First Nations News & Views: Denise Juneau at the DNC, 1886, Pe’ Sla update, party platforms


Welcome to the 22nd edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find a feature of Denise Juneau, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction in Montana who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, a look at the year 1886 in American Indian history, an update on the what’s happening with the Pe’ Sla land sale and a dozen linkable 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.

DNC Speaker Denise Juneau Leads Montana’s Public Schools with an Emphasis on Indian Education for All

By Meteor Blades

For six minutes between the speeches last week at the Democratic National Convention of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a far less known Democrat stood at the podium in the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was Denise Juneau (Hidatsa-Mandan). One of 161 American Indian delegates at the convention, Juneau is also State Superintendent of Public Instruction in Montana, the first Native woman ever elected to statewide office in the United States. She won that four-year post in 2008 and is running this year against Sandy Welch, a Republican who says she will bring a business approach to the job. Here is Juneau’s campaign website.

She was raised on the Blackfeet reservation, took a bachelor’s degree in English at Montana State University, a master’s at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a law degree at the University of Montana. For a while she taught English on the Fort Berthold Reservation in central-west North Dakota, home of the Three Affiliated Tribes, (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara). She served as a Montana Supreme Court judicial clerk, worked briefly for a national law firm and became Director of Indian Education at Montana’s Office of Public Instruction before she was elected as superintendent four years ago.

The post makes her a voting member of the Montana State Land Board, which has considerable influence on economic development. Her opponent has received the endorsement of the Montana Chamber of Commerce based on support for opening up more state-owned Montana land to “resource development,” something Juneau has opposed. She also opposes packing more kids into classrooms, something Welch proposes to sneak under the door by decentralizing state decisions in such matters.

You can watch Juneau’s speech to the convention in the video below (or read the transcript I’ve included at the end of this piece).

Juneau’s shout-out to her mom in Charlotte was more than just the obligatory public hug. Carol Juneau is a Montana state senator and before that, from 1998-2007, served as a state representative. In her first term of office, in 1999, she got language of intent incorporated into the state’s policy of Indian Education For All. That policy had been written as part of an article into the new Montana Constitution in 1972 and then pretty much forgotten.

It says, “The state recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural heritage.”

Turning those words into something concrete took the prodigious efforts of Carol Juneau to shepherd House Bill 528-the Indian Education for All Act-through the legislature. And it took several more years of lawsuits to get it funded, according to Montana Assistant Attorney General Andrew Huff (Cree-Rocky Boy Reservation). As part of a 2004 decision in the Columbia Falls Public Schools v. State, a district court ruling later upheld by the Montana Supreme Court found that Montana had shown “no commitment in its educational goals to preservation of American Indian cultural identity.” Consequently, additional funding was provided to public schools to meet this and other commitments.

In an interview with Indian Country Today, Denise Juneau discussed the law’s implementation:

Carol Juneau, state senator from Montana, of Hidatsa and Mandan heritage and an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes.

Can you explain Carol Juneau, your mother’s, connection and involvement in IEFA?

[A]s a state representative she was the one in 1999 who got the intent behind the constitutional language put in the statute, and that’s where a lot of the [Columbia Falls] lawsuit came from. There were three things the constitutional language meant: all personnel have an understanding of American Indians; every Montanan be encouraged to learn about American Indians; and where there are areas that need IEFA implementation, we constantly strive to improve it. She was the one who was able to move that forward, work it through a Republican governor and a lot of Republicans in the legislature, and really bring it to the forefront and get it passed.

What do you tell teachers to convince them of the importance of IEFA?

I used to be the director of Indian Education so I worked with a lot of teachers personally. We always had a philosophy we used since the beginning. There would be no blame, shame, or guilt in any of our training. People can’t help if they don’t know about American Indians when they weren’t taught it in school, or just know how the media portrays Indians. It’s not their fault, and we don’t want to walk in a room and wave fingers at them. We really want to take the philosophy that when we move forward, we do it in a very positive way. We need to take teachers and adult learners from where they are and build from their current knowledge and strengths. We look beyond “blame, shame, and guilt,” and say, “These are the facts, this is the way our country and Indian history is,” then lay it out and have discussions.

As FNN&V reported in May, surviving delegates to the convention that rewrote Montana’s constitution joined with other Montanans late this spring to commemorate the 40th anniversary of its passage.

One of the speakers was Assistant Attorney General Huff:

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

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

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

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

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

IEFA is making a difference not just in informing all students about Indians but providing an education that gives Indian students from Montana’s 12 tribes dignity in the classroom. That, educators hope, will improve the ghastly Indian dropout rate. Although about 11 percent of public school students in grades 7 to 12 in Montana are Indian, in the past five years Indians comprised 48.6 percent of dropouts in grades 7 to 8, and 23.8 percent of all high school dropouts. Only 59.3 percent of Indian students graduated. The bigger the school, the worse the dropout rate.

IEFA has already improved the morale of Indian students, according to a number of educators:  

Thanks to the curriculum funded by IEFA, those Indian students now feel less alienated. School counselor Marcia Beaumont [Blackfeet] spent 22 years working in rural reservation schools before moving to a Billings middle school 10 years ago. She says about IEFA’s impact: “For kids who have a real solid identity with their tribe, they’re happy about it because they’re like, ‘Finally I’m sitting in a class and a teacher acknowledges I exist, and I’m unique and that I’m Native American and not like every other kid in the class.’ ”

Says Juneau: “Knowing that every tribe’s cultural practices and histories are different, what could be common things tribes want people to know about them? [We] were able to create an ‘essential understandings’ [document] that still forms the basis of everything we do.”

Mike Jetty (Spirit Lake Dakota Nation) is the Indian education specialist for the Montana Office of Public Instruction. He says the hope is that the implementation of IEFA will promote better understanding. “We can’t let these goofy divisions keep us apart. Students from across the state will understand what tribal sovereignty is, and the government-to-government relationship with tribes. I think the future leaders of Montana are going to have a better understanding of Indian-white relations, and we can move forward together.”


Here is the transcript of Juneau’s convention speech:

Wow! It is such an honor to be here tonight all the way from Big Sky Country. I am proud to be here as a Montanan, as an educator, as a Democrat, and as a member of the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes. And I’m proud to be the first Native American woman in history to win a statewide election.

My parents told me that education was the path to success-and they showed me, taking me to Head Start while they were pursuing their own college degrees. My mom is here tonight as a Montana delegate. Thank you, Mom.

Essential to my success were the teachers who invested their time and talent in me so I could go from high school on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation to Montana State University, Harvard Graduate School, and law school at the University of Montana. Teachers do the noble work of educating our children. And we can’t thank them enough for the hard work they put in every day to ensure a bright future for all of us. Thank you, educators.

As a teacher, I was an advocate for my students and their success. Now, as Superintendent of Public Instruction in Montana, I have the honor to be the top advocate for the education of all of our state’s children.

As Democrats, we believe that every child-regardless of background or ability-is entitled to an excellent education. Our determination to strengthen our schools to provide a 21st century education for every child compels us to work to re-elect President Barack Obama. Our commitment to create jobs for the American people and to grow our economy from the middle out drives our determination to re-elect the president.

President Obama knows that education is the best investment an individual can make in themselves, that a family can make in its children, and that a nation can make in its people. That’s why he has made historic investments in higher education, making college more affordable-from community colleges to Pell Grant scholarships and student loans.

President Obama knows that the value of education is not just in the equations our students memorize or the books they read. For some students, school is the only place where they get a hot meal and a warm hug. Teachers are sometimes the only ones who tell our children they can go from an Indian reservation to the Ivy League, from the home of a struggling single mom to the White House.

Our schools are where we pass down our stories and our history. And in my family, that American history goes back centuries-back to the first residents: Native Americans.

President Obama understands that the Native American story includes both painful chapters and hopeful ones. He knows that the Native American story is part of America’s story and that we deserve to be part of the American dream. That is why he welcomed the tribal nations to the White House and joined them at the table. He signed the Cobell Settlement to correct a long-standing injustice that the late Elouise Cobell-a warrior woman-spent 15 long years fighting for. He’s made investments to prevent violence against women in Native communities and to increase opportunities for our youth and veterans. And when he brought health care to all Americans, he helped build hospitals, train nurses, and ensure healthy moms and healthy babies in tribal communities.

It was a proud day in Montana when President Obama visited the Crow Nation and became an adopted Crow tribal member. In fact, I think there are a few of his Crow relatives here tonight. He was given a Crow name that day-it translates to “one who helps people throughout the land.” That is more than an adopted name; that is at the core of who he is. It is his mission. And that’s why, this November, we will re-elect President Barack Obama!

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1886

By Meteor Blades

On Sept. 4, 1886, Geronimo and His Band Surrendered

Chiricahua Apache prisoners at a rest stop beside the Southern Pacific Railway,

near Nueces River, Tex., Sept. 10, 1886. Among those on their way

to exile in Florida are Natchez (center front) and, to the right,

Geronimo and his son in matching shirts.

After 30 years fighting to maintain a traditional Apache way of life, Goyahkla gave himself up to Brigadier General Nelson Miles in Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, on Sept. 4, 1886. Known to the non-Indian world as Geronimo, the twice-captive Chiricahua Apache leader was the last Indian war chief to formally surrender to the United States. Though undefeated, he and his small battered band had grown weary after years of outwitting their pursuers. He agreed in negotiations with someone he respected, Lt. Charles Gatewood, to give up, first to Captain H.W. Lawton and then to the ambitious Miles.

Within a few days, the general had shipped Geronimo, the 35 men young enough to be warriors in his band and the Chiricahua scouts who had helped track him off to prisons in Florida, Alabama and, finally to Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Geronimo died there in 1909 from complications of pneumonia contracted in a hospital after being thrown from his horse. He was 80.

The History Channel website contains a brief, riddled-with-factual-errors account of his surrender and subsequent life. Included is the ludicrous statement that he never learned how to shoot a gun, something his contemporaries certainly did not agree with. When he surrendered, after all, he was carrying a Winchester rifle now displayed at the military academy at West Point. Here is a photo of it. He also was carrying a nickel-plated Colt revolver in a fabulous holster and belt rig covered with silver conchos, now on display at the Fort Sill museum.

Although technically still a prisoner, Goyahkla became a minor celebrity and spent much time traveling around the country in his latter days. He signed autographs and told stories to tourists at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904 and was an invited guest at the inauguration of Theodore Roosevelt in 1905. He once pleaded, “Let me die in my own country, an old man who has been punished enough and is free,” but he was never allowed to return to Arizona. His obituary in The New York Times can be found here, filled with errors, fabrications, slurs, idiocies, and many stereotypes that we still have with us.

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Details of Pe’ Sla Land Deal Still Under Wraps as Negotiations with Owners Continue

By Meteor Blades

Mahpiya holds the poster designed by Shepard Fairey to support the purchase of Pe’ Sla in the Black Hills at a rally held in Rapid City on Sept. 5, 2012.

Some 250 supporters of Sioux efforts to buy a 2000-acre piece of land in the heart of the Black Hills rallied Wednesday, Sept. 5, in Rapid City, South Dakota, to celebrate their second victory. The first was to stop a public auction of the land they call sacred, the second was reaching a preliminary agreement with the land owners and coming up with enough money for a down payment. What happens next is uncertain.

The specifics of the final price have not been released publicly by either the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, which has been carrying on the negotiations, or the owners, Leonard and Margaret Reynolds. The tribe put up $1.3 million for the land they call Pe’ Sla, and the Last Real Indians had raised more than $300,000 when the preliminary deal was made. As of the time this diary was written, they had raised $389,000. Besides the private donations and the Rosebud Sioux’s pledge, other tribes of the Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation, have said they will contribute, but none has made the amount publicly known. If $6 million, the lowest estimate of what the auction was estimated to have brought, is what is agreed upon, more than $4.3 million is still needed.

Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton-Wahpeton/Mdewakanton/Hunkpapa) of Last Real Indians explained recently why buying this land matters:

To the Oceti Sakowin [the Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation], Pe’ Sla is The Heart of Everything. Not only does this sacred site play a key role in our creation story, it is said to be the place where The Morning Star plunged to earth, and saved the People from seven creatures who had killed seven women. The Lakota hero then placed those women in the night sky as “The Seven Sisters,” called “The Pleiades” by western astronomers.

The core of the Pe’ Sla acreage was homesteaded in 1876 by Leonard Reynolds’s great-grandfather when the land was the property, under the provisions of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, of the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation. In the wake of the battle of the Little Big Horn, Congress broke the treaty, taking the Black Hills and other lands. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the land had been taken illegally and ordered $17.5 million in compensation plus more than a century of interest for a total of $106 million. But the tribes unanimously rejected the money, fearing that accepting it would mean they would forever lose the Black Hills. Compound interest over three decades has turned that money, held in trust, into an accumulation of more than $1.5 billion.

On display at the Rapid City rally was a 20-foot by 80-foot banner by artist Shepard Fairey depicting an young Oglala dancer and the words, “The Black Hills Are Not For Sale,” and photographs by Aaron Huey, whose images from the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota were included in a cover story in National Geographic magazine.

One speaker at the Rapid City rally, Chase Iron Eyes (Standing Rock Sioux)-the founder of Last Real Indians who initiated the fund-raising project after the auction was announced-expressed cautious optimism: “The Rosebud Sioux Tribe has placed earnest money down towards the purchase of Pe’ Sla, but it is not a victory yet-the fight isn’t over. But, this is a huge success, because it buys us time.”

Robin Lebeau, tribal councilwoman from the Cheyenne River Reservation, urged continuing unity in the effort to ensure that Pe’ Sla does not fall into the hands of developers: “Something historic has happened. We have united as the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people when some said that we wouldn’t come together […] I’m asking you [fellow tribal members] to call your presidents, your chairmen, your spiritual leaders, your treaty groups. We have to keep working to come together for Pe’ Sla.”

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• Native American DNC Delegates Say Obama Speech “Electric”: At least 161 American Indian delegates attended the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, last week. They far outnumbered all previous delegate turnouts at the party’s conventions. Five of Montana’s 31 delegates, for example, were Indian: state Sen. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy (Crow), Latonna Old Elk (Crow), Catherine “Buffy” Stewart (Crow), state Sen. Carol Juneau (Hidatsa-Mandan) and her daughter, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau (Hidatsa-Mandan), the first American Indian woman ever elected to statewide office in the United States. Also included were two tribal chairmen, Mark Macarro, the chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, and Bill John Baker, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Nina Fowler (Navajo) told National Native News radio: “Goodness, this is so energizing […] and the thickness of the excitement in this place is amazing. It’s like just a big party. […]  Indian Country is really in a lot of ways federal laws and just are really tangled up. And [Obama has] got to untangle them in order for him to help Indian Country. But he has been able to accomplish a lot.”

-Meteor Blades

• Indian at Dem Convention Says Elizabeth Warren Should Take DNA Test : Ever since the right-wing Boston Herald dug into Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s claims that she has Cherokee and possibly Delaware (Lenape) ancestry, some Indians have sought an audience with her to ask that she either verify the claims or repudiate them and apologize. She has chosen not to meet with them and she did the same at the Democratic Convention last week. Some Indian delegates at the convention told The New York Times that she could easily set the whole controversy to rest. Karen Geronimo (Mescalero Apache), whose husband Harlyn Geronimo is a great-grandson of the famous 19th Century warrior, said, “”Someone needs to make her take a DNA test.” Said Lexie LaMere (Winnebago), a Nebraska delegate: “If you’re going to be Native, don’t just be Native on paper. What’s troubling is that she’s shown nothing in her history of being involved in Native American issues.”

-Meteor Blades

Party Platforms on Native Peoples: Here is what the Democrats have to say:

Tribal Sovereignty: American Indian and Alaska Native tribes are sovereign self-governing communities, with a unique government-to-government relationship with the United States. President Obama and Democrats in Congress, working with tribes, have taken unprecedented steps to resolve long-standing conflicts, finally coming to a resolution on litigation-some dating back nearly 100 years-related to management of Indian trust resources, administration of loan programs, and water rights.

The President worked with Democrats to pass the HEARTH Act to promote greater tribal self-determination and create jobs in Indian Country. The Affordable Care Act permanently reauthorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to improve care for Native Americans. Democrats enacted the Tribal Law and Order Act, support expansion of the Violence Against Women Act to include greater protection for women on tribal lands, and oppose versions of the Violence Against Women Act that do not include these critical provisions. We will continue to honor our treaty and trust obligations and respect cultural rights, including greater support for American Indian and Alaska Native languages. Democrats support maximizing tribal self-governance, including efforts for self-determination and sovereignty of Native Hawaiians.

Here is what Republicans have to say:

Honoring Our Relationship with American Indians

Based on both treaty and other law, the federal government has a unique government-to-government relationship with and trust responsibility for Indian Tribal Governments and American Indians and Alaska Natives. These obligations have not been sufficiently honored. The social and economic problems that plague Indian country have grown worse over the last several decades; we must reverse that trend. Ineffective federal programs deprive American Indians of the services they need, and long-term failures threaten to undermine tribal sovereignty itself.

American Indians have established elected tribal governments to carry out the public policies of the tribe, administer services to its tribal member constituents, and manage relations with federal, State, and local governments. We respect the tribal governments as the voice of their communities and encourage federal, State, and local governments to heed those voices in developing programs and partnerships to improve the quality of life for American Indians and their neighbors in their communities.

Republicans believe that economic self-sufficiency is the ultimate answer to the challenges confronting Indian country. We believe that tribal governments and their communities, not Washington bureaucracies, are best situated to craft solutions that will end systemic problems that create poverty and disenfranchisement. Just as the federal government should not burden States with regulations, it should not stifle the development of resources within the reservations, which need federal assistance to advance their commerce nationally through roads and technology. Federal and State regulations that thwart job creation must be withdrawn or redrawn so that tribal governments acting on behalf of American Indians are not disadvantaged. It is especially egregious that the Democratic Party has persistently undermined tribal sovereignty in order to provide advantage to union bosses in the tribal workplace.

Republicans recognize that each tribe has the right of consultation before any new regulatory policy is implemented on tribal land. To the extent possible, such consultation should take place in Indian country with the tribal government and its members. Before promulgating and imposing any new laws or regulations affecting trust land or members, the federal government should encourage Indian tribes to develop their own policies to achieve program objectives, and should defer to tribes to develop their own standards, or standards in conjunction with State governments.

Republicans reject a one-size-fits-all approach to federal-tribal-State partnerships and will work to expand local autonomy where tribal governments seek it. Better partnerships will help us to expand economic opportunity, deliver top-flight education to future generations, modernize and improve the Indian Health Service to make it more responsive to local needs, and build essential infrastructure in Indian country in cooperation with tribal neighbors. Our approach is to empower American Indians, through tribal self-determination and self-governance policies, to develop their greatest assets, human resources and the rich natural resources on their lands, without undue federal interference.

Like all Americans, American Indians want safe communities for their families; but inadequate resources and neglect have, over time, allowed criminal activities to plague Indian country. To protect everyone-and especially the most vulnerable: children, women, and elders-the legal system in tribal communities must provide stability and protect property rights. Everyone’s due process and civil rights must be safeguarded.

We support efforts to ensure equitable participation in federal programs by American Indians, including Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians and to preserve their culture and languages that we consider to be national treasures. Lastly, we recognize that American Indians have responded to the call for military service in percentage numbers far greater than have other groups of Americans. We honor that commitment, loyalty, and sacrifice of all American Indians serving in the military today and in years past and will ensure that all veterans and their families receive the care and respect they have earned through their loyal service to America.

Oglala Lakota Alternative Rock Duo “Scatter Their Own” Performs at Pe’ Sla Rally

Juliana BrownEyes and Scotti Cliff of Scatter Their Own on Sept. 5th ~Photo Courtesy of Chase Iron Eyes

Juliana BrownEyes and Scotti Cliff (both Oglala Lakota) from Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota believe that music is about and for the people. Lyrically, they pay tribute to the concepts and philosophy of their Lakota culture while fusing Rock, R&B, Blues, and Alternative, into what they would like to call Alter-Native Rock. Their influrences are family; Black Elk, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Hobert Pourier, C.L. Johnson, Gandhi, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Red Bow. A taste of their music can be enjoyed here.


• Author Alexie Will Vote for Obama Though He’s Not Thrilled: Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene), the acclaimed author, poet and screenwriter, isn’t very impressed with what President Obama has done for Indians.  At the website 90 Days, 90 Reasons (to vote for Obama), Alexie writes, Because the liberal Messiah does not exist: “I tried to think of one great thing Obama has done for Indians. And I couldn’t think of one damn thing.” Alexie, nevertheless, will vote for him, he says: “To love him, I only need to believe in 51% of what he does. And, hey, I’d guess I believe in 63% of what he does.” Alexie might consider doing a little research on what Obama has done for Indians. He could start with Aji’s essay here, for example.

-Meteor Blades

Cherokee GOP Candidate for Congress Hates Stimulus, Gets $370,000 from It: Republican Markwayne Mullins (Cherokee Nation) is seeking the 2nd Congressional District seat in Oklahoma that is now occupied by Democrat Dan Boren, who is leaving Congress this year to work for the Choctaws. Mullins says he “totally disagrees” with the stimulus act, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Mullins’s campaign has made a big deal out of reining in government spending. But his plumbing business received $370,000 provided by the stimulus. That came about because he is a enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, which gives preferential bidding rights to tribal members. The projects he won bids on were funded by the stimulus. Mullins claims he had “no clue” about the source of the money.

If Mullins wins, he will be the second tribally enrolled Indian currently in Congress from Oklahoma. Tom Cole, an enrolled Chickasaw, represents the 4th District. He is also a Republican. The Cherokee Nation has contributed $2,500 to Mullins’s Democratic opponent, Rob Wallace.

-Meteor Blades

• ACLU Wants FBI Records Targeting Indians Over Bear Hunt Opposition: American Indians are part of a coalition that opposes bear hunting in Nevada. As FNN&V reported in March, one of them, Raquel Arthur (Pyramid Lake Paiute), objected when, at a public hearing, the chairman of the Washoe County wildlife advisory board, Rex Flowers, told a group of eight Paiute, Washoe and Shoshone that he didn’t want to “hear of bows and arrows” because the board was committed to the bear hunt. He later apologized for the remark, saying that he didn’t mean to disparage Indians.

Arthur, chairwoman of the northern Nevada chapter of the American Indian Movement, is one of three Nevada AIM members who were targeted by the FBI because of their opposition to the hunt, which is organized by the coalition No Bear Hunt. The others are Lisa Bonta (Reno-Sparks Indian Colony) and Daniel Thayer (Northern Paiute). FBI Agent George Chillito, who is on the Task Force on Counter-Terrorism in Reno, is said to have been investigating the three at the request of Nevada Department of Wildlife game wardens who said they and the “audience felt threatened” by the presence of Indians at the board meeting.

The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request Aug. 22 to learn what the FBI has been reporting regarding the three Indians and anyone else the bureau may have included in its investigation related to the opposition to the hunt. Nevada will allow up to 20 black bears to be killed between Sept. 15 and the end of 2012. The objective of the FOIA request is to support the freedom of speech rights of the foes of the hunt, an ACLU attorney involved in the case told the Associated Press.

-Meteor Blades

Wolakota – Friendship with the Lakota Nation Exhibit in Italy:


The Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence, Italy is currently running an exhibit titled: Wolakota 2012: Ancient Culture in the New World. Wolakota translates from Lakota to friendship with the Lakota Nation. On display will be Indian artifacts, weapons, clothing, wapaha (feather head-dresses), a tipi and a Remington gun found in 1860 in the area of the Battle of the Greasy Grass (Little Big Horn). Live music and sage smudging will finish the cultural exhibit. One of the organizers, the cultural association Wambli Gleska was organized in 1995 by Dr. Alessandro Martire to promote recognition of the human rights of the Lakota Sioux in Italy. Dr. Martire will be giving a special presentation based on his book, Nuovo Mondo (New World), Genocide, Ecocide and Ethnocide of the Discovery of the New World: The Horrors, Errors and Furies. The exhibit runs from September 9-25.

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“Moving Camp” Helps Dozens of Native College Students Get Settled: Transitions can be tough for American Indian students away from home for the first time. That’s true of all young people, of course, but it’s especially the case for tribal people used to the tight-knit support of extended families. And then there is the culture shock of life off the reservation. So the Payne Family Native American Center at the University of Montana has set up a special orientation to make things just a little easier. Among them this year was Carmaleta Bird In Ground, a Crow elder. A grandmother who started college but never finished, she signed up for classes in writing and Native American studies. At the orientation, she offered a traditional Crow prayer to start things off on the right foot.

-Meteor Blades

Crazy Horse Was a Sober Warrior: Russ McSpadden and photographer offered a textual and photographic account of Deep Green Resistance’s protest in White Clay, Nebraska, just across the South Dakota line next to the Pine Ridge Reservation. McSpadden wrote, “31 Points on the Alcohol Wars at Pine Ridge.”

Among them:

1. Autumn Two Bulls is the mother of Wakiyan, or Loud Brave Thunder, a young Oglala Lakota protester who was Maced by police on August 26 during a march against alcohol sales along the border of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. “My son believes in sobriety. One thing he told me was that Crazy Horse, his hero, was a sober warrior. Crazy horse didn’t believe in alcohol and he knew what was coming because he was a spiritual man and he stood up and fought against what was coming.”  Wakiyan is ten years old. Days after the protest his vision was still blurry from the Mace. […]

3. There are four liquor stores and only fourteen residents in the unincorporated town of White Clay. It exists purely to unload alcohol, and lots of it. On average, the retailers sell 12,500 cans of beer every day, mostly to the reservations 40,000 residents. White Clay is 250 feet from Pine Ridge where alcohol is forbidden. […]

27. The area around White Clay has a history rooted in illegal liquor sales. In 1882, at the behest of Oglala elders and the U.S. Indian agent in the territory, U.S. President Chester Arthur ordered that a buffer zone be put in place in Nebraska, south of the reservation, between illegal whisky peddlers and the Lakota. Known as the White Clay Extension, the fifty square mile area was later incorporated into the reservation then offered up into public domain, precipitating a land grab by whites. Liquor licenses followed shortly after-its original purpose turned upside-down.

-Meteor Blades

Old Hurons Logo Will Be Used Inside EMU’s Band Uniforms:

Our phone calls to the Eastern Michigan University president’s office weren’t returned, so we couldn’t learn specifically why EMU President Susan Martin chose to “honor” alumni by embroidering the old Huron logo inside the university’s new band uniforms this year. The logo was dropped after 62 years in 1991 because the Michigan Department of Civil Rights had called on schools to stop using mascots, nicknames and logos based on race and ethnicity. The university chose the nickname Eagles as a replacement. Alumni include tens of thousands who attended when EMU called its sports teams the Hurons and a few old enough to remember when the nickname was Normalites. That logo is also embroidered inside the 275 new band uniforms, which are replacing the uniforms in use for the past 16 years. The logos will not be visible when the uniforms are buttoned up. The Eagles logo is embroidered on the back of the uniforms.

Twenty-one years ago when the Huron logo was dropped, thousands of universities, colleges and secondary schools across the country still used Indian nicknames ranging from names of tribes to epithets such as “Redskins.” Now only a few hundred do and they are rapidly dwindling. As usual in such matters, even among Indians, there is a difference of opinion about the resurrection of the Huron logo.

“I don’t like native people being used as mascots in any situation,” said American Indian Services Director Fay Givens [Choctaw], who was a vocal supporter of changing the Huron mascot in 1991.

Billy Friend, the chief of the Oklahoma-based Wyandotte Nation, a federally recognized band that was once in Michigan and known as Hurons, said the tribe embraces EMU’s move.

“Our stance has always been we didn’t see it as anything but an honor to the Hurons and Wyandottes,” said Friend. “We never saw it as demeaning.”

-Meteor Blades

• Tech. Sergeant Sick of Air Force’s Indian Logos: After 17 years in the Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Larry Miller (Eastern Cherokee) was appalled when he was transferred to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and noticed the logos depicting Indians, he says. Among the ones that upset him most was the 93rd Bomb Squadron’s unit patch, which depicts the severed head of an American Indian, a poster showing an Indian skull wearing a headdress with the words “Immortal Soul,” and the word “Indian” used as a call sign over the radio. Miller filed an equal opportunity complaint. But the Air Force concluded that the depictions and call sign were not racist and labeled the complaint “totally unsubstantiated.” As so often is the case, the response stated that the use of Indian images was not disrespectful but meant to honor Indians. Miller plans to stay on the case until the Air Force gets rid of all mascots, logos and other depictions of Indians, especially, he says, the ones that include a headdress. “Once somebody says, ‘totally unsubstantiated,’ that’s basically what we’ve dealt with for hundreds of years,” he said. “Now it’s basically the few against the many.”

-Meteor Blades

• Video Examines Indian Life in South Minneapolis, Past and Present : Through the eyes of elders, this video by Knockout Productions briefly examines the history of the Minneapolis American Indian community and how it was formed after relocation, one of the many efforts since the founding of the United States to break up tribal communities. Among those speaking is Gertrude Buckanaga (White Earth Band of Ojibwe). In 1999, with her son, Ron, Buckanaga founded the Four Directions Charter School. The school is dedicated to providing culturally based education as a foundation for life-long learning among American Indian students. The intent is to “lessen the negative impact of poverty on the academic success” of students. The participants in the video discuss the importance of valuing culture and working cooperatively toward a vision of community that is not dictated to by outside people.

-Meteor Blades


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

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

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


Welcome to the 21st edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by Meteor Blades and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find news about the Navajo Nation Annual Fair and crowning of Miss Navajo, an update on Pe’ Sla and Pat Rodgers’s last stand, a look at the years 1686 and 1935 in American Indian history, three news briefs and some bulleted news items. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Miss Navajo Nation

By navajo

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

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

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

Crystalyne Gayle Curley, Miss Navajo Nation 2011-2012

~Photo Courtesy of the Office of Miss Navajo Nation

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Navajo Times – Leigh T. Jimmie

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

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

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

The first Miss Navajo crowned was

Dr. Beulah Ream Allen in 1952

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

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

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

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

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

Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1686 and 1935

By Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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

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

The Lenape chief Lappawinsoe said of the cheating:

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

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

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

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


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

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



The Walking Purchase, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.

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

Delaware Nation v. Pennsylvania

Lenni Lenape

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

Indians 201: The Doctrine of Discovery, by Ojibwa

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

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other folks did not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

NAN Line Separater

Auction Canceled But the Selling of Pe’ Sla Continues

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

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

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

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

Ruth Moon reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fund-raising continues.

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

You can contribute here.

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

Madonna Thunder Hawk

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

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

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

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

NAN Line Separater

-Meteor Blades



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

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

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


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

Sioux Seek to Rescue Sacred Black Hills Site from Auction

By Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video will not embed at Soapblox:…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1680

By Meteor Blades

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

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

Taos Pueblo
Taos Pueblo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Major Sources:

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

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

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

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

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Elders Hold Native Community Together in Chicago

By Meteor Blades

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

in the late 1940s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cherokee Officials Ponder Raising Buffalo

By Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By navajo

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

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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

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

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

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

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

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

-h/t to Land of Enchantment

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

By Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerome Big Eagle

(Mdewakanton Dakota)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-h/t Nancy A. Heitzeg at Critical Mass

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Carter Camp and his descendants

Here is Carter with his sister’s new grand daughter

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


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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

Reuben Curley, Sr., “Mr. Aloha”

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

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

He was one of a few selected to serve on a secret mission that used a code developed by speakers of Navajo and military cryptographers to transmit radio communications to Allied forces. A code within a code. The undecipherable cipher frustrated Japanese linguists who never cracked it. The Code Talkers are credited with saving thousands of lives during the war. They were always guarded by one or two other Marines so they would not be mistaken for a Japanese soldier. The Code Talkers are given considerable credit for the victory over Japan on Iwo Jima. Their mission remained a military secret and they returned home as silent heroes. Even though their story was finally told when the mission was declassified in 1968, Congressional Gold Medals were not awarded until 2001, 60 years after the war began. You can read more about Code Talker history here.

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

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



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

-Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She isn’t alone in her skepticism.

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades


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

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

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


Welcome to the 19th edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by Meteor Blades and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Our edition is here. In this edition you will find an Aaron Huey update, an important petition from the Lakota People’s Law Project, a look at the year 1812 in American Indian history, three news briefs and some linkable bulleted briefs. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

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

By navajo


Feature Article | Photo Gallery | Voices of Pine Ridge

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

From 10,000 Words:

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

You can read a full interview with Aaron Huey here.

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

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

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



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

From Fairey’s website:

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

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

video will not embed, see links below

Honor the Treaties | The Film from Eric Becker on Vimeo

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

Featuring Shepard Fairey

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

Directed by Eric Becker /

Produced by Scott Everett  

Honor the Treaties:

All photos (c) Aaron Huey /

With Artwork by Shepard Fairey and Ernesto Yerena



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

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

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

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


Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1812

By Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Among my sources:

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

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

15 bloody minutes that shaped a city by Ron Grossman.

What Happened at Fort Dearborn by Lee Sandlin

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Lakota People’s Law Project Petition to Rescue Indian Children

Action: Please Sign This Petition and Share Widely

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

Lakota People’s Law Project has developed

a unique resource for dealing with Native American

children seized by the state

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

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

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

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

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

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

By navajo

Chuck Billy

-Photo Courtesy of

Nuclear Blast Records

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

From the lyrics:

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

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

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

The video is very well done:

Video will not embed…

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

Here is an interview excerpt from Noisecreep:

Testament’s Cover Art for

Dark Roots of the Earth

-Photo Courtesy of

Nuclear Blast Records

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

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

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

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

By Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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

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

As Scott Bomboy writes, that was bogus even then.

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

The apology wasn’t accepted.

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

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

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

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

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

None of them materialized.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

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


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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

Border Patrol Finds Ancient Pots in Desert:

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

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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

Super PAC Tied to Copper Corp Opposes Navajo Candidate:

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

-Meteor Blades

-navajo with a h/t to whomever


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

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

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


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

Sun Kissed

By navajo


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film’s trailer can be seen here:

Sun Kissed will be nationally broadcast on PBS this fall,

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

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1876

By Meteor Blades

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

Lakota witness to “Custer’s Last Stand”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seventh Cavalry Guidon
Seventh Cavalry Guidon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

The Doctrine of Discovery Still Plagues Native Peoples

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

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

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

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

The Popes and Spanish Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Law

Pope Nicholas V portrait
Pope Nicholas V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAN Line Separater

NCAI President Seeks Voter Registration at Indian Health Services

By Meteor Blades

Jefferson Keel photo
Jefferson Keel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Navajo Code Talker Frank Chee Willeto Walks On:


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


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

-Meteor Blades

Tribes Start to Receive $1 Billion in Settlement Money:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

Young Lakota Rider on Palomino

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


100 Trail of Tears Route Markers Dedicated:

Trail of Tears route marker

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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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: Giving Pine Ridge a voice, 1637, Native caucus at Netroots Nation ’12


Welcome to the 16th edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by Meteor Blades and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Our last edition is here. In this edition you will find a new project by Aaron Huey, a special storyteller attending our caucus, veterans using sweat lodges for PTSD, a look at the year 1637 in American Indian history, two news briefs and some linkable bulleted briefs. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Giving Pine Ridge a Voice

By navajo

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


“So I have a confession.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Here’s the trailer:

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

Official Selection, Seattle International Film Festival, 2012

Directed by Eric Becker /

Produced by Scott Everett

Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1637

By Meteor Blades

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

was moved in 1996 to Windsor, Conn.,

from its original location on Pequot Hill,

in Mystic, where he led the 1637 slaughter

of hundreds of women and children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

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

By Meteor Blades and navajo

Narragansett seal

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

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

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

In her own words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protecting Voting Rights in Communities of Color in 2012

Thursday, June 7, at 4:30 PM to 5:45 PM
Black and brown voters turned out in record numbers in 2008. However, the introduction of voter ID initiatives in many states creates a new barrier for many Americans, particularly in traditionally disenfranchised communities of color. Voters in these communities-as well as students, seniors, the working poor and those with disabilities-will be most impacted. What coalitions and campaigns are underway to ensure these voters have equal access to the polls? How can we ensure that their voting rights are safeguarded and their voices counted? Panelists will provide case studies of campaign strategies and community solutions and tackle tough questions concerning voter ID laws.

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

Promoting People of Color in the Progressive Blogosphere panel.

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


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VA Recognizes Benefit of Sweat Lodge Ceremonies for Veterans

By navajo

Veteran Steve Rich prays before placing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Native Swimmer Hopes for Olympic Gold in London:

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

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

Killman says:

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

Wyoming County Balks Over Fees in Voter Suppression:

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

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

-Meteor Blades

Children bring joy to prison powwows:

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

time in years, enter the state penitentiary

in Walla Walla last Tuesday.

(Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas/

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin)

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

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

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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

Oglala Ready to Take Control of First Tribal National Park:

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

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

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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

Fighting Sioux logo saying

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades


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

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

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

Welcome to the 15th edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find a condensed history of the Narragansetts, the tribe whose ancient lands Netroots Nation participants will be holding their conference on in early June, a look at the year 1895 in American Indian history, two news briefs and some linked news bullets. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Invisible Indians at Netroots Nation

By Meteor Blades

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

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

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

Quahog comes from the

Narragansett word poquauhock

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

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

Succotash comes from the

Narragansett word msíckquatash

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

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

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

First Encounters


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

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

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

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

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

Narragansett seal

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

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

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

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

The Narragansett Fight to Keep Their Identity

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

of the Eastern Blanket Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern Times

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

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

tries to hold back a Rhode Island State Police officer

from entering the Narragansett Indian Smoke Shop

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

the sovereign right not to collect taxes there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover of Ellison Brown book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This Week in American Indian History in 1895

By Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Navajo Artist Tony Abeyta is a “Living Treasure”

By navajo

Tony Abeyta

-Photo by Jennifer Esperanza

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

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

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

Thumbnails of Tony Abeyta’s art

Narciso Abeyta

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

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

Thumbnails of Narciso Abeyta’s art

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

By navajo

NN12 American Indian Caucus

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

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

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

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

Protecting Voting Rights in Communities of Color in 2012

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

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

NAN Line Separater

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

Bahe Whitethorne
Painting by Bahe Whitethorne

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

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

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

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


Tribe Works to Resurrect Game of Cherokee Marbles:

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

Oregon Bans Indian Mascots at Schools:

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

School Board Nixes Lakota Honor Song at Graduation:

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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


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

-Meteor Blades

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

Video will not embed here.


-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades


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

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


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

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

Welcome to the 14th edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by Meteor Blades and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find my personal account of living in two worlds, a look at the years 1541 and 1885 in American Indian history, four news briefs and some linked bulleted briefs. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.


Half Breed

By navajo

I am trying to live in two worlds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for that other world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One tends to never forget them.

Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

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

This Week in American Indian History in 1541 and 1885

By Meteor Blades

portrait of Hernando de Soto in armor
Hernando de Soto

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Statue of Louis Riel
Louis Riel statue on Manitoba

Legislative Building Grounds, Winnipeg.

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

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

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

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

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

He remains a popular hero in Quebec and Manitoba.

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Killing of White Buffalo Seen As Possible Hate Crime

By Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Indians Plan Rally Over Racist Attack on Blind Lakota Man

By Meteor Blades

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

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

Traversie said he plans to file a lawsuit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By navajo

Samuel Tso

Photo Courtesy of the Navajo Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our previous coverage of Code Talker history here.

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

Photo of Indian Jail in Minnesota
Indian Jail

By Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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

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

Video will not embed, Part 1 here:…  

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

As Udstrand says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

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

-Meteor Blades

Sanford “Redskin” logo

School Committee in Maine Town Dumps ‘Redskin’: After several meetings and extensive community discussion, plus the demands of a state commission, the governing body of the schools in Sanford, Maine, voted May 7 to stop using the racist slur “Redskin” for its high school sports teams. The vote was 4-1. The Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission has been working for years to get all schools in the state to replace offensive Indian nicknames, logos and mascots with more neutral team names. As we reported in the 11th edition of First Nations News & Views, only about 40 percent of the faculty, students and staff at the Sanford High School favored getting rid of the “Redskin” name and a logo depicting an Indian wearing a “typical Plains Indian headdress, nothing like the traditional attire of Maine’s Indians. At a public meeting in April, Richard Silliboy, tribal councilor of the local Aroostook Band of Micmacs, said the “R” term is just as insulting as “squaw,” a word that has been removed from all public place names in Maine. Silliboy said he’d taken many insults in his life: “Dirty Indian, stinkin’ Indian, drunken Indian” and a “no-good-for-nothing Indian” and “the only good Indian’s a dead Indian.” Meanwhile, the other Sanford in the news, the one in Florida, continues to use a racist mascot by the name of “Sammy Seminole.”

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

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

-Meteor Blades


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

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


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

Welcome to the 13th edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Our last edition is here. In this edition you will find an exploration the Elizabeth Warren imbroglio, a look at the years 1877, 1916 & 1969 in American Indian history, three news briefs and some linkable bulleted news briefs. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Elizabeth Warren & Indianness

Rendering by Dennis Joseph Weber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rendering by Dennis Joseph Weber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rendering by Dennis Joseph Weber

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

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

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

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

By Meteor Blades

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

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

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

seated, and two of his wives (date unknown)

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

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

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

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


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

Indian Scouts Andrew Paxton, Charley Shipp and Joe Quintero

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Photo of Navarre Scott Momaday
Navarre Scott Momaday

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

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

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

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

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

UN Special Rapporteur Calls for Restoration of Some Indian Lands

By Meteor Blades

Photo of UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya
James Anaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debra White Plume’s (Oglala Lakota) testimony:

Debra White Plume
Debra White Plume

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

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

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

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

As did Leonard Benally (Navajo):

Leonard Benally

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

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

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

Glenna Begay with

Fern Benally translating

From Glenna Begay (Navajo):

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

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

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

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

By navajo

4-Wheel Warpony skateboarders, 2008

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

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

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

Minneapolis, Minn., 2007

Discovered by a local skateboard shop

in his hometown of Fort Hall, Idaho,

Bryant Chapo’s win at a 2006 Utah

skateboarding competition brought

him to national attention and his

first major sponsor. Chapo trains

and skates full-time and makes it

a point to participate in as many

Native skateboarding competitions

as he can. Here he performs a

varial heel flip.

-Photo Courtesy Brandon Flyg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Navajo Band and Jemez Pueblo Plan Major Solar Installations

By Meteor Blades

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delores Apache

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Meteor Blades

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

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


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

-Meteor Blades

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

Jodi Gillette
Jodi Gillette

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

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


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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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

-Meteor Blades

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



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

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

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

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

Born Evil

By navajo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Lamanite Warrior

[01020] $5.95

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

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


[01005] $5.95

Laman, the oldest son of Lehi and Sariah, was stubborn, hard-hearted, and did not believe in the righteous teachings of his father, Lehi. The Book of Mormon records that Laman was so rebellious that he refused to listen when an angel from the Lord told him to change his behavior. Laman was a troublemaker and seldom helped his family. His wickedness caused his parents a great deal of pain and sorrow.


(Laman is available in two versions. The one on the right has been cursed by god with dark skin for his wickedness.)

This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 30 April, 2009.


King Lamoni

[01019] $5.95

King Lamoni was a ruthless leader who ruled his people harshly. He often executed servants for being careless with his herds of sheep. Ammon, desiring to teach the Gospel to the Lamanites, fasted and prayed for guidance from the Lord. He became a faithful servant to King Lamoni. Recorded in The Book of Mormon (Alma 18 & 19) is the marvelous conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ of Lamoni, the queen, servants, and many of his people. Lamoni repented and helped his people become zealous in keeping the commandments of God.

This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 30 April, 2009.

There are three more Lamanite action figures. However, they are good guys and are approved by God for their good works unto him.  It’s curious though. Shouldn’t their skin have been lightened for being such obedient souls? By the way, that hot-buff one is called a Stripling Warrior because he’s young. Conveniently, there were exactly 2000 of them in the Book of Mormon for important plot purposes.


Mormons weren’t the only people who believed that the curse of Cain was dark skin. That was once the standard Christian view. But Mormons took it very seriously and barred African Americans from holding the priesthood because of the curse. I was 22 years old in 1978 when the church back-pedaled and allowed black men to hold the priesthood. That was quite a big step in damage control. But the teachings that produced the racist beliefs in the first place have never been officially repudiated. Still, I never thought I’d see African Americans allowed into the priesthood. It was hardly enough to keep me in the church and I left shortly afterward.

All the derogatory descriptions about Lamanites remain in the Book of Mormon in verses like Alma 3:6:

“And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.”

Those descriptions live on in Sunday school lessons and action figures for impressionable Mormon children. It’s hard to change the word of God in books like that, so the record on what the Mormons think of Indians is written on golden plates, never to be changed.

How one can be Indian and a member of the Mormon church is completely beyond me.

Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

This Week in American Indian History in 1869

By Meteor Blades

Donagä’wa aka Ely S. Parker

On April 21, 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Donehogä’wa, a Seneca Indian who had been his adjutant and military secretary during the Civil War, as the first Native commissioner of Indian affairs. That made him the overseer of the civilian bureaucracy responsible for some 300,000 Indians.  In the white world, he was known as Ely S. Parker.

Born in 1828 on the Tonawanda Reservation in Indian Falls, N.Y, to a prominent Seneca family with a lineage tracing to the famed Red Jacket, he was educated at a missionary school and learned perfect English by age 14 when he became the scribe and translator for his tribe. That proved crucial when the government tried to exile the Senecas to Kansas in the late 1840s as part of Indian removal policy. The tribe fought this vigorously, its leaders arguing that the treaties requiring removal were unfair and had been arrived at without their consent. Parker lobbied Congress at the time, but he was just 19, and despite his diplomatic skills, his efforts failed. Ultimately, however, the Seneca prevailed in court, and most of their descendants now live in New York on the same land they traditionally held. Some Seneca also live in Oklahoma.

Parker studied law for three years. But after completing his studies, he was not allowed to take the bar because he was Indian. With the help of a scholar studying the kinship structure of the League of the Haudenosaunee (the six-tribe Iroquois Confederacy of which the Seneca are a part), Parker enrolled at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, got his civil engineering degree and practiced as an engineer from 1850 until the Civil War broke out. In 1852, he became one of the 10 chiefs of the Seneca nation.

It was as an engineer in Galena, Ill., where he had moved in 1857 to build a customshouse, that he met a demoralized, hard-drinking, ex-Army officer, U.S. Grant, then working as a storekeeper. They hit it off.

When the war broke out, Parker tried to raise a regiment of Iroquois volunteers, but the New York governor nixed the idea of Indians in Union uniforms. Parker then tried to join the Army directly but was again rejected because he was an Indian, this time by the Secretary of War.

But persistence was one of Parker’s key traits. So he contacted Grant who finagled him a job as an engineer with the rank of captain in 1863. He performed well and Grant soon appointed him as his adjutant and later his military secretary, a job for which he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Much of Grant’s subsequent correspondence was written by Parker. He also helped draft the surrender documents signed by Grant and Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. Those documents are in Parker’s handwriting.

Parker remained as Grant’s military secretary until he resigned from the Army in 1869 with the rank of brigadier general when the president appointed him to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

But, as he rose in white society, having married the socialite Minnie Orton Sackett in 1867, the Tonawanda Senecas became increasingly critical of him for neglecting his own people and taking stances they felt reflected an anti-Indian attitude. That wasn’t how Parker saw it. In his 1867 Report on Indian Affairs, he wrote:

“…as the hardy pioneer and adventurous miner advanced into the inhospitable regions occupied by the Indians, in search of the precious metals, they found no rights possessed by the Indians that they were bound to respect. The faith of treaties solemnly entered into were totally disregarded, and Indian territory wantonly violated. If any tribe remonstrated against the violation of their natural and treaty rights, members of the tribe were inhumanely shot down and the whole treated as mere dogs. Retaliation generally followed, and bloody Indian wars have been the consequence, costing many lives…”

Far left, Lt. Col. Ely S. Parker in 1865,

with Gen. U.S. Grant in the center.

But as a man straddling two worlds, as so many Indians did then and today, he was conflicted in his own views and afflicted by those of the dominant society. Obviously having already in mind a plan before he took office, Parker crafted what would become Grant’s “Peace Policy,” a means to reduce military conflicts with the tribes. Despite his views that Indians had been sorely mistreated, Parker still bought into the widespread view of the era that the “savages” should be “civilized” and have the Indian taken out of them. Here’s how he addressed the issue in his BIA report:

Arrangements now, as heretofore, will doubtless be required with tribes desiring to be settled upon reservations for the relinquishment of their rights to the lands claimed by them, and for assistance in sustaining themselves in a new position, but I am of the opinion that they should not be of a treaty nature. It has become a matter of serious import whether the treaty system in use ought longer to be continued. In my judgement it should not. A treaty involves the idea of a compact between two or more sovereign powers, each possessing of sufficient authority and force to compel a compliance with the obligations incurred. The Indian tribes of the United States are not sovereign nations, capable of making treaties, as none of them have an organized government of such inherent strength as would secure a faithful obedience of its people in the observance of compacts of this character. They are held to be the wards of the government, and the only title to the law concedes to them to the lands they occupy or claim is a mere possessory one. But because treaties have been made with them generally for the extinguishment of their supposed absolute title to land inhabited by them, or over which they roam, they have become falsely impressed with the notion of national independence.

It is time that this idea should be dispelled, and that the government cease the cruel farce of thus dealing with its helpless and ignorant wards. Many good men, looking at this matter only from a Christian point of view, will perhaps say that the poor Indian has been greatly wronged and ill treated; that this whole county was once his of which he has been despoiled, and that he has been driven from place to place until he has hardly left to him a spot where to lay his head. This indeed may be philanthropic, and human, but the stern letter of the law admits of no conclusion, and great injury has been done by the government deluding these people into the belief of their being independent sovereignties, while they were at the same time recognized only as it s dependents and wards.

As a consequence of this report and subsequent pressure, no treaties were signed with the tribes after 1871. But most of Parker’s other recommendations for restructuring the bureau and ending the corruption associated with providing goods for the tribes and private acquisition of Indian resources, were ignored. And, ironically, it was a scandal, that of the deeply corrupt Indian Ring, that forced him to resign, even though he was personally cleared of any wrongdoing and the ring had come into being well before he as appointed.

After resigning, Parker made a quick fortune in the stock market, lost it in the Panic of 1873, then got what amounted to a clerk’s job where he worked until retiring. He died in poverty in Connecticut in 1895 and was buried there. At the request of tribal leaders, he was exhumed two years later and reburied in Seneca territory next to his ancestor, Red Jacket.

(First Nations News & Views continued below the frybread thingey)

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Navajo Nation Leaders Welcome Johnny Depp on Film Set in Monument Valley

Navajo Nation Vice President, Rex Lee Jim, Johnny Depp as Tonto and Navajo Nation President, Ben Shelley.

By navajo

We reported in our fifth edition that Johnny Depp had been cast as Tonto in the upcoming Disney film, The Lone Ranger. Some concern had been expressed for casting a non-Native in the role, although Depp says his great-grandmother had some Cherokee blood. The film is currently on location in Monument Valley. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelley, Vice President Rex Lee Jim and Surgeon General Gayle Diné Chacon visited the set to welcome and present Johnny Depp with an authentic Pendleton blanket! Yes, let’s give a product from the number one retailer of Indian misappropriation! (FAIL)  I guess it didn’t occur to anyone to give an authentic Navajo weaving …

The Facebook Indians immediately posted their disdain for such fawning over a role that has long been considered a racist portrayal of American Indians. They also criticized Navajo President Ben Shelley’s lack of backbone regarding Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jon Kyl’s water shell game proposal, SB2109.


One of my concerns is the now-famous makeup Depp wears for the film. Does this reflect the practice of an actual tribe? The Tonto character’s affiliation is unclear from series to series. This underlines a persistent problem we Indians face, homogenization, the representation throughout the dominant culture that we are all one generic Plains tribe rather than the many unique tribes that we actually are members of. In the old radio program, Tonto was Potawatomi. This tribe hails from Michigan and not from the Southwest where the Lone Ranger’s story is played out. Some connect the Tonto name with the Tonto Apache, one of the groups of Western Apache. One of the objections to the name “Tonto” is that in Spanish it means “fool.” So the Spanish likely named the Apache tribe just as they named the Diné people “Navajo,” a corruption of a word meaning “people who grow plants in green valleys.”

A little research shows that Depp’s makeup is based on the work of non-Native artist Kirby Sattler. And while the I Am Crow image is killer cool, is it authentic? The artist has a short promo video here. He says on his web site:

“I purposely do not denote a tribal affiliation to the majority of my subjects, rather, I attempt to give the paintings an authentic appearance, provoke interest, satisfy my audience’s sensibilities of the subject without the constraints of having to adhere to historical accuracy.”

We have issues with this. So often, our story is not told accurately by outsiders. And Hollywood, in particular, has been the grossest example of generating stereotypes and perpetuating misinformation.


So, let’s just do the basic search on the Crow:  The tribe is originally called “Apsáalooke,” which means “children of the large-beaked bird.” Whites later misinterpreted the word as “Crow.” Funny how that happens, huh? President Obama was adopted into the Crow Nation in 2008. Also note at that link the photos. No images like the Sattler piece appear.  An image search produces many photos without any likenesses similar to the one from Sattler. However, lower down you can see his image appear, and it will likely rise as his hits increase due to the popularity of Depp. Thank you again, Hollywood, for influencing another probably incorrect perception of Indian cultures.

This little tangental google exercise still doesn’t address the question of what tribe is Tonto from?

We’ll never know.

Because these are stories told by the conquerers.

NAN Line Separater

News Bullets

Beer Bill Dies in Nebraska Legislature: A bill that would have created “alcohol impact zones” to curtail sales of booze in Whiteclay, Nebr., to Indians from just across the state boundary on the Pine Ridge Reservation has died in a legislative committee dominated by recipients of campaign money from the alcohol industry. Oglala Lakota leaders say beer sales there are a plague on their people. They filed a lawsuit against two major brewers, their distributors and the owners of four beer shops in the unincorporated town, which the 2010 Census showed has a population of 44. The equivalent of 4.3 million 12-ounce cans of beer was sold in Whitelclay in 2011, most of it to Indians. The suit says the businesses encourage the illegal possession, transport and consumption of alcohol on the reservation, where booze is banned. Whiteclay is little different than the “whiskey ranches” set up in the 19th Century to move illegal alcohol onto what was then called Pine Ridge Agency. Alcohol, Oglala leaders say, is behind 90 percent of the crime on the reservation and causes serious health problems.

-Meteor Blades

Asa Carter (alias: Forrest Carter)

PBS Program Shows How Klansman Hoaxed His Way to Becoming an ‘American Indian’ Best-selling Novelist : PBS is airing “The Reconstruction of a Asa Carter: His Greatest Story Was the One He Never Told” throughout April. Carter was a Klansman and George Corley Wallace’s speechwriter, the guy who reportedly invented the Alabama governor’s most famous incantation: “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” He transformed himself into Forrest Carter, claimed to be Cherokee, and wrote The Education of Little Tree, , published in 1976. The book allegedly is about his childhood experiences. Well after his death in 1979, the book took off and sold more than a million copies. It won the 1991 American Booksellers Association Book of the Year (ABBY) award. Oprah Winfrey praised it to the skies. But it was an elaborate, well-written fabrication. The book clashes with the linguistic and cultural realities of the Cherokee.  Noted Native author Sherman Alexie (Coeur d’Alene/Spokane/Flathead) has said: “Little Tree is a lovely little book, and I sometimes wonder if it is an act of romantic atonement by a guilt-ridden white supremacist, but ultimately I think it is the racial hypocrisy of a white supremacist.” A movie of the same name has also been made.

-Meteor Blades

North Dakota’s Oil Boom Disastrous for Many Indians: For the Three Affiliated Tribes-the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations-the phenomenal explosion in oil wealth from the Bakken shale has not trickled down. In fact, for poor Indians in the area, it’s been the opposite. Many are being evicted in New Town to make way for oil-field workers. The lack of housing in the area, a long-term product of failures by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, means there is no place to live for workers coming from outside the area. Solution? Evict people already living there, about 70 percent of whom are tribal members. So who gets evicted? The poorest people. That’s what has happened in a mobile home park that was purchased by a housing developer tightly linked to one of the major oil operations. The housing corporation claims it is both difficult to find housing and difficult to find land suitable for building new housing. So it plans to build new housing after it destroys the park. The eviction deadline is Aug. 31.

-Meteor Blades

Molalla High School mascot

Oregon Town’s Residents Fight to Keep Racist Mascot: Some citizens of Molalla have signed a petition to reject the Oregon Board of Education’s threat to cut off funding for schools that do not abandon Indian mascots within five years. As is so often the case, ignoring sociological studies, including those by Indians with both cultural and academic credentials, the petitioners in Molalla, a town of 6000 in northwest Oregon, say their high school mascot is all about honoring the Indians of the area, the Molale. But, in the common fashion of many such mascots, the depiction is stereotypically Plains style, the head of an Indian dressed in full “war bonnet” and looking a good deal like the composite Indian of the Buffalo nickel. Not as grotesque as Cleveland’s Chief Wahoo, but nothing to do with honor either. The Molale were forced off their land in the 1800s and are now a part of the Grand Ronde Tribe. (Here’s how they traditionally dressed.) The board started the mascot removal effort in 2006. State Superintendent Susan Castillo says six years of gathering evidence have increasingly made it clear that this is a civil rights issue.

-Meteor Blades

Spirit Lake Tribe Suit for ‘Fighting Sioux’ Nickname Gets Court Hearing: Archie Fool Bear (Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux) and the Spirit Lake Tribe of North Dakota took their argument to federal court last week to keep in place the disputed “Fighting Sioux” nickname of sports teams at the University of North Dakota. Some details of the argument are here. See our previous coverage here and here.

-Meteor Blades

Digital Divide Isolates Tribal People in Remote Areas: For Wilhelmina Tsosie (Navajo), graduation day is now two semesters away. It should have been just one. The delay came because she has to drive 30 miles from her home on the Navajo Reservation to a hotel that has an Internet connection. Last term she missed too many assignments and now must take the course again. Like 90 percent of Indians on tribal lands, she lacks broadband service. “Native Americans face an ever-increasing digital divide, because they have been purposefully discriminated against in the business models and rollouts of next-generation networks,” said Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, a public policy think tank. “These are places that have been systematically forgotten by society.” The Federal Communications Commission initiated the Office of Native Affairs and Policy in 2010, one of the recommendations of the National Broadband Plan. ONAP’s mission includes promoting “the deployment and adoption of communications services and technology throughout Tribal Lands.”

-Meteor Blades

Veronica (Family photo)

Cherokee Girl’s Adoptive Parents Want Her Back: Matt and Melanie Capobianco have gone to the South Carolina Supreme Court to get 2 1/2-year-old Veronica back from her biological father, Dusten Brown (Cherokee). He gained custody four months ago under the 1978 federal Indian Child Welfare Act. The Capobiancos adopted Veronica in 2009 when her non-Native mother gave birth to the girl but could not take care of her. She was not married to Brown, who she said didn’t support her. He was in the Army when the adoption occurred and began proceedings to override the adoption when Veronica was four months old.  The law requires that an Indian child whose parent(s) cannot care for him or her should be placed with a member of the child’s extended family, a member of the child’s tribe or a member of another Indian tribe. Chrissi Nimmo, assistant attorney general of the Cherokee Nation, says the law was passed “as a result of studies that found that Indian children were being removed from their families at a disproportionately higher rate than other children. […] “And 99 percent of Indian children in adoptive placements were in non-Indian homes.”

-Meteor Blades (with a h/t to Ojibwa)

Ojibwa ‘Adopt’ Catholic Archbishop in Reconciliation Ceremony: Archbishop James Weisgerber, head of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, was adopted in a traditional rite as a step toward healing old wounds. From 1884 to 1948, First Nations children were legally forced to leave their kin and attend residential schools where their religion, culture and language were systematically stripped away. Many of the schools were run by Catholic religious communities, in which physical and sexual abuse took place. The last residential school closed in 1996. “In so many ways, our presence here has damaged the aboriginal people-their culture, their language, their communities-and they are the ones who are asking us for reconciliation,” Weisgerber said in a speech after the ritual conducted by Ojibwa tribal elders. A Canadian government Truth and Reconciliation Commission is gathering stories of survivors, as many former students of the residential schools call themselves. It has also established a $5 billion compensation fund.

-Meteor Blades

Former Landfill Operator Hopes to Make Big Bucks on White Buffalo: Lynn Pollard, who has been raising buffalo for two decades, has had his ups and downs with the animals. But now, after buying a white buffalo cow and successfully breeding her to produce another white one as well as buying a white bull, he hopes to do well all the time. Fully grown brown buffalo go for $1000 apiece, but a white can bring two to five times more. White buffalo are sacred to the Lakota and other Plains tribes. Pollard says he’s aware of their significance to those tribes but is himself only interested in the financial aspect.

-Meteor Blades

Ojibwe Professor Helps Bridge Cultural Gap in Bemidji: In this town between Minnesota’s three largest Indian reservations, nearly a third of the people are Ojibwe and racial tensions have always been high. But, Anton Treuer (Ojibwe), a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University and editor of the Oshkaabewist Native Journal, and Michael Meuers, a white resident, came up with a simple way to start breaking down barriers-putting up bilingual signs in public buildings such as schools and hospitals.

-Meteor Blades

Manuals Being Developed for Ethical Health Studies of Indians : American Indians have profound health problems that could be aided by research. But Arizona State University’s use of blood samples taken from the tiny Havasupai tribe “put genetic research on the front burner,” says Ron Whitener, executive director of the University of Washington’s Native American Law Center in Seattle. He is working with the National Institutes of Health to put together manuals to help the tribes control research through methodical reviews of study proposals and by establishing protections both for human subjects and the tribal communities. Use of the blood samples for studies the Havasupai had not given their consent to led to a public apology and a $700,000 settlement from ASU. “Probably most offensive [of those uses],” Whitener said was ASU research and publication in journals of articles “looking at inbreeding among this very small tribe located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.”

-Meteor Blades

Klamaths Win Big on Water Rights: An administrative law judge on April 16 gave a resounding victory to the Klamath Tribes’ efforts to secure their treaty-reserved water rights. Water from the Klamath River and Klamath Lake was confirmed in the amounts claimed by the tribes and the Bureau of Indian Affairs as trustee for the tribes. Specifically, the judge ruled that the tribes’ water rights are the most senior in the Klamath Basin, seniority being one of the key factors in U.S. water law. The tribes were guaranteed their traditional rights to hunt, fish, trap and gather plants in the area in an 1864 treaty. But for 36 years, they have been in litigation to secure the water rights necessary to ensure the health of the game and plant life in the basin. The Native American Rights Fund, the nation’s oldest non-profit firm working for Indian rights, has been involved for the entire process.

-Meteor Blades


Indians have often been referred to as the “Vanishing Americans.” But we are still here, entangled each in his or her unique way with modern America, blended into the dominant culture or not, full-blood or not, on the reservation or not, and living lives much like the lives of other Americans, but with differences related to our history on this continent, our diverse cultures and religions, and our special legal status. To most other Americans, we are invisible, or only perceived in the most stereotyped fashion.

First Nations News & Views is designed to provide a window into our world, each Sunday reporting on a small number of stories, both the good and the not-so-good, and providing a reminder of where we came from, what we are doing now and what matters to us. We wish to make it clear that neither navajo nor I make any claim whatsoever to speak for anyone other than ourselves, as individuals, not for the Navajo people or the Seminole people, the tribes in which we are enrolled as members, nor, of course, the people of any other tribes.


First Nations News & Views: 11 Native artists in Paris, stealing water, billion-dollar agreement

Welcome to the 11th edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find a review of the Oklahoma Painters exhibit at the Grand Palais in Paris, a look at the year 1883 in American Indian history,  the first in a series on the attempt to steal Hopi and Navajo water resources, the $1 billion government settlement with 41 tribes, an eye-rolling take on an Indian “party theme” and a baker’s dozen of linkable news bullets. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

By navajo

Last November, an art exhibit titled Oklahoma Painters was presented at the prestigious Grand Palais in Paris as part of the sixth annual Art en Capital event. Eleven American Indian artists were featured. The exhibit is the first major one of its kind in Paris since the Kiowa Five were featured in the 1920s. It was curated by Russell Tallchief (Osage), director of Arts & Exhibitions at the American Indian Cultural Center & Museum in Oklahoma City.

Many visitors were intrigued by the modern display of art from American Indians, their expectations having been influenced by the romantic and stereotypical vision that Hollywood movies and the photos of Edward Curtis perpetuate throughout the world. Surprised, some commented about the variety of style among the artists as they had anticipated one uniform product from a unified culture. Instead they were exposed to contemporary pieces from the youth to the elders of various tribes, defining the uniqueness of individuals and their cultures.

The featured artists hail from 10 different tribes in Oklahoma:  

Hock E Aye Vi – Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne/Arapaho)

Edgar Heap of Birds
Edgar Heap of Birds with his painting Smile for Racism

Photo courtesy of Dominque Godreche

(Note the backward words: Cleveland and Mascots)

Born in 1954 in Wichita, Kan., Heap of Birds studied at Haskell Indian School in Lawrence. He took a B.F.A. from the University of Kansas, an M.F.A from Temple University and then studied at the Royal College of Art, in London. Since 1988, he has served on the faculty at the University of Oklahoma as professor of Native American Studies. “Heap of Birds has exhibited internationally in the diverse mediums of signage, monumental sculpture, painting, print, drawing and installation.”

Edgar Heap of Birds, telling many magpies
Telling Many Magpies,

Telling Black Wolf,

Telling Hachivi

[Hachivi, his Cheyenne name, “Little Chief”]

~The artist explains that the backward

word NATURAL means

that it’s not.

He has exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and other institutions such as the Australian Museum of Contemporary Art, Documenta in Kassel, Germany, the Bandung Institution of Technology in Indonesia, the Venice Biennale in Italy, and now the Grand Palais in France.

To my eye, his most impressive installation is theWheel sculpture at the Denver Art Museum, which is named for the symbolic medicine wheel. The project took 10 years to complete. Ten red porcelain-covered, steel-forked trees have been placed in a 50-foot circle and inscribed with references to “extermination, ancient pictography, astrological bodies and pillars of shared understanding like respect, encapsulating the interconnectivity of Indigenous science and philosophy. The positioning and writing of this installation mark millennia of Indigenous knowledge, systematically intervened to commemorate nuanced views of colonial policy and global Indigenous cooperation. The sculpture itself is aligned with astrological bodies.” On the summer solstice the sun rises between two of the forked panels.

Edgar Heap of Birds, Wheel
Wheel or Nah Kev Ho Eya Zim,

is Heap of Birds’s grandmother’s proverb of how Indians

never leave home in their minds, which translates as

“We are always returning back home again.”

In the on-line hEyOkA mAgAzInE, he gives a thought-provoking interview explaining the various messages and meanings of the installation.

He negotiated a 100-year contract to control the land under the installation which was part of the first land that the southern Cheyenne and Arapaho lost in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. The genocide of these tribes began with the Massacre at Sand Creek in Kiowa County, Colo., in 1864. The southern Cheyenne and Arapaho were then moved out of Colorado to Kansas and Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Heap of Birds’s tribes have reclaimed the land in Denver with this sculpture. By using his grandmother’s proverb on the wall next to the Wheel, they have taken back the sacred circle.

Tribal chiefs came for the dedication of the Wheel in June 2005. The tribes now use the site for ceremonies, and it is on the route of the annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run.

In addition, this 26-minute VIDEO of Heap of Bird’s fascinating speech at Otis College of Art and Design on what has influenced his art. It’s a must-view.

Highlights that struck me:

• A photo of a cradleboard decorated with protective symbols showed it was specifically designed so that, if the Army attacked, the baby could be scooped up and run away with.

• Cavalrymen cut out uteruses of Indian women and made them into hats, a symbol of ensuring no Indian babies could be born from the wounded.

• Inspired by the sketches drawn by incarcerated warriors imprisoned at Fort Marion, Fla., in the 1870s, Heap of Birds saw power in rendering one’s oppressors through protest art.

• His great-great-great-grandfather was one of the chiefs imprisoned at Fort Marion. His Cheyenne name is properly interpreted in English as Many Magpies, but the day that Captain Richard Henry Pratt couldn’t pronounce the Cheyenne version, the hasty label Heap of Birds was recorded, trapping his ancestors and his family today, imprisoning them linguistically because they couldn’t speak English and now had to accept the names the invader chose for them. Symbolically then, Heap of Birds’s work with text is a way of reclaiming the power of naming.

• There is, he says, a strange amnesia in America. We all know about the pyramids around the world but there are pyramids in the U.S. For example, Creek pyramids in Georgia are misunderstood because the tribe was forced to walk to Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears. Everyone thinks these pyramids belong to a lost culture. But that culture is alive in Oklahoma.

His brilliant, direct style explains why he is sought after to speak around the world.

Edgar Heap of Birds, Road Signs
Three samples of Edgar Heap of Birds’s public art interventions

Joe Don Brave (Osage)

Joe Don Brave
Joe Don Brave with his piece for le Grand Palais exhibit

Joe Don Brave says he has worked his whole life for something of the caliber of the exhibit in Paris. Born in 1965, he was named Vincent Paul Brave after Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin by his father, Franklin Brave, a professional artist and graphic designer. One day his father nicknamed him Joe Don after Oklahoma football star Joe Don Looney. That nickname stuck.

As a child Brave learned to paint in his father’s studio. Brave studied art at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and has worked at the National Museum of American Indian and the Smithsonian Institute in New York City. He also owns his gallery in downtown Pawhuska, Okla.

Brave was raised in the traditions and customs of the Osage, and he’s still an active participant in the tribe’s annual traditional ceremonial dances.

Anita Fields (Osage)

Anita Fields, Three Dresses
Anita Fields at work in her studio and her “Three Dresses” collection

Anita Fields, born in 1951 and raised in Hominy, Okla., is one of a few American Indian potters who does not live in the Southwest where the many pueblos, Hopi and Navajo dominate that medium.

Fields is probably the first Indian potter to create conceptual installation pieces instead of functional or display pottery. To make her artistic statement she often uses abstract versions of traditional clothing and artifacts. Influenced by American Indian clothing and weaving, she translates these soft features into her hard clay works.

She says her work honors women: “The dresses convey my attitudes toward the strength of women and how native peoples show remarkable resourcefulness and adaptability toward their environment. The clothing Indian women created shows great pride, dignity, and hope in a culture facing insurmountable odds.”

Yatika Fields (Osage)

Yatika Fields
Yatika Fields painting in the courtyard of Indian Market Weekend in Santa Fe

Born in 1980 to Anita Fields, the artist featured just above, Yatika Fields grew up in Oklahoma but currently lives in Brooklyn. 

After living in Boston with bike messengers he developed a passion for cycling. He moved to New York without any cash and got a job in the dangerous occupation of city bike messengering. That’s riding a bike with a fixed gear and NO brakes. After realizing he was pretty fast he ventured into alleycats, illegal street racing where the only prize is honor.

Here is a terrific VIDEO of Fields painting a wall in the apartment Ryan Red Corn (Osage).

His work is currently exhibited at Chiaroscuro Contemporary in Santa Fe, Sam Noble Museum in Norman, Okla., and The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Ariz. Last October he was in Barcelona for three weeks doing live painting events and then in Paris in November where he enjoyed traveling with his mother.

Brent Greenwood (Chickasaw/Ponca)

Brent Greenwood, There goes the neighborhood...
Brent Greenwood with his “There Goes the Neighborhood” piece

Brent Greenwood was born in 1971 in Midwest City, Okla.. He graduated with an AFA in 2-Dimensional Art from the Institute of American Indian Arts and a BFA from the Oklahoma City University.

Greenwood incorporates early tribal history into his contemporary acrylic designs, often with faceless figures but vibrant with color. Some of his artistic inspiration is derived from other artists’ work and energy. He is most proud of his family and the inspiration they provide. His wife Kennetha (Otoe/Missouria) is an artist as well. Greenwood encourages his children to paint alongside him. He enjoys singing Ponca songs at events and shares this spirit with his children and other youth in his community.

America Meredith (Cherokee)

American Meredith
America Meredith painting and her piece “Agalisiga Checks a Box”

America Meredith, also of Swedish descent, “blends traditional styles from Native America and Europe with pop imagery of her childhood. The Cherokee language and syllabary figure prominently in her work, as they are the strongest visual imagery unique to her tribe.”

Meredith “earned her MFA in painting from the San Francisco Art Institute and her BFA from the University of Oklahoma. She has shown throughout the United States and in Canada and Europe in the last 15 years and has won awards at the Heard and SWAIA’s Indian Market as well as at numerous competitive shows” and now featured in Paris.

Her on-line portfolio is an absolute treat, and my favorite page is Present Tense. Check out The Tewa Man in Black, illustrating the importance of corn to American Indians and Cameron Chino, an Indian full-blood who loves the Japanese culture.

A stunning international art exhibit inviting the tight-knit bike messenger community to use its spokecard is the Cherokee Spokespeople Project. “Spokecards are laminated cards that can be held in place by the spokes of a bicycle wheel, which bike messengers create as souvenirs for bike races and other messenger events.” 


The Cherokee language has a unique writing system developed by Sequoyah in the early 1800s and still used today. All American Indian languages are struggling to survive. “According to Cherokee Nation tribal leadership, our current generation, the fourteenth generation since European contact with the Cherokees, is said to be the generation that decides whether the language grows or dies.” So to promote the Cherokee language, Meredith made spokecards available to the bike-messengering community and asked them to document the card on their bikes with a photograph featuring a famous location. Participants received a custom card from Meredith with their choice of any word in Cherokee to display on their bike. Sometimes, words were invented for the prize winners, creating new Cherokee words.

To survive, Cherokee cannot be stuck in the past or confined to one part of the country. Cherokee Spokespeople are introducing new people to their language and bringing it into an international, urban setting.

“This project continued from 2004 to 2011. [Meredith] distributed hundreds of spokecards by hand, at SFBMA meetings, at cycle courier races, and through the mail. The Cherokee Spokespeople Project has been exhibited at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada; IAIA Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico; the Euphrat Museum in Cupertino, CA; the City Arts Center in Oklahoma City, OK; and was finally exhibited as a solo show at the Ho-Chee-Nee Chapel on the grounds of the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, OK.”

Navarre Scott Momaday (Kiowa/Cherokee)

N. Scott Momaday
N. Scott Momaday in front of the Louvre, his book cover and one of the lithographs inside

N. Scott Momaday, born in 1934 in Lawton, Okla., is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. Momaday’s novel House Made of Dawn is credited for launching Native American literature into the mainstream. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969.

He received the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas in 1992. He was awarded a 2007 National Medal of Arts and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2010.

In Paris, Momday’s book The Man Made of Visions, a dozen unpublished poems and signed lithographs were featured. Thumbnails of the lithographs can be seen here.

Thomas Poolaw (Kiowa/Delaware)

Thomas Poolaw
“Eyes #2 and the artist, Thomas Poolaw

Born in 1959 and currently residing in Norman, Okla., Tom Poolaw works primarily with acrylics and digital images. He was heavily influenced by his grandfather, Horace Poolaw, a photographer.

He prefers to let his work unfold rather than knowing what it will look like at the finish. “Process is the focus of my work. I choose formats and situations that encourage spontaneity and experimentation. The journey must be exciting and inspired. I want to produce something nearer to poetry than documentation.

“My work usually deals with Native American subject matter expressed in a contemporary manner. It doesn’t always have to, but that’s who I am and where I come from. I hope the work reflects the status of today’s Native American individual, that is complex, modern and spiritual.”

Marla Skye (Onondaga)

Marla Skye
Marla Skye and her piece that was used for an invitation in Paris

Marla Skye works with several mediums, painting, silversmithing, beading and woodcarving. Her father, Larry Jones, was a skilled woodcarver and artist. He died just two months before her showing in Paris. He was thrilled that she was going to be featured there. Skye is a graduate of The Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M.

D.g. Smalling (Choctaw)

D.g. Smalling

D.g. Smalling was born and raised in Oklahoma City. He is known for his “single line” art in which he creates the initial outline never lifting his pen. He then fills in the spaces with color. This amazing and beautiful technique is captured in this VIDEO

He credits his Choctaw culture whose traditions and lifestyle embrace minimalism. His abstractions begin with the most basic element-the line-the foundation of all design.

The pieces he produced for the Paris exhibit are here.

Smalling hosts The Spy’s Eye on NDN-Country on, Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., Central Time.

Dana Tiger (Creek/Seminole/Cherokee)

Dana Tiger
Dana Tiger and one of her Warrior Women paintings

Dana Tiger was born and raised in Muskogee, Okla. Her legendary father, Jerome Tiger died when she was five years old. She used his art as a way to get to know him and along with guidance from her uncle, Johnny Tiger, Jr. From them, she learned the richness of her culture and carried on the family’s artistic tradition. Her watercolors and acrylic paintings celebrate the strength and determination of American Indian women.

Some of the artists in Paris during their exhibition

And since it is the Grand Palais, pour le pièce de résistance … a grand nod to curator Russell Tallchief (Osage). He gathered these 11 artists in the Salon du Dessin et de la Peinture à l’eau (Room of Painting and Water Colors) at the Grand Palais. As a special treat, on Nov. 24, 2011, he performed an ancient southern style of Osage war dance. He is a Straight Dancer and performed as a Taildancer, a privileged position that serves to set the pace and motivate the other performers to dance harder. The dance symbolizes being on the battlefield.

Russell Tall Chief dancing
Russell Tallchief performing an Osage war dance in Paris

Tallchief is related to the renowned ballerinas Maria Tallchief (born 1925) who danced with the New York City Ballet and Marjorie Tallchief (born 1927) who was the first American to achieve première danseuse étoile with the Paris Opera Ballet.  

The exhibit was viewed by over 40,000 visitors.

Haida Whale Divider

(First Nations News & Views continued below the frybread thingey)

This Week in American Indian History in 1883

1883 ‘Civilizing’ Code Smashed Religion, Culture, Social Relations

Hiram Price, Commissioner

of Indian Affairs 1881-1885

By Meteor Blades

On April 10, 1883, Secretary of Interior Henry Teller approved the Code of Indian Offenses that would henceforth be handled by the new Court of Indian Offenses, the predecessor of today’s tribal courts. The rules of the code were developed by former Iowa Congressman Hiram Price, a “radical Republican” who had been appointed by President James Garfield to the post of Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1881.

It should be remembered that this was a time when Indians, most of whom did not become U.S. citizens until 1924, were not permitted to leave their reservations except by consent and written approval of their superintendent.  

For nearly two years, Price had lobbied his boss to extend state and territorial jurisdiction over Indian reservations. There was dissembling about the purpose of this. He said Congress should enact laws to “make the Indian equally secure with the white man in his individual rights of person and property, and equally amenable for any violation of the rights of others.” But behind those seemingly reasonable words about equal protection and equal responsibility was a sinister effort to knuckle Indians under again, demolishing their religious, cultural and social practices. In other words, ethnocide.

Price presented his proposed rules to Secretary Teller in December 1882, and Teller approved them the following April. Among the true purposes, Price wrote, was “to destroy the tribal relations as fast as possible.” Just as when the Office of Indian Affairs (soon renamed the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was established in 1824, the imposition of the rules was done by fiat of the Secretary of Interior, without congressional action. That would not occur until 1885 when Congress passed the Major Crimes Act.

The rules set forth a Court of Indian Offenses at each Indian agency. Each court was to be presided over by a tribunal, the Indian judges automatically being the three highest-ranking officers of the tribal police. Appeals would be handled by the BIA. An amendment in 1894 allowed judges to be chosen from among other tribal members.

The rules had little to do with laws established to regulate the behavior of non-Indians. With a couple of exceptions, they were more like status crimes, that is, if you’re Indian, you can’t do this without getting into trouble-worshiping as you please or drinking alcohol, for example.

With only minor changes the rules remained in place until 1935, when Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes promulgated fresh regulations as a consequence of the Indian Reorganization Act of the previous year. Here are excerpts from the nine rules set forth in 1883:

• 1st. Establishes the court and selection of judges, each for a one-year term. “[N]o person shall be eligible to appointment as a member of said court who is a polygamist; and provided further, that the judges herein provided for shall receive no money consideration on account of their services in connection with said court.”

• 2d. Requires two regular sessions a month, the time approved by the local (government-appointed) Indian agent (who was a private contractor).

• 3d. Authorizes the agent to “compel the attendance of witnesses at any session of the court, and enforce, with the aid of the police, if necessary, all orders that may be passed by the court or a majority thereof; but all orders, decrees, or judgments of the court shall be subject to approval or disapproval of the agent, and an appeal to and final revision by this office…”

• 4th. “The ‘sun-dance,’ the ‘scalp-dance,’ the ‘war-dance,’ and all other so-called feasts assimilating thereto, shall be considered ‘Indian offenses,’ and any Indian found guilty of being a participant in any one or more of these ‘offenses’ shall, for the first offense committed, be punished by withholding from the person or persons so found guilty by the court his or their rations for a period not exceeding ten days; and if found guilty of any subsequent offense under this rule, shall by punished by withholding his or their rations for a period not less than fifteen days, nor more than thirty days, or by incarceration in the agency prison for a period not exceeding thirty days.”

• 5th. “Any plural marriage hereafter contracted or entered into by any member of an Indian tribe under the supervision of a United States Indian agent shall be considered an ‘Indian offense,’ [… and] shall pay a fine of not less than twenty dollars, or work at hard labor for a period of twenty days, or both, at the discretion of the court. […]  and so long as the Indian shall continue in this unlawful relation he shall forfeit all right to receive rations from the Government. And whenever it shall be proven to the satisfaction of the court that any member of the tribe fails, without proper cause, to support his wife and children, no rations shall be issued to him until such time as satisfactory assurance is given to the court, approved by the agent, that the offender will provide for his family to the best of his ability.”

Steven Moses (Spokane) stood trial in 1913 on the

Spokane Reservation for continuing to practice

traditional ceremonies in violation of the Code of

Indian Offenses. He was acquitted because the

main witness against him failed to show up in court.

(Courtesy of Barry Moses, his great-great grandson)

• 6th. “The usual practices of so-called ‘medicine-men’ shall be considered ‘Indian offenses’ […] and whenever it shall be proven to the satisfaction of the court that the influence or practice of a so-called ‘medicine-man’ operates as a hindrance to the civilization of a tribe, or that said ‘medicine-man’ resorts to any artifice or device to keep the Indians under his influence, or shall adopt any means to prevent the attendance of children at the agency schools, or shall use any of the arts of a conjurer to prevent the Indians from abandoning their heathenish rites and customs, he shall be adjudged guilty of an Indian offense, and upon conviction of any one or more of these specified practices, or, any other, in the opinion of the court, of an equally anti-progressive nature, shall be confined in the agency prison for a term not less than ten days, or until such time as he shall produce evidence satisfactory to the court, and approved by the agent, that he will forever abandon all practices styled Indian offenses under this rule.”

• 7th. Requires restoration or restitution for theft or destruction of property. “Those convicted shall be confined in the agency prison for a term not exceeding thirty days; and it shall not be considered a sufficient or satisfactory answer to any of the offenses set forth in this rule that the party charged was at the time a ‘mourner,’ and thereby justified in taking or destroying the property in accordance with the customs or rites of the tribe.”

• 8th. “Any Indian or mixed-blood who shall pay or offer to pay any money or other valuable consideration to the friends or relatives of any Indian girl or woman, for the purpose of living or cohabiting with said girl or woman, shall be deemed guilty of an Indian offense, and upon conviction thereof shall forfeit all right to Government rations for a period at the discretion of the agent, or be imprisoned in the agency prison for a period not exceeding sixty days; and any Indian or mixed-blood who shall receive or offer to receive any consideration for the purpose herein before specified shall be punished in a similar manner as provided for the party paying or offering to pay the said consideration; and if any white man shall be found guilty of any of the offenses herein mentioned he shall be immediately removed from the reservation and not allowed to return thereto.”

• 9th. The court also has jurisdiction over misdemeanors and civil suits among Indians “and any Indian who shall be found intoxicated, or who shall sell, exchange, give, barter, or dispose of any spirituous, vinous, or fermented liquors to any other Indian, or who shall introduce or attempt to introduce, under any pretense whatever, any spirituous, vinous, or fermented liquors on the reservation, shall be punishable by imprisonment for not less than thirty day nor more than ninety days, or by the withholding of Government rations therefrom, at the discretion of the court and approval of the agent.”

The imposition of these rules, finalized in 1884, was spurred by the U.S. Supreme Court in Ex Parte Crow Dog (1883). The Court ruled that despite explicit extension of U.S. jurisdiction over “certain bands of Sioux Indians” in 1877, they were subject to U.S. law not as citizens entitled to equal protection under the law and the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but as “wards subject to a guardian … as a dependent community who were in a state of pupilage.” Although laws at the time were clear about crimes committed by Indians against non-Indians and vice versa, they did not specify what to do about crimes committed by Indians against Indians. Therefore, the court ruled that Crow Dog’s killing of Spotted Tail was a matter solely for tribal jurisdiction.

As a consequence, in 1885, Congress passed the predecessor to today’s (Indian) Major Crimes Act, which Commissioner Price called a “step in the right direction.” The act established seven major crimes on the reservations as a matter for federal as opposed to tribal jurisdiction. These were (and remain today): murder; manslaughter; rape; assault with intent to commit murder; arson; burglary; and larceny. Crimes in which the maximum sentence is one year or less are still handled by many tribal courts.

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

U.S. Deal for Navajo-Hopi Water Has Familiar Stench

(First of a series.)

By Aji

“Steals Water.”

That should be U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl’s “Indian name.” It would also fit Sen. John McCain, Rep. Ben Quayle and Rep. Paul Gosar.

What these four, with the apparent collaboration of the formal leadership of the Navajo and Hopi nations, have been plotting recently has the potential to become the biggest theft of natural resources from American Indians in years.

Sen. Jon Kyl and Sen. John McCain, conniving again

The bill, S-2109 (HR-4067 in the House), is known informally as the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012. The text defines its purpose as follows:

To approve the settlement of water rights claims of the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, and the allottees of the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe in the State of Arizona, to authorize construction of municipal water projects relating to the water rights claims, to resolve litigation against the United States concerning Colorado River operations affecting the States of California, Arizona, and Nevada, and for other purposes.

In reality, it’s the latest in a line of swindles in the nation’s long history of grabbing tribal resources and telling Indians it’s for their own good.

The bill’s true purpose is to coerce the Navajo and Hopi into surrendering all their rights to the Little Colorado River, the area’s major water source. Kyl, McCain, et al. are offering what amounts to a bribe in the form of much-needed and long-delayed groundwater-delivery projects for the two tribes. In exchange for those two limited-term projects, each tribe would permanently surrender all future claims to Little Colorado River water rights, and would waive all rights to future litigation in the event of damages arising in any way from the settlement agreements. 

The indemnity goes only one way, of course. It’s only the Indians who are barred from suing the state, the federal government and its agencies and the private corporations who stand to benefit most from the diversion of this precious tribal resource. And it turns out that the groundwater delivery projects may be nothing more than a mirage: The funding allocation is limited and appears to be conditioned on the assumption that certain monies, which may or may not exist, will be used.

Those terms alone should have gotten the Republican members of Arizona’s congressional delegation laughed out of the room, out of town, out of state, and all the way back to their insular D.C. offices.

Instead, it appears that a non-Indian lawyer on the staff of the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, with the apparent blessing (some tribal members might say “connivance”) of Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Hopi Tribal Chair LeRoy Shingoitewa, “negotiated” this monstrosity with Kyl and McCain and their staffers without authorization from the Navajo Nation Tribal Council. Stanley Pollack, the NNDOJ lawyer, has been on staff for years and reputedly has experience with water rights issues. But many tribal members believe he and others involved intended to help Shelly to help Kyl and McCain ram through the legislation before anyone got wise. Since tribal grassroots environmental organizations caught wind of the scheme, they and individual members of both tribes have begun vocal protests.

Once it became apparent that the bill could not be passed quietly, Kyl and McCain made a trip to Tuba City in the heart of the Navajo Nation, ostensibly to meet with tribal representatives. It was, in fact, intended to be a private meeting, behind closed doors, with only Shelly and Shingoitewa and their staff members in a strategy session to try to salvage the bill more or less in its current form. That failed miserably. Some 200 protestors from both nations, including former tribal chairs and officers, demonstrated outside the meeting.  

Grand Falls on the Little Colorado River (Mr. Jalapeño)

Navajo Police formed a human cordon, and allegedly physically abused former Navajo Nation President Milton Bluehouse as he tried to enter the building. Eventually, Shelly emerged to try to reassure tribal members that they and the tribal council would have the final word. But his attempt to soothe everyone was met with jeers, catcalls, demands to “kill the bill” and open accusations of “selling out.”

The “sellout” label has only gained traction with reports that Shelly’s administration has hired lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt.  One of its lead lobbyists in this matter is Ryan Smith-a former Senate aide to Jon Kyl.  No word yet on who, if anyone, will be lobbying for the Hopi.

Kyl and McCain, of course, “dismiss” the people’s criticisms as just so much “misinformation” while they continue to pressure both tribes to approve the bill amid vague but dire warnings that time is somehow short.

Time is short for the 70-year-old Sen. Kyl. He’s retiring at the end of this year after 18 years in the Senate. That leaves him just a few months to bestow this particular windfall upon his political benefactors: specifically, mostly non-Native corporate interests, including the Navajo Generating Station, Peabody Western Coal and the Salt River Project. The latter was one of Kyl’s corporate clients before he entered Congress. The bill would also benefit Arizona’s non-Indian residents and other business interests.

Next Week: An analysis of the legal aspects of the case. In future pieces we will examine the many toxic currents-including sovereignty, autonomy, self-representation, politics, media and cultural theft-of contemporary “Indian policy” that have converged into the proposed Little Colorado River Settlement.

Stop SB 2109

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Feds Settle Century of Rip-offs with $1 Billion to 41 Tribes

By Meteor Blades

In just over three years, the Obama administration has done more for American Indians than any administration since Lyndon Johnson called for an end of termination policy 44 years ago. A good deal of that has to do with simply being a good listener. But the administration is also building a solid record of compensating the tribes for decades of government bungling and behavior that, labeled properly, was outright theft.

The latest move, announced April 11, is the billion-dollar settlement with 41 tribes from Maine to California. Funding does not have to be approved by Congress because it has already been allocated in the Judgment Fund. The settlement ends a 22-month-long negotiation between the tribes and the United States over more than a century of mismanagement of concessions granted to non-Indians by the departments of Interior and the Treasury. Interior oversees 56 million acres of Indian land held in trust by the government. The concessions cover various resources, including minerals, timber, oil and gas, and grazing rights.

“They literally could not tell the tribal beneficiary how much money was in the account, or how much money was in it or where it was going,”says Matthew Fletcher.  […]
Matthew Fletcher

“You know there’s sort of a moral trust responsibility of the federal government to Indian tribes. And that plays a key role,” Fletcher says. “That’s why you have press conferences with the attorney general saying ‘We’re doing the things that we should have been doing 50 years ago or 100 years ago.'”

Fletcher, a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, teaches indigenous law at Michigan State University and is director of the MSU College of Law’s Indigenous Law and Policy Center.

The agreement is in addition to the $3.4 billion settlement over trust-land mismanagement in a class-action lawsuit brought by the late Elouise Cobell, aka Yellow Bird Woman (Niitsítapi-Blackfoot Confederacy). The Cobell settlement covered cases brought by 300,000 individual Indians. That settlement is being appealed in federal court.

The federal government settled with the Osage for $380 million in October and $760 million in the Keepseagle v. Vilsack case in 2010. The latter was brought by individual American Indian farmers and ranchers in a class-action suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They accused the department of discrimination in administering loan programs.

“These important settlements reflect President Obama’s continuing commitment to ensuring empowerment and reconciliation for American Indians,” said Secretary [of the Interior Ken] Salazar. “It strengthens the government-to-government relationship with Tribal nations, helps restore a positive working relationship with Indian Country leaders and empowers American Indian communities.”

Hilary Tompkins

On hand for the event was Hilary Tompkins (Navajo), Solicitor General of the Interior Department. She helped work out the details of the settlement. “[W]hen I say the word trust, I don’t mean the legal definition of that word, I mean the dictionary’s definition of that word-assured reliance on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle of a person or thing […] May we walk together toward a brighter future, built on trust, and not acrimony,” she said.

All tribes have had a dark relationship with the federal government, said Gary Hayes, chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, whose reservation covers southwest Colorado, southeast Utah and northern New Mexico. But the settlements will assist tribal governments in supplementing decades of inadequate funding throughout Indian Country, helping to improve public safety, infrastructure and health care, he said.

“The seeds that we plant today will profit us in the future and continue for generations to come,” Hayes said.

The Ute Mountain Utes will receive nearly $42.6 million of the settlement. A government spokesman said the Feds would not announce specific amounts, but leave that up to the individual tribes’ discretion. Known amounts range from the $150 million going to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana to the $25,000 for the Nootsack Tribe of Washington state. In addition to the 41 lawsuits settled in the agreement, another 71 are still in litigation.

The tribes receiving a portion of the $1.023 billion settlement are:

Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation; Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians; Blackfeet Tribe; Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Indians; Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians of Colusa Rancheria; Coeur d’Alene Tribe; Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation; Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation; Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes; Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Reservation; Hualapai Tribe; Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians of Arizona; Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas; Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians; Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Indians; Makah Tribe of the Makah Reservation; Mescalero Apache Nation; Minnesota Chippewa Tribe; Nez Perce Tribe; Nooksack Tribe.

Northern Cheyenne Tribe; Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine; Pawnee Nation; Pueblo of Zia; Quechan Indian Tribe of the Fort Yuma Reservation; Rincon Luiseño Band of Indians; Round Valley Tribes; Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community; Santee Sioux Tribe; Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation; Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians; Spirit Lake Dakotah Nation; Spokane Tribe; Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of the Fort Yates Reservation; Swinomish Indian Tribal Community; Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians; Tohono O’odham Nation; Tulalip Tribe; Tule River Tribe; Ute Mountain Ute Tribe; Ute Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.

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Stereotypes Celebrated for Privileged Children Birthday Party Idea

By navajo

Many things bother me about a blog page of party designer Kara Allen promoting her new book, Kara’s Party Ideas. The page is called Native American Party. Kara uses typical stereotypes Indian people have been fighting for decades and celebrates them as proper for impressionable young children. She has 38 photos illustrating every aspect of her partyscape. Here are the ones that bother me the most:



Calling All Little Indians?????

Plains Indian costume?????

Tomahawks and red licorice braids?????



Fortunately, there are respectful criticisms (the nasty ones are gone now) in the comment section of her blog page explaining why the use of stereotypes is racist. But the replies from Kara and her supporters bother me.

Kara offers one of those “sorry if anyone was offended” apologies:

Kara Allen

I just want to apologize. I had no intention of being disrespectful to any race or ethnicity. I have the highest regard for the Native American culture, in fact, my husband is part Cherokee. I meant the party as a way to honor the Native American heritage {just as a “Luau Party” honors the Samoan, Hawaiian, Tongan, etc. cultures} while also celebrating a birthday in a fun way.

Kara’s perspective falls into the category of ignorant racism. How exactly does this theme differ from a “blackface” party? Would Kara promote that on her blog?

Kara writes that she lives in Utah, my birth state, which was once all Indian land. Land belonging to the Bannock, Goshute, Navajo, Paiute, Shoshone and Ute tribes. All very different tribes. Tribes whose traditional clothing doesn’t resemble the costumes at Kara’s party. Except for the Navajo, these tribes were forced onto small reservations long ago.

Utah tribal landUtah reservations

I wonder if Kara can name any of these Utah tribes and describe a few aspects of their different cultures. I wonder if she knows there are different bands within some of those tribes. I grew up in Utah and I’ve visited nearly all the reservations there. It was visually obvious to me even as a young child that they have higher poverty rates than the rest of Utah.

It’s disturbing to know the reality of the living conditions on our reservations and then see a stereotyped depiction of generic Indians flaunted as a party.

Personally, I don’t think the advice in the comments for taking one tribe and “honoring” them at a privileged child’s birthday party is a good approach. Better to remove this page from the upcoming book. Kara should stick to her other fantasy ideas as party themes.

American Indians are not a fantasy.

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Seattle School of Law Debuts American Indian Law Journal: Backed by the Center for Indian Law & Policy, the 96-page journal, whose cover art appears below, contains articles titled, among others: “Can Indian Tribes Sell or Encumber Their Fee Lands Without Federal Approval?”; “The Public Nature of Indian Reservation Roads”; and “Justice Rehnquist’s Theory of Indian Law: The Evolution from Mazurie to Atkinson – Where Did He Leave the Court?”

“€œRunning Eagle Takes Her Enemy”€ by Artist Terrance Guardipee

-Meteor Blades

Miccosukee Indians Allege Lawyers Ripped Them Off: The 600-member tribe has accused former Miami U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis and ex-federal prosecutor Michael Tein of luring it “into unnecessarily paying millions of dollars in legal fees that were excessive and unreasonable, for work that was fictitious, improperly created, unsubstantiated and which did not achieve any reasonable benefit.” Millions of dollars paid out to the two lawyers built the pair a lavish lifestyle that included, among other things, a huge luxury car collection and a zeppelin.

-Meteor Blades

S.D. State Rep. Ed Iron Cloud (Oglala Lakota ) Missed Filing Deadline for Primary: The Democratic incumbent state representative from Porcupine missed the deadline to submit petitions for running as a Democrat in the state primary June 5, but he plans to run as an independent and is gathering signatures to do so. South Dakota has 35 legislative districts, each represented by one senator and two House members. Iron Cloud has represented South Dakota’s heavily Democratic District 27 since 2009 along with Kevin Killer (Oglala Lakota). If he doesn’t make the ballot, Killer and Republican Elizabeth May will automatically get seats in the House.

-Meteor Blades

Jenna Talackova

Aboriginal Transgender Wins Fight to Compete in Miss Universe Canada Contest: A member of the Nat’oot’en (or Lake Babine) First Nation of British Columbia, Jenna Talackova was born male. At 19, four years ago, she had a sex-change operation. And now she is a 23-year-old woman competing in the Canadian Miss Universe Pageant. Three weeks ago, however, the Donald Trump-controlled pageant disqualified her for being formerly male, and Talackova decided to fight back, enlisting Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred in the battle. Which generated some heated words. Allred asked Trump to prove he is a man, and Trump fired back that she would be impressed if she saw his junk. On April 2, the pageant agreed that Talackova can compete as long as she meets Canadian “legal gender recognition requirements” and the standards of other international competitions. The latter may be difficult since some of those, including the Miss USA pageant, require a contestant to be a “naturally born genetic female.” Transgender advocates saw the win as a partial victory. Suzi Parker at the Washington Post granted that Talackova should have the right to compete, but asked why she would want to given Parker’s view that it would be better if no women desired pageant queen status.

-Meteor Blades

National Native News Offers First Nations Radio Briefs Each Day: The operation is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year as a provider of five minutes of radio news each day about American Indians, Alaskan Natives and First Nations peoples of Canada. Programming is available to Native and non-Native outlets. You can also listen on line.

-Meteor Blades

Gov. Brian Schweitzer Honored at 31st Annual Montana Indian Education Association Conference: The association honored the governor Friday in Bozeman for his leadership in Indian education. Among the prominent members of Montana’s Indian community in attendance was Carol Juneau (Mandan/Hidatsa), a former Montana senator. She spoke about the positive impact Schweitzer has had. Her daughter, Denise, is the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, the first Indian ever elected to statewide office in Montana. Schweitzer spoke of the importance of education in bringing down reservation unemployment rates that are six or more times the national average.

-Meteor Blades

Banks Won’t Supports Reservation Contractors for Lack of Collateral: Among the obstacles faced by reservation-based construction companies bidding to work on large construction projects is that fact that the reservation cannot use land to take out bonds to fund projects. That is because reservation land is trust land and not taxed by the federal government. “Banks won’t come anywhere near the reservation,” said Dustin Twiss (Oglala Lakota), who with his father lost a bid on a communication system for a new justice facility on the Pine Ridge Reservation. “You’d be lucky to make a payday loan, let alone a half a million dollar bond down here, unless you have 100 percent of the assets.”

-Meteor Blades

Petitioners Seek Access to “Plan B” Emergency Contraception for Native Women: A recent report by the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center showed that 90 percent of American Indian women have a very difficult time getting emergency contraception because the vast majority of Indian Health Service pharmacies don’t carry it. For reservation women, who often live in rural areas, the next nearest pharmacy may be 100 miles away. You can sign a petition urging IHS Director Dr. Yvette Roubideaux to issue a directive to all IHS service providers to make emergency contraception available on demand without a prescription or doctor visit to all women 17 or older.

-Meteor Blades (with h/t to Land of Enchantment)

Sanford School Teams, No, Not THAT Sanford, Call Themselves “Redskins” : A high school in the Maine town of 21,000 has yet to get rid of the nickname or its stereotypical mascot. Of the 448 students, faculty and staff at the school, only about 40 percent support

Sanford “Redskin” logo

changing the name, the last school in the state whose teams are called “Redskins.” Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission has asked the school’s governing committee to get rid of it. Wiscasset, a Maine town of 3600, dumped the name at its high school last year. Other less incendiary Indian-themed nicknames are still used by some schools in the state. About 50 Indians and non-Indians got together in Sanford on Wednesday for “a peace-building conversation.” Richard Silliboy, tribal councilor of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, said the “R” term is just as insulting as “squaw,” a word that has been removed from all public place names in Maine. Silliboy said he’d taken many insults in his life: “Dirty Indian, stinkin’ Indian, drunken Indian” and a “no-good-for-nothing Indian and the only good Indian’s a dead Indian.” The school committee meets next month to decide whether to change the name and get rid of its logo of a stereotypical Indian in a stereotypical Plains-style “war bonnet.” That other Sanford? The high school has “Sammy Seminole,” a stereotyped very unSeminole mascot dropped in favor of “Chief Osceola” by Florida State University years ago. (Full Disclosure: The latter FSU mascot is approved by the Seminole Tribe of Florida in which I am an enrolled member.)

-Meteor Blades

A Sacred Peak With Rich Ore Deposits: Chicago Peak is a place associated with the creation of the Kootenai world. “It’s one of the most significant sites to the Kootenai because of its association with knowledge and power,” says Maria Nieves Zedeño, an anthropologist who has studied the peak’s importance to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana. They seek to have the peak listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They hope this might spotlight a mining company’s plans to burrow beneath it and haul out its silver and copper. The listing would not legally stop the company from going ahead with its Rock Creek Mine, however. The tribe traditionally uses the spiritual site for praying, fasting and seeking visions.

-Meteor Blades (h/t to BentLiberal)

1300-Year-Old Indigenous Stone Structure Preserved by New Heritage Park: Massachusetts became home to the new Upton Heritage Park Sunday (today) and that means protected status for a stone structure built by indigenous people 13 centuries ago. Site lines in the structure, a chamber that archeologists believe was part of a series of ceremonial buildings, align perfectly with the summer solstice for the year 710 CE.

-Meteor Blades (h/t to ojibwa)

Criminal Justice Training Initiative Begins in Cherokee Nation: The Justice and Interior Departments have completed the first in a series of national level training courses, “Criminal Jurisdiction in Indian Country.” The courses are designed to strengthen the ability of tribal and local law enforcement to participate in the investigation and enforcement of federal crimes in Indian country and fulfill a key training requirement under the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010. Thirty-five class participants representing seven tribes in Oklahoma and one county sheriff’s office took part in the three-day CJIC training. Topics included training in federal Indian law criminal jurisdiction, how to best serve sexual assault and domestic violence victims, as well as the investigation and enforcement of drug and firearm offenses.

-Meteor Blades

Marty Two Bulls Wins Society of Professional Journalists’ Cartooning Award: The Oglala Lakota, editorial cartoonist for Indian Country Today, has won a Sigma Delta Chi award from the SPJ for his acerbic work. The award is divided among cartoonists at publications of 100,000 circulation or more and those of less than 100,000. Matt Bors, who cartoons appear regularly at Daily Kos, won the award for the larger circulation publications. Two Bulls lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation: “My father is Rev. Robert Two Bulls and my grandfather was Peter Two Bulls Sr. I hail from the Red Shirt Table area of our reservation. Our enemies call us the Sioux.”


Indians have often been referred to as the “Vanishing Americans.” But we are still here, entangled each in his or her unique way with modern America, blended into the dominant culture or not, full-blood or not, on the reservation or not, and living lives much like the lives of other Americans, but with differences related to our history on this continent, our diverse cultures and religions, and our special legal status. To most other Americans, we are invisible, or only perceived in the most stereotyped fashion.

First Nations News & Views is designed to provide a window into our world, each Sunday reporting on a small number of stories, both the good and the not-so-good, and providing a reminder of where we came from, what we are doing now and what matters to us. We wish to make it clear that neither navajo nor I make any claim whatsoever to speak for anyone other than ourselves, as individuals, not for the Navajo people or the Seminole people, the tribes in which we are enrolled as members, nor, of course, the people of any other tribes.


First Nations News & Views: Sliammon protest singer, ‘Clowns’ and wild bison transfers stopped

Welcome to the 10th edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by Meteor Blades and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find a story about First Nations pipeline protests in Vancouver, a look at the years 603 and 1916 in American Indian history, three news briefs and a big collection of linkable bulleted briefs. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

By navajo

Navajo Night Dance Clown
Navajo Night Dance Clown

Today we feature medicine clowns in honor of April Fools’ Day. Many American Indian cultures have medicine people whose focus is emotional and spiritual healing though humor and parody. The English term clown is translated in various native languages to refer to members of a community who are considered tricksters, riddlers and jokers but who are also healers, mediators, oracles, counselors, storytellers and teachers. The Hopi Hyoka is the best-known example. Some tribes traditionally viewed medicine clowns as shape-shifters and changelings. As with other aspects of indigenous religions, the clowns were suppressed and demonized by invading European religious leaders who considered them a threat to their conversion-to-Christianity crusade. Eventually, Indian religion was banned entirely. But the custom of the clown was kept alive through oral history. An example of their practice is conflict resolution. The medicine clown would reenact the conflict using humor and satire. Once everyone was laughing the conflict could be resolved because of the mood. The Wampanoag Ahanaeenun are an example of contemporary medicine clowns who keep their traditions alive using technology and the written word to maintain the spiritual and emotional well-being of their community in a modern society.

Haunting Young Singer Punctuates First Nations Pipeline and Oil Tanker Protest

By navajo and Meteor Blades

11-year-old singer-protester Ta’Kaiya Blaney in traditional canoe

Just days after the 23rd anniversary of the infamous Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, more than 2000 people came out in support of a March 26 rally in Vancouver organized by First Nations people and environmental groups to protest the oil tanker traffic along British Columbia’s coastline and proposed pipeline expansion throughout Canada.

Rain is an eternal presence in the region and did not stop the large crowd from gathering in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Many First Nations people turned out in full traditional regalia, perfectly designed to deal with rain. Among the many speakers was famed environmental advocate and climate-change activist Bill McKibben:

Along with protecting this most beautiful coastline, and along with protecting all the people and other creatures that have been here for so long, you also have the great honor and the great burden of having to help protect the rest of the planet.

What they want is for British Columbia to be a kind of carbon portal, a kind of carbon gateway for oil and coal … and we just can’t let that happen. That oil has got to stay in the ground.

McKibben’s reference is to the tar sands oil of Alberta, much in the news in the United States because of opposition to the 1661-mile Keystone XL that builder TransCanada has proposed to deliver the hydrocarbon in those sands, bitumen, in a slurry from Canada to the Texas Gulf coast where most of it will be exported. McKibben and hundreds of other pipeline foes, including many American Indians, were arrested for protests around the White House last summer.

The Vancouver protesters object to the proposed $5.5 billion (Canadian) Northern Gateway pipeline to be built by Calgary-based Enbridge. It would carry slurry bitumen the 731 miles from Bruderheim, Alta., to Kitimat, British Columbia. The Despite significant financial and other benefits being offered First Nations people, some 60 percent still oppose it on environmental, social and cultural grounds.

Edwin Newman (Heiltsuk First Nation) one of the main organizers of this event, said, “We are trying to protect a way of life, a way of life that we’ve enjoyed as Heiltsuk people and as coastal people since time immemorial. We’re pleading with our coastal neighbours to stand with us to fight this issue.”

The Heiltsuk, which, with two neighboring First Nations people once populated a large portion of the central coast of British Columbia, are now based at Bella Bella on Campbell Island, 250 miles south-southwest of Kitimat and vulnerable to tanker spills. A Heiltsuk member read a statement in opposition to allowing pipelines and oil tankers passage through their territory.

The most moving speaker, who actually sang her protest, was Ta’Kaiya Blaney (Sliammon First Nation), an 11-year-old actress, singer and songwriter who performed her song “Shallow Waters” (lyrics) for the crowd. Released in early 2011, the song warns that an oil spill along the northwest coast could end all hope of maintaining traditions for coastal First Nations people. A spill would devastate marine life and coastal habitat. The lyrics and melody are hauntingly beautiful.

The studio version is here with amazing images and Blaney in her traditional cedar bark regalia. The documentation is very well done. It’s had 87,333 views. Her crying voice pleads to our emotions to listen, please listen, and do something.

The crowd, led by the First Nations, then marched to Enbridge Northern Gateway offices and surrounded the building, trapping the people inside for a time.

The demonstration ended peacefully.

Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

(First Nations News & Views continued below the frybread thingey)

This Week in American Indian History in 603 and 1916

Pakal the Great, King of Palenque, Born in 603

K’inich Janahb’ Pakal

On March 23, 603, the most famous Mayan king, K’inich Janahb’ Pakal, was born. (If you prefer the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar to mark important birthdays, it was, that is: 9 b’ak’tun, 8 k’atun, 9 tun, 13 winal, 0 kin from the 3114 BCE creation of the world according to the Maya. Yes, that’s a zero, the Maya being among the first to use it.) He was born in Otolam or Lakam Ha (Big Water) in the lowlands of what is now Chiapas state in southern Mexico. The Spanish conquistadors named the place Palenque, already a centuries-old ruin by the time they first visited in the 1500s.

The word “Pakal” means “shield” in the Chol Maya dialect. The king is familiarly known as Pakal the Great. He took the throne from his mother Sak K’uk’ at age 12 and ruled for 68 years. It was in his time that great architecture was built in Palenque, a response to attacks and destruction from another city state. Pakal’s tomb, in the Temple of Inscriptions (named for the extensive text on its walls), was for decades after its 1948-52 excavation by Alberto Ruz Lhuillier considered the richest  and best preserved archeological find of the ancient Americas. It took Ruz four years to dig through the floor of the temple, carefully clear the rubble and discover the elaborately carved sarcophagus. Ruz wrote:

Out of the dim shadows emerged a vision from a fairy tale, a fantastic, ethereal sight from another world. It seemed a huge magic grotto carved out of ice, the walls sparkling and glistening like snow crystals. Delicate festoons of stalactites hung like tassels of a curtain, and the stalagmites on the floor looked like drippings from a great candle. The impression, in fact, was that of an abandoned chapel. Across the walls marched stucco figures in low relief. Then my eyes sought the floor. This was almost entirely filled with a great carved stone slab, in perfect condition.

Under that slab, Ruz ultimately found, was a skeleton, the skull covered with a jade mask. The whole was surrounded by stucco and stone reliefs connecting the occupant with Maya mythology and the afterlife. The inscriptions stated this was indeed K’inich Janahb’ Pakal, but there were scientific concerns. After years of dispute over the age of the man whose bones these were, most scholars agree that the remains really are Pakal’s.  

Ishi, the Last of His Tribe, Dies in 1916

By Meteor Blades

On March 25, 1916, a Yahi Indian of the Yana people named Ishi died of tuberculosis in his quarters at the University of California’s anthropology museum in San Francisco. He was about 55 years old. Thanks to national fascination with him almost from the moment he stepped out of the woods near Oroville, he is possibly the most famous California Indian who ever lived. Except for the final five years of his life, he lived completely outside the white world.

During those five years, he was intensively studied. He became friends and a hunting companion of some of those who studied him, taught them the intricacies of his dialect and aspects of his culture, including how to knapp stone arrowheads the way he had been taught. In the latter case, his techniques are still used by many modern flint-knappers.

He was born about 1862, a time of tremendous pressure from whites on the Indians of northern California. The influx of the gold rush was over, but the flood of immigrants to the state never stopped. Mining and other activities wreaked ecological havoc everywhere they turned, killing off food sources for the Indians and driving down their population numbers by squeezing their habitant and by the California genocide. Ishi was a survivor of that slaughter.

Gov. Peter Burnett

The first governor of California, Peter H. Burnett, didn’t start that genocide, but he added to it. In January 1851, he said: “That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races, until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected. While we cannot anticipate this result but with painful regret, the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power or wisdom of man to avert.” That “painful regret” didn’t stop future governors from supporting volunteer militias to hunt and kill Indians. Between 1851 and 1859, the state spent more than $1.3 million for this purpose. The federal government reimbursed California for some of this spending. In addition, towns offered scalp bounties, as much as $5 each in some cases.

Groups like Humboldt Home Guard, the Eel River Minutemen and the Placer Blades terrorized and murdered local Indians. The 19th century historian Hubert Howe Bancroft wrote: “The California valley cannot grace her annals with a single Indian war bordering on respectability. It can, however, boast a hundred or two of as brutal butchering, on the part of our honest miners and brave pioneers, as any area of equal extent in our republic.”

At statehood in 1850, the Indian population of California was estimated to be 150,000, about half what it is thought to have been when the Spanish arrived. Thanks to the government-funded extermination policy, by 1900 only 16,000 remained. Among them were Ishi, his mother and his sister, survivors of the Three Knolls Massacre of 1865. That is when an impromptu militia of white settlers had killed some 40 Yahi on Mill Creek, a tributary of the Sacramento River near Mt. Lassen in today’s Tehama County. The survivors, including 3-year-old Ishi, had fled.

Half of them were killed in 1867 or ’68 by another ad hoc militia. Its leader, Norman Kingsley, later said that during the slaughter, he had exchanged his .56 caliber Spencer rifle for a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver because the rifle “tore them up so bad,” particularly the babies. The few remaining Yahi fled into the wilderness where they effectively hid out for the next 40 years.

In 1908, a survey team ran across Ishi’s camp. He fled with his sister and another man, but his mother was too frail to run. The surveyors looted the camp, taking everything of value. Soon afterward, the rest of Ishi’s tiny band died. For the next three years, he lived alone. But in 1911, starving, he stole into a slaughterhouse where he was caught by the butchers and briefly jailed.

Ishi’s quiver and arrows

It was at that point that he came to the attention of anthropologists Thomas Talbot Waterman and Alfred Kroeber, who would make the Indian their research assistant and life’s work. When the ambitious Kroeber first heard about Ishi’s appearance, he wrote to linguist Edward Sapir: “Have totally wild Indian at the museum. Do you want to come and work him up?”

Ishi spent a good deal of time teaching the linguists and anthropologists what he knew. But he was also quite involved in the community. He dated, he played with local children. One of the most difficult adjustments for him was crowds. Before he went looking for a meal in that slaughterhouse, he had never seen more than perhaps 50 people all in one place.

After five years living in the white world that he had previously avoided all his life, he died of tuberculosis. In his culture, keeping the body intact for burial was important, but the doctors performed an autopsy, removed his brain and cremated the ashes. Those were buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in San Francisco, but the brain wasn’t interred with them for another 89 years.

Much has been written about Ishi, the most famous being the book published on the 50th anniversary of his emergence from the wild, Ishi in Two Worlds, written by Alfred Kroeber’s anthropologist wife Theodora. In 2003, anthropologists Clifton and Karl Kroeber, sons of Theodora and Alfred, edited Ishi in Three Centuries, a scholarly book on the subject that included essays by American Indians. In 2004, anthropologist Orin Starn wrote Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last “Wild” Indian There was a television film in 1978, a mediocre biopic called Ishi: The Last of His Kind.

In 1996, based mostly on the style of arrowheads that Ishi knapped, research archaeologist Steven Shackley concluded that Ishi likely wasn’t the last pure Yahi, but a mixed blood whose parents, like other California Indians may have been forced by white encroachment and slaughter into tribal mergers with their enemies. Proof of that theory likely will never be known. Today, there are no known members of the Yana, the larger group of whom the Yahi were a part.

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Montana Judge Orders Stop to Further Wild Bison Transfers

Drummers welcome the bison to the

Fort Peck Indian Reservation, March 21, 2012.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, wildlife conservation advocates and members of the Assinibone and Sioux (Nakota) tribes celebrated the arrival of 62 genetically pure, wild Yellowstone bison to the Fort Peck Reservation on March 21. But it will be the last such move for a while. The next day a Montana judge turned objections of white ranchers and property rights groups into a temporary restraining order on such transfers. A hearing will be held April 11 in Chinook. Thus continues a fight that in various forms is a century-and-a-half old.

Unaffected are the four bison already on their way from Yellowstone when Judge John McKeon issued his order. But the transfer of half the herd of 62 to the Fort Belknap Reservation (Assiniboine-A’aninin-Gros Ventre) and a planned transfer from the herd of billionaire Ted Turner are on hold. That puts a major hurdle in the path of a long-term wild bison restoration program that Gov. Schweitzer has enthusiastically endorsed.

Opponents of the transfer who filed the lawsuit that prompted McKeon’s action want the relocation program stopped permanently. They argue that wild bison will hurt their livelihood by spreading disease to cattle herds, eating hay meant for those cattle and damaging fences meant to keep cattle penned in. Tribal leadership at Fort Peck and Fort Belknap have pledged to keep the bison in fenced pastures for several years and monitor them for disease. The message ranchers want to deliver is as clear as it was in the 1870s when bison were being slaughtered in their millions and Indians were being herded into their own pens: This land is our land, not your land.

The 62 bison shipped to Fort Peck were moved without prior public notice and during a snowstorm-a maneuver by the Schweitzer administration and tribes that was meant to get the bison to Fort Peck ahead of a possible court ruling such as the one handed down [March 22].

Opponents of the relocation complained the tactic violated requirements under state law that the transfers be part of an open and transparent process.

Cory Swanson, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said Thursday’s ruling was a huge victory […]

“There’s no more stealthy movement of bison anywhere. No more secret agreements that are not fully part of the process,” Swanson said. “The trust factor is really low here and the judge recognized that.”

The 62 Yellowstone bison spent five years in quarantine to ensure that they were free of brucellosis, a bacterial disease that can infect sheep, cattle, dogs and humans. Some Indian advocates of restoring wild bison to a portion of their former range consider the quarantine not only unnecessary but part of a long-standing pattern.

“Quarantine is an insulting government program force-fed to First Nations as the only way to reconnect with buffalo,” blogs Peet on the Buffalo Field Campaign website. “It is damaging to wild bison and the Tribes that would see them home again. Is that all we can do is abuse wildlife, create livestock situations and call it wildlife restoration? We can certainly do better in our efforts at ‘wildlife restoration’ than to abuse and treat members of America’s only continuously wild population of buffalo like livestock. Quarantine is no more than a fear-based response to unfounded livestock industry complaints that are nothing but efforts to protect a subsidized lifestyle.”

The Buffalo Field Campaign, which works to stop Yellowstone’s 3000 wild bison from slaughter and harassment asserts that these 62 animals were the only survivors of a process of confinement that denied them their natural instincts and caused injuries and deaths from stress and human handling. Several females, the BFC said, were overfed during winter and died while trying to deliver their calves in spring. Other young mothers abandoned their calves. Some bison were gored or crushed to death against the corral pens and many were slaughtered.

The transferred bison aren’t the first at Fort Peck and Fort Belknap. The tribes have worked assiduously since the 1970s to restore the animals. About 700 already graze at Fort Belknap and another 200 can be found at Turtle Mound Buffalo Ranch on the Fort Peck reservation.

Theirs is part of what Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife and a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says is “a much broader effort to restore Yellowstone bison to more places across the entire region and revitalize our prairie ecosystems.”

She was in the small crowd at Fort Peck to welcome the animals:

“The return of genetically pure, wild bison to tribal lands in eastern Montana has been a long time coming, and it’s great to see it finally happening. […] Native Americans have had a special relationship with bison for thousands of years,” said Clark. “The tribes at Fort Peck and Fort Belknap have generously offered to take these wild bison to restore new herds of genetically pure bison, which only adds to the cultural significance of this homecoming. We would like to thank the tribes for making this dream come true, and we’re honored to have been able to play a part in making it happen.”

Her organization has already put up more than $84,000 for bison restoration on the two reservations. It will also help pay for fencing and buying contiguous grazing allotments.

While there are today perhaps 500,000 fenced bison in commercial herds, most of them are genetically intermixed with cattle breeds and sold for meat domestically and abroad. An estimated total of 20,000 genetically pure bison live, but none but those in Yellowstone are completely free roaming.

The connection is direct between the 62 transferred bison and the millions that once roamed the Great Plains until a government-funded extermination policy directed at domesticating and confining the Plains tribes nearly brought the species to extinction. As Ojibwa tells the story:

One hundred-forty years ago, Walking Coyote (Pend d’Oreille) of the Flathead Reservation had, as a consequence of killing his wife, fled to live among the Blackfoot. He became homesick and some Blackfoot told him it might help if he were to capture a few bison and take them back to the Flathead Reservation “as a kind of peace offering.” Together with his Blackfoot companions, he caught some stray, motherless calves and returned with them to his reservation. Twelve years later Charles Allard and Michael Pablo started their own herd with bison bought from Walking Coyote. In 1902, 21 bison from the Allard-Pablo herd were bought by Yellowstone National Park.

“We recognize the bison is a symbol of our strength and unity, and that as we bring our herds back to health, we will also bring our people back to health.”

 – Fred DuBray, former president Inter Tribal Buffalo Council, 2005

The map shows the current distribution of bison herds, the vast majority of them made up of animals with a mixed heritage of bison and cattle genes.

Current Distribution

NAN Line Separater

“Greeks” Apologize for Hosting a “Cowboys and Indians”-Themed party at DU

By navajo and Meteor Blades

Cowboy and Indian party

Two University of Denver “Greek” chapters, Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and Delta Delta Delta sorority hosted a “Cowboys and Indians” party Feb. 25. Photos of the event soon hit Facebook and made their way to the inboxes of members of the DU Native Student Alliance. They were not pleased. Soon their displeasure was felt all the way in the office of DU Chancellor Robert Coombe. He ultimately decried the party and after a months of talking, members of the two Greek houses made public apologies. But did those apologies really mean anything? Only a single representative from each Greek house showed up to read the apologies.

Said Viki Eagle, (Sicangu Lakota Nation) co-chair of the NSA, “This proves to me that our society and our fellow students still view us as nonexistent, [our peers] depicted us as mascots or a Halloween costume.”

Simon Moya-Smith (Oglala Lakota), the DU graduate student adviser to the NSA, said the party was offensive “because it dehumanizes and objectifies American Indians. People think our regalia are costumes to play around in, but they are not costumes. They are very spiritual and, if you want to use the western term, holy garb that would be reserved for elders of title.”

From Indian Country Today:

[S]ome American Indian students feel that the theme party is just another blistering offense to add to DU’s lengthy pattern of racial insensitivity toward its American Indian community.

Amanda Williams, 18, a member of the Navajo and San Carlos Apache tribes, said that last year DU had planned to title their homecoming parade “How the West Was Won” until the Native Student Alliance petitioned and protested against the name.

And according to Williams, on the night of the Cowboys and Indians party, a classmate and dorm neighbor had knocked at her door and asked her if she had “anything Indian” he could wear to the party.

Determined not to let the matter pass, the NSA requested a formal apology. When they finally got a promise in the matter, they sent a letter to supporters:

Last month, two University of Denver Greek Life organizations hosted a piercingly offensive Cowboys and Indians theme party where students donned phony headdresses, face paint, loincloths, and all manner of stereotypical viciousness.


After weeks of correspondence with the director of student activities at DU, the school and the Greek Life organizations – Lambda Chi Alpha and Delta Delta Delta – have agreed to publicly apologize to the members of the Native Student Alliance.

Yet we, the members of NSA, believe that they should not only apologize to us, but to the American Indian community at large for their arrogance and ignorance.

Megan Pendly Pickett, assistant director of campus activities, who acted as a liaison between the NSA and the Greek chapters, revealed in an email to NSA that “the leadership of both Greek communities are baffled as to why an apology is warranted at all. They don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong.” That, of course, calls into question just how sincere the “Greeks” were when they agreed under pressure from students and the administration to make the apology. Native students experience that kind of racial insensitivity on a daily basis. Not at all unlike the attitude of people who who shudder at a sports team called the “Niggers,” but find nothing wrong with “Redskins.”

The public apology was scheduled for late afternoon on March 25 at a spot on the campus green where NSA had erected a tipi. A crowd of more than 100 students, faculty and community members gathered for the event.

“We understand our event was insensitive and hurtful to other members of the DU community,” said [Ross] Larson. “I’m here to make sure we can right our wrongs.” [Larson also said that the party was held “out of ignorance,” and not “racism.”]

Delta Delta Delta representative Molly Gasch said during her apology that the party will “be the last of its kind for our groups.”

“We understand that we have detrimentally affected more than just ourselves by failing to act as the community leaders that we strive to be,” she said, reading from a document. “Both of our organizations will be using this as an opportunity to improve our fraternity and sorority member education programs by increasing awareness and sensitivity of minority groups on campus.”

In an email to the DU community, Chancellor Coomb wrote:

Whether or not anyone meant to be disrespectful or hurtful, their actions did inflict painful wounds. We must all come to understand how our actions affect others, and how cartoonish depictions not only push us apart, but also reflect our limited understanding of one another.

Members of the Native Student Alliance, the Campus Activities office, the Center for Multicultural Excellence, and the involved fraternity and sorority have already embarked on a learning and healing process, meeting several times since the incident to talk, and more importantly, to listen.

Sounds an awful lot like what used to be called “palaver.” While the public apology could be seen as a step in the right direction, the failure of the Greek community to show up indicates that a large group of party-goers still doesn’t understand or care about the issue. From experience, American Indians know what the whisperers are likely still saying: “What’s the big deal?”

NAN Line Separater

Caught with Illegal Animal Parts, Welsh “Apache” Claims Native Heritage

By Meteor Blades

Mangas Coloradas, the Welsh Apache

The reporters have had a fun time with Mangas Coloradas. The 60-year-old Welshman claims to be Apache. Or at least he has since a divorce 20 years ago when he took the name of a famous Eastern Chiricahua leader and began living what he calls the Apache lifestyle out of what the Telegraph smirkily notes is “his three-bedroom detached house in the Townhill suburb of Swansea.” Dasoda-hae-the real Mangas Coloradas (“Red Sleeves,” in Spanish, a translation of his Apache nickname: Kan-da-zis Tlishishen)-would surely be smirking, too. But the failure to go beyond smirking reinforces stereotypes.

The Welshman traveled to the United States in 1997 and tried to live on a reservation, but he says the government would not let him. He lived in Spain in a tipi for a while, too. He keeps snakes as pets and claims to have cured thousands of people of their fear of them. He makes tomahawks and bows and arrows. He also says he loves animals in general. But what got him notice in the newspapers and on-line, starting in January in the South Wales Evening Post was the fact he was arrested with badger paws and bird parts in his house, a violation of the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act and the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

He is fighting the charges based on his claims of Apache heritage. In January, at a preliminary hearing, he showed up in a miserable mishmash of faux Indian garb, fringed jacket, suede moccasins and beads. His solicitor, Anne Griffiths, said: “My client is part of a native American Apache tribe. His belief means he travels abroad and lives in these communities in the summer.” As for Mangas Coloradas himself:

“I dress like this all the time I’m not just some weekend Indian. I don’t put it on to show off, I put it on because I want to wear it,” he said.

“I’m against modern life, nobody cares about anybody else, nobody cares about mother earth.” […]

“I have the motto Hóka-héy, which means it is a good day to die. I live everyday like it could be my last for we are only on this world for a short time.”

Apparently no reporter thought to ask Coloradas exactly which of the six Apache sub-tribes he spends his summers with, where he obtained his outlandish anything-but-Apache clothes or the fake Northern Plains-style headdress no Chiricahua would be caught dead in, or why he adopted face-paint more appropriate to a party rent-a-clown than a warrior of his namesake’s reputation. Nor did any reporter ask him why he chose as his motto a Lakota expression meaning “Let’s get a move on” or “Hurry, hurry” instead of his interpretation.

Perhaps the prosecutor will do so when Coloradas appears at trial in August.

NAN Line Separater

Top BIA Official Resigns to Take LDS Church Post: Larry Echo Hawk (Pawnee Nation) is resigning as the assistant secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, the post to which he was appointed by President Obama in 2009. The assistant secretary oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education, which runs schools for some 50,000 Indian children. The former Brigham Young University law professor is being appointed to the Quorum of the Seventy, which is the Mormon Church’s third-highest governing body. Echo Hawk was elected Idaho attorney general in 1990.


And the 38th Annual Denver March Powwow Princess for 2012 is  .  .  .   :

Calsee Has No Horse (Oglala Lakota) from Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota!

Calsee Has No Horse, Miss Denver March Powwow 2012 PrincessCalsee Has No Horse, Calsee Has No HorseMiss Denver 2012Calsee Has No Horse, Miss Denver March Powwow Princess 2012Calsee Has No Horse, Miss Denver March Powwow Princess 2012

Powwows are one of our richest cultural community events. They take place all across the nation, and there is a powwow circuit that many dancers follow to compete for money rewards. Powwows are also spiritual events, a way to give thanks to the creator and pay tribute to our veterans. Like the Miss Navajo Nation contest, the powwow royalty competes based on skill. There is no, nor will there ever be, a bathing suit contest. If you haven’t attended a powwow, you should but be aware there are cultural rules you need to follow.


Lakota Hunger Strikers Target Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline: The Lakota Hunger Strike for Sacred Water Protection began today at 11 a.m. and will continue through Tuesday, April 3. The strike is in solidarity with First Nations people of Canada who opposed a proposed pipeline that would run from Alberta to Pacific ports to supply supertankers with tar sands oil for shipping along the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest. In a statement, Cheyenne River Reservation participants said: “Mining corporations use and contaminate an enormous, irreplaceable amount of pure drinking water, creating the world’s greatest ecological manmade disaster in the extraction of tar-sands oil.” Strikers will burn a sacred fire at a campsite on the reservation near Eagle Butte for the entire 48 hours they go without eating.

-Meteor Blades

Amnesty Int’l Reports on Abuses of Immigrants, Natives in Southwest: The 85-page report, titled “In Hostile Terrain: Human Rights Violations in Immigration Enforcement in the U.S. Southwest,” says there are systemic failures of federal, state and local authorities to enforce immigration laws without discrimination. “Communities living along the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly Latinos, individuals perceived to be of Latino origin and indigenous communities, are disproportionately affected by a range of immigration-control measures, resulting in a pattern of human rights violations.”

-Meteor Blades

Meet the Vochol, Beadwork on Wheels:

The Huichol Indians of west-central Mexico have poured artisanship into the iconic VW Beetle,

smothering it in their characteristic beadwork. (Courtesy of Smithsonian via ICTMN)

At one time, hailing a cab Mexico City meant that about half the time you would be taken to your destination in a Volkswagen Beetle, the Bug in the United States, but the “Vocho” in Mexico. Indeed, the car was a favorite everywhere. I once rented a brand new one in Nogales, drove it all around Mexico for two weeks before dropping it off in Mérida. But I never saw one like this done up in the intricate style of the Huichol Indians of Nayarit and Jalisco. It’s the work of Huichols Francisco Bautista Carrillo and his daughter Kena Bautista, 227 million beads’ worth. The vehicle is named the Vochol, a combination of the nickname Vocho, and the tribal name Huichol.

-Meteor Blades

Illinois Junior High School Votes to Drop Indian Mascot: Aptakisic Junior High in Buffalo Grove, named after the man who was chief of the area’s Potawatomi tribe nearly 200 years ago, recently announced it’s changing its sport mascot from the “Indians” to the “Eagles.” The principal noted that this generation of kids is very sensitive and more aware of the harmful effects of Native American mascots.

-navajo with a h/t to lexalou

Indian Inmates Challenge S.D. Prison Tobacco Ban: In a federal trial of a lawsuit filed in 2009, a Lakota traditional healer, Richard Moves Camp (Oglala Lakota), has argued that tobacco is an integral part of American Indian religious ceremonies and denying its use can be compared with taking away the Bible from a Christian. South Dakota prisons ban even ceremonial tobacco use. Camp said tobacco has been a central part of prayer for thousands of years. Inmates Blaine Brings Plenty and Clayton Creek, both Oglala Lakotas and members of prison-based Native American Council of Tribes filed the suit.

-Meteor Blades

Department of Labor Announces $60 Million in Indian Jobs & Training Grants: Via the Workforce Investment Act’s Section 166-Indian and Native American Programs (INAP), the grants are targeted to American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities for developing academic, occupational, and literacy skills to individuals making more competitive in the workforce. The grants will be administered in accordance with the community’s goals and values. Of the total, $12.4 million of grants will be focused on youth programs.

-Meteor Blades

ACLU Sues BIA-Run School for Publicly Humiliating Navajo Student for Pregnancy: Last fall, Shantelle Hicks (Navajo) was a 15-year-old student at Wingate Boarding School in Gallup, N.M., who was expelled for being pregnant. Advised that expulsion for pregnancy was discriminatory and a violation of state law, they re-admitted her, but not before forcibly mandating her attendance at an all-school assembly, where they brought her in front of the entire student body and publicly shamed her for having a pregnancy out of wedlock. At the time, only one other person knew of the pregnancy – her sister. Privately, the school told Hicks she was a bad example and should look for another school. On March 6, the ACLU filed a suit against the Bureau of Indian Education school, a teacher and a counselor “seeking punitive damages and declaratory relief for violation of constitutional rights to equal protection and of the Title IX prohibition against sex and pregnancy discrimination in education.” A reporter telephoned the principal, Timothy Nelson, who said the allegations weren’t true and hung up.

-navajo with a h/t to Aji

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Keeps Position: Charlie Murphy (Dakota) has kept his post as chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe whose reservation straddles North and South Dakota. Charges of misconduct and neglect of office were voted down 12-3 and 9-6 in the seven-hour meeting of the tribal council. All charges had to do with recent personnel moves that spurred tribal member Avis Little Eagle to seek Murphy’s removal. Little Eagle is a former managing editor of the on-line newspaper Indian Country Today. Murphy beat incumbent Ron His Horse Is Thunder in an election two years ago. One casualty of the effort to oust Murphy was executive director Cheryl Kary who had pushed through extensive changes in operations of the tribe’s executive branch.

-Meteor Blades

Federal Judge Says No Taxing of Mashantucket’s Slot Machines: An attempt by the town of Ledyard, Conn., will not be able to collect property taxes on slot machines that the Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Tribal Nation leases from non-Indian vendors has run afoul of federal district Judge Warren W. Eginton. He agreed with the Mashantucket’s lawsuit saying the town’s action are pre-empted by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and violate the tribe’s sovereignty. Documents on the case can be found here.

-Meteor Blades

AMC Developing Carlisle School Show: ‘The Real All Americans’: The channel is in the early stages of development for a show directed by Tommy Lee Jones (Cherokee) about the football team at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School that included famed Olympian Jim Thorpe. The exact parameters are not known but will certainly include some focus on Capt. Richard Henry Pratt, who founded the school to “civilize” Indians and made the notorious remark in an 1892 speech in Denver “that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

-Meteor Blades


Indians have often been referred to as the “Vanishing Americans.” But we are still here, entangled each in his or her unique way with modern America, blended into the dominant culture or not, full-blood or not, on the reservation or not, and living lives much like the lives of other Americans, but with differences related to our history on this continent, our diverse cultures and religions, and our special legal status. To most other Americans, we are invisible, or only perceived in the most stereotyped fashion.

First Nations News & Views is designed to provide a window into our world, each Sunday reporting on a small number of stories, both the good and the not-so-good, and providing a reminder of where we came from, what we are doing now and what matters to us. We wish to make it clear that neither navajo nor I make any claim whatsoever to speak for anyone other than ourselves, as individuals, not for the Navajo people or the Seminole people, the tribes in which we are enrolled as members, nor, of course, the people of any other tribes.

First Nations News & Views: Killing eagles, kill white buffalo and Jetsonorama wows ’em

Welcome to the ninth edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find news briefs a look at the year 1622 in American Indian history, and some linkable bulleted briefs. Click on the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Editor’s Note: We recently reported that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given an extremely rare and extremely controversial approval for the Northern Arapaho of Wyoming to kill two bald eagles for religious purposes. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act forbids non-Native people to kill the eagles or possess any parts of the birds. American Indians can apply to obtain eagle feathers or carcasses from a federal repository in Colorado for ritual use. The USFWS permit states that the Northern Arapaho may kill or capture and release the birds after the ceremony. Just how controversial this decision is can be seen in the fact that not just environmental advocates but also members of the Eastern Shoshone tribe, who share the Wind River Indian Reservation with the Northern Arapaho, oppose the killing of the birds.

Because of the controversy, we asked two highly respected veteran diarists at Daily Kos to explore the issue from their distinct points of view. Lineatus is a longtime birder and raptor bander. Ojibwa is an academically trained Indian historian who regularly carries out traditional ceremonies.

-Meteor Blades

Killing Eagles for Ritual Purposes Needs Thorough Reassessment

By Lineatus

Golden Eagle Lineatus
Golden Eagle

(Photo by Lineatus)

Few birds inspire the sense of awe that eagles bring out in us. Their size, their power, their presence. Not just a predator, but a flyer that can soar without effort, circling ever higher until it disappears from sight into the very ceiling of the sky. Small wonder that they’ve had a place of significance to humans virtually since the dawn of our days on the African savanna.

We have two eagle species in the US – Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Golden Eagles are found primarily in the West and North, where they favor grasslands, mountains and other open country. (They are also found in Europe and Asia.) They prefer to nest on rocky cliffs, but will use trees if they are large enough to support their massive nests. Their prey is primarily mammals, especially ground squirrels and rabbits. But they have been recorded killing prey as large as antelope and deer.  

Eagles Nest Lineatus
Golden Eagle nest site above Merced River,

Yosemite National Park

(Photo by Lineatus)

Bald Eagles range across the country, especially in the winter when they wander widely, and prefer to live near water. They primarily nest in trees. They take a wider variety of prey than Goldens, with an emphasis on fish and waterfowl, along with mammals, birds and scavenged food (i.e., carrion). They sometimes gather in large groups when there is an abundant food source, like a salmon run or a waterfowl wintering area.

Typical for a large bird at the top of the food chain, eagles are slow to mature and slow to reproduce. They take at least five years to reach sexual maturity, and their first breeding attempts are less likely to be successful. They lay one to three eggs (most commonly two) with an interval of two to three days between eggs. These hatch after incubating for five to six weeks, normally a few days apart, and the eaglets fledge 10-12 weeks later. (Males, being smaller, typically leave the nest earlier than females.) Young birds will spend several months learning to hunt with their parents before heading out on their first migrations. 

Bald Eagle Nest
Bald Eagle nest, central California

(Photo by Lineatus)

Because the time from first egg-laying to independence is so long, eagles begin nesting very early in the year, even in snowy regions. If the nest fails past the first few weeks, it’s usually too late for them to make a second attempt for the year. Frequently, only one chick will reach fledging stage. Second (and third) eggs and chicks are an “insurance policy” to make sure that at least one bird survives to fledge.

If food is abundant, the adults will feed all of the chicks, but if prey becomes scarce, they will focus their efforts on the larger, more vigorous eaglet(s) and the smaller, weaker siblings will likely die. After leaving the nest, young birds still need to learn to hunt; more than half don’t master the skills and die before their first winter is over.  About 10 percent to 20 percent of eagles actually make it to breeding age.

Such a low reproductive rate is sustainable. Over the course of a lifetime, a breeding pair only need to produce two offspring who themselves live to breeding age to maintain a stable population. Unfortunately, human activities (especially over the past century) have led to population declines. Habitat loss is one factor as is€” loss of hunting grounds to agriculture, and loss of nesting sites to logging. Intentional and unintentional killing is another. Eagles were early on targeted by ranchers who thought they killed livestock, especially calves and lambs. In one of the first laws protecting animals, intentional killing of eagles was outlawed in 1940 by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. But the birds still face accidental killings from electrocution on power lines, hitting wind turbines, and secondary poisoning from baits set for ground squirrels and other prey species.  

Adult and Sub Adult Bald Eagle
Adult and sub-adult Bald Eagle

(Photo by Lineatus)

And for Bald Eagles, a devastating population crash caused by widespread use of DDT occurred in the post-World War II years. The pesticide didn’t kill them outright but built up in their systems through their prey base (especially fish and waterfowl) and caused eggshell thinning, leading to breeding failures. When DDT was banned nationwide in 1972, several generations of breeding birds had been lost, and the species was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1976. Since the DDT ban, numbers have rebounded solidly with the help of major reintroduction efforts in the earlier years. The species was officially delisted in 2007. Some raptor biologists opposed the delisting.  They weren’t sure populations had recovered sufficiently and some saw it as a ploy by the Bush administration to try to tell an environmental good-news story while allowing various areas to be opened to oil, gas and coal interests with fewer constraints.

Though delisted, the birds remain protected by the Eagle Protection Act. That law has been amended to acknowledge the significance of eagles to Native Americans to some extent, but still limits possession of feathers and other artifacts with tight regulations. With healthier eagle populations now, should those regulations be revisited to allow taking of eagles by Native people for ceremonial purposes? If so, what revisions are appropriate? Should there be different policies for Golden and Bald Eagles, based on differing population trends?

I am myself conflicted.

My main problem is with killing a member of a species that is long lived and slow reproducing, especially in the name of religious freedom.

My objection is not about killing as part of a ritual in and of itself. If the rituals involved killing, say, ducks, then no problem. They are abundant and reproduce quickly. It’s not even really about killing raptors, as much as I love them. If they wanted to take a certain number of redtail hawks every year, I would be okay with it (although admittedly not thrilled). But redtails are doing reasonably well in the world, even expanding their territory in many areas. The loss of a few would have minimal impact on the population.

It’s also not about exemption from laws in the name of religious freedom, in and of itself. If a religious practice has no harmful effect on anyone other than the practitioner, I have no objection. Muslim women (and Sikh men) should be allowed to wear head coverings in their workplace; Native Americans should be able to use peyote (though not, say, when they’re driving buses).  

So that’s what it’s not about for me. What is it about?

It’s the conflict between religious freedom and other legitimate concerns. An analogy is a church that wants to get a permit for a religious procession that will block city streets. The city should make the process as transparent and reasonable as possible, but it should also be able to say, “You can’t block the streets around fire stations and hospitals.” There are sound reasons why these protections for eagles were enacted.  The rules were not created with the intent of discriminating against Indians, though they have had that effect, they were created because populations of slow-reproducing birds were threatened (critically, in the case of Bald Eagles).

The Eagle Protection Act has been modified some to accommodate Indian concerns and should be further amended to make it more workable. But any changes should be made with consideration of both biology and tradition. The government should make the process less opaque and open it up as much as is reasonable.

If it was a very limited take, and it was timed so as not to cause problems for breeding birds or fledglings, it would be easier to support. I think the loss of a handful of eagles each year (Bald or Golden) would not have a significant impact on the population and could be safely allowed. Oddly, the thing that I’m sure many people might find hardest to deal with is the thing I could best accept the practice of taking an eaglet from a nest, raising it to a certain age, then killing it ceremonially. (Nest cams have got a lot of people very attached to baby eagles.)  As I explained, eagles often have more than one chick hatch, but only one lives to fledge. Taking a young bird that would likely have died anyway seems the least bad option. It also frees the parents to concentrate their efforts on the remaining youngster both before and after fledging, thus giving it a better chance at survival.

If an adult bird is captured and killed, then I have more concerns, mostly related to breeding. Also, there’s something inherently upsetting in thinking about ritually killing a bird that might have survived 20 to 30 years in the wild, with all the obstacles we’ve created for their survival. That’s the bird we want in the gene pool, and that’s the bird who should be teaching youngsters how to survive.

At the minimum, I’d hope that the hunt would be limited to fall and early winter and after youngsters have fledged, learned to hunt from their parents and departed and before the next breeding season begins.

One argument I totally don’t accept is: A lot of the birds are killed by power lines and autos and windmills, so what’s a few more for ceremonial reasons? I have been involved in trying to stop those deaths too, so this one just doesn’t cut it for me. If it’s bad for them to die by accident, how is it not bad for them to be killed intentionally?


For Many Indians, Eagle Feathers Remain Big Medicine

By Ojibwa

Eagles have a special spiritual significance for many, but not all, American Indians. In some cultures the spirit or soul of the eagle might visit a person during a vision quest; in some cultures eagle medicine was associated with war and the wearing of eagle feathers symbolized war honors.

Crow Chief Plenty Coups, Montana State Historical SocietyCrow Chief Plenty Coups in eagle feather headdress
Crow Chief Plenty Coups in eagle feather headdress

courtesy of Montana State Historical Society

On the Northern Plains, eagles were seen as a source of spiritual power. Hunting eagles, particularly golden eagles, was a dangerous feat performed by men who possessed special power to do so. Among the Cheyenne, the only eagle hunters were old men who had ceased being active warriors. On a hilltop, the hunter would hide in a pit covered with poles, twigs and grass, with a dead rabbit or other small mammal placed on top as bait. When an eagle swooped down to take the meat, the hunter would try to grab it by both feet, pull it into the pit and wring its neck. The eagle’s feathers were used in making bonnets and for decorating shields.

On the Central Plains, Omaha warriors recognized for bravery were allowed to wear a Crow Belt bustle: two trailers of hide covered with feathers hung from the belt with eagle wing pointer feathers protruded upward from the base of the bustle. The main body of the bustle was made of an eagle skin with head and tail still attached. For the Omaha, the eagle was associated with the destructive powers of the Thunder Being and the destructive nature of war. To wear the Crow Belt, a warrior had to be the first to strike an unwounded enemy in battle; to be the first to touch a fallen, live enemy; to be the second to touch a fallen, live enemy; and then to repeat all three of these deeds of valor.

The Cahuilla in California believed that the eagle lived forever and, by permitting itself to be killed by people, assured them of life after death. Eagles’ nests were closely watched and a feast was held when the eggs were laid. When the birds were well-feathered, one would be removed and raised in a cage. When the bird was grown, the Eagle-Killing Ceremony would be held. This included singing songs about the death of eagles and dancing with the eagle.

During the reservation era, U.S. officials, as leaders of a “Christian nation,” felt they had not only the right but also the obligation to eradicate all symbols of Indian religions, including the wearing of eagle feathers. On some reservations those who wore or displayed eagle feathers were imprisoned. In 1884 the United States formally outlawed all Indian religions.

The war against Indian religions abated during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. But in 1940 it took on a new dimension with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of Interior issued regulations restricting the taking, possessing and transporting of bald and golden eagles and their parts, which directly undermined traditional Native peoples who use eagle feathers for religious purposes. Under the act, individual spiritual leaders and traditional practitioners were persecuted. As with most federal legislation affecting Indians, there was neither testimony from Indians nor any consideration of Indian religions before the vote was taken.  

In 1962 Congress modified the act slightly to provide an exception for Indian religious purposes.

But in 1974, 14 Indians were arrested in Oklahoma on charges relating to the possession and sale of illegal feathers. From the government’s viewpoint, the arrests were made to stop trade in the feathers of protected birds, viewing this trade as contributing to the near extinction of the birds. Some Indians, on the other hand, felt that the government’s action was really an attempt to retaliate for actions such as the 1973 takeover of the hamlet of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota by traditional Lakotas and other members of the American Indian Movement.

In subsequent court cases, lawyers argued unsuccessfully that Indians had no choice but to buy religious objects and clothing from craftsmen who knew the old skills that are needed to make them. The government pointed out that the arrests had been made of Indians selling feathers to white undercover agents not to trade or sale among Indians.

In 1978, the Eagle Protection Act was further amended to let the Secretary of the Interior allow Indians to take eagles for religious purposes.

In 1986, the Supreme Court stepped in with its ruling in United States vs. Dion. This involved a Yankton Sioux who was convicted of hunting eagles. The Court found that Congress had abrogated treaty hunting rights with both the Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Winslow Friday
Winslow Friday

(photo courtesy of his family)

While the 1858 treaty with the Yankton did not place any restrictions on Indian hunting rights, the court was unanimous in its disagreement with the argument that the treaty allowed hunting of eagles. The Court felt that by passing laws protecting eagles and migratory birds, Congress intentionally relieved the Yankton Sioux of that hunting right.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order allowing eagle feathers and other animal parts to be made available to Indian tribes for religious and ceremonial use. As part of this process, the National Eagle Repository was established in Colorado. It receives bodies of eagles killed by cars or power lines and provides them on request to Indians for ceremonial use. It’s an imperfect situation, with an average wait of three-and-a-half years for obtaining an eagle carcass. Also, some traditionals feel the eagles that have been killed accidentally are not ritually clean and should not be used in ceremonies.

In 2005, Winslow Friday (Northern Arapaho) killed an eagle on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming to help with his family’s Sun Dance obligations. Among the Arapaho, Sun Dance sponsorship is both an honor and a responsibility. For the sponsors’ relatives, this is a communal obligation, including the need to obtain an eagle for use in the ceremony. This eagle must be pure: It cannot have died through poison, disease, accident (often the case in roadkill) or electrocution.

In response to Friday’s arrest, the Northern Arapaho tribe filed suit in a challenge to the Eagle Protection Act. While federal law allows tribal members to kill bald eagles for spiritual purposes, there is no clear way of obtaining a federal permit, they said. In fact, none had been granted since amendments to the act. Since the eagle was killed by Friday for religious purposes, the tribe argued that government’s requirement for a “fatal-take permit” runs counter to their First Amendment guarantee to the free exercise of religion, and wanted the Feds to make it easier for tribal members to kill eagles for ceremonial purposes.

Federal District Judge William Downes dismissed the case against Friday:

“Although the government professes respect and accommodation of the religious  practices of Native Americans, its actions show callous indifference to such practices. It is clear to this court that the government has no intention of accommodating the religious beliefs of Native Americans except on its own terms and in its own good time.”

The government appealed. In 2008, in U.S. v. Friday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturned the lower court’s ruling and ordered Friday to stand trial. He appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. In the appeal, his attorney pointed out that the government’s fatal-take permit for eagles was not well known, and tribal members as well as the government’s own field agents were unaware of it.

Friday’s attorney wrote:

“Yet still the government wants to punish criminally a tribal member who took a bird, no longer listed on the Endangered Species List, for a religious ceremony performed for centuries by his tribe, even though that bird faces a far, far greater threat from utility companies, whose power lines kill thousands of raptors, including eagles, every year.”

In 2009, the Supreme Court refused to grant certiorari and Friday dropped his fight, pleading guilty to killing an eagle. The prosecution then transferred the case to the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Court at Wind River. He was fined $2500 and his hunting privileges on the reservation were suspended for a year. In federal court, Friday had faced a possible sentence of a year in jail and a $100,000 fine. Those charges were dismissed.

eagle in flight

(First Nations News & Views continued below the frybread thingey)

This Week in American Indian History in 1622

By Meteor Blades

On March 22, 1622, Indians from a dozen tribes of the Tsenacommacah (Powhatan) Confederacy made a surprise attack on 36 settler communities along 50 miles of the James, Appomattox and York rivers in Virginia Colony, ultimately killing 347 men, women and children, a fourth of the white population of the time. It is often mistakenly called the Good Friday Massacre of 1622, but it didn’t happen on Good Friday, which fell that year on April 19. Mary Miley Theobald writes:

Warriors from perhaps a dozen of the thirty-two affiliated tribes -€”Quiyoughcohannocks, Waraskoyacks, Weanocks, Appomatucks, Arrohatecks, and others -€” fell on men, women, and children in their homes and in their fields, burning houses and barns, killing livestock, mutilating the bodies of their victims. Planned by the Pamunkey headman Opechancanough, kinsman of the deceased paramount chieftain Powhatan, the offensive slew about 350 whites …

A fanciful woodcut depiction of the massacre of 1622,

with fortified Jamestown shown surrounded by a moat.

(Matthaeus Merian, sometime before 1634).

Because of an early warning from an Indian who changed his mind before joining the attack, Jamestown itself was mostly spared. After the one-day uprising, many plantations and small settlements were abandoned and the English retreated to more defensible positions. But the loss of food stores and loss of land on which to plant more crops led to the starvation of another 400-500 settlers in the coming months.

Still Opechancanough did not achieve his objective, that having been to permanently push the English off Indian lands they were steadily encroaching as ever more colonists arrived and multiplied, many of them running plantations of the first export crop, the sweet Orinoco tobacco first cultivated by John Rolfe. His 1614 marriage to Pocohantas, daughter of the confederacy’s headman or werowance, Wahunsenacawh, whom the English knew as Powhatan, brought an end to the first Anglo-Powhatan War and eight years of peace.

During that time, trade between the English and the Indians became widespread. Christian ministers sought to convert and “civilize” as many as they could.

Large numbers of settlers, under relaxed rules allowing them for the first time to privately acquire their own farms, took little heed of official warnings not to settle “straglingly in divers places.” […] By 1619 only servants, potentially the most rebellious segment of society, were restricted from freely trading. Debating how to treat Indians who frequently found employment “in killing of Deere, fishing, beatting of Corne and other workes,” Virginia’s general assembly finally decided “neither to utterly reject them nor yet to drawe them in.” Although “five or six” could be admitted to “places well peopled,” “lone inhabitants” were “by no meanes to entertain them” – precaution that often went unheeded.

When Wahunsenacawh died in 1618, Opechancanough, whom many historians believe was his younger brother, became werowance of the confederacy. He viewed the English expansion as a problem that needed to be stopped and, while nobody can ever be certain, it is thought that the plans for the uprising began months, possibly even years before it occurred. George Percy, twice governor of the Virginia colony, wrote afterward:

My opinion is that their heathen priests, who are the tools of the devil, were constantly working upon the credulity and ignorance of this people to make them believe that the English had come to exterminate them in the same way as the Spaniard had done in other parts of the West Indies, and to prevent this the murderous attack was decided upon and brought into execution.

Theobald writes, “Although Percy scoffs at the idea that the English intended to exterminate the Virginia Indians, time would tell a different story.”

Early that spring morning, the Indians took advantage of the friendliness that had developed over the years to launch their attack. In some cases, they killed whole families in houses where they themselves had eaten and slept. With tomahawks and farm tools, they struck. Even some English who had been the most friendly were not spared.

Opechancanough had figured that the English would behave as tribes typically did when attacked in such force, which was a rare occurrence: They would submit or they would move somewhere else. The English did neither. Already considered a death-trap because of disease, Virginia as an investor-owned company collapsed and came under direct rule of the British Crown. Retaliation against the confederacy began that autumn and would soon take the lives of many times more Indians than English who died on March 22. In 1623, for instance, some 200 Indians were lured with talks of peace to a meeting at which they were all well fed and killed with poisoned wine.

There would be no peace for another decade during which time English war captains became the dominant leaders in Virginia colony, with absolute power. A deep-seated racial hatred developed, as epitomized by the words of Edward Waterhouse, who urged the use of bloodhounds and mastiffs to “teare them, which take this naked, tanned deformed Savages, for no other than beasts.”

Mollie Holme Adams (1881-1973) was a leader

of the Mattaponi tribe of the old Powhatan

Confederacy. She fought to keep her Indian

identity at a time when the Virginia Bureau

of Vital Statistics was classifying all Indians

as “Negro” to subject them to Jim Crow laws.

She also kept the feather-weaving craft alive.

Her grandson, Kenneth Adams, is the

Mattaponi chief today.

Gradually, the Virginians took back the land and extended themselves over far more, established eight fortresses and scores of plantations, and, three times a year, sent military expeditions against the confederacy of tribes designed to keep them in check and edge them farther and farther from the settlements. A shaky peace was agreed to in 1632.

In 1644 came another uprising, led again by the now-ancient Opechancanough, who thought to take advantage of colonial divisions brought on by the English Civil War. Some 500 English died, but by this time there were nearly 9,000 colonists in Virginia and the Indian losses were far greater. The old werowance was captured and plans were made to ship him to England. Before that could happen, an English guard shot him in the back.

A treaty was signed in 1646, but unlike previous ones, this was not between equals. The new headman Necotowance agreed to pay symbolic tribute, accept the sovereignty of the king of England and yield more territory. Stephen D. Feeley writes:

The treaty’s main points (along with successive addendums) would form the basis of Virginia’s Indian relations for the remainder of the colonial period, laying out the theoretical justification for English authority, delineating separate territories, limiting freedom of movement, and curtailing cross-racial contacts. The overarching theme was containment of Indians and settlers into more strictly defined spheres. To this end the Virginia government assigned “Necotowance and his people” an area on the north side of the York River and to the southwest, beyond the Blackwater River.

These boundaries proved to be, let us say, highly permeable, with settlers soon extending as far as the Potomac in search of ever more land suitable for growing lucrative tobacco. By 1669, the non-Indian population excluding slaves had reached 41,000. The Indians of the Powhatan Confederacy, about 15,000 when Pocohantas became a bride, had dwindled to 3,000.

Today, the only two reservations in Virginia are those of two tribes that were part of the confederacy, the Pamunkey, with some 200 enrolled members, and the Mattaponi, with 1025 enrolled members in two bands. Together, their reservations encompass a mere 1232 acres. Both tribes continue to deliver tribute in the form of game or a “peace pipe” each year to the governor of Virginia, just as they have every year without exception since the treaty of 1646. They have been seeking federal recognition without success for several decades.

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

Love Letters to the Navajo Nation from Jetsonorama

By navajo

The artist, Jetsonorama at work

Recently, a very thoughtful and informative article at High Country News about a street artist who has lived on the Navajo reservation for the past 25 years caught my eye. I recognized the roadside art from my last trip through the rez and wanted to know more. He goes by the moniker Jetsonorama for his art, but his full-time job is as the only permanent physician at the Indian Health Service at Inscription House in Arizona.

I first became aware of his work with a report of his contribution to’s challenge to street artists around the world to create art that reflected local effects of climate change. His piece was a beautiful Navajo baby with a large lump of coal looming over its  

Jetsonorama, Black coal with baby
Navajo baby subject with finished piece,

note traditional Navajo leggings and moccasins on baby.

This is one of several installations in Arizona

head – “a metaphorical black cloud over the head of future generations if we keep burning fossil fuels.” The Navajo Nation is home to the largest coal-mining operation in the Southwest run by the largest private-sector coal company in the world, Peabody Energy. The electricity generated on the rez supplies cities from Denver to Los Angeles. The Navajo often burn coal for fuel in their homes, causing respiratory illnesses. Jetsonorama’s piece serves as a message that energy from coal is contributing to climate change.

San Francisco Peaks Installation, San Francisco Peaks Installation - Flagstaff
The artist with his Save the San Francisco Peaks

installation in Flagstaff

Last year, Jetsonorama teamed up with activists who have been fighting a legal battle since 2005 to prevent the Snowbowl ski resort from further desecrating the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff by making artificial snow from 100 percent reclaimed sewage water. These are sacred to 13 surrounding tribes. He asked friends and activists what their thoughts were about what’s happening to the peaks. Those thoughts were written on their faces. Jetsonorama photographed them and the installation went up in Flagstaff last year. Unfortunately, the latest ruling allows Snowbowl to continue using sewage water, something not done anywhere else in the world. But the battle isn’t over.

code talkers, 89 north
Jetsonorama’s Code Talker installation

on a roadside jewelry kiosk

Before Jetsonorama hit the street scene, one of his hobbies was photography. Dinétah (Navajoland) made a lovely subject. Today for a big installation he enlarges his photos in 2-foot by 2-foot sections, trims them, makes his own wheat paste using Bluebird Flour -€” a staple on the rez for making fry bread -€” and leaves these love notes around the rez, often where they can be seen from the highways. One of his first installations was on one of the numerous and often abandoned roadside kiosks of Navajo jewelry vendors. He noticed after his installation of the Code Talkers on one kiosk that the owners were making repairs. He stopped to find out why, and the owners said that many more tourists were attracted by the murals and business had picked up. He was asked to install more art on the other walls attracting traffic in the opposite direction.

Yote Jetsonorama dialogue
The dialogue between Yote and Jetsonorama began here

when Yote anonymously added his woodblock coyote

to Jetsonorama’s work.

Thus, The Painted Desert Project was born. Launched a few weeks ago, a collaboration with Yote, another street artist, the project aims to invite their favorite street artists to the rez and show it some love. Painting the numerous roadside kiosks – which are usually barren plywood – is the main goal.

Jetsonorama said: “The purpose of the project is three-fold. It will increase interactions between travelers and the local population hopefully fostering dialogue and challenging negative stereotypes. The second objective is to involve youth from the local communities in mural making workshops and thirdly, we’ll have incredible art along the roadside in northern Arizona.”

The project is already moving fast and the following artists are on board for personal apperances: Breeze, Gaia, Over Under, Doodles, Chris Stain and Caledonia.  If this ambitious tour de force project moves you, visit this link and you’ll see how you can help.

I cannot wait for my next road trip through the rez!


Coincidentally: Aaron Huey (amazing new project from him in the works, btw) told me I needed to connect with Jetsonorama. My mother was born at Inscription House where this good doctor is practicing. He knows all my relatives who live in nearby Shonto and Kaibeto. What a delight to see street art, relating to my heritage, on the vast Navajo rez. I urge you to click on the links above to see more of the artists’ work. The videos are simply wonderful.

NAN Line Separater

Texas Hunt Lodge Scrubs White Buffalo Hunting Package from Its Website

By navajo

Texas Hunt Lodge White Buffalo Kill, Texas Hunt Lodge White Buffalo Kill
A very brave hunter with ultra modern equipment who shot a domesticated white buffalo

while it just stood there. Now that’s a trophy!

The Lakota Sioux and other tribes consider the white buffalo to be sacred. The animal is part of the Lakota creation story and a key component of their spirituality. White buffalo are considered sacred omens when they are born. Last year, a naming ceremony was held for a white buffalo born in a thunderstorm in May 2011 on the Lakota Ranch near Greenville, Tex. He was named Lightning Medicine Cloud. That name is also a tribute to a female white buffalo calf born in 1933 and called Big Medicine. Lightning Medicine Cloud is thought to be the first male white buffalo calf born in 150 years. The National Bison Association say white buffalo naturally occur about once in every 10 million births.

Traditionalists believe that Whope, goddess of peace, appeared in the form of a white buffalo calf once, and that she will return when four white calves are born. That will bring about a new age. Thus, it was no surprise that the arrival of Lightning Medicine Cloud generated widespread celebration among the Lakota and other tribes across the nation. In June last year, 2,000 Indians traveled to the ranch to take part in ceremonies honoring the white calf.

But there are some white buffalo that aren’t born in natural, luck-of-the-draw circumstances. They are bred for a specific purpose, the kind of captive “hunting” favored by the likes of Dick Cheney.

It was noticed recently by Indian Country Today that a big game company was offering a $13,500 hunting package to bag an enormous white buffalo:

Texas Hunt Lodge allows the opportunity to hunt and harvest the Authentic and Rare White Buffalo. There are no seasonal restrictions on hunting the White Buffalo, or White Bison, in Texas, which makes it a suitable trophy year round.

We typically let our hunters choose the method of hunting White Buffalo that they prefer. Hunters of White Buffalo can choose the Spot and Stalk method, Bow Hunting, Rifle Hunting, Black Powder, Safari Style Hunting, Handgun, as well as hunting from a Blind. We can accomodate [sic] hunters of any age and experience level, as well as hunters which have physical disabilities or may be confined to a wheelchair.

Our White Buffalo bulls weigh 1200-1500lbs, and have horns in the 17-20 inch [range] … your white buffalo trophy will be a huge!

The outrage over this quickly came to a boil:

“€œThe company started the white buffalo hunts about two years ago, and there was a big outcry about it then,” said James Swan (Cheyenne River Sioux), founder and president of the Rapid City-based United Urban Warrior Society.

The lodge acquiesced to pressure from Native Americans at the time and ceased its white buffalo hunts, according to Swan.

“But now it’s started back up again,” he said. “€œIt’s a slap in the face for our people.”

That was two weeks ago. Soon, a social media uproar forced the lodge to remove the content from that page.

Indians and other people took issue with a business making money off a white buffalo kill. But the whole purpose of the company is to provide access to exotic animals that clients can pretend to have stalked and killed in the wild so they can mount them on the wall and regale their beer buddies with tales of their daring.

Aaron Bulkley, owner of Texas Hunt Lodge, told ICT “€œWe’€™ve had a ton of feedback from people since the white buffalo story came out, and I understand the white buffalo is sacred to Indians,”€ he said. “It’€™s been on the website for three years and all of a sudden people are excited about it. I do understand their point. I’€™m not saying I disagree with it or agree with it but I am going to take it off the website.”€

Asked directly if he would be offering white buffalo hunts at all, he responded, €œ”Not for white buffalo.”

But, apparently, there’s still a market for it.

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Former AIM Activist Appeals Conviction in Aquash Murder: One of the two men convicted in the 1975 slaying of fellow American Indian Movement activist Anna Mae Pictou Aquash (Mi’kmaq) is appealing on the grounds that the government should not have been allowed to move his case from federal to state court after he was extradited from his Canadian home to the United States. Prosecutors claim that John Graham (Southern Tutchone) helped kidnap Aquash from Denver and then shoot at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota on suspicion that she was a government snitch.

-€”Meteor Blades

Washington Governor OKs a Bill Allowing End of State Jurisdiction Over Tribes: Gov. Chris Gregoire has signed legislation that would sets up a procedure to cede state jurisdiction over some criminal and civil matters to American Indian tribes seeking that authority. A tribe could also ask that the state give the authority to the federal government. The federal government already has jurisdiction on Indians reservations when it comes to major crimes, including homicide, child sexual and physical abuse and violent assault as well as crime related to casino gaming.

-Meteor Blades

The Quandary of American Indian Quasi-Dual Citizenship: Attending the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Convention got Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton Wahpeton/Mdwakanton/Hunkpapa) at The Last Real Indians web site to thinking about what it means to be Native in America. She went specifically to hear Bill Clinton speak and came away thinking: “Part of me would like to wash my hands of the whole American political process, not necessarily because of our notable absence in Clinton’s speech, but because of the entire twisted, ruinous history of U.S. and Tribal relations.” On the other hand, she concludes that voting to protect Indian rights, women’s rights and poor people’s rights as well as to support good programs is crucial: “If we don’t, those decisions will be made for us, and against us; and I for one know that my ancestors didn’t fight for my freedom just so I could close my eyes to it.  In this case, silence could spell our doom. Stand up and be counted.”

-Meteor Blades

Indians Unhappy with Nevada Bear Hunt, Racist Remark: Some American Indians have joined the fight against Nevada’s black bear hunt. They also a comment made last week by the chairman of the Washoe County wildlife advisory board, Rex Flowers. Flowers told the group of eight Paiute, Washoe and Shoshone that he didn’t want to “hear of bows and arrows” because his panel was committed to the bear hunt, according to Raquel Arthur (Pyramid Lake Paiute), spokeswoman for the northern Nevada chapter of the American Indian Movement.

-Meteor Blades

Oglalas Win Full Early Voting-for 2012: Shannon County, S.D., has always sought ways to keep Oglala Lakota people from exercising their voting franchise. But thanks to a settlement forced by a lawsuit, they will for first time be able to early-vote during a 46-day period leading up to the June primary and November general election, just like other South Dakotans. They originally had just 6 days, something their lawsuit called “a denial of the right to vote” and “discriminatory.” With access assured for 2012, the request for a preliminary injunction ordering that access became moot, Judge Karen Scheier declared.

-Meteor Blades

California Tribes Fight Ocotillo Wind Farm Near Sacred Sites: Kumeyaay, Cocopah, Quechan and other American Indian tribes in southern California have banded together to oppose a massive wind energy project proposed for construction on publicly owned Bureau of Land Management land. They say the project will damage hundreds of cultural and archaeological sites. Their opposition makes them allies of desert conservation groups and recreation enthusiasts. The project would put up as many 155 wind turbines on towers as tall as 450 feet.

-Meteor Blades

Little River Casino Agrees To Second Union Contract: The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Manistee, Mich., have announced that the tribe has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the United Steelworkers Union. The agreement covers slot machine technicians at the Little River Casino Resort. Security guards also signed an agreement at the end of last year. Many tribes argue that they are, as sovereign nations exempt from federal and state labor law, and refuse to allow unions in tribal casinos.

-Meteor Blades


Indians have often been referred to as the “Vanishing Americans.” But we are still here, entangled each in his or her unique way with modern America, blended into the dominant culture or not, full-blood or not, on the reservation or not, and living lives much like the lives of other Americans, but with differences related to our history on this continent, our diverse cultures and religions, and our special legal status. To most other Americans, we are invisible, or only perceived in the most stereotyped fashion.

First Nations News & Views is designed to provide a window into our world, each Sunday reporting on a small number of stories, both the good and the not-so-good, and providing a reminder of where we came from, what we are doing now and what matters to us. We wish to make it clear that neither navajo nor I make any claim whatsoever to speak for anyone other than ourselves, as individuals, not for the Navajo people or the Seminole people, the tribes in which we are enrolled as members, nor, of course, the people of any other tribes.

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’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:…

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.

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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.


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


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: Wounded Knee memories, Seattle totem pole honors carver killed by cop

Welcome to the seventh edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find a remembrance by Carter Camp of the Wounded Knee siege 39 years ago, a look at the year 1954 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.

Carter Camp Tells Why Wounded Knee Siege of 1973

Still Matters Today

Carter Camp marked as a warrior

Carter Camp marked as a warrior at Wounded Knee, S.D., in the late winter of 1973

Thirty-nine years ago at the end of February in 1973, some 250 Oglalas and their supporters in the American Indian Movement took over the hamlet of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. The immediate catalyst for the protest was the corrupt leadership of the tribal chairman, Dick Wilson. By many traditional Oglala, he and his administration were viewed as an extension of the “colonial” system that had ruled the reservations for decades despite a veneer of sovereignty conveyed by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

But their objections in this specific matter had their roots in a different, broader issue, one that remains unresolved to this day, the unfulfilled promises in hundreds of broken treaties and other agreements between Indians and the U.S. government. Those pacts smoothed the way across the nation for the expropriation and occupation of the land of hundreds of tribes as well as the destruction of our culture, our languages, our religions and our traditions.

By the time of Wounded Knee, AIM had been in the forefront of high-profile protests against the injustices against Indians by the government for nearly five years. It had already organized an occupation of Alcatraz Island, marched across the country to Washington in the Trail of Broken Treaties, and occupied BIA headquarters, making off with boxes full of documents after a week inside the building.

The takeover at Wounded Knee had resulted in a siege by U.S. Marshalls and the FBI that lasted 73 days. I was there for 51 of those days, leaving only when it briefly appeared a resolution had been achieved. The siege continued for another three weeks. When it was over, two members of AIM and one federal marshall were dead. In the following two years, 60 AIM members and two FBI agents were also killed.

Though his name is less known than that of Russell Means and Dennis Banks, in the AIM leadership at the time was a young Ponca man named Carter Camp. He was chosen as war chief.

But let my friend Carter tell this story in his own words, compiled from a number of his writings and interviews over the past dozen years.

-Meteor Blades

By Carter Camp

Carter posts at Daily Kos as cacamp.

Ah-ho, My Relations,

I ask you to remember that our reasons for going to Wounded Knee still exist and that means the need for struggle and resistance also still exist. Our land and sacred sites are threatened as never before. Even our sacred Mother herself is faced with unnatural warming caused by extreme greed.

Wounded Knee takeover leaders were upset by the Nixon

White House’s response to the siege and asked for

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to visit.

Here an interviewer asks Carter Camp if that’s really

necessary. Camp asks, “Why not? Indians are just as

important as any other issue the U.S. has, like Vietnam.”

In some areas of conflict between our people and those we signed treaties with, it is best to negotiate or “work within the system.” But, because our struggle is one of survival, there are also times when a warrior must stand fast even at the risk of one’s life. I believed that in 1973 when I was 30 and I believe it today at 70. But to me Wounded Knee ’73 was really not about the fight, it was about the strong statement that our traditional way of living in this world is not about to disappear and our people are not a “vanishing race” as wasicu (white) education would have you believe. As time has passed and I see so many of our young people taking part in a traditional way of living and believing, I know our fight was worth it and those we lost for our movement died worthy deaths. […]

Today is heavy with prayer and reminiscence for me. Not only are those who walk for the Yellowstone Buffalo reaching their destination, today is the anniversary of the night when, at the direction of the Oglala Chiefs, I went with a special squad of warriors to liberate Wounded Knee in advance of the main AIM caravan.

For security reasons the people had been told everyone was going to a meeting/wacipi in Porcupine, the road goes through Wounded Knee. When the People arrived at the Trading Post we had already set up a perimeter, taken 11 hostages, run the BIA cops out of town, cut most phone lines, and begun 73 days of the best, most free time of my life. The honor of being chosen to go first still lives strong in my heart.

That night we had no idea what fate awaited us. It was a cold night with not much moonlight,  I clearly remember the nervous anticipation I felt as we drove the back way from Oglala into Wounded Knee. The Chiefs had tasked me with a mission and we were sworn to succeed, of that I was sure, but I couldn’t help wondering if we were prepared. The FBI, BIA and marshalls had fortified Pine Ridge with machine-gun bunkers and armored personnel carriers with M-60s. They had unleashed the GOON squad [Dick Wilson’s Guardians of the Oglala Nation] on the people and a reign of terror had begun. We knew we had to fight, but we could not fight on wasicu terms. We were lightly armed and dependent on the weapons and ammo inside the Wounded Knee trading post, I worried that we would not get to them before the shooting started.

As we stared silently into the darkness driving into the hamlet, I tried to foresee what opposition we would encounter and how to neutralize it. We were approaching a sacred place and each of us knew it. We could feel it deep inside. As a warrior leading warriors I humbly prayed to Wakonda for the lives of all and the wisdom to do things right. Never before or since have I offered my tobacco with such a plea or put on my feathers with such purpose. It was the birth of the Independent Oglala Nation.

Things went well for us that night, we accomplished our task without loss of life. Then, in the cold darkness as we waited for Dennis and Russ to bring in the caravan (or for the fight to start), I stood on the bank of the shallow ravine where our people had been murdered by the 7th Cavalry [in 1890]. There I prayed for the defenseless ones, torn apart by Hotchkiss cannons and trampled under hooves of steel by drunken wasicu. I could feel the touch of their spirits as I eased quietly into the gully and stood silently, waiting for my future, touching my past.

Finally, I bent over and picked a sprig of sage – whose ancestors in 1890 had been nourished by the blood of Red babies, ripped from their mothers’ dying grasp and bayoneted by the evil ones. As I washed myself with that sacred herb, I became cold in my determination and cleansed of fear. I looked for Big Foot and YellowBird in the darkness and I said aloud:

“We are back, my relations, we are home.”

Carter Camp being interviewed for the

2009 PBS special, “We Shall Remain.”

We were fighting every day and in danger every day. But it was a lot of fun. During the lulls in the fighting, or during the time when there was not actual danger, it was just a wonderful time being together. People would break out the drum every night and we’d sing together, and different tribes would sing their songs. We had Indian ceremonies that are very special to us, but we don’t bring ’em out in public. But now we could have ’em right there where everybody could participate. We don’t have to hide them around anymore. We had the elders, medicine men, women and children – all in Wounded Knee with us.

We were a strong community. We all had work to do and fighting to do. But at the same time, we could live together and do the things that we wanted to do, say the things that we wanted to say and understand this world the way that Indian people understand it. So it made us feel good. We just really were able to come together in a unity that you don’t hardly find in Indian Country. We’re different tribes and we don’t always get around to each other like that. I mean literally thousands of Indian people were coming from around the country. At any one time we might only have 700 or 800 people in Wounded Knee, but people were coming and leaving. Then, of course, a group of AIM people and the traditionalists stayed there throughout the thing.

Wounded Knee galvanized Indian Country, all over. During those 73 days we were in there, from Seattle to Washington, D.C., and from New York to Florida, Indian people were trashing BIA offices, protesting at the Indian Health Services, telling their own tribal governments to stop the leases with the uranium companies and the coal digging and that sort of thing. Indian people were just making themselves known.

Wounded Knee and the rise of the American Indian Movement and the struggle of the late ’60s and ’70s just changed everything about the way Indian people think of themselves. They started thinking in terms of the future, not of being exterminated or maybe this is our last generation that cares about being Indian. It just invigorated the entire Indian nations […] They started having pride in where they came from and what they were and who they were. […] It also made the government understand that once more there was a line in the sand that they couldn’t push us beyond. We had taken all we could absorb and that if they pushed us just too damn far then we’ll fight.

There is a excellent PBS documentary about the Wounded Knee takeover and siege on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Carter is featured in this 80-minute segment, We Shall Remain, Wounded Knee, Episode 5. (h/t exmearden)

We Shall Remain PBS header

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This Week in American Indian History in 1954

A secton of the Garrison Dam, the fifth largest earthen dam in the world. (Bureau of Reclamation)

On Feb. 27, 1954, the U.S. government took additional land from the Yankton Sioux Tribe to build the Fort Randall Dam and Reservoir in southeastern South Dakota. That dam and four others built on the Missouri River by the Army Corps of Engineers from 1946 to 1966 were approved for flood control, pollution and sediment control, navigation, conservation, recreation, hydroelectric power and enhancement of fish and wildlife under the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program, a part of the Flood Control Act of 1944.

Construction of the dams and consequent flooding forced the relocation of more than 1500 Indian families on seven reservations, including some 136 on the Yankton Reservation. The tribes lost more than 350,000 acres. Besides the Yankton Reservation, fertile bottom land was condemned on reservations at Fort Berthold, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock, Lower Brule, Crow Creek and Santee.

The tribes didn’t only lose their land but also any timber, wildlife and native plants plus homes and ranches. In the case of Fort Thompson on the Crow Creek Reservation, an entire town was inundated. As a consequence, the BIA and Indian Health Service offices were moved off the reservation to Pierre, making it far more difficult for Indians they were supposed to serve to use them.

The losses also included spiritual ties to the land and the intangible benefits that came from living along the Missouri.

The tribes were never consulted about the project during the planning stages. No Indians were asked to testify during hearings on the projects in Congress. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which supervises Indian land held in trust by the Department of Interior, raised no objections.

The Corps of Engineers handled negotiations. Tribal sovereignty and treaty rights, including the Yankton Treaty of 1858, were completely ignored. So also was the Winters Doctrine, a Supreme Court ruling that Indians have inherent rights to water resources on their lands. Philleo Nash, who had advised Presidents Roosevelt and Truman to integrate the Armed Forces and later served as BIA Commissioner under JFK and LBJ, would later say that Pick-Sloan “caused more damage to Indian land than any other public works project in America.”

The amount of money offered to owners of individual Indian land allotments was often significantly less than the amount offered to non-Indian land owners. Likewise, as the dam projects began in a time when termination of reservations was in full swing, government compensation for damages caused by the taking of communally owned tribal land was well below its market value. Land at North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Reservation of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people was condemned and bought for $33 an acre. Today, the earthen Garrison Dam is on the land, holding back Lake Sakakawea, and capable of generating some 583 megawatts of electricity.

Twenty-five years after the last dam was completed, the General Accounting Office undertook the first of four reports on providing better compensation, which you can see here: 1991; 1998; 2006; and, 2007

Today, the tribes whose land was taken have an on-reservation population of about 32,000, with another 20,000 enrolled members living elsewhere.

-Meteor Blades with a h/t to ojibwa

(First Nations News & Views continued below the frybread thingey)

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

First Totem Pole in a Century Raised in Seattle for Victim of Police Shooting

John T Williams Mural Seattle
A large mural of

folk hero John T. Williams

is at 11th Avenue

between Pike and Pine

The strength of a First Nations community came together on Feb. 26 when a 33-foot-tall, 5,000-pound totem pole was ceremoniously carried a mile-and-a-half from its carving site on the shoulders of scores of supporters and erected near the 50-year-old Space Needle. It was the first totem pole erected in Seattle in nearly 100 years. Conceived and carved in the traditional manner, the cedar totem pole honors John T. Williams (Ditidaht), himself a master carver, who was shot and killed by Seattle police officer Ian Birk in August 2010. After months of protest by Indians and their supporters, the shooting death was found not justified. Officials said Birk took actions that were “outside of policy, tactics and training.”

John T Williams Totem Pole

As can be seen and heard in this disturbing video here, Birk stepped from his patrol cruiser and came up behind Williams on the street, who was walking and carrying a small, legal folding knife and a plank of wood which he had been carving. Birk told Williams to put down the knife. He then shot Williams four times in the back, killing him instantly. The entire encounter took eight seconds. Facing termination from the force after the damning report was released, Birk resigned.

Immediately after the shooting, the Williams family reported strained relations with police. They said they were being scrutinized and harassed by bicycle patrol officers in a street market where vendors have sold their goods for decades. Other Native people complained in public forums that they had good reason to feel unsafe around the police. Demonstrations erupted and community meetings turned into shouting matches.  

Over time, the tensions relaxed. One element that helped bend police officials and Native peoples toward better interaction was the initiation of a restorative circle, a practice developed in Brazil by Dominic Barter.

In December 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice released the findings of its investigation of the City of Seattle Police Department. It concluded the SPD has a “pattern and practice” of using excessive force, especially in communities of color, and that it needs structural reform in training, supervision and discipline. While disagreeing with aspects of the report, the department has stated it will overhaul its use of force policies and procedures.

The Williams family’s seven generations of traditional carving inspired Williams’s brother Rick to design a totem pole that turned the tragedy into an honoring of his brother’s life and heritage. Rick called for a peaceful resolution to the community conflict that followed the fatal shooting but had been building beforehand. “Despite his grief and anger, Rick Williams, by his own account, found strength in the wisdom of his ancestors and rejected calls for violence and retribution against the police. He requested that the response to the shooting be peaceful, in respect for his brother. By his example and explicit requests, he helped keep the peace in the streets where many felt despair, outrage, the need for change, and an urge for revenge.”

The team of master carvers took more than six months to finish the totem pole. The cedar tree came from Harstine Island and was donated by the Manke Lumber Company. The loggers who cut it estimate its age to be at least 120 years. Two other totem poles carved from the same tree are in the works and will be placed elsewhere in Seattle.

The family of John T. Williams has forgiven the Seattle police force. Now at peace, they honor Williams’s life with an exquisite piece of art but also an important symbol of cultural legacy, hope and community healing.

An interpretive display at the carving site explains the figures on the memorial totem pole:

• Top: Eagle. “The Eagle flies the highest and sees the farthest, so he takes the perch at the top of the pole.”

• Middle: Master Carver. “This is a Williams family symbol handed down through seven generations of woodcarvers. This master carver is John T. Williams displaying his own signature totem, which features the Kingfisher and the Salmon. This carving, at the age of 15, made John a master carver in the Ditidaht First Nation, in British Columbia.” According to the interpretive display, John T. Williams’s works, and other Williams family pieces, are displayed all over Seattle, at the White House and in the Smithsonian. At this writing, early John T. Williams carvings are being sold on eBay for $8,500.

• Bottom: Raven Mother and Baby. “The Raven watches and nurtures us, making up the foundation of the totem.”

Rick Williams carving Johns Totem Pole
Rick Williams carving his brother John’s memorial totem pole

There is an amazing video of the whole procession and traditional raising of the memorial totem pole.…

The final stage of this publicly funded project is a seating area for contemplation encircling the pole with customizable granite tiles. Interested people can make a donation at The John T. Williams Totem Pole Project to secure a tile.

You can also support the project at Facebook. Almost 3000 others have.

-navajo & Meteor Blades

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Two Vermont Abenaki Bands Expect State Recognition

Under a new Vermont law, two bands of Abenaki Indians gained state recognition in 2011. Two more may now be on the verge of doing so. The Abenaki were once part of the Confederacy of the Wabanaki, the “People of the Dawn Land” in their Algonquin tongue. They ranged from modern-day New England into Quebec and the Maritime Provinces. Today bands with and without reservations live in Quebec, New Brunswick, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Vermont Commissioner of Native

American Affairs Luke Willard

Twenty-three states have laws that set parameters for recognition, which can confer various benefits to members that are not otherwise available. In a few cases, such as Florida, no tribe can receive state recognition unless it is already one of the 566 federally recognized tribes of Indians or Alaskan Natives. Others require some genealogical proof of native ancestry and a historical connection to the area in which they now live. A few don’t require that, and some tribally enrolled Indians consider recognition of tribes in those states to be fraudulent.

Indeed, critics have claimed that all the Vermont bands are modern inventions and that most or all of the people claiming tribal connection have no true claims to being Abenaki or Indians at all. At his web site – The Reinvention of the Alleged Vermont and New Hampshire Abenakis – Doug Buchholz has published birth certificates that he says prove some of the leading members of the tribes are fraudulent wannabes. That’s not how the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs see things.

The commission was established by the new law and recommends which tribes should be granted recognition based on nine criteria. Most of members of a tribe must live within a specific area inside the state and a large number must be related through kinship. They must have a connection to the state that can documented by historical, ethnographic or archaeological evidence. After a tribe submits its evidence, a panel of scholars and other experts reviews it and reports to the commission, which decides whether or not to recommend recognition. The legislature can grant or reject recognition then and there. Or it can choose to do nothing. If it takes the latter course, a recommended tribe gains recognition automatically after two years.

Based on these criteria, the Elnu Abenaki in Windham County and the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation in northeastern Vermont – gained state recognition last year. The two other bands of Abenaki in Vermont – the St. Francis-Sokoki Band of the Abenaki Nation at Missisquoi in northwestern Vermont and the Koasek Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation from the Connecticut River Valley – presented their evidence before a joint legislative committee hearing Feb. 14:  

St. Francis-Sokoki band Chief John Churchill testified that state recognition will bring cultural pride to his band.

“Pride is a big thing. Whatever nationality one says you are, you don’t have to prove it. If you say you’re Abenaki or Native American, for some reason you have to prove it,” he said.

Roger Longtoe Sheehan, chief of Elnu Abenaki, testified on the positive cultural impact of recognition, particularly in his band’s relationship with other nations.

“It’s a pride thing so you can walk into a pow-wow and go to any sort of site that would be tied to the culture and be able to say, ‘We’re Abenaki,'” Sheehan said, later adding. “Unless you get state recognition, they basically won’t talk to you.”  

State recognition can lead to some limited federal benefits, particularly in education and in grants for economic development and cultural rejuvenation. State-recognized tribes can also legally sell handicrafts such as baskets with “Indian-made” labels attached. But state recognition does not set up a government-to-government relationship of sovereignty the way federal recognition does.

Luke Willard, chairman of the state Native American Affairs Commissiion and a tribal trustee and treasurer of the Nulhegan Band has pointed out that what Vermont provides is more of a “cultural recognition.” No tax money is expended. There will be land claims, no casinos, no treaty rights fights, no battles over tax-exempt cigarette sales and or reservation tax exemptions because there is no communally owned tribal land from which to assert such claims.

Among the difficulties the St. Francis-Sokoki and Koasek have had is finding Colonial-era documents proving that a majority of members have continuously resided in the same  historical area. According Erin Hale at, Peter Thomas, the retired director of the University of Vermont’s archaeology program, thinks it doesn’t make sense to make a recognition determination based on today’s borders to a region occupied by Native people for at least 11,000 years and the Abenaki since before Anglo-Americans arrived on the Continent.

The Koasek Band ultimately was able to show that 58 percent of its members lived within Vermont’s borders. The St. Francis-Sokoki were helped by the 1973 discovery of a burial site dating back at least two millennia and another discovered in 2000 that contained the remains of 27 Abenaki, with artifacts from the 17th through 19th centuries.

Other issues include proving kinship ties because Indians and mixed-race people were often listed in the 1700s and 1800s as “pagan” or “colored,” not “Indian.” Hale writes that “Vermont’s eugenics movement in the 1920s and 1930s further damaged record keeping.”

Federal recognition was denied the St. Francis-Sokoki in the 1990s, and that was an issue for some committee members at the February hearing. But an expert witness explained that obtaining federal recognition is an expensive process requiring between $5 million and $12 million “to get the political clout in Washington to be able to get recognition.”

Willard said one of his reasons for joining the commission was to “nullify federal recognition. Why do we need federal recognition if we have a state government that is willing to work with the tribes and is willing to enact state policy and legislation that will successfully meet the needs and empower the native people of the state? I just don’t see the sense in spending millions of dollars just so you can get a thumbs-up from people who are hundreds and hundreds of miles away.”

-Meteor Blades

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Navajo Nation Sues Urban Outfitters Over Use of Tribal Trademark

Authentic Navajo cuffs, like

this one, are legally sold under the

Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

Months after the Navajo Nation had sent a cease-and-desist order to Urban Outfitters to stop selling their line of clothing using the designation term Navajo in the style’s name, the Navajo Nation has sued the company and its subsidiaries. The suit alleges they have violated the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (IACA) and for trademark infringement. The Navajo Nation has 12 trademarks registered under the label Navajo. The suit was filed in New Mexico where part of the Navajo Nation reservation is and where Urban Outfitters has a number of stores.

The truth-in-advertising IACA “prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States.”

Urban Outfitters’ Fall 2011 collection had many style names that included the term Navajo. Two of the most offensive were a Navajo flask and Navajo Hipster Panties, which can been seen (if you must) at the Native Appropriations blog. Urban Outfitters was widely criticized for its stupidity in following their fashion directors’ prompts of what the latest trend is. Having once been a buyer in the fashion business, I can just imagine the boardroom excitement of naming the season’s trend, “OMG … Navajo is so hot right now!”

American designers, like sports team owners, love to “pay tribute” to this unique American icon, the “noble Indian.” But it’s not a tribute. It’s a rip-off and an insult.

Ralph Lauren, Pendleton, Dolce & Gabbana and others have been producing American Indian-themed clothing for decades with little public outcry. But now, with the power of the Internet, young Native bloggers are turning the spotlight on this long line of expropriations of land, resources, spiritualism and whatever else can be grabbed from Indians and twisted to benefit greed.

It was Sasha Houston Brown, 24, (Dakota/Santee Sioux), an academic advisor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College where she works with the American Indian Success Program, who sent a letter on Columbus Day last year to Urban Outfitters’ CEO Glen T. Senk after she visited one of their stores in Minneapolis.

…she was offended by “plastic dreamcatchers wrapped in pleather hung next to an indistinguishable mass of artificial feather jewelry and hyper sexualized clothing featuring an abundance of suede, fringe and inauthentic tribal patterns.”

Brown told […] Senk that the collection was “cheap, vulgar and culturally offensive.”

Another Indian blogger, Adrienne K. at Native Appropriations, wrote:

First of all, these products represent a stereotype of “southwest” Native cultures. The designs are loosely based on Navajo rug designs […] or Pendleton designs, but aren’t representations that are chosen by the tribe or truly representative of Navajo culture. Associating a sovereign Nation of hundreds of thousands of people wit[h] a flask or women’s underwear isn’t exactly honoring.

Additionally, it’s more than likely that Urban [Outfitters] chose “Navajo” for the international recognition–to most of the world Navajo (and Cherokee)= American Indian […] This conflation of Navajo with “generic Indian” contributes to the further erasure of the distinct tribes and cultures in the US and solidifies the idea that there is only one “Native” culture, represented by plains feathers and southwest designs.

Urban Outfitters immediately removed the Navajo designation from its site last fall. You would think the board members had learned their lesson.

Apparently not.

One of the company’s upscale subsidiaries, Free People, recently ran a distinct collection of styles, attaching labels identifying the products as vintage Navajo. Note the jewelry pieces, a definite “no no” on the rez and according to federal law … in the entire United States! Fashion faux pas? Mais oui, C’est une grande wtf.

Screenshot Free People Navajo Appropriations

The Navajo Nation included this screenshot in their legal filing. Of course, if you search for the Navajo descriptor now, nothing comes up.

But look at what is still up at Free People:

Free People Screenshot Lakota Bag

And it’s in stock for a mere $498!

-navajo with a h/t to Lauren Chief Elk

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“Fighting Sioux” Fight in North Dakota Gets Hotter Still

The conflict over the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo at the University of North Dakota that we have been reporting on for a few weeks not cooled. On the contrary. Here is the latest news:

• The NCAA has told university officials not to allow its sports teams to bring the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo of a Lakota Indian head to any playoffs. The university was in the process of buying new uniforms without the logo as a result of the NCAA’s 2006 rule against such nicknames. But state legislators and supporters of a referendum to keep the name have complicated the situation.

• The University of Iowa has gone a step farther and denied UND an invitation to a track meet. UI’s policy “prohibits the athletics department from scheduling competition with schools or attending tournaments hosted by schools using American Indian mascots unless those mascots have been approved by the NCAA and their respective American Indian tribes.” Previously, officials at the Iowa school had continued competing with UND, but the delay in removing the name finally spurred those officials to begin enforcing university policy.

• Students at the University of Minnesota-Duluth have been warned they will be ejected from any future games if they again behave as they did during a recent hockey game with UND. Several students taunted the North Dakota team with war-whoops as well as chants of “Smallpox Blankets!” and “Hi, HOW are you?” The UMD athletic department stated in the letter that students would be ejected at any future games and have their season tickets voided if they engage in such racist behavior in the future.

• Meanwhile, some supporters of a statewide initiative to keep the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo are threatening to start a second initiative that would get rid of the state’s Board of Education and replace it with a single elected higher education commissioner. That move comes in response to the board’s decision to seek a ruling from the state supreme court about the legality of a law the initiative backers want to reinstate. The law requires that the “Fighting Sioux” nickname be kept. It was passed in February last year and repealed in November and then reinstated again until the initiative is decided by the voters.

The board of education majority says the legislature overstepped its authority in the matter, but its members said they are not trying to subvert the legislature’s authority in general. “With the current board, there is no accountability,” Sean Johnson, of Bismarck, told a legislative higher education oversight committee on Friday. “We need to have accountability, and we don’t have it.”

Opponents of the idea say they think it is a bad idea to replace a board with a single commissioner. Some elected officials say it would be better to have a commissioner appointed by the governor.

-Meteor Blades with a h/t to betson08

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Oklahoma Taking Steps to Bring Jim Thorpe’s Body Home: Olympian Jim Thorpe (Sac & Fox) was buried in Pennsylvania in a town he never visited while alive. His last wife took away his body during his funeral to spite the governor of Oklahoma who refused to fund a memorial. Thorpe’s family is suing under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to have his body returned to the reservation.


Mariah Watchman competes on America’s Next Top Model: ANTM features the 20-year-old Watchman (Ojibwe/Modoc/Mandan) as the Pocahontas stereotype. The 20-year-old model from the Umatilla reservation in Oregon turns their racism into an opportunity to give back to Indian Country.


Minnesota Redistricting Could Boost Indian Voting Clout: The Minnesota Supreme Court has ordered a new redistricting plan that could lead to the election of a Red Lake or Leech Lake band member to the Minnesota Legislature because it will include entire entire reservations within legislative districts. And that would be good for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party since Indians in the state cast their ballots preponderantly for the DFL.

-Meteor Blades

Adopted Cherokee Baby Returned to Father Under the Indian Child Welfare Act: Dustin Brown (Cheyenne) won full custody of his daughter Veronica under a federal law designed to keep Indian children and their families together. Brown said he was tricked into signing papers to give her up. The adoptive family is upset.

-navajo with a h/t to Land of Enchantment


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: ‘Twilight’ rips off Indians, Hate Crime Ignored, Jon Kyl’s Water Deal

( – promoted by Meteor Blades)

Welcome to the fifth edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find Aji‘s essay on the brazen and lucrative slap in the face the “Twilight” series delivers to Indians, a look at the year 1599 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.

‘Twilight’ Series Fakes Authenticity, Rips Off Quileute Nation

There’s nothing “Indian” about Twilight.

Oh, sure, the books, TV series and movies all engage in lofty pretensions to the contrary, but there’s nothing Indian about them.  

Stephenie Meyer
Stephenie Meyer

Twilight is the latest in a long line of books, TV shows, and movies involving the trendy vampire/werewolf theme.  In this particular series, the werewolves are supposedly descended from the Pacific Northwest’s Quileute Nation – which, by the way, is still very much alive.  Despite that, there’s no evidence that the series’ creator, Stephenie Meyer, asked the Quileute for permission to steal and utterly distort their sacred origin stories and then line her pockets by way of their exploitation.

This is not a new phenomenon, but there’s been a drastic uptick in recent decades.  Hollywood kicked it into high gear, but what really cemented the practice was publication of Tony Hillerman’s first “Joe Leaphorn” mystery, set on the Navajo Nation.  Hillerman thereafter made a reputation, a life and millions upon millions exploiting the Diné, and helped others, such as Aimee and David Thurlo, to follow in his footsteps.  He blazed a trail for Lori Armstrong, Sandi Ault, Margaret Coel, James Doss, the Gears, Craig Johnson, Jennifer Kitchell, William Kent Krueger, Kirk Mitchell, and a host of others to imitate: a trail of exploitation, cultural theft and, in many instances, overt racism.

Animals often figure prominently in our traditional origin stories, and the Quileute are no exception:  

Traditional stories take place at the Time of Beginnings in the world, back when animals were like human beings. They could [sic] talk and paddle canoes and live in longhouses.

Quileute Wolf Mask, Courtesy of American Museum of Natural History Library
Quileute Wolf Transformation Mask

(Courtesy of American Museum

of Natural History Library)

As they tell it, in the old days, their ancestors had been washed away from their original lands, to a new place where they were surrounded by strangers. One of their spirit beings, known as a Transformer, traveled to this new place, where he encountered a pair of wolves, male and female. He changed them into humans and they became the Quileute First Man and First Woman.  

Note that nothing in the story involves shape-shifting or skin-changing or skin-walking or witchery or werewolfery or other such quasi-violent, sensationalistic interpretations.  It has nothing to do with Indians turning lupine when the moon is full, or becoming savage animals when feeling threatened, or vampires (or any other putative group) being their mortal enemies. It’s merely an origin story, like those of indigenous peoples the world over, putting how they came to be in a context that accords with their history and their spiritual beliefs and traditions.

In 2010, with the help of the Seattle Art Museum, the Quileute began taking back their story. The museum’s curator and staff worked closely with tribal representatives to tell their people’s story as it really is, debunking the Hollywoodized mythology in the process. Instead of mounting a static exhibit, they worked together to make it a truly interactive, year-long educational experience. The on-site exhibit displayed traditional Quileute art and historical and cultural items, both ancient and contemporary, including paintings, photography, jewelry, masks, weaving, baskets, regalia, and other pieces. The museum also coordinated programs, tours, a teen workshop, drumming circles and other activities with the Quileute on their lands, and worked with the tribe to create accurate teaching guides and other resources for educators to use.  

Nuu-chah-nulth Wolf Headdress, Early 20th centuryPlywood, paint, string, thread spools, fabric, cedar twigsWashington State Historical Society, catalog no. 1999.105.1 (Smithsonian)
Nuu-chah-nulth Wolf Headdress

(Courtesy of the Smithsonian)

The exhibit has garnered significant media coverage – although that, too, is not without problems. The Washington Post‘s “Team Wolf” provides a good example: It does a thorough job of quoting the Seattle Art Museum exhibit’s non-Indian curator about the details of the exhibit, including the importance for the Quileute of reclaiming their narrative. But wouldn’t it ordinarily be required to go straight to the source for at least one quote, i.e., to an actual member of the Quileute Nation? Apparently, talking to actual Indians about their own tribe’s exhibit and origin story was not considered necessary to “reporting” about either the exhibit or the story.

Will every visitor be happy with the exhibit? Probably not. The curator chose to include a reproduction of a so-called “raven necklace” that appears in the Twilight movies, and there are a few other such references throughout. In addition, the Quileute Nation has highlighted Twilight on its website, a decision that may disappoint some traditionals. But it is understandable: They have shrewdly used the linkage to obtain celebrity support for environmental and safety initiatives and may ultimately get from them the help needed to retake complete control of their own narrative.

The exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum closed on Aug. 14, 2011, but it can still be seen at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., through May 9, 2012.

– Aji

Santa Domingo Shell Piece, Divider

This Week in American Indian History in 1599

On Feb. 12, 1599, in the mesa-top Pueblo of Acoma in what is now central-west New Mexico, Juan de Oñate ordered punishment for the 80 surviving warriors who had battled the Spanish for three days. Every man 25 and older among them had a foot cut off and was enslaved for 20 years. Everyone 12 to 25 merely had his foot cut off.

Thus did Oñate begin his 10th month among the pueblos. Known as “the last conquistador,” he had arrived in the spring of 1598 with a band of friars, soldiers and other fortune-hunters, figuring to repeat his father’s success in what is now northern Mexico. There the elder Oñate had gotten rich conquering and converting the Native people whose land would soon be the source of millions of ounces of silver shipped back to Spain. For his son, however, there would be no silver and no fame.

A few of the 19 New Mexico pueblos crumpled without resistance when faced with the Toledo blades of Oñate’s armored soldiers on horseback. But he and his men knew they could not win a war in a head-to-head contest against thousands of Indians. So they set out for Acoma, a natural fortress atop a steep-sided sandstone bluff, 367 feet above the valley floor. Official correspondence of the expedition shows that Oñate had all along intended to make an example of the Keres people of Acoma, razing their stone and adobe houses and ceremonial buildings in the belief the other pueblos would yield before this show of force.

But when the Spaniards arrived to declare “this land belongs to the king of Spain” and to demand food and other supplies, the Keres said “no” and proceeded to kill 13 of the invaders. In response, the soldiers massacred 800 Indians without regard to age or sex, slicing and stabbing and throwing them over the cliffs. They enslaved the 500 survivors and chopped off 80 feet, although some historians claim it was “only” 24.

On the 400th anniversary of Oñate’s entrance into New Mexico, state officials invited the people of Acoma to tell their version of the story in commemorative ceremonies, but they refused to participate. In January 1998, someone cut off the bronze foot of the only statue of Oñate in New Mexico, leaving a note saying “Fair is fair.” Another huge statue of Oñate astride his Andalusian stallion was dedicated in 2007 in El Paso, Texas. The Spanish ambassador made an appearance. So did protesters from Acoma.

The Pueblo of Acoma’s “Sky City” is a recognized site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. At around 1000 years, Acoma is the oldest continuously occupied community in the United States. The pueblo’s enrollment as of 2010 was 4,989, who now communally own about 10 percent of the land their ancestors did when Oñate arrived.

– Meteor Blades

On Feb. 17, 2009, the 100th anniversary of the death of Geronimo (Chiricahua Apache), his great-grandson and other descendants filed a lawsuit in federal court against Yale University, secretive student society Skull and Bones and the federal government. The suit alleged the Geronimo’s remains were stolen by the society’s members in 1918 from his grave in Oklahoma and taken to Connecticut. Descendants wanted to rebury the remains in New Mexico. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2010.

– Meteor Blades

(First Nations News & Views continued below)

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

New Federal Rule Would Speed Approval of Indian Solar and Wind Projects

A string of 2.5-megawatt wind turbines spin in the

January fog on a ridge of the Kumeyaay

reservation in southern California.

(Photo by navajo)

For 125 years, American Indian lands have been exploited for their energy resources. Oil, coal, natural gas and uranium have all fed the nation’s appetite for fuel and electricity. Corruption at the Bureau of Indians Affairs, which has included everything from putting non-Indians on tribal rolls to sweetheart arrangements with corporations, transferred much of the wealth derived from these resources away from the tribes. Even when corruption was not at issue, BIA deals with non-Indians for tribal resources often amounted to rip-offs, and the process for royalty payments was more like embezzling than accounting.

There are still ample conventional resources being mined and drilled on tribal land. But the tribes have an abundance of some other resources for which there is a steadily growing demand: wind and sun. While Indian lands constitute only about 5 percent of U.S. territory, they contain 10 percent of its renewable energy resources. About 15 percent of the nation’s estimated wind resources can be found on reservations. And the Department of Energy estimates the solar energy potential of tribal lands equivalent to four-and-a-half times the nation’s electricity production.

That’s a good thing because tribal lands are subject to many of the worst effects from climate change: drought, water scarcity, flooding and extreme weather, such as record-breaking snowstorms and warmer winter temperatures. Not only can the tribes help provide themselves and others with renewably generated electricity, doing so could over time reduce the impact of climate change. A modern version of trying to live in harmony with nature.

The problem has been turning tribal renewable resources into electricity. Standing in the way has been a morass of bureaucratic rules that are far more cumbersome than what non-tribal developers face. President Obama promised in December 2010 to streamline those rules.

A year ago, reporter Justin Gerdes interviewed Jose Aguto, policy adviser with the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). He described the bureaucratic obstacles slowing tribal renewable energy projects.

“As [former U.S.] Senator [Byron] Dorgan was wont to say, ’49 steps and two to three years in Indian Country, seven steps, two to three weeks, just outside Indian Country for similarly situated land’ – that’s the broad-brush inequity that we’re talking about,” he said. “In Indian Country, only the Department of Interior can do appraisal and approval, and they often don’t have expertise on the ground. Why not let tribes, or a third party, do the appraisal? And then have a 30-day window to approve?” he asked.

While a medium-sized wind farm can be spinning its turbines within 12-18 months after the permits are signed, for Indian lands it can, as Dorgan said, take years to get those permits. Or they can disapproved by a BIA official who is untrained in assessing such projects.

Monique LaChappa (Kumeyaay), chairwoman of the Kumeyaay tribe near Campo in southern California, had a similar story to tell:

“We need equal access to financing, a seat at the planning table, and streamlined processes for leasing, rights of way and environmental review to seize the opportunity before us,” she said.

Together with an outside partner that is the majority owner, the Kumeyaays have built a 50-megawatt wind farm atop the ridges of their reservation deep in southern California east of San Diego. It wasn’t easy navigating the regulatory barriers.

Indian tribes have been trying to get changes adopted since the Clinton Administration, according to John Dossett, general counsel at the National Congress of American Indians. For once the BIA and its parent, the Department of Interior, have been listening. In November, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a 60-day comment period for a proposed new rule that would revamp 50-year-old surface leasing regulations on the 56 million acres Interior holds in trust for the tribes.

The short version: Simplified processes for green-lighting wind and solar projects; BIA agreement to the tribe’s negotiated value of tribal land without additional appraisals; 30- and 60-day deadlines for BIA approvals. If the deadline isn’t met, the project is automatically approved. More detail can be found here and here.

The comment period ended late last month, and the final rule is expected to be announced by the end of 2012.

-Meteor Blades

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Hate Crime on Navajo/Apache Woman Downgraded by Fresno D.A.

On June 14, 2011 around 2:30 in the afternoon, Patty Dawson (Navajo/San Carlos Apache) was waiting at a stop sign when the car behind tapped her bumper. In the rear-view mirror she saw three people and decided not to get out since she was in Clovis, Calif., which has a reputation for hostility to Indians and other minorities. After the light turned green and Dawson began driving, the car that had bumped her began an aggressive pursuit, driving onto the shoulder and speeding along side her.

Fearful, she drove into an ARCO station parking lot where she thought she could be safe. Instead, the trio pulled Dawson out of her car and began to pound on her.

Witnesses told police they saw a white woman and two men with swastika tattoos and shaved heads kick and beat Dawson, leaving her unconscious and bleeding in the parking lot.

Dawson, a mother of a young family, said all she remembers is a woman covered in tattoos spitting on her, then hitting her so hard she blacked out. Two men – one with a swastika tattoo on his face and the other with a shaved head – joined in the beating, but it was mainly the woman attacking her, according to witness statements to the local police.

Dawson woke up in a Fresno emergency room having suffered a concussion and not being able to remember her name. Her nose was broken and she was severely bruised all over her body. A nurse, she was unable to work for a long time.

Patty Dawson

Patty Dawson shows the site where she was attacked last June.

(Photo courtesy of Indian Country Today Media Network

When the three attackers fled the scene, they were followed by eyewitnesses who wrote down their license plate number. Consequently, Jennifer Davette Fraser was finally arrested three months later and was released on bail. Her two accomplices were not picked up.

According to law enforcement officials, Fraser’s charges will likely be upgraded to federal hate crime charges based on eyewitness accounts and the extensive injuries to Dawson. Under federal law, a hate crime is one “in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim … because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation of any person…”

However, Fraser’s court appointed attorney stated in a preliminary hearing that she should not be charged with a hate crime because Fraser recently found out she has Native American blood. A continuance was granted so she could provide proper documention for the court. Proceedings were further delayed when Fraser was granted another continuance because of pregnancy. Fraser never provided proper documentation of her alleged Indian heritage.

Fraser is now charged with felonious assault, defined under California law as “an attack on another individual in which the attacker uses a dangerous weapon and seeks to cause serious harm but stops short of an attempt to kill the victim.”

Fraser requested a plea bargain. But Dawson’s family and other members of the American Indian community have complained that the incident was not thoroughly investigated. Numerous businesses at the scene have security surveillance cameras but investigators never asked for the footage, they claimed. Officers were more interested in what Dawson had done to provoke the attack. Nothing, she said. The family was also disturbed that while all participants were waiting in line for the court metal detectors Fraser was given court protection and the fact that in a mid-January meeting with Fresno District Attorney’s supervisor, Blake Gunderson refused to meet with Dawson’s assembled group of eight relatives and advocates. Gunderson only allowed four people to sit in his office when a nearby conference room could have easily accommodated all.  

In the meeting, Gunderson allegedly told Dawson that he “didn’t see a hate crime here.” He told her that since she couldn’t remember the exact words her assailants were yelling when they chased her and spat on her, it was hard for him to prove it was race-related. “He said that if I was able to write down exactly what they said, it might help my case. So what I’m hearing is that I’m supposed to remember every detail after being beaten unconscious, write it all down for them, then do my own investigation to get evidence of a hate crime,” said Dawson, in tears. “I just want them to do their jobs. No matter how much I repeat myself about what happened that day, I’m not being heard. I’ve talked to detectives three times now, and I even saw my other attacker in court with Jennifer Fraser. I remember him from that day. They are still walking around free after tearing my life apart.”

This on-going case has gathered the attention of numerous American Indian groups, such as AIM [American Indian Movement]-West . The last few hearings have been attended by drumming groups plus individuals interested in showing their support for Dawson. The next scheduled hearing is on March 5 and groups are already planning their support. The Justice for Patty Dawson Committee has been formed and there is an online petition demanding that the Fresno County District Attorney and the US Department Of Justice Civil Rights Division bring justice to Patty Dawson.

-navajo with a h/t to dopper0189

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‘Fighting Sioux’ Fight Continues, Rick Santorum Takes Sides

As we reported in the Feb. 12 edition of FNN&V, the NCAA’s ban on what it calls “abusive and hostile” nicknames has not ended in North Dakota. There, the use of the “Fighting Sioux” nickname for University of North Dakota athletic teams is now in its sixth year. Last week, the State Board of Education (SBHE) dragged the courts into the dispute, and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum joined in at a rally in Fargo.

Santorum was at a Feb. 15 campaign stop promoting his candidacy for the March 6 state caucus that will choose 28 delegates for the Republican National Convention. When a man handed him a “Fighting Sioux” hockey jersey, Santorum held it up and said to some cheers, “I sort of like that logo. What do you think?” Had the forum been larger, that question might have drawn a round of boos as well.

The real news came Feb. 13 when the SBHE decided to go to the state supreme court to block a statewide vote in support of a North Dakota law that requires the university to call all its teams the “Fighting Sioux.” The board initiated the lawsuit in a 7-1 vote after consultation with Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. He thinks the law violates the state constitution. While board members see themselves defending constitutional prerogatives, however, nickname supporters who gathered signatures to force the referendum see the board’s move as an attempt to silence voters. To overturn the law, four of the five supreme court members must rule it is unconstitutional. Which would render the referendum moot.

Reed Soderstrom, a leader of the referendum forces, issued a statement:

“It is clear to us they fear an overwhelming mandate would be given by those voters to keep the name. It is also clear to us that with this decision, the board has lost their way, and should no longer be entrusted with the responsibility of oversight of the university system.”

The board decision is just the latest official action in a long string stemming from the NCCA’s 2005 rule against insulting American Indian nicknames and mascots. Exceptions were allowed for schools that got direct permission from the tribes whose names their teams used. Three teams did so. But UND was only able to get one of North Dakota’s two Sioux (Lakota) tribes to agree. That wasn’t good enough for the NCAA. Rather than lose valuable revenue, the university acquiesced.

But shortly after UND announced in November 2010 that it would start removing the name and logo from its team’s uniforms, souvenir tee-shirts and other items, the state legislature passed a law requiring it to keep the name. The transition was put on hold. After a meeting in August 2011 at which the NCAA said it would not budge on the issue, the legislature repealed the law. Again, the university started removing the logo and ordering new uniforms. The cost of the transition? $750,000.

But then citizens, including some Indians from both North Dakota tribes, began circulating a petition to hold a voter referendum in support of the law. They turned in 3000 more names than needed to get the matter on the state’s June ballot. Consequently, because of the way referendums work in North Dakota, the repealed law is now back on the books until the matter is settled. That fact forced the UND president to reinstate the Fighting Sioux nickname. And that brought about the SBHE’s lawsuit.

Whatever the outcome of the court battle and the referendum, however, there are three interrelated problems for UND that could deeply wound the university’s athletic programs if the nickname and logo are retained. One, of course, is the certainty of NCAA sanctions. Another is that more and more rival teams are saying they won’t play against UND if it keeps the nickname. And then there is UND’s new membership in the Big Sky Conference.

UND Athletic director Brian Faison has warned that “The tone has gotten more serious. […] How patient, ultimately, the presidents will be with where we find ourselves? I can’t say,” he said. “It’s absolutely frightening to think what would happen if we lost our Big Sky membership.” And, on Friday, Tim O’Keefe, chief of the UND Alumni Association, said the university’s future, “athletically, academically, in stature and in reputation,” is at stake if nickname supporters prevail and force UND to keep the name and logo despite NCAA sanctions.

In all the meetings during the past years involving the NCAA, the legislature, the UND board and the SBHE board, nobody has thought to include at the table anyone from the Spirit Lake Tribe (Sisseton Wahpeton), which favors keeping the nickname, or the Standing Rock Tribe (Lakota, Yanktonai, Dakota), which opposes it. So we have invisible real Indians even when the issue is a highly visible representation of an idealized Indian.

-Meteor Blades

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Student Challenges NYT Stereotypes About Wind River Reservation

The original story made page one of The New York Times on Feb. 3. It documented what almost seemed to be a reign of terror: brutal homicides, sexual assaults, chaotic law enforcement, broken homes, gangs, drunkenness and drug abuse, shockingly high unemployment even by reservation standards and the poverty to go with it, child abuse, Indian-white tension, an expected life span more than 20 years below the national average, soaring teen pregnancies and a sky-high school drop-out rate.

Willow Pingree

The place? Wind River Indian Reservation in central-west Wyoming, home to some 7500 Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone and 17,000 non-Indians located in some of the nation’s most beautiful country. Sacajawea, the Shoshone woman who traveled with the Lewis and Clark expedition is buried there. A portion of the reservation was sold off to non-Indians under the 1906 Burke Act. That provided the land for the largest town within Wind River’s boundaries, Riverton, with about 10,000 residents, 90 percent of them non-Indian.

A two-year federal effort begun in 2009 on five of the nation’s most crime-plagued reservations reduced violent crimes on four of them. However, even though the effort temporarily increased the number of police officers from six to 37 at Wind River, the crime rate there increased.

For students at Fort Washakie Charter High School, reading that NYT story was disturbing, to say the least. English teacher Michael L. Read told the Times in an email, “These students know that there are problems in their community, but they also love it and are fully committed to honoring their ancestors and the future.” Student Willow Pingree (Shoshone/Arapahoe) wrote a comment on the Times web site. Out of this came a conference call and a request for Pingree to write a lengthier reply. He did. It didn’t make the front page. It didn’t make the print edition at all. But Pingree had his say. Here is an excerpt:

During the time of our ancestors, the Shoshone and Arapaho people once were enemies who constantly fought each other for land and food. After the reservation was established in 1876, the federal government moved the Northern Arapaho people to a temporary home on the Shoshone reservation in Wyoming. Washakie, chief of the Eastern Band of Shoshones, allowed the Arapaho tribe to stay on the reservation while the government sought a different home for them. The Northern Arapaho tribe was never relocated to a different reservation, nor were they ever asked to leave by the Shoshones, and so they remained on the Shoshone reservation, now called the Wind River Reservation. […]

The people of both tribes still have their languages, their traditional beliefs and values. Involvement in tribal government allows people the opportunity to learn more about the history of the tribes and the reservation. Powwows, Sun Dances, picnics, memorial events such as walks, runs and feasts: These are just a few of the things that the people of the Wind River Reservation do to keep people, especially the young ones, away from drugs, alcohol and violence and help the communities and cultures become stronger.

The reservation sells no alcohol. However, most people buy their alcohol off-reservation. Alcoholism is often a contributing factor in the fatalities that have occurred on the reservation. That is not to say that the Shoshone or Arapaho tribes are not doing something to deal with these issues. …

After the Plains Indian Wars were over, and all tribes were confined to reservations, the Native children were forced to go to boarding schools to learn the Christian way of education. Their long hair, which was a symbol of pride and honor, was cut off and they were prohibited from speaking in the language of their people.

However, as time passed, the Native people of America began to renew the pride that they had in their cultures and languages, and began standing up for their rights as nations. Soon, schools began accepting the traditional values of Native people and even began teaching Native languages in schools. As Chief Washakie said: “I fought to keep our land, our water and our hunting grounds. Today, education is the weapon my people will need to protect them.” …

No matter what negative things we face every day, nothing can break our spirit. We will not give up the war to save our culture or our languages, the war that all Native people in America have been fighting for since 1492. I will fight to ensure the survival of our cultures and languages for the rest of my days on this Earth.

You can see and hear Pingree performing a drum chant here.

-Meteor Blades

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Navajo Eco-Justice Group Opposes McCain/Kyl Water Settlement

Navajos protest Peabody to protect homelands

in Navajo capital of Window Rock, Ariz.

(Photo by Sierra Club)

It sounds like a reasonable idea at first glance. Federal legislation would put $315 million to work building three delivery systems that would supply groundwater drinking supplies to thousands of Hopi and Navajo who still must haul water to meet their needs. It will also make available to the Navajo some 6400 acre-feet of water out of Arizona’s allocation from the Colorado River. The arrangement was mostly put together behind closed doors. Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, backed by fellow Republican Sen. John McCain, introduced it to an nearly empty Senate chamber Thursday, Feb. 16.

All the tribes must do is surrender their claims on Little Colorado River system water,

something they have so far refused to do. The Navajo would also be required to ensure continued operation of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station near Page. That electricity-generating plant on leased tribal land, powered by coal tribal mines, must undergo extensive upgrades by 2016 or it will be shut down by the Environmental Protection Agency under its new toxic emissions rule. For towns and other water users along the Little Colorado, the settlement’s elimination of Navajo and Hopi claims to that water would offer freedom from the insecurity caused by the threat of tribal lawsuits.

Said Kyl: “[This settlement] brings us one step closer to addressing the significant water needs of impoverished areas on the Navajo and Hopi reservations, while also providing certainty for non-Indian communities trying to plan for their water future,” he said.  Flagstaff, Ariz., Mayor Sara Presler said: “If the tribes are going to achieve that next level of success, it’s necessary to have a secure water supply. In more urban areas of Arizona, we’re excited to see a new business open up, but we’re not asking the very basic questions of, ‘Do we have enough water to deliver to that business?'”

Dine’ CARE-Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, a Navajo advocacy organization, doesn’t see things that way. The group said in a statement Thursday:

Dine’ CARE strongly condemns the Big Business Salt River Project, Navajo Generating Station and Central Arizona Project bill portrayed as providing water to the Navajo Nation and Hopi to make life better.

In reality this is a death sentence where the Indigenous Peoples will be forever giving up their water rights to Lower Colorado River. […]

The 1970s Salt River Project lawyer, Senator Jon Kyl, is still carrying out SRP and CAP’s priorities to take the water rights from aboriginal water owners in northern Arizona.”

To add insult to injury, not only has the Navajo Tribe suffered from receiving discounted value for water but suffer from consequences of pollution from Navajo Generating Station, who provides power for SRP and ensuring that Navajo Nation provide cheap electricity. A fair value is needed in this deal to not steal Navajo water and condemn the people to poor health from Navajo Generating Station’s pollution.

The Navajo Nation is already an energy and water colony for Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, and southern California. If passed, signed, and enacted, the Kyl bill would guarantee 34,000 plus acre-feet a year to Navajo Generating Station for the proposed extended life of the power plant. It also favors Peabody Coal Company since its Kayenta Mine fuels NGS. […]

In sum, the KYL bill must be KILLED before it KILLS us.


Dine’ CARE president Adella Begaye said: “It is important for native communities to unite and oppose this legislation. We cannot afford to be idle as our future generations are robbed of their heritage and lifeline.”

A key worry is that the Kyl/McCain legislation would set a precedent that could extinguish Hopi and Navajo water rights under the so-called Winters Doctrine. That stems from an 8-1 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Winters v. United States) in 1908 stating that tribes did not have to reserve rights to water on their land if they already had established by treaty or other agreements the right to use their lands for agriculture.

Broader previous agreements to settle water rights claims among the tribes, federal, state and local governments and other users have failed to gain Hopi and Navajo approval. The most recent didn’t make the grade in 2004.

-Meteor Blades

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Concern Expressed that Johnny Depp is cast as Tonto in Disney’s Lone Ranger: New Mexico State Rep. Sandra Jeff (Navajo) (D-Crownpoint.) said that an actor from one of the tribes of New Mexico should have been hired for the Tonto role. Depp is rumored to have taken a 20 percent  pay cut to bring the film in line with its budget.

-navajo with a h/t to Bill in MD

Pala Band of Mission Indians Removes 154 From Its Membership: Blood quantum is the likely reason. Members must have one-sixteenth Pala ancestry to receive payments from the band’s business ventures. Several other tribes in California, including the Chukchansi, United Auburn and San Pasqual, have also recently kicked members off their tribal rolls. These disenrolled Indians have been cut off from their tribal per capita payments from casino revenues, collectively, hundreds of millions of dollars.


Napa Valley Museum Damages Loaned Pomo Artifacts, Complaint Settled: Coleen McCloud (Kashia Band of Pomo Indians) and her husband Chester McCloud (Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians) sued when their 7-foot-tall, old-growth bark house was lost and several artifacts were mishandled.

– navajo

Ngobe-Bugle Indians Block Road to Protest Dams and Mining: For the second time in two weeks, the Panamanian tribe used stones and branches to blockade roads in Bocas del Toro and Chiriqui in western Panama. Tribal members are angry that the government has lifted a mining moratorium on Indian lands.

-Meteor Blades

President of Indigenous Language Institute: ‘Racisim is Alive and Well in Wisconsin’: Jerry L. Hill (Oneida Nation) wrote that the Washinawatok incident in which a girl was suspended for speaking her Native language (see FNN&V of Feb. 5) has served to refocus Indian attention on the issue of boarding schools. Indian children forced into such schools from the 1870s through the 1960s were not allowed to speak their own tongues, and the issue remains a sore point today.


University of Southern Mississippi Plans Community Housing Option for Indian Students: The new option will house American Indian students on one floor of dormitory so they can provide support for one another. USM student Cody Roth (Choctaw) grew up just off of the Choctaw Indian Reservation. “Native American students, when they come here, they come from tight-knit communities where everybody knows everybody,” Roth said. The dorm arrangement could provide a substitute for that at-home community.

-Meteor Blades

New on DVD: Indian School, A Survivors Story: The documentary interviews students of the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School established in 1893 by an act of Congress. Indian children were forcefully removed from their families into the mid 1950s to be assimilated. The result was multi-generational trauma in effect today.

-navajo with a h/t to Bill in MD

The Berenstain Bears have been translated into Lakota: Matȟó Waúŋšila Thiwáhe-The Compassionate Bear Family is the title of the Lakota version. In an effort to keep the language alive the cartoon series helps adults learn along with their children. All 20 episode video links are available in the headline. If you’ve not heard Lakota, here is your chance.

– navajo

American Small Business League Complains Too Many Contracts Going to Alaska Natives: The league reviewed the top 100 contractors in the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program and found 33 were Alaska Native Corporations that exceeded small business size standards the SBA normally requires. These 33 corporations won $2.6 billion of the $6.9 billion awarded to the top 100 small business firms. ANCs can take advantage of several regulatory and legislative privileges that allow them to exist as large businesses in the program, which is designed to benefit small businesses.

-Meteor Blades


Indians have often been referred to as the “Vanishing Americans.” But we are still here, entangled each in his or her unique way with modern America, blended into the dominant culture or not, full-blood or not, on the reservation or not, and living lives much like the lives of other Americans, but with differences related to our history on this continent, our diverse cultures and religions, and our special legal status. To most other Americans, we are invisible, or only perceived in the most stereotyped fashion.

First Nations News & Views is designed to provide a window into our world, each Sunday reporting on a small number of stories, both the good and the not-so-good, and providing a reminder of where we came from, what we are doing now and what matters to us. We wish to make it clear that neither navajo nor I make any claim whatsoever to speak for anyone other than ourselves, as individuals, not for the Navajo people or the Seminole people, the tribes in which we are enrolled as members, nor, of course, the people of any other tribes.

First Nations News & Views: Okiciyap, the Dawes Act & Elders Get Heard from K-12 to College

Welcome to the fourth 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 an update on the Cheyenne River Reservation Okiciyap project , this week in American Indian history, five news briefs and some bullet links. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.

Okiciyap (we help) the Isabel Community

It has been 182 years since the Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson. With tribes then and for decades afterward being forced onto reservations, and no Marshall Plan to help them rebuild after the Indian Wars, Native people are still struggling to stay alive. Many don’t make it. Fighting against all odds-of poverty, 80 percent unemployment, hunger, government bureaucracy, societal indifference-a few people stand as warriors to help their communities of limited means even when they themselves often don’t have enough means, living as they do on fixed incomes of $260 to $460 a month.

One of those warriors is Georgia Little Shield (Lakota). She was the director of Pretty Bird Woman House, a women’s shelter on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, from 2005 until 2010 when health problems forced her to quit. In 2007, the Daily Kos community helped raise more than $30,000 to keep Pretty Bird Woman House running.

In 2011, Little Shield’s health improved. On the Cheyenne River Reservation in north-central South Dakota due south of Standing Rock, she saw an important need for a community-strengthening program to fight poverty, hunger and the epidemic of teen suicide.

Okiciyap logo

So she founded Okiciyap, the Lakota word for we help, in Isabel, a reservation town of about 250 people. Okiciyap (we help) the Isabel Community‘s (501c3) first project is a food pantry “trying to keep families alive for one more winter.” The group has plans to build a youth center with a GED program “to keep our young people’s souls and spirits alive, too.”

Last summer, Okiciyap set up a temporary office in a small trailer. Later, a modular 40-foot by 60-foot building was donated. But it was located 30 miles from Isabel. Ten thousand dollars were needed to transport it, set foundation forms and skirt them. Another $10,000 is needed to set up utilities for one year until Okiciyap can obtain grants to keep the facility running on its own. Under the auspices of AndyT and betson08, netroots fundraising began in late October to pull together the needed $20,000. By the end of December enough money had been raised to transport the building to Isabel. The trek was completed Jan. 30.

Okiciyap Building move
The building being transported

Okiciyap Building move
The building arrives

Within Lakota culture everything is shared. There is great pride and pleasure in giving away any abundance of food, clothing and other possessions. There is traditionally no social hierarchy of haves and the have-nots. So even though Little Shield doesn’t always have much to share, she shares it anyway.

After Thanksgiving last November, betson08 discovered that Little Shield didn’t have enough money to buy a turkey for her own family, but she still cooked what she had and invited people who needed food. The week before Christmas betson08 learned the same thing was going to happen. The Daily Kos community rallied again and raised enough for Little Shield to provide a holiday banquet for the community plus provide toys for the kids.

The Okiciyap fund-raising widget has now been stuck at $10,580 for a month. That $9420 still needed will allow Okiciyap to tie into the city’s water and sewer system plus cover the cost of electricity and provide basic office equipment and supplies.

Little Shield’s appearance below is one of satisfaction in watching the new building arrive. She’s embarking on an ambitious new project that she hopes will help her community tremendously. The Daily Kos community has a stake in helping her succeed.

Georgia Little Shield, watching as her new building is being placed
Georgia Little Shield watches as the new building arrives

– navajo

Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider

This Week in American Indian History in 1887

Sen. Henry Dawes of Massachusetts

(Library of Congress)

February 8th marked the 125th anniversary of President Grover Cleveland’s signing of the Dawes Act. That single piece of legislation had a more devastating impact on Native Americans than anything other than the century-long Indian Wars themselves. And it was initiated by people who actually believed they had Indians’ best interests at heart. Before it and follow-up acts were effectively repealed 47 years later by the Indian Reorganization Act, 90 million acres had been wrenched from communally owned Indian land, leaving just a third of what the tribes had held in 1886, the year Geronimo, the last organized warrior, surrendered and was shipped off to prison. What land wasn’t directly taken was “allotted” to individuals. Taking and dividing the land coincided with a stepped-up effort to destroy Native culture, religion and governance, in effect, “Indianness.”

Named after Sen. Henry L. Dawes, who headed the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the law was the culmination of practices toward Indians that had begun within a decade of the Pilgrim landing at Plymouth. Boiled down to their essence, those policies said to Indians: Get out of our way, or else. Even getting out of the way often wasn’t enough to prevent the “or else.” The Dawes Act itself arose at least partly out of the influence of a book written by Helen Hunt Jackson in 1881, A Century of Dishonor. It was the Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee of the 19th Century, documenting the bloodthirsty avarice and corruption that had suffused Indian-U.S. relations all those decades since the first war in 1788. Jackson didn’t live to see the Dawes Act passed, but she would no doubt have approved.

(This Week in American Indian History continued below)

The intent was assimilation, “killing the Indian to save the man,” turning Indians into farmers of acreage they held individually, altering gender roles, shattering kinship connections, breaking up communal land and tribal government, and, ultimately, wiping out reservations altogether. Officials thought this would be better for everyone as Indians adopted norms of the dominant culture. It would certainly be good for transferring some prime real estate.

Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1881 exposé

What the new law did was allot 160 acres to each head of household and 80 acres to each single adult over 18. This land would be held in federal trust for 25 years, after which ownership and citizenship would go to Indians still working their allotment. To take full possession of any land a woman had to be officially married. All inherited land passed through the male head of household. This broke the tradition of tribes with matrilineal heritages.

“Surplus” land, that is, what was left after allotments, was flung open to white settlement and ownership. That was the provision’s most likeable quality for congressmen and businessmen who would just have soon have slaughtered or starved every Indian still alive. Half the Great Sioux Reservation was sold to outsiders after Indian allotments were distributed.

As Youngstown University Asst. Prof. G. Mehera Gerardo has noted, even before the ink was dry on the act, speculators were making deals to trade or buy Indian lands. But they mostly postponed development for fear the government would confiscate what they’d shadily acquired before the trust period expired. Thus were many Indians able to keep to their traditional ways of life for another decade, treating the land as if it were still held communally, even though they’d already bargained their allotments away. State and local governments soon found ways around the law to permit outsiders to buy allotments. Hemmed in by fences, cut off by private ownership of forests and riverine areas, Indians now found themselves no longer able to subsist on hunting and fishing.

Meanwhile, funds from the sale of reservation land, which were supposed to benefit the tribes, were mismanaged, often not paid for decades, sometimes outright embezzled. Money that did make it to the proper federal accounts was often used for things Indians did not find worthwhile. The late historian Melissa L. Meyer wrote, “Facile generalizations about Anishinaabe dependence on welfare gratuities mask the fact that they essentially financed their own ‘assimilation.'”

Thanks to the lobbying of those for whom no amount of freed-up Indian land was enough, new federal legislation was passed in 1906 to allow Indians to sell their allotments well before the end of the trust period. Many, hating farming or broke from trying, sold at rock-bottom prices. Those who had actually received land suitable for farming, and much of it was not, couldn’t afford the tools, seed, animals and other supplies required. Small government grants were insufficient and most could obtain no credit. They had received no training. Even if parents knew how to farm, children coerced into boarding schools came home years later without the necessary skills. Inherited land was often divided among too many heirs to be large enough to farm.

The dispossession was wildly successful. Partly as a consequence of the act, by 1900 the American Indian population had fallen to its lowest point in U.S. history, about 237,000.

– Meteor Blades

FNNVs News Briefs Divider, San Serif

North Dakotans Still Fighting Over ‘Fighting Sioux’ Name

Petitioners for a statewide referendum to keep the University of North Dakota’s “Fighting Sioux” nickname have exceeded by several thousand the 13,452 signatures they needed to get the issue on the June 12 ballot, according to Secretary of State Al Jaeger. He now has a month to ensure that the signatures are valid.

The fight over the nickname and an accompanying logo of an Indian in feathers has been going on for decades. In 2006, the NCAA instituted a policy requiring schools to abandon nicknames, logos and mascots considered “hostile and abusive” to American Indians. Any school that chose to ignore the policy would be sanctioned by not being allowed to host championship games nor wear its team logo at postseason games. Exceptions were made for schools that got consent from relevant tribes to keep using their nicknames. Tribal permission was obtained for the University of Utah Utes, Central Michigan University Chippewas and Florida State University Seminoles. FSU even got to keep its Appaloosa-riding “Chief Osceola” mascot.

UND took a different approach. It sued. But it lost. In the settlement it agreed that if it could not gain consent from the two Sioux tribes in North Dakota by the end of November 2010, it would begin retiring the nickname and logo. But the university could only get one of the two tribes to agree. A vote by the 6700-member Spirit Lake Tribe (Sisseton Wahpeton), which has long been active in support of keeping the name, approved UND’s request by a 2-1 margin. Tribal member Frank Black Cloud told Time magazine in December: “Why should the NCAA come in and tell us that we should be offended?”

However, the tribal council of the 8900-member Standing Rock Tribe (Lakota, Yanktonai, Dakota) rejected the name. It refused to hold a tribal vote, however, and would not accept petitions seeking a vote of the whole tribe. Councils of other Sioux and non-Sioux tribes, like North Dakota’s Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, have passed resolutions against keeping the name.

The North Dakota legislature responded by passing a law in April 2011 requiring UND to keep the “Fighting Sioux” name and threatening an anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA if it imposed sanctions. With the law in hand at a meeting last August in Indianapolis, top UND officials, North Dakota legislators and the governor met with the NCAA to get it to change its decision. In a completely unsurprising move, Spirit Lake was not asked to participate. “How can we not have a seat at the table?” Black Cloud complained.

After the NCCA refused to budge, the legislature backed off, repealing the pro-nickname law in November. UND immediately began removing the logo and name from its web sites, ordering new uniforms with a simple “ND” in a circle on them and making other changes that officials estimate will cost $750,000. Under the law, no new name can be chosen until the end of a 36-month “cooling-off period.”

Faced with the imminent switchover, citizen petitioners, including a few Indians from both Spirit Lake and Standing Rock, began gathering signatures. Because of the way referendums work in North Dakota, the repeal of the pro-nickname law is now held in abeyance until the balloting takes place. To comply with the law, the UND president has reinstated the “Fighting Sioux” name. Meanwhile, another group of is circulating a separate petition that advocates a pro-nickname amendment to the North Dakota Constitution. They need 26,904 signatures to get the issue on the ballot for November.

Even if one or both referendums pass, however, there is another sticking point. More and more schools are saying they will refuse to compete with UND if it continues the “Fighting Sioux” nickname. Here is a comprehensive timeline of the Fighting Sioux controversy.

-Meteor Blades

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Interior Dept. Set to Clean Up Dawes Act Mess

Elouise Cobell

The Interior Department announced Feb. 2 that it plans to spend $1.9 million to buy fractionated American Indian lands and restore them to the tribes. The program stems from the historic $3.4 billion settlement in Cobell v. Salazar, a class-action lawsuit filed over a century’s worth of gross mismanagement of royalties for Indian trust lands. The suit was brought by the late Elouise Cobell (Niitsítapi [Blackfoot]), also known as Yellow Bird Woman.

The proposal is open for public comment until March 15. Nothing will move forward on it until four appeals of the Cobell settlement are dealt with. A key issue in those suits is that the settlement failed to uncover even a close approximation of how much money got “lost” from the federal land trust accounts.

The fractionation emerged out the tribe-smashing Dawes Act of 1887 that allotted lands to individual Indians and opened the “surplus” to non-Indians. Over several generations, the heirs of these allotments found themselves owning smaller and smaller plots unsuitable for farming or any other commercial uses and unsalable because of the logistics of getting all owners to agree. Original allotments ranged from 80 to 320 acres, depending on the status of the individual Indian and the location of the land. Some allotments now have as many as 1000 owners, many of whom are unaware they even own their small piece. The Associated Press says the Interior Department has identified 88,638 fractionated land tracts owned by nearly 2.8 million people.

Over 10 years, the program will work first on tracts with the most owners, targeting land that will take the least preparatory effort to gain a controlling interest. No individuals will be forced to sell their allotments. Once a buy is completed, the land will be returned to communal ownership by the tribe, the very thing the Dawes Act tried to destroy.

John Dossett, the general counsel for the Native Congress of American Indians, said the draft proposal appears to address most of the tribes’ major concerns. Of particular importance was that the tribes be involved in implementing and administering the land consolidation program through cooperative agreements, which are addressed in the draft plan.

“It’s a problem that has been sitting around for a hundred years or more,” he said. “I think tribes are really interested in doing this right. You don’t get a do-over on $1.9 billion.”

Cobell died in October a few months after the settlement was approved by a federal judge.

-Meteor Blades

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GOP Exploits Navajo Division Over EPA Toxic Rule

Wahleah Johns

House Republicans were at it again last week, seeking to justify their opposition to the imposition of stricter guidelines for mercury emissions by the Environmental Protection Agency. At a hearing of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power, they used a ploy that has a long history in Indian-U.S. relations, finding an Indian who will go along with whatever it is particular politicians want while excluding Indians who don’t.

In this case, the Indian on the GOP witness list was Navajo Attorney General Harrison Tsosie. Like Navajo Nation President Ben Shelley, Tsosie opposes the EPA’s four-year time-line for complying with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which imposes national limits on lead, arsenic, mercury and acid gases emitted from power plants that burn coal and oil. Tsosie said power plants in and around the Navajo Nation would need 20 to 25 years to upgrade. Those plants include Navajo, Cholla, Four Corners, San Juan and Escalante. He said the toxic rule would also force the shut down of coal mines on the Navajo Nation.

“Indian nations are often cited as being pockets of poverty … and the one common denominator is pervasive federal control,” Tsosie [testified]. “The United States EPA MACT rule is no exception and adds yet another regulatory burden tribes are left to contend with.” […] “Revenue and job losses of that magnitude would be cataclysmic for the Navajo Nation and its people, and would certainly impugn the very solvency of the Navajo Nation government,” his written testimony said.

Tsosie’s wife, Gerilyn (Navajo), works in an administrative job with BHP Billiton, the Australia-based mineral and energy giant with worldwide coal operations, including in the United States. Tsosie’s view is not shared by all Navajos, especially those who live near the generating stations. Waheah Johns of the Black Mesa Water Coalition is one of those. She was born atop Black Mesa, land sacred to the Navajo and Hopi. The mesa, which rises suddenly from the dry, red plains around it, was the centerpiece of a bitter three-decade battle over strip-mining and water use, which pitted the Bureau of Indians Affairs and Peabody Coal against the tribes and the tribes against each other. Not only does Johns support the EPA standards, she “doesn’t buy the job loss argument”:

“[W]e’re very happy the EPA stood their ground on behalf of our children. Just think how many Navajos are going to be employed installing the new equipment,” she said. “This rule is going to create jobs, not destroy them. […] It opens the door wide for alternative energy.”

The EPA toxic release inventory says the five big power plants around the Navajo Nation collectively have released 14.6 million pounds of mercury, chromium, lead, nickel and hydrochloric acid into the air in the past 10 years.

-Meteor Blades with a h/t to Aji and John Walke

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Nation’s First Tribally Owned Wind Farm Planned for Maine

Passamaquoddy Chief Clayton Cleaves

(Photo by Joyce Scott)

Joining a growing number of tribes installing renewable energy operations on their land, the Passamaquoddys of Maine hope to have between 18 and 50 wind turbines generating electricity for up to 21,000 homes by 2013. To get there requires passing through a few bureaucratic hoops, including the purchase of surplus government land. The remote location of the proposed wind farm is now home to blueberry barrens and cranberry bogs and an abandoned Air Force radar site. Because all the land involved is held for the tribe in federal trust, only federal permits will be required to install the wind turbines.

The $120 million wind farm is a joint project of the tribe and the Boise, Idaho-based Exergy Development Group. It will be called Peskotmuhkati Wind LLC (after the Indians’ own word for Passamaquoddy). Clayton Cleaves (Passamaquoddy), chief of the Pleasant Point reservation. said his tribe own 51 percent of the project and will invest profits in other local projects. additional projects. “This can be a key economic driver for the Passamaquoddy Tribe,” he said.

Tribal ownership of the wind farm is unique. That arrangement took place on the advice of John Richardson, a consultant the tribe hired for the project. Richardson, formerly Commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development and at one time Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Maine legislature, is a principal in Native Power LLC. The firm’s goal is to ensure majority ownership by tribes of project relying on wind, solar and other renewable resources. Peskotmuhkati Wind is its first effort. No U.S. tribe currently has such ownership of any large-scale energy projects on tribal lands.

Richardson said that seeing the project succeed was very important to him because of the struggling economy in Washington County. “What is most significant is that because the wind project will be owned by the tribe, the majority of revenues created by the wind farm and other businesses will remain in Washington County,” he said. “This could be a game changer for the county.” […]

“We became interested in this project because it is a first-of-its-kind development of a commercial-scale wind power project that is uniquely owned with Native Americans,” James Carkulis, president and CEO of Exergy said Tuesday. “We have also been highly encouraged by the Department of Energy and the Bureau of Indian Affairs analyses that we are a national model of how to navigate development and financing of renewable energy projects on tribal lands.”

-Meteor Blades

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American Indian Elders Incorporated into Learning Curriculum at Schools

As a result of the modern battle over over fishing and treaty rights in the 1980s, Act 31 was passed  into Wisconsin law in 1991 to require K-12 schools to learn about federally recognized American Indian tribes and bands in the state. University of Wisconsin-Green Bay established The First Nations Center in 2009 to help teachers better understand this requirement. In recent years UW-Green Bay has enhanced this program by including one-on-one training with tribal elders to further help future educators have a more accurate knowledge of American Indian culture and in particular, a better understanding of nearby tribes.

This good news comes on the heels of last week’s report of a 7th grader being punished instead of praised for speaking her Native language in class at Sacred Heart Catholic School, also in Wisconsin. This boarding school-like incident is the very situation Act 31 was designed to try to prevent. UW-Green Bay also recognizes that weak stabs, such as making paper head-dresses for elementary programs or dance performances for older students, is not a true fulfillment of the legal requirement for which there are no enforcement provisions.

David Turney Sr. Menominee
Elder David Turney Sr. (Menominee)

Elder David Turney Sr. (Menominee), who also goes by the name Napos, teaches Menominee Ethnohistory and Introduction to First Nations Studies as an adjunct lecturer at UW-Green Bay. For example, he uses his tribal religion to teach the seven principles of the Menominee Nation. Turney teaches the one-word Menominee guidelines translated into English phrases meaning to have love and goodness, search for knowledge, have strength to help others, build wisdom to teach one day as an elder, respect everything, and to be humble and be truthful. He says, each these should be a factor in how you make your decisions to control the way you live on this earth.

UW-Green Bay’s program is a work in progress to address continuing stereotypes and help students to gain an appreciation of the various tribal cultures.

Wilson De Vore
Wilson De Vore (Navajo)

At Northwest High School in Shiprock, N.M., Wilson De Vore (Navajo) is the first traditional counselor in the district to use Navajo culture to help students. De Vore helps his Native students with their identity issues and feels he can relate to them because he also was a problem student. He uses the Hero Twins, deities in Navajo religion, to tie students to their culture, not for conversion but to reinforce their pride.

The twins, as legend has it, visited Spider Woman to learn the identity of their father. After learning he was the Sun, the boys traveled to him, seeking weapons that would allow them to defend their people against the monsters and create harmony.

One of the twins, Monsterslayer, confronts the negativity in life […] and his brother follows to generate resolution.

Students are encouraged to use the story to find resolution to modern struggles.

“I feel students have monsters today, life struggles that cause imbalance,” he said. “I tell the students that in each of them lies the Hero Twins. You have a choice. You can go about using aggression or you can go about creating balance and harmony.”

De Vore plans to build a sweat lodge on campus and bring appropriate Navajo ceremony experiences to the students and faculty. He says traditional teachings can be incorporated into every academic subject.

Alyce Spotted Bear
Dr. Alyce Spotted Bear

(Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara)

Dr. Alyce Spotted Bear (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara), a former tribal chairwoman of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota and recently appointed by President Obama to serve on the National Advisory Committee on Indian Education, is now part of the Native American Center’s Elder-in-Residence program at Fort Lewis College in Colorado.

The Elder-in-Residence program brings prominent individuals from the American Indian community to meet with staff and students in an effort to increase knowledge and understanding of First Nations Cultures at the college.

E. B. Eiselein
E.B. Eiselein,

Speaks Lightning


Here at Daily Kos we have another example of utilizing traditional experts in education.  Dr. E. B. Eiselein (Anishinaabe), who writes here and at Native American Netroots as Ojibwa, has been teaching Native American Studies at Flathead Valley Community College for the past 30 years. He says, one of the challenges in teaching in a college environment is that it is not appropriate to teach some things, particularly regarding ceremonial traditions, in this context. As a traditional ceremonial leader he does invite students to participate in open ceremonies. His course description on Native American Spirituality is here.

– navajo

NAN Line Separater

Oglala Restores Wounded Knee Mass Grave Site: Volunteering his time, masonry materials and his all-Native employee labor to renovate the 121-year-old cemetery, Julian Brown Eyes (Oglala Sioux Tribe) honors the men, women and children who were murdered by the 7th Cavalry in December 1890.

– navajo

UPDATE:  S.D. House Panel Rejects Flag with Medicine Wheel Motif: The traditional state flag touting the Mount Rushmore monument will not change to a design honoring indigenous tribes. But if tradition had been honored in the first place the sacred Black Hills would not have been carved with the faces of its conquerors. (See brief in Feb. 5 News & Views.)

– navajo

Navajo Nation Wins One Uranium Waste Cleanup Fight : Tribal experts proved the Highway 160 waste-dumping site should have been part of the federal cleanup program that ended in 1997. The cleanup is now completed. The tribe has other waste sites it wants the government to remediate.

– navajo

California Tribes Strive to Keep Pomo Language Alive: Only a handful of fluent speakers of Southern Pomo are still live and they’re over 90. But, using a full array of modern technology, linguistics teacher Alex Walker is trying to revive the Northern California Indian language by teaching some 20 Pomos the idiom that their parents and grandparents were punished for speaking.

– Meteor Blades with a h/t to maggiejean

Ski Resort Wins Case to Make Wastewater Snow on Peaks Sacred to Tribes: The Save the Peaks Coalition and individual members of the Navajo Nation have been fighting a legal battle to prevent a ski resort from further desecrating the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff since 2005. The latest ruling allows Snowbowl to use 100% reclaimed sewer water to make snow, something not done anywhere else in the world.

– navajo

Oglala Sioux Sues Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, and Liquor Stores in White Clay: The tribe blames the huge beer makers for knowingly exploiting alcohol sales to liquor stores in White Clay, Neb., which has a dozen residents but sold nearly 5 million cans of beer in 2010. Nearby Pine Ridge reservation has struggled with alcohol abuse as a result of pervasive poverty since the 1800s.

– navajo


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 Meteor Blades 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.


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: or by contacting Wynette Arviso at 505-870-9167 or via email

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

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


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: Weaving a Stronger Future

Welcome to 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. 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.


Cross Posted at Daily Kos
Potter Valley Pomo Mural Project
Potter Valley Pomo Mural

There are many things you must learn. Reading, working hard, these are the important things.

Edna Campbell Guerrero, Northern Pomo Elder, 1907-1995

Design: Carrie Mayfield

Guided by their art teacher and the input of local Indians, students at Potter Valley Schools, K-12 in Northern California have created a stunning mural that portrays the culture of the Pomo Potter Valley Tribe. The tribe is descended from the first-known inhabitants of the valley, which the Pomo called Ba-lo Kai. Europeans first settled there, at the headwaters of the East Fork of the Russian River, in 1852.

Carrie Mayfield, the art teacher, and Sam Phillips (Round Valley Indians-Concow/Wailaciki), the utility maintenance man at the school, collaborated on a means to recognize the Pomos and came up with the mural concept. The idea was to accurately reflect the tribe’s culture and also educate Potter Valley students.

Phillips, who leads the school’s multicultural club, organized a project team of staff members, Indian and non-Indian students and their families to give input and vote on all aspects making up the final design. The team decided that the tribe’s various woven basket styles would offer the best representation of Pomo culture.

Mayfield began researching basket designs indigenous to the area. Phillips has a close relationship with the Pomos, and he introduced her to Salvador Rosales, the tribal chairman. Mayfield learned the tribe’s history and viewed old photos and artifacts belonging to the tribe.

In an email to News & Views, she wrote:

The history of European settlers in Potter Valley mirrors that of other Northern California communities. Before they arrived, there was a strong and thriving Native community in the valley. The oak trees provided the people with acorns, a staple in their diet used to make various food including mash and the river provided the people with fish. The valley was a richly productive area which supported the Pomo people for many generations. […]

The arrival of the Europeans and their views of the local Indian population caused many local Pomo people to leave Potter Valley to seek work in other parts of Mendocino County in order to survive. The Pomo people who remained were forced onto reservations and “educated” at the first Potter Valley School, a quarter mile away from the present school site where I now teach.

Like many other California Indians, the Pomo are known for their petroglyphs. But, since the 1960s, the current land-owners, descendants of those first European settlers, have not permitted the tribe to document or photograph the rock carvings, preventing it from recording its own history.

Tarweed GathererMayfield’s research led her to the Grace Hudson Museum in Ukiah, 18 miles down the road. Hudson, one of the first European settlers, collected the baskets of the Northern Pomo. During her lifetime, the nationally known Hudson painted 684 portraits of Pomos.

Once the mural’s purpose was explained, the museum was extremely cooperative and removed the baskets from their cases, allowing Mayfield to photograph them. The intricate basket designs took a long time to sketch. From her photos of the baskets, she reproduced accurate colors of the weavers’ craftsmanship.

The local school board granted the prominent location Mayfield originally wanted. Phillips raised money through the multicultural club to buy materials. Finally, with preparatory work completed, student volunteers set to work painting the mural.

An Indian 5th-grader suggested Weaving a Stronger Future as the original mural text. “But,” Mayfield said, “Sam had discovered in talking with the elders that this simple, yet powerful statement could not be translated into Pomo since there is no direct translation for the word or even the concept of future in Pomo language.” Phillips then found the Northern Pomo elder’s quotation by Edna Campbell Guerrero and the mural committee approved it. The mural incorporates Mayfield’s idea of including Pomo translated into English. A hundred invitations featuring the mural design were sent to local schools, multicultural clubs and to Pomo tribespeople. The two-year project was unveiled on Nov. 18, 2011.

Mayfield currently is at work helping to put together a presentation for elementary classes so pupils can gain an early understanding of the mural’s significance and that of the original inhabitants of the land they occupy.

Pomo Mural Project

Photographer: Carrie Mayfield

Mayfield’s purpose is strong:

To me, this mural was just the first step in a long process this community must make to begin to right the wrongs of the past. The earliest inhabitants of this valley must be recognized and honored so that their descendants, including my students, may feel pride in their heritage, their culture, and themselves. The Potter Valley tribe is currently working to buy back the lands taken from them and regain sacred sites, weaving a stronger future for tribal youth in Potter Valley.

-News & Views h/t to elfling

Navajo Wedding Basket divider, Navajo Wedding Basket divider
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Osceola by George Catlin (1837)

This Week in American Indian History in 1838

They called him a “renegade.” That was the label attached to Indians who refused to go where and do what they were told as well as give up the land they lived on. Osceola was his name, “Black Drink,” and he and his small band of Seminoles, had by late 1837 been engaged in highly effective guerrilla warfare for two years in what became known as the Second Seminole War, the most expensive unresolved U.S. conflict with Indians in history. Like many Seminoles, then and today, he was a mix of Creek, Scottish, English and African American blood, and he sometimes went by the name Billy Powell, after the Englishman presumed to be his father, William Powell. In October 1837, after many victorious battles, Osceola agreed to meet for negotiations under a flag of truce at Fort Payton, Fla. It was a trick. He was disarmed and arrested, held at Fort Marion in St. Augustine and later moved to Fort Moultrie, in Charleston, S.C.

The deception generated a national outcry, and many people came to visit him, including the famous artist George Catlin, who persuaded him to pose for a painting. So many painters wanted to capture Osceola’s likeness, in fact, that he sat for more than one at a time. But Catlin was his favorite and they often talked late into the night. A little more than a month after his arrival in South Carolina, on Jan. 30, 1838, he was found dead in his prison cell, the official verdict being malaria, although others say he died of a broken heart. He was buried with full military honors. But his head was later removed and embalmed, its whereabouts being today unknown. Osceola’s death produced an outpouring of engravings and paintings, many of them bogus. Catlin’s was by far the best, catching the warrior with a finely detailed elegant gracefulness. Among the lesser works were widely circulated portraits showing Osceola dressed in Plains Indian-style buckskins with tipis in the background, a form of shelter Southeastern Indians would not recognize. You can see a small collection of these portraits and descriptions of them at this excellent web site. – Meteor Blades

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New & Views Briefs by Meteor Blades

Jefferson Keel

NCAI President Asks Feds for More Flexibility

Two days after President Obama’s State of the Union address, Jefferson Keel (Chickasaw) gave a speech in Washington, D.C., on the State of Indian Nations. Keel, lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation, is president of the National Congress of American Indians. Obama, he said, should give Indians greater attention.

“He’s kept his word,” Keel said. “He has placed people in strategic and important places in his administration and they’re doing a tremendous job, but it’s limited. Again, access is limited and we need to expand that and we need broader support.” Many of the areas where broader support is needed are familiar – better health services, and enhanced sovereignty on Indian lands. Other are less known outside the American Indian community. Keel urged reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act re-authorization and passage of the Save Native Women Act, “both of which would take critical steps to address the horrific rates of violence being perpetrated against” Indian women.

Another concern is education and the digital divide. Keel pointed out that only one out of every 10 people living on tribal land have access to broadband Internet service. He urged passage of a bill introduced last year. “The Native CLASS Act [Culture, Language, and Access for Success in Schools] offers the chance to provide the education our young people need to succeed today and build economies that Indian country needs for tomorrow. Our young people must not be left behind anymore.”

Keel focused considerable time on resource development on tribal lands. “Tribal governments have proven their capacities to grow our economies, educate our people and manage our resources. We need our federal government to put the decisions back in the hands of people who live in Indian country, the people who know best because these are our homelands, these are our people.

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Obama Calls His Administration ‘Turning Point’ for Indians

At an election fund-raiser with the Native American Leadership Council in Washington, D.C., Friday, President Barack Obama said times have changed in the federal government’s relationship with American Indians.

I believe that one day we’re going to be able to look back on these years and say this was a turning point in nation-to-nation relations; that this was turning point when the nations all across the country recognized that they were full partners, treated with dignity and respect and consultation; that this wasn’t just a side note on a White House agenda, but this was part and parcel of our broader agenda to make sure that everybody has opportunity. […] As long as Native Americans face unemployment rates that are far higher than the national average, we’ve got more work to do. We want new businesses and new opportunities to take root on the reservation. We want to stop repeating the mistakes of the past.

About 70 people paid at least $15,000 for tickets to the event, with the money benefiting the Obama Victory Fund.

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Rosebud Reservation Students Challenge ABC Report with Video

Like many other Americans, students at the Todd County High School on the Rosebud Reservation of South Dakota had a visceral reaction to ABC’s “A Hidden America: Children of the Plains,” which aired in October 2011. But theirs was different than the reaction of others. The program, a report about children on the Pine Ridge Reservation by Diane Sawyer, focused a lot of attention on familiar problems: poverty, violence, alcoholism and obesity. The people at Pine Ridge and Rosebud are members of tribes most Americans call the Sioux.

About 50 of the high school students felt they were stereotyped. Led by Feather Colombe, they produced a reply video called “More Than That.” It’s now been viewed more than 40,000 times on YouTube.

In the view of kaneratiio:

The ABC “special” was more about Diane Sawyer trying to promote herself than telling a truth about Native life. Her “special” was opportunistic, condescending and misleading. The fact of the matter is that the problems on Native lands are not because time forgot us. It is the direct result of state and federal government policies and the clear complicity of the American people. It is this generation that will swing the pendulum back the other way with no help from Diane Sawyer on horseback.

Here’s the video:…

News & Views h/t to Bill in MD

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Bermuda Indians Spread the Word About Their Ancestry

Beginning in 1637, and for more than a century, thousands of American Indians were sold into slavery in Caribbean. Today in Bermuda, descendants of these captives and survivors of battles and massacres prosecuted by New England Puritans and other European settlers seek to reconnect with their roots. Their ancestors include the Pequot and Wampanoag, the latter being the tribe whose assistance rescued those Pilgrims who survived the winter of 1620.

One of the groups seeking to teach islanders and others about their past is the St. David’s Islanders and Native Community. Members have attended Indian pow-wows in the United States and held several bi-annual pow-wows of their own in Bermuda. “Our mission is to teach people about our Native American ancestry,” says group secretary Patricia Raynor. “We often speak at schools about it. We give a talk and show them one dance.”

To raise money to further its aims, a trustee of the group, chef and graphic artist Kevin Watson, designed a blanket. Its colors, blue and white, represent the tribes of the northeast and of St. David’s, according to Watson. In the center is the group’s logo, two hands clasping one another, which “represents our reconnection with our relatives in New England after 300 plus years.” The blanket also depicts Bermuda cedar, palmetto, and a longtail bird. In addition there are rockfish, turtles and a marine mollusc called suck-rocks, all of them once used by St. David’s Islanders for food.

From left Kevin Watson, Patricia Raynor and Ronnie Chameau with the newly designed blanket to raise funds

for the St David’s Islanders and Native Community organization. (Photo by Glenn Tucker )
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Wenona Benally Baldenegro

Two Indian Congressional Candidates Praise Giffords

Upon learning that Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is resigning from her 8th District Arizona congressional seat, two American Indian candidates who are seeking the Democratic nomination for Congressional seats in their states strongly praised her. Giffords, who was nearly killed in a shooting a year ago and has resigned to finish her recovery, is widely viewed as a friend of Indians.

Wenona Benally Baldenegro (Navajo) is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for Arizona’s 1st District in the July 19 primary. You can read more about her in this Daily Kos diary. She stated:

I thank Congresswoman Giffords for her extraordinary dedication and commitment to serving the great state of Arizona and our nation. Giffords’ courage and strength, in the face of such adversity, has been an inspiration to all of us. Her profound passion for public service has inspired me to answer her call to join together to work for Arizona and this great country.

Derek Bailey

Tribal Chairman Derek Bailey (Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians), who hopes to obtain his party’s nomination for Michigan’s 1st District in the Aug. 7 primary, stated:

Congress is losing a hero with Representative Gabrielle Giffords taking some time off. Gabby is not just a hero because she has so bravely and successfully fought back from that horrific day a year ago. But she is a hero because she refused to play the partisan, political games in Congress that are so harming our country. Gabby preached bipartisanship, and set an example in working to get things done no matter whose idea it was. We are eternally grateful to her for her service. Gabby and her husband Mark have been and remain in our prayers.

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Washington State Ponders Naming Holiday to Honor Indians

On January 22, 1855, leaders of the Duwamish, Suquamish and other Indians in Puget Sound surrendered their land at gunpoint to the murderous first governor of Washington Territory, Isaac Stevens. Now, the Washington legislature is discussing honoring Indians by making the day after a state holiday, “Native American Heritage Day.” In case that name sounds familiar, it should. The United States first officially commemorated as “Native American Heritage Day” in 2008 and President Obama called on Americans to celebrate the day after Thanksgiving as “Native American Heritage Day.” The proposed legislation states:

“America’s journey has been marked by both bright times of progress and dark moments of injustice for Native Americans  …The Native American population was disrupted and nearly destroyed through European colonization. Genocide, slavery, and political and cultural repression were consequential adversities Native Americans had to overcome. In the face of such hardships, Native Americans endured; their cultural beliefs flourished; and today we celebrate their importance to the United States and the state of Washington.”

Because the day after Thanksgiving is already one of 10 paid legal holidays in Washington, the name-change would go unnoticed by most citizens. In the view of Linda Thomas, a Seattle radio host who chose to embrace an insult she was given early in her career by calling herself the “News Chick,” the legislative move is insulting to Indians. She told her audience: “The state is trying to send a message that a day honoring tribes is unique because it’s a legal holiday. If they really wanted to make it special, why not give Native Americans their own holiday instead of plopping the day on a calendar day that was already a holiday for most?”

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Depiction of Kateri Tekakwitha

in Santa Fe, N.M., by Estelle Loretto

Lone Mohawk Challenges Sainthood of One of His Tribe

Kateri Tekakwitha will soon become the first American Indian saint. The 17th Century Mohawk woman will be canonized by the Vatican later this year, and most Mohawks and many other Indians, think that’s wonderful, though they believe she should have been made a saint decades ago. But there is dissent.

For sainthood, the Vatican needed a “certified miracle” and none of those that had been brought forward met the requirements. In 2006, one did. An 11-year-old Indian boy afflicated with a lethal flesh-eating bacteria fully recovered. His parents said they had been praying to Kateri.

Her story, as told by the Church, is a grim one. Nearly killed and blinded by smallpox at age 4 and nearly killed later in a raid on her village by French settlers, she survived but was ostracized by her tribe and fled at age 20 to Kahnawake, a village of Catholic converts where she was baptized and nursed the ill and dying until she herself died at age 24. It is claimed her smallpox-scarred face suddenly cleared at her death. As a consequence of this belief, today there is a shrine to her in a 230-year-old barn in Fonda, N.Y., at one time the Mohawk village of Caughnawaga, where Kateri spent most of her life.

The sainthood talk doesn’t impress 67-year-old Tom Porter (Mohawk), whose traditional name is Sakokwenionkwas, or “He Who Wins.” He says Kateri “was used.” Porter is not a Catholic and has spent years trying to restore the tribe’s old beliefs. His six children and 11 grandchildren follow these traditions.

“Christianity is not a shoe that will ever fit. Not for my feet, or my heart, or my soul,” he said. […]

To him, there is no difference between the spread of Christianity and the cruel policies, including forced assimilation in grim 20th-century government boarding schools, that were used to subjugate Native Americans. […]

He thinks Kateri was probably forced to become a Catholic. “I don’t know if she really was a Christian or not,” he said. “They were in poverty at that time. The Europeans had destroyed everything, people were destitute and starving, and if you wanted to get help of any kind you had to be a Christian.”

Porter conceded that few Mohawk agree with him. He even admitted that some in his extended family are devoted to Kateri.

“It breaks my heart,” he said. […]

The Second Poorest County in America

The 1980 U.S. Census proclaimed Shannon County, the heart of the Pine Ridge Reservation, as the single poorest county in America. Thirty years later the 2010 U. S. Census has just announced that Shannon County is the second poorest county in America.

Shannon County Rezidents Sue for Early Voting

By failing to provide the early voting, the plaintiffs claim violations of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law and violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

American Indian Gangsters Busted in Minnesota

Two dozen suspected members of Native Mob, a Minneapolis-born, American Indian gang, were indicted last week. The gang has been a problem for tribal, federal and local law enforcement for two decades.

Hopi, Navajo Join to Preserve Petroglyphs

The Hopi call it Tutuveni, meaning “newspaper rock.” It’s a collection of sandstone boulders outside of Tuba City, Ariz., about 80 miles from the Grand Canyon. The site contains some 5,000 petroglyphs of Hopi clan symbols, the largest known collection of such symbols in the American Southwest.

Census Bureau Sees Sharp Rise in Indian Population

Of the 5.2 million people counted as Indians in the 2010 Census, nearly 2.3 million reported being Indian in combination with one or more of six other race categories. Those who added black, white or both as a personal identifier made up 84 percent of the multi-racial group. The Census does not require respondents to show tribal enrollment or other proof that they have Indian heritage to include them in their count.


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 Meteor Blades 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: Tribes Work to Return the Bison

Welcome to the first 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 will include 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.


“The buffalo are disappearing rapidly, but not faster than I desire. I regard the destruction of such game as Indians subsist upon as facilitating the policy of the Government, of destroying their hunting habits, coercing them on reservations, and compelling them to begin to adopt the habits of civilization.”

 – Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano, Testimony to Congress, 1874

“We recognize the bison is a symbol of our strength and unity, and that as we bring our herds back to health, we will also bring our people back to health.”

 – Fred DuBray, former president Inter Tribal Buffalo Council, 2005

By 1870, the great herds of buffalo, or American Bison, that had in the 1500s roamed everywhere except present-day New England, were limited to 11 Western states and territories. There were still millions of them, perhaps 40 million. The massive slaughter that began in earnest in 1874 ended nine years later. By 1890, only 500 bison remained, and the devastated, decimated tribes who had depended on them were confined to reservations and a hard-scrabble existence.

Today, however, there are around 500,000 fenced bison in commercial herds, many of them genetically intermixed with cattle breeds and sold for meat domestically and abroad. There are also some 20,000 genetically pure bison in free-roaming herds, like the 3000 in Yellowstone National Park. The biggest fenced herds are in Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, and South Dakota, the leader, where there are about 40,000 head of bison on private ranches and tribal land.

As NPR reported early last year, the demand for bison meat is rising, and not just for burgers. And the demand in 2011 kept up the pace.

“Five years ago, I spent 90 percent of my time trying to get people to eat bison. Now, I spend 90 percent of my time getting people to raise bison,” said Dave Carter​, executive director of the Westminster-based National Bison Association.

Among the bison raisers are the 56 tribes of the non-profit Inter Tribal Buffalo Council, which got its start in 1990. Some tribes started as early as 1971 to reintroduce bison and, collectively, they now have herds totaling about 15,000 head in 19 states. The idea behind this is far more than economic. As the ITBC web site states, the “reintroduction of the buffalo to tribal lands will help heal the spirit of both the Indian people and the buffalo.” For Indians of the Plains and far beyond, the bison was woven into every aspect of their lives and was an integral part of their philosophy and religion.

ITBC Cultural Education Coordinator Carla Rae Brings Plenty (Lakota-Cheyenne River) recently wrote:

[The council] is committed to reestablishing bison herds on Indian lands in a manner that promotes cultural enhancement, spiritual revitalization, ecological restoration, and economic development. ITBC is governed by a Board of Directors, comprised of one tribal representative from each member tribe.

The role of the ITBC, as established by its membership, is to act as a facilitator in coordinating education and training programs, develop marketing strategies, coordinate the transfer of surplus American buffalo – also known as bison – from national parks to tribal lands, and provide technical assistance to its membership. The ITBC works collaboratively with members to develop sound management plans that enable tribal herds to become successful and self-sufficient operations.

Among other reasons for restoring the bison herds is some hope for change in the diet of many Indians, on and off the reservation, who have high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease as consequence of both poverty and a poor understanding of nutrition. Bison meat is extremely lean, with less than a third the amount of fat and cholesterol and less than two-thirds as many calories as beef. It also has more iron an vitamin B12 than beef. But it is a very long way from providing more than an occasional meal on any of the reservations.

The process of restoration is slow, but growth in tribal herds steadily continues. In early December, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission approved the removal of 68 quarantined bison to the reservations at Fort Belknap (A’aninin-Gros Ventre and the Nakota-Assiniboine) and Fort Peck (Assiniboine-Sioux). About 700 now graze at Fort Belknap and another 200 can be found Turtle Mound Buffalo Ranch on the Fort Peck reservation.  

Haida Whale Divider

Cherokee leader John Ross

This Week in American Indian History in 1833:

It can be said that the non-violent resistance campaign by the Cherokee nation against removal and relocation to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) began on Jan. 28, 1833. Tribal leaders, including John Ross, the principal chief of the Eastern Cherokee, met that day with Secretary of War John Eaton to say they would not negotiate with the federal government about removal because Washington was not living up to previous agreements to protect them since gold had been discovered on Cherokee land in 1829. Murderous white “pony clubs,” a kind of pre-Civil War Ku Klux Klan killed Cherokee men, raped Cherokee women and burned their houses and entire towns, allowing whites to stake mining claims. The Cherokee delegation in Washington had reason to be worried because President Andrew Jackson, was no friend, having betrayed the Cherokee by forcing the cession of more than 2 million acres of their land after the Red Stick War ended in 1814 even though they had allied themselves with the federal government against the rebellious wing of the Creek tribe in that conflict. Moreover, as soon as gold had been discovered in 1829, Jackson had removed all federal troops from Georgia and let state authorities and the ad hoc “pony clubs” to act they wished.

Eaton told them their only hope was removal. Jackson offered the Eastern Cherokee $3 million for all their lands east of the Mississippi except those in North Carolina if they would move. The delegation said the illegal Georgia gold mines alone were worth more than that. Thus began a five-year effort of sophisticated non-violent resistance which appealed to both moral and political authority. Ultimately, it failed and 16,000 Cherokee were removed across the Mississippi, at least 4,000 of their number dying along what is now known as the “Trail of Tears.”

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Susan Allen

Susan Allen (Sicangu-Oglala Lakota) Wins Seat in Minnesota Legislature

Susan Allen of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party won a special election for district 61B seat of the Minnesota House of Representatives on Jan. 10. The race was notable because Allen, an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, is the first lesbian American Indian elected to any state legislature. The impoverished district in south-central Minneapolis has many problems with which Allen is familiar. She was born on the Uintah and Ouray Ute reservation in northeastern Utah, moved around to many reservations as a young girl because her Oglala Lakota father was an episcopal priest. She saw much social and economic injustice, which has played a major role in determining her political views.  

She says she will focus on investing in jobs, education, tax reform, as well as creating a single-payer health care system, preserving the environment, and saying no to the anti-gay marriage amendment on the state ballot next November. “We’re thrilled for Susan and the remarkable progress her victory represents,” said Tiffany Muller, vice president for political operations for the Victory Fund. “This is our first win of 2012, and it’s a fantastic way to start off what will be a very exciting year for LGBT candidates.”

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Cartoon by Marty Two Bulls

U.S. Supreme Court Takes Indian Casino Case

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on two petitions related to a decision by the federal government to take the Bradley Tract, a parcel of Pottawatomi-owned land in Michigan, into trust. The petitions were brought by Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar and by the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band, also known as the Gun Lake Tribe, which seeks to have the land taken into trust so they can build a casino on it. David Patchak, a private individual who lives near the land in question, filed a complaint alleging that a casino would destroy the peace and quiet of the area and create pollution. The tribe won a judgment in U.S. District Court on the grounds that Patchak had no “prudential” interest in the case. But the Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision. The case may boil down to an interpretation of whether putting the land into trust can be done by the Interior Department for tribes that were not yet recognized by the federal government in 1934 at the time of the Indian Reorganization Act. The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band did not receive federal recognition until 1998.

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Maryland recognizes the Piscataways

After years of struggle and appeals, as well as an internal schism, the Piscataway tribe of southern Maryland has gained state recognition. The tribe’s ancestors have lived in the area for as much as 12 millennia. But Maryland officials previously said documentation connecting today’s Piscataways with Indians dating back before 1790 was inadequate for recognition and had rejected their applications. One motivation behind the rejection was the view of some citizens that the tribe is only interested in recognition so they could build casinos. The Piscataways, of whom there are now about 5,000, renounced any right to casinos in the negotiations to get recognition.

Mervin Savoy, the 68-year-old chairwoman of the Piscataway-Conoy Confederacy, had waited a long time for the day Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley to make the recognition official.

“A reporter once asked me what it felt like to be an Indian,” Savoy says, laughing. “You might as well ask me what it feels like to be a woman. I don’t know; I’ve never been anything else.”

Savoy didn’t see anything unusual in the way her grandparents lived off the land. Her grandmother picked mint and peach leaves to flavor food. For a headache, she prescribed bark from a weeping willow tree. For a bee sting, she rubbed the irritated skin with three types of grass.

“All of these things, you could just walk out to the yard and get,” Savoy says.

The struggle for federal recognition, which would provide the Piscataways with funds for education, housing and public health, continues.

-News & Views h/t to Bill in MD

Piscataways in traditional cloth regalia. Left to Right: Piscataway Tribal Spokesman Rico Newman, Diona Kakinohana, Desiree Windsor, Provisional Tribal Council Chairwoman Mervin Savoy, MCIA Vice Chair Thomas Windsor, Linda Proctor, Argentine Newman, Piscataway Communications Director Chris Newman (Photo courtesy of Shikya Wilson)
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Do Congress and Obama Really Support the Tribal Law and Order Act?

The 2010 passage and signing of the Tribal Law and Order Act was viewed by many Indians as a major step forward and the keeping of one of the promises made by the Obama administration to pay attention to Indian voices about our needs. But, as Rob Capriccioso reports, TLOA is being undermined by budget cuts and an apparent lack of seriousness in pursuing key aspects of the legislation. In November $90 million was cut from the Department of Justice’s programs. “There continues to be a public safety crisis on our Indian reservations, and the lives of women and children are in danger every day,” said retired Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), a key promoter of the TLOA when he chaired the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“Unlike other areas of government spending, the federal government has a distinct legal, treaty, and trust obligation to provide for the public safety of Indian country,” wrote [Ryan] Dreveskracht, a lawyer with the Galanda Broadman Indian-focused law firm in an article posted on his firm’s web site. … This obligation was made explicit in section 202 of the TLOA and was thoroughly discussed in the congressional record. That that same Congress is absolutely ignoring those duties now makes it that much worse. As a result, people are literally dying,” Dreveskracht added. “While crime outside Indian reservations has declined in recent years, the violent crime rate in Indian country has increased dramatically over the same time period – with homicides increasing by 14 percent in just four years.”

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Wisconsin Fights Suit Over Law Banning Indian Mascots

The state of Wisconsin wants the courts to dismiss a challenge to the constitutionality of a 2010 law that allows the state school superintendent to ban American Indian mascots and logos. The Department of Public Instruction ordered the Berlin School District to drop its “Indians” nickname and logo by Sept. 16, 2012, because its promotes stereotyping, discrimination and pupil harassment. The state had received a complaint from a district resident regarding the Berlin Indians’ nickname. The state also plans to appeal the decision of a judge to overturn his ruling rejecting a previous DPI order that the Mukwonago High School ditch its mascot and the “Indians” name of its athletic teams. That judge called the law, Act 250, “uncommonly silly.” It was passed when Democrats controlled the legislature. Republicans are now in charge, and some seek to repeal the law.

Barbara Munson (Oneida) chairs the Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s Indian Mascot and Logo Taskforce. She says 33 of the 65 Wisconsin schools with Indian-related team names have dropped them, or changed their logos since 1994. That was the year Marquette University dropped its Warriors team name and mascot and became the Golden Eagles. Wisconsin’s 11 tribes, through their Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, are on record opposing the names. “These images are archaic,” she says, and “should have left our culture as a whole along with Sambo’s restaurants (and) blackface minstrel shows.”

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Saginaw Chippewa Tribe Holds Repatriation Ceremony

The Michigan Anishinaabek