Lakota Law livestreams are back, y’all! Continuing in the tradition of “Cut to the Chase,” I’m organizing informative panels hosted by our Lakota leaders and featuring Indigenous guests from across Turtle Island and beyond. Co-produced by Indigenous Peoples Movement and Last Real Indians, “In Critical Times” streams will be available to view live or later on social media, and they take place every other Wednesday at 7 p.m. Eastern. This week, we had a trio of great guests join host Chase Iron Eyes for a deep dive on the Doctrine of Discovery. I encourage you to watch the whole discussion here!
Click the pic to watch this informative discussion led by Lakota Law’s Chase Iron Eyes.
Our guest experts for this episode — Shawnee/Lenape scholar Steven Newcomb, Indigenous Peoples Movement co-founder Jen Martel, and Sicangu Lakota Treaty Council Executive Director Phil Two Eagle — really brought some fantastic perspective on the Doctrine, which forms the horrifyingly racist underpinning for the Christian colonial world’s justification for expanding into Indigenous territory.
The Doctrine, which stems from a papal bull written in the late 1400s, argued that Christian monarchies should be able to subdue non-Christian lands, at will, under divine right. The fact that this dangerous foolishness still influences public international law and Federal Indian Law should disturb every one of us. This 84-minute conversation is well worth the watch — all the way through. I think you’ll likely learn some new things and understand even more deeply why your friendship means so much to us.
Shonabish Chi — thank you for tuning in! Earth Hadjo Online Events Coordinator The Lakota People’s Law Project
As we near this year’s midterm elections in November, I’m pleased to report that good things are happening that bode well for Native participation in our democracy. If you’ve been following us for a bit, you may recall that the Lakota People’s Law Project has been participating as a plaintiff in a landmark lawsuit against the State of South Dakota for its repeated noncompliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA, also sometimes called the “motor voter” law). A while back, we let you know we were close to a settlement that would make access to voting much easier for residents — especially Native People — in South Dakota. Today, I’m happy to announce that we’ve won! The case is officially closed, and we achieved everything we set out to do. You can check out the article in Native News Online right here.
Click above to read the story in Native News Online.
As the news story above indicates, voters all across South Dakota (but especially Native People, who have been disproportionately affected by the state’s violations of federal law) will greatly benefit from the settlement. The Federal Court found that, among other violations, South Dakota failed to automatically update voter registration addresses of voters who change their driver’s license address; refused to provide voter registration services to individuals who lack an existing driver’s license number or Social Security number; failed to forward completed voter registration applications to county election officials in a timely way; didn’t properly train state employees or conduct internal oversight sufficient to ensure NVRA compliance; and failed to ensure that driver’s license “issue sites” — common in Indian Country and other rural areas in South Dakota — provide voter registration services.
The settlement ensures that, over the next three years, South Dakota will implement policies and practices to fully comply with the NVRA. Among the key elements are a provision that the state designate a statewide NVRA coordinator to oversee compliance with the law by all relevant state agencies. It also mandates that the state develop a comprehensive NVRA curriculum to provide annual training to county election officials, employees of driver’s license offices, and public assistance agency workers on their voter registration responsibilities. Importantly to South Dakota’s Native residents, the state must also amend its voter registration application form to allow voters without a postal address to provide a description of the physical location of their residence.
Thanks to this lawsuit, over the coming years, Native People in South Dakota should be given a fair shake at election time. That will be crucial in building the change we want to see. So now, it’s time to make sure my relatives exercise their right to vote. And on that note, I’m very excited to announce that Lakota Law’s 2022 Native vote campaign is just about ready to launch! Keep an eye on your email next week, because we have a big announcement coming your way. We think you’ll be as excited about it as we are. Please stay tuned!
Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for standing up for Indigenous rights. Wašté Win Young Legal Analyst The Lakota People’s Law Project
Lakota People’s Law Project 547 South 7th Street #149 Bismarck, ND 58504-5859
The Wounded Knee Memorial and cemetery, shown here in a 2018 file photo, marks the site where more than 250 Lakota men, women and children were massacred by U.S. soldiers in 1890 in South Dakota. The memorial land was already owned by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, but the tribal council voted Sept. 7, 2022, to join with the Cheyenne River Sioux to buy the remaining 40-acre parcel of the historic landmark from a non-Native owner. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)
It was the last resolution of the day but it was a stunner.
The Oglala Sioux tribal council voted in an historic decision Sept. 7 to purchase 40 acres of Wounded Knee land from Jeanette Czywczynski for $500,000 – a move that now puts the entire Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark site under ownership of the Oglala Sioux.
Sold for far less than the $3.9 million price demanded by her now-deceased husband, James Czywczynski, the land now includes a covenant to preserve it as a sacred site and memorial without commercial development.
The vote passed with 15 members voting yes, three voting no and one member not voting. Those opposing the resolution expressed concern over allowing the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe 49 percent ownership of the land.
“Our tribes have come together through war and times of need. It’s not just our relatives buried there (on Wounded Knee land),” said council member Julian Spotted Bear, who supported the purchase.
According to the resolution, the Oglala Sioux tribe will pay $255,000 and the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe will pay $245,000 for the site, and agree to petition the U.S. Department of the Interior to take the land into trust on behalf of both tribes. The title to the land will be held in the name of the Oglala Sioux tribe.
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe made the decision to participate in the purchase about a week ago, according to Chairman Harold Frazier.
“Many of those massacred at Wounded Knee were from the Minneconjou band on Cheyenne River,” Frazier said.
“When I heard about it, I said, ‘We have to buy it; let’s buy it. That’s our ancestors’ resting place. We need to respect them,'” he said.
The agreement ends a decades-long dispute over land that is the site of the historic Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 in which hundreds of Lakota men, women and children were killed by U.S. soldiers of the 7th cavalry using machine guns in an attempt to suppress the Ghost Dance, a Lakota religious movement. Victims were buried in a mass grave in a nearby Catholic cemetery.
American Indian Movement leaders join in a solemn moment in 1973 just before the signing of a statement ending the bloody standoff between federal forces and the AIM members at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. (AP File Photo/Jim Mone)
The property, which includes a portion of the Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark, has become a potent, painful reminder of brutal federal violence used to suppress Indigenous peoples.
Jeanette Czywczynski became sole owner of the property after her husband, James, died in 2019. James Czywczynski purchased the property in 1968.
The Czywczynski family operated a trading post and museum there until 1973, when American Indian Movement protesters occupied the site, destroying both the post and Czywczynski’s home.
The family moved away from the area and put the land up for sale, asking $3.9 million for the 40-acre parcel nearest the massacre site. The land, including an additional adjacent 40-acre plot, had been assessed at $14,000.
The issue of Wounded Knee ownership became a national symbol of a century of unscrupulous treatment of Native people by the U.S. government and non-Natives.
For a time, Czywczynski toyed with the idea of partnering with developers to build a motel and gas station near the site. He later offered the land to the Oglala Sioux tribe for sale but grew bitter and frustrated over negotiations.
Some tribal members wanted to develop the site for commercial purposes and some opposed such a plan, maintaining that it should be shielded from development and maintained as a sacred site.
In 2013, film star Johnny Depp announced a plan to buy the property and donate it to the Oglala Sioux tribe. Depp, who played the role of Tonto in a remake of the film, “The Lone Ranger,” was criticized for trying to capitalize on the film and for his misappropriation of Native culture. He was also criticized for making unsubstantiated claims of having Native ancestry. Depp did not follow through on the purchase.
In 2016, Lakota journalist Tim Giago, founder of Indian Country Today, announced plans to purchase the Wounded Knee land for $3.9 million and went to work fundraising the purchase price.
Giago, who grew up in the town of Wounded Knee, said he wanted to put the land into trust for the entire Sioux Nation. Giago’s plans, however, fell through. He died in July 2022 at age 88.
The Oglala Sioux tribe already owned the land containing the Wounded Knee cemetery and mass grave of the 1890 massacre victims. Red Cloud Indian School recently returned about one acre of land to the tribe where Sacred Heart Church once stood.
Leaders from the Oglala Sioux tribe did not respond to ICT’s request for comment. ICT was unable to reach Jeannette Czywczynski.
Our stories are worth telling. Our stories are worth sharing. Our stories are worth your support. Contribute $5 or $10 today to help ICT (formerly Indian Country Today) carry out its critical mission. Sign up for ICT’s free newsletter.
One in six children in California’s Central Valley have asthma. It’s a clear environmental injustice, one that our sister program, Let’s Green CA!, is working hard to correct. Now, they’re on the doorstep of a big win.
Earlier this year, Let’s Green CA! partnered with legendary activist Dolores Huerta and her foundation to reduce toxic air pollution and cut greenhouse gas emissions by increasing access to clean cars. And the great news is that their clean car equity bill, SB 1230, just passed the California State Assembly; it will soon head to Governor Newsom’s desk for his signature. Today, I invite you to take a look at Let’s Green CA’s new video, which examines the human impact of toxic air pollution in California’s Central Valley, then send a message to Gov. Newsom in support of SB 1230. Newsom’s signature is the last step on SB 1230’s journey to becoming law, so it’s time to rally together and get this done!
Click the image to watch LGCA’s new video (featuring the one and only Dolores Huerta) and take action for clean air.
Toxic air pollution is making children and families sick, and the climate crisis only exacerbates this injustice. The Let’s Green CA! team understands that climate action is one of the best ways we can protect frontline communities — and all communities. So I encourage you to send your message to the governor and stand in solidarity in this fight for environmental justice today.
Wopila — my thanks for your awareness and action. DeCora Hawk Field Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
P.S. I’m proud of my colleagues at Let’s Green CA! Help push their bill across the finish line by urging Governor Newsom to sign SB 1230 into law today.
As we all find ways to escape the summer heat, I want you to look at the picture below. That’s Jenny Gulch at Pactola Lake, one of the most beautiful spots in the sacred He Sapa — known to settlers as the Black Hills of South Dakota. The people of the Oceti Sakowin were this land’s original stewards and protectors. But, because the federal government won’t adhere to the treaties it made with us, these pristine headwaters of the Rapid Creek watershed are now controlled by the National Forest Service. And instead of protecting this sensitive ecosystem, that agency is accepting mining applications and permitting dangerous, toxic drilling.
Jenny Gulch is one of South Dakota’s natural gems. This beautiful spot at the Rapid Creek headwaters in the sacred He Sapa should never be defaced and polluted by miners.
Fortunately, the Forest Service doesn’t just get to rubber stamp their approval on this one. The public comment period is open for another few weeks, and we need to make all the noise we can. We’re not alone in this fight. As I wrote to you a couple months back, just like the Oglala Nation, the good people of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance are working overtime to raise awareness. Even the City Council for Rapid City voted to pass a resolution in opposition to the Forest Service’s finding of no significant environmental impact at Jenny Gulch.
No significant impact? The history of mining and exploration in the Black Hills tells a very different story. Mining here over the past seven decades created the need for four separate toxic Superfund sites — polluted locations which require a long-term response to clean up contamination from hazardous materials including arsenic, mercury, and cyanide. About $100 million of public money has already been spent to try and fix just one of those sites, with no end in sight.
So I hope you’ll get to know more about mining in the Black Hills, join the Oglala Nation’s call (and ours), and share all this information with your family and friends. It’s going to take pushback from all quarters to stop the new gold rush in the sacred He Sapa, but it’s worth every second of our time to do so. Because I think you’ll agree: We have to protect Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth, and some things are worth more than gold.
Wopila tanka — thank you for protecting our homelands! DeCora Hawk Field Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
WARNING: This story contains disturbing details about residential and boarding schools. If you are feeling triggered, here is a resource list for trauma responses from the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition in the U.S. In Canada, the National Indian Residential School Crisis Hotline can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.
The excavation is part of what the school calls its own search for truth and reconciliation as the U.S. and Canada continue to search for unmarked graves at former Indian residential or boarding schools.
“We are committed to the process of being transparent,” said Maka Black Elk, executive director for Truth and Healing at Red Cloud Indian School. Black Elk is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota tribe.
“We will investigate places that have been identified by eyewitness testimony (of the presence of graves),” Black Elk said.
Drexel Hall, a former dormitory on the Red Cloud Indian School campus on the Pine Ridge reservation, is more than 100 years old. School leaders will begin excavation of a corner of the basement in October 2022 to search for unmarked graves after ground-penetrating radar was inconclusive. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/ICT)
In May, Marsha Small, Northern Cheyenne, and technicians from Ohio Valley Archaeology Inc. used ground-penetrating radar to conduct an analysis of the front lawn of the school as well as an area in the basement of Drexel Hall, a former student dorm.
According to the radar report, there were no indications of graves in the area of the school’s lawn.
Rumors of unmarked graves and missing students have circulated in the Pine Ridge community for years but have seldom included eyewitness testimony, until now.
A former worker at the school came forward recently to report he had seen what looked like small graves in the basement in the 1990s – with small crosses marking each one.
“These stories are rooted in horrific truths of the broader boarding school past,” Black Elk said.
Red Cloud Indian School was originally opened as Holy Rosary Mission in 1888 by Jesuits, a Catholic order of priests. The name was changed to Red Cloud in 1969. In 1980, the school ceased offering boarding and now functions as a day school serving about 600 students.
Red Cloud now operates as a nonprofit organization describing itself as “a Lakota Jesuit Catholic Institution administered by the Jesuits and Lakota people.”
Unlike discoveries of unmarked graves at Canada’s Indian residential schools, however, where hundreds of bodies have been discovered at several former school sites, the allegations of graves in the basement of Drexel Hall raise more sinister concerns.
Drexel Hall was built more than 100 years ago, serving first as a student dorm and later as a convent for nuns who worked at the school. Today, the building houses offices for school staff and the Heritage Center, an art gallery and gift shop.
Marsha Small and technicians from Ohio Valley Archaeology Inc. use ground penetrating radar to scan the basement of Drexel Hall on the Red Cloud Indian School campus in May 2022. Officials decided to dig up the concrete and excavate the area after radar findings were inconclusive about whether unmarked graves may be underneath. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/ICT)
“Red Cloud wasn’t a boarding school in the 1990s when the graves were first discovered, so we will be involving law enforcement in addition to members of the community when we excavate the area,” Black Elk said.
“This is a hard conversation for our community to have,” he said. “If our GPR work helps open the door to those conversations, then hopefully that leads people to healing.”
Not everyone in the Pine Ridge community is confident in the school’s show of transparency.
Dusty Lee Nelson, of the Oglala Lakota tribe, describes the school’s truth and healing efforts as a charade, saying that letting the Catholic Church and Red Cloud lead its own investigations into wrongdoing is the opposite of transparency.
“It’s all about mitigating damage control,” she said.
She said most efforts have been focused on a small group of Lakota Catholics.
On Aug. 16, for example, Jesuit Father General Arturo Sosa visited the school, but his presence was not widely publicized in the community.
Sosa, whose office is in Rome, is the leader of the Society of Jesus, the largest religious order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church. Red Cloud was founded by Jesuit priests, as was St. Francis Indian School on the Rosebud Reservation. St. Francis has been tribally controlled since 1979.
“On behalf of the Society of Jesus, I apologize for the ways in which St. Francis and Holy Rosary Missions and boarding schools were for decades complicit in the U.S. government’s reprehensible assimilation policies, trying to eradicate your culture,” he said. “I ask for your forgiveness for that and for any other abuses that your ancestors may have suffered.”
In response to ICT’s inquiry about why the broader community was not notified of Sosa’s visit, Black Elk said, “I think the feeling was to keep his visit intimate. So we informed our community and parents. But didn’t do anything big with press.”
A video of Sosa speaking at Red Cloud was posted on the school’s website shortly after ICT inquired about the visit.
Sosa promised to take demands from leadership of both the Oglala Lakota and Rosebud Sioux tribes for the Catholic church to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery to Pope Francis. The letter, signed by Kevin Killer, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, was posted on the tribe’s Facebook page.
Demands have escalated in recent months to rescind the doctrine, a foundational document guiding Catholic and Christian occupation of the Americas. The doctrine is composed of bulls or orders handed down in the 1400s by Catholic popes authorizing agents of European monarchs to dominate Indigenous lands and people by any means necessary. The doctrine helped shape the entirety of the White settler relationship with Indigenous peoples in the Americas and is the genesis of U.S. federal Indian law.
But the issue is dividing the community. Since speaking out publicly about Red Cloud’s truth and healing efforts, Nelson said she has become a target for community members who disagree with her.
“I’m tired of being the one to say things,” she said. “God bless the [Indigenous Youth Council]. They are organizing and approaching these issues. Activism has been demonized here.”
School leaders said in a statement posted to the school website that the next round of work in the Drexel Hall basement is set for this fall.
“We will be working again with Marsha Small and OVAI to follow their recommendations,” the statement said.
“The removal of concrete and excavation will take place in October 2022 where law enforcement, spiritual advisors and the community member who brought forward the testimony will be present.”
Our stories are worth telling. Our stories are worth sharing. Our stories are worth your support. Contribute $5 or $10 today to help ICT (formerly Indian Country Today) carry out its critical mission. Sign up for ICT’s free newsletter.
A couple weeks back, I was honored to join a delegation to Washington, D.C. led by Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire. We met with congressional reps and other decision makers to inspire action to stop the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). As the pipeline’s legally mandated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) continues to stall despite the clear and present danger to Standing Rock and the Mni Sose — the Missouri River — this was mission critical. You can click here to watch our latest Water Wars video, produced in conjunction with Standing Rock, the Oceti Sakowin, and the Great Plains Water Alliance, which highlights our productive meeting with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).
Watch: I joined Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire (right) for her delegation to Washington, D.C. We had several excellent conversations about DAPL, including one with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (left).
You may recall that, in 2021, members of the Squad — progressive millennial women leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives including Tlaib, AOC, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, and Ilhan Omar — joined us and other Indigenous justice leaders in Minnesota to combat the Line 3 pipeline. And, of course, in 2017 AOC visited Standing Rock to take part in the #NoDAPL resistance, inspiring her run for Congress. These true leaders recognize the dangers of pipelines and care about what happens to us. Their support remains critical, but frankly it isn’t enough. We need other lawmakers and the executive branch to recognize DAPL’s danger and help us stop the oil before it spills and creates an emergency for our people.
As we pointed out during our meetings in D.C., the Army Corps of Engineers has repeatedly failed to provide Standing Rock with an adequate emergency response plan for DAPL. It has only shared a redacted version, which prevents us from planning on our own. This is particularly concerning now, because extremely low water levels in the Mni Sose have made accessing potential leak sites a logistical nightmare. We pray that something will be done before it’s too late.
In the meantime, please take a few minutes to watch our video and stay ready to take action. Eventually, the Corps will have to release its sham EIS. When it does, your voice will be critical. The public comment period will offer us an opportunity to stand strong together — again — for the water, for the people, and for our future.
Wopila tanka — thank you, as ever, for standing with Standing Rock and the Oceti Sakowin. Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director and Lead Counsel The Lakota People’s Law Project
This hideous brochure was handed out to Oglala youth at the Pine Ridge Nation. Once our Tribal Council was alerted, it took emergency action by passing an ordinance (since rescinded) banning all missionary work on our reservation. The ordinance was rescinded a few days later, mainly because folks had events — such as weddings and funerals — scheduled. Still, previous law requiring review and registration of religious entities will now be enforced with greater vigor, and my community is once again reckoning with the living history of colonization, particularly by western faith organizations. As you probably know, our relationship as Native People to the Catholic Church is long and, for the most part, horrific. To this day, Federal Indian Law still cites the Doctrine of Discovery — which originated in the Catholic Church in the 1490s — as a justification for our subjugation. For five centuries, European powers “discovered” and colonized Indigenous lands using the legal argument that, because Christians didn’t yet inhabit them, those lands were fair game. Of course, we all know what happened in the wake of this colonization: forced migrations, broken treaties, the Indian boarding school era, and the continued taking of our children by state agencies. And last week, while Pine Ridge was confronting yet another manifestation of the colonial mindset, Pope Francis took a trip to Canada to apologize for the Church’s role in the boarding school era — later even acknowledging it as genocide. I, for one, am happy to see progress; but I’ll be happier when he rescinds the Doctrine of Discovery.
Pope Francis dons a ceremonial warbonnet during his apology tour in so-called Canada. Ugh. Photo from the AP. Obviously, we still have a long way to go and many truths to tell before we, as Native peoples, can heal from the generational trauma inflicted by centuries of colonization. It’s going to have to be one step at a time. In the meantime, I’m proud of my friends — the activists who brought their concerns to the attention of our Tribal Council at Pine Ridge. I actually helped to establish the Oglala Lakota chapter of the International Indigenous Youth Council, which spearheaded that organizing. I’m hopeful that we can move forward with better understanding. Churches will now have to register with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and existing religious establishments will have until Oct. 24 to clear their activities with the Tribal Council. It’s a start. Wopila tanka — thank you for your understanding and solidarity. DeCora Hawk Field OrganizerThe Lakota People’s Law Project Lakota People’s Law Project 547 South 7th Street #149 Bismarck, ND 58504-5859
MASKWACIS, Alberta, Canada — Mavis LongJohn sat with her sister at the top of the arbor bleachers where just moments earlier Pope Francis had offered apologies for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system.
The crowd was dispersing quickly as the Pope’s helicopter disappeared into the overcast sky on its way back to Edmonton.
LongJohn had traveled from Sturgeon Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan to Maskwacis First Nation as part of her own healing journey. She went to the St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, and she carries not only her own story but those of her parents and her late sister.
“I cried,” she told ICT about hearing the Pope’s apology. “I was looking down on the ground because my deceased parents were residential school survivors as well. I had an older sister who passed away in 1996, who is not able to hear what the pope has said. My mom passed away two weeks ago — she was 91 — and she was unable to experience this event, but hopefully she is looking down from the spirit world.”
The Pope’s apology drew applause from the thousands of people gathered Monday at Maskwacis on the site of the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School, but it also drew tears among many in the crowd.
For some, the apology was not enough for the generations lost to the trauma of residential schools, some of whom remain in unmarked graves on school grounds. For others, it was a start toward healing that would begin with forgiveness.
“I am deeply sorry,” the Pope said Monday, in his first visit to Indigenous lands in Canada. “In the face of this deplorable evil, the church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children.”
The Pope also acknowledged that his apology – and his recounting of the harsh conditions and abuse many of the students suffered after being forced from their families to attend school – would stir bad memories.
“The memory of those children is indeed painful,” he said. “We want to walk together, to pray together, to work together, so that the sufferings of the past can lead to a future of justice, healing and reconciliation.”
He continued, “It is necessary to remember how the policies of assimilation … were devastating for the peoples of these lands,” he said, citing the “physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse” of the children.
Wilton Littlechild, a Cree chief who served as grand chief of the Confederacy of the Treaty Six First Nations who served as a member of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the apology was important for many residential school survivors like him. (Photo by Miles Morrisseau/ICT)
Wilton Littlechild, a Cree chief who served as grand chief of the Confederacy of the Treaty Six First Nations and who is a residential school survivor, heard testimony from hundreds of survivors while serving as a member of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
For many, he said, the apology mattered.
“This is the been a journey for many Indigenous peoples who wanted to see this day happen, in tears, sometimes in anger, who said to me, ‘I just want to hear three words from the Pope in front of me, ‘I am sorry,” for what happened to me as a child,” Littlechild told ICT.
“I was just following their instructions all these years making sure he made that commitment. And sure enough, here we are.”
‘Pain and remorse’
More than 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada were taken from their families and forced to attend government-funded schools in an effort to isolate them from their families, traditions and language.
The Catholic Church’s missionaries operated more than 60 percent of the 139 residential schools in Canada that received government funds, and more than one-fourth of the more than 400 board schools in the United States. Thousands more attended church-run schools.
The schools were designed to assimilate the children into mainstream society, so their hair was cut, they were beaten for speaking their language, and they often suffered physical or sexual abuse. Many of them died at school, never to return home.
In 2008, Canada issued a formal apology for its role in operating the residential schools, and formed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to create a historical record of the history and enduring trauma. The commission’s harshly worded report issued in 2015 concluded the school system amounted to cultural genocide.
The commission was part of the $1.9 billion Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement reached in 2006 between the government and 86,000 Indigenous people who attended the schools as children between 1870 and 1997.
The push for an apology intensified in May 2021 with the discovery of 215 remains of children in unmarked graves around the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. The finding set off a search for additional graves across Canada and the United States that is ongoing.
The Pope’s apology Monday came after a delegation of survivors, elders, knowledge keepers and youths met with him in April at the Vatican. He made several references in his speech Monday to the meeting, which he said revived his own “deep sense of pain and remorse” over the brutal school system.
It was then he launched six-day “penitential pilgrimage” that will take him to the homelands of Canada’s three Indigenous communities — First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
The long-awaited apology, however, brought renewed calls for reconciliation and reparations for the wrongs that were done.
Three national Indigenous leaders held a news conference after the Pope’s speech to call for maintaining a unified front in dealing with the boarding school history.
“When we were in Rome, we demonstrated that unity and how we can work together on something that has impacted all of our families and communities,” said Métis National Council President Cassiday Caron.
Three national Indigenous leaders held a news conference after the Pope’s speech to call for maintaining a unified front in dealing with the boarding school history. They are, from left, Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald; Métis National Council President Cassiday Caron; and Natan Obed, national president of the Inuit Tapirit Kanatami. (Photo by Miles Morrisseau/ICT)
Natan Obed, national president of the Inuit Tapirit Kanatami, was among the estimated 65-70 Inuits who made the journey to Maskwacis.
“I appreciated the remarks for being comprehensive and the sincerity that the remarks were given really resonated with me,” he said. “I hope that others felt that as well. But also, the understanding that this was about taking away our cultures, our languages, ripping families apart, there was a place for that in the speech and the recognition that that happened.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald was disappointed the Pope did not renounce the Doctrine of Discovery, which has allowed nations to usurp tribal lands as “discoveries.”
She said she did not hear the apology that she and others had wanted to hear.
“I didn’t hear him specifically say that he was apologizing and saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ on behalf of the Catholic Church,” Archibald said. “He talked again about evils committed by Christians, he talked about being out of sync with the teachings of Jesus, but I didn’t hear it clearly… I really was hoping that those words would come out, that ‘I am sorry for what the Catholic Church as an institution has done to destroy your communities and your families,’ and I didn’t hear that.”
She continued, “I know that this today is about forgiveness for some people and there are people have come with that love and forgiveness in their arms, and there are other people who just don’t feel like we quite got there today. I’m one of those people.”
The focus now appears to be shifting to what comes next.
The National Congress of American Indians, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, issued an open letter to the Pope calling on the church to release records that could help identify the children who attended, including those who died, and make a similar pilgrimage to the United States.
“The Catholic Church holds important records about Federal Indian boarding schools that can help bring the truth to light,” wrote NCAI President Fawn Sharp. “We cannot hold abusers accountable, seek redress for harm or reconcile with the Church, government institutions, and in some cases, our own communities and families, until we know the full, unadulterated truth – truth the Catholic Church is actively withholding. It is crucial we have church support and partnership in working to bring the truth to light.”
Sandi Harper, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who attended the papal event in honor of her late mother, a former residential school student, said healing will take time. Some Indigenous people are not yet ready for reconciliation.
“It’s something that is needed, not only for people to hear but for the church to be accountable,” she said. “We just need to give people the time to heal. It’s going to take a long time.”
The Pope finished his day greeting followers at the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton.
This article contains material from The Associated Press.
Earlier this week, I wrote to you about the exciting progress we’re making with my grandmothers’ group toward creating a tribally-run Child Welfare Department here at the Cheyenne River Nation. I also mentioned that our legal team was on the verge of completing the draft of an amicus brief for the Supreme Court that will help protect the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal law that keeps Native foster children in Native homes. Today, I’m happy to report that our draft brief has been completed and submitted for feedback to partner organizations who are part of the Tribal Supreme Court Project.
Protecting ICWA at the Supreme Court level goes hand-in-hand with my work to keep our children within kinship circles in my community.
Winning justice for our next generations and expanding tribal sovereignty will depend on a coordinated approach. Because ICWA’s fate will be determined by a dangerously conservative Supreme Court, our legal arguments must be well-measured and synced with our partners. Additionally, our work inside the courtroom must be paired with a continued focus on grassroots organizing in partnership with the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes to shore up tribally controlled foster care and adoption programs — especially in the event that ICWA gets struck down or modified later this year.
But the first line of defense is doing everything we can to preserve what we already have: ICWA is a good federal law that protects kids. The chair of our Advisory Board is former South Dakota Senator James Abourezk, who also happens to be ICWA’s primary creator. Now, Sen. Abourezk is co-authoring our amicus brief to the Supreme Court. We’re helping to communicate his detailed knowledge to the justices, and we believe his powerful testimony can help create key swing votes in our favor.
My deep appreciation to you for standing in our corner. Together, we can meet this pivotal moment. I’ve been active on the front lines of Native justice for five decades, and Lakota Law has worked to defend ICWA for more than 20 years. There’s nothing we haven’t seen, and there’s no fight we can’t win if we stay unified, work smart, and fight hard.
Wopila tanka — thank you for being a protector! Madonna Thunder Hawk Cheyenne River Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
Good news! Here at the Cheyenne River Nation, things are on track toward our goal of creating a tribally-run Child Welfare Department. Just last week, we held our second hearing in Eagle Butte, our reservation’s largest community. We recorded powerful testimony from several families, which we will ultimately present to the Cheyenne River Tribal Council.
I encourage you to watch our new video, in which Virginia White Feather — one of my fellow grandmothers in Wasagiya Najin, our Standing Strong grandmothers’ group — and I talk about the importance of our efforts to keep Native children in Native care.
Watch: My grandmothers’ group, Wasagiya Najin, is standing strong to create a tribally-run Child Welfare Department at Cheyenne River — and we’re making good progress!
We grandmas lead this charge because we’re the best ones to do it. We have deep respect from our communities, and in a culture that greatly values and relies upon kinship connections, we’re often the ones who step in to caretake for our grandchildren. Our connections run deep. That’s extra important when trust can be hard to come by, given that our children and families have been let down time and again.
As you likely know by now, South Dakota’s child welfare system doesn’t hold proper respect for our kinship ties, and our children are routinely taken from us. Our people, therefore, tend to be skeptical of anyone offering solutions, but they know that we grandmothers — who spend every day organizing within our communities and caring for the next generations — mean business.
We want wrap-around services for our children and caretakers. We intend to make sure they can remain together, here in a safe place, and that our families have what they need. We won’t stop organizing, and we’ll have even more to report soon. Our next target is editing video from our various hearings to present at Tribal Council and motivate them to act. It’s exciting, because we have a golden opportunity to create a far better system that recognizes the old ways in service of our next generations.
Meanwhile, Lakota Law’s legal team just submitted our draft amicus brief for review by sister organizations in the Supreme Court case about the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Court will hear the case in October, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. We’ll have much more to report on that project soon, as well. Please stay tuned!
Wopila tanka — thank you for standing strong for our children. Madonna Thunder Hawk Cheyenne River Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
As many of you know, the Lakota People’s Law Project is a proud ally of Standing Rock. We provide media, fundraising, organizing, and lobbying support to the tribal chairwoman’s team, especially on environmental causes like the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). In this capacity, we’re traveling next week to Washington D.C. to support Chairwoman Janet Alkire as she meets with key decision-makers about the ongoing injustice of DAPL.
More on that soon — but for now, we’d like to share our new video with you, made in collaboration with Chairwoman Alkire’s team, the Oceti Ŝakowiŋ, and the Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance. It brings tribal leaders together from all over South Dakota to speak about the necessity to protect Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) from Big Extraction’s misdeeds, like Dakota Access.
Watch: Janet Alkire and Oceti Ŝakowiŋ camp leaders reflect on the importance of the #NoDAPL movement to protecting Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth).
The stakes of our environmental movement remain as high as ever for all humans, plants, and animals. The year 2022 is on track to be one of the hottest on record. To make a difference we must act locally while thinking globally. Local for me means the Dakotas, where Standing Rock’s water supply (and that of 17 million others) is still in jeopardy from an illegal oil pipeline without a permit.
Why is it operating without a permit? Because the company hired by the federal government to do the environmental impact statement (EIS) was among those who joined a lawsuit against Standing Rock early in the NoDAPL movement. Of course, Standing Rock’s leaders won’t accept this, so there is a standoff at the moment with the feds. The Army Corps of Engineers has now postponed the release of their flawed EIS until next year, and that gives the tribe more time to fight back and demand that a decent company conduct a new assessment.
As you’re aware, Big Oil has a stranglehold on American politics. Wind power is the cheapest energy source available today — there’s enough wind in just the Dakotas and Texas to power the entire United States. But instead of shifting aggressively to clean technologies, this nation is allowing the fossil fuel industry to bully us into greater investments in our own destruction. Indigenous voices must remain strong to counteract forces of greed and narrow self-interest that plague our nation and world at this time. We will continue doing what we can, with your support!
Wopila tanka — thank you for your ongoing determined support Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director and Lead Counsel The Lakota People’s Law Project
Our partnerships make us strong, so I’m excited to announce a new collaboration between the Lakota People’s Law Project and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. We’ve been invited by Cherokee Chief Charles Hoskin to work with his tribe to push Congress to honor a promise made in treaties to the Cherokees, first in 1785 and then repeatedly afterwards. The pledge was to appoint a non-voting Cherokee Nation delegate to the House of Representatives.
Watch the video featuring Chief Hoskin Jr. on the long standing quest of the Cherokee Nation to hold Congress to its promise to seat a delegate; above is Kimberly Teehee, the Cherokee Nation’s chosen representative.
The Cherokee Nation is a federally recognized Indian tribe with more than 385,000 citizens across the country that spans almost 7,000 square miles in northeastern Oklahoma.
The Cherokee Nation’s right to a congressional delegate is affirmed by all three of the tribe’s federal treaties: the 1785 Treaty of Hopewell, the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, and the Treaty of 1866. The Treaty of New Echota states that:
“The Cherokee Nation, having already made great progress in civilization… shall be entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives of the United States…”
The only thing needed for the delegate to be appointed is for the House Appropriations Committee to pass the measure and for the full House of Representatives to then vote yes.
In 2019, Chief Hoskin selected Kimberly Teehee as the congressional delegate for his tribe. She earned a JD from the University of Iowa College of Law, and she served as senior policy advisor for Native American affairs in the administration of President Barack Obama. In February of 2020, she was named by Time Magazine as one of sixteen leading activists fighting for a “More Equal America.” She also served as the first deputy director of Native American Outreach for the Democratic National Committee and director of Native American outreach for President Bill Clinton’s 1997 inauguration.
This week, the Supreme Court issued an odious trifecta of decisions limiting three precious things: a woman’s right to choose, the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to combat the climate crisis, and tribal sovereignty in Oklahoma. I’m here to tell you, we must battle back. Here on the frontlines of environmental racism, we know exactly how far the colonizers will go to preserve their own power and profit. Breaking or changing laws is nothing new, and neither is marginalizing Native tribes. But we can and we must restore justice.
Watch: Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier joins other leaders from the Oceti Sakowin to talk about how DAPL ignores both tribes and laws.
Over the past five centuries, since European settlers first invaded the shores of Turtle Island, our Indigenous voices have routinely been silenced. Treaties have always been broken. Despite promise after promise, we’ve been further marginalized, year by year. State and federal governments alike seemingly couldn’t care less about the dire consequences for our People when projects like the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) are railroaded through our homelands. And conservative politicians, like South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, are especially eager to reduce our influence and make us invisible.
Whenever we’re the ones most affected, industry and government seem to have no qualms ignoring their own laws, too — as has happened with DAPL. During Standing Rock’s lawsuit to stop the pipeline, the presiding judge had to tell the Department of Justice it was flouting the National Environmental Policy Act with its argument that tribal input doesn’t matter.
The fact is, we do matter, and your solidarity with us ensures that our voices increasingly become part of the conversation. As Lakota Law Standing Rock organizer Phyllis Young says in the video, it’s up to us to make sure government agencies take a new approach that prioritizes “mutual respect, mutual participation, and mutual benefit.” Please continue to stand with Standing Rock and the Lakota People’s Law Project. As our rights and protections are rolled back, it’s more important than ever that we unite and fight — hard.
Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for your friendship and solidarity. Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director and Lead Counsel The Lakota People’s Law Project
The United States Supreme Court has limited the scope of its historic McGirt decision.
In a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta that the state of Oklahoma has concurrent jurisdiction and the ability to prosecute non-Natives when the victim is Native and the crime is committed on tribal land.
“From start to finish, the dissent employs extraordinary rhetoric in articulating its deeply held policy views about what Indian law should be,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s opinion reads.
Justice Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Amy Coney Barrett in the majority. Justice Kavanaugh wrote that the views of the justices in the dissent were contrary to previous Supreme Court precedents and other laws.
“The dissent goes so far as to draft a proposed statute for Congress. But this Court’s proper role under Article III of the Constitution is to declare what the law is, not what we think the law should be,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Gorsuch, the author of the historic McGirt decision, wrote that tribes were promised to be free from interference by state authorities.
“Where this Court once stood firm, today it wilts,” Gorsuch wrote. “Where our predecessors refused to participate in one State’s unlawful power grab at the expense of the Cherokee, today’s Court accedes to another’s.”
Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A’aniih is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports for the Washington Bureau. For hot sports takes and too many Lakers tweets, follow him on Twitter – @KDKW_406. Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Today, it happened. The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. This horrifying decision eliminating our right to choose what we do with our own bodies is an affront to birthing people everywhere, and it will needlessly create a healthcare crisis with an outsized impact on women of color. It’s also sadly symbolic of this nation’s long history of disregarding our rights and our lives.
On that note, you may recall that, just over a year ago, we published a hard-hitting blog discussing the horrifying discovery of 215 unmarked graves of First Nations children on the grounds of former Canadian residential schools. Then, a few months back, my Unci Madonna shared with you our own family’s harrowing journey through U.S. boarding schools set up to convert Native children to the ways of the colonizer.
According to the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania was just one of 408 institutions designed to “kill the Indian and save the man” run or supported by the United States between 1819 and 1969.
If you can set aside the time and are willing to sit with difficult material, I encourage you to read the entire 105-page Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report. It pulls no punches in its descriptions of the horrifying conditions the children faced in these institutions — even the “hunting” of them if they dared to run away back to their family homes.
The schools were, of course, there to help accomplish what the report describes as a twin policy of “Indian territorial dispossession and Indian assimilation, including through education.” Here’s how the U.S. Senate put it, as quoted in the report: “Beginning with President Washington, the stated policy of the Federal Government was to replace the Indian’s culture with our own. This was considered ‘advisable’ as the cheapest and safest way of subduing the Indians, of providing a safe habitat for the country’s white inhabitants, of helping the whites acquire desirable land, and of changing the Indian’s economy so that he would be content with less land. Education was a weapon by which these goals were to be accomplished.”
The report also states that at least 500 children are known to have died in these halls of “education,” a count that will no doubt rise significantly with further research. The investigation has “identified marked or unmarked burial sites at approximately 53” of the 408 schools across the Federal Indian boarding school system. The specific locations have not been released.
It’s important to remember that this report focuses only on federal Indian boarding schools. But there were many more of these institutions — where children were forced to perform manual labor, perform military drills, speak only English, undergo corporal punishment, and discipline younger students. We are still only scratching the surface of how widespread the government’s attempt was to wipe out our Native cultures.
Given the scope of the violations, and the lasting generational trauma inflicted on our communities, it’s critical that we find a path that helps us move forward in a good way. Right now, to help begin that process, Congress is considering passing truth and healing legislation. Your solidarity can make a difference, so if you have not already done so, I ask you to email your reps, tell them to pass the bills before both the Senate and the House, and share this action with your loved ones.
Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for being in our corner! DeCora Hawk Field Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
Greetings! If you’ve been with us for some time, you already know I helped found this organization to make sure our Lakota children thrive. Since 2004, we have never stopped working to keep Native kids in Native care, where they can learn our cultural heritage from their elders and kinship circles.
Allow me to share a little more with you about these efforts. First, as we near the deadline to submit our ICWA amicus brief to the Supreme Court, our legal team has been interfacing with other organizations who are also writing briefs for the Brackeen v. Haaland case. By coordinating, we’ll ensure all important arguments are made in the best possible way, and our participation is key because we’re writing in conjunction with former S.D. Sen. James Abouresk, the primary author of the original bill. Our brief will be complete soon, and our public relations team is planning some novel methods to spread the word and put pressure on people in D.C. Powerful lawyers aligned with Big Oil have attacked the constitutionality of ICWA with all they have, and this means the stakes couldn’t be higher for Native kids and tribal sovereignty.
Meanwhile, my own organizing focuses right here in my community at Cheyenne River. As a tangible contribution to defend the spirit of ICWA, our team is moving forward to create a tribal child welfare department. Last week, we hosted more than a dozen tribal members at an official hearing where family members testified about losing children to the system in South Dakota. With no tribally-administered Child Protective Services program on our rez, foster care and adoption is administered by the state, which has an abysmal track record of abiding by ICWA. Right now, 90 percent of Native children taken from their families in South Dakota still end up in non-Native foster care. That’s completely unacceptable, and it’s why we’re working directly with tribal officials to establish an entity that will keep them safe with those who love them.
Finally, some great news from our kinship care home at Standing Rock. It now has a name — Chantewašte House (chon-tay-wash-tay, meaning to be happy, content, cheerful, or joyful) — and it is currently sheltering three children. We had a 1-year-old stay for a while earlier this year, and our foster parent, Vanessa Defender, continues to do wonderful work providing a safe haven for the little ones.
Please stay tuned for more updates on all of the above. Once again, I thank you for being there with us through this journey. It’s incredible stuff we’re accomplishing. Together we’re aiding the renewal of our next generation and those who will follow.
Wopila tanka — my gratitude for all you do! Madonna Thunder Hawk Cheyenne River Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
Today, we give you the fourth video from our “Water Wars” series, co-produced with Standing Rock, the Great Plains Water Alliance, and the Oceti Sakowin, highlighting why we resist the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). When the oil company forced DAPL through our homelands, it claimed that we, the Native People on the frontlines, had been consulted. But that term has come to mean less than nothing to us. What’s required under international law and what should be standard operating procedure with projects like DAPL is something much more substantial than “consultation” — and that’s our Free, Prior, and Informed Consent.
Watch: “Consultation” isn’t an adequate standard. We never gave our consent for DAPL to threaten our water and homelands.
No matter what they think over at the oil company headquarters, this isn’t the wild wild west anymore. There are rules. This pipeline is operating illegally, without a federal permit. Here in the modern era, I think most of us will also agree that no means no, and gaining consent from those affected before taking action is critical. The concept of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (or FPIC) is, in fact, codified in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And Under President Obama, the United States promised to recognize the right we hold as the Nation’s first inhabitants to have a definitive say in what happens to our homelands.
“Consultation” is a sham. Sending us emails notifying us that a pipeline is about to be drilled under our sole source of fresh drinking water is inadequate, and expecting us to stand aside and let that happen is just plain foolish. I’m grateful that, as our partner in this movement, you’re resisting with us. Please continue to stand with the Oceti Sakowin, and together, let’s defeat DAPL once and for all.
Wopila tanka — Thank you for supporting Indigenous justice! Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director and Lead Counsel The Lakota People’s Law Project
Today I write to share some really wonderful news with you. In a huge win for voting rights and Native justice, on May 26, a federal judge in South Dakota ruled in Lakota Law’s favor that the state has repeatedly violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). This judgment is a giant step forward in the battle to make sure Native voices are properly heard at the ballot box — especially in a state where we make up a whopping nine percent of the total population!
With this judgment, we expect to hear a lot less of this from Native voters in South Dakota. Photo credit: Daniel Logo from Flickr Creative Commons.
If you’ve been following our work for some time, you may remember that Lakota Law joined the suit last year as a plaintiff alongside our friend, Standing Rock Sioux tribal member Hoksila White Mountain. Together with the Oglala and Rosebud Sioux Tribes and Rosebud Sioux tribal member Kimberly Dillon, we sued South Dakota Secretary of State Steve Barnett and a trio of agency heads after an investigation uncovered the state’s pattern of noncompliance with the NVRA. Of course, this lack of compliance has had an outsized effect on Indigenous communities.
The court agreed with our group’s contention that, too often, potential South Dakota voters — especially Natives — encountered systemic problems when trying to register to vote at state-run public assistance offices and the Department of Transportation. The state has effectively disenfranchised us by failing to adequately provide legally required training, forms, and services.
We thank our partners from the Native American Rights Fund and Demos for their dedication and excellence in litigating this case. It exemplifies just how much we can accomplish when we work together to create positive change, and it will set a precedent that other tribal governments, Indigenous voters, and voters of color can use to defend the guarantees of the National Voter Registration Act long into the future.
Wopila tanka — thank you for supporting our mission for justice! DeCora Hawk Field Organizer Lakota People’s Law Project
For time immemorial, we have lived along and revered our sacred relative, the Mni Sose, the Missouri River. These days, as you know, the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) crosses under the Missouri — just upstream from the Standing Rock Nation — without a federal permit. And yet, unlike the oil company, we are required to have a permit just to pray in our traditional sweat ceremonies in certain, sacred spots along the river’s banks.
Watch: Tribal leaders discuss the sheer preposterousness of DAPL crossing under our sacred river without a permit, while we’re required to get a permit to pray in some areas along its banks.
Can we all agree that when Standing Rock’s tribal water resources administrator, Doug Crow Ghost, wants to pray at the river, it should be automatically allowed? Doug cares as much as anyone about our water, and he deeply respects our natural surroundings. In contrast, the oil company, Energy Transfer Partners, tries every means at its disposal to avoid environmental oversight. The colonizing governments occupying this land seem to be more comfortable with the potential of oil spills than prayer on sacred land.
The historical facts back all of this up. It wasn’t until 1978 that the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed, permitting Native Peoples to engage in acts such as burning sage or sweat ceremony. Meanwhile, DAPL continues to operate without a valid Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), despite a court ruling that this violates the National Environmental Policy Act. Still, we remain hopeful that we can win this fight in the end.
Earlier this year, a majority conservative Supreme Court rejected the oil company’s latest attempt to avoid environmental oversight, and now we await the (much delayed) release of the EIS, which was overseen by an oil-friendly firm hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Naturally, we expect the statement to be deeply flawed when we finally see it. I hope you’ll be ready to join with Lakota Law, Standing Rock, and the united tribes of the Oceti Sakowin to, once again, stand up to Big Oil and say no to the Dakota Access pipeline when the EIS is finally released. We’ll keep you posted!
Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for your friendship and solidarity. Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director and Lead Counsel The Lakota People’s Law Project
For over 100 years, human remains and sacred artifacts stolen from the bodies at the Wounded Knee Massacre have been locked away, held by a private library in the small town of Barre, Massachusetts. Descendants of the victims are fighting to retrieve them, but the library Board of Directors refuses to cooperate.
*Note: scroll back through this blog for events that happened from 2016 and historic background regarding pipelines in North Dakota.
I write today about an exciting project our team has taken on: the creation of an unparalleled online archive of DAPL-related media such as this that will make the water protector movement accessible to students, journalists, and activists all over the world. When we’re finished, anyone will be able to dig into an enormous amount of raw source material about the historic events that transpired at Standing Rock several years ago.
In coordination with various academic partners, we’re well down the road to building the infrastructure needed to launch this engine. We’re also conducting outreach to tribal community colleges to build more partnerships. The human family — for time immemorial — needs to know what happened. We’re doing our part to make that happen.
Water protectors gather on the shores of the Missouri River in 2016.
As many of you know, back in 2017, my colleague Chase Iron Eyes — an attorney and a former candidate for Congress from North Dakota — faced the potential of 6 years in prison for posting on Facebook. Chase used social media to help organize the last effective protest of the NoDAPL effort, at a place called “Last Child’s Camp.” For this, North Dakota tried to put him in prison and strip his law license. But they failed, in part because our lawyer team defended him vigorously in court.
Meanwhile, in the process of defending Chase, our attorneys gathered an enormous amount of media — everything from videos to documents, which, taken together, tell the remarkable story of a tribal nation defending itself against the world’s most powerful industry: Big Extraction.
The only way that history ever reflects the view of underdogs like Standing Rock is when people like you — like all of us — work together to document events from the perspective of those normally ignored. Our online DAPL archive will tell the story of the many water protectors who put their bodies on the line to protect air, water, and the sovereignty of tribal nations. Mni Wiconi (“water is life”)! Wopila tanka — thank you for standing with us as we move forward on many fronts! DeCora Hawk Field Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
Lakota People’s Law Project 547 South 7th Street #149 Bismarck, ND 58504-5859
When I was a little girl, I lived in paradise. I would roam out from my family’s cabin along the banks of the Mni Sose — the Missouri River — and drink straight from her waters. Around our allotment, the Standing Rock Nation was home to one of the most glorious forests on Turtle Island. Our gardens had every fruit tree you could want, and berries to nourish our growing bodies and souls. We were healthy in that place. Our homelands and the river provided for us — and then everything changed.
Before I tell you the rest of the story, I want to share a new video that Lakota Law has produced for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The second chapter in our “Water Wars” series, it follows the first video, which highlighted the uniting of tribes from across the Oceti Sakowin to stop the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). This installment gives you more background and history, detailing the U.S. government’s refusal to honor the treaties that should preserve and protect our homelands.
Watch: In the new video we produced for Standing Rock, I address other leaders from across the Oceti Sakowin to inspire #NoDAPL action.
What happened to the paradise of my youth? In 1958, I was ten years old when the government completed construction of the Oahe Dam and flooded my home to create Lake Oahe. That same lake now provides our tribe’s drinking water, and it’s under that precious resource that DAPL dangerously crosses — without an adequate leak detection system — threatening to devastate our lives once again.
After the flood, for several years, we children lived on white bread, bologna, and hard cheese. We developed vitamin deficiencies and sores on our hands. We no longer had cherries, plums, grapes, wild onions, and all the things that came from the land. We could no longer find many of the medicinal plants that used to grow wild and abundantly in the riverbed and forest. No more could we collect the mushrooms we called “ears of the tree.” When they flooded our homelands — some of the richest in the world — it was an act of pure cruelty. They took our land and the food we grew up on, and they replaced it all with a welfare state.
This was, of course, illegal under both our Indigenous laws and those of the United States. The Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868 guaranteed that we would retain our sacred He Sapa, the Black Hills, forever. Those treaties and subsequent agreements also protected 14 million acres in North Dakota. Today, we call these “taken lands,” the spoils of manifest destiny and the dam’s construction.
That’s why we fight. DAPL is only the latest in a long line of projects meant to benefit the colonizer without regard for the original peoples of this land. But with your help, we’ll resist, we’ll sue, we’ll work to replace fossil fuels with Native-run renewable projects, and we’ll use the media to make ourselves heard. And when, at last, our lands are returned, our sacred sites respected, and our treaties honored, I will invite you to come sing with us. Because, despite everything, I still believe we can restore justice together.
Wopila tanka — thank you for standing with Standing Rock and Lakota Law. Phyllis Young Standing Rock Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
For generations, the He Sapa (Black Hills) have been revered by the Oceti Sakowin as sacred grounds. As Indigenous Peoples, we are the original stewards of this land, and we have never relinquished that right. That’s why it’s so important for us to take a stand against harmful extraction in our homelands — like the mining interests currently tearing up and poisoning the He Sapa.
Click the pic to read our blog, then please take action to protect the Black Hills!
Over the past weeks, I’ve been working closely with the good people of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance to understand and help communicate the scope and urgency of the mining problem in the Black Hills. We collaborated to create a blog for you to read, which explains the situation in more detail, and the action you can take to convince Secretary Haaland and the U.S. Department of the Interior to intervene.
At present, 184,000 acres of mining claims litter the Black Hills, covering 15 percent of our sacred grounds, and water system contamination caused by mining represents the greatest threat to the area. And, of course, the mining companies routinely walk away after tearing up the land and contaminating the water, leaving waste behind — forcing taxpayers to cover the clean up costs.
It’s long past time to return the sacred by honoring treaty rights with Indigenous nations and treating Unci Maka — our grandmother Earth — with utmost respect. So, please read our blog and then take action to protect the He Sapa. You can help make a huge difference for our homelands and our people.
Wopila tanka — thank you for your action and care! DeCora Hawk Field Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
Lakota People’s Law Project 547 South 7th Street #149 Bismarck, ND 58504-5859
The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.
We remain 100 percent focused on our ongoing fight to end the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), despite the turmoil in the world around us. As you’ll see in a new video we co-produced with Standing Rock, a strong coalition among South Dakota’s tribal nations has formed to get it done.
In the video, you’ll hear from Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairwoman Janet Alkire, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Kevin Killer, and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier. It’s the first in a planned series that will delve more deeply into the complex issues faced by the tribes in their fight to stop DAPL — a pipeline which continues to operate without a permit for its crossing under Lake Oahe just north of the Standing Rock Nation.
Chairwoman Alkire has been actively relaying tribal concerns directly to Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. She recently returned from a meeting with him, in which she discussed the lack of transparency concerning DAPL’s oil spill response plan for the Missouri River and the terrible safety track record of its parent company, Energy Transfer. As detailed in a press release from the tribe, over a recent 8-year period, nine pipelines owned and controlled by Energy Transfer and its affiliated companies experienced nearly 300 spills — including 50 large ones in vulnerable areas like Lake Oahe.
Until this pipeline has a valid Environmental Impact Statement and federal permit, it is operating in violation of the laws designed to safeguard our people, our delicate water systems, and our sacred homelands. We must keep the pressure on U.S. leaders to do the right thing and shut DAPL down. Please watch our video, stay tuned for the next chapters, and be ready when the time comes to take action together.
Wopila tanka — thank you for standing with Standing Rock and the entire Oceti Sakowin! Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director and Lead Counsel Lakota People’s Law Project
Lakota People’s Law Project 547 South 7th Street #149 Bismarck, ND 58504-5859
The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.
This July 8, 2021 image of a photograph archived at the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico, shows a group of Indigenous students who attended the Ramona Industrial School in Santa Fe. The late 19th century image is among many in the Horatio Oliver Ladd Photograph Collection that are related to the boarding school. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
The U.S. Department of Interior released its investigative report Wednesday on the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. It’s being called the first volume of the report and comes nearly a year after the department announced a “comprehensive” review.
Deb Haaland, Interior secretary, Bryan Newland, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, and Deborah Parker, chief executive officer of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition were scheduled to speak at a news conference in Washington announcing the report’s findings.
“The consequences of federal Indian boarding school policies—including the intergenerational trauma caused by the family separation and cultural eradication inflicted upon generations of children as young as 4 years old — are heartbreaking and undeniable,” Haaland said in a statement. “We continue to see the evidence of this attempt to forcibly assimilate Indigenous people in the disparities that communities face. It is my priority to not only give voice to the survivors and descendants of federal Indian boarding school policies, but also to address the lasting legacies of these policies so Indigenous Peoples can continue to grow and heal.”
Newland led the over 100-page report, which includes historical records of boarding school locations and their names, and the first official list of burial sites.
The findings show from 1819 to 1969, the federal Indian boarding school system consisted of 408 federal schools across 37 states, some territories at that time, including 21 schools in Alaska and seven schools in Hawai’i. Some of these schools operated across multiple sites. The list includes religious mission schools that received federal support, however, government funding streams were complex therefore, all religious schools receiving federal, Indian trust and treaty funds are likely not included. The final list of Indian boarding schools will surely grow as the investigation continues. For instance, the number of Catholic Indian boarding schools receiving direct funding alone is at least 113 according to records at the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions.
Approximately 53 different schools had been identified with marked or unmarked burial sites. The department expects the number to increase as the investigation continues.
FILE. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visits the Grand Junction Air Center Complex on Friday to discuss her agency’s response to wildfires and the Bureau of Land Management headquarters move to Grand Junction on Friday, July 23, 2021, in Grand Junction, Colo. (McKenzie Lange/The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel via AP)
In June 2021, Haaland announced an Interior investigation in federal Indian boarding schools to make “a comprehensive review of the troubled legacy of federal boarding school policies” from as early as the 19th century.
She said the initiative was created after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves of Indigenous children by Canada’s Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in May 2021.
The first volume of the report highlights some of the harsh conditions children endured at the schools. Children’s Indigenous names were changed to English names; children’s hair were cut; the use of their Native languages, religions and cultural practices were discouraged or prevented; and the children were organized into units to perform military drills.
The report cites findings from the 1928 Meriam report in which the Interior acknowledged “frankly and unequivocally that the provisions for the care of Indian children in boarding schools are grossly inadequate.
Examples included descriptions of accommodations at select boarding schools such as the White Earth Boarding school in Minnesota where two children slept in one bed, the Kickapoo Boarding School in Kansas where three children shared a bed and the Rainy Mountain Boarding School in Oklahoma where, “single beds pushed together so closely to preclude passage between them and each bed has two or more occupants.”
The 1969 Kennedy Report, cited in the Department investigation, noted that rampant physical, sexual and emotional abuse: disease; malnourishment; overcrowding,; and lack of health care at Indian boarding schools are well-documented.
It also found schools focused on “manual labor and vocational skills that left American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian graduates with employment options often irrelevant to the industrial U.S. economy, further disrupting Tribal economies.”
Federal boarding schools first started with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819 when the government enacted laws and policies to establish and support Indian boarding schools. For more than 150 years, Indigenous children were taken from their communities and forced into boarding schools that focused on assimilation. An unknown number of religious Indian boarding schools, funded by private and government funds, predate the Civilization Act by at least 100 years.
In a major finding, the report documents the use of tribal trust and treaty funds for the federal boarding school system as well as mission schools operated by religious institutions and organizations. Although the total amount of these funds used to directly fund schools is unknown, according to an investigation by Indian Country Today, more than $30 million in today’s dollars were siphoned away during a nine year period by Catholic schools alone.
The U.S. also set apart tracts of Native lands for use by religious institutions and organizations. According to an ongoing investigation by Indian Country Today, a large portion of this land may still be held by churches.
Indeed, the relationship between major religious denominations and the federal government regarding Indian mission schools is described as “an unprecedented delegation of power to church bodies that were given the right to nominate new agents, direct educational and other activities on the reservations.
Members of the Sicangu Youth Council help provide a formal burial at the Rosebud Indian Reservation on July 17, 2021, for some of the nine Rosebud students who died at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in the 1880s. The children’s remains were finally returned to their homelands after 140 years, wrapped in a buffalo robe bundle and placed in a cedar box. Earth collected at the Carlisle graves were added to the children’s final resting places. (Photo by Vi Waln for Indian Country Today)
Although the report makes little mention of accountability for religious organizations that operated boarding schools, it does indicate that non-federal entities will be given support in releasing their records associated with the schools.
As part of the initiative and in response to recommendations from the report, Haaland announced the launch of “The Road to Healing” year-long tour. It’ll consist of a tour across the country to allow boarding school survivors to share their stories, help connect communities with trauma-informed support and to gather a permanent oral history.
The report also points to the 2019 watershed Running Bear studies, funded by the National Institute of Health. This research contains the first medical studies to systematically and quantitatively show that the Indian boarding school system experience continues to impact the present day health of adult boarding school survivors.
Newland cited the need for more investigation because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting closures of federal facilities that affected obtaining and reviewing documents and the department’s limited funds at that time.
The second volume will be aided by a $7 million investment from Congress through fiscal year 2022. Newland recommended for it to include a list of marked and unmarked burial sites at federal Indian boarding schools — with names, ages, tribal affiliations of the children at those locations — an approximation of the total amount of federal funding used to support the boarding school system and to further probe the impacts on Indigenous communities.
“This report presents the opportunity for us to reorient federal policies to support the revitalization of Tribal languages and cultural practices to counteract nearly two centuries of federal policies aimed at their destruction,” Newland said in a statement. “Together, we can help begin a healing process for Indian Country, the Native Hawaiian Community and across the United States, from the Alaskan tundra to the Florida everglades, and everywhere in between.”
Opportunity to submit stories
On Thursday, members of Congress are holding a hearing at 1 p.m. ET, for the bill “Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the US.” Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, is the lead sponsor of the bill.
The National Boarding School Healing Coalition is requesting people who attended a boarding school or are a descendent of a boarding school attendee to submit their written testimonies to the House of Natural Resources Committee by May 26. Email submissions to HNRCDocs@mail.house.gov and CC NABS at email@example.com.
The National Boarding School Healing Coalition has an available template to use here.
ICT’s Mary Annette Pember contributed to this report.
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Kalle Benallie, Navajo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today’s Phoenix bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @kallebenallie or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Benallie was once the opening act for a Cirque Du Soleil show in Las Vegas.
At the world’s largest gathering of Indigenous leaders, women are talking about how to hold financial institutions accountable for fueling climate catastrophe through investments in the extractive industry.
Michelle Cook, Navajo, was among those who offered powerful testimonies focused on the women at the frontlines of extractive projects, the boardrooms of financial institutions, and the halls of governments. Speaking at a side event hosted by Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network at the 21st session of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, Cook described the work as being part of a sacred obligation.
“That’s what we’re doing, fulfilling a prayer for the world – for nature – with love, compassion, and with courage. No other weapon than that, the truth,” Cook, the founder of Divest Invest Protect, said. “For some, that is so terrifying. Indigenous women will not give up … We will not be intimidated, shamed or be afraid just for being who we are.”
The international forum side events offer participants the opportunity to continue thematic dialogues outside of the forum’s schedule, which is more limited than previous years due to the pandemic and is operating on a hybrid format this year. Summer Blaze Aubrey, Cherokee and Blackfeet, is a staff attorney for the International Indian Treaty Council and also spoke on the panel. She noted that racism and genocide are at the center of human rights violations around the world. Atrocities are ongoing and fueled by the extractive industry, she added, even with “green energy” initiatives moving forward. She pointed to the White House’s rhetoric on Russia and the Defense Production Act, which was enacted to jump start new mines or expand existing ones.
“Engaging in the extractive industry isn’t moving forward, it’s not going to help in the long run. It’s part of capitalism,” Aubrey said. “It is not helpful…We see throughout the extractive industry on Turtle Island it’s linked to violence against women. It’s so nuanced and interconnected that you cannot speak on one without speaking on the other.”
Women on the panel maintained that due diligence must occur continuously through development projects, not just during the initial phases. But ultimately, they say, society needs to divest from the extractive industry altogether.
“Indigenous people are providing the answers,” Aubrey said, referencing traditional knowledge and science. “We understand how to live symbiotically with the environment. How to feed people. We already have systems in place that will protect us and the world.”
She added that corporations and financiers need to recognize that and be engaged in those principles and strategies. The panel called out BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, saying the investment company has an insatiable appetite for feeding its bottom line. BlackRock presently does not have an Indigenous rights policy, a shortcoming that Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network founder Osprey Orielle Lake said should change immediately.
Like countless others during the first week of the Permanent Forum, the panel consistently returned to the matter of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). FPIC specifies that developers must engage with impacted Indigenous communities to ensure their participation and consultation. However, despite the international human rights principle being widely adopted by U.N. member states via the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, many experts and leaders have identified that the articles are not being recognized or applied effectively, leaving the land and people vulnerable to exploitation. Among the other solutions highlighted, included investing in climate justice frameworks that center traditional ecological knowledge.
Watch: ICT reporter Carina Dominguez talks UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on ‘ICT Newscast with Aliyah Chavez’
For women like Maria Violet Medina Quiscue, from Pueblo Nasa in Colombia, it takes courage to speak out on these issues – especially on a global scale – because land and human rights defenders are being murdered, meaning that publicly criticizing the institutions, corporations and nations behind them places her life on the line. Quiscue described the deeply entrenched racism against Indigenous people in Colombia, which has been on full display as of late.
For the last seven months, roughly 2,000 Indigenous people have been living at an encampment at Bogota National Park after being displaced by extractive industries and paramilitary groups. Anti-Indigenous rhetoric from Colombian politicians has created a hostile environment for Indigenous people, with grocers and store owners refusing to serve Indigenous people. Quiscue says racism in Bogota ramped up after Mayor Claudia Lopez Hernandez unleashed a slew of attacks against Indigenous people at the encampment.
Quiscue says the discrimination they are currently facing is rooted in colonization. Maria and the other panelists made it clear that Indigenous people maintain both the legal right to say “no” to extraction as well as a sacred obligation to stand up against current and future developments. At an event featuring numerous policy solutions and calls to action, this was the line that the women seeking to hold financial institutions accountable consistently returned to: you cannot be a climate leader when you expand extraction.
Carina Dominguez, Pascua Yaqui, is a correspondent and producer for Indian Country Today. Previously she worked for CBS Television Network. Carina’s work has appeared in news outlets like The Arizona Republic, The Billings Gazette, Casper Star-Tribune, The Tucson Sentinel, Navajo-Hopi Observer and CBS News. CarinaDominguez@indiancountrytoday.com, Twitter: @Carinad7, Instagram: @CarinaNicole7
I wish you a happy Earth Day! Here’s an anniversary (unlike some others) that I think we can all celebrate. We all care deeply about Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth, and when I joined the Lakota Law staff a couple months back, part of the reason was because this organization is never afraid to take on the biggest environmental issues in Indian Country and beyond. Big Oil — which has been knowingly killing this world and lying about it to the public for decades — must be held accountable. Our methodology to make that happen doesn’t stop at resisting pipelines. We mean to end harmful extraction entirely.
I urge you to follow all the work of the Romero Institute — home to both Lakota Law and Let’s Green CA!, a statewide initiative which aims to make California a model of equitable climate action. You’ll see that we have an effective, multipronged approach to winning environmental justice.
Here’s that all-too-familiar vista of another oil refinery belching toxic filth into the atmosphere. This is why we’re taking polluters to task and working to pass green legislation.
This week, Let’s Green CA! Is celebrating a big victory with the passage of SB 1230 out of the California Senate’s Committee on Environmental Quality. Romero’s staff — in partnership with legendary activist Dolores Huerta and the Dolores Huerta Foundation — has worked very hard to make this clean transportation legislation a reality, from the ground up. Sponsored by State Senator Monique Limón, the bill would rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce toxic air pollution, and support green jobs by accelerating a just transition to clean cars in the largest state in our country and the fifth largest economy in the world. I applaud our sister program!
Meanwhile, the Romero Institute’s legal team is drafting a 300-page Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) criminal complaint against the six major oil companies presently doing business in California. It’s designed to stimulate filings by state attorneys general and U.S. Attorneys against corporations, their CEOs, management officials, principal shareholders and financiers, and the American Petroleum Institute, which conspired with the oil leaders to lie to the American public about the known dangers of fossil fuel emissions causing climate change. I encourage you to watch this excellent, new documentary by PBS Frontline to learn more.
As you can see, we’re not taking our responsibilities to Unci Maka lightly. Our Lakota way is not to look at what we can do for ourselves, but to ask how we can be of service to our relatives — including this beautiful world that holds us all in her embrace. So, today, let’s celebrate her. Then, every day from here on, let’s make sure we’re doing better by her.
Wopila tanka — thank you for fighting for environmental justice! DeCora Hawk Field Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
ODANAH, Wisconsin — It was the blue ceiling that got me.
Although St. Mary’s Catholic Church is tiny, its vaulted ceiling soars to an unexpected height. It’s an impossible robin’s egg blue or the hue of a blue sky that could never exist. Unexpectedly, it drove my heart into my throat, where it stayed for several minutes. That blue color obliterated journalistic objectivity, placing me back into a wordless, needy childhood.
I realized at last that the ceiling was the same color as the little blue Virgin Mary medal that lived between my mother’s breasts, fixed to her brassiere with a safety pin. That medal would gaze back at me when we laid down in bed together for afternoon naps, at bedtime or just to visit. Those were the times she told me the Sister School stories, her life at St. Mary’s Catholic Indian boarding school and her childhood on the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation in Wisconsin.
The little church is all that remains now of the mission school buildings.
Aƞpétu wašté from the Cheyenne River Nation. As you know, the welfare of our children has been a longstanding issue for Native communities. Centuries of colonization means we’re always in the crosshairs. As I discuss with my granddaughter in today’s video, our people are marginalized — especially our young parents and grandparents — by the State of South Dakota and the Department of Social Services, and our children are taken from us at an alarming rate.
We have worked to solve this problem for decades, and we have specifically confronted issues surrounding the Indian Child Welfare Act. In my work with Lakota Law, I’ve seen a lot of grandparents raising their grandchildren. This ultimately spurred me and others to create the Wasagiya Najin (Standing Strong) Grandmother’s Group at Cheyenne River. Wasagiya Najin focuses on what’s happening to our grandchildren, and we dedicate our time to improving our communities’ health and wellbeing from a Lakota perspective.
Our vision encompasses both a Children’s Village on Cheyenne River and a plan to create a Tribal Department of Child Welfare. I’m happy to share with you that we’re well on our way with the village — a place where siblings can stay together and children won’t be lost to the system or worry about aging out. We already have three homes and kinship parents (we don’t use the term “foster parents”). We’re doing all this with support from the tribe, but it is a community-based and operated children’s village, not run by our tribal government.
A tribally-run Department of Child Welfare will be the next big step for us. A centrally-located, multi-service center, it would offer needed support for our parents and grandparents. Right now, it’s far too complicated for parents to access services and resources from the State of South Dakota, which is the only entity handling foster care and adoption on the rez. Our vision will make things easier, give tribal members more autonomy, and also hold us accountable. It’s not our way to terminate parental rights. Instead, we promote family restoration. Children want to be with their families and their people. If we approach it from a Lakota perspective, we can make that happen for many young ones.
We take the pandemic seriously out here, and that has slowed things down. But right now, we’re organizing on the ground and distributing a one-page, anonymous survey identifying family circumstances and gathering feedback about the potential for a tribally-run Child Welfare Office. This data will help us request a reservation-wide hearing and present effectively to our tribal government, which is willing to work with organizers and hear testimony. We’re not looking for approval or permission. We grandmothers have heart for our people and our children, and that’s all we need to get it done!
It’s an exciting time, with positive change happening now and more on the horizon. We’ll have much more to tell you as we move ahead, so please stay with us.
Wopila tanka — thank you for supporting our children! Madonna Thunder Hawk Cheyenne River Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
Lakota People’s Law Project 547 South 7th Street #149 Bismarck, ND 58504-5859
The key to life and liberty is access to water, Water is Life. The clue to what is happening across the world as a certain class seeks to totally control is what is being done in Standing Rock. There, in 2016, the government was able to try out their new military-grade weapons to control the peaceful protest. There in Standing Rock, we witnessed a rehearsal for complete control and domination. Now, the water is being confiscated.
This is environmental warfare.
The Dakota Access pipeline’s threat level is at an all time high for the people of the Standing Rock Nation. In a new video we made in partnership with Standing Rock, you’ll see the distressingly low water levels in the Mni Sose, our sacred Missouri River. You’ll also hear Chairwoman Janet Alkire address the oil company’s lack of adequate emergency response planning for the pipeline’s inevitable spill. It’s critical you stay with us and be ready to assist as soon as the Army Corps of Engineers releases DAPL’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire addresses DAPL’s inadequate emergency plan, the Missouri River’s low water levels, and the elevated threat to her people.
As you heard a few weeks back, an Army representative came to Standing Rock to meet with tribal leaders from across the Oceti Sakowin. He listened to presidents and chairpersons, elders and community members, and he told us he heard our concerns. We hope that’s true. But since that day, it’s been a game of wait and see, with no movement from the Army and no release of the EIS — which, of course, was prepared by a pro-oil firm. It’s almost as if they know we’re not going to be happy unless the pipeline is shut down, and that we have a legion of supporters ready to engage in favor of an honest process.
In my dual capacities as Lakota Law’s co-director and a special consultant to the chairwoman’s office, I’m here to amplify your voices and those of my people. Lakota Law’s communications and technical teams have been hard at work for months helping the Alkire administration upgrade the tribe’s digital infrastructure and outreach capabilities. As part of that, we also collaborated with the tribe’s Game and Fish Department to access remote areas of the reservation and film 30 miles of the river, capturing first-of-its-kind, comprehensive drone footage near DAPL’s crossing. As you’ll see, the footage shows clearly that water levels are dangerously low, and that any spill would pose a special threat right now.
We will continue to do whatever we can to support Standing Rock and all those within the Great Sioux Nation to push back against Big Extraction. And, of course, we’ll keep you updated on developments. Please stay tuned and ready to take action!
Wopila tanka — thank you for always standing with Standing Rock. Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director and Lead Counsel The Lakota People’s Law Project
As we’ve been reporting to you for some time, Big Oil’s most powerful attorneys are attacking the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) at the Supreme Court level. The legal effort is being led by Gibson Dunn, a firm notorious for helping fossil fuel goliaths evade environmental protections. With the Brackeen v. Haaland lawsuit, Gibson Dunn is attempting to eliminate tribes’ rights to keep Native kids in Native care. As you know, Lakota Law is fighting back against this frightening attack on Indigenous sovereignty.
We’re preparing an amicus curiae brief — more details on that below — for the Supreme Court’s consideration during its next session. We also recently had a strategy meeting in New York City with attorney Steven Donziger, another of Gibson Dunn’s targets. On behalf of Indigenous People in the Amazon, Donziger won a landmark judgment against Chevron for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest. Gibson Dunn then used every dirty trick in the book to turn the tables on him, and now he’s been under house arrest for years. We’ll work to connect Steven to resources that can help him find solutions to his legal problems.
In South America and North America alike, as Indigenous people, we’ve seen a blatant disregard for our lives played out for hundreds of years. That’s why we’re doing everything we can to ensure ICWA is protected, right now. We know this law inside and out. Former South Dakota Senator James Abourezk, who chairs Lakota Law’s Board of Advisors, was the principal author of ICWA, and a decade ago we were contacted by the Justice Department to propose implementation guidelines.
Our amicus brief will make three arguments designed to counter flawed positions taken by Gibson Dunn and the rest of the opposition’s legal team. First, our lawyers will explain that granting tribes the sovereign right to determine what happens to their children is not reverse racism. Second, we will say there is no violation of the U.S. Constitution or the Tenth Amendment when states are required to enforce federal law. And finally, federal, executive branch agencies — in this case, the Bureau of Indian Affairs — must be able to publish and enforce rules and regulations under their purview.
ICWA is a well-intentioned, well-written law with enforcement guidelines we know to be solid. Since going into effect more than 40 years ago, it has helped countless children remain with family, live healthy lives, and maintain a deep understanding of who they are and where they’re from. We can’t go back to the days of government-mandated mass cultural erasure. We must continue to stand together for the Earth and our future generations against the fossil fuel industry and its high-powered attorneys, whatever the costs. It’s up to all of us, and your friendship and care mean we can keep fighting for justice, every day.
Wopila tanka — thank you for supporting our legal work! Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director and Lead Counsel The Lakota People’s Law Project
Beginning soon, when Indigenous people go missing in Washington, social media, radio airwaves and highways will be blanketed with their information to hopefully lead to them being found — the first state in the U.S. where that will be guaranteed.
That’s because Gov. Jay Inslee on March 31 signed House Bill 1725, creating the nation’s first statewide alert system for missing Indigenous people during a ceremony on the Tulalip Reservation in front of tribal leaders and community members, state officials and lawmakers. The bill was proposed by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and sponsored by Rep. Debra Lekanoff, Tlingit and Aleut.
When operational, the system — similar to the state’s “silver alert” for missing vulnerable adults — will help identify and locate missing Indigenous people, who, especially women, go missing at disproportionately high rates and face higher rates of violence and murder compared to other ethnic groups in the U.S.
Advocates like Lekanoff say the measure is just one step in addressing the complex crisis, but it’s another signal to “Native Americans who have said no one is doing anything to stop the crisis of our missing and murdered Indigenous people” that policymakers are acknowledging the problem and working to address it.
“There’s no one solution to help us in our Native American community address the crisis that’s happened to our women and our people,” Lekanoff, a Democrat and the only tribal citizen in the state Legislature, said in a March 30 interview before the signing ceremony. “This is one of many tools in the toolbox.”
When activated, the first-of-its-kind alert will broadcast information about missing Indigenous people on electronic highway signs, through radio messages and across social media. An activation will also include the state alerting local and regional media through press releases. The bill is also meant to lead to better communication and coordination among law enforcement departments and other agencies in investigating cases, Lekanoff said.
The state Legislature unanimously approved the legislation earlier in March, reflecting a trend of Washington, other states, tribal governments and organizations, and the federal government increasingly working to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that creates a first-in-the-nation statewide alert system for missing Indigenous people on March 31, 2022.
The 23-member group includes tribal nation leaders and community members, tribal advocacy organization representatives, state lawmakers, law enforcement officials and others. The task force is meant to build on the previous work of tribal nations and advocates in identifying the problem and potential solutions in Washington — where, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI), Indigenous women are more than four times more likely to go missing than white women — and elsewhere.
In Washington, the problem is among the worst in the country. According to a 2018 report from UIHI, the group found that more than 5,700 Indigenous women or girls were reported as missing or murdered in 2016. The organization, which is a division of the Seattle Indian Health Board, also examined more than 500 cases from 71 U.S. cities, finding that Washington had the second most cases as a state, with Seattle having the most among the cities studied. Tacoma had the seventh most cases.
During the ceremony, Ferguson, the state attorney general, said the legislation was one of the first accomplishments the task force could point to and said other states could look to Washington’s alert system as a model to tackle the problem.
He also pledged that the alert system wouldn’t be the last reform “to ensure that we bring everybody back home” and that cases involving missing Indigenous people should include “accountability and justice.”
The Washington State Patrol will be responsible for operating the system, but Lekanoff said the missing and murdered Indigenous person task force, as well as broadcasters and the state Office of the Attorney General, will work together to develop and implement the plan. She said she hoped the system would be designed and implemented soon.
“Missing and murdered Indigenous women and peoples is not just an Indian issue; it’s not just an Indian responsibility,” Lekanoff said during the March 31 ceremony, adding that the bill “brings together all of our governing bodies to collaborate, to take care (of) those who have been taken, those who have been lost and those yet to come.”
The ceremony also included Gov. Inslee signing several other bills affecting tribal nations and Indigenous people, like one strengthening tribal consultation guidelines in spending money for climate protection actions and another allowing Indigenous people serving sentences in tribal jails to be transferred to a state prison, where inmates have better access to rehabilitative programs, services and training.
In legislative hearings earlier this year before the bill was passed, and during the signing ceremony, supporters said the cases of missing Indigenous people often don’t receive the same level of attention or urgency as cases involving people of other groups. That means the burden of raising awareness about a missing person frequently falls on family members and friends.
Tulalip Tribes Chairwoman Teri Gobin said at the signing event that the lack of awareness contributed to perpetuating a feeling among Indigenous people that they “didn’t matter.”
“We’re finally getting to that place where we’re righting some of those wrongs,” she said.
This story is co-published by Underscore.news and Indian Country Today, a news partnership that covers Indigenous communities in the Pacific Northwest. Funding is provided in part by Meyer Memorial Trust.
Underscore is a nonprofit collaborative reporting team in Portland focused on investigative reporting and Indian Country coverage. We are supported by foundations, corporate sponsors and donor contributions. Follow Underscore on Facebook and Twitter.
In 2016 and ‘17, when tens of thousands of people showed up at Standing Rock to protest the Dakota Access pipeline, our rallying cry was “mni wiconi” — water is life. Many of us hail from river tribes, and this saying isn’t just some trite slogan for us; it is our reality as Lakota People. We’re all connected by our ties as human beings, just as water systems are connected above and underground. That’s why, in February — in the same spirit as NoDAPL — representatives from many Great Plains tribes gathered together to bring one voice to the halls of power in South Dakota in support of SB 181.
This legislation, proposed by Lakota State Senator Red Dawn Foster, would require our Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources to assemble a task force to study the adoption of a comprehensive and sustainable watershed ecosystems management approach. Please watch our new video, a co-production by Lakota Law and Uniting Resilience, the nonprofit I run with my partner, Felipa De Leon. It depicts highlights from our presentations and the real impression we made on the senators.
Watch: Lakota Law’s Chase Iron Eyes joined a host of Lakota leaders in addressing the SD State Senate about the importance of SB 181.
The day was a victory, though the legislation didn’t pass this go-round. The senators listened closely and showed real appreciation for our dedication to achieving environmental justice through legislative channels. Tamar Stands And Looks Back made a presentation in Lakota; Chief John Spotted Tail impressed with his words and ceremonial headdress; Lakota Law’s Madonna Thunder Hawk and Chase Iron Eyes made key points that shook the room; and we also heard from the new Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairwoman, Janet Alkire, and many others. In the end, senators from both parties spoke in favor of Red Dawn’s legislation and encouraged us to come back with the bill next session.
That’s exactly what we’ll do. We’re ready to show the power of tribal unity until the bill passes. This legislation is important, because the groundwater and aquifers that connect Lakota Country must be protected. As a study I did in cooperation with Lakota Law shows, the long history of uranium mining throughout South Dakota means our people often rely on toxic water. That’s not acceptable, and we will change it. I invite you to stay connected with us. Only by working and showing up together can we make the right impressions, overcome historical barriers, and improve the health and safety of our communities.
Wopila tanka — thank you for helping us protect our homelands and water! Monique “Muffie” Mousseau Via the Lakota People’s Law Project
Lakota People’s Law Project 547 South 7th Street #149 Bismarck, ND 58504-5859
The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.
NDN Collective released a damning climate justice report Tuesday on the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, the same day as World Water Day.
In a detailed analysis, the Climate Justice Campaign calls on the Biden administration to drain and shut down the pipeline, which the roughly 200-page report argues would protect the nation’s longest river, the Missouri River, and its basin. The report is drawn from court documents, treaties, government documents, news stories, congressional hearings and more.
Engineering and construction flaws of DAPL that threaten tribal sovereignty; and
Six continuous years of failed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers processes.
“The vision of this report is to hold accountable these agencies to their own regulations, to their own laws, to their own climate agendas, but also to support our communities in understanding the regulatory processes and the laws so that we can push against them, or hold these agency accountable to their own laws,” said NDN Collective’s Climate Justice Campaign Director Jade Begay, Diné. Begay also sits on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
Begay noted how the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opted out as a cooperating agency in the environmental review process. This happened after the tribe was repeatedly denied access to information, which the report details.
The tribal nation didn’t immediately respond to Indian Country Today’s attempts for a comment.
NDN Collective Climate Justice Organizer Kailea Frederick, Tahltan and Kaska, said draining and shutting down the pipeline would send a clear message to its operator, Energy Transfer, and other companies like it: It’s not okay to violate treaties or environmental protection laws. People, water and the land must be respected, Frederick said.
“The current routing of the Dakota Access Pipeline is a blatant suppression of treaty rights and free, prior and informed consent,” Frederick said.
A recent U.N. report states climate change is already “causing widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world” and calls for urgent action to adapt to climate change and to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
“It is actually a conversation on life and death,” Frederick said. “The other voices in the room that continue to try to dominate the conversation are trying to give an illusion that we have more options and more time than we do. And the reality of climate change is that we actually have very few options and we have very limited time to get it right.”
There’s been years of community resistance against the Dakota Access pipeline and recently the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe claimed a legal victory in the case.
Indigenous water protectors and allies blocked the pipeline for months starting in 2016 and were met with violence.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued Energy Transfer over National Environmental Policy Act violations. A district court judge ruled a new Environmental Impact Statement would be required by the company. The Supreme Court denied Energy Transfer’s bid to thwart environmental oversight.
The new environmental impact statement is due in September and a public comment period will open up after that.
NDN Collective will issue a call to action at that time and help the public navigate the public comment requirements because comments must meet strict guidelines that specifically deal with the underwater pipeline crossing on Lake Oahe.
But the possibility of shutting down the pipeline entirely is left up to the executive branch and the Biden administration has so far refused to do so.
Begay questions if the policies and proposals in the Build Back Better Plan and the Green New Deal will be enough to help with a needed paradigm shift.
“The paradigm shift of not consuming as much, staying home more, being more localized, valuing getting around and living our lives without fossil fuels – and plastics,” Begay said.
Frederick said “we don’t have a choice at this moment in time other than to think about how we’re going to live our lives differently and how we’re going to descale.”
NDN Collective releases Dakota Access Pipeline report on World Water Day. The organization worked on the report for over a year. It offers the most thorough, and critical, analysis of the DAPL project yet. (Courtesy of NDN Collective)
“Indigenous peoples need to see the government acting in good faith and so one action towards that is taking action around DAPL and reducing the flow and eventually abandoning the pipeline. That’s our demand,” Begay said.
The NDN Collective report took more than a year to develop in “consultation with an array of skilled and respected industry Indigenous and non-Indigenous specialists who also possess intimate knowledge of the DAPL.”
“It feels like a very big responsibility to get it right, on many different levels,” Frederick said.
The environmental impact statement requires the public’s participation to determine its contents but the report found that didn’t happen with the DAPL project.
“Previously, through the EIS process, there was a time that they would sit down with tribes and strategize together and this process was called scoping. And with the DAPL process, this did not happen,” Frederick said.
The report is critical of how the Army Corps of Engineers has carried out “flawed” processes.
“The way that the entirety of the DAPL process has gone even just now that this pipeline is operating illegally without the right permitting, it really sets the precedent for the other future types of projects,” Frederick said. “If this specific issue around DAPL is not corrected and if this pipeline is not drained and shut down, that it lets other agencies know or companies know that it’s okay to operate in this way with our people on our lands. And the truth is that it’s not okay. And that it is a true violation of treaties.”
The report states the Army Corps lacks “transparency by continuing to withhold critical technical information requested repeatedly by the Tribes while hiding under the guise of “national security”.
One of the major concerns listed in the report is an “independent third-party.” A contractor that is meant to be neutral in the environmental review process has blatant financial ties to the oil and gas industry through membership in the American Petroleum Institute, according to the report.
The report calls for transparency and diligent assessments on the impact of the DAPL project.
Five key elements are:
1. Challenge the legitimacy of the DAPL on Indian land – Treaty Rights 2. Approval of DAPL continues as modern-day dispossession of Indigenous people 3. Army Corps and the Trump era NEPA 4. Major DAPL routing, engineering, spill risk, and safety issues 5. Failure to adequately address environmental justice
“We feel really grateful that our campaign has been able to steward this report coming out into the world,” Frederick said.
She’s looking forward to seeing how tribes and other organizations utilize the material compiled in the report.
In January, a fellow LGBTQ2S person who had taken a trip to California contacted me and my partner, Felipa. On her way back to the Dakotas, she’d stopped at Winnemucca in Nevada, where she realized the battle over the lithium mine at Thacker Pass was making life extremely hard for Native populations. She asked us, “Can you and Felipa help these tribes? Everything is in despair.”
If you’ve been receiving Lakota Law newsletters for some time, you know that Felipa and I take our responsibilities as Native Two-Spirit and environmental advocates seriously. When our friend asked us to help at Thacker Pass, we knew we had to take action. We contacted Lakota Law and other friends and planned a roadtrip to deepen our understanding and see what we could do to bring attention to the plight of the Winnemucca and other relatives on Paiute and Shoshone homelands in Nevada.
Above: a protest camp set up to protect Thacker Pass. Please watch our interview with our new friend, Daranda, who told us about the Native-led resistance to safeguard this beautiful place, then take action to protect Thacker Pass!
Like so many other Native communities on the frontlines of environmental racism, our relatives near Thacker Pass have been ignored and railroaded in the name of Big Extraction. Because the area is home to the largest lithium deposit in the U.S., mining companies are coming for it fast. And despite resistance led by local tribes, the government has given the go-ahead to rip this beautiful place apart.
In February, the Winnemucca Colony joined a lawsuit against federal agencies — including the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the land. Of course, at no point did these agencies properly consult Native communities before moving ahead with the mine, which will almost certainly contaminate groundwater essential for the survival of both the region’s people and its diversity of animal life.
As a key component of batteries that power solar arrays and electric vehicles, lithium may be essential to the transition to a clean energy economy. Still, we must make that transition responsibly — with input from all affected populations. A recent study found that, just like fossil fuel extraction, mining lithium and other metals has an outsized negative impact on Native communities. It should come as no surprise that in the U.S., 97% of nickel, 89% of copper, 79% percent of lithium and 68% of cobalt mines are located within just 35 miles of Indian reservations.
The situation at Winnemucca is particularly scary. Many of its people were afraid to talk to us, or they didn’t want their names revealed. One elder woman told us, “We cannot go on like this.” The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is leveling their territory, ejecting more than 500 people, and making room for a mancamp to house construction workers. We all know where that will lead: to a new frontier for the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Native Women and People.
It’s also bad in surrounding communities. At the Fort McDermitt tribal nation — whose people are closely related to Winnemucca’s — they have the second highest violent crime rate out of all 576 tribes in the U.S. The BIA is in charge of law enforcement, but the people are suffering at the hands of a constant stream of new, rookie officers. Community elders are subject to routine violence, and most people carry loaded weapons. Many Fort McDermitt youth have been killed by BIA cops. From what I saw, I believe it’s possible that neither Winnemucca nor Fort McDermitt will even exist as communities a year from now.
There is so much more to report from our trip, but for the moment, I believe it’s most important that you know what’s happening at Thacker Pass. Standing Rock’s NoDAPL resistance may have been an inflection point that brought many of us together — but it was not unique. We still have a ton of work to do to hold the government and extractive industry accountable for their many sins against our communities all across Turtle Island. Please start by helping to protect Thacker Pass today!
Wopila tanka — thank you for your friendship. We’re all in this together! Monique “Muffie” Mousseau Via the Lakota People’s Law Project
Lakota People’s Law Project 547 South 7th Street #149 Bismarck, ND 58504-5859
When you heard from me last week, Standing Rock was about to host tribal representatives and the Assistant Secretary of the Army Civil Works (Michael Connor) for a meeting about the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). Today, I’m happy to report that things went about as well as could be expected. I attended the meeting in my capacity as an advisor to Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire, and I can report that Connor paid close attention as leaders from nine nations of the Oceti Sakowin expressed a unity of purpose in our fight to end DAPL once and for all.
Yankton Sioux Tribal Councilman Kip Spotted Eagle addresses the Army, flanked (left to right) by Spirit Lake Chairman Doug Yankton, Cheyenne River Chairman Harold Frazier, and Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire.
As you know, this toxic pipeline, which crosses the Mni Sose — the Missouri River — on Standing Rock’s doorstep, is an existential threat to our homelands and our water. I almost went to prison for peacefully protesting against it in 2017. As Connor sits atop the Army Corps of Engineers — tasked by the courts with creating DAPL’s Environmental Impact Statement — this meeting was critical. Connor listened for many hours, eventually postponing a subsequent meeting with North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum so all our people could speak.
The fact that Chairwoman Alkire was joined by representatives from the Oglala, Cheyenne River, Flandreau, Rosebud, Crow Creek, Yankton, Lower Brule, and Spirit Lake Sioux Nations was an important show of tribal solidarity. And while getting federal officials to take action on our behalf will be an uphill climb at a time when gas prices are rising on account of the Ukraine invasion, this was an important step.
Left: Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire with Michael Connor. Center: The color guard presents the flags. Right: Cheyenne River Chairman Harold Frazier, Connor, and Spirit Lake Chairman Doug Yankton.
Renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuel throughout the nation, so regardless of what’s happening to oil markets, there is no excuse for failing to go green immediately. And tribal communities should never be forced to bear the risk of noxious infrastructure.
This resistance united us in 2016, and it’s still uniting us today. Now we are being heard by the U.S. Army instead of being shot with water cannons and rubber bullets by TigerSwan, a contracted private army. The fight goes on in a new way — but we still have a long way to go before we can say the Black Snake is defeated. So please stay with us. We’re in this together, and your spirit is always valued in this struggle.
Wopila tanka — thank you for your solidarity! Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director and Lead Counsel The Lakota People’s Law Project
The moment has come to rally together for our children. The United States Supreme Court has announced that, this autumn, it will hear the case of Brackeen v. Haaland — which could redefine the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and threaten tribal sovereignty. Because legal arguments will soon be due, we’re already in high gear. Our attorneys are now preparing an amicus brief for the justices, and it’s up to all of us to raise awareness about the importance of protecting this law and keeping Native kids in Native care. I ask you today, with all my heart, please stand with us in this fight.
The Supreme Court could strike down the Indian Child Welfare Act this year, which could also jeopardize Native sovereignty as we know it. We must not 👏 let 👏 that 👏 happen! 👏
Protecting our youth and keeping them in Native care — or kinship care, as we call it — is a huge deal for all of us in Indian Country, especially with the ongoing discovery of mass graves at boarding schools. In fact, safeguarding our children is what motivated me to co-found the Lakota People’s Law Project.
Over the years, with help from friends like you and conscientious reporters like Laura Sullivan at NPR (who won a Peabody Award for her coverage of South Dakota’s foster care crisis), we have made massive inroads. Today, Lakota Law has a Native-run kinship care home at Standing Rock, and I’m helping to oversee the creation of similar facilities and lobby for a tribally-run Child Welfare Department here at the Cheyenne River Nation.
Importantly, too, this Supreme Court case isn’t just about our young ones. As we detailed in our blog a few months back (if you haven’t yet, please read that!), it’s also potentially an attack on tribal mineral rights and, ultimately, our sovereignty. It’s no coincidence that the white family who initiated the case in Texas after adopting Native children is backed, pro bono, by Big Oil lawyers — including a hideous firm called Gibson-Dunn — who normally have no interest in these matters.
If ICWA falls, it could become the first domino in a series of Native rights rollbacks. The colonists want our children because our youth are our future. The chair of our board of advisors, Senator James Abourezk, was the principal author of ICWA back in the late 1970s, and our president and chief counsel, Danny Sheehan, consulted with the Department of Justice to draft the enforcement guidelines that are the subject of this Supreme Court case.
That’s why we’ll work night and day to stop this legal attack. In the coming weeks, we’ll help the Supreme Court justices understand the legal arguments behind this critical law. We’ll also continue to ensure the case gets maximum media coverage. This must be a full team effort. So, stay with us over the year to come, and please do everything you can to help us amplify this issue.
Wopila tanka — thank you for helping us protect our children and our culture. Madonna Thunder Hawk Cheyenne River Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
P.S. With ICWA headed to the Supreme Court, it’s an all-hands-on-deck moment. Please donate today to ensure our skilled legal and media teams can protect Native children, kinship care, and sovereignty. The forces of modern colonialism, capitalism, and racism are aligned against us. Let’s unite, stand strong, and show them what we’re made of.
Lakota People’s Law Project 547 South 7th Street #149 Bismarck, ND 58504-5859
I hope you’re safe and remaining hopeful despite the horrific world events taking place. The Russian invasion of Ukraine highlights once again how important it is for people everywhere to remain sovereign and free of tyranny. My heart goes out to all who are now suffering through another needless, bloody war.
Perhaps it will lend you some comfort to know that there is good news this week from Standing Rock. This Wednesday, tribal leaders from across the Great Sioux Nation will have an opportunity to sit down with the U.S. Army Civil Works and relay our concerns about the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). After years of our #NoDAPL resistance falling on deaf ears — as highlighted by Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire in our new video, co-produced with the tribe — the Army finally reached out to Standing Rock. This is a potential turning point, though we are keeping our expectations modest.
Watch: In our new video, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairwoman Janet Alkire discusses the importance of tribal input and gaining our consent for projects like DAPL.
We originally expected the Army Corps of Engineers to release its DAPL Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) earlier this month. But that’s now on hold, pending our coming conversation about this dangerous pipeline. This opportunity to have the appropriate government officials really listen to our concerns is long overdue.
Of course, given the long history of broken promises by the U.S. government to Native People, I take everything with a grain of salt and won’t celebrate prematurely. We must continue to stand ready to protest the EIS, should it eventually be released in any form that doesn’t fully address our concerns.
Right now, I’m happy to say we have some additional leverage. The meeting with Civil Works will happen against the backdrop of a huge win for Standing Rock in the Supreme Court this past week. Justices shut down DAPL’s attempt to make an end-run around the environmental oversight process.
Solidarity remains paramount if we are to achieve our goal of ending DAPL once and for all. As people from many nations gathered for our original NoDAPL stand in 2016 and ‘17, Wednesday’s meeting will bring together leaders from throughout the Oceti Sakowin — our Great Sioux Nation. We will, of course, report on the results of that conversation to you. So, please continue to stay with us. We must remain vigilant, united, and ready to act.
Wopila tanka — my deep gratitude to you for your friendship! Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director and Lead Counsel The Lakota People’s Law Project
Lakota People’s Law Project 547 South 7th Street #149 Bismarck, ND 58504-5859
The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.
FILE – In this Nov. 5, 2020, file photo the Supreme Court is seen in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Texas v. Haaland, a case seeking to overturn the Indian Child Welfare Act.
The high court said Monday morning it would take the case reviewing the 1978 federal law. Many call the Indian Child Welfare Act a gold standard for child welfare policy.
A federal appeals court in April upheld the law and Congress’ authority to enact it. But the judges also found some of the law’s provisions unconstitutional, including preferences for placing Native American children with Native adoptive families and in Native foster homes.
“The far-reaching consequences of this case will be felt for generations,” stated the National Indian Child Welfare Association in a statement. “In a coordinated, well-financed, direct attack, Texas and other opponents aim to simultaneously exploit Native children and undermine tribal rights.”
ICWA has long been championed by tribal leaders to preserve Native families and cultures involving Native children, and it places reporting and other requirements on states.
“In keeping (Native children) connected to their extended family and cultural identity, the positive outcomes are far-reaching and include higher self-esteem and academic achievement. Further, they recognize that collaboration between sovereign Tribal Nations and state child welfare systems is effective and just governance,” the national organization stated.
The case will be argued during the court’s new term that begins in October.
Texas, Louisiana, Indiana and seven individuals had sued over provisions in the law, and a federal district court initially sided with the group and struck down much of the law. But in 2019, a three-judge federal appeals court panel voted 2-1 to reverse the district court and uphold the law. The full court then agreed to hear the case and struck some provisions.
The Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to review the case, arguing that the provisions should not have been struck.
Before the Indian Child Welfare Act was passed, between 25 percent and 35 percent of Native American children were being taken from their homes and placed with adoptive families, in foster care or in institutions. Most were placed with white families or in boarding schools in attempts to assimilate them.
As the co-director of the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (ILPDC), I have spent many years working to see justice for Leonard. A political prisoner wrongly convicted — on demonstrably false evidence — of killing FBI agents in 1975 at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Leonard is now 77 years old, and he’s still stuck in a Florida federal prison. In January, to add to his plight, he contracted COVID-19.
As you may know, for many years, we’ve been asking U.S. presidents to do the only responsible and human thing: Free Leonard Peltier. I urge you to watch Lakota Law’s new video, as their media team was on hand to film our recent rally in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Watch: We rallied to free Leonard earlier this month.
President Joe Biden has the power to pardon Leonard, right now. In addition, Leonard is eligible for release under COVID-19 guidelines or compassionate release under Bureau of Prisons rules — but he has been denied multiple times. Unfortunately, Leonard can’t appeal these denials, because he was convicted prior to November, 1987.
Due to constitutional violations and prosecutorial misconduct surrounding his case, Leonard should have been freed long ago. For instance, the government originally withheld exculpatory evidence — including a ballistics report showing the shell casings collected from the scene didn’t come from Leonard’s weapon. In addition, the prosecution relied on testimony from so-called witnesses who later recanted their statements, saying that FBI agents threatened and coerced them into lying.
Leonard’s conviction was wrong from the start, and he has now suffered behind bars for decades. The many people who have called for his clemency include Nobel Peace Prize winners Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and Rigoberta Menchú; Judge Kevin Sharp, former Chief Judge of Tennessee’s U.S. District Court; Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT); and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ). Also, in a move we believe to be unprecedented, James Reynolds, the chief prosecutor who helped convict Leonard, has called his conviction an injustice and written on Leonard’s behalf to Presidents Obama and Biden.
My greetings to you from the Standing Rock Nation. Today, I invite you to experience something wonderful: Next week, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival is hosting the online world premiere of “OYATE” — a brand new feature documentary film produced by Films with a Purpose and Irrelevant Media, in association with the Lakota People’s Law Project. Big Sky has graciously also made the movie available for viewing online at the same time, and you can purchase your ticket to watch today.
Look, it’s me and Phyllis Young in “OYATE!” Please click here to watch the trailer for this heartfelt and skillfully done documentary, and purchase your tickets for the premiere on the same page.
We wanted to make sure you have the opportunity to watch this special premiere with us! Please note that the film will be available through Big Sky for a limited time. I urge you to purchase your ticket right now, then mark your calendar to remind yourself the streaming window opens on Feb. 25 at 9 a.m. PST. After that, you’ll have about three days to start watching and another 24 hours to finish.
Now that you’ve got all those important details, let me tell you a little more about our involvement and what you’ll see. In the wake of the protests at Standing Rock in 2016 and ‘17, our Lakota Law team worked closely with producers Brandon Jackson, Emil Benjamin, Sandra Evers-Manly, and Jennifer Martel of the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux tribes, to tell this powerful story of resistance. You’ll spend time with Phyllis Young, me and my daughter Tokata, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo People, and many more powerful Native voices.
Here’s a promotional still of Secretary Haaland and other sisters in the fight for Indigenous justice. This film is really beautifully shot.
As you know, our #NoDAPL struggle at Standing Rock became an inflection point for human rights and environmental justice, a rallying cry for Indigenous people everywhere to take a stand against centuries of land theft, imposed poverty, and cultural erasure. “OYATE” successfully communicates our thoughts, as Indigenous activists, organizers, and politicians, on that complicated history.
Lakota Law aided the filmmakers by providing exclusive interviews, archival footage, and perspective. The directors did a fantastic job of using a blend of storytelling tools to weave all elements harmoniously and to fully immerse you in our worldviews. The end result is a thing of beauty, ambitious in scope and, at the same time, personal and intimate. I think you’ll very much enjoy watching, and I hope you’ll find it illuminating. You may gain new understanding of our struggles for sovereignty and justice — and you’ll even meet some rez dogs! So, please watch the trailer, and then join us for this exciting premiere. I can’t wait to hear your feedback.
Wopila tanka — thank you, and happy watching. Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director & Lead Counsel The Lakota People’s Law Project
Last weekend some 400 Karankawa Kadla and their supporters organized protests across Texas to call attention to the expansion plans for an Enbridge oil terminal. It’s already the largest crude export terminal in North America potentially transporting as much as 1.5 million barrels of oil per day.
“The Enbridge terminal expansion is planned to be constructed in the ancestral settlement and land of the Karankawa Kadla, where thousands of sacred Karankawa artifacts remain and ceremony and prayer have continued for the past 2,000 years,” said a news release from the Indigenous Environmental Network. “If the expansion of the Enbridge terminal on Karankawa land continues, the Karankawa Kadla will lose direct access to their land and ancestral artifacts in addition to the pollution of sacred natural waters.”
The release also included a simple line asking for “accountability from Enbridge and Bank of America, one of the major funders of the expansion, for developing on Indigeneous land without consent and the environmental destruction of the Gulf Coast.”
That word “accountability” shifts the protest to another kind of action, one based on ESG standards; a metric that includes Environment, Social and Governance as well as the planning for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Both Bank of America and Enbridge say they have ESG plans and are on track to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
At a conference last year, Al Monaco, Enbridge’s president and chief executive officer, called ESG and sustainability the key to an energy transition. “Essentially, this is society’s dual challenge,” he said. “One the one hand, it’s clear that population growth, urbanization and a growing middle class will drive energy demand higher. On the other hand . . . energy supplies need to be developed sustainably, and aligned with climate goals.”
This dual challenge, he said, will lead to “responsible” growth over the next three decades including achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, reducing emissions from operations by 35 percent in eight years and increasing the diversity of its workforce in the next couple of years. That’s a lot of ambition. Enbridge says that existing infrastructure, such as pipelines, is a part of that plan.
So why expand an oil terminal now? How does it move the company forward on its promises of sustainability? And what about Bank of America?
“The net-zero equation remains unsolved: greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated and are not counterbalanced by removals, nor is the world prepared to complete the net-zero transition,” the report warns. “Indeed, even if all net-zero commitments and national climate pledges were fulfilled, research suggests that warming would not be held to 1.5°C above pre industrial levels, increasing the odds of initiating the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, including the risk of biotic feedback loops.”
McKinsey said getting to net zero requires significant changes. Significant is an understatement because the numbers are huge. McKinsey estimates that an investment need of $9.2 trillion per year on average, an annual increase of as much as $3.5 trillion from today. To put this increase in comparative terms, the $3.5 trillion is approximately equivalent, in 2020, to half of global corporate profits, one-quarter of total tax revenue, and 7 percent of household spending. An additional $1 trillion of today’s annual spend would, moreover, need to be reallocated from high-emissions to low-emissions assets.”
Hence the urgency of reducing existing energy investments that do not meet climate change goals.
And there is a difference of opinion here. Some companies, even those claiming an ESG or net-zero plan, say that reductions are necessary but will come down the road.
“Some pathways to net-zero emissions assume that the decline in emissions begins immediately and progresses gradually to 2050, with appropriate measures in place to manage disruptions and limit costs. Others assume that reduction of emissions begins later and progresses more quickly to achieve the same amount of cumulative emissions,” McKinsey reports. “The latter could involve significant and abrupt changes in policy, high carbon prices, and sudden changes to investment practices—along with greater socioeconomic effects and a larger-scale response. Making job transitions would be more challenging, and there could be greater risk of stranded assets.”
The energy companies that are betting on “later” for dramatic emission reductions could be putting at risk significant assets, stranded assets. Enbridge, for example, spent $3 billion on its acquisition of the Moda Midstream Terminal, nearly $10 billion on the line 3 project, and millions more on smaller projects, including a seaport near Houston.
What about Bank of America?
A report last year by the Rainforest Action Network said that “until the banks prove otherwise, the ‘net’ in ‘net zero’ leaves room for emissions targets that fall short of what the science demands, based on copious offsetting or absurd assumptions about future carbon-capture schemes, as well as the rights violations and fraud that often come hand in hand with offsetting and carbon markets.”
That reported Bank of America’s at number four for the “dirty dozen” banks that finance fossil fuel development.
“These ‘Dirty Dozen’ banks have very different policies regarding restriction and phase-out of coal, oil, and gas, but none are sufficient. Among the world’s largest banks, strong coal policies are rare, and even the strongest oil and gas policies are sorely lacking,” the Rainforest Action Network said.
Bank of America says it’s goal is “to rebalance our portfolios away from more carbon emission intensive fossil fuel extraction, power generation, transportation and other consumption … toward low-carbon business models.”
The bank says it’s committed to “industry-leading disclosures” on its environmental progress, including a metric called “emission intensity.” That metric is different from overall carbon emission reduction because it’s based on a connection with the larger economy. So if the economy grows, so can total emissions.
Of course all of this economic and investment framework misses another leverage point, consent from Indigenous communities.
The company outlines its Indigenous People’s Policy that includes a commitment “to pursuing sustainable relationships with Indigenous Nations and groups in proximity to where Enbridge conducts business.”
Yet there has been no communication with Indigenous groups in Texas.
The Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend, the Karankawa Kadla Tribe of the Texas Gulf Coast, and Ingleside on the Bay Coastal Watch Association filed a lawsuit in August against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its approval of permits for the Texas project.
“Members of the Indigenous Peoples and of the Karankawa Kadla tribe travel regularly to Ingleside on the Bay in San Patricio County, Texas to enjoy the natural beauty of the land and the ocean, to observe wildlife in the area, and to find spiritual joy and fulfillment through their connections to the land, water, wildlife, and their ancestors who lived in the area,” according to the lawsuit. “This undeveloped space between the Moda facility and Ingleside on the Bay is the only remaining undeveloped area in this part of the Bay. This undeveloped space represents the last remaining vestige of the landscape and ecosystems that once occupied the area.”
The dredging of the bay “will destroy the McGloin’s Bluff site and the surrounding area. The increase in ship traffic and the associated increase in noise, industrial activity, and pollution will destroy their ability to pray and find spiritual joy and fulfillment in observing their ancestral lands and waters.”
This leads to even more questions about ESG, and especially its connection to Indigenous communities. Enbridge and other companies’ Indigenous Peoples Policies support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Yet that protocol explicitly calls for Free, Prior and Informed Consent on projects.
This is why many critics dismiss ESG as “greenwashing,” giving companies cover to continue business as usual. On the other hand, companies see the growing value of being favored as ESG-compliant. Last year more than $120 billion flowed from investors into sustainable projects (more than double from 2020) and a regulatory structure is being added. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is nearing completion of guidelines for companies to disclose climate-related risks.
There are three climate tests ahead: Transparent. Sustainable. And accountable.
Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor-at-large for Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix. The Indigenous Economics Project is funded with a major grant from the Bay and Paul Foundations.
Toward the end of last year, I told you about Gidimt’en Checkpoint — which has rapidly become something akin to a Canadian Standing Rock. Right now, the Wet’suwet’en People are standing strong to protect their yintah, or homelands, and the planet we all share from the Coastal GasLink pipeline. But, just as happened with our own movement against the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016-’17, the fossil fuel industry — backed by big banks, the colonial government, and militarized law enforcement — is ignoring their sovereign rights and violently attempting to stamp out Indigenous-led resistance.
After setting up their Gidimt’en Checkpoint blockade, the Wet’suwet’en People have been subject to violent raids by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, including the use of sniper rifles and police dogs. 30 people have been arrested, including two elders. In one incident, a chainsaw and axes were used to break into homes and arrest movement leaders, journalists, and legal observers. One CBC TV journalist was jailed for three days, and the home he was removed from was subsequently burned to the ground.
I’ve also authored a blog detailing some of the history of the Wet’suwet’en struggle for justice. Notably, this pipeline crosses unceded lands under the care of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs for time immemorial. Their free and prior and informed consent should be the first requirement before any project threatening their sacred headwaters, Wedzin Kwa, can move forward. Their consent has not been given, and their title to the land has been upheld by Canada’s Supreme Court.
The violence against Wet’suwet’en land protectors must end and their yintah protected. It’s long past time to stop treating Indigenous People protecting their homelands and Unci Maka — our Grandmother Earth — like terrorists and start listening to our calls for environmental justice.
Wopila tanka — thank you for standing strong with the Wet’suwet’en! Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director and Lead Counsel The Lakota People’s Law Project
Two days ago, we lost a good man. I write to you today from the road, as I make my way northeast to celebrate the life of Clyde Bellecourt. I knew Clyde for decades. An Anishinaabe activist from the White Earth Nation, he was a co-founder of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in Minneapolis and, for years, focused on ending police brutality against Native People. He remained active throughout his long life, eventually becoming a strong advocate for eliminating offensive sports mascots.
Clyde Bellecourt leaves a legacy of activism and progress for our People. His was a life well lived.
I met Clyde in the late 1960s when AIM was young. My sister and I went to the twin cities and met up with Dennis Banks, who invited us to a protest action against the movie “Little Big Man” — and its Hollywood-style depiction of Native people and our Sun Dance.
We were all a bunch of young people fired up to get something done. Afterwards, we got invited to Red Power gatherings, which included some of the first AIM meetings. At that time, just a couple dozen of us attended. I met Clyde’s wife, Peggy, and the local women of the movement. Then I met Clyde. That’s where it all started.
AIM’s actions moved into South Dakota as a result of Dennis Banks and Clyde recruiting my first cousin, Russell Means, to be part of AIM in 1968. When Russ got involved, we expanded. Our first action was at Mount Rushmore. From a starting place of working on police brutality issues, we were able to help grow the movement until we had national awareness.
In our neighborhood and in our corner of the movement, our direction came from the reservations, the people. Unfortunately, in Minnesota, the reservations didn’t stand with AIM or back their actions. But I’m happy to say that trend changed when AIM came to South Dakota, where we found support on tribal nations such as Pine Ridge. For us as Lakotas and Dakotas, our focus was on our territory, and our actions became a family thing.
This movement has always been larger than any one individual, but there is no doubt that Clyde was a leader of his time. No matter the issues the organization confronted — in Minnesota and even internationally — he was involved. I had respect for him, and it took a lot of organizing and a lot of guts to do what he and others did in those early days. And, as the years went by, he showed up in solidarity. That set a strong example for our younger generations.
Clyde lived a long and good life. I’m in my 80s now, and for those of us who were there during the original AIM era, our ranks are getting thin. But I don’t look on death with sadness, not when we have lived this long and well. This is part of the cycle. It’s going to happen to all of us, and we should be ready. We are individuals, yes, but what we do together is a group effort. Clyde was an icon of our time for our People, and for that, I am grateful. Now it’s up to you and me to carry on his legacy of justice with whatever time we have left.
Wopila — Thank you for standing with our People, always. Madonna Thunder Hawk Cheyenne River Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
FORT GARLAND, Colo. — On a bitter, windy day, a long-overdue reckoning took place in the commandant’s quarters at Fort Garland, a former military outpost turned museum and cultural center. For most of its history, the museum has celebrated frontiersman Christopher Carson, known as Kit, who briefly commanded this far-flung garrison built during the American westward expansion to protect settlers from raids by tribes.
But now the museum was telling a far different story in an exhibition titled “Unsilenced: Indigenous Enslavement in Southern Colorado” — one of the first dedicated to highlighting the little-known and centuries-old system of Indigenous bondage that historian Andrés Reséndez called “the other slavery” in his landmark 2016 book.
On this October afternoon, the quarters were redolent with smoke from a healing ceremony performed by a Navajo spiritual leader for the descendants from many tribes who had gathered this day to honor the grim history of kidnapping, enslavement and forced assimilation of their ancestors. Though glorified for decades, Carson led a devastating 1864 U.S. military campaign to defeat Navajo resistance and remove Indigenous people from their homelands.
“We knew that historically our lives were distorted due to colonization,” said Shawn Price, a Navajo teacher or “wisdom keeper,” who offered to perform a traditional healing ceremony at its opening, with Dineh’ Tah Navajo dancers. “What they’re telling us is a long-hidden and suppressed truth.”
Some scholars now argue that the brutal trafficking in Indigenous people began with Christopher Columbus’ first voyage in 1492 and flourished in the Southwest. Many women and children were taken and traded, sometimes in retaliatory tribal raids or in attacks by Spanish colonists; and much later, they were obtained and exchanged by American settlers. While Indigenous enslavement was never legal, slaveholders resisted federal and state efforts to stop it.
Until relatively recently, it was an untold part of the southern Colorado story, an area of intricate political geography made more complex by deeply rooted histories. The region was once New Spain, then Mexico and then the northern frontier of the U.S. territory of New Mexico until 1861, when the territory of Colorado was created.
Fort Garland sits at the base of Mount Blanca, or Sisnaajini, a sacred mountain on the eastern boundary of Dinétah, the Navajo homelands. Inside, the creaky old floors of the commandant’s quarters lead to a hushed historical realm filled with images and documents of enslaved Native children who were stripped of their birth names and cultural identities. At the entrance is a photograph of Gabriel Woodson, a 12-year-old Navajo boy who was forcibly taken and then sold by Utes in 1860 to James Bernard Woodson, a businessman, and was gussied up in western attire for his portrait.
The creator of “Unsilenced,” as well as a second installation at a nearby slave site, is Chip Thomas, a 64-year-old Black physician who has spent 34 years working at a primary care clinic on the Navajo Nation. He is also an artist, known for deploying his black-and-white photographs of corn, sheep, elders, activists and others on abandoned water tanks, grain silos, Quonset huts and other structures. The intention of his work here is to “reflect the beautiful and strong parts of the culture back to the community,” he said.
In “Unsilenced” his installations draw on a detailed and chillingly dispassionate survey from 1865, rendered in impeccable penmanship, of 149 Indigenous people who were taken from their communities into servitude. The youngest is a 3-year-old.
The list was compiled in the San Luis Valley by Maj. Lafayette Head, a federal agent who became the first lieutenant governor of Colorado. Head recorded the names and tribes of the enslaved, their “owners,” the date and source of purchase and their willingness (or not) to return to their tribes. The list, in the National Archives in Washington, was digitized by Estevan Rael-Galvez, a former New Mexico state historian and consultant to the museum who is assembling a database of enslaved Indigenous people.
In “Unsilenced,” fragments of what Thomas calls the “beautifully written document of horrible acts” are digitally printed on diaphanous fabric, with an image of an unknown Navajo captive boy looming behind it.
The presence of the lists in Carson’s quarters is grimly apt. The majority of “Indian Captives Acquired by Purchase” were Navajo, forcibly removed by Carson from their homelands. It was an act that Col. James H. Carleton, who gave Carson his orders, compared to a chase for wild game.
The disastrous 250- to 450-mile “Long Walk” to wretched internment in Bosque Redondo, New Mexico — what Navajo people have called “the Fearing time” — was a golden moment for slavers. Historians estimate that 1,000 to 3,000 Navajo, mostly women and children, were captured by Ute and Hispanic raiders and then traded, often for a horse or a gun.
For 70 years, the museum glorified Carson in period rooms stuffed with hunting trophies. “Unsilenced” introduces Juan Carson, his enslaved Navajo “son,” and one of three captive Indigenous servants in the household. Juan was 3 years old when Carson’s wife, Josefa Jaramillo, offered a horse for the child after the Utes threatened to kill him, or so the story goes. (Kit Carson Jr., the couple’s son by birth, indicated that his father had adopted Juan).
Forced assimilation was the modus operandi of Anglo and Hispano colonizers. Stolen children like Juan were baptized and given a Christian name. The justification was redemption, to transform them into “a white and delightsome people,” as Brigham Young, the Mormon church leader and first governor of Utah, put it.
“We are at a moment in which we’re looking at the hard history of our nation and these atrocities of the human experience,” said Mary Elliott, curator of American slavery at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. “The history is there in the records. We’re illuminating that history and telling these more nuanced and complex stories.”
The stories reverberate across generations in what Galvez-Rael, the Fort Garland consultant, calls “a heritage of converging streams.” It is seen in the blanket that hangs above his dining table, woven by his mother’s ancestor, a Navajo captive who was abducted and taken to a household in Abiquiu, New Mexico, where “Genizaros,” or Indigenous people, were taken into Hispanic households as indentured servants.
Today, the resulting culture in the San Luis Valley and northern New Mexico is “a strange blend born of violence,” said James F. Brooks, a historian and the author of “Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship and Community in the Southwest Borderlands.”
Sitting at Fort Garland in a bright pink sweater, Theresa Valdez Maestas, 76, who came to take part in the healing ceremony, told of her 20-year search to untangle the history of her great-great-grandmother, Maria Rita Gallegos Chacon, known as Mama Rita. Rita, born Navajo, was found hiding behind a fallen tree after her mother was shot in the back with an arrow. The man who discovered Rita, Manuel Antonio Gallegos, and his wife, Bibiana, treated her as a daughter, Valdez Maestas said. “But she was always given to understand that she was a servant, a criada,” she added.
When the couple’s daughter Maria married, they sent Rita to be the newlywed’s maid. Maria died in childbirth and shortly thereafter, Rita became pregnant by Maria’s husband, Jose Prudencia Chacon. Chacon married Rita a week before the first of their six children was born. In “Unsilenced,” Mama Rita’s photograph sits above a fireplace, her hands folded neatly on her lap. “I kept looking and looking and looking for her,” Valdez Maestas said.
Laura Bertha Tolmich sewed a traditional ribbon dress for the healing ceremonies at the museum. Her great-great-great grandmother, Maria Guadalupe Benevidez Tolmich, was born Apache and kidnapped by another tribe. She was sold to and raised by a Spanish family and eventually married a Hungarian-born Union soldier in New Mexico territory. “She’s still in me,” said Tolmich, who tends her ancestors’ graves. “She brought me here so she could be cleansed.”
The Fort Garland exhibition, which Brooks calls “a courageous act of public history,” was developed by the museum in collaboration with community members. For several years, the institution had been grappling with “the generational trauma in the stories that have been passed down,” said Eric J. Carpio, its director. The museum became aware of Thomas through a 2018 installation he had done at a historical schoolhouse nearby.
A devotee of New York street art and a member of Justseeds, an international printmaking cooperative, Thomas grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, the son of a doctor and a teacher, and went to a Quaker school that immersed him in social justice issues. He received a scholarship to attend Meharry Medical College, a historically Black college in Nashville, Tennessee; in exchange he spent several years in a medically underserved community — the Navajo Nation — and wound up staying.
He considers medicine and art interwoven: both create “an environment of wellness,” he said. In 2012, he created the Painted Desert Project, in which fellow artists work with young people on the Navajo Nation and create public art.
“Chip isn’t afraid to show what real-life situations are on Navajo,” said Nonabah Sam, a museum curator at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona. “People see his photos going up on these buildings and they don’t touch them,” she added. “The respect for cultural life is definitely there.”
In Conejos, Colorado (population 23), where Lafayette Head lived while compiling his inventory of Indian captives, Thomas has turned the compound into his canvas, inside and out. Although Head called slavery a “barbarous and inhuman practice,” he conveniently left one slave-owning household off his lists — his own. Thomas transformed the earthen walls of the facade of what is believed to be the family’s slave dwelling with Head’s cursive writing, seeming to obliterate it. (Some peers accused Head himself of being a trafficker.)
The compound, which is private, was bought and is gradually being restored by Ronald Rael, an architect and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design, who grew up down the road. Thomas’ installation continues inside, where the light through periwinkle-blue windows throws Head’s bleak tally into bas-relief.
On the parade ground at Fort Garland, the descendants of those who had been enslaved gathered around a young white pine tree, a symbol of peace connecting to the sacred eastern mountain of the Navajo people. Women prepared and planted it in recognition of the violence that continues to plague Indigenous females. It was a means to begin burying the false narratives of the past, a tree of truth.
You might have noticed that we did not post many items for December. We moved! We now live further south overlooking a small river on a mountainside. Located on the property is a large rock with ingenious carvings. We are going to do some investigation to find out who’s land we are now living on.
Look for more posts beginning January1st! Have a happy holiday and remember to live in the Real.
Tribal leaders from 12 Native nations met Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, at department offices in Rapid City, South Dakota. “We’re here to listen directly to tribal leaders,” Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said. “It was a good opportunity to hear their concerns first hand.” Photo by Stewart Huntington for Indian Country Today)
RAPID CITY, South Dakota – Tribal leaders from 12 Great Plains Native Nations conferred Friday in the Black Hills with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in a meeting tribal leaders called “historic.”
Several leaders brought up the long-standing issue over control of the Black Hills, the sacred Paha Sapa of the Oceti Sakowin tribes.
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier was among 12 Native Nations leaders who met Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in the Black Hills of South Dakota. “My main issue is that we can’t forget the day-to-day lives of our people on the reservations,” he said. (Photo by Stewart Huntington for Indian Country Today)
“Some of the chairmen asked for the return of the Black Hills,” Cheyenne River Chairman Harold Frazier told Indian Country Today after the meeting. “I believe that they should be returned back to the Native people.”
Oglala Lakota President Kevin Killer agreed.
“We want to make sure that it gets up to the president and I think the secretary is committed to carrying that message up there,” Killer said.
Tribal leaders had a chance to state their individual concerns during a two-hour, closed meeting held at the Interior Department’s Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians in Rapid City.
“I think it’s a strong sign from this administration that they want to recommit, re-establish and create better relationships with the region,” Killer said. “We need our issues heard and they’re willing to elevate those issues.”
Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairwoman Janet Alkire said the meeting may have marked a turning point.
“To have a cabinet secretary come to the Black Hills is super important,” Alkire said. “It’s historic.”
Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, made no public statements before or after the meeting, but Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, Bay Mills Indian Community, said the meeting was productive.
“We’re here to listen directly to tribal leaders,” he said afterward. “It was a good opportunity to hear their concerns first hand.”
Oglala Sioux Tribal President Kevin Killer was among 12 Native Nations leaders who met Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Killer said it is important that federal officials remember that the Lakota claim to the Black Hills not be forgotten. “That’s something that we’re always sure gets reiterated,” he said. (Photo by Stewart Huntington for Indian Country Today)
Frazier said he wanted to make sure the people of the Native nations are not overlooked.
“My main issue is that we can’t forget the day-to-day lives of our people on the reservations,” he said. “How are we going to address the poverty? How are we going to address the poor health care and the bad infrastructure?”
Haaland, a former Congresswoman from New Mexico, is the first Indigenous person to hold a cabinet post. That point was not lost on tribal leaders Friday.
“For us as Native people to have Secretary Deb Haaland be there and be that voice and be the role model that we need makes me very proud,” said Alkire, who made history in October when she became the first woman in 50 years to be elected leader of the Standing Rock tribe.
Standing Rock Chairwoman Janel Alkirewas among 12 Native Nations leaders who met Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in the Black Hills of South Dakota. “To see a woman sitting at the cabinet level, and her being a Native woman is very, very exciting,” she said. (Photo by Stewart Huntington for Indian Country Today)
“And me being a Lakota winyan, you know how proud I am to see another historic moment, to see a woman sitting at the cabinet level,” Alkire said. “And her being a Native woman is very, very exciting.”
The meeting was organized by the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association. A briefing paper prepared by the Oglala Sioux Tribe called the meeting unprecedented.
“Our people will remember this day – the day the first Native Secretary of the Interior met with the Native Nations of the Great Plains on a government to government basis in our Native homeland at the food of the sacred Black Hills,” the document began.
“This historic summit signals the potential for a new era in our U.S.-Native relations, an era in which the U.S. will honor its treaty promises and promote the sovereignty, self government and self determination of our Nations,” it continued.
Native leaders expressed hopes that a follow-up meeting would be scheduled in Washington in January.
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I’m writing to update you about the Indigenous-led fight against Line 3 here in Minnesota. First, thank you for the solidarity you’ve shown my community, Camp Migizi, as well as our ally, Lakota People’s Law Project. It has been a hard but rewarding year for us. Sadly, despite our best efforts, construction of Line 3 is now virtually complete — but we’re still resisting best we can. As COP26 unfolds in Scotland, we’re grateful we’ve been able to raise consciousness throughout the world about the need to fight hard against fossil fuel infrastructure.
Please watch and share this moving video that aired several days ago on ABC Nightline — you’ll hear from me and other Ojibwe women leading this struggle.
Watch: Nightline traveled to MN to interview me and others about the movement
As many of you know, Line 3 is a thousand-mile pipeline owned by Enbridge, a Canadian company. It stretches from Alberta to the U.S. Midwest and will carry some of the world’s dirtiest, most climate-warming fuel. Biden could shut it down, but he hasn’t. The 1 million petitions our coalition has submitted to the White House haven’t fallen on deaf ears: we’ve heard that some of Biden’s staff are lobbying the President to act, but those further up the food chain are balking. Over the next 3 years we must pressure the President to fulfill his promise to act aggressively against climate change.
Meanwhile, my team at Camp Migizi went to D.C. on Indigenous People’s Day last month to protest. We sat on the fence of the White House, and some of us joined the first take-over of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building since the American Indian Movement first did that in the 70s. 500 arrests were made. Overall, more than one thousand of us have been taken into custody as part of this struggle. And we’ve learned in recent days that Enbridge paid $4.25 million to local law enforcement to fight us. This collusion between private industry and state police reminds me of Standing Rock, where my friend Chase Iron Eyes faced prosecution in 2017.
At our camp near the Fon Du Lac reservation in Minnesota we’re erecting structures for prayer, as we shift from being only a protest space to also being a sacred ceremony grounds in the coming months. For one, we’ll invest more time searching for missing and murdered Indigenous persons. Our movement has many fronts, and we cannot forgo any of them. The work goes on. Please continue to stand with us!
Miigwech – my deep appreciation for your solidarity! Taysha Martineau Camp Migizi via Lakota Law
LAC STE. ANNE, Alberta, Canada — She is glowing as she stands near the shores of Lac Ste. Anne, wearing the same white buckskin dress and beaded headband that captivated the world.
But this time Si Pih Ko didn’t break into song in Cree as she did Monday in Maskwacis, with tears streaming down her face — a symbol of protest at Pope Francis’ first public appearance on what he calls a “penitence pilgrimage” across Canada.
Instead, on Tuesday, she stood beaming as the sun sparkled on her beadwork and her smiles at the sacred waters of Lac Ste. Anne. It was as though the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders.
“I’m on my healing journey,” she told ICT.
Her emotional rendition of “Our Village,” in Cree, which was mistaken for the Canadian National Anthem, “O Canada,” drew an explosion of comments on Facebook and other social media.
“Indigenous rising, listen to this call!” one woman posted on Facebook.
“Give ‘em hell, lady,” another posted.
The song is yet another example of cultural elements stolen from Indigenous peoples and corrupted by colonizers, she said.
“They use that,” she told ICT. “They tried to translate that song and use it for their anthem. It doesn’t belong to them.”
On a mission
Si Pih Ko, who is Cree, traveled to Alberta from the remote mining town of Thompson, Manitoba, to come face to face with the Pope and deliver a message to him and to the world.
She delivered the song in such a powerful way that it will likely be interpreted for years to come.
She told ICT she came for her brother, who died in police custody in unknown circumstances.
“Holding my brother’s jacket with me, he would have been right beside me too, yesterday and today,” she said Tuesday. “Still to this day, there’s no answers. And I’m here actually to heal for that.”
On a six-day swing through Canada, the Pope made his first public appearance Monday in Maskwacis, delivering an historic apology for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s ugly residential school system that forced Indigenous children into boarding schools where they were isolated from their families, culture and language.
Their hair was cut and they were beaten if they spoke their Native language. Many suffered physical and sexual abuse, or died at the school, never to be returned to their families.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called the system “cultural genocide” in its 2015 report on the residential school system. The issue drew international attention in May 2021 with the announcement that 215 remains of children had been found in unmarked graves at the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
On Monday, Si Pih Ko stepped into the international spotlight in Maskwacis — singing in a language that would have been forbidden in residential schools — after the Pope issued his apology and received a ceremonial headdress.
She walked directly to the front of the stage, with the Pope seated just a few feet away, and began to sing a song that sounded very much like “O Canada.” But it wasn’t.
“It’s “Our Village,’” she told ICT Tuesday, then proceeded to break down the song word-for-word, translating carefully from Cree to English.
For the love of your children.
You have made the people of the North proud.
Capturing the pain
The images and sounds of Si Pih Ko singing with so much emotion captured the pain and anger that many Indigenous peoples felt about the Pope’s visit.
For some, the visit and apology represented an opportunity for healing and reconciliation, a message the Pope has continued to voice at additional appearances. For others, watching the head of the Catholic Church receive a traditional headdress from chiefs was unacceptable.
“I seen them chiefs behind him and not behind me,” Si Pih Ko told ICT. “That’s pure evil you’re standing behind and you won’t stand by me.”
She said she wanted to send a message to the chiefs as well as the Pope.
“I said, ‘I know who I am. You need to be reminded who you are and not bow down. We’re looking for a place to heal, not to kneel,” she said.
She also delivered a final message of taking back power.
“In order for us to heal you need to remove what you brought here,” she said. “That law. Because it doesn’t belong on these territories – our law does.”
A message in song
Si Pih Ko was at peace on Tuesday at Lac Ste. Anne, where hundreds gathered to hear the Pope speak of healing at the Feast of Saint Anne.
As the words of the Pope echoed across the lands and the sacred water — his words also spoken in a language that few in the audience could understand — Si Pih Ko stood far from the gathering crowd and smiled.
People around the world, she realized, were beginning to understand what she had said.