The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, March 13, 2016

J.K. Rowling goes Skin Walker, the Burns Paiute survey damage to their territory on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge post–militia occupation, and the election campaign trundles ahead…. Read on if you dare.

DIPLOMACY AND HUNGRY LIONS: Five Indian country thought leaders—former Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn, United South and Eastern Tribes President Brian Patterson, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Cedric Cromwell, Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Chief Richard Velky and Tom Rodgers, a Blackfeet Nation lobbyist—were asked for the second year in a row their thoughts and hopes for the upcoming year. Their answers centered around Indian unity. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton continued their sparring, most recently over immigration, as Sanders made a surprise win in a key state.

FIGHTING FOR VOTING RIGHTS: Meanwhile, voting rights for many were stalled in Congress and in the courts. Several pending lawsuits allege that the voting rights of American Indians and Alaska Natives have been eroded or ignored since the United States Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. The litigation is pending all over the electoral map in key voting districts. And in Congress, multiple legislative efforts have been introduced since May 2015 to pass new voting rights legislation aimed at ensuring access to voting for American Indians and Alaska Natives—but they are stalled.

GETTIN’ IT DONE: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, to the White House for their first official visit. The two leaders talked climate change and indigenous issues, among other topics. Before heading to Washington, Trudeau met with indigenous leaders in Canada and was given honorary Tsuut’ina Nation membership, which came with a headdress and the name Gumistiyi, “The One Who Keeps Trying.”

SHORTCHANGING SACRED REMAINS: A bill before the Georgia Assembly would create exemptions for state transportation projects under $100 million from following state environmental standards, including the requirement to file a cultural resource study when state projects stumble across potential archaeological findings. If it becomes law, then road project workers finding evidence such as Native sacred remains would be exempt from reporting and investigating it and could continue their work uninterrupted. The bill could have national implications.

ASSESSING DAMAGE: Members of the Burns Paiute Tribe paid their first visit to their ancient wintering grounds on the site of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge since its occupation by a group of militants. The culturally sensitive sites and ancestral burial grounds in Oregon were desecrated enough that the tribe held a cleansing ceremony, joined by a number of tribes, at sunrise on March 12 at a high point across from the refuge.

SACRED, SEWAGE-COATED PEAKS: A proposed settlement about snowmaking with wastewater on the sacred San Francisco Peaks in Arizona was halted on March 8 over concerns about a lack of public involvement. The Hopi Tribe, one of 13 that consider the peaks sacred, had signed off on an agreement that would require the City of Flagstaff to mandate a filtration system for the wastewater in exchange for withdrawal of the tribe’s related lawsuit. The other tribes said they were not consulted, while a city attorney said that confidentiality had been required.

CELEBRATING NATIVE WOMEN: Women’s History Month continued, this week punctuated by International Women’s Day, during which Indian country celebrated the contributions of the female members of the human race as well as demanded parity, safety and recognition. As half the human population, women are essential to the planet’s survival, which is all the more reason to adhere to the day’s theme: “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality,” as outlined by the United Nations. On International Women’s Day we honored the strength of indigenous women, whose stories of formation, emergence, resilience, triumph, and grace are threaded throughout the creation stories of our people where women are not only essential, but also powerful. Besides cultivating at least half the world’s food, women are fighting to keep cultural traditions alive, perhaps none more important than salmon. Women are also active in education, as educators and students.

STILL A LONG WAY TO GO: Sadly, Native women’s struggles continue, as illustrated in our continuing series about women and girls forced to live “the life,” the deadly cycle of violence and trafficking.

OH, DID WE FORGET TO MENTION THAT? The family of Jacqueline Salyers, the Puyallup tribal member shot by cops under questionable circumstances, has found out since her burial that she was pregnant—a fact that the Tacoma Police Department did not reveal when it released her body to the family. “We couldn’t lay her child to rest properly as well,” said Salyers’s uncle and family spokesperson James Rideout. “If all lives matter, then the life of Jackie’s unborn baby should matter, too.”

SHE WENT THERE: J.K. Rowling, author of the famed Harry Potter series, went there. In a series of short stories titled History of Magic in North America on the Pottermore website, Rowling includes characters she calls Skin Walkers. But many in the Native world have accused her of ill-informed cultural appropriation. Other coverage points out that as mistaken as Rowling’s characterization of this dark, taboo magic is, any errors are dwarfed by those promulgated in U.S. textbooks.

BELOVED LEADER PADDLES ON: Emmett Oliver, founder of the Paddle to Seattle, walked on at age 102. He was a U.S. Coast Guard officer, an educator, a policy maker and an advocate, among many other inspirational roles. But it is, perhaps, the Paddle to Seattle that he organized in 1989 that has had the greatest impact on the lives of Indigenous Peoples—not just in the Pacific Northwest, but around the Pacific Rim.


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The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, March 13, 2016