The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, November 29, 2015


Gray wolves rebounding enough to be killed again, a billboard sheds its devil woman, a sacred site is saved from development, and indigenous activists head overseas to attend and witness the COP21 United Nations climate talks in Paris. This and more transpired over the past week in Indian country.

SAINTS & STRANGERS’ MANY FACES: Dominating headlines was the television mini-series on National Geographic channel, Saints & Strangers, which earned both censure and praise for its attempt to depict the “real” first Thanksgiving. Although the movie aimed to bust the camaraderie myths that are commonly taught in schools, it contained enough historical inaccuracies to cause the Wampanoag Tribe to exit the production and poke holes in the film. The criticism covered everything from language and regalia mistakes to historical and cultural inaccuracies, but it also raised broader questions about creative liberties, cultural distinctions and who gets to interpret history. Nevertheless it garnered praise for its Native cast members and dialogue that was translated into Western Abenaki, a dialect similar to what the pilgrims encountered when they arrived in America.

Historical inaccuracies aside, the movie did what few have done before: It sought to tell the truth about how the United States came to be, complete with fragile alliances, betrayals and the struggle to survive on the part of those who landed near Plymouth Rock. Actors Kalani Queypo (Squanto), Raul Trujillo (Massasoit) and Tatanka Means (Hobbamock) said working on the movie was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that it was a hard story to tell but exposed needed truths.

FROM ENDANGERED TO TARGETED: Gray wolves are back, which makes it time to take the iconic animal off the Endangered Species List, many wolf researchers believe. But tribes oppose the measure. No tribes signed a recent letter written to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior by more than two dozen wolf researchers on November 18 calling for the gray wolf to again be delisted in the Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

“The tribes already have a stance that we want the wolves protected, we don’t want the wolves harvested,” said Lacey Hill, wildlife specialist for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe in Wisconsin.

DRILLED TO HELL AND BACK: In the It Never Should Have Happened department, the owner of a Canadian oilfield services equipment company, BeDEVIL Enterprises Limited, has said his company will alter a billboard that featured a naked, black-haired “devil woman” complete with tail, lying on her back being drilled by a pile driver. After a slew of complaints on social media over the billboard in Killiam, Alberta—a region especially sensitive to the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women—owner Dan McRae said he would take down the offending ad.

SACRED SITE SAVED: Everyone from the Blackfeet Tribe to Montana sportsmen heaved a sigh of relief as the U.S. Department of the Interior canceled a controversial oil and gas drilling lease in the sacred Badger-Two Medicine region. Attorneys for Interior said in court filings on November 23 that the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management had “failed to fully consider the effects of oil and gas development on cultural resources, including religious values and activities” when they okayed the lease on 6,200 acres in 1982. Part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine region borders Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. It’s the site of the Blackfeet creation story and thus is a longstanding source of spiritual energy.

IT ONLY TOOK 500 YEARS: An indigenous magistrate has been named to Bolivia’s highest court, a first. On November 4, officials announced that Pastor Mamani was elected to be President of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice. Five jurists, including the previous president, voted for him and four against.

“After 500 years, for the first time in history an indigenous man will occupy this high post,” he said. “And this happened due to the structural changes that have been made in this country.”

INDIGENOUS GO TO PARIS: The 35 groups traveling to the climate talks in Paris under the auspices of the grassroots Indigenous Environmental Network have landed in Paris to make their concerns and issues regarding climate change and the environment known to world leaders and the public. Among other work and activities, the IEN delegation is bringing the first Indigenous Women’s Treaty, signed by indigenous women leaders from North and South America, to the Summit.

NOTABLE PASSINGS: Antoine Delormier, the 67-year-old Akwesasne man who claimed he was roughed up by Canadian border guards while en route to the hospital in September, died peacefully on November 24, according to an obit. He had had a number of heart attacks before allegedly being dragged from his vehicle and made to wait in a cell for an ambulance in September.

Also unclear is the cause of death of Robin Poor Bear, once profiled in the PBS documentary Kind Hearted Woman, who walked on in North Dakota on November 20. Filmmaker David Sutherland had followed Poor Bear, then known by her married name Robin Charboneau, for three years as an exploration of a woman who had suffered from a life of abuse. Poor Bear leaves two children.

GIVING THANKS: While every day tends to be infused with gratitude in many indigenous cultures, the irony of the holiday celebrated by mainstream America did not go unnoticed. MTV had an especially uproarious video explaining the matter.

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