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


DAPL outrage erupted, the post-election drama unspooled, and pipeline kerfuffles were on the horizon north of the 49th Parallel this past Week That Was in Indian country.

PRESSURE MOUNTS: Pressure against the federal government to intervene and stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) mounted as outrage grew over the paramilitary-style measures taken against water protectors. U.S. Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Jared Huffman (D-CA) demanded a meeting with President Barack Obama over the November 20 onslaught against water protectors with rubber bullets, ice cold water in sub-freezing temperatures and other dangerous measures. As severe winter weather descended upon central and eastern North Dakota, water protectors filed a lawsuit for alleged use of excessive force by police in demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Meanwhile the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it would not forcibly remove residents of the Oceti Sakowin Camp, even as North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple issued an executive order mandating the camp’s immediate evacuation, ostensibly due to the inclement weather. Health professionals add their voices to the crescendo of expert opinions in support of the water protectors at Standing Rock as organizations of doctors and psychiatrists expressed concern for everything from water quality to the potential psychological effects of the militarized police response to the demonstrations. With a December 5 departure deadline looming over the camp, Seattle City Council Member Debora Juarez, Blackfeet, expressed trepidation about the potential for violence. Activist and maverick John Bolenbaugh, known for his opposition to Enbridge Inc.’s handling of a Michigan crude spill in 2010, came to Standing Rock to lend support.

Also lending support were various members of the artistic community. Iconic rocker and political activist Neil Young and his partner, actress Daryl Hannah, posted a statement about the situation at Standing Rock, the inaccuracies of history regarding Native Americans and Young’s visit to the camp. They too asked Obama to put a stop to the police response. Across the “Pond,” musicians Sihasin (Jeneda and Clayson Benally, formerly of Blackfire) and 25-year-old hip-hop artist and filmmaker Nataanii Means brought awareness to the situation in Standing Rock to Paris with a performance at the Indigenous Peoples day organized by CSIA-Nitassinan in Paris. The Diné artist Remy brought the NoDAPL conflict into his work to address “historical colonial violence.” In addition, the Roc Your Mocs celebration this year had many entries inspired by the Dakota Access Pipeline water protectors. Celebrities continued to show up, and this week it was Rhys Coiro, who has appeared in Entourage and Graceland. Coiro made a surprise visit to the camps on Thanksgiving and delivered $4,000 in support money.

ELECTION ODDS & ENDS: Washington State Sen. John McCoy, Tulalip Tribes, was elected chairman of the state Senate’s Democratic Caucus for 2016-17. Democrats also elected Sen. Marko Liias of Lynwood, a Seattle suburb, as floor leader. Looking ahead, a Native think tank in the Northwest began planning for 2018. The Oglala Lakota Tribe elected Scott Weston as its new chairman.

GET YOUR STORYTELLING ON: Two major arts programs are offering opportunities to showcase playwrights, reported Peter D’Errico. The 2nd Annual Yale Young Native Storytellers Contest, sponsored by the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program, and the Oklahoma City Theatre Company’s eighth annual Native American New Play Festival are looking for applicants, with a deadline of December 31.

NOT MY HERITAGE: A proposal by the conservative California Missions Foundation to make El Camino Real a UNESCO Heritage Site ran into roadblocks from Natives who feel that the group does not adequately represent the true history of the region. Originally, California’s main thoroughfares were indigenous pathways.

PIPELINE PROTESTS IN CANADA: First Nations in Canada have been casting a wary eye on the DAPL situation as they gear up to push back against similar developments in British Columbia. It was a day of mixed feelings after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline but approved its Line 3 (L3RP) replacement project from Alberta to Wisconsin, as well as the controversial Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion in Vancouver.

ARSON MYSTERY SOLVED: The ongoing mystery behind a series of fires in 2012 targeting the practice of traditional Ojibwe religion on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation may finally be on the way to resolution. Christopher A. Grover, 42 a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe in Wisconsin was charged with nine felony counts of arson and six of criminal fire damage in the July 14, 2012 fires that destroyed religious structures, a home and several other structures on the LCO reservation.

HONORING FALLEN INNOCENTS: California marked the heartbreaking one-year anniversary of December 2, 2015, when 14 people were gunned down at a holiday party by a colleague and his wife. In tribute to the lives lost, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians is lighting up its famed Arrowhead monument for 14 nights.

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