The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, May 15, 2016


A historic victory for treaty rights and salmon, a welcome declaration about a declaration, and the bison getting its due—that was just some of the good news that poured out of Indian country last week.

UN DECLARATION TO BECOME LAW: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Carolyn Bennett opened the 15th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues by announcing that the country would incorporate the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into federal law. A standing ovation greeted the news on the UN floor, and Indigenous Peoples in Canada welcomed the announcement, but their optimism was guarded.

WIN FOR TREATIES AND SALMON: Northwest tribes were elated after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for a proposed coal shipping terminal in the Lummi Nation’s historical territory on May 9, ruling that the potential impacts to the Lummi’s usual and accustomed fishing rights could not be mitigated.

BISON RECOGNIZED: Recognizing the importance of the bison in numerous American Indian cultures, President Barack Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law on May 9, making bison the national mammal. The bill had received congressional support on both sides of the aisle: The House of Representatives passed it on April 26 and the Senate on April 28.

BOUND IN GRIEF: Renowned author Louise Erdrich, Turtle Mountain Ojibwe, has come out with another novel, this one detailing the intertwining of two families linked by a small boy’s accidental death. The novel tells a story of families and tragedies spanning generations.

JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. DAKOTA PIPELINE: With only days left to go until the Army Corps of Engineers decides whether to allow the potentially devastating Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under the Missouri River a few feet north of the Standing Rock Reservation, the Tribe’s efforts to stop the pipeline in a campaign called #RezpectOurWater are gaining serious traction. Three stars from the upcoming Justice League film—Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller and Ray Fisher—have published messages in support of Standing Rock and in protest of the pipeline on social media channels.

FIGHTING FOR OPEN SPACE AND CULTURE: A group of Native Americans and environmentalists are fighting to protect a 400-acre property from development in Newport Beach, California. Known as the Banning Ranch, the property is the last remaining open space in Orange County. Environmental activists are concerned about sensitive habitats, while Native people are concerned about protecting ancestral and cultural remains.

STRUGGLE CONTINUES: Maxima Acuña de Chaupe, this year’s recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, spoke to ICTMN about the honor and the continued struggle to protect the land where her family grows potatoes and tends dairy cows. Meanwhile, there were arrests in the murder of another Goldman Prize winner, Berta Cáceres. Family and supporters of the Lenca activist who was shot to death in her home in Honduras on March 3, were not surprised to learn that three of the five men arrested work for either the DESA Corporation, against whom Cáceres had protested for their plans to build a hydroelectric dam on Lenca territory, or the Honduran military.

THE NEW REMOVAL: Climate change has joined colonization as a force removing Indigenous Peoples from their lands, with the inhabitants of Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana—a community itself cobbled from the remnants of various tribal members who were removed from other lands onto this precarious piece of coastline in the 1800s—forced to move due to sea level rise.

RETURNING REMAINS: The U.S. Army has agreed to pay the cost of returning the remains of nearly 200 children interred on the grounds of what is now the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania but was once the Carlisle Indian School. They are casualties of a federal policy to “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

DYING FOR LACK OF CARE: Natives are still dying for lack of care, as a new report found. The federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) has rapped the Indian Health Service for not setting national standards or overseeing waiting times at its facilities. IHS “has not conducted any systematic, agency-wide oversight of the timeliness of primary care,” GAO found in its report to Congress. Instead, it has delegated the responsibility to its area offices and has not set any nationwide standards for waiting times.

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