The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, February 28, 2016


High-profile appointments, solar energy for an entire rez, and the debunking of a long-held myth about Natives and alcoholism dominated a positive-news-filled week for Indian country. There were also some downers, but we will put them at the end.

FEELING THE BERN: Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders continued to be pressed about whether he would protect Native lands and honor the treaties, most recently during a town hall where he appeared with rival Hillary Clinton. In reply, Sanders called the treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government a “disgrace” and reminded the audience of legislation he had co-sponsored to keep fossil fuels underneath public lands in the ground. Sanders has also formed a Native American policy committee and named Ojibwe Tara Houska as Native American advisor to his campaign. The lawyer and ICTMN contributor, Couchiching First Nation, will field press inquiries, recruit voters—particularly Native Americans—and assist with drafting Sanders’ Native American policy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, support appears to be growing for Sanders in Indian country, according to one analysis.

NOW FOR THE MATH: The numbers point to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump getting the nominations for their respective Democratic and Republican parties, though that could shift, according to Mark Trahant’s analysis.

COMING UP THE REAR: Rear-runner Republican Ted Cruz is trying to garner support by promising to return federal land in Nevada to “its rightful owners” in a new ad that pledges to take it away from “bureaucrats” in Washington D.C. He does not, in his 30-second spot, mention the first owners, who have inhabited the place for 10,000-plus years.

OBAMA GETS IT: President Barack Obama named Phyliss J. Anderson, Joely Proudfit, Mandy Smoker Broaddus and Dahkota Franklin Kicking Bear Brown to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education. The council was established under the Indian Education Act of 1972 and advises the Secretary of Education and Congress on the administration and funding of Alaska Native and American Indian education programs. At just 17 years old, Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown becomes the youngest White House Indian Education advisor in history.

ICWA WIN: Citing a “fundamental lack of competence,” a federal judge has denied South Dakota’s attempt to challenge a decision holding that the state had violated the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and denied Indian parents their Constitutional rights in regards to emergency removal hearings of children from their families.

SOLAR POWER: The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians announced it would go fully solar within five years with a plan to install 15 megawatts—equal to 15 million watts—worth of solar panels across the rooftops of the band’s largest buildings. When they’re done, the panels will generate enough power to light every bulb in the tribe’s three casinos, the tribal college and all government buildings. The ultimate goal is to generate enough solar power on tribal land to supply every home on Red Lake within five years.

MYTH-BUSTING: New research demonstrates that Native Americans do not use or abuse alcohol more than whites do. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. Researchers at the University of Arizona have found that Native Americans abstain from alcohol far more often than do whites, that fewer Native Americans than whites are light or moderate drinkers and that the two groups engage in binge and heavy drinking at pretty much the same rates. This is the first study to look at drinking in the American Indian population as a whole.

SUPPORT FROM ACROSS THE POND: The British Parliament, that country the U.S. broke away from for lack of adequate representation and consultation, expressed “serious concerns” in a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about allowing the Washington NFL team to play on their soil in an upcoming game against the Cincinnati Bengals, given the “racial slur” inherent in its official name. In a separate action, Houska and members of the Navajo Nation filed amicus briefs against the team.

MONEY WELL SPENT: While we’re on the subject of the Crown, back on the Turtle Island side of the Pond, Canada’s Ontario province stepped up to combat violence against aboriginal women with a $100 million pledge from Premier Kathleen Wynne for three years’ worth of initiatives.

ESCAPING THE LIFE: Below the 49th Parallel, women are struggling too. A series launched this past week looks at Native women who have escaped human trafficking and are trying to heal, often without adequate or appropriate help. We begin with the story of Mary G. (all names are changed) and her daughter Hope.

SICKNESS AND OIL: After a heavy rain washed a huge oil slick down the Chiriaco River in northern Peru, residents of the Awajún village of Nazareth were offered money to collect oil. Children and adults, including some nursing women, immersed themselves in the oily water with no protective gear, collecting as much as they could in various containers. Headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and nausea ensued. Some still have skin lesions. They never got paid.

POISONED? Federal and state authorities are investigating the deaths of 13 bald eagles whose bodies were found strewn around a Maryland field over the weekend in what they said was the largest bald eagle die-off in that state in 30 years. The prevailing theory is poison. Cause of death is awaiting the outcome of lab analysis.

SAVE THE SALMON: Russian scientists who’ve been there told Canadian First Nations unequivocally that putting a liquefied natural gas facility on Lelu Island would kill the Skeena River salmon stocks. They should know: They saw it happen on Sakhalin Island in eastern Russia. “You either have LNG or salmon, you can’t have both,” said Alexander Vedenev from the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology. Environmental analysis is pending. 

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