Here are a few of the headlines to watch for in Northwest Native America over the next few months.
In Alaska, Waiting For Snow
Last year, a lack of snow forced the cancellation of two major sled-dog races and relocation of the start of the Iditarod. As the New Year dawns, mushers and dogs are again hoping for better conditions as they get ready to test their mettle in a series of Iditarod qualifiers and pre-big race tests.
According to the National Weather Service, Anchorage had 22.2 inches of snow from July 1 to December 29, 14.9 inches less than the historical average for that time period. NOAA is predicting that warmer waters in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean – called an El Nino climate cycle – may result in a mild winter in Alaska. The Knik 200 Joe Redington Sr. Memorial Sled Dog Race in Wasilla, an Iditarod and Yukon Quest qualifier scheduled for January 2, has been cancelled because of trail conditions.
Races to watch: The Copper Basin 300, 170 miles northeast of Anchorage, starts on January 9. The Kuskokwim 300, a highly-regarded mid-distance race, starts on January 15. The Northern Lights 300, an Iditarod and Yukon Quest qualifier that runs between Big Lake and Finger Lake, starts on January 22.
The Two Rivers 200 starts on January 22, as does the Gin Gin 200 in Paxson, the latter an Iditarod qualifier. The Tustumena 200 starts on January 30.
The 1,000-mile Yukon Quest, from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, begins February 6. The field of 27 mushers includes past Yukon Quest champs (and 2016 Iditarod competitors) Allen Moore, Hugh Neff and Brent Sass. The 1,049-mile Iditarod begins on March 5; competitors include Dallas Seavey, the 2012, 2014 and 2015 champion; his father, Mitch, the 2004 and 2013 champ who finished second to the son in 2015; John Baker, who in 2011 became the first Inupiaq to win the race; and four-time champions Martin Buser, Jeff King and Lance Mackey.
New Diversity In Seattle Government
Former King County Superior Court Judge Debora Juarez, Blackfeet, took office on January 1 as a member of the City Council in Seattle, the 20th largest city in the United States. She was elected on November 3 and will be the first citizen of an indigenous nation to serve on Seattle’s council. She will also be one of two council members of Mexican ancestry; in addition, five of the council’s nine members will now be women.
Housing, public safety and transportation are among Juarez’s biggest areas of concern. She will chair the council’s Parks, Seattle Center, Libraries and Waterfront Committee; and serve on the Education, Equity & Governance Committee, the Energy & Environment Committee, and the Gender Equity, Safe Communities & New Americans Committee.
In addition, Scott Pinkham, Nez Perce, a lecturer in Native American studies at the University of Washington, is a new member of the Seattle School Board, another government body whose members reflect the diversity of the city and its schools. Four of the seven members are women. The board is chaired by Betty Patu, Samoan. Other members include education consultant Dr. Stephan Blanford, African American.
This new diversity on the city council and school board should help bolster efforts to improve relations between those government bodies and the community. The city police department is under a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to correct “a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the Constitution and federal law” and certain “policies and practices [that] could result in discriminatory policing.” And in 2013, the school district dismantled the American Indian Heritage Early College High School program, which at one time boasted a 100 percent graduation rate and a 100 percent college attendance rate.
In 2014, the City Council approved resolutions replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. And the school district has named a new school after the late Dr. Robert Eaglestaff, principal of American Indian Heritage School. The school will have classroom space for students in a new American Indian Heritage School program.
Treaty Day Film Festival
Producer Darrell Hillaire, Lummi, of Setting Sun Productions will present the 2016 Treaty Day Film Festival on January 23 at the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham, Washington.
The festival coincides with the 161st anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Point Elliott, in which 81 Coast Salish leaders agreed to cede a large swath of Western Washington to the United States in return for certain promises – among them education, health care and remuneration – from the U.S. The Coast Salish leaders also reserved land and access to resources in their historical territory for themselves and their descendants forever.
The film festival will showcase two Setting Sun films: “What About Those Promises,” about the United States’ unfulfilled promises in the 1855 treaty; and “The Earth Is Alive,” a documentary about climate change, presented by a delegation of Lummi youth and adults at the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris.
In addition to the films, there will be drumming, singing, Q&A sessions and Coast Salish art on display in the lobby. A portion of the proceeds from this event will go toward the Lummi Youth Academy.
Salmon Habitat Restoration
The Washington state Salmon Recovery Funding Board is investing in the salmon habitat restoration efforts of several indigenous nations. Treaty Nations and the state are co-managers of the state’s fisheries, and the Nations are sharing the costs of these projects.
Treaty nations that are sharing the costs include: Cowlitz Tribe (three projects for a total of $991,204); Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe (two projects for a total of $2.63 million); Kalispel Tribe (one project for a total of $359,992); Lower Elwha Klallam (one project for a total of $635,939); Lummi Nation (two projects for a total of $1,152,273); Makah Nation (one project for a total of $122,902); Nez Perce Tribe (one project for a total of $97,550); Nisqually tribe (one project for a total of $41,500); Nooksack Tribe (two projects for a total of $1,585,681); Quinault Nation (three projects for a total of $258,662); Squaxin Island Tribe (one project for a total of $1.5 million); Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (one project for a total of $460,131); Skagit River System Cooperate (three projects for a total of $2,925,350); Tulalip Tribes (one project for a total of $500,000); and the Upper Skagit Tribe (one project for a total of $228,250).
A busy start to 2016.