The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, March 6, 2016


A tragic start to Women’s History Month, major wins and shout-outs for The Revenant and its indigenous actors, and bilingual street signs made their mark in Indian country this past week.

INTERNATIONAL OUTRAGE: The tragic and horrific slaying of indigenous leader and activist Berta Cáceres (Lenca), who was murdered in her sleep by assailants who broke into her home in Honduras, has outraged the world. Cáceres was internationally known for winning the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her advocacy on behalf of the Lenca people, who have been battling against the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River, as well as her frequent opposition to the U.S.-sanctioned coup government and subsequent administrations of Honduras. The killing was widely condemned by international human rights organizations.

AND THE WINNER IS… Natives were seen, heard and worn at the Oscars on February 28, with the fashion creations of Bethany Yellowtail showing up on the red carpet, and newly minted Academy member Sonny Skyhawk, Rosebud Sioux Tribal Nation, inclined to don a war bonnet for the festivities. As predicted by his Golden Globe win, Leonardo DiCaprio took home the Best Actor Oscar and used his moment to exhort the world to pay attention to climate change and give another shout-out to the Indigenous Peoples who worked on the film, as did winning director Alejandro Iñárritu. To boot, the camera cut away to the faces of Native actors Duane Howard, Forrest Goodluck and Arthur RedCloud during the acceptance speeches. Craig Falcon, Blackfeet/White Clay and one of the two Native American cultural advisers for “The Revenant,” said he was impressed with the efforts of the film company to accurately portray the various Native cultures in the movie. Shuswap actress Grace Dove told ICTMN what it was like to play the wife of DiCaprio’s character in the movie.

UP AND COMING: The Oscars weren’t the only film arena where indigenous people shown. Hunting in Wartime, a documentary about Tlingit veterans from Hoonah, Alaska who saw combat during the Vietnam War, won the Big Sky Award at the Big Sky Film Festival in Missoula, Montana. A slew of Ojibwe filmmakers are exploring contemporary indigenous identity. And Native Hawaiian filmmaker Ciara Leina'ala Lacy (Kanaka Maoli) has become the first recipient of the Merata Mita Fellowship from the Sundance Institute. The fellowship provides financial support, access to strategic and creative services and mentorship opportunities.

WOMENS HISTORY CELEBRATED: March is Women’s History Month, and Native women are in the vanguard. Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, and the late Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, Seminole, are both being honored by the National Women’s History Project, a nonprofit educational organization founded in 1980 to bring women’s stories and contributions to the fore. The project was the force behind getting Congress to designate Women’s History Month officially. The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is highlighting indigenous women’s contributions with several events. ICTMN also published a poem in honor of Women’s History Month, “The Feminine Magic That Is Us.”

WALKING FOR (AND ON) WATER: Josephine Mandamin, the Ojibwe grandmother (Wikwemikong First Nation) who has trudged the perimeters of all five Great Lakes and countless other waterways for a total of more than 10,000 miles, has been recognized for her years of conservation effort by a Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award, one of Canada’s highest honors.

DISSING DISENROLLMENT: In just its first week after launch, a crowdsource campaign opposed to the practice of disenrollment—when an indigenous nation’s government strips a member of citizenship—had garnered more than 140 photos posted and more than 100 on the campaign’s Facebook page. The #StopDisenrollment had also received more than 100,000 views. According to the campaign, more than 80 federally recognized Native Nations in 17 states have disenrolled their kin. The campaign estimates that as many as 10,000 Indigenous Peoples have been disenrolled in the U.S.

SIGNING THE WAY: Bilingual street signs have been installed in the city of Port Angeles, on the north end of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, at two intersections. It was done to honor the local Klallam people, whose culture has existed in the area for approximately 10,000 years, and serves to keep the Klallam language alive.

VOTING RIGHTS UPHELD: A federal judge has ruled that the election districts for San Juan County, Utah’s school board and county commission are unconstitutional. Decisions handed down in December 2015 and February 2016, respectively, ordered redistricting for each group. San Juan County overlaps a northern portion of the Navajo Nation’s reservation.

JACKPOT: The South Korean government has awarded the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority a licensing agreement to develop the world's first and only destination resort with an adjacent private air terminal. The project to be built at South Korea’s Incheon International Airport is estimated to cost $5 billion.

STILL NO ANSWERS: Police released a chilling voice mail related to the 2012 murder of university student Faith Hedgepeth. The voicemail—likely the result of an accidental “pocket dial”—may have recorded the final moments of Hedgepeth’s life. A student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a member of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe, the 19-year-old was brutally beaten inside her apartment.

MAKING (GRAVITATIONAL) WAVES: The discovery of gravitational waves that rocked the science world in February was made possible partially to the efforts of Siksika (Northern Blackfoot) lead operator Corey Gray, who spoke with ICTMN about the momentous discovery and his role in it.

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