Left: Karen Diver; right: Tom Goldtooth

The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, November 8, 2015


This past week brought no shortage of victories and sorrows to Indian country, ranging from the untimely death of a young, beloved singer-songwriter to the rejection of the Keystone XL oil pipeline by President Barack Obama.

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR: No sooner had TransCanada Corp. asked the U.S. government to “pause” its review of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline than President Obama did just that, only permanently. Just days after the company’s request, the President outright rejected the proposal to build a 1,700-mile-long, $8 billion pipeline that could carry 800,000 barrels of bituminous crude daily from the Alberta oil sands to the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Indigenous grassroots and environmental opposition to the project hailed it as a victory for our land and water, while the new leadership of Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, called the decision “disappointing.”

PEACEMAKER: Native activist Tom Goldtooth, one of the leaders of the indigenous opposition to the pipeline, received the Gandhi Peace Award on October 30 from the national organization Promoting Enduring Peace. The award goes annually to those making outstanding contributions to world peace. Goldtooth, Diné and Dakota, is executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, a group devoted to environmental and economic justice issues. Goldtooth recently served on a panel in Paris leading up to the COP21 climate talks and sat down with ICTMN to discuss realistic, and reality-based, solutions to climate change.

ANISHINABE-KWE GOES TO THE WHITE HOUSE: In a win for Indian country, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa chairwoman Karen Diver was appointed as special assistant to Obama on Native American affairs. As such she will be stepping down from her role with the Fond du Lac Band, of Minnesota. Diver was one of two Native appointees to Obama’s Task Force on Climate Change in 2013.

‘HISTORY-MAKING’ CABINET: No sooner had Prime Minister Justin Trudeau been sworn in on November 4—a ceremony marked by 12-year-old Inuit throat singers, a 13-year-old Pottawatami-Cree youth, and drums—than he named two indigenous people to his cabinet. Jody Wilson-Raybould becomes Canada’s first-ever aboriginal Attorney General and Minister of Justice, while Hunter Tootoo, who won against Conservative Leona Aglukkaq in Nunavut, was named Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

OBAMA SURPRISE: The seventh Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference focused on youth this year, with the White House releasing an update of Obama’s overarching initiative to improve conditions for young people in Indian country. “Generation Indigenous: Increasing Support and Opportunity for Native Youth 2015 Update Report” was unveiled at the November 5 conference. But the administration went beyond the report when Obama himself dropped in unannounced, arriving earlier than expected for his speech and joining five native youths in a panel onstage. He surprised an auditorium filled with tribal leaders, government department officials, reporters and Native young people. The White House’s two main goals for this year’s conference were to continue removing the barriers to Native success and solidifying the gains that have been made in Indian country in advancing tribal sovereignty and fostering government-to-government relationships.

ADIDAS STEPS UP: Also during the Tribal Nations Conference, Obama singled out athletic company Adidas for its offer of design and financial assistance to help high schools change their Native American mascots. Obama commended Adidas for taking such a monumental step toward recognizing that Native mascots create an ostracizing educational environment for Native students.

WINNERS AND HOPEFULS: Debora Juarez, Blackfeet, won a seat on the Seattle City Council, the first member of an indigenous nation elected to the council in the city’s 150-year history. Aspiring to an even higher office is Denise Juneau, an enrolled Mandan Hidatsa tribal member who grew up on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, who has announced a run for Congress against incumbent Ryan Zinke. If elected, she’d be the first-ever American Indian congresswoman.

SELFLESS IN SOVEREIGNTY: Longtime Coeur d’Alene tribal leader Ernie Stensgar was honored by the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), garnering its John F. Kieffer Sovereignty Award for three decades of selfless dedication to advancing the lives of Indian peoples socially and economically, building self-sufficiency through gaming enterprises, and being an advocate for Indian self-determination.

BEFORE HER TIME: Brianna Lee Pruett, (Cherokee/Choctaw/Chickasaw) a talented singer, songwriter, filmmaker, poet and visual artist passed away on September 2, 2015. The Canyon Records artist was mourned by many as a “brilliant and finally overwhelmed sweet girl of 32, who took her own life in her hands, fell asleep to death and woke up to the new life,” in the words of her sister Keely Dorran.

MEDICINE POUCH BREACH: Winding up the week, a 13-year-old Native American student was pulled from the lunch line at her school in Wisconsin and sent to the guidance counselor over a traditional Menominee medicine pouch, according to her family. On October 21, Rosella “Rose” Kaquatosh was wearing the pouch outside of her clothing when a kitchen employee at Gresham School in Gresham, Wisconsin, allegedly demanded the girl take it off. She was sent to Principal Keary Mattson, who allegedly examined the pouch and removed some of the tobacco as Kaquatosh cried. The family has asked the school board for an apology.

ILLEGAL DESTRUCTION: The Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians and the Round Valley Indian Tribe filed suit on October 29 in U.S District Court claiming Caltrans is illegally destroying cultural resources and Native American sites in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act as it builds a six-mile bypass around Willits on Highway 101 that cuts through the heart of Little Lake Valley, lush wetlands and ancestral home of many Pomo tribal members in the area.

FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED: The family of Rose Downwind, granddaughter of American Indian Movement (AIM) founder Dennis Banks, grew more deeply concerned about her October 19 disappearance after Bemidji and Minnesota State Police said they suspect that “foul play” was involved and named two “persons of interest.” Duane “Dog” Chapman, star of the show Dog the Bounty Hunter, has offered $10,000 of his own money for information leading to Downwind’s whereabouts.

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