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.
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
In a New Mexico park, the buried bodies of Native American children are evidence of genocide
October 22, 2021, 5:01 AM
In a quiet tree-lined park a few blocks from downtown Albuquerque, small orange flags flutter in the wind, marking the graves of dozens of Native American children.
The graves belong to children who died at the former Albuquerque Indian School, where an estimated 1,000 Native American children from across the West were brought from 1881-1981. Authorities believe most of the graves belong to children killed by illness.
Launched by the federal government under the Indian Civilization Act, the network of an estimated 350 Indian Schools forcibly indoctrinated Native American children with the cultural and religious values of white Anglo-Saxon society, and taught them Western trades like farming, building or housekeeping. At their height, the schools were home to 60,000 children annually.
“It wasn’t education for enlightenment and empowerment. The goal was to Westernize them so there wouldn’t be a an Indian problem anymore,” said Ted Jojola, a member of the Pueblo of Isleta, whose parents attended the AIS. “They were on a mission, literally, on a mission from God.”
Now, city leaders in Albuquerque have formally apologized for their predecessors’ role in creating and maintaining the AIS, becoming possibly the first U.S. government entity to offer such an apology. And many Native Americans hope that apology prompts the U.S. federal government to take a similar step in acknowledging what they call a genocide against their people. Albuquerque officials are still considering what next steps to take.
Most of the schools were run by religious groups at the behest of the federal government, which wanted to “civilize” indigenous Americans, weaken their power and take their land as the United States aggressively expanded to the west.
Although reliable records have been destroyed, authorities and tribal leaders say the children buried in what is now Albuquerque’s 4-H Park primarily died from diseases like malaria or the Spanish flu, or other communicable diseases for which they had no immunity.
‘Strangers in their own communities’
Experts say wrenching tens of thousands of Native American children from their families and immersing them in Western culture undermined tribal bonds, weakened families and caused generational trauma that’s still felt today – from poverty to obesity and heart disease.
The Canadian government has already apologized for its role in creating and supporting the church-backed schools.
Like tens of thousands of young indigenous Americans, Jojola’s parents were removed from their community – founded in 1300 about 25 miles away from what is now Albuquerque – by white Indian agents and school superintendents. Jojola’s parents graduated from the AIS in 1937, and he grew up hearing the stories of how they were humiliated or punished for speaking their tribal language, Tigua, in the presence of white teachers.
Jojola, 69, said his parents were lucky: While AIS administrators treated most students well, kids who attended other schools were beaten regularly. Other children vanished forever. Sometimes their parents were told of their deaths. Rarely were the bodies returned home, and instead were buried in Christian cemeteries.
Even the survivors who graduated and returned to their tribal homes were utterly different, dressed in Western clothes, speaking a new language, worshipping a Christian god, indoctrinated in capitalism.
“When they came back, they were essentially strangers in their own communities,” Jojola said.
The first Indian Boarding School opened in 1879 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and officials since 2016 have been working to repatriate the bodies of Native American children buried there.
In Albuquerque, officials don’t have a specific plan to address the burials in the park. Instead, they’re asking Native American leaders of the sovereign tribal nations to guide an ongoing process, which will likely include using ground-penetrating radar to map the bodies. Some families may want their children returned. Others may want to leave the dead buried, said Mayor Tim Keller.
Authorities say it’s possible children from the Navajo, Apache, Ute, Hopi and Pima tribes were forced to attend the school during its approximately 100-year existence. Keller said the apology is a starting point toward healing.
“We were clear that it was an acknowledgement and a reflection but that it was also just a beginning,” Keller said. “You’ve got to start by acknowledging the pain you’ve caused.”
‘We did not do this to ourselves’
The city acquired 4-H Park in the early 1970s, knowing that it has been used as a burial site for at least 50 years. Fires and floods at the school had destroyed what few records were kept, city officials said, and workers installing a sprinkler system unearthed a child’s body in 1973.
City officials installed a small plaque marking the burial site, but otherwise opened the park to public use. At some point in 2019, someone stole the plaque, setting off a new round of introspection, Keller said.
“The descendants of the people buried in that park literally still live here,” Keller said.
Like many Native American leaders, Christine Diindiisi McCleave, CEO of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, welcomed Albuquerque’s apology. But she also remains skeptical because the bodies were largely ignored for decades.
Diindiisi McCleave, 46, is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota. She said the longtime reluctance of Albuquerque and the U.S. as a whole to acknowledge the impacts of the boarding schools remains an open wound. Studies have shown that children subjected to intense trauma suffer lifelong impacts, including poor health, Diindiisi McCleave said, and those impacts persist in their descendants.
“There’s this narrative of American exceptionalism, and how America is great. And there are many great things about this country,” she said. “But until we recognize that this started in genocide, we are never going to be a truly great society. We did not do this to ourselves. We were existing happily and healthy until a bunch of people came to invade our lands. And that’s the narrative that the United States has kept silent.”
Diindiisi McCleave said she hopes the Biden Administration will help advance the coalition’s cause of acknowledging and healing the pain caused by the Indian Schools.
Last year, then-Congresswoman Deb Haaland, representing New Mexico, introduced legislation to create a Truth and Healing Commission to study the Indian Schools. Although the bill didn’t advance, Haaland did – she’s now the first Native American cabinet secretary, running the Department of the Interior in the Biden Administration.
In June, Haaland formally launched a federal study on boarding schools, including their locations, attendance and any associated burials. The study’s first report is due April 1, 2022.
“Only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future we are all proud to embrace,” Haaland wrote in launching the investigation. “Many who survived the ordeal returned home changed in unimaginable ways, and their experiences still resonate across the generations.”
The Canadian government in September marked its first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, a remembrance that followed the discovery of hundreds of children’s bodies buried on the site of a former Indian School in British Columbia. The Canadian government has also paid tens of millions of dollars in reparations to the families of children who attended the schools.
Jojola, a professor at the University of New Mexico who directs the university’s Indigenous Design and Planning Institute, said the metaphor of the children’s callous and largely unmarked burials is hard to escape.
“The people who ran the boarding schools, they literally wanted to bury the egregious acts they committed,” he said.
ANISHINAABE LANDS — Line 3 is dead. Long live Line 93.
Enbridge’s controversial Line 3 construction project is complete.
“The Line 3 replacement project/Line 93 came into service on Friday, October 1, as expected through N(orth) Dakota and Minnesota,” Juli Kellner, communications specialist for Enbridge, said in an email to Indian Country Today.
And with that, Line 3 will be deactivated, according to Kellner.
After nearly 8 years of Indigenous and citizen opposition that saw numerous protests and arrests in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and a string of state, federal and tribal court filings, it appears that the corporate giant has won.
Not so, say Indigenous and non-Native water protectors.
As clean-up begins and more construction accidents come to light, water protectors are claiming victory on a number of fronts.
Members of Indigenous advocacy organizations such as Honor the Earth and the Indigenous Environmental Network as well as tribal grassroots pipeline opponents say that the fight against Line 3 helped focus the world’s attention on what they describe as an untenable corporate push to build fossil fuel infrastructure projects at the expense of the environment.
“Line 3 is a crime against the environment and Indigenous rights, waters and lands and it marks the end of the tar sands era — but not the resistance to it,” said Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth.
LaDuke, a citizen of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation, praised the actions of water protectors opposing the pipeline.
“Your brave efforts have reshaped the world’s views on the climate crisis that we are in,” she said.
Signs near the Firelight water protector camp along country Highway 2 near Bagley, Minnesota, on Oct. 4, 2021. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)
On Oct. 11, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, activists kicked off a week of protests calling out President Joe Biden for failing to stop Line 3, and for failing to meet his promises on addressing climate change and protecting Indigenous treaty rights and lands. On Oct. 14, dozens of Indigenous leaders held a sit-in at the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., in an effort to stop extractive fossil fuel industry projects such as Line 3.
The Indigenous Environmental Network issued a statement questioning Enbridge’s rosy outlook on the project.
“Although Enbridge is pushing the message that Line 3 is a done deal and that they followed all the rules and regulations, we can see even at this late date the continuing harm to our lands and waters,” the statement said. “There have been spills, frac-outs and pierced aquifers even to this day.”
Enbridge’s decision to change the name of Line 3 to Line 93 further confirms what water protectors knew all along, said Taysha Martineau, founder of Camp Migizi, a camp for water protectors opposing Line 3.
“We stated from the beginning that this was an entirely new pipeline project,” said Martineau, a citizen of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe.
Although Enbridge has repeatedly framed the pipeline construction as a safety-based replacement project for the 32-inch Line 3, Line 93 is 34 inches wide, allowing it to carry tar sands oil that Line 3 could not.
Leaders of the White Earth and Red Lake Bands of Ojibwe and Line 3 opponents insist that the negative fallout from pipeline construction continues.
Frank Bibeau, attorney for and citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, said the pipeline construction exacerbated already low water levels and endangered the health of manoomin or wild rice.
In a unique rights of nature lawsuit filed in White Earth tribal court, tribal citizens accuse the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources of failing to protect the state’s fresh water by allowing Enbridge to pump up to five million gallons of additional water from construction trenches. That case is ongoing.
In January, Enbridge construction crews accidentally pierced an artesian aquifer near Clearbrook, Minnesota, causing the aquifer to lose about 24 million gallons of groundwater. The Department of Natural Resources learned about the accident in June when independent monitors reported seeing water pooling in ditches, according to a report issued by the agency.
“Enbridge began work at the Clearbrook Terminal site in early 2021 but did not follow the construction plans it provided to the DNR,” according to the report.
Enbridge erected a protective boom, shown here on Oct. 4, 2021, around a frac-out of drilling fluid along the Mississippi River near Solway, Minnesota. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)
In September, the agency ordered Enbridge to pay $3.32 million in penalties, including $300,000 to pay for loss of groundwater as well as create a restoration plan to stop the groundwater flow within 30 days. The agency is also investigating two additional sites of artesian aquifer breaches by the company, but did not disclose the locations.
The Department of Natural Resources has referred the breaches to the Clearwater County attorney where the company could face criminal charges.
On Oct. 17, the agency reported that Enbridge failed to meet a deadline to clean up the ruptured aquifer near Clearbrook and announced that Enbridge must pay compensation for the additional time it takes to stop the flow of groundwater.
Kellner said the company is working with state and local officials.
“Enbridge is fully cooperating with the Minnesota DNR in correcting uncontrolled groundwater flows at Clearbrook and is working with the DNR as two other locations are being evaluated,” she wrote.
Enbridge tanks sit at the company’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, on Oct. 8, 2021, the destination of petroleum products flowing through the newly completed Line 93. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)
LaDuke called the company’s failure to meet the deadline alarming.
“If Enbridge can’t meet basic safety requirements, they should not be allowed to operate a pipeline,” she said. “It doesn’t bode well for the future.”
In August, the Minnesota Public Pollution Control Agency reported that Enbridge created 28 spills of drilling mud during the summer. The agency confirmed the spills in response to a letter from Minnesota Democratic Farm Labor Party lawmakers demanding an accurate account of the spills.
“Our friends have reported frac-outs further down from the headwaters of the Mississippi,” Bibeau said.
“We are looking into doing a thermal imaging flight over the pipeline to see where all the damage is because we don’t think the DNR or the Public Pollution Control Agency is actually investigating these locations,” he said.
Earlier this month, Ron Turney of the Indigenous Environmental Network and members of Honor the Earth took Indian Country Today via canoe to an Enbridge frac-out location near the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
Turney, a citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, has been using a drone camera to monitor the pipeline. The location, near Solway, Minnesota, is not accessible on foot or visible from the road. A large boom surrounded the area where opaque white material appeared to rest on top of the water.
Igniting a movement
On Oct. 2, Honor the Earth sponsored a celebration on Madeline Island in Wisconsin of traditional Ojibwe subsistence food and activities as a means to celebrate water protector victories fighting Line 3.
The event coincided with Treaty Day, a commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of 1854 at the town of LaPointe on Madeline Island. In this treaty, the Ojibwe established reservations in their traditional homelands and retained rights to hunt, fish and gather.
Water protector celebration
Water protectors gathered at Madeline Island in Wisconsin in October 2021.
Madeline Island or Mooningwanekaaning, “home of the yellow-breasted flicker,” is considered a sacred place by Ojibwe and the birthplace of the tribe’s traditional religion.
About 150 people gathered to share traditional activities such as butchering sturgeon, parching wild rice, feasting, dancing, singing and playing lacrosse.
“We used to survive on this island,” said Paul DeMain, a citizen of the Ojibwe and Oneida tribes and an Honor the Earth board member who was among those at the celebration. “To me, it’s a productive fortress, a place of healing.”
DeMain said water protectors were bound to lose in the massively unequal fight with a global corporate giant such as Enbridge. Among the victories, however, was that the fight focused the world’s attention on the impact of ongoing reliance on fossil fuel on climate change and the preservation of the Earth.
“We came here to celebrate our victories over the fossil fuel industry, our survival and to heal our trauma of watching our people get arrested, harassed, beaten and hurt,” DeMain said.
“We came here to show we could feast in camaraderie with the rich, poor, Indigenous and non-Indigenous and work on forging a path ahead.”
This article contains material from The Associated Press.
Many thanks to all of you who, over the past months, read our blog about the discoveries of mass graves of Indigenous children at Indian boarding school campuses. Thanks also to you who signed our petition to the president and Congress to form a Truth and Healing Commission. Today, I write to you with some good news and a follow-up action to take!
Stolen babies: Generations of Native children were forced to attend boarding schools like the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which stripped them of their cultures and identities — and, too often, their lives.
I shared with you a couple months ago about my own familial experiences with boarding schools. I told you about the horrific practices that endangered and took the lives of Native children across Turtle Island. Now, against the backdrop of these mass grave discoveries, we must do all we can to ensure lawmakers take genocide seriously. It’s time to begin an official reckoning with America’s true history and a process that can aid in the healing of our tribal communities.
Please show your solidarity with me, my ancestors, and the generations to come. Your advocacy matters. Together, we can begin to make things better.
Wopila tanka — thank you for standing up for truth and healing! Madonna Thunder Hawk Cheyenne River Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
Today — Indigenous Peoples Day (IPD) — marks the highlight of the Indigenous year. I hope you will join us as we gather to celebrate, heal, and re-Indigenize. This long weekend represents a reprieve from trauma, sadness, and grief as we travel with good hearts to see close family and distant relatives, celebrate together, and share our cultures.
As you likely know, many places do not yet celebrate with us. They’re still celebrating Columbus Day, perpetuating the myth that Christopher Columbus discovered so-called America. Columbus arrived on October 12, 1492 on Taino homelands. This first voyage was a reconnaissance mission wherein he later established La Navidad in present-day Haiti — America’s first colony. The following fall, he returned with an invasion force of 17 ships and 1,500 soldiers. He found La Navidad destroyed by Taino People, who had retaliated against rapes and murders carried out by the Spaniards.
European weapons (like cannons and muskets), armor, horses, and dogs soon overwhelmed the Indigenous warriors, who were armed only with clubs and spears. Celebrating Columbus, therefore, condones genocide and colonization. Many think of these issues as only existing in the past. But these systems, set in motion hundreds of years ago by Columbus and other conquistadors, continue. All Taino homelands, from Puerto Rico to the Bahamas, remain colonized today — many by the United States.
To combat the Columbus-as-hero narrative, we’re working to replace Columbus Day with IPD everywhere. Our hope is that more people like you will come together with us, as Indigenous People focus throughout the long weekend on empowerment through solidarity and sharing pathways to action.
Watch Tara Houska’s Ted Talk. As our skilled Anishinaabe relative points out, many of these struggles are deeply rooted in trauma. But today is about sharing successes within our sustained resistance to colonization. We see ourselves in the faces of our relatives while they reflect on Indigenous sovereignty, land and water rights, education, economic development, language preservation and promotion, and religious freedom.
Our celebrations feature Indigenous poets, musicians, artists, singers, leaders, and performers from across Turtle Island, who offer their gifts. Everyone who attends an event can actively participate in round dancing and be uplifted by traditional prayers. The overwhelming feelings of celebration and open-heartedness are palpable. This is the chance for settlers and non-Natives to catch us in our most generous mindset. As we come together across nations to actively decolonize and re-Indigenize our communities and share our gifts, I hope you will join a celebration in your area.
Wado — thank you for your ongoing solidarity with our Indigenous nations. Sarah Rose Harper Social Media Coordinator The Lakota People’s Law Project
SALT LAKE CITY — President Joe Biden will expand two sprawling national monuments in Utah that have been at the center of a public lands tug-of-war that has played out over three presidential administrations, the state’s governor said Thursday.
Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, released a statement expressing disappointment in a decision by the administration to expand Bears Ears National Monuments and Grand Staircase-Escalante, which were downsized significantly under President Donald Trump.
They cover vast expanses of southern Utah where red rocks reveal petroglyphs and cliff dwellings and distinctive twin buttes bulge from a grassy valley. The Trump administration cut Bears Ears, on lands considered sacred to Native American tribes, by 85 percent and slashed Grand Staircase-Escalante by nearly half.
Cox’s statement did not include specifics how much of the monuments Biden plans to restore, and the White House and the U.S. Interior Department declined immediate comment.
Cox noted he had offered to work with the administration on a legislative solution.
“The president’s decision to enlarge the monuments again is a tragic missed opportunity — it fails to provide certainty as well as the funding for law enforcement, research, and other protections which the monuments need and which only Congressional action can offer,” he said in the statement released with other state leaders.
Hopi Chairman Timothy L. Nuvangyaoma said he is “happy” and “grateful for the advocacy of all those related to protecting Bears Ears and for the Hopi tribe” because it means a lot to the clan memberships.
“For Hopi, this is a significant step forward and the Biden administration did make some commitments to listen to Native America and Biden’s actions does prove that it is happening. We do need to protect these sacred sites that not only the Hopi tribe but other tribes find significant within their history.”
The chairman said he and the vice chairman will be headed to Washington, D.C.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous Cabinet secretary, traveled to Utah in April to tour the area before preparing a formal recommendation to President Biden.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney also criticized Biden by saying in a tweet Thursday that he “squandered the opportunity to build consensus” and find a permanent solution for the monuments.
“Yet again, Utah’s national monuments are being used as a political football between administrations,” Romney said. “The decision to re-expand the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante is a devastating blow to our state, local and tribal leaders and our delegation … today’s “winner take all” mentality moved us further away from that goal.”
Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, applauded Biden’s decision and said she hopes it marks an initial step toward his goal of conserving at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and ocean by 2030.
Trump’s cuts ironically increased the national attention to Bears Ears, Rokala said. She called on the federal government to increase funding to manage the landscape and handle growing crowds.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous Cabinet secretary, traveled to Utah in April to visit the monuments, becoming the latest federal official to step into what has been a yearslong public lands battle.
Former President Barack Obama proclaimed Bears Ears a national monument in 2016. The site was the first to receive the designation at the specific request of tribes.
The Bears Ears buttes, which overlook a grassy valley, are considered a place of worship for many tribes, according to Pat Gonzales-Rogers, executive director of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. The group incudes the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian Tribe.
The Trump administration’s reductions to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante paved the way for potential coal mining and oil and gas drilling on lands that were previously off-limits. However, activity was limited because of market forces.
Conservative state leaders considered the size of both monuments U.S. government overreach and applauded the reductions.
Environmental, tribal, paleontological and outdoor recreation organizations sued to restore the monuments’ original boundaries, arguing presidents lack legal authority to change monuments their predecessors created. Meanwhile, Republicans argued Democratic presidents have misused the Antiquities Act signed by President Theodore Roosevelt to designate monuments beyond what’s necessary to protect archaeological and cultural resources.
The administration has said the decision to review the monuments was part of an expansive plan to tackle climate change and reverse the Trump administration’s “harmful” policies.
NATHAN HOWARD and GILLIAN FLACCUSSat, October 2, 2021, 9:08 AM
STEVENS VILLAGE, Alaska (AP) — In a normal year, the smokehouses and drying racks that Alaska Natives use to prepare salmon to tide them through the winter would be heavy with fish meat, the fruits of a summer spent fishing on the Yukon River like generations before them.
This year, there are no fish. For the first time in memory, both king and chum salmon have dwindled to almost nothing and the state has banned salmon fishing on the Yukon, even the subsistence harvests that Alaska Natives rely on to fill their freezers and pantries for winter. The remote communities that dot the river and live off its bounty — far from road systems and easy, affordable shopping — are desperate and doubling down on moose and caribou hunts in the waning days of fall.
“Nobody has fish in their freezer right now. Nobody,” said Giovanna Stevens, 38, a member of the Stevens Village tribe who grew up harvesting salmon at her family’s fish camp. “We have to fill that void quickly before winter gets here.”
Opinions on what led to the catastrophe vary, but those studying it generally agree human-caused climate change is playing a role as the river and the Bering Sea warm, altering the food chain in ways that aren’t yet fully understood. Many believe commercial trawling operations that scoop up wild salmon along with their intended catch, as well as competition from hatchery-raised salmon in the ocean, have compounded global warming’s effects on one of North America’s longest rivers.
The assumption that salmon that aren’t fished make it back to their native river to lay eggs may no longer hold up because of changes in both the ocean and river environments, said Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, who has worked on Yukon River salmon issues for a decade and is the Alaska Venture Fund’s program director for fisheries and communities.
King, or chinook, salmon have been in decline for more than a decade, but chum salmon were more plentiful until last year. This year, summer chum numbers plummeted and numbers of fall chum — which travel farther upriver — are dangerously low.
“Everyone wants to know, ‘What is the one smoking gun? What is the one thing we can point to and stop?’” she said of the collapse. “People are reluctant to point to climate change because there isn’t a clear solution … but it’s probably the biggest factor here.”
Many Alaska Native communities are outraged they are paying the price for generations of practices beyond their control that have caused climate change — and many feel state and federal authorities aren’t doing enough to bring Indigenous voices to the table. The scarcity has made raw strong emotions about who should have the right to fish in a state that supplies the world with salmon, and underscores the powerlessness many Alaska Natives feel as traditional resources dwindle.
The nearly 2,000-mile-long (3,200-kilometer) Yukon River starts in British Columbia and drains an area larger than Texas in both Canada and Alaska as it cuts through the lands of Athabascan, Yup’ik and other tribes.
The crisis is affecting both subsistence fishing in far-flung outposts and fish processing operations that employ tribal members in communities along the lower Yukon and its tributaries.
“In the tribal villages, our people are livid. They’re extremely angry that we are getting penalized for what others are doing,” said P.J. Simon, chairman and chief of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, a consortium of 42 tribal villages in the Alaska interior. “As Alaska Natives, we have a right to this resource. We have a right to have a say in how things are drawn up and divvied up.”
More than a half-dozen Alaska Native groups have petitioned for federal aid, and they want the state’s federal delegation to hold a hearing in Alaska on the salmon crisis. The groups also seek federal funding for more collaborative research on effects that ocean changes are having on returning salmon.
Citing the warming ocean, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy requested a federal disaster declaration for the salmon fishery this month and has helped coordinate airlifts of about 90,000 pounds (41,000 kilograms) of fish to needy villages. The salmon crisis is one of the governor’s top priorities, said Rex Rock Jr., Dunleavy’s advisor for rural affairs and Alaska Native economic development.
That’s done little to appease remote villages that are dependent on salmon to get through winter, when snow paralyzes the landscape and temperatures can dip to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 C) or lower.
Families traditionally spend the summer at fish camps using nets and fish wheels to snag adult salmon as they migrate inland from the ocean to the place where they hatched so they can spawn. The salmon is prepared for storage a variety of ways: dried for jerky, cut into fillets that are frozen, canned in half-pint jars or preserved in wooden barrels with salt.
Without those options, communities are under intense pressure to find other protein sources. In the Alaska interior, the nearest road system is often dozens of miles away, and it can take hours by boat, snow machine or even airplane to reach a grocery store.
Store-bought food is prohibitively expensive for many: A gallon (3.8 liters) of milk can cost nearly $10, and a pound of steak was recently $34 in Kaltag, an interior village about 328 air miles (528 kilometers) from Fairbanks. A surge in COVID-19 cases that has disproportionately hit Alaska Natives has also made many hesitant to venture far from home.
Instead, villages sent out extra hunting parties during the fall moose season and are looking to the upcoming caribou season to meet their needs. Those who can’t hunt themselves rely on others to share their meat.
“We have to watch our people because there will be some who will have no food about midyear,” said Christina Semaken, a 63-year-old grandmother who lives in Kaltag, an Alaska interior town of fewer than 100 people. “We can’t afford to buy that beef or chicken.”
Semaken hopes to fish next year, but whether the salmon will come back remains unknown.
Tribal advocates want more genetic testing on salmon harvested from fishing grounds in Alaska waters to make sure that commercial fisheries aren’t intercepting wild Yukon River salmon. They also want more fish-tracking sonar on the river to ensure an accurate count of the salmon that escape harvest and make it back to the river’s Canadian headwaters.
Yet changes in the ocean itself might ultimately determine the salmon’s fate.
The Bering Sea, where the river meets the ocean, had unprecedented ice loss in recent years, and its water temperatures are rising. Those shifts are throwing off the timing of the plankton bloom and the distribution of small invertebrates that the fish eat, creating potential chaos in the food chain that’s still being studied, said Kate Howard, a fisheries scientist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Researchers have also documented warming temperatures in the river that are unhealthy for salmon, she said.
Because salmon spend time in both rivers and the ocean during their unique life cycle, it’s hard to pin down exactly where these rapid environmental changes are most affecting them — but it’s increasingly clear that overfishing is not the only culprit, Howard said.
“When you dig into all the available data for Yukon River salmon,” she said, “it’s hard to explain it all unless you consider climate change.”
Alaska Natives, meanwhile, are left scrambling to fill a hole in their diet — and in centuries of tradition built around salmon.
On a recent fall day, a small hunting party zoomed along the Yukon River by motorboat, scanning the shoreline for signs of moose. After three days, the group had killed two moose, enough to provide meat for seven families, or about 50 people, for roughly a month in their small community of Stevens Village.
At the end of a long day, they butchered the animals as the Northern Lights blazed a vibrant green across the sky, their headlamps piercing the inky darkness.
The makeshift camp, miles from any road, would normally host several dozen families harvesting salmon, sharing meals and teaching children how to fish. On this day, it was eerily quiet.
“I don’t really think that there is any kind of bell out there that you can ring loud enough to try to explain that type of connection,” said Ben Stevens, whose ancestors founded Stevens Village. “Salmon, to us, is life. Where can you go beyond that?”