Take a look back at February 2012's biggest stories from the pages of our weekly magazine, This Week From Indian Country Today.
Education: The Final Frontier
At Northwest Indian College, it is rocket science, as students apply their learning to building a rocket for flight in a NASA contest. Students design, develop and launch a reusable rocket that carries a science data-gathering payload. For this competition, what goes up must come down—and in one piece.
On January 13, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington announced it would not pursue criminal charges against police officer Ian Birk for the August 2010 shooting of John T. Williams in Seattle. The decision closed the case in the fatal shooting of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth woodcarver. A comprehensive investigation by federal prosecutors and FBI agents determined that “the evidence was insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the former Seattle police officer acted willfully and with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office statement.
Interior Department Issues 20-Year Ban on New Mining Claims Near Grand Canyon
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a 20-year ban on new hard-rock mining claims on more than a million acres around the Grand Canyon, home to some of the richest uranium ore reserves in the country surround. When the price for uranium spiked a few years ago, mining companies staked thousands of claims on the land encircling the national park. The ban sparked a debate over mining jobs and tourism dollars in Arizona, which relies heavily on both industries.
State Department: Little Economic Benefit to Keystone XL
While some Keystone XL pipeline supporters insisted that President Obama’s rejection of the project in January would hurt the American economy, the State Department released analysis that begged to differ. “[It] would not be reasonable to suggest the pipeline would cause an increase in employment or other economic activity by increasing crude oil imported into the United States,” according to a rejection letter published by the department. Speaker of the House John Boehner and other Republicans have suggested that the project could have created up to 100,000 American jobs, but the State Department determined that a figure of “approximately 5,000 to 6,000 direct construction jobs in the United States that would last for the two years” is closer to the mark.
Fighting for the Children
Despite criticism of it in the mainstream press, the Indian Child Welfare Act remains a vital tool for holding Native families together. Too many Native parents face extraordinary hurdles in keeping their children—including cultural misunderstandings and legal barriers unimaginable to many non-Natives.
Obama’s Million-Dollar Native Fund-Raiser
In a sign of tribal clout, 70 Indian officials attended the first-ever Native-specific campaign fund-raiser with President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. “I believe we are one day going to look back on these years and say this was a turning point in nation-to-nation relations,” the president said.
Schools for Scandal
A comprehensive review of the impact the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has had on Native education is an education in bad education. From its inception, the ultimate goal of the agency was not to protect Indians, but to assimilate them into white society, often by condoning or actively perpetrating brutality.
On January 4, two massive wildfires struck the Blackfeet Nation, one of the least prosperous in the country, and raged for more than 15 hours through thousands of acres, destroying homes and scorching agricultural land. The Boy Fire north of Browning, Montana, burned through approximately 12,000 acres; the Y Fire south of the city destroyed around 6,000 acres. Some homes were lost, and that other structures such as sheds and barns were burned. Around 200 people were evacuated from an Indian boarding school, including the students and residents from around a dozen nearby homes.
Cuomo Plans $4 Billion Casino-Convention Center in New York City
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out a multipronged economic-development agenda that invests billions of dollars in public-private-sector partnerships that will, he said, spur job creation while limiting spending. In early December, Cuomo announced that he supported expanding commercial gaming with state legislators and a lobbying group that wants to convert nine racinos to full-blown casinos. Among Cuomo’s boldest proposals is to build “the largest convention center in the nation”—a 3.8-million-square-foot facility with 3,000 hotel rooms, restaurants and a casino. The project would be financed by the Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-based Genting Organization, a multinational corporation and casino developer.
Student Suspended for Native Language
For speaking her Native language during class, a 12-year-old Menominee student was suspended from playing in that night’s school basketball game. The student, Miranda Washinawatok, attends Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Shawano, Wisconsin. On January 19, when she tried to teach a classmate to say posoh (“hello”) and ketapanen (“I love you”), her teacher scolded her. After the incident, Washinawatok received support from around the world.
Following a pilot study last summer, two Native academics are in the second phase of data collection to examine how journalists portray Native Americans with diabetes. “From what I’m reading and hearing from the American Indian medical community, diabetes is being framed by those on the front lines as a type of genocide and perhaps the final one for American Indians,” said Teresa Trumbly Lamsam, Osage, University of Kansas visiting associate professor in journalism and social scientist. “It’s already an epidemic. We’re not affecting the trajectory fast enough.
In case you missed it, here's January's recap.