Native Punk Group Sihasin Join Tony Bennett in Hyundai National Ad Campaign

The National automobile company Hyundai has recently released a new ad campaign for their annual Holiday sales effort using music from the Native punk rock group Sihasin and the internationally known singer Tony Bennett.

Sihasin consists of siblings Jeneda and Clayson Benally who hail from the Navajo Reservation. They formerly made up the group Blackfire along with former band-mate Klee Benally.

Courtesy Benally Family / Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage for Le Figaro Magazine.

Navajo Punk rock band Sihasin–consists of Clayson and Jeneda Benally from the Navajo Nation–is seen with their horse Moonshadow in a canyon in Cameron, Arizona. Sihasin comes from a long tradition of protest music and traditional Navajo values.

The “Naughty vs. Nice’ sales ad features a supercharged punk rock aka ‘Naughty’ version of the Christmas classic Winter Wonderland recorded by multi-award winning Native American rock outfit Sihasin. The ad then contrasts Tony Bennett’s’ ‘Nice’ jazz-band version of the same song recorded by Bennett to show the versatility of Hyundai’s sedans and SUVs.

Watch the 30 second spot here – Naughty or Nice :30 – Hyundai Holidays Sales Event

Jeneda Benally (Dine’) told Indian Country Today she was thrilled when Hyundai automobiles contacted Sihasin about using ‘Winter Wonderland.

“We worked hand in hand with Cleopatra Records to make this project happen,” says Jeneda Benally. “Little did we all know that it would be a collaboration with Tony Bennett! We are excited to further open the doors for Native American artists.”

Sihasin were also recently named one of the 10 Exciting Native American and Canadian First Nations Artists by Flypaper, the digital magazine of on-line music institute Soundfly.

The band hails from the Navajo reservation of Arizona and consists of siblings Jeneda and Clayson Benally. Sihasin’s new album Fight Like A Woman will be released next year on April 22nd.

More information on the Sihasin website here.

Currently Punk Rock Christmas on CD is available on iTunes and Amazon:

Cleopatra Records

The 2015 compilation album Punk Rock Christmas from Cleopatra Records features Winter Wonderland by Sihasin.



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The Biggest Federal Tax Overhaul in 30 Years: Native American Tribes Are Not Included

Currently, Congress is considering some of the most significant adjustments to federal tax policy since 1986. This tax reform up for approval by federal legislators does not afford tribal governments many of the benefits, incentives, and protections available to state and local governments.

The matter is not moving forward without notice as tribal leaders, lawmakers and tribal organization advocates are fighting for inclusion into the legislation in the form of added tribal provisions.

On Wednesday, Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05), along with 37 other Members of Congress, sent a letter to U.S. Representatives and Senators serving on the conference committee concerning the Republican tax bill. In their letter, Kildee and other members express their seeking of changes to the final bill, since the current version being rushed through Congress negatively and unfairly affects Indian Country.

“We write to you today with disappointment in the failure of Republicans to include tribal governments in either the House or the Senate versions of their tax bill. As the conference process proceeds, we urge you to consider the needs of Indian Country in the final bill. The federal tax code does not recognize the unique sovereignty of tribal governments and as a result, tribes do not enjoy the same benefits as state and local governments under the tax code.”

“The Senate had several opportunities, both in committee markups and through proposed floor amendments, to fix the issue of tribal taxation in the tax bill. Yet it inexplicably failed to do so. And now tribes are told that yet again, they must wait for some future work on tax reform. This is completely unacceptable,” said the release.

U.S. Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota (R-ND) who currently serves as chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs committee expressed his stance in an email to Indian Country Today.

Associated Press

Senator John Hoeven, R-North Dakota.

“Indian tribes need greater flexibility and resources to attract capital, promote development, and grow their economies. That’s why last month I held an oversight hearing to examine measures to empower tribal economies through tax reform, including my Tribal Economic Assistance Act. It’s also why I’m working to include an amendment to expand and enhance public financing mechanisms for tribal governments in the final tax reform package.”

“This legislation would help tribal governments tap into a market of nearly one billion dollars annually in tax-exempt financing. As chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I will continue to work with Indian Country to identify opportunities to modernize burdensome and antiquated tax policies that prevent economic growth.”

Other tribal organization leaders have recently approached and testified their views. On November 30, 2017,  The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA) met at a White House Council on Native American Affairs meeting to discuss Indian Country’s priorities for tax reform.

An emailed statement from NCAI President Jefferson Keel reflected his position as to the importance of tribal inclusion in tax reform.

“Indian Country has waited more than a quarter century for Congress to address tax code provisions that treat tribes inequitably and hinder economic growth in tribal communities. Tribal governments from across the United States have repeatedly expressed how important federal tax reform is to tribal economic prosperity, infrastructure deployment, and self-determination. As such, it is deeply regrettable that the House passed and Senate Finance Committee reported out pieces of legislation that fail to take seriously Indian Country’s priorities for tax reform. Ultimately, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act must be amended to include tribal provisions to gain support from Indian Country.”

Jefferson Keel, President of the NCAI

“This inequity significantly handicaps tribal authority to provide much needed government revenue for tribal programs and infrastructure and prevents economic growth on tribal lands. Tax reform is a unique opportunity for Congress to promote tribal sovereignty, self- determination, and self-sufficiency,” said Keel.

Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Chairwoman Liana Onnen, who has long worked to further tax parity for her tribe told Indian Country Today in an email Congress was missing out on an opportunity to make beneficial and much-needed changes for tribes.

“Tribes have worked for years to develop tax priorities and present them to Congress.
I, myself, recently testified before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs about the negative effects of the uncertainty and inconsistency of tax policy application in Indian Country and in support of legislation to address these concerns,” wrote Onnen.

“Any Tribal Leader can attest to the complexities, burdens, and uncertainties of the tax code that make true economic development nearly impossible for many tribes. Congress can address several of these obstacles simply by ensuring tax parity for tribes as sovereign governments. Treating tribes how state and local governments are treated under the tax laws in many instances would eliminate some of the obstacles that hinder tribal economic development.”

Kildee’s letter as well as testimony offered by Keel of the NCAI make the request for the following amendments to be included in current tax reform.

Parity for Tax-Exempt Bonds

Both Senator Hoeven’s bill, S. 2012, the Tribal Economic Assistance Act, and Senator Moran’s bill, S. 1935, the Tribal Tax and Investment Reform Act, would amend the tax code to provide tax-exempt bond parity for tribal governments. Currently, tribes are the only governments that are limited to using tax-exempt bond financing for “essential government functions.” The IRS has interpreted this standard to exclude tribal economic development activities even though state and local governments routinely use tax-exempt financing for development projects. This limitation on tribes greatly inhibits infrastructure deployment and economic growth.

Parity for Indian Adoption Tax Credit

Senator Moran’s bill, S. 1935, the Tribal Tax and Investment Reform Act, would amend the tax code to treat families that adopt children in tribal courts the same as those that adopt children in state court. Currently, families that adopt special needs children in tribal court are ineligible for tax benefits available to families that adopt special needs children in state court. Native adoptive children and their families should have the same access to tax benefits as everyone else. Senator Heitkamp also introduced a standalone bill (S. 876, Tribal Adoption Parity Act) addressing this issue with support from Senators Inhofe, Heller, Hoeven, and Moran, among others.

Parity for Excise Tax Exemptions

Senator Moran’s bill, S.1935, the Tribal Tax and Investment Reform Act, would amend the tax code to ensure tribal governments receive the same treatment as state and local governments for a variety of excise tax exemptions. The disparate treatment under current tax code provisions diverts resources that would be used by tribes to provide government services to their citizens.

Provide Tax Incentive Parity for Indian Health Service (IHS) Health Professionals

The only tribal provision in the House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would provide IHS parity for recruiting and retaining quality health professionals. Currently, IHS student loan repayment benefits are not tax-exempt even though the same benefits if offered by any other public sector health service provider would be tax-exempt. This disparity puts IHS at a disadvantage, which negatively affects health care services in tribal communities.

“Tribal  leaders have been greatly disappointed by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, so far.  Indian Country has waited more than a quarter century for Congress to address tax code provisions that treat tribes inequitably and hinder economic growth in Indian Country,” said NCAI President Keel.

“Tax reform is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to uphold the federal trust obligation by helping tribes build stronger economies, create jobs, and deploy critical infrastructure.”

Congressman Kildee also spoke on the House floor Thursday morning in support of Indian Country. His remarks, including a video, is below.

“As Republicans continue to rush their tax plan through both houses of Congress, they leave behind tens of millions of Americans—funded by deficit-exploding tax breaks to the absolute wealthiest. They are also leaving behind some really important Americans: our Native American brothers and sisters,” said Kildee.

CSPAN: Congressman Kildee Urges Republicans to Support Indian Country in Federal Tax Plan

“For years, issues of taxation and how federal tax policy impacts tribal governments has been a subject of discussion. And for those years that we’ve talked about the need for tax reform, there have been continuous promises made to tribal governments that we will deal with these inequities, these issues of double taxation, in tribes.”

“For example, the ability of a tribal member who gets an adoption through a tribal court, they don’t qualify for an adoption tax credit. That’s just one example of the many ways that federal tax policy does not anticipate or recognize tribal governments.”

“But they’ve been left behind again,” said Kildee.

“This bill should be written in a way that actually addresses the real problems in the tax code. It does not.”


Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter

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Native Advocates Create Spoof Websites Announcing Washington Redhawks Name Change

Wednesday morning, a Native advocacy group calling themselves ‘Rising Hearts’ unveiled a social media campaign accompanied by a series of spoof websites announcing the Washington Redskins would be changing their name to the Washington Redhawks.

Among the spoof sites included mockeries of ESPN Sports, The Washington Post and Sports Illustrated. A fake Washington RedHawks twitter account was also created.

The sites appear nearly identical to the news sites aside from different urls.

Social media responded to the point where Dan Snyder and the Washington team issued a statement to address the false claim.

“This morning, the Redskins organization was made aware of fraudulent websites about our team name. The name of the team is the Washington Redskins and will remain that for the future.”

On the spoof ESPN site a disclaimer announced the parody as the introduction of the article announcement.

DISCLAIMER: This website is a parody and is not endorsed nor affiliated with ESPN. This website was created by Native advocates created to help us all imagine how easy and powerful changing the mascot could be. See our press release for more details.

The article outlines a decision of the NFL team including decision for the change and new logos and uniforms that embraced the original colors of the team.

“We wanted fans to be able to recognize the brand. We want people to know this still is your team,” stated a team spokesperson,” the article states.

The ESPN article also cited statistics as issued by the National Congress of American Indians as well as the embedded video “Proud to Be.”

The release issued by the Rising Hearts Coalition stated reasons for the expansive effort.

“After decades of team owner Dan Snyder refusing to change the name of the Washington football team, Native advocates took to the internet to do it for him. Today, social media exploded with an updated logo and mascot for DC’s football team: The WASHINGTON REDHAWKS.”

“We created this action to show the NFL and the Washington Football franchise how easy, popular and powerful changing the name could be,” said one of the organizers, Rebecca Nagle (Cherokee Nation) in the release.

“What we’re asking for changes only four letters. Just four letters! Certainly the harm that the mascot does to Native Americans outweighs the very, very minor changes the franchise would need to make.”

The organization did state they were sorry for any confusion people might feel learning the name change announcement was a hoax.

We are sorry for the disappointment and confusion many will feel learning that Snyder has not changed the name yet. The purpose of this action is to show that the need for a new mascot is real and immediate. This online campaign is one of many direct and confrontational tactics that we as Native people have to use to demand our human dignity.

The activists behind the online action, Rising Hearts, are hosting an in-person press conference in Washington DC this Thursday December 14th at 2PM at the George Preston Marshall Monument in front of RFK Stadium.

Supporters can join also join a rally at FedEx Field this Sunday.

Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter

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JCPenney Under Fire on Social Media for ‘Tribe’ T-shirts: Store Removes Display, Apologizes

The JCPenney at Southern Hills Mall, a shopping mall in Sioux City, Iowa is under fire on social media after Facebook posts including a video and a photo were created by Iowa resident Michelle Free-LaMere. The video posted by Free-LaMere has gone viral having received 51k views within two days of being posted. The video currently stands at 101k views.

The posts contain four mannequins wearing different ‘Tribe-themed’ t-shirts that say ‘Tribe Leader,’ ‘Love My Tribe’ and ‘New to the Tribe’ which are standing between additional t-shirts with the phrases ‘Wine Wine Wine’ and ‘Beer Beer Beer.’

Comments on social media have been largely negative toward JCPenney.

“Just sad and disrespectful,” said Katrina RedOwl from Pasadena, California. Mikki Naranjo from Ignacio, Colorado said she will no longer shop at the store. “That is just disgusting of Management of JCPenney put that display up. I will no longer shop there!”

Michelle Free-LaMere has written on Facebook that she has received support, but also received a lot of hateful comments. Overall, she says she posted the video and photo in an attempt to make a difference.

“Stereotyping Indigenous people is dehumanizing and dangerous. If you want to roll over and accept that, go elsewhere and do it. We are trying to stand up and make a difference here,” wrote Free-LaMere.

Free-LaMere also wrote that the offensive nature of the display isn’t just about the t-shirts.

“The problem isn’t with the tribe shirts. It’s about the beer and wine shirts on either side. I suspect it was a local yokel who thought he/she was funny. Racism is bad here.”

In the video, Free-LaMere asked a JCPenney associate about the offensiveness of the display. The associate was courteous and expressed she didn’t understand what was offensive about it. After Free-LaMere shared her views, the associate did respond saying “You have the right, I don’t disagree with you.”

You can watch the video here:

Indian Country Today reached out to JCPenney, and they responded by removing the display and issuing the following statement:

“We appreciate the customer making us aware of the merchandise placement within our Sioux City store. While there was never any intention to associate these products, our team immediately took action and corrected the presentation upon learning of this unfortunate merchandise arrangement. We want to express our sincere apologies, as JCPenney prides itself as being a diverse and inclusive organization, treating all customers as we would like to be treated – with dignity and respect.”


Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter

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Coeur d’Alene Woman, Paulette Jordan Announces Bid for Idaho State Governor

Paulette Jordan, 38, a Democratic Party member of the Idaho House of Representatives, and member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, has announced her intention to run for governor of the state of Idaho rather than seek a third term as a state representative.

Paulette Jordan is now serving her second term in the Idaho House of Representatives and represents District 5 Seat A. She previously served on the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council from 2009 to 2012.

Paulette Jordan announced her bid to run for Idaho governor on Thursday.

“Service is an inherent value in my family, from my ancestors on down to my sons, and they will carry that tradition forward in their lives. I’m proud to be part of Idaho’s family,” Jordan said to family and supporters at the announcement as detailed in a release.

A campaign ad for Paulette Jordan when she was running for State Representative.

“Because of who we are and who we can become, my vision for the 21st century is seeing Idaho emerge as the greatest state in the history of the United States,” said Jordan.

“When you are raised by Idaho, it’s a matter of giving back. Taking on the governorship would be the best way for me to impact people’s lives … to serve and give back,” she said.

The move by Jordan is a historic one. Few Native candidates have announced such a bid aside from Peggy Flanagan who announced a bid for Lt. Governor in Minnesota this year, Byron Mallott who is currently serving as Lt. Governor in Alaska, and Larry Echo Hawk who previously ran for Governor in Idaho.

President Barack Obama with Paulette Jordan when she was a Idaho state House hopeful.

Rep. Jordan is a member of the State Affairs Committee;  the Idaho House Resources and Conservation Committee; the Energy, Environment & Technology Committee and serves as an appointed Idaho Representative to the Energy and Environment Committee of the Council of State Governments for the Western Region.

On December 7th, fellow democratic governor contender A.J. Balukoff,  issued a statement welcoming her to the race as well as giving her a birthday wish.

“Voters deserve a robust primary where issues affecting all hard-working Idahoans get discussed and debated. Idaho needs a positive vision to jump-start prosperity in our state after years of falling behind in education, living in a low-wage economy and losing the ability to compete with the rest of the region. I look forward to hearing Representative Jordan’s ideas, and I wish her a Happy Birthday.”

According to the press announcement, Jordan learned an early work ethic growing up on her family’s farm. This work ethic motivated her through college at the University of Washington, and specialized certificates at the University of Idaho and at the Harvard John F. Kennedy school of government.

“When I asked myself how I could serve Idaho even better, the governor’s office was my answer,” said Jordan.

“Idaho is a state I fall in love with over and over. This is the place that fostered me and this is the place I was raised to serve.”


Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter

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Steve Reevis, Blackfeet Actor from ‘Last of the Dogmen,’ ‘Geronimo,’ has died at 56

Born August 14, 1962 and raised on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Montana, Native actor Steve Reevis, the son of Curley and Lila Reevis, has died at the age of 56. Reevis was one of 6 siblings.

According to Reevis’ IMDb profile, he lived the struggling actors’ dream in a quest to act in film and movies. He graduated from Flandreau High School and attended Haskell Indian Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas where he received a degree in arts. After Haskell, Reevis began his acting career in Los Angeles while living on the beach in his car, a 1971 Ford Torino.

Reevis’ first role in the film industry was as a stunt rider in the 1987 film War Party which also had his brother, Tim Reevis. His first acting role, in 1988, was in Universal’s Twins. He played a non-speaking role as a Cheyenne Warrior in the highly acclaimed Dances With Wolves in 1990.

In 1993, he was cast as the Apache scout, Chato, in Geronimo: An American Legend starring Wes Studi. Reevis is perhaps best-known for his 1995 Native American lead role in Last of the Dogmen with Tom Berenger.


Steve Reevis (right) in ‘Last of the Dogmen’ co-starred with Tom Berenger.

In 1996, Reevis received an award from First Americans in the Arts (FAITA) for his supporting roles in both the critically acclaimed movie Fargo and in the made for television movie Crazy Horse. In 2004 he received the honor again for his work on the ABC series Line of Fire.

There has already been an outpouring of support on social media. One fan on Facebook, Chris Whipple wrote, “RIP Bad Ass Actor Steve Reevis.”


A Facebook post by Chris Whipple regarding actor Steve Reevis.

Family is asking for support

In light of his passing, A GoFundMe page has been created to help the family with funeral expenses.

It reads, in part:

It is with a heavy heart that our much loved son, father, brother, uncle and friend Steve Reevis crossed over to the Sand Hills and is walking with God.

Steve was Blackfeet warrior of the Blackfeet Pikuni Nation. He grew up in Browning, Montana, the son of Lloyd “Curley” and Lila Reevis. He was the third oldest child of three sons and four daughters .

Steve is known as an accomplished actor, with roles in Geronimo, Dances with Wolves, The Last of the Dogmen, The Missing, the Longest Yard, and Cherokee Word for Water.

Steve was a family man, he leaves behind his wife Macile Reevis, his sons Joseph, Kyiyo, Pikuni and his daughter Taywanee, his  grandchildren Lloyd, Cashus and Uriah.

As written on Reevis’ IMDB page, here is a personal quote:

Life is something that is never supposed to be played with. Life is so precious that we have to understand that our life was given to us by The Creator. When I think of life, it’s always about living that life in a beautiful way. Life is about respecting one another in whatever capacity we live in in this world. It’s all about total respect for each other and our individual lives.


Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter

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Sen. Heitkamp Embraces ‘Not Invisible’ Hashtag for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

On Wednesday, November 29th, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (ND-D) led an effort on social media to raise awareness about the crisis of missing and murdered Native American women during National Native American Heritage Month.

In October, Sen. Heitkamp introduced a bill to help address the crisis of missing and murdered Native women titled Savanna’s Act — in honor of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who was tragically killed in Fargo, ND in August of 2017. The social media effort builds on Sen. Heitkamp’s bill, Savanna’s Act. The bill would improve law enforcement cooperation to help combat the crisis of missing and murdered Native American women.

“One of the main challenges to address this issue is the lack of awareness outside of Indian Country about this epidemic,” said a statement on a Heitkamp release. “Only once we raise awareness about this crisis, can we then help implement solutions,” said Heitkamp.

84% of Native American women experience violence in their lifetime & on some reservations, they are murdered at 10x the national avg. These women are #NotInvisible & we need to shine a light on these crimes. Join me today to show your support & help raise awareness. #MMIW

— Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (@SenatorHeitkamp) November 29, 2017

According to Heitkamp’s office, the efforts of Savanna’s Act and the #NotInvisible hashtag is to help raise awareness and bring this issue out of the shadows so it is no longer invisible. The Senator says she urged tribal leaders, politicians, celebrities and supporters to take a photo with the #NotInvisible hashtag and then post it on Facebook and/or Twitter on the 29th to help highlight these crimes.

On the 29th, tribal leaders, politicians and celebrities responded to Heitkamp’s efforts by posting selfies along with the #NotInvisible hashtag. Among the celebrities and politicians were Senator Jeff Merkley a co-sponsor of the bill, Senator Tom Udall, Senator Tammy Baldwin, Senator Mazie Hirono and actor Mark Ruffalo, who plays the Hulk/Bruce Banner in the latest Thor Ragnarok.

84% of Native American women experience violence in their lifetime. But outside of Indian Country, few people are aware of this epidemic. It’s time to raise awareness and show that these women are #NotInvisible.

— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) November 29, 2017

“84% of Native American women experience violence in their lifetime. But outside of Indian Country, few people are aware of this epidemic. It’s time to raise awareness and show that these women are #NotInvisible,” wrote Ruffalo in his tweet.

“This is unacceptable,” wrote Merkley in his tweet. “I’m cosponsoring @SenatorHeitkamp‘s Savanna’s Act to address this crisis. Join me in raising awareness. #NotInvisible.”

Efforts of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC)

The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC)–a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to restoring the sovereignty of Native nations and safeguarding Native women and their children–had previously worked with Senator Heitkamp and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to introduce Savanna’s Act in October.

Native women are #NotInvisible. Join us to show your support & raise awareness so we can combat these crimes! @SenatorHeitkamp

— NIWRC (@niwrc) November 29, 2017

According to the NIWRC, the Savanna’s Act bill mandates protocol development, increased access to federal databases and would improve law enforcement cooperation to help combat the crisis of missing and murdered Native American women. The NIWRC also helped promote the #NotInvisible on November 29th on their social media accounts.

In an emailed statement, Lucy Simpson (Navajo) who serves as the Executive Director for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, said the bill comes at a time where crimes against Native American women occur at an alarming rate.

“The current reports of abduction and murder of American Indian women and girls are alarming and represent one of the most horrific aspects of the spectrum of violence committed against Native women,” said Simpson in the statement.

“The murder rate of Native women is more than ten times the national average on some reservations. Often, these disappearances or murders are connected to crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking. The intersection of gender based violence and MMIW is heavily intertwined.”

The NIWRC public relations representative told Indian Country Today in an email that they are expressing the “urgent need to address the national crisis of missing and murdered as stated in the Findings of S. 1942; the Savanna’s Act. The recent murder of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind and the horrific ongoing violence committed against Native women and girls, particularly the reports of those missing and murdered, are a glaring confirmation of this reality in our everyday lives.”

The NIWRC representative also also cited the disturbing statistics reported by the CDC.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide is the third leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women between 10 and 24 years of age and the fifth leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native women between 25 and 34 years of age. In some tribal communities, American Indian women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average.”

Cherrah Giles, NIWRC Board President told Indian Country Today, “The legacy of genocide is the epidemic of violence we experience from birth to death. For our Native sisters who are missing and murdered, we need every person to take a stand and join in our effort calling for justice.”

“We strive to lift the voices of the families and communities impacted by all murdered and missing Native women and girls,” said Simpson. “It is an abomination that many times the only searches for our missing women are organized by family and friends, and not law enforcement. We aim to raise awareness and increase justice on a national level. But our work must not focus merely on improving the official response when a Native woman or girl is missing. We must restore our women to a place of honor, respect and sacredness so that these crimes can finally end.”

“NIWRC is committed to increasing safety and access to justice for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian women and girls, to bringing awareness to this critical issue of missing and murdered Native women, and to preventing future acts of violence in our Nations” said Simpson.

“Together, we will never stop fighting for justice.”

Click here to read more about Savanna’s Act

Click here to read stories from families of Native American women who have gone missing or were murdered.

Here’s an emotional speech Sen. Heitkamp gave on the Senate floor about this issue:

Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter

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Trump Slashes Two Million Acres off of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase: Tribes To Sue

In an announcement by President Trump on Monday in Salt Lake City, the size of two national monuments would be drastically reduced. According to the Trump administration, the Bears Ears National Monument would be reduced by 85 percent, and Grand Staircase-Escalante, would be reduced to half its current size. It is the largest cut to federal land protection in U.S. History.

“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” said Trump said at Utah’s State Capitol, “And guess what? They’re wrong … together, we will usher in a bright new future of wonder and wealth.”

The move by the Trump administration was a reversal of protections put in place by President Barack Obama, who designated Bears Ears as a national monument in 2016, and President Bill Clinton who classified the Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996.

Shortly after the announcement by Trump, the inter-tribal coalition, comprised of the Ute Mountain Tribe, the Ute Indian Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi and the Zuni, filed a lawsuit against the executive order on the basis that President Trump does not have the legal authority to remove the national monument protections.

The Navajo Nation issued a statement that said they were not able to consult with the President regarding Bears Ears and that they now had no other recourse than to seek litigation.

“The Navajo Nation has made repeated requests to meet with President Trump on this issue. The Bears Ears Monument is of critical importance, not only to the Navajo Nation but to many tribes in the region,” President Begaye said in the statement. “The decision to reduce the size of the Monument is being made with no tribal consultation. The Navajo Nation will defend Bears Ears. The reduction in the size of the Monument leaves us no choice but to litigate this decision.”

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye.

“Bears Ears National Monument is not just for Native Americans but for all Americans,” Vice President Jonathan Nez said in the statement. “This is a sad day for indigenous people and for America. However, we are resilient and refuse to allow President Trump’s unlawful decision to discourage us. We will continue to fight in honor of our ancestral warriors who fought for our way of life, for our culture and for our land too.”

Native American Rights Fund Staff Attorney Matthew Campbell also stated we will fight to uphold the rights of Native people, “Bears Ears is one of the most important places for Indian Country, and that is why Indian Country came together to advocate for this important place. Trump’s attack on Bears Ears is an attack on all of us, and we will fight to protect it.”

Though environmental groups and native tribes say the decision will threaten over 100,000 archaeologically important / sacred sites, Republicans and fossil fuel companies consider the move a victory in seeking more localized control of the lands.

“The Antiquities Act does not give the Federal Government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time we ended this abusive practice. Public lands will once again be for public use,” said Trump In a statement issued from the Department of the Interior.

Kim Baca

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke toured Bears Ears National Monument in May 2017.

“I thank President Trump for his leadership on the Monument Review and for keeping his promise to make sure the rural voice is heard once again,” said Secretary Zinke.

According to the Interior release, monuments have been reduced at least eighteen times under presidents on both sides of the aisle and examples include: President John F. Kennedy excluding Bandelier National Monument, Presidents Taft, Wilson, and Coolidge reducing Mount Olympus National Monument, and President Eisenhower reducing the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado.

The release also cited Interior Secretary Zinke did meet with tribal leaders prior to the decision by Trump.

In addition to tribal leaders and conservation groups, the National Congress of American Indians and its president Jefferson Keel, also condemned the decision by the Trump Administration.

“[The] NCAI opposes President Trump’s efforts to reduce two monuments that hold tribal sacred places. [Monday,] President Trump issued Presidential Proclamations reducing the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments in Utah. These monuments were initially designated as monuments to ensure that tribal and American citizens would have use of these significant landscapes for generations to come. The National Congress of American Indians stands by the efforts of all affected Tribal Governments and local communities who are determined to protect these sacred places in their entirety,” said the release.

“The original intent of the Antiquities Act was to protect our tribal sacred sites and the cultural objects in those sites. The history of our Indigenous ancestors lives in these sacred places. Today’s action to reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante endangers our freedom of religion, our histories and our communities,” stated Jefferson Keel, President of NCAI in the release. “We stand with the Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition as well as the Tribes impacted by other Monument designations.”

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante were both designated under the original intent of the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act granted power to the President to create national monuments to protect Tribal sacred sites and cultural objects. The Act does not grant the President the authority to reduce and revoke the boundaries of national monuments as was done [Monday.]

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Trump Refers to Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas at White House Code Talkers Ceremony

On Monday, President Donald Trump, while hosting an event for Native American Code Talkers,  referenced Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, as Pocahontas.

At the White House event, President Trump spoke to three Navajo Code Talkers. “You’re very, very special people. You were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas. But you know what. I like you. Because you are special, ” said President Trump.

The use of Pocahontas by Trump has caused national attention and Senator Warren herself responded to the remarks on MSNBC shortly after the ceremony.

Warren said on MSNBC that the ceremony was “supposed to be an event that honored heroes.”

“It is deeply unfortunate that the President of the United States cannot even make it through a ceremony honoring these heroes without having to throw out a racial slur,” said Warren.

See related article: The True Story of Pocahontas: Historical Myths Versus Sad Reality.

According to NCAI President Jefferson Keel, the event was marred by President Trump’s use of the name as a slur.

On November 27, 2017, the National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel issued the following statement:

“We regret that the President’s use of the name Pocahontas as a slur to insult a political adversary is overshadowing the true purpose of today’s White House ceremony,” stated NCAI President Jefferson Keel, a decorated U.S. Army officer and Vietnam War combat veteran.

“(Monday) was about recognizing the remarkable courage and invaluable contributions of our Native code talkers. That’s who we honor today and everyday – the three code talkers present at the White House representing the 10 other elderly living code talkers who were unable to join them, and the hundreds of other code talkers from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Comanche, Lakota, Meskwaki, Mohawk, Navajo, Tlingit, and other tribes who served during World Wars I and II.”

“We also honor the service and bravery of all of our veterans and those currently serving from Indian Country. Native people serve in the Armed Forces at a higher rate than any other group in the country, and have served in every war in this nation’s history,” said Jefferson Keel in the statement from the NCAI.

Keel also expressed honor to the historical significance of Pocahontas.

“We honor the contributions of Pocahontas, a hero to her people, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in Virginia, who reached across uncertain boundaries and brought people together. Once again, we call upon the President to refrain from using her name in a way that denigrates her legacy.”

On Tuesday, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and actor Sonny Skyhawk discussed Trump’s reference to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as Pocahontas on CNN.

Skyhawk called the reference a “condescending racial slur that was inexcusable.” Skyhawk also noted that Trump’s decision to host the ceremony standing under a portrait of Andrew Jackson as an intentional jab at Native Americans.

Screen Capture CNN

On CNN, Native American actor and producer Sonny Skyhawk (left) stated Trump’s decision to host the ceremony standing under a portrait of Andrew Jackson as an intentional jab at Native Americans and the Navajo Code Talkers.

“Trump knew what he was doing, Jackson is one of his heroes, he wants to be like Andrew Jackson,” said Skyhawk.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the reference by Trump was completely inappropriate and that Trump needed to recognize the contributions of veterans and leave personal attacks on the campaign trail.

“Trump needs to stand by our war heroes,” said Begaye. “When you are in the midst of heroes, you need to leave everything else aside.”


Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter

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What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving? The Wampanoag Side of the Tale

When you hear about the Pilgrims and “the Indians” harmoniously sharing the “first Thanksgiving” meal in 1621, the Indians referred to so generically are the ancestors of the contemporary members of the Wampanoag Nation. As the story commonly goes, the Pilgrims who sailed from England on the Mayflower and landed at what became Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 had a good harvest the next year. So Plymouth Gov. William Bradford organized a feast to celebrate the harvest and invited a group of “Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit” to the party. The feast lasted three days and, according to chronicler Edward Winslow, Bradford sent four men on a “fowling mission” to prepare for the feast and the Wampanoag guests brought five deer to the party. And ever since then, the story goes, Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. Not exactly, Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer told Indian Country Today Media Network in a conversation on the day before Thanksgiving 2012—391 years since that mythological “first Thanksgiving.”

We know what we’re taught in mainstream media and in schools is made up. What’s the Wampanoag version of what happened?

Yeah, it was made up. It was Abraham Lincoln who used the theme of Pilgrims and Indians eating happily together. He was trying to calm things down during the Civil War when people were divided. It was like a nice unity story.

So it was a political thing?

Yes, it was public relations. It’s kind of genius, in a way, to get people to sit down and eat dinner together. Families were divided during the Civil War.

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So what really happened?

We made a treaty. The leader of our nation at the time—Yellow Feather Oasmeequin [Massasoit] made a treaty with (John) Carver [the first governor of the colony]. They elected an official while they were still on the boat. They had their charter. They were still under the jurisdiction of the king [of England]—at least that’s what they told us. So they couldn’t make a treaty for a boatload of people so they made a treaty between two nations—England and the Wampanoag Nation.

What did the treaty say?

It basically said we’d let them be there and we would protect them against any enemies and they would protect us from any of ours. [The 2011 Native American $1 coin commemorates the 1621 treaty between the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims of Plymouth colony.] It was basically an I’ll watch your back, you watch mine’ agreement. Later on we collaborated on jurisdictions and creating a system so that we could live together.

What’s the Mashpee version of the 1621 meal?

You’ve probably heard the story of how Squanto assisted in their planting of corn? So this was their first successful harvest and they were celebrating that harvest and planning a day of their own thanksgiving. And it’s kind of like what some of the Arab nations do when they celebrate by shooting guns in the air. So this is what was going on over there at Plymouth. They were shooting guns and canons as a celebration, which alerted us because we didn’t know who they were shooting at. So Massasoit gathered up some 90 warriors and showed up at Plymouth prepared to engage, if that was what was happening, if they were taking any of our people. They didn’t know. It was a fact-finding mission.

When they arrived it was explained through a translator that they were celebrating the harvest, so we decided to stay and make sure that was true, because we’d seen in the other landings—[Captain John] Smith, even the Vikings had been here—so we wanted to make sure so we decided to camp nearby for a few days. During those few days, the men went out to hunt and gather food—deer, ducks, geese, and fish. There are 90 men here and at the time I think there are only 23 survivors of that boat, the Mayflower, so you can imagine the fear. You have armed Natives who are camping nearby. They [the colonists] were always vulnerable to the new land, new creatures, even the trees—there were no such trees in England at that time. People forget they had just landed here and this coastline looked very different from what it looks like now. And their culture—new foods, they were afraid to eat a lot of things. So they were very vulnerable and we did protect them, not just support them, we protected them. You can see throughout their journals that they were always nervous and, unfortunately, when they were nervous they were very aggressive.

So the Pilgrims didn’t invite the Wampanoags to sit down and eat turkey and drink some beer?

[laughs] Ah, no. Well, let’s put it this way. People did eat together [but not in what is portrayed as “the first Thanksgiving]. It was our homeland and our territory and we walked all through their villages all the time. The differences in how they behaved, how they ate, how they prepared things was a lot for both cultures to work with each other. But in those days, it was sort of like today when you go out on a boat in the open sea and you see another boat and everyone is waving and very friendly—it’s because they’re vulnerable and need to rely on each other if something happens. In those days, the English really needed to rely on us and, yes, they were polite as best they could be, but they regarded us as savages nonetheless.

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So you did eat together sometimes, but not at the legendary Thanksgiving meal.

No. We were there for days. And this is another thing: We give thanks more than once a year in formal ceremony for different season, for the green corn thanksgiving, for the arrival of certain fish species, whales, the first snow, our new year in May—there are so many ceremonies and I think most cultures have similar traditions. It’s not a foreign concept and I think human beings who recognize greater spirit then they would have to say thank you in some formal way.

What are Mashpee Wampanoags taught about Thanksgiving now?

Most of us are taught about the friendly Indians and the friendly Pilgrims and people sitting down and eating together. They really don’t go into any depth about that time period and what was going on in 1620. It was a whole different mindset. There was always focus on food because people had to work hard to go out and forage for food, not the way it is now. I can remember being in Oklahoma amongst a lot of different tribal people when I was in junior college and Thanksgiving was coming around and I couldn’t come home—it was too far and too expensive—and people were talking about, Thanksgiving, and, yeah, the Indians! And I said, yeah, we’re the Wampanoags. They didn’t know! We’re not even taught what kind of Indians, Hopefully, in the future, at least for Americans, we do need to get a lot brighter about other people.

So, basically, today the Wampanoag celebrate Thanksgiving the way Americans celebrate it, or celebrate it as Americans?

Yes, but there’s another element to this that needs to be noted as well. The Puritans believed in Jehovah and they were listening for Jehovah’s directions on a daily basis and trying to figure out what would please their God. So for Americans, for the most part there’s a Christian element to Thanksgiving so formal prayer and some families will go around the table and ask what are you thankful for this year. In Mashpee families we make offerings of tobacco. For traditionalists, we give thanks to our first mother, our human mother, and to Mother Earth. Then, because there’s no real time to it you embrace your thanks in passing them into the tobacco without necessarily speaking out loud, but to actually give your mind and spirit together thankful for so many things… Unfortunately, because we’re trapped in this cash economy and this 9-to-5 [schedule], we can’t spend the normal amount of time on ceremonies, which would last four days for a proper Thanksgiving.

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Do you regard Thanksgiving as a positive thing?

As a concept, a heartfelt Thanksgiving is very important to me as a person. It’s important that we give thanks. For me, it’s a state of being. You want to live in a state of thanksgiving, meaning that you use the creativity that the Creator gave you. You use your talents. You find out what those are and you cultivate them and that gives thanks in action.

And will your family do something for Thanksgiving?

Yes, we’ll do the rounds, make sure we contact family members, eat with friends and then we’ll all celebrate on Saturday at the social and dance together with the drum.

This story was originally published November 23, 2012. 

Related articles:

Latest $1 Coin Celebrates 1621 Wampanoag Treaty

The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

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Thanksgiving Poem: For This I Am Grateful

For this I am grateful

Ho Great Spirit!

I give thanks for this day.

This precious gift of another day.

Another growing.

Another opportunity for growth.

Another opportunity to grow and develop from my experiences.

Another opportunity to be of service.

Another opportunity to love and know

and respect and accept myself just as I am.

Another opportunity to be happy,

to pursue happiness,

seek happiness and to share happiness.

Another opportunity to enter into the womb of our Sacred Earth Mother.

To enter the womb of love,

To enter the womb of peace.

To enter the Great Mystery,

To enter the Great Silence.

For this I am grateful

I give thanks for this sacred ceremony that helps me to recognize,

acknowledge, accept and to give thanks for what I am.

A creation of Great Creator. A human being,

a Wulustukyeg, guardian of our Sacred Earth Mother

and in this recognition I am able to recognize my oneness

My oneness with Great Creator

I am one with Great Creator

I am one with Creation, I am one with the universe,

I am one with the universal mind, I am one with Mother Earth,

I am one with the Great Mystery,

I am one with the Great Silence.

All My Relations,

Dan Ennis

Daniel Ennis is a former Grand Chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseet. His son Jim Ennis submitted this poem to ICTMN.

This story was originally published November 24, 2016.

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Top Civil Rights Organizations Urge Media Not to Use Washington NFL Team’s R-word Name on Thanksgiving

A coalition of the country’s most prominent advocacy and civil rights organizations today called on media organizations to refrain from using the offensive R-word name of the Washington NFL team during their Thanksgiving Day coverage. The Washington NFL franchise will take on the New York Giants in a high-profile, nationally broadcast game on Thursday.

Endorsees of the just-released letter include: NAACP, National Urban League, Advancement Project, Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Demos, PICO National Network, Race Forward, UnidosUS, National Congress of American Indians, Oneida Indian Nation and Change the Mascot.

“Thanksgiving is often the only major American holiday that brings Native people and their history into the national conversation. Using the holiday to promote the Washington team’s derogatory name will further marginalize Native Americans who have already experienced histories of oppression and violence,” the letter states.

“Media organizations can do their jobs by reporting on the team, but also refrain from using the slur and denigrating Native people.”

The letter goes on to highlight the substantial and tangible destruction caused by the use of the R-word. It points to social science research proving that such mascots and slurs lower self-esteem and mood among Native American youth, and also increase negative attitudes towards Native Americans among other races.

“In light of all of the evidence of destruction caused by the R-word’s use, we are hopeful that you will pledge to honor this modest request,” the letter continues. “At a time when our political debate is so polarized, media organizations should be able to agree to not explicitly promote a racial slur.”

Today’s plea to media organizations is part of Change the Mascot’s grassroots movement to educate the public about the damaging effects on Native Americans arising from the continued use of the R-word. This civil and human rights movement has helped reshape the debate surrounding the Washington team’s name and brought the issue to the forefront of social consciousness.

Since its launch, the campaign has continually garnered support from a diverse coalition of prominent advocates including elected officials from both parties, Native American tribes, sports icons, leading journalists and news publications, civil and human rights organizations and religious leaders.

A full list of Change the Mascot supporters can be found at:

The full text of today’s letter to media organizations can read below or accessed online at:

Dear [News Organization],

On Thanksgiving Day, the National Football League has scheduled a high-profile game between the New York Giants and Washington, D.C.’s professional football team. In advance of that event, we are asking that you honor the spirit of the holiday by pledging to refrain from using the Washington team’s R-word name in your coverage of the game.

Thanksgiving is often the only major American holiday that brings Native people and their history into the national conversation. Using the holiday to promote the Washington team’s derogatory name will further marginalize Native Americans who have already experienced a history of oppression and violence. Repeating the Washington football team’s name on Thanksgiving Day encourages people across the country to perpetuate this painful racial slur.

While the Washington franchise’s management has claimed the team name honors Native Americans, nothing could be further from the truth. The name is a dictionary-defined racial slur that was screamed at Native Americans as they were dragged at gunpoint off their lands. The owner who gave the team this dishonorable name was George Preston Marshall – an infamous segregationist who played a leading role in trying to stop the NFL from integrating.

Despite what some suggest, the use of this slur is not a victimless crime. Social science research has proven that the promotion of the R-word has significantly harmed Native Americans, especially Native youth.

In a 2013 report summarizing existing research, psychologist Michael Friedman noted that the presence of Native American mascots results directly in lower self-esteem and lower mood among both Native American adolescents and young adults, as well as increases negative attitudes towards Native Americans among non-Native Americans. His report added that “the Washington mascot is uniquely destructive because it not only perpetuates the stereotypical and outdated caricature portrayed by many Native American mascots, but also promotes and justifies the use of a dictionary-defined racial slur, thus increasing risk for discriminatory experiences against Native Americans.”

In recent years, a wide array of civil rights organizations, religious leaders, civic groups and Members of Congress from both parties have called for the Washington team to change its name. To date, the team has refused to make any changes – but that insensitive intransigence does not mean that media organizations covering the team must also continue to promote this racial slur and perpetuate the problems caused by its use.

To be clear, we are not asking that you stop covering the Washington team – we are simply asking that you respect Native Americans by not using the team name. Indeed, media organizations can do their jobs by reporting on the team, but also refrain from using the slur and denigrating Native people.

In light of all of the evidence of destruction caused by the R-word’s use, we are hopeful that you will pledge to honor this modest request. At a time when our political debate is so polarized, media organizations should be able to agree to not explicitly promote a racial slur.


Advancement Project
Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum
Change the Mascot
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Congress of American Indians
National Urban League
Oneida Indian Nation
PICO National Network
Race Forward


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Keystone Pipeline Spills 210,000 Gallons of Oil in Amherst, South Dakota

On Thursday November 15th, 2017, approximately 210,000 gallons or 5,000 barrels of oil spilled from the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline in a northeast part of South Dakota.

The spill in Amherst, S.D. happened a few days before regulators in Nebraska were to decide whether to grant a final permit to begin construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline in that state.

According to a statement from TransCanada, “[C]rews safely shut down its Keystone pipeline at approximately 6 a.m. CST (5 a.m. MST) after a drop in pressure was detected in its operating system resulting from an oil leak that is under investigation. The estimated volume of the leak is approximately 5,000 barrels.”

Kim McIntosh, an environmental scientist with the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, who gave a statement to the New York Times said, no livestock or drinking water sources appeared to be threatened. However, she stated, “This is not a little spill from any perspective.”

Courtesy Longhouse Media/Vimeo

Yankton Sioux elder and water protector Faith Spotted Eagle.

Faith Spotted Eagle is an activist and a member of the Yankton Sioux Nation who has long fought against development of the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. Spotted Eagle told Indian Country Today that the spill, though tragic, was not surprising.

“I think that this is no surprise. Seriously if these people do not take this little nudge from the Great Mystery, they are going to go to that place that starts with a ‘H.’ If they don’t have a grandchild that they are not concerned about, then they do not have a heart.”

Spotted Eagle says she and other tribal leaders in Lower Brule will be delivering formal remarks on Monday about the Keystone XL Pipeline at the Golden Buffalo Casino Conference Center.

“The Nebraska permit decision is being announced on Monday. Following that we are going to have a press conference at 11:15 am with tribal leaders and other leaders,” she said.

A photograph of the spill was posted to the TransCanada Twitter account, which shows a large circular oil spill by the Keystone Pipeline. The Keystone is a nearly 2,700 mile pipeline that carries crude from Alberta to the U.S.

Image of Amherst incident taken earlier today by aerial patrol as part of our initial response. For more updates, visit

— TransCanada (@TransCanada) November 16, 2017

The S.D. environmental official McIntosh also told the NY Times that the leak of 210,000 gallons was not substantial and that the area was rural, which is “very positive.”

Spotted Eagle said regardless of its location, it isn’t positive. ”Everywhere on Mother Earth is not remote, it is all connected to the entire ecosystem.”

Tribal chairman Dave Flute of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate learned Thursday about a leak in the pipeline. In a statement, Chairman Flute said, “We are monitoring the situation as this leak is adjacent to our reservation. We do not know the impact this has on our environment at this time but we are aware of the leak.”

John Dossett, who serves as General Counsel at the National Congress of the American Indians told Indian Country Today that such disasters are unfortunately more a matter of ‘when’ as opposed to ‘if.’

“Tribes in the Missouri River basin have spent a lot of time studying the risks of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” said Dossett.

“The bottom line is that pipeline spills are inevitable, it is not a question of if but when. Where lands or waters are affected by a federal decision, the trust duty requires that the government must protect tribal interests. Tribes are not opposed to development, they often welcome it. But this most recent spill underscores the need for tribal rights to be fully considered and protected by the federal trustee.”


Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter

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Center For Native American Youth Releases 2nd Annual ‘State of Native Youth’ Report

On November 15th, the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute (CNAY) released its second annual State of Native Youth report and also celebrated Native American Heritage Month with a panel event in Washington, DC.

Native youth panelists included Kayleigh Warren, Co-Chairwoman of the Santa Clara Pueblo Youth Tribal Council; Anthony Tamez, Co-President of Chi-Nations Youth Council; and Samuel Schimmel, 2017 CNAY Champion for Change.

“As a Native youth you should be strong in your values and doing what you should in support of your people,” said Native youth panelist Kayleigh Warren. Warren said she was also empowered by the strength of her culture in the face of any struggle. “My love for my people is stronger than anyone’s hate.”

Anthony Tamez stated he was proud to be Native and Black, yet sometimes faced pre-conceived stereotypes. “I am Native and Black, so that is who I am. But the idea of what Natives look like can be connected to things like the mascot issue. People tell me I don’t look like how people see Indians.”

Samuel Schimmel shared that he also battled with stereotypes, referencing a time when he told his teacher that not all Indians lived in tipi’s and all Eskimos did not live in igloo’s. The statement got him suspended from school.

Chrissie Castro, Vice Chairwoman of the Los Angeles City-County Native American Indian Commission also joined the youth panel discussion alongside CNAY Founder Senator Byron Dorgan (ret.) and CNAY Executive Director Erik Stegman.

They discussed the State of Native Youth report, put out for the second year by the Center for Native American Youth.

Courtesy CNAY

On November 15th, the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute (CNAY) released its second annual State of Native Youth report. The report is now available online.

“Our State of Native Youth report combines survey data, research, program highlights, and the stories of Native youth to give us a clear picture of the resources our young people need,” said Stegman in a release. “We strive to make this report a platform and road-map for building opportunity for Native youth across the country.”

Each year, the State of Native Youth report highlights priorities shared by Native youth in round-table meetings with CNAY and through virtual participation in the Gen-I Online Round-table Survey.

This year, survey participants identified culture and language, education, and employment as their top three priorities. In addition to sharing these findings, the report examines data indicators of Native youth success, as well as the policies that impact their lives.

In closing Dorgan said the Native youth gave him a great sense of hope and that the continued purpose of the CNAY was ‘to continue to find the good news to give us all great hopes for the future.”

Powerful stuff from the #NativeYouth panel at 2017 State of Native Youth Report Release Event.

Thanks to @Center4Native and @genindigenous for continuing to lift these voices that inspire us all!

Check out the report here:

— Youth & Engagement (@AspenInstYouth) November 15, 2017

Visit to access the live-stream in archives.

Click here to read the 2017 State of Native Youth report online.

Click here for a print-friendly version of the report.

The Center for Native American Youth believes Native American youth should lead full and healthy lives, have equal access to opportunity, and draw strength from their culture and one another. CNAY focuses on the resilience of Native youth and supports them through youth recognition, inspiration, and leadership; research, advocacy, and policy change; serving as a national resource exchange; and by developing strengths-based Native youth media opportunities. Learn more at


Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter –

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Video: Man on the Street—Ever Heard of Native American Heritage Month?

As part of Indian Country Today’s ‘Man on the Street” video series with correspondent Vincent Schilling, we thought we would ask about the month of November.

In this video, Schilling asks unsuspecting folks about the month of November and if they know it is Native American Heritage Month. Some answers are funny, if a bit disappointing, some are telling and some are just plain fun.

You might be surprised at some of the answers.

Do you have a question for ICTMN’s ‘Man on the Street?” Tweet us at @IndianCountry or @VinceSchilling and use the hashtag #ManOnTheStreet.

Follow Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling on Twitter – @VinceSchilling.

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6 Thanksgiving Myths and the Wampanoag Side of the Story

Considering Indian Country Today has published its fair share of the true history of Thanksgiving, in which 90 Wampanoag shared provisions with the Pilgrims in 1621, we thought we would take a bit of time delving into some of the most common misconceptions about the November holiday, especially since many Americans think it’s the only thing happening in November.

RELATED: Video: Man on the Street—Do You Know What November Is?

The Thanksgiving Day Celebration Originated From a Massacre

In 1621, though Pilgrims celebrated a feast, it was not repeated in the years to follow. In 1636, a murdered white man was found in his boat and the Pequot were blamed. In retaliation settlers burned Pequot villages.

Additionally, English Major John Mason rallied his troops to further burn Pequot wigwams and then attacked and killed hundreds more men, women and children. According to Mason’s reports of the massacre, “We must burn them! Such a dreadful terror let the Almighty fall upon their spirits that they would flee from us and run into the very flames. Thus did the Lord judge the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies.”

The Governor of Plymouth William Bradford wrote: “Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire…horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them.”

The day after the massacre, William Bradford who was also the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote that from that day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanks giving for subduing the Pequots and “For the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.”

Native Americans and the Pilgrims Were “Besties”

The above statement is straight from the mouth of a fifth-grader at Long Elementary School in Ohio, who stated the Indians (Wampanoag) and Pilgrims were not “besties” or best friends. True to this statement, the pilgrims in Massachusetts were far from friendly. Soon after arriving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Pilgrims went into Indians’ dwellings and cornfields and took whatever they wanted leaving beads behind. But that isn’t the picture that is painted by many accounts of the first Thanksgiving.

According to one colonist’s account in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen: “The next morning we found a place like a grave. We decided to dig it up. We found first a mat, and under that a fine bow… We also found bowls, trays, dishes, and things like that. We took several of the prettiest things to carry away with us, and covered the body up again.”

The Pilgrims settled in an area that was once Patuxet, a Wampanoag village, but it had been abandoned four years prior because of a deadly outbreak of a plague brought by European traders. Before 1616, the Wampanoag numbered 50,000 to 100,000, occupying 69 villages scattered throughout southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island. The plague, however, killed thousands, up to two-thirds, of them. Many also had been captured and sold as slaves.

This is a popular image of the first Thanksgiving, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. But this is definitely NOT what happened.

Native Americans and Pilgrims Came Together to Give Thanks and Celebrate

In 1621, when the Pilgrims were celebrating a successful harvest, they were shooting guns and cannons into the air. The Wampanoag chief and 90 warriors made their way to the settlement in full warrior mode—in response to the gunfire. As the Huffington Post’s Richard Schiffman puts it, “It remains an open question, however, whether the Wampanoag were actually invited, or if they crashed the party.”

The Pilgrims were most likely nervous—the Wampanoag outnumbered the Pilgrims two to one, but it certainly wasn’t the happy picture put forth in many history books. According to Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Ramona Peters, “It was Abraham Lincoln who used the theme of Pilgrims and Indians eating happily together. He was trying to calm things down during the Civil War when people were divided. It was like a nice unity story.”

RELATED: The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

They Ate Turkey, Sweet Potatoes and Cranberry Sauce at the First Thanksgiving

According to many historical accounts, there is no proof of turkey gobbling at the 1621 meal, but there was wild fowl (most likely geese or duck). Sweet potatoes were not yet grown in North American and cranberries are not a likely dessert food because sugar was an unaffordable luxury. Other items on the table included such things as venison, pumpkin, succotash and Indian corn.

A typical Thanksgiving dinner today includes turkey, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes. But this could not have been what was served traditionally.

RELATED: 1621: The Original Surf & Turf Meal

Europeans Appreciated Squanto’s Help

Many have heard the story of the friendly Indian Squanto who learned English from fishermen and later taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn and other vegetables. But what many history books don’t share is that Squanto was kidnapped as a boy and sold into slavery in Spain. After several years, Squanto struggled to get back to Cape Cod.

When he returned to his village, he discovered he was the only member of his tribe that remained—the rest were either killed in battle or died of disease during his absence.

Another myth here would be to note that Squanto did not learn English solely to help the colonists—it was a necessity to facilitate his escape so he could return home.

This 1911 illustration shows Squanto or Tisquantum teaching the Plymouth colonists to plant corn with fish. Bricker, Garland Armor. The Teaching of Agriculture in the High School. New York: Macmillan, 1911/Wikimedia Commons

Pilgrims Taught Indians About Thanksgiving

The Pilgrims did not introduce the sentiment of Thanksgiving to the Indians. According to Loewen, “Thanksgiving is full of embarrassing facts. The Pilgrims did not introduce the Native Americans to the tradition; Eastern Indians had observed autumnal harvest celebrations for centuries. Our modern celebrations date back only to 1863; not until the 1890s did the Pilgrims get included in the tradition; no one even called them ‘Pilgrims’ until the 1870s.”


This article was originally published on 11/28/13.

Follow Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling on Twitter at @VinceSchilling.

The post 6 Thanksgiving Myths and the Wampanoag Side of the Story appeared first on Indian Country Media Network.

American Indian Movement Co-Founder Dennis Banks Dies at 80 Years of Age

American Indian Movement co-founder, activist, author and teacher Dennis Banks has died at 80 years of age. Banks died from complications of pneumonia he had contracted following open heart surgery.

According to a recent post on his Facebook page by his family, Dennis Banks passed away at 10:10 pm on October 29, 2017 amidst family, friends and traditional song.

Our father Dennis J. Banks started his journey to the spirit world at 10:10 pm on October 29, 2017. As he took his last breaths, Minoh sang him four songs for his journey. All the family who were present prayed over him and said our individual goodbyes. Then we proudly sang him the AIM song as his final send off. Our father will be laid to rest in his home community of Leech Lake, MN. Presiding over traditional services will be Terry Nelson. We welcome all who would like to pay respects. As soon as arrangements are finalized, we will post details.Still Humbly Yours, The children and grandchildren of Nowacumig.”

In response to the announcement of his death, Facebook and Twitter have already been flooded with comments.

Lonn Duncan condolences to the family, our hearts, thoughts and prayers always. rest in peace brother. a true and great warrior.

Michael Mitchell Condolences to your family. A great leader to all Indigenous peoples.

Dennis Banks (Leech Lake Reservation, Minnesota Ojibwa / Anishinabe) is well-known for his role in co-founding the American Indian Movement (AIM) alongside George Mitchell and Clyde Bellecourt.

Banks is also infamous for his interactions with fellow AIM activist Russell Means at the Wounded Knee occupation. At the Wounded Knee uprising, federal agents fought against Native occupiers for 71 days resulting in the loss of life of two tribal members and serious wounds to a federal agent.

Means and Banks were charged in 1974 for their participation in the occupation, however, a judge in federal court threw out the charges on the grounds of federal misconduct.

On April 12, 2012, Banks received a Living Legends Award in Washington D.C. for his ‘contributions as a co-founder of the American Indian Movement and his ‘commitment to the well being of the American Indian community.’

As a teacher, Dennis Banks taught at Deganawida Quetzecoatl University in the 80’s but later was incarcerated for 1973 charges at the infamous ‘Custer riot.’ After an 18-month term, Banks continued to work for the rights of Native people both as a drug and alcohol counselor on the Pine Ridge Reservation and as an activist fighting for Native gravesite protections and repatriation, and legislation to protect these sites.

In 1978, Banks initiated “The Longest Walk” a traditional and spiritual journey from San Francisco to Washington DC. Aspects of the longest walk are still celebrated annually.

In addition to his activism, Dennis Banks acted in movies such as War Party (1988), The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Thunderheart (1992), and Older Than America (2008). As a musician he released Still Strong (1993) and teamed up with Peter Gabriel on Les Musiques du Monde and with Golden Globe and Grammy Award-winning artist Kitaro on the CD Let Mother Earth Speak.

He also got into politics and in August 2016, Banks was the vice presidential nominee on the Peace and Freedom Party, a socialist political party with ballot access in California with presidential nominee Gloria La Riva.

As Dennis Banks once told Indian Country Today in a 2013 interview, there will always be a place for activism and change.

“There’s always going to be a need for change whether it’s the American Indian Movement or Idle No More. Whether it’s now or 10 years from now, we’re always going to need those people to go out and confront the issues and take a stand even if we all become doctors and lawyers and senators and congressmen, even if we all become millionaires. There will still be a need to tell America that there are some very important contracts that were made in the 1700s and 1800s that deal with our land.”

The family has stated Dennis Banks will be buried in Leech Lake, Minnesota with traditional services.

Vincent Schilling is on Twitter – @VinceSchilling

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8 Myths and Atrocities About Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day

On the second Monday of October each year, Native Americans cringe at the thought of honoring Christopher Columbus, a man who committed atrocities against Indigenous Peoples.

Columbus Day was conceived by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic Fraternal organization, in the 1930s because they wanted a Catholic hero. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the day into law as a federal holiday in 1937, the rest has been history.

In an attempt to further thwart the celebration of this “holiday,” we at ICTMN have outlined eight misnomers and bloody, greedy, sexually perverse and horrendous atrocities committed by Columbus and his men.

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FULL BIBLIOGRAPHY AND SOURCES  USED FOR THIS ARTICLE HERE – Christopher Columbus’s Top Atrocities: The Annotated List 

On the Way—Christopher Columbus Stole a Sailor’s Reward

After obtaining funding for his explorations to reach Asia from the seizure and sale of properties from Spanish Jews and Muslims by order of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Columbus headed out to explore a new world with money and ships.

Brimming with the excitement of discovering new land, Columbus offered a reward of 10,000 maravedis or about $540 (a sailor’s yearly salary) for the first person to discover such land. Though another sailor saw the land in October 1492, Columbus retracted the reward he had previously offered because he claimed he had seen a dim light in the west.

Andrews, E. Benjamin. History of the United States, volume V. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1912/Wikimedia

Replicas of the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria in the North River, New York. They crossed from Spain to be present at the World’s Fair at Chicago.

Columbus Never Landed on American Soil—Not in 1492, Not Ever

We’re not talking about the Leif Ericson Viking explorer story.  We mean Columbus didn’t land on the higher 48—ever. Columbus quite literally landed in what is now known as the Bahamas and later Hispaniola, present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Upon arrival, Columbus and his expedition of weapon laden Spaniards met the Arawaks, Tainos and Lucayans—all friendly, according to Columbus’ writings. Soon after arriving, Columbus wrecked the Santa Maria and the Arawaks worked for hours to save the crew and cargo.

Impressed with the friendliness of the native people, Columbus seized control of the land in the name of Spain. He also helped himself to some locals. In his journal he wrote:

“As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.”

RELATED: American History Myths Debunked: Columbus Discovered America

Wikimedia Commons

The four voyages of Columbus are shown here.

Columbus Painted a Horrible Picture of Peaceful Natives

When Columbus first saw the Native Arawaks that came to greet him and his crew he spoke with a peaceful and admiring tone.

“They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things… They willingly traded everything they owned…  They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

After several months in the Caribbean, on January 13, 1493 two Natives were murdered during trading. Columbus, who had otherwise described the Natives as gentle people wrote “(they are) evil and I believe they are from the island of Caribe, and that they eat men.” He also described them as “savage cannibals, with dog-like noses that drink the blood of their victims.”

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The cannibal story is taught as fact in some of today’s schools.

Columbus’ Men Were Rapists and Murderers

On Columbus’s first trip to the Caribbean, he later returned to Spain and left behind 39 men who went ahead and helped themselves to Native women. Upon his return the men were all dead.With 1,200 more soldiers at his disposal, rape and pillaging became rampant as well as tolerated by Columbus.

This is supported by a reported close friend of Columbus, Michele de Cuneo who wrote the first disturbing account of a relation between himself and a Native female gift given to him by Columbus.

“While I was in the boat I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me, and with whom, having taken her into my cabin, she being naked according to their custom, I conceived desire to take pleasure. I wanted to put my desire into execution but she did not want it and treated me with her finger nails in such a manner that I wished I had never begun. But seeing that (to tell you the end of it all), I took a rope and thrashed her well, for which she raised such unheard of screams that you would not have believed your ears. Finally we came to an agreement in such manner that I can tell you that she seemed to have been brought up in a school of harlots.”

Several accounts of cruelty and murder include Spaniards testing the sharpness of blades on Native people by cutting them in half, beheading them in contests and throwing Natives into vats of boiling soap. There are also accounts of suckling infants being lifted from their mother’s breasts by Spaniards, only to be dashed headfirst into large rocks.

Bartolome De Las Casas, a former slave owner who became Bishop of Chiapas, described these exploits. “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel,” he wrote. “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.”

Christopher Columbus Enslaved the Native People for Gold

Because Columbus reported a plethora of Natives for slaves, rivers of gold and fertile pastures to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, Columbus was given 17 ships and more than 1,200 men on his next expedition. However, Columbus had to deliver. In the next few years, Columbus was desperate to fulfill those promises—hundreds of Native slaves died on their way back to Spain and gold was not as bountiful as expected.

Christopher Columbus presents Native Americans to Queen Isabella.

Columbus forced the Natives to work in gold mines until exhaustion. Those who opposed were beheaded or had their ears cut off.

In the provinces of Cicao all persons over 14 had to supply at least a thimble of gold dust every three months and were given copper necklaces as proof of their compliance. Those who did not fulfill their obligation had their hands cut off, which were tied around their necks while they bled to death—some 10,000 died handless.

In two years’ time, approximately 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead. Many deaths included mass suicides or intentional poisonings or mothers killing their babies to avoid persecution.

According to Columbus, in a few years before his death, “Gold is the most precious of all commodities; gold constitutes treasure, and he who possesses it has all he needs in the world, as also the means of rescuing souls from purgatory, and restoring them to the enjoyment of paradise.”

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Columbus Provided Native Sex Slaves to His Men

In addition to putting the Natives to work as slaves in his gold mines, Columbus also sold sex slaves to his men—some as young as 9. Columbus and his men also raided villages for sex and sport.

In the year 1500, Columbus wrote: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”

Columbus’ Men Used Native People as Dog Food

In the early years of Columbus’ conquests there were butcher shops throughout the Caribbean where Indian bodies were sold as dog food. There was also a practice known as the montería infernal, the infernal chase, or manhunt, in which Indians were hunted by war-dogs.

These dogs—who also wore armor and had been fed human flesh, were a fierce match for the Indians. Live babies were also fed to these war dogs as sport, sometimes in front of horrified parents.

Christopher Columbus Returned to Spain in Shackles—But Was Pardoned

After a multitude of complaints against Columbus about his mismanagement of the island of Hispaniola, a royal commissioner arrested Columbus in 1500 and brought him back to Spain in chains.

Though he was stripped of his governor title, he was pardoned by King Ferdinand, who then subsidized a fourth voyage.

RELATED: Christopher Columbus, The Myths Behind the Man

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This story was originally published October 14, 2013.

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Prepare for Hard Times, Rebuild Yourself, Be Stewards: Turtle Lodge’s Dave Courchene

Editor’s note: This week Turtle Lodge, the spiritual center in Sagkeeng First Nation in what is today Manitoba, hosted a gathering for the First Nations falling under Treaties One through 11.

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.

RELATED: Indigenous People Must Lead World to Sustainability

“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.

“Stop thinking negatively and fill your mind with positive thoughts,” he continued. “Depend on the land again, for all that you will need to survive. Prepare for the times when people will come looking for help. Prepare to receive the land with your leadership as the true stewards of the land.”

Below is his full statement.

Nii Gaani Aki Inini (Dave Courchene) Presentation at Treaties 1-11 Gathering at Brandon, Manitoba—August 30, 2016

Boozhoo, Aniin, Dinaymakinatook!

Nii Gaani Aki Inini Ndishnikaaz, Kinew Nindoodem, Sagkeeng Nindoonjibaa.

(Anishnabemowin language being spoken)

Our allegiance has always been with the land. This must not change.

We must not be drawn into a world that supports man’s self-importance, through his ideologies, and his concepts of owning and controlling the land through his politics.   His ideologies work to ensure his dominance and control over continued exploitation of the land for the sake of his economy.

In their world, they will not listen to reason. They will continue to rationalize their position of exploitation, and no one will get in the way of their understanding of progress.

Recently, I sat alone by the river surrounded by the trees, with the sounds of the geese, the seagulls and the crows. I felt the peace of the land, and I reflected…

What have we done to ourselves? What have we done to the land?

And I ask myself with a sense of hopelessness, what can I do? What can I do to help change the current path of destruction??

Then the land tells me: it begins with me.

Then it dawns on me. I remember the teachings I was given from the Knowledge Keepers of our nations, the teachings that came from the lodges, that were filled with sacred songs from the drum.   They always reminded me to stay true to my spirit. I was told, “Through your spirit you will find yourself. You will find your true identity that will define your true purpose and meaning to life.”

Through the lodges we are encouraged to stay in alignment with nature’s laws and not to leave the sacred fires of our lodges.

The spirit and the land advise us to stay true to our alignment and allegiance to the earth. They remind us it will be the power of the earth that will stop the invasion of the earth.

The day will come… No one can beat you, when you show kindness and respect.

So when that day comes, and it will come, we can stand without shame that we have stayed true and loyal to the ancestral ways.

We need to reflect on our own history beginning with knowing our own creation, and knowing our beginning.

We need to remember how our ancestors lived so close to the land without destroying her.

We need to acknowledge those that helped us survive the dark times of colonization.

In the beginning we were given instructions on how to be a human being—a human being that would take care of the land, and love the land. We were given teachings to act as a foundation to having a good life. These teachings would be connected to a sacred relationship with the land. These teachings would support the natural laws of Mother Earth. For thousands and thousands of years, our ancestors lived by those teachings and original instructions.

Then the invasion began. What is important for us to realize today is to acknowledge what helped us endure and survive these dark times, and still today we must continue to endure.   Colonization is very much a continued imposition in our lives.

During the darkest times of our history, it was our way of life that helped us survive to this day.

It was the ones who remained loyal and true to the original instructions we were given as a people by our Creator…

Those who kept the ceremonies going underground…

Those that kept the sacred fires burning…

Those that continue to speak the languages of our people…

Those that sang the songs of the land, of the ancestors.

And so it is today, that we must rely on those who have kept the sacred fires burning…

Those that keep our lodges going…

Those that speak the languages of our people…

The language is really the language of the land itself.

We need to reflect on what has always helped us to survive, and it has always been our way of life. It has kept us closely connected to the land, and as long as we maintain that alliance, that closeness to the land, we will survive the changes that are coming.

What we should be concerned about is carrying out our duties and responsibilities and being stewards of the land. We cannot live out that stewardship without understanding, that knowing and understanding the stewardship that comes with responsibility.

Our efforts should be put into preserving this knowledge, protecting the Knowledge Keepers of our nations, offering support to our Knowledge Keepers who take care of the knowledge in our lodges.

Trying to convince those that are destroying the earth is a wasted effort, when our efforts should be in restoring and reviving our way of life.

As we do this, we must put full effort in teaching our children, our youth about this way of life, that carries duties and responsibilities.

We are told that it will be the forces of nature herself, that will stop the abuse that is inflicted on her.

With the earth wants are messengers to share her laws, to share and to teach the youth, of all nations.

What Mother Earth wants is to have her children to love her and to respect her, and to be instruments of peace.

So many of our young people are lost, and we continue to encourage them to accept a way of life that is destroying their beautiful little spirits.

And how they deal with this is that they resist; they rebel, some with anger, addiction, and at worst, suicide.

We have failed the youth. But we can still do them proud.

Bring them back to the lodges, to the land for the healing that will help them find themselves… find their dreams again. Heal the hearts that have been broken. Give the spirit and the land the opportunity to guide our people again. She will never betray us, as she has consistently shown us over and over again.

Nature’s laws are self-enforcing. No law of man can prevent or have power over the power of nature. Allow the earth to take its natural course in correcting those that have put themselves above the natural laws.

Let us work with Mother Earth again, beginning with our children. There should be no doubt that the earth with its power will bring balance and harmony to the earth again.

No one has the human power, the political power, to overrule the forces of nature and her laws.

The future should be one that invests in our children by making access to the traditional knowledge and the lodges of the nations – preparing them to be the leaders of their people.

I often ask myself, what would the ancestors think of what is happening to our world being destroyed, and what would they have advised us to do to deal with all of this?

It’s so easy to get caught up in the politics and the confusion and the anger, that we lose sight of the truth. Feeling helpless and hopeless only makes things worse, making us numb and wanting to withdraw from all this madness, this insanity, and you want to escape. And some have chosen drugs in this escape. Some have chosen just to leave this world; suicide has become too common in our communities.

There I hear the voice of the ancestors:

“Come home, come home now, follow and we will take you home. What you look for is right in front of you, it is right inside of you. It is just that you have strayed from the path of your ancestors, the path your ancestors have left you.”

The ancestors say, “We will help you get on the path again, follow us through your dreams, through your heart, through your spirit. Follow those that have not strayed, those that have kept the ceremonies alive, the Knowledge Keepers of our nations.”

Years ago an elder said to me:

“Go home and start your sacred fire, and don’t ever leave it. Through the fire you will be guided, through the fire you will learn about the sun.   Through the fire you will be given many teachings. Dreams will be sent to you to guide you towards your own awakening and healing. There will be dreams of ceremonies you must do. Follow these dreams, have faith in the spirit, and have faith in yourself.”

As I reflect on what the elder had said, it all came to be true. And his advice applies today more than ever:

Light the sacred fires. This is part of coming home. This is what will help us to awaken from this nightmare. The warmth of the fire will comfort us.   Guide us. The fire will strengthen our spirit. We will see our ancestors in the fire. The fire will lead us into the lodges, into the ceremonies, and onto the land, to the sacred sites that have been left for us.

When we have done this, we will be given guidance and direction. And we will become strong again in our faith. We will know what to do in any given situation, because we will be connected to the spirit.

In any confusion or doubt, all we need to do is return back to the lodges for direction.

The answers we are looking for today have already been given, and they are held within the hearts of the Knowledge Keepers of our nations. Seek them out, find them and they will guide you to find yourselves. Then you will know your destiny and your gifts. Then you will be in a position to help fulfil the prophecy of your ancestors. You will be one of the few who believed, who follow the ancestors – to claim our rightful place in our homeland, to be the true leaders of our homeland.

It will be the forces of the land that will secure our leadership, simply because we have stayed aligned with her and her natural laws. She in the end will bring a halt to all of this insanity. All we have to do is stay close to the sacred fires, go to the lodges, learn more from the spirit, and spend more time on the land.

Prepare for the hard times that are coming. 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.

Stop thinking negatively and fill your mind with positive thoughts. Depend on the land again, for all that you will need to survive. Prepare for the times when people will come looking for help. Prepare to receive the land with your leadership as the true stewards of the land.

The real significance and meaning of the treaties was to allow us to claim our true identity as a people. And we have survived some really hard times, but it has made us stronger, and now we are ready to restore and rebuild our nations. As we do, help them to join us in our efforts and taking care of the land, for we must teach them to love the land as we do.

As we do all of this, it will be in alignment with nature.   She will prepare us, take care of us, and love us as she always has. And no one can prevent this alliance – it is only ourselves who may lose faith and continue to rely on a system that does not honour spirit or the land.

We have a choice. Let’s make that choice now…

The longer we engage in their politics, the more time that we have wasted, when we could have put more effort in reclaiming and restoring our identity as a people.

And we go to the land who is the real force of change.

I remember being in the ceremony when the question was asked, how can we stop the pulp and paper mill that is destroying the environment, the land, the water and the air?

Through the elder, the spirit responded, “Don’t worry about the mill—we will take care of it.   All you need to do is concern yourselves with living the way of life that the Creator has given. Continue to show gratitude for all that nature has to offer. Talk to the spirit of the water, the trees and the animals. All your survival and direction will come from the land.”

During a recent ceremony of blessing of the land, this message came from the spirit of the Thunderbirds:

“Don’t worry yourselves on what man is doing destroying the earth, because we will help put a stop to this. As the Thunderbirds we will use the fire, the wind and the water. Stay true to your way of life as real stewards of the land. And stay close to us, with your offerings. ”

In the 60s, there was this resurgence across the country and I was fortunate to be within the presence of those leaders at that time – George Manuel from BC, Harold Cardinal from Alberta, Walter Dieter from Saskatchewan, Andrew Delisle from Quebec, and of course my own father.

I witnessed and heard their discussions as they struggle to take us out of the imposition and colonial structures we were living in. What I remember the most was their passion to claim a right to live our sovereignty as a people. They spoke of removing the barriers that prevented us as people to live our true identity as a people.

Through all of their efforts, they opened the door for future generations to claim their right of identity. Unfortunately not many returned to the ancestral way of life of their people.

Assimilation continued to be the norm, education became the continued tool to assimilate. It was easy to be distracted from claiming our own right to define the true education that our children deserve. Today our children suffer from an identity crisis that has created many negative symptoms, for example, children in foster care, suicide, incarcerations, and many other health problems of our people. We did not seize on the opportunities created by those leaders of that time, even though our leaders of that time open the doors for us to reclaim our right of identity.

It was not easy. Our people have been like birds, cage for so long, that even once the doors were opened, it was as though these birds had forgotten how to fly. What has held them back and held our people back has been the fear to be themselves; to follow our beautiful and ancient way of life, because of the fear that was instilled into their minds.

Once again we are forced to reflect on deciding on what direction we should work on to claim our right of identity, our rights of sovereignty, our right of leadership in our homeland.

When our ancestor signed the treaties, they did it in the fullness of their identity, which was reflected in the gift of the pipe, the rattle and the drum. And through their great wisdom they saw that the reserves we live on would be reserved for us to retreat, to rebuild, and to continue to live the ancestral ways of our people, with no interference from the colonizer.

Our struggle to break free from the colonizer and his structures is still our current struggle. Decolonization is very much a challenge.

When we refer to the treaties we must first of all understand clearly who we are, beginning with our own creation stories, complete with our own history, and our duties and responsibilities that our Great Creator gave to us.

One of these responsibilities is to be caretakers of our homeland.

To reflect stewardship.

To live our way of life as a people.

To speak our languages.

To follow the fullness of our culture.

Why are we not embracing that opportunity our leaders of the past have opened?

The laws that prevented us from living our identity have been removed.   There is nothing that can stop us from living our culture and our identity as a people now. All we need is the faith and courage to do so. Within the territories, granted as limited as they are, we must regroup and rebuild the spirit of our nations. Putting up our lodges is paramount in claiming our right of sovereignty.

Our sovereignty comes through our relationship with the Great Spirit and Mother Earth. That is something no one can take away from us.

When we are living our way of life we are not bound by colonial laws or structures. Our way of life is not defined by political influences. We simply be who we are – a kind, caring, loving and humble people.

Our way of life defines our original instructions that we were given by our great Creator, how to be Anishnabe. We were given duties and responsibilities in taking care of our children, our families and our elders. We were given instructions and responsibilities in taking care of the land.

This is what we should be concentrating on, and giving more support to—our way of life.

There has to be an investment in securing our culture, which includes our languages, our teachings, our songs, and our ceremonies.

Our treaties have secured that for us, and the colonizer will never and should never be in a position of teaching us our way of life. Their concern is to assimilate us, and it is working quite well for them. But it will never work completely, as long as we have those amongst our nations who continue to be faithful and loyal to our way of life. These are whom we must turn to, for their help to return to our way of life our ancestors have left us. Support those lodges that have kept our way of life alive.

Within the sacred lodges of our nations, wait for our ancestors, to help guide us, to help us remember, to help heal us, and to decolonize our minds.

With the colonizer, we encourage them to help support our autonomy that defines our solutions, our resolve to finding ourselves again. They have a shared responsibility to help bring back what they took away. That would be real reconciliation.

As an autonomous, self-determining people, it will be our elders and our Knowledge Keepers that we will depend upon to bring back that knowledge, that understanding of our identity.

What is treaty? To me, it is how we treat ourselves, our children, our mothers, and fathers, our elders, our friends and neighbours, and how we treat the land. A treaty is a covenant – it is a commitment. This is what our ancestors, I believe, meant, that defined our identity and relationship.

That relationship has also included the newcomers. We would share not only the land, we would share the values, the teachings, the protocols in taking care of the land. It is never too late for them to change – to join us in taking care of the land.

We must teach the youth, as much as we must teach our own.   Our survival depends on everyone. And we must express our leadership and making welcome to those who want to learn.

And finally, I am going to humbly propose that we set up a group or Knowledge Keepers Council, because they are the ones that we need the help from the most. Because they are the ones that hold the knowledge, they hold the protocols, they hold the closeness to the ancestors through ceremony.

When the treaties were signed, when our people could not understand the language that was being spoken, what did they do? They went to the elders, to go into ceremony to seek guidance on what they must do. Should they sign those documents that they call treaties? And for days they gathered, waiting for the answer that would come through ceremony.

And it was the spirit itself that gave the approval for the leaders at that time to sign the documents. They saw something that maybe we don’t see today, but they saw the future. And it was only through the spirit that the future is revealed.

We need to call our Knowledge Keepers back. I propose that from every treaty area, that we select those Knowledge Keepers, and that we call a gathering as soon as possible. I am prepared to host this gathering at the Turtle Lodge, and we must do it from our own efforts. It cannot be done through applying for a grant, or assistance from the government, from the colonizer. It has to come from ourselves. That each treaty area take the responsibility to support their elders, and that the elders go for the guidance and the direction that we need today more than ever.

Our young people deserve the right to be guided by the Knowledge Keepers. So many of our young people have become angry, and as a result they have become very politicized. Through the lodges of our people we are told that we are a peaceful people; that our strength comes from being a kind, caring, humble and giving people.

It is through the connection to our ancestors and the spirit that we will move beyond this current world, a world that does not understand who we are, that we still continue to live marginalized in our homeland and not understood.

So many of our young people today do not know who they are. That is our responsibility, no one else’s. No one can come to heal us. No one can give us that life that we all want and expect. Only the Creator can give us that. That is what you will hear in the lodges of our people.

If we are serious about loving our children, then please consider what I am proposing, to call upon the elders and the Knowledge Keepers of our nations – the opportunity to come together so they can seek guidance and direction for all of us through ceremony itself.

Thank you so much for showing patience as I shared my own thoughts and feelings. In keeping with the spirit of the lodges, we are told:

“May your life be filled with the fullness that your life deserves, that your life be filled with all the love and all the respect and all the kindness, and all the love that the land continues to give to us.”

May we feel that love.


Nii Gaani Aki Inini – Leading Earth Man (Dave Courchene), Anishnabe Nation, Eagle Clan is the Founder of Turtle Lodge.

The story was originally published on September 2, 2016.

The post Prepare for Hard Times, Rebuild Yourself, Be Stewards: Turtle Lodge’s Dave Courchene appeared first on Indian Country Media Network.

How Mormons Assimilated Native Children

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series about the Indian Student Placement Program, a foster-care and education program for Native youths administered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints between 1947 and 2000.

Veronica Wallace pressed her face against the bus window and stared into the darkness.

At 13, Wallace was en route from her home in Shawnee, Oklahoma, to Lakewood, Colorado, to live with a family she’d never met. The bus cut across the darkened countryside during the wee hours of the August morning as its passengers slept, talked quietly, listened to Motown music or cried, Wallace says.

“It was a very lonely, very sad trip. It was 2 or 3 in the morning, and I had no idea where I was going.”

It was 1970 and Wallace, who is Sac & Fox, had agreed to spend the next nine months in the Indian Student Placement Program. Run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the program matched Native youths with white Mormon host families who took care of them during the school year and returned them to their reservations for the summer.

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For the half-century the program was in operation (from 1947 to 2000), an estimated 40,000 Native youths from 60 tribes left their homes in favor of a better education and a brighter future. But the program had a secondary goal: bringing Indian students in contact with the morals and cultural practices of the Mormon Church.

Wallace, who was baptized as a Mormon at age 8, was accustomed to the principles of the church, which is known for its high moral standards and emphasis on the family. When her host parents welcomed the “little Indian girl” into their home, Wallace readily adopted this second family.

Cultural and religious clashes were inevitable, however, Wallace says. Her birth parents divorced when she was young and a grandmother raised her, introduced her to the church and encouraged her to go on the placement program. During a visit to Colorado, Wallace’s birth mother sat in the host family’s house and smoked a cigarette.

“That was bad,” Wallace says. “Her lifestyle was not keeping with the standards, and so I knew I had to choose.”

Wallace’s choice, though difficult, was common for placement students. The program, founded on principles of assimilation, forced some students to choose between birth parents and foster families, and between Native tradition and the church’s “higher law.” And the stakes were high: students who failed to meet the church’s standards were sent home.

The Business of Saving Souls

At its start in 1947, the Indian Student Placement Program saw church leaders fussing about how to meet the needs of one Navajo student. Yet by the end of its first decade, the program was beginning to look more like an industry.

Full-time missionaries and paid recruiters visited Indian reservations looking for students. Parents, seeing the economic and educational benefits of the program, sometimes enrolled all their qualifying children. In the fall, students arrived by the busload at reception centers in Utah and surrounding states, where they received food, medical exams, baths, shampoos and disinfectants before going home with foster families.

Problems arose with logistics and the sheer number of students and families involved, said Jessie Embry, a research professor at the church-owned Brigham Young University.

“There were rules about what students were supposed to be,” she said. “They were supposed to be academically up with their class, physically fit and emotionally stable.”

Above all, once the program was officially recognized, students were required to be at least 8 years old—the age of accountability—and be baptized into the Mormon Church. But if ritual was the only thing that stood between a youth and opportunity, baptism was easy enough to accomplish, Embry said.

“There are some examples of people getting baptized just to go on placement,” she said. “Host families would joke that children came with wet hair, that they were baptized just before getting on the bus. There are other stories about children not even knowing they were being baptized. The missionaries said, ‘Come with me and I’ll buy you a hamburger,’ and then they were baptized.”

Other problems arose as the program grew. At its height, more than 5,000 students were on the program, which had expanded to Arizona, Canada, California, Colorado, Idaho, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota and Georgia. Administration became difficult and the number of participants put social and financial strains on the church.

Caseworkers, the program’s only paid employees, were charged with making regular visits to all foster families and helping to iron out everything from familial disputes to cultural clashes. But the program had too many students and too little oversight, Embry said.

In the 1966-67 school year, there were 1,569 students on the program and only 19 caseworkers. That was 85 students for every professional, Embry said. The following year, 46 caseworkers supervised 3,123 students—or 67 students per worker.

“The program was set up so the caseworker had a presence in every student’s life,” she said. “Some students were on the program for years and never saw one.”

Kinks in the program led to breakdowns in communication, in oversight and, ultimately, in the welfare of students and foster families, said James Allen, a former historian for the Mormon Church. Individual students’ success depended on many factors, including their own preparation, the stability of foster families, support from birth families and individual interpretations of the program.

“There were numerous stresses and strains, usually connected with the problem of crossing cultural barriers,” Allen said. “Some foster families gave up in just a few months, others after the first year. Some never fully understood their foster children.”

But problems were bigger than disagreements or cultural clashes in individual homes, said Elise Boxer, a professor of history and Native American Studies at the University of South Dakota. An enrolled citizen of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, Boxer also is an active member of the Mormon Church. She completed her dissertation on the Mormon concepts of whiteness and indigenous identity.

“From the Mormon perspective, the program is seen as a success, as something that provided cultural, educational and economic opportunity the students wouldn’t have otherwise,” Boxer said. “But if you start looking at the language, it’s problematic. Mormon homes became a tool to aid in the assimilation of Indian children.”

A System of Racism

Originally called the Lamanite Student Placement Program, the project was riddled with ethical and philosophical problems, Boxer said. The term “Lamanite,” used for America’s indigenous people, carries with it a “religiously racialized identity,” she said.

“American Indian people as Lamanites are a promised people, but also a fallen people,” Boxer said. “The traditions of their forefathers, or the traditions they hold onto today are perversions or half-truths. So their conversion to Mormonism, to the ‘true gospel,’ is going to play a part in the civilization of Indians.”

The Book of Mormon, viewed as sacred text by church members, promises that Lamanites, who were cursed with dark skin, will become “white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome.” That promise, Boxer said, leads to a damaging cognitive dissonance, especially for Native youth.

“They are physically different from white Mormons, but they buy into the promise and internalize that identity,” she said. “The program is suddenly about privileging their Mormon identity at the expense of their indigenous identity.”

Rules distributed to students mandated they put aside their Native traditions in favor of Mormon customs. A 1973 student guide published by the church instructs them to “try to learn the accepted ways of behavior in the society in which you live. Be anxious to accept those ways of the church which will help you fit into the modern society of today.”

The guide prohibits students from speaking in their Native languages “when there is someone present who does not understand.” Students also are instructed to “show interest in the experiences of others,” be cheerful and friendly and “achieve and not fail.” Even at home during the summer, students were prohibited from practicing their Native religions or ceremonies. Failure to follow the rules could have resulted in expulsion from the program.

“Remember, the people with whom you associate at home, at church, at school or wherever you will be may judge all Indian people according to what you do and say,” the guide states.

Foster families were selected on the basis of strong marital relationships, high moral standards, activity in the church, financial circumstances and a desire to help “a Lamanite child gain an education.” Families were promised Native children “free from communicable diseases” and “comparatively free from serious emotional disturbances,” states a 1965 guide for foster parents.

The program also came with a prophetic promise. In a 1960 speech to the church, Mormon Apostle Spencer W. Kimball remarked on the “progress of the Indian people” in the Indian Student Placement Program. Students’ skin, he said, was growing “as light as Anglos.” Children living in foster homes were “several shades lighter” than their dark fathers and mothers.

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“The day of the Lamanites is nigh,” he said. “For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised.”

Courtesy LDS Church History Collection

Elder Spencer W. Kimball, President George Albert Smith, Elder Anthony W. Ivins standing) and Elder Matthew Cowley meeting with group of Lamanites and others soon after the three brethren were called to serve on the Church Indian Affairs Committee.

Living in Two Worlds

The Indian Student Placement Program was not designed to fully assimilate Native children into the white culture, Boxer said. Rather, its goal was to take Native children and turn them into “agents of change.”

“They were supposed to go to school, go to college, but they were also supposed to go home to their reservations and help uplift and convert people,” she said. “One of the tenets of Mormonism requires its members, non-Indians, to save Indian people. One solution would be to convert Indian children who would also aid in the process from within their own communities.”

But that logic was flawed, Embry said. Students who embraced the Mormon faith and succeeded academically often felt out of place on their reservations or among traditional Native practices. Such was the case for Wallace, who left the program and her foster family in Colorado after ninth grade.

“Over the summer, I went back to my life,” she says. “I went to powwows, hung out with my family. It was more difficult because we dealt with alcoholism and poverty, but it was home and I realized I wanted to be there.”

Wallace subsequently fell away from the church and was inactive for 15 years. Now 57 and again an active member of the church, she said her biggest regret is not completing the program.

“That’s where I got my foundation—in life and in the church. The church was everything to me and I left it because it was too hard.”

RELATED: Assimilation Tool or a Blessing? Inside the Mormon Indian Student Placement Program

The story was originally posted on Jan 11, 2016.

The post How Mormons Assimilated Native Children appeared first on Indian Country Media Network.