Archive for July, 2010

Next week’s scheduled visit to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation by U.S. Senator and former funnyman Al Frank has nothing to do Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin’s re-election campaign.

At least, so says Herseth Shandlin, who spoke with Kevin Woster of the Rapid City (S.D.) Journal:

    Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D. (Rapid City Journal)

    Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D. (Rapid City Journal)

    Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., said she invited Franken, D-Minn., who sits on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, to meet with officials of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in Pine Ridge on Aug. 7 because he is knowledgeable and influential on Native American issues and is in a position to help Native people.

    Housing is one of the key issues Franken will discuss with officials while at Pine Ridge, Herseth Sandlin said.

Herseth Sandlin tells Woster that “I’m worried about my constituents. And I have constituents in Indian Country who are on waiting lists as far as the eye can see for quality, safe housing.” She tells him she hasn’t given a thought as to whether the visit could help her campaign.

But Betty Smith, a professor of political science at University of South Dakota in Vermillion, tells Woster that Franken’s visit could help shore up Herseth Sandlin’s standing among liberal constituents angered by her vote against health care reform.

And, as Smith reminds us, “the Native American vote in this state can be very important in a close election.”

National attention focused on Pine Ridge in 2002, when the votes from Shannon County, where the reservation is located, decided the U.S. Senate race in favor of Democrat Tim Johnson over Republican John Thune. Thune went on to defeat Democrat Tom Daschle two years later.

Gwen Florio

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Mark Trahant, a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, is a Kaiser Media Fellow examining the Indian Health Service and its relevance to the national health care reform debate. Comment at www.marktrahant.com. His new book is “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard. This column can also be read on the Missoulian website.

TrahantThere’s an old joke: A Native American student comes home from a geography lesson, shows his grandfather a map, and then asks, “What did we call the United States before it was a country?” His grandfather answers, “Ours.”

I thought of this joke recently in the context of the U.S. Indian Health Service. Perhaps the agency’s history, its shortcomings and its chronic underfunding have all been acceptable to Indian Country because the system itself is “ours.” It’s been “ours” for most of our generation – a little more than five decades – where American Indian and Alaska Natives could receive health care in a system that was, and is, unique.

A quick look at the history: Since 1955 the Indian Health Service was transferred from a rickety network of hospitals and clinics run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to a real health care system. In that same time frame, the agency went from being a slice of the BIA to being larger than the BIA with a budget of $4.4 billion and some 15,000 employees. During that time there were substantial improvements in Indian health, including reducing overall mortality by 28 percent in the past 30 years, while still falling short in health parity for Native Americans.

That brings me back to the definition of “ours.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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We are very late in catching up with this story, but think it’s important to run. It’s from the Navajo Times, and it’s about Army Spc. Christopher Moon, who gave up a full college scholarship and a promising career in professional baseball to serve his country.

Earlier this month, he died after being wounded by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in the Arghandab River Valley in Afghanistan.

Spc. Christopher Moon (Courtesy photo to Navajo Times)

Spc. Christopher Moon (Courtesy photo to Navajo Times)

As the Times’ Jan-Mikael Patterson reports:

    He is the 12th Navajo Nation soldier killed in the Middle East since the U.S. was attacked by Islamic extremists Sept. 11, 2001, according to information provided by President Joe Shirley Jr.’s office.

    Moon was an infantryman with the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

His mother, Marsha Moon, tells the Times that her son “always had the desire to be in the military, as far back as mid-school. We saw his talents in baseball and we tried to get him to go in that direction. But what he wanted to do was join the military.”

He was a star baseball player at Tucson High Magnet School, where he graduated in 2007. That made him a guaranteed starter his freshman year at the University of Arizona. The prep baseball honor will bear his name from now on, the Times reports.

And, writes Patterson, Moon also had earned a full scholarship to the UA, and he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves.

Our hearts go out to his family and friends.

Gwen Florio

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The whole Shirley Sherrod incident brought to mind the unconscionable problems that black farmers had with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But as the Washington Post reminds its readers, Native American farmers were – and continue to be – similarly mistreated:

    George Keepseagle is the lead plaintiff in Keepseagle v. Vilsack, the class-action suit by Native American farmers and ranchers against the USDA. (AP photo)

    George Keepseagle is the lead plaintiff in Keepseagle v. Vilsack, the class-action suit by Native American farmers and ranchers against the USDA. (AP photo)

    Their frustrations echoed the observations of some black farmers who made similar observations last week that other USDA officials had not faced repercussions.

    Porter Holder, a Choctaw rancher and rodeo champion in southeastern Oklahoma, said he is disturbed that a USDA loan officer he complained about in the late 1990s is still on the job. In the Great Plains, Native American farmers say they have complained repeatedly about another veteran loan officer in the USDA’s Sidney, Mont., office who was involved in a recent confrontation that included the police.

    Loan officer Patrick Turner was arrested after the Feb. 23 incident, which occurred while he appraised the ranch of Roy “Tony” Anderson, a member of the Sioux tribe who lives on the Fort Peck reservation. In a police statement, Turner acknowledged hitting one of Anderson’s neighbors, who he said blocked the door to his truck. Under a deferred prosecution agreement, the charge was dismissed July 16.

The story makes for tough, but necessary, reading on a pretty summer day. Check it out.

Gwen Florio

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Oglala Sioux Tribal leader Wilmer Mesteth, assisted by Jack Cummings, performs the Lakota burial ritual near Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood this week. Tim Velder/Lawrence County Joural)

Oglala Sioux Tribal leader Wilmer Mesteth, assisted by Jack Cummings, performs the Lakota burial ritual near Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood this week. Tim Velder/Lawrence County Joural)

Here’s the full story from the Associated Press:

Master E-man of the First Taoism Foundation in Los Angeles, blesses a plate of nuts during the traditional Chinese burial ceremony near Mount Moriah Cemetery. (Tim Velder/LCJ)

Master E-man of the First Taoism Foundation in Los Angeles, blesses a plate of nuts during the traditional Chinese burial ceremony near Mount Moriah Cemetery. (Tim Velder/LCJ)

DEADWOOD, S.D. (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest, a Taoist master and a Lakota holy man joined forces to help rebury 130-year-old remains uncovered in the western South Dakota town of Deadwood.

The remains were discovered in 2006 by workers dismantling a retaining wall in a Deadwood neighborhood. They were identified as being either an American Indian or Chinese man. The Chinese worked in Deadwood’s gold-mining industry years ago.

The remains were reburied Wednesday in Mount Moriah Cemetery. The ceremony began with a traditional Catholic prayer and scripture reading, followed by Chinese and Native American burial rituals.

“No matter what religious belief you are, whether you’re … Lakota, Chinese, or even what your faith is, you have entitled burial rights as a human being,” said Terry Gray with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Gilbert Hom with the Chinese Historical Society said officials never considered fighting over the heritage of the remains. Taoist minister Master E-man of Los Angeles added that “No matter who it is, it’s our ancestor.”

“We pray simply with that faith that each one of us has,” said the Rev. Kerry Prendiville of St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Deadwood.

Deadwood Historic Preservation Officer Kevin Kuchenbecker said he was not aware of such a ceremony ever happening before.

“Not only are we protecting our history, but we’re making history as well,” he said.

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President Barack Obama talks about the need to reduce crime in American Indian communities as he prepares to sign the Tribal Law and Order Act during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House today. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Barack Obama talks about the need to reduce crime in American Indian communities as he prepares to sign the Tribal Law and Order Act during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House today. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Here’s the full story from the Associated Press:

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — President Barack Obama has signed a bill he says will address the unique public safety challenges facing American Indian tribes.

Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act on Thursday.

The measure provides for the appointment of special U.S. attorneys to ensure violent crimes in tribal communities are prosecuted. It also revamps training for reservation police, expands the sentencing authority of tribal courts from one to three years, addresses jurisdictional issues and improves the collection and reporting of Indian crime data.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who authored the bill, says millions of American Indians have lived far too long with unacceptable levels of violent crime.

Tribes hailed the signing as a reaffirmation of the federal government’s trust responsibility to ensure their communities are safe.

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Karin Reed on Brandy and and car dealership owner Fred Muzi on Dixie paused for a chat during the Needham Fourth of July Parade organized by the Needham Exchange Club. (Photo by Zara Tzanev for Needham Times)

Karin Reed on Brandy and and car dealership owner Fred Muzi on Dixie paused for a chat during the Needham Fourth of July Parade organized by the Needham Exchange Club. (Photo by Zara Tzanev for Needham Times)


A debate over a longstanding parade tradition in Needham, Mass., has flared anew.

Each Fourth of July, the town’s parade features Fred Muzi, retired owner of Muzi Ford, dressed in a feather headdress with his skin painted red, riding bareback on a horse, according to Katrina Ballard in a Boston Globe story. (The Needham Times takes a look at the issue, too.)

“We do know this is a tradition many people in Needham enjoy and find harmless, and it does seem like Mr. Muzi has the best intention,” said Emily Rothman, who with her husband, Greg Banks, spoke to Ballard for the story. “However, when people paint their skin to look like individuals of another race for entertainment purposes, it’s off base.”

The two wrote letters to the local paper and called Linda Morceau, chief of the Chappiquiddic tribe based in Cape Cod.

As Ballard reports:

    Muzi, 79, said he has been dressing up to ride in the parade every year since 1957. He said he admires Native American culture, and he bought his Indian-made costume at Garden of the Gods National Park in Colorado Springs, Colo.

    “I try to be authentic as possible,” Muzi said in an interview. “If the crowd didn’t like me, I certainly wouldn’t be there.”

    Muzi said he has heard complaints from townspeople in the form of letters to the local paper three times before, but he said each letter was followed by dozens defending him. The Needham Exchange Club asks him back to the parade every year, he added.

“There are no good reasons for someone that is not Native American to dress up as though they are Native American,” said Morceau, a substance abuse and family councilor at Peaceful Gathering Place in Wareham. “The only group of people that are still open season for being made fun of that way are Native Americans. We need to step up and say this is offensive.”

Gwen Florio

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Stew Magnuson

Stew Magnuson

In his new blog, A View From a Washichu, author Stew Magnuson (“The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder: And Other True Stories from the Nebraska Pine-Ridge Border Towns”) takes a look at a recent story about the town of Whiteclay, Neb., infamous for existing mostly to sell beer, and mostly to residents of the nearby dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. (His column appears every other week in Native Sun News.)

But as Magnuson notes, the story in the Rapid City Journal by Mary Garrigan wrote about folks from Pine Ridge who also shop in Whiteclay to buy groceries. What Garrigan didn’t cover, and Magnuson does, is the stores’ practice of extending credit to people:

    One reason consumers go to Whiteclay, and that the article missed is the Whiteclay grocers’ policy of extending credit.
    Some of the comments posted after the online article described all the merchants there as “greedy and selfish.”

    One retired grocer told me that when the family retired and sold their store after nearly 40 years in business, they had some $25,000 of credit on the books. They could have gone after some of this money, but they let it go.

    I have on file a Letter to the Editor written to the Sheridan County Star by Clem Crazy Thunder in 1999 after VJ’s grocery store was lit on fire during the Hard Hart/Black Elk murder protests. “Without VJ’s Market my family would not have even been able to survive,” he wrote. “VJ’s provided food for my family on credit … Without the trust we had built with the former owner (The late Randall Thies) we would have never been able to put food on the table.”

    So all business owners are automatically “greedy and selfish?” I don’t think so.

Magnuson also takes an opportunity in the piece to riff on the online comments section provided by many news organizations, including the Missoulian, which hosts Buffalo Post, and of course on Buffalo Post itself. He joins a long, long line of people lamenting the tone and often thinly veiled (or just plain open) racism of those almost-always-anonymous comments. Fortunately, most of the comments on this blog have stayed clear of the muck and in fact often are very informative.

As Magnuson says, “Writers should say what they mean, mean what they say, and have the courage and conviction to stand behind their comments.”

To which I can only add, “Amen.”

Gwen Florio

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Wisconsin Public Radio is reporting that the Osseo-Fairchild has been ordered to stop using its race-based mascot “The Chieftains.” It’s the first time a new state law banning such nicknames has been used.

The state Department of Public Instruction finds that the name is discriminatory and promotes stereotypes of Native Americans, Brian Bull reports. (Fox 21 picked up that report.)

If the district doesn’t drop the mascot within a year, it could be fined.

Harvey Gunderson, who along with his wife, Carol, is among those who complained, says he hopes the action will inspire similar moves at other schools.

“In fact several people have called to thank us and to say this was a victory for American Indians across the state of Wisconsin, and in fact a victory for American Indians across the entire nation,” says Gunderson, who adds he and his wife have been threatened for their stance.

Gwen Florio

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Kateri Tekakwitha (Liturgical Stained Glass image)

Kateri Tekakwitha (Liturgical Stained Glass image)

At the National National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda, N.Y., a powwow was held recently – a sign of the heritage of the shrine’s namesake, who needs only a certified miracle before she can be canonized as a Roman catholic saint.

If that happens, Kateri Tekakwitha, who was Mohawk-Algonquin and lived in the 1600s, would become the first Native American saint.

To some, it’s only a matter of semantics.

“I grew up thinking of her as a saint, because that’s how my people revered her,” Theresa Steele, a Canadian-born member of the Algonquin nation and member of the shrine’s board of directors, tells Nancy Wiechec of Catholic San Francisco, here. “We’ve always seen her that way.”

As Wiechec writes:

    Orphaned at age 4 during a smallpox epidemic, Kateri was left pockmarked and nearly blind by the disease. Later, when she embraced Christianity and prayer and refused to marry, she was scorned by other Mohawks. She was taken from her village to a Mohawk Catholic mission in Canada for her own safety. There she taught prayers to children and tended to the sick and elderly.

    Blessed Kateri is patron of American Indians, ecology and the environment and is held up as a model for Catholic youth. The U.S. church marks her feast on July 14.

Msgr. Paul A. Lenz, vice postulator for Blessed Kateri’s cause, told CNS that documentation supporting a healing through her intercession was sent to the Vatican last year.

Kateri Tekakwitha died – her skin reportedly clearing at the moment of her death – April 17, 1680, at a mission near Montreal, in her early 20s. She was declared venerable in 1942 and beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980.

Gwen Florio

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