Archive for August, 2010

“This is our place in the universe.” Rosina Philippe can see her ancestors’ burial mounds from her kitchen window. But rising seas and sinking land could put them under water in a generation. (Living on Earth/Jeff Young)

“This is our place in the universe.” Rosina Philippe can see her ancestors’ burial mounds from her kitchen window. But rising seas and sinking land could put them under water in a generation. (Living on Earth/Jeff Young)

The Living on Earth radio program has a wonderful and sad feature on the Atakapa-Ishak people who live on Grand Bayou in Louisiana.

As Living on Earth’s Jeff Young begins the story:

    Katrina took their homes. BP’s spill took their jobs. And coastal erosion is taking the very land their ancestors called home for centuries. But the tiny, Native American community of Grand Bayou Village is determined to hang on.

Raymond Reyes tells Young that “I’m 66 years old. Why would I change now? That’s my livelihood so I’m gonna stay here. Yep, that’s all. We got the burial grounds right here, so why move?”

The story features audio, photos and maps. Hearing people’s voices, and the emotion in them, makes it worth a good, long listen.

Gwen Florio

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A motorist enters a business on the Tonawanda Seneca Nation in New York. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

n this Aug. 23, 2010 photo, a motorist enters a business on the Tonawanda Seneca Nation in New York. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

Here’s the story from the Associated Press:

In this Aug. 23, 2010 photo, signs are posted on a bridge on the Tonawanda Seneca Nation in New York. Tensions are rising as the state nears the Sept. 1 start date to collect taxes on cigarettes sold by Indian tribes. The photo at left depicts New York Gov. David Paterson, while the photo at right depicts New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

In this Aug. 23, 2010 photo, signs are posted on a bridge on the Tonawanda Seneca Nation in New York. Tensions are rising as the state nears the Sept. 1 start date to collect taxes on cigarettes sold by Indian tribes. The photo at left depicts New York Gov. David Paterson, while the photo at right depicts New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A federal judge has temporarily blocked New York state’s plans to tax the Seneca and Cayuga nations’ sales of cigarettes to non-Indian customers.

Judge Richard Arcara granted a request by the tribes for a court order that stops the state from imposing a $4.35 per pack sales tax on cigarettes sold by reservation retailers starting on Wednesday. The ruling delays those collections for at least two weeks. It wasn’t immediately clear if the state will go ahead with taxes on other tribes.

Attempts to collect the tax in the 1990s resulted in sometimes violent protests on Seneca lands.

The Senecas — the biggest player in the business — and Cayugas argued the policy change violates sovereign rights and will damage their economies.

The cash-strapped state sees the tax as a potential $200 million source of annual revenue.

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With but one day left until New York state starts collecting a $4.35-a-pack cigarette taxes on reservations, the issue is now up to a federal judge.

As the Buffalo News puts it, “he stakes are high, and the clock is ticking.”

Yesterday, New York Supreme Court Judge Donna M. Siwek refused to block the state from collecting taxes on cigarettes sold in Native-owned stores to non-Native customers. The tax would add $4.35 per XXXX.

Tribes are fighting down to the wire, the News reports:

    With tax collections scheduled to begin Wednesday, the Seneca Nation and other Indian tribes will get another chance to fight the law in federal court this afternoon.

    They will ask U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara to issue an injunction delaying the implementation of the new law, which could ignite some violent demonstrations by angry Senecas.

“For us, these are grave circumstances,” said Robert Odawi Porter, a Seneca Nation lawyer and tribal presidential candidate,tells the News.

Both tribal and state officials have expressed fears that attempts to collect the tax could spark violence. In years past, similar attempts led to a shutdown of the New York Thruway where it runs through tribal land. Gov. David A. Paterson referred last week to the possibility of “violence and death.”

The state desperately needs the money from the tax, which could bring an estimated $200 million a year. But some tribal members tell WIVB (video above) that if the state tries to collect the tax, they won’t pay.

Gwen Florio

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James Swan takes part in a drum circle while singing a song praising Leonard Peltier at the Tribal Sovereignty Forum at Mount Rushmore on Sunday, August 29, 2010. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Rapid City Journal)

James Swan takes part in a drum circle while singing a song praising Leonard Peltier at the Tribal Sovereignty Forum at Mount Rushmore on Sunday, August 29, 2010. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Rapid City Journal)

Forty years ago, a group of Native American activists occupied Mount Rushmore for three months as a way to draw attention to the myriad problems facing Indian people in the United States. Yesterday, a reunion by some of the original participants recalled that time, and looked ahead to dealing with the problems that remain. The Rapid City Journal’s Jomay Steen has the story:

MOUNT RUSHMORE NATIONAL MEMORIAL — “Today is a lesson in history,” Robert Cook, former president of the National Indian Education Association, said Sunday at Mount Rushmore.

“It feels good that we had people who stood up and risked being arrested, losing their freedom at a place that represents freedom,” Cook said, recalling a group of Native American activists who protested and held a three-month-long occupation of the memorial 40 years ago, bringing national attention to Native issues. It wasn’t done on a whim, Cook said, but involved courage to stand up for their beliefs.

A group of the California-based United Native Americans climbed to the top of Mount Rushmore 40 years ago and began a their occupation to educate the nation about Native tribal sovereignty, treaty rights and poverty.

On Sunday, some of the original activists, their children and grandchildren gathered to commemorate the day that the group first scaled the mountain and to revisit those issues that still plague the people living on reservations in South Dakota.

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Mark Trahant has spent the past year as a Kaiser Media Fellow examining the Indian Health Service and its relevance to the national health care reform debate. He is a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and writes from Fort Hall, Idaho. 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.

Mark Trahant

Mark Trahant


What will the Indian health system look like a decade from now?

That’s an impossible question to answer. There is the potential of a court ruling striking down at least part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. And, there is always the possibility of Congress will rewrite the law (I view this as remote because there would have to be a Super Majority to enact something else.)

But in the meantime there is a new foundation already under construction. The building that will rest on that structure will not be the same as the one in place now.

Let’s start with the patient. Right now, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of all American Indians and Alaska Natives are either uninsured or rely solely on the Indian Health Service. But health care reform changes that. Big time. Beginning in four years, hundreds of thousands of people will become eligible for insurance through government programs (such as Medicaid) because of new income rules. This insurance can be used to pay for services at Indian health system facilities – or at competing health care centers. (Think about how many private walk-in clinics promise no waiting.)

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Way of life: Whale bones from past hunts sit in the village of Point Hope. The leaders of the Inupiat village do not support offshore oil exploration because of the potentially heavy toll an oil spill would have on wildlife and the indigenous lifestyle. (AP/Al Grillo)

Way of life: Whale bones from past hunts sit in the village of Point Hope. The leaders of the Inupiat village do not support offshore oil exploration because of the potentially heavy toll an oil spill would have on wildlife and the indigenous lifestyle. (AP/Al Grillo)


Dave Olinger and Mark Jaffe of the Denver Post bring us this story from Point Hope, Alaska, a community of 700 Inupiat people who’ve spent years fighting plans for offshore drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

As Olinger and Jaffe report:

    Shell Exploration and Production Co. was set to start exploratory drilling this summer — until the gulf spill and a U.S. Department of the Interior drilling moratorium.

    “We recognize there are issues in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, which is why we canceled drilling this summer,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in an interview.

    Shell, which has spent $2.2 billion for Arctic leases, is pressing to start drilling next summer.

Alaska has the nation’s largest offshore oil reserves after the Gulf, but there’s been far less drilling there. The BP spill in the Gulf raises questions about whether it should proceed at all.

“That spill in the gulf, it could have been our ocean,” Point Hope Mayor Daisy Sharp tells the Post. “It’s sad to say, but in a way I’m glad it happened. Maybe now people will take a closer look at offshore oil drilling.”

The story comes with a great audio slideshow by Post photographer Andy Cross. Check it out.

Gwen Florio

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Mikhail, Aleut hunter, by Mary Ellen Frank, in commissioned baidarka by Aleut artist Doug Vaubel. (Photo Mary Ellen Frank)

Mikhail, Aleut hunter, by Mary Ellen Frank, in commissioned baidarka by Aleut artist Doug Vaubel.


Dollmaker focuses on portraits of Alaska Native people
Alaska’s Mary Ellen Frank is in Sitka this weekend for the 2010 International Conference on Russian America. Frank’s contribution? She’s a dollmaker, whose work, along with that of other dollmakers on both sides of the Pacific, is featured at the Sitka Historical Museum. As the Anchorage Daily News writes, Frank walks a fine line because she is not Native, but her internationally renowned dolls are portraits of Alaska Native people. It’s important, she says, to get permission from both individuals and tribes before making each doll. See more of her work on the Juneau Artists website.

New bill address Missouri River dams that flooded Indian Reservations
A half-century ago, something called the Pick-Sloan Program built a number of dams along the Missouri River, flooding lands of seven Indian reservations, destroying homes, farmland and hunting areas. Rob Capriccioso of Indian Country Today writes that “It is estimated that Lakota, Dakota and Nakota tribes lost 202,000 acres overall, which means the dams destroyed more Native American land than any other public works project in the history of the nation.” Now Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has introduced a bill that hopes to resolve the problems caused to those tribes.

Hopi Nation, other tribes, fight fake snow on sacred Arizona peaks
The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the ongoing fight by the Hopi Nation and other tribes against snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks at the Snowbowl ski resort outside Flagstaff, Ariz. The Navajo, Hopi and 11 other tribes view the peaks as sacred and that any moisture there should occur naturally. The Flagstaff City Council will address the issue tomorrow, according to the Daily Sun newspaper in Flagstaff, which has a full report.

Porcupine's Tia Pourier, right, takes a closer look at her sister, Terri's, 14, left, neckless before modeling for the REDSPIRIT Fashion Show. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Rapid City Journal staff)

Porcupine's Tia Pourier, right, takes a closer look at her sister, Terri's, 14, left, neckless before modeling for the REDSPIRIT Fashion Show. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Rapid City Journal staff)

Red Spirit Fashion Show part of cross-cultural effort at Central States Fair
It was the first Unity Day at the 2010 Central States Fair in South Dakota, but it won’t be the last, the Rapid City Journal writes. Among the offerings at the event designed to promote cross-cultural understanding was the Red Spirit Fashion Show featuring contemporary clothing by Native American designers. Native Sun News publisher Tim Giago says Unity Day will be a part of next year’s fair. Giago helped organize South Dakota’s year of Reconciliation 20 years ago in an effort to improve troubled relations between the state’s Native and non-Native people. Now, as then, says Carmen Yellow Horse, it’s important that “we start a conversation.”

Gwen Florio

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A Native American canoe  flotilla leaves Belle Isle, Mich., to head to Windsor Canada and back in celebration of heritage and the demonstration of treaty rights. According to Dennis Banks, Co-founder and Leader of The American Indian movement, the shores of the Detroit River are one and the same for Native Americans. According to the 1796 treaty they are guaranteed free passage. Banks also complained about the harassment and intimidation that Native Americans face when they try to cross the border. (AP Photo/Marcin Szczepanski - Detroit Free Press)

A Native American canoe flotilla leaves Belle Isle, Mich., to head to Windsor Canada and back in celebration of heritage and the demonstration of treaty rights. According to Dennis Banks, Co-founder and Leader of The American Indian movement, the shores of the Detroit River are one and the same for Native Americans. According to the 1796 treaty they are guaranteed free passage. Banks also complained about the harassment and intimidation that Native Americans face when they try to cross the border. (AP Photo/Marcin Szczepanski - Detroit Free Press)

It wasn’t the 500 canoes organizers had hoped for, but the Native American and First Nations people from Canada and the United States who showed up yesterday to cross the Detroit River by canoe made their point.

About a half-dozen canoes and some kayaks made the trip between the United States and Canada to emphasize that tribal members are sovereign people and have a right to cross the border on their own terms.

As the Detroit Free Press reported:

    Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, said such crossings are guaranteed by the Jay Treaty of 1796.

    “I come here to support an idea that this territory that we are standing on and the territory across the river are one and the same,” said Banks, a longtime activist. “I have sons and daughters on this shore and that shore.” …
    He said activists have tried for 20 years to persuade U.S. and Canadian authorities to allow them to use a sticker for easy passage between the two countries. Banks, who carries an identification card of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota, said “our brothers and sisters” are often harassed by border officials and have to carry pounds of documents. He said carrying a U.S. or Canadian passport “assaults our sovereign status.”

Gwen Florio

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We don’t write these things, we just pass ‘em along. Most days, we’re envious of the very fine reporting and writing comprising the items we post here, and say so. Today’s editorial from the New York Daily News, however, doesn’t need any comment.

It’s headlined “Time to kick butts: Gov. Paterson must crack down on Indian cigarette tax evasion.”

New York Gov. David A. Paterson (AP photo)

New York Gov. David A. Paterson (AP photo)

And it reads, in part:

    Gov. Paterson is vowing to launch a long-overdue drive on Wednesday to collect legally owed taxes from Indian cigarette dealers. He must hang tough, and he must succeed. For decades, New York officials have shamefully stood by as scofflaws operating under the cover of Native American sovereignty have openly and aggressively sold millions upon millions of tax-free smokes. … Tribal leaders who claim to be exercising rights under centuries-old treaties are blowing smoke.

The editorial reminds people of Paterson’s recent warning that “violence and death” could occur if the state attempts to collect the taxes – despite the fact the Seneca Nation leader Barry Snyder has called for calm.

Meanwhile, a federal judge is holding off on a decision as to whether the state can go forward Wednesday with collecting the tax, the Buffalo News reports.

Gwen Florio

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This from Holbrook Morh of the Associated Press, who writes about the dilemma facing two children whose father is Native American:

Brandy Springer's two older children have a Native American father; her two younger ones, a black father. (Photo courtesy Brandy Springer)

Brandy Springer's two older children have a Native American father; her two younger ones, a black father. (Photo courtesy Brandy Springer)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A policy designed to achieve racial equality at a north Mississippi school has long meant that only white kids can run for some class offices one year, black kids the next. But Brandy Springer, a mother of four mixed race [two of whom have a Native American father] children, was stunned when she moved to the area from Florida and learned her 12-year-old daughter couldn’t run for class reporter because she wasn’t the right race.

The rules sparked an outcry on Internet blogs and other websites after Springer contacted an advocacy group for mixed-race families. The NAACP called for a Justice Department investigation — not surprising in a state with a history of racial tension dating to the Jim Crow era.

The district scrapped the policy by Friday afternoon.

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