A Record-Breaking Year Ahead For #NativeVote18 Candidates

What kind of year is this for Native American candidates running for elected offices across the country? Once again there is a great answer found in Montana: There are 17 Native American candidates running for the Montana House and Senate. Seventeen! If elected, that would total more than 11 percent of the legislature.

Montana has the numbers — did I report, seventeen? — but the same enthusiasm is surfacing across the country. The Trahant Reports #NativeVote18 spreadsheets show a dozen candidates running for Congress; half a dozen campaigning for statewide office; and at least 75 running for state legislatures. I haven’t yet collected data for candidates for city and county offices but there is anecdotal evidence that the same trend is present. (I have more to report on candidates for Congress and statewide races soon.)

Several patterns are emerging from the data about candidates for state legislatures.

One. There are more Native Americans running in urban districts.

Much of the success of Native candidates in recent years has been, in part, in states where there is a fair redistricting process. So in Montana there is a certainty about representation from reservation communities. But this is the next level. Candidates like Jade Bahr, Northern Cheyenne, who’s running in Billings. She’s a Democrat, says “We’ve got quite the race for HD 50 in our hands. I’ve got a primary opponent, a Republican opponent and a Libertarian to run against in the upcoming elections,” Bahr posted on Facebook. “Time to raise some money and knock doors. A vote is your voice. Stand with me and get us progressives in office.”

Another urban candidate is Ruth Buffalo in Fargo, North Dakota. Buffalo, the Insurance Commissioner, was the party’s nominee two years ago for a statewide office, and she has remained active in Democratic NonPartisan League politics. Buffalo is a Mandan Hidatsa Arikara tribal citizen. She would be the only Native woman in the legislature.

Chris Roberts, Choctaw, was the mayor of Shoreline, Washington, and a member of the city council. He’s now running for the state legislature from that district. He wrote on Facebook: “I have decided to run for 32nd District State Representative, Position 2, because we should not live in a society where my son has nightmares about someone with a gun coming to his school. I am running because my neighbor should not be scared in public because of the color of her skin. I am running to roll up my sleeves and solve our state’s problems, from improving customer service with the Department of Social and Health Services to improving the graduation rates of urban Indians. I want to make sure that no-one goes bankrupt because they saw the doctor and that seven generations from now, they will tell stories about how we protected our Salish Sea.”

Debbie Nez-Manuel, Navajo, is a Democratic candidate for the Arizona state Senate from Mesa. “We are getting there, one door at a time. The door-to-door experience has taught me so much more about our district,” she posted on Facebook. “The students, the professionals, the elders — everyone here is living life and working hard. Some describe their dreams for education, some are lonely, some are thankful because they just landed a job, some are dealing with chronic health conditions, while others are simply happy that I took a moment to sit and listen.”

Two. There are more candidates than ever who are new to politics, more than a third of the #NativeVote18 candidates are running for their first office.

Keaton Sunchild, Chippewa Cree, is a student at Great Falls High School and a candidate for the Montana House as a Democrat. He told the Great Falls Tribune: “Kids have the ability to change the world … we need young leaders and newer ideas.”

Allison Renville, Hunkpapa Lakota, is running as a Democrat for the South Dakota Senate as a Bernie-style progressive. She wrote on Facebook. “I love my community, I’ve journeyed far and across the country but my spirit is here in District 1, South Dakota. Because of this love, and a memory I still have of what an interdependent rural lifestyle feels like.” She’s asking for donations of $27 to make that happen. “I could use your help. With your donation of $27 I can build my website, buy signs and even attend candidate trainings; becoming better equipped for my run at the South Dakota State Senate. I recognize the power of collectively getting behind a cause we all support, and just like so many others I hope to follow in the footsteps of Senator Sanders.”

Three. There is a Democratic wave. But also a growth in Green Party and independent candidates.

A whopping 85 percent of the candidates on the #NativeVote18 list are Democrats. Nine Republicans. And 2 Greens. If you include statewide offices and Congress the growth of third-party candidates seeking election representing Indian Country is remarkable.

Aaron Camacho, Prairie Band of Potawatomi, is a candidate for the Wisconsin Senate. “I firmly think that it is necessary to loosen the grip of the perceived two party system in order allow our citizens access to equitable choices in representation,” she writes on her website. “Doing so requires our votes go toward candidates who will stand for the People. Often candidates must overcome socioeconomic disadvantages, often succumbing to cooperate influence through gifts and monetary donations. We need to address issues with money in politics that stifle our citizen’s calls for informed decisions in reaching sustainable outcomes and beyond. We need to take the Power of the People back and place it in the hands of the ordinary citizen.”

Most of the Republicans on this list do not spend a lot of time on Indian Country issues. In fact some do not even mention their tribal citizenship. However Brian Terry is a physician and in the Tennessee House. He is Choctaw and said early medical issues as a child shaped his thinking. “Knowing the struggles his parents had dealing with his medical problems, Bryan took personal responsibility to heart and earned his way through medical school in order not only to help himself, but others,” his campaign website said.

Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, Navajo, represents the Navajo Nation in the New Mexico Legislature. She’s the rare Republican and has run for tribal chairman as well as the state House. She’s co-chair of the Native Americans for Trump and cites energy independence as her opposition to “ever increasing regulations” as her reasons. The NM 4th District is more than 70 percent Navajo voters.

State legislatures are important, and the representation by Native Americans is a success story that’s often gone unreported. At nearly 1 percent nationwide, the Native American rate of representation in state legislatures still trails that of the nation’s overall population of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. But it’s also more than half of the 1.7 percent that make up the Native American population in the United States.

And in several states Native American legislators are in leadership, a seat at the table on every major issue that comes before that body.

Washington Sen. John McCoy, Tulalip, is the Democratic Party’s caucus chair. This year he successfully sponsored legislation to improve the teaching of Native American history in schools. “If we have any hope to bring peace to our increasingly polarized country, we must focus on teaching our children a fact-driven, accurate narrative of our collective history,” said McCoy. “Understanding tribal treaty rights and the history of our 29 federally recognized indigenous sovereign nations is crucial to understanding the past and present of our great state. There have been many great tribal leaders, like Billy Frank Jr., whose legacy deserves to be taught in our schools. It is also important that students are learning about some of the hard realities – how thousands of Native American children were separated from their families and ‘assimilated’ at government or religious boarding schools run by white missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries.”

In Alaska, Native leaders are at both sides of the table. House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, Yup’ik, has said his Native background defines how he views the world. He told the Bristol Bay Times: “I know it’s not only my children and maybe their children’s future, but it’s also the future of our way of life out here in rural Alaska and a lot of our Native villages.” The House Minority Leader is Charisse Millett, Inupiaq. In a previous legislature, Millett was instrumental in legislating Alaska Native languages as official state languages.

Four. One challenge that remains are in states without any Native American representation.

There are no tribal citizens in the Nevada legislature. Two candidates are running to be the first in California: James Ramos, San Manuel, and Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Wintu. Both are Democrats. And Idaho Rep. Paulette Jordan, Coeur d’Alene,  is a candidate for governor and resigned her seat in the legislature.

Mary Sue Femath, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, is running in El Paso, Texas, for a House seat. “El Paso has had many firsts in Texas history – A non-discrimination ordinance, the first basketball team to start five African-American players in a national championship and the first ever county ethics commission,” her campaign website says. “Let’s make history one more time and elect Texas’ first Native American to the Texas House of Representatives.”

I stand ready to make a difference for District 75! Let’s celebrate our unique landscape and diverse cultural backgrounds! Together we can make a difference! I humbly ask for your vote and oppurtunity to represent you. #MasConMarySue

A post shared by MarySue Femath (@marysue_femath) on Mar 4, 2018 at 12:32pm PST

Native candidates are, of course, breaking barriers. Some of that occurs because of the power of story, letting voters know what’s at stake in any election. But it’s a because of successful efforts to have districts that represent tribal communities.

Former Montana Sen. Carol Juneau, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara, said it’s critical to get more American Indians to serve on state commissions that actually draw legislative boundaries in order to improve representation.

Montana has “six Indian majority House districts and three Indian majority Senate districts meaning that with elections and the populations and the geographical boundaries, those Indian people or the people within that district have the option of electing somebody they choose. It doesn’t say they have to be Indian. It just says they have an opportunity to elect people within that district,” Juneau said. “That was a long process, court cases, the redistricting process. Those are steps that every state could take that does that and gain power. Those are those building blocks to political power.”

Building blocks, yes. And did I mention, Montana has seventeen candidates? Fifteen Democrats, 1 Republican, and 1 Green Party candidate. Powerful building blocks.


Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter

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Trump Complains And Signs Spending Bill Into Law

The federal government’s newly enacted budget is a massive “omnibus” act spending bill that spends $1.3 trillion and makes some members of Congress pleased and others angry. It’s a document that reflects a broken budget system. And, at the same time, it’s a business as usual document in a presidential administration that has promised structural change.

“There are a lot of things I’m unhappy about,” President Donald J. Trump told reporters at the White House Diplomatic Reception room. “But I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again. Nobody read it, it’s only hours old.”

But the negotiations were not hours old. The back and forth between Democratic and Republican lawmakers was essentially a year late. This spending bill only funds the federal government between now and the end of September. But the process took so long because neither side had enough votes to pass the document on their own; Republicans needed votes from Democrats and to get those votes there had to be deals. Lots of deals. Business as usual.

Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead

Eisenhower Executive Office Building and the White House during last week’s snow storm in Washington, D.C.

And business as usual is good for Indian Country. Federal Indian programs, some of which had been slated for either elimination or deep cuts, continued on course.

The omnibus spending bill increases funding for the Indian Health Service by 10 percent, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education by 7 percent to $3.064 billion. The IHS budget line s $5.5 billion. When the budget is compared to the president’s request, the increases are even sharper, more than 16 percent for the IHS and 23 percent for the BIA.

At the BIA, according to an analysis by Amber Ebarb at the National Congress of American Indians, “Overall, the eliminations and reductions proposed in the president’s budget were rejected.”

Other budget items:

  • The bill includes a 3 percent set aside for Indian tribes within the funds available under the Victims of Crimes Act. The cap for these funds was set at $4.4 billion, which amounts to $133 million. As Ebarb wrote: “This is an important step forward for Indian Country, which has the highest rate of criminal victimization and had up until this point been left out of this funding. This funding will address the long standing inequity and meaningfully improve the landscape of victim services in Indian Country.”
  • The bill provides $50 million for grants to Indian tribes or tribal organizations to address the epidemic, and $5 million for tribes in the Medication-Assisted Treatment for Prescription Drug and Opioid Addiction program.
  • Infrastructure spending would increase for BIA and IHS construction, BIA road maintenance, and a $100 million competitive grant program is added under Native American Housing Block Grants in addition to the $655 million provided for the NAHBG formula grants.

President Trump said he signed the bill into law because it increased military spending. “I looked very seriously at the veto. But because of the incredible gains that we’ve been able to make for the military, that overrode any of our thinking.”

(The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.)

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter

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UPDATE: Trump Signs Spending Bill – Congress Passed Budget, White House Warned Of Veto

UPDATE: President Trump has signed the 2,232-page federal budget / omnibus spending bill — but said he will never sign a bill like this again.

“There are a lot of things we shouldn’t have had in this bill but we were, in a sense, forced if we want to build our military,” Trump said. “There are some things we should have in the bill. But I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again.”

President Trump pointed to the over 2,000 sheet stack of papers making up the bill, a “ridiculous situation that took place over the last week.”

President Trump said he is calling on Congress moving forward to give him a “line-item veto” authority for all government spending bills in the future.

See Related: Congress Votes On $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill – Update: Next Step Is The White House

Congress did its job: The federal government’s budget is done. The last step was President Donald J. Trump’s signature and so now the government marches on. At least for the rest of this year, until the end of September.

But the White House said Friday that the president may veto the budget because there is not enough funding for a border wall or a solution for the so-called Dreamers. This is after the president assured House and Senate leaders that he would sign the measure into law.

I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2018

A veto would mean the federal government would shut down at midnight and Congress would have to start a new round of budget negotiations. This will be even more complicated because many lawmakers have left Washington for a two-week recess.

There will be intense pressure from Republicans for the president to sign this budget into law anyway.

Budgets are a guide to priorities: What programs are more important? Where is the support from Congress and from the people? Did the president get what he wanted?

That last question is the easy one. The money for the budget wall was minimal, at best.

It’s fair to say the administration’s budget was soundly rejected by a Republican Congress. Sure, Democrats contributed a great deal to this budget (and Democrat votes were required to make it so,) but even before that occurred, majority-party lawmakers were dismissing the harsh budget program changes sought by the president.

The president’s team had all kinds of ideas: Deep spending cuts, the elimination of public broadcasting, replace Medicaid with block grants, and, yes, even deeper spending cuts. Yet Congress enacted a budget that increased federal spending both for the military and domestic programs. It’s Congress, not the president, writing the checks.

How bad was the president’s budget? The National Congress of American Indians put it this way in recent testimony: “The president’s budget would cut the Bureau of Indian Affairs  by about half a billion dollars, or 15 percent. BIA Social Services would be reduced by more than a third, Indian Child Welfare by more than a quarter, and critical human services programs, law enforcement and courts programs, environmental protection, housing, and education programs would face unconscionable reductions. Infrastructure programs, such as the Indian Community Development Block Grant would be eliminated, and the Indian Housing Block Grant and road maintenance would be reduced.”

Instead, Congress added dollars and protected programs that the White House sought to eliminate.

“This bill represents real progress for Indian Country, significantly increasing our investments in Native health care, infrastructure, economies, and communities. It rejects the president’s dangerous proposed budget cuts and instead provides funding increases that will lead to healthier communities and better outcomes across Indian Country,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, in a news release. Udall is vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.

The omnibus spending bill would have increased funding for the Indian Health Service by 10 percent, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education by 7 percent to $3.064 billion. The IHS budget line s $5.5 billion.

Conservatives were not happy with the additional spending in the omnibus bill. “Republicans control the government, yet Congress still follows the Democrats’ playbook,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky said. “Time and again, spending skyrockets, and conservatives are expected to fall in line to praise the party for making the big-spending status quo worse.”

However Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, a member of the House’s leadership team praised the legislation.  “Despite divisions, both sides of the aisle have the responsibility to deliver this legislation for the American people so that the federal government runs efficiently and effectively,” Cole said. “Neither side got everything it wanted, but the end product reflects a broadly supported compromise. A majority of Republicans and Democrats voted for this bill. President Trump urged its passage and has promised to sign this legislation. As we begin to consider funding for Fiscal Year 2019, it is imperative that Congress remain committed to the return to regular order in the appropriations process.”

The president will decide in the next few hours whether or not he got enough of what he wanted.

(The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.)

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter

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Congress To Vote On $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill – Update: Passes in House

UPDATE: The House of Representatives passed the $1.3 trillion fiscal 2018 omnibus appropriations bill, Thursday.  The vote was 256-167. Next up: The Senate will vote on the measure.  Congressional leaders have agreed to a massive $1.3 trillion spending bill to fund the government for the remainder of this fiscal year. The Senate must still vote on the measure. The text of the 2,232 page bill was released Wednesday at 8 p.m.

The spending bill, which followed an overall agreement last month, increases spending for most domestic programs, including more than $3 billion for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and $5.5 billion for the Indian Health Service. Other line items include increased funding for tribes for the research and implementation of the Violence Against Women Act and renewed funding for the Special Diabetes Program for Indians.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said the legislation also “fulfills our pledge to rebuild the nation’s military. We are delivering the biggest increase in defense funding in 15 years.”

That includes a pay raise of 2.4 percent for military personnel — and an increase of 1.9 percent for most federal civilian employees.

The legislation would significantly boost funding for programs that deal with the opioid epidemic. “With nearly $4 billion, the funding bill makes the largest federal investment to date for fighting the opioid epidemic, which the president has declared a national emergency,” Ryan reported on his House web page. “It includes funding for treatment, prevention, and law enforcement programs that help save lives and stem the spread of this scourge.”

The spending bill includes  $1.57 billion for President Donald J. Trump’s border wall as well as an increase for  immigration enforcement, including additional law enforcement.

The House could vote on the measure as soon as Thursday (waiving a requirement for members to get at least three days to review the language of the legislation).

The Senate vote could come Friday, however, one senator could slow the process down because of rules that require unanimous consent. This would result in another, short government shutdown at least over the weekend. Sen. Paul Rand, R-Kentucky, did just that last month.

He has not said what action he will take on this spending bill, but he tweeted this morning: “It’s a good thing we have Republican control of Congress or the Democrats might bust the budget caps, fund planned parenthood and Obamacare, and sneak gun control without due process into an Omni…wait, what?”

It’s a good thing we have Republican control of Congress or the Democrats might bust the budget caps, fund planned parenthood and Obamacare, and sneak gun control without due process into an Omni…wait, what?

— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 21, 2018

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter

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Olympic Legend Billy Mills Names 10 Recipients of $10,000 Native Youth Dreamstarters Grants

Earlier this month, Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills named the fourth annual class of American Indian youth to receive $10,000 Dreamstarter grants for projects that help their communities and bring their dreams to life.

Each year since 2015, the Running Strong for American Indian Youth organization has chosen ten American Indian youth ages 14 – 30 to receive Dreamstarter grants. Each Dreamstarter will work together with a community nonprofit on project around the theme of Science and the Environment, and will receive mentorship, training and support from the Running Strong organization.

Mills announced the names of this year’s Dreamstarters on Facebook Live.

“Each year, our Dreamstarters inspire me with their incredible talent and limitless passion,” said Mills, who is Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and co-founder of Running Strong during the announcement.

“This class represents the next generation of Native scientists, environmentalists, and water protectors. I believe in them, in their dreams, and in the future they are building for all of us.”

The 2018 – 2019 Dreamstarters as announced by Mills are as follows:

Running Strong for American Indian Youth

10 Recipients of $10,000 Native Youth Dreamstarters Grants recognized this year by Olympian Billy Mills.

Kunu Bearchum (Northern Cheyenne), 28, Portland, Oregon
Mentor Organization: Wisdom of the Elders, Inc.

Lauren Carpenter (Catawba Indian Nation), 17, Rock Hill, South Carolina

Mentor Organization: Catawba Cultural Preservation Project

Michael Charles (Navajo), 23, Columbus, Ohio
Mentor Organization: American Indian Science and Engineering Society

Easton Chong (Native Hawaiian), 17, Kamuela, Hawaii
Mentor Organization: Kailapa Community Association

Kendrick Eagle (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe), 24, Bismarck, North Dakota
Mentor Organization: Sacred Pipe Resource Center

Kelsey Leonard (Shinnecock Indian Nation), 29, Southampton, New York
Mentor Organization: Citizens Campaign Fund for the Environment

Sunny Nez (Navajo), 18, Shiprock, New Mexico
Mentor Organization: Capacity Builders, Inc.

Lourdes Pedroza-Downey (Round Valley Indian Tribes), 16, Covelo, California

Mentor Organization: Round Valley Native American Studies Program

Tinisha Rose Quintana (Navajo and Northern Ute), 20, Spanish Fork, Utah
Mentor Organization: Nebo Title VI Indian Education

Tara Rouillard (Oglala Lakota), 14, Porcupine, South Dakota
Mentor Organization: Pine Ridge Girls School

Running Strong will give away a total of fifty $10,000 Dreamstarter grants over five years to support Native youth’s dreams for their communities. This announcement makes a total of forty Dreamstarters selected so far. The project was announced in October 14, 2014, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Billy Mills’ gold medal win at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Last year, Mills and Running Strong started a companion project, Dreamstarter Teacher, which awards $500 – $1000 grants to teachers to support the educational needs of Native students.  Running Strong has named a total of 46 educators serving students from dozens of tribal nations in 12 states.

Applications are now open for the next class of Dreamstarter Teachers. More information about the program and recipients can be found at

Billy Mills won the 10,000 meter race at the Tokyo Olympics in October 14, 1964. The upset, a come-from-behind victory, that ever since has been an inspiration around the world. He is still the only person from the Western hemisphere ever to win that event. He co-founded Running Strong for American Indian Youth in 1986 to help others live their dreams.

Mills announced the first class of 10 Dreamstarter grantees around the theme of “wellness” in 2015, the second class around the theme of “arts and culture” in 2016, and the third class around the theme of “education” last year.

Projects have included a mentorship program for young Native dental students, wheelchair basketball camps for Native youth with disabilities, cooperative business development for Native artists, and reviving traditional Hawaiian canoe craft.

Co-founded by Mills in 1986, Running Strong for American Indian Youth partners with Native communities all over the country to create healthier, happier, and more hopeful futures for American Indian youth. The Dreamstarter program helps Native youth believe in the power of their dreams to build strong futures for themselves and their communities.

Additional information about the program can be found at More information about the fourth class of Dreamstarters and their projects is available at


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American Indian Society President and Inaugural Ball Founder Mitchell Bush Has Died At 82

Mitchell L. Bush, Jr., a highly-respected elder of the Beaver Clan of the Onondaga Nation and former president of the American Indian Society of Washington, D.C., died on Saturday March 17, 2018 in Spotsylvania, Virginia. He passed on surrounded by family and friends. He was 82-years-old and died due to complications related to his heart.

Vincent Schilling

Mitchell Bush was Onondaga and worked often with Virginia tribes.

Mitchell Bush was born February 1, 1936, in Syracuse, New York and was educated at the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas from 1951 to 1956. He is a United States Army veteran having served from 1958 to 1961.

Bush previously served and retired as the Chief Administrator of Tribal Enrollment Services for the Department of Interior in Washington, D.C.

Bush, was a founder and a former 25-year president of the American Indian Society, who cared for the AIS’s property at Indian Pines, (a Caroline subdivision with future plans to build a cultural center.) He was also one of the founders of the successful American Indian Society Inaugural Ball.

Though he served as president of the AIS from 1966 to 1991, he often lightheartedly joked that he was no relation to the other President Bush.

In addition to his service to the AIS, he served on the Virginia Council on Indians in 1989 and 2004 and was an active participant of 1990 Census Bureau’s Census Planning Conference on Race and Ethics. He was a tour leader to Virginia Indian Reservations for the Smithsonian, an Instructor, Lecturer and Traditional lndian Dancer for the American Indian Society and a Judge at Miss Indian America and Miss Indian USA Pageants in Washington, D.C. He was also a  keynote speaker at the Pentagon USAHEC’s observance of Native American Heritage Month.

Bush had published the American Indian Society Newsletter since 1966 and the American Indian Society Cookbook. His has appeared in both movies and television, including the George Washington TV mini-series; The Broken Chain produced by CNN, The New World, John Adams and numerous other television programs.

Over the years, Bush was recognized by a multitude of Native organizations for his work.

These honors include:

American Indian Society Outstanding Elder/Advisor Award (1996)

American Indian Society Outstanding Club Member Award (1993)

Honored by the American Indian Community House/ Thunderbird Dancers of NYC (1991)

Honored at the Nanticoke (Delaware) Pow Wow

Points of Light Certificate, Department of Interior (1990)

Certificate for Outstanding Public Service to the US.., Department of Interior (1990)

American Indian Society Distinguished Service Award (1990)

Maharishi Award conferred by the Maharishi University (1985)

He was predeceased by his parents, Mitchell L. Bush and Sarah Margaret Skendore and his sister, Carol Gonyea. Mitchell is survived by four brothers, Stephen Gonyea of Virginia, Ray Gonyea of Indiana, John Gonyea and Tony Gonyea both of the Onondaga Nation; three sisters, Anna Homer and Wendy Gonyea both of the Onondaga Nation and Darla Esposito of Otisco and nieces, nephews and friends.

Services will be 6:00 pm–8:00 p.m., Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at the Covenant Funeral Home at 1310 Courthouse Road; Stafford, VA., Burial will be at the Indian Pines Cemetery at a date to be announced.


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NCAI Releases Five-Year Report on Tribal Nations Exercising Violence Against Women Act

The National Congress of American Indians has released a new report summarizing results of the first five years of tribal government-expanded criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians under the tribal provisions of the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

The report was released in conjunction with the March 19th Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on “The Need to Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.”

The Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, created a framework for tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians for certain violent crimes against Indian citizens—something that has not happened in 35 years, since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe reversed this sovereign jurisdiction.

However VAWA  recognized and affirmed the inherent sovereign authority of tribal nations to exercise criminal jurisdiction over certain non-Indians who commit domestic or dating violence against Indian victims on tribal lands.

NCAI said it worked closely with 18 tribal nations who have arrested non-Indians under this landmark provision. These tribes report 143 arrests of 128 different non-Indian alleged offenders. These arrests have led to 74 convictions and 5 acquittals to date, with some cases still pending.

VAWA has allowed tribes to finally prosecute these long-time abusers who previously had evaded justice, and provide increased safety and justice for victims who previously had little recourse against their abusers. The report highlights specific examples illustrating successes as well as gaps in the law that Congress should address.

The report documents how committed each tribe has been to successfully implementing VAWA and ensuring the effective administration of justice in their communities. Not only do non-Indian offenders receive a fair day in court, but many tribes include broader resources aligned with cultural values for community wellness to ensure that these defendants receive help and support. Fifty one percent of the defendants were sentenced to batterer intervention or other rehabilitation programs as a part of their tribal court sentences.

“The success of VAWA 2013 demonstrates that tribes can and will provide effective justice to their communities, and fair process to all those who appear in tribal courts,” said NCAI President Jefferson Keel in a news release.

The act allows tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians for a narrow set of crimes. The report also documents the limitations of the law, including the lack of tribal court jurisdiction over crimes against children, law enforcement personnel, and sexual assault crimes committed by strangers.

Tribes express continued frustration at their inability to prosecute these crimes—many of which occur in conjunction with a domestic violence offense—often with dangerous and devastating consequences for victims. Many tribes also report that a lack of funding is the only thing preventing them from implementing VAWA.

“NCAI and its member tribal nations stand ready to advocate for further expansions of this law to ensure public safety and justice in Indian Country,” said Juana Majel-Dixon, Co-Chair of the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women.

This project was supported by Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice however this report does not necessarily reflect the view of the Department of Justice.

The NCAI report plus additional resources are posted on NCAI’s Tribal VAWA website.

(The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.)


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Congress Nears Another Deadline for Federal Spending Bills

Here we go again. Congress has three days to resolve long standing disputes over immigration, health care, taxes, abortion rights, guns, building a border wall, a New York City tunnel, and funding federal programs. Republicans control the House and the Senate, but still need votes from Democrats to enact any spending legislation.

Wait. Didn’t that all happen five weeks ago? Yes. Well, sort of. The Congress and President Donald J. Trump agreed to an overall two-year, $1.2 trillion plan for spending federal dollars. That plan gave Congress five weeks to work out a variety of details, setting a deadline of March 23 at midnight.

And, so, here we go again. It’s the details that continue to divide Congress.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, told The Hill newspaper Monday that Congress is close. “They’re scrambling, working really hard to try to get them done so they can file tonight, or tomorrow at the latest.”

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, told The Hill newspaper Monday that Congress is close. “They’re scrambling, working really hard to try to get them done so they can file tonight, or tomorrow at the latest.”

House rules require 72-hour notice before a vote. The legislation has yet to be posted.

Federal Indian programs are not a part of the policy disputes in Congress, but many agencies including the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service would have operations suspended during a government shutdown. Indian education programs are funded in advance and would not be impacted. There have been two short government shutdowns this year.

Michael “Keawe” Anderson, executive director of the Native American Contractors Association, sent a note to members suggesting contract officers investigate the status of federal contracts, especially if there is a “soft” shutdown over the weekend. “However, given the uncertainty that has become our new norm, I would also add that you should discuss a longer term shutdown – a ‘hard shutdown’—and what their expectations would be,” wrote Anderson.

The National Congress of American Indians will testify Thursday before the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs about the budget and the president’s drastic cuts. “Many of the proposed deep reductions in the president’s Budget threaten to limit this protection and these benefits,” the prepared testimony said. “The proposed budget cuts to tribal governmental services, if enacted, would represent a clear retreat from the federal commitments and treaty promises made to tribes.

The President’s budget would cut the Bureau of Indian Affairs by about half a billion dollars, or 15 percent. BIA Social Services would be reduced by more than a third, Indian Child Welfare by more than a quarter, and critical human services programs, law enforcement and courts programs, environmental protection, housing, and education programs would face unconscionable reductions. Infrastructure programs, such as the Indian Community Development Block Grant would be eliminated, and the Indian Housing Block Grant and road maintenance would be reduced.”

AP Images

The President’s budget would cut the Bureau of Indian Affairs by about half a billion dollars, or 15 percent.

It’s unclear how much funding would be restored to federal Indian programs under any Omnibus bill. The February deal between Congress and the president significantly increased spending for defense and domestic programs, but the details have yet to be enacted into law.

Both the House and Senate will have to act and the president would have have to sign the measure.

Before that occurs, however, there are serious policy disputes that have yet to be resolved.

Congressional Republicans continue to press for funds to construct a border wall with Mexico. Rep. John Carter R-Texas, chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee, told The Wall Street Journal that he is continuing to push for $1.6 billion for the border wall. Democrats have said that spending might be possible — if the budget extended protections for the Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. But there were still differences about a sharp increase for the U.S. Border Patrol.

Another issue splitting Democrats and the president was funding for the Gateway, a project to improve rail service in the New York City region. The president said he would veto any spending bill that included that $900 million project. (Many Republicans from New York and New Jersey support Gateway.)

Another complication: Abortion rights and health care spending. Senators Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, have proposed language that would reimburse insurance companies for low-earning customers (a requirement of the Affordable Care Act.)

President Trump told the two senators he supports the measure. However there is significant opposition in both the House and Senate. One provision would also add new abortion rights restrictions to dollars spent by insurance companies, something that Democrats say they could not support. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that the abortion language conflicts with state laws in California, New York and Oregon.

Conservatives in the House say the spending proposals lack conservative “principles” and may voter against the legislation. Members of the House that support increased funding for the military have called for an end to short-term spending bills and want this process completed. Either one of those factors could complicate a last minute deal before a vote in the House and Senate.

(The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.)


Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter

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Nick Tilsen Steps Down as CEO of Thunder Valley Corp To Lead NDN Collective

Nick Tilsen is stepping down as the executive director of Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation in Porcupine, South Dakota. He will lead a new enterprise, the NDN Collective.

“This is a new startup that will help drive philanthropic, social impact investment, capacity building and advocacy support to Indigenous communities and expand the Thunder Valley model to other Native communities,” Tilsen said Monday.

Tilsen said he will remain on the Thunder Valley board and “maintain heavy involvement.”

In a Vimeo video, Tilsen said he was taking this step after 11 years because he wanted to create space for new leadership so that Thunder Valley can continue to grow and evolve. He said some 27 different Native nonprofits and 43 tribes different representing 70 Indigenous communities have asked for help to do something similar to Thunder Valley in their communities.

“We have been able to help here and there, but we haven’t had a vehicle, or a mechanism, to do that,” he said. Tilsen said that led him to think about creating a new organization, the NDN Collective.

The goal is to build capacity and eventually “hundreds of organizations like Thunder Valley out there in the world.”

Tilsen said the transition will occur through the year and Thunder Valley will be searching for a new executive director.

“Being a part of Thunder Valley over the past decade has changed my life. It has changed many, many peoples’ lives,” Tilsen said. “It’s been an honor to have walked this journey from an idea that started as a prayer, and as a concept, has grown into this movement and revolutionary ideas that are creating radical change here on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.”

Thunder Valley now has some 60 employees and another 60 part-time employees who are “creating radical change in this community” and he said contributes to an “ecosystem of opportunity.” Thunder Valley has programs to revitalize the Lakota language, building climate-resistance affordable housing, workforce development, community gardens and food sovereignty, and supporting arts and culture.

Thunder Valley CDC was awarded the Bush Prize for Community Innovation in November 2017 for its approach to community development. “The Bush Prize recognizes organizations that are creative, fierce and dogged in the way they work and in what they accomplish,” said Bush President Jennifer Ford Reedy. “As models for problem solving, they consistently pick a path of innovation that drives profound results for their communities.”

The Bush Foundation announced Tuesday that Tilsen will be one of 24 Bush Fellows for 2018 “… exceptional leaders who have made the most of the opportunities in their lives,” said Bush Foundation Leadership Programs Director Anita Patel. “We believe the well-being of our region is directly impacted by investing in individuals who will shape the future. We are betting on the potential of these 24 Fellows to make a significant impact in their communities.”

Other Bush Fellows this year from Indian Country include: Chef Sean Sherman, author Rhiana Yazzie, and Erik Bringswhite, an advocate for children and juvenile justice.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter

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Sherman Alexie Declines Carnegie Medal; Publisher Postpones Paperback in wake of Sexual Allegations

In the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct against the author from a multitude of women on and off the record, Native American author Sherman Alexie has declined the prestigious American Library Association’s 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction.

Alexie was announced as the winner and recipient of the coveted literary award on February 11, in Denver, for his book You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir.

Alexie’s publisher, Hachette Book Group, says that they are postponing the paperback edition of the book at Alexie’s request. An emailed official statement to Indian Country Today from a Hachette Book Group spokesperson stated their position.

“We were surprised and troubled to hear the allegations that have recently emerged, and are concerned about the distress this situation has caused so many. We’re encouraged that Sherman Alexie has apologized to those he has hurt and has dedicated himself, as he’s said, to becoming “a healthier man who makes healthier decisions.”

“At Mr. Alexie’s request, we have postponed publication of the paperback edition of You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.  We will be keeping Mr. Alexie’s other books in print,” wrote the spokesperson.

According to an article from Publisher’s Weekly online, “The move by Alexie relieves ALA officials from having to make a tough call.”

The article continued, “Though the Carnegie selection committee had settled on Alexie prior to the misconduct allegations against the author being widely known (the accusations began with anonymous comments posted to a January 3 article on the School Library Journal website), ALA officials were still going to have to decide whether to invite the author to a reception this summer. Carnegie winners typically address librarians and accept their medals at a reception at the ALA Annual Conference, which this year is set for June 21–25 in New Orleans.”

The Carnegie prize was established in 2012, is awarded for fiction and nonfiction. The library association told the Associated Press last week that no nonfiction prize will be given this year. Jennifer Egan’s “Manhattan Beach” was the fiction winner.

Currently there is no date set for any potential paperback release of Alexie’s novel by his publisher.


Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter

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Senators Heitkamp, Udall and Hoeven and NCAI Weigh In On Opioid Crisis In Indian Country

Last week, U.S. Senator and vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Tom Udall (D-NM) and Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), led eight other senators in urging Senate leaders to fund tribal communities in assisting them to address a growing opioid epidemic in Native American communities.

The request by Udall and Heitkamp was in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee leadership requesting a tribal set-aside within the $6 billion in opioid funding included in the recent budget cap deal.

In addition to the initiatives and statements by Udall and Heitkamp, the National Congress of American Indians has just released their latest detailed report from their policy research center titled: The Opioid Epidemic: Definitions, Data, Solutions, outlining the problems related to opioid abuse in American Indian / Alaskan Native (AI/AN) communities and potential solutions.

As outlined in the NCAI report, American Indian/Alaska Native data from the National Center for Health Statistics reveal that the opioid epidemic is increasing for Native Americans, including deaths from drug poisoning overall and deaths due to opioid analgesics other than heroin.

American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest overdose death rates of any group in 2015 and the largest percentage change in the number of opioid-related deaths over time, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The National Congress of American Indians has just released their latest detailed report from their policy research center titled: ‘The Opioid Epidemic: Definitions, Data, Solutions.’

On Wednesday, U.S. Senator and chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs John Hoeven (R-ND), and Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, led a committee oversight hearing entitled “Opioids in Indian Country: Beyond the Crisis to Healing the Community” to explore the need for Congress to support and address the opioid and substance use crisis in Indian Country.

During the hearing, senators from both sides of the political spectrum, to include Hoeven, Udall and Heitkamp, weighed in on the troubling statistics of opioid abuse.

AP Photo

Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)

“On November 9, 2017, this committee held a roundtable on the opioid abuse epidemic in Indian Country,” said Hoeven. “The roundtable highlighted how the opioid abuse epidemic is particularly complex in tribal communities given the lack of access to medical care, shortage of law enforcement and insufficient data on substance abuse”

“This hearing will build on that discussion and examine how Congress, the administration, tribes and tribal organizations can work together to combat the crisis and heal Indian communities.”

“The facts of the opioid abuse epidemic are tragic. Our country has witnessed an 18-year increase in deaths from prescription opioid overdoses and a recent surge in illicit opioid overdoses.”

Senator Udall echoed similar sentiments made by Hoeven at the hearing.

“The substance abuse crisis has sent ripple effects through Native communities – straining already overtaxed tribal systems,” said Udall. “Tribal schools, housing departments, social services, law enforcement, and courts are all being asked to address the broader community disruptions caused by this public health emergency.”

“Any successful response to the opioid and substance abuse crisis in Indian Country must be driven by tribes. And Congress must support Tribal efforts by holding federal agencies accountable and providing sufficient resources…. As members of the Indian Affairs Committee, we’re obligated to educate our Senate colleagues about what’s happening on this committee, so that Indian Country’s priorities — and the voices of tribal leaders — are heard beyond these four walls.”

Also during the hearing, Senator Heitkamp stressed the need for more federal law enforcement agents on reservations to help improve the quality of criminal investigations and in preventing illegal narcotics trafficking.

“The opioid and methamphetamines epidemic on reservations has gone far beyond crisis-levels, and we are losing generations of daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, and grandparents to substance abuse. Treatment facilities in Native communities have been disproportionately overwhelmed, and tribal resources have been drained as federal officials have largely failed to grasp the scope of Indian Country’s mounting addiction challenges,” said Heitkamp.

“Additional targeted resources need to be deployed now to address the scourge of skyrocketing overdose deaths and high usage in Indian Country. That’s why we’re asking for funds specifically for tribes, so that those on the front lines can build a comprehensive law enforcement presence, while also supporting effective treatment and recovery efforts, like mental and behavioral health services for children. To mitigate the long-term impacts of addiction and trauma, reservations must be positioned on a path that promotes healing and strengthens the safety of their tribes,” she said.

In addition to the oversight hearing, Udall and Heitkamp joined four other senators in introducing the Native Behavioral Health Access Improvement Act. The bill would create a Special Behavioral Health Program to help Tribes with resources to address the mental health needs and substance use disorders in their communities. Modeled after the Special Diabetes Program for Indians, the program would allow Tribes to develop solutions that incorporate local, traditional and cultural practices into evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery programs.

Udall and Heitkamp also joined a group of 14 senators last month to introduce S. 2437, the Opioid Response Enhancement Act. This bill, which also reauthorizes a federal opioid grant program for states, would make Tribes eligible for the program first authorized by the 21st Century Cures Act in 2016.

Click here to see a live stream of last week’s hearing at the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs website, on challenges addressing opioid abuse in Indian Country.

The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.


Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter

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Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe Observes Passing of Economic Development Director Christopher Thompson

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe issued the following condolences in observance of the passing of Economic Development Director Christopher Thompson, whose life will be celebrated tomorrow by family and friends. In honor of Christopher, the tribal flag at the Tribe’s Administration Building was respectfully lowered to half-staff in recognition of contributions he made to the community of Akwesasne.

Christopher proudly served as the Director of the Office of Economic Development for the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe from Ohiarí:ha/June 9, 2014 until his passing on Enniskó:wa/March 11, 2018. During that time, he was a driving force in building lasting relationships and economic partnerships that strengthened the local, neighboring and regional economies. In doing so, his passion helped improve the lives and touched the hearts of many.

Christopher continually promoted the need for increased collaboration in all the positions he served, including the January 2017 establishment of the Cross Border Partnership Program in coordination with his fiancé Lesley Lang, Executive Director for the Cornwall Futures Development Council. Together, the roundtable initiative provided an invaluable forum for municipalities to discuss community development and explore collaborative projects.

In May 2017, New York State Governor Andrew recognized Christopher’s efforts in promoting community development in his appointment to the North Country Regional Economic Development Council — one of ten regional councils created to develop long-term strategic plans for economic growth. One collaborative project he became most fond of was the development of regional tourism, which contributed to the creation of the Tourism Office within the Office of Economic Development. His voice, as an advisory member of the Akwesasne Tourism Working Group, contributed to his nomination and election in September 2017 as the Eastern Region Representative for the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association.

Christopher was always active networking with various economic agencies and served in other capacities on numerous boards and councils related to community development. He also served as Chair for the Economic Development and Entrepreneurship Committee of the United and Southern and Eastern Tribes (USET); Vice-Chair of the USET Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI); President of the Akwesasne Area Management Board (AAMB); and was a member of the St. Lawrence County Economic Development Study Advisory Board, the Akwesasne Area Management Board, the Community Neh-kanikonriio Council, the Strong Roots Board of Directors.

Christopher’s enthusiasm and leadership will be greatly missed at the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, as well as throughout the community of Akwesasne. He was an advocate for the Agriculture Program’s Mother Earth Eggs Pilot Project that taught entrepreneurship skills to Akwesasne youth. He was also a proud supporter of Akwesasne businesses and strong proponent of the #BuyLocal and #ShopSmall movement to encourage consumers to shop locally.

In observance of his passing, the following tribal programs will be closed for employees to attend his funeral on Friday, Enniskó:wa/March 16, 2018, 1:00 p.m. at the St. Regis Catholic Church: Office of Economic Development (closed all day), Akwesasne Employment Resource Center (closed all day), Office of Tribal Council (closing at noon), along with other tribal employees attending with permission from their immediate supervisor.


The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council is the duly elected and federally recognized government of the Saint Regis Mohawk People

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Cherokee Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, Ventures Guitarist Nokie Edwards Has Died At 82

Nole Floyd ‘Nokie’ Edwards, Cherokee, the lead guitarist for over six decades for the iconic and wildly successful instrumental ‘surf-style’ rock and roll group ‘The Ventures,’ which known for such musical hits as ‘Pipeline,’ ‘Wipe Out,’ and the Hawaii Five-O theme song, has died at age 82. Nokie Edwards passed away on March 12th, due to complications from hip surgery.

Band members on the Ventures website posted an announcement on Monday:

“We have been advised this morning that Nokie Edwards passed away today after several months battling an infection after hip surgery this past December. The Ventures family feels this loss very deeply: Nokie has been part of the Ventures’ history for almost 6 decades and helped to shape the early Ventures’ sound and the success of their career. He was an innovator and one of the greats on guitar, so much so that he influenced many young players over the course of his career… Our thoughts and prayers go out to Nokie’s wife, Judy, and all family members, friends and fans. His music will live on.”

In the six decades he has played music, Edwards was a key figure in the success of The Ventures, a group that charted more than three dozen albums during the ’60s and ’70s. Edwards and his band-mates garnered 14 hit singles as well. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.

Nokie Edwards with Ventures bandmates Bob Bogle, Don Wilson and Howie Jonson in an early-60s publicity photo.

Nole Floyd “Nokie” Edwards was born May 9, 1935 in Lahoma, Oklahoma, as one of 12 children of Elbert and Nannie Edwards. Nannie Edwards was Cherokee. The family picked for work and traveled by horse-drawn wagon near Seattle.

The Edwards’ family were well-regarded musicians, and at age 5, Nokie Edwards was learning to play guitar, mandolin, banjo, steel guitar, violin and bass.

Later in life, Edwards became proficient on the Mosrite guitar, having moved on from the Fender Telecaster. His musical influence was so strong in the surf-rock genre, many up-and-coming musicians insisted on the Mosrite in their commitment to remain loyal to Edward’s style of music.

Edwards was as passionate about musical instruments as he was about music. He worked with several companies to create the best products possible.

“He used to help companies like Fender, Roland and Carvin Audio with their instruments and equipment,” his wife, Judy Edwards, said to the Los Angeles Times. “They’d ask him to check out their instruments and gear, and he’d tell them what they could do to make them better.”

In the years that followed, the Ventures continued to travel the world and found considerable success in Japan.

At age 69, Edwards became a Grammy Award nominee for the 2004 album 20th Century Gospel with the Light Crust Doughboys, and again in 2005 for Southern Meets Soul. He also acted in the western TV series “Deadwood.”

In 2012, Edwards had heart surgery in Japan, and reached out to Indian country with a plea to help him in a time of need. He recovered, but in 2018, eventually passed away from complications after hip surgery.

A few years before he died, Nokie Edwards was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Edwards gifted the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame a guitar signed by the Ventures. During the ceremony, a representative of the Arkansas State Police made Nokie Edwards an honorary member of the force.

“I didn’t expect that. I thought they was gonna put the cuffs on me,” Edwards joked in an interview with NewsOK, he then offered advice for aspiring musicians: “Be dedicated, practice a lot and play with somebody better than you.”

Edwards died at a hospital near his home in Yuma, Ariz., according to his close friend Deke Dickerson, a fellow guitarist.For more information about the career of Nokie Edwards visit his website.

Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter

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#NativeVote18 Candidates Boosted By An Electorate Ready For Change

A special election in Pennsylvania is a good sign for Native American #NativeVote18 candidates running for office. Why? Because this cycle is already favoring out-of-power Democrats and, quite possibly, independents. It’s hard to peg any constituent group more out-of-power than those who would represent Indian Country in the Congress of the United States.

First, the news from Pennsylvania, then we will look at the map. Democrats are claiming victory in a special election for that state’s 18th Congressional District. Perhaps. Officially, the race is too close to call between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone. It’s a practical tie with Lamb holding a tiny lead. But Lamb has claimed victory and Democrats are celebrating no matter what happens next because this is a district that favors Republicans, it was won by President Donald J. Trump by 20 points. So even normally red districts are up for grabs come November.

Or as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (New Mexico) posted Tuesday night: ““These results should terrify Republicans. Despite their home field advantage and the millions of dollars … We have incredible candidates with deep records of service running deep into the map this year, and it’s clear that these Republican attacks are not going to stick.”

Back to the map: Sharice Davids, who is running in Kansas fits that storyline precisely. She is running in a district that Republicans should win easy. Rep. Kevin Yoder won re-election in 2016 with an 11-point margin. But remember the Pennsylvania 18th favored Republicans by 20-points.

Davids is Ho-Chunk, an attorney, and she worked in the Obama administration. This is pretty much an anti-Trump-agenda resume’.

The most immediate boost from Tuesday’s vote should be more campaign donations.

Another #NativeVote18 candidate who could benefit from a re-imaging of the election landscape is Amanda Douglas in Oklahoma. After Lamb claimed victory in Pennsylvania she tweeted: “Yes! his is exactly what I’m talking about!!! I can’t wait to work with newly elected Congressman @ConorLambPA!”

YES! This is exactly what I’m talking about!!! I can’t wait to work with newly elected Congressman @ConorLambPA!

— Amanda Douglas (@Amanda4Congress) March 14, 2018

Douglas, Cherokee, is running in the state’s 1st Congressional District. Two years ago Democrats did not field a candidate in that race. It’s rated as a “plus-17” Republican district — in other words, awful similar to the Pennsylvania 18th.

In another part of Oklahoma, two Cherokee Nation citizens could both potentially be on the fall ballot. Rep. Markwayne Mullin is running for his fourth term as as Republican. Democrat Jason Nichols, the mayor of Tahlequah, is running as a Democrat. Mullin won 70 percent of the vote in his last election bid.

Rep. Tom Cole (Chickasaw) is also running for re-election as a Republican in Oklahoma’s 4th congressional district.

Rep. Tom Cole is also running for re-election as a Republican in Oklahoma’s 4th congressional district. Cole, Chickasaw, also earned more than 70 percent of the vote in the last election.

One #NativeVote18 candidate who had a good week before the Pennsylvania election was running in New Mexico.

Campaign Photo

Former New Mexico Democratic Party Chair and candidate for Congress Debra Haaland.

Haaland’s challenge is to win the Democratic primary in June because, unlike most Native candidates, she’s running in a district that favors Democrats.

Last weekend Haaland was the top-vote getter at the state’s party convention, winning nearly 35 percent of the vote in a crowded field. She told delegates: “Congress has never heard a voice like mine.”

Haaland, is Laguna Pueblo. Congress has never elected any Native American woman to its ranks since voting began in 1789.

Haaland, Davids, or Douglas could be the first.

The Pennsylvania race also raises questions for the #NativeVote18 candidates who are Republicans. Former Washington State Sen. Dino Rossi would be at the top of that list. Rossi, Tlingit, is hoping to succeed a moderate Republican, Rep. Dave Reichert, in Washington’s 8th congressional district. That district has been trending Democratic.

The president’s popularity is reflected by Rossi’s own words. He told The Seattle Times that he is “not running to be ‘The Apprentice.’ I am running to be the congressman from the 8th Congressional District. The way I am going to treat Donald Trump is just the same way I would have treated George W. Bush or Barack Obama. If I agree with them I agree with them, and if I don’t, I don’t.”

One #NativeVote18 candidate who is not running away from President Trump is Gavin Clarkson in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District. His campaign website proclaimed “the best way to help President Trump stop the swamp and protect New Mexico is to run for the Republican nomination to make sure we retain this Congressional seat in November.”

Then this Southern New Mexico district is changing too. The seat is now held by Rep. Steve Pearce is running for governor — making this an open seat. Pearce won easily, capturing 60 percent of the vote. But the district is now 54 percent Hispanic and in a wave election, it could be the ideal seat for a Democratic pickup. Trump won the district by 10 points, half of the margin in Pennsylvania.

There are also three #NativeVote18 candidates running as independents or on third-party lines. Eve Reyes Aguirre is running for the U.S. Senate in Arizona on the Green Party ticket. Aguirre is an Izkaloteka Mexican Native.

She recently tweeted that she is an “unconventional politician” and is rounding up signatures to make the ballot. Henry John Bear is running as a Green Party candidate in Maine’s 8th Congressional District. Bear is a citizen of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. And, finally, in Minnesota, Ray “Skip” Sandman is running in the 8th Congressional District as an independent. Sandman is Ojibwe.

Can an independent or third party candidate win in this environment? It’s hard to say, there is no real evidence yet. But as the Pennsylvania results show, this is an election cycle where anything is possible.

Be sure to follow the hashtag #NativeVote18 to keep alerted about the Native American candidates running for office.@IndianCountry editor Mark Trahant @TrahantReports will be providing updated coverage.

— Indian Country Today (@IndianCountry) March 14, 2018

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter

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“Best Year Of My Life” Last Year’s ‘The Voice’ Top 3 Finalist, Brooke Simpson, Talks With ICT

Hailing from the great state of North Carolina, Brooke Simpson, 27 (Haliwa-Saponi) never realized she would be sitting on the top of the finalist platform for last season’s The Voice as the main contender on “Team Miley.”

Simpson’s love of music started at age seven when she started singing with her parents at church services. Years later, Simpson defeated nearly insurmountable odds to rise as one of the finalists out of 60,000.

Simpson is still going strong and working on her music career full-time. She took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling.

Schilling: You made it to the top three in the last year’s season of The Voice. This must have been some wild ride for you.

Simpson: Oh my gosh, It has been a wild ride. It’s amazing 60,000 people have tried out for the voice and I remember attending the blind auditions there were about 90 of us there, and we were all there for one month together. I remember thinking wow out of 60,000 people, we are the top 90. Now to not only say that, I am able to say I was in the top three out of 60,000 people, it’s truly unbelievable.

Schilling: Wow, that’s amazing. It’s like the Olympics.

Simpson: (Laughs) Yeah, the vocal Olympics!I

Schilling: Can you tell me a bit about the journey you went on?

Simpson: The blind auditions started in June of last year, and everything started airing in September 2018. My initial involvement on the voice started in January of 2017. I literally spent my entire year with The Voice. I initially auditioned about five years ago. I first tried out in Atlanta, Georgia I was in college and was dating my now husband. I was trying to figure out my way as an artist. I got through the initial audition, but I only made it past that round. I had also tried out for American Idol as a teenager, and I had told myself I was finished with the auditioning thing. In January 2017, someone from The Voice emailed me. They called me on an old telephone number which was my dad’s number, and they said ‘We saw your audition tape from four years ago, we would love for you to come give it another shot. When this all happened, I didn’t think it would go too far just because of what had happened in the past.

Schilling: I can imagine it’s hard to have a positive attitude when you are facing such a magnitude of odds against you.

Simpson: Exactly, but to make it as far as I did, I just really had no idea that when I went to that audition in February, that my entire life would be changed.

Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC

THE VOICE — “Live Finale” Episode — Pictured: (l-r) Brooke Simpson, Miley Cyrus.

Schilling: What is it like to go from an audition alongside your peers, to a world filled with stages and lights and cameras and be thrust into the public eye?

Simpson: You have a million things happening and people are asking you a million questions, and they are asking about the things you are doing every single week. On top of this you are trying to focus on one song to sing week to week. Then you are also thinking about the song you are going to have to sing in the upcoming week. And then you have a vast number of people and fans and supporters calling out you on social media, it’s unbelievable. I could not have asked for a better year. It was the best year of my entire life.

Schilling: What are some of the cool moments that stick out to you over that year?

Simpson: One thing that sticks out are all the amazing fans. They do so many amazing things. For example I had a meet and greet in my hometown in North Carolina, I just put it out there on social media, and the reaction was absolutely nothing that I expected. I thought a few of my hometown folks and friends would show up, and it would be nice to share some hugs and laughs. But over 800 people showed up, a lot of them were from out of state, and they just came to say hello and give me a hug. It was incredible to hear how some of the people said my music has helped them, comforted them and that my interactions on social media help them feel better. It was so overwhelming in the best way. The one wonderful thing about people who are fans, is they talk to me as if I am reachable and can speak with them on a personal level. They talk to me like we are best friends and that is very cool.

So happy I got to do my first meet and greet in my hometown. Thank you all who came for the love, the hugs and the gifts? I love you all very much ??✨

— Brooke Simpson ? (@brookesimpson) January 3, 2018

Schilling: How does it feel as a Native woman representing Haliwa-Saponi and Native culture in general at this level?

Simpson: it is such an honor. I told myself before all of this began to if I can do just one small thing to help represent my culture and my tribe and let the world know that we as Native people do exist, because a lot of times I do feel that we as native people are forgotten people — I thought it would be awesome if I could play a small role in doing something to bring more exposure. The reactions I have got from tries all over the US and Canada, has been amazing. It is such an honor to represent not only my tribe but Native people all over. I’m so happy to have played an even larger role than I expected in all that.

Schilling: You were on Team Miley. What are your reactions with Miley Cyrus? Her and her family claims some Cherokee heritage.

Simpson: The whole experience was incredible. I picked Miley because I loved her and I love her music. She was a coach I knew that I wanted to go with. When one time we went backstage, I met her mom. It was great to hear how much they loved Native culture, it felt like a ‘God thing.’

Schilling: After making it to the top three in The Voice, what’s next for Brooke Simpson?

Simpson: This whole experience has brought forward what was a faraway reality to pursue my musical career full-time. Now I know that this is a reality for me. I am ready for whatever the future has for me. But what I am focusing on for 2018 is building a team of knowledgeable and trustworthy people, I would love to start touring All over the US and even outside of the US. I want to record an album. I have a lot of songs that I have written before and during The Voice.

I’m looking forward to the future.

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Why Should Native Americans Vote? Protecting Sacred Sites Is One Answer

PUEBLO OF ISLETA— Why should Native Americans vote? Linda Yardley from Taos Pueblo had one answer at a field hearing of the Native American Voting Rights Coalition Friday.

She said Taos Pueblo fought for more than a century to have the United States return its sacred Blue Lake. The land had been taken by the U.S. Forest Service in 1906 and a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (and therefore head of the Forest Service,) Clinton P. Anderson, was by the late 1960s a U.S. Senator from New Mexico. The Pueblo eventually won, when President Richard Nixon agreed to return Blue Lake.

But Anderson never changed his position. “He told our tribal leaders: ‘I’ll be dead before you ever get your land back.’ And that was our U.S. Senator,” Yardley testified. “If our people had been voters, registered voters, Clinton Anderson probably would not have had the ability to say that. This is why it’s so important for me personally because I don’t want our people to go through the hardship that we did to secure our tribal lands, our sacred lands, back to us.”

Archives photo

Senator Clinton P. Anderson, 13th Secretary of Agriculture, June 1945 – May 1948.

The Native American Voting Rights Coalition has been holding hearings across the country since last September to document the unique needs and challenges faced by Native voters. The coalition said witnesses include a wide range of tribal leaders, advocates, and voters.  They are sharing their experiences with voter registration and voting in federal, state, and local (non-tribal) elections.

Issues being identified in the hearings include access to voter registration and voting sites, early voting, poll worker opportunities, treatment at the polls, voter identification requirements, redistricting, language barriers, and other obstacles that might prevent Native Americans from being able to participate fully and effectively in the political process.

In earlier hearings, testimony from tribal members, elected officials, and community advocates, documented persistent suppression of the Native vote in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. This included a number of barriers to equal voting rights including “unreasonably long distances to polls and inability to access transportation keep Natives from voting.”

Jacqueline De León, Voting Rights Fellow for the Native American Rights Fund said in a news release, “Tribal members should not have to expend precious resources getting to distant polls all the while doubting whether or not they will be allowed to vote. I was shocked by the wide range of arbitrary and unreasonable requirements that make Native Americans feel unwelcome or keep them from voting altogether. This is true voter suppression.”

The voting coalition said testimony from several hearings documented serious hurdles that Native voters had to face in order to vote:

  • Dismal conditions at reservation voting polling locations, one of which included a dirt floor chicken coop that did not have restrooms.
  • Restrictions on the number of voter registrations that one can submit to the county clerk’s office, requiring repeated trips to the office.
  • County employees chastising organizers submitting voter registrations for being a “nuisance” and “making more work” for the county office by submitting Native American registrations.
  • Notifications sent to reservation residents that incorrectly informed them they are no longer residing in the district where they had registered and failing to identify the correct district.
  • Being turned away at the polls because a tribal identification card did not include a street address.
  • Poll workers who fell silent whenever a Native American entered the polling location.

At the Albuquerque hearing, Laurie Weahkee, executive director of the New Mexico-based Native American Voters Alliance, said the efforts to register voters began in the early 1990s to try and protect sacred sites. “At the time a lot of us were young organizers and never voted before and sort of thumbed our noses at politics and politicians …  but as we remained in our effort to protect petroglyphs we found ourselves losing votes after votes. City council votes, public information type votes, and so it became important for us to figure out which candidates, which people were going to really support Native American people. This went beyond sacred sites.”

Weahkee said the alliance was spending a lot of time in the state legislature and paid attention to issues such as taxes, bonds, and roads. And Native American projects were rarely included in that process. So the alliance worked to register 5,000 Native American voters in Albuquerque in 2007. Weahkee is Zuni, Cochiti and Navajo.

Campaign photo via Twitter

Debra Haaland is a candidate for Congress from New Mexico as a Democrat. She is a member of the Laguna Pueblo and, if elected, would be the first Native American woman ever elected to Congress.

Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, is now running for the U.S. Congress to represent Albuquerque, but has worked on voting rights issues in the state for many years. “I come at this issue as a grassroots organizer,” she said. “I felt like we needed more Native Americans voting so I went to the campaign offices of candidates I liked and asked for Native American lists so I could start calling those folks on the phone. That eventually turned into on the ground, show up, and canvas every single house on Laguna Pueblo in 2010, and drive many, many times to Zuni Pueblo to knock on every door and make sure that every opportunity to vote.”

Haaland recalled a Saturday morning visit to a home in San Felipe Pueblo in 2008 where she registered seven people to vote. She said the last person to register was a man, probably in his mid 50s,  “stood up, shook my hand, and said, ‘thank you so much, I have always wanted to vote but I never knew how.’ If that does make you feel like we have a lot of work to do in New Mexico, I don’t know what will.”

The Native American Voting Rights Coalition is a non-partisan alliance of national and grassroots organizations, scholars, and activists advocating  for equal access for Native Americans to the political process. The Native American Rights Fund founded the coalition in 2015. Hearings will continue next month in Sacramento on April 5 and in Tuba City in the Navajo Nation on April 25. The Native American Rights Fund will accept testimony from those who cannot make the hearings by email at


Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter

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100 Years Documentary on Elouise Cobell Coming To PBS – Director Talks With ICT

The award-winning documentary 100 Years is coming to PBS’: America Reframed on March 13th. The film is based on the story of Elouise Cobell (Blackfeet) who fought a 30-year battle against the U.S. Government for its gross mismanagement of funds impacting more than 300,000 Native individuals.

Melinda Janko is producer, director and writer of 100 Years. She graduated cum laude from Emerson College in Boston, Mass.

Janko told Indian Country Today via email that after moving to Southern California in 2003, she formed Fire in the Belly Productions, Inc., after discovering the story of the broken Indian Trust Fund and the Cobell lawsuit.

Outraged by the injustice, Janko says she vowed to bring 100 Years to the world and spent two years researching and building relationships of trust with Elouise Cobell and Native American leaders.

Janko traveled throughout the U.S. with Cobell for some four years and was granted exclusive access to Cobell’s story. Filming began in Washington, DC and also continued into eight states and many Tribal lands. Janko was later granted access to high-level officials of the Department of the Interior who had previously declined to talk.

She has interviewed senators, congressmen, the presiding federal judge, the lead attorney, and many Native American beneficiaries of the Indian Trust Fund.

As a result of the success of 100 Years, Janko has been interviewed by the BBC Radio, NPR, Indian Country Today and wrote a special feature article about Elouise Cobell for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian Magazine. 100 Years is her Directorial debut.

Courtesy '100 Years' / Melinda Janko

Director Melinda Janko with Elouise Cobell during the making of ‘100 Years.’

The film has won many awards to include the 2017 Big Sky Documentary Award, it was shortlisted for a Best Song for the 2017 Academy Awards and listed as one of the top 100 Films of 2017 by film critic, Kam Williams.

100 Years will have its broadcast premiere on PBS, America ReFramed on March 13 and release on Netflix, March 21.

100 Years Official Trailer

In an interview with Indian Country Today, Janko explained how she felt that the film has managed to garner so much recognition, what it means to Indian country, and what’s to come in the future.

Schilling: How does it feel to have come this far in the filmmaking process?

Janko: I am very proud of the work that my team and I have done to bring Elouise Cobell’s story to the world. This has been a 14-year journey for me. We started filming in 2004 and released the film in the fall of 2016. Our tribute song, On Ghost Ridge, was shortlisted for a Best Song Academy Award in 2017, we won the Big Sky Documentary Award that same year. 100 Years was also listed as one of the top 100 films of 2017 by film critic, Kam Williams. The Montana Public Schools have 300 copies, and wrote their curriculum around the film.


I00 Years Movie Poster

Schilling: There is no mistaking the amazing work of Elouise Cobell, but I am curious, why did you wish to make this film in the first place?

Janko: I made this film because I was outraged by the U.S. Government’s gross mismanagement of the Indian Trust Funds that belonged to 300,000 Native Americans. I wanted to know why Native people who owned mineral rich lands were living in abject poverty without running water and electricity? I found it odd that the largest class action lawsuit ever filed against the U.S. Government was not front page news. It was, in fact, a little known story tucked away from the public.
Schilling: Well, it has certainly made an impression and will assuredly continue to do so. That said, what’s to come?

Janko: We are extremely excited about the upcoming broadcast premiere of 100 Years on the PBS series, America ReFramed on March 13th and the March 21st release of the film on Netflix.  I have been on the speaking circuit since the release of the film and I am still out there bringing 100 Years to colleges, universities, public schools, government agencies and more. Our goal is to get the film in public schools, law schools, colleges and universities.

For more information and television listing times, visit the 100 Years website or PBS’ site at

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Regarded Native American Performance Artist James Luna Has Died at 68

Known for his artwork that challenged the public perception of Native Americans and indigenous cultures, the highly regarded performance and installation artist, photographer and writer James Luna has died at age 68.

Luna, well-regarded for his ‘in-your-face’ art that questioned stereotype and colonialism and who was often referred to as ‘one of the most dangerous Indians alive,’ in the arts world, died from a heart attack at University Hospital in New Orleans on March 4th, 2018. Luna was attending a residency at the Joan Mitchell Center.

In terms of his artistic work, Luna was lauded for his brazen humor and shocking tactics. One of his most known art installations was in 1987 and titled Artifact Piece. The installation took place at the San Diego Museum of Man, and Luna shocked visitors as he laid in a loincloth and was surrounded by ‘Indian artifacts’ such as political buttons, divorce papers and music recordings. He also had labels pointing out scars from wounds he received from when he was ‘drunk and fighting.’


James Luna’s the ‘Artifact.’

Another of Luna’s installations was in 2010 in which he created a “Take a Picture With a Real Indian” performance on Columbus Day standing in front of in front of Washington, D.C.’s Union Station.

In an interview with Smithsonian Magazine after his performance, Luna expressed the sentiment behind the world’s romanticism of the American Indian.

“The people are getting up there to have their picture taken with an Indian, just like they would have their picture taken with the bull statue on Wall Street. It’s there for the taking. Indian people always have been fair game, and I don’t think people quite understand that we’re not game. Just because I’m an identifiable Indian, it doesn’t mean I’m there for the taking. But in the long run I’m making a statement for me, and through me, about people’s interaction with American Indians, and the selective romanticization of us.”

According to Luna’s biography on his website, he garnered over 30 years experience with a multitude of exhibitions and performances and resided on the La Jolla Indian Reservation in North County San Diego, California.


James Luna created an art installation in 2011 humorously emulating Northwest Coast tribal masks in, ‘We Become Them.’

His website reads: “Since 1975, he has had over 41 solo exhibitions, participated in 85 group exhibitions and has performed internationally at venues that include the Museum of Modern Art (NYC), Whitney Museum of American Art, New Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Canada, and Museum of Contemporary Native Art, Santa Fe, NM. In 2005, he was selected as the first Sponsored Artist of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian presented at the 2005 Venice Biennale’s 51st International Art Exhibition in Venice, Italy.”

As Luna told Smithsonian Magazine regarding his ‘take a picture with an Indian’ piece, it was much more than a social media selfie opportunity, he was sending a message. Though some of his work might have incorporated humor, it went much deeper.

“People want to put their arms around you, or want you to break that stoic look and smile. Or they say insulting things. After a while I just want to run out of there. But I’m there for a purpose and so that’s part of, I guess, being an artist,” said Luna.

“I just think that people should know that this isn’t a joke.”

For more of James Luna’s work visit his website here.


Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter

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Who Should Run The Indian Health Service? This Is No Longer the IHS We Grew Up With

Who should run the Indian Health Service? Not “who” exactly, but what kind of leader? What kind of skills and experience would be the most useful?

This question is more important than ever. The Trump administration has withdrawn the nomination of Robert Weaver to lead the agency. Weaver, a member of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, has a background in private insurance working with tribes to set up plans to cover tribal members.

Weaver’s nomination was sidetracked after The Wall Street Journal reported serious misstatements on his resume’ both in terms of education and work experience. A representative of the Department of Health and Human Services said, “Mr. Weaver is no longer the Administration’s nominee for Director of the Indian Health Service.”

The Trump administration has withdrawn the nomination of Robert Weaver, Quapaw, to lead the IHS.

For his part, in a letter to tribal leaders, Weaver said the president has been an “ardent supporter of fixing Indian health throughout this process.” And he said, “he will fight to give voice to the change needed at IHS until the mission is complete … the delivery of timely, high healthcare for Indian Country no matter where you live.”

And Weaver went further in an op-ed for Native News Online. He said he wanted to be IHS director for the “sole purpose” of being a part of the solution.

“… many tribes supported me from around Indian country. Why? I think because they know that babies are being born on IHS hospital floors. They know that people are dying of heart attacks because the crash carts at their IHS hospitals don’t have the proper medications. They know that some of the places where they live don’t have running water. They knew that I was the right person to start addressing these abuses because I’ve been an unwavering advocate for our peoples’ health and wellness for the past decade and I was willing to meet and listen,” wrote Weaver.

The key word is “mission.” The mission of the Indian Health Service has become so confused that even policy makers cannot or will not articulate the challenges ahead. Two U.S. Senators, for example, recently talked to National Public Radio and Kaiser Health News about the agency’s leadership and its lack of resources.

NCAI courtesy

Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in a speech on the Senate floor last month said, “the IHS cannot engage in long-term planning without a permanent director at the helm.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in a speech on the Senate floor last month said, “the IHS cannot engage in long-term planning without a permanent director at the helm. It cannot efficiently fix problems at hospitals that failed inspections  and where Medicare and Medicaid funding is in jeopardy. It cannot move as decisively to ensure that IHS facilities stay open.”

Montana Democrat Jon Tester told NPR, “It’s well documented that IHS has been underfunded now for decades, and you can’t get blood out of a turnip, you can’t get health care out of an agency that doesn’t have enough money to be able to do the job that they’re required to do. Congress also needs to do its job and make sure IHS has the dollars it needs, no more, no less, to do the job that’s required, and that’s to take care of the Indian people.”

However Montana Republican Steve Daines told NPR, “throwing more money at it isn’t going to solve the fundamental problem of lack of accountability and lack of leadership. You need to prioritize and look at where we spend the money,” Daines said. “One of the areas we need to address is to insure that the compensation structure for the health professionals that serve, the folks that are right there on the front line, delivering healthcare in Indian Country, that the wages they’re provided are competitive, so that we can attract and retain good health care professionals. That is an area that needs to be addressed, and that’s what we need to prioritize.”

What’s missing from this conversation? Medicaid.

Medicaid is a growing part of the Indian health system budget. (A trend that is not reflected in the actual budget that Congress enacts every year.)

The discourse about the Indian Health Service continues to be about a federal agency that delivers health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives. And, within that story, there are so many clinics and hospitals that only require more order and funding in order to carry out even basic health care.

Only the IHS story is much more complex. We need to think differently about the IHS. (As I have written before: I would even change the name to the Indian Health System to reflect what the agency now does.)

Most of the Indian Health system is managed by tribes or non-profits. There are 26 IHS hospitals, and 19 tribal or or non-profit hospitals.

But, and this is huge, there are 526 clinics, health centers and stations run by tribes and non-profits and only 91 by IHS.


Health Centers

Alaska Village Clinics

Health Stations











The federal role is changing. The Indian Health Service still does operate health care delivery and it sets standards. But it’s also a major funding source–and even that is misleading–because Medicaid is also a significant funding source for tribal and non-profit facilities.

This is important because Medicaid has been under attack by the Trump administration from day one. The administration claims it’s protecting the Indian Health Service budget–all the while proposing deeper and deeper cuts into Medicaid–as Sen. Warren pointed out.

There is a disconnect. And it’s visible in the budget. The line item for “collections,” that is, money from Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance, is roughly $1.2 billion. That’s a number that has not changed much despite a huge expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This number should have been growing dramatically. But it’s not because it does not capture the amount of dollars collected tribes and non-profits, only the money that goes into IHS direct services.

This is misleading because when you talk to tribal and non-profit administrators, as I have, there is a different story to tell. Medicaid is now more important to local budgets than the IHS itself.

The expansion of Medicaid also explains a lot about the shortages within the Indian health system. The federal Indian Health Service will take Medicaid funds, but it’s not growing the pot. Tribes and nonprofits have done that. And so there is more money for Indian health in states that have expanded Medicaid.

This is not the Indian Health Service we grew up with. And the next director of the Indian Health Service needs to acknowledge this complexity and own the new story. The next IHS director ought to have a solid background in public health, medicine, management, and now more than ever, Medicaid.


Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter

(Some of this material was previously posted on Trahant Reports.)

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Santa Fe Days in the Park Announces Their 2018 Featured Artists, Violet and Tony Duncan

The 14th Annual Santa Fe Days in the Park by the Indigenous Institute of the Americas is a family-friendly event featuring two days of interactive festivities celebrating Native American Indian culture and knowledge through jewelry, crafts, dance, music, food, games, seminars, storytelling and hands-on teaching from respected Native educators.

The event is March 17th and 18th, 2018, from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm each day.

Santa Fe Days in the Park features over 70 American Indian artists from at least 40 Nations and is the only authentic Native American Indian art market in North Texas.

The 2018 Santa Fe Days in the Park featured artists include five-time world champion hoop dancer and internationally-recognized Canyon Records flute player Tony Duncan (San Carlos Apache, Arikara, Hidatsa) and his wife Violet Duncan (Plains Cree and Taino,) a championship winning fancy shawl dancer and author.

We hope everyone will come out Thursday night March 15 to greet the Duncan family before Santa Fe Days starts….

— Santa Fe Days (@santa_fe_days) February 22, 2018

In addition, Santa Fe Days in the Park will host championship pow wow dancers and the Mitotiliztli Yaoyollohtli Aztec dancers from the Dallas Ft. Worth community. Bows and Arrows Radio celebrity, Harold Rogers (Navajo/Diné) will serve as Master of Ceremonies alongside of Head Singer, Lance Tahchawwickah (Comanche/Nʉmʉnʉʉ.) The host drum is STR8 South.

The Duncans, Violet and Tony, with their children, will give storytelling, flute and dance performances and lead hoop and fancy shawl dance workshops.  A literary exhibition will highlight children’s books by Native authors and Violet Duncan will be signing her books.

According to Annette Anderson, secretary of the Indigenous Institute of the Americas, Santa Fe Days in the Park is not so much a pow wow, but a Native American Indian cultural exhibition and educational event.

“We do have a grand entry on Saturday March 17 at 10:45am and all dancers are welcome. We  follow powwow protocol, but it mixes with cultural demonstrations. We do have a Tiny Tot contest on Saturday for ages 4 to 10,” wrote Anderson in an email.

“This year our Grand Entry honors “PJ” James, a retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant and a former POW/MIA of the Vietnam War. He was the first Navajo Marine to become a Marine Drill instructor, caretaker/bearer of the Navajo Code Talkers’ Guidon, is a direct descendant of Navajo Code Talkers, and a is a lifetime honorary member of the Navajo Code Talkers.

Anderson said the theme this year is Cherish Turtle Island. “We have a true turtle protector Michaela Mullen, who is a herpetologist in the Dallas Ft. Worth area. Also, our children’s crafts will include learning about the Turtle’s knowledge that was gifted to Native people,” wrote Anderson.

In addition to the performances of the Duncan family, other offerings at Santa Fe Days in the Park include honoring the Navajo Code Talkers and Native Veterans, a sacred tree walk, and Native stickball and lacrosse demonstrations and exhibition games. There will also be children’s craft and learning centers with such offerings as a ‘Three Sisters Seed Hands-on Learning’ display a ‘Did all American Indians live in Tipis?’ game, a dance-stick and dance-purse crafts booth for children, and a beading booth.

Santa Fe Days in the Park will host ‘six of the best American Indian family cooks in the four-state area,’ offering traditional dishes such as Indian tacos, frybread, corn soup, and meat pies for purchase.

The Sandy Lake Amusement Park admission is $2.00 per person and includes parking and access to Santa Fe Days in the Park. A detailed schedule of events available at and/or

Santa Fe Days in the Park
Sandy Lake Amusement Park
1800 Sandy Lake Rd
Carrollton, TX 75006

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Facebook Event Page:

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