First Nations News & Views: Miss Navajo Nation, Pe’ Sla Update and Custer-Loving GOP Moron


Welcome to the 21st 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 news about the Navajo Nation Annual Fair and crowning of Miss Navajo, an update on Pe’ Sla and Pat Rodgers’s last stand, a look at the years 1686 and 1935 in American Indian history, three news briefs and some bulleted news items. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Miss Navajo Nation

By navajo

The 2012 Navajo Nation Fair is coming up on September 2. The eight-day event is the largest American Indian fair in the nation and is celebrating its 66th year. Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez, who is 90, will be the grand marshal. Nez is the only living member of the original 29 U.S. Marine Corps 382nd Platoon who used the Navajo language to develop an unbreakable secret code in World War II to defeat the Japanese.

The fair will be typical in many respects. There will be a parade, rodeo, half marathon race, concerts, dancing, horticulture and an art market. But the overall flare will be uniquely Navajo. Events such as a traditional Navajo song and dance competition will feature people, including many elders, from all over the reservation dressed in their finest traditional clothing. This is in addition to a general powwow competition that is open to all tribes.

The theme the year is Appreciating Tradition. In 1999, the Branch Chiefs of the Navajo government declared that one of the fundamental principles should be the preservation of Navajo culture.

Crystalyne Gayle Curley, Miss Navajo Nation 2011-2012

~Photo Courtesy of the Office of Miss Navajo Nation

Another event based on appreciating tradition is the Miss Navajo Nation contest. While most beauty pageants have been justifiably criticized for objectifying women and focusing entirely on their appearance to the exclusion of their achievements, this pageant has NEVER had a swimsuit competition, There is an evening gown competition but the contestants are advised to select outfits that are conservative and show respect to the elders in the audience. Modesty in dress is a strong norm on the reservation. There is also a traditional Navajo clothing contest in which the women display their rich velveteen ensembles with their family heirloom silver and turquoise jewelry. Traditional Navajo moccasins and leggings are usually worn.

There is a public speaking segment to the competition where the contestants must show their fluency in both English and Navajo. There is a public interview session where questions might include “According to Navajo mythology, how are the stars created and placed?” and “How does the Navajo seal reflect the Navajo government?”

Each contestant must perform a skill and a talent in both the categories of traditional and modern. The modern category must be done in English and the traditional one in Navajo. Modern skills could include dance, acting, gymnastics. Modern talents can include singing, literary arts or musical performance. Traditional skills can be dancing, weaving, storytelling, making jewelry and grinding corn. Acceptable traditional talents include singing, musical performance or hobbies presented in an artful or musical format in Navajo.

Photo Courtesy of Navajo Times – Leigh T. Jimmie

Of course there is a fry bread contest, which is probably a popular expectation of a Miss Navajo Nation contestant. But many people do not know that there is a sheep-butchering competition. This event draws the largest crowds of spectators aside from the coronation. Sheep are held in very high regard on the reservation. They sustain life. Traditional Navajo families still maintain herds of sheep, and they must butcher them themselves. I’ve watched my aunties do this many times. It’s a definitive part of our culture and one that the Miss Navajo Council thought should be one of the selection methods for the crown. Sheep butchering became required in 1995 as a competition category.

Contestants are formed into small teams. They all begin at the same time and the team furthest along in the process after one hour wins points for each of the contestants. Each team must carry a live sheep to the arena, slit its throat, drain the blood into pans, break off its hooves, sever the head, hoist the carcass to hang and finish butchering, skin the fleece, remove and save all the organs, which will be cleaned and prepared for grilling. Cheered by the crowd are hallmarks such as hoisting the sheep to a hanging position or properly removing the legs but keeping them connected by the back muscles so they can be hung to cure, an important Navajo treatment.

According to the Miss Navajo Nation Council, “the pageant winner represents womanhood and fulfills the role of “grandmother, mother, aunt and sister” to the Navajo people. As a role model, Miss Navajo must exemplify the essence and characters of First Woman, White Shell Woman and Changing Woman and to display leadership as the Goodwill Ambassador.”

The first Miss Navajo crowned was

Dr. Beulah Ream Allen in 1952

Sixty years ago, at its annual fair, the Navajo Nation selected its first Miss Navajo Nation, Beulah Ream Allen. She was 55 when she was crowned. In those days, the “contestant who received the most and loudest applause from the audience would be crowned as the new Miss Navajo.” No surprise that Dr. Allen won. A physician, she had delivered many Navajo babies and taken care of the sick at Chinle. Today, a panel of judges assign points to each contestant for each of the contest categories over a five-day period.

In 1956 through 1963 there were two appointed Miss Navajos, one traditional and one modern. “Both positions were prestigious, as it was the responsibility of each to bridge the gap between the outside world and the Navajo Nation.” Sunni Dooley, Miss Navajo 1982-83, quipped that the modern one was always “one who looked like Jackie Kennedy.” Many photos of the past Miss Navajos can be seen here.

Currently, Miss Navajo’s duties are to promote and educate about the Navajo culture, language and traditions. She travels internationally and locally on behalf of the Navajo people for one year.

Unlike most beauty pageants around the world, the Miss Navajo Nation competition is about the Navajo word for beauty, balance and harmony: hózhǫ́ in short. The Navajo mantra is to do everything with beauty. Walk in beauty, think in beauty. If you perform your life’s actions in a beautiful way, then harmony with the earth will be balanced and achieved. Miss Navajo Nation is about the beauty within.

A film documentary by Billy Luther (Navajo, Hopi and Laguna Pueblo), Miss Navajo, was released in 2006.

Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1686 and 1935

By Meteor Blades

On Aug. 27, 1686, the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) chiefs Mayhkeerickkishsho, Sayhoppy and Taughhoughsey supposedly sold lands along the Delaware River on the border between present-day Pennsylvania and New Jersey to William Penn. The land in question was to be measured by how far a man could walk in a day and half. Thus was born the notorious “Walking Purchase”-if one believes the document was real. No original was ever found and there is no record of the sale in Pennsylvania’s provincial land records.

Such paced-off land deals were not an unusual practice in those days. Even though King Charles II had granted all of Pennsylvania to Penn in 1681 with a stroke of his royal quill, Penn himself cultivated peaceful relations with the Indians in the region by treating them, by the standards of the time, with fairness and an honest tongue. Among other things, before selling land to colonists, Penn bought it from the Indians living on it, set clear boundaries and made sure payment was actually given. There were many such purchases, most of them small.

After Penn’s death in 1718, his sons gained the proprietorship of Pennsylvania. They had a taste for the good life and consistently outspent their income, incurring huge debts. But there was a remedy close at hand. European settlers were pouring into the area, many of them merely squatting on Native land without permission. The Proprietors felt an urgent need to extend their authority into those lands, particularly into areas where German immigrants had settled across the line from New York.

It was at this time-1732 or 1734, historians differ-that a copy of the 1686 treaty, which somehow hadn’t previously come to light, was conveniently discovered by Thomas Penn. Indians had not heard of this treaty and were, to put it mildly, not interested in ceding land that they did not believe they had ever agreed to transfer nor for which they had ever been paid. The 1686 document was incomplete and unsigned and perhaps wholly fabricated. In other words, it was a swindle. Nonetheless, the Penns began selling Lenape lands in the area before the Indians agreed and before any effort was made to measure its area.

The Lenape went to the Iroquois Confederacy seeking redress. But the Iroquois, to whom the Lenape were subordinate, had no interest in helping and themselves made a deal with the Penns giving up their interest in the land at question. Eventually, in 1737, helpless to resist effectively, enough Lenape grudgingly agreed to the deal. And so the measurement was made. The Indians figured, based on previous walking purchases, that the walkers could cover perhaps 35-40 miles. But the Penns were not their father. They hired the three fastest men they knew, cleared the route ahead of time and sent them on their way along a northwesterly route not set out by the alleged 1686 document. So fast did they go that two of the men dropped out and the third collapsed from exhaustion, having covered about 70 miles, reaching near the present-day Jim Thorpe, Pa., at the foot of the Blue Mountain.

The Lenape chief Lappawinsoe said of the cheating:

[the white runners] should have walkt along by the River Delaware or the next Indian path to it… should have walkt for a few Miles and then have sat down and smoakt a Pipe, and now and then have shot a Squirrel, and not have kept up the Run, Run all day.

When the surveyor’s lines were drawn, the “Walking Purchase” encompassed 1.2 million acres.

The Lenape refused to surrender the land and the Proprietors sought help from the Iroquois in pushing them out, which those Indians did. In 1741, having no choice but a war they could not win, the Lenape left, beginning a journey with a series of stopovers that eventually took them, under constant duress, to Indian territory, today’s Oklahoma. Today, there are two federally recognized tribes there, although Lenape also live in small clusters in New Jersey and Wisconsin.

In 2004, the Lenape sued in federal court to regain 315 acres of the original Walking Purchase. In Delaware Nation v. Pennsylvania, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the tribe. While there was included in the ruling a sentence about the “sad example of our forefathers’ interactions with the Indian nations,” the justices said it made no difference whether the land had been purchased or taken by fraud since Thomas Penn had sovereignty under the “doctrine of discovery.” The court thus had no jurisdiction in the matter of the extinguishment of aboriginal title. The U.S. Supreme Court chose not to take up the case on appeal.


On Aug. 28, 1935, Congress passed the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. The purpose behind this was to “promote the economic welfare of the Indian tribes and Indian individuals through the development of Indian arts and crafts and the expansion of the market for the products of Indian art and craftsmanship.” That act, and the subsequent Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 created a board within the Department of Interior whose tasks included creating “Government trade marks of genuineness and quality for Indian products and the products of particular Indian tribes or groups; to establish standards and regulations for the use of such trade marks; to license corporations, associations, or individuals to use them; and to charge a fee for their use; to register them in the United States Patent Office without charge.”

Under the 1990 act, truth-in-marketing regarding the Indian heritage and tribal affiliation of those who make crafts sold as Native products is required. A 2010 amendment allows for fines for violations by individuals of up to $250,000 and 15 years in the slam. Businesses can be fined up to $5 million and incur civil penalties as well.



The Walking Purchase, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.

The Walking Purchase August 25, 1737, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.

Delaware Nation v. Pennsylvania

Lenni Lenape

The Delaware Indians: A History, by C.A. Weslager

Indians 201: The Doctrine of Discovery, by Ojibwa

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1935, UA Native Net

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Pueblo Indian Council Calls for Removal of Custer-Loving New Mexico GOP Official

Sometimes, given the outlandishness of what’s said, you have to wonder if Republicans aren’t reading from a script slipped under the door to them by Democrats. That’s what it seems like in the case of Pat Rogers’s remarks about Lt. Col. George A. Custer contained in an email to New Mexico’s Republican governor, Susana Martinez. The email has spurred the All-Pueblo Council to demand the removal of Rogers from his post as Republican National Committeeman.

Rogers is a heavy hitter in GOP circles in New Mexico, a partner and vice-president of the Modrall law firm of Albuquerque. He’s a registered lobbyist for Verizon, General Motors, Scientific Gaming and the University of Phoenix, among others. He was in 2007 the favored choice of a Karl Rove flunky for replacing David Iglesias, the U.S. Attorney fired because the Bush administration didn’t think he was tough enough on voter fraud. Rogers had once called voter fraud “the single greatest wedge issue ever” and was instrumental in getting Yglesias tossed. So he was on the short list for the U.S. attorney job. He has also been implicated in the “emailgate” scandal in which private emails regarding public business have raised the possibility of bid-rigging and collusion.

Earlier this month, ProgressNow, a progressive grassroots organization, reported that Rogers had sent a June 8 email to Martinez after she had met with tribal leaders in the state:

Quislings, French surrender monkeys, secret supporters (all along) of JAJ [Janice Arnold Jones]

The state is going to hell. Col. [Allen] Weh [Martinez’s 2010 GOP primary opponent] would not have dishonored Col Custer in this manner.

I hope who ever recommended this is required to read the entire redist [redistricting law suit] transcript and sit through the entire meeting with the Gov.

The email, which you can read in its entirety here, didn’t become widely known until Ryan J. Reilly brought it up at Talking Points Memo Friday. The same day, Rogers offered a lame apology, justifying his comment calling Martinez a traitor in various ways as being humorous. The chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico has accepted the apology.

Some other folks did not.

On Saturday the chairman of New Mexico’s All Indian Pueblo Council called the email “racist in tone” and said Rogers should be removed as Republican National Committeeman. Chairman Chandler Sanchez said:

I call upon the Republican National Committee to remove Mr. Rogers from his official capacity within the committee. … His statement that Custer is some kind of hero demanding deference is offensive. We have come a long way in demanding racial tolerance and acceptance in the 21st century. But remarks and statements like those written by attorney Pat Rogers sadly make you wonder if the Republican Party and those who represent Governor Martinez share his views and attitude toward the Native populations of this state.”

It’s hard to imagine how any more dishonor could be brought against Custer than what he brought upon himself. In addition to the reckless pride that wiped out his command on the Little BigHorn in 1876, there was the massacre on the Washita River in 1868 and Custer’s custom of choosing an Indian woman to sleep with when he was in the field. Commonly known as rape.

One of these was a Cheyenne woman captured on the Washita, Monahseetah, with whom Custer supposedly fathered a blond child, Yellow Bird. But some historians believe the gonorrhea Custer had contracted at West Point made him sterile and the actual father of the Indian boy was Custer’s brother, Thomas. Share and share alike, it seems. Whatever the case, when Custer’s wife Libby came out West to be with him, he  abandoned Monahseetah. No Cheyenne would marry her.

It’s unknown whether Libby ever learned of her husband’s activities in this regard. If so, it did not stop her from spending decades transforming him after his death into a glorious hero. So much so that President Theodore Roosevelt warned Edward Curtis in 1907 that the famed photographer should not include a story in his forthcoming book on The North American Indian that put a harsh light on Custer’s behavior in the battle. The nation, Roosevelt told him, was not ready just three decades after the Battle of the Little BigHorn to see Custer demoted from the pantheon of “legitimate” heroes. Curtis agreed and left out what he had learned from men who had witnessed the battle.

Previously, only one man’s views had been accepted, a Crow scout named Curley who had bolstered the view that Custer had behaved as a good leader once the fight got under way. Curley was long said to have been the only survivor among the four scouts who were with Custer that June Day in Montana. But there were three others who told Curtis their story:

The three scouts’ narrative differed sharply from the accepted story, most markedly in their assertion that Custer had paused for 45 minutes on a high point on the bluffs, where he watched [Major] Reno’s defeat and declined to go to the major’s aid. […]

To the Scout’s thinking Custer should ride down there immediately and support Reno. “White Man Runs Him” became agitated and went up to Custer and told him that this is what Custer should do. “White Man Runs Him” relayed the exchange between him and Custer this way:

[White Man Runs Him] “I said, ‘Why don’t you cross the river and fight too?’ I scolded him. Custer replied ‘It is early yet and plenty of time. Let them fight. Our turn will come.'”

And so it did. While scholars knew better, not until the 1960s did the public get an inkling of Custer’s true self. The earlier heroic version was promoted by a score of bad films and his toppling from the pedestal in the public’s mind was also a product of a film, the 1970 Little Big Man, in which he is devastatingly depicted.

Rogers, who backed Weh in the 2010 primary, has many problems with the governor. But it’s difficult to understand why he picked Custer as his choice for taking his gratuitous poke at her for showing up at a meeting she is, by state law, required to attend. Custer never had anything to do with Indians in New Mexico.

So maybe it was just a casual slur. But it’s not hard to imagine Rogers being one of the Custer-loving morons who chose to send anonymous racist hate mail to the National Park Service in the year or so before it renamed the Custer Battlefield the Little Bighorn National Battlefield Monument in 1991. To some people, the man is still a hero.


Land of Enchantment will be diarying in detail Monday on some of Rogers’s activities.

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Auction Canceled But the Selling of Pe’ Sla Continues

While the public auction of land sacred to the Sioux in the Black Hills of South Dakota has been canceled, a quiet sale of the land is going on privately.

We reported in FNN&V last week that Pe’ Sla, a site sacred to the various Sioux tribes, was to be auctioned Saturday. To guarantee access, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (Sicangu Oyate Lakota) initiated a campaign to raise money to buy as many of the five tracts of the 1942-acre total as possible. At a potential high bid around $5000 an acre, everybody knew it would be an uphill battle, $10 million is no small matter regardless of who is raising the money and the Sioux are among the most impoverished citizens in our nation.

The outpouring of support was tremendous. As of today, $288,000 has been raised. The Rosebud Sioux have pledged another $1.3 million and some the other Sioux tribes plan to provide money of their own in this effort.

However, the fund-raising campaign turned into a double-edged sword. The publicity apparently spurred the property-owners to cancel the auction, and take the sale behind closed doors. Brock Auction Co., which was handling the sale of the land-divided into five tracts-made the announcement Thursday. The family gave no explanation.

Ruth Moon reported:

Neither the family nor the auction company has given a reason for the change, but one can offer a guess. Perhaps it was the thousands of tweets, the scores of news stories, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised in an unprecedented fund-raising campaign to buy the land back for the tribes by Or the threat of sale day becoming a major media draw, complete with prayer circles and protesters both near and far.

But the final straw may have been yesterday’s announcement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, strongly suggesting consultation with tribes on the impending sale.

As we reported in May, the Special Rapporteur, James Anaya, said that one of the things the United States could do to improve relations with the nation’s tribes would be to return some lands to the tribes, including the Black Hills, which were taken in a congressionally mandated land grab in 1877.

The Rapid City Journal reported on the cancelation of the aucton:

“We’re on pins and needles,” said Chase Iron Eyes, owner of Last Real Indians, a website and organization raising money to buy the land. “We’re nervous. We don’t know if it’s good or bad or what it is.”

“It could be good and it could be bad,” said Rodney Bordeaux, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. “We just don’t know what the family wants. That’s kind of the unknown. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Here’s Iron Eyes (Standing Rock Sioux) thanking donors and explaining the latest developments as they were known as of Saturday. (video will not embed)

A staff member of the Lakota Peoples Law Project told FNN&V that the organization had phoned the real estate company now in charge of the Pe’ Sla sale to scope out the situation and was asked if he wanted to make a bid for the property. There are unconfirmed rumors that the sale will be completed Monday.

Even with so many unknown factors, the Native grass roots organizers are hopeful. With their efforts to gather financial support from several Sioux tribes and the public’s help this huge purchase is possible.

The fund-raising continues.

At the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles North and South Dakota, $300.03 was raised with a blanket dance during the traditional Wakpala Wacipi (powwow) last week. “The elders in the community, the Uncis and Lalas (Grandmas and Grandpas) were brought to tears to see their children and grandchildren working to get our sacred lands back,” Iron Eyes said.

You can contribute here.

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Street Art Hits the Red Road: Lakota Activist Madonna Thunder Hawk Protests Pe’ Sla Sale to Non Natives

Madonna Thunder Hawk

Next weekend Madonna Thunder Hawk of the Lakota People’s Law Project will travel throughout South Dakota in a truck draped with two 28-by-10-foot banners by street artist Shepard Fairey, National Geographic photographer Aaron Huey, and graphic artist Ernesto Yerena. The art will feature the words “The Black Hills Are Not For Sale” and “Honor The Treaties.” The first stop will be the big powwow on Cheyenne River and then follow up with a Pe’ Sla action in Rapid City next week. As we have reported last week and this, Pe’ Sla is sacred to the Sioux people.

Last November, Fairey and Huey wheat-pasted a 20-by-60-foot mural on the Barracuda wall on Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles. The mural featured a photograph, taken by Huey and adapted by Fairey, of a young Lakota girl with a feather in her hair. Its caption read “The Black Hills Are Not For Sale.” The words refer to the U.S.’s current policy of violating the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie and the Lakota’s refusal to accept compensation for the Black Hills.

The art displayed in Los Angeles last fall will be featured as an act of protest by Madonna Thunder Hawk in South Dakota next weekend on one side of an enormous truck. Another banner by Yerena and Huey will appear on the other side of the truck, with the caption “Honor The Treaties.”

Thunder Hawk has worked for five years with the Lakota People’s Law Project (LPLP) of Rapid City and Santa Cruz, California. Her work consists of organizing Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota grandmothers in South Dakota to win the return of Native American children to their families and tribes from white-run foster care, as mandated by the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act. Thunder Hawk and the Lakota People’s Law Project are fully supportive of all groups working to prevent Pe’ Sla from being sold to non-Native buyers.

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-Meteor Blades



Indians have often been referred to as the “Vanishing Americans.” But we are still here, entangled each in his or her unique way with modern America, blended into the dominant culture or not, full-blood or not, on the reservation or not, and living lives much like the lives of other Americans, but with differences related to our history on this continent, our diverse cultures and religions, and our special legal status. To most other Americans, we are invisible, or only perceived in the most stereotyped fashion.

First Nations News & Views is designed to provide a window into our world, each Sunday reporting on a small number of stories, both the good and the not-so-good, and providing a reminder of where we came from, what we are doing now and what matters to us. We wish to make it clear that neither navajo nor I make any claim whatsoever to speak for anyone other than ourselves, as individuals, not for the Navajo people or the Seminole people, the tribes in which we are enrolled as members, nor, of course, the people of any other tribes.

The Pacific Fur Company

The Pacific Fur Company was founded in 1810 for the purpose of exploiting the fur resources of the Pacific Northwest. Half of the stock in the company was held by the American Fur Company which was owned by John Jacob Astor, one of the richest men in America and a prominent fur trader. Astor’s inspiration for this project came from two sources: (1) the publication of Sir Alexander MacKenzie’s book describing his overland journey to the Pacific, and (2) the reports from the American Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark which had also traveled to the Pacific. Inspired by the reports of the possible great wealth in this region, Astor set out to establish a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River.  

Astor envisioned a permanent American settlement at the mouth of the Columbia River which would serve as trading hub linking New York City, Oregon country, and China. The basic plan was to load Indian trade goods onto ships in New York City and transport them to the Columbia where they would be used in acquiring furs and pelts. These furs and pelts would then be transported to China where they would be traded for porcelain, silk, spices, and other goods which would then be transported back to New York. It was a business plan designed to increase Astor’s wealth at the expense of the subsistence patterns of the Indians.  

In order to establish his new trading center at what would become Astoria, Oregon, Astor sent out two expeditions: one by sea and the other by land. The sea expedition arrived at the Columbia River in 1811 and established Fort Astoria. As the Astorians were setting up the fort, David Thompson and his North West Company party arrived. Thompson told them that he had already taken possession of the country upstream and had established a permanent post on the Spokane River. This marked the beginning of the struggle between the powerful North West Company (commonly called the Nor’westers) and the newly organized Pacific Fur Company for domination of the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest. The Astorians saw themselves fighting for the supremacy of the United States against British Dominion.

The American traders soon find that Chinook women are as active in the trading process as are the men. The Americans also started the practice of bringing in Native Hawaiians, known as Kanakas, for work in the fur trade.

On the ground in Oregon, many of the Astorians were in fact former Nor’westers and knew David Thompson. From Fort Astoria, the Astorians under the leadership of David Stuart, a former Nor’wester, and David Thompson’s Nor’westers started upstream on the Columbia River together. The two parties, however, did not travel far together. The Nor’westers were traveling light and their canoes were not loaded with any merchandise for trade. The Astorians did not have canoes suitable for up-river work. At the mouth of the Columbia they had obtained two large coastal dugout canoes. While this type of canoe was a good coastal vessel, it was not a good upstream craft. After reaching the cascades on the Columbia, the Nor’westers, who were able to travel much faster, separated from the Astorians.

Near the location of present-day Wenatchee, Washington, the Astorians met a great number of Indians. Chief Sopa presented them with two horses and the Astorians then purchased four more horses from him.

At the mouth of the Methow River, the Astorians found a great gathering of Indians who had many horses for sale. The Indians invited the Astorians to stay with them and trade through the winter. They assured the traders that their country abounded in beaver and that there was plenty of game for food.

After 42 days of travel up the Columbia River, the Astorians reached the mouth of the Okanogan River. Here they established Fort Okanogan to serve the Indian people in the Upper Columbia River area and to provide competition with the Nor’westers. David Stuart wrote:

“The general aspect of the surrounding country is barren and dreary, but to the north the banks of the river are lined with the willow and poplar, and the valley through which it meanders presents a pleasing landscape.”

Fort Okanogan became the first settlement under the U.S. flag in what would become the state of Washington.

The following spring, some of the Astorians made the journey back to Fort Astoria carrying with them about 2,500 beaver skins.  

The Kootenai prophet Kauxuma-nupika (“Gone to the Spirits”), a woman who has taken on the role of a man and has married a women, acts as a courier for the North West Company, carrying letters from Kettle Falls in eastern Washington to Fort Astoria.

The party which Astor had sent overland to Fort Astoria arrived in 1812. The party left the goods they had transported overland and began the overland trip back with orders for the supplies for the coming year. While passing through Montana on their return trip, the Crow liberated all of the Astorian horses.

In 1812, the Pacific Fur Company continued to expand its trading area in the Columbia River basin. The Astorians established their Fort Spokane adjacent to the Nor’westers’ Spokane House. On the surface the relationships between the two adjacent trading posts seemed cordial. One of the Astorians wrote:

“When the two parties happened to meet, they made amplest protestations of friendship and kindness, and a stranger unacquainted with the politics of Indian trade, would have pronounced them sincere, but the moment their backs were turned they tore each other to pieces. Each party had its maneuvering scouts out in all directions, watching the motions of the Indians and laying plots and plans to entrap or foil each other. He that got the most skins, never minding the cost of the crime, was the cleverest fellow, and under such tutors the Indians were apt disciples.”

Under the leadership of Donald McKenzie, the Pacific Fur Company established a fur trading post at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers near present-day Lewiston in Nez Perce country. McKenzie soon found that the Nez Perce were reluctant to trap furs for them. The Nez Perce were willing to trade, but they wanted to trade things they owned or produced, like clothing, food, and horses. They were not willing to become beaver trappers and laborers for the Astorians. While the Indians were interested in the manufactured goods that the Astorians brought to trade, they felt that the prices were too high.

In 1813, the Pacific Fur Company established a trading post at the confluence of the Snake and Boise Rivers in Idaho. The post was located at a traditional Bannock summer camping area where the people fished for salmon. The Bannock were not happy about the post’s location.

In 1813 at Fort Astoria, Pacific Fur Company trader Duncan McDougall married the daughter of Chinook chief Comcomly. From Comcomly’s perspective this increased his access to European goods. From the Astorian’s perspective, this connection provided both economic and physical security.

In the spring of 1813, word reached the Spokane establishments that war was breaking out between the United States and Great Britain. When word of the war reached Fort Astoria, the trading partners held a council. They realized that they were in a vulnerable position as they were unprotected by a British war ship. After much discussion, it was decided to attempt to trade for another year, and trading parties were sent out from Fort Astoria once again.

In 1813, Pacific Fur Company trader John Clarke travelled from the Spokane River area to the Palouse village of Palus where he prepared his canoes for the journey down the Snake and Columbia Rivers. In order to impress the Indians, he brought out two silver goblets, poured a little wine in one of them, and had a chief drink from it. The next morning, the trader found that one of the goblets is missing. After the goblet was recovered, traders then hung the man believed to have taken the goblet. The incident provoked hostility toward the Americans from all of the neighboring tribes. Indians have long memories, and for many years they continued to remind the Americans of this event.

The Nor’westers were quick to see that the war between the United States and Great Britain presented them with an interesting opportunity. The British sloop-of-war, Racoon, was on its way to capture Fort Astoria. In addition, the Nor’wester ship Isaac Todd was also enroute to the mouth of the Columbia. The Isaac Todd was armed and held letters of marque and reprisal and was therefore a duly accredited privateer and in a position to seize Fort Astoria as a prize of war. At the same time, a Nor’wester brigade of ten canoes was hurrying down the Columbia with full authority to purchase all of the holdings and property of the Pacific Fur Company.

On November 12, 1813, Duncan McDougal, the factor in charge of Fort Astoria, sold the entire enterprise to the North West Company. The American flag was hauled down and the Union Jack was raised. The fort was then renamed Fort George. When the Racoon arrived, her captain took formal possession of the country for England.

All of the Astorian trading posts now became property of the Nor’westers. When Fort Spokane was taken over by the North West Company, the name Spokane House was transferred to the new facility. Most of those who worked there, however, continued to refer to it as Fort Spokane. Most the traders who had worked for the Astorians went to work for the Nor’westers.

First Nations Artifacts (Photo Diary)

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The Fort-Museum of the North West Mounted Police in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada has a building dedicated to First Nations artifacts. Fort Macleod was first founded on an island in the Oldman River in 1874 as a post for the newly formed North West Mounted Police (who would later become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). The Blackfoot Gallery tells the story of local First Nations people.  

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Shown above is a diorama of a pishkin (buffalo jump).

The Blackfoot Nation (also known as the Blackfoot Confederacy) consists of three tribes: the Blackfoot tribe (Siksika), the Blood tribe (Kainai), and the Peigan tribe (Pikani). All speak the same language and call themselves Soyi-tapi (Real People).

Currently the Blackfoot (Siksika) have a reserve located east of Calgary and have a tribal population of about 6,000. The Kainai, whose name means Many Chiefs, have the largest reserve in Canada. There are about 10,000 Kainai. Pikani means Scabby Robes and their reserve is centered around the town of Brocket. There are about 3,500 Pikani in Canada. The South Piegan, known officially as Blackfeet, have a reservation in Montana which has about 10,000 tribal members. (The tribe name Peigan or Piegan is spelled differently, depending on which side of the border they are living).

The displays include photographs and paintings as well as First Nations artifacts and clothing.

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Shown above is an Indian-made saddle. While the stereotype is that Indians rode horses bare-back, nearly all Indian museums have examples of Indian-made saddles.

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Arts of Adornment:

This exhibit explores the artistry of First Nations decorative work as an expression of Native Spirituality.

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The Civil War and Indians in Arizona

In some parts of the country, such as Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), the Civil War divided Indian nations with some joining the Union forces and others joining with the Confederacy. In other parts of the country, such as Arizona, the Civil War simply meant that Indians now had two enemies rather than just one. In many instances, the tribes were unclear about the difference between Union and Confederate forces.  

The California Volunteers under the command of General James Carlton entered Arizona from the west in 1862 with the intent of displaying a Union presence in a territory whose sympathies lay with the South. At Maricopa Wells, the Americans met with the Maricopa. One of the members of the Volunteers wrote:

“They presented a comical appearance, half-civilized, half-barbarous, as they rode up to our camp on their raw-boned ponies, dressed off in some United States uniforms given them by order of the General; brass buttons and red paint, infantry dress coats and bare legs, military caps and long hair.”

The Maricopa chief expressed friendship with the Americans and asked for weapons so that they might defend themselves. Two years earlier, the Maricopa, together with some American allies-the Gila Rangers-had raided the Yavapai, killing 13 and capturing five who were sold into slavery in Mexico. The Maricopa, who were probably unaware of the reality of the Civil War, viewed these new American troops as potential allies and potential partners in their raids against other Indians.

Like the Maricopa, the Apache were probably unaware of the Civil War, but when Union troops entered their territory they responded in what they felt was an appropriate fashion: under the leadership of Cochise and Mangas Coloradas, the Apache attacked the column. The troops set up artillery and returned fire. The Apache were driven off by canon fire and Mangas Coloradas was wounded. In response to this attack, Union forces established Fort Bowie at Apache Pass so that the military could escort travelers, mail couriers, and supply trains through the pass.

The attitude of the Americans toward the Apache was expressed by a member of the California Volunteers who wrote:

“Before leaving Apache Pass too far behind I wish to say that I am an advocate for the extermination of the Apaches. They have never made and kept a treaty of peace, but have ever been thieves, highwaymen and murderers. Year out and year in, hundreds have perished upon the roads by their hands, and it is estimated that within the past twelve months at least one hundred white persons have been killed by them on the road between Tucson and the Rio Grande; some of which murders were most horrible, tying up their victims by the heels and building slow fires under their heads.”

In New Mexico, Union General James Carlton ordered Kit Carson to round up the Mescalero Apache and confine them on a reservation at Bosque Redondo. The General’s orders:

“The men are to be slain whenever and wherever they can be found. The women and children may be taken as prisoners.”

Traditionally, army officers used captured Indian women as sexual slaves.

With regard to the Confederate attitudes toward the Indians in Arizona, the Confederate governor of Arizona wrote to the commander of the Arizona guards:

“The Congress of the Confederate States has passed a law declaring extermination to all hostile Indians. You will therefore use all means to persuade the Apaches of any tribe to come in for the purpose of making peace, and when you get them together kill all the grown Indians and take the children prisoners and sell them to defray the expense of killing the Indians.”

In 1863, Union General Carleton issued an ultimatum to the Navajo: they were to peacefully transfer to the reservation at Bosque Redondo or be treated as hostile. Colonel Kit Carson then began to wage a “scorched earth” campaign against the Navajo. The plan, devised by General Carleton, called for all male Navajo to surrender or be shot.

In 1863, soldiers under a white flag lured Apache leader Mangas Coloradas into a parley where he was seized. While he was sleeping, his guards touch his feet with bayonets which have been heated in the fire. When he rose in protest, he was shot. The army claimed he was killed while trying to escape.

As the other Apache prisoners watched, the soldiers boiled Mangas Coloradas’ severed head in a cauldron to prepare the skull for scientific study. While the Anglo scientists had an interest in correlating brain size and skull shape with intelligence, character, and racial characteristics, the Apache viewed the mutilation as a barbarity that exceeds the murder. As a consequence, Apache mutilation of American enemies they had killed became more common.

In 1863, Arizona gained political independence from New Mexico and its new constitution disqualified Indians from participation in the electoral process.

At Fort Yuma, Arizona, the United States negotiated a treaty of peace in 1863 among the Pima, Mohave, Yavapai, Maricopa, Chemehuevi, Walapai, and Yuma. The purpose of the treaty was to promote safe travel in tribal territories by the Americans. The tribes also promised to help the Americans in their war against the “Apache Tribes.” The treaty was not ratified by the Senate.

In 1864, Union General James Carleton took command of the war against the Apache. He claimed that he could subdue the Apache quickly and sent hundreds of troops against them. Like other Americans, Carleton never understood that there were several distinct Apache tribes and assumed that the Apache were a single unified tribes. Consequently, the American troops spent most of their time attacking peaceful groups, creating more enemies.

A U.S. Army dispatch summarized the official attitude regarding the Apache in Arizona territory:

“All Apache Indians in that territory are hostile, and all Apache men large enough to bear arms who may be encountered in Arizona will be slain wherever met, unless they give themselves up as prisoners. No women or children will be harmed; these will be taken prisoner.”

While Arizona’s many Indian nations did not become directly involved with the Civil War, during the war the American stereotypes and antagonisms towards the Indians seemed to intensify and help justify the Americans’ genocidal attitudes.  

The Smithsonian and the Indians in the 19th Century

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


The Smithsonian “Castle” is shown above.  

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

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

The law creating the Smithsonian also stated that

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

The Smithsonian Institution opened its first exhibits building in 1858. Only one of the fifteen display cases contained Native American materials.

In 1865, the National Indian Portrait Gallery was established as a part of the Smithsonian Institution. The key elements of the Gallery were the portraits of Indian chiefs who visited Washington, done by Charles Bird King for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Obtaining Indian Materials:

During the nineteenth century, the Smithsonian began to obtain what would become its vast holdings of American Indian artifacts through: (1) gifts from wealthy individual collectors, (2) direct purchase from Indians and from looters, (3) consolidation with collections from other governmental agencies, and (4) theft. Some of the materials obtained by the Smithsonian were ancient– artifacts dug up by archaeologists and by looters, while others were contemporary, articles made by Indian artists and craftspeople.

In Virginia, the Pamunkey were still making their traditional pottery in 1878. Some of this pottery was purchased for display in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. One professor described the Pamunkey as

“a miserable half-breed remnant of the once powerful Virginia tribes. The most interesting feature of their present condition is the preservation of their ancient modes of making pottery.”

In 1880, anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing observed the beginning of a religious pilgrimage by Zuni priests to Kolhu/wala:wa (Zuni Heaven) In New Mexico. Later in the year, Cushing sneaked out of the village and followed the ancient trail to Kolhu/wala:wa where he looted the shrines, packing the prayer sticks and offerings to be shipped to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The theft was discovered by the Zuni who tried Cushing in a religious court. As news of Cushing’s “discovery” spread, other non-Indians looted the shrines at Kolhu/wala:wa.

The Bureau of Ethnology sent an expedition to the Hopi pueblos in 1882 to survey the villages and to make a collection of material goods. They were instructed to “clean out” Oraibi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited villages in North America, but were threatened by the elders when the purpose of the trip became known. Still, they managed to obtain more than 200 specimens at Oraibi and 1,200 from the three villages of Second Mesa.

When the Hopi materials arrived in Washington, the Smithsonian did not have room for them. Much of the material was simply left outside until space could be found for it. Material damaged from being exposed to the elements was simply discarded as the museum staff was overwhelmed by the pace of collecting and could not keep up with it.


During the nineteenth century, the Smithsonian exhibited some of its materials outside of Washington, D.C. In 1876, the Smithsonian participated in the Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition, The Exhibition’s primary purpose was to emphasize America’s industrial and agricultural prowess. The Smithsonian Institution created American Indian exhibits that portrayed Indians as primitive or savage counterparts to the civilized Americans.

In Philadelphia, the Smithsonian also exhibited a portion of its collection of Northwest Coast Indian artifacts and art work. The exhibit elicited intensely negative comments from the public. The Indian, as shown in the exhibit, according to Atlantic Monthly editor William Dean Howells,

“is a hideous demon, whose malign traits can hardly inspire any emotions softer than abhorrence.”

Publications and Education:

In addition to displaying American Indian artifacts, the Smithsonian Institution also began to publish information about American Indians based on archaeology and on ethnography.

One of the controversies during the nineteenth century centered on the “mounds” and who had built them. Many prominent Americans, both politicians and scholars, strongly believed that these great features could not have been built by “primitive” Indians and must be evidence of an earlier, more advanced, civilization which built the mounds and then moved elsewhere. There were, however, some, such as Thomas Jefferson, who argued that Indians had indeed constructed these great works.

Monks Mound

The large earthen pyramid known as Monks Mound in Cahokia, Illinois is shown above.

The Smithsonian Institution published Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley by Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis in 1849. This book  provided a record of the mounds as they appeared in 1847.  It contained finely executed maps and detailed measurements. While Squire and Davis explicitly set out to avoid speculations and simply provide a detailed description of these features, they still suggested that the mounds had been constructed by a “civilized”, pre-Indian culture which had migrated southward under “incessant attack” by “hostile savage hordes.”

Ancient Mounds

Serpent Mound

Shown above are illustrations from their book.

Many of the earthworks which described by Squire and Davis have been destroyed by urbanization and other forms of American progress and today’s archaeologists find their detailed descriptions to be valuable.

The Smithsonian helped to settle the debate about who built the mounds with the publication of The Problem of the Ohio Mounds by Cyrus Thomas in 1889. In the beginning of the book, Thomas writes:

“The opinion advanced in this paper, in support of which evidence will be presented, is that the ancient works of the State are due to Indians of several different tribes, and that some at least of the typical works, were built by ancestors of the modern Cherokees.”

Using evidence derived from excavations of the mounds rather than historical European texts, Thomas goes on to build his case using scientific reasoning rather than religious and/or political philosophy.  

The Smithsonian also published descriptions of existing Indian cultures. Assuming that these cultures were vanishing before the superior American civilization, these efforts are sometimes described as salvage ethnography. In 1856, for example, the Smithsonian published Sketch of the Navajo Tribe of Indians, Territory of New Mexico by Dr. Jonathan Letherman. He reported:

“Of their religion little or nothing is known, as, indeed, all inquiries tend to show that they have none” and “They have frequent gatherings for dancing.”


In 1879, Congress created the Bureau of Ethnology (later the Bureau of American Ethnology) as a part the Smithsonian Institution. The Bureau was responsible for a variety of different surveys of American Indians. The Bureau was to increase and diffuse knowledge of American Indians. Within the Smithsonian, the Bureau was viewed as a kind of unwanted but tolerated stepchild.

Major John Wesley Powell was the first director of the Bureau of Ethnology. Like his mentor Lewis Henry Morgan, Powell strongly believed that all cultures had to pass through a series of stages, commonly labeled as Savagery (foraging), Barbarism (farming land in common), Civilization (individualized farming), and Enlightenment (industrialization).

Powell and Paiute

Shown above is Powell working among the Paiute in the Grand Canyon area.


Sioux Seek to Rescue Sacred Black Hills Site from AuctionFirst Nations New & Views: Saving Pe’ Sla


Welcome to the 20th edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Our 19th edition is here. In this edition you will find “Sioux Seek to Rescue Sacred Black Hills Site from Auction,” a look at the year 1680 in American Indian history, five short features, and nine news briefs. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Sioux Seek to Rescue Sacred Black Hills Site from Auction

By Meteor Blades

A 1942-acre slice of land sacred to the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota (Sioux) people goes on the auction block next Friday. It’s Pe’ Sla, known to some as “Old Baldy” and “peace at the bare spot” to others. It is one of five sacred sites that make up Lakota pilgrimage and ceremony, and it is closely linked to the constellations, an earthly reflection of the cosmos. It is the only one of the five sacred sites held in private hands-the rest being under federal or state control-and remains relatively pristine, acreage having been used only for grazing cattle over the past 130 years. But developments are closing in on other nearby private land.

Pe’ Sla is also called Wowakcawala Okislata, which means “purity of peace and harmony,” according to Leonard Little Finger (Oglala-Miniconjou). One tribeswoman has compared it to the Holy Sepulchre, to Mecca, to the Western (Wailing) Wall. Like other sites sacred to the Lakota, Pe’ Sla is in the Black Hills, the Páha Sápa. In Lakota, they are wahmunka oganunka inchante, “the heart of.” Pe’ Sla is at the center of Páha Sápa, the “center of the heart of” everything that is.

Nobody knows for certain what the buyers will do with each of the 300-acre parcels carved out of the land of 7,000-foot-high Pe’ Sla, but development of some sort is dead certain when investors purchase a property estimated by the auction house to draw up to $10 million in bids. The state of South Dakota has said it will build a road through the heart of the center of the heart.

It was only a few weeks ago that it was discovered that the property would be offered for sale. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe (Sicangu Oyate Lakota) is frantically working to raise funds so that it can make its own bid. To achieve this, it has put out a call to all the Oceti Sakowin, the people of the seven council fires of the Great Sioux Nation.

So far, $86,000 of the $1 million goal has been raised at a site dedicated to the Pe’ Sla purchase here. Rosebud has pledged another $50,000, and other Sioux tribes are pondering how much they will contribute to the cause.

Chase Iron Eyes (Standing Rock Sioux) presents the case:

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The core of the property, the Reynolds Prairie, was homesteaded in 1876, the same year that George A. Custer saw his final action a few hundred miles west in Medicine Tail Coulee. That homestead was illegal since the land had been granted to the Lakota by the Treaty of 1868. But after word “leaked out” that gold had been found by Custer’s expedition in 1874 into the Black Hills, the flood of settlers and fortune-seekers became unstoppable. Among them were the ancestors of Leonard and Margaret Reynolds who own the land now and are putting it up for sale. Iron Eyes commended the couple for what good stewards they have been for that land and for granting Indians access. But the auction could mean the end of both.

In 1877, as part of the ferocious response to the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Congress unilaterally took the Black Hills. In a 1980 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that they definitely had been taken illegally against the provisions of the 1868 treaty. “Stolen” wasn’t a word the justices used, but it would have been accurate. The court awarded $100 million to the tribes as compensation.

But, year after year for three decades, they have refused to accept the money, now grown in a trust fund to more than $1 billion through compound interest. Those dollars could go a long way toward improving the lives of the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation, some of whom are among the most impoverished people in America. But they continue to say “the Black Hills are not for sale.” Ironically, Pe’ Sla, a piece that clearly is for sale, could be purchased for one percent of what’s in the Black Hills settlement trust.

Raising the money needed to make a reasonable bid on Friday for Pe’ Sla is, to put it mildly, an uphill struggle. Hopkins pointed out that today’s stereotypes of Indians making money in great gobs from casinos only applies to a few tribes. Most of the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota live in poverty. Raising millions of dollars to hang onto a piece of holy prairie turf is no easy matter for them. Nor is asking non-Indians to help them out. Yet, so important is the site to them, that they are doing so.

Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton-Wahpeton/Mdewakanton/Hunkpapa), who, together with Iron Eyes and a dozen others, writes at the Last Real Indians website, has laid out some of the spiritual meaning and temporal history of Pe’ Sla:

Not only does this sacred site play a key role in our creation story, it is said to be the place where The Morning Star plunged to earth, and saved the People from seven creatures who had killed seven women. The Lakota hero then placed those women in the night sky as “The Seven Sisters,” called “The Pleiades” by Western astronomers.

Pe’ Sla, also called “Old Baldy,” is vital to Oceti Sakowin star knowledge and provides evidence of our historical ties to the Black Hills as well. The Black Hills are a terrestrial mirror of the heavens above. Pe’ Sla, an open, rather bare expanse of land compared to its surroundings, corresponds to the Crab Nebula, a gaseous cloud remnant of a supernova explosion that happened in 1054 AD. It is no longer visible with the naked eye-but my people remember it.

If you wish to help, please note that all donations to the tribe are tax-deductible and will only be used toward the purchase of Pe’ Sla. You can contribute here.

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1680

By Meteor Blades

On August 21, 1680, Spanish colonialists fled their outpost in Ogha Po’oge, the Tewa Indian name for the town of Santa Fé in what was then the occupied territory of New Mexico, a northern province of New Spain. The town had been under siege for six days in the uprising we now call the Pueblo Revolt, or Popé’s Rebellion, so-called from the Spanish name for Ohkay Owingeh, the San Juan Pueblo leader who initiated the resistance that had begun 10 days earlier. Over the few weeks of the revolt, Popé and some 2,000 warriors of most of the northern pueblos as well as the Zuni and Hopi killed some 400 Spaniards and drove off 2,000 others from land they had first conquered eight decades previously.

Popé had promised that, with the Spanish gone, the old Pueblo gods would return and a decade-long drought would end.

Taos Pueblo
Taos Pueblo

Those gods hadn’t departed on their own. The Spanish, operating under their usual motivations of “gold, glory and God,” gained political and economic control over the estimated 40,000 Pueblo people in the area by establishing theocracies in the most of the 46 Pueblo towns. Resistance was brutal. Early on, Juan de Oñate, the New World-born conqueror ordered into New Mexico by the Spanish king, demanded supplies from the Acoma pueblo that they refused to provide. When he insisted, they resisted, killing 12 Spanish soldiers. De Oñate responded with an overwhelming show of force. Ultimately, 800 Indians were killed and 500 enslaved. He also ordered 24 to have one foot cut off.

The priests, integral to every Spanish expedition, were always gentle in their conversion efforts until  Indians resisted the purported benefits of Roman Catholicism. Religious freedom not being part of their lexicon, suppression of the Native religion grew more ferocious as the years passed. The Spanish destroyed kivas, the subterranean ceremonial pits of the Pueblo, and banned the use of kachinas, their sacred ritual objects. Ceremonies were forbidden, medicine men incarcerated and murdered. Opposition was met with imprisonment, torture and more amputated limbs.

The Spanish also imposed the encomienda and repartimiento systems. These amounted to a form of forced labor only superficially different from slavery in that Indians were not owned outright. Individual Spaniards were given power over a specified number of Indians whom they made to work for little or no pay on farms or in mines or workshops. Punishment for disobedience often included death.

For three generations this continued. A mixed-blood mestizo population steadily expanded. The Indian population fell to around 15,000 as the Spanish population rose to about 2,500.

In the 1670s, one of the Southwest’s periodic droughts struck. The forced-labor system meant that Indians could not attend to their own food-tending needs at time when that was more necessary than usual. Famine ensued in some areas. This was exacerbated by Apache raids which the imperial Spanish protection racket was not much protection.

Scholars differ about the proximate causes of the revolt. Some argue that it was mostly religious and cultural oppression. And, indeed, giving some credence to this view is that 21 Franciscan priests were singled out to be killed. Others say, however, that the drought, forced-labor system and Apache raids were the chief motivations behind  the rebellion.

One writer, a 20th Century U.S.-born priest named Angélico Chávez, claimed the world-view of the Pueblo combined with miscegenation and their partial acculturation by the Spanish was such that Popé himself was incapable of leading a revolt, prophet or no. Instead, Chávez claimed, the rebellion was the product of Domingo Naranjo, a “mulatto” able to move between the Pueblo and Spanish easily. Chávez wrote that Naranjo manipulated the Pueblo into believing he was Pohé-yemo, a leading figure in their religion who supposedly wanted them to revolt.

But another writer, Andrew L. Knaut, wrote in an essay, “Acculturation and Miscegenation: The Changing Face of the Spanish Presence in New Mexico,” that intermarriage and acculturation not only did not create harmonious relations but actually had helped spur the revolt. His view is that the Pueblos had more reasons to rebel than not.

Whatever the case, they did revolt and the Spanish did flee.

A dozen years later they were back under the leadership of Diego de Vargas. Sixty Spanish soldiers, 100 Zia converts and the inevitable priests marched into New Mexico again and quickly made their way to Santa Fé. Without a single shot fired from musket or cannon, de Vargas persuaded the Pueblo people barricaded there to surrender upon a promise of amnesty. He then retook formal possession for Spain. In 1693, however, many Indians were having second thoughts after a year of being ordered around, told what to believe and treated harshly under renewed Spanish dominance. Whan de Vargas returned with more soldiers, settlers and still more priests, a two-day battle raged. It ended in executions for 70 Pueblo men and a decade of slavery for the surviving rebels.

For a few years there was sporadic resistance that led to the Second Pueblo Revolt in 1696. De Vargas handled it with his usual merciless self. By the turn of the century, the Pueblo were fully subdued, partly because so many had fled to live with the Navajo and Apache.

While the two revolts themselves were crushed, the Pueblo people managed to gain for themselves a measure of religious freedom, their traditional beliefs being accommodated even as efforts to convert them to Roman Catholicism continued. They also obtained the land grants upon which they still live.


Major Sources:

• New Mexico Office of the State Historian-Juan de Oñate

• Sando, Joe. Pueblo Nations: Eight Centuries of Pueblo Indian History. Santa Fe, N.Mex.: Clear Light Publishers, 1992.

• Weber, David J. What Caused the Pueblo Revolt of 1680: Readings. Selected and Introduced by David J. Weber. Historians at Work Series. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 1999.

• The Spanish Re-Conquest of New Mexico and the Pueblo Revolt of 1696.

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Elders Hold Native Community Together in Chicago

By Meteor Blades

Susan Power, Standing Rock Sioux, in her early days in Chicago. An elder with clout these days.
Susan Kelly Power in Chicago

in the late 1940s.

At 87, Susan Kelly Power (Standing Rock Sioux) is the oldest American Indian in the Chicago area. Her surname says a lot about her. She exudes power built on a life-time of activism and service. Power and respect and admiration.

She left the reservation that straddles North and South Dakota 70 years ago in the midst of World War II. It was a tough go at first. But her work for Indians began almost immediately. She is the last surviving founder of the National Congress of American Indians. The pan-Indian organization that began in 1944 and is now the largest representative non-governmental Indian organization in the country. Today she and a few other elders in Chicago strive to remind urban Indians of their heritage, involve themselves as activists in the greater community to break down stereotypes while making Indians more visible, and occasionally engage in a political battle.

“We want people to know that we still exist. We haven’t left this earth yet,” said Power, a historian and co-founder of the American Indian Center, a social services and cultural facility in Uptown that was once the anchor of the local Native American community. “But we don’t want people to look at us with pity in their eyes or romanticize us. Most of the material out there is nonsensical. It’s up to us to tell our story.”

Over time the center has seen fewer Indians seek its services and has opened its doors to other minorities and low-income people in general. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel cut the center completely out of the city’s budget this year, and it has had to struggle to find other funding.

Susan Kelly Power, Standing Rock Sioux, activist, advocate, heroine of her peopleSusan Kelly Power in 2011. As a little girl, Power’s family lived close to what was understood to be the grave of the Hunkpapa Lakota chief Sitting Bull. When a car of whites would be seen coming up the road in those 1930s days, her mother would send her and her sister to sit by the grave to keep anything from being stolen. Since then, she says she has followed in her mother’s footsteps as a driven advocate for the rights and well-being of Indians.

“My mother was the first Native woman in the country to be in a leadership position,” Power said. “Once my mother was asked why she didn’t have one of the new homes being built on the reservation. She said, ‘When all my people have nice homes, then I’ll consider it.'”

When Power came to Chicago nearly seven decades ago, there were only about 200 Native Americans in the city, she said.

“We had no cars or telephones, but we managed to find each other and stick together,” she said. “If one got a job, we immediately did very well in it so that others could be hired too.”

That cooperative, all-for-one attitude has not always found a home among Indians, on or off the reservations, but it is the one that epitomizes what most activists today and historically.

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Remains of “Wild West” Performer Going Home After 112 Years

By Meteor Blades

Albert Afraid of Hawk, Oglala (1880-1900) Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
Albert Afraid of Hawk

Amateur historian Robert Young has helped a family on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation of South Dakota bring home an ancestor who died 112 years ago in Connecticut and was buried in an unmarked grave. Young’s genealogical researched revealed that 20-year-old Albert Afraid of Hawk had traveled from New Haven as part of the famed Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show for a one-night show in Danbury. He died two days later from botulism after eating bad canned corn.

Before he retired, Young was an employee of the Wooster Cemetery where Afraid of Hawk was buried. In his research, Young discovered a July 6, 1900, article in the New Haven Register that reported on Afraid of Hawk’s death. Others also ate the bad corn and were treated at a local hospital in Danbury, but he was the only one who died. His grave was dug in a section of the cemetery set aside for indigents. Even though the grave has no marker, like thousands in the cemetery, it wasn’t that hard for Young to find because meticulous records were kept.

Young contacted Pine Ridge officials to help him track down descendants in Afraid of Hawk’s family. They turned out to be on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. Later, he traveled there to meet with them. Four of them, including a nephew and grandniece, went to Connecticut last week and took part in a disinterment ceremony that ended Friday. Nicholas F. Bellantoni, the state archaeologist supervised the exhumation. Traditional Lakota rituals were performed as part of the disinterment.

“We are all so deeply grateful,” said Wendell Deer With Horns, 56, a distant cousin who lives in Watertown, Conn.

“You can feel Albert’s spirit right here,” he added, handing out rocks from Mr. Afraid of Hawk’s grave. “This is his eternal energy.” […]

John Afraid of Hawk, a grandnephew, blew an eagle-bone whistle, and [grandniece Marlis] Afraid of Hawk looked up. “There was a hawk,” she said. “That symbolizes to me that he has completed the journey, that he is free.”

The family members will return his remains to South Dakota for burial at Pine Ridge.

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Cherokee Officials Ponder Raising Buffalo

By Meteor Blades

Gerald Parsons of Stratford, Oklahoma, left bottom, checks out one of his herd of 80 buffalo.
Gerald Parsons at bottom left.

The Cherokee Nation wouldn’t be the first tribe to choose to raise buffalo for commercial purposes. The Intertribal Buffalo Council, a 21-year-old pan-Indian consortium of 56 tribes in 19 states, has a collective herd of 15,000, as reported in FNN&V earlier this year. Nationwide, there are about half a million buffalo in commercial herds. Estimates are that in 1800, there were 60 million of the animals, known also as bison, in North America.

Officials of the Cherokee Nation, the second largest Indian tribe in the United States (after the Navajo Nation), recently visited the buffalo ranch of Gerald Parsons in Stratford, Oklahoma, to learn if raising buffalo might make a good tribal enterprise. A veterinarian, Parsons has been raising buffalo since he bought his first animal in 1993 and now has about 100 head, with about 38 calves born each year.

Taking up buffalo ranching is not something done lightly. These aren’t cattle and there is much to learn. Fencing must be sturdier than that used to keep cattle penned. Buffalo can also be very aggressive. Parsons told Cherokee representatives that he feels good about raising an animal that survived the Ice Age extinctions and the (barely) the slaughters of the 1860s-1870s that were part of an attempt to tame the Plains tribes.

Parsons told them “The meat industry has just gone wild. You can’t raise enough of them. Right now we are so deficient in bison that the [meat] prices just keep going up.” Buffalo meat is leaner and healthier than beef. Parson said ranchers can graze three buffalo on the same land that would provide for two beef cows. “So it doesn’t take the space and grass like beef, yet they are going to produce you more income.”

The Cherokee, like all tribes, are eligible for a gift of 80 buffalo from the Yellowstone herd. Adult buffalo normally run about $3,500 per animal. In 1902, that Yellowstone herd of fewer than 50 animals was the only remnant of wild buffalo in the lower 48 states that had survived since prehistoric times. The herd now includes 4,200 genetically pure animals. Both the Montana reservations of Fort Peck (Assiniboine and Sioux) and Fort Belknap (Assiniboine and Gros Ventre) have small buffalo herds that include animals from the Yellowstone herd.

The Cherokee are still in the exploratory stages and have a lot of considering to do before taking on the project. It is not something done lightly, according to the tribe’s natural resources director, Pat Gwin. Although commercially the animals can be lucrative, sold for meat, hide and other parts, the tribe would probably have to expand the herd to 250 or more animals before the enterprise became commercially viable, Gwin said.

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Obama Signs the HEARTH Act of 2012 to Promote Tribal Self-Determination

By navajo

President Barack Obama signs H.R. 205, the HEARTH Act of 2012, in the Oval Office, July 30, 2012. Standing behind the President, from left, are: Bryan Newland, Senior Policy Advisor at the Department of the Interior; Governor Randall Vicente, Pueblo of Acoma in New Mexico; David Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior; Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians; Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.; Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Cheryl Causley, Chairperson of the National American Indian Housing Council; Governor Gregory Mendoza, Gila River Indian Community of Arizona; and Del Laverdure, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama signs H.R. 205, the HEARTH Act of 2012, in the Oval Office, July 30, 2012. Standing behind the President, from left, are: Bryan Newland, Senior Policy Advisor at the Department of the Interior; Governor Randall Vicente, Pueblo of Acoma in New Mexico; David Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior; Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians; Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.; Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Cheryl Causley, Chairperson of the National American Indian Housing Council; Governor Gregory Mendoza, Gila River Indian Community of Arizona; and Del Laverdure, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama signed the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Home Ownership Act of 2012 on July 30. The HEARTH Act allows federally recognized tribes to lease restricted lands for business, agricultural, public, religious, educational, recreational or residential purposes without approval from the Secretary of the Interior. The measure received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Senator John Barrasso (D-WY), the Vice Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee said: “Today, a bill to remove bureaucratic red tape and clear the way for Indian tribes to pursue homeownership and economic development opportunities on tribal trust lands became law. With record high unemployment rates, it’s crucial that we do everything we can to expand economic opportunities and job creation on tribal lands.  This law will provide Indian tribes with tools to lease and develop their land faster and help increase the quality of life in Indian country.”

According to White House Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs Jodi Gillette (Standing Rock Sioux):

The HEARTH Act builds on the Administration’s strong record of accomplishments for Native Americans and Native Alaskans and complements existing initiatives to strengthen tribal economies. Just recently, on July 12th, Treasury announced that it is opening up $1.8 billion of Tribal Economic Development (TED) bonds for reallocation to tribal governments. The TED bond program was established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and provides tribes with the authority to issue tax-exempt debt for a wider range of activities to spur job creation and promote economic growth in Indian Country. By providing tribes with the ability to issue tax-exempt debt in a manner similar to that available to state and local governments, tribes can lower their borrowing costs and more easily engage in new economic development projects.

With the Cobell and Keepseagle Settlements, the Tribal Law and Order Act, water rights settlements, fee-to-trust reform, TED bonds, and now the HEARTH Act, this Administration’s accomplishments for Indian Country tell a very compelling story about how far we have gone to make meaningful progress on advancing tribal self-determination, promoting economic growth, and  revitalizing our trust responsibility. Water and land are the primary trust assets we manage for Indian tribes, and the Obama Administration has made monumental strides by recognizing tribes as partners, ending the repetition of past mistakes, and working together to identify and develop concrete solutions that will improve the quality of life in tribal communities.

President Obama has shown stronger support for tribal self-determination than any President since Richard Nixon, and signing the HEARTH Act of 2012 was just another step in moving Indian Country forward.

-h/t to Land of Enchantment

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Multimedia E-book ‘Little Crow’ Focus on Dakota War

By Meteor Blades

Cemetery in Minnesota where some of the dead from the  Dakota War of 1862 are buried.
Cemetery in Minnesota where some of the dead from the Dakota War of 1862 are buried.

One hundred fifty years ago, as we have reported here and here, the brief but bloody Dakota War in Minnesota cost the lives of 600 whites and an unknown number of Dakota (Sioux). But the devastation to the various Dakota and Lakota people as a result of a U.S. policy of ethnic cleansing across the Plains, the Southwest and Northwest took a far greater toll over the next three decades, culminating in the massacre at Wounded Knee in December 1890.

The Dakota War began in that typical way almost all the Indian Wars from 1630 to 1890 did: a fight over land and broken promises of compensation for that land. It ended with the largest mass hanging in U.S. history, 38 Dakota men executed on the orders of Abraham Lincoln after 10 days of proceedings in a kangaroo military court.

That war and its aftermath is the subject of Curt Brown’s six-part e-book, In the Footsteps of Little Crow, the Dakota warrior who tried to avoid bloodshed until no other solution seemed possible. You can find a detailed summary of each part here and articles, like this one here from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The e-book includes photos and video, including descendants of Little Crow reading from the text. Here’s an excerpt from Part 3, “When men become hungry, they help themselves”:

After the Dakota stormed the Upper Sioux Agency warehouse for food, Little Crow argued that the other warehouse at the Lower Sioux Agency should also be opened.

But citing protocol, Galbraith [Lincoln’s new Indian Agent] refused to do that until the gold money arrived. He didn’t want to have to organize the pay-table lineup and check the rolls twice.

Little Crow protested: “We have waited a long time. The money is ours but we cannot get it. We have no food but here these stores are filled with food.”

Jerome Big Eagle

(Mdewakanton Dakota)

He asked Galbraith to arrange for credit with the traders until the annuity payments arrived “or else we may take our own way to keep ourselves from starving. When men are hungry, they help themselves.”

Listening to Little Crow speak through a translator, Galbraith asked the shopkeepers what he should do. They shrugged and turned to store owner Andrew Myrick. Disgusted by the whole mess, Myrick walked away until Galbraith demanded a response.

“So far as I’m concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung,” Myrick said.

Those words were, for the Dakota, the last straw. Myrick was later found dead with grass stuffed in his mouth.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton released a statement on the anniversary of the start of the war:

I call for tomorrow, the 150th anniversary of August 17, 1862, to be “a Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in Minnesota.” I ask everyone to remember that dark past; to recognize its continuing harm in the present; and to resolve that we will not let it poison the future.

You can listen to an interview by Cathy Wurzer of Minnesota Public Radio with Stanley Crooks, chairman of Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) Communityhere as he discusses the impact of the war today and the future of his people.

-h/t Nancy A. Heitzeg at Critical Mass

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Carter Camp and his descendants

Here is Carter with his sister’s new grand daughter

Happy birthday to cacamp aka Carter Camp (Ponca) who turned 71 yesterday, August 18th. Carter, a long time political activist was one of the original AIM organizers who led the Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan to DC in 1972. He also helped organize the takeover of Wounded Knee in 1973 and held it for 71 days. Carter was in charge of Military Actions. Under his leadership with several others they brought much needed national and international attention to American Indian issues. You can read more about Carter Camp here and also read his writings about Wounded Knee.


Interior Dept. Opens Hearings on Protecting Sacred Sites: The Obama administration has begun an outreach program to American Indians seeking their ideas on doing a better job of protecting sacred sites. Interior wants to come up with a standard policy. Among the possibilities are mandatory consultation, new rules specific to certain sites or changes in legislation. The current situation has created numerous problems over the years. For example:

Representatives of the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation complained Monday about renewable energy projects on federal land being fast-tracked by the administration without adequate review of potential effects on sacred sites. […]

“These projects, they’re going on with complete disregard to Indians. It’s like we don’t have any say,” Bathke said, explaining that siting of the projects is more about spirituality than land planning for many tribes.

-Meteor Blades

Minnesota Tribe Pays $1 Million a Year to its 460 Members: The reason the Shakopee Mdewakanton (Dakota) people are no longer living in beat-up trailers and living in poverty is the tribe’s casino and resort empire. As a result of divorce papers, secret pay-outs to members became known recently: $84,000 a month to each adult enrolled in the tribe. Unemployment on the reservation is the highest in the nation. Not because of lack of jobs, but because the income from the casinos means there is no need to work. Some tribal elders are worried that the money will corrupt tribespeople or make them lazy.

Most still live in modest homes on the reservation, albeit with luxury cars parked outside, but they often have second homes elsewhere, spend a lot of time traveling, send their children to private schools and take up expensive pastimes. Much the same as affluent people everywhere.

The tribe not only provides hundreds of jobs to local non-Indians, it also contributes large amounts to other tribes and to various charities, educational and medical institutes. In fact, the Shakopee have donated $243 million since 1996, a better record proportional to their income than many Fortune 500 companies that bring in billions in profits each year.

Not all Indian casinos are making big profits. And while Shakopee may not yet feel the heat, other reservation casinos have seen their business drop off sharply as the recession took its toll and legalized gambling run by non-Indians has received ever-wider approval. Some Indian casinos in remote areas barely break even and that margin will worsen as legal gambling spreads. For the tribes that have improved their economic circumstances, it’s a case of nice-while-it-lasted.

-Meteor Blades

Blackfeet Conflicted Over Oil Drilling: The Blackfeet tribe of Montana is split over the leasing of a million of its reservation’s 1.5 million acres to oil companies. While everyone recognizes the benefits and potential benefits of the drilling-one rig generated 49 jobs for tribal members-there is also deep concern.

The oil is trapped in tight shale formations, which requires hydraulic fracking, a process that many environmentalists reject as potentially hazardous to underground water supplies. “These are our mountains,” said Cheryl Little Dog, a recently elected member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, the reservation’s governing body. “I look at what we have, and I think, why ruin it over an oil rig?”

But the money, other Blackfeet say, is badly needed. So far, the tribe of 16,500 members has collected about $30 million from its lease agreements with oil companies. Some tribespeople argue that federal rules for getting reservation drilling permits signed are too cumbersome and should be loosened or done away with altogether. This cuts both ways. Indians have long had big problems with a federal bureaucracy that, depending on the era and the issue, controls, neglects, assists, protects or cheats them. But there is also a strong traditionalist current that often meshes with worries about environmental damage. Says tribeswoman Pauline Matt of the drilling, “It threatens everything we are as Blackfeet.”

-Meteor Blades

Another Navajo Code Talker Walks On, Before National Day of Celebration

Reuben Curley, Sr., “Mr. Aloha”

Navajo Code Talker, Reuben Curley, Sr., died at age 96 on Saturday, August 4, 2012, at his home in Flagstaff, Arizona. Curley was born on July 10, 1916, at Bird Springs, Arizona, to John and Nellie (Dixon) Nezzie. His Navajo paternal clan is Hashk’aanhadzohi’ (Yucca Fruit is Spread Out) and his maternal clan is Ashiihi (Salt). Curley had 40 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.

He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1943 and served throughout World War II with the 2nd Marine Division, He was a qualified sharpshooter and fought in the battles of Tinian, Saipan, Guadalcanal and Okinawa. He later participated in the occupation of Japan. He was awarded a Purple Heart, plus various other medals.

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. The undecipherable cipher 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. You can read more about Code Talker history here.

National Navajo Code Talkers Day (proclaimed in 1982) was celebrated August 14 at a celebration in Veteran’s Park in Window Rock, Arizona. Almost 20 Code Talkers attended. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelley spoke:

Ahe’hee’ for your service. Because of your service, my generation and those that followed have taken pride in who they are as Diné. […] Our Navajo Code Talkers have inspired an entire generation. For decades boarding schools tried to silence our native tongue. But when we learned our Diné language defeated the Japanese, we rejoiced in happiness because we now had heroes who were our own. Our language is sacred and used by heroes. […] Our language was given to us by the Holy People, and is supposed to be treated as sacred. Our words are expressions of our culture. We have passed our language down from generation to generation and it has sustained our way of life as Diné. […]



Shoshone-Bannock Elected President of USDA Native Farming Advisory Group: Mark Wadsworth (Shoshone-Bannock) was voted into the presidency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Council for Native American Farming and Ranching. The council was established by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as part of the Keepseagle settlement. Its role is to recommend ways to improve access by American Indian tribes to USDA programs and services, including financial credit. The Keepseagle settlement was agreed to as a means of dealing with the USDA’s long-standing discrimination against Indian farmers and ranchers.

-Meteor Blades

Oglala Tribal Government Reopens Case of Pine Ridge Deaths: In the late winter of 1973, traditional Oglala Lakota people and members of the American Indian Movement (including Kossacks Carter Camp (cacamp), Madonna Thunder Hawk and me) occupied the village of Wounded Knee over grievances regarding the corruption of the tribal government and the failure of the federal government to fulfill its treaties.

It was the beginning of a siege, a tense, bullet-filled, 71-day stand-off with federal authorities. Once again, a piece of the Great Sioux Nation became ground zero in the bloody struggle between the government and the tribes. Two Indians were killed during the siege and an FBI agent died subsequently of wounds he had received.

Oglala boys at Pine Ridge
Oglala boys at Pine Ridge Reservation (Photo courtesy Aaron Huey)

But after the siege ended, the violence did not end. Local residents and AIM member Milo Yellowhair said: “There had been a tremendous amount of carnage on the reservation [and] it was almost a daily occurrence, when people were disappearing or died or were found dead. We always called it a ‘reign of terror.'”

Bad blood between the FBI and AIM has continued to this day, a product of the CoIntelPro operation that targeted African American, Indian and Latino activists with divisive actions, via agents provocateurs and disinformation, other heavy-handed tactics used by the bureau and its contract agents, and the slaying of two FBI agents on the reservation in 1975.

With the leading participants at Wounded Knee now in their 70s, the Oglala Tribal Council has called upon U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson to look into 45 murders that occurred in the aftermath of the siege. Johnson may or may not turn out to be a good choice. He seems to have a pollyanna view of the FBI, according to reporting by National Public Radio. Both the FBI and AIM deny they had anything to do with the murders.

AIM members like 72-year-old Madonna Thunder Hawk welcome the U.S attorney’s review of these old cases, but doubts justice will be served.

“I mean come on, the U.S. government investigating itself, again … I’m skeptical,” Thunder Hawk says. “I’m glad it’s happening [and] I’m going to sit here and watch.”

She isn’t alone in her skepticism.

-Meteor Blades

Choice of Paul Ryan Doesn’t Resonate with Indians: Mitt Romney has selected a vice presidential candidate who is no friend of American Indians. Among other things, he has voted against the Cobell settlement, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the ground-breaking Tribal Law and Order Act. Most of his other votes have included Indian matters as part of broader legislation, so it is difficult to determine how he might have voted if these had been standalone laws. He did, however, vote for the GOP version of the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act that specifically excluded changes making it easer for Indian women to seek protection from non-Indian abusers living on reservations. Currently, tribal courts have no jurisdiction in cases of domestic violence involving a non-Indian attacking an Indian and regular courts rarely see such cases because prosecutors aren’t interested.

-Meteor Blades

Cherokees Limit Top Posts to Citizens of the Tribe: In a move Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Tribal Attorney General Todd Hembree called unconstitutional, the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council has voted 9-8 to limit five top executive posts to enrolled members of the Cherokee Nation. Under tribal rules, the only people who can be enrolled are those who can trace their ancestry to the Dawes Rolls, a federal registry of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and (Oklahoma-based) Seminole people. Even someone who is 1/64th Cherokee by blood can be a member if s/he has an ancestor on the rolls, which are notorious for having done things like categorizing one sibling as Indian and another as not although they were offspring of the same parents.

-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.

Explaining Indians in the 19th Century

During the nineteenth century the concept of the museum-its form, structure, and purpose-evolved. Museums began as simply cabinets of curiosities which were often glass-fronted cabinets in which a collection of unusual “stuff” was displayed. There might be a fossil next to an ancient stone implement next to a stuffed animal. These cabinets of curiosities were often found in the homes of wealthy individuals, in government offices, and in prominent businesses. Commonly included were American Indian artifacts, both ancient and modern.  

During the first part of the nineteenth century, museums simply put American Indian artifacts in their cabinets of curiosities without any attempt to explain Indian cultures. Sometimes the artifacts might be labeled by tribe or geographic location, but for the most part the displays simply held the artifacts for the curious public to observe. By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, museum curators were more concerned with arranging or grouping Indian artifacts so that they told a story. To do this, many curators used one or more of three basic interpretive models: Biblical, Racial, and Evolutionary.


When the Europeans first arrived in the Americas, they encountered peoples and civilizations which had not been mentioned in their creation story as written in the Bible. With an ethnocentric arrogance, the Europeans assumed that their creation story was not only universal, but the only “real” creation story. Thus all interpretations of American Indians and their histories had to be made through a Biblical lens.

As museum curators began to arrange American Indian artifacts in their cabinets of curiosities during the nineteenth century, there were some who felt that these artifacts should tell a Biblically-based story. Thus, with regard to chronology, artifacts were sometimes labeled as antediluvian or post-diluvium in reference to the Christian myth of a flood. Similarly, Indians were viewed as “lost tribes of Israel” or somehow related to either the Jews or to some other Biblical people from southwest Asia.  


During the nineteenth century many Americans, including scientists, politicians, educators, philosophers, popular writers, journalists, and museum curators began to view the differences seen among the different peoples of the world as stemming from a pseudo-scientific concept of race. The way people behaved, they strongly believed, was inherited. Thus, human behavior was seen as being based in blood (which led to the use of blood-quantum as a way of determining who is Indian and who is not), skull shape and size, and skin color (Indians were assigned to a race called “red” and Europeans to a race called “white.”) Following this model, some museums arranged their displays to focus on race, with the clear understanding that the “white” race was somehow superior to all others.

One prominent example of this type of racial analysis can be seen in 1839 when physician Samuel George Morton, in Crania Americana, summarized his measurement of hundreds of human skulls. He demonstrated that “caucasians” had big brains (an average of 87 cubic inches) and that Indians had smaller brains (an average of 82 cubic inches). Based on this data, many scientists viewed “caucasians” as having superior intellectual capability. He describes Native Americans this way:

“The American Race is marked by a brown complexion; long, black, lank hair; and deficient beard. The eyes are black and deep set, the brow low, the cheekbones high, the nose large and aquiline, the mouth large, and the lips tumid [swollen] and compressed. In their mental character the Americans are averse to cultivation, and slow in acquiring knowledge; restless, revengeful, and fond of war, and wholly destitute of maritime adventure. They are crafty, sensual, ungrateful, obstinate and unfeeling, and much of their affection for their children may be traced to purely selfish motives. They devour the most disgusting [foods] uncooked and uncleaned, and seem to have no idea beyond providing for the present moment. … Their mental faculties, from infancy to old age, present a continued childhood. … [Indians] are not only averse to the restraints of education, but for the most part are incapable of a continued process of reasoning on abstract subjects.”

Morton’s assumption that brain size is directly related to intellect is later proven to be false. In addition, later studies could find no differences in the average skull sizes of people from Europe and those of American Indians. It appears that Morton deliberately biased his data by selectively reporting the data, and manipulating the sample compositions. In this way, he got the data to support his predetermined conclusions.


Morton is shown above.

Skull 1

Skull 2

Shown above are illustrations from Crania Americana.

Inspired by Morton’s work, Army personnel in 1868 were ordered by the Army Surgeon General to obtain as many Indian skulls as possible for the Army Medical Museum. Under this order, over 4,000 Indian heads were taken from corpses at battle grounds, prisoner of war camps, hospitals, and Indian graves. Any grave goods found with the skulls are donated to the Smithsonian Institution. The assistant surgeon general explained the reason for collecting skulls:

“The chief purpose had in view in forming this collection is to aid the progress of anthropological science by obtaining measurements of a large number of skulls of aboriginal races of North America.”

Eventually, the skulls acquired through this type of collection wound up in the Smithsonian.  


As scientists during the nineteenth century began to understand the concept of biological evolution, there were some social scientists who began to explain human behavior in terms of cultural evolution. Under their hierarchical model, contemporary American society represented the pinnacle of social evolution and all other societies were not only inferior but were destined to evolve or go extinct.

The concept of cultural evolution was developed by Lewis Henry Morgan who had earlier worked among the Seneca. In 1877 Morgan published Ancient Society: or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery Through Barbarism to Civilization in which he identified various stages of cultural evolution: Savagery (Lower, Middle, Upper), Barbarism (Lower, Middle, Upper), and finally Civilization. In particular, he put forth the idea that Civilization required the monogamous nuclear family and private property. Under this scheme, Indians were placed in either Upper Savagery or Lower Barbarism, depending on their material and political development. Morgan’s concepts were used in the formulation of Indian policies designed to “lift” Indians from “savagery” and “barbarism” to “civilization.”


Lewis Henry Morgan is shown above.

First Nations News & Views: Huey’s Nat Geo Cover, Lakota People’s Law Project, Jim Thorpe’s Body


Welcome to the 19th 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 edition is here. In this edition you will find an Aaron Huey update, an important petition from the Lakota People’s Law Project, a look at the year 1812 in American Indian history, three 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.

National Geographic Cover Features Spirit of Pine Ridge; New Storytelling Embed to Hear Individual Voices

By navajo


Feature Article | Photo Gallery | Voices of Pine Ridge

Community Storytelling Project | The Moment: Cover Potential | Map: The Lost Land

From 10,000 Words:

The latest cover of National Geographic features the story of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota. Alexandra Fuller’s well-written piece of long form journalism plus Aaron Huey’s series of striking photographs is standard fare in the magazine by now, but this cover story included a new form of storytelling. Huey, who has spent the past seven years documenting and befriending the Lakota teamed up with Jonathan Harris, creator of Cowbird, to launch the Pine Ridge Community Storytelling Project. Cowbird is a storytelling platform focused on personal narratives rather than quick status updates, and the collaboration is an attempt to give the people of Pine Ridge a chance to tell their own stories. Users can use photos, audio and text on one seamless platform that attempts to build a library of human experiences.

You can read a full interview with Aaron Huey here.

The community story-telling project was born of the frustration Aaron Huey had as a journalist having to choose the most sensational images to publish but ones he felt necessary to bring attention and raise awareness about poverty in Pine Ridge. After these photos were published, Huey received two huge envelopes of letters from Pine Ridge high school students asking him to tell their stories of success and happy family examples. On a subsequent visit, an elder told Huey she was disappointed in his coverage. It was at this time he, having learned the history of the Oglala Lakota, had shifted from journalist to advocate. (More background below on Huey’s work.)  He decided to take their side in telling the story of the broken treaties.

Huey was able to focus on this project as a Stanford University Knight Journalism Fellow this past school year. A grant from the John S. and James L. Knight foundation funded the project and is allowing him to send multiple people to help residents of Pine Ridge upload their stories. He hopes to get schools in every town on Pine Ridge involved as well as Oglala Lakota College. Another goal is more songs and Lakota language stories. The goal is 500 stories by year’s end. There are more than 200 now. Be sure to listen to some of these.

This is the interface of the Pine Ridge Community Storytelling Project:



A new Shepard Fairey collaboration piece has been produced and will be for sale in packs of 10 for public display. The 450 signed prints sold out in minutes on July 26. The actress Daryl Hannah is working closely with Huey to get thousands of these posters pasted up across the United States.

From Fairey’s website:

“I made this image in collaboration with National Geographic Photographer Aaron Huey in support of and their efforts to educate the public about Native American Treaty rights.   This is our third project together and was built directly off of the mural we did on the Baracudda wall on Melrose last Fall.  See the full installation here.  Our first poster project went up in a dozen American cities in 2011.”

As promised, here is Eric Becker’s short film about Aaron Huey’s work. In the 14-minute video below, you’ll see footage of the Black Hills Are Not For Sale installation in Los Angeles, background on how Huey started this project and why he chose to become an advocate for Pine Ridge.

video will not embed, see links below

Honor the Treaties | The Film from Eric Becker on Vimeo

A portrait of photographer Aaron Huey’s work on the Pine Ridge Reservation

Featuring Shepard Fairey

World premiere opening night ShortsFest, Seattle International Film Festival 2012, Official Selection

Directed by Eric Becker /

Produced by Scott Everett  

Honor the Treaties:

All photos (c) Aaron Huey /

With Artwork by Shepard Fairey and Ernesto Yerena



Aaron Huey is a contributing editor for Harper’s Magazine and has gone on numerous assignments for National Geographic around the world. He 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.


Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1812

By Meteor Blades

Most recently, it’s been called the Fort Dearborn Battle after having been for nearly two centuries called the Fort Dearborn Massacre. Even today, 200 years after the event that cost the lives of 52 white settlers and soldiers as well as 15 Indians on August 15 at the beginning of the War of 1812, people continue to argue both about what happened and about the meaning of it.

Since the 1850s to near the end of the 20th Century, the popular version of what happened that summer of 1812 in what is now the Chicago Loop, was Wau-Bun: The Early Day in the Northwest,, a book written by Juliette Magill Kinzie. She was married to a son of a fur trader who had been at Fort Dearborn when the killings occurred. The book had literary flair. And many fabrications. Although one Potawatomi retort to the conventional version by Simon Pokagon was published in 1896, corrective accounts by scholars weren’t published for more than 60 years, most notably by Milo M. Quaife in 1913. None gained the popularity of Kinzie’s book. Among other things noted in Quaife’s Chicago and the Old Northwest, he wrote of Kinzie: “Accuracy of statement is clearly not her forte, while to the objective detachment of the historian she is a complete stranger.”

Historical events can never be understood outside the context of the flow of other events around them.

Fort Dearborn, at the mouth of the Chicago River, was built there as the westernmost outpost of the United States in 1803 on landed ceded under coercion. It was a combination of fortress and trading post in a land sparsely populated by frontiersmen and white settlers amid thousands of Indians of several tribes, many of them refugees and exiles of the Iroquois wars further east. The Potawatomi (in their own Algonquian language, Bodéwadmi, “keepers of the fire”) had lived in the region for at least 175 years when Fort Dearborn was built, having originally inhabited areas north of Lake Huron and Superior. They were closely allied with the Ojibwa and Ottawa.

The Northwest Indian War was brought to a close by the Treaty of Greenville in 1794. It forced the surrender of Indian lands of the Ohio Valley and elsewhere to the United States, including six square miles around the mouth of the Chicago River where Fort Dearborn would be built. There was a 10-year peace with little pan-tribal resistance to the growing spread of white settlers. Many Indians and their leaders chose to make cultural adjustments. However, not all agreed. They became angrier each time settlers squatted on land supposedly permanently given to the tribes, land then ceded as additional treaties were signed. Resistance grew. Starting in 1805, two Shawnee brothers, Tenskwatawa, known as “The Prophet,” and Tecumseh, rejected much of the white world, especially including alcohol, urged an end to land cessions and built a coalition among Indians from more than a dozen tribes.

The objections to the latest land cessions sought by Indiana Territory Gov. William Henry Harrison-who operated against the direct orders of President James Madison by making deals guaranteeing large payments to tribes-would in 1811 turn into Tecumseh’s War. Harrison gained the fame that would later help propel him into the Presidency when his militia defeated Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe that same year. That clash, which many Americans saw as part of British efforts to stir up “Indian trouble” on the frontier, was one of many bits of kindling leading to the War of 1812.

When that war officially started in June 1812, the British immediately captured Fort Michilimackinac (Mackinac) without a shot. With no ability to resupply the outpost, the American general at Fort Detroit William Hull ordered the commander at Fort Dearborn, Captain Nathan Heald, immediately to evacuate his 54 troops and the 39 civilians, including nine women and 18 children.

Nobody knows what crossed Heald’s mind when he read that order. But he must have at least thought briefly that, given the hundreds of Potawatomi and other warriors visible around the fort, it might be better to wait out a siege. He nevertheless chose to obey, first making a deal with the Indians that, in exchange for safe passage, they would be given all the goods inside the fort.

As part of her blast at Heald’s “incompetence,” Juliette Magill Kinzie invented a quote from Hull’s order in her 1856 book even though she had never seen it. The words “if practicable” were included in the order, she wrote, and clearly evacuation in such circumstances would not have been practicable in her view, a reflection no doubt from her husband, whose father was known as a wily trader in his days at Fort Dearborn.

The actual order was kept for posterity, so we know what it actually said. In it is a key point that some amateur and professional historians have said may well have contained the spark that led to the killings that day in August 200 years ago. General Hull told Captain Heald to destroy the stores of munitions and alcohol before leaving. The problem with that is that Heald had made other arrangements with the Potawatomi. Some historians believe the Indians felt the munitions were part of the deal and that the captain had broken it.

Heald ordered the column of evacuees-which included his son-in-law, Captain William Wells, leading 15 Miami Indian escorts-away from the fort. Whether the Potawatomi planned to attack regardless or they decided the deal was off because of the destruction of powder and bullets, the clash took place about a mile and a half from the fort. Heald, presuming an attack was imminent, ordered his troops to advance over the dunes and fire the first shot. Fifteen minutes later, 26 regulars, 12 militia, two women, 12 children and 15 Potawatomis were dead. Fifty-one others from the fort were captives.

During the fight, two of the women and most of the children were tomahawked to death. One account later claimed a single warrior killed them all. Black Partridge, a Potawatomi who had opposed the attack, rescued the wife of Heald’s second-in-command Lt. Linai Helm by dragging her away during the fight and pretending to drown her. She survived and was later ransomed. (His act was later commemorated with a sculpture that has since become the subject of political and artistic dispute and is now stored in a warehouse.)

Another person given great credit by both historians and people at the time was Captain Wells. Although his Miami allies fled immediately, he is said to have killed several Potawatomi in a desperate attempt to reach the wagons where the women and children were riding. All accounts say the Indians who killed him also lauded his bravery. With him dead on the ground, they cut out his heart instantly, dividing it into pieces and eating them to gain for themselves some of his courage.

The night after their capture, some soldiers were tortured to death. A few other captives died as well. But most were subsequently ransomed, including six-month-old Susan Simmons, who was the last survivor of the killings when she died in 1900.

Simon Pokagon, the Potawatomi whose father was alive when Fort Dearborn still stood, wrote in 1896:

It is true that the Indian retaliated, and was in many cases the aggressor, if we can call people the aggressors who object to having their native land taken from them by aliens. […] Of the savagery and brutality exhibited by the Indian in many cases, I would merely observe that it is manifestly unfair to judge them by the standards of a people who have enjoyed Christian civilization for many centuries and who have behind them the lessons and warnings, the glory and the gloom of Roman, Grecian, Syrian, Chaldean, and Egyptian civilizations. Moreover, if one calls to mind the methods which marked the terrible religious struggle of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Europe, and will remember how human ingenuity was taxed to its utmost to devise methods of horrible torture which were remorselessly meted out by those claiming to be Christians to others claiming to be Christians, he will, I think, feel it wisest to pass very lightly over the charge of excessive cruelty on the part of those he flippantly terms savages. Had the Indian submitted more tamely he would have been characterized by this same self-engrossed class, who delight in echoing the brutally false phrase that “there is no good Indian but a dead Indian,” as cowardly and unworthy of the land which for unnumbered generations had been the land of his fathers.”

In 2009, a new park was dedicated to commemorate the event. It is named The Battle of Fort Dearborn Park. Not everyone in Chicago who paid attention to the establishment of the park was happy about it. Some called it part of unfair revisionist history, arguing that what occurred during the evacuation of Fort Dearborn was a massacre and should continue to be called one.

Who knows what the rescuer Black Partridge would have thought? During the rest of the War of 1812, Potawatomi villages were burned and hundreds of Indians slain. The Miami, allies of the United States, were also burned out. One excuse given is that they did not fight at Fort Dearborn. One such village was Black Partridge’s. He subsequently fought alongside the British. The treaty he signed in 1815 ending hostilities between the Potawatomi and the United States stated that “every injury or act of hostility…shall be mutually forgiven.”

In 1833, a treaty signed under duress forced the Potawatomi and other tribes to Nebraska and elsewhere. Hundreds of members of the tribe held a final dance near the city in 1835 before they began their journey into exile. Many Potawatami now live in the area again.

Chicago Alderman Edward Burke earlier this year pushed for a “Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation” for the 200th anniversary. But his proposal was not gladly received by a number of Indians, particularly when he talked of smoking a “peace pipe.” A stereotypical resolution, said one critic, in which three whites were singled out for their sacrifice that day but not one Potawatami was mentioned.

In Chicago and elsewhere, there are still people on both sides who are not eager to forgive or reconcile.


Among my sources:

Introduction written by Nina Baym for the 1992 edition of Wau-Bun: The Early Day in the Northwest by Juliette Magill Kinzie.

The True Story of the Deadly Encounter at Fort Dearborn by Geoffrey Johnson.

15 bloody minutes that shaped a city by Ron Grossman.

What Happened at Fort Dearborn by Lee Sandlin

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Lakota People’s Law Project Petition to Rescue Indian Children

Action: Please Sign This Petition and Share Widely

Meteor Blades wrote a compelling piece last October about an NPR three-part series revealing that the State of South Dakota is kidnaping Lakota children and forcing them into white foster care. The state, in an effort to balance its budget, has found a way to obtain over $100 million in Federal funding each year by taking Indian children from their families. Native American children are removed in disproportionate numbers from their homes all over our nation, with South Dakota being one of the worst states.

Lakota People’s Law Project has developed

a unique resource for dealing with Native American

children seized by the state

Today, one of the greatest threats to our people is the massive theft of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota children by state authorities. The state of South Dakota couldn’t have cared less about Native American children until there were millions to be had, and today the state receives almost $100 million per year from the federal government for foster care services – and $12,000 for each Indian child moved from foster care into adoption. The result: between 2001 and 2009 more than 5,000 Native children were removed from their families and, in direct violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 95 percent of them were put into white and state-run care. These actions tear at the fabric of our kinship society, cutting children off from their traditions and continuing the cycle of injustice.

We’ve made a strong connection with the Lakota People’s Law Project (LPLP), a nonprofit that uses law, public education and grassroots organizing to fight the injustices perpetrated against their people. Right now, they are preparing to file a federal civil lawsuit to rescue their children.

Madonna Thunder Hawk, (Cheyenne River Sioux) the tribal liaison for LPLP, wrote a Daily Kos diary agt the beginning of August reporting that as a result of the NPR series “six members of the House of Representatives-four Democrats and two Republicans-sent letters to the assistant secretary of Interior for Indian affairs, Larry Echo Hawk. Their letters demanded that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) respond to the claims made by the NPR story and propose a plan to improve the situation in South Dakota. In response, Echo Hawk replied to the congressmen, pledging to hold a summit in South Dakota about Native American foster care. Nine months have passed and nothing has been done to keep that pledge.” Echo Hawk promised the ICWA summit would take place in early 2012. Echo Hawk left the BIA in April 2012 to take a high-ranking postion with the Mormon church.

The ICWA directors from all of South Dakota’s reservations recently met to prepare a request that the BIA host a summit, as promised. The Lakota People’s Law Project has created a petition to support the ICWA Directors in their call for this summit and in the struggle to rescue the children. Please sign the petition to the BIA, and you can help spread the word.

Meet Madonna Thunder Hawk, an original member of the American Indian Movement and a co-founder of Women of All Red Nations (WARN), and learn more about this effort:

Video will not Embed:…
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Thrash Metal Band Testament’s New Album Features Native Blood

By navajo

Chuck Billy

-Photo Courtesy of

Nuclear Blast Records

Chuck Billy (Hopland Band of Pomo Indians), Testament’s vocalist, features his Native heritage in the band’s latest released album Dark Roots of Earth. The video for Native Blood tells the story of a young boy who endures taunting “war whoops” from his classmates for being Indian. He seeks guidance and cultural support from his elders. The same boy in his teens has his girlfriend taken away by her white father. The boy grows up to organize his community against a takeover of their sacred lands. It opens with a quote from the great Oglala Lakota war chief Crazy Horse, “Somewhere a good man must rise from the young ones among us.

From the lyrics:

I’m one in this world, so stay outta my way. My voice will be heard. So strong. I won’t be afraid. I got something to say. My voice will be heard. So loud, native blood, my native blood.

The video ends with a quote from Peter Blue Cloud(Mohawk, “We natives are guardians of the sacred place.”

The making of the video can be viewed here. It was shot on the Billy Ranch on the Hopland Indian reservation in Northern California. His community gave the shoot its full support and many tribespeople were featured in the video dancing and wearing traditional Pomo dress.

The video is very well done:

Video will not embed…

Billy was the first Native American entertainer to be permanently featured in one of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino’s memorabilia displays in Albuquerque, N.M. He was also featured last year in a Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian exhibit Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians in Popular Culture.

Here is an interview excerpt from Noisecreep:

Testament’s Cover Art for

Dark Roots of the Earth

-Photo Courtesy of

Nuclear Blast Records

“I was born in Oakland, Calif., and for the first five years was raised in Los Cerritos, Calif. After that, we moved to Dublin, Calif., and I pretty much grew up there. My father owned two properties there, and I remember going to the reservation a lot as a kid. When my father retired, he moved there permanently.”

The singer told us life on the Hopland reservation during the ’70s and ’80s was radically different from the existence he knew back at his Dublin neighborhood. “There was just so much freedom on the reservation. I hate to say it, but they were just a bunch of wild Indians [laughs]. It was crazy back then. Our tribe and reservation is really small, and before we ever had a casino on the land, there wasn’t a lot of hope. There wasn’t any money around, and it just felt desperate. It was dire, especially with education and basic resources like that. The kids didn’t even have the basic stuff other kids have in the rest of the country. So a lot of kids didn’t even bother going to school.”

Billy said the opening of the Sho-Ka-Wah Casino on his tribe’s land saved his reservation, and its people. “My father was on the tribal council, and he and a lot of other people, had a lot to do with bringing in the casino. Once that came in, it cleaned everything on the reservation up. Not just money for education and the water system, but also programs for things like keeping our language alive.”

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Pennsylvania Town, Sons Fight Over Where Jim Thorpe’s Remains Should Rest

By Meteor Blades

Ask almost about any American who Jim Thorpe was and you won’t get the blank stare so often elicited when someone renowned among American Indians is mentioned. A century ago, in Sweden, Thorpe ran two races that made him famous, delighted Indians of all tribes (his own ancestry was Sac and Fox from Oklahoma), and for the first time made the USA a real competitor in the Olympic Games. Thorpe was given a hero’s welcome in New York City. The first sports superstar.

He was already making waves at Carlisle Indian Industrial School when he led the football team there to an 11-point win over Harvard in 1911. His coach, Pop Warner, urged him to compete in the Olympics, a contest he hadn’t even heard of. When he did, the world soon heard of him.

That year, 1912, marked the fifth modern Olympiad, and Thorpe took two gold medals, one for the pentathlon and one for the first ever decathlon. He won the latter by a huge margin. Handing him his medals and trophies, the king of Sweden told him: “You, sir, are the most wonderful athlete in the world.” It was 60 years before his record in the 1,500-meter run-4 minutes 40.1 seconds-was beaten, and then, not by much. And by then, he had been dead for 20 years after careers in baseball, then football, where he was spectacular, and basketball. In a nationwide survey in 1950, he was named the greatest athlete of the half century, way ahead of the second-place finisher, Babe Ruth.

Finally too old to compete, Thorpe went to Hollywood in 1930, played bad Indian parts in 70 or more mostly bad movies and put together a casting company to recruit Indians and lobby the studios to get real Indians to play Indian parts.

Long before that, however, his unparalleled accomplishments in Sweden were tainted by the fact he had played minor league professional baseball from 1909-1910. That went against the must-be-an-amateur rules. He was stripped of his medals and his winning performances were erased from the record books.

As Scott Bomboy writes, that was bogus even then.

Thorpe had played baseball for $2 a day, like other college students, but didn’t use an alias. In a letter of apology to officials, he said, “I hope I will be partly excused by the fact that I was simply an Indian schoolboy and did not know all about such things. In fact, I did not know that I was doing wrong, because I was doing what I knew several other college men had done, except that they did not use their own names.”

The apology wasn’t accepted.

So, he returned the medals. It later became known that he had never violated the amateur rules because the claim about his minor league “career” was filed after a reporting deadline in 1913.

Despite his professional career, things got rough financially at the end, even after a movie about him was made, Jim Thorpe-All-American ironically starring a fellow without a drop of Indian blood, Burt Lancaster. Thorpe died, age 64, in 1953. It wasn’t until 1983 that the International Olympic Committee, under intense pressure and with its amateur label having long since been abandoned in reality if not name, made duplicate medals for the family and made Thorpe co-equal with the silver medal winner of 1912. His records, however, were never reinstated.

And his remains still haven’t been returned home either. Three weeks ago, two of his sons testified in an arbitration hearing under terms of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 to move his body back to Oklahoma from the town that now has it. That town is Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, a place he’s never been.

It wound up there in 1957 after having been stored in Los Angeles, Shawnee, Oklahoma and Tulsa for four years. Two towns, Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, agreed to merge and told the widow that in exchange for his body, they would name their new town after him, and as, Kate Buford tell the story:

There were grand promises of a hospital for athletes, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a Jim Thorpe sporting goods factory.

None of them materialized.

But the fight over Thorpe’s body is still working its way through in a federal court. That is a result of a lawsuit initiated in 2010 by his son, Jack, to have his father’s remains returned to Oklahoma and buried on the remnants of the Sac and Fox reservation that, ironically, began to be dismantled the year Thorpe was born, 1888. The town decided to fight:

“This guy has a whole town named after him,” explains Jack Kmetz, president of the Jim Thorpe Area Sports Hall of Fame and lifelong resident of Jim Thorpe, Pa. “He has a bank named after him. He has a post office. He has his own ZIP code.”

Jack died last year, but Thorpe’s two living sons were testifying in court-ordered mediation in a federal lawsuit three weeks ago. It’s being heard in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Among other things, the case has revealed that Thorpe’s third wife claimed his body “the night before a traditional Sac and Fox burial ceremony could take place in Oklahoma.”

William Schaub, the attorney for Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, told a local newspaper that a Supreme Court precedent was on the town’s side, since Jim Thorpe died in California.

“Burial has traditionally been governed by the states. Jim Thorpe was a resident of California,” Schwab said. “He died in California. This case should be governed by the California probate code which gave Jim Thorpe’s third wife the right to bury him as she saw fit. They are trying to trump state law.”

Ironically, as the court case continues over Thorpe, his body rests in a mausoleum that contains soil from his home in Oklahoma and dirt sent from the former Olympic stadium in Stockholm, Sweden.

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Kevin Washburn, nominated in August 2012 to take over the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He is a Chickasaw.Kevin Washburn

Kevin Washburn Nominated for BIA Post: A 45-year-old member of the Chickasaw Nation who is an expert in Indian law and reservation gambling has been nominated by President Obama to fill the government’s top position at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He has headed the University of New Mexico Law School since 2009. If he gains approval in the U.S. Senate, he will replace Larry Echo Hawk (Pawnee) who resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs to take a high position in leadership of the Mormon church.

“I’m deeply honored-it’s an exceedingly important responsibility to serve the nation’s Indian tribes and the Indian people,” Washburn told the Albuquerque Journal.

A biography posted at the University of Minnesota Law School website states:

[…]Washburn earned his law degree from Yale Law School in 1993, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Journal on Regulation. Following law school, Professor Washburn clerked for Judge William C. Canby Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In 1994, Professor Washburn joined the U.S. Department of Justice through the Attorney General’s Honors Program. At Main Justice, he litigated cases involving Indian tribes, mostly in the context of environmental and natural resources law. In 1997, Professor Washburn left Main Justice to become a federal prosecutor in New Mexico, where he primarily prosecuted violent crimes arising in Indian country and referred by the FBI. In 2000, Professor Washburn became the General Counsel of the National Indian Gaming Commission, the independent federal regulatory agency that regulates Indian gaming nationwide. […]

He spent most of his youth in small towns in Oklahoma within the original boundaries of the tribe’s former reservation. He attended the University of Oklahoma, where he earned a bachelors degree in economics with honors.

Among his many academic publications, Washburn has listed the following as representative: The Legacy of Bryan v. Itasca County: How an Erroneous $147 County Tax Notice Helped Bring Tribes $200 Billion in Indian Gaming Revenue (2008); Restoring the Grand Jury (2008); American Indians, Crime, and the Law (2006); and Federal Criminal Law and Tribal Self-Determination (2006). He has served as a trustee on the Law School Admission Council from 2006 to present; as a member of the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on Native American Sentencing Issues of the United States Sentencing Commission from 2002 to 2004; and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Innocence Project of Minnesota from 2002 to 2003.

Washburn is married to Elizabeth “Libby” Rodke Washburn, who currently serves as the state director for U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), and they have two children. A Democrat, Washburn has contributed $3,050 to Democratic candidates and causes, including $525 to ActBlue in 2009, $525 to Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colorado) in 2009, and $2,000 to John Kelly’s unsuccessful campaign for Congress in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District in 2000. Libby Washburn has contributed $1,250: $250 to Dave Obey (D-Wisconsin), who was U.S. Representative for Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District from 1969 until 2011, in 2009, and $1,000 to Sen. Bennett in 2010.

-Meteor Blades

Bill to Permit Foreign Investment on Tribal Reservations Fails: A bill that would have allowed some experiment with foreign investments on American Indian reservations has failed in the House of Representatives because it could not obtain the two-thirds vote needed for fast-track legislation. The bill’s sponsor, Tom Cole (Chickasaw), an Oklahoma Republican, said opposition came from representatives who saw it as offering too good a deal to Turkey. Cole said the Turks were the only foreign nationals who had shown any interest in investing on reservations.

-Meteor Blades

Tribe revitalizes Lakota language through dance: Fluent speakers of the Lakota language among the Rosebud Sioux in southern South Dakota are aging and dwindling. Loss of language is a problem among American Indians throughout the nation. Altogether among all Lakota on their several reservations in North Dakota and South Dakota, only about 6,000 people speak the language with any fluency. That’s less than 14 percent of the whole population. The average age of Lakota speaker is 60. The Rosebud tribe has sought various ways to keep the language alive among children. One of those focuses on song and dance. Gale Spotted Tail (Sicangu Lakota), who directs the tribe’s Child Care Service’s Song and Dance Project, says, “It’s putting identity and pride back into the people.” The program teaches families how to make accurate, detailed ceremonial regalia and teaches the intricate dances to the children so they can perform in the annual wacipi, or powwow. The effort creates a special bond between children and the older generations.

-Meteor Blades

Tribes Won’t Have to Reimburse Feds for Divided Land Government Buys for Them: The Interior Dept. ended a major worry last week for American Indian tribes who will use a settlement to buy up divided lands and reincorporate them into communally tribal property. Some $1.9 billion of a $3.4 billion settlement in the Elouise Cobell Niitsítapi (Blackfoot Confederacy) lawsuit has been set aside to purchase land that was alloted to individual tribal members from 1887 until 1935 under the Dawes Act.

Although the allotments started out as 80- to 320-acre parcels to individuals and single families, over the generations they have become entangled in fractional ownership with dozens, sometimes hundreds of individuals, owning a piece. This makes their use for anything practical very complicated. The allotment system was originated as one means of breaking up the tribes and assimilating Indians into the overall U.S. population by making them farmers and ranchers. Almost immediately, despite laws forbidding the practice, thousands of allotments were sold off cheaply to non-Indian owners, which has created a patchwork of ownership within the boundaries of many reservations.

Under previous law, liens could be placed against the land purchased for the tribes by the government. If that were the case with the Cobell settlement, it would mean they would end up having to reimburse Washington for the hard-fought money agreed to in the settlement. That deal was made to repay the for more than a century of mismanagement of those lands by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

-Meteor Blades

NBC’s Matt Lauer Spouts “Indian-Giver” During Olympics Coverage: It was a silly segment to begin with, like so much of NBC’s coverage of the 2012 Games, but Lauer made it even worse with his casual slur. So much so that Sonny Skyhawk  (Sicangu Lakota) devoted his entire “Ask N NDN” column in Indian Country Today Media Network to blasting Lauer and urge readers to email or otherwise contact NBC and “The Today Show” seeking an apology. Noting that it was a century ago that Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox) had brought honor and fame to not only his tribe, but also all Indians and the U.S. by winning two gold medals in Sweden in 1912, Skyhawk wrote:

These memories of my hero have been on my mind as I have enjoyed these Olympic Games-until I heard those ugly words uttered by Matt Lauer:


I was frozen and dumbfounded, as if someone had slapped me in the face. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. I paused and then recalled the countless hours and years I and many of my colleagues had spent, attending diversity meetings in which we discussed and agreed on the need for all cultures to respect each other. We agreed that all humans deserve to be given respect when it has been earned, and that we, American Indians, have earned that respect many times over.

All of that came crashing down when I heard that idiotic phrase.

Skyhawk wrote a letter to the president of NBC News and urged readers to take similar action or contact others at the network.

-Meteor Blades

Border Patrol Finds Ancient Pots in Desert:

Archeologist working in desert alcove.On patrol for undocumented immigrants in ever-more remote areas of the desert Southwest, agents of the U.S. Border Patrol stumbled onto a find that has made archeologists happy: four ancient clay pots in two rock alcoves in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The largest of the pots is thought to be an olla, a water jar. The agents may have saved the pots from looters who sell such items on the black market. Pot hunting is illegal but common on federal and state land.

Scientists say the pots, which were found whole instead of in the usual shards common to most such discoveries these days, are hundreds of years old, perhaps as many as a thousand. Although the area, which the government declined to identify specifically, is close to the Tohono O’odham reservation, what tribe made these items, or when, is unknown. The prehistoric people here are called the Hohokam.

After a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, who trace their ancestors to the Hohokam, conducted a ceremony, National Park Service archaeologists removed the pots and transported them to the Western Archaeological and Conservation Center in Tucson, which is administered by the National Park Service.

The center, which is not open to the public, contains more than 24,000 artifacts found on national parks and monuments in the western region.

-Meteor Blades

Super PAC Tied to Copper Corp Opposes Navajo Candidate:

Wenona Benally BaldenegroOne of the founders of the Super PAC “Restoring Arizona’s Integrity” is GovGroupAZ, a Phoenix-based consulting firm that lobbies for the copper company ASARCO. The company has a history of massive pollution, one of its contaminated smelter operations having been considered the worst of the nation’s 1,200 Superfund sites. RAI is supporting conservative Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick for congresswoman in First District of Arizona against progressive Wenona Benally Baldenegro (Navajo) in the state’s upcoming primary election. Baldenegro has the support of the United Steelworkers, who represent most of Asarco’s workers. Kirkpatrick served a single term (2009-2011) as the representative from the district, which has the highest percentage of American Indians of any congressional district in the United States, 22 percent.

Although never officially a member of the congressional “Blue Dog” caucus, Kirkpatrick voted like one during her single term. She has an ample collection of powerful backers. Despite its vow to stay out of primaries, one of those is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which came out in her favor thanks in part to the “ex” Blue Dog now heading the DCCC, Steve Israel. Baldenegro had been endorsed, among others, by 7th District Rep. Raul Grijalva, chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

-Meteor Blades

Judge’s Ruling Brings “Fighting Sioux” Fight to an End: U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson dismissed a year-old lawsuit by six American Indian students alleging damage from the use of the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo at the University of North Dakota. The judge noted that the statewide vote in June that had overwhelmingly sent the name into retirement effectively put an end to any useful litigation in the matter.

-Meteor Blades

Janna Ryan, Wife of Paul Ryan, Has Native Blood: The wife of the presumptive GOP nominee for the vice presidency has Chickasaw ancestry through her father, Dan Little. A tax attorney, she is not an enrolled member of the the Chickasaw Nation, which is based in Oklahoma, where it was forced to move from its home turf in Mississippi and Alabama in the 1830s. The tribe is the 13th largest federally recognized tribe in the nation. Janna Ryan is a cousin of Rep. Dan Boren, a Democrat, who is retiring after this term to become president of corporate development for the Chickasaws.

-Meteor Blades

Onandaga Plan to Celebrate 400-year-old Treaty that Two Scholars Say is Fake: The Onandaga Tribe, part of the Iroquois Confederacy, is preparing for a major celebration of the Treaty of Tawagonshi of 1613 between the Dutch and Haudenosauneee, what the Iroquois call themselves. But two scholars say they proved the treaty is a fake a quarter century ago based on terminology, handwriting and the fact that the names of chiefs who signed the document are actually the names of villages. But the Onandagas say their own oral history of the treaty is backed up by a two-row wampum belt created at the time to commemorate the event and that the tribe still possesses. Spokespeople for the tribe say the two scholars are anti-Iroquois and seek to alter the centuries-long relationship between whites and the Haudenosaunee.

-Meteor Blades

-Meteor Blades

-navajo with a h/t to whomever


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.

American Indian Voting Rights

During the first part of the twentieth century, American Indians were granted citizenship by Congressional action on several different occasions. While citizenship is often felt to be associated with the right to vote, this has not always been the case with regard to Indians. The right to vote is a right which has been traditionally controlled by the states. The states had tended to view Indian voting and Indian citizenship as two separate items. While the struggle by African Americans to obtain the right to vote is fairly well known, the struggle by American Indians to obtain this right is less well known.  

Toward the end of the nineteenth century a series of legal opinions and court rulings had determined that American Indians were not citizens and furthermore they could not attain citizenship unless Congress enacted specific legislation granting citizenship. In 1887 Congress passed the General Allotment Act (also known as the Dawes Act). While the primary focus of the Dawes Act was on breaking up Indian reservations, destroying tribal governments, and transferring land from Indian ownership to non-Indian ownership, it did provide the legal mechanism for Indians to become citizens. Part of the act called for citizenship to be conferred on those who abandoned their tribes and adopted the habits of civilized life. Ideally, Indians who became Christian, English-speaking farmers could become citizens. Citizenship in the minds of non-Indians was directly associated with private land ownership.

The drive for Indian citizenship came up again during World War I. Indians were required to register for the draft but were ineligible to be drafted since they were not citizens. Yavapai physician Dr. Carlos Montezuma protested the draft policy and urged the United States to make Indians citizens and then draft them. He wrote:

“They are not citizens. They have fewer privileges than have foreigners. They are wards of the United States of America without their consent or the chance of protest on their part.”

While Indians were not liable to be drafted, they enlisted in large numbers. An estimated 10,000 Indians served in the military during the war. In 1919, Congress passed an act which provided citizenship for all Indians who served in the military or in naval establishments during World War I.

There were many Indians who saw citizenship as something which was being imposed on them by non-Indians. In 1919, the Society of American Indians held its conference in Minneapolis on the theme of citizenship. While many supported citizenship, Cahuilla spiritual leader Francisco Patencio told them:

“I and my people we do not want citizenship. … What my people in California want is to know their reservation boundary lines.”

In 1924 Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act which gave all Indians citizenship and, theoretically, the right to vote. It is estimated that about two-thirds of the Indians had acquired citizenship before the passage of this act. Passage of the act was promoted by progressives who were concerned about the constitutional rights of Indians and who wished to free Indians from federal control. It was generally felt that citizenship would help assimilate Indians.

Two days after passing the Indian Citizenship Act, Congress passed a bill to allot the Eastern Cherokee in North Carolina. Having not upgraded the language in the bill to account for the Indian Citizenship Act, the bill provided that the Eastern Cherokee would become citizens only after receiving and registering their allotments. The State Attorney General took the position that the Eastern Cherokee were not citizens because this bill superseded the Indian Citizenship Act. The Bureau of Indian Affairs took the position that they were citizens. Local registrars assumed that the Cherokee were not citizens and did not allow them to register to vote.

In response, Congress passed another act in 1928 which specifically granted citizenship to the North Carolina Cherokee. However, Eastern Cherokee leader Henry M. Owl was denied the right to register to vote in 1930. The registrar refused to register Indians because they were not citizens. In response, Congress passed another act once again reaffirming citizenship for the Eastern Cherokee. Local newspapers protested Congressional interference with local affairs and county registrars continued to deny Cherokees the vote until after World War II. North Carolina denied Indians the right to vote claiming that Indians were illiterate. The superintendent of the Cherokee Agency reported:

“We have had Indian graduates of Carlisle, Haskell, and other schools in stances much better educated than the registrar himself, turned down because they did not read or write to his satisfaction.”

In 1946, North Carolina county registrars refused to register Eastern Cherokee war veterans to vote. The Cherokee appealed the decision to the governor and attorney general, but nothing was done.

In Arizona two Pima Indians attempted to vote in 1928. The Arizona Supreme Court in Porter v. Hall concluded that Indians were not entitled to vote because they were “wards of the government” and persons “under guardianship” were prohibited from voting by the state constitution. The Arizona Attorney General’s office ruled in 1944 that Indians who were living outside the reservation and who were subject to state laws and state taxation were not eligible to vote.

Some states passed legislation to disenfranchise Indians. In an effort to deny Indians the right to vote, the Montana state constitution was amended in 1932 to permit only taxpayers to vote. Since Indians on reservations did not pay some local taxes, they could not become voters. The Montana state legislature in 1937 passed a law requiring all deputy voter registrars to be qualified, taxpaying residents of their precincts. Since Indians living on reservations were exempt from some local taxes, this requirement excluded almost all Indians from serving as deputy registrars. It thus denied Montana’s Indians access to voter registration in their own precincts.

A 1937 report by the Solicitor General found that several states denied Indians the right to vote. In response to the inquiry by the Solicitor General, Colorado’s attorney general replied: “It is our opinion that until Congress enfranchises the Indian, he will not have the right to vote.” Word of the 1924 citizenship act had apparently not yet reached Colorado. Indians were not allowed to serve on juries in Colorado until 1956 and tribal members on reservations were not allowed to vote until 1970.

The Solicitor General also found that four states-Idaho, New Mexico, Maine, and Washington-denied Indians the right to vote because of the phrase “Indians not taxed” in Article 1 of the Constitution.

Utah denied Indians the vote because Indians on reservations were not actually residents of Utah but were residents of their own nations. Indians were thus considered non-residents and hence not eligible to vote. In 1957, the Utah state legislature finally repealed the legislation that prevented Indians living on reservations from voting.

Many historians cite 1948 as the year in which Indians finally won the right to vote. Court rulings in Arizona and New Mexico affirmed that Indians have the right to vote. The Court ruling in New Mexico was started when Miguel Trujillo, Sr. (Laguna), a teacher, attempted to register to vote and was refused by the recorder of Valencia County. In the ruling, the Court found that New Mexico had discriminated against Indians by denying them the vote, especially since they paid all state and federal taxes except for private property taxes on the reservations.

In Arizona, Frank Harrison and Harry Austin, both Mohave-Apache at the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation, attempted to register to vote and were not allowed to register. In Harrison v. Laveen the Arizona Supreme Court overturned the earlier Porter v. Hall decision and agreed with the plaintiffs that their Arizona and United States constitutional rights had been violated.

In Maine, Indians were finally given the right to vote in 1953 when the state accepted the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act.

In 1957, the Utah state legislature repealed legislation that prevented Indians living on reservations from voting. Under the law, Indians had been considered non-residents and hence not eligible to vote.

In New Mexico in 1962 an unsuccessful non-Indian candidate for elective office challenged the validity of Indian voting rights by claiming that Indians were not state residents. The state supreme court reaffirmed the rights of Indians to vote in the state.

In 1968, the Havasupai finally obtained the right to vote in Arizona and federal elections. The Havasupai Reservation is located in Coconino County and the county had never designated the reservation as a voting district. Thus, Havasupai voters could only vote by registering in some distant precinct and then travelling to that distant community to vote.

During the past fifty years, the focus has shifted from obtaining the right to vote, to getting Indians elected to local, state, and federal offices. States and local governments in the western states have responded by diluting the Indian vote through redistricting plans and/or by requiring photo ID (and not allowing tribal ID) and/or requiring voters to have a street address (many rural reservation homes do not have street addresses).

Native American prisoners

A couple of years ago i had two pen friends,one was a Navajo and the other was an Arapaho,both were in prison.They were imprisoned in California,and both were doing life under the three strikes and your out law.Both knew they had done wrong,but compared to crimes done here in England the sentences were disgusting.I actuallu emailed the governor of California and did get a reply which said the law stood to keep persistant criminals of the streets,Im wondering did these guys get long sentences for what i considered to be petty crimes simply because they were Indians

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The Nez Perce In Canada

On October 5, 1877, following six days of siege by American army troops and artillery known as the Battle of the Bear Paw, Nez Perce Chief Joseph delivered his rifle to Colonel Nelson Miles and officially surrendered. According to the official army accounts a total of 418 Nez Perce surrendered: 87 men, 184 women, and 147 children. Among those who surrendered was Halahtookit (Daytime Smoke), the son of Captain William Clark, and his daughter and granddaughter. For most history books, this marked the end of the Nez Perce War, one of two officially designated Indian wars.  

On October 22, 1877, North-West Mounted Police Superintendent James Walsh met in council with the Nez Perce near Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan. Meeting in the center of Sitting Bull’s Sioux camp, the Nez Perce chief White Bird recounted the struggles of his people and how they had come to seek asylum in Canada. Walsh counted 290 Nez Perce refugees living among the Sioux: 90 men and 200 women and children. The story of these refugees-nearly half of the Nez Perce who had survived their long battle from Oregon and Idaho, through Yellowstone National Park, and across Montana-is often omitted from the history books.

The Battle of the Bear Paw:

A few miles from Canada, in Montana’s Bear Paw Mountains, the Nez Perce bands stopped to rest. This was an area well known to them from their buffalo-hunting and trading expeditions onto the Plains. They called the area Tsanim Alikos Pah (Place of the Manure Fires), and they knew that Canada lay but forty miles away.

In the morning, Wotolen told the people that he had had a dream about this place and that in the dream the sky had been dark with the smoke of battle and that the waters of the creek were running red with blood. When the scouts reported that they had seen American troops coming, many of the Nez Perce begin to hurriedly pack. Looking Glass, the primary military leader, told them that there was no hurry, that there was plenty of time. Once again, Looking Glass was wrong and Wotolen’s vision was correct.

At the beginning of the attack, there were a number of Nez Perce who were away from the camp and they did not return. Some people had started to break camp and at least 40-70 people on horseback fled from the camp, driving a number of horses before them. Joseph told one of his daughters to catch a horse and join the others who were fleeing north. He called out to those who were fleeing, telling them to hurry.

One group of Nez Perce, under the leadership of the veteran war chief White Bird, used the cover of night and a snowstorm to escape from the soldiers. White Bird, a respected medicine man and leader, was about 49 years old at this time. Throughout the conflict he had been consistent in his determination to flee to Canada. Under the cover of darkness, they gathered their blankets around them and left on foot. While it was reported that some of the soldiers saw them, they did not fire. Wotolon would later report:

“We carried only a little grub. We could not travel fast because of the women and children.”

White Bird reported that 103 warriors, 60 women, and 8 children escaped. No dogs came with them, which was highly unusual. For ten days the people travelled with little food and often in blizzard conditions.

The American army wanted to portray the Battle of the Bear Paw as a great American victory and the end of the Nez Perce war. Therefore, the army downplayed the escape of many of the Nez Perce, particularly those in White Bird’s band. Historians have suggested that the American military leaders did not really know that nearly 300 people had escaped from the battle site. Army correspondence mentions that “a few” Indians got away.  

Regarding the “few” who got away, the army set out detachments of soldiers to either kill or capture any Nez Perce they could find. The army also recruited Assiniboine and Gros Ventre warriors to seek out and kill any Nez Perce who had not surrendered. Colonel Nelson Miles would write:

“the Assinboines are killing the Nez Perces as I sent them word that they could fight any that escaped and take their arms and ponies.”

Colonel Miles promised local residents 25 horses from the Nez Perce here plus $500 for bringing in White Bird dead or alive.

Canada and Indian Refugees:

By 1877 Canada was no stranger to Indians seeking asylum from American military aggression. Following the War of 1812, the Dakota wars of the 1860s, and the more recent 1877 Sioux War, many Indians had crossed the international boundary-known as the Medicine Line-to escape the American military. Canada had a different approach to its relations with the Indians. While the United States sought military solutions which required a great show of force using thousands of soldiers and emphasized retaliation rather than justice, Canada used just a handful of men known as Mounties: the North West Mounted Police.

The North West Mounted Police had been formed in 1873 to administer law and order in the Northwest Territories. The Mounties, as they came to be called, used consultation and negotiation to avert conflict rather than seek it. The Mounties sought fairness in their dealings with the tribes.

Mountie 3105

Shown above is the original uniform of the North West Mounted Police.

Mountie 3104

The photograph above shows the current Mountie uniform.

The Nez Perce in Canada:

Following the Battle of the Bear Paw in Montana, Nez Perce refugees began to cross the Medicine Line into Saskatchewan, Canada to arrive at Sitting Bull’s Sioux camp. The Nez Perce were wary as the Sioux had been traditional enemies, but the Sioux welcomed them and took them into their lodges, providing them with food and clothing.

In 1878, an American scout, Christopher Gilson, visited the refugee Nez Perce in Saskatchewan. Gilson had been asked by Colonel Nelson Miles to find Chief Joseph’s daughter, Kapkap Ponmi. He located her and presented her with a photograph of her father. He reported back to the Americans that the Nez Perce were ready to return home. According to his report:

“They are anxious to come back and begged me to bring some one of their tribe to see them so they could return. Joseph’s daughter is well and wants to see her father.”

As a result of Gilson’s report, three Nez Perce prisoners-Yellow Bull, Husis Kute, and Esoweaz- travelled from the Nez Perce prison camp in Kansas to White Bird’s camp in Saskatchewan. The Americans wanted them to dispel rumors that Joseph’s people had been ill treated.  The three prisoners travelled without military escort.

The three men had not been selected at random, but were men felt by the Americans to be respected men of influence who could convince White Bird to return to the United States. Yellow Bull was White Bird’s brother-in-law; Estoweaz was a respected warrior known for his truthfulness; and while Husis Kute was actually Palouse, he was viewed as a spiritual leader.

The three emissaries found the Nez Perce camped with the Sioux at the Sandy Hills. After meeting with the three for more than a week, White Bird and seven others travelled to the North West Mounted Police station at Fort Walsh to meet with the American negotiators. The American spokesman, First Lieutenant George William Baird, told White Bird:

“Joseph and his Indians will be put on a good Reservation, and have an opportunity to live comfortably.”

He goes on to say:

“If you want to go back with me, I will take you down, and you will go to the same Reservation as Joseph. The Americans are your friends, and want you to go back to your old home, and if you don’t, you will go to some other good reservation.”

Husis Kute said:

“Joseph does not want to go further south, because it is not healthy; his people die even at Leavenworth. Joseph surrendered just to save his people, so why should he go further south and let his people perish?”

The Americans attempted to persuade White Bird by telling him that if he were to join Joseph in Leavenworth, then Joseph might be allowed to return to Idaho, but that if White Bird did not go south, then Joseph would not be allowed to return home. In reality, the Americans had no intention of letting Joseph’s people return home, but fully intended to keep them as prisoners in Oklahoma.

White Bird concluded the council saying:

“You go back and bring Chief Joseph to Idaho. I will know. I will hear of it. Do this, and I am promising to surrender. I will come to Idaho if I have to go afoot.”

In a later interview with Duncan MacDonald of The New North-West, White Bird said:

“The United States recognizes Indians as nations and not slaves. Why does she want to coop us up in a bad climate that will cause us to die in a short time.”

In 1878, a group of 29 Nez Perce led by Wottolen left Canada. With the group was Kapkap Ponmi (the daughter of Chief Joseph), Yellow Wolf (who was a member of Joseph’s band), Peopeo Tholekt, and Black Eagle (Wottolen’s son). There were only five warriors in the group, each of whom had about 10 cartridges for his weapon. This small band made their way through Montana by killing livestock here and there for subsistence. At the Middle Clearwater River, soldiers from Fort Missoula attempted to block the Nez Perce passage to Idaho. A detachment under the command of First Lieutenant Thomas Wallace engaged the Indians in battle and claimed to have killed six and wounded three.

In 1879, Wottolon returned to White Bird’s camp in Saskatchewan after an attempt to lead his people back to Idaho. Phillip Williams then left on foot with about a dozen people. Some of them found refuge with the Flathead in western Montana.

White Bird’s people moved west to establish a new camp near a quarry along the banks of Pincher Creek near the edge of the Piegan Reserve in Alberta, Canada. Here, in an area between the Piegan lands and the North West Mounted Police station, the Nez Perce constructed cabins of poplar and pine logs. This became known to the non-Indians in the area as the “Nez Percy camp.”

Over the next decade, the Nez Perce lived peacefully in the Pincher Creek area. There were some minor disturbances, such as in 1888 when a Nez Perce identified as Fish Hawk was convicted of drunk and disorderly conduct and sentenced to one month of hard labor. Thirty-four days later, Fish Hawk was again arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct, found guilty, and again sentenced to one month of hard labor.

In 1892, Nez Perce leader White Bird was murdered by Hasenahmahhikt, known to the non-Indians as Nez Perce Sam. Nez Perce Sam apparently thought that White Bird, who was known as a shaman, had exerted evil influence on his family, and killed him with an ax. Sam struck White Bird four times with the ax, three times in the face. He was given a jury trial, found guilty, and sentenced to be executed.

The Methodist missionary at Fort Macleod, the Reverend John Maclean, was convinced that Nez Perce Sam had acted in defense of his family in murdering White Bird. At the annual Manitoba and North-West Church conference, the attendees voted for a resolution asking clemency for Nez Perce Sam and submitted a petition to Ottawa with more than 700 signatures asking for commutation. The Macleod Gazette responded:

“to see a lot of christian [sic] ministers, headed by two missionaries, begging for this man’s life on these grounds is silly in the extreme. The men who propose such things should have long ears and eat grass.”

The following year Nez Perce Sam died of natural causes in prison. Some say that, depressed, he starved himself to death.

In 1895, Pete Sam and Jack Sam, the sons of Nez Perce Sam, were arrested for breaking into a home and stealing clothes. They were sentenced to a month in jail.

In 1898, Sarah, described as the “last Nez Perce woman” in the Pincher Creek area, died from tuberculosis. Her daughters were sent to the Nez Perce Reservation in Lapwai, Idaho to live with relatives.

In 1995, a reunion of the relatives of the Nez Perce who had sought asylum in Canada following the 1877 Nez Perce war was held in Brocket, Alberta. The Canadian descendents of Chief White Bird’s band joined with their American counter parts in observing, sharing, and celebrating their familial relationships and cultural past. Nearly 200 Nez Perce from the Lapwai, Colville, Umatilla, and Piegan Reservations attended. Elder Horace Axtell led a Seven Drum Ceremony.

Native American Dissertation Research

My father is an enrolled Seneca Indian.  I am working to complete my doctorate in Psychology.  Due to my own personal interests, I have devoted my research to Indian issues.  If you are of Native descent, please consider taking part in my survey.  Please use the website below to access the survey:

I would greatly appreciate any participation or help in disseminating this research study.  Thank you!

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