Archive for August, 2009

This story ends the day on a sad note, but a satisfying one, too.

Some graves of Comanche children who died during the turn-of-the-century smallpox epidemic finally have markers, according to this Indian Country Today story.

“This is a way to love and honor our relatives,” Comanche Nation Tombstone Program coordinator Sandra Toyekoyah tells reporter S.E. Ruckman. “People took care of these graves, but then they passed on, too.”

The new stones, written in Comanche, say they are “Numunu Turetu” (Comanche children) who died of smallpox and whose remains were repatriated from one site to another in 1903.

Oral history says smallpox spread among the tribes when they received blankets carrying the smallpox germs.

The 16,000-member tribe in Oklahoma uses money from tax commission sales, including car tags, to fund the program, according to the story.

In one way, it’s a small gesture – just 10 markers were put up, commemorating the tiniest percentage of those who died. But as a symbol, it’s huge. They’re not forgotten.

Gwen Florio

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Here’s a story from one of our favorite publications, High Country News, on one of our favorite subjects, literature. We’ll take it as a sign that the week is off to a good start.

In this review, Emily Underwood takes a look at a new book, “In Beauty I Walk: The Literary Roots of Native American Writing.”

The book examines traditional creation myths, stories, songs and poetry to modern short stories and plays, Underwood writes. She doesn’t shy away from what she calls the “inherent problems of critiquing Native literature through a Eurocentric lens.”

It is an issue, she says, one that sometimes makes the analyses in “In Beauty I Walk” feel stilted.

But the fact that the book includes so many rarely published selections, as well as the likely pleasure of encountering old favorites, makes us think we’ll be taking a peek inside pretty soon.

Gwen Florio

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James Steele Jr. (Missoulian photo)

James Steele Jr. (Tom Bauer/Missoulian)

James Steele Jr., chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, takes exception to a Fox News portrayal of health care on reservations in this opinion piece on the need for health-care reform – or, as he more properly terms it, health insurance reform.

Steele writes that the Fox reporter, in his visit to a South Dakota reservation, was doing something we’ve been seeing more of recently – pointing to the Indian Health Service as an example of what a single-payer system would look like. As Steele says, that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, given how the fact that IHS is funded at only about half the level it needs.

“The time has come for straight talk and actions,” he writes, “not politically inspired games to see who can get the upper hand before the 2010 elections.”

Gwen Florio

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Untitled from Caitlin Copple on Vimeo.

The YWCA of Missoula is seeking help for its Racial Justice Initiative – specifically, the issue of the inequity of health care for Native people.

YWCA Missoula is working on a series of TV and radio commercials that show Native Americans from Montana talking about their experiences with health care inequality and hurtful stereotypes. If you have a story that you’d like to share with the YWCA and the Missoula community, please contact Caitlin Copple at (406) 543-6691 or

Gwen Florio

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A decade ago, the beating deaths of Wilson “Wally” Black Elk Jr., 40, and Ronald Hard Heart, 39, in the town of Whiteclay, Neb., on the border of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation spurred demonstrations.

To this day, marches are held annually both to mark their deaths and to protest the continued existence of Whiteclay’s beer stores, which almost exclusively serve the “dry” reservation across the state line in South Dakota – contributing, the marchers contend, to alcoholism, highway deaths, violence and general human misery.

In the meantime, the deaths of Black Elk and Hard Heart remain unsolved.

Now, the Associated Press reports in this Mitchell (Neb.) Daily Republic story, the FBI is releasing new information in the hopes of finally charging their killer or killers.

Tom Poor Bear, Black Elk’s half brother and Hard Heart’s cousin, says it’s too little, too late.

“I feel that the evidence, the interviews that were turned over to the FBI and the leads they had, I felt it should have gone to a grand jury by now. If it was two white people found in that area, there would have been 30 FBI agents,” he says.

But Bob Perry, supervisory senior resident agent with the FBI in Rapid City, S.D., says that agency’s significant staffing in South Dakota shows that “we care about crime in Indian Country.”

Gwen Florio

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Thai scultpor, Native chiefs, American art

   Posted by: buffalo_post    in American Indian History, Art

Sunti Pichetchaiyakul walks into his gallery located in a small cabin south of Bigfork where his latest works, “Legends of the Americas,” are displayed.  (Linda Thompson/Missoulian)

Sunti Pichetchaiyakul walks into his gallery located in a small cabin south of Bigfork where his latest works, “Legends of the Americas,” are displayed. (Linda Thompson/Missoulian)

Sunti Pichetchaiyakul was born in Thailand, but for the last year has lived and worked in Bigfork, Montana. And so, the artist who specializes in life-size, realistic sculpture has seen his focus change.

“When Sunti came here, he learned Indian culture is very similar to Thailand’s,” his wife, Erica, tells Missoulian reporter Vince Devlin in this story. “There’s a mutual respect for elders and ancestors, for the Earth and all the Earth’s creatures. Indian traditions are very similar to Sunti’s Buddhist beliefs – and their faces are very similar, too.”

Pichetchaiyakul is working on a series of busts of Native chiefs – Joseph, Sitting Bull and others – in limited editions of 25 that will sell for anywhere from $24,000 to $46,000 each. He calls it “Legends of the Americas.” For him, he says, the work is almost mystical.

“The ecstasy I derive when working with clay is my nirvana, my meditation,” Pichetchaiyakul explains. “Immersed in concentration, the clay and I become one, unleashing my spirit. … Sculpting sets free my passion for capturing and re-creating natural beauty, inspires my imagination, and nurtures my soul in a meditative embrace.”

Gwen Florio

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Girls stand amidst coffins during burial ceremonies for victims of a 1984 massacre in Putis, Peru. According to Peru's government-appointed truth commission, Peru's military massacred 123 people in the village of Putis in 1984, during the conflict against Shining Path guerrillas. (AP photo)

Girls stand amidst coffins during burial ceremonies for victims of a 1984 massacre in Putis, Peru. According to Peru's government-appointed truth commission, Peru's military massacred 123 people in the village of Putis in 1984, during the conflict against Shining Path guerrillas. (AP photo)

Twenty-five years too late, Peruvian tribe buries massacre victims
The inhabitants of the indigenous village of Putis, in Peru, finally buried their dead yesterday, a quarter-century after their relatives were slaughtered by the Peruvian military during its fight with the Maoist Shining Path. A “truth commission” determined the military killed the people – after tricking several into digging their own mass graves – because it suspected them of collaborating with the group, according to this Associated Press report on National Public Radio. Family members walked 30 miles carrying 92 coffins. Mayor Gerardo Fernandez, who lost 15 relatives in the massacre, tells the AP that “we have two feelings. On the one hand, we are in pain for the dead. But on the other, we’re happy that we can finally bury them.” No one has been charged in the killings at Putis, a village in Ayacucho state. Ayacucho means “the Corner of the Dead” in the Quechua language.

Troubling report from Colombia on killings of indigenous Awa people

The week brought this Amnesty International report on the third mass killing – this time involving 12 people, four of them children – of the Awa Inigenous Peoples in less than a year. “How many more have to die before the government acts to protect these communities?” asks Susan Lee, Amnesty’s Americas Programme Director.

A British take on Indian Country
A reporter from the Guardian in London is taking Route 66 across the United States and calls this particular installment on Indian Country, which has a good video, “The Grapes of Wrath Revisted.” Rita Watson Claude, who is Navajo, tells reporter Chris McGreal that “the culture’s not there no more … they’re going towards the white people way.” She talks at length about how her children don’t speak Navajo, and then blames herself for not teaching it to her children – underscoring to the importance of language as a way of maintaining culture.

In the United States, empty apology by Senate subcommittee
Albert Bender, a Cherokee activist, opines in this Nashville Tennessean piece that “more than symbolism is needed as the American Indian nations largely still languish in the hideous misery created by this government.” He particularly mentions the long-running Indian trust fund case that involve government mismanagement of billions of dollars meant for Indian people.

Tribe shares mobile clinic with uninsured neighbors
Last year, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community sent its mobile medical clinic into the Red Lake Band of Chippewa reservation to provide badly needed medical care. This year, according to this Shakopee Valley (Minn.) News story, the tribe is sending the van out again, not just to other reservations but to the community at large. Tribal Wellness Administrator Joanna Bryant says that it’s the Dakota people’s culture to help others, and the Scott County effort fits that mission.

From Scotland via the Susquehannocks to the Flathead Reservation – stick with us here
The Char-Koosta News on Montana’s Flathead Indian Reservation has this delightful story about a gift to Dr. Joe McDonald, the longtime and soon-to-retire president of Salish Kootenai College. It involves Chief Dancing Thunder, grand sachem of Florida’s Susquehannock tribe, and his trip to Scotland, where he heard about the Scottish McDonalds’ ties to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes … well, you’d better just read the story. And, enjoy.

Gwen Florio

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The MGM Grand at Foxwoods (AP photo)

The MGM Grand at Foxwoods (AP photo)

The country’s largest Native-owned casino is backing away from early reports suggesting lenders may go unpaid as it works to restructure at least $1.45 billion in debt, according to this Bloomberg report.

“Like any other restructuring, the tribe is looking at all its options and there’s no plan at this time,” a spokesman for the Mashantucket Western Pequot Tribal Nation in Connecticut tells Bloomberg. “Through the process, the tribe will be pursuing a mutually beneficial resolution with its banks and bondholders. We’ve always had a favorable relationship with our lenders and we look forward to working with them on a solution that works for all.”

Like casinos around the country, Foxwoods is seeing a drop in revenues because of the recession. The problems at Foxwoods – which, except for Atlantic City, once had northeastern gaming all to itself – are exacerbated by recent competition from other tribal casinos and slot casinos in nearby states.

Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s both cut their ratings for the tribe this week.

Foxwoods is the country’s largest casino by size, with three hotels and six casinos. Just before the recession, it opened a new MGM Grand hotel.

“They borrowed a fair amount of capital to build the MGM Grand and the MGM Grand didn’t come close to what they were hoping for in returns on investment,” Dennis Farrell, a Wells Fargo Securities debt analyst tells Bloomberg. “With the weakness in the overall market when they have amortizing debt coming due, they need to handle that and they’re obviously going to have a difficult time.”

Gwen Florio

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Ada White holds a photo of her great-niece Ta'Shon Rain Little Light, who died of cancer months after a misdiagnosis by the Indian Health Service. (AP photo)

Ada White holds a photo of her great-niece Ta'Shon Rain Little Light, who died of cancer months after a misdiagnosis by the Indian Health Service. (AP photo)

That’s a little what it feels like, anyway, what with the paper’s review of “Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi,” and now this story about health-care reform in Indian Country, which as we know is a favorite Buffalo Post topic.

We’re heartened to see the WSJ paying attention, too, especially when it focuses on our own backyard.

The piece centers on a visit by Montana Sen. Max Baucus to western Montana’s Flathead Indian Reservation where, writes Terry Anderson, “he was confronted with a surprising critique.” (Emphasis mine.)

That’s the stop-the-presses (sarcasm mine!) news that, despite the yammering you’ll hear from some fronts about how all those Indian people get free this and free that, health care for Indian people is almost criminally underfunded.

The piece goes on to cite the dismal statistics – IHS spends $2,100 per Native person annually compared to about $6,000 spent per capita on health care; rates of infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, diabetes deaths and more are all higher for Natives while life expectancy is lower.

Anderson heads the Property and Environment Research Center, a libertarian think tank in Bozeman, and also is a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, so it follows that he takes the position that a bigger version of HIS is what the general population can expect from government-run health care.

But he makes a compelling case when he points to Montana’s Rocky Boy’s Reservation, where the Chippewa Cree have taken more control of their health care system. He contends that local control leads to better health.

These arguments make us a little queasy because they’ll inevitably be used as support to continued underfunding of IHS. Nonetheless, it’s an intriguing piece and makes us wonder if there’s a way to combine full funding and more local control.

Gwen Florio

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Sen. Ted Kennedy (AP photo)

Sen. Ted Kennedy (AP photo)

He was known throughout Indian country as a leader, a fighter, and by his nickname, “the Liberal Lion of the Senate.” Kennedy leaves behind a legacy of legislative achievements that strike at nearly every facet of Native American lives, writes Chris Stearns here in Indian Country Today.

Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, who died Tuesday, will be buried tomorrow evening near his brothers at Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia.

Ted Kennedy took over chairmanship if the the Senate Special Subcommittee on Indian Education in early 1969. His older brother, Robert F. Kennedy, served as the subcommittee’s first chairman, before he was assassinated in 1968.

While on the panel, he pulled no punches, Stearns writes. When the subcommittee issued a groundbreaking report on Indian policies in 1969, he termed it “a major indictment.”

And Kennedy said that the report “raises serious questions about this nation’s most basic concepts of political democracy. It challenges the most precious assumptions about what this country stands for – cultural pluralism, equity and justice, the integrity of the individual, freedom of conscience and action, and the pursuit of happiness. Relations with the American Indian constitute a ‘morality play’ of profound importance in our nation’s history.”
“a national tragedy and a national disgrace.”

Former Navajo Nation president Peter Zah says Kennedy’s “heart was in the right place and he will long be remembered by the Navajo and Indian people as a man who fought for our rights and our rightful place in life.”

Gwen Florio

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