The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, May 8, 2016


Disenrollment gets the bird as it burgeons to ridiculous proportions, Kennewick man is finally coming home, and Shoni Schimmel is set to hit the Big Apple. That plus fires in the Alberta oil sands, the murder of an 11-year-old Navajo girl, and much more gripped Indian country over the past week.

ANCIENT ANCESTOR: For years, the Colville, Nez Perce, Umatilla, Wanapum and Yakama peoples told the world who the Ancient One is: an ancestor. On April 26, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ruled that the remains of the person who came to be known as the Kennewick Man is indeed Native American and most closely related to the people of the Colville Tribes. The ruling sets the stage for the return, under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, of the Ancient One’s remains to the place where his loved ones first interred him some 9,000 years ago.

DIRECT CONTACT: After two decades of trying to get the Catholic Church to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) ICTMN contributor and legal scholar, finally got to ask the Pope to do so in person. “On May 4, 1493 Pope Alexander VI issued the Inter Caetera papal bull which called for non-Christian nations to be reduced and subjugated (“barbare nationes deprimantur”),” wrote Newcomb, a co-producer of the . “On May 4, 2013, 200 years after our great Shawnee leader Tecumseh fell in battle on October 5, 1813, Dr. Debra Harry (Paiute Nation), Sharon Venne (Cree Nation, Treaty Six) and I saw two velum parchment originals of the papal bull at the General Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain.

“On May 4, 2016 I had the rare opportunity in St. Peter’s Square to call on Pope Francis to formally revoke that document.”Newcomb handed Pope Francis both a statement and a copy of his book Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum Books, 2008). The Pope said he would read them.

DISENROLLMENT GETS THE BIRD: Last summer, Sherman Alexie sounded off on disenrollment with a profane Tweet that went viral. At a recent reading, sporting a t-shirt bearing the Nooksack 306 logo, Alexie said he is “disgusted” with the whole notion of disenrollment. He punctuated that statement with a middle finger and a note he wrote on a Post-it similar to those taken for the Stop Disenrollment movement: “F--- Your Disenrollment Bullshit.” That would seem to be borne out by the experience of 132 Elem Pomo Indians—everyone on their California reservation—who were disenrolled by relatives living outside the community.

SHONI SCHIMMEL HITS THE BIG APPLE: WNBA All-Star former Atlanta Dream point guard Shoni Schimmel is headed to Iroquois territory after being traded to the New York Liberty. Schimmel was acquired from the Dream for a second-round draft pick. In an exclusive interview, Schimmel spoke about her excitement at the move.

MISS INDIAN WORLD: The 25-year-old Arizona State University law school student Danielle Ta' Sheena Finn (Standing Rock Sioux) was chosen as the 2016 Miss Indian World among 23 other contestants. Throughout her year-long reign, Finn will speak on two of Indian country's most important issues—language preservation and suicide prevention.

NAVAJO TRAGEDY: The FBI and Navajo Nation Police are investigating the murder of an 11-year-old Navajo girl whose body was found off a dirt road Tuesday morning near Shiprock, New Mexico. Ashlynne Mike and her brother, 9-year-old Ian Mike, were abducted after getting off the school bus in the Navajo community of Lower Fruitland, New Mexico. More than 500 people gathered for a candlelight vigil as 27-year-old Tom Begaye, of Waterflow, New Mexico, was arrested.

OIL SANDS FIRESTORM: First Nations members and communities in and around Fort McMurray, Alberta, are among those under siege in a massive wildfire that caused the evacuation of 88,000 people—the entire population of this city that is a hub for production in the notorious oil sands region. Surrounding communities were evacuated as well, including Fort McMurray First Nation No. 468, with 277 residents. First Nation communities across the province welcomed evacuees from Fort McMurray as they fled their decimated town, even as they reached out to their own members to make sure they were accounted for.

LOCAL HERO: The noted indigenous activist from Peru, Maxima Acuña de Chaupe, was one of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize winners for her battles to protect her land from a multinational mining company that has sent private security and police to harass and assault her and her family. Acuna de Chaupe was selected for the 2016 prize for “years of principled resistance to the Colorado-based gold-seeking conglomerate Newmont Mining Company.”

GATHERING OF NATIONS: The Gathering of Nations was held as usual at the University of New Mexico this year, but it turned out to be the last time, as the institution announced it would no longer host the annual pow wow. But no sooner had UNM made the announcement than racist comments started flooding in on the story run by KRQE-TV News in Albuquerque.

HEALTH WIN: A recent federal court decision is a game-changer for tribal economies and the overall health and well-being of American Indians and Alaska Natives, with the creation of a $265-million Native American-controlled trust to benefit AI/AN farmers and ranchers, the largest such trust ever created. The money is left over from the fund set up by Congress in 2011 to settle claims of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture against Native American food producers.

UNDER (COAL) FIRE: A Navajo environmental group has filed suit over continuing operations at the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant on the eastern Navajo Nation near Farmington, New Mexico. The suit underscores a longstanding complaint by Navajo activists alleging that the Navajo Nation took on a bad deal in 2013 when it bought the Navajo Mine, which supplies the plant’s coal. 

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