Like Watching a Movie in Reverse…

Kolby KickingWoman

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.

(Related: Supreme Court seems divided in Indian Country case)

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.”

Today’s opinion can be found and read here.

This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day.

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Kolby KickingWoman


Kolby KickingWoman

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 –

Action Needed: Boarding Schools

Lakota Law

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. 

Now, under the direction of U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland — a tribal member of the Pueblo of Laguna who understands the real history — the federal government has released a comprehensive report outlining the scope of its own 150-year culpability in genocidal policy toward us as Native Peoples.

Lakota LawAccording 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

Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)

Lakota Law

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. 

At our Standing Rock kinship care home, we provide at-risk children a safe space to learn and grow. Here at the Cheyenne River Nation, I’m leading a community-wide effort to create a tribally-run Child Welfare Department. And nationally, our legal team is preparing an amicus brief to protect the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in the Supreme Court. All of these things will create a brighter future for our young ones — and we couldn’t do any of it without you. So today, I ask you to fund this important mission and empower us to continue tackling this issue at levels ranging from a single child to the highest court in the land.

Lakota Law

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

P.S. Please give what you can today. You’ll make sure we can continue providing housing and care, critical support services, and legal expertise to make a tremendous difference in the lives of our Lakota children in the months and years to come.

A Win for Voting Rights

Lakota Law

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!–~D

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

Prayer Permits Needed?

Lakota Law

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.

This bit of disturbing cognitive dissonance is the subject of our third video in the “Water Wars” series we’re producing in partnership with Standing Rock and other tribes of the Oceti Sakowin. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch and share Dakota Water Wars, Chapter 3: Money Against a Prayer.

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

The Case of Stolen Artifacts

by dandelionsalad

Abby Martin: Lakota Human Remains Stolen from US Army Massacre Hoarded by Private Museum

Image by Otis Historical Archives of the National Museum of Health and Medicine via Flickr

Dandelion Salad

with Abby Martin

Empire Files on Jun 4, 2022

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.

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