The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, March 20, 2016


Sacred places saved from industrialization, a Presidential candidate who is paying overt attention to Native issues, and standing firm on treaty rights were headline grabbers during the past week in Indian country. Spring came, and a missing family of five caused concern.

‘BERNING’ UP: Indian country continued feeling the Bern, with support for Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders growing. His wife, Jane Sanders, visited Oak Flat and spoke with members of Apache Stronghold to show support for their attempt to keep Resolution Copper out of their sacred land. In an interview with ICTMN’s Simon Moya-Smith during her visit, she declared that she “could not understand” the lack of attention given to Native issues. Meanwhile her husband condemned the racist name of the Washington DC football team as Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye endorsed him.

TRUMPING DRUMPF: Meanwhile, 120 protesters including Natives blocked a road leading to a rally for Republican frontrunner Donald Drumpf in Arizona, one of them holding a sign reading, “Natives Against Drumpf.”

BACK IN THE GAME: In other election news, former Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly announced a return to politics with a run for the New Mexico House of Representatives.

SACRED SITES SAVED: The Grand Canyon was saved from a massive commercial development at its south entrance after nearly 200,000 comments, letters, petition signatures and other opposition led the U.S. Forest Service to reject proposed enhancements of roads and utility infrastructure in Kaibab National Forest that would have enabled the project by Italian firm Gruppo Stilo. A few days later the U.S. Bureau of Land Management permanently canceled an oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine region in northwest Montana on March 17, in effect keeping land culturally and traditionally sacred to the Blackfeet Nation off limits to oil and gas development by leaseholder Solenex LLC of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And in another victory, sacred Oak Flat was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, a move that could help preserve it from mining but is not guaranteed to.

STRUGGLES CONTINUE: Meanwhile, other sacred places are still under siege. The $3.4 billion Dakota Access pipeline is all set to transport Bakken crude through four states, and the Standing Rock Sioux may be the only entity with legal power to stop it. And a three-day event outside Phoenix, Waters Connect Us, drew water protectors from across the Northern Hemisphere to bring attention to threats to this most precious of resources from all kinds of industrial development.

STILL FIGHTING FOR THE TREATIES: Federal treaty rights legislation readied itself for another round as two Leech Lake Ojibwe Band members went to court after being arrested for trespassing while harvesting deer.

WOMEN MAKING IT ALL HAPPEN: Continuing coverage of Women’s History Month, we chose a total of 10 Native female warriors, in two groups of five. First came Wilma Mankiller, LaDonna Harris, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Ellen Gabriel (Katsitsakwas) and Grace Thorpe (No-Ten-O-Quah), followed by Janet McCloud (Yet-Si-Blue), Mary Brave Bird (Mary Crow Dog), Ingrid Washinawatok (O-Peqtaw Metamoh) and Berta Caceres, the activist for the Lenca people of Honduras who was gunned down in her own home earlier this month.

INSIDE JOB? As protests continued worldwide over the assassination of Cáceres, her family, friends and other associates accused the DESA Corporation, the Honduran Government and its military and police of complicity in the killing. The international outcry included fellow Goldman Environmental Prize winner Marilyn Baptiste, Nits'il?in Yaz/Councillor, Xeni Gwet'in First Nations, who called on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to press for an investigation. The Honduran government said it is working to get to the bottom of the crime, even as Cáceres’s fellow activist Nelson García was gunned down as well.

MARCHING FOR PEACE: The family of Jacqueline Salyers, a Puyallup tribal member who was shot dead by a Tacoma, Washington, police officer on January 28, held a peaceful march demanding justice. Their pain was even more keen in light of the revelation that she was pregnant when she died.

TRIALS AND TRIUMPHS: Rising above a traumatic life incident, Onondaga boxer Lawrence Gabriel, (Eel Clan) made his professional debut on a brisk Saturday night in Liverpool, New York at the Holiday Inn Convention Center, winning in a four-round, unanimous decision one year after he was shot four times.

CRIMES AND MYSTERIES: A South Dakota couple who died in a murder-suicide six months ago may have embezzled money that was meant to improve college readiness among Native American students, Attorney General Marty Jackley announced on March 16, saying that more than $1 million had been either lost or stolen. Elsewhere, an entire Osage family of five has been missing for three weeks, causing much concern among family and friends.

IDITAROD TRAGEDY AND TRIUMPH: Arnold Demoski turned himself in as the rogue snowmobiler who slammed into two teams along the Iditarod dogsled race route, killing one dog and injuring others, as well as terrifying two mushers. Demoski said he had been drunk at the time and did not remember any of the incident but had seen the damage to his snowmobile. It was a stark reminder of the degree of substance abuse problems in the Alaska wilderness. The race ended with a third consecutive win for Dallas Seavey, 28, the youngest to win three consecutive titles (2016, 2015, 2014) when he crossed the finish line in Nome at 2:20 a.m. on March 15.

NEMO GOES NAVAJO: Walt Disney and Pixar Studios collaborated with the Navajo Nation Museum to offer Finding Nemo in theaters completely translated and dubbed into Navajo by Native speakers, shown for free.

SPRING HAS SPRUNG: At 12:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on March 20, spring officially arrived. 

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