The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, January 10, 2016


Rogue militants, a whiny corporation, a chastened grave robber and the halls of Fame and Shame were on Indian country’s collective mind this past week. Philanthropy also played a role.

MISGUIDED MILITIA REDUX: Dominating the headlines all week, of course, was the takeover of Paiute land, a.k.a. the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in what is today known as Oregon. Headed by the sons of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who staged a similar so-called protest over supposed land rights in 2014, the “militia” took over a building in the refuge and asserted that Oregon has sovereignty, not the Northern Paiute who preceded them by millennia and for whom the land is held in trust by the federal government. Dubbed “Y’all Qaeda” by locals, the group has been decidedly unwelcome. The Northern Paiute held a press conference to educate the general public, and the militants, about the history of strong land claims held by Native nations. In fact so twisted has become the logic that the militants, dubbed “crazy white people” in some parts, are actually starting to sound like Native Americans.

OWNERSHIP REGAINED? A website has been created to help fund the $3.9 million purchase price of Wounded Knee by author and activist Tim Giago, Lakota, who has announced that he is looking for a way to buy the site. Giago’s fundraising website states that its mission is “to raise the money to purchase the 40 acres of land at Wounded Knee from owner Jim Czywczynski.”

WHINE MUCH? In what would seem to be beating a dead horse, TransCanada Corp. filed suit against the U.S. government for President Barack Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, seeking $15 billion in damages. TransCanada filed both under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and in federal court in Houston “on the basis that the denial was arbitrary and unjustified,” the company said on January 6, regarding the NAFTA filing. The federal court filing challenges the constitutionality of Obama’s decision.

CANDIDATE LADUKE: Longtime environmental activist, author and Native advocate Winona LaDuke has announced a run for White Earth Tribal Chair.

“I’ve spent a long time advocating for localized economies and developing sustainable infrastructure,” she told ICTMN. “It’s time to put my money where my mouth is and take what I’ve learned back home.”

GRAVE ROBBER: Thomas Munson, 76, the retired National Park Service superintendent who pled guilty to stealing ancient Native remains from the Effigy National Monument in Iowa last month, will pay more than $108,000 in restitution. He pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement of government property and will serve one year of home probation with home detention including confinement on 10 consecutive weekends. He is also required to produce a formal written and video recorded public apology to the tribes associated with the Effigy Mounds Monument.

SANCTIONED DESECRATION: A bill before the Wisconsin State legislature’s Committee on Environment and Forestry would allow a mining company to desecrate lands sacred to the Ho-Chunk Nation, the tribe charges. The legal tussle, ongoing for five years, was exacerbated by Assembly Bill 620, which Republicans sent to the assembly on December 29.

FAME & SHAME: Continuing the summation of 2015, the Hall of Shame and Mantle of Fame were counterbalanced.

PHILANTHROPY: The Puyallup Tribe of Indians gave $550,000 to the Seattle Seahawks' Spirit of 12 Partners, a program that raises funds children’s programs that promote healthy development. Elsewhere, Honor the Earth, the environmental organization founded by Winona LaDuke, released $90,000 in new grants to indigenous organizations in North America and the Pacific, focused mainly on protection of sacred sites, as well as strengthening cultural traditions in Native communities.

RECEIVING: Kids attending schools on and around the Navajo and Hopi nations will have tens of thousands of new children’s books to choose from thanks to a donation of 17,000 new books for kindergarten through 12th grade worth $200,000 from Reader to Reader, a Massachusetts literacy organization.

HONOR WALK: Rounding out the year of protesting—though to no avail—the canonization of Junipero Serra, a mother and son received honors from fellow Natives for their 600-mile Walk for the Ancestors to 21 California missions. They covered the ground in 60 days, they said, to honor their ancestors and tell the truth.

FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT: The case of Hayden Griffith, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and the Delaware Tribe, who was forbidden to don an eagle feather for her high school graduation, has landed in federal court.

COAL OPS CHALLENGED: Environmental groups announced they plan to sue the federal government for its recent approval of ongoing operations at the Navajo Mine, which supplies the notoriously polluting Four Corners Power Plant in the eastern Navajo Nation. The plant and mine operate alongside the San Juan River, home to two endangered fish species.

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