2011 Retrospective: November
James Arthur Ray, the self-help guru who led a sweat lodge ceremony in Sedona, Arizona in 2009 that claimed the lives of three people and hospitalized 18, was sentenced to two years in prison. Ray was convicted of three counts of negligent homicide; he had faced a maximum term of nine years.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill to allow up to three resort-style casinos and one slots parlor to be licensed in the state. One of the licenses, slated for a federally acknowledged tribe, was expected to go to the Cape Cod–based Mashpee Wampanoag, which achieved federal status in 2007.
The Kellogg Company opposed the use of a toucan logo by the nonprofit Maya Archaeology Initiative (MIA), arguing that it was too much like the food giant’s Toucan Sam character (pictured) on the Froot Loops box. But after discussions, Kellogg announced on November 15 that it would donate $100,000 to the MIA.
When Kim Kardashian ended her 72-day marriage to Kris Humphries, her mother thought Kim should get to keep her $2 million wedding ring. “I hate an Indian giver, don’t you?” she said. The National Congress of American Indians denounced the use of the term, calling it “wrong and hurtful.”
When Mykillie Driver, Assiniboine/Lakota, graduated from Oregon’s Reynolds High School on June 11, she will be wearing an eagle feather in her mortarboard at the ceremony. It is no small achievement. Although Mykillie had wanted to display the feather as an expression of tribal pride, the school district initially told her that the adornment would violate the graduation dress code. But supported by tribal elders and, ultimately, the district superintendent, Mykillie won the right to wear her feather. The school district’s director of communications called the decision “groundbreaking.”
On November 14, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would review the legality of the Obama administration’s landmark health-care reform law. The stakes are thus high for the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), whose status is tied to that of the greater law. Many in Indian country are concerned about the fate of the IHCIA, given the conservative make-up of the high court. But the act has already withstood one challenge: in August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit determined that although some parts of the Obama plan are unconstitutional, the IHCIA is not.
The Black Thor mine, a major chromite mine project in Northern Ontario, is in peril now that the chiefs of all nine Ojibwe and Cree communities of the Matawa First Nations have withdrawn support. They are insisting on an exhaustive environmental assessment to protect the integrity of their lands, fearing that an assessment that the federal government has pledged will not offer sufficient safeguards. “We want development,” said Chief Roger Wesley of Constance Lake First Nation, “but we also want to make sure that our lands, waters, wildlife and our way of life are not destroyed in the process.”
Eric Eberhard, a Distinguished Indian Law Practitioner in Residence at Seattle University, warned that voter suppression efforts will potentially impact Indian country in the 2012 elections. “Have your tribal lawyers check out what the voting laws are,” he told the United South and Eastern Tribes annual meeting. “The bottom line is somewhere between one and five million people will be disenfranchised in 2012 because they won’t meet the new requirements, so it’s important to educate tribal citizens.”
The death of Elouise Cobell of cancer at age 65 marked the final chapter in a noble profile of Native public courage. With four compatriots, Cobell in 1996 filed a historic lawsuit alleging that the U.S. government had mismanaged the trust funds of more than half a million American Indians. In December 2009, Cobell and her lawyers agreed to a landmark $3.4 billion settlement, which Congress ratified a year later.
A 1,500-year-old artifact found in an ancient Inupiat dwelling in Alaska could establish an early connection between Asia and the Far North. Cast from a mold, the bronze buckle-like object is the first of its kind to ever be found in the 49th State. “This is the first time we have seen a cast bronze piece in this part of the world in this context,” said John Hoffecker, the University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder research associate who is leading the excavation at Cape Espenberg on the Seward Peninsula, which lies within the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. Owen Mason, of CU-Boulder, deduced that “since bronze metallurgy from Alaska is unknown, the artifact likely was produced in East Asia and reflects long-distance trade from production centers in either Korea, China, Manchuria or southern Siberia.”
The Cherokee Nation, the University of Kansas (KU) and the University of Oklahoma are working on various initiatives to revitalize the Cherokee language. One such is a searchable Cherokee Electronic Dictionary (CED). “I think we have much better ways of documenting languages now than just writing it,” said Akira Yamamoto, professor emeritus of anthropology and linguistics at KU, who is on the linguistics team that is developing the CED. “Writing is important, but technology has helped us record the spoken voice in action and preserve it in many different ways.” While there are nearly 300,000 Cherokee Nation citizens, few under the age of 40 can converse in the language.
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