Archive for February, 2012

Story by Karin Eagle Native Sun News Staff Writer

HOT SPRINGS – Nearly 4,000 Lakota Akicita from one reservation are facing what seems to be a reversal in gratitude for their service to the country that gave them their rights not even 100 years ago.

In December, the Veterans Administration proposed it would move its Hot Springs Medical Center to Rapid City, which would result in the loss of 330 jobs in a community with a population of 3,711. This is comparable to Rapid City losing Ellsworth Air Force Base in terms of employment opportunities and residents.

The entire region is part of the Black Hills Health Care System, covering South Dakota and portions of Nebraska, North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. The dismantling of this facility would force veterans to attend other facilities in the network that are anywhere from 50 to 100 miles away or be pushed to private sector health care centers that may lack the expertise in treating veterans.

The state of South Dakota established the State Soldiers Home in Hot Springs in 1889. In 1996 the VA Black Hills Health Care System was established with the consolidation of the VA Medical centers at Fort Meade and Hot Springs. By 1997 the VA was performing more than 150,000 outpatient visits, with over 6,000 inpatients for a total of more than 15,000 individual veteran patients receiving health care per year. This number includes more than 140 nursing home patients and over 500 domiciliary patients.

In 2011 the Battle Mountain Sanitarium was declared a national historic landmark. Later that same year, citing decreased usage, the VA announced plans to close the Hot Springs facility and move it to Rapid City.

“Hot Springs is a veterans’ town, and our VA facility has served America’s heroes for more than 100 years,” said Patrick Russell, president of AFGE Local 1539. “The proposal by the agency to close the doors of this veterans’ care center, on top of its already diminished capacities, is an outrage,” he said.

“This has become a pattern with the VA, where we are finding the agency systematically closing its inpatient care facilities in order to solely operate outpatient clinics and be in the business of managing contracts with the private sector. This is no way to care for our nation’s vets.”

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Just how important will the Native vote be this election year?

Marnee Banks of KXLH examines that question for Montanans in her piece “Campaign Battleground: Montana’s Native Americans.”

Both Democratic and Republican parties in the state acknowledge the importance of the vote.

    John Bennion, the author of “Big Sky Politics,” has studied the political landscape in Montana and how it impacts elections.

    “If you look at the Native American reservations, they are very rural areas of the state and they tend to vote Democratic,” Bennion says.

    However, in an unprecedented wave of Republican sentiment, conservatives won two legislative districts (House Districts 16 and 41) on the reservations last election.

One Native leader in the state sees Native support going to those who can create jobs on reservations. (See Banks’ full video here.)

    Montana Representative Tony Belcourt (D – Box Elder) represents a portion of the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation.

    He agrees with Bennion saying Native Americans typically vote Democrat, but he adds people need to realize Native Americans are an independent population. Belcourt says the problem is getting those 60,000 voters to the polls so their voices can be heard.

    “You look at reservations with double digit increases in population, compared to the last Census, and the local towns and counties surrounding reservations are growing, but we don’t see them participating in the legislative process,” Belcourt says. “Hopefully we can change that with the grassroots efforts like Montana Indian Democratic Caucus.”

Jenna Cederberg

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This year’s Grammy winner for Best New Artist, Bon Iver, recently released a music video he says is dedicated to the preservation of Native lands.

As Huffington Post reports, the Bon Iver video for “Towers” is shot on Native-preserved land in Washington state.

    The video features an older gentleman with a burly white beard and hair who can best be described as a tower builder. It is apparent the man is as weathered and worn as the country side he treks on, his dark eyes a reflection of the ocean he dedicates his towers to. It’s hard to say what significance the “Towers” hold for the elderly gentleman, but that is probably the point.

You can see for yourself: Bon Iver – Towers (Official Music Video) from Bon Iver on Vimeo.

Jenna Cederberg

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Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT, announced last week he has nominated Elouise Cobell for the national Citizen Service Before Self award given to three people each year.

Cobell was the lead plaintiff on the groundbreaking land trust misuse settlement approved late in 2011 by the federal government after almost 16 years of fighting by Cobell and her attorneys.

The historic settlement calls for $3.4 billion to be distributed to qualified plaintiffs and to buy back a patchwork of trust land but payouts from the settlements have been held up recently.

Tester sent this opinion piece with the announcement:

    Every year, only three Americans are honored with the Citizen Service Before Self award—one of the most prestigious honors awarded by our nation. This year, I nominated my friend Elouise Cobell to be one of them.

    Elouise pursued justice and fairness for all Indian people until she passed away last fall.

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U.S. tribes struggle with growing enrollment

A Voice of American piece last week examined how some tribes have been dealing with rapidly increasing enrollment in recent years, an interesting trend because of the fact that the overall U.S.population is only slowly growing.

    Rising prosperity from casinos and other businesses is luring Native Americans back into the fold. However, fast growth has strained the fabric of some tribes, while others wish they had more members.

    The swelling membership of the Tulalip Tribes, based near Everett, Washington, for example, is a point of pride for tribal member and state representative John McCoy, who believes improved health care and an above-average birth rate are at play.

    “We’re living longer. Our babies are surviving birth,” says McCoy, adding that more jobs on reservations, led by tribal gaming, is another reason for the growth. “So we have our peoples coming back from other states. They’re coming home because there is an economy.”

Ray Boley, who founded Canyon Records with his wife Mary, working with the label's first recording artist, Ed Lee Natay. (Courtesy of Canyon Records, via Navajo Times)


Canyon Records celebrates 60 years

If you have a moment, take a look at the collection of photos Canyon Records provided for the Navajo News story reporting on the record label’s 6oth anniversary.

There are some priceless shots, showing just how long the label has helped get Native music out to the public.

    To commemorate the anniversary, the company has been hosting special concerts, dance and music festivals, and artist-meet-and-greets in the Phoenix area.

    Under the theme, “Traditions and Transformations,” Canyon Records is planning a showcase at the upcoming Heard Museum Guild Indian Art Fair and Market and will feature concerts at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

Native students lack role models

A story in the University of Montana’s student newspaper, the Kaimin, last week focused on a report noting the lack of role models available to Native students on that campus.

A committee formed at UM last year put together a report to analyze services and opportunities available to Native American students, the Kaimin reported.

    Vernon Grant, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation studying for a Ph.D. in community health and exercise science, served on that committee and said role models are lacking for Native students at UM because of insufficient diversity in faculty, staff and administration.

    “Native mentors are so badly needed on this campus,” he said. “President Engstrom is doing an awesome job with what he has, to learn about Indian people … but more has to be done.”

    There is only one adviser at UM who is Native American and an estimated 800 Native American students on campus. For Native students, finding a person they can relate to who can help them stay in school and get the financial aid they need is a struggle. The report said help in these areas is “woefully inadequate” and needs to be looked at.

Jenna Cederberg

Chaske Spencer, left, playing Virgil First Raise, along with Michael Spears, center, and Gary Farmer, right, pitch hay on the set of "Winter in the Blood" in August 2011. (Courtesy of DONNIE SEXTON/Montana Office of Tourism)


Missoulian reporter Vince Devlin takes us to the Hi-line of Montana where the film “Winter in the Blood” was made using Native actors and extras. The story follows the trials of Virgil First Raise (Chaske Spencer) on the Fort Belknap Reservation.

A sneak peek of the film will be held in Missoula, MT., this weekend. Visionary Insight: Behind the Scenes of the Film ‘Winter in the Blood’” screens Saturday at 5:15 p.m. at the Wilma Theatre, a part of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

Here’s Devlin’s story on the making of the film:

    On a bitter cold January night in 2007, screenwriter-actor Ken White was having trouble sleeping.

    White was a guest at the Montana ranch home of Annick Smith, mother of his filmmaker friends, twins Andrew and Alex Smith. He pulled a book off a shelf to read hoping only that it would lure his eyelids toward half-mast.

    Several hours later White put down “Winter in the Blood” by James Welch. He’d stayed up all night to finish the book, and was still wide awake.

    “He called us that morning,” Alex says, “and said, ‘Why aren’t you making this book into a movie?’ It was a good question. Why aren’t we?”

    The twins had known Welch for as long as they could remember. He was a long-time family friend from before they’d even been born.
    He’d even met his wife Lois at a dinner party at their house.
    “Winter in the Blood,” the story of a troubled and aimless young man on Montana’s Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, was Welch’s first novel and started his transition from poet to author.

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The producer and director of an acclaimed documentary about three teenage Mohawk girls growing up on a reserve in Canada is taking the concept to the next level.

Candadian blog TV, EH? posted a press release from Aboriginal Peoples Television Network announcing that Tracey Deer will executive produce a new television show about “four sexy twenty-somethings trying to figure out what it means to be a modern day Mohawk woman.”

    The pilot for Mohawk Girls, shot in 2010, was selected during the 2010 Cannes Film Festival to be a finalist in the first-ever International Pilots Competition at the Banff World Television Festival. It is the second acclaimed comedy from Rezolution Pictures, which won the 2008 CFTPA Indie Award for Best Comedy Series for Moose TV, starring Adam Beach, Nathaniel Arcand, Jennifer Podemski, and directed by Tim Southam.

    Mohawk Girls was inspired by Tracey Deer’s 2005 feature-length documentary of the same name, about the trials and tribulations of three teenage girls growing up on the Mohawk reserve of Kahnawake. This Rezolution Pictures/NFB co-produced film received the Alanis Obomsawin Best Documentary Award at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival. Honours for Tracey Deer also include the Gemini Award for best writing and the Canada Award for her 2008 Rezolution Pictures/NFB documentary Club Native.

No word on when the project will begin shooting for the first season, but the release did mention that the cast has been selected.

The website Women Make Movies has more about the original Mohawk Girl documentary.

Jenna Cederberg

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By Jesse Abernathy, Native Sun News Editor

PINE RIDGE RESERVATION – In a case eerily reminiscent of the recent turmoil on the Cheyenne River Reservation stemming from that tribe’s near loss of its buffalo herd in a legal battle, the Oglala Sioux Tribe is currently in search of some missing buffalo.

Reports started circulating last month that the tribe’s buffalo herd count was off by approximately 100-150 head, though estimates are wildly inconsistent. It is also unclear how many total head of the traditionally revered creatures the tribe actually owns.

The tribal administration’s lack of accountability for the livestock has sent a shockwave of disbelief and speculation throughout this large, landlocked island community. Many residents will not speak publicly about the controversy for fear of retaliation by those in charge of both internal and external governmental dealings.

The case is being jointly investigated by the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Services.

According to some tribal members, deputies from the nearby Sheridan County Sheriff’s Department in Nebraska shot and killed a few of the tribe’s roaming buffalo near Gordon, which lies some 40 miles to the south of the intermingled Pine Ridge Reservation and South Dakota borders.

Not so, says Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins.

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Did you know it wasn’t Marlon Brando who accepted his Oscar for Best Actor for “The Godfeather” at the 1973 awards show?

The On the Red Carpet blog points out that it was Sacheen Littlefeather who stepped on stage.

    Brando had been a longtime supporter of Native American rights, and became involved with the American Indian Movement. The actor wanted to make a statement about the Wounded Knee incident in 1973 as well as to voice his discontent with Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans in film and television.

    American Indian Rights activist Sacheen Cruz Littlefeather attended the ceremony and rejected the Oscar on his behalf. Littlefeather appeared at the ceremony dressed in Apache attire.

On the Red Carpet pinned Brando’s statement as one of its “great moments in Academy Awards history.”

Watch the video of Littlefeather’s acceptance on behalf of Brando here.

Jenna Cederberg

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It’s Presidents’ Day in the midst of a presidential election year and ICTMN has a host of information for readers to ponder.

First, ICTMN’s Rob Capricciso has an enlightening story on how some tribal members and officials are giving President Barack Obama their nod – through cash contributions – of approval for a second term.

A recent “Native-specific” campaign fundraiser may have brought in more than $2 million to the president.

The D.C. event ended with Obama saying: “And if you stick with me, I promise you guys I’m going to be sticking with you.”

    In a sign of growing tribal political clout, 70 Indian officials attended a first-ever Native-specific campaign fund-raiser with President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. on January 27.

    “I believe that one day we’re going to be able to look back on these years and say this was a turning point in nation-to-nation relations,” Obama said in a speech at the event. “That this was [a] turning point when the nations all across the country recognized that they were full partners, treated with dignity and respect and consultation; that this wasn’t just a side note on a White House agenda, but this was part and parcel of our broader agenda to make sure that everybody has opportunity.”

Also very interesting from ICTMN, a look at the “Best Presidents” for Indian Country. Capricciso ranks eight presidents going back to Ulysses S. Grant.

As for the fundraising event in Washington, D.C. last month, Obama stayed at the event for about 30 minutes.

    In a telling sign about the current state of American campaign finance, tickets for this event started at $15,000. For $35,800, donors got dinner and a reception with Obama, where they got their picture taken with him. Under campaign finance law, $35,800 was the maximum allowable donation. All proceeds were said to go to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint committee authorized by Obama for America and the DNC.

    If each tribal donor contributed the maximum amount, the president made $2.5 million from an event he attended. . .

Jenna Cederberg

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