The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, September 4, 2016


The spotlight continued shining on the water protectors at Standing Rock, nearly a dozen corrupt officials got their comeuppance, a memorial crosswalk and, fashion. This and more grabbed Indian country’s attention over the past week.

WATER IS LIFE: The spotlight continued to beam upon the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and the fight to stop construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline under the Missouri River. Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II appeared on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. Alex Hamer showcased a typical day, in photos, in the camps. Some water protectors took their fight directly to the offices of the attorneys representing Dakota Access LLC and rallied outside, while others chained themselves to construction equipment. The camps garnered more national media coverage, with Democracy Now! interviewing Archambault and activist and journalist Winona LaDuke.

Meanwhile, support continued to pour in from other tribes around the country, as the peace camps turned into historic gatherings, the likes of which has not been seen in 100 years or more. Archambault welcomed a delegation of eight Indian nations from Washington State who joined the growing opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline that threatens the tribe’s water supply and sacred places on Oceti Sakowin Treaty lands. And Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye traveled to Standing Rock Sioux territory in support of the water protectors, bearing a letter of support and other documents. Internationally the water protectors got a boost when Archambault’s call for assistance from the United Nations was answered: The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues agreed that the Dakota Access oil pipeline’s route was mapped out without adequate consultation, chastised the U.S. government for letting it happen, and called for the feds to comply with the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On the op-ed side, David Archambault Sr. discussed media bias and blind trust of authorities making unsubstantiated claims of violence in posing the question, “Are you a traitor or a patriot?”Terri Miles talked about the lack of attention to indigenous values and the irretrievable losses wrought by those who would simply drain the earth of its resources.

Midweek, eight people were arrested and charged after disrupting a pipeline construction site, with two of them chaining themselves to equipment. A few days later, as the holiday weekend unfolded, a group of nearly 100 people crossed onto private land to stop bulldozers that were clearing land for the pipeline, and it got ugly. Private security guards from Dakota Access LLC arrived with barking guard dogs to push back the crowd of water protectors, including women, children and horses. It was reported that company security guards used pepper spray in addition to canine units. But damage had already been done, according to Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman David Archambault II, who released a statement late Saturday. “Sacred places containing ancient burial sites, places of prayer and other significant cultural artifacts of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were destroyed on Saturday September 3 by Energy Transfer Partners,” he said. “This demolition is devastating.”

COMEUPPANCE: A Window Rock, Arizona district court judge handed down sentences to 11 defendants for the criminal misuse of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Navajo Nation’s discretionary fund. Four more individuals are scheduled for sentencing by the end of September. All 15 defendants—two former Navajo Nation Council speakers, 11 former council delegates and two legislative staff members—pleaded guilty or no contest to charges that included conspiracy, fraud, bribery, submitting false vouchers and conflict of interest. All of the cases resulted in conviction and all defendants entered into plea agreements after admitting to taking discretionary dollars for personal or family use, according to court records.

CHANGING MINDS: A $2.5 million Native-led research project, Reclaiming Native Truth: A Project to Dispel America’s Myths and Misconceptions, will study mainstream perception of Native Americans and develop long-term strategic campaigns to address the public’s misperceptions.

EDUCATION SORELY NEEDED: A parent was dismayed when headdresses were given out on the first day of school at Montreal’s École Lajoie. One girl was so upset she “didn’t know what to do,” the girl’s aunt said. “She wanted to rip it up.” They were ostensibly disseminated for educational purposes, but their sacred nature should have made them off-limits for wearing.

THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE: Anthropologist Paulette Steeves, Cree-Metis, is out to rewrite the history books. She has spent years building a database of Pleistocene archaeological sites that show her ancestors have been in the Americas far longer than previously acknowledged. Steeves was the first Ph.D. candidate in her field to successfully defend her dissertation using indigenous method and theory.

COMMEMORATION: A memorial crosswalk in honor of the late Nuu-chah-nulth woodcarver John T. Williams is being erected at the site of his 2010 death, when he was shot by a police officer.

AWARDS GALORE: The Native American Journalists Association announced more than 200 national media awards recognizing excellence in reporting on Native issue by Natives and non-Native journalists in the U.S. and Canada. ICTMN was honored 16 times in the Division III (circulation more than 10,000) Professional Online—Daily/Weekly category.

CONTENDER: Joe Pakootas, a Democrat and former chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, is challenging Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Republican incumbent since 2005 and currently the fourth-ranking Republican in Congress, to a seat in Washington State’s fifth congressional district.

FISH KILL: The Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department has closed 183 miles of the Yellowstone River because of a fish kill where they lost count at over 4,000 and expect it to be in the tens of thousands. The culprit appears to be Tetracalsula bryosalmonae, a microscopic parasite that causes kidney disease. High temperatures and slow water aggravate the parasite.

MMIW INQUIRY KICKOFF ARRIVES: As the Canadian government officially began its long-awaited national inquiry on September 1 into the country’s high rates of missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW), the reservations expressed by families and victims’ advocates when the panel was announced a month ago continued.

IT’S NOT GOING TO GET ANY EASIER: During a gathering of Treaty nations at Turtle Lodge, founder and spiritual leader Dave Courchene Jr. spoke of climate change, and of difficult times ahead, and of the futility of trying to dissuade those who are set on environmental destruction. Focus instead, he said, on becoming strong, both for oneself and in order to be strong for others when the time comes.

“Prepare for the hard times that are coming,” Courchene said. “Don't waste time in trying to fight a system that will not change. Rebuild yourself, your families and your nation, with your way of life the Creator has given you.”

SKIP THIS: “To the excitement of Seth Rogen fans, his toilet-humored animated film Sausage Party hit theaters in August. To the dismay of anyone with a social conscience, the movie has a slew of racially charged epithets that seem contrived to offend just for the sake of being offensive,” wrote A&E Editor Vincent Schilling, who was not a fan.

LABOR DAY CHILLAXIN: However, there are plenty of great Native films to kick back and watch over the holiday weekend, and Schilling had a list at the ready.

SHE’S BACK: The weekend after Labor Day, Taos Pueblo fashion designer Patricia Michaels returns to New York City for “Style Fashion Week NYC” on September 10 to present her latest 30-piece collection at a special RSVP event at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Midtown Manhattan.

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