions.

The lessons learned in a skatepark speak to the inner strength of each skater and are a metaphor for the Native experience: When you fall, get up and try again. Push yourself higher and faster. Never give up. Skateboarding has grown to become a true phenomenon, integrating physical exertion with design, graphic art, videography, and music. The result is a unique and dynamic culture all its own.

Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America reveals the rich world of skateboarding and celebrates the vibrancy, creativity, and history of Native American skateboarding culture. Showing for the first time outside of the Smithsonian, this new traveling exhibition features rare images, video of Native American skaters, and over twenty skate decks created by Native artists.

Highlights include a never-before-seen 1969 image taken by skateboarding icon Craig R. Stecyk III of a skate deck depicting traditional Native imagery, as well as 1973 home-movie footage of Zephyr surf team members Ricky and Jimmy Tavarez (Gabrielino-Tongva tribe). The exhibition features the work of visual artists Bunky Echo-Hawk (Yakama / Pawnee), Joe Yazzie (Navajo), Traci Rabbit (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) and Dustinn Craig (White Mountain Apache / Navajo) and highlights young Native skaters such as Bryant Chapo (Navajo) and Augustin and Armondo Lerma (Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians).

Exhibit opened April 28, 2012 and runs through September 9, 2012.

Lee Nash (White Mountain Apache) of the 4-Wheel Warpony skate crew, 2008

4-Wheel Warpony skater Lee Nash tucks a skate deck into his belt.

-Photo Courtesy Dustinn Craig (White Mountain Apache/Navajo)

NAN Line Separater

Navajo Band and Jemez Pueblo Plan Major Solar Installations

By Meteor Blades

To’Hajiilee, N.M., home of a non-contiguous part of the Navajo Nation formerly known as the Cañoncito Indian Reservation, may soon be home to the largest commercial solar photovoltaic farm in the United States. if so, it will be 50 percent larger than the one Apple plans for its data center in North Carolina. Environmental reviews have been completed and found no significant negative impacts. All that remains before construction begins is getting contracts signed for power purchases

The 30-megawatt Shandiin operation on 250 acres of the 77,000-acre reservation will provide electricity for more than 6,000 homes. Shandiin means “sunbeams” in Diné, the language of the Navajo. With a population of only some 1700, the To’Hajiilee band will have plenty of extra electricity to sell power to the Public Service Company of New Mexico, which serves Albuquerque just 22 miles away. A major transmission line in close proximity to the site greatly reduces the cost of the project, but it is still estimated at $124 million. The band is thinking of selling electricity to municipalities, the federal government and directly to the PSCo.

Meanwhile, the 3000-member Jemez Pueblo 25 miles further north is now in its third year of planning a $22-million commercial solar installation of its own. It’s a 4-megawatt project that will provide electricity to 1400 homes, on and off pueblo lands. That could ultimately bring in $1 million in revenue annually. Jemez Pueblo is also on the verge of drilling its first test well to see if geothermal power is practical for use on its lands.

Each solar project recently received for pre-construction purposes about $300,000 in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Tribal Energy Program, sharing with other tribes their portion of a $6.5-million appropriation for 19 projects. Financing for construction of the solar farm will come from grants, private investors, tribal and pueblo resources, and loan guarantees. No completion dates have been set. But once power purchase agreements are arranged, construction could take as few as nine months. That means the Shandiin project could be generating electricity by May 2013.

“I think if we’re able to find a power buyer fairly quickly, we certainly ought to be breaking ground this fall. That’s our goal,” said Rob Burpo, president of First American Financial Advisors, Inc., one of the consulting groups working with To’Hajiilee.[…]

Her boots covered in fine yellow dust, Delores Apache, (To’Hajiilee band of Navajo) president of To’Hajiilee Economic Development Inc., walks across the spot where the solar panels will be situated.

Delores Apache

For her, the project is about more than gaining a foothold in a new industry. She ticks off a list of what revenue from the plant would mean for her community: a daycare center, programs for senior citizens and veterans, better roads, more efficient wells for drawing water, language preservation programs and scholarships for youngsters.

“It’s going to mean a whole lot,” Apache said. “We have no means of economic development. No dollars. We don’t have anything at all.”

To’Hajiilee isn’t the only place Navajos hope to put up solar. The Navajo Nation, whose overall reservation spreads across 27,400 square miles, the size of Vermont, New Hampshire and New Jersey combined, is using its share of the recent DOE grant to explore the possibility of building solar farms totaling 4,000 megawatts on its lands in northwest New Mexico. That would double the existing level of commercial solar photovoltaic electricity operations in the entire United States and generate enough power for 800,000 homes.

In a Washington and Lee Law Review article last year, attorney Ryan Dreveskracht wrote:

“Solar projects can be a rallying point, allowing tribes to come together collectively to pursue their own objectives in their own way, promoting cultural awareness, and creating a self-image that has been missing in many communities for years.”

But there are profound concerns among leaders and other members of tribes that have been screwed for centuries by outsiders who told Indians what their best interests were and then proved self-interest was the real motive by ripping off the tribes. So when the talk is about outside investors putting up money for energy projects, the bullshit antennae start vibrating like crazy. For this reason, “Tribes need to … establish clear business plans, and create knowledgeable workforces of their own,” Dreveskracht wrote.

The Department of Interior hopes to open more public land for wind and solar projects, but these often run into opposition, sometimes from environmentalists worried about damage to endangered fauna and flora, sometimes from residents for NIMBY reasons. These objections can generate lawsuits that take years to wind their way to settlements or court judgments. Tribal lands, however, are governed under different rules and an increasing focus on Indian sovereignty has meant tribes have more latitude to make their own decisions in the matter of energy and other projects.

A new Department of Interior rule will fast-track leasing agreements on Indian trust lands, giving more power to the tribes and curtailing oversight by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. But it is seen as a double-edged dagger. While it is designed to slice through red tape that has stalled tribal decision-making, it can also lead to corruption and yet more rip-offs.

While Indian lands hold the potential to supply four times as much electricity as needed by the entire nation, most of that land is in the West and Far West, putting it out of reach of Eastern markets, at least until low-leakage Ultra-High Voltage transmission lines are in place, which could be a long time. And so far, politics and other foot-dragging have kept solar projects from happening. Now, however, with prices for solar cells continuing to make steep drops and the financial and other support of the Obama administration, projects like those at To’Hajiilee and the Jemez Pueblo aren’t the only ones likely to come on line in the next decade.

And solar isn’t the only renewable source making headway. The Kumeyaay of Campo in southern California have installed 25 wind turbines that on a good day generate 50 megawatts of electricity, far more than the small tribe needs for its own use. It plans to install an additional series of turbines capable of generating another 160 megawatts or electricity. The total would be enough to provide power for 50,000 homes.

NAN Line Separater

Colorado Legislature Opts for “Atrocity” Instead of “Genocide”: State Sen. Suzanne Williams (Comanche) thought that the resolution she introduced in the Colorado legislature would be met with the same strong support given to resolutions condemning Jewish, Armenian and Darfurian genocides. Hers, however, being about American Indian genocide, “hit a little too close to home.” That spurred a debate among legislators that went largely along party lines. Williams is a Democrat. Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts and others argued that there had been no Hitler-like extermination plan and Indians aren’t extinct, so “genocide” was inappropriate. But Williams argued that there was an extermination plan, one that stretched from the nation’s origin through the Trail of Tears, massacres like that in 1864 at Sand Creek in Colorado and confinement on barren reservations where thousands of Indians died from harsh conditions. She said the resolution described “a history of what happened in North America.” She couldn’t convince her colleagues. Amendment after amendment was offered to substitute another word for “genocide.” Eventually, it could be said a middle ground was chosen by nixing both “tragedy” and “genocide” in favor of “atrocity.” Even so, nine of the 33 senators present opposed the resolution.

-Meteor Blades

Honor the Treaties Campaign Hurt by Poster Giant’s Negligence: Aaron Huey of the Honor the Treaties campaign hired Poster Giant to paste up posters in the Seattle streets last year. The company reported more than four months ago that all posters had been put up and its stock depleted. Recently, numerous complaints from alternative street artists in Seattle revealed that Poster Giant did have inventory of Honor the Treaties posters because it had pasted over several existing murals, causing an uproar. Honor the Treaties and Aaron Huey’s reputation was damaged and is as much a victim as are all the street artists who lost their original artworks as a result of Poster Giant’s mismanaged services. Huey is considering what he can do to rectify the situation.

On a positive note for Honor the Treaties, the posters are getting righteous visibility around the nation being used by activists at the XL Pipeline protests.


Blind Lakota Man Scarred with “KKK” at Hospital: Sixty-eight-year-old Vernon Traversie (Cheyenne River Sioux), had heart surgery in Rapid City Regional Hospital in South Dakota. He spent two weeks in recovery. He said that during this time a nurse named “Greg” refused to give him pain medication. After he was discharged, a co-worker told him he should have photographs taken of his stomach because someone had carved or burned the “K’s” on him, the acronym of the racist Ku Klux Klan. Tribal police took their own photos and sent copies to Rapid City police. They investigated but filed no charges. The FBI told him they were going to take a statement, but Traversie says he hasn’t heard from them in months. He plans to file a lawsuit. The chairman of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation has written a scathing letter regarding the incident.

-Meteor Blades

Obama Replaces Kimberly Teehee with Jodi Gillette in Native American Affairs Post

Jodi Gillette
Jodi Gillette

President Barack Obama has announced the appointment of Jodi Gillette (Standing Rock Sioux) as Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs, replacing Kimberly Teehee, who held the job since it was created in 2009. Teehee, who was said to be interested in the post of Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs vacated in April by Larry Echo Hawk (Pawnee), has moved to private, Indian-focused lobbying firm, Mapetsi. As a member of the Domestic Policy Council, Gillette will advise the president on issues impacting Indian Country. “Jodi Gillette will be an important member of my Administration’s efforts to continue the historic progress we’ve made to strengthen and build on the government-to-government relationship between the United States and tribal nations,” said Obama.  “She has been a key member of my administration’s efforts for Indian Country, and will continue to ensure that Native American issues will always have a seat at the table.”

Gillette was previously the Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs for Policy and Economic Development in the U.S. Department of the Interior. Earlier she served as Deputy Associate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and Associate Director of Public Engagement, where she was responsible for the communication and interaction between tribal nations and the White House. She played a key role in the White House Tribal Nations Conference in 2009 and 2010, where the president hosted tribal leaders from across the U.S. She has also served as executive director of the Native American Training Institute in Bismarck, N.D., a nonprofit offering technical assistance and training to tribal, state and local governments in the area of human service delivery systems. She also had served as an economic development planner for her tribe in Fort Yates, N.D. Gillette holds a BA in government and Native American Studies from Dartmouth and a Master’s in public Policy from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs in Minneapolis.


Professors File Lawsuit to Stop Transfer of Bones: The Kumeyaay tribe of southern California has been seeking to have the bones of a human male and female found buried in 1976 on a cliff in their traditional territory returned to them under provisions of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The University of California, San Diego was prepared to do so, but a lawsuit has been filed to stop the transfer. Three anthropology professors claim that collagen taken from skeletons, dated to about 10,000 years ago, indicates that the individuals ate ocean fish and mammals different than traditional fare eaten by ancestors of the tribe. James McManis, a lawyer for the trio said: “These are not Native Americans. We’re [not] sure where they’re from. They had primarily a seafood diet, not the diet of any way of these tribes. They were a seafaring people. They could be traveling Irishmen who touched on the continent. The idea that we’re going to turn this incredible treasure over to some local tribe because they think it’s Grandma’s bones is crazy.” Of the skeletons, one of the professors, anthropologist Tom Bettinger, says “No other set of New World remains holds such a high degree of research potential.” (You can read our previous coverage of the issue here.)

-Meteor Blades

CSU-San Marcos Honors 24 Indian Graduates: The California State University campus celebrated the two dozen students, the most in the school’s 21-year history, who will complete undergraduate or masters degrees this year. The university has made a goal of increasing enrollment of American Indian students by reaching out to tribal schools, recruiting high school students from area tribes, and adding the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center in November.

-Meteor Blades

Navajo Student Improves Indian Sustainability Program with Her Dissertation: Fonda Walters (Navajo) and her five siblings are first-generation college graduates who now include two with a PhD after their names. She graduates in June after having worked on a dissertation focused on “First Innovations” a collaboration between the American Indian Policy Institute in Phoenix, Ariz., and the American Indian Studies program at Arizona State University that combines an intensive internship with classes focused on developing innovation and entrepreneurial skills for American Indian sustainability. It wasn’t easy. She had children ranging from age 8 to 17 when she started her doctorate in 2009. “I went to my family for guidance and help. We held traditional ceremonies to get me through while we were doing this,” she said. “This is my family’s degree … They stayed up all night for me.”

-Meteor Blades

Eight Lakota Students Warn Against Delays in Nickname Lawsuit: The students at the University of North Dakota have urged a federal court “move as expeditiously as possible to prevent further violations of (their) civil rights.” They oppose the university’s continued use of the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo for its sports teams. The lawsuit is one of two. On May 2, a federal judge dismissed the second suit brought by the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe, which favors keeping the nickname. The lawsuits were brought as part of a longstanding battle over the use of Indian nicknames, mascots and logos on sports teams. The NCAA has forbidden their use unless relevant tribes give their approval.

-Meteor Blades

Death of Rare White Buffalo Under Investigation: The slaying and skinning of Little Medicine Cloud, the just-shy-of-its-first-birthday white buffalo whose birth generated widespread jubilation and celebration among Lakota and other Plains tribes, is being investigated by Texas Rangers and the Hunt County Sheriff’s Department. A reward of $5000 for information leading to convicting whoever is responsible has been posted. It is believed the killer cased the ranch and waited until the owner, Arby Little Soldier (Fort Berthold-Three Affiliated Tribes), was gone. He said a scholarship-raising pow-wow scheduled for the buffalo’s birthday celebration this coming week will take place anyway. Traditional Lakota believe the goddess of peace has appeared in the form of a white buffalo calf and that the white animals serve as a unifying force for all nations.

-Meteor Blades

New Mexico Indians Have Substantial Voting Clout: The question is whether they will use it. Alvin Warren (Santa Clara Pueblo), principal and executive vice president of Blue Stone Strategy Group, was a panelist at the recent WK Kellogg Foundation’s grantee conference for America Healing in New Orleans. Warren noted that American Indians can have significant voting clout in New Mexico, which is an important swing state in presidential elections. “In New Mexico, he said, we actually have had very similar experiences to the South when it comes to discriminative, active and intentional, systemic and institutional, with regard to native voting.” The American Indian population in New Mexico increased from 134,000 in 1990 to almost 220,000 in 2010, approximately 11 percent of the state’s population. With this percentage of the total population, American Indians can have tremendous impact and influence, according to Warren.

-Meteor Blades

Malkin’s Demeaning of Indians Catch Native Journalists’ Ire: Michelle Malkin has made a living attacking people of color, so it was no surprise that she would take on the controversy surrounding the Indian heritage of Elizabeth Warren with her usual sensitivity. Taking a far gentler approach than Malkin deserved, the Native American Journalists Association issued a statement saying it was “disappointed” that she had written a piece under the headline “Sacaja-whiner: Elizabeth Warren and the Oppression Olympics” and ridiculed the Senate candidate with denigrating puns and other put-downs: “Call her ‘Pinocchio-hontas,’ ‘Chief Full-of-Lies,’ ‘Running Joke’ or ‘Sacaja-whiner.'” NAJA stated: “While allegations surrounding [Warren’s] claims are unsettling, making fun of Native names that have history, respect, and honor is worse.” Meanwhile, Megyn Kelly on Fox News told Shepard Smith that she would like to interview Warren and knew exactly the way she would begin. She then raised her hand and said “How.” Afterward, she broke into laughter and said she had been drinking. At least she didn’t say, “Firewater very powerful.”

-Meteor Blades

Map Gives Possible Clues to Roanoke’s ‘Lost Colony’: The disappearance of the English colonists who first tried to settle on Roanoke Island off the coast of present-day North Carolina has been an unsolved mystery since 1590. The disappeared include Virginia Dare, the first English child born in North America. Theories abound as to what happened to the 118 colonists between the time their governor sailed for England in 1587 to obtain new supplies and 1590 when he returned to find them all gone and their village and fortifications dismantled. Theories abounded for years: starvation; disease; lost at sea; wiped out by local Indian tribes; captured, enslaved and/or assimilated by local tribes. The Lost Colony DNA Project seeks to test these latter possibilities. Now, the British Museum’s use of 21st Century imaging methods to reexamine a 16th-century map has found hidden markings “that show an inland fort where the colonists could have resettled after abandoning the coast. […] The analysis suggests that the symbol marking the fort was deliberately hidden, perhaps to shield it from espionage in the spy-riddled English court. An even more tantalizing hint of dark arts tints the map: the possibility that invisible ink may have marked the site all along.”

-Meteor Blades

The Book of Mormon: The Whiter the Skin, the Closer to God: Tim Giago (Oglala Lakota), founder of the Native American Journalists Association and Indian Country Today, and widely considered to be an enemy of Indian militance, points out in a recent article racist quotes of past presidents of the Mormon Church regarding Native Americans. From Brigham Young: “There is a curse on these aborigines of our country who roam the plains and are so wild that you cannot tame them. They are of the House of Israel; they once had the Gospel delivered to them, they had oracles of truth; Jesus came and administered to them after his resurrection and they received and delighted in the Gospel until the fourth generation when they turned away and became so wicked that God cursed them with this dark and benighted and loathsome condition.” Giago’s conclusion was the same as ours in FNN&V two weeks ago. “And I will continue to ask myself why any sensible Native American would belong to a Church that will not fully accept them until they become white.”



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.


Mississippian is a cultural complex which spread from its hearth on the Mississippi River in Illinois throughout much of the Southeast. The most spectacular characteristic of Mississippian material culture is the construction of earthen pyramids. The pyramids, usually called mounds, have a flat top which provided a space for a ceremonial building or a chiefly residence. Access to the top of the pyramid was made possible by a ramp or stairs up one side.  

Overview of mounds

About a thousand years ago-approximately 1000 CE-Mississippian people established the site of Etowah in Georgia. This became a dominant regional center with massive earthen platform mounds, elaborate ritual objects, and an extensive trading network. Etowah was a planned community made possible by a productive maize-based agriculture. Archaeologists have determined that at least 140 buildings were constructed at the site. Politically, Etowah was a chiefdom with a hierarchical social organization.


Painting of house

Reconstruction of a house at Etowah is shown above.

One of the primary characteristics of Mississippian sites is the earthen mounds or pyramids: At Etowah there are three main platform mounds and three smaller mounds. The largest of these mounds, Mound A (sometimes called the Temple Mound) stands 19 meters (63 feet) in height and covers about three acres at its base. The construction of this mound began early in the site’s history and it continued to be expanded and reconstructed over the next several centuries. There is some archaeological evidence that ritual feasting accompanied the building and rebuilding of the mound.

Mound 010

Mound 010

The summit of Mound A contained a complex of Mississippian buildings separated by open spaces. Some of these buildings were screened from public view. The largest of these buildings was 18 meters on a side. The screening of the sacred space on top of Mound A may be an indication that spiritual power was not egalitarian, but reserved for an elite group. Access to this power was controlled.

Mound A

Mound A is shown above.

The earthen ramp on the front of Mound A originally had clay steps. Logs were placed on the tread of each stair. The original staircase was about 17 feet wide.

Mound B is 25 feet (7.6 meters) high while Mound C, rises to just 10 feet (3.0 meters). Mound C was created as an elite mortuary facility which emphasized the genealogical links of certain subgroups in the society.

Mound B

Mound B is shown above.

Adjacent to the mounds, the Mississippian occupants of Etowah constructed a raised ceremonial plaza. This was used for ceremonies, as well as for chunkey games (which were often ceremonial in nature), and as a commercial trading area.

Some evidence of warfare or conflict can be seen in the fortification system which surrounded the town. There was both a palisade and a moat. The moat was 9 to 10 feet (2.7 to 3.0 meters) deep. The moat also functioned as a drainage system during major floods.

The palisade was built using logs. As with other Mississippian sites, the palisade was constructed by first digging a ditch and then standing logs into it. Finally it was backfilled to support the wall. The wall would have been about 12 feet (3.7 meters) high. About every 80 feet (24 meters) there were guard towers for archers.

One of the distinctive features of Mississippian culture and iconography were the distinctive paint palettes (sometimes called sun disks) which were found at Etowah. These were locally made ritual paraphernalia which were kept in sacred bundles. The palettes were generally round, about 23-33 centimeters in diameter and 2.5 centimeters thick, and made from a greenish-gray rock. All of the palettes were decorated in a similar fashion: a scalloped, notched, or rayed edge and a band of one to four lines incised on the top of the rim. These were common decorative themes in Mississippian art.

The palettes were used to mix kaolinite (a clay mineral that is pure white in color), calcite (a whitish powder obtained from burned mussel shells), hematite (a mineral known for its bright red color), graphite (a black pigment), galena (a crystalline lead ore with a shiny, silvery appearance), and resin (a yellow-brown material that was used as a liquid).

With regard to art, archaeologists have found numerous clay figurines and ten stone statues at Etowah. Some of these are paired in which there is a man seated cross-legged and a woman kneeling. The females are wearing wrap-around skirts. Both figures have elaborate hair styles. Some people interpret these figures as representing lineage founders. The stone effigies can weigh up to 125 pounds.


Etowah was abandoned about 1200 and then re-occupied just before 1300. The re-establishment of the Etowah chiefdom involved an introduction of a foreign symbol set. This included a set of copper plates depicting the Birdman. The Birdman is a decorative style and religious theme whose home probably lies at Cahokia.



The peak of building and occupation at Etowah appears to have been from 1325 to about 1375. About 1325, a residential ruler’s compound was constructed on top of Mound A . The compound included four large buildings, including one 3,000-square-foot structure.

The first scientific archaeology at Etowah was carried out in the 1880s by the Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution. In the 1920s, excavations were carried out by Phillips Academy of Andover, Massachusetts. Many of the artifacts were distributed to various museums throughout the United States. Both the U.S. National Museum and the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, New York, have exhibits of artifacts from Etowah.

In 1953, the Etowah site was purchased by the Georgia Historical Commission. In 1965, the Etowah Mounds Archaeological Area was designated as a National Historic landmark by the Department of the Interior and is considered the most intact Mississippian culture site in the Southeast. The site is considered to be ancestral to the Creek people. Today the Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site is managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The current park covers 54 acres.


Museum Display

Pot 1

The museum and some museum displays are shown above.  

The Bozeman Trail

In 1851, the United States called a treaty council at Fort Laramie, Wyoming which was attended by 8,000 – 12,000 Indians from the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Shoshone, Crow, Assiniboine, Arikara, Gros Ventre, Mandan, and Hidatsa tribes. The purpose of the council and of the resulting treaty was to establish peace between the United States and the tribes, including a promise to protect Indians from European-Americans, and to stop the tribes from making war with one another. At the Fort Laramie Treaty Council, each tribal area was defined.  

The Council ignored the participation of the Shoshone and assigned their northeastern hunting range to the Crow.  As there were no River Crow at the Council, the Mountain Crow version of their geographic rights and hunting areas was used and was assumed by the Americans to be binding to all of the Crow tribes.

The Sioux received the rights to the Black Hills and other lands claimed by the Northern Cheyenne.

Signing the treaty for the Yankton Sioux was Smutty Bear who complained about the destruction of grass and trees by travelers on the Overland Trail and about the subsequent scarcity of game. Smutty Bear’s complaint turned out to be prophetic. Over the next decade more tribes were pushed out onto the Plains where they were supposed to depend on the buffalo for subsistence. At the same time the buffalo herds decreased due to a combination of over-hunting, destruction of grazing by cattle herds and immigrant wagon trains, and the destruction of the environment by the railroads. Consequently, the Sioux had to hunt in lands farther west. The tyranny of the map laid down by the Americans during the Treaty of Fort Laramie was soon obsolete and did not reflect the new reality of the need to find food and clothing.

The United States has always maintained a working policy of transferring potential wealth-minerals, petroleum, timber, good farmlands-from Indians to non-Indians. Thus in 1862, when gold was discovered on Grasshopper Creek in Montana, all treaty agreements about keeping non-Indians out of Indian territory were ignored. Soon the miners were invading Indian territories with the support of the United States government. The gold discovery resulted in heavy traffic along the Montana Trail between Salt Lake City and the gold fields. The Trail passed through Shoshone territory in Utah and Idaho. On the one hand, the Indians resented the new intrusion, but they were also intrigued by the possibilities for plunder of the relatively small and unprotected miners’ parties.

In 1863, American miners and others seeking a faster way to the Montana gold fields created the Bozeman trail. The trail started from the Oregon Trail near present-day Douglas, Wyoming and ran north into Montana. While livestock grazing and water were scarce along this route, it was the fastest way to the gold fields. The Americans were unconcerned that it cut through the buffalo hunting grounds of the Lakota, Arapaho, and Northern Cheyenne. The Indians, however, found this illegal incursion into their prime hunting grounds to be intolerable. In response they began a series of sporadic raids against the American emigrants.

In 1865, the gold fields of Virginia City, Montana were connected with points east through the Niobrara-Virginia City Wagon Road. The road cut through the hunting grounds of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and other tribes.

That same year, the Sawyers Expedition-a civilian road-building group with military escort-entered the Powder River country in Wyoming. The group of 143 men, including 118 cavalry, reached Pumpkin Buttes near present-day Wright without any Indian opposition. Here they were attacked by a war party of 600 Southern Cheyenne, Northern Cheyenne, and Sioux warriors.

After several hours of fighting, the Indians called for a truce. Dull Knife, Bull Bear, Red Cloud, and Charlie Bent met with the Americans and George Bent acted as interpreter. The Cheyenne explained to the Americans that peace would be possible on only one condition: the hanging of Colonel Chivington, the American leader in the Sand Creek massacre. The Cheyenne felt that they were strong enough to fight the U.S. troops.

Over the objections of the military officer, the civilian leader of the expedition offered the Indians bacon, sugar, coffee, flour, and tobacco in exchange for safe passage. The peace was short-lived as two troops were killed when they wandered out among the Indians.

The 12th Missouri Cavalry and the 2nd Missouri Light Artillery then entered the Powder River Country from Nebraska to wage war against the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. The cavalry was armed with Spencer repeating carbines which had an effective range of 900 yards. Camped in the area, but unknown to the army, were 1,000 Sioux and Cheyenne lodges with 6,000 people.

After several encounters with Indian war parties in which the army had the advantage of superior fire power, the army decided to turn back and head for Fort Laramie. For several days a running battle was fought with Cheyenne warriors armed with bows, lances, and a few trade guns. Roman Nose, riding a white war horse, rode in front of the troops, demonstrating his bravery and prowess. While his horse was hit, Roman Nose escaped injury and the fight became known as “Roman Nose’s Fight.”

Roman Nose

Roman Nose is shown above.

In 1865, an army force of 558 soldiers and 179 Indians (95 Pawnee and 84 Winnebago and Omaha) set out to attack the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho in the Powder River area where the Indians were holding their traditional summer ceremonies.

The army encountered an Arapaho village under the leadership of Black Bear and Medicine Man. By the time the army reached the village most of the warriors were mounted on their horses and the women and children had already begun their march to a new camp. For an hour, the army howitzers pounded the village and the Indian scouts killed Arapaho men, women, and children indiscriminately. As the soldiers entered the village to engage in fierce hand-to-hand fighting, the Arapaho women fought beside the men. Many of the Arapaho reached a high point near the village. The army destroyed the Arapaho village and their supplies. Eight Arapaho women and 13 children were captured; 65 Arapaho were killed; 250 lodges burned; and 500 horses captured.  

In 1866, Sioux leader Red Cloud and others met with U.S. officials at Fort Laramie to discuss the Bozeman Trail.  General Sherman provided the Indians with goodwill gifts of gunpowder, lead, and food. The Government asked permission for emigrants to cross Sioux and Cheyenne lands. In addition, General Sheridan sought permission for three forts to be built on the Bozeman Trail connecting the Platte River with Montana’s mines. Red Cloud broke off negotiations because the United States had brought in soldiers to use as a threat of force. In the months that followed, the Oglala and other Sioux tribes engaged in guerrilla war along the Bozeman Trail, making it dangerous to travel.

Red Cloud

Red Cloud is shown above.

The army, under orders to protect the gold seekers, established Fort Reno, Fort Phil Kearny, and Fort C.F. Smith along the Bozeman Trail. The army was determined to make the Bozeman Trail a major thoroughfare to the Montana gold fields. The United States government was reeling under the immense financial strain of the Civil War and saw the Montana gold fields as one answer to the financial problems.

In one battle near Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming, Captain William J. Fetterman and 80 soldiers were killed by Oglala and Cheyenne warriors. The Cheyenne were under the leadership of Little Horse, a contrary. The soldiers in the fort prepared to blow it up if the Indians broke through their defenses and the message from the fort was

“We are fighting a foe that is the devil.”

Montana Territorial Governor Thomas Meagher wrote in 1866:

“As for the Sioux, and their allies and accomplices, it is my clear and positive conviction that they will never be reduced to friendly and reliable relations with the whites but by the strong and crushing hand of the military power of the nation.”

In Montana, Oglala leader Red Cloud visited the Crow, bringing them gifts of tobacco, horses, and ammunition. The Oglala asked the Crow to join them in their fight against the Americans. The Crow, who had long been Oglala enemies, declined to join them.

A war party of 3,000 Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho warriors was formed to attack the army station on the Platte River Bridge, near present-day Casper, Wyoming. The army station was protected by a wooden stockade and a company of soldiers.

The Cheyenne warriors were led by Dull Knife, White Bull, and Roman Nose. The Sioux warriors were led by Old Man Afraid of His Horses, Young Man Afraid of His Horses, and Red Cloud. A small group of warriors acted as decoys and a detachment of soldiers was sent out to drive them off. Before the ambush trap could be closed, however, the soldiers were ordered back and returned without loss.  

The following morning 25 soldiers were sent out to escort a military wagon train back to the fort. They were attacked and four soldiers killed. The war party then attacked the wagon train, killing over 20 soldiers. At least seven Cheyenne were killed.

From the Indian perspective, these limited attacks were worthwhile as individual warriors accomplished heroic deeds. The war party had attained sufficient glory for one day and the warriors returned home without attacking the army station.

In 1867, the Sioux and Cheyenne continued their battles against the building of the Bozeman Trail. Dull Knife and Two Moon led the Cheyenne against soldiers near Fort C. F. Smith. Red Cloud attacked woodcutters near Fort Phil Kearny. In Montana, a war party of 700 Sioux warriors attacked a group of 19 soldiers and six civilians who were working in a hayfield. The Americans had the advantage of newer and better guns-rapid-firing, breech-loading 50 caliber Springfield rifles and repeating rifles. After several hours of battle, the Sioux withdrew.

In 1867, the Northern Arapaho under the leadership of Medicine Man met with the Americans at Fort Fetterman in an attempt to reestablish peaceful relations. Medicine Man told the Americans that they did not want to be involved in the Sioux and Cheyenne raids, nor did they want to go to the Sioux Reservation or to Indian Territory. He told them that the Arapaho wanted to stay in the north, in Montana and Wyoming.

The war over the Bozeman Trail, also known as Red Cloud’s War, officially ended in 1868 with the Treaty of Fort Laramie which established the Great Sioux Reservation and preserved the Powder River and Big Horn country as un-ceded Indian territory. The reservation, according to article 2, was

“set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians”.

No cession of the reservation would be valid without the signatures of three-fourths of the adult males.

The treaty was signed with 10 Sioux tribes – Brulé, Oglala, Miniconjou, Yanktonai, Hunkpapa, Blackfeet, Cuthead, Two Kettle, Sans Arcs,  Santee- and with the Arapaho.

The Indians were promised that they could continue to use their hunting grounds outside of the reservation for “so long as the buffalo may range thereon in such numbers as to justify the chase.” The American government, however, was confident that the buffalo would soon be exterminated and thus the Sioux would be confined to the reservation.

The Indians promised that they would withdraw all opposition to the construction of railroads; that they would not attack the people of the United States; that they would not capture white women or children; that they would not kill or scalp white men.

From a Sioux perspective, the treaty was a success as it forced the abandonment of the Bozeman Trail through their hunting grounds and the three forts that guarded the trail.

The Arapaho felt that they had little choice but to sign the treaty. They agreed to settle on a reservation within one year: either with the Sioux or with the Cheyenne and Southern Arapaho in Oklahoma or with the Crow in Montana. Signing the treaty for the Arapaho were Black Bear, Medicine Man, Little Wolf, Littleshield, and Sorrel Horse.

Following the treaty council the army abandoned all of its forts except for Fort Fetterman in Wyoming. The Sioux burned all of the abandoned forts. The burning of the forts was a symbol of their victory against the American invasion of their country.