The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, February 7, 2016


A poverty-induced death, a dried-up lake and housing for homeless vets were just a few of the items grabbing attention in Indian country this past week. Oh, and a woman weighed in on The Revenant. Finally.

HANTAVIRUS HEARTBREAK: A 17-year-old Navajo honor student who lived in dilapidated housing died of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome that was likely caused by contact with infected rodent droppings. Del Yazzie, an epidemiologist for the Navajo Epidemiology Center, said he believes various structural and social factors likely put the girl at higher risk of contracting the disease.

CLIMATE REFUGEES: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded the state-recognized Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw $48 million to pay for a move inland away from the disappearing Louisiana Gulf coast. This makes them the first community of official climate refugees in the United States, though they have a lot of unofficial company.

DRIED UP: Bolivia is having the complete opposite problem, as the country’s second-largest lake, once containing 1,200 square miles of water, has almost completely disappeared due to climate change, El Niño weather patterns and severe pollution according to several experts, who say the loss could be permanent. Lake Poopo has been a source of food and commerce for indigenous and other people in the High Plains of Bolivia for more than 4,000 years, and is home to thousands of species of wildlife. But problems in the last 30 years have reduced it to a very small and shallow body of water, and it now resembles a large saline desert. Scientists say the lake has experienced intense evaporation in the past but this latest episode could be its death knell.

HOUSING HOMELESS VETS: The Ho-Chunk Nation is showing its gratitude to the warriors who have protected Turtle Island by ensuring that none of them go homeless upon their return. While the federal government has announced $6 million in grants to support housing for homeless Native veterans, the Ho-Chunk has already built some. The tribe’s $1.5 million housing project is already open.

ACTIVIST EXTRAORDINAIRE: Yale University senior Nailah Harper-Malveaux has been singled out along with several other young people by The New York Times as on the vanguard of student activism, leadership and advocating for change in racial relations. Harper-Malveaux, Creole/Cherokee/Macanese, is in American studies/theater studies, and is the director of theatrical productions telling the stories of African Americans.

ANOTHER COLUMBUS DAY BITES THE DUST: The faculty at Brown University has renamed the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day, changing it from Fall Weekend Holiday, its name since Columbus Day was abolished in 2009.

MEMORIALIZED IN MOSCOW: The Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, akin to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight in this country, is proposing to build a memorial in front of the American Embassy in Moscow that commemorates the genocide of American Indians. “This monument must become the silent reproach of the modern American elites which had significantly deviated from the idealistic principles that were laid into the foundation of the American state,” Civic Chamber member Valery Korovin told the Observer.

DRIVING THEM TO DRINK: In a New York Times interview with Robert McNair, owner of the NFL’s Houston Texans, the self-made multi-billionaire told Times correspondent Mark Leibovich that he is not offended by the Redskins logo of the Washington franchise, and that the Cherokee Indians near where he grew up weren’t good at “holding their whiskey.”

PRESSING FOR CHANGE: In the wake of a landmark ruling on human rights and indigenous children, advocates began demanding that Canada take immediate action to fix a failing system that is causing tens of thousands of First Nations children on reserve to suffer solely because of their race. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled on January 26 that the federal government racially discriminates against First Nations children by giving them significantly less funding for child welfare services than the rest of the population, despite their having a greater need.

‘BRING ME THE GIRL’: After reams of press on how The Revenant resonated in Indian country, we finally heard from a woman, and the news wasn’t good. Although it was an admirably executed movie, the scene depicting violence against a woman hit too close to home for some. The overall violence of the times, the bear attack, the forbidding landscape—none of them pierced writer Sasha LaPointe like the simple phrase, “Bring me the girl.” It, and the ensuing scene, encapsulated all the centuries of casual violence that indigenous women have been subject to routinely since contact.

On a lighter note, more First Nation actors such as Duane Howard, who played Elk Dog, spoke to ICTMN about what it was like to work with Leonardo DiCaprio, Alejandro Iñárritu and a host of other stars. Another was 17-year-old Forrest Goodluck (Dine', Mandan Hidatsa and Tsimshian), who played DiCaprio’s son, Hawk. Not to mention the hilarious but insightful review that was part sendup.

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