The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, February 14, 2016


From Valentine’s Day to crimes of the heart, the week has been full of events in Indian country. Here are the highlights.

HEARTFELT: Nothing says “I love you” better than a beaded selfie stick. This and other choice items are included in ICTMN’s tongue-in-cheek list of 10 Native Valentine gifts. On a more seriously romantic note, followers of the website Open Table have voted the dining establishments of Turning Stone (owned, as it happens, by ICTMN’s parent company) as among the 100 most romantic eateries. The rankings reflect the combined opinions of more than five million restaurant reviews submitted by verified Open Table diners for more than 20,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

HEARTBREAKING: Beyond romance, Valentine’s Day is also used to commemorate the more than 1,200 murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada, and today is no exception. Marches are being held in Vancouver and across Canada to memorialize the victims and comfort the families. Meanwhile, the data appear to give conflicting reports as to the scope and roots of the problem.

HEARTENING: Weary of the disenrollment controversy, those opposed to the practice have launched a campaign to draw attention to why it should stop. Indigenous People across Turtle Island are putting their palms in the air to commence a national advocacy campaign: #stopdisenrollment. The STOP Disenrollment movement follows the motto: “Not Indigenous, Not Traditional, Not Acceptable, Stop Disenrollment.”

DEFENDING HERITAGE: Two disparate events that caught Indian country’s attention this past week. One was the Navajo Nation’s ongoing suit against Urban Outfitters for the its appropriation of sacred symbols as design elements. The retailer asked a judge to limit how far back in time the tribe can go to seek money from the company’s products. As of press time, a ruling had not yet been issued. Also involving the Navajo, but in a different context, was controversy over the Diné Tsiiyééł (hair bun) worn by the Flagstaff High School Lady Eagles basketball team. Told to take their hair down, they did—but the rule backfired after a public outcry.

HERITAGE RESTORED: The Colville Confederated Tribes rejoiced in the return of pronghorn antelope to the reservation, 100 years after they were extirpated. Fifty-two pronghorns were released in the southwestern portion of the reservation on January 28.

NOURISHING HERITAGE: Native-owned and founded KivaSun Foods is spreading its nourishing product across Indian country with the recently won a contract with the USDA to supply 520,000 pounds of bison for inclusion in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) commodity offering. The all-natural, traditional Native food company founded by Notah Begay III (half Navajo, ¼ San Felipe and ¼ Isleta) also added antibiotic-free, no-added-hormone bison jerky to its product line. “A Native American-owned entity has come full circle and now has the honor to provide high-quality, traditional healthy food to Native American people who need it," Begay told ICTMN of the USDA deal.

MALPRACTICE: Conditions that rise to the level of malpractice at Indian Health Services facilities in the Great Plains area are killing people, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) said as he opened a February 3 oversight hearing based on new investigations by federal agencies and testimony from tribes.

SENTENCED: A district court judge has sentenced Alex Rios to 67.5 years in prison for beating two homeless Navajo men to death with cinder blocks and other objects in July 2014. Rios, who was 18 at the time of the attack, is one of three teens accused of killing Alison Gorman and Kee Thompson as they slept in an open field in northwest Albuquerque. Rios was found guilty in December of two counts of second-degree murder—each of which carried a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. He was also convicted of aggravated assault, tampering with evidence and armed robbery.

GUNNED DOWN: The family of Puyallup tribal member Jacqueline Salyers is demanding answers after Tacoma police shot her dead while trying to arrest her non-Native boyfriend on January 28. Her uncle and family spokesperson James Rideout said Salyers, 33, was in the driver’s seat of a parked car, while the person police were trying to apprehend, Kenneth Wright, Jr., was in the passenger seat. According to Tacoma Police Department spokesperson Loretta Cool, officers were in the area seeking Wright for outstanding felony warrants involving robbery, firearms and drugs.

SECOND CHANCE: He was almost killed by a hit-and-run driver, but pow wow dancer Isaac Wak Wak is rejoicing a year later, having gotten a second chance at life. Mowed down by a vehicle as he was leaving the National Western Stock Show on January 25, 2015, Colville Tribe member Wak Wak, a beloved figure in the Denver, Colorado, Native American community, endured 13 surgeries and months in the hospital. Today the 72-year-old is “doing fantastic” today, he said—walking with a cane, driving, and in excellent spirits. The driver has never been caught.

CANADIAN PROGRESS: Indigenous candidates continue to make headway on the local front after historic wins in last October’s federal election. Melanie Mark, a Nisga’a, Gitxsan, Ojibway and Cree mother of two, has made history as the first indigenous woman ever elected to the British Columbia legislature, trouncing the competition with more than 60 percent of the vote in a February 2 by-election. Add to that the recently announced run of Wab Kinew for the Manitoba Legislature. Kinew is the well-known Anishinaabe journalist, writer, university professor and musician who once rapped First Nations youth health statistics.

MONEY: President Barack Obama submitted a 2017 budget to Congress that included increased funding and support across the board for Indian country, most notably a request for $13.4 billion for the Department of the Interior—$61 million more than last year. The request supports meeting federal trust and treaty responsibilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives, as well as conserving important landscapes across the Nation, investing in the next century of the National Park Service and more. However, the extra $50 million the administration plans to put toward tribal housing does not begin to meet the need.

LOVE LETTER FROM THE UNIVERSE: It was the astronomical find of the century on February 11 when researchers announced proof of the existence of gravitational waves as predicted a hundred years ago by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity—and a Northern Blackfoot physicist was in the thick of the action as lead operator of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) in Hanford, Washington. The press release was translated into the Siksika (Blackfoot) language.

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