Henry Roe Cloud, Winnebago Educator

Henry Cloud was born in 1884 (1882 or 1886 according to some sources) to the Winnebago Bear Clan (or possibly the Bird Clan) on the reservation in northeastern Nebraska. His tribal name was Wo-Na-Xi-Lay-Hunka (“War Chief”). At the age of seven he was conscripted by the Indian police and sent to the Genoa Indian School, a government-run boarding school. Here he learned English, was forbidden to speak his tribal language, and was converted to Christianity. He was then baptized Henry Clarence Cloud.

With regard to his conversion to Christianity, one of his biographers, Joel Pfister, writes:

“Roe Cloud employed Christianity spiritually and emotionally to empower not just himself but his people. Furthermore, organized Christianity gave him access to education and ruling social groups.”

With regard to his experience at Genoa, he would later write:

“I worked two years in turning a washing machine to reduce the running expenses of the institution. It did not take me long to learn how to run the machine, and the rest of the two years I nursed a growing hatred for it.”

Genoa

Genoa Indian School is shown above.

He was orphaned by the age of 13 and sent to the Santee Mission School where he was trained to become a printer and blacksmith.

In 1901 he was admitted to the Mount Hermon Preparatory School in Massachusetts which had a work-study program through which he could finance his education. While he had been an outstanding student in the Indian schools, he soon found that he was unprepared to deal with the academic challenges of a college preparatory school. The school required all students to complete entrance exams on the first day of school and he passed on the tests in Bible, writing (penmanship), spelling, and geography. This meant that he had to enroll in the Preparatory Department.

In 1904, his financial condition required that he drop out of school for a year and work on a farm.

He graduated from Mount Hermon as salutatorian in 1906 and then attended Yale College. He graduated from Yale in 1910 with a B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy and then went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Anthropology from Yale in 1912. He was the first full-blood Native American to graduate from Yale.

Henry Roe Cloud

Henry Roe Cloud is shown above.

While an undergraduate at Yale, Henry Cloud attended a lecture by the missionary Mary Wickham Roe who was involved in evangelical Christian mission work among the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Apache in Oklahoma. Her husband, the Reverend Walter Roe, was the Superintendent of Indian Missions for the Reformed Church. Henry Cloud developed a close relationship with the Roes and adopted their surname as his middle name. After this he was generally known as Roe Cloud.

As an Indian at Yale, Henry Roe Cloud became a celebrity and a proficient orator. He lectured to the public about the deficiencies of the government-run Indian schools and about the stereotype that Indian students were only suited to vocational educations.

In 1910, the Roes sponsored his appearance at the annual Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian, an influential and powerful group of non-Indians which stressed the assimilation of Indians into American society. In 1914, he addressed the group:

“Education unrelated to life is of no use. Education is the leading-out process of the young until they themselves know what they are best fitted for in life.”

In 1911, Henry Roe Cloud attended the first conference of the newly formed Society of American Indians at Ohio State University and was on a panel that discussed religious and moral issues.

In 1912, he headed a Winnebago delegation to Washington, D.C. where they met with President William Howard Taft. Taft was a Yale alumnus and his son had been Roe Cloud’s classmate. Roe Cloud’s Yale connections provided him with access to political power and politicians which were not available to reservation Indians.

In 1913 he attended the Auburn Theological Seminary in New York and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister.

In 1915, Henry Roe Cloud opened the Roe Indian Institute in Kansas as a college preparatory school for Indians. This was the first Native American college preparatory school in the country. While it stressed academic study, it also included training in agriculture and the trades. When the school opened, it had only eight students. The school would later be renamed the American Indian Institute. The school closed in 1930 because of financial difficulties.

In 1916, Henry Roe Cloud married Elizabeth Georgian Bender, a Bad River Band Chippewa, who had taught on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana and at the Carlisle Indian School.

In 1923 an elite panel known as the Committee of 100 was convened by the Secretary of the Interior to advise on Indian policy. Henry Roe Cloud served on this committee and advocated for the establishment of federally funded scholarships for Indians in college. The Committee supported the goal of assimilation, but called for a greater sensitivity to Indian customs and the protection of tribal land.

From 1926 until 1930, he was associated with the Brookings Institute and was involved with the study of Native American issues that resulted in the Meriam Report on “The Problem of Indian Administration.” His primary role was that of a traveling investigator visiting reservations.

In 1931, he went to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a field representative at large, a position that did not require passing the civil service test (which he had earlier failed). One of his investigations dealt with the significant financial mismanagement at Haskell Institute. He recommended that the school revert to a vocationally oriented program and be administered by an educator.

In 1933 he became the superintendent of the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas which was the largest American Indian high school in the country. Haskell was known for its victorious football teams, its 10,500-seat football stadium, and its strong emphasis on vocational training (particularly agriculture and printing). He was the first full-blood Indian to hold this position. As superintendent he helped lobby for the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

Haskell

Haskell Institute is shown above.

At Haskell, Roe Cloud encouraged students to read Indian history and to examine Indian customs and communal practices. He encouraged them to explore the influences of both individual Indians and Indian groups on American culture. He felt that Indians could give American culture what it lacked: a cultural antiquity which should be valued. He insisted that the so-called “New” World was just as old as Europe and that its history was important. While he felt it was important for Indians to assimilate into American culture, he also felt that they should import the Indian ways of thinking, valuing, and living into the dominant culture.

At Haskell, Roe Cloud gave Indian names to the recreational halls, authorized the teaching of Indian languages, sponsored Indian dances, and reprinted books of Indian legends.

In 1935, the Chicago-based Indian Council Fire awarded him its third annual Indian Achievement Award. The first of these awards had been given to Sioux writer and physician Dr. Charles Eastman and the second was awarded to Pueblo potter María Martinez.

In 1935, Roe Cloud left the Haskell Institute to help facilitate the newly passed Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). His job was to persuade Indians across the country to vote for tribal reorganization under the IRA.

In 1936, Henry Roe Cloud was named Supervisor of Indian Education at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. One of his biographers, David Messer, writes:

“Despite the facts that he was only marginally responsible for supervising all of the educational work of the Indian Service and that the position sounded far more important than it was, his primary responsibility was to continue doing what he had been doing-trying to get the Indians to support the IRA.”

In 1939, the Indian Service (now called the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was facing budget cuts and Henry Roe Cloud was offered the superintendency of the Turtle  Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. This was a demotion with a smaller salary and a lower Civil Service rank. After he complained to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, he was named Superintendent of the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon, a smaller reservation with a smaller salary.

Even though he was Indian, the reservation Indians were still leery of the Indian Service and they had rejected reorganization under the IRA. When the Umatilla General Council debated about hiring an attorney, he opposed this action. He told the Council that there was no need for an attorney as he could look up all of the answers to their legal questions in the federal code book. The council, however, still insisted that it wanted its own attorney.

As a result of the conflict over the attorney for the Umatilla, Roe Cloud was appointed Superintendent at the Grande Ronde-Siletz Agency on the Oregon coast. Shortly after his appointment, the agency was abolished and for the next two years he attempted to untangle the complicated genealogical records to see who was entitled to the money owed tribal members by the government.  

He died of a heart attack in Siletz in 1950 at the age of 66.

President James Polk and the Indians

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

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

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

In 1846, Senator Thomas Hart Benton said:

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

Indian Administration:

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

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

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

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

The law creating the Smithsonian also stated that

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

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

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

In describing Indians in 1847, one Indian superintendent said:

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

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

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

Oregon Territory:

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

Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California and New Mexico:

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

California Territory

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

First Nations News & Views: AIDS/HIV awareness, Lakota block pipeline trucks, mass hanging memorial

Welcome to the eighth edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by Meteor Blades and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find a focus on Native and AIDS/HIV, a look at the year 1824 in American Indian history, five 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.

The Red Road Needs More Than Red Ribbons

By Aji

KyleThumb When you think of the face of HIV/AIDS, it probably doesn’t look like this – but maybe it should. Meet Kyle. He’s a young American Indian man. And he’s HIV-positive.

Tuesday, March 20, is National Native HIV and AIDS Awareness Day.

American Indians now constitute the third-fastest-growing ethnic group with new diagnoses of HIV and AIDS: 10.4 for every 100,000 persons. At first glance, that number seems much smaller than the rate for Hispanics, at 27.8/100,000, and that for African Americans, at 71.3/100,000.

However, the numbers are deceptive. First, as with everything else related to American Indian health, rates of HIV and AIDS are without doubt substantially underreported. Second, “current” estimates are already seven years out of date: The most recent global figures compiled by the Centers for Disease Control are from 2005, and the trends indicate greater rates of infection since then. Indian youth are becoming infected with HIV at faster rates than whites, with shorter survival times.

Third, talking about rates of HIV/AIDS in American Indian communities in terms of numbers per 100,000 population misses the forest for the trees. In the 2010 census, a mere 5.2 million people identified themselves as American Indians, either wholly or in part. That’s only 1.7% of the total U.S. population of some 308 million people. At that level, a diagnosis rate of 1/100th of a percent is a great deal more significant for the entire ethnic group.

And, according to CDC research covering diagnoses between 1997 and 2004, of all ethnic groups, American Indians and African Americans have the shortest rates of post-diagnosis survival: 67% and 66%, respectively, at the end of the period’s nine-year follow-up.

For a demographic in which 26% of those infected don’t even know they have HIV, awareness has now become a matter of both individual and ethnic survival.

It can be disheartening to read the literature of the world of HIV/AIDS awareness and outreach. Even efforts geared toward people of color regularly omit American Indians. Those that do remember to include them too often do so from a dominant-culture perspective that doesn’t even realize that there are cultural and other differences that must be recognized and incorporated into any successful outreach program. This approach makes Indian health, wellness and survival a mere afterthought. And all the red ribbons in the world won’t do a thing to increase awareness of the growing threat that HIV and AIDS present to our communities, much less enhance prevention and ensure survival.

The good news is that several Indian nations have already taken steps to create HIV/AIDS awareness, education, diagnosis, and treatment programs that are culturally relevant and respectful of tradition. Partnering with the Indian Health Service and other public health entities, these efforts target this most underrepresented and underserved of populations in concrete ways.

The Navajo Nation helps administer perhaps the most comprehensive programs currently in existence. The Navajo AIDS Network, founded by Melvin Harrison, partners with the Gallup [New Mexico] Indian Medical Center to provide counseling and case management services to Navajo patients diagnosed with HIV. The group also offers testing and educational services.  

The GIMC itself is a valuable resource: Geared explicitly toward tribal members, it works closely with both the Indian Health Service and traditional hataa’lii, or medicine persons, to provide comprehensive medical and spiritual healing for HIV and AIDS (as well as for any other illness, injury or condition).

The lack of awareness spurred the 2006-2007 Miss Navajo Nation, Jocelyn Billy, to make HIV/AIDS education and outreach the service program for her year in office. Ms. Billy connected with the young people, the group most at risk, and helped adults navigate the gaps between traditional ways and modern medical realities.

Admirable as such efforts are, they aren’t enough, of course. What’s needed is the sort of full-bore commitment to HIV/AIDS awareness in Indian Country that is seen in other public health contexts – for cancer, heart disease or illnesses that are not seen as belonging to some marginalized “other.” On March 14, the White House announced that President Obama has appointed Dr. Grant Colfax as the new director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.Colfax is widely regarded as a public health expert on HIV and AIDS. Now would be a good time to push him and his agency to expand their work to include culturally appropriate outreach, education and treatment among our Native populations.  

The models are already there: Other programs are taking shape around the country.  For a glimpse of some of the events currently planned for Native communities for the coming week, visit NHAAD.org’s site, which features a clickable map.  

You can learn more about Kyle’s daily journey on the Red Road, living as an Indian with HIV, at The Positive Project.

Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

This week in American Indian History in 1824

By Meteor Blades

Thomas McKenney

On March 11, 1824, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was established. That it was set up, without congressional authorization, as a division of the War Department explains the prevailing view at the time. In fact, Indian affairs had been handled by the War Department since 1789, having been during the Revolution and its aftermath in the hands of three commissioners who included Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry. Ironically, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, who invented the BIA, appointed Thomas McKenney, a Quaker, as its first superintendent. McKenney had been Superintendent of Indian Trade from 1816 until 1822 when the 16-year-old trade program was abolished. Among other things, McKenney took to calling it the Office of Indians Affairs, a name that stuck until authority was transferred to the Interior Department 25 years later.

McKenney worked diligently to get the OIA made official. In 1829, Congress did so, establishing a budget and giving the president authority to appoint a Commissioner of Indian Affairs who reported to the Secretary of War and had responsibility for “the direction and management of all Indian affairs, and all matters arising out of Indian relations.” 

McKenney was a great believer in “civilizing” American Indians but, during his six years at the OIA, he became a vigorous proponent of removing Indians to places west of the Mississippi River. The removed Indians included the Cherokee who had become so “civilized” that thousands of them were literate in their own language with its own alphabet when they were marched out of their homeland at gunpoint. McKenney lost his job in 1830 because another great believer in removing Indians when he wasn’t actively engaged in killing them-Andrew Jackson-disagreed with his view that  “the Indian was, in his intellectual and moral structure, our equal.” McKenney was shocked when he later saw how brutal the murderous removals actually were in practice.

When the Interior Department was established in 1849, the OIA was moved out of the War Department and permanently named the BIA, as Calhoun had intended from the beginning. Over the next 18 years, much of its work related to distributing aid, including food, both to Indians who had been removed and were now starving in their strange new environments, and to others who had signed treaties providing annuities in exchange for great swaths of their land. Corruption was the rule of the day. Indian agents, who often bribed their way into office, cheated the tribes of what was due them in various ways, many of them becoming wealthy buying secondhand goods and wormy food with Washington’s allocated funds for the tribes and pocketing the difference.

A congressional investigation in 1867 made recommendations for modest changes, some of which were enacted. However, a proposal to remove the BIA from Interior and make it an independent agency failed. In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed his Civil War adjustant, Ely Parker (Seneca) as the first commissioner of the BIA with Native blood. For the next two years, under Grant’s “peace policy,” military conflict with the tribes was greatly reduced. But after Parker left office, that changed again. Indians were fought, defeated and corralled onto ever smaller pieces of land, often far from their home territory. By 1900, the BIA had effectively become tribal government for all intents and purposes.

Over the next century, the BIA was investigated, reformed and reorganized several times as Indian policy went from the devastating allotment period that led to the seizure of tens of thousands of acres of land, the reestablishment tribal governments under the New Deal, the termination policies of the 1950s and 1960s during which more land was taken, and the turn toward more tribal sovereignty in the ’70s and ’80s as a partial consequence of red militancy emerging out of the broader civil rights movement. 

Today, the BIA remains at Interior and holds nearly 56 million acres of land in trust for 566 Indian tribes and Alaskan Natives. How that land gets exploited by non-Indians remains a major point of contention between the bureau and many tribes. The BIA also runs Indian schools and Indian child welfare. It provides funding and training for police forces, tribal courts, reservation road building and other operations in cooperation with tribal governments. Where once Indian employees were rare, they now make up the vast majority of the bureau’s workforce, which is headed by Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echohawk (Pawnee). Having Indians in charge has not stopped many other Indians from continuing to call the agency the Bureau of Incompetence and Arrogance.

•••

Additional information about the BIA can be found in this diary by Ojibwa.

More below:

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Oglalas Face Criminal Charges for Civil Disobedience Related to Canadian Tar Sands

By navajo

Debra White Plume, Lakota Blockade

First Nations people in Canada and the United States have been in the opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline ever since builder TransCanada proposed it years ago. The 1661-mile pipeline is designed to carry bitumen from the Alberta tar sands deposits to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas where it can be turned into oil. Along with other foes, some Indians were arrested last summer during protests against the pipeline at the White House.

Earlier this month, Lakotas on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southern South Dakota stepped up their opposition by blocking a highway when two massive trucks headed for the tar-sands mines forced a reservation motorist to pull off the road. Several of them were arrested but they vow to keep up their opposition.

The blockade got underway March 5 after word reached Debra White Plume (Oglala)that trucks carrying unusual covered cargo were making their way down the relatively narrow reservation highway not built for such heavy vehicles. White Plume, who was arrested last year in the White House protests, and whom climate-change activist Bill McKibben calls his “hero,” went into action when she heard that “Calgary, Alberta, Canada” was written on the side of the trucks from the Trotan company. She wasted no time in rallying her people and rushing to intercept the trucks. While she was en route, social media and the local reservation radio station, KILI, went into action, calling all able- bodied people to show up and support the blockade.

Marie Randall, Marie Brush Breaker Randall, Oyate Akitapi Win - Nation Woman, who lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the small hamlet of Wanblee, South Dakota
Marie Brush Breaker Randall 

or Grandma Marie, 92 

(Oglala Lakota)

Nearly 75 people eventually arrived, including 92-year-old Marie Brush Breaker Randall (Oglala), who is called Grandma Marie by everyone on the reservation, and another revered elder, Renabelle Bad Cob (Oglala), who came in her wheelchair. 

Grandma Marie, her given name is Oyate Akitapi Win-Nation Woman (Oglala), lives in Wanblee, the word for “eagle” in Lakota. Her work includes raising awareness about diabetes and teaching the Lakota language to the next generation of Oglalas at Crazy Horse High School.

Her eloquent statements to the tribal police about the reasons for the human blockade are documented in this video that has had over 23,000 views since March 6. She says the road traverses Lakota land and asks the truckers who gave them permission to drive through. Why, she asks, didn’t they take much-faster state roads? In fact, who can travel on reservation roads has been long established by the courts, and the truckers were within the law.

Video can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/embed/9…

The truckers, who were bringing their cargo from Texas, told blockade leaders that they had not been told their designated route would take them through Indian Country. They produced papers showing they “…each carried a ‘treater vessel’ which is used to separate gas and oil and other elements. Each weighs 229,155 pounds [far more than the residential roads are built to handle] and is valued at $1,259,593…” White Plume says in the video that the truckers also told them that the corporate office in Canada and the state of South Dakota made a deal to save the corporation $50,000 per truck by driving through the reservation to avoid state weighing stations. Randall proposed that the reservation needs to set up its own weigh stations. 

The prevailing attitude of the peaceful blockaders was we will not stand down whatever the cost. 

After six hours, the tribal police showed up and asked everyone to leave. Five Lakota refused. So Alex White Plume, Debra White Plume, Andrew Ironshell, Sam Long Black Cat and Don Ironshell were arrested and charged with the only thing police could come up with, disorderly conduct. They were booked and released. Debra White Plume:

We stood our ground for our land, our treaty rights, our human rights to clean drinking water and our coming generations. We did this in solidarity with the First Nations people in Canada who are being killed by the tar sands oil mine, which is so big it can be seen from outer space, it is as big as the state of Florida. It didn’t matter where the heavy haul was going, either to the tarsands oil killing fields, or another oil mine, we didn’t want it crossing our lands, until the Tribal Police could get there and determine under whose authority they got onto the Reservation

The huge trucks could not be turned around easily, so they were escorted off the reservation by the tribal police.

After the blockade, Debra White Plume says the Associated Press incorrectly attributed to her statements about what she was told. She said the reporter wrote in a story that appeared in the Argus Leader and Rapid City Journal that “the truckers told the group they were heading to a Canadian oil field with empty containers for drinking water,” when the truckers actually told her they were carrying treater vessels. The AP article also said a spokesperson for TransCanada had denied the trucks or their cargo had anything to do with the tar sands or the pipeline.

People on other reservations are organizing and preparing to block future Trotan convoys if they try to transit through their reservations. This likely generated new charges against the previously arrested five Oglalas have been told they now face.

According to a posting on Andrew Ironshell’s Facebook page, tribal Attorney General Rae Ann Red Owl is compiling a list of as many as eight charges put together with FBI involvement. A trial date will be set sometime in the coming week. The five arrested protesters have been told not to speak with the media and not to return to the blockade site on the highway. They may travel to Wanblee, but cannot pass through, which is something Ironshell called “ironic, huh?” the blockaders now blocked. “Will the OST [Oglala Sioux Tribe] Tribal Court support the values of the community or the interests of a corporate US Congress and a foreign company – TransCanada?”

On March 7, Alex White Plume wrote that the acting chief judge of the OST will handle the case and that Judge Fred Cedar Face has been recused. This presents an issue of fairness, White Plume wrote, because Cedar Face knows Oglala customs and speaks Lakota but the acting chief judge, who is not Oglala, does not.

Meanwhile, next Thursday, President Obama will visit Cushing, Okla., a major hub of oil pipelines. TransCanada has been given the green-light to build the southern leg of the Keystone XL from Cushing to Texas refineries at Port Arthur. Many foes of Keystone view the president’s “welcoming” statement regarding that section of the pipeline as an indication he will approve the whole project once the company has provided an alternative route that avoids the ecologically fragile Sandhills of Nebraska, a major focus of the opposition to TransCanada’s original rejected application.

NAN Line Separater

Dakota Descendants Seek Memorial for Largest U.S. Mass Execution

By Meteor Blades

Vernell and Ernest Wabasha with young relative

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the largest mass execution in U.S. history. On Dec. 26, 1862, on the direct orders of President Abraham Lincoln, 38 eastern Dakota (Sioux) men were sent to the gallows in Mankato, Minn., the penultimate act in the six-week-long Dakota War of 1862, also known as the Sioux Uprising. The final act was the expulsion of the Dakota from Minnesota and the termination of their reservations in the state.

Now, direct descendants of those hanged that day want to establish a memorial to them in Reconciliation Park in Mankato. But the majority of the city council, after informally approving the memorial, retreated recently by tabling formal consideration. Calling up old language, one councilman spoke of the “hostility” in the words of a 1971 poem that supporters of the memorial want included on it. That poem, which the councilman called divisive and untrue had nothing to do with reconciliation, he said.

Like hundreds of conflicts in the Indian wars before and after, the 1862 Dakota resistance arose out of broken promises. Before the ink was dry on the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, Congress had stricken the crucial Article 3. This guaranteed a strip of land 70 miles long and 10 miles wide on each side of the Minnesota River for a reservation. Instead, Congress bought the land for 10 cents an acre and annuities.  

Jerome Big Eagle

(Mdewakanton Dakota)

Soon the Dakota were confined to the strip on the south side of the river. Payment of annuities were often late when they weren’t diverted by greedy, unscrupulous Indian agents who had bribed their way into office. They stole from the Dakota by various means. By the late 1850s, deprived or their best hunting grounds, plagued by rough winters and failed crops, the starving Dakota became ever more dependent on government food distributions. These too were often late and, thanks to government contractors and agents, consisted of substandard goods when they arrived at all. The Dakota became increasingly incensed over land encroachments and the failure to enforce the treaty rights they had forced to exchange for money and goods.

The push into a smaller space was meant to force the Dakota to adopt a new way of life. Chief Big Eagle said many years later, “It seemed too sudden to make a change […] If the Indians had tried to make the whites live like them, the whites would have resisted and it was the same with many Indians.”

Though accounts of his specific words vary, storekeeper Andrew J. Myrick inflamed passions in August 1862, by remarking at a meeting where Dakota representatives sought to buy food on credit, “If they are hungry, let them eat grass.” Several days after the meeting, four hungry and enraged Rice Creek Dakotas took it out on five settlers near Acton, Minn. Those killings spurred Dakota chief Little Crow to call a council that chose to go to war. Soon after the fighting broke out, Myrick was found dead with grass stuffed in his mouth.

The conflict ultimately killed some 500 whites and an uncounted number of Dakotas, including the 38 who were hanged in December that year. At one point, thinking the uprising might be part of a Rebel conspiracy, President Lincoln pondered the option of freeing 10,000 Confederate POWs to fight the Dakota under Union commanders. Before that could happen, however, the war was over.

In late September, a five-member military commission was convened. On the first day, 10 Dakota were sentenced to death. So it went for six weeks, 393 cases, 323 convictions, 303 death sentences. Thanks to pleas from an episcopal bishop, Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but 39, and one additional man was later granted a reprieve. The day after Christmas, chanting their death songs, they marched single file onto the gallows in Mankato and were hanged. Seven months later, Little Crow – who had escaped to Canada before the trial but returned to Minnesota – was killed by a white settler who shot him for a $500 bounty. Little Crow’s scalp and skull were displayed in St. Paul and finally returned to his grandson in 1971.

The proposed memorial

Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich declared 1987, the 125th anniversary of the executions, a “Year of Reconciliation.” Out of that came Reconciliation Park in Mankato, where today there is a plaque and two sculptures, one of a Dakota “Winter Warrior” and one of a bison, both victims of the Manifest Destiny that generated the 1862 uprising in the first place.

But those sculptures aren’t enough for Vernal Wabasha (Dakota). She and others want a memorial in the park for those executed. “They have markers all along the road about our savage Indians attacking white people,” said Wabasha, who has been married to Ernest Wabasha, a hereditary Dakota chief, for 56 years. He is the sixth chief of that name. The third one was chief at the time of the executions. Said Vernell Wabasha: “These men fought for the Dakota way of life, trying to hang onto something, to hang onto this land for the future generations of their children and grandchildren. […] They weren’t savages like they’ve been depicted for so long,”

Designed by Linda Bernard and Martin Barnard (Dakota), the proposed memorial lists the 38 names on a 10-by-4-foot scroll. The phrase “forgive everyone everything” circles the monument, planned to be 20 feet in diameter. The names on one of the fiberglass scrolls will face south because the Dakota traditionally believe the spirits of the dead rise on the fourth day and travel south.

On the other scroll was to be a poem about executions written in 1971 by the state’s former human rights commissioner, Conrad Balfour. But that 20-line verse is what prompted the city council to back off endorsing the memorial two weeks ago. Among the criticized lines:

The day before the countryside had mourned the

death of Christ the Jew

Then went to bed to rise again to crucify the

captured Sioux […]

Then Captain Dooley cut the rope

38 was cleared of breath

Christmas day the children laughed and churches prayed the blessing set

In that town was 38 was blessed

Peace on earth good will to men

A few days after the council’s action, a bland new poem was written by Katherine Hughes that is more to the liking of at least some councilmembers:

Remember the innocent dead,

Both Dakota and white,

Victims of events they could not control.

Remember the guilty dead,

Both white and Dakota,

Whom reason abandoned.

Regret the times and attitudes

That brought dishonor

To both cultures.

Respect the deeds and kindnesses

that brought honor

To both cultures

Hope for a future

When memories remain,

Balanced by forgiveness.

While several councilmembers have said the new poem is acceptable, Vernell Wabasha is withholding judgment. Nothing is “chiseled in stone,” she said.

Cost of the memorial is estimated at between $55,000 and $75,000. Thus, if it is approved, fund-raising is next on the agenda. Wabasha, the Barnards and supporters of the project hope finished it by September, in time for the Mankato wacipi (pow-wow) gathering.

The names of the 38 who were executed:

Ti-hdo-ni-ca (One Who Jealously Guards His Home)

Ptan Du-ta (Scarlet Otter)

Oyate Ta-wa (His People)

Hin-han-sun-ko-yag-ma-ni (One Who Walks Clothed In Owl Feathers)

Ma-za Bo-mdu (Iron Blower)

Wa-hpe Duta (Scarlet Leaf)

Wa-hi-na (I Came)

Sna Ma-ni (Tinkling Walker)

Hda In-yan-ka (Rattling Runner)

Do-wan-s-a (Sings A Lot)

He-pan (Second Born Male Child)

Sun-ka ska (White Dog)

Tun-kan I-ca-hda ma-ni (One Who Walks By His Grandfather)

I-te Du-ta (Scarlet Face)

Ka-mde-ca (Broken Into Pieces)

He pi-da (Third Born Male)

Ma-kpi-ya (Cut Nose)

Henry Milord

Wa-kin-yan-na (Little Thunder)

Cas-ke-da (First Born)

Baptiste Campbell

Ta-te Ka-ga (Wind Maker)

He In-Kpa (The Tip Of The Horn)

Hypolite Ange

Na-pe-sni (Fearless)

Wa-kan Tanka (Great Spirit)

Tun-kan Ko-yag I-na-zin (One Who Stands Cloaked In Stone)

Ma-ka-ta I-na-zin (One Who Stands On The Earth)

Maza Kute-mani (One Who Shoots As He Walks)

Ta-te Hdi-da (Wind Comes Home)

Wa-si-cun (White Man)

A-i-ca-ga (To Grow Upon)

Ho-i-tan-in-ku (Returning Clear Voice)

Ce-tan Hu-nka (Elder Hawk)

Can ka-hda (Near The Woods)

Hda-hin-hde (Sudden Rattle)

Oyate A-ku (He Brings The People)

Ma-hu-we-hi (He Comes For Me)

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Ancient Alutiiq Kayak to Revive Construction Knowledge

By navajo

Illustration of an Alutiiq Hunter

Alutiiq seal-skin kayaks were usually buried with their owners. But one dating back nearly a century and a half has been stored at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology since 1869. Now, with help from two visiting Alutiiqs from Alaska – Alfred Naumoff, the last traditionally trained Alutiiq kayak-maker and seal-skin sewer Susan Malutin – researchers hope to learn more about the kayak and take efforts to preserve it before it is moved to the Alutiiq Museum on long-term loan.

When he was a teenager, Naumoff began to ask tribal elders about traditional kayak-making. On his trip to Cambridge he identified many components of the kayak that the researchers did not previously understand, such as that it had been made for a right-hander and that the craftspeople engaged in a long process to ensure the seal skins produced a light weight, yet extremely durable covering for the kayak.

For centuries, kayaks were central to the lives of the people of the southern Alaskan coast.

“I heard a reference that to insult somebody, you said, ‘Your father had no kayak,'” [Alutiiq Museum Director Sven] Haakanson said with a laugh. Alutiiqs used their kayaks to fish for porpoise, to hunt seals, whales and sea lions, as well as for traveling through the Aleutians and, at least once, as far as San Francisco, he said. “It was critical. Without having those skills to go out and kayak, you were going to starve. You couldn’t survive in Kodiak without that knowledge.”

The ancient Alutiiq way of hunting was replaced upon contact with Russian and European invaders who had modern boats and firearms. Assimilation and persecution took effect and traditional kayak-making, like language and other cultural elements, began a path toward extinction.

When the Peabody researchers complete their work, the kayak will be moved to the Alutiiq Museum. “It is hoped it can be used to invigorate the next generation’s interest in Alutiiq traditions and repatriate the knowledge,” Haakanson said.

h/t to GreyHawk

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Youngest Iditarod Winner Ever Followed Trail of Ancient Alaskan Natives

By navajo and Meteor Blades

Iditarod dogs, Photo Courtesy of Frank Kovalchek

-Photo Courtesy of Frank Kovalchek

Part of what is now the Iditarod Trail was used by the Native American Inupiak and Athabascan peoples hundreds or more years before Russian fur traders began traveling that route in the 1800s. Now, it’s famous for the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The 2011 winner was John Baker, a 48-year-old Inupiak, the first Native to win the race since 1976. It was his 15th Iditarod. His lead dogs were Velvet and Snickers. They, Baker and the other dogs on the team covered the race in 8 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes, 39 seconds, slicing three hours off the previous record.

That record was not eclipsed by this year’s winner of the 40th Iditarod, Dallas Seavey, from Willow, Alaska. At 25, Seavey is the youngest musher ever to win. His lead dogs were Guinness and Diesel. It took them 9 days, 4 hours, 29 minutes and 26 seconds to complete the grueling race. His father won the race in 2004. His grandfather, now 74, competed in the first Iditarod in 1972.

Two women, Libby Shaw and Susan Butcher, won the Iditarod in the 1980s. Butcher won four times, having lost her chance to become the first women to win in 1985 when her sled rounded a sharp turn and ran into a pregnant moose that killed two and injured five of her dogs. A woman, veteran musher Aliy Zirkle, came in second this year.

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Drunken Indian Poster Celebrates Record Company’s Anniversary

By Meteor Blades

Jonathan Fischer wondered this past week whether the poster advertising a “Pow Wow Party” for Windian Records’ third anniversary had crossed the line.

Is that a Native American? With fangs and exaggerated features? And an intoxicated look? Yes, it is all of those things.

But is it racist? One Washington City Paper contributor thought so, and he let the label know via Twitter. To which Windian proprietor Travis Jackson tweeted back, with his usual caps-lock affect: “HOW IS IT RACIST? ITS JUST ART MAN. BESIDES, IM NATIVE, AND IM NOT OFFENDED…HOW ARE YOU?”

Jackson, former drummer of the garage band The Points, sometimes calls himself “Beeronimo,” claims his grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee and “celebrate my heritage loudly, thru rock and roll music and art.” The Windian logo itself is a Plains Indian wearing a battered feather headdress and a puzzled expression. The fanged pow-wow drawing, which looks a lot like some now-abandoned sports-team logos, is typical, Jackson says, of the work of the artist, Ben Lyon. But Lyon’s work published on-line contains no fanged, besotted caricatures of other people of color. Nothing minstrelsy or lazy-Mexican-style.

Via email, Fischer asked Jackson what was up with the poster and he replied: “Its rock and roll. Its art. Its influenced from 50-60’s Rock N Roll art and culture. Its nothing new, its been done many times over.”

Yes, racist images are indeed nothing new and have been done plenty of times. You can still find wooden “cigar-store” Indians in front of small-town shops the way black lawn jockeys once populated so many front yards.

Ben Lyon himself wrote: “I know I’m not a racist. I think anyone offended enough to make a big stink over the art on a poster for a punk show, that they probably aren’t gonna attend in the first place, probably needs to get a life. Leave it to white American 20-somethings to see a neo-nazi lurking behind every tree.(ha ha!) Who says Indians can only be drawn as stern wisemen? Sounds like stereotyping to me! (ha ha) I would have no problem showing the poster to any of my Native American friends. I stand by my work.”

By March 14, Windian Records has replaced the show poster with a new one. Could “Beeronimo” have wised up?

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Last Fluent Speaker of ‘Kiksht’ Language Dies in Oregon: Gladys Thompson, (Wasco) 97, learned Kiksht from her parents and was also fluent in Ichishkiin and Sahaptin. Honored by the Oregon Legislature in 2007 for working to preserve the culture of the Wasco Tribe and keeping the Kiksht and Ichishkiin languages alive, Thompson also helped pass a bill to certify native language teachers. At the time she had 26 grandchildren, 78 great-grandchildren, and 23 great-great-grandchildren.

-navajo

Larry Echo Hawk Receives the 2012 Governmental Leadership Award from NCAI: Echo Hawk (Pawnee) was appointed in May 2009 as assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, a position that oversees 10,000 employees in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education. The National Congress of American Indians, the nation’s oldest and most representative body of Indians, has made the award for the past 13 years. In 2011, it went to then-Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli. Echo Hawk said: “The work we do at Indian Affairs is a rewarding experience in and of itself. It reminds me daily of my civic duty and loyalty toward my tribe, my people, my heritage, Indian Country and America.”

-Meteor Blades

Native Youth and Young Adults Smoke the Most: A 920-page report released by the U.S. Surgeon General shows that American Indian youth (12-17) and young adults (18-25)  are far more likely to smoke tobacco than any other racial/ethnic group in their age bracket. Nearly 50 percent of young adult Indians smoke. The only good news is that there has been a sharp drop in smoking among these cohorts over the past few years.

-Meteor Blades

High-Tech Glass Helps Ojibwes Connect with Beauty of Ancestral Homeland: When the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe built its new government center on the shores of the eastern Minnesota lake to which it has strong ancestral ties, it included large windows so tribal employees could enjoy the view and connect with the outdoors. But when the sun reflects off the water, they have to pull the blinds. Unhappy with that, the band installed SageGlass® in the nine south-facing windows in the wall of the conference room. The glass electronically (and automatically) tints itself and eliminates the need for blinds. The glare is eliminated but employees and visitors have an unobstructed view of the lake.

-Meteor Blades

Sixteen-Year-Old Learns Ojibwe in 10 Days: Tim, who runs the YouTube channel PolyglotPal’s, has taught himself several languages via computer, including Russian, Pashto, two Arabic dialects, Hindi and the American Indian language Ojibwe. You can watch him speaking Ojibwe, or Anishinaabe (with subtitles) here.

-Meteor Blades

Oregon May Ban Schools’ Use of Indian Nicknames for Their Teams: The state board of education has held hearings on whether to force 15 Oregon high schools to stop using Indian nicknames, logos and mascots for sports teams. About 20 schools dropped the usage in the 1970s, but the rest have hung on despite a 2007 recommendation that they be dropped. As elsewhere, some Indians support the ban; others do not. One Indian on the state board, Chairwoman Brenda Frank (Klamath), wants to see the nicknames go. Numerous studies cited by the American Psychological Association say the names, logos and mascots give Indian children a negative self-image. According to psychology professor Andrae Brown, who testified before the board, the use of the nicknames and associated material “undermines the ability of American Indian nations to portray accurate and respectful images of their culture, spirituality and traditions.”

-Meteor Blades

A New TV Series, Navajo Cops premieres on National Geographic Channel: Perhaps the most unusual “cops” series yet, the 17-million-acre reservation is the main challenge the tribal police face, but the scenery shots are a bonus. Officers with traditional views are featured. One policeman washes himself with bitter herb for protection, and many on the force take calls about witchcraft seriously. Clips can be seen here.

-navajo with a h/t to Ed Tracey

Bald Eagle Kill OKed for Northern Arapaho Tribe Under pressure from a lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given an extremely rare approval for kill two bald eagles for religious purposes by the Northern Arapaho of Wyoming. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act forbids killing the eagles or possession of any parts of the birds by non-Indians. American Indians can apply to obtain eagle feathers or carcasses from a federal repository in Colorado to use in ceremonies. The law also allows them to apply for permits to kill bald eagles, but permission has never previously been given. In testimony in 2007 regarding a member of the tribe who had killed an eagle and was being prosecuted for it, Nelson P. White Sr. (Northern Arapaho) said that birds obtained from the repositories were often rotten: “That’s unacceptable. How would a non-Indian feel if they had to get their Bible from a repository?” The USFWS permit states that the tribe may kill or capture and release the birds after the ceremony. Members of the Eastern Shoshone tribe, who share the Wind River Indian Reservation with the Northern Arapaho, oppose the killing of the birds.

-Meteor Blades

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

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

First Nations News & Views: This Week – Code Talkers, Slurs and Silencing Native Tongues

Welcome to the third 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. Each Sunday’s edition is published at 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time, includes a short, original feature article, a look at some date relevant to American Indian history, and some briefs chosen to show the diversity of modern Indians living both on and off reservations in the United States and Canada. Last week’s edition is here.

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Cross Posted at Daily Kos

70 Years Ago This Month the Navajo ‘Code Talkers’ Were Born

Joe Morris Sr. walked away from us on July 17. Keith Little walked away from us on Jan. 3. Jimmy Begay walked away from us Feb. 1. They were Navajo “Code Talkers,” three of the tribe’s 421 warriors who enlisted in the U.S. Marines to learn how to give Japanese intelligence headaches. Only a handful of those who joined up in the early months of 1942 remain and will soon also “walk away from us,” a common Navajo expression for dying. On Jan. 29, the last surviving member of the original 29 enlistees, Chester Nez, celebrated his 92nd birthday. Without them, their commanders and other officers have said, American casualties in battles for Japanese-held islands would have been far more ghastly than they were.

Those 29 and all the other Code Talkers were sworn to secrecy in case the code had to be used again. It was, in Korea and Vietnam. It was never broken. In 1968, the code and the story of its crucial role were declassified, freeing those who invented and used it to tell their experiences. Since then, more than 500 books have been written, several documentaries have been produced, Hollywood made a version called Windtalkers, a film that spends more of its time following Nick Cage around than it does Adam Beach (Saulteaux), who for his role spent six months learning Diné, the Navajo language. Famed sculptor Oreland Joe (Navajo-Ute) created the Navajo Code Talker Memorial at the Navajo Tribal Park & Veterans Memorial at Window Rock, Ariz. Oral histories were taken.

The original 29 Navajo “code talkers” at Camp Pendleton in 1942.

Yet, although President Ronald Reagan declared Aug. 14, 1982, National Navajo Code Talkers Day, it wasn’t until Dec. 21, 2000, 56 years after they first saw action, that the five surviving original Code Talkers and relatives of the other 24 received Congressional Gold Medals for their innovativeness and heroism. The other Code Talkers were awarded Congressional Silver Medals. The belated awards contained a deep irony. Many of these men who had saved untold numbers of American lives by using their native language had been punished for speaking that same language as children in boarding schools.  

It may come as a surprise to many who are acquainted with the story of the Code Talkers that the Navajos weren’t the only Indians used for code work during World War II. And they weren’t the first. The Army even used eight Chocktaw speakers to confuse German troops in 1918. In the the next war, the Army in both the Pacific and Europe used Lakota speakers, Oneidas, Chippewas, Pimas, Hopis,Choctaws, Sac and Fox and Comanches. But those Indians simply talked to each other in their Native language. The first 29 Navajo Code Talkers developed a real code. They could not even be understood by other speakers of Navajo.

The Marines had never used Indians for this purpose. But Philip Johnston, a white man who had grown up on the lands of the Navajo Nation, approached the Corps in mid-February with an idea. Why not use Navajos and members of other large tribes for military communications? Show us, the Marines said. So Johnston brought four Navajos with him to Camp Elliott, Calif., for a demonstration. They were given some military messages. They substituted some Navajo words and then, in pairs, went into separate rooms and communicated by radio. Gen. Clayton Vogel witnessed the success, the decoded messages were accurate renditions of their English originals. He recommended to his superiors that 200 Navajos be recruited.

It took some high-level meetings before a decision was made. But, in April, a pilot program was initiated and in May 29 of the 30 Navajos recruited showed up at Camp Pendleton near Oceanside, Calif., for seven weeks of basic training. They came from places named Chinle, Kayenta, Blue Canyon and Kaibeto. Many had never before been off the reservation.

Haida Whale Divider

They developed a dictionary with words for military terms and then they memorized them. The Navajos could encode, transmit and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds. Machines of the era took 30 minutes to do the same thing. Before the code, the fluent-in-English Japanese intercepted and deciphered codes easily. The Americans developed complex code, but these took a long time to decode, which could cost lives.

Initially, the Navajo code comprised about 200 assigned words, but by the end of the war, there were 800. Here is a small  sample from the many to be found at Official Website of the Navajo Codetalkers:

Dive Bomber  –  Gini – Sparrow Hawk

Torpedo Plane – Tas-chizzie – Swallow

Observation Plane – ine-ahs-jah – Owl

Fighter Plane  – Da-he-tih-hi  – Hummingbird

Bomber Plane – Jav-sho – Buzzard

Patrol Plane – Ga- gih – Crow

Transport Plane – Astah – Eagle

The code was more complicated than mere word substitutions. The fear was that some sharp Japanese linguist might catch on to that soon enough. So words also could be spelled out using Navajo words representing individual letters of the alphabet. The Navajo words “wol-la-chee” (ant), “be-la-sana” (apple) and “tse-nill” (axe) all stood for the letter “a.” To say “Navy” in Navajo Code, they could say “tsah (needle)  wol-la-chee (ant)  ah-keh-di- glini (victor)  tsah-ah-dzoh (yucca).” Thus, using assigned words or the alphabet code, they could encrypt anything. By not repeating the same word all the time for the same letter, they made it next to impossible to crack the code. In fact, it never was.

Navajo Code Talkers stand and salute as the colors are posted during Code Talkers Day event in Window Rock, Ariz., Aug. 14, 2008. Photo courtesy of Morris Bitsie

Navajo code talkers were on the ground with their fellow Marines in every major action in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. They proved their value at Guadalcanal, at Tarawa and at the 36-day siege on Iwo Jima. After that immensely bloody battle, Major Howard Connor, a 5th Marine Division signal officer, said: “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.” He had commanded six Navajo code talkers during the first two days of the battle. They sent more than 800 messages, all without error.

Their participation went unsung for decades because of the secrecy. The world they returned to was not unlike the one they left. Federal policies which had improved somewhat during the New Deal era again focused on assimilation and terminating reservations. Many returning veterans were denied the right to vote even though they had supposedly been made full citizens by the Snyder Act in 1924.

Like other veterans of World War II, most of these men, many of them teenagers when they enlisted, have already walked away from us. The death of Keith Little leaves a big hole because, as a long-time leader of the Navajo Code Talkers Organization, he was the powerhouse behind the National Navajo Code Talkers Museum & Veterans Center project:

The museum is dedicated to the overarching purpose of providing historical clarity, accuracy and context in preserving the extraordinary contribution of the Navajo Code Talkers for future generations. Their story will be told in compelling detail through an immersive learning environment, powerful interactive exhibits and activities, living demonstrations of the Navajo code and culture in the larger perspective of modern history. The museum and integrated education programs will serve as the national repository for the once-secret military voice code and the legendary skill, endurance, courage and ingenuity of the Navajo Code Talkers.

The project also will include a veterans center for all Armed Forces veterans and active-duty personnel.

New Mexico State Sen. John Pinto has introduced a bill in the legislature there to appropriate $175,000 for the project. In October, just two months before he died, Little testified in Santa Fe before the Senate’s Military & Veterans Affairs Committee seeking to revive the bill, which was languishing. The bill received a unanimious “DO PASS” from the Indian and Cultural Affairs Committee on the last day of January and has been  forwarded to the Finance Committee.

Donations to support the Museum & Veterans project that Mr. Little envisioned and was very much committed to can be made through the website: www.navajocodetalkers.org or by contacting Wynette Arviso at 505-870-9167 or via email wynette@navajocodetalkers.org.

The Code Talker Emblem

Code Talker Emblem

The emblem of the Code Talker represents a communication device used by two young Navajo boys called the Hero Twins. The device allowed them to secretly communicate with each other. The legendary Hero Twins were sent to the Sun to seek a weapon that would kill the monsters attacked the Navajo. The Sun gave them the Thunderbolt.

The Code Talker emblem and is also pictured on the reverse side of the Congressional Gold and Silver Medals.

This Week in American Indian History in 1890

The Indians must conform to the “white man’s ways” peaceably if they will, forcibly if they must. They must adjust themselves to their environment, and conform their mode of living substantially to our civilization. This civilization may not be the best possible but it is the best the Indians can get.

-(Bureau of Indian Affairs Report, 1889)

On February 11, 1890, half of the land on the five reservations making up the remnants of the Great Sioux Reservation was opened up to the public, continuing what was by then already a 40-year-old process that would continue to shrink Lakota tribal lands well into the 1960s. Both the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and later Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 reduced the area in which the Lakotas (and other tribes) were allowed to live. But, everything to what is now the boundary between Wyoming and South Dakota lying west of the Missouri River, including the sacred Black Hills, was to be theirs forever. Years of government pressure had failed to persuade many Lakota to stay within the reservation boundaries. This was especially true of the Oglala and Hunkpapa, whose chief and holy man, Tathanka Iyotake (Sitting Bull), had refused to sign the 1868 Treaty or live on the designated lands.

The shrinking of the Lakota Nation

Click
for a larger version of this map.

When a thousand soldiers under George A. Custer confirmed the presence of gold in the Black Hills in 1874, a deluge of miners staked claims on reservation land, which led to repeated clashes. Those clashes and refusal of thousands of Lakota to keep to the reservation ended in the Battle of the Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn River) in June 1876, a Pyrrhic victory for the Lakota. Just four months after Custer and his men died in Medicine Tail Coulee, Washington imposed the Treaty with the Sioux Nation of 1876. Under the provisions of the 1868 treaty, terms could only be changed with approval of three-fourths of Lakota adult men. Nowhere near that number signed in 1876. But the treaty was imposed anyway, stripping away a 50-mile-wide swath of land in what is now western South Dakota, including the Black Hills.

Preparing for statehood, Dakotans lobbied Washington for a cutting up of what was left of the Great Sioux Reservation into smaller reservations, grabbing nine million acres and opening land to homesteaders. In 1888, a federal commission sought to collect signatures from three-fourths of Lakota adult males. They were unsuccessful. The next year, they stepped up the pressure but still the Lakota refused to assent. Spokesmen John Grass, Gall, and Mad Bear opposed it, and though not chosen by his people to speak, Sitting Bull did speak and urged everyone to not be intimidated into signing away the land.

But enough signatures were obtained and, in 1889, Congress passed the Sioux Bill, opening the reservation to non-Indians and making acreage allotments to individual Indians with the intent of breaking up tribal land held in common and ending reservations entirely. Non-violent resistance continued after the law took effect in February 1890. Consequently, Sitting Bull was murdered during an arrest in mid-December and the infamous massacre at Wounded Knee came two weeks later. After that, resistance ended. More land was taken in 1910.

Many non-Lakota homesteads were abandoned in the 1930s, but instead of restoring these lands to the tribes, Washington turned them over to the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Even more land was taken for the Badlands Bombing Range during World War II. When the Air Force declared it was unneeded in the 1960s, it was transferred to the NPS instead of being returned to communal tribal ownership.

-Meteor Blades

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South Dakota May Adopt Flag with Medicine Wheel Motif

Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, one of the 24 Democrats in the 105-member South Dakota legislature, is sponsoring a bill to choose a new flag that is different from the state seal. The one he has in mind was designed Dick Termes in 1989 for the 100th anniversary of South Dakota’s admission to the Union. It’s flashy and contains a stylized medicine wheel inside a sunburst. Medicine wheels are also known as sacred hoops. As described in a June 2007 article in Indian Country written by Dennis Zotigh (Kiowa, Santee Dakota, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo)

The hoop is symbolic of “the never-ending cycle of life.” It has no beginning and no end. Tribal healers and holy men have regarded the hoop as sacred and have always used it in their ceremonies. Its significance enhanced the embodiment of healing ceremonies.

The best known medicine wheel is the 300-400-year-old, Indian-constructed 80-foot stone circle in the Bighorn Range in Wyoming.

Possible choice for new South Dakota flag

Termes’s creation was forgotten 23 years ago. But he recently posted it on his Facebook page. And, in yet another example of how social media can turn obscurity into fame overnight, his design could soon be flying over public buildings everywhere in South Dakota. So, in a state known for the rapacity of the Indian wars fought on its soil, in the land of the Black Hills whose ownership is still in dispute, a place where ferocious anti-Indian racism still thrives in voter suppression and a hundred other ways, a new flag may soon incorporate a Native design as an expression of what Hunhoff calls a symbol of unity.

Bison rancher Ed Iron Cloud, III (Oglala), one of three Indian representatives in the legislature, said such a flag might show unity and coexistence.

– Meteor Blades

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Miranda Washinawatok
Miranda Washinawatok

Menominee 7th Grader Suspended for Speaking Her Native Language

The student body at Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Shawano, Wisc., is more than 60 percent American Indian and the Menominee reservation is just six miles away. Twelve-year-old Miranda Washinawatok (Menominee) was having a casual conversation with her Menominee friends, as were many other groups in their home room class while the teacher, Julie Gurta, worked on progress reports. Washinawatok, who is fluent in her native language, translated “hello” into “posoh” and “I love you” into “Ketapanen” for her friends. Gurta abruptly walked up to the group, slammed her hand onto Washinawatok’s desk and said: “You are not to be speaking like that. How do I know you’re not saying something bad and how would you like it if I spoke Polish and you didn’t understand.”

Gurta had told the group once before that they could not speak Menominee. She did not ask what the girls were saying. Later, another teacher told Washinawatok that she did not appreciate her upsetting Gurta because “she is like a daughter to me.” By the time school ended Washinawatok had been informed by Assistant Coach Billie Joe Duquaine, a preschool teacher at the school, that she was suspended from the next basketball game because of an “attitude issue.” Washinawatok told her mother she had not talked back, argued with Gurta or otherwise behaved badly.

According to Tanaes Washinawatok, Miranda’s mother: “Miranda knows quite a bit of  Menominee. We speak it. My mother, Karen Washinawatok, is the director of the Language and Culture Commission of the Menominee Tribe. She has a degree in linguistics from the University of Arizona’s College of Education-AILDI American Indian Language Development Institute. She is a former tribal chair and is strong into our culture.”

Washinawatok’s mother and Tribal legislators Rebecca Alegria and Orman Waukau Jr. met with Principal Dan Minter and the teachers. A verbal apology was given to Washinawatok and a public apology was promised.

However, the letter sent home with students was not the agreed-upon apology to Washinawatok, the family and the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.

Principal Dan Minter, however, instead sent students home Wednesday with a letter addressed to Sacred Heart’s parents and families. In it, he apologized for allowing a “perception” of cultural discrimination to exist, but denied the reprimand and benching – which are not mentioned specifically – were the “result of any discriminatory action or attitude and did not happen as a negative reaction to the cultural heritage of any of our students.” […] Minter said the incident was the result of “a breakdown of our internal processes designed to offer protection to student, faculty, staff, volunteers and administrators.”

“I regret if there was any perception by a student or family that this in any way promoted an atmosphere of cultural discrimination,” he said in the letter. “If that perception was allowed to exist, then it is deeply regretted by Sacred Heart School and for that we apologize.”

Sacred Heart Catholic School was established in November 1881. One hundred thirty-one years later, it is finally creating a awareness program to promote cultural diversity, which will include education for both the students and staff.

News & Views h/t to Bill in MD

– navajo

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Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero

Lansing Mayor Slurs Indians in Casino Dispute:

On one side are the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa (Ojibwe) Indians and the city of Lansing, Mich. On the other are the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians. The four are in a clash over a proposed $245-million casino in downtown Lansing, the state capital.

For Lansing, adding a local casino to the more than two dozen now operating in the state means an estimated 1,500 permanent jobs and 700 construction jobs and more tax revenue to help revitalize the city. For the Sault Ste. Marie Chippewas, it gives an off-reservation foothold from which to expand into southern Michigan, adding to the five Kewadin casinos the tribe owns on the state’s Upper Peninsula. For the Saginaws and the Nottawaseppis, it means competition for their casinos in Battle Creek and Mt. Pleasant and, in their view, is a violation of the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act (IGRA). For Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero (D), avidly in favor of the casino, it has meant getting a remedial lesson regarding racist outbursts.

At a fund-raising breakfast, Bernero showed up wearing a bulls-eye taped to his back, implying he is the target of arrows. According to people at the fund-raiser, he referred to James Nye (Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians), a spokesman for casino opponents, as “Chief Chicken Little.” That generated calls for apologies. Bernero obliged with one of those no-apology apologies to “any and all who were offended. […] but none of my remarks were directed toward Native Americans, and nothing I said can fairly be construed as a racial slur, despite our opponents’ attempt to spin it that way.”

In a statement from the two Tribes, Saginaw Chippewa Chief Dennis Kequom said Bernero’s presentation clearly was racial: “Racial slurs by government officials against Native Americans conjure images of a bygone era of destructive policies that resulted in centuries of genocide and poverty.” Kequom called on other Native American leaders-and particularly those of the Sault Tribe-to condemn Bernero’s actions. He also told the mayor to get some sensitivity training.

Under the plan, the tribe would buy land from the city to build the casino, which would need approval from the Department of the Interior. The Saginaws and Nottawaseppis issued a statement saying the casino “stands no chance under federal law and administrative rules governing land into trust acquisitions for ‘gaming eligible’ lands.” The statement was accompanied by a letter from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, Atty. Gen. Bill Schuette and Philip N. Hogen, a former chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission. Hogen said the Sault Tribe’s actions were an attempt “to circumvent the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and applicable state laws against illegal gambling. […] The distant sites do not constitute ‘Indian lands,’ as defined by IGRA and therefore Michigan state gambling laws apply.”

– Meteor Blades

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David Slagger is the first member of the

Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians to serve

in the Maine House of Representatives. In

his hand is the golden eagle feather he held

when he was sworn in by Gov. Paul LePage

last month. (Gabor Degre)

Maliseet Added to Maine’s Unique System of Tribal Representatives in the Legislature

He can’t vote in the Maine House of Representatives, but David Slagger of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians can make speeches, propose legislation with a co-sponsor and sit on committees. He is the first member of his 800-person band to be chosen as a tribal representative to the legislature since the state approved the position in 2010. The Maliseets were not federally recognized until 1980.

Slagger joins non-voting representatives from Maine’s two biggest tribes, the Passamaquoddy and the Penobscot nation. Both have sent representatives to the legislature for years. His cross-borders tribe is part of the larger Maliseet Nation of New Brunswick, Canada, and together with the Passamaquoddy, Penobscots, Abenaki and Mi’kmaq, form the Wabanaki Confederacy, which means people of the “dawn land.” Maine is unique among the states in having tribal representatives in its legislature.

Slagger told the Bangor Daily News that he has been involved in tribal issues for 25 years. “In public service, it is the people’s voice that matters,” he told a reporter. “But for a long time the Maliseet people have not had a voice. This is a good first step.” He was appointed by Chief Brenda Commander after interviews by the tribal council. For now Slagger has a seat on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee and sits in both the Democratic and Republican caucuses to get a good picture of what the issues are in the legislature. He has a couple of ideas for new laws. He would outlaw people from pretending to be Indians so they can sell arts and crafts and other Indian-branded products. He also wants the state to create a repository for bird feathers and allow Indians to use them in their crafts.

Slagger lives in Kenduskeag with his wife (a Mi’kmaq) and their three children. You can listen to some of his interviews here.

– Meteor Blades

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Kootenai Tribal Chairperson Jennifer Porter

Kootenai Get ETC Cards for Easier Border Crossings

As a consequence of the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was enacted. This requires all travelers, including U.S. citizens, to present passports or other secure documents upon entering the United States. Technology, including Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, are now being used to enhance identification documents and speed the processing of cross-border traffic.

Beginning in 2008, U.S. Customs and Border Protection began working with federally recognized Indian tribes to produce an “Enhanced Tribal Card” showing citizenship and identity that would be acceptable for entry into the United States. Under a memorandum of agreement, a secure photo identification document with embedded RFID verification would be issued to enrolled tribal members whether they were U.S. or Canadian citizens.

The Idaho Kootenai tribe, whose 142 members live on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border, were the first to sign such a memorandum in 2009. The Idaho band is one of seven making up the Kootenai Nation. Their ETC officially became a valid form of I.D. to enter the U.S. on Jan. 31. So far, 11 other tribes have applied for an ETC memorandum of agreement. Besides the Kootenai, CBP has signed an agreement with five others: the Pascua Yaqui of Arizona, the Seneca of New York, the Tohono O’odham of Arizona, the Coquille of Oregon and the Hydaburg of Alaska.

Kootenai Tribal Chairperson Jennifer Porter said, “The Kootenai ETC allows our tribal citizens to continue to travel within Kootenai Territory on both sides of the United States-Canada boundary to visit family and practice our culture while helping to secure the border for the greater good of all citizens.”

– Meteor Blades

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Johnson Holy Rock, Prominent Lakota Language Preservationist Passes: A World War II veteran, Lakota Language Consortium founder and past Oglala Sioux Tribe president who met with John F. Kennedy in the White House has died. His grandfathers traveled with Crazy Horse and his father was 11 years old when Custer attacked the Lakota-Cheyenne encampment at the Little Bighorn. He was featured in A Thunder-Being Nation. In 2005, he recorded the telling his life story in Lakota.

– navajo

Frybread Mockumentary Spoofs Importance of Which Tribe Makes the BEST: In the comedy More than Frybread, 22 American Indians, representing all federally recognized tribes in Arizona, convene in Flagstaff to compete for the first-ever Arizona Frybread Championship. The film has been selected to show at the Sedona International Film Festival and the Durango Independent Film Festival in 2012.

– navajo

Tribal Identity Film Selected for Sundance: OK BREATHE AURALEE is writer/director Brooke Swaney’s (Blackfeet & Salish) NYU thesis film. It stars Kendra Mylnechuk (Inuit) and Nathaniel Arcand (Cree) with music composed by Laura Ortman (White Mountain Apache). A Native identity film about an adopted woman discovering her past was selected for the Sundance Film Festival 2012.

– navajo

Daugaard’s Staff Attacks NPR Report on Indian Foster Care Scam: South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who personally profited from placing Lakota children in non-indian foster homes calls the NPR report flawed and useless. But two members of the U.S. House of Representatives thought the NPR report was valid enough to call for an investigation.

– navajo

Does Spam Cause Diabetes in Native Populations?: The researchers said that their study could not prove that eating processed meats was to blame for the increased risk of diabetes. I suspect highly refined carbs are also to blame since low income and need for long shelf life products are prevalent on our reservations.

– navajo

National Marine Fisheries Service Sued For Not Protecting Our Northwest Coast: A coalition of conservation and American Indian groups filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to mitigate harm to marine mammals from U.S. Navy warfare training exercises along the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.

– navajo

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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.

Reforming Indian Policy

Following the Civil War, American politicians and influential citizens were acutely aware that there were major problems with the administration of U.S. policies regarding Indians. Congress appointed a special committee to investigate and debate a number of possible solutions.

In 1867, a special committee of Congress chaired by Wisconsin’s Senator James Doolittle reported that Indians outside of Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) were decreasing. With regard to Indian wars with non-Indians, the committee felt that most “are to be traced to the aggressions of lawless white men”. The committee report noted the loss of Indian hunting grounds and that driving the last vestige of the buffalo from the plains will “put an end to the wild man’s means of life”.  

One of the major debates in Congress at this time focused on the Indian Office (now known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs). While the Indian Office was originally a part of the War Department, it had been moved to the Department of the Interior. At this time, there were many who felt that it should be moved back to the War Department as the Army was best equipped to deal with Indians. While commenting on the pros and cons of placing the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the War Department or leaving it in the Department of the Interior, the Doolittle Committee recommended that it stay in the Department of Interior.

Congress also debated whether Indian nations should be approached through negotiations or through the use of military force. In general, the view of using negotiations rather than force prevailed with proponents citing the huge cost of warfare with the Plains Indians. One Senator estimated the cost of killing an Indian at $1 million, while others felt that it would take 10,000 soldiers at least three years to “pacify” the Plains. The alternative to exterminating the Indians was to consolidate them on large reservations, out of the way of “progress” (and railroad lines), and then to “civilize” them.

President Andrew Johnson told Congress:

“If the savage resists, civilization, with the Ten Commandments in one hand and the sword in the other, demands his immediate extermination.”

After debating Indian policies, Congress authorized the creation of a Peace Commission composed of three generals and four civilians to negotiate settlements with the hostile Indians. The Peace Commission was to try to bring together the warring tribal leaders, to determine the causes of their unrest, and to negotiate treaties with them. Congress appointed the four civilian members of the commission and the President appointed the three army officers. All of the Congressional appointees were well-known opponents to the use of force against Indians. The army officers, on the other hand, were vociferous advocates of military force, stating that peace without punishment is impossible.

The charter given to the Indian Peace Commission was rather ambitious: it was to bring about a permanent peace with hostile tribes and the removal of all Indians to reservations located far from settlements, roads, and railroads. The Indians were to be persuaded to locate on reservations. Initially, these reservations were to be large enough to allow the Indians to continue to support themselves with hunting, but as they became more proficient as farmers, the size of the reservations was to be reduced. The government was also to provide the Indians with missionary instruction in Christianity. Non-Indians were to be excluded from the reservation, except for those employed by the government.

Outside of Congress, General Ulysses S. Grant asked General Ely Parker (a Seneca Indian) to develop a reform agenda for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Parker recommended the establishment and protection of land rights for Indian communities. To deal with the problem of corruption within the Indian service, he recommended that the BIA be transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Department of War. Parker felt that this move would shield the BIA from the influence of land and business interests. In addition, the government should provide money, goods, services, and new opportunities for Indian people in an effort to compensate them for dispossession of their land. Education, he felt, was particularly needed.

Ely Parker also suggested the creation of an oversight committee composed of private citizens. This committee would monitor the acquisition and distribution of goods and rations to the Indians. Parker felt that this oversight committee would instill confidence in Indian people and help ease tensions between them and local non-Indians.

Ely Parker also suggested the appointment of an Indian commission which would include educated Indians which would meet with every Indian community and advocate for general peace. Parker wanted this commission to

“assure the tribes that the white man does not want the Indian exterminated from the face of the earth, but will live with him as good neighbors, in peace and quiet.”

In 1868, the initial report of the Peace Commission on the reasons for Indian hostilities noted that the primary cause for war was injustice. In looking at the almost constant wars with Indians, the Commission then asked:

“Have we been uniformly unjust? We answer, unhesitatingly, yes!”

The report also condemned the cor¬ruption of the Indian Department and noted abundant cases in which

“agents have pocketed the funds appropriated by the government and driven the Indians to starvation.”

The Commission reported that while the United States had pledged to protect Indian nations against American depredations, it had failed to do so.

The Board of Indian Commissioners was created by Congress in 1869. The Board was to be made up of distinguished philanthropists who would serve without pay. The Board was to oversee the purchase and distribution of goods and supplies for the Indian Service (Bureau of Indian Affairs). The men who were appointed to the first Board of Indian Commissioners were wealthy businessmen, most of whom had served with the Christian Commission during the Civil War, and who were motivated, indeed driven, by a sincere Christian philanthropic zeal. None of the members of the Commission were Catholics. The Board developed a reform agenda that focused on confining Indians within increasingly smaller reservations and cultural assimilation by any means necessary. Most of the members of the Commission had no actual experience with Indian communities.

Almost all of the men who were appointed to this first Board had business interests in the dry goods, mineral extraction, and transportation industries. These were the industries that stood to benefit from Indian confinement in the West. Their business interests suggest that perhaps their personal interests influenced their Indian policy work and their support of coercive reservations.

The Board reported:

“The history of the government connections with the Indians is a shameful record of broken treaties and unfulfilled promises.”

The recommendations of the Commissioners included the abandonment of the treaty system and the abrogation of existing treaties. In addition, the “uncivilized” Indians should be seen as wards of the government with the duty of government to

“protect them, to educate them in industry, the arts of civilization, and the princi¬ples of Christianity”.

The Commissioners recommended the establishment of schools to introduce English to every tribe:  

“The teachers employed should be nominated by some religious body having a mission nearest to the location of the school. The establishment of Christian missions should be encouraged, and their schools fostered.”

The report concluded:

“The religion of our blessed Savior is believed to be the most effective agent for the civilization of any people.”

William Welsh, the chairman of the Board of Indian Commissioners, published a book entitled Taopi and His Friends; or, the Indians’ Wrongs and Rights in which he laid out his ideas for Indian reform. He believed that treaties should not be made with Indian tribes and that the large reservations should be broken up. He had great faith in the process of Christianization. He believed that if Indians were to embrace Christian civilization, they had to be dispossessed and held coercively on reservations. If Indians would not go willingly to reservations, they should be forced to go or exterminated.

After Ulysses S. Grant became President, he appointed his friend Ely Parker as the first Indian to become Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Ely Parker had been born with the Seneca name Hasanoanda (Coming to the Front) on the Tonawanda Reservation. He was a member of the Wolf Clan and was the maternal great-great-grandson of the Seneca prophet Handsome Lake. He had served as clerk of his tribal council. The name “Parker” was the family name which his ancestors had adopted from an English captive and the name “Ely” was given to him by an Anglo teacher. He read law for three years, but was denied admission to the bar because, as a Seneca, he was not considered an American citizen.

Ely Parker

Ely Parker is pictured above.

Since the end of the Civil War, Parker had served as Grant’s military adviser on Indian affairs. He had developed a policy agenda which held a notion that the federal government had a responsibility to compensate indigenous peoples for an economic and political system of domination that had dispossessed them of land, resources, opportunities, and political autonomy.

Ely Parker did not view Indian tribes as sovereign nations.  In his annual report as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs he stated:

“The Indian tribes of the United States are not sovereign nations, capable of making treaties, as none of them have an organized government of such inherent strength as would secure a faithful obedience of its people in the observance of compacts of this character.”

Parker also wrote:

“…great injury has been done to the government in deluding this people into the belief of their being independent sovereignties, while they were at the same time recognized only as its dependents and wards.”

Parker believed Native people would assimilate into mainstream culture and society on their own terms and in their own time frame. His experience in dealing with corporations, such as land companies, showed him that when corporations influenced public policy, the Indian people faced injustice, dishonesty, greed, and dispossession.

Parker’s term as Commissioner of Indian Affairs was relatively brief. In 1871, he was investigated by the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations on charges that he had defrauded the federal government. While the Committee found much to condemn, it found no evidence implicating him in any wrong-doing. Under this cloud of criticism he resigned.

The Board of Indian Commissioners continued to be a major force in influencing Indian policies for several decades. During this time, the government sought to destroy the Indian tribes by breaking up the reservations and to destroy Indian cultures by removing children from their homes at an early age so that they could be raised outside of their tribal cultures. As a result of these policies, Indian wealth in the form of land and natural resources was transferred to non-Indians and American Indians became the poorest group in the United States, a distinction which they continue to hold.

The 19th Century Indian Office

In 1824, the Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, established the Office of Indian Affairs without Congressional authorization. He did this by appointing Thomas L. McKenney to a vacant clerkship in the War Department and then directing that all matters relating to Indians be directed through this office. In 1832 Congress authorized the appointment of a Commissioner of Indian Affairs who was to be responsible for directing and managing Indian Affairs. The Commissioner was to report to the Secretary of War.

Commissioner of Indian Affairs

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs was appointed by the President and the primary qualification for the office was support for the President and his political party. The first Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Elbert Herring, was appointed by President Andrew Jackson. He was an ardent supporter of President Jackson’s Indian removal policies and did not feel that Indians had cultures which were worth preserving. In his first report to the Secretary of War, Herring claimed the despotic rule of the chiefs and lack of a sense of private property were keeping Indians in the savage life. He suggested that the educa¬tion of the youth and “the introduction of the doctrines of the Christian religion” could overcome this savage life.

In 1850, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs described the policy of “civilizing” Indians this way:

“When civilization and barbarism are brought into such relation that they cannot coexist together, it is right that the superiority of the former should be asserted and the latter compelled to give away. It is, therefore, no matter of regret or reproach that so large a portion of our territory has been wrested from its aboriginal inhabitants and made the happy abode of an enlightened and Christian people.”

For the most part, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was more concerned with non-Indian interests on Indian lands than with the Indians themselves. This was particularly true when it came to mining. In 1872, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs wrote:

“It is the policy of the government to segregate such [mineral] lands from Indian reservations as far as may be consistent with the faith of the United States and throw them open to entry and settlement in order that the Indians may not be annoyed and distressed by the cupidity of the miners and settlers who in large numbers, in spite of the efforts of the government to the contrary, flock to such regions of the country on the first report of the gold discovery.”

After Congress created the Smithsonian Institution in 1846 to fulfill the terms of the will of James Smithson, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs also became involved in obtaining materials for the museum. 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.  Some of the items obtained for the museum came from graves which were robbed by Indian agents and others.

With the notable exception of Ely Parker (a Seneca appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant), the Commissioner of Indian Affairs had little understanding of or contact with Indian cultures. The Commissioner was aided in his duties by a cadre of clerks in Washington, D.C. The field force of the Office of Indian Affairs-superintendents and agents-were primarily political appointees and a few detached soldiers.

The Field Staff:

Since those in the field were political appointees, it was not uncommon for superintendents and Indian agents to have their very first contact with an actual Indian after arriving at their post. Very few came into the job with any real understanding of the history, culture, or reality of Indian life. Their primary qualification for appointment to the position was usually faithful party service.  

Since the field staff knew that their positions were temporary-dependent on the outcome of the next election-they often misused the office for personal gain in wealth and/or politics.

Superintendents were responsible for Indians in a large geographic area. At times, this might be an entire Territory. The Indian superintendents were not only required to oversee the Indians under their jurisdiction, but also to supervise and to regulate any traders who conducted business with the Indians. It was not uncommon for the Indian superintendents to appoint the Indian agents and to select the sites for the agency’s headquarters.

Most Indian agents reported to a superintendent. Frequently the Indian agent was the only government representative actually residing with the Indians. Thus, the Indian agent occasionally engaged in the delicate tasks of diplomacy and negotiation to secure treaties with various tribes.

Indian agents, many of whom took the title of “major,” had dictatorial power on their reservation. They could have Indians arrested, whipped, and imprisoned; they could prohibit Indians from leaving the reservation; they could prohibit non-Indians from entering the reservation; they could require the Indians to attend church and to cut their hair. Within the reservation, the agent was the law and it was difficult, if not impossible, for the Indians to appeal to a higher authority.

Part of the agent’s responsibility included the distribution of annuities and supplies required to honor the treaties which had been ratified by Congress. The distribution of annuities and supplies was a profitable area for many Indian agents. They would simply open up a store in a nearby off-reservation community and stock it with supplies which the government had intended to be given to the Indians. The Indian agent might contract with some local non-Indian cattle growers to provide beef to the reservation. The weight of the cattle would be over reported and the agent would receive a “commission.”

The annuities promised to the tribes in treaties had to be shipped to the reservations. The Indian agent would often issue a shipping contract in which the actual number of miles was inflated and then receive a “commission” from the shipping company. In some instances, the agent was a silent partner in the shipping company.

The Indian agents were also responsible for “civilizing” the Indians. This usually involved government sponsored education and agricultural training programs which were based on federal policy goals, not the needs of the local tribes.

Another example of corruption can be seen in 1874 when the Commissioner of Indian Affairs persuaded President Ulysses S. Grant to restore the eastern portion of the Apache reservation in Arizona to the public domain by executive order. This portion of the reservation contained copper-bearing lands which non-Indians wished to mine. Both the Indian agent in Arizona and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs had financial holdings in the company which subsequently developed the copper mines.

Territorial governors often served as the ex-officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs for their territory. In this position, they reported to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who, in the hierarchy of nineteenth century U.S. government, had little status. In this system, the territorial governor, in his role as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the territory, was to report to the commissioner of Indian affairs, an inferior in the government’s hierarchy and protocol to the status of territorial governor.  This also created some conflict of interest: as superintendent of Indian affairs, the territorial governor had a fiduciary responsibility with regard to the Indian tribes, while as territorial governor there was an obligation to encourage settlement, development, and, hopefully, statehood. Many, and probably most, of the territorial governors viewed Indians as an impediment to culture, civilization, and the economic exploitation of the land.

In 1864, Sidney Edgerton was appointed as Montana’s first territorial governor and ex-officio superintendent of Indian Affairs. With regard to his Indian policy, he said:

“I trust that the Government will, at an early day, take steps for the extinguishment of the Indian title in this territory, in order that our lands may be brought into market.”

In 1891, four groups of Indian Service employees – physicians, school superintendents and assistant superintendents, school-teachers, and matrons – were placed under Civil Service Classifi¬cations. This was the initial step for the creation of a professional field staff. School Superintendent Edwin Chalcraft explains:

“Prior to this time, Indian Agents made all those appointments, but from this date they were made by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs from names submitted to him by the Civil Service Committee in Washington, D.C. These rules prohibited the dismissal of employees for political or religious beliefs, but the Appointing Officer in Washington, D.C., could remove an employee for any other cause without giving him reason for doing so.”

In 1896, President Grover Cleveland issued an executive order which placed most Indian Service employees under Civil Service classifications. Only Indian agents and inspectors were exempt from Civil Service. Indians who applied for positions in the Indian Service were exempt from Civil Service requirements.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs

In discussions about American Indians, one of the terms which often comes up is the BIA or Bureau of Indian Affairs. Officially the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ mission is to enhance the quality of life, to promote economic opportunity, and to carry out the responsibility to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives. The Bureau of Indian Affairs describes itself this way:

The United States has a unique legal and political relationship with Indian tribes and Alaska Native entities as provided by the Constitution of the United States, treaties, court decisions and Federal statutes. Within the government-to-government relationship, Indian Affairs provides services directly or through contracts, grants, or compacts to 565 Federally recognized tribes with a service population of about 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives. While the role of Indian Affairs has changed significantly in the last three decades in response to a greater emphasis on Indian self-governance and self-determination, Tribes still look to Indian Affairs for a broad spectrum of services.

History:

Our current form of government was established in 1787 when the United States adopted a constitution. Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of this constitution delegates to Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” In other words, the founders of the United States viewed Indian tribes as nations and intended for the federal government to deal with them as sovereign nations.

American leadership at this time-President George Washington, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, and Secretary of War Henry Knox-assumed that Indian policies were now vested in the federal government rather than in the state governments. Furthermore, they saw Indian affairs being directed by the executive branch. They saw Indian policy as a branch of foreign policy and viewed Indian tribes as foreign nations. Since the Secretary of State is involved with dealing with other nations, it would have seemed logical to place Indian affairs under the Department of State. However, since Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was spending much of his time in France and there were critical Indian issues that had to be dealt with, Henry Knox, the Secretary of War, stepped in and assumed responsibility for Indian affairs. Thus, Indian affairs came under the War Department and in 1789 Congress formally gave the War Department authority over Indian Affairs.  

Relationships with Indian nations became more formalized in 1806 when the United States established the Office of the Superintendent of Indian Trade (the forerunner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs) within the War Department. In 1824, the Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, established the Office of Indian Affairs without Congressional authorization. He did this by appointing Thomas L. McKenney to a vacant clerkship in the War Department and then directing that all matters relating to Indians be directed through this office.

In 1849 The Office of Indian Affairs (now the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was transferred from the Department of War to the Depart¬ment of the Interior. This transfer did not change the administrative structure of the Office, since the office was predominantly civilian in orientation. Today, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is still a part of the Department of the Interior.

Commissioners of Indian Affairs:

For much of the BIA’s existence, the person who has headed the agency has been designated as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. For the most part, these individuals have been political appointees who have had little background or understanding of Indian affairs prior to their appointment.

The first American Indian to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs was Ely Parker. He was appointed as Commissioner of Indian Affairs by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1869 and was also the last Indian for a century to hold this position. Ely Parker was born with the Seneca name Hasanoanda (Coming to the Front) on the Tonawanda Reservation. The name “Parker” was the family name which his ancestors had adopted from an English captive and the name “Ely” was given to him by an Anglo teacher. Parker wanted to become a lawyer, read law for three years, but could not be admitted to the bar because he was Seneca and therefore could not become an American citizen. He then became an engineer and while working on a federal building in Galena, Illinois he met Ulysses S. Grant. During the Civil War, he served with Grant, rose to the rank of General, and was selected to write the articles of surrender at the end of the war. He was not only the best educated Union officer at the surrender of the Confederacy; he also had the best handwriting.

As political appointees, it was not uncommon for the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and the Secretary of the Interior to be more concerned about non-Indian corporate interests than in their fiduciary responsibility towards Indians. The BIA during the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century was active in suppressing American Indian religions and attempting to destroy American Indian cultures, particularly their languages.

Twentieth Century:

In 1947 the Indian Office was formally renamed the Bureau of Indian Affairs. At the same time, Congress was looking at the possibility of dismantling the agency and terminating federal relations with Indian tribes. In anticipation of ending the BIA, the responsibilities for Indian health treatment were transferred from the BIA to the Public Health Service (PHS). Many people felt that this transfer would provide better care for Indians because the PHS has more resources and political clout. Today the Indian Health Service remains a part of PHS rather than the BIA.

In 1977, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was upgraded within the Department of the Interior and the head of the agency was designated as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Within the governmental bureaucracy, assistant secretaries have more influence over budget decisions and they have greater access to members of Congress. The position of Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs is a political appointee who serves at the pleasure of the President. As a political appointee, the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs carries out the mandates and policies of the President with little input or consultation by or with tribal leadership.  

Larry Echo Hawk is currently serving as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Mr. Echo Hawk, a member of the Pawnee tribe, is the 11th Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to be sworn in since the position was established by Congress. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Echo Hawk served for 14 years as a Professor of Law at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School where he taught Federal Indian law, criminal law, criminal procedure, evidence, criminal trial practice, and published several scholarly papers.

The BIA does not deal with all American Indian tribes, but only with those tribes which have federal recognition. Traditionally, the government has sought to limit the number of tribes and the number of Indian people which it has to recognize. In the recent meeting with President Obama and tribal leaders, only federally recognized tribes were asked to attend. Leaders and members of other tribes often feel that they are left out of the process.

There are also some who feel that the BIA, as an instrument of colonialization, has outlived its purpose and should therefore be dissolved. The question for the twenty-first century is what should the role of the BIA be in tribal life, and, conversely, what should the role of Indian nations be in American government?  

Federal Agencies and NAGPRA

( – promoted by navajo)

After decades of struggles by Native American tribal governments and individual Indians, in 1990 Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). This act requires a number of institutions, such as museums, federal agencies, and universities, to inventory certain categories of human remains and associated funerary objects. Under NAGPRA, the inventory was to be completed by 1995.

Two decades after NAGPRA became law, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report showing that many key federal agencies are not yet in compliance with the law. The GAO concludes:

Despite the fact that key federal agencies have now had almost 20 years to comply with the act, they still have not fully complied.

The GAO report looks at eight federal agencies: the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) , National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and the Bureau of Reclamation. These agencies have millions of American Indian artifacts and human remains in their possession. The GAO report:

http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d…

According to agency data and our survey results, a total of 55 percent of human remains and 68 percent of associated funerary objects have been repatriated as of September 30, 2009.

Human remains held by the eight agencies included 5,246 held by the Forest Service, 4,053 by NPS, 1,565 by BLM, 550 by the Bureau of Reclamation, and 464 by the BIA.  According to the report:

Of the eight key agencies we reviewed, the Forest Service and FWS had the lowest repatriation rates for human remains among the key agencies with published notices of inventory completion.

The Forest Service had repatriated only 15% of its human remains and the FWS had repatriated less than 50%. On the other hand, the Bureau of Reclamation had repatriated all of theirs and the BIA had repatriated 95%.

Lack of repatriation in some cases is due to multiple competing repatriation requests and the federal agency has been unable to clearly determine which requesting party is most appropriate. The report provides this example:

For example, in a case involving human remains that represent approximately 1,400 individuals removed from the Tonto National Forest in Arizona, there is a disagreement among some of the culturally affiliated tribes over the place and manner of the final disposition of the human remains. According to the Forest Service, because this involves differing cultural views among culturally affiliated tribes, it is leaving the matter to the tribes to resolve. As a result, the repatriation cannot proceed until the disagreement is resolved.

There are also differences in the reburial policies among the agencies. For example, the Bureau of Reclamation does not allow reburial on the land which it manages and thus the tribes must find appropriate reburial sites.

Repatriation involves not only human remains, but also unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. By the end of fiscal year 2009, federal agencies had published 78 notices of intent to repatriate in the Federal Register covering 34,234 objects.   Of these the BIA has 24,200 and NPS has 3,352.

While NAGPRA has provided the Indian Nations with some power over their ancestors and important cultural artifacts, this power is diluted by the inability of the federal agencies to comply with it. According to the GAO, this lack of compliance is not due to racism or anti-Indian sentiment, but due to a lack of funding and a lack of knowledgeable staff to implement it.  

Shinnecock Indians Obtain Federal Recognition

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After a legal struggle that has lasted more than three decades the Shinnecock Indian Nation, whose aboriginal homeland is in Long Island, N.Y., has received federal recognition. Their current petition for federal recognition was filed with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1999. The tribe has 1,292 enrolled members and an 800-acre reservation in Southampton. With tribal recognition, the tribe can build a casino, though tribal leaders indicate that this is a secondary consideration at the present time. I would like to use this event to describe the process of obtaining federal recognition.  

The Supreme Court has interpreted the reference to Indian tribes in the Constitution to mean that tribes are “domestic dependent nations” and as such they have limited sovereignty and a special relationship with the federal government. However, not all Indian tribes in the United States have this special relationship: some tribes have federal recognition, and some do not.

During the Treaty Era of 1776 to 1871, the United States negotiated many different treaties with Indian nations. Many of the recognized tribes today have recognition because they signed a treaty with the United States. In theory, signing a treaty with the United States is an indication that the federal government has recognizes the tribe. On the other hand, there are a number of tribes which have federal recognition which have never signed a treaty. In other words, having federal recognition is not necessarily a straight-forward thing.  

For those Indian tribes without federal recognition, federal recognition can currently be obtained in one of three ways: (1) take action in court to force the United States to recognize its trust responsibilities, (2) apply to Congress, or (3) follow a process established by the Department of the Interior. The Shinnecock obtained their recognition by going through the Department of the Interior recognition process. This is a process which is long, costly, political, and has resulted in relatively few recognitions. Testifying before Congress in 1992 regarding the Federal Acknowledge Project, Sioux scholar Vine Deloria said:

“The current FAP shows no sign of intelligence whatsoever; it is certainly unjust to require these Indian nations to perform documentary acrobatics for a slothful bureaucracy”

In 1994, the Bureau of Indian Affairs revised its regulations regarding the federal recognition of Indian tribes. The new rules require groups to show that they have been identified as Indian only since 1900 which reduced the burden of proof which the tribes are required to present. In addition, groups have to prove their existence since the last clear and unambiguous acknowledgment of their people in treaties or administrative actions. The new rules are intended to streamline the recognition process.

In order for an unrecognized tribe to obtain federal recognition the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has established several basic criteria which the tribe must meet. First, the tribe must show that it has been identified as an Indian tribe historically and continuously.  The Shinnecock reservation pre-dates the establishment of the United States: it was formally created and recognized in 1666.

One of the difficulties in establishing this history for some tribes deals with confusion over names. Historical documents may contain references to the tribe under several different names.

Under the BIA criteria, a substantial portion of the group must live in a community identified as an Indian community, distinct from other communities. Its members must be descendants of an Indian tribe that historically inhabited the area. This means, in part, that the tribal members must not have participated in the rural-urban migration which has characterized much of the American population during the past century. Among the Shinnecock, more than half of their members do not live in the area.

The tribe must show that it has maintained historical and continuous tribal political influence over its members. In addition, the tribe must furnish a copy of the tribe’s current governing document.  In other words, while the BIA guidelines require the tribe to be “traditional” in some ways, when it comes to government it must conform to modern concepts. Traditionally, Indian tribes did not have written constitutions and bylaws.

The tribe must have a membership list of people who can establish descent from a tribe which existed historically.  While this is a genealogical list, it has an underlying racial component of “blood quantum.” Tribal members cannot be members of another Indian tribe. While it is possible today to have dual citizenship, this is not a freedom allowed for Indian nations.

The tribe must not be subject to congressional legislation that has terminated or forbidden the federal relationship. During the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government terminated a number of tribes and for these tribes to regain their federal recognition they must apply to Congress.  

Suing an Indian Agent

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The United States has always been very good about promising things to Indians, particularly during the Treaty Era of the 1800s. When it comes to making good on these promises, particularly when they might cost money, it is a different matter. Traditionally, when Congress wants to cut the budget, one of the first places they look is at the appropriations for Indian services.

In order to cut down on the expense of paying for Indian delegations who were visiting Washington, D.C., Congress in 1868 did not provide the Bureau of Indian Affairs with general funds which had traditionally been used for financing unauthorized Indian delegations to the capital. Consequently, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs told the Indian agents:

“You will, therefore, take such steps to prevent any Indian coming here, as may be necessary to accomplish the object.”

The order to stop Indian delegations from visiting Washington, D.C. arrived at the Sauk and Fox Reservation in Kansas just as an unauthorized delegation led by James Keokuk was preparing to leave the reservation to visit the Capital. The Indian agent, mindful of the memo from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to stop such delegations, summoned the Indians to his office and told them that they could not leave the reservation. James Keokuk told the agent:

“We will go where we please, when we please, independent of the Commissioner or anybody else.”

The Indians then left the reservation against the orders of the Indian agent. The agent then wired his supervisor for instructions and was informed to stop the delegation. The Indians at this time are at the train station and refuse to turn bank. The agent responded by filing a complaint with the U.S. marshal who then arrested them. The Indians spent the night in jail and were released the following morning with a writ of habeas corpus.

The Indians were tried in a district court in Topeka and the judge found that the prohibition against travel could not be enforced as there was no law restricting Indian travel. The Indians, however, did not let the matter drop: they filed suit against the Indian agent, the marshal, and the jailer, charging them with false arrest and suing them for damages.  

In their suit, the Indians asked for $40,000 in damages. Eventually, the cases against everyone except for the Indian agent-Albert Wiley-were dismissed. Wiley was convicted of false imprisonment and ordered to pay $1,900 in damages and court costs.

Wiley appealed and the case-Wiley v. Keokuk-made its way through the legal system. In 1870, the Supreme Court of Kansas reaffirmed the original verdict. The Court found that the Commissioner of Indian Affairs had overstepped his authority in having Indians restricted to the reservation. The attorney for James Keokuk argued that this case

“involves a great constitutional question: an exercise in arbitrary power; a violation of our magna charta; an attempt to destroy liberty of all the domestic dependent nations, with who we are connected by treaty stipulations.”

He went on to say that the basic issue

“involves the question whether the orders of an inferior executive officer can have the force of law, makes slaves of free men because their skin is red, and order their imprisonment should they dare to disobey his orders.”

The Kansas Supreme Court awarded James Keokuk $1,700 in damages and Wiley had to pay an additional $686 in legal fees and court costs. The Bureau of Indian Affairs paid Wiley’s bills from its contingency funds.

While Indians who attempted to leave their reservations continued to be cajoled, threatened, and denounced by Indian agents, their supervisors, and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, there was never again an attempt to jail an Indian delegation to prevent it from going to Washington, D.C.

Dakotas Snow Emergency: Charity and Beyond

Thanks to navajo and a robust crew of volunteers and diarists, the snow emergency on the Indian Reservations in the Dakotas found its way to the TV (thanks, Keith!) and more donations have started to flow.  (Navajo’s excellent compilation of donation contact info and links here.)  My intention is to add a little background to the story, because it’s annoying as all get-out that this has ever become a situation for charity.

In the early days of the United States, Indian Affairs was an agency under the War (later Defense) Department.  Not unlike the private contractors in Iraq, the Indian agents in the field typically did much better than the people they were charged with protecting and assisting.  Often much better.

With much bloodshed and ruthless, duplicitous behavior, the indigenous population of the US was driven from its homelands, and confined to reservations.  (Except for the tribes, like the Mandans on the Plains, that died off completely.)  Tactics included wanton slaughter of the buffalo to deprive the natives of their means of material survival, thus forcing them into submission and opening up their territories for white settlers.  Public debate back in the 1800s centered on questions like whether or not the Indians were human possessing souls, and whether the nations first peoples should be “civilized” or simply killed off by genocide.

Private Allotments

The latter option was only partially accomplished (via bounties for Indian scalps, and other atrocities), and the former eventually became policy.  In the 1880s, the Dawes Act was passed, dividing much reservation land into individually owned allotments, meant to be developed as family farms.  In short order, most Indian land ended up in non-Indian ownership.  This is not so surprising, if one considers that the Indians had non-written languages, and concepts like foreclosure and executed contracts and arguing cases before judges in courtrooms were utterly and completely alien to them.  The very concept of individuals owning a piece of ground wasn’t how they’d ever thought about their relationship to Mother Earth.  Of course, this is grossly oversimplified, since there are a wide array of cultures amongst the hundreds of different tribes once native within the present U.S. boundaries.  But it applies pretty well to the nomadic Plains tribes with reservations on the High Plains.

In time, the ability to transfer title of Indian land to non-Indian owners was curtailed.  (Except when the Congress declares an emergency – like in World War II, when large tracts of Lakota and Washington state’s Nisqually lands got annexed to military facilities, never to be returned.  But I digress.)

Legally, to this day, the federal government has a trust responsibility towards the tribes.  Tribes exist, legally, as dependent sovereign entities, with all the ambiguity and confusion that oxymoronic phrase suggests.  There are treaty obligations the U.S. government owes the tribes, in exchange for giving up most of the country.  For laying down their arms, and not contesting (i.e. killing) settlers taking over most all of what was once theirs.  Those obligations include health care, education and various general welfare items such as roads.

Too often, uninformed people tend to think of those obligations as some kind of welfare.  I think of it is as if there were an “interest-only” mortgage on the entire country, and the U.S. owes, in perpetuity, to make good on the deal.  

The Cobell Case

There’s another frequently overlooked angle on the impoverished state of the reservations.  The federal government, via the Bureau of Indian affairs (long since transferred from War to Interior Dept.), acts as a trustee for both the tribes and the owners of the individual land allotments.  Remembering that the allotments were first carved up back in the 1800s, and that the owners typically died without written wills or even file change of title (much less have a survey done) when a piece of land was sold or given away, keeping track of the ownership of these tracts is a non-trivial problem.

The feds, as trustees, have leased out lands for various purposes over the decades – purposes such as logging, mining, grazing, farming (where non-Indians could get soil bank payments for not planting crops, but Indians could not) and oil and gas drilling.  As trustees, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was supposed to account for those payments, and disburse them to the land owners.

The records were bad, and back in the 1990s, a Blackfeet woman from Montana called Eloise Cobell, a banker, started getting serious about getting those records accounted for, and proper payments made to landowners for said leases.  Let me restate the problem: For well over a century, the US government had been taking in lease payments, but couldn’t account for something in excess of $100 billion dollars dating back to the 1880s.  A trustee in any other context would have had their ass tossed in jail long since for such sloppy work.  To be clear, payments were made over, but there weren’t records to account for it all.

And so was born the Cobell class action lawsuit, filed in 1996:

On June 10, 1996, Indian plaintiffs including Elouise P. Cobell, Mildred Cleghorn, Thomas Maulson and James Louis Larose, filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government for its failure to properly manage Indian trust assets on behalf of all present and past individual Indian trust beneficiaries, including over 300,000 current Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holders. The assets at issue are the monies that belong to the individual Indians. The named defendants are the Secretaries of the Interior and Treasury and the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs

The case moved along slowly under a Reagan-appointed federal judge, until the Bush-Cheney years.  Gale Norton and her minions got declared in contempt of court by Judge Lambeth, who had strong language about their lack of good faith action in the matter.  So strong that the Bush Justice Department successfully moved to have him removed, nearly a decade into the case.  John McCain, Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee while the Republicans were in the majority in the Senate insisted that $25 million was too large a sum to settle on the case.  So it went nowhere.

On June 10, 1996, Indian plaintiffs including Elouise P. Cobell, Mildred Cleghorn, Thomas Maulson and James Louis Larose, filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government for its failure to properly manage Indian trust assets on behalf of all present and past individual Indian trust beneficiaries, including over 300,000 current Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holders. The assets at issue are the monies that belong to the individual Indians. The named defendants are the Secretaries of the Interior and Treasury and the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs.



also in 2008, the District Court granted equitable restitution to the plaintiff class based on the unproven shortfall of the trust’s actual value as compared with its statistically likely value. It stressed that breaching the duty to account did not generate the government’s financial liability. Rather, it said the government’s failure properly to allocate and pay trust funds to beneficiaries gave rise to restitution or disgorgement of the very money that had been withheld. The plaintiff class was awarded $455,600,000 (although this figure did not include interest).

A settlement was announced two months ago on December 8, 2009 – a specific case where the Democrats are different from (and better than) the Republicans:

Yes. The federal government has agreed to create a $1.412 billion Accounting/Trust Administration Fund and $2 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund. The Settlement also creates a federal Indian Education Scholarship fund of up to $60 million to improve access to higher education for Indian youth.

Needless to say, it’s too soon for this all to have been implemented, but it’s a step in the right direction.  And, too, remember that none of this is welfare or charity.  It’s what’s due – long past due.

The Current Situation

What I’ve written above isn’t immediately germane to the acute crisis currently unfolding on the reservations.  That’s the consequence of other kinds of neglect and malfeasance than just that covered in the Cobell suit, which litigation only covers accounting for leases of individually-owned land allotments.

Basic welfare issues on the Reservations are the responsibility of the federal government.  State jurisdiction is limited, and rightly so, owing to disputes like those of salmon fishing rights of Coast Salish tribes in western Washington.  As it happens, I was in the courtroom when the 1974 Boldt decision was delivered, and the wiki description comports with my own understanding of the case:

The decision was the culmination of years of State of Washington limitation of treaty fishing by the Tribes, resulting in the United States suing the State of Washington to force the state to comply with the treaties. It was immediately met with shock and outrage by non-Native fishermen, but the ruling has held for more than 30 years.

The Boldt decision also upheld that U.S. federal treaties signed with the Native Americans continue to be in effect as are all International Treaties agreed to with the U.S. government.

So, the donations are good, as a humanitarian effort to rescue people in trouble in an emergency situation.  Navajo’s diary from yesterday is full of contact information and links for donations, such as:

Thanks to Kossack Keith Olbermann, 3 major charities benefiting the South Dakota reservations will get some huge donations now.  Today, I want to call your attention to a faster and more direct way you can help.  The LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Home Assistance) programs ran out of winter funding in early December. Here’s the hard part; you will need to write a check because of no online presence for any tribe.

But Keith got it right in the bolded words below:

Transcript courtesy of Kimberley:
“And now tonight’s first Quick Comment, and you overwhelm me–as usual.  

“Last night, continuing our coverage of the humanitarian crisis on the ice storm and blizzard ravaged reservations of South Dakota, I mentioned a Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Storm Relief emergency assistance fund, and we linked to it. They were hoping, by the end of the month, to have raised $35,000.

In 24 hours, you donated approximately $185,000. They thank you and I thank you.  

“If anybody wants to go further, the chairman of the tribe tells us the consciousness of politicians is as important as donations right now. FEMA has yet to declare the region a disaster area, and there’s something else that could kill about 40 birds with one stone there: They’ve patched much of the water and power infrastructure back together but they really need an overhaul and something in the jobs bill, or some stimulus money, could not only protect power, heat and water there, it could also put some of the thousands of unemployed Native Americans to work in their own communities. So you could call, write, or e-mail your congressmen and or senator.

So this diary is a call for action that way – putting a little pressure on the political will.  Reminding our elected officials that the nation has a trust obligation to the tribes.  It’s not charity, and it’s not welfare, and there’s a lot of room for improvement.  Contacting any Senator or House member could help, but those serving on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee are particularly relevant, so here’s their contact information.  You know what to do from here:

Senate Indian Affairs Committee

Democrats:

Daniel Akaka (Hawaii) 202-224-6361

Maria Cantwell (Washington) 202-224-3441

Kent Conrad (North Dakota) 202-224-2043

Bryon Dorgan, chair (South Dakota) 202-224-2551

Al Franken (Minnesota) 202-224-5641

Daniel Inouye (Hawaii) 202-224-3934

Tim Johnson (South Dakota) 202-224-5842

Jon Tester, (Montana) 202-224-2644

Tom Udall (New Mexico) 202-224-6621

Republicans:  

John Barrasso, Vice Chairman (Wyoming) 202-224-6441

Tom Coburn (Oklahoma) 202-224-5754

Michael Crapo (Idaho) 202-224-6142

Mike Johanns (Nebraska) 202-224-4224

John McCain (Arizona) 202-224-2235

Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) 202-224-6665

BACKGROUND

There are nine reservations In South Dakota. News reports are covering only two reservations, Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River.      

       

Full size photo

courtesy of South Dakota Office of Tribal Government Relations

We’ve also had a number of Kossacks volunteer to be a part of a new team (currently un-named) that will focus on a continuing diary series on the current conditions of our poorest reservations and discuss proactive and preventative measures that could be taken to prevent similar disasters next winter.  

Daily Kos volunteers for this effort currently are:

4Freedom, Aji, bablhous, Bill in MD, cacamp, Deep Harm, exmearden, KentuckyKat, Kimberley, Kitsap River, Land of Enchantment, Lexalou, No Way Lack of Brain, oke, ParkRanger, Richard Cranium, SarahLee, Soothsayer, swampus, TiaRachel, tlemon, translatorpro, Zenox

Many thanks to them for all their research and support.  

The Bureau of Indian Affairs

( – promoted by navajo)

In discussions about American Indians, one of the terms which often comes up is the BIA or Bureau of Indian Affairs. Officially the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ mission is to enhance the quality of life, to promote economic opportunity, and to carry out the responsibility to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives. In this short diary, I would like to talk about the BIA, its history and its structure.  

Our current form of government was established in 1787 when the United States adopted a constitution. Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of this constitution delegates to Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” Indian tribes were seen as nations. American leadership at this time-President George Washington, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, and Secretary of War Henry Knox-assumed that Indian policies were now vested in the federal government rather than in the state governments. Furthermore, they saw Indian affairs being directed by the executive branch. They saw Indian policy as a branch of foreign policy and viewed Indian tribes as foreign nations. Since the Secretary of State is involved with dealing with other nations, it would have seemed logical to place Indian affairs under the Department of State. However, since Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was spending much of his time in France and there were critical Indian issues that had to be dealt with, Henry Knox, the Secretary of War, stepped in and assumed responsibility for Indian affairs. Thus, Indian affairs came under the War Department and in 1789 Congress formally gave the War Department authority over Indian Affairs.  

Relationships with Indian nations became more formalized in 1806 when the United States established the Office of the Superintendent of Indian Trade (the forerunner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs) within the War Department. In 1824, the Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, established the Office of Indian Affairs without Congressional authorization. He did this by appointing Thomas L. McKenney to a vacant clerkship in the War Department and then directing that all matters relating to Indians be directed through this office.

In 1849 The Office of Indian Affairs (now the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was transferred from the Department of War to the Depart¬ment of the Interior. This transfer did not change the administrative structure of the Office, since the office was predominantly civilian in orientation. Today, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is still a part of the Department of the Interior.

For much of the BIA’s existence, the person who has headed the agency has been designated as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. For the most part, these individuals have been political appointees who have had little background or understanding of Indian affairs prior to their appointment.

The first American Indian to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs was Ely Parker. He was appointed as Commissioner of Indian Affairs by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1869 and was also the last Indian for a century to hold this position. Ely Parker was born with the Seneca name Hasanoanda (Coming to the Front) on the Tonawanda Reservation. The name “Parker” was the family name which his ancestors had adopted from an English captive and the name “Ely” was given to him by an Anglo teacher. Parker wanted to become a lawyer, read law for three years, but could not be admitted to the bar because he was Seneca and therefore could not become an American citizen. He then became an engineer and while working on a federal building in Galena, Illinois he met Ulysses S. Grant. During the Civil War, he served with Grant, rose to the rank of General, and was selected to write the articles of surrender at the end of the war. He was not only the best educated Union officer at the surrender of the Confederacy, he also had the best handwriting.

In 1947 the Indian Office was formally renamed the Bureau of Indian Affairs. At the same time, Congress was looking at the possibility of dismantling the agency and terminating federal relations with Indian tribes. In anticipation of ending the BIA, the responsibilities for Indian health treatment was transferred from the BIA to the Public Health Service (PHS). Many people felt that this transfer would provide better care for Indians because the PHS has more resources and political clout. Today the Indian Health Service remains a part of PHS rather than the BIA.

In 1977, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was upgraded within the Department of the Interior and the head of the agency was designated as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Within the governmental bureaucracy, assistant secretaries have more influence over budget decisions and they have greater access to members of Congress. The position of Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs is a political appointee who serves at the pleasure of the President. As political appointees, the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs carries out the mandates and policies of the President with little input or consultation by or with tribal leadership.  

Larry Echo Hawk is currently serving as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Mr. Echo Hawk, a member of the Pawnee tribe, is the 11th Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to be sworn in since the position was established by Congress. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Echo Hawk served for 14 years as a Professor of Law at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School where he taught Federal Indian law, criminal law, criminal procedure, evidence, criminal trial practice, and published several scholarly papers.

The BIA does not deal with all American Indian tribes, but only with those tribes which have federal recognition. Traditionally, the government has sought to limit the number of tribes and the number of Indian people which it has to recognize. In the recent meeting with President Obama and tribal leaders, only federally recognized tribes were asked to attend. Leaders and members of other tribes often feel that they are left out of the process.

There are also some who feel that the BIA, as an instrument of colonialization, has outlived its purpose and should therefore be dissolved. The question for the twenty-first century is what should the role of the BIA be in tribal life, and, conversely, what should the role of Indian nations be in American government?