The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, January 24, 2016


A school shooting in remote Saskatchewan, Hollywood debuts, and a tragic trophy killing were highlights this week in Indian country, with the release of The Revenant, the Presidential State of the Union speech, and—coming full circle—the senseless slaughter of an elk nicknamed Hollywood for his movie-star appeal. Almost lost in the shuffle were a historic land deal and a departed, influential poet. Let’s get to it.

HORROR AT SCHOOL: In an occurrence rare to this part of Turtle Island, a gunman opened fire on Friday January 22 at La Loche Community School in La Loche, Saskatchewan, Canada, a largely indigenous town adjoining Clearwater River Dene Nation. Four people were killed, including a teacher, and a 17-year-old student is in custody. At least two were critically injured in a tragedy that has shaken all of Canada. The story continues to unfold.

HELD RESPONSIBLE: Meanwhile, related to another school shooting, the father of the student who gunned down five friends, including two cousins—four of whom died—at school on the Tulalip Nation in 2014 has been sentenced to two years in prison and three years probation for firearms violations. One of the guns that 42-year-old Raymond Lee Fryberg Jr. owned, a Beretta PX4 Storm pistol, was used by his 15-year-old son Jaylen Fryberg in the shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School on October 24, 2014. Jaylen died as well.

REVENGE AND REDEMPTION: The Revenant continued to be hotly debated in Indian country. While the movie was pretty much historically accurate in its depiction of Native people and the climate of the times, it falls short of being a game-changer, according to one take. Others said it was “not for the fainthearted,” though lauded the stunning cinematography. Still another commentary said it remakes movie mythology.

MORE HOLLYWOOD: Charles H. Red Corn’s novel of murder in oil-rich 1920’s Osage Country, A Pipe for February, has been greenlighted for production as a feature film. Set in 1924 Pawhuska, the story is told from the perspective of an Osage tribal member, the fictitious John Grayeagle, who along with his family and friends tries to escape from individuals preying on the tribes’ newfound wealth due to the discovery of oil reserves on their land. Meanwhile, another major feature film, about heroism in the Benghazi incident in which Chris Stevens, Chinook, was killed, profiles him as the true hero of that tragedy, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi notwithstanding.

TOP OF THE HEAP: The Skaná Spa at Turning Stone resort—owned by Indian Country Today Media Network’s parent company—has been rated the third-best spa in the world by Spas of America.

ARTIFACTS HELD HOSTAGE: As the occupation of a building in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge by an armed group entered its third week, the Burns Paiute Tribe asked the federal government to take action to save the 4,000 artifacts that are essentially being held hostage. The tribe demanded federal action under both the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 and a "protection against bad men” provision in the treaty the tribe signed with the United States in 1868.

ELK MURDERERS SOUGHT: An elk known as Hollywood for his willingness to have his photo taken by his many fans was found decapitated on the J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve on the Cherokee Nation. Rewards totaling in the thousands of dollars are being offered as the perpetrators are sought for the illegal taking in what was clearly a trophy hunt.

‘RE-PETE’: Pete Kaiser won a second consecutive Kuskokwim 300 dogsled race on January 17, completing the 300-mile course from Bethel to Aniak and back in 40 hours 36 minutes and 21 seconds—8 minutes ahead of Brent Sass of Eureka. Kaiser, Yup’ik, took home $25,000; he also won the Best in the West award.

STATE OF THE UNION: American Indian college students Lydia Doza, Inupiaq/Tsimshian/Haida, and Carielle Bahe, Navajo, attended President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address on January 12. Doza was invited by the White House and sat in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box, while Bahe, the guest of Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., watched from the House of Representatives gallery. They rated the address as “inspirational” and “optimistic.”

HEATING UP, AND NOT IN A GOOD WAY: No sooner had a new study come out saying that First Nation fisheries in British Columbia could be devastated in coming years by climate change, than U.S. agencies announced that 2015 was the warmest year on record. Both NOAA and NASA both attributed the rising temperatures to human activity.

LAND REGAINED: The Isleta Pueblo regained 90,151 acres of land, or 140 square miles known as the Comanche Ranch, into federal trust, adding 50 percent to the size of the reservation.

SUING TO VOTE: Seven people who were shut out of voting in 2014 in North Dakota due to a new state law about proving identity have sued in federal court. Native voters who were disenfranchised in 2014 filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s recently enacted limitations on the types of documents that can be used to obtain a ballot.

POET WALKS ON: Chicano poet Francisco X. Alarcón, a master at code switching, walked on at age 61. He “took the staple of Indian poetry we call code switching to a whole other level,” noted Steve Russell in memoriam.

PLANET-PALOOZA: Turtle Island has a chance to catch a pre-dawn glimpse of five planets arrayed in an arc across the eastern sky for the next couple of weeks. The spectacle goes through February 20, but the best time to see the lineup of Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury—rising in that order, starting around 9:20p.m. Eastern Time with Jupiter—is the last week in January and the first week in February. Such an alignment has not been seen since 2005.

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