Archive for March, 2011

On Thursday the U.S. Justice Department launched a formal investigation into the Seattle Police Department for the shooting death of First Nations member and homeless woodcarver John T. Williams, the Associated Press reports.

    The investigation aims to determine whether Seattle police have a “pattern or practice” of violating civil rights or discriminatory policing, and if so, what they should do to improve, Seattle U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and the assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s civil rights division, Thomas E. Perez, said during a conference call Thursday morning. Durkan’s office previously conducted a preliminary investigation.

    Perez said the investigation would involve reviewing the police department’s policies, watching officers on the beat, gathering records, and interviewing officers, police brass and community groups.

    “Our broader goal is to ensure that the community has an effective, accountable police department that controls crime, ensures respect for the Constitution, and enjoys the trust of the public it is charged with protecting,” he said.

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and 34 other community groups called for the inquiry after a Seattle officer shot and killed woodcarver John T. Williams last summer.

    Video from Officer Ian Birk’s patrol car showed Williams crossing the street holding a piece of wood and a small knife, and Birk exiting the vehicle to pursue him. Off camera, Birk quickly shouted three times for Williams to drop the knife, then fired five shots. The knife was found folded at the scene, but Birk later maintained Williams had threatened him.

Jenna Cederberg

More than half of all Natives marry members of other groups. That is the highest rate of intermarriage of any group in the U.S., NPR’s Tristan Ahtone reports.

Those figures cast obvious questions on the future of tribal nations: Who can be considered a tribal member, who can receive benefits and what a dwindling population could do to tribal governments?

Ahtone’s report tells the story of Amanda LeClair (Shoshone) Martin Antonio Diaz (non-Native). The young couple is in love, although LeClair can’t help but remind herself that if her children marry a non-tribal member, then her grandchildren could be considered non-members.

It’s concerning to LeClair. But like the statistic show, it’s not unusual.

    By way of comparison, according to census data, nearly 95 percent of whites marry other white people, and more than 85 percent of African-Americans marry other black people.

    David Wilkins, a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota, says that intermarriage has always been the norm. “It just shows that Native individuals, due to the small population size of most indigenous communities, frequently find that they have to reach outside of their local community to find a partner suitable for marriage — hence the high degree of intermarriage,” says Wilkins.

    But there are consequences to intermarrying, according to Debra Donahue, a professor of Indian law at the University of Wyoming.

    “The protections and benefits that do go to tribal members or to people who qualify as Indians on the federal side can be significant,” says Donahue.

You can listen to NPR’s story here.

Jenna Cederberg

It’s been a good couple of years for tribal gaming ventures. Revenue was up and was on pace to outdo non-Native competitions.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has seen great success with its casino, located outside Worley, Idaho, on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation, which sits on the rolling hills of the Palouse. This year it’s embarking on its largest expansion yet, the Spokesman-Review reports.

This will be the seventh time the casino has been upgraded. A large focus is the addition of both casual and fine dining options.

    When the camas and arrowroot are blooming, the tribe plans to open 98 new hotel rooms in two wings, more casino space, two new restaurants and a 15,000-square-foot spa.

    Walking from the darkened casino floor into the under-construction hallway leading to the spa and restaurants is like stepping into the open Palouse grasslands. Light is drawn in from windows near the high ceiling, and tall windows line the walk. Native works of art will be displayed along the walls.

    Outside, workers have returned the surrounding hills to native grasses and shrubs and a five-story eagle staff sculpture dominates the skyline.

    Inside what will be the casual pub-style restaurant, large glass doors will open onto patio seating and natural amphitheaters that managers plan to use for outdoor concerts and other events.

Jenna Cederberg

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Even sincere religious practices are not an excuse for a non-Native tribal member to possess bald eagle feathers, the U.S. Court of Appeals 10th Circuit ruled on Tuesday, the Denver Post reports.

The ruling overturned a U.S. District Court decision holding that freedom of religion and the practice of authentic Native religious ceremonies was enough to justify the ownership of the feathers by non-Tribal members.

    The ruling is foremost a victory for the U.S. government’s efforts to protect eagles, but it’s also a positive result for Indian tribes, said Richard Guest of the Native American Rights Fund.

    The case required the court, “to navigate the dangerous terrain at the intersection of the federal government’s obligations … to refrain from imposing burdens on the individual’s practice of religion and, on the other (hand), to protect key aspects of our natural heritage and preserve the culture of Native American tribes,” the ruling said.

    Samuel Ray Wilgus, a non-Indian resident of Utah, was arrested in June 1998 for possessing 141 feathers of bald and golden eagles.

    The Eagle Act of 1940 (amended in 1962) bans the possession of eagle feathers or parts except for certain uses, including scientific studies and “the religious purposes of Indian tribes.”

Tribal members must go through an application process to obtain and own bald eagle feathers.

Wilgus’ used the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 as his main defense. The appeals court found that “one can reliably estimate how many non—Indian adherents of Native American religions are out there or how many would apply for the limited supply of repository feathers,,” the Post reported. This could jeopardize the Native populations access to the feathers.

Jenna Cederberg

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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.

Just over a year ago President Barack Obama signed the health care reform bill into law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That measure, of course, also includes the permanent authorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

So what has happened since the president signed the bill into law on March 23, 2010? That question cannot be answered. Not yet. Part of the answer is working its way through the court system with legal challenges. And other parts of the answer are stuck in a political debate even as federal agencies continue to write rules for its implementation.

The administration has lived up to the spirit and the intent of the health care reform law. A new report by the National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Health Board and the National Council of Urban Indian Health says it this way: “… the President’s budget was a true commitment to the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The FY12 budget shows increased funding for IHS, Administration on Aging, and Health Resources and Services Administration.”

Indeed the president asked Congress for a 14 percent increase for programs such as the always underfunded Contract Health Services, alcohol and substance abuse, facility construction and to implement the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

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From the Sacramento Bee, via Indianz.com:

The close, personal bonds between humans and their dogs date back centuries in California, according to new archaeological research that illuminates the relationship between Central Valley Indian tribes and their dogs.

The evidence: Central Valley Indians buried their dogs carefully and with ceremony. People and their dogs were often buried together, curled up side by side.

Indian dogs were working animals. They defended the village by warning of intruders and helped procure food by chasing game during hunts.

They were also family pets, as shown by the respect with which they were buried, said Paul Langenwalter, a professor of archaeology and anthropology at Biola University in La Mirada. He has examined dog skeletons dating back to the 1700s.

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Copy of the Long Beach State piece


Student newspaper apologizes for ‘racist’ article about American Indian event
You’ve almost got to read this one to believe it. The campus editor of the California State University, Long Beach, student newspaper had to apologize after running a piece that included unexplainable sentences like this: What the f*** are Indian tacos? and “The entire scene felt disingenuous and cheap.”

College Media Matters summed up the incident and ran a link to the apology from the publication.

    In a letter to readers published in the current issue (see pages 2-3), he explained, “What originally was meant as an unflattering view of the event itself has been construed by many as an assault on an entire culture. That was never my intention and I meant no malice towards Native Americans. What occurred was nothing less than a lapse in fact-finding, cultural awareness, and sensitivity on my part.”

Stossel: No group has had more gov’t help than American Indians
More “muckraker” news here: TPM provides its own analysis of Stossel’s criticism of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

    (A Daily Caller) report found that the “Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs needs someone to run the Facebook page for the Dept. of the Interior and they’ll pay up to $115,000 a year.” Stossel took that as an opportunity to wonder about the entire concept of a Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Jenna Cederberg

LARRY MAYER/Billings Gazette Staff


A large band of horses formerly owned by James Leachman of Billiings is driven toward holding pens where the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Crow Tribe will identify them and sell them. The 700 horses have been trespassing on tribal lands and private ranches and were impounded by the BIA. Here’s the Billings Gazette’s full story.

Jim Watts, center, of Browning helps his sons James, left, and Austin with their regalia as they get ready to dance on Saturday at the Kyi-Yo Pow Wow in Missoula. Watts said he’s danced since he was a boy, and now he sees his kids starting to understand how dancing connects them to their people. (Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian)


The 43rd annual Kyi-Yo powwow at the University of Montana will be held April 15 and 16 in the Adams Center. It’s a staple of spring events in Missoula.

As the Kaimin reports, it’s recovering this year from a funding debacle that left drummers and dancers without prize money while the university floundered to cover its part of the pot.

Here’s Heidi Grovers, of the Kaimin’s story:

When Dustin Monroe approaches Missoula business owners and asks them to donate to this year’s Kyi-Yo Powwow, he knows it won’t be an easy sell.

He comes prepared with a budget and his most earnest explanation of what his club is doing to prepare for one of the largest events on The University of Montana campus.

The Kyi-Yo Powwow is an irreplaceable event, but one with a tainted reputation after fundraising and organizing efforts fell short last year, Monroe said.

“A lot of people in the community blamed all UM native students, not just the Kyi-Yo organizers,” said Monroe, who is a graduate of the UM School of Business and vice president of this year’s Kyi-Yo Native American Student Association, which organizes the powwow. “A lot of students who were not involved before are taking on the personal challenge this year to make sure it succeeds.”

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A group of California tribes trumped big business and corporate interest to come out as the top contributes in the 2008 presidential election, ICTMN reports.

The big money contributions were mostly tied to tribal gaming interests, but also brought up sovereign issues.

    A recent analysis of state and federal campaign donations by the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. found that in the campaign cycles of 2007 and 2008, four of the top 10 largest donors in the U.S. were tribes and tribal interests in California. The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and a tribally organized group called Tribes for Fair Play spent a combined total of $129.8 million on state and national political campaigns; together they donated more than double that of the top national donor, the National Education Association, which spent $56.3 million. All of them are big gaming tribes (except for Tribes for Fair Play), and all of them want to protect their newly built empires. Beyond the top 10, California tribes had three more donors in the top 50 and another three in the top 1,000. Non-California tribes in the top 1,000 were the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians; the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine; and the Seminole Nation of Florida.

Jenna Cederberg

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