The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, November 20, 2016


Alarming choices, an obstinate oil company and thousands of donated turkeys were notable during the Week that Was in Indian country leading up to Sunday November 20.

‘CABINET OF CRAZY’: President-elect Donald J. Trump and his transition team are scrambling to fill 4,000 government jobs, starting with top advisers and the cabinet. With the ouster of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie from his transition team—allegedly because of a grudge held by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner—Trump began what ICTMN contributor Steve Russell called a “game of musical chairs.” So what, exactly, does a President Trump mean for Indian country? ICTMN Editor at Large Gyasi Ross explored that question a little, noting along the way that Trump will need Natives knowledgeable about indigenous policy to staff his offices. Contributor Lynn Armitage went a bit further, urging readers to give Trump a chance.

MEXICO COULD STEP UP: In the election department, Mexico could beat the U.S. in getting a female president, if a plan by activists in Mexico to endorse an indigenous woman as a candidate for president in the 2018 election pan out.

VICTORY, TRAUMA, AND WORK FOR LAWYERS: Water protectors are still standing firm against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), though it is taking a toll on the mental health of some. Mary Annette Pember reported on the trauma experienced by those who were attacked by military police wielding weapons of potentially lethal force, and then arrested and strip-searched, and noted that at least some were in danger of developing PTSD. Added to that are sometimes prohibitive legal costs, and lawyers are very much needed, reported attorney Steffani Cochran. There is a lot to work with, from human rights violations, to trumped-up charges, to excessive force. In fact the legal violations and repercussions were severe enough to be blasted by Maina Kiai, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Just a few hours after Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault said he had not heard anything from the White House on the easements that the company needs in order to legally drill under the Missouri River, the U.S. Department of the Army and the U.S. Department of Justice announced that they would not be issued, pending further review, and that construction would be halted for the time being. Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline builder, promptly sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and reportedly moved its drill to the drill pad it had built in anticipation of receiving the easements. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe released a documentary telling the whole story of the water protectors and their nearly eight-month battle to stop construction of the pipeline on sacred tribal lands. Celebrity support continued to pour in, with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. paying a visit. The attorney and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance said Energy Transfer Partners’ actions constituted an “environmental crime.” He was feted with song and gifts after touring the Oceti Sakowin camp. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only type of visitor who came through. At least one irate man brandishing a gun out his vehicle window drove through camp, according to a photo captured by a bystander. Perhaps he came from a bar in Bismarck, such as the one providing fodder for ICTMN Culture Editor Simon Moya-Smith’s colorful descriptions of “drunken orange supremacists.” In the end, though, uplifting won out, when it emerged that musician Neil Young had celebrated his 71st birthday with a trip to Standing Rock.

GEE, YA THINK? Heilsuk Nation residents know something about mistrust of corporate promises to keep water safe, as they battle a massive diesel spill from a tugboat that ran aground near Bella Bella.

SHOOTING SPIKE: There were at least eight fatal police shootings of Native Americans in October, according to a Facebook page that keeps a tally, and the number of Native deaths during police interaction is skyrocketing. The Puyallup Tribe took the lead on the Native Lives Matter movement in Washington State in the wake of the shooting of tribal member Jackie Salyers last January.

MAKING THE ‘SPOTLIGHT’ CATHOLICS LOOK GOOD: A judge ruled that the Navajo Nation has jurisdiction in a quartet of cases filed earlier this year by tribal members alleging that they were sexually abused during their time in a foster program operated by the Mormon Church from 1947 to 2000. The cases center on a foster care system that allegedly victimized Navajo children, and the Mormons had tried to countersue them in federal court. The judge threw it back.

STAYING IN TOUCH: It is Native American Heritage Month, and staying connected is a good way to celebrate, noted a story on NDN-Created Internet.

COBELL’S LEGACY CARRIES ON: The legacy of Elouise Cobell was at the fore when President Barack Obama announced that she would be among his last batch of people to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Sadly, it was around the same time that ICTMN reported that the buy-back fund she initiated is at the moment four million acres and several billion dollars short.

HAPPY NEWS? YEAH, WE’VE GOT THAT: Tohono O’odham Nation citizen Pachynne Ignacio was the first from her tribe to be accepted at Dartmouth. She started this fall. AT&T contributed more than $1 million in total to the American Indian College Fund ($600,000) and George Washington University ($400,000). The contribution to the College Fund will serve about 700 Native students at three tribal colleges and local high schools in Nebraska, Oklahoma and Arizona. And the Morongo Band of Mission Indians distributed 10,000 free turkeys that will be used to provide an estimated 200,000 Thanksgiving meals across Southern California this year, bringing its total contribution over the years to more than 110,000 turkeys—enough to provide more than 1.75 million holiday meals.

FAREWELL TO A SACRED ICON: Born on the Shirek Buffalo Ranch near Michigan, North Dakota on July 10, 1996, White Cloud was an extremely rare female albino bison, visited by more than three million people over the years. White Cloud walked on last week, on Monday, November 14. During her 20-year life she gave birth to 11 calves, including Dakota Miracle, a rare white bull. She will be missed. 

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