The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, May 22, 2016


A high school’s moccasin change of heart, a tourist’s good-intention-paved road to hell, and the spiritual language shared by Bears Ears sacred site supporters and a high-ranking Tibetan monk—this plus a bogus poll made for some compelling stories in Indian country over the past week.

THEY SAID WHAT NOW? Native Americans, from individuals to the top-ranking leaders of Turtle Island, reacted with incredulity to a Washington Post poll claiming that nine out of 10 out of 504 “ordinary Indians” interviewed had no problem with the Washington DC football team name. “Really?” wrote ICTMN contributor Tara Houska. “I have a pretty good idea of what would happen if a non-Native approached a group of Natives on a reservation and greeted them with ‘Hello, redsk*ns!’ It wouldn’t end with a friendly rendition of ‘Hail to Redsk*ns,’ that’s for sure.” Culture editor Simon Moya-Smith interviewed Native American leaders who said the study “is flawed for primarily two reasons: First, that it does not take into account the empirical research that found words like ‘redskin’ and ‘savage’ harm the mental health of Native American youths; and secondly, that more than half—56 percent—of the respondents self-identify as Native American.” ICTMN Arts and Entertainment editor Vincent Schilling conducted his own impromptu poll, via Twitter, with the accompanying hash tag #IAmNativeIWasNotAsked, which trended immediately. And the paltry numbers speak for themselves: With 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States, 504 is far from a representative sample. “In a country with 566 federally recognized reservations (not including the Pamunkey, up for Federal, and the multitude of State or unrecognized tribes) this roughly equates to less than one person per federally recognized tribe,” Schilling noted.

CHANGE OF HEART: A Sapulpa Oklahoma High School that initially refused to allow Native American graduating senior Liseanne Yazzie to wear traditional moccasins to her graduation ceremony changed its stance and will allow traditional dress. The school mascot is a Native American chief wearing a headdress, which made the initial ban a surprise.

FINED BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: Actress Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical, Spring Breakers, Grease Live) agreed to pay a $1,000 fine for carving a Valentine’s Day message on the rock formations at the Coconino National Forest in Sedona, Arizona for an Instagram post.

WHITE HOUSE HONORS: President Barack Obama honored two remarkable American Indian teachers at the White House on National Teacher Appreciation Day on May 3. Lana Toya, Pueblo of Jemez, and Shana Brown, Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Nation, were wined, dined and entertained in the East Wing, then treated to a military honor guard, a concert, a greeting from the president and an address by the National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes. Meanwhile, in New Mexico, Santa Fe Indian School is preparing to host First Lady Michelle Obama, who will address the 2016 graduating class on May 26.

DECORATED: Lac du Flambeau Chippewa tribal member Joane Mathews became Wisconsin's first female general officer in the Army National Guard. She was already the first female commander of First Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment, as well as Wisconsin’s first non-medical female colonel.

DUNKER EXTRAORDINAIRE: Dunker Kenny Dobbs, 32-year-old member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, appeared as a contestant on the TNT show The Dunk King, doing what he does best and aiming to net $100,000.

RIGHTS FIGHTS: The Onondaga Nation has found itself once again fighting to regain control of Murphy’s Island, a Superfund site that was supposed to be returned to the Onondaga this year. Nullifying a 2011 resolution that would have given the Nation a 36-acre parcel of land on the southern shore of Onondaga Lake, the Onondaga County Legislature in April ruled that instead it would be made into public land bisected by a footpath. Across the country, Clayvin Herrera, captain of the Crow Fish and Game Department, is fighting in court to assert his treaty right to hunt elk off-season in Wyoming adjacent to the reservation.

PRAYERS AND SPIRITUAL ENERGY: Tribal leaders supporting the creation of Bears Ears National Monument hosted the renowned Tibetan monk His Holiness the Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang, the highest leader of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and United Nations Ambassador for Mountain People of the world. His Holiness prayed at the sacred site, then gathered with tribal members in Monument Valley.

ABOUT THOSE GOOD INTENTIONS AND THE ROAD TO HELL: Two tourists, a father and a son, loaded a bison calf into their SUV to save it from what they thought was starvation and a chill. They ended up causing its demise because park officials had to euthanize it when it proved impossible to return the newborn bison to its herd.

MISSING MEN: The Oglala Sioux Tribe declared a State of Emergency on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in a search for three young men who went missing on May 7. Juan Lamont, 24, Tevin Tyon, 21, and Tyrell Wilson, 23, were last seen on Pine Ridge driving a 2006 Buick Lacrosse with South Dakota plate number F2893 after telling people they were going for a ride in the country. 

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