The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, December 27, 2015


Winter, Star Wars, a grave robber and a Christmas full moon were just some of the headlines grabbing attention in Indian country this past week.

DARKNESS INTO LIGHT: The darkest day and longest night of the year came and went on December 21, meaning that from here on in it gets lighter and lighter. And on December 25, of course, those who celebrate commemorated the coming of the light, this year literally, with the first Christmas full moon since 1977. Building up to the 6:11 a.m. peak fullness on December 25, the moon followed the path of the June sun through the sky, making it the Long Night Moon, or Cold Moon.

GIVING SPIRIT: In another kind of light, some philanthropy was in the offing. The Morongo Band of Mission Indians donated $100,000 for its annual Christmas Cheer All Year shopping spree, which benefits disadvantaged children, and this year included 600 youngsters from the San Gorgonio Pass. In all, 3,500 disadvantaged children received part of this bounty.

HEALING FUNDS: In a more somber vein, the Morongo joined with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to donate $600,000 to aid the victims of the December 2 terrorist attack that claimed the lives of 14 people at a disabilities service center in San Bernardino, California. The tribes donated to the San Bernardino United Relief Fund, launched by the health and human services nonprofit Arrowhead United Way.

DARKNESS REVISITED: Of course, any light dawning at this time of year is overshadowed by the December 26 hanging of the Dakota 38, back in 1862, although it has been 153 years since the largest mass execution ever conducted in the United States. Besides those who were hanged, 265 others were convicted in sham military commissions, and more than 3,000 Dakota people were held captive, then forced on a death march west out of Minnesota. The Dakota 38 riders are making their way to Mankato, Minnesota to honor the 38 men whose lives were snuffed out on that awful day.

NOT SO BRIGHT: As much as we’d like to herald the coming of the light in all areas and put attitudes that led to events such as the Dakota 38 behind us, there are yet some holdouts who apparently did not get the memo about the 21st century. To wit: Brazilian lawmaker Fernando Furtado was branded Racist of the Year by the UK-based tribal-advocacy group Survival International, for saying of indigenous people, “let them die of hunger in poverty” and referred to them as “those little fags.” The lawmaker represents the northern Amazonian state of Maranhão and belongs to the Brazilian Communist Party.

WHEN WILL THEY EVER LEARN? Thomas Munson, 76, of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, is scheduled to enter a guilty plea on January 4, 2016, on embezzlement and theft charges. He is accused of stealing several ancient Native American remains from the Effigy Mound Monument federal museum in Iowa. Munson, former National Parks Service superintendent of the Effigy Mounds National Monument, was charged in federal court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with one count of misdemeanor embezzlement and theft on December 16.

METH BUST: Twenty-one members of the Mescalero Apache Tribe are facing federal or tribal charges following an 18-month investigation into methamphetamine trafficking on the reservation. The investigation, launched in May 2014, yielded criminal charges against a total of 34 individuals, including 13 non-Natives.

HOLIDAY HIGH JINX: For a non-drug high, many went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and award winning artist and designer from the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe in Kingston, Washington, Jeffrey Veregge was among them. Then as now, the movie had a profund effect.

“For this Indian, it was the catalyst that activated my true self nearly 40 years ago,” he wrote of the first film. “I can’t imagine who I would be if it not been for George Lucas, Kenner Toys, Marvel Comics and their contributions that feed my appetite for all things Star Wars as a kid. In an age where DVDs were not even heard of, that is how most of us kept the spirit of the Force alive in our young lives.”

EARLY CHRISTMAS PRESENT: The Tonto Apache Tribe of Arizona received an early Christmas gift as Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn signed a reservation proclamation quadrupling the tribe’s land into trust. On December 22 Washburn announced that approximately 292 acres of trust land in the city of Payson, Gila County, Arizona belonging to the tribe would be added to the tribe’s existing reservation under the authority of the Indian Reorganization Act of June 18, 1934 (48 Stat. 984: 25 U.S.C. 467).

HIGHWAY OF TEARS: A 1,600-mile-long stretch of road known as the Highway of Tears for the number of mostly aboriginal women who have gone missing while hitchhiking along it—in the absence of public transport—will get some safety measures thanks to $3 million pledged by the provincial government of British Columbia. It’s part of a five-point action plan designed to provide safe, practical and sustainable transportation for communities along the Highway 16 corridor.

PIONEERING LAWYER DEPARTS: Hans C. Walker Jr., one of the first Native American lawyers to lead the push to enforce tribal treaty rights, died at his home in Alexandria, Virginia, on Sunday, December 20, at age 89.

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