The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, November 15, 2015


Marijuana fields went up in flames, oil trains derailed, boarding schools caught Hollywood’s eye, and Tara Houska stood by Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Washington. All this and more grabbed headlines last week in Indian Country.

UP IN SMOKE: The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribal Council voted to temporarily suspend its marijuana operation on Saturday November 8. By evening their first marijuana crop was in flames.

The Flandreau Santee Sioux were the first tribal nation to legalize marijuana, which they did after a Department of Justice memorandum allowing tribal nations to grow and sell marijuana as long as they comply with the same regulations as states do. The tribal council said it was “seeking clarification” from the DOJ on how to implement that permission before proceeding.

SHOULDER TO SHOULDER: ICTMN contributor Tara Houska helped Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Senator Jeff Merkley introduce a “Keep It In the Ground” bill alongside grassroots organizers including Bill McKibben of and Aaron Mair of the Sierra Club, facing dozens of news cameras in front of the U.S. Capitol.

BOARDING SCHOOLS IN HOLLYWOOD: Filmmaker John Sayles is making a movie about the Carlisle Indian Industrial School and is seeking young and adult Native American actors for many of the roles. To Save the Man will not only tell the story of the residential school through the eyes of Native youth but will also increase awareness of the effects still experienced in Native families and communities to this day. This call for truth and reconciliation in the aftermath of Pratt’s policy, “Kill the Indian to save the man,” stars Academy Award winner Chris Cooper as Pratt and includes Robert Redford as an executive director.

INDIGENOUS MASS AT GUADALUPE: The Virgin of Guadalupe, the legend goes, first appeared to Juan Diego and spoke to him in his Native language, Nahuatl. Now, nearly 500 years later, a mass has been said in that very language for the first time in Mexico’s history. Diego was canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II. The October 13 service took place at , in the Basilica of Guadalupe, in the heart of what is today Mexico City, and the most important Catholic shrine in Mexico.

MAP BY MAP: Traveling farther south we find a mapmaker re-charting the world—in this case, South America specifically—according to the way it was before contact. Aaron Carapella’s map promises to be the most comprehensive snapshot of South America’s Indigenous Peoples. Carapella in October released a map depicting 720 tribes of South America in their original locations and identified by their traditional names.

SIDING WITH NATIVES: On November 3 the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against South Dakota’s Department of Social Services (DSS), alleging racial discrimination against Native American job applicants. According to the lawsuit, the state passed over numerous job applications of Native Americans. Moreover, the Social Services Department closed several positions, reopened them, and ultimately hired non-Natives with lesser qualifications to work in the Pine Ridge Office, the lawsuit alleges.

COAL TERMINAL FIGHT GOES TO D.C.: Lummi tribal leaders and members gathered on Thursday November 5 in Washington D.C. to express concerns about treaty violations related to the proposed coal terminal and train railway for Cherry Point, Washington. Additionally, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, representing 57 tribes, has taken action to oppose the increased transport of unrefined fossil fuels of coal, Bakken shale oil, and tar sand oil across the Northwest. Tribes across the Northwest have concluded that the impacts of significant increases in rail and vessel transportation cannot be mitigated to any level that would protect tribal treaty rights.

DERAILMENTS DERIDED: Two more derailments of oil-bearing trains over the weekend of November 7 and 8, both in Wisconsin, prompted the Quinault Nation to issue yet another warning about the dangers inherent in such transport.

“The frequency of these train crashes combined with the danger they pose to people and to the environment that sustains us should alarm everyone, everywhere, to the point that they take a stand against increased oil train traffic,” said Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp in a statement on Tuesday November 10.

NO THANKS, AGAIN: The First Nation that became known last May for turning down a $1 billion offer to site a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on their territory has been joined by 70 indigenous leaders, scientists, environmental organizations and other groups asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reject a project whose test drilling is under way.

SERIOUSLY? A family-owned Canadian company, BeDEVIL Enterprises Limited, is under fire after posting what many consider to be an offensive billboard in Killiam, Alberta. The billboard, which depicts a dark-haired woman surrounded by flames, lying supine next to a pile-driver that is skewering what look to be her private parts (she’s naked, natch), states, “Screwpiles: We Drill them to Hell and Back.” Vilified on social media and elsewhere online, company owner Dan McRae stood by his advertising decision.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with violence against women, misogynistic stuff,” he said. “It is getting spun backwards [regarding] my billboard. They are taking my picture and turning it into whatever they want to see. They say the Screwpile is puncturing her vagina, but as you can see it is not. It is just a devil-woman.”

NIXING CULTURAL APPROPRIATION: The Winnipeg Jets said fans will no longer be allowed to wear fake Native American headdresses to their games.

IVY LEAGUE RACISM: Native students at Yale joined more than 1,000 people on November 9 to make their voices heard in the March of Resilience, in which students of color and their allies showed unity and strength in the face of ongoing racial problems on campus. Student leaders gave speeches, and groups such as the Blue Feather Drum Group performed songs, including a version of Northern Cree’s “Young & Free.” Native students saw the march as part of their ongoing protest of harassment and racist comments from all levels of the campus community, as well as a reaction to the institution’s neglect of these issues.

VETERANS DAY: A $15 million initiative by the National Museum of the American Indian is underway to highlight the role of Native Americans in WWII who were not Code Talkers. Plans include outreach to tribes and veterans’ organizations, the artists’ bidding phase, and concurrent exhibits. Also getting their due were indigenous veterans who fought for Canada, who were honored along with the fallen on Remembrance Day, which coincides with the U.S.’s Veterans Day on November 11.

GOODBYE, RINA: Indian country mourned the loss of Rina Naranjo Swentzell of Santa Clara Pueblo—a local hero, yet humble when you mentioned her accomplishments, which were many. She was an architect, a potter, a teacher, an author, a historian and a lecturer. She walked on, this mother of famed clay artist Roxanne Swentzell and grandmother to mixed media artist Rose Bean Simpson, on Friday October 30.

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Wultenviron's picture
Submitted by Wultenviron on
For the second day in a row (Nov., 8 2015) a train derailed in Wisconsin - a CP freight train, near Watertown. No fewer than ten cars overturned, some were leaking. The day before near the Mississippi River town of Alma, a BNSF train upset, releasing thousands of gallons of ethanol. 32 cars were off the tracks. One of the cars spewed an unidentified liquid. 150 people in a half-mile radius were evacuated. It would be very interesting if we could be told the reason a train derailed. Going too fast? Too long ? Too heavy? Operator fatigue? Poor maintenance? Answers would reveal the far from best practices used by a profit hungry rail industry. Insist that the Federal Railroad Administration, whose first duty is to protect citizens, not shareholders, enforce railroad health and safety regulations. Please sign the petition at