2011 Retrospective: December
Heeding calls from tribal leaders, the Obama administration now supports a legislative amendment that would allow tribes to apply for federal disaster aid directly from the White House, the same way states currently can. Under current law, only governors can make official disaster declaration requests.
The American Indian Empowerment Act of 2011, introduced in the House of Representatives, would allow a tribe to ask that the title to its tribal land be taken out of trust and given to the tribe while ensuring such lands retain their Indian-country status. It would also permit the lease of lands without Interior Department approval.
A new laboratory space at Northwest Indian College will allow students to obtain four-year degrees without leaving their communities. Funded by a $353,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, the space is in the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s House of Knowledge and Education Center, in Kingston, Washington.
President Obama signed an executive order titled “Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Education Opportunities and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities.” The order is meant to improve educational performance and options for Native American and Alaska Native students from early education through college.
Environmental activists attacked Canada at the 2011 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other prominent Africans took out an ad in the conference’s daily newsletter, ECO, that was essentially a petition that urged Canada to set a better example on combating climate change, the way it had protested apartheid in the 1980s. The nation of China, itself one of the world’s leading polluters, called on Canada to set a better example in combating global warming.
The American Indian/Alaska Native population has increased by 27 percent since the 2000 U.S. Census. And yet the number of Native people applying to medical school and earning degrees is shrinking. Statistics show that in 2004 and 2005, 465 American Indian and Alaskan Natives applied for medical school in each of those two years. By 2011, this number dwindled to 379. The number of American Indian and Alaska Natives who are first-year medical students is even smaller. In 2004, there were 202 first-year Native medical students. By 2011, there were only 157.
Some 1,800 people live in James Bay, in Northern Ontario, desperately overcrowded into tents and dilapidated huts. They cook on wood stoves. There is no electricity, not to mention a lack of clean, running water. Roofs leak; so do sewers.
But when the Attawapiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency and begged the federal government to relocate the residents, Ottawa didn’t respond. Only when the Canadian Red Cross said it would step in did federal and provincial authorities say they would visit the remote community to assess conditions. “It really is a crisis,” said Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence. “We are in a third-world situation.”
President Obama was treated like a conquering hero at the Third Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C. The assembled clapped and whooped as he ticked off his laundry list of accomplishments for Indian country in regard to education, health care and other matters. The consensus was that this White House has done more for them than any presidency since Richard Nixon’s.
The National Native American AIDS Prevention Center named Niki Webster Graham, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, as the 2011 recipient of its Honoring the Red Ribbon Award. Graham works with seven reservations in Montana, three reservations in Idaho and various other tribal health centers to help develop local HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs.
A year after the United States formally reversed its opposition to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, opinions about its value are conflicting. The declaration has already made possible improvements in the language of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It has also helped protect a sacred shell mound at Sogorea Te in Glen Cove, California. But Michael Leroy Oberg, co-coordinator of Native American Studies at the State University of New York, Geneseo, argued that despite the declaration, there are still many “long-standing and, I would argue, colonial assumptions built into American Indian policy.”
New Zealand won its second Rugby World Cup title and powerfully invoked the country’s cultural heritage. The squad, known as the All Blacks, chanted the Kapa O Pango Haka, a Maori war cry: Hi aue, hi! Ko Aotearoa e ngunguru nei! Au, au, aue ha! (“This is our land that rumbles! And it’s my time! It’s my moment!”) I ahaha! Ka tu te ihiihi, Ki runga ki te rangi e tu iho nei, tu iho nei, hi! (“Our dominance, our supremacy will triumph!”) And it did, with the team beating France, 8-7.
The White House moved ahead to reform federal management of Indian trusts, naming five American Indians to sit on a national commission that will study how to ensure the American Indian trust system is trustworthy. Chaired by Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, the team is expected to report in two years.
A new $3.26 million museum devoted to the rich history of the Coeur d’Alene opened in Idaho as the permanent home for an exhibit, Sacred Encounters: Father De Smet and the Indians of the Rocky Mountain West. Originally a traveling exhibition, Sacred Encounters tells of how Jesuit priests led by Father Pierre-Jean De Smet brought Catholicism to the interior Northwest.
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—Click here if you missed our November 2011 retrospective.