The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, June 26, 2016


New solstice beginnings, another mascot bites the dust, and a wrenching week for the Colville Tribes. This and more marked the week in Indian country.

SOLSTICES AND SACRED SITES: It’s that magical time of year again in the Northern Hemisphere, with the season of light upon us. The summer solstice on June 20 virtually coincided with the full moon for the first time in decades (how many was up to interpretation). It’s also the time of year to celebrate, and pray for, sacred sites throughout Indian country. Across Turtle Island, observances and ceremonies marked the 2016 National Days of Prayer to Protect Native American Sacred Places. The observance in Washington, D.C. was on June 20. “Observances are necessary in order to call attention to Native Peoples’ myriad struggles with developers that are endangering or harming Native sacred places,” said Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee), president of the Morning Star Institute, which has organized the National Sacred Places Prayer Days since 2003. Chief Nac’a Arvol Looking Horse—19th generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle and recognized spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Sioux Nation—requested that all peoples observe the 2016 Annual World Peace & Prayer Day at their own sacred places. During solstice season and beyond, the Pacific Northwest offers a bounty of cultural events to showcase the enduring beauty and diversity of the region’s indigenous cultures.

'MUCH TO CELEBRATE’: On June 21, Canada observed National Aboriginal Day for the 20th time, with sunrise ceremonies from coast to coast to coast. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began his day with observances and a canoe paddle past the buildings of Parliament, while indigenous leaders reflected on a year of moves that may yet help reset the relationship between the federal government and Indigenous Peoples.

BITTERSWEET: No sooner had the Colville Confederated Tribes finished a historic canoe gathering at Kettle Falls—the first of its kind in 60 years—than Chairman Jim Boyd, also a renowned musician, walked on suddenly at age 60. On June 17 eight huge dugout canoes arrived at Kettle Falls in northern Washington, which had been one of the top salmon fishing sites in the Northwest back in its day. Indian Country Today Media Network contributor Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Colville, was there, having been told that the salmon were waiting for the return of the canoes. Just a few short days later, Boyd walked on. He was well known for his music as a member of the bands XIT, Greywolf and Winterhawk, and for four songs in the iconic Indian Country classic movie Smoke Signals. His passing was the second of two devastating losses for the Colvilles, Gilio-Whitaker reported, since this shocking blow followed soon after the loss of beloved community leader Virgil Seymour.

OIL DISASTERS LOOM: Elsewhere in Washington State, several Coast Salish nations Several Coast Salish nations are challenging—in courtrooms and in boardrooms—the Canada National Energy Board’s (NEB) recent recommendation that the federal government approve a threefold-capacity expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia. Beyond the one project, tribes in both British Columbia and Washington are concerned about increased shipping traffic and the potential for spills in general, since oil infrastructure is already saturating the region, they say.

A DOLLAR SHORT: In a narrow victory for the nation’s 567 federally-recognized tribal nations, the United States Supreme Court today announced a 4-4 deadlock in Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which allows a Fifth Circuit opinion in favor of the tribe to stand. The retail giant will be now subject to the tribal court’s jurisdiction in a long-running case that had grave consequences for tribal civil jurisdiction for contracts and tort violations by non-Indians on Indian lands.

MORE VICTORY: After 76 years, Watertown High School in Watertown, South Dakota, has officially retired their Native American themed homecoming activities. This has occurred after decades of protest from the local Native American community, and more recent community engagement strategies orchestrated by the Watertown school administration.

NO THANK YOU: Navajo leaders decided not to meet with presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump after all. They had extended an invitation but changed their minds because of his continued racist comments. However leaders from the White Mountain Apache, Cocopah and Pascua Yaqui tribes met privately with Trump to brief him on issues facing western tribes, including water rights, energy policies and forest fires.

‘EXTRAORDINARY LEADER’ WALKS ON: Former four-time Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin tribal chairwoman, Lisa S. Waukau walked on to the spirit world on June 18 at age 71. “The Menominee Nation has lost an extraordinary leader,” Joan Delabreau, tribal chairwoman said. “Chairwoman Waukau was also known as ‘Nehaeqsnemetaemoh,’ which translates to ‘A tree standing in the forest.’ She was like that tree, strong, inspiring and honorable in her resolve.”

COMING HOME: The tribes of Susanville Rancheria in northeastern California were elated at the passage of a bill restoring 300 acres of their traditional lands.

AMAZING! Mrs. Universe Ashley Callingbull and her father Joel (Enoch Cree Nation) are the first-ever indigenous team to compete on the fourth season of CTV Television’s The Amazing Race Canada.

CALLING ALL ATHLETES: Indian country’s own Olympic games had 3,000 athletes last year and wants more. The Lori Piestewa National Native American games has grown for the past 13 years, with approximately 100 tribes across the United States and Canada represented. The top athletes are honored by having a bronze, silver or gold medal placed around their neck by the Piestewa family, and there’s still time to register.

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