The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, August 7, 2016


A beloved author walks on, the fight continues against yet another pipeline, and a court victory for Native voting laws all marked this past week in Indian country.

FINAL JOURNEY: The week was marked by the passing of an icon, the beloved wordsmith, defending of the Anishinaabe language and customs, and U.S. Marine veteran Jim Northrup, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. On Monday August 1 he walked on, due to complications from metastasized kidney cancer—a diagnosis he had publicly revealed in April. He faced his end with characteristic humor and courage, perhaps because of his own insight into the matter, as encapsulated with his poem End of the Beginning, which was posted online after he passed. The Ojibwe author, poet, linguist, U.S. Marine and Vietnam War veteran worked hard to uphold Anishinaabe tradition throughout his 73 years. His books and newspaper columns captured life on the rez as he took readers through various adventures both otherworldly and mundane. He was truly, as contributor Alex Jacobs put it, the voice of a generation.

BEFORE HIS TIME: Mere hours after Todd Little Bull predicted he would be killed on what appears to be his Social Media page, the young Oglala Lakota was gunned down at or near his home north of Sharps Corner on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, on his 25th birthday. No arrests have been made.

POLICE KILLINGS: The Department of Justice (DOJ) has agreed to investigate the death of Loreal Tsingine, a 27-year-old Navajo woman who was shot five times by a Winslow police officer after allegedly shoplifting at a Circle K on Easter Sunday. The department’s “Civil Rights Division will conduct a review of the local investigation, assessing all available materials to determine what actions may be appropriate given the strict burdens and requirements imposed by applicable federal civil rights laws,” DOJ Spokesman David F. Jacobs said. Such news is hardly counterbalanced by the finding that the number of Native Americans killed by police is on track to double this year.

PIPELINE REDUX: Another day, another pipeline battle. The Standing Rock Sioux has sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its approval of the Dakota Access pipeline, allegedly without regard for, or study of, the threat that the $3.4 billion, 1,168-mile-long pipeline could pose to the tribe’s water supply, not to mention ancestral lands. Meanwhile, as soon as the pipeline was approved, Native youth took to the streets with their feet, running 2,000 miles from North Dakota to the Army Corps’ doorstep in Washington, D.C. to deliver a petition against the project.

VOTING VICTORY: United States District Judge Daniel L. Hovland struck down a restrictive strict voter identification-card law in North Dakota, allowing American Indians voting in this year’s election in that state to cast their ballots simply by showing their tribal identification card, rather than photo ID. Hovland rejected the state’s argument that the law was “necessary” to prevent voter fraud.

LISTENING, FINALLY: After a National College Prospects Hockey League team was blasted on social media for a red-skinned Mohawk logo they released back in May, team owners responded by removing all of their social media accounts and changing their website information from the Lake Erie Warriors to the Lake Erie Eagles.

POLLUTION AND EMISSIONS: Refineries operated by two oil companies violated the Clean Air Act in two major U.S. cities and near Native lands in five states at various times since 2001, and they will now will invest a total of $425 million on pollution controls and local environmental projects, according to a consent decree that is subject to public comment through August 22. The Volkswagen emissions scandal settlement could send some money tribes’ way as well, with about $50 million of the $15.3 billion settlement earmarked for tribes, with another $1 million set aside for administrative fees.

AT LONG LAST: Indigenous leaders across Canada welcomed the August 3 announcement naming the five panelists who will conduct the long-awaited national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women. But some expressed reservations, calling the mandate “too vague.” And up north, there was concern that the panel did not include any Inuit people.

GETTING WITH THE PROGRAM: For the first time ever, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen apologized to the country’s indigenous inhabitants for 400 years of conquest and colonization.

RECONCILIATION CELEBRATED: Meanwhile, in Montreal, the First Peoples’ Festival continued apace, with perfect weather, expanded offerings, additional venues and new partnerships bringing more aboriginal culture than ever to the heart of this Quebec city. It runs through Wednesday August 10 for this, its 26th year.

A DOLLOP OF DIVERSITY: Five of the Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program alumni have been invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur D'alene), Adam Beach (Saulteaux of Dog Creek First Nation), Cliff Curtis (Te Arawa, Ngāti Hauiti), Heather Rae (Cherokee) and Taika Waititi (Te Whanau A Apanui).

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