Left to right, Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton; Dartmouth hire Susan Taffe Reed, and the late Chickasaw Governor Emeritus Overton James.

The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, September 27, 2015


A Mohawk haircut got a 7-year-old briefly thrown out of school, while an abusive priest was canonized. Those stories and more marked this past week in Indian country.

“DISTRACTING” HAIRSTYLE: A 7-year-old second grader whose parents are from the Seneca and Paiute tribes was sent home from school in Santa Clara, Utah, because his traditional Mohawk hairstyle was deemed “too distracting” to teachers and students. He had requested the haircut, according to his father, but the school called the boy’s mother and told her it violated the dress code.

School officials capitulated after Seneca Nation Tribal Council member William Canella wrote them a letter saying, “It’s disappointing that your school does not view diversity in a positive manner, and it is our hope that (the boy) does not suffer any discrimination by the school administration or faculty as a result of his hair cut.”

“WE HAVE SOVEREIGN LAND!” The Mashpee celebrated as they officially took possession of 170 acres of land in trust, a first for the tribe.

“We have sovereign land! We have sovereign land!” Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell shouted exuberantly to an excited crowd of Mashpee citizens who had gathered to hear the announcement. “We did it! We have our own universe!”

The ruling by the Bureau of Indian Affairs gives the Mashpee, which was the first tribe to greet settlers arriving from Europe on the Mayflower 400 years ago, a place to build and operate a gaming facility and resort.

“NO SAINTHOOD FOR SERRA”: Natives across Turtle Island protested as Pope Francis canonized Father Junípero Serra in Washington, D.C. on September 23 during his first-ever papal visit to the United States. In San Francisco just before the canonization, a group of American Indian Movement (AIM) Southern California Chapter members held a satirical tribunal denouncing the friar, charging him with torture, slavery, rape, theft of California indigenous land and promoting the intentional death of thousands of California’s indigenous people. He was deemed “guilty.”

Native groups and tribes throughout the week continued pressing the Pope to not go through with it, some tribes passing resolutions and others waging a campaign and writing letters.

Meanwhile, Tataviam Tribe descendant Caroline Ward Holland of Santa Clarita, California, and her son, Kagen Holland, continued their 650-mile walk through the 21-mission system that Serra founded from Sonoma to San Diego. And on the day of the canonization itself, about 200 people gathered in San Francisco for a rally and a day of mourning.

DARTMOUTH’S DOLEZAL? Debate continued over an appointment of a different sort: the hiring of one Susan Taffe Reed, President of the non-profit Eastern Delaware Nation, as Native American Program director for Dartmouth College. At first objections were raised about her being from a federally unrecognized tribe, bringing up the notion that the government decides who is Indian and who isn’t. Then it became clear that the Eastern Delaware Nation is not a tribal entity and may in fact be unrelated to a tribe—in other words, completely white—as in, hailing from a specific village in Ireland.

FALL PROMPTS A JOURNEY FOR EXISTENCE: At dawn on the Fall Equinox, September 23, 2015, a handful of young Diné women and their supporters made offerings of white corn meal to the eastern horizon, asking for guidance and strength, before embarking on a 300-mile prayer-walk through the northern edge of their ancestral homeland. The walk, Nihígaal Bee Iiná [Nih-hi-gahl Bay Ee-nah], translates to “Our Journey for Existence” and is a cry to the ancestors and to the world for help at this pivotal time in their tribal history where environmental and social issues threaten the very fabric of life.

REINSTATED: Bruce Renville, Tribal Chairman of Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, was reinstated as chairman after a 10-day suspension resulting from backlash against drug testing he had ordered employees to undergo in August.

WIN ON APPEAL: The Arizona Court of Appeals determined that the City of Glendale’s support for the Tohono O’odham Nation’s West Valley casino project cannot be put to a referendum, eliminating a legal challenge to the tribe’s 45,000-square-foot Desert Diamond Casino–West Valley, which is already under construction.

ANOTHER VOTE AGAINST COAL TRAINS: The Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council joined numerous other tribes in opposing coal trains, passing a resolution against the Tongue River Railroad in a unanimous vote.

CLINTON CHANGES TUNE, OPPOSES KEYSTONE XL: Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton came out and said she was against the Keystone XL pipeline. Natives listened, but were wary; she had supported it as Secretary of State.

CHICKASAW NATION MOURNS: Governor Emeritus Overton James, whose leadership had lasting effects on the Nation, walked on at age 90 on September 16.

“Overton James served the Chickasaw people during a crucial turning point in our history as a nation,” said Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, who served as deputy governor under James, in a statement. “Appointed governor by President Kennedy in 1963, Overton James helped lead the Chickasaw people out from under the control of the federal government into a new era of self-governance. As the first elected Governor of the Chickasaw Nation since Oklahoma statehood, he helped blaze the trail for the success we enjoy today. His leadership was vital to the birth of a political and cultural resurgence, which is continuing to transform the Chickasaw Nation.”

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