Archive for November, 2011

Yvette Roubideaux (Courtesy of IHS)

The New Public Health website posted this Q&A with Indian Health Service Director Yvette Roubideaux.

Roubideaux provides some insight into her plan for changes and missions in 2012. She also speaks to differences in how health is handled in Native communities and what IHS is doing to help move initiatives forward:

    NewPublicHealth: What is significant to you about the observance of Native American Heritage Month?
    Dr. Roubideaux: Each year it’s a celebration of the richness and the strength of Native American cultures. It’s a great opportunity to be reminded of the great cultures and traditions of American Indians and Alaska Natives and how that relates to overall health and well-being.

    NPH: For 2012, what are some of the key projects and issues that are on the front burner with regard to Native American health in the U.S.?
    Dr. Roubideaux: Well certainly one of the biggest issues relates to the disparities that this population experiences compared to the U.S. general population and the significant burden of disease that’s causing lots of illness for the population, including chronic diseases and obesity. Trying to narrow that gap in disparities, trying to improve access to care are major efforts of what we’re doing with the Indian Health Service. For example, the mortality rates on diabetes are almost three times the U.S. population rates. We know that obesity is higher in American Indians and American Indian children. We know that, for example, alcohol-related mortality is almost six times greater in American Indians and Alaska Natives.

    NPH: In what ways might Native Americans approach health and well-being differently than other Americans?
    Dr. Roubideaux: Well, I think that there’s a general understanding among American Indian and Alaska Natives that the culture and their traditions promote health, and so a lot of the prevention efforts and community-based health initiatives are really starting to focus more on what we can learn from our traditions. How can we learn to be healthy and live in balance and seek wellness? It comes from the fact that for American Indians and Alaska Natives, there’s a recognition that over a hundred years ago we didn’t have the illnesses that we have now, we didn’t have diabetes, we didn’t have obesity, and so they must have been doing something right and what can we take from the lessons of our ancestors and our traditions to be healthier. And, of course, it’s eating healthy and making healthy food choices, more physical activityand living a life in balance—in balance in general and in balance with nature.

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Major Stephanie R. Griffith and Lt. Col. Frid Fridricksen in Afghanistan. (Courtesy of Native Sun News)

By Karin Eagle, Native Sun News Staff Writer

RAPID CITY – Major Stephanie R. Griffith, USMC, an enrolled member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, has been awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service to her country. She has served in the Marine Corps for 13 years,

Her primary job in Afghanistan was to assist the State Department in its relations with the local governors of the province that they were in. She also worked as a liaison between the U.S. State Department, the British State Department, the Marine commanders on the ground and the people of the Majarh, Helmands Province in Afghanistan. She spent seven months on the ground in this capacity, from October 2010 through May 2011.

During her time in Afghanistan, Griffith, who was born in Rosebud, witnessed the treatment of the women of Afghanistan. She stated that there were few instances when she actually witnessed women active in their society. The majority of the women follow local custom and stay behind doors, regardless of what is going on in their towns. In a couple of instances, Griffith felt a certain level of animosity toward herself and the other female Marines when a few local men threw stones at them as they passed by. Beyond that, she was afforded a good amount of respect, most likely because of her position, which put her in contact with many of the local businessmen in the area where she was stationed.

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Mark Trahant

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

Last December hundreds of American Indian and Alaska Native leaders traveled to Washington, D.C. for the second White House Tribal Nations Conference.

I wrote at the time: “When President Obama reached the podium at the Interior Department last week nearly every person in a seat lifted a cell phone to take a picture. Row after row of glowing screens captured that moment. But that photo-op is no longer enough. A year ago it was a big deal to meet. But a year from now it will only be a big deal if there are success stories that add jobs, improve the health or educational opportunities for young Native Americans.”

Here we go again. Tribal leaders are in Washington this week for a variety of meetings including the White House Tribal Nations Conference.

But the Big Deal is not there. There are fewer success stories in Indian Country than a year ago. We can’t point out new jobs, a better health care system or increased educational opportunities. In fact as the federal budget crunch hits, all of these indicators will trend worse.

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‘Two Spirit’ documentary breaks PBS records

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Courtesy of

The film chronicling the story of Navajo boy killed for being different was the highest viewed film on PBS’ “Independent Lens” this year.

“Two Spirits” tells the story of Fred Martinez, a Navajo boy who was nádleehí, or male-bodied person with a feminine spirit, according to the

Filmmaker Lydia Nibley helped spread the word about the film, which she said the film has helped people talk about gender in a different, more enlightened way.

    The film interweaves the tragic story of a mother’s loss along with Native American cultural traditions that once held places of honor for people of integrated genders. Being nádleehí was, in ancient Navajo culture, a special gift but in modern culture Martinez was not honored. . .

    . . .

    The film, which aired on PBS’s Independent Lens, was screened 1,495 times across 140 stations for 19 days in June. It broke all records for audience engagement in the history of Independent Lens and it received the audience award as the highest-rated film of the 2010-11 season by online voting and other measures of audience support, according to PBS.

To order a copy of the film, go to

Jenna Cederberg

Groups: Lessons to be learned from sweat lodge trial
The consequences of abuse of sacred Native traditions was highlighted in the case of James Arthur Ray, a self help guru convicted last week in the deaths of three followers who attended his sweat lodge ceremony, the Associated Press reports.

Indian groups hope the incident will be a reminder that traditions are complicated cultural ceremonies not to be taken lightly. Many Native groups have criticized Ray, several filed a lawsuit against him that was later dismissed. The focus now is on learning lessons.

    Bill Bielecki, an attorney representing the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation, said the trial would encourage non-Natives to focus on safety when running sweat lodge ceremonies.

    “They’re going to look at the facts,” said Bielecki, who also was party to the lawsuit, “You don’t use a large sweat lodge, you make sure people can leave and you don’t coerce the occupants into staying beyond their limits or capabilities. If you do that, then you avoid gross negligence.”

Lawsuit to exhume, reclaim Jim Thorpe’s remains proceeds
Two of Jim Thorpe’s sons hope a judge’s decision this week to allow their lawsuit to go forward will help get the remains of their father back to his original home in Oklahoma.

Jim Thorpe (Photo courtesy of Archive Photos, Inc./

The sons, according to the Association Press, want to use the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to move the remains away from Pennsylvania’s “Jim Thorpe” borough.

    In a bizarre deal to draw tourists, the merging towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, Pa., brokered a deal with Thorpe’s third wife, Patricia, that renamed the community Jim Thorpe in 1954 and brought his remains to the town.

    It is that agreement that William and Richard Thorpe, sons of Jim Thorpe’s second wife, Freeda Thorpe, are seeking to overturn. William and Richard’s brother, Jack Thorpe, who died earlier this year, originally filed the lawsuit.

    Ward said the Thorpe brothers are trying to honor their father’s request to be buried in the old Sac and Fox Nation in present-day east-central Oklahoma. Jim Thorpe was a member of the tribe, which also is a party in the lawsuit.

Jenna Cederberg


Column: Happy Thanksgiving: An American Indian Perspective

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Happy Thanksgiving? Or Happy Native American Heritage Month?

Terra Trevor, in this Huffington Post column, shares her perspective:

Native American Heritage Month Braided With Thanksgiving

Wind, smelling of wood smoke rattles the yellow leaves off the peach tree. I adjust my glasses, button my coat. My son bounds from his classroom to greet me. Eyes filled with brown warmth, he peeks out from under a cap of shiny dark hair; it’s the kind of black that shines red in sunlight.

“Mom, something about this isn’t right.” He is holding a construction paper headdress fashioned with hot pink and purple feathers. I nod, and run my hand through his hair, pushing the bangs off his forehead. Out of the corner of my eye I see children clutching construction paper pilgrim hats.

With his eyebrows curved in question marks my sons asks, “Have you ever seen an Eagle with pink and purple feathers?” And then we both giggle at the absurdity. It’s both funny, and not funny. My son understands the seriousness of regalia, but at age seven it’s not his job to carry the weight. As his mother that responsibility belongs to me.

November, the season of damp leaves, slanted sunlight and Thanksgiving is braided with Native American Heritage month. What started at the turn of the century to recognize The First Americans simmered on the back burner until 1990, when President George H. Bush approved a joint resolution designing November as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations have been issued each year since 1994. But thus far, the majority of those I meet within mainstream America continue to be unaware there is something to acknowledge other than the story of “The First Thanksgiving.”

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Native author Gyasi Ross coming to University of Montana

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Courtesy of ICTMN

Great news for Missoula: author and Jack-of-all-trades Gyasi Ross (Blackfeet) will visit the University of Montana’s campus to speak next Tuesday.

Here’s more from the UM:

    Gyasi Ross, author of “Don’t Know Much About Indians (but i wrote a book about us anyways)” will speak at the University of Montana from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, in The Payne Family Native American Center’s Bonnie HeavyRunner Gathering Place.

    Ross provides a fresh, new voice among Indian writers, and his debut collection of stories and poems describes the lives of contemporary Natives. The unique characters in his 18 stories and poems are “regular Indians” – people who have day jobs, college students, insecure folks and kids in love – who defy stereotypes and are as diverse as the rest of America.

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The White House is honoring 11 Native youths in December as “Champions of Change.” The honor is part of an initiative started by President Barack Obama to honor young people working to better their communities through their own initiatives that spur positive change and help with issues like suicide prevention and healthy eating education.

One champion is Iko’tsiskimaki “Ekoo” Beck, Blackfeet, of Missoula, Mont., ICTMN reports.

    On December 1, 11 American Indian youth leaders will be honored as Champions of Change for their efforts to help improve the lives of those around them while address issues affecting their communities.

The honored youth will share their stories and participate in the White House Tribal Nations Conference, ICTMN reports.

Jenna Cederberg


Lodge Grass slowly recovers after floods, triple homicide

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Crow Tribal Chairman Cedric Black Eagle is from Lodge Grass. The small community of 500 has survived a summer flood followed by a trio of crimes, including a triple homicide. Tribal, local and law enforcement officials are working on restoring peace to the town. (CASEY PAGE/Gazette Staff)

Floods. Poverty. Crime. All are a part of the Lodge Grass story in the past six months. But the town on the Crow Indian Reservation in eastern Montana is a comeback story in the making.

Here’s the full story from Billings Gazette reporter Susan Olp:

    It’s been a long six months for Lodge Grass.

    In May, floodwaters inundated the reservation town of about 500, turning it into a temporary island and swamping businesses, churches and houses.

    A trio of crimes in the fall, including a triple homicide, was another punch to the town, turning the sleepy community into a fearful one.

    Now tribal, local and law enforcement officials are working on changes to restore peace.

    Cedric Black Eagle, chairman of the Crow Tribe, has more than a tribal leader’s interest in Lodge Grass. It’s where he grew up and where his parents live.

    The Lodge Grass of Black Eagle’s youth was a different place. Back then, he said, the community had multiple grocery stores, cafes and restaurants, an appliance store, a hotel and a movie theater.

    “And I think most of it was because the major highway, old 87, ran right through town,” Black Eagle said.

    Once Interstate 90 was built, he said, businesses started drying up. It also didn’t help that retail centers in Sheridan, Wyo., and Billings drew shoppers away.

    Now, a drive through town reveals single-wide trailers and houses, some with boarded-up windows, on tree-lined streets. Painted graffiti covers abandoned buildings. One grocery store serves the town, along with a few other businesses. A handful of churches dot residential areas.

    The town has elementary, middle and high schools, which are on top of a hill. But there aren’t many job opportunities, and like other towns on the reservation, unemployment is high.

    Lodge Grass is the only incorporated town on the Crow Reservation. That means that Henry Speelman is the only mayor out of the six towns on the reservation.

    He took office two years ago, when the city was $50,000 in debt, owing taxes to the federal and state governments. That amount has been cut to $29,000, he said, and the goal is to pay it off.

    He’d also like to see Lodge Grass re-establish a police department, which went away about 15 years ago.

    “We used to have law enforcement, courts, everything here,” he said. “Now I want to bring it back.”

    The town has been through a lot, Speelman said. It started with the May flooding that destroyed the Lodge Grass Post Office, briefly closed the IGA store and hit a couple of other stores and several houses.

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Trahant Reports: Congressional legacy: A failure to govern

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Mark Trahant

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

A simple statement from the two co-chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. “After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline.”

And, they continued, “despite our inability to bridge the committee’s significant differences, we end this process united in our belief that the nation’s fiscal crisis must be addressed and that we cannot leave it for the next generation to solve. We remain hopeful that Congress can build on this committee’s work and can find a way to tackle this issue in a way that works for the American people and our economy.”

But let’s be clear about this statement, the committee, and Congress itself. This represents a failure to govern. There is a structural inability to make difficult choices about what the country needs to do to finance its operations. The so-called supercommittee is no different than the country and its citizenry. We are divided, locked into a struggle with significant differences about what to do next.

Some of us believe that we should balance two competing ideas: We should invest in jobs. Now. Again. And keep doing that until everyone who wants a jobs has access to one. Then, and only then, the government should begin a long-term strategy of rethinking promises made through entitlement programs.

The other view says cut government now. Shrink government, period. Don’t raise a single dime in new taxes – and let the economy grow again (after it crashes).

Now we will read over the coming weeks and months about the tragedy of automatic budget cuts as the real numbers surface. Some will complain about how much smaller our military must become. Others will note the deep unfairness in cutting domestic programs that serve people who are at the lowest end of the economic spectrum. The president has already promised to veto any bills that try to get around the automatic budget cuts.

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