The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, June 19, 2016


An outpouring of grief and solace for Orlando, a fake news release debunked, and a dollop of exuberance garnished with a victory or two characterized the past week in Indian country, along with Father's Day, of course.

TRIBUTES AND CLARIFICATION: Solidarity in the wake of the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub combined this week with the need to set the record straight on what exactly constituted the “worse mass shooting in U.S. history,” as the tragedy was immediately characterized. Indian Country Today Media Network’s Simon Moya-Smith pointed out that Wounded Knee in 1890 fits the definition of a mass shooting, and with many more killed (300) than in Orlando. Moreover, he wrote, mass slaughter of this nature has been ongoing for hundreds of years. Further, the use of the second amendment and the promotion of gun ownership actually was started during the Indian Wars and used specifically against the Seminole Indians of Florida. Jeffrey Veregge and Gyasi Ross offered, respectively, their thoughts and hopes for a better tomorrow, along with a look at what contributes to anti-gay sentiments, starting with something as innocent as a childhood game. Meanwhile, up in Canada, aboriginal Senator Justice Murray Sinclair offered his condolences and paid tribute to the Orlando victims and noting the multiple dangers facing his openly gay daughter when it comes to being indigenous, a woman and not heterosexual. Lastly, artist Storme Webber (Alutiiq, Black and Choctaw), recipient of the 2015 James W. Ray Venture Project Award, noted that despite the honor traditionally accorded to two-spirit people in indigenous cultures, today they are often left out of mainstream celebrations and tribal communities, but that the ancestors know who we are.

THE OTHER FOUR-LETTER WORD: Young rape survivor Cierra Fields (Cherokee) spoke at the first United State of Women Summit. The 17-year-old advocate against sexual assault from Fort Gibson, Oklahoma was one of eight women brought to Washington D.C. by the White House to attend. Before she went, she shared her perspective on the “other four-letter word” with readers of Indian Country Today Media Network.

BULLDOZED: Meanwhile, in violation of a different sort, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Te-Moak Band of Western Shoshone’s request for an emergency injunction to stop the destruction of an ancient trail in the Tosawihi Quarries, a 10,000-year-old sacred site.

CHAMPION OF MANY FACETS: Boxing great Muhammad Ali was not just a champion but also an advocate for American Indians and racial harmony in general, wrote Alex Jacobs.

COURT VICTORY: In a historic victory for tribal jurisprudence, the United States Supreme Court ruled that prior uncounseled tribal court convictions used in subsequent criminal cases does not violate the Constitution when the proceedings were in compliance with the Indian Civil Rights Act. The decision made it possible for federal prosecutors to establish “habitual offender” status in domestic violence cases for enhanced sentencing under federal statute.

FAKERY DEBUNKED: The resistance to naming the 1.9-million acre Bears Ears region as a national monument reached fraudulent proportions as fake news releases and letters were posted in some towns on the Navajo Nation claiming that such a designation would close off access to tribes. The fake statements also “announced” that the U.S. Department of the Interior was going to not only reduce the size of the adjoining Navajo Nation but also throw a party that would leave out Utah Navajos.

HEP C GAINS & LOSSES: While a recent report found that Hepatitis C is raging through American Indian and Alaska Native communities, and the Indian Health Service does not have nearly enough funding to fight the disease, heroic fights are under way to stop it. Dr. Jorge Mera, director of infectious diseases at the Cherokee Nation, was honored at the White House for the tribe’s commitment to testing and treating patients for hepatitis C.

SPORTS STARS: Four years of hard work at the collegiate level have paid off for Muscogee Creek tribal member Kevin Hill, a South Alabama ace selected by the Houston Astros in the 25th round of the MLB draft. Meanwhile, track and field Paralympic medalist Cheri Becerra-Madsen is on the road to qualify for the Rio Paralympic and Olympic Games this August. But the Omaha tribal member needs financial support to get there.

“SLOW GENOCIDE”: Gunmen attacked a Guarani Kaiowa village in northern Brazil, killing one man and wounding six others, including a 12-year old boy. Activists and indigenous leaders assert the gunmen were hired by local ranchers who are trying to push the Guarani Kaiowa people out of the Tey’i Jusu community.

FORCES TO RECKON WITH: Two weeks after 100,000 activists staged a massive nationwide strike and blockade, the Colombian government and leaders of the Minga—the mobilization—met to suspend the demonstrations and begin dialogues on changes in the land and human rights of Indigenous, Afro-Colombians and small farmers.

AWARD-WINNING FORESIGHT: A decade ago the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in LaConnor, Washington, signed a resolution to actively address climate change and adaptation planning. Now the tribal nation is one of the first recipients of the Climate Adaptation Leadership Award for Natural Resources for raising awareness and addressing the impacts of climate change on the country’s natural resources.

TRIUMPHANT RETURN: Dei Shu, a Tlingit dance group recreated from an earlier group that performed at the very first Sealaska Celebration, in 1982, returned to this biennial festival of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian culture with a new generation of dancers.

EAGLE OFFERING: Indian Country Today Media Network West Coast Editor Valerie Taliman, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, had a special visit from an eagle near Juneau, Alaska while fishing for salmon with Tlingit friends. They suggested she make an offering of the baby King salmon she caught, and as she prayed in Navajo, the eagle listened and acknowledged her prayer.

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