Michelle Cook
Cancer runs wild on Wind River Reservation (Michelle Cook)

2012 Retrospective: January


Take a look back at January 2012's biggest stories from the pages of our weekly magazine, This Week From Indian Country Today.

A Cancer Runs Through It
A cancer epidemic is sweeping through the Wind River Reservation, where residents are fighting with the Environmental Protection Agency over its water supply, which is contaminated with uranium. The EPA says the water is okay, but people are dying and domestic animals and wildlife are turning up with strange illnesses and creepy deformities.

Canada Fallout Over Kyoto
Canada continued to take heat from the world for its December 12 announcement that it would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. Rumors had abounded about Canada’s imminent withdrawal during the two-week-long 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa, but the ink was barely dry on the Durban agreement when Kent made the announcement. For First Nations people in Canada the hard line taken here by the administration of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper was just one more in a long list of bad-faith actions related to environmental and indigenous policies.

The New Slavery
Sex trafficking is a scourge everywhere, but a particularly important and terrifying issue in Indian country, where pimps are on the prowl for Native girls and women. The life of a trafficking victim typically includes starvation, confinement, beatings, gang rape, sexually transmitted diseases and forced drug use.

Wrestling in Muddy Waters
The Suquamish Tribe is the first jurisdiction in the state of Washington to recognize same-sex marriage, and the pioneer who gets the credit for that bold stance is Heather Purser, who stood up in a general council meeting and made a simple, heartfelt request: Would the tribe support her desire to legally marry another woman?

Gulf Threatened by Scary Shrimp
A most unwelcome immigrant has arrived in the Gulf of Mexico, and ecosystem experts are sounding the alarm. The intruder is the Asian tiger prawn, which grows to a length of about one foot and could wreak havoc on the balance of life in the gulf with its voracious appetite and tendency to spread disease. Tiger prawns are known to carry 16 or more harmful viruses. “It has the potential to be real ugly,” Leslie Hartman, Matagorda Bay ecosystem leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, told the Houston Chronicle. “But we just do not know.”

Hearings on Northern Gateway Pipeline
Aboriginal leaders slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver in January for supporting Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to the British Columbia coast. More than 4,000 people signed up to speak at environmental hearings that commenced in January. “The First Nations Leadership Council is greatly troubled by recent comments by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver advocating for the proposed Enbridge Gateway pipeline to proceed even before the Joint Review Panel’s environmental review has begun,” the First Nations Leadership Council said in a commentary published on RosslandTelegraph.com. The council and other aboriginal leaders were responding to statements made by Oliver in a public letter released on the eve of hearings into the $5.5 billion, 730-mile-long dual pipeline. In the letter, Oliver suggested that radical, foreign groups based in the United States were funding the opposition.

Concern Over Shortage of Native Physicians
The number of Native people applying to medical school and earning medical degrees is shrinking at a time when their overall population is on the rise. And that is worrying the leadership of the Association of American Indian Physicians. President Donna Galbreath, Ahtna Athabascan, said the problem starts with the small number of Native people who graduate from both high school and college. It doesn’t help, she said, that Native youth are not generally exposed to Native physicians in their communities. “A lot of Indian people don’t think about going into medicine as a career,” she said.

DOJ Green Lights Internet Gaming
Cash-strapped states grappling with big budget deficits may welcome a recent Department of Justice (DOJ) opinion affirming that they can offer online lotteries and gaming. But tribes have greeted the news with a virtual shrug of the shoulders, according to Indian gaming experts. Released on December 23, the DOJ’s 13-page legal opinion states that the 1961 Wire Act prohibits online betting only for sporting events and contests, not lotteries or other forms of online gaming. That assessment has caused a flurry of interest in states that are looking to bolster revenues in the face of a projected collective budget gap of at least $40 billion, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

A Study in Neglect
Tribal Leaders Speak: The State of Indian Education, 2010, a report released November 30, 2011 by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), documents the challenges that face Native education and notes the need for more funding. The report resulted from consultations the DOE held with tribal leaders, school administrators and Indian educators.

Permafrost Holds More Greenhouse Gases
As temperatures rise globally, the organic matter contained in the frozen soil, or permafrost, is at risk of thawing, decaying and releasing methane and carbon dioxide, leading greenhouse gases. The New York Times reported that although the frozen carbon is not a surprise, the volume of organic debris is; according to one estimate, the permafrost “contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere.”

Métis Argue Major Land Claim Before Supreme Court
The Métis, having argued a major land-claims case before the Supreme Court of Canada in December, anxiously awaited a decision on their potentially precedent-setting land claim covering 1.4 million acres in Manitoba. A ruling in their favor would give recognition to the aboriginal group’s role in the founding of the country, The Globe and Mail reported. The claimants, descendants of the Métis rebel and hero Louis Riel, say they were promised land when Manitoba became part of Canada in 1870. The Métis are looking for compensation for the tract of land along the banks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers and includes some parcels within Winnipeg’s borders.

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