The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, October 2, 2016


Election draws ever closer, a poignant Tribal Nations Conference, the Heiltsuk receive the royals, and one of our own wins a so-called Genius Grant. This and the latest DAPL developments in Indian country during the week leading up to October 2, 2016.

CEDAR HAT FOR OBAMA: As President Barack Obama took the stage at the eighth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference (WHTNC), National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby broke the longstanding rule that presidents should never wear a hat. Moments after Obama took the stage, Cladoosby wrapped the President in a traditional blanket, then took off his own traditional cedar hat and placed it on Obama’s head. As the conference kicked off, White House released a massive plan of continued action titled “An All-of-Government Approach to Serving Indian Country.”

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION GESTURES ABOUND: Elsewhere in Indian country, in what Navajo Nation tribal leaders lauded as an historic agreement with the Bureau of Indian Education and the Department of the Interior, the Obama administration approved the first phase of the Navajo Nation’s request to implement an alternative system of accountability for schools—not only giving teaching control to the Navajo but also issuing two new rounds of federal grants totaling nearly $25 million to support Native youth and educators. In a separate settlement, the U.S. government agreed to pay $492 million to 17 American Indian tribes to settle longstanding disputes over mismanagement of natural resources and other tribal assets. The settlements help resolve more than 100 lawsuits totaling more than $3.3 billion brought by Native individuals and tribal governments—and spanning more than a century of alleged mismanagement. They also help fulfill a promise Obama made before taking office.

ELECTION BLUES, BLUNDERS AND MANIA: As the election creeps ever closer, viewers watched the first candidate debate, and several things emerged. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was prepared, as columnist Steve Russell wrote, while Trump lacked stamina. Mark Trahant noted that Standing Rock is on the ballot, and that voting is one way to help support the tribe’s efforts to avoid the routing of an oil pipeline near its drinking water. Simon Moya-Smith pointed out that both candidates favor drilling, so the net effect on fossil-fuel reliance may be negligible. As far as candidates go, though, it would behoove them to treat American Indians and Alaska Natives as an important constituency, not an outside group living in our own homeland, Trahant wrote.

STANDING ROCK STANDS FOR THE LAW: That’s the conclusion reached by U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Raul Ruiz, MD, after a forum after a four-person panel led by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe David Archambault II spoke at a hearing convened by the two Democrats for their colleagues in the House of Representatives. Ruiz declared it a matter of law, and said it was clear that due diligence was not followed on a number of fronts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He and Grijalva also called for a complete review and potential overhaul of the DAPL permitting process. Meanwhile, water protectors continued their work with peaceful direct action, with their inevitable arrests. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians donated $250,000 to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s legal fund, citing the need to keep pushing for proper consultation even after the Dakota Access oil pipeline issue is decided. Solidarity continued, with indigenous leaders from Ecuador joining the protectors at Standing Rock to show solidarity and share information. Even with all the support, as Trahant pointed out, the question still remains of who will get to tell the story of Standing Rock, and what happens next. “It always amazes how different people can look at the same set of facts, an event, or even a conversation and walk away with completely different impressions,” he wrote. “Then in four decades of reporting I have never seen a story with as wide a gulf over what is occurring at Standing Rock.”

GENIUS! Daryl Baldwin of the Miami Tribe was among the 23 people chosen as 2016 MacArthur Fellows, known as the Genius Grant. The Myaamia (Miami) language linguist and cultural preservationist at Miami University in Ohio is the founding director of the school’s 2001 Myaamia Project, an initiative from the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma designed to conduct research to assist educators in preserving and teaching the Myaamia language and culture.

WINNING: The winners of the 16th Annual Native American Music Awards were announced, with Rapper and Black Eyed Peas member Taboo inducted into the NAMA Hall of Fame, while acclaimed Flutist Joseph FireCrow and Actor/Motivational Speaker/Writer/Artist Saginaw Grant received the Lifetime Achievement award and Living Legend award, respectively. Comedy duo Williams and Ree, who were at the inaugural NAMA show in 1998, were voted Entertainers of the Year. There was also a moving tribute to John Trudell.

WIKI-WANTS: Wikipedia is waking up to indigenous issues as its founders work to close content gaps that exist in race and gender topics on the site. They are looking for anything and everything having to do with Indigenous Peoples, from articles about tribes to movements, and historical figures.

SUGAR RESEARCH FRAUD HITS NATIVES HARD: The research fraud perpetrated by the sugar industry on the medical community that was discovered recently has had a strong impact on the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives for nearly half a century. By paying researchers to find fat and cholesterol, rather than sugar, playing a major role in heart disease, the bogus findings did Natives a disservice in promoting ills prevalent to this day.

SACRED PRAYER ITEMS BANNED: Members of the Ahwatukee and the Gila River Indian community seeking to deliver a message to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) that the fight to protect Moadag Do’ag (South Mountain) in Phoenix were told that their sacred prayer items would not be allowed into the ADOT community meeting.

ROYALS KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON: Royal couple Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, braved bumpy plane rides to visit the 1,600-member Heiltsuk Community of about 1,600 people but had to skip a boat tour of the Great Bear Rainforest because of inclement weather. They were given a royal welcome during their tour, which wrapped up this weekend.

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Royal Couple
Heiltsuk First Nation
2016 White House Tribal Nations Conference