Archive for September, 2009

Arnold Nova, of the Yurok Tribe, searches the banks of the Klamath River for tagged salmon during the 2002 salmon die-off that helped spur the dam removal. (AP photo)

Arnold Nova, of the Yurok Tribe, searches the banks of the Klamath River for tagged salmon during the 2002 salmon die-off that helped spur the dam removal. (AP photo)


In what is being touted as the world’s biggest dam-removal project, an agreement has been reached to remove four dams on the Klamath River and restore a 300-mile migratory route for California’s beleaguered salmon, the San Francisco Chronicle reports here.

The agreement took a decade of negotiations among tribes, farmers, fishermen and the hydroelectric company that operates the dams and distributes the water.

The dams would be dismantled beginning in 2020.

The dams have blocked salmon migration for a century along the California-Oregon border and have been blamed for much of the historic decline of chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout in the Klamath, the Chronicle’s Pete Fimrite writes.

The push to take the dams down gained momentum in 2002 after a federally ordered change in water flow led to the death of 33,000 salmon in the river.

Chinook once swam all the way up to Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon, providing crucial sustenance to American Indians, including the Yurok, Karuk, Klamath and Hoopa Valley tribes.

“I cannot adequately say how impressed I am by everyone’s ability to put aside their differences,” says Craig Tucker, spokesman for the Karuk Tribe. “There is a long history of not getting along, of fighting over water rights. Now we are optimistic.”

Gwen Florio

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John Graham (AP photo)

John Graham (AP photo)

Prosecutors in the Anna Mae Aquash murder are seeking limits on evidence before it’s turned over to defense lawyers.

That’s so it can’t be misused, according to this AP story in today’s Rapid City (S.D.) Journal about the case involving the slain American Indian Movement activist. The attorneys say that secret grand jury records have been posted on the Internet, confidential witness names have been revealed and witnesses have received unwanted visits from defense representatives.

Aquash was shot to death in 1975. Her body was found on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

John Graham, of Canada’s Yukon territory, and Thelma Rios, of Rapid City, are charged in state court with taking part in the kidnapping and killing of Aquash, a fellow American Indian Movement member from Nova Scotia. Prosecutors have said AIM leaders suspected Aquash was a government informant.

Graham also is charged in federal court but his trial with co-defendant Richard Marshall was delayed so federal prosecutors could ask for a rehearing before the full 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on the dismissal of one of the three counts against Graham.

Gwen Florio

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UND's Fighting Sioux logo

UND's Fighting Sioux logo


About 50 people protesting the University of North Dakota’s team nickname, “The Fighting Sioux,” staged a demonstration at the school today. UND faces a deadline tomorrow on whether to continue to use the name.

Under an agreement between the state of North Dakota and the NCAA, which considers American Indian nicknames “hostile and abusive,” UND needs approval from the state’s two Sioux tribes to keep using the nickname. The Spirit Lake tribal council supports the name (although that stance faces some opposition), but wrangling within the Standing Rock tribe has delayed a vote.

Here’s today’s AP story in full.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) – American Indian activists are calling on the state Board of Higher Education to drop the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

About 50 people demonstrated outside UND’s Memorial Union on Wednesday. Some carried signs reading, “UND Sioux Logo Identity Theft,” and “We Demand Our Civil Rights.”

The demonstration comes a day before state board meets to decide whether to extend the Oct 1 deadline for dropping the nickname and logo.

American Indian Movement activist Clyde Bellecourt said they should be dropped because they are racist.

One student held a counter-protest sign that said, “Democracy Over All.” Greg Plautz, an aviation student from Milwaukee, said he thinks members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe should get a vote on the issue.

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Riot police detain a demonstrator protesting in support of the Mapuche Indians near La Moneda government palace in Santiago  (AP photo)

Riot police detain a demonstrator protesting in support of the Mapuche Indians near La Moneda government palace in Santiago (AP photo)


Chile, which has been involved in increasingly violent protests by tribes seeking autonomy, yesterday proposed creating an Indian Affairs Ministry.

President Michelle Bachelet herself announced the plan, saying it would allow decisions about Indian affairs to be made at the highest level of government, according to this AP story in today’s Washington Post. But the Mapuche Indians, Chile’s largest tribe, whose protests include occupying farmland and burning farm machinery, were less than enthusiastic.

“The only thing this proposal will accomplish is to raise a curtain of smoke on the issue allowing them to avoid straight answers to our demands,” says Mapuche representative Jose Santos Millao.

More than 4 percent of the nation’s 17 million citizens belong to one of its nine indigenous tribes. About 700,000 Mapuche are spread over poor communities in southern Chile and in the Santiago area, into which they were pushed after resisting Spanish conquest for 300 years. In August, the evictions of Indians from seized lands led to several violent confrontations between the Mapuche and the government that left one Indian dead.

Now, dozens of indigenous communities have formed the Mapuche Territorial Alliance to fight for political autonomy and press demands to end poverty.

Struggles by indigenous people are not limited to Chile. Peru’s Amazon tribes have staged sometimes-deadly protests against government efforts to allow development of their lands. And in Ecuador, the AP reports, hundreds of Indians briefly blocked the Pan American highway in several provinces this week to protest new water, mining and oil laws.

Gwen Florio

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Ojibwe News
“Bill Lawrence never flinched from scrutinizing Minnesota’s tribal governments, even when someone fired bullets through his newspaper office windows in Bemidji,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes here. “ But a battle with late-stage cancer has prompted Lawrence to fold the Native American Press/Ojibwe News after 21 years.”

For his final edition, Lawrence wrote an editorial headlined “A good day to die.”

“I am no longer physically able to do the tasks – computer searches, investigating, seeking ads – that are necessary to put out an edition,” writes, who is in hospice care in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he has family. The situation “makes it impossible for me to continue.”

Lawrence, a former miner and Marine, is tough. He pushed Minnesota’s 11 tribal casinos to open their books, wrote stories that sent several corrupt tribal leaders to prison, and even challenged powerful Red Lake Reservation Chairman Roger Jourdain – his godparent. He had to mortgage his house when casinos pulled their ads from his paper, the Star-Tribune reports. His work earned him a Freedom of Information award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

His column continued: “I cannot say with certainty that ours will be a lasting contribution. But we sure as hell roiled the waters and made a lot of enemies.I also know in my heart that we made a lot of friends, and that our work was important to the Indian people, especially in Minnesota.”

With the greatest respect, we’d like to disagree with Lawrence on one point. His contribution indeed will be lasting.

Gwen Florio

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We’ve long read Tanka Bar updates on Facebook, so we’re delighted to see this AP story announcing that the snack bars and other products made by Native American Natural Foods in South Dakota will be available in 49 states. (Yo, West Virginia! Get with the program!) Here’s the AP story in its entirety, and we’ve attached a video on Tanka Bars as well:

KYLE, S.D. (AP) – A Native American-owned company from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has signed agreements that will make its all-natural products available in 49 states.

Kyle-based Native American Natural Foods launched the buffalo-and-cranberry Tanka Bar in 2007 and expanded its line to include the Tanka Bites and Tanka Dogs, which are available at food service places.

The items are based on traditional Native foods.

The company said it has signed contracts with natural foods distributors UNFI and Tree of Life and food service distributor Sysco.

Chief executive Karlene Hunter believes it’s only a matter of time before the last state, West Virginia, is added.

Gwen Florio

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Audra Simpson (Cornell University photo)

Audra Simpson (Cornell University photo)

What is it with these Ivy League universities? Last week, we wrote about Yale doubling the size of its Native faculty – from one professor to two. (See post here.)

This week, it appears Columbia has done the same thing with the addition of Audra Simpson, who will become the Anthropology Department’s only Native professor, and the university’s second Native faculty member. That’s according to a story, here, in the Columbia Spectator.

(At this point, we should probably stop picking on the Ivy League and mention that the issue extends to public universities. Still – harrumph.)

Simpson, who is Mohawk and grew up on Canada’s Kahnawake reserve, says her research “started with questions we were having about belonging.” She studies “the way we think about citizenship, nationality, indigenality.”

(See above video of Simpson’s participation on a University of Michigan panel last year on “Women of Color Negotiating the Academic Industrial Complex.”)

Simpson came to Columbia from Cornell. At Columbia, her first semester classes have seen high enrollments. Maybe her presence will attract more Native professors.

Gwen Florio

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Here’s a sobering report from Portland’s Oregonian. It points out that although rates of child abuse are similar across ethnic groups, Native and black children are more likely to end up in foster care.

That applies more to Native children than any other group – they’re six times more likely to be placed in foster homes, and black children are four times more likely, than white children. What’s more, they stay in foster care longer. What gives?

Thankfully, according to the story, Oregon judges, state child welfare officials and child advocates are trying to tackle the issue.

Multnomah County is one of three counties nationwide in which juvenile court judges are testing ways to prevent racial bias from influencing decisions such as when a child must be taken from a parent and put into state custody.

Meanwhile, Michelle Cole’s story reports, Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Oregon Department of Human Services have asked a diverse group to consider everything from how race influences caseworkers’ responses to abuse reports to changes that may be needed to make state child welfare laws more equitable.

“Let’s acknowledge it – sometimes racism occurs,” says Multnomah Circuit Judge Nan Waller.

You think?

Gwen Florio

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World War I Choctaw code talkers, from left, Solomon Louis, Mitchell Bobb, James Edwards, Calvin Wilson, Joseph Davenport and Capt. E.H. Horner. (U.S. Army photo)

World War I Choctaw code talkers, from left, Solomon Louis, Mitchell Bobb, James Edwards, Calvin Wilson, Joseph Davenport and Capt. E.H. Horner. (U.S. Army photo)


Seems like everyone has heard of the Navajo Code Talkers during World War II.

But this story out of Canada about Choctaw code talkers during World War I reminds us the military already had a tradition of turning to its Native soldiers to safely transmit messages.

The Ontario Inland Bulletin tells about Louis Gooding, a Choctaw Indian from Oklahoma – it was still known as Indian Territory when he was born – who wound up living in Ontario. But before that, Gooding was a member of the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps during World War I.

Several dozen Choctaws were put to work transmitting messages and are credited for helping to turn the tide in several battles, the story says.

The messages sent in Choctaw helped the Allies make strategic moves in the battles at St. Etienne and Forest Ferme in the last months of the war, wrote William C. Meadows in a 2002 book on Indians in modern warfare..

“After twenty-four hours after the Choctaw language was essentially pressed into service. . . ., the Germans’ advances were stopped,” wrote Meadows. “In seventy-two hours, the Germans had been forced into a full retreat.”

Gwen Florio

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A totem pole outside the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, which recently acquired one of Douglas Tobin's totem poles. (Burke Museum photo)

A totem pole outside the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, which recently acquired one of Douglas Tobin's totem poles. (Burke Museum photo)

Douglas Tobin, 56, who has been carving wood ever since he was a boy, is still at it, albeit in a somewhat less-than-inspirational setting.

However, what he’s doing within that setting – prison – is very inspirational indeed. Tobin, a Squaxin Island Indian, is serving a 14-year prison term at the minimum-security Monroe Correction Complex in Washington state, according to this story in the Everett (Wash.) Herald, and is using his skills to teach 10 inmates how to carve a totem pole.

Neighbors donated a 25-foot cedar log, and Tobin’s lawyer contributed $1,000 worth of tools. Tobin’s earning his prison wage of 42 cents an hour for work that an expert in American Indian art says could earn him as much as $3,000 per foot on the outside.

After two weeks, the pole is taking shape. The base depicts a bear protecting a woman who was carved with detail down to her smooth toenails.

Other designs needed to be carved, like a whale in combat with the bear. Tobin says their deadlocked battle will symbolize the idea of respect, a part of prison life, while a shaman will represent the wisdom of judges and lawyers.

Tobin is serving a term for clam poaching. He had been helping the police find geoduck poachers, even as he ran his own million-dollar operation behind their backs, according to a 2003 Seattle Times story. He could be released between 2011 and 2016. He says he wants to start a business that teaches carving and sells American Indian art after he gets out. The pole will stay at the prison.

That’s fine by Tobin. He tells the Herald that the pole will be a tribute to the fact that prisoners can come together and make things work.

“This pole,” he says, took the life of the tree, “but it’s going to live at least another 10 decades.”

Gwen Florio

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