The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, October 11, 2015


From a California state ban on use of the "R Word" in public schools, to various prizes awarded for Native artistry, the week was a full one, with lots of victories. 

NIXING THE “R WORD” IN CALIFORNIA: Topping the week’s news, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill banning use of the “R” word—the name of the Washington D.C. football team—in all public schools.

"Today is a huge victory for Native American Civil Rights, and I hope it paves the way for all other states to create similar laws," Dahkota Brown, a Native American youth who helped shepherd the legislation, wrote in an email to ICTMN. "Nobody's team or school pride should ever outweigh someone's cultural identity!"

NATIVE AMERICAN DAY DRAWS HUNDREDS: The move came on the heels of California’s celebration of Native American Day on the capitol in Sacramento on September 25, attended by leaders of nearly 70 tribes.

COLUMBUS DAY LOSES STEAM: As Columbus Day approached, groups across Turtle Island worked to dispel the myths about how the United States was formed. And on October 7 the Albuquerque City Council declared the celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday of October, a day nationally recognized as “Columbus Day.” Albuquerque is New Mexico’s largest city, and has the highest concentration of Natives in the state.

The week leading up to Columbus Day also saw its share of indigenous celebrations, with the Native American Festival and Pow Wow on Randall’s Island Park in New York City featuring more than 500 Native American artists, educators, singers, dancers and performing groups from across the Americas. The Redhawk Native American Arts Council hosted that in addition to planning an Indigenous People’s Day celebration on October 12. Keeping the treatment of Native Americans by the Catholic Church in the public’s eye, activist Chase Iron Eyes said in an extensive interview with ICTMN that Pope Francis should revoke the Doctrine of Discovery.

JIM THORPE CAN’T GO HOME: The drive to bring legendary athlete Jim Thorpe’s remains back home to Oklahoma from Pennsylvania based on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) has apparently run its course. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the Sac and Fox Nation and the Thorpe family’s appeal  on October 5 to return the Olympic hero to his original homelands.

“It is sad news,” said Bill Thorpe, one of Jim Thorpe’s remaining sons, who resides in Arlington, Texas. “I was very disappointed. I believe the Supreme Court should have looked at this a little bit closer and give us a reading on it. I don’t believe they did. They declined to review the [Third Circuit Court of Appeals’] decision. That’s what hurts.”

GROUNDBREAKING APPOINTMENTS: The Board of Regents at the University of Oklahoma named Dr. Lindsay Robertson the first Chickasaw Nation Native American Law Chair at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. It’s the first time that a Native American Law Chair position will be held by a permanent faculty member in any law school in the United States. In another first, Tanya Fiddler (Cheyenne River Sioux), former head of Four Bands Community Fund, was appointed as the first-ever executive director of the Native CDFI Network. And former Disney exec Mark Mortenson took over as the new CEO of the Grand Canyon Resort Corporation, a tourism entity of the 2,300-member Hualapai Tribe.

EIGHTH TERM: Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby marked the beginning of his unprecedented eighth consecutive term as the tribe’s governor.

'OUR BODIES ARE NOT FOR SALE': Human and sex trafficking came to the fore at the Clothed in Strength, Honor and Beauty Conference on Human Trafficking and Fashion Show in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which educated youth about the dangers of sex trafficking (including how traffickers use the internet to lure victims). At the same time it provided tips and guidance about safely entering the fashion industry as a model or designer.

MMIW AND THE CANADIAN ELECTIONS: As Canada prepares for federal elections on October 19, the matter of missing and murdered indigenous women—and men—is coming to the fore as a major campaign issue.

UNIQUE PARTNERSHIP PROPOSED: In a partnership that would be unique if it were developed, five Four Corners-area tribes have united to propose a 1.9 million–acre Bears Ears National Monument that would be the first truly collaborative land management effort between Native Americans and the federal government. The Coalition is minting a blueprint for a degree of co-management that has never been tried before. It embodies true government-to-government relations and truly collaborative decision-making on all aspects of running a protected mass of land. They’ll be formally proposing a Presidential Proclamation in mid-October, in Washington.

GAMING VICTORY: In a court win for tribal gaming, instant horse racing machines, which closely resemble slot machines, are now officially illegal in Idaho following a ruling by the Idaho Supreme Court in favor of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

WINS OF ANOTHER KIND: Author and historian Brenda J. Child was awarded the Jon Gjerde Prize by the Midwestern History Association for her 2014 book, My Grandfather’s Knocking Sticks: Ojibwe Family Life and Labor on the Reservation (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2014).

My Grandfather's Knocking Sticks is an eloquent study of family life which locates personal experience in the larger experience of the Ojibwe people and the Midwest as a whole,” said selection committee chairman Professor Andrew Cayton in a statement from the association, which was created a year ago.

Legendary First Nations singer-songwriter Buffy St. Marie was awarded the 2015 Polaris Music Prize for her new album, Power in the Blood, in a ceremony at the historic Carlu event center in Toronto, Ontario, in September. Along with the recognition came a cash award of $50,000. The music career of Sainte-Marie, 74, who is Piapot Cree from Saskatchewan, Canada, has spanned more than 50 years.

MARIJUANA SOVEREIGNTY: The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe began blazing a new trail for tribal nations by opening the nation’s first marijuana resort. Despite the expected risks, tribal leaders are pressing forward with confidence, ushering in new possibilities for tribal sovereignty.

FAIRBANKS FOUR: In more court news, as four weeks of evidentiary hearings began on October 5 in a Fairbanks courtroom, April Monroe and other supporters of the Fairbanks Four—George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent—prayed for the release of the men they say were imprisoned for a murder they didn’t commit. They also prayed for John Hartman, the teenager who died after an act of random violence on a street corner one cold Fairbanks night 18 years ago. Monroe, the Alaska Innocence Project, the Tanana Chiefs Conference and others contend the Fairbanks Four were victims of a racially-tinged rush to judgment by police and prosecutors eager for a conviction for Hartman’s death.

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