One of the privileges of doing this blog is the immersion in news from Indian Country. Yes, there is much that is troubling – but there is so much more that is uplifting, inspiring, enjoyable and just plain interesting. Those stories are gifts. On this day, we’ll celebrate some of those gifts we’ve received in the past year, in the forms of stories about people who stood up to power, who enriched our lives with the arts, who simply delighted us – and of course, we’ll honor those who have passed. The list is by no means all-inclusive, but we hope you enjoy recalling these moments along with us as we listen to Jana Mashonee sing “Silent Night” in Arapaho.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Standing up for people’s rightsElouise Cobell. Elouise Cobell. Elouise Cobell. Because of her, literally hundreds of thousands of people in Indian Country will begin to receive financial redress for the way the U.S. government has cheated them for generations of the royalties due them for the use of their lands for oil, gas, grazing, etc. On Dec. 8, the Interior Department announced it would settle her 13-year-old lawsuit for more than $3 billion. The government had tried to settle the case a year early for $455 million – relative chump change, in this case – but Cobell, who is Blackfeet from Montana, stood firm on behalf of Indian people. The settlement amount exceeds that of all other Indian claims combined over the years. Yes, it still fell far short of the more than $40 billion owed. But, as Cobell points out, “We also face the uncomfortable but unavoidable fact that a large number of individual Indian trust beneficiaries are among the most vulnerable people in this country, existing in sheer poverty.”
The news was nearly overshadowed by the settlement in the Cobell case, coming as it did on the same day, but it looks as though Indian farmers and ranchers who allege they were shortchanged to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars on USDA loans may finally be getting their due. A suit named for George Keepseagle, a Fort Yates, N.D., rancher says that Indian farmers were denied the same types of loans that went to white ranchers with no problem. That suit was filed in 2001; it will be going to settlement talks in February.
It may be the Christmas season, but Brandon Sazue, chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, is maintaining his lonely vigil on tribal land recently auctioned off by the Internal Revenue Service to pay a disputed debt. The tribe maintains the auction is a violation of sovereignty. Even though there are assurances that rights to the land won’t actually be transferred until legal questions surrounding the auction are settled, Sazue has set up camp on the tract in a propane-heated trailer. Anybody checked the weather report for South Dakota yet? It’s been miserable. But, says Sazue, “I will not sit in a warm house … while this is going on.”
In Texas, the American Civil Liberties Union went to bat on behalf of 5-year-old Adriel Arocha. The little boy, who is Lipan Apache, was told he couldn’t attend kindergarten in the public Needville schools unless he complied with a dress code by cutting his braids – even though his parents explained that he wears his hair long for religious reasons.
And, finally, a coalition of indigenous groups is petitioning Pope Benedict XVI to repeal the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, a “papal bull” that basically justified – on religious grounds! – the subjugation and brutalization of Native peoples by foreign invaders. It was for their own good, you know. That loathsome doctrine is more than 500 years old, a fact that makes the pace of our present-day lawsuits look downright speedy.