No More Native Mascots

Lakota Law

I’m Lily Joy Winder, and I write to you today to introduce myself as a friend and dedicated advocate for Indigenous health, joy, and excellence. I bring good news! As a 20-year-old Diné and Southern Ute activist currently attending Stanford University, I also focus on my campaign #PeopleNotMascots to enact policies that retire racist Native mascots in United States public schools. A few months back, knowing our goals were aligned, I reached out to Lakota Law — and from there, an exciting partnership was born. I’m happy to announce that in 2023 and beyond, we’ll support one another’s efforts to end appropriation, increase Native agency in media, and win Indigenous justice.

Thanks to Teen Vogue for this joyful article and triptych!

Just this week, New York officially banned Native mascots in K-12 schools that do not have specific tribal consent! This is an incredible victory for the Native children of New York and the growing national movement for Native mascot bans across the country. Currently, People Not Mascots is working toward introducing federal legislation and also working in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and with the Lakota Law team in California to pass Native mascot removal policies. We are at a real opportune and crucial moment in continuing to build this movement. We’re in the midst of exciting change!

People Not Mascots holds a special place in my heart as it also touches on other Indigenous issues I’m passionate about. All the work I do strives to create an America that sees my Native kin as human beings. At school, I research environmental racism through an Indigenous lens, which contributes to my passion for ending the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People epidemic. As you likely know, clear ties exist between Big Oil and violence against my Indigenous relatives. 

I also share what I know about Indigenous issues on my social media platforms — most notably on my TikTok (@sheshortnbrown), which has gathered around 300k followers. My budding acting career lends yet another platform. Ultimately, I hope not only to remove negative imagery of Native folks, but to create imagery and media where we are centered and cared for. I hope you’ll follow along, and I’m grateful to you for your compassion and advocacy.

Ahéhee’ — thank you for your friendship!
Lily Joy Winder
Via the Lakota People’s Law Project

DAPL and the BAD MAN Clause

Lakota Law

To make the United States honor treaty law and shut down the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), Standing Rock and our allies are taking a long look at a new legal offensive based on the Bad Man (or Bad Men) Clause in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. Check out our blog, and at the top you’ll find the latest chapter of our Dakota Water Wars video series — co-produced as always by Lakota Law, Standing Rock, and the Great Plains Water Alliance — which takes you inside our recent strategy meeting at Standing Rock.

Watch: I joined Chairwoman Janet Alkire at Standing Rock to address our colleagues about pursuing a more aggressive NoDAPL strategy.

As you’re likely aware, DAPL parent company Energy Transfer has a terrible safety record. Today, we share with you testimony from me, Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire, Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance Director Doug Crow Ghost, and legal and technical experts. You’ll hear about Energy Transfer’s dangerous behavior, including 23 felony citations, and what we plan to do about it.

The clause states that when “bad men among the whites, or among other people subject to the authority of the United States” commit crimes against tribes or our property, the United States must take punitive action against the offenders. Energy Transfer definitely qualifies. To make things worse, DAPL currently operates without a workable emergency response plan in violation of the Clean Water Act, without an easement in violation of the Mineral Leasing Act, and without a valid Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The government should respect its own rules — including treaties, which are some of the original laws of this land. It’s time to hold Big Oil accountable and stop letting fossil fuel giants endanger our people and our world. Very soon now, after much delay, the Army Corps of Engineers will release DAPL’s deeply problematic EIS. They know that when they do, they’re going to hear from us en masse. Please be ready to act, because this fight isn’t over. Through the courts and public pressure, we can still beat the bad men at their own game.

Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for standing with us!
Phyllis Young
Standing Rock Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Keep Attention on the Law

Lakota Law

The U.S. Supreme Court just keeps getting things wrong. In late March, it declined to review attorney Steven Donziger’s appeal of his criminal conviction for contempt of court. If Donziger’s name sounds familiar to you, that’s perhaps because he’s a good man who helped win a landmark $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron on behalf of thousands of Indigenous People in the Ecuadorian Amazon. More than a decade ago, the oil giant was found guilty of causing disastrous health problems via its brazen environmental pollution of the world’s largest rainforest.

Lakota LawPhoto credit: Steven Donziger from the Free Donziger website.

Chevron, represented by Big Oil law firm Gibson Dunn, relentlessly contested Donziger’s legal victory in Ecuador, eventually securing a challenge in U.S. federal court. You’re probably also familiar with Gibson Dunn — the same firm now representing the plaintiffs seeking to dismantle the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) at the Supreme Court. We feel that’s no coincidence, and it’s one reason we met with Mr. Donziger while he was confined at a halfway house about a year ago.

A few other things make this case particularly concerning. Atypically, after the federal prosecutor in Manhattan declined to bring criminal contempt charges against Donziger, a federal judge — who held investments in Chevron at the time of his decision — appointed a private law firm to prosecute anyway. A second federal judge delegated to oversee that prosecution served on the board of the Federalist Society, a far-right think tank known for helping stack the federal judiciary with conservative judges and regularly receiving donations from, you guessed it, Chevron.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Donziger was subsequently convicted. He ended up serving nearly two months behind bars and spent another two and half years under house arrest. In 2021, during his incarceration, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for Donziger’s release, stating that his pre-trial detention was illegal.

Donziger appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court, but the justices, in March’s 7-2 decision, denied his petition. It may surprise you to learn the two dissenting justices who supported hearing Donziger’s case were Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. These two deeply conservative men raised concerns about judicial overreach and constitutional protections requiring separation of powers, while the liberal wing of the Court strangely remained silent.

It’s critical that we continue to pay attention to the Supreme Court, and not just on ICWA. It’s difficult to fathom the rationale behind some of their recent decisions, but in other cases, it may be entirely too clear. This court seems eager to roll back our freedoms despite years of precedent, as it did when it overturned Roe v. Wade. And, as it has done here, it appears willing to allow new degrees of overreach by activist judges with obvious conflicts of interest.

Wopila tanka — thank you for paying attention and standing for justice!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Goodbye to the Doctrine of Discovery

Lakota Law

As you may have heard, last Thursday marked a momentous decree. After nearly 500 years — and decades of repeated calls from Indigenous activists including my fellow Lakota Law organizer Phyllis Young — the Vatican finally renounced the Doctrine of Discovery.

The legacy of the Doctrine, a papal bull from the 1400s justifying Christian colonialism worldwide, includes westward expansion through the Americas, Manifest Destiny, and the Indian boarding school era. It also continues today through federal Indian law and a Supreme Court dominated by conservative Catholics who will soon rule on whether to dismantle or overturn the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

Watch: We interviewed Indigenous scholar Steve Newcomb about the Doctrine of Discovery.

Signed into federal law in 1978, ICWA helped fulfill a great and urgent need to protect Native children from centuries of state-sanctioned genocidal practices. By the 1960s, the boarding school era was nearing an end. Religious institutions masquerading as schools had been assimilating Indigenous children and annihilating their cultural identities since the 1800s. As you likely know, remains of these young victims who underwent horrendous treatment and unfathomable brutality are still being unearthed today. 

Government agencies then quickly discovered a new way to systematically take apart our families and cultures. Child welfare agents, emboldened by racial bias and religious motivations, stole children from their homes at ghastly rates. As the Lakota Times reported, “According to a 1969 report by the Association on American Indian Affairs, between 25% and 35% of all Native children were placed in adoptive homes, foster homes, or institutions; and about 90% of those children were being raised by non-Natives.” 

That’s why ICWA matters. It’s the best solution we currently have to the diabolical and prolonged period of mass kidnapping, which has robbed Native children of their communities, cultural practices, and Indigenous identities. It’s no coincidence that the Brackeens — plaintiffs in the lawsuit to dismantle this critical law at the Supreme Court — are avowed evangelicals. We remain hopeful for a positive outcome in the case, but it’s entirely possible rightwing Catholic justices will side with those seeking to Christianize a Diné (Navajo) child. 

Your advocacy makes a difference! Only by standing together for the rights of our young ones — to preserve our Indigenous families, sovereignty, and cultures — can we shatter the embedded patterns of the past. I’ll have more to say on all of this soon in my blog series, and I hope you’ll keep an eye out. In the meantime, thank you, sincerely, for your friendship. If we can get the Church to disavow the Doctrine of Discovery, anything truly is possible!

Wopila tanka — My deep appreciation for your solidarity with our children and families.
Tokata Iron Eyes
The Lakota People’s Law Project