The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, November 1, 2015


The week had no shortage of heroism and heroes, from Cherokee Warrior Joshua L. Wheeler, who died fighting ISIS, to members of the Ahousaht Nation who raced to a flipped ship and pulled survivors from the frigid Pacific waters. Five Native Americans were honored at the home of Vice President Joe Biden, and there was more than one brush with Hollywood. Read on.

CHEROKEE WARRIOR FALLEN: Master Sargeant Joshua L. Wheeler, 39-year-old Cherokee warrior and Delta Force Commando, was the first known U.S. casualty in the fight against ISIS. He was killed in a gunfight during a rescue operation of 70 prisoners who were on the verge of being killed by the militant group. He is survived by his wife, four sons, grandparents and many others.

AHOUSAHT HEROISM: On the other side of the world, First Nations came to the rescue in a completely different context. Ahousaht First Nation members were at the forefront of rescue efforts after the tragic capsizing of the whale-watching boat Leviathan II off the Vancouver Island town of Tofino on October 25. At least five people died, and one person remained missing at the end of the week. After the tragedy, the Nuu-chah-nulth called for its 13 member First Nation communities to be outfitted with emergency-response equipment and trained as first responders.

REELECTED: Brian Cladoosby, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Chairman, was re-elected as president of the National Congress of American Indians by unanimous acclamation on October 22 during the 72nd annual NCAI convention in San Diego. The second-term president said he will remain focused on future generations by strengthening tribal education, health care, mental health and family support systems, by protecting treaty rights, tribal lands and natural resources, and by ensuring that elected officials at all levels have an understanding of the challenges facing Indian youth.

HOLLYWOOD HELP: ICTMN’s own Simon Moya-Smith scored one for the team by getting filmmaker Quentin Tarantino to hold up a sign of support for Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, an 18-year-old Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Eastern Band of Cherokee youth who was shot by police in 2013, during a New York City rally protesting police killings. Afterward, Tarantino told Moya-Smith to send his love to Goodblanket’s mom.

Hollywood star power was evident up in Canada as well, with four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke standing shoulder to shoulder with First Nations in Nova Scotia to protest exploratory oil drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

VP VIPs: In another high-profile encounter, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, honored five Native American and Alaskan Native artists in a reception at the couple’s home in Washington D.C., displaying framed prints by each of the artists. Honored were Tony Abeyta (Navajo), Crystal Worl (Tlingit Athabascan), Jeff Kahm (Plains Cree), Courtney Leonard (Shinnecock Nation) and Dan Namingha (Tewa-Hopi). The event also celebrated a collaboration between the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Art in Embassies (AIE) and the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). The five artists were commissioned by the AIE and IAIA to create 10 pieces of art each that will be exhibited at U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world.

FEET TO THE FIRE: Indigenous people are holding Canada’s new prime minister to account on a host of ambitious campaign promises. Trudeau told the Assembly of First Nations annual general assembly in July that a Liberal government would review existing legislation imposed on aboriginals and rescind measures that are in conflict with either constitutional rights or the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Trudeau also said his government would endeavor to resolve grievances with current historical treaties and land-claims agreements, and promised to launch an inquiry into Canada’s epidemic of missing and murdered aboriginal women. In addition he pledged to meet all 94 recommendations in the report released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) earlier this year around the country’s legacy of residential schools.

MISSING: In somber news, American Indian Movement (AIM) co-founder Dennis Banks is looking for anyone who might have information regarding the disappearance of his 31-year-old granddaughter Rose Downwind. The mother of five was last seen at the Target store in Bemidji, Minnesota on October 19. Some family members suspect foul play.

DOLLAR JUSTICE: The U.S. Supreme Court has taken on Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a case that centers on whether tribes have the jurisdiction to adjudicate civil tort claims against non-members. It started when a 13-year-old Choctaw of Mississippi boy working at Dollar General on the reservation claimed he’d been assaulted by the store manager while working as an intern. When the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to prosecute, the boy and his parents sued the store manager and Dollar General in tribal court. The two plaintiffs turned and sued the alleged victim and family in federal court, disputing the tribal court’s jurisdiction. Oral arguments for Dollar General v. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians are scheduled for December 7, 2015.

YAKAMA SELF-GOVERNANCE: In another take on tribal jurisdiction, the civil and criminal authority that has until now been held by the State of Washington is being transferred to the Yakama Nation, a move that brings the federally recognized tribe one step closer to self-governance.

HEMP SEIZED: Federal agents destroyed a Wisconsin-based tribe’s industrial hemp crop that was being grown as a research project, something the tribe believes was legal under the 2014 Farm Bill. The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin says federal agents seized the tribe’s crop of low-THC non-psychotropic industrial hemp, which was being grown to research strains for potential economic development opportunities, said Chairman Gary Besaw.

JUSTICE REFORM: Calling the criminal justice system “broken,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) along with fellow Senator Al Franken (D-MN) introduced new legislation on October 22 to further establish and fund treatment courts in Indian country.

COHO SALMON PLIGHT: Low returns of wild coho salmon prompted the Quinault Indian Nation to close all its fisheries in Grays Harbor and Queets River and declare an economic disaster because of the resulting hardship on fishermen and their families. The state of Washington is taking similar measures.

RARE VICTORY: Aboriginal people Down Under won a major victory when Anangu leaders in Australia declared 12.25 million acres of Aboriginal freehold land an Indigenous Protected Area (IPA), after the Australian Government signed an agreement giving the community additional resources to protect sacred sites, native plants and animals.

GET SPOOKED! The week would not be complete without a nod to Halloween, so ICTMN’s Steve Russell brings us four very scary places to visit.

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