The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, May 29, 2016


A tragic end to a frantic search, an 8-year-old walks on, and the Bering Strait land bridge theory gets busted open once again. These were just some of the headlines grabbing Indian country this past week. Oh, and this happened: First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at the Santa Fe Indian School.

FIRST LADY BONDS IN SANTA FE: First Lady Michelle Obama wowed and inspired the crowds when she spoke at the Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico. It was by all accounts an unforgettable day.

TRAGIC RESOLUTION: Three young Lakota men who had been missing for more than two weeks were found dead on Monday May 23. Tevin Tyon, 21, Tyrell Wilson, 23, and Juan Lamont, 24, were found just before 9 p.m. inside the Buick Lacrosse. The vehicle was found in the White River on the Pine Ridge reservation from what appears to be a single car rollover accident.

WALKING ON AT 8 YEARS OLD: Valentino Tzigiwhaeno Rivera, Pueblo of Pojoaque, could dance before he could walk. By the time he was 6, he had performed in European capitals and had competed in the World Hoop Dance Competition in Arizona. On May 16 he walked on, more than a year after a car accident caused irreparable spinal injuries, after a random driver had a fatal heart attack and lost control of his car.

ADVOCATING FOR TRIBES VS. RIOTING IN THE STREETS: Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders roused crowds on three South Dakota stops this month with messages of environmental protection, economic rights, and reforming the federal government’s relationship with tribes. In his wake he left behind “an energy and excitement among South Dakota Natives unmatched by any other presidential candidate” and brought his support in Indian country “to even greater heights,” reported Sarah Sunshine Manning. Moreover, the party’s appointment of Deborah Parker to the Democratic National Convention’s Platform Committee is “both remarkable and important,” wrote Mark Trahant. “She was appointed by Bernie Sanders.”In contrast, supporters and detractors of the Republican presumed Presidential nominee Donald Drumpf rioted in the streets outside a rally in downtown Albuquerque after what started as a peaceful protest quickly degenerated. Though there were Natives on both sides, many groups joined in opposition of Drumpf because of his bigotry and lack of experience in dealing with tribes.

‘WE DID IT, WE WON!’: Thanks to the win of Tawna Sanchez, of Shoshone-Bannock, Ute and Carrizo descent, the Oregon legislature may yet get a Native member. Sanchez won the primary election (and most likely the general) to represent Northeast Portland in the Legislature. It’s the first time the state’s legislature has had a Native member since Jacqueline Taylor, Citizens Band of Potawatomi, served during the 1990s.

BERING STRAIT BUSTED AGAIN: A new study published in Science Advances Journal provided more evidence that the established scientific dogma regarding the peopling of the Americas is deeply flawed. The discovery of stone tools and mastodon bones together underwater in the Aucilla River near Tallahassee proved conclusively that the practice of butchering the long-extinct animals was in place 1,500 years before previous historic estimates—long before the land bridge was thought to have been used.

NO LETUP: Indigenous environmental activists continued to be under attack in Honduras, with another one—Alexander Garcia Sorto—shot at by ex-Honduran military. The activist's allies, which include the organization directed by the slain Berta Cáceres, protested the freeing of the alleged shooter on bail, calling the situation is very similar to that of Cáceres.

DAKOTA ACCESS: The company Dakota Access LLC has begun building its eponymous pipeline, even as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other entities work to prevent it. The 1,150-mile project would carry crude oil from western North Dakota to Illinois. But obstacles stand in the way in Iowa, where regulators have declined to allow construction just yet.

PARIS JUST WONT QUIT: National Museum of the American Indian officials, U.S. government officials and tribal leaders held an emergency press conference in Washington’s NMAI to try and stop the sale of human remains and Native sacred objects scheduled for Monday, Memorial Day, May 30th through the Eve Auction house in Paris. Several such auctions, all protested, have been held over the past few years.

NOT TAKING NO FOR AN ANSWER: The proponent of a rejected coal shipping terminal in Lummi Nation’s historical territory is “looking at all its options” and “will decide shortly how we plan to proceed,” the company’s vice president wrote in a letter to ICTMN. Bob Watters of SSA Marine said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ denial of his company’s permit based on the project’s potential impacts to Lummi’s historical fishing areas is “a political decision rather than a regulatory decision.”

TRUDEAU TEST? Nearly 300 academics warned of ecological disaster if the plan to flood the Peace Valley in northern British Columbia goes forward in the project known as the Site C dam, even as construction on the $8.8 billion project proceeds. The academics and scientists warned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the project is ill-advised both for environmental and treaty reasons, while First Nations are calling the project and other large-scale industrial developments something of a litmus test on whether Trudeau truly means to rebuild relations with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

ALARMING STATISTICS: More than four out of five American Indian and Alaska Native women and men have experienced violence—specifically sexual violence, physical violence by intimate partners, stalking, and psychological aggression by intimate partners—in their lifetimes, according to estimates in a new report from the National Institute of Justice, an arm of the U.S. Justice Department. The report, “Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men: 2010 Findings from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey,” is based on a large nationwide survey, whereas most other estimates are based on much smaller, local surveys.

IVY LEAGUE HONORS: Ending on a positive note, Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, co-director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at the American Indian College Fund and Senior Program Officer for early childhood education initiatives, was named the 2016 recipient of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Alumni Council Award for Outstanding Contribution.

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