Left to right: Iroquois Nationals team member Miles Thompson; Jess Sixkiller, and Ota Darrell Standing Elk

The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, October 4, 2015


There was some tragic news out of Indian country this past week, though between a major lacrosse win and some large federal grants, there were a few things worth celebrating.

LACROSSE MEDALS: Topping the week with good news, the Iroquois Nationals earned a silver medal in the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships, played at the Carrier Dome at Syracuse University. Before a world record total of more than 10,400 spectators, Canada grabbed gold by winning against the Iroquois Nationals with a final score of 12-8. Meanwhile player Miles Thompson won the inaugural Shot of the Year trophy at the National Lacrosse League (NLL) awards ceremony held on September 29, for a shot he took back in January 2015 as a member of the Minnesota Swarm.

UNSOLVED MURDER: Cherokee elder and urban Indian activist Jess Sixkiller, 78, was murdered at about 3 a.m. on September 25 at his home in Phoenix. Police found him with a fatal gunshot wound after his wife, 79, called 911. She had locked herself in another room in the house upon hearing a disturbance. Police found signs of forced entry. A memorial service was held for Sixkiller at the Heard Museum in Phoenix on October 2. Police are still investigating. The first Native American officer on the Chicago police force, Sixkiller went on to become the first Indian detective in Chicago. The Yale University graduate also founded the National Urban Indian Organization.

“This man was just a visionary,” said Janell Sixkiller, one of his four children. “That was my dad.”

BELOVED LEADER WALKS ON: Ta Kola Ota (Darrell Dale Standing Elk), enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate and respected leader, passed away on September 20, 2015, at age 81. He was celebrated at a memorial service on September 26.

“Every now and then, Native DNA produces a Crazy Horse, a Geronimo, a Chief Joseph, or a Darrell Standing Elk,” said American Indian Movement (AIM) founder Dennis Banks in a statement. “That's how I feel about my old friend Darrell.”

REASSIGNED: Susan Taffe Reed, whose appointment as Native American Program (NAP) director at Dartmouth University was hotly contested due to uncertainty about her Native heritage, has been replaced. NAP Coordinator Kianna Burke, a 2012 Dartmouth graduate with a degree in Native American Studies, and Interim Undergraduate Dean Jeremy Guardiola are taking on her responsibilities, Dartmouth said in an e-mailed statement, while Taffe Reed will continue on in another capacity.

CORRECTED: Republican Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush, while not reassigned, was soundly corrected when he purported to speak for American Indians on the mascot issue regarding the Washington D.C. football team. After Bush told Sirius XM that he didn't find the team name offensive and that “Native American tribes generally don’t find it offensive,” the reaction was immediate. The Oneida Nation’s Change the Mascot campaign issued a statement saying that Bush “somehow believes he speaks for Native Americans and can assert Native American people do not find this slur offensive. He clearly is missing something.”

HISTORY DENIED: Many South Dakota high school students will not be learning about Native Americans next year, thanks to some quietly approved changes in content standards that no longer require students to study early American history. Beginning in the 2016-2017 academic year, high school students in South Dakota may choose one of three courses to satisfy their single U.S. history requirement: Early U.S. History, Modern U.S. History or Comprehensive U.S. History. The changes effectively make it optional to learn about colonialism, the American War for Independence, slavery, Manifest Destiny, the Civil War and women’s suffrage, among other topics.

‘ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM’: Tribes opposing a plan to bury 77,000 tons of radioactive nuclear waste in a warren of 40 miles of tunnels underneath sacred Yucca Mountain accused the government of “environmental racism.” It’s not about the amount of radioactivity that would permeate the groundwater, the Western Shoshone and Timbisha Shoshone said. The environmental racism lies in the very notion that it would be okay to put any radioactive material there at all.

CALTRANS AGREEMENT SCUTTLED: In California, with construction of the Willits bypass project 80 percent complete, tribes were still struggling to protect their cultural resources in the area. In September the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians withdrew from discussions about the “programmatic agreement,” which is meant to establish procedures approved by both the tribe and Caltrans for cultural resource management. In a September 2 letter, Coyote Valley Chairman Michael Hunter said the tribe was withdrawing because of inadequate tribal consultation, not being able to agree on the standards by which sites were identified and protected, conflict over measures to compensate for sites that have already been damaged, and a lack of communication and good faith.

ARCTIC DRILLING NIXED: Royal Dutch Shell finally declared its $7 billion, seven-year attempt to figure out how to drill offshore in the Arctic a non-started. The oil giant announced on September 28 that prohibitive cost coupled with disappointing test-well results had led to the decision. Indigenous opponents and environmentalists were jubilant.

HISTORIC SETTLEMENT: The Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes each received a portion of a $186 million settlement with the U.S. Department of the Interior over a 2005 case alleging that the federal government had mishandled lands in trust.

PREVENTING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: On October 1, the first day of National Domestic Violence Prevention Month, the federal government awarded $21 million to help tribes prevent violence in the home.

‘SAINT OF GENOCIDE’: Tempers were overflowing after the canonization of Junipero Serra last month, and a few days after the September 23 ceremony by Pope Francis, vandals struck at Mission Carmel, where Serra is buried. They scrawled “Saint of Genocide” on a headstone, toppled a Serra statue and splashed green and white paint around the cemetery, police said. The Esselen Nations called the vandalism “troubling.”

“We do not approve nor condone the recent desecration,” said Louise Miranda Ramirez, Tribal Chairwoman of the Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen Nation (OCEN), whose ancestors are buried at the mission. “We do not express ourselves in this manner, despite decades of victimization by others. We are a respectful and prayerful group of people.”

At the same time, some noted the irony that the incident is being investigated as a hate crime.

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