Take a look back at May 2012's biggest stories from the pages of our weekly magazine, This Week From Indian Country Today.
Schooling the Scientists
Indigenous Peoples have a deep and profound understanding of Mother Earth that mainstream science and academia can’t begin to comprehend. Increasingly, however, Western scientists are starting to appreciate the wisdom of elders and incorporate it into their research.
Deserving of Hoopla
A trip to a department store doesn’t usually result in national exposure, but that’s exactly what happened to Lisa Odjig, Odawa/Ojibwe, of Toronto. Recently, she got to display her hoop-dancing prowess and became a feature performer for Canada’s Got Talent.
Oregon Joins Wisconsin in Banning Native American Mascots
The Oregon Board of Education has decided to eliminate Native American mascots from the state’s schools. In a 5–1 vote on May 17, the board elected to follow the example of Wisconsin, which in 2010 became the first state to ban Native mascots in an attempt to end ethnic stereotyping. At least 15 schools across the state now have five years to get rid of the offensive images or face the loss of state funding.
Tribe Donates $1 Million to Preserve Chukchansi Language
To keep their language alive, the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians pledged $1 million to California State University, Fresno’s College of Arts and Humanities for the Department of Linguistics on May 7. College faculty and students have been working with native speakers of the language since 2009 to devise a writing system and produce a dictionary. These funds will further that effort. Before now, the language hadn’t existed on paper.
Looking for Improvements
On May 25, a Senate oversight hearing chaired by Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), one of three active U.S. senators who served in World War II, said more must be done to improve U.S. government programs and services that assist American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian veterans.
Transgender Beauty Queen Makes Final 12 for Miss Universe Canada
Jenna Talackova, a transgender member of the Lake Babine First Nation, advanced to the penultimate round of the Miss Universe Canada competition but did not make the final group of five. The title went to Sahar Biniaz, also of Vancouver. But Talackova didn’t come away empty-handed; she was one of four contestants to share the title of Miss Congeniality. Talackova, who was born a man, made headlines when she was disqualified from the pageant, but was readmitted thanks in part to public outcry.
Carnage on the Plains
Beer profiteers are fighting an Oglala lawsuit that seeks to control alcohol sales in one of the boozy border towns ringing the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is being pummeled by a generations-long, alcohol-related public-health crisis: One in four babies born with fetal-alcohol effects, an infant mortality rate 300 percent higher than the U.S. average and a life-expectancy at least 25 years shorter than the norm.
From Hollywood to LAX
Lacrosse is finally ready for its Hollywood close-up, as a new movie, Crooked Arrows, opens nationwide. Indian country was wary of having white filmmakers do a story about Natives, but they did it right, honoring the game and the culture with a story and a message that aim to please everyone.
What a year it has been for Johnny Powless. His rookie pro season with the National Lacrosse League’s (NLL) Rochester Knighthawks earned him honors aplenty (he finished fourth in Knighthawks’ scoring with 51 points, including 27 goals). On May 19, the Nighthawks won the 2012 NLL championship. And now the 19-year-old Mohawk (Turtle Clan), who lives in Canada in the Six Nations community of Ohsweken, has been chosen as the most sportsmanlike player in the nine-team NLL.
At the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Native athletes—most famously Jim Thorpe—gave stunning performances. To celebrate the centennial of their achievement, the National Museum of the American Indian is offering the exhibit Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics, which opened May 25 and runs through September 3. “Native athletes had several obstacles standing in their way—a lack of resources to train properly, the economic background, a racist attitude towards Native athletes that Thorpe and his colleagues exploded at the 1912 Olympics,” said curator James Adams. “They turned in such brilliant performances at those games.”
A Bright Idea
It’s true that a river runs between them. But that isn’t stopping the members of California’s Chemehuevi Indian Tribe from teaming up with non-Native partners on the Arizona side of Lake Havasu. Together, by lighting the lake, they are cutting down on navigational hazards caused by the waterway’s deadly curves and bends. Their solution is creative, to say the least: The two parties are installing solar-powered replicas of famous lighthouses as safety beacons for nighttime skippers.
Anxiety on High
In June, the controversial plan to make snow on the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona is the subject of discussion between the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moved forward as construction began after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court decision that dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Save the Peaks Coalition against the USFS to prevent the snowmaking project from going forward.
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Cigarette Money
An unusual seizure by New York state police of a massive shipment of cigarettes from the St. Regis Mohawk reservation has led some to conclude that Big Tobacco is pulling strings with government officials to get tax-free smokes off the reservation. The nations are boycotting the big manufacturers and girding for a political fight.