The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, May 1, 2016


The bison takes its place as a symbol of Turtle Island, the Native world mourns Prince, and an indigenous model gets written up in Teen Vogue. All this and more last week in Indian country.

BISON BOOST: The U.S. House of Representatives on April 26 passed the National Bison Legacy Act designating it as the national mammal, and the Senate followed suit on April 28. The bill now goes to the President’s desk for signing. He is not expected to veto.

LONG-SOUGHT VICTORY: After decades of activism and 12 years of litigation, the Pit River Tribe and allies scored a landmark victory in federal court when Judge John Mendez ruled the Bureau of Land Management had illegally extended 26 geothermal leases to Calpine Corp. without any tribal consultation or environmental review.

STILL A MASTER: A year ago famed Cherokee guitarist Michael Bucher was contemplating a life without music after losing three fingers in a table-saw accident on his pick hand. Then he discovered Pick Honey, and it saved his playing ability, enabling his return to the stage and studio.

FUNKY FAREWELL: Gyasi Ross spoke of his love for Prince, and interviewed other Natives about theirs, reminding us that there does not have to be a direct Native connotation to an issue for it to be relevant to and resonate with Native people.

GOLD KING FALLOUT: Fallout from the Gold King Mine spill continued, as Sen. John McCain Arizona Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of neglect for its response to Navajo communities after a Colorado mine spill polluted the San Juan River last August. McCain demanded a criminal investigation.

TEEN VOGUE GOES NATIVE: Daunnette Reyome from the Omaha tribe in Nebraska was among seven young models profiled in a recent Teen Vogue feature, “7 Girls Show What Beauty Looks Like When It’s Not Appropriated.”

DAKOTA ACCESS OPPOSITION PILES UP: Three federal agencies—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation—have stepped into the public fray over the $3.4 billion, 1,134-mile-long Dakota Access Pipeline that conglomerate Energy Transfer wants to run through four states.

BERTA LIVES ON: International outrage at the March 3 murder of Lenca activist Berta Cáceres came to a boil with an event last month, “Berta Cáceres Lives,” That was the theme of a protest that brought together activists from around the world dedicated to seeing an independent investigation of her assassination. Many believe her murder was ordered by the DESA Corporation of Honduras, with help from the Honduran government.

TRUMP’S TRIBAL TERROR: One of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s five principal foreign policy advisors was counsel in a lawsuit to prevent the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes from taking over a dam on tribal land, formerly known as Kerr Dam and now called Salish-Kootenai Dam. The “legal” theory asserted to keep the tribes from acquiring the dam on their property was that the acquisition of it was part of a terrorist plot to help Turkey acquire nuclear materials. The truth is that the Salish and Kootenai people have had no dealings whatsoever with Turkey about hydropower, let alone nuclear materials.

APOLOGETIC AND (HOPEFULLY) CHASTENED: U.S. Representative Todd Russ, R-Oklahoma, apologized profusely for remarking that indigenous people were “predisposed to alcoholism,” saying he had based his comments on "outdated information." He apparently had not received the memo about a recent study that found that Native Americans are no more likely to be alcoholics than anyone else.

HONORS AND GRATITUDE: Daystar Rosalie Jones—a dancer, choreographer, educator, author, and agent of change—received the Institute of American Indian Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in a touching tribute. And Ernie Stensgar, vice chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, received the prestigious Tribal Leader of the Year Award from the Native American Finance Officers Association for his work helping grow the Coeur d’Alene Tribe during his stint as chairman from 1986 through 2004: Its current annual economic impact is $330 million.

HILL GOES ‘OFF THE REZ’: Democratic presidential front runner Hillary Clinton used a term offensive to Native Americans in her description of Donald Trump. On April 29, Clinton described the Republican frontrunner as being "off the reservation" with his comments against her. "I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave and how they speak," Clinton said on CNN's "The Lead" with Jake Tapper.

GREAT GRAND CANYON: Tribal leaders joined Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, on April 28 to urge President Barack Obama to designate 1.7 million acres around the Grand Canyon as a national monument, bypassing Congress in the process.

BITTERSWEET COMMEMORATION: Indian country, like all of the United States, marks the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service. And yet, those national parks are so much more than beautiful lands and the breathtaking works of our Creator. They are some of the most sacred spaces to Native Americans, and each space, carries our stories, and our teachings, wrote Sarah Sunshine Manning in a tribute to these sacred spaces and their origins.

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