A Victory

Lakota Law

As many of us gather with family today — a “holiday” that people in our communities understand as a deeply problematic celebration of colonialism and genocide — I’ll choose to highlight a recent victory for Native America. You may recall that, a few months back, we asked you to help the Cherokee Nation seat a congressional delegate. Here’s the good news. About a week ago, after nearly two centuries of delay, Congress held its first ever hearing on the subject — and it went very well!

Watch the video and share this action: Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation sat down with us to discuss the importance of seating Kimberly Teehee as the Cherokee Nation’s first congressional delegate.

To be clear, it isn’t a done deal. However, as NPR accurately reports, last week’s House Rules Committee hearing represents by far the biggest step the federal government has ever taken toward fulfilling a promise it made to the Cherokee way back in 1835’s Treaty of New Echota. And while we can’t celebrate prematurely, the U.S. government making progress toward doing what it said it would for any Native nation is historic and a reason for optimism.

So now what? Let’s keep the pressure on. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin gave Lakota Law an informative interview about why it’s time to seat Kimberly Teehee as the Cherokee delegate to the House of Representatives, and that discussion is available to watch on our action page. If you have not already done any of the following, I urge you to make the time to watch the interview, send a message to your reps, and use the social media buttons on our action page (and perhaps dinner table conversation) to share this timely advocacy with your circle.

Given the tenor of the Rules Committee hearing and the outpouring of support by people like you, Chief Hoskin is confident the Cherokee can make history for Native representation in the halls of power as soon as this calendar year. Let’s help him make it happen!

Wopila tanka — thank you, and I wish you a good day of connection.
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

On this day in 2016…

I had arrived in Bismarck, North Dakota. Scroll back to the beginning of this blog and you can read about the history of events at Standing Rock. Some things have changed, many things have stayed the same. The things I witnessed there made me profoundly angry and sad. I saw militarized police practicing with their new gear how to do crowd control. I experienced racism and hatred from the local population in town. I witnessed how some people infiltrated the camp and tried to cause destruction from within the movement. They were largely unsuccessful because of the people´s spirit. This was a sacred space. I talked to the spirits one freezing night. It was those spirits that I called on for help last year while I was being held against my will in the COVID-19 ward in the hospital. Yes, after traveling to such a sacred place you experience the power of the spirits.

In 2017, I left the U.S. and moved to Costa Rica. The history is very different here. They do not have an army. I wish everyone a holiday season when they remember the spirits and their ancestors and fight to maintain their freedoms and way of life. A way of life that is non-destructive of the environment and other people. These are dangerous times.


Lakota Law

It’s a time of year for both reflection and action. As we approach our second annual Wopila Gathering on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 29, I invite you to watch our new video, in which my granddaughter, DeCora, and I talk about the meaning of wopila. Appropriately, this Lakota word signifies a giving of deep thanks and honoring of our best potential, every day.

In that spirit, on this Thanksgiving week, I ask you to give back in support of Native communities and Indigenous justice by donating to Lakota Law. Thanks to a wonderful warrior donor, all donations to Lakota Law are fully matched right now through the end of Giving Tuesday. Anything you can contribute all week long will be doubled, increasing the impact your generosity makes.

Watch: My granddaughter, DeCora, and I talk about the meanings of Thankstaking and Wopila.

Now, let’s talk turkey. For many, this week’s “Thanksgiving” holiday signifies bounty and togetherness. But for us, this same holiday — known as Thankstaking in our family and many other Native ones — symbolizes the price paid by Indigenous communities once the pilgrims set foot upon these shores. As I’ve mentioned before, the Thanksgiving origin story taught in grade school is nothing but a harmful myth meant to obscure the realities of stolen land and the genocide of Native peoples.

Then there’s the commodification that follows the myth. Our consumer culture teaches us that as soon as we’re done filling our stomachs, it’s time to go shopping! “Black Friday deals” assault us everywhere we turn. Perhaps if we distract ourselves with enough stuffing and then enough stuff, we can forget all about the dark history that got us to this point.

But all that said, we do have much to be thankful for. For instance, I’m grateful that someone, somewhere created Giving Tuesday as a way to offset all the taking. I’m grateful that I get to make change happen with Lakota Law, and that our team created the Wopila Gathering as a way to give back to you. And I’m thankful to be in the company of so many talented Indigenous people working on this project. In addition to DeCora and I, this year’s event lineup also features Lakota Law co-director Chase Iron Eyes, our legal analyst Wašté Win Young, and her mother, my longtime partner in the fight for Native justice, Phyllis Young.

So please join us on Giving Tuesday at the Wopila Gathering! It’s going to be a special day and a valuable opportunity for us to advance the conversation on issues most important to the Indigenous communities who have given so much to this land and all her people.

Wopila tanka — thank you for being your best self and joining us on this journey toward justice!
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

P.S. Please support our mission for Native justice by giving what you can this week. All donations are matched and your impact will be doubled every day through Giving Tuesday, Nov. 29. I can’t wait to see you at the Wopila Gathering!

Let's Green CA!

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.

The Fate of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)

Lakota Law

Yesterday morning, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Brackeen v. Haaland. Now, the justices will determine the fate of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Depending on what they decide, Indigenous child welfare and sovereignty as we know it on Turtle Island could be seriously threatened.

The arguments from attorneys and questions from justices focused on two central legal questions, both involving ICWA’s preferences to place adoptive Native children with Native families. First, do ICWA’s placement preferences discriminate against non-Native people on the basis of race? Second, does ICWA fall within Congress’ plenary — or total — authority to legislate on Indian affairs to the exclusion of states? 

Click the pic to listen to the full Brackeen v. Haaland audio feed from the Supreme Court.

Let’s be clear. First, under law, tribes are considered sovereign political entities — not racial groups — and striking down ICWA would violate centuries of legal precedent and imperil other legislation that properly respects our sovereign status. And since the ratification of the Constitution, the federal government has been recognized as the sole arbiter of Indian affairs, to the exclusion of state authority.

During pointed questioning, Justice Neil Gorsuch (a conservative) noted that the Constitution does, in fact, give Congress plenary authority to legislate Native issues. The policy arguments brought forward by the legal team seeking to overturn ICWA  — including lawyers from Gibson Dunn, a law firm that represents the fossil fuel industry — “might be better addressed across the street” in the halls of Congress, Justice Gorsuch suggested.

I very much appreciate Gorsuch’s understanding and application of the law. But the truth is that if anyone should have complete authority over Native issues, it should be Native people. And while traditional congressional power to oversee Indian child welfare is a strong argument in defense of ICWA, it’s notable that a law made by the United States to protect our children is the exception, not the rule. It’s also worth mentioning that, even in 2022, no Native person could be found arguing or hearing the case. Instead, our people were literally outside the halls of power, demonstrating in the street.

Now, let’s talk a little history. For centuries, the U.S. government has enforced paternalistic and inhumane policies to separate Native children from their families. Through forced migration, the Indian boarding school era, and then their placement into non-Native foster care, our young ones have long been taken from their homes and homelands under the guise of assimilation, education, and Christianization. These policies, tantamount to genocide, have fractured lives and created generational trauma that plagues Indian Country to this day.

That’s exactly why, in 1978, after federal investigations found that public and private agencies had removed a third of all Native children from their homes and placed most of them in institutions or homes with no ties to American Indian tribes, Congress enacted ICWA. Lakota Law’s legal team remains proud to have drafted ICWA’s enforcement guidelines.

So now, we await the Court’s ruling. In addition to yesterday’s oral arguments, the justices have thousands of pages of legal documents— including our amicus brief — to consider. We remain hopeful that Chief Justice John Roberts will join Gorsuch and the Court’s liberal wing in preserving at least most of ICWA, despite his repeated questioning of ICWA’s “third preference.” It’s possible this portion of the law, which allows for a Native child who cannot be placed with either members of their extended family (the first preference) or members of the same tribe (the second preference) to be placed with members of another tribe, could be erased. 

The Court has many angles to consider, and the potential opinions and outcomes are legion. We don’t expect a decision until well into 2023 — most likely in June. In the meantime, please continue to spread the word and share our action asking President Biden to intervene. Hope is always worth having, but we mustn’t solely rely on this majority conservative Court. Let’s stay vigilant and use every means at our disposal to preserve our kinship structures, our culture, and our sovereignty.

Wopila tanka — thank you for your friendship in this important fight for our future!
Wašté Win Young
Legal Analyst
Lakota People’s Law Project

Return of Stolen Artifacts

FILE – Leola One Feather, left, of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, observes as John Willis photographs Native American artifacts on July 19, 2022, at the Founders Museum in Barre, Mass. A two hour ceremony was held in Massachusetts on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, to mark the symbolic return of about 150 items considered sacred by the Sioux peoples that had been stored at a small Massachusetts museum for more than a century. (AP Photo/Philip Marcelo, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Sun, November 6, 2022 at 2:15 PM

BARRE, Mass. (AP) — About 150 artifacts considered sacred by the Lakota Sioux peoples are being returned to them after being stored at a small Massachusetts museum for more than a century.

Members of the Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes traveled from South Dakota to take custody of the weapons, pipes, moccasins and clothing, including several items thought to have a direct link to the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota.

They had been held by the Founders Museum in Barre, Massachusetts, about 74 miles west of Boston. A public ceremony was held Saturday inside the gym at a nearby elementary school that included prayers by the Lakota representatives. The artifacts will be officially handed over during a private ceremony.

“Ever since that Wounded Knee massacre happened, genocides have been instilled in our blood,” said Surrounded Bear, 20, who traveled to Barre from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, according to The Boston Globe. “And for us to bring back these artifacts, that’s a step towards healing. That’s a step in the right direction.”

The ceremony marked the culmination of repatriation efforts that had been decades in the making.

“It was always important to me to give them back,” said Ann Meilus, president of the board at the Founders Museum. “I think the museum will be remembered for being on the right side of history for returning these items.”

The items being returned are just a tiny fraction of an estimated 870,000 Native American artifacts — including nearly 110,000 human remains — in the possession of the nation’s most prestigious colleges, museums and even the federal government. They’re supposed to be returned to the tribes under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Museum officials have said that as a private institution that does not receive federal funding, the institution is not subject to NAGPRA, but returning items in its collection that belong to Indigenous tribes is the right thing to do.

More than 200 men, women, children and elderly people were killed in the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Congress issued a formal apology to the Sioux Nation a century later for one of the nation’s worst massacres of Native Americans.

The Barre museum acquired its Indigenous collection from Frank Root, a traveling shoe salesman who collected the items on his journeys during the 19th century, and once had a road show that rivaled P.T. Barnum’s extravaganzas, according to museum officials.

Wendell Yellow Bull, a descendant of Wounded Knee victim Joseph Horn Cloud, has said the items will be stored at Oglala Lakota College until tribal leaders decide what to do with them.

The items being returned to the Sioux people have all been authenticated by multiple experts, including tribal experts. The museum also has other Indigenous items not believed to have originated with the Sioux.