The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, August 28, 2016


Water protectors standing their ground, a look at several ancient cultures in light of current knowledge, and Native employees taking the rap for a hotel’s bad coffee—this and more captured Indian country’s attention during the week leading up to August 28, 2016.

WATER PROTECTORS REIGN: As the camp standing against the Dakota Access pipeline swelled to 4,000 or more people, state authorities set up roadblocks in the name of public safety. Meanwhile, the camps—three separate prayer camps in total—remained peaceful, reported Chelsey Luger, who was there to witness it personally. In fact, images abounded on social media sites of peaceful interactions with the police. More images came from photographer Thosh Collins, who was also at Standing Rock and took stunning shots.

Support poured in from all quarters, most notably 100 or more letters, resolutions and proclamations issued by tribal leadership across Turtle Island. Olympian Billy Mills, Oglala Lakota, was on hand at the camps and sent a video message to Indian country. Youth who ran 100 miles from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation to the prayer campsite in Cannon Ball, North Dakota to show their support for their northern neighbors and opposition to the pipeline were welcomed with a song of gratitude. Support also came in from Hollywood and Washington DC, with Shailene Woodley of Divergent fame continuing to spend time at both Standing Rock and appearing at a rally in Washington along with actress and longtime activist Susan Sarandon. Voices also called from across the Pond: "We believe that people who wish to defend the Earth and its valuable resources must stand shoulder to shoulder worldwide," wrote Eddie Ladd, Sioned Haf and Robat Idris from Wales.

The Washington rally occurred outside U.S. District Court, where Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II was defending his tribe’s lawsuit against Dakota Access LLC and its attendant companies. Although a ruling was not handed down, he said that just having the hearing was a “powerful precedent” in bringing tribal concerns to the federal government’s doorstep. Sarah Sunshine Manning echoed that pronouncement with her moving firsthand account of the camp’s energy and power, noting that, “in so many ways, we have already won.”

The story caught the attention of The New York Times, but a single segment on MSNBC’s The Last Word spelled out the issues going all the way back to first contact. “This nation was founded on genocide,” stated host Lawrence O’Donnell, pointing out that Germany was treated better after World War 2 than any American Indian tribe has ever been treated by the U.S. government. The stakes are high, as Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Jon Eagle Sr. wrote in an op-ed, describing the sacred-land desecrations and what had been lost. “When man changes the land, it is changed forever,” he wrote. Steve Newcomb pointed out the links of the Dakota Access logic to Christendom and the underpinnings of the Doctrine of Discovery. Chief Arvol Looking Horse of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations issued an appeal designed to “unite the global community through a message from our sacred ceremonies to unite spiritually, each in our own ways of beliefs in the Creator” as the solution for humanity’s survival.

Back in the political sphere, Mark Trahant noted that the measures being taken out near Standing Rock—the influx of water protectors to the camps, the fundraising via social media, the delivery of food and supplies, and the support letters pouring in—combined to form “the essence of political organizing. Steve Russell chimed in with observations about the way the Dakota water keepers are being treated by authorities versus how the militia that took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge were treated.

COLONIAL REVISIONISM DISPROVED ONCE AGAIN: Steve Russell told us that the latest science on the depopulation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site at the Cahokia Mounds, located in the Mississippi River floodplain near St. Louis, leaves the reason for decline of the most populous urban area in what would become the United States a mystery. He also described the complex astronomy of the ancient Maya, writing that the Dresden Codex, “appears to show that what was at first considered astrology is in fact astronomy based on systematic observations. The Mayan astronomers were independently working toward Copernican astronomy.”

GIVE BACK THE BONES: Meanwhile, a National Park Service superintendent was outed for storing the remains of hundreds of ancient peoples in his garage for decades.

SAY IT AIN’T SO, JOE: A Best Western Plus just outside the Navajo Nation in Page, Arizona, came under fire for allegedly posting an offensive response to a customer complaint on its TripAdvisor page. An account named “Guest Relations Manager” responded to a negative review of the Lake Powell location, stating that the hotel “is working with a mostly Native population that have not had privileged education available in most parts of the country.”

ARSON ON THE REZ: The Yurok Tribe declared a state of emergency in a 500-acre fire that has torched at least one home, with arson as the suspected cause. The blaze destroyed at least two structures and threatened 40 on the reservation, according to the state agency CalFire.

RECLAIMING THEIR HERITAGE: In what tribes described as a watershed moment, a pole and story boards were installed on an ancient village site in the San Juan Islands of Washington State.

AND IN GOOD NEWS: The Choctaw Nation officially broke ground on several expansion projects at the nation’s Grant Casino Resort near Grant, Oklahoma, a project that will create 80 new jobs. A project called 1,000 Grandmothers was recognized nationally for its promotion of safe infant sleeping and reduction of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

PROMOTING FINANCIAL HEALTH: In his first ambassador role outside of sports-related contracts, Notah Begay III teamed up with REDW LLC, one of the southwest’s 10 largest certified accounting firms, to promote financial literacy in tribal communities.

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