Native American gifts in the 1880s

I am an amateur screenwriter writing in the period of the old west for the first time.  I have a Cherokee brave wanting to extend a white young woman a gift but I don’t know what that gift should be?  He’s already given her a deerskin blanket.  What else would he give her?  

Posted in Uncategorized

Urban Indians can get free education AND connect with local tribes

I attended for a couple of semesters until I had to work more.

But urban indians need to know that they can get paid to go to school and get a profession. And the urban indians can make friends with res indians at Sipi and learn about traditions they grew up without like I did.

I was getting $2000 to go to school but that was not enough to support my family. But if you are single you can go to school for free, live at Sipi for free, and get paid $2000 to take calsses and get your degree.  Lots of areas to study are proided.

Don’t believe me? Go to and get the phone number and call them.

If you make friends with res indians who are your class mates, you can maybe learn traditions you never new.

What do you plan to do in 5 years?

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First Nations News & Views: ‘Sun Kissed’, Custer’s ‘Last Stand’ and the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’


Welcome to the 18th edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by Meteor Blades and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find a new documentary on the Navajo, a look at the year 1876 in American Indian history, The Doctrine of Discovery, some news briefs and a few linkable bulleted briefs. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Sun Kissed

By navajo


The sun greeted the children of Dorey and Yolanda Nez with the kiss of death when they born. The couple live in a trailer on the New Mexico part of the Navajo reservation. Their two children were born with a rare and deadly genetic disorder called Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP) that causes severe sunburn with blistering and vastly increased cancer risk upon exposure to any sunlight. While the incidence of the disorder is one in a million in the general population, the occurrence among Navajo is one in 30,000. Why?

Maya Stark and Adi Lavy have filmed a documentary about Dorey, Yolanda and their children called Sun Kissed. It premiered at the L.A. Film Festival on June 16.

Like so many living on remote reservations with limited financial resources, the Nez family had to learn about their plight and how to treat their children without professional help. Before much was known about the disorder, Indian Health Service authorities took some Navajo children away from their parents because they suspected negligence after seeing cases of severe sunburning.

The Nezes’ son had died at age 11 and, before the filming ended, their daughter had died at age 16. The incredible burden of keeping their children out of the sun as much as possible and enduring the aftermath of any exposure was understandably overwhelming. Sun Kissed shows Dorey and Yolanda suffering along with their daughter as they shower her with love.

The filmmakers explore the conflict between ancient Navajo taboos and modern applications of science. Navajo traditionally do not to talk about death, disease and hardship. They rely on ancient healing methods. The Nezes natural need to know why this was happening to them and how to cure their children clashed with the rigid cultural rules guarded by their own parents.

Harmony matters in Navajo culture. When events disrupt harmony, the need – the requirement – to restore balance overrides everything. The pressure to harmonize is intense. And when people cannot achieve that, when the disruption continues despite their most vigorous effort, they often blame themselves and are blamed by others for their failure. That was where Yolanda and Dorey found themselves.

Enter the filmmakers…and science. The film’s hook – One Gene Exposes a Nation’s Dark Past – suggests that the reduced population caused by the infamous “Long Walk,” the Navajo “Trail of Tears,” may be a factor in the affliction that struck the Nezes’ children.

Under orders from President Lincoln, in 1864, as part of the government’s campaign to eradicate or assimilate Indian populations in the West, the Army captured thousands of Navajo and, in 53 separate actions, force-marched them hundreds of miles from their homelands in Arizona and New Mexico to Fort Sumner or Bosque Redondo (in Navajo: Hwéeldi). About 9000 Navajo were imprisoned there for four years along with their enemies, 400 Mescalero Apache. As you can imagine, many died during their incarceration.

Many Navajo quietly left Bosque Redondo and the government gave up its first attempt at creating a Native reservation west of Indian Territory. The two sides signed a treaty in June 1868, allowing the Navajo to return home but requiring them to send their children to government-run schools-the policy of taking the Indian out of the Indian. This marked one of the few instances where the government relocated a tribe to within its traditional boundaries. Marched to Bosque Redondo in dozens of groups, the Navajo returned to their sacred ground as one large band stretching 10 miles along the trail home.

The filmmakers suggest that the reduced population from the Long Walk may have allowed the Xeroderma Pigmentosum gene to express itself more. While this is interesting speculation, it raises many questions. The group that survived seems too large to have created this anomaly. If only a very few people who started on the Long Walk had survived, it might be evidence supporting the idea that the forced-march contributed to the prevalence of the disorder. But, in addition to the Navajo who were removed at gunpoint, thousands of Navajo who hid and weren’t captured later mixed their genes with the returning population. My Navajo ancestors were among those who hid successfully from the army.

I consulted Kossack jotter, who has a doctorate in biochemistry, to help me understand the genetic speculation of the filmmakers. He responded with an email:

Having seen only the trailer for the documentary I can only speculate that they are invoking what is called “the founder effect,” in which a gene rare in a parent population becomes more frequent when a very few survivors, or “founders” give rise to a new population after a population bottleneck (which is a nice way of saying an event which very few survive).

Whether or not this is a true interpretation of the events around the Long Walk, I have no idea.  If only a very few people who started on the Long Walk survived, it might give credence to the idea.

What I managed to read on line suggested that there were at least 9000 survivors of the Long Walk, but there may have been many fewer women who went on to have children.

This has been seen many times, in many populations, it is a consequence of a small population size. For example, Tay-Sachs is much more common in people of Ashkenazi (European Jewish) heritage than in other populations.

XP is actually a disease with many “causes,” at least 8 different genes can, when they are damaged, give rise to XP.

I couldn’t find anything about which type of XP is found in the Navajo, or if there is only one kind. If there is more than one kind, it would argue strongly against there being anything related to the Long Walk.

Without knowing what the incidence was before and after the Long Walk, it is kind of speculative to attribute the high incidence (relative to European populations) to that event.

I also wonder if the high incidence of XP isn’t of a more ancient origin. XP has a higher frequency in Japan. What about Taiwan, or Polynesia? There is genetic evidence for a closer association between peoples of the Southwest and South America to Southeast Asians.

Genetic questions aside, the beautifully shot film appears to take an engaged look at the Navajo culture. It documents the traditional taboos and stigma of having a disabled child, depicts the limited resources available on the reservation and recounts the multi-generational trauma of the tragic history of genocide by the government against the Navajo.

The film’s trailer can be seen here:

Sun Kissed will be nationally broadcast on PBS this fall,

with the first showing on Oct. 18, 2012.
Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1876

By Meteor Blades

 Tȟatȟáŋka PtÃčela aka Grant Short Bull, an Oglala Lakota witness to
Tȟatȟáŋka Ptéčela aka Grant Short Bull, an Oglala

Lakota witness to “Custer’s Last Stand”

“The Custer Myth is a living thing, which refuses to die despite the efforts of careful historians to reduce it to uncontroverted facts. Almost everything about it is in some degree disputed.”

 -The Custer Myth, by William A. Graham (1953)

On June 25, 1876, the Custer myth got its start as Sioux and Cheyenne warriors clashed with the U.S. Army’s Seventh Cavalry in Medicine Tail Coulee and the surrounding area on the Greasy Grass River (Little Big Horn) in Montana Territory. When the shooting was over, five companies of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s command had been wiped out, with 262 men dead and 55 wounded, half the battalion. So startling was the Indian victory that when Crow scouts who had been riding with Custer met up with Gen. Alfred Terry the day after the fight and told him what they had seen, he refused to believe them.

Since that June day 136 years ago, hundreds of books, most of them bad and some of them brimful of outright lies from beginning to end, and more than 50 movies, most of them dreadful, have kept that myth flourishing. A good deal of it was spun into being by Libby Bacon Custer, his widow, who wrote three books glorifying her husband and transforming him from a reckless, aggressively ambitious military politician into a heroic legend. This effort was assisted by two factors:

One was the classifying of the Official Record of the Court of Inquiry of 1879 until 1951. The inquiry was requested by Major Marcus Reno to clear his name for conduct he had been accused of during the battle. It was not until retired Col. William A. Graham wrote The Custer Myth: A Source Book of Custeriana (1953) that a book came close to telling the details of that bloody day on the Greasy Grass.

The second factor was President Theodore Roosevelt’s persuading of Edward Curtis in 1906 to leave an account of the Crow scouts he had interviewed out of his photo-rich, 20-volume The North American Indian. The scouts’ version was at odds with the image that Libby Custer had created over 30 years of books, lectures and interviews. Custer was Roosevelt’s hero, and the president informed Curtis that Americans would not take kindly to having their “memory” of the “Last Stand” besmirched by a trio of Indians, who, of course, were untrustworthy just by being Indian. Curtis dutifully left out that part of the story. Indeed, despite ample opportunity, the Indian side did not fully emerge into the view of the general public until the 1970s. That, in part, came about because the murderous policies that led to the battle and hundreds of others throughout American history began then to be examined outside of scholarly circles.

Seventh Cavalry Guidon
Seventh Cavalry Guidon

Graham’s 60-year-old book was the first popular work to dismember the myth, as historians and other writers have done in microscopic detail since. Yet, even today, in spite of the scholarly delving into the battle, archeological studies of the ground where the fight took place and the amateur and professional exploration of every scrap of minutiae, every bullet casing, every written or recorded word, elements of what happened at the Little Big Horn remain in dispute. Moreover, some Americans continue to revere Custer as a major hero. For instance, Congress voted in 1991 to rename Custer Battlefield National Monument the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument. In the year beforehand, the National Park Service received a steady flow of mail filled with racist slurs, bolstered by twisted patriotism and calling the name-change everything from a travesty to treason.  

As Graham wrote in reply to his publisher’s pressure to ditch the word “myth” from the title:

Just what is a Myth? Ever since I began the study of history, many long years ago, I have been making the acquaintance of myths in one form or another. The exploits of the ancient gods of Greece and Rome come to one’s mind instantly when one speaks of myths; but each of them, very probably, was founded in greater or less degree upon the accomplishments of some man, whose identity, once known, was lost in the maze of traditions, fictions and inventions that ascribed to him the attributes of a superman; and as the centuries passed, endowed him with the character of a supernatural person.

We have ourselves created myths in the course of our own short history, which spans less than two hundred years. Washington was in fact a very human person, as contemporary records prove; but the Washington the average American knows is not the real Washington. As “Father of his Country”; the all-wise leader, the military hero, the champion of freedom and foe of tyranny, his human qualities have all but disappeared. He has become a Myth.

So also with Lincoln, martyred savior of his country; about whom and around whom has been built so fantastic a structure of fictitious tales and absurd stores, that the real Lincoln has been obscured from view; and so in our own day with Franklin D. Roosevelt, who to millions of Americans was a selfless, immaculate latter-day Messiah, who gave his life on the altar of self sacrifice. Both these men were human beings-very human; but the Lincoln and the Roosevelt known to the average American are Myths.

And so with Custer, and so with nearly everyone involved in the Custer story. It began in controversy and dispute; but because a devoted wife so skilfully and so forcefully painted her hero as a plumed knight in shining armor-a “chevalier sans peur and sans reproche,” that all who stood in the way of her appraisal were made to appear as cowards or scoundrels; and because her hero went out in a blaze of glory that became the setting for propaganda which caught and held, and still holds, the imagination of the American people, what began in controversy and dispute has ended in Myth; a myth built, like other myths, upon actual deeds and events, magnified, distorted and disproportioned by fiction, invention, imagination and speculation. The Custer known to the average Amercian is a Myth; and so is Reno; and so also in Benteen.

The Little Big Horn battle was neither the greatest nor most important fight in the Indian Wars that began in North America in 1540 when Francisco Vasquez de Coronado attacked the Tiwa in what is present-day New Mexico and ended in Bear Valley, Arizona, in 1918 in a clash between African American 10th Cavalry “Buffalo Soldiers” and a band of Yaqui. But the battle everyone can name has come down to us as the mythical “Custer’s Last Stand” and has in a multitude of ways shaped the American psyche regarding the collision between Europeans and Natives. Although the myth has been under attack for decades, both by scholars and Indians alike, it refuses to yield completely.  



The Custer Myth, W.A. Graham, 1953 and 1981.

Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Big Horn, Evan S. Connell, 1991.

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

The Doctrine of Discovery Still Plagues Native Peoples

By Ojibwa
Click for larger size
by Marty Two Bulls (Oglala Lakota)

Law and its interpretation by the courts regarding American Indians in the United States are based on two concepts: (1) the U.S. Constitution, and (2) legal precedents from international law, primarily a legal fiction known as the Doctrine of Discovery.

In 1787, the United States adopted a Constitution as the supreme law of the land. Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 delegates to Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” Thus, dealings with the tribes were assigned to the federal government from the beginning. Most litigation regarding Indian matters derives from this clause. However, it has not been unusual for legal scholars, including one Supreme Court Chief Justice, and for many politicians and government leaders, to ignore it or otherwise get around it.

The “Doctrine of Discovery” is not well-known to Americans who are not historians, legal scholars or Natives. In brief, it is an ancient European legal concept which says that Christian nations have a right, if not an obligation, to rule over all non-Christian nations. Thus, the European nations, and the United States after 1787, felt that they had a legal right to govern American Indians. The Doctrine of Discovery accorded Christian nations the right to take land away from indigenous peoples, paying for it with the gift of religious conversion.

The Popes and Spanish Law

Pope Nicholas V in 1452 laid the foundation for the Doctrine of Discovery by issuing the papal bull dum diversas. This instructed the Portuguese monarchy “to invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ, to put them into perpetual slavery, and to take away all their possessions and property.” The ideas found in this papal document were later woven into U.S. Indian law and, even today, is a shadow guiding U.S. Indian policy.

The original papal bull, technically still in force, was strengthened in 1455 with another, Romanus Pontifex. This sanctified the seizure of non-Christian lands and encouraged the slavery of native peoples wherever they were found.

Following the “discovery” of the Americas by Europeans, bulls by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 granted Spain and Portugal all the lands in the Americas which were not under Christian rule. His Inter Caetera Divina bull stated: “We trust in Him from whom empires, and governments, and all good things proceed.” Thus began the European assumption that the Native people of the hemisphere didn’t own the land they called their own because they were not Christian. The Pope decreed that: “barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.” In short, Christian-that is, Catholic-nations had the Pope’s written blessing to wage a “just war” against Indian nations that failed to recognize the Doctrine of Discovery.  

Vine Deloria, Jr. (Yankton-Dakota) would write in the Afterword to Alvin Josephy, Jr.’s America in 1492: The World of Indian Peoples Before the Arrival of Columbus (1991): “Thus armed with a totally bogus title issued by God’s representative on earth, the Spaniards then began a brutal conquest in the Americas which virtually obliterated the native populations in the Caribbean within a generation.”

By 1513, Palacios Rubios, Spain’s master jurist, had refined the Doctrine of Discovery into a document that was to be read aloud, in Spanish or in Latin, when new peoples and/or lands were encountered. The fact that the indigenous people might not speak Spanish or Latin was not seen as relevant. The document recited the Christian history of the world and then demanded that the Natives accept this version of history and submit themselves to the authority of the Spanish king, who ruled by “Divine Right.”

The indigenous peoples were told that God has declared that the Pope rules all people, regardless of their law, sect or belief. This includes Christians, Moors, Jews, Gentiles, or any other sect. The Native Americans were to come forward of their own free will to convert to Catholicism or “with the help of God we shall use force against you, declaring war upon you from all sides and with all possible means, and we shall bind you to the yoke of the Church and Their Highnesses; we shall enslave your persons, wives, and sons, sell you or dispose of you as the King sees fit; we shall seize your possessions and harm you as much as we can as disobedient and resisting vassals.”

Furthermore, Natives who resist are to be held guilty of all resulting deaths and injuries from the “just” war waged against them.

American Law

Pope Nicholas V portrait
Pope Nicholas V

The Doctrine of Discovery entered into American jurisprudence in 1823 when the Supreme Court ruled on Johnson and Graham’s Lessee v. McIntosh. The Court found that the Doctrine of Discovery gave sovereignty of Indian lands to England and then to the United States. Indian nations, under this doctrine, have a right of occupancy to the land. Christian nations, such as England and the United States, have superior rights over the supposedly inferior culture and inferior religion of the Indians. According to the Court, Indians have been compensated for their lands by having the gift of Christianity bestowed upon them.

The Supreme Court’s use of the Doctrine of Discovery in Johnson and Graham’s Lessee v. McIntosh (1823) laid the foundation for Indian law that still continues, but without the brutal language of Palacio Rubios. The ruling reinforced the superiority of Christianity as a governing philosophy and paid little attention to either Indian history or Indian religions.

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States. The government argued that under international law Christian nations can acquire lands occupied by heathens and infidels. It was an argument made by the United States government on the basis of the Christian religion. In their argument before the Court, government attorneys not only cited the 19th Century case of Johnson v. M’Intosh, but also the papal bulls of the 15th Century and the Old Testament of the Bible.

In 1955, the Supreme Court announced its decision denying the Tee-Hit-Ton (a band of the Tlingit Indians) any compensation for the taking of timber from their land. According to the Court: “The Christian nations of Europe acquired jurisdiction over newly discovered lands by virtue of grants from the Popes, who claimed the power to grant Christian monarchs the right to acquire territory in the possession of heathens and infidels.”

The Tee-Hit-Ton case reaffirmed the Doctrine of Discovery as the basis for U.S. law. It reaffirmed this Christian doctrine as the principle to be used in judging American Indians and discounted American Indian history and religious traditions. It denied that Indians had any legal rights as pagan nations.

In 2005, the Supreme Court once again cited the Discovery Doctrine in City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote: “Under the ‘doctrine of discovery,’ fee title to the lands occupied by the Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign-first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States.” The case ruled that tribal repurchase of land taken in the past does not restore Indian sovereignty over it.

In 2008, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers traveled to the Vatican to ask Pope Benedict XVI to rescind the Discovery Doctrine that they said has encouraged the genocide of millions of indigenous people. Vatican police, however, claimed that the women were engaged in conducting anti-Catholic demonstrations.

In 2009, Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons asked Pope Benedict XVI to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery. The Pope declined, thus indicating that the doctrine continues as Church policy. However, that same year, the Episcopal Church adopted a resolution repudiating the doctrine. The resolution called on the United States to review its historical and contemporary policies that contribute to the continued colonization of Native peoples. The resolution also called for Queen Elizabeth II to repudiate publicly the validity of the Doctrine of Discovery.

In 2010, A Preliminary Study on the Doctrine of Discovery was presented to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues by Tonya Gonnella Frichner (Onondaga). According to the study, the Doctrine of Discovery has been used to justify indigenous genocide and is one of the underlying reasons for the worldwide violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples. In 2012, the 11th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues discussed the Doctrine of Discovery.

On numerous other occasions, Indian leaders in the Americas have formally asked the Pope to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery. At the present time, it is still official policy of the Catholic Church and underlies part of American law.

NAN Line Separater

NCAI President Seeks Voter Registration at Indian Health Services

By Meteor Blades

Jefferson Keel photo
Jefferson Keel

Jefferson Keel (Chickasaw), the president of the National Congress of American Indians, the largest group representing American Indians and Alaska Natives, is pushing voter registration for Indians in a way never seen before. He wants the largest-ever Native turnout this year at the polls. He told the Associated Press that the government should establish voter registration operations at Indian Health Service facilities under the provisions in accord with the National Voter Registration Act.

On reservations and in urban centers, the IHS provides members of federally recognized tribes health care and advocacy. It runs 142 hospitals, health centers and 50 health stations on reservations and about 30 urban Indian health projects where voter registration could be done, just as it is now done at public assistance agencies and local branches of the departments of motor vehicles in some states.

Only 40 percent of eligible Indians were registered to vote in 2008, meaning there are at least one million unregistered Indians. “This should be considered a civic emergency,” Keel told NCAI members assembled for a mid-year meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska, Tuesday. Many politicians believe the Indian vote is too small to care about. But boosting turnout can make a difference in the outcome of local, state and, very occasionally, congressional elections in several states where there are large concentrations of Indians.

For instance, in 2002, South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson won reelection to his U.S. Senate seat against challenger John Thune by 532 votes, less than one-tenth of one percent of the vote. That victory can be credited to the huge margin he won on the Pine Ridge reservation by virtue of an unprecedented voter registration drive there that turned out large numbers of Oglala Lakota at the polls. The Democrats typically get more than 80 percent of the vote at Pine Ridge.

A new report from Demos found the Indian Health Service voting registration idea completely in line with public assistance agency registration. It also found that American Indians have the lowest voter participation rate of any ethnic group in the nation.

Demos found that when the law was implemented tens of thousands of new voters were added in North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, Ohio and Illinois. “In Illinois, the number of public agency registration applications is now at levels 18 times the rate before re-implementation” of that voting registration law. That’s exactly the kind of boost that would be needed to register a million American Indian and Alaska Native voters. This process would also be cost-effective voter registration, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the total cost at less than $500,000 over a four-year period.

“The Native community in the United States is increasingly making its voice heard in state and national elections,” the Demos report said. “Unfortunately, most of our history has been one of state mistreatment and exclusion of indigenous peoples. There are still problems and tensions … Making voter registration easier and more accessible through designation of Indian Health Service facilities as voter registration agencies will not solve all the problems that are causing low rates of participation among American Indians and Alaska Natives or fully address the ongoing mistrust. Nonetheless, it would be an important step that would have a significant positive impact on the voting rights of thousands of Americans.”

Getting registered is, for Indians, just part of battle to get unfettered access at the polls. Since Indians gained citizenship in 1924, states and counties have tried all kinds of chicanery to keep them from exercising their rights. This ranges in recent years from denials based on tribal identity cards in Minnesota to at-large elections in Wyoming, from refusing to provide language assistance under the 1965 Voting Rights Act in New Mexico to discriminating against reservation-dwelling Indians by having fewer polling places per capita and fewer hours allowed for early voting in South Dakota.

NAN Line Separater

Navajo Code Talker Frank Chee Willeto Walks On:


“Code Talker” Frank Chee Willeto (Navajo) died on Saturday, June 23. Willeto enlisted in the U.S. Marines 6th Division in 1944 at the age of 17. Willeto served in the Pacific Theatre in Saipan and Okinawa during World War II. He was one of a few selected to serve on a secret mission that used a code developed by speakers of Navajo and military cryptographers to transmit radio communications to Allied forces. A code within a code. For example, the term for “platoon” was has-clish-nih, the Navajo word for “mud,” where platoons spent much of their time. The undecipherable Navajo code frustrated Japanese linguists who never cracked it. The Code Talkers are credited with saving thousands of lives during the war. They were always guarded by one or two other Marines so they would not be mistaken for a Japanese soldier. The Code Talkers are given considerable credit for the victory over Japan on Iwo Jima. Their mission remained a military secret and they returned home as silent heroes. Even though their story was finally told when the mission was declassified in 1968, Congressional Gold Medals were not awarded until 2001, 60 years after the war began.


Supreme Court: Tribes Owed Millions in Reimbursements: In a major 5-4 ruling in Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter that saw an unusual mix of justices on each side, the Supreme Court has decided the government must reimburse American Indian tribes for millions of dollars they spent on federal programs. Although $1.6 billion was appropriated to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for “the operations of Indian programs” in 2000, only $120.2 million was paid out. The justices ruled that the government “was obligated to pay the tribes’ contract support costs in full.” Roger Martinez, president of the Ramah Navajo Chapter in New Mexico was a plaintiff in the case. He told journalists that the band was sad the case had had to go to the Supreme Court, but “happy that they sided with us.”

-Meteor Blades

Tribes Start to Receive $1 Billion in Settlement Money:

T.J. Show, Blackfeet Chairman
T.J. Show, Blackfeet Chairman

As we reported in April, the federal government has come to agreement with 41 tribes over mismanagement by the Bureau of Indian Affairs of concessions on Indian trust land. The payout? $1 billion. Some tribes are now receiving their share of that money. Among them:

– Minnesota: Leech Lake, $3 million; the Minnesota Chippewa, $1.99 million; the Bois Forte, $1 million

– Wisconsin: Lac Courte Oreilles, $8 million; Lac du Flambeau, $5 million; Bad River, $3 million.

– North Dakota: Spirit Lake, $6 million; Standing Rock Sioux, $48.9 million

Blackfeet Nation Chairman T.J. Show said that half of his tribe’s $19 million will go for investment projects on its Montana reservation, including a 90-room hotel. The rest of the money will be distributed evenly to each of the tribe’s approximately 17,000 members-$550 per person. Said Show:

We received an avalanche of responses with many, many great ideas. Some said it all should go to our youth, others said it should all go to per caps, some wanted debt paid down, others wanted to better fund programs and projects. After giving much consideration to all these great ideas and requests, we decided the fair and responsible thing to do was spend half on per caps and then stretch the other half as far as we can. […]

I believe it will be an economic benefit to the tribal members to use as they see fit, whether it be for college kids going to school or parents just needing to feed their child.

-Meteor Blades

Indians Worry About Bill Relaxing Eco-Rules at Border: The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that eases environmental regulations along the Canadian and Mexican borders. The bill is meant to keep out drug smugglers. But the Department of Homeland Security has said it is unnecessary. It would allow the Border Patrol to have full access access to public and tribal lands within 100 miles of the borders. It would also waive dozens of protective laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act and others. The National Congress of American Indians, the nation’s largest representative body of Indians, sent a letter to the Senate in opposition to the bill.

The House measure exempted tribes, but Kesner Flores [Wintun/Paute-Cortina Rancheria], interim director of the National Tribal Environmental Council, is concerned that the Senate version of the bill contains no such exemption. The House version affects swaths of land along both the northern and southern U.S. borders, which he says are home to numerous tribes.

“That actually are homelands to a lot of native nations, who have their sovereignty issues and the nations; endangered species, and habitat and other things that are there that might be impacted, or could be impacted and probably will be impacted by this bill.”

Flores says the Obama administration and federal public lands rules require that tribes be consulted before making these types of major changes.

-Meteor Blades

The 20th Annual Lakota War Pony Races Will Be Held June 25

Young Lakota Rider on Palomino

Each year, the Lakota on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota commemorate their victory over the U.S. Army at the Battle of the Greasy Grass, better known in American history as the Battle of Little Bighorn. Several horse races are held during the day, including one where the riders chase a volunteer dressed as George Armstrong Custer. I wrote about this event in 2010 with photos and a video. 


100 Trail of Tears Route Markers Dedicated:

Trail of Tears route marker

Among the people of the “Five Civilized Tribes,” most particularly the Cherokee, the Trail of Tears is not forgotten. But most Americans have only the vaguest notion of the atrocity bearing that name. It was the relocation-at-gunpoint of tens of thousands of Indians, mostly from Southern states, to Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. Along the trail, nearly a quarter of the Cherokee Nation died from exposure and inadequate food. This past week, some 100 Trail of Tear route markers were dedicated in Alabama, just as they have been in other states, including Missouri in April.

Patsy Edgar (Cherokee) said that remembering the past is not done only to show the past but also “[t]o point out to people that we are still here as a nation, and we still actually, we thrive, so it’s not all about the negative, it’s also very much about the positive.”

In a short speech, Aaron Mahr, the superintendent of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, said at the dedication ceremony:

“It’s a tragic story from our past that reveals some of the darker forces,” Mahr said.

“It speaks to the issue of racism, it speaks to the issue of forced relocation, removal, concentration camps on American soil.

“The dangers of extremism, issues that are part of our past.”

-Meteor Blades

NAN Line Separater


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.


First Nations News & Views: NN12 American Indian Caucus, the Nez Perce in 1873


Welcome to the 17th 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 recap of our American Indian Caucus at Netroots Nation, a look at the year 1873 in American Indian history and some linkable bulleted briefs. Click on link below to read our earlier editions.

All Previous Editions

NN12 American Indian Caucus

By Meteor Blades

The American Indian Caucus of Netroots Nation, spurred into existence in 2006 by navajo, had its best attendance ever this year in Providence, R.I. Competition from simultaneously occurring panels makes it tough. (We even wanted to see a couple of those panels.) Fifty-five people attended ours. But talk of the caucus went a lot further than our little room because we attracted a right-wing troll whose only interest was in making points against Elizabeth Warren. She has made a much-discussed claim to Cherokee heritage that is being used against her in her Senate campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts. (You can read diaries about the troll here and here.)

The highlight of our caucus was the presentation of our guest, 72-year-old story-teller Paulla Dove-Jennings, a Niantic-Naragansett Indian whose ancestors have lived in what is now Rhode Island for several thousand years. The 2400-member tribe, which was once reduced to a three-acre plot of land where the Episcopal Indian Church had stood since 1744, regained federal recognition in 1983 and now holds 1800 acres of additional land. You can read FNN&V‘s condensed but more detailed history here.

In addition to our story-teller’s wonderful weaving of tribal history, family life, politics and Niantic-Naragansett tales, navajo and I also briefly discussed the progress of FNN&V and quickly summarized what would have been a full hour’s discussion of Indian voting rights and voter suppression if our proposal for such a panel had not been rejected by the Netroots Nation screening committee. Because I know most readers would prefer to watch Jennings’ presentation in the video below than read my abbreviated version of what that panel would have covered, I’m saving that for next week’s FNN&V.

For those who are video impaired, there is a transcript of Jennings’ talk at the end of this edition of FNN&V. Thanks to oke and rfall for videotaping the session and transcribing it.

Here’s an introduction to Jennings in her own words followed by the video:

Members of the Turtle clan are the keepers of tribal History, family history, and

traditional legends. I am a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

Working as curator of museum Native collections, Tribal Council member, oral  

historian, story-teller, and published author have all enhanced my confidence

and knowledge of true story-telling. A story-teller never uses another tribe’s story without permission.

I grew up with my parents, grandparents, and other family elders telling tribal history, family history, and legends in the 1940s, 1950s, and ’60s.  I have passed some of my stories on to nieces and nephews as well as my own grandchildren.

Several years ago I invited my mother, Eleanor Spears Dove, to Brown University

to a story-telling event. Seven well-known Rhode Island storytellers of various

ethnic groups presented their stories. All of the presenters used props such as

instruments, music, scarves, sticks, etc. They were wonderful. I told the story of

how the bear lost his tail. My props were the tone of my voice, the shift of my

body, movements of my hands, eye contact, and the lift of my head, leaning

toward the audience and pulling back. I try to build the scene, the weather, the

wind, the sky, the earth, the water, the forest, and the animals.

When the event was over, my mother surprised me by saying she actually saw the bear!  

I have told stories from Maine to Alaska, to the young and the old, in cultural

institutions, colleges, universities, schools, powwows, organizations, and private

and social events. I thank the Creator for this gift.

Haida Whale Divider

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1873

By Meteor Blades

wallowa nez perce interpretive center logo

On June 16, 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant issued an executive order barring white settlers from claiming title to northeast Oregon’s Wallowa Valley. This was the traditional turf of one band of the Nez Perce (Nimi’ipuu) tribe. The executive order was needed because Nez Perce bands who didn’t live in the valley had signed a treaty in 1863 surrendering it along with other lands. The U.S. government kept to the executive order until Grant left the presidency. Within two months of Rutherford B. Hayes’s inauguration, however, the non-treaty Nez Perce had been ordered out of the Wallowa Valley and a five-month war and trek had begun, with 2,000 troops of the U.S. Army in pursuit.

The Nez Perce were the largest tribe on the Columbia River Plateau when Lewis and Clark encountered them in 1805. The two Americans weren’t the first white people the Nez Perce had seen. They got their name – “pierced nose,” even though they didn’t pierce their noses-from French fur traders. A half-century later, vastly reduced in numbers by war with white men and European diseases, they stood in the way of America’s inexorable Manifest Destiny.

In 1855, some Nez Perce bands agreed to a treaty with most of their traditional hunting grounds, including the Wallowa, set aside for them “permanently” in exchange for giving up some land and right of way. All the bands agreed, including the Wallowa band led by Tuekakas, known to the whites as Joseph after his Christian baptism in 1839, and later, Old Joseph. However, in 1861, gold was discovered on Nez Perce land in Idaho and 10,000 white settlers poured in. Conflict naturally arose. The government called for another treaty. This reduced the original land promised in 1855 by 90 percent.

Tuekakas opposed the deal because his band’s beloved Wallowa Valley would have to be surrendered. Because he and the leaders of four other bands opposed the deal, the divisions were henceforth labeled treaty and nontreaty Nez Perce. Tuekakas staked out the valley with poles and declared “Inside this boundary all our people were born. It circles the graves of our fathers, and we will never give up these graves to any man.” He died in 1871, and his son, Hinmuuttu-yalatlat (Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain), also known as Young Joseph, became leader of the Wallowa band. His father is reported to have said before his death:

My son, my body is returning to my mother earth, and my spirit is going very soon to see the Great Spirit Chief. When I am gone, think of your country. You are the chief of these people. They look to you to guide them. Always remember that your father never sold his country. You must stop your ears whenever you are asked to sign a treaty selling your home. A few years more and white men will be all around you. They have their eyes on this land. My son, never forget my dying words. This country holds your father’s body. Never sell the bones of your father and your mother.

For four years, they stayed put, as President Grant had said they could. But relations with whites were tense. Settlers continued to move into the Wallowa and this led to inevitable clashes and a few killings on both sides.

In May 1877, the one-armed Gen. Oliver O. Howard arrived. Without ceremony, discussion or advance notice, told Chief Joseph that his band would be moved immediately. The first thought of many non-treaty Indians was to fight, but Joseph knew this was a losing proposition. The band pulled up stakes, literally, from the Wallowa and crossed the Snake River, joining the other non-treaty bands and a small group of Palouse Indians. They wer headed for the reservation, heartsick. Before they could move to the reservation, however, a small group of young warriors joined the band to say they had killed some whites and taken their horses. The 800 or so people in the allied bands soon learned the Army was coming after them.

Nez Perce photographed after their capture in 1877
Nez Perce photographed after their capture in 1877

Thus began one of the most famous conflicts of the Indian Wars. It captured the attention of the nation and Europe as newspapers told of the pursuit of the Nez Perce by Gen. Howard. The Crow refused asylum to the Nez Perce. So the decision was made to flee to Canada, where, they had learned, Sitting Bull had taken the Hunkpapa band of Lakota to evade the Army seeking revenge for Battle of the Little Big Horn.

The Wallowa Nez Perce and their allies went on a nearly 1200-mile, three-month-long zig-zag trek, out-maneuvering the Army, white volunteers and Indian scouts, which included some of the non-treaty Nez Perce. Small clashes were won and lost throughout the summer. But attrition was catching up with the band. Its cohort of battle-ready warriors dwindled week after week. Ultimately, after a five-day battle in the freezing cold, with the remnants of the band starving and more than 150 warriors dead, Chief Joseph surrendered just 40 miles from Canada on Oct. 5, 1877.

There, he was said to give a stirring speech ending with “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” Scholars now believe it was a later invention of a lieutenant colonel and poet under Howard’s command.

The Nez Perce repeatedly promised they could return to the Wallowa. But it never happened. Chief Joseph died in 1904 at the Colville Reservation, living with the other 11 bands assigned there. And, despite there being numerous bridges, dams, streets, a mountain pass, a highway, a town, a creek and a canyon named after their leader, the Chief Joseph Band of Nez Perce still live at Colville.

In the Wallowa Valley that the band never agreed to surrender, there is today the 160-acre Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center. The mission is to tell the story of the band’s trek and “to assist in assembling the Wallowa Band Nez Perce culture and history in order to provide interpretation, knowledge and understanding to those who visit the grounds.” Still there, near Lake Wallowa, lies the grave of Old Joseph. His valley is no longer surrounded by poles but, unlike his living kin, he remains forever in the land of his fathers.



The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story by Elliott West (2009).

Treaty of 1863.

Nez Perce Joseph: An Account of His Ancestors, His Lands, His Confederates, His Enemies, His Murders, His War, His Pursuit and Capture by O. O. Howard (1881).

NAN Line Separater

Complaints Gain Invisible Indians a Spot on Obama Campaign Website: The Obama-Biden campaign website had outreach pages for African Americans, Latinos, Asians, gays and women. Notably missing until Friday, however, was a page for American Indians despite the fact the election is less than five months away. Thanks to complaints, Native Americans for Obama was posted June 15 with a logo and the tag-line “A place for Native Americans to organize and speak out in support of President Obama and his accomplishments.”

But Indians from several tribes who met last week in Chicago with members of the campaign team say they are concerned that not as much seems to be being done with Indians as was done in 2008. And they expressed disappointment that the Obama campaign apparently plans to depend on the efforts of state Democratic Party apparatuses to handle voter outreach to the tribes. In the past, Indians have been ignored-or treated with hostility-by state parties.  

-Meteor Blades

Jihan Gearon photo
Jihan Gearon

Navajo Tribal Council Delegates to Vote on Water Pact: Navajo Nation Chief Ben Shelly and Attorney General Harrison Tsosie support a water settlement under which the Navajo and Hopi people would waive claims to water from the Little Colorado River system. In exchange, the federal government would pay to develop groundwater projects for the tribes.

Approval by the Navajo, the Hopi and 30 other entities are required before the pact can be finalized. The 24 Navajo delegates to the Tribal Council will vote sometime this month, possibly as soon as this week. The settlement, introduced in February, is the swan song of Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl and backed by Sen. John McCain. Foes encompass numerous grassroots Navajo groups cooperating as the Dine Water Rights Committee, Dine being what the Navajo people call themselves in their own tongue. Members include the Forgotten People Corporation, Black Mesa Water Coalition, To Nizhoni Ani, Dine Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, Hada’asidi, Next Indigenous Generation and the Council Advocating an Indigenous Manifesto. Jihan Gearon, executive director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition said:

“It’s obvious that the grassroots people of the Navajo Nation reject the settlement agreement. We have collected hundreds of petition signatures from concerned citizens opposed to the settlement as well as hundreds of letters against the settlement. Furthermore, there was overwhelming opposition at each of the eight educational forums organized by the grassroots organizations, not to mention the overwhelming opposition voiced against the settlement at each of the seven town hall meetings sponsored by the president’s office under direction from the council.”

Sarana Riggs of Next Indigenous Generation said: “Our vision for the future includes a just transition away from the coal-based economy, a diverse and sustainable economy based on traditional values, and true self-sufficiency for the Navajo Nation. We will sign these things away if we agree to the settlement.”

In a open letter, Anna Rondon (Navajo) wrote:

I also serve on the Navajo Nation Green Economy Commission. I question why our leaders cater to the very federal government that has time and time again under-funded us, to design internal fighting among ourselves. Our leaders turn the other way when real Dine’ ideas lead the way for a healthier and sustainable economy. But, our leaders are selling us out. I cannot believe the Navajo Nation is setting precedence that is not only unruly for us as a People, but for our other tribal nations that will also feel the negative impacts of this legislation.

-Meteor Blades

North Dakota Voters Say Goodbye to ‘Fighting Sioux’ Nickname: After six years of acrimony, countervailing actions by politicians, university officials and the NCAA, plus national media attention, the University of North Dakota will no longer use the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo for its sports teams. The name had deeply divided citizens across the state, but two-thirds of them voted down the nickname in a primary election June that had three other measures on the ballot.

The NCAA ruled in 2005 that all university and colleges should drop Indian-themed mascots, logos and nicknames ranging from “Redskins” to “Braves” to just plain “Indians.” Exceptions were allowed for schools that obtained tribal permission. Although some foes of eliminating Indian mascots and nicknames have claimed these are not degrading but respectful, images and attitudes expressed around these have historically been filled with ridiculous caricatures and racist stereotypes. One of those stereotypes is that so many of the logos and mascots choose Plains Indians as their image no matter what the local Indian culture was and is. Hundreds of universities, colleges and secondary schools have dropped the nicknames over the past 40 years as opposition has steadily grown. Oregon formally banned mascots and nicknames this year after some schools held out against the state school board’s request several years ago that they do so voluntarily. Last month, Sanford became the last small school in Maine to drop the “Redskins” nickname from its high school sports teams.

While a dwindling number of schools retain the nicknames, two national franchises-the Cleveland Indians baseball team with their despicable Chief Wahoo, and the Washington Redskins- continue to thumb their noses at people who object to their racist depictions.

While many Indians say they have no objections to such nicknames, the National Indian Education Association passed a resolution in 2009 calling for getting rid of all the Indian-themed mascots, logos and nicknames. And the National Congress of American Indians has been campaigning for an end to mascots and nicknames since 1968.

Previous coverage of this issue in FNN&V can be found here and here and here.

-Meteor Blades

Ed WindDancer
Ed WindDancer

Real Indians Protest Fakes: Sal “White Horse” Serbin (Oglala-Lakota) grew up on the Pine Ridge reservation of South Dakota. But he lives in Florida now and in 2010 established a group called the Fraudulent Native American Task Force. Its numbers are small. But Serbin is trying to make its impact greater by protesting fake Indians every chance he gets. That often puts him into conflict not only with wannabes and other frauds but with other Indians, too. Among the many frauds he has challenged are “healers” and performers and participants in phony sun dance ceremonies or moon worshipping and other whatnot, often charging fees for services they claim to be Indian in origin.

“The stealing and exploitation of the Native American culture,” Sal said, “has become an epidemic.”

At one event recently, the Chasco Fiesta Parade, Serbin and five other Indians of various tribal heritage held signs when the faux-Indian Krewe of Chasco danced past in “Mohawk” haircuts, feathers and beads, dressed as “Pocahontas” and other stereotypes. Serbin’s sign read: “Having Fun Playing Indian? Grow Up!!”

He has links with other groups, including the Florida chapter of the American Indian Movement, the militant organization whose most famous confrontation occurred at Wounded Knee in 1973 on the reservation where Serbin was born nine years earlier. The 77-year-old leader of Florida AIM, Ruby Beaulieu, who has protested the Chasco parade’s inclusion of fake Indians for many years, told Leonora LaPeter Anton at the Tampa Bay Times that her complaints had gotten rid of outrages like “Find the treasure in the Indian burial mound” and “Pin the tail on the Indian.” But the parade remains.

At the Venice Community Center, the night before the parade, Serbin had another encounter:

There, a man named Ed WindDancer, a flute player and a carpenter, had put together a cast of Indian performers for a show called “Flight of the Red-Tailed Hawk.” The cost to attend: $15. CDs of his music were on sale. The parking lot was filling up fast.

WindDancer said he was Cherokee, but Sal called the Cherokees. Sal said they had never heard of him. When WindDancer said he was Nanticoke, Sal said he called the group’s chief in Delaware and learned WindDancer was not on their tribal rolls either. He knew that WindDancer had changed his last name from Pielert and that part of WindDancer’s family had come from Germany four generations ago. He knew that WindDancer had received probation and a $5,000 fine for bartering eagle, hawk and great horned owl feathers with a wildlife officer, a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

In another central Florida town recently, Serbin and some Indian allies confronted the New Age-style fake-Indian ritual midway. The participants, all sporting “Indian” names responded:

“In a past life, we were you,” said Raven That Speaks With the Cloud People. “We were Indians.”

“Let’s just love each other,” said Tiger Lily. […]

“If you want to continue with this group, if you could just add ‘style’ or ‘hobbyists’ to the end of your advertisements,” [Serbin] implored nicely. “This could be a wonderful thing if done properly.”

Small battles, occasionally small victories. But he doesn’t give up.

-Meteor Blades

American Indian Schools Get Solar, Wind Money from Arizona: After the expansion of a Tucson Electric Power company’s 400-megawatt, coal-fired power plant in 2009, the Arizona Renewable Energy Investment Fund was given $5 million to support projects to reduce pollution and benefit Native American communities in Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. Several projects have now been selected to receive a share of those funds: $236,000 for a solar and wind power project at Little Singer, Dilkon Community, Leupp, Shonto Preparatory and NATIVE schools; $65,000 for a solar and wind power project at Moenkopi Day and Hopi Day schools; and $253,000 to provide wind power to an assisted-living facility for the Hopi Office of Elderly Services.

-Meteor Blades

Montana’s 40-year-old Indian Education Act Praised: Surviving delegates and other Montanans gathered in the state’s House chambers Friday to commemorate the passage of Montana’s constitution in 1972. They focused intently on the document’s Education and Public Lands Article that changed how Montana relates to its American Indian populations. It says: “The state recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural heritage.”

It wasn’t until 1999 that this article was actually implemented. That took the prodigious efforts of Rep. Carol Juneau (Hidatsa and Mandan) to shepherd through the legislature. And it took several more years of lawsuits to get it funded, according to Montana Assistant Attorney General Andrew Huff (Cree-Rocky Boy Reservation). Juneau’s daughter Denise (Hidatsa and Mandan) is now the state’s superintendent of public instruction.

Because he didn’t look obviously like an Indian or what other people thought an Indian should look like, many people thought Huff was Italian or Mexican or marveled at his apparent easy ability to tan.

“So by the time I had hit high school in Missoula, I’d heard just about it all with regard to Indians – all the Indian slurs, the stereotypes, the racial epithets,” he said. “I’d heard that Indians were drunk, lazy, that we were a defeated people, that we should just blend in, that we should accept our fate and assimilate and that reservations should be done away with.”

Many people in his life – his supportive family, many teachers and his friends – had fought against these stereotypes, Huff said. Many people wanted to help Indian children, but lacked the knowledge to counter the stereotypes, he said.

It took 40 years, but Montana at last is fulfilling the promise of that provision, Huff said.

Montana has a K-12 Indian Education for All curriculum, developed in consultation with Indians and their tribes, he said. Teachers are getting trained on how to teach it and learn about Indians and Indian tribes. And Montana children of all backgrounds are learning about Indians and their history.

-Meteor Blades

Indians Not Happy with IRS Meddling: The president of the executive board of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, John Yellowbird Steele (Oglala-Lakota) told members of a Senate committee Thursday that the Internal Revenue Service is stepping over the line of tribal sovereignty and violating treaties in its attempts to tax treaty-guaranteed government assistance for things such as housing, school clothes and burial aid that tribes provide their members.

“We fix houses, and they want us to put a value on how much that lumber cost to patch a hole in a roof or a floor, put shingling on, they want us to put a value on that and give the person a 1099” tax form to possibly be taxed on the help, Steele said. “The next year, where are those people going to find the money to pay the IRS?”

The agency has over the years cut back on what social benefits for tribal members can be exempted from taxes. It has been meeting with various tribes to clarify rules on what is taxable under the General Welfare Doctrine. But, Steele said, in th midst of those meetings, tribes are getting notices that they are being audited. He called this an IRS fishing expedition.

-Meteor Blades

Indians Honor Owner of Cleaned-up Chickamauga Mound in Chattanooga: A Chattanooga burial mound dating back to perhaps 900 BCE was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1984. But it was overgrown with poison ivy, wisteria and 30 trees, practically invisible and, some in the American Indian community said, disrespected until the new owner of the industrial property where it sits decided to clean it up and give access to Native people. That owner, Kenny Wilhoit, was honored in a small ceremony today in conjunction with the National Days of Prayer to Protect Native Sacred Places. He was given a wooden bowl made from one of the trees removed from the mound.

Tom Kunesh (Standing Rock Sioux) of the Advisory Council on Tennessee Indian Affairs said that prior to 2010: “We would stand outside the fence, pray, offer tobacco and look forward to the day when we would be allowed access to it.” Wilhoit says that access will continue for as long as he owns the property.

-Meteor Blades

National Congress of American Indians, 1944. (Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives
National Congress of American Indians, 1944. (Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives

National Congress of American Indians Meeting for First Time in Nebraska: It was 1944 when the 60 male and seven female delegates of the first-ever get-together of the National Congress of American Indians met in Denver. Today, the congress began its mid-year conference in Lincoln, Nebraska. There will be more than 800 representatives from scores of the 565 federally recognized tribes at the Cornhusker Hotel. The four-day event, which will cover a broad range of issues, including climate change and violence against Native women, will end the first day’s events with a pow-wow. NCAI President Jefferson Keel (Chickasaw) will deliver an address Monday about “Uniting Tribes to Advance Our Shared Goals.”

In an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star last week, Keel discussed the economics of the tribes, including his own. In the 1980s, the 40,000-member Chickasaw tribe’s economic goal was $5 million. “If you look today, there’s probably a billion dollars flowing through our businesses.” These include a chocolate factory and a metal-fabrication factory. “Those create jobs,” he said, “and the jobs then relate to raising the quality of life of Indian people across the country.” One example is the 4,800-member Winnebago tribe of Nebraska, which went from zero revenue in 1995 and now has revenue of $226 million. But for many tribes, especially those in more remote areas, the economic conditions remain grim.

Keel noted that one major NCAI goal this year is getting out the Indian vote: “In 2008, there were probably one million Native American people who were not registered to vote.” Although he didn’t mention it, suppressing the Indian vote of those who are registered has been a key factor in keeping the numbers who vote at a low level relative to other ethnic groups.

-Meteor Blades

‘American Indian’ Charter School Blasted: Despite a report ripping the American Indian Charter School in Oakland, California, the school board there approved renewal of the school’s charter in April. Among the complaints about the school run by American Indian Models are that it has conflicts of interest, limited parent involvement and high teacher turnover. On a scale of 1-5 on 43 measures, the school received only as high as a “3” on one. But because its academic index was 990 out of 1000, a phenomenally high score that no other school in the Oakland system achieved, it retained its charter. Now some believe the index rating was inflated by cherry-picking transferring students, a violation of the law. Admissions are supposed to be “blind,” but parents have been asked to submit their students’ scores in their applications.

The school got its name from the fact that it was originally designed to serve the American Indian community in Oakland. In the 2010-2011 school-year, there were ZERO students who identified as Indian.  

That’s a sticking point for some local American Indians, said one prominent member of the Bay Area American-Indian community, who asked to be anonymous for fear of making waves. “If anything, I just wish they would change their name – it’s misleading, and potentially damaging to our community.”

-Meteor Blades

Oglala College Students Work Against Youth Suicide: Suicide among young people is epidemic on many American Indian reservations. To raise awareness, generate hope and help reduce this terrible circumstance, some Oglala Lakota College business students, have begun a campaign using traditional advertising and social media. Students in the Introduction to Business class have passed out 200 disposable cameras to elementary and middle school students at the Loneman, Crazy Horse and Red Cloud schools. The assignment: Take the camera home and shoot photos to show what hope looks like.

-Meteor Blades

Photo Exhibits Focuses on the 1973-1976 ‘Reign of Terror in South Dakota’:  From the time of the Wounded Knee siege in 1973, the FBI, government bureaucrats and corrupt tribal officials were at loggerheads with traditional Indians and the American Indian Movement. From now until the end of June, AIM-WEST, a non-profit community based inter-tribal organization in San Francisco, is hosting a photo and art exhibit about the “Reign of Terror in South Dakota” of that era. More than 60 AIM members were murdered in a three-year period. Included in the exhibit will be paintings by political prisoner Leonard Peltier, photos of AIM’s past activities, including the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz and the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee, as well as Bay Area indigenous activism. The exhibit is at the Arte International Gallery, 963 Pacific St. More information is available at AIM-West.

-Meteor Blades

A Tobacco Offering

I brought some tobacco with me today. A little here for the past, a little here for the present, a little here for the future. History and all the powers that be said that my people have been here ten, maybe fifteen thousand years, but my grandmother told me we’ve been here 30,000 years. When I started on this journey of talking about my people and learning about my people I went to anthropologists and mythologists, and I interned at a museum. And they said, “How do you know what you’re saying is true, what’s your primary source?” “My Grandmother.” They said, “Where was it written?” Well, my grandmother writes beautiful letters but she never wrote down our history. I’ve converted a lot of educated PhD authorities and one day they’re going to catch up and realize my people have been here 30,000 years.

I was going to sit down and talk but I like to see faces so I’m going to stand up so I can see faces.

My name is Paula Dove-Jennings, I have a brother who is a year older than me but on the day that I was born my father stood at the end of the street and said, “Today I am a man because I have a daughter, because women are the givers of life.” And I tease my two younger sisters from all the time, saying they weren’t necessary one sister is 9 years, the younger one is 18 years younger than me. I asked my father one night my after my first sister came along. “You had me, why her?” He said, “Well, you keep saying you wanted somebody else to play with.” We lived out in the country, without electricity without running bath, that kind of stuff.  It was great, it was wonderful. When my baby sister came along my father said, “I thought it was a tumor.” But I love them both. Women, not only being born make a man a man, just as a son makes a woman a woman, have always played an

important part in our nation.

Now if you look on this sheet here and other places you’re going to see the word “Narragansett” correct spelling, or pronunciation, is Nah-ah-gansett because we didn’t have the letter ‘r’. If you’re from Rhode Island or talk to other Rhode Islanders you’ll often find they leave the ‘r ‘out. We like to say,  “they’re trying to talk Narragansett.”

My people have always been here, this land where this building is right now is part swampland, low-lying lands. If you go to Providence Place mall where the parking area is there’s a sacred burial ground. And we were given about 350,000.00 dollars to allow them to bury our people on that land. My voice was not loud enough, the elders voice was not loud enough, the young people were not loud enough. So it’s up to those of us today to speak up and be loud about it. Be courteous but be loud. People think it’s amazing that women finally are running for President. We had women who led our people. Some more well known than others.

We also read in the paper now that women can fight in different battles in the United States Army, Marines, Navy. We had women warriors, we did all this and it’s taken 400 years  of everything to come around full circle so people realize that when the creator made us, man and woman, it was to walk side by side.

Squaw Man

Now, that didn’t always happen some people like my father’s mother married an Englishman. My grandfather is about 6’4″, 250 lbs; he went to college and became an engineer. But then he married my little 5’2″ grandmother she was Niantic and in Rhode Island my grandfather was known as squaw man. He could only get a job as policeman  or fireman, that’s what he did. He and my grandmother had eight children. His family disowned him, didn’t want anything to do with him because he married this woman. My grandmother and grandmother lived in Westerly, Rhode Island which is in the southern part of the state, in an old Italian neighborhood. My grandmother would stand at the fence, a white picket fence, she’d be on one side of the picket fence, Mrs. Filosetti would be on the other side. Mrs. Filosetti was speaking in Italian, Calibrese, and my grandmother was speaking in Narragansett and they would understand each other. And my grandmother would send over baked fish and they would send over the most delicious sausage, and sauce, and they’d exchange.

Once a year, around Thanksgiving time, a news reporter from the Westerly Sun would come to interview my grandmother. My Grandmother had a front porch which we called a piazza, and we’d be on her front porch. In those days I didn’t talk much. Grandmother would be out there, she’d have her apron on, the reporter would come to interview her. He’d ask what she was going to do for Thanksgiving, what she was going to cook. And my grandmother would say, “Well, we’re going to have roast turkey.” A truck would come by and it would have all these cages on it and my grandmother would reach up for the fattest one, she’d check them all out, pick out one that was 25 or 30 lbs. and take it out in the backyard, chop the head off, did what she had to do. She’d talk about the vegetables and so forth and the family members that would come in from wherever. But one year they sent a new reporter out and this reporter said,  “Mrs. Dove, do you people go hunting for your turkey?” My grandmother’s sitting there and I’m holding onto her apron. I looked up at her and her eyes were getting blacker and blacker. She told him no, she had bought it from Mr. so-and-so.” “Well, did your people live in tee-pees?” “No, we had long houses, we had wig-wams.” I could feel my grandmothers body tense up and her eyes kept getting darker and darker. He went on in this way for quite awhile. Finally he said, “Well isn’t it true that the women are not as good, well they’re inferior to the men.” Grandmother said, “No, that’s not true.” Then he said, “Well, I heard that Indian women always walk behind their men.” By this time my Grandmother rolled those eyes up at him and said, “That’s true.” “Well see you are inferior then.” My grandmother stood up, all 5’2″ of her, holding onto her apron and she said, “We stand behind our men to tell them where to go.” Still true, still true.

Now my grandmother said to my grandfather, “You have to vote, you have to get involved. It’s not only your right, it’s your responsibility.” You have to make sure when your children come of age that they vote. Don’t just vote for the President, or the national, or just for the Governor, remember who you’re voting for in these small towns.

Now 1924, when the reorganization act was going, on a woman known as Princess Red Wing, a Wampanog-Narragansett, she designed the Tribal Seal. It’s the peace pipe, the North Star and the sun. And she worked hard. So, we weren’t Federally recognized, but we were recognized.

Now our people fought in all the wars, up to and including the Civil War and after the Civil War was over and we’re back on our reservation in Charlestown , Westerley, all through the Southern coast, that was all our land but it slowly being stolen. It was taken away and we moved back in further and further. One of our elders called our people together and a man came down from the state house up here and said, “you fought in the civil war, you did well. We’re going to make you citizens of the state of Rhode Island.” He went on and on about the benefits of being a citizen of the state of Rhode Island. He didn’t mention voting. Just as the black men were given the right to be citizens he said at that time. We sent him away. We do not want the citizenship. We are happy to be Narragansett. Why would we give up what we have? Yes, you claim the black man is now a citizen, but we will never see a black man running this country. And I wept when Obama won, I didn’t vote for him, I voted for a woman. And then I prayed that he would be safe and not killed, or his children be harmed. Because I worry about this. Well time went on, 1924 we’re now official citizens of the state of Rhode Island. But it wasn’t until 1951 or ’52 that Rhode Island made the law that allowed us to vote.

Now I lived in Charlestown and there were a lot of Native families there around us and the beginning of November a car would drive out the dirt roads, no electric, and drive to my cousin’s house, to my cousin’s father’s house, to our house, and they would come out and say, “you vote for us, don’t vote for anybody else.” Then leave a pint of whiskey. My father’s cousin and my father put all the whiskey up and my father would call them together and one of the elders, he was a young man then, would say, “you go and vote, and you vote for the person you think is going to be the most responsible for all our needs, not just a certain individual.’ Then at Christmas time they’d all bring their pints and my father would take fresh whole cream and make the best eggnog you ever had and he shared it all.

My father tried to run for local town office in Charlestown, he could never get in. Sometimes he wasn’t even allowed to get on the ballot. Then we moved to Exeter, Rhode Island. And when we moved there first, my father went to the PTA meetings, to the local town meetings, and in a few years he was the town moderator. He periodically came up to the state house. He would meet with the local politicians. He would call them up, he would draft a letter to whoever the local representative was. So when they heard the name ‘Ferris Dove’ they’d say, “ah, he’s got some influence with the tribe.”

His Native Name was Roaring Bull

His whole purpose was to help us get some of our land back. He was on the tribal council, and he also ended up after a couple of terms as town moderator they used to tell him he didn’t have to use the mallet, his native name was Roaring Bull, that he could just raise his voice. He became a tax assessor for several years.

My father met my mother just before he got a scholarship from the DAR to go to Bacone Indian college in Oklahoma. The DAR said they were going to pay his way there. If he did well, it was a two-year college, they’d send him onto graduate school. When he left he had 2 outfits, 4 pairs of undies, 4 pairs of socks and 2 dollars. Took the Greyhound. He loved school, loved education. Now before he went they offered two or three other Native men. He had been out of school 3 or 4 years but his younger brother said, “no, I’m going in the Navy.” This was in the thirties. My father went out there. My family is fortunate, we must be a bunch of pack rats because we still have the letters he sent. His greatest pain was they would go from Oklahoma to Texas and they walked to a store where they were going to get something to eat and a sign said, “No dogs or Indians.” And my father wrote to my grandmother and said, “I want to come home, I want to come home, I can’t live with this.” And my grandmother said, “Your own Grandfathers and Grandmothers barely speak to you and you’re going to worry about this sign? Stay. Get your education.” My grandfather stayed. He went to school with Dick West. And he loved school. And when he came back, whenever he had a chance, he took courses at the University of Rhode Island. He died when he was sixty-eight, in 1983, and he was still taking courses. When he became town moderator he took some political courses. And when he was the tax assessor he took some financial courses.

My parents owned a restaurant, twenty years. It was my mother’s idea. My mother worked in a factory called Kenyon Mill. She said, “I’m not coming back after summer vacation.” We had this house with a building next door and my mother’s father was a chef, her grandfather also owned a restaurant here in Providence. I think there’s a Wendy’s or McDonald’s there now where it was located. My parents did catering work as well as my father working making submarines, and my mother working in this factory. And being a female daughter you get drafted whether you want to or not, working those days off from your regular job, you had to waitress or cook, or do something. And every week two or three people that would say, “are you a real Indian?” I’d wonder to myself, “what’s an unreal Indian?” Oh, they mean what happens at Halloween, the stereotypes. They’d ask what tribe are you. “Narragansett.” “Never heard of them.” “But you’re here in Rhode Island. How can it be you’ve never heard of them?” Then I thought back when I was in school, I was in grammar school. In our classes at Thanksgiving time it was the Indians that met the Pilgrims. We weren’t heard again.No other Native nations were mentioned until in the spring when they talked about the Cherokee and the Trail of Tears. That was it. The rest of the time we didn’t exist. And not talk about the names of the towns, the cities, words that they’d use, “hammock”. [unintelligible 20:51] They’d go to the beach, names like Pawtucket. All this, this is ours.

And they’d talk about how wonderful Roger Williams was, how much he helped us. He fought for us to be able to use our own religious beliefs. But they don’t talk about how after the battle at Great Swamp how he voted to send our ancestors, our people, to Barbados and to the islands of the Caribbean as slaves. And I grew older and had children and grandchildren and who comes from the islands to my nieces school as exchange, Narragansett, Niantic, Wampanoag, and Peuquot descendants from the slaves. And my niece and the schoolchildren, half of them went down there. We were shocked at how much we looked alike and at how many things their ancestors had passed on and had stayed the same. You always wonder who writes history. Red Wing always says the winner writes history. I look at history books, and you all can look at history books and you can see the biases,  and it’s passed on to the children and it’s passed on to the children’s children. It’s time that we speak the truth.

A Real Indian

At one time I was executive director of the commission for Indian Affairs for the state of Rhode Island. I had a window office and a secretary and the secretary’s name was Lois San Antonio. A very pretty Italian woman. She was always peeking around the corner. After a month or so I said, “Lois, what’s the problem?” She said, “I can’t believe I’m working for a real Indian.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I said, “Lois, what’s an unreal one?” She said, “I didn’t think any lived in Rhode Island. I told her they may live on the same street you live on, you have this image in your mind. Don’t let that fool you. Don’t let that take away. Then I brought her down here to meet my parents, and my children and grandchildren and different siblings. After about two years she said, “I want to apologize for my stupidity, but it’s not my fault, it’s the school’s.”

And part of the schools is that you go and vote for your committees. You make sure that people are looking out for everybody. You have to remember that, it’s important. You have to be able to think beyond what’s right before you and see the rest.

I have a book that I found in a second hand bookstore and it has the native names that we use in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Place names, towns, rivers. How many of you know that half of our 50 states are named for the local indigenous people. People don’t think about that. It’s fact, not fiction. People don’t say enough about Native people. There’s a Vice-President that was half Native. They don’t talk about the Native that went out into outer space. I don’t even want to go into outer space, I’ll be honest with you. The Creator made us here, we stay here. But my grandmother in another interview, different reporter, different paper, was asked about going to the moon because that was the big thing when President

Kennedy was here. And so she said, “Well, I have no desire to go, I wouldn’t allow my children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren to go, but maybe everybody else will go!” And the reporter, and I was there, he was shocked, he was stunned, “What do you mean?” “If everyone goes we can reclaim the land, they won’t chop down anymore trees, or put down pipelines here or there, they won’t defile the water, they’ll let things grow naturally.”

People don’t realize, when people came across that big water over here we had everything we needed. We had our food, clothing, shelter, our educational games. No it wasn’t in a classroom with desks lined up in a row and rote memorizing. See, in the wintertime and the elders would tell stories and help you learn how to identify things, things that were necessary. Think about the things we didn’t have before those ships got lost and landed here. We didn’t have rats, the common housefly. We had good mosquitoes and other kinds of flies. We didn’t have jails. We didn’t have homes for the elderly, we took care of our own. We didn’t have guns. guns are for food, not today. it’s to kill to slaughter someone so they can’t live again.

The British were astounded at the wars we would have. Whether I’ll get your bag and take it home. I got whatever’s in your back pocket and take it home, I won, I got it. I might even say that’s a pretty young woman and I think I’ll take her home to work in my garden. She might work there for a year or so, she might decide she wants to stay or she might want to go on. And these were all good things. So we had what we needed.

One of the first things that happened when this part of the country was invaded was the British chopped down the trees. Because in Europe and in England the biggest trees belonged to the Lords. High and mighty so they chopped down the biggest trees here to take back. Not for the poor people, not for the homeless. You got put in places, if you couldn’t pay your debt you got thrown in jail. They took everything and they keep taking from Mother Earth, that’s why you need to vote. And they put nothing back that’s good in there. They keep putting stuff that’s not good up in the air so people can’t breath and have diseases and different things happen to them.

You have to vote, you have to remember. You got to start at the local level and keep going and going. And speak up. A lot of times in the newspaper or telephone books will say who your local representative is. Call them up even if you get a voicemail. Go on the computer, I’m not a computer person. But, go on it and let them know how you feel . So they’ll hear more than those that they want to hear. They’ll hear truth and they’ll think about the people, and that’s important. Gotta stand strong, stand together and you gotta speak up because it doesn’t do a bit of good if you sit there and just say, “I don’t really agree with that.” You have to stand up. Go to your town meeting. I know, some of them are boring and some of them you say oh my god where did these people come from. But, if you don’t speak up it’s going to keep going the way it has been going.

If you don’t recognize the racism in this country, you never will. I was born and raised in Rhode Island. I had one child born in Connecticut, my oldest one. On her birth certificate it says “American Indian.’ My second child was born in Mississippi. My husband got out of the Air Force he was a tall cool drink of water and I said that was for me. He was black, Indian, and white. He looked like a white. We go to Mississippi, I have my first son and the doctor’s and nurses are all running in there, “he looks like a white baby. He’s not white.” They put N on his birth certificate. I told them I’m American Indian, they still put down, N. This son I lost. He was ten years old when he died in an accident, and this was before we were going for Federal recognition. My youngest son was born here in Rhode Island, South County Hospital. Picked out a name, his name was Adam, the first man. I filled out his name, filled out race, and so forth. They called me into this little office when I was getting ready to come home. “You have American Indian on here, what tribe are you?” “Narragansett” She crossed it out. I called the doctor. He said he’d fill it. He did and I didn’t see it, didn’t worry about it, it was Dr. Barber. To go for Federal recognition you have to have birth certificates. The Health Department over here told my son they had him as white, Caucasian. I go to the Health Director. He looked at me and said, “Well, Mrs. Jennings, you know what they say.” I said, “Sir?” “Momma’s baby, father’s maybe.” I took my first Nitro pill less than a month after that. It angered me so, frustrated me so. I wrote a letter to the present Governor and told him about it. He called my father and apologized to my father, but I never forgot it. There’s not one time I go into that health center that I don’t remember the abuse of that man. It was small but it was painful. It was after that my father told me of his eight sisters and brothers, five were listed as white, three were listed as Indian and they all had the same mother and father.

To The Moon

Don’t let anybody mistreat who you are. Respect it and love it. I have nieces and nephews that are half Chinese and half German, they love both sides of their culture. When they go to the Powwow or August Social they look as Narragansett as anybody else. At German beer festivals they’re more German than anybody else. it all depends on who and what you are. But they all know that Grandfather said voting is not only a responsibility, it’s a right. Do it. Don’t complain. Do it. I expect each and every one of you to tell your young ones to do the same, otherwise I’m going to send you to the moon.


I brought out my tribal ID card which does have a picture on it and a tribal seal. I wish on the back there was a little list of history that said when we got recognition, when we were de-tribalized, some more things about us. But after 911 I happened to be on the Tribal Council at that time and happened to be traveling across the country and remember in Nevada. I went to get on the plane and I showed this card and they took it. Next time, 3 weeks later, I had to go to Washington State. When I got there I pulled the card out, they refused to take it. They patted me down, went through all my things. Finally I get in line to go in and they pull me aside again. Well, I was so frustrated and so angry I said, “You’re here in my country, why am I going to bomb it?” And they looked at me like who’s this wild woman. There was a younger native woman with me and she said, “calm down, calm down.” It is very frustrating when people don’t recognize who and what and where we’re at.

I wanted to go over this just a little because I wanted to make a few notes. If you look at this paper Verrazano said we were the tallest looking Indians he’d ever seen. We love to tease the people. We were taller than the English. We were always in the subservient area when you see these European drawings. I told you we’d been here 30,000 years. Many people were affected by plagues and disease. Do you realize, and this is documented, over 70% of the medicines used is medicine that derived from the Native people in North and South America? It’s ours, we did it. I can remember when Pampers came out, they thought that was a big thing. Well, we took the inside of the milkweed and made Pampers. We had it all.

Remember Wampanoag and Narragansett only has an ‘s’ on it when it’s possessing something. It’s just that way. We talked about Roger Williams, he bought land. Well we didn’t have the concept of buying land. You could use the land till you didn’t need it any longer and then you moved on.

The war with the Pequots, the Mohegans, well the war with the Pequots was the same nation but they split. They came from upstate New York and my people got angry because they kept fishing in our ponds and they wanted to make war. We didn’t like that. King Philip decided to make war, it’s on page 2. He didn’t decide to make war he tried to preserve some land, culture and religious beliefs of our people. So, he didn’t make war he was doing something to protect us.

When the battle of the Great Swamp my people took in Wampanoag, elders, young people, down in South County. The English came in and from CT and MS and slaughtered, burned. People that weren’t sent into slavery were put on a ship and told they were going to Block Island when the boat got half way there they threw them overboard and it’s not in the history book. But my grandmother told me because her grandmother told her. I have never been able to go to Block Island. Can’t bear the thought that I would be floating over an ancestor. I’m the only member of my family that’s never been to Europe or Asia. My grandmother told me don’t go across the big water, your name is Sunflower, stay here. I’ve been up and down North and South America but not across the big water.

Then it says in 1782 it says only 500 Narrangansett were left to sign. They LOCATED 500, now others they didn’t want to locate. At that time, and right up until 1924 the Native people from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, were meeting right here in Providence. Meeting at various churches and venues trying to reclaim our land. This wasn’t something that happened in the ’60s and ’70’s after AIM. We’d been trying all that time.

None of our nations are perfect, the United States certainly isn’t perfect, but I can’t think of another place I’d rather live. I’ve lived in California, NY sate, miss, I’ve lived in CT. As far away as I get my heart keeps coming back to the cold winters, the lovely springs, the beautiful fall, the seafood.

This is it, this is it. And if you love wherever you’re from, and if you love who your family has been and who they will be you will do the things that need to be done to help this world survive. I don’t know you all but I can tell you I love you all because you’re fellow humans.

Thank You.


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.


President Hayes and the Indians

The administration of Indian Affairs in the United States has always been political. The person in charge of Indian Affairs is the Secretary of the Interior who is appointed by the President. Thus, as control of the White House changes, so does the administration of Indian Affairs and the philosophy guiding the relationships between the United States and the many Indian nations.

Political appointments during the 19th century were often made as payments for political debts: they were based on political loyalty rather than on any real administrative talent or understanding of the areas to be administered. This was particularly true with regard to Indian Affairs. By the time of the 1876 Presidential elections, American government was notoriously corrupt and inefficient and within this government, the Office of Indian Affairs was regarded as the most corrupt. In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes, a Republican, was elected on a platform that promised civil service reform. Upon taking office in 1877, Hayes appointed Carl Schurz, a strong supporter of civil service reform and a Republican politician, as Secretary of the Interior.


President Rutherford B. Hayes is shown above.  

Both Hayes and Schurz strongly supported the assimilation of American Indians into mainstream America, preferring to ignore the racial barriers that prevented this. They stressed educational training to make Indians into loyal, patriotic laborers and servants; the breaking up of Indian reservations into individually owned parcels which then could be more easily transferred to wealthier non-Indians; the dissolution of tribal governments which they felt stood in the way of total assimilation; and the Christianization of Indians through cultural laws which suppressed Native religious traditions and required Christianity.

Upon taking office in 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes told Congress:

“The faithful performance of our promises is the first condition of a good understanding with the Indians. I can not too urgently recommend to Congress that prompt and liberal provisions be made for the conscientious fulfillment of all engagements entered into by the Government with the Indian tribes.”

Meetings With Indians:

As with most Presidents, Hayes met with a number of different Indian delegations and Indian leaders during his term in office. These meetings were often more ceremonial than substantive. Since Indians were not citizens and could not vote, there was little political reason to consult with them about Indian policies.

One of his first meetings with an Indian delegation came in 1877 when a group of Sioux and Northern Arapaho leaders from the Red Cloud Agency in Nebraska travelled to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Rutherford B. Hayes and the Secretary of the Interior. Representing the Arapaho were Black Coal, Sharp Nose, and Friday. Representing the Sioux were Red Cloud, Big Road, Little Wound, Little Big Man, Iron Crow, Three Bears, American Horse, Young Man Afraid of His Horse, Yellow Bear, Spotted Tail, Swift Bear, Touch the Clouds, Red Bear, White Tail, He Dog, and Little Bad Man.

Black Coal asked that his tribe be allowed to join the Shoshone in Wyoming. He reminded the President of the assistance which his tribe had given the military. He said:

“We want a good place in which to live. We are a small tribe; our village is 170 lodges; we would like to join the Snakes.”

“Snakes” referred to the Shoshone and comes from their sign language symbol for themselves.

Sharp Nose presented a pipe to the President. He reiterated Black Coal’s request to live in Shoshone Country.  At the end of the conference, the Americans agreed to send the Arapaho to the Shoshone country in Wyoming. Sharp Nose asked that they be given two black wagons-one for himself and one for Black Coal-in which to transport provisions. The color black symbolizes victory in an encounter with an enemy.

In 1881, a Paiute delegation which included Sarah Winnemucca met with President Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes entered the room, pontificated about the need for Indians to assimilate into American culture, then left after about five minutes. There was little information exchanged.

Not all of the meetings with Indians took place in the White House. In 1880, President Hayes visited Port Townsend, Washington. Among those who were introduced to the President was Chet-ze-moka (Duke of York), the leader of the Klallam.

Indian Wars:

During the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes there were a number of Indian wars. In 1877, America’s Christian General, O. O. Howard, was sent to Oregon to force the non-treaty Nez Perce bands who were followers of the pagan Dreamer Religion to resettle on the Christian-run Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho. The result was the Nez Perce war, a conflict that caught the attention of the media and made a war hero out of Chief Joseph, a peace chief who had nothing to do with the battles.

The Nez Perce War was followed by the Bannock War (1878), the Ute War (1879), and the White River War (1879). All of these wars came at a time when there was political pressure to move the Indian Office from the Department of the Interior to the Department of War.

Indian Reservations:

Among the Presidential powers in the nineteenth century was the ability to issue Executive Orders to create new Indian reservations as well as to change the boundaries of reservations. Such Presidential orders did not require authorization or approval from Congress. During his term in office, President Hayes used this power a number of times.

In 1878, President Hayes issued an executive order withdrawing land adjacent to the Navajo Reservation from public domain and making it available for Indian use. The boundary of the reservation was moved 20 miles to the west in order to provide more grazing land for Navajo herds.

A council was held with the Navajo leaders to explain the extension to them. The chiefs complained that they were being crowded by American settlers on all sides. They asked for a similar extension to the east. In 1880, Present Hayes issued an executive order expanding the Navajo reservation in New Mexico 15 miles to the east. There was also an extension of the southern boundary. The executive order forced some American settlers to vacate their farms which heightened resentment against the Navajo.

In 1879, the Salt-River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation in Arizona was created by executive order. The community was composed of two tribes: Onk Akimel Au-Authm (Pima) and Xalchidom Pii-pash (Maricopa).

Also in 1879, President Hayes issued an executive order creating the Columbia or Moses Reservation for the non-treaty peoples of the mid-Columbia River area. Sinkiuse chief Moses was considered the leader of these people – Wenatchee, Entiat, Chelan, Methow, Okanagan -even though several of the tribes did not recognize or acknowledge his leadership and authority. Moses collected rent from the American cattle ranchers on the reservation, but he and his band never actually lived on the reservation.

The non-Indian response to the Columbia Reservation was to condemn it as a “barbarous kingdom” for “King Moses” which provided “asylum for renegades to swoop down on the whites to steal horses, rob houses, and murder citizens.”

The Fort Mohave Reservation was established by Presidential executive order in 1880. The reservation was situated along both sides of the Colorado River and included parts of Arizona, California, and Nevada.

In New Mexico, a reservation is established for the Jicarilla Apache by executive order in 1880. While the intent of the order was to provide the Jicarillas with a permanent home, the ink on the order was not even dry before special interest groups began pressuring the Department of the Interior to consolidate the Jicarillas with the Mescalaros and open up the newly created reservation for non-Indian development.

In 1880, it was reported to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that silver-bearing ore had been discovered in Carbonate Canyon in Arizona and that the only access to this silver would be through the Havasupai village. It was recommended that a reservation be established for the Havasupai which would move their village and prevent trouble. Within a week President Rutherford B. Hayes issued an executive order which reserved lands for the “Suppai” (Havasupai) Indians. However, a few months latter this order was rescinded and different lands was set aside for them. The original order had inadvertently reversed the north and south compass directions. The new reservation was a five mile by twelve mile parallelogram which enclosed the Havasupai farms in Havasu Canyon.

While Presidential executive orders could be used to create and expand Indian reservations, they could also be used to reduce the size of the reservation. In 1880 President Hayes issued an executive order reducing the size of the Fort Berthold Reservation (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara) in North Dakota from 7.8 million acres to 1.2 million acres.

The Indian Office:

When Hayes took office in 1877, the Indian Office was notoriously corrupt. Indian Service positions, such as that of Indian Agent, Indian Farmer, and Indian Teacher, were based on political patronage and were used as vehicles for using reservation resources for personal enrichment. It was not uncommon for the Indian Agent, for example, to have an off-reservation store where he sold the annuity goods that were intended for the Indians on the reservation.

Indian Bureau

Indian Bureau

Political cartoons regarding Schurz and the corruption at the Indian Bureau are shown above.

Secretary Schurz attempted to clean up the Indian Office by instituting a wide-scale inspection of the service and by attempting civil service reforms in which positions and promotions were to be based on merit rather than patronage.

Within the Department of the Interior, the Indian Office was under the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, another political appointee. During the Hayes administration there were two Commissioners of Indian Affairs: Ezra Hayt (1877-1880) and Rowland E. Trowbridge (1880-1881). In 1877, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs felt that the best policy for Indians was to gather them on reservations, make them become Christians, compel them to attend school, have Indian police enforce the laws, and assign them to individual plots of land.

In 1878, following the recommendations of the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Congress authorized the establishment of Indian police. During the next two years Indian police forces were established on 48 of the 60 reservations in the United States. The new Indian policemen were to be role models for the assimilated Indian: they were to have short hair, wear Euro-American clothing, have only one wife, and accept allotments.

Associated with the Indian police were the Courts of Indian Offenses which were intended to deal with polygamy, the practice of traditional religion, and other activities deemed inappropriate to Anglo ideals.

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1879 issued an order which prohibited the sale of beads and body paint to Indians. These were seen as barriers to their assimilation and ties to their pagan past.

The Ponca:

Newspaper publisher Henry Tibbles promoted the grievances of the Ponca through a series of newspaper articles, a book, and a speaking tour which included Ponca chief Standing Bear. The tour drew packed audiences five to seven nights a week. At a presentation in Worchester, Massachusetts, U.S. Senator George F. Hoar was moved by what he heard. He wrote to President Rutherford B. Hayes expressing his concern at the wrong done to the Ponca by the American government. The President replied that he would give the matter attention.

Rutherford B. Hayes appointed a commission chaired by General George Crook to look into the grievances of the Ponca. Politically, Crook was given the chairmanship in exchange for a promise that the final report would avoid criticizing the government or its individual employees. The final report was to simply determine if the Poncas’ grievances were legitimate and, if so, recommend what should be done to redress those grievances. The Commission report found that the Ponca had been removed without lawful authority and advocated returning all who wanted to return to their old reservation on the Niobrara.  The Commission also recommended allotting Ponca land at both reservation sites and paying the Ponca compensation for their mistreatment.

President Hayes presented the report to Congress in 1881. In his memorandum to Congress regarding the Ponca, President Hayes wrote:

“In short, nothing should be left undone to show the Indians that the Government of the United States regards their rights as equally sacred with those of its citizens”

He went on to say:

“The time has come when the policy should be to place the Indians as rapidly as possible on the same footing as the other permanent inhabitants of our country.”

Invading Mexico in the 1880s

In the 1880s, the American wars against the Apache Indians ignored the border between the United States and Mexico, and the American military often ignored Mexico’s sovereignty in their eagerness to kill Apaches. This was a time when the American press often urged genocide against Indians, particularly against the Apache. Many of the military intrusions into Mexico were made in response to alleged raids by Mexican-based Apache groups.  

In 1881, a small war party of Lipan Apache attacked and looted the house of an American settler in Texas, killing two people. The army followed the party into Mexico where the Apache were surprised at their mountain camp. Six Apache warriors were killed and a small boy and a woman were captured.

In 1882, Apache warriors under the leadership of Juh and Geronimo raided the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona to capture the Chiricahua Apache band led by Loco. This band had stayed on the reservation when the Chiricahua had broken free the year before. Loco and his people were forced to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. The army struck the Apaches near the Arizona-New Mexico border and then battled them again 20 miles into the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Nineteen Apache, primarily women and children, were killed in the two battles.

A war party of 25 Chiricahua Apache warriors, under the leadership of Chatto, crossed into Arizona from their stronghold in the Mexican Sierra Madre Mountains in 1883 and raided a charcoal camp near Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The raiding party then moved northeast across the southeastern corner of Arizona, covering 75-100 miles a day. They crossed into New Mexico where they killed a federal judge and his wife and kidnapped their young son to be raised as an Apache warrior. During their raids, the Apaches killed 26 Americans. They managed to escape back into Mexico without being seen by any American soldier.

In response to the raids, an American army unit of 320 men under the command of General George Crook crossed the boundary with Mexico in search of “hostile” Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apache. The expedition’s principal guide was Tzoe (called “Peaches” by the Americans), a Cibecue Apache who had been a part of the hostile bands. In addition, a number of Apache and Yavapai scouts accompanied the Americans.

The Americans managed to surprise the Apache in their mountain stronghold. Consequently, a number of the Apache leaders-Geronimo, Naiche, Chihuahua, Chato, Bonito, Nana, Loco, Mangas, and Kahtennay-agreed to return to the reservation in Arizona.

In 1885, two bands of Chiricahua Apache left the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona.  Tiswin was a traditional Native alcoholic beverage which had been forbidden by the American government. In open defiance of the government’s prohibition, the Apache had brewed up the tiswin (a kind of beer or wine), got drunk and had fled into Mexico. One of the bands was led by Naiche and the other one by Chihuahua. There were about 140 people in the two bands, including 35 men and 8 boys old enough to fight.

One raiding party of ten warriors slipped back into the United States, carried out raids for a month in an area patrolled by 83 companies of soldiers. They killed 38 Americans, captured a number of horses, and escaped back into Mexico with the loss of only one warrior.  

In the Bavispe Mountains of Sonora, Mexico, Chihuahua’s band encountered U.S. troops. While the warriors diverted the troops, the women and children hid in a cave. However, the army found the women and children. They killed some, and then forced the survivors, including the wounded, to walk several hundred miles to Fort Bowie, Arizona. At the Fort, food was simply thrown on the ground for the women and children, implying that the prisoners were no more than animals. The women, including the wounded, were forced to dig latrines.

What many histories record as the final intrusion into Mexico during the 1880s Apache Wars came in 1886 when the Chiricahua Apache surrendered to the United States Army in Mexico on the condition that they would be held as prisoners for two years and would then be allowed to return to their own land. Instead, they spent the next 27 years as prisoners of war in prisons in Alabama, Florida, and Oklahoma.

First Nations News & Views: Giving Pine Ridge a voice, 1637, Native caucus at Netroots Nation ’12


Welcome to the 16th 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. Our last edition is here. In this edition you will find a new project by Aaron Huey, a special storyteller attending our caucus, veterans using sweat lodges for PTSD, a look at the year 1637 in American Indian history, two news briefs and some linkable bulleted briefs. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Giving Pine Ridge a Voice

By navajo

Aaron Huey has a new project. It’s another one born out of the frustration of “trying” to tell the complex story of the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. He is currently a Stanford Knight Fellow for which he developed a new project to “explore how photojournalism, through radical collaboration, can grow to include more voices from the community.” It’s a spectacular project. But, first, for those unfamiliar with our alliance with the photographer, let me give you some background.

Huey is a contributing editor for Harper’s Magazine and has gone on numerous assignments for National Geographic around the world. Huey emailed me in 2010 to share his TED talk. I was so moved by it that I featured it in a diary, Pine Ridge: American Prisoner of War Camp #334.

Huey’s TED talk was a result of getting to know the Lakota people on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota and photographing them to raise awareness of their continuing fight for survival. In the talk he recounts the history of the Lakota starting with 1824. He details the devastating massacres and “more than a century later, the current condition of Pine Ridge reveals the legacy of colonization, forced migration, and treaty violations.” His powerful video is embedded at the link above, I urge you to watch it.

Huey created the website Honor the Treaties to house this video and educate visitors about the history of broken promises. Then he started The Pine Ridge Billboard Project. A collaboration with the street artists, Shepard Fairey and Ernesto Yerena. Three beautiful posters were created and links were provided so anyone could download the images, and print and post them in their own cities.

The posters went up in numerous cities. The most impressive installation of this project was a billboard on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Meteor Blades and I watched for five hours as the work was completed by Huey, Fairey and some of their helpers.


Enough background. In the video below, Huey makes a powerful announcement about his new project:

Video can be seen here:… frameborder=”0″


“So I have a confession.  

When I tell stories — when we, as journalists tell stories — we miss most of the good stuff. Some of the best stories end up on the cutting room floor because they aren’t “newsworthy,” or flashy, or violent enough. Or because there just isn’t space. The communities we report on know this, and when we leave they are often are left wondering if they will be misrepresented. This is the nature of our business.  We have to cut and simplify and flatten incredibly complex worlds so they can fit between car advertisements in ever shrinking print publications.

I know that when I am telling a story about a place or a people my job as a journalist is not to tell EVERY story of every person in a community, but when I go really deep, when I return enough times to see beyond the statistics and obvious stories, when I have to look back into the eyes of the same people after they have seen themselves on our websites or in the pages of our magazines, I want so badly to give them more of a voice.

As a photojournalist who has been working on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota for the past 7 years I have struggled with this.

I think that I now I have a solution for this dilemma of representation, a solution for both the communities and for the publications.

I have been lucky to find collaborators in this endeavor in Jonathan Harris and his Editorial Director Annie Correal.  Jonathan is the creator of influential Internet projects like We Feel Fine, I Want You to Want Me, the Whale Hunt, and most recently the online community called Cowbird.

Together we plan to connect collections of community-generated stories to mainstream media publications through, a visionary storytelling platform that can be customized and embedded in big media websites.

The key word here is “embedded.” Ultimately, for me, this project is more about redesigning a relationship – between communities and big media – than it is about designing a digital platform. Crowd-sourced and community-generated story sites already exist, but none thus far have been designed to plug directly into multiple Big Media websites. That relationship has not yet been established, and that is where we stand out.

We plan to create networks of local storytellers on Cowbird and connect them to powerful, popular idea-makers starting with National Geographic and moving on to other news and feature publications. These pairings can be started from the inception of a story.

Our first test case is my story about the Oglala Sioux on the Pine Ridge that will run as a cover story in National Geographic this summer. These are a people who have always felt misrepresented by the media.

National Geographic has been visionary in allowing us to co-launch a community story collection on their website. We have already gathered over 50 stories from the Red Cloud High School on Pine Ridge.  More schools and story-tellers will follow with a community collection of 100-200 stories ready to accompany my piece when it launches July 15th.

Imagine the power – of involving communities in telling their own stories – and giving them a platform to publish their own unedited voices along side the story done by a journalist.    

That new relationship, between those formerly known as the “subject,” and the publication will open up a new kind of transparency and dialogue rarely seen in mainstream journalism.  

Launch THEIR stories together with OURS and you have something truly revolutionary.

This is the plug-in interface that will be launched at National Geographic mid-July:


I’m looking forward to exploring all the stories from Pine Ridge this July.


On a related subject, a new short film has been produced about Huey. Once it has premiered in Seattle I’ll provide viewing details for you.

Here’s the trailer:

Honor the Treaties | Trailer from eric becker on Vimeo.A portrait of photographer Aaron Huey’s powerful advocacy work for Native American rights on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Official Selection, Seattle International Film Festival, 2012

Directed by Eric Becker /

Produced by Scott Everett

Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1637

By Meteor Blades

Statue of Capt. John Mason on 
Pequot Hill, in Mystic, Connecticut
1889 Statue of Captain John Mason

was moved in 1996 to Windsor, Conn.,

from its original location on Pequot Hill,

in Mystic, where he led the 1637 slaughter

of hundreds of women and children.

On May 26, 1637, under the leadership of Capt. John Mason of Connecticut and Capt. John Underhill of Massachusetts Bay Colony, an English militia of 110 soldiers with some 200 Mohegan and Narragansett allies attacked a fortified Pequot village at Missituk, Conn., now Mystic. Inside the fort were 400 to 700 people-historians differ-most of them women, children and old men. Even so, they put up fierce resistance and Mason soon ordered the stockade set afire, its two exits blocked. Inhabitants who managed to climb out were killed. Most of the Pequot warriors were away on a raiding party to Hartford.

It was a turning point in the Pequot War, which had been going on since 1634. The roots of the conflict were deep, a product of growing Puritan immigration into New England and the inevitable friction between them and people whose land was being settled. But the spark that set it off was the slaying of the principal Pequot sachem Tatobem by Dutch traders.

Historians disagree about who responded, the Pequot or the Niantic, who were tributary to the Pequot. Whichever it was attacked Capt. John Stone, an English privateer and smuggler whom the Puritans called “a drunkard, lecher, braggart, bully, and blasphemer.” He and seven of his crew were killed and two Indian captives freed. The Niantic did not realize Stone was English, not Dutch.

The Pequots got the blame. Even though the Puritans had previously ordered Stone out of Plymouth Plantation upon penalty of death after he had threatened the governor with a knife, the death of one of their own by “savages” could not be left to stand. Repeatedly ordered to turn over the killers, the Pequot repeatedly refused. The English retaliated by burning some outlying villages and corn stores. By 1636, the Pequot had begun raiding English settlements with a good deal more seriousness than in years past. In response, a militia was raised and the war was full on. It was fought mostly as skirmishes, nobody getting the upper hand, and both sides seeking to put wedges between traditional allies of the other.

That changed at Mystic. In the days after the massacre, the surviving Pequot were hunted down, killed, sold into Caribbean slavery or forced to join their enemies, the tribe being obliterated until it gained federal recognition three centuries later, in 1983, as the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe of Connecticut.

Historian Alden T. Vaughan wrote in New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians 1620-1675:

“The effect of the Pequot War was profound. Overnight the balance of power had shifted from the populous but unorganized natives to the English colonies. Henceforth [until King Philip’s War in 1675-6] there was no combination of Indian tribes that could seriously threaten the English. The destruction of the Pequots cleared away the only major obstacle to Puritan expansion. And the thoroughness of that destruction made a deep impression on the other tribes.”

The general attitude about the massacre was reflected in the declaration of William Bradford, in his History of the Plymouth Plantation:

“Those that [escaped] the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others rune throw with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escapted. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and sente there of, but the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemise in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie.”

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

American Indian Caucus at Netroots Nation will feature Paulla Dove-Jennings

By Meteor Blades and navajo

Narragansett seal

Both of us will be heading out next week to Providence, Rhode Island, for a busy schedule of reconnecting, networking, attending talks, envisioning the future and generally carousing at the Netroots Nation 2012 conference. We hope to meet lots of you there.

We also hope those of you who make it to Providence will attend our reinvented American Indian Caucus. We’re excited to have a special guest this year. Her name is Paulla Dove-Jennings, née Tabautne (aka SunFlower). She’s a member of the Turtle clan of the Narrangansett Tribe of Rhode Island. Her ancestors were the people who lived there for thousands of years before it was Rhode Island. You can read about them in more detail at Invisible Indians at Netroots Nation.

Jennings is an oral historian and story-teller who has spoken all over the nation, including Alaska. She has never spoken in Hawaii or Europe because her grandmother told her never to cross the big waters. At our caucus she will speak about politics and women in the light of the traditional views of her tribe.

In her own words:

Members of the Turtle clan are the keepers of tribal History, family history, and

traditional legends. I am a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

Working as curator of museum Native collections, Tribal Council member, oral  

historian, story-teller, and published author have all enhanced my confidence

and knowledge of true story-telling. A story-teller never uses another tribe’s story without permission.

I grew up with my parents, grandparents, and other family elders telling tribal history, family history, and legends in the 1940s, 1950s, and ’60s.  I have passed some of my stories on to nieces and nephews as well as my own grandchildren.

Several years ago I invited my mother, Eleanor Spears Dove, to Brown University

to a story-telling event. Seven well-known Rhode Island storytellers of various

ethnic groups presented their stories. All of the presenters used props such as

instruments, music, scarves, sticks, etc. They were wonderful. I told the story of

how the bear lost his tail. My props were the tone of my voice, the shift of my

body, movements of my hands, eye contact, and the lift of my head, leaning

toward the audience and pulling back. I try to build the scene, the weather, the

wind, the sky, the earth, the water, the forest, and the animals.

When the event was over, my mother surprised me by saying she actually saw the bear!  

I have told stories from Maine to Alaska, to the young and the old, in cultural

institutions, colleges, universities, schools, powwows, organizations, and private

and social events. I thank the Creator for this gift.

NAN Line Separater

At the caucus, the two of us will also very briefly discuss our rationale and progress with First Nations News & Views and summarize voter suppression against Native people. As many of you know, our proposal for a Netroots Nation panel on the latter subject was rejected for the second time this year. We have not given up trying to make this panel a reality because we strongly believe that our story in this regard is unique and has impacts on the progressive agenda that go well beyond keeping a few thousand American Indians from voting.

There is a panel on voter suppression in general that deserves people’s attention:

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.

In addition to leading our caucus, navajo will be giving a presentation again this year:

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.


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VA Recognizes Benefit of Sweat Lodge Ceremonies for Veterans

By navajo

Veteran Steve Rich prays before placing

a log in the fire pit. (Photo byTaki Telonidis/NPR)

Ever since the government finally agreed that post traumatic stress syndrome-PTSD-is a real phenomenon, it has been thoroughly covered in the media. We all know now what it is, the havoc it can wreak on individuals, families and society at large, and we continue to develop ways it can be treated.

One new treatment is an old tradition, the sweat house, used to cleanse American Indian warriors of the bad spirits of war and death. Many tribes believe that in war a part of the soldier is left on the battlefield and when veterans return home they need a special ceremony to bring back that part of their spirit, to become complete again. Sweat lodges are common on many reservations. Today they are being used by a special group of American Indian veterans in Utah at the Veterans Administration center in Salt Lake City.

We can’t just walk away from war. The lasting effects of the exposure are real. We go into war knowing that a price has to be paid for going there, for engaging in the taking of lives. If the war is unjust … so much more the cognitive dissonance as well as the reasoning and emotional turmoil as we deal with the conflict in our psyche.

Native veterans are finding relief from anxiety in participating in the sweat ceremony as well as a spiritual connection to their heritage.

A sweat is a ceremony conducted by an Indian spiritual leader, or medicine man, in a dome-shaped structure. A fire is built and about 50 large stones are heated and then placed in the lodge. Water is poured over the hot stones, creating steam. The medicine man sings prayer songs and then, using eagle feathers, he blesses the troubled veterans. Using a scraping motion with the feathers he cleanses them of war.

NAN Line Separater

Native Swimmer Hopes for Olympic Gold in London:

photo of Maria Koroleva and Mary Killman
Maria Koroleva and Mary Killman

Synchronized swimmer Mary Killman (Citizen Potowatomie Nation) will be partnered with teammate Maria Koroleva in the duet event at the Olympics this year. She hopes to follow in the footsteps of another Native Olympian, the renowned Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox), also known as Wa-Tho-Huk (“Bright Path”), who won two gold medals in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. He, in fact, is her idol. Killman has been preparing for her moment in the spotlight since she was 11. She now trains ten hours a day, six days a week, both swimming and lifting weights. Like Thorpe, she was born and raised in Oklahoma, a consequence of government policy that relocated 22 tribes there beginning in the 1830s. Thorpe was not the first Indian to participate in the Olympics. In 1904 at St. Louis, the Canadians won the gold medal for lacrosse in a contest against the U.S. team. Among the names of the competitors: Black Eagle, Spotted Tail, Snake Eater and Rain in Face.

Killman says:

“It’s not as easy as it looks […] Synchro is a theatrical sport, like figure skating, where we have the pretty makeup and the big smiles. But under all that-under water-it’s chaos. We’re kicking each other like crazy and trying to hold each other up.”

[For] Koroleva, the most challenging part of the sport-and one of synchro’s biggest misconceptions-is not ever touching the bottom of the pool. “The pools we swim in are at least nine feet deep,” Koroleva says. “There are underwater cameras and referees watching the routine to make sure we never touch the bottom, even by accident.”

-Meteor Blades

Jim Thorpe Native Games Anticipating 4000 Competitors: Six weeks before Killman has her chance in London, American Indians from across the nation will compete in Oklahoma City, Okla., in the Jim Thorpe Native Games in honor of the 100th anniversary of victories of the great runner. The games, running from today through next Sunday, June 17, comprise 11 competitive sports: baseball, softball, basketball, tennis, stickball, golf, track and field, cross country, wrestling, beach volleyball and martial arts. The week-long event will also include an American Art Exhibition and traditional cultural exhibitions. There will also be an NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competition and a 5-kilometer run. All participants must have a valid Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood.

-Meteor Blades

Wyoming County Balks Over Fees in Voter Suppression:

Under fire for discrimination against Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho on the Wind River Indian Reservation, Fremont County proposed a partial replacement for the at-large districting system that a federal district court ruled in 2010 violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the Indian vote. The new system, part of the county’s appeal, would have created an Indian district but kept the rest of the districts at charge. In rejecting the county’s plans, Judge Alan Johnson wrote that county officials “appear to be devised solely for the purpose of segregating citizens into separate voting districts on the basis of race without sufficient justification, contrary to the defendants’ assertions.” The Ten Circuit Court agreed and ruled against the appeal.

Lawyers for the five tribal members who brought the suit have now asked Johnson to award more than $85,000 for their work on the appeal. The plaintiffs’ 2010 request for more than $880,000 for legal work for the original trial is still pending with the same judge. Fremont County, however, says the legal fees are too high and they have filed papers asked the judge to reduce them.

-Meteor Blades

Children bring joy to prison powwows:

Powwow visitors, including children for the first time in years, enter the state penitentiary in Walla Walla last Tuesday.
Powwow visitors, including children for the first

time in years, enter the state penitentiary

in Walla Walla last Tuesday.

(Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas/

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin)

Under a new policy in Washington state, American Indian prison inmates may request that children be allowed to join in annual religious and cultural gatherings behind bars. Including children has already had an impact. “People die inside themselves in here,” said Herbert Rice (Yakama), who remembers teaching his son, now 20, how to grass-dance in a prison visiting room. “These elders here today remind us of who we are, they bring us back to who we are. And the kids, for us, remind us of what we used to be, and they remind us what tomorrow is going to be, especially these young kids here dancing.”

It had been at least five years since some prison superintendents-each one decided individually-last allowed minors to attend Native American powwows inside the state’s 12 correctional facilities. And it’s been two years since the Department of Corrections (DOC) implemented sweeping changes that deemed as contraband the “sacred tobacco” used in Native American ceremonies, authorized hands-on property searches of ceremonial items that were reclassified as “nonsacred,” and curtailed sweat-lodge ceremonies due to the cost of firewood. As part of the change, barring children from religious or cultural events was codified in DOC policy. […]

“DOC, with basically a sweep of a pen, erased all these religious, tribal, spiritual and ceremonial rights,” said Gabe Galanda, a Seattle attorney who worked on behalf of Native inmates. […]

“It’s taken us two years, through a lot of diplomatic effort and patience, to get everything back,” Galanda said. The one thing still missing, however, was the inclusion of children – often referred to as “shorties” – at powwows. […]

A few weeks ago, the DOC – after months of discussions about security and the need to protect children, especially from incarcerated sex offenders – decided to allow children to attend the first powwow of the summer season at the prison in Walla Walla. As a result of tribal leaders’ efforts, other religious groups – be they Catholics or Muslims – now can also request that children be allowed to participate in their annual religious or cultural events, Galanda said.

-Meteor Blades

Oglala Ready to Take Control of First Tribal National Park:

A photo of the Badlands
Badlands National Park (Courtesy NPS)

It appears a wrong may soon be partially righted. The South Unit of the Badlands National Park, 133,000 acres entirely within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota, may become the first ever tribally run National Park. The history of how that land came not to be in control of the tribe in the first place has a familiar ring. In the cautious language of the National Parks Traveler:

The South Unit of Badlands National Park is an oddity, having been born of an administrative decision that incorporated a large tract of Indian-owned land into a national park in a rather heavy-handed manner. A gunnery and bombing range was established on [Lakota] land in 1942 shortly after America entered World War II. When the range was declared excess and closed in the 1960s, it was returned to the Oglala Sioux in the form of a government-held trust, and with the provision that it be part of the expanded Badlands National Monument. A Memorandum of Agreement stipulated that the OST-owned land was to be managed by the National Park Service.

Translation: The government took the land and the Oglala were told to shove it. Once the government gave up using the land for target practice, the Oglala and the Park Service reached a new agreement to govern the park and, in 1978, Congress redesignated the monument as Badlands National Park. Scroll forward another 25 years to 2003 and the Oglala requested government-to-government negotiations over future management of the South Unit. The Park Service is ready to go wholly to tribal management, but that will take an act of Congress..

“Our National Park System is one of America’s greatest story tellers,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said: “As we seek to tell a more inclusive story of America, a tribal national park would help celebrate and honor the history and culture of the Oglala Sioux people. Working closely with the Tribe, Congress, and the public, the Park Service will work to develop a legislative proposal to make the South Unit a tribal national park.” A map of the park can be found here.

-Meteor Blades

Poll: N.D. Voters Will Reject ‘Fighting Sioux’ Nickname:

Fighting Sioux logo saying

What could be the end of the tortuous path taken by supporters and foes of the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo of the University of North Dakota will June 12. That’s when voters will give thumbs up or thumbs down on whether UND should retire the “Fighting Sioux” or keep the name in the face of NCAA sanctions. The battle has been going on since 2006 when the NCAA told all participating college teams that it will allow no more Indian-themed mascots, nicknames and logos except in those cases, like the Florida Seminoles, when the tribes agreed to their use. As we have reported here and here and the nickname dispute in North Dakota has involved the state’s two Dakota (Sioux) tribes (who disagree with each other), the governing board of UND, the state legislature and the state supreme court. The poll shows 56 percent favor Measure 4, which would allow UND to ditch the name, and 44 percent want to require the university to keep it.

-Meteor Blades

USDA Chief Names 11 to Native Council: As part of the 2010 settlement in the Keepseagle v. Vilsack lawsuit, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has appointed 11 American Indians to two-year terms on the Council on Native American Farming and Ranching. The lawsuit alleged discrimination against Indians by the USDA in its farm loan program. The council, which is only advisory in nature, will suggest changes to Farm Service Agency regulations, make suggestions for ways to boost participation of Native farmers and ranchers in all other USDA programs and support government-to-government relations between USDA and tribal governments. In the modern era, the government-to-government approach dates back to the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, to President Richard Nixon’s 1971 formal ending of the tribal termination acts of ’50s and ’60s and to an executive order on such matters by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Making the government-to-government approach with the tribes across all U.S. executive departments actually happen obviously loses something from the signed paper to actual implementation. The council, The 11 councilmembers are Gilbert Harrison (Navajo Nation), rancher; Henry Holder (Choctaw Nation), farmer/rancher; Michael Jandreau (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe), tribal chairman; Gerald Lunak, natural resources director (Blackfeet Nation); Jerry McPeak, (Muscogee Nation), farmer/rancher and Oklahoma state legislator; Lance Morgan (Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska), CEO of Ho-Chunk, Inc.; Angela Sandstol,  (Native Tribe of Tyonek), natural resources and conservation official; Edward Soza (Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians), farmer/rancher; Mary Thompson (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians), farmer/rancher; Sarah Vogel (civil rights attorney and former agricultural commissioner for North Dakota); Mark Wadsworth, (Shoshone-Bannock Tribes).

-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.