Action Needed at Thacker Pass, Nevada

Lakota Law

Warm greetings to you. Today, I share with you my story of a very important experience. Earlier this month, I joined my father, Lakota Law co-director Chase Iron Eyes, and our videographer, Chuck Banner, on a trip to Thacker Pass in Nevada — or Peehee Mu’Huh, as it’s known in the Paiute language. We were there to support our Paiute and Shoshone relatives in a direct action to stop a massive lithium mine, which threatens a sensitive ecosystem and disturbs sacred burial grounds. Upon my return, I wrote a blog and shot a video, which I encourage you to read and watch.

Watch: In my new video, I’m joined by my father and Reno-Sparks Indian Colony’s Michon Eben to talk about what’s happening at PeeHee Mu’Huh.

I won’t go into a ton of detail for you here, because the blog and video do that. Suffice to say that the Indigenous People of Nevada need our attention and support. Just like Standing Rock with the #NoDAPL struggle, they’re on the frontlines of extractive capitalism, and their homelands are being desecrated without their consent. 

It hasn’t yet reached the same extremes as the coordinated effort by law enforcement and Big Oil at Standing Rock, but once again, activists on the frontlines are being targeted. My colleague Chuck was among several people hit with Temporary Protective Orders; another was Dorece Sam, a Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone tribal member and Nevada President of the Native American Indian Church. These actions by law enforcement are meant to stifle our ability to exercise First Amendment rights to free speech and protest.

We must not stand down. We should use this moment to grow the movement. It’s time to recognize and reinforce the latest front in the battle to protect Indigenous People, defend sacred lands, and preserve precious, life-giving water.

Wopila tanka — thank you for standing with our Paiute and Shoshone relatives!
Tokata Iron Eyes
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota Law Project Annual Report

Lakota Law

Kola iyuha iciciyapi. As you know, Lakota Law’s team protects Indigenous sovereignty in myriad ways, including defending ICWA, supporting #NoDAPL efforts at Standing Rock, and amplifying vital Native perspectives. And while there’s much left to do on our shared journey toward justice, it’s important to periodically reflect back on some of our key accomplishments together. In that spirit, I encourage you to review the impact we made during 2022 by reading through our just-released Annual Report.

Read the Report!

To view the full 2022 report, click the banner above.

As you may know, the Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a 501(c)3 umbrella organization with a 45-year record of fighting in the courts for social justice. The Institute also runs Let’s Geen CA!, a groundbreaking climate initiative in California. Thanks to big-hearted generosity and friendship from you and so many others, we’re able to take on big, strategic challenges with precision. You have our deep gratitude for all you’ve given, and the best is yet to come!

The report details a range of the Romero Institute’s efforts, financials, and accomplishments. In the Lakota Law section, you’ll see an outline of our history, mission, and highlights from last year. Then, we break down some key impacts you helped make possible. I’m happy to say that includes more than 220,000 actions signed by friends like you — including advocacy campaigns to protect ICWA, demand an end to whitewashing of history in schools, and defend PeeHee Mu’Huh (Thacker Pass) and the sacred He Sapa (Black Hills) from mining.

Thank you, always, for supporting the Lakota People’s Law Project. We’re grateful you continue to walk with us, and we look forward to keeping you informed. The actions you take have real meaning and impact, with far-reaching effects here in Lakota country, across Turtle Island, and around our world.

Wopila tanka — thank you for your support of Indigenous and environmental justice!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

They Even Steal the Bones

How a UC Berkeley professor taught with remains suspected to be Native American

Mary Hudetz, ProPublica and Graham Lee Brewer and Alex Mierjeski, ProPublica and Ash Ngu, ProPublica

Sun, March 5, 2023 at 9:00 AM CST

This article was published in partnership with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive ProPublica’s biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

For decades, famed professor Tim White used a vast collection of human remains — bones sorted by body part and stored in wooden bins — to teach his anthropology students at the University of California, Berkeley.

White, a world-renowned expert on human evolution, said the collection was passed down through generations of anthropology professors before he started teaching with it in the late 1970s. It came with no records, he said. Most were not labeled at all or said only “lab.”

But that simple description masked a dark history, UC Berkeley administrators recently acknowledged.

UC Berkeley conducted an analysis of the collection after White reported its contents in response to a university systemwide order in 2020 to search for human remains. Administrators disclosed to state officials in May that the analysis found the collection includes the remains of at least 95 people excavated from gravesites — many of them likely Native Americans from California, according to previously unreported documents obtained by ProPublica and NBC News.

The university’s disclosure was particularly painful because it involved a professor who many Indigenous people already viewed as a primary antagonist, according to interviews with tribal members.

White holds a replica of a  1.7-million-year-old homo erectus skull in the National Research Centre on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain. (Ricardo Ordóñez / El País)
White holds a replica of a 1.7-million-year-old homo erectus skull in the National Research Centre on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain. (Ricardo Ordóñez / El País)

UC Berkeley has long angered tribal nations with its handling of thousands of ancestral remains amassed during the university’s century-long campaign of excavating Indigenous burial grounds.

More than three decades ago, Congress ordered museums, universities and government agencies that receive federal funding to publicly report any human remains in their collections that they believed to be Native American and then return them to tribal nations.

UC Berkeley has been slow to do so. The university estimates that it still holds the remains of 9,000 Indigenous people in the campus’ Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology — more than any other U.S. institution bound by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal data.

That tally does not include the remains that White reported and relinquished in 2020.

For decades, White served as an expert adviser in the university’s repatriation decisions, sitting on committees that weighed whether to grant or deny tribes’ requests, according to a review of hundreds of pages of federal testimony and internal university documents.

White said the collection did not need to be reported under NAGPRA because there is no way to determine the origin of the bones — and therefore the law does not apply.

The collection has exposed deep rifts at UC Berkeley, pitting a prominent professor who said he’s done nothing wrong against university administrators who have apologized to tribes for not sharing information about the remains sooner.

For tribes the episode follows a familiar pattern of UC Berkeley’s delays and failures to be transparent with them.

“This is a major moral, ethical and potentially legal violation,” said Laura Miranda, a member of the Pechanga Band of Indians and chair of the California Native American Heritage Commission. She made her comments at a July hearing held by the commission, which oversees the university system’s handling of Indigenous remains.

UC Berkeley officials declined interview requests, saying “tribes have asked us not to.” In a statement, the university said White was no longer involved in repatriation decisions. There is now a moratorium on using ancestral remains for teaching or research purposes, according to the statement. The Hearst Museum is currently closed to the public so that staff can prioritize repatriation.

The university also acknowledged that, in the past, UC Berkeley had “mishandled its repatriation responsibilities.”

“The campus privileged some kinds of scientific and scholarly evidence over tribal interests and evidence provided by tribes,” the university said in the statement.

The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. (Justin Katigbak for ProPublica)
The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. (Justin Katigbak for ProPublica)

In an interview with ProPublica and NBC News, White said he’s been villainized for strictly adhering to the federal law, which he said requires balancing scientific proof with other evidence.

In the years immediately after Congress passed NAGPRA, UC Berkeley relied on White’s expertise as curator of the museum’s skeletal collection to challenge Indigenous people’s repatriation requests, according to testimony before a federal advisory committee.

Some tribal members accused him of demanding too high a burden of scientific proof for repatriations and discounting knowledge passed down through the generations. In the 1990s, he made headlines for fighting to use Native American remains as teaching tools, arguing that students should not be deprived of the opportunity to learn from them. He later sued to block the UC system from returning two sets of remains estimated to date from 9,000 years ago, saying they were too old to be linked to any living descendants.

NAGPRA does not require definitive scientific proof for repatriation, only that institutions report human remains that could potentially be Native American and consult with the affected tribal nations, said Sherry Hutt, an attorney who is a former program manager of the federal National NAGPRA Program. “It’s not a scientific standard. It’s a legal standard,” she said.

White often had the backing of university administrators in disputes over remains, but not anymore. At the July hearing before the California Native American Heritage Commission, UC Berkeley administrators cited an analysis by another anthropologist at the school, Sabrina Agarwal, that determined thousands of the bones in the collection were excavated from gravesites.

Given UC Berkeley’s legacy of raiding Native American graves, it is likely the collection White taught with contains the remains of Native Americans from what is currently California, said Linda Rugg, associate vice chancellor for research at the university.

“I want to apologize for the pain that we caused by holding on to this collection,” Rugg said at the hearing. “When we found out about it, we were dismayed ourselves.” A university spokesperson said staff and administrators are consulting with several tribes on next steps. Federal officials confirmed UC Berkeley has contacted them requesting guidance.

White, who retired last spring but is still a professor emeritus, said administrators knew about the collection, which was used to teach hundreds of students over the years. “It is very disappointing to find the Berkeley employees are making false allegations and misrepresentations,” he said.

Behind UC Berkeley’s reckoning is the century-long saga about a powerful, progressive institution that is finally confronting its past. Isaac Bojorquez, chairman of the KaKoon Ta Ruk Band of Ohlone-Costanoan Indians of the Big Sur Rancheria, called for accountability for the newly reported remains, but also for UC Berkeley’s decadeslong delays and denials of other tribes’ repatriation requests.

“We want our ancestors,” he said. “They should have never been disturbed in the first place.”

A painful history

With no documentation for the origin of his teaching collection, White surmised in a report to university officials in 2020 that it dated back to UC Berkeley’s early days and the university’s first anthropology professor, Alfred Louis Kroeber.

Ishi, the last known member of the Yahi tribe, with anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber in 1911. (Online Archive of California)
Ishi, the last known member of the Yahi tribe, with anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber in 1911. (Online Archive of California)

Kroeber, who joined the faculty in 1901, became a world-renowned scholar for his research on Native Americans in California, encouraging the excavations of Indigenous gravesites during his four-decade tenure.

His name recently was stripped from Berkeley’s anthropology building, in part for housing an Indigenous man found in the Sierra Foothills as a living exhibit at what would later become the Hearst Museum. Described as the last living member of his band of Yahi Indians, the man — whom Kroeber called “Ishi” — was studied and made to craft arrows and greet visitors for nearly five years, until his death in 1916.

The Hearst Museum continued for decades to voraciously collect Native American remains and funerary objects, trying to assemble a collection to rival the British Museum and Harvard University, said historian Tony Platt, a distinguished affiliated scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Law and Society. “To be a great university you’ve got to acquire stuff, you’ve got to hoard massive amounts of things,” Platt said.

The vast majority of UC Berkeley’s collection of remains came from sacred ancestral sites in California, according to ProPublica’s analysis of federal data. The collection included ancestors of the Ohlone, the tribe whose land was seized by the federal government to fund public universities, including UC Berkeley.

The university eventually amassed the remains of about 11,600 Native Americans, stored in the basement beneath its gymnasium swimming pool and in other campus buildings. But Platt said that number is likely an undercount because museum records often counted multiple remains excavated from the same gravesite as one person.

In the early 1970s, Native American activists’ long-standing resistance to the grave robbing started gaining momentum amid protests that stealing from Native Americans’ burial sites in the name of science was a human rights violation.

By then, the teaching collection that anthropology professors used had grown to thousands of bones and teeth that White said in his report to university administrators had been commingled with others donated by amateur gravediggers, dentists, anatomists, physicians, law enforcement and biological supply companies.

The remains were unceremoniously sorted by body part so students could study them. A jumble of teeth. A drawer of clavicles. Separate bins for skulls. For decades, anthropologists added to the collection, used it in their classes and then passed it along to the professors who came after them, White said.

It was this collection that White started teaching with when he joined UC Berkeley’s anthropology faculty in 1977.

The Anthropology and Art Practice Building at the University of California, Berkeley. (Justin Katigbak for ProPublica)
The Anthropology and Art Practice Building at the University of California, Berkeley. (Justin Katigbak for ProPublica)

UC Berkeley hired White, then 27, soon after he had obtained his Ph.D. in biological anthropology from the University of Michigan. He already was collaborating with a team to analyze “Lucy,” a 3.2-million-year-old human ancestor.

White published articles in prestigious journals and co-authored a textbook, “Human Osteology,” that boasted of UC Berkeley’s collection of human remains and called ancient skeletons “ambassadors from the past.”

Congress passed NAGPRA in 1990, recognizing that human remains of any ancestry “must at all times be treated with dignity and respect.” As UC Berkeley prepared to comply with the new law, the campus museum appointed White curator of biological anthropology, overseeing the university’s collection of human remains.

Almost as soon as tribes started making claims to ancestral remains under NAGPRA, Indigenous people accused White of undermining their efforts to rebury their ancestors, according to a review of hundreds of pages of testimony before a federal review committee tasked with mediating NAGPRA disputes.

Since NAGPRA only applied to federally recognized tribal nations, many tribes in California were not entitled to seek repatriation. (Of the 183 tribes in the state, 68 still lack federal recognition, according to the Native American Heritage Commission.) UC Berkeley’s collection of remains included those of thousands of people designated as unavailable for repatriation because they came from tribes lacking federal recognition.

Recourse under the law was limited, leaving tribal nations to file formal challenges with the federal NAGPRA Review Committee, an advisory group whose members represent tribal, scientific and museum organizations. It can only offer recommendations in response to disputes.

In the first challenge following the passage of the law, in February 1993 the Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawai’i Nei, a Native Hawaiian organization, took a dispute over repatriation of two ancestral remains before the federal committee. The remains had been donated to UC Berkeley in 1935, at which time a museum curator classified them as Polynesian. White disagreed.

Addressing the committee, White introduced himself as “the individual who is responsible for the skeletal collections at Berkeley.” He argued the remains might not be Native Hawaiian and could belong to victims of shipwrecks, drownings or crimes. They should be preserved for study, he added, making an analogy to UC Berkeley’s library book collection, where historians access volumes for years as their understanding evolves.

Edward Halealoha Ayau, then the Native Hawaiian organization’s executive director, pounded his fists on the table in outrage. “We do not have cultural sensitivity to books. We did not descend from books,” he said, according to a transcript of the meeting.

Ancestral remains are not research material, Ayau said, they are people with whom he shares a connection — a perspective that is central to Native Hawaiian culture.

Edward Halealoha Ayau, right, was part of a Hawaiian delegation that traveled to Germany in 2022 to accept the return of human remains from a museum in Bremen.  (Sina Schuldt / picture alliance via Getty Images)
Edward Halealoha Ayau, right, was part of a Hawaiian delegation that traveled to Germany in 2022 to accept the return of human remains from a museum in Bremen. (Sina Schuldt / picture alliance via Getty Images)

White recently said that his analogy comparing human remains to books was taken out of context. “Both hold information,” he said. “I was obviously speaking metaphorically.”

Instead of recommending that both ancestors’ remains be repatriated directly to the Hui Mālama, the committee advised UC Berkeley to return one of them and send the other to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu for analysis, Ayau said. There, researchers finally agreed that the remains were Native Hawaiian — but only after conducting a scientific analysis over Ayau’s objections.

“I just started crying,” Ayau, who now chairs the federal NAGPRA Review Committee, recalled in a recent interview. “We failed to prevent one more form of desecration.”

The Bishop Museum declined to comment on its role in the 1993 repatriation, saying it happened too long ago for anyone to have knowledge of it.

For Ayau, the experience left him with a sense of loss over the treatment of his ancestors.

“To have someone disturb them is really bad,” he said. “But then to have them steal them and then fight you to get them back is beyond horrific.”

‘Berkeley should be ashamed’

White’s fight to use a set of Native American remains he had borrowed from the Hearst Museum for teaching purposes made headlines in the 1990s after he clashed with then-museum director Rosemary Joyce. She said when she was hired in 1994, it was common practice for White and other museum curators with keys to borrow ancestral remains and belongings without documenting what they’d taken.

“Just leaving aside NAGPRA, as a museum anthropologist, that’s an unacceptable thing,” she told ProPublica and NBC News. “When materials are not in the physical control of the staff of the museum, you need legal documentation.”

She changed the locks on the museum’s storage space. Heeding requests from tribes, she tried to recall a museum collection of Native American remains that White kept on loan in his lab and used for teaching. White refused to return them.

The vice provost for research of the UC system sent Jay Stowsky, then the system’s director of research policy, to mediate the dispute between White and Joyce. Stowsky agreed with Joyce, calling the lack of controls at the museum “terrible.” He said human remains were “just sort of thrown into boxes” with a label on them. “Berkeley should be ashamed of itself on so many levels,” Stowsky, now a senior academic administrator at UC Berkeley, said in a recent interview.

Drawers in the “Osteology Teaching Collection” in one of the letters White sent to UCB
Drawers in the “Osteology Teaching Collection” in one of the letters White sent to UCB

White filed a whistleblower complaint with the university in 1997 accusing the museum, under Joyce’s leadership, of seeking an unnecessary extension to NAGPRA’s reporting deadline. (Campus investigators found no improper activity, according to White.)

Joyce said she was simply trying to account for all the remains that would need to be reported under NAGPRA. “It’s really kind of insane to have to say, I did the thing that the law said I should do,” she told ProPublica and NBC News. Joyce said the complaints were found to be “meritless.”

White then filed an internal grievance against Joyce with the school’s Academic Senate, alleging that by asking him to relinquish the human remains she had infringed on his “academic privileges.”

The university brokered a deal: White could keep ancestral remains provided museum staff and tribes could access them to conduct inventory and report them under NAGPRA.

Joyce said the arrangement was untenable and she felt unsupported by the university’s leadership. White continued to teach with the remains.

A decade after NAGPRA

Myra Masiel-Zamora, now an archaeologist for the Pechanga Band of Indians, enrolled in White’s osteology class more than 20 years ago when she was 18 and a first-year student. But, she said, she withdrew from the course after a teaching assistant told her the human remains belonged to Native Americans.

“That was the first time I really truly learned that an institution could and can — and is — using real Native American ancestors as teaching tools,” she said. “I was really upset.”

Concern over institutions’ handling of Indigenous remains extended beyond the classroom.

Troubled by the slow pace of repatriations under NAGPRA, California lawmakers passed their own version of the law in 2001, aiming to close loopholes in the federal statute and allow tribes to claim remains regardless of whether they have federal recognition. But the state failed to fund an oversight committee established by the bill.

In 2007, without consulting tribes or offering public explanation, UC Berkeley abruptly fired museum employees who were responsible for NAGPRA compliance, and named White and others to a newly formed campus repatriation committee, according to tribal leaders.

That upset tribal members, who brought their concerns about the new committee to state senators. The firings “eliminated the only staff at the university that would stand up to Mr. Tim White and his offensive remarks regarding Native American tribes and our ancestral remains,” Reno Franklin, then a council member and now the chairman of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, said during a 2008 state legislative hearing.

In emails sent to ProPublica and NBC News, White sought to discredit the testimony by Franklin and others at the hearing by saying that it had been the result of a decadeslong effort by the university to use him as a scapegoat for its failures. White said he only held an advisory role and did not make final repatriation decisions.

Meanwhile, White’s career was skyrocketing after he led a team that discovered and excavated a 4.4-million-year-old hominid unearthed in Ethiopia. It was deemed the scientific breakthrough of the year in 2009 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and cemented his reputation in the field. It also landed him, along with the likes of Barack Obama and Steve Jobs, on Time magazine’s 2010 list of the world’s 100 most influential people.

Tim White attends the Time100 gala at Lincoln Center in New York in 2010.  (Timothy A. Clary / AFP via Getty Images)
Tim White attends the Time100 gala at Lincoln Center in New York in 2010. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP via Getty Images)

Two years later, White and two other professors sued to block the repatriation of two 9,000-year-old skeletons to the Kumeyaay, 12 tribes whose homelands straddle the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego. White and the other professors wanted to study the remains, which had been unearthed in 1976 from the grounds of the chancellor’s house on the University of California, San Diego, campus.

They argued that there wasn’t enough evidence to support the Kumeyaay’s ancestral connection to the remains, and that the UC system had failed to prove that the remains could legally be considered “Native American.” Based on the professors’ interpretation of the law, human remains had to have a cultural or biological link to a present-day tribe to be considered Native American.

They said that not allowing them to study the remains violated their rights as researchers. An appeals court ruled against the professors, citing the Kumeyaay’s sovereign immunity, meaning they couldn’t be sued.

As tribes’ frustration with the lack of progress on repatriations grew, UC Berkeley convened a “tribal forum” in 2017. In the private gathering, tribal leaders and others expressed anger that university staff, including White, had resisted their requests to repatriate and that the university was requiring an excessive amount of proof to reclaim ancestors, according to an internal university report.

The following year, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ disbanded the campus’ NAGPRA committee that White had served on, records show. The university established a new one that did not include him.

Meanwhile, Berkeley prepared for its biggest repatriation to date: the return of more than 1,400 ancestors to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, a small tribe whose ancestors’ remains were excavated from burial grounds along California’s coast and Channel Islands. According to the school’s NAGPRA inventory records, many of the remains had been taken by an archaeologist in 1901 whose expeditions were funded by Phoebe Apperson Hearst, wife of mining magnate George Hearst and namesake of UC Berkeley’s anthropology museum.

UC Berkeley held on to the Chumash remains and loaned some to White for research projects, before returning them to the tribe in the summer of 2018.

The Santa Ynez Valley (Alejandra Rubio for NBC News and ProPublica)
The Santa Ynez Valley (Alejandra Rubio for NBC News and ProPublica)

When the repatriation day finally came, Nakia Zavalla and other tribal members drove 300 miles to campus and entered a backroom of the anthropology building where UC Berkeley stored their ancestors.

“Going into that facility for the first time was horrifying. Literally shelves of human remains,” said Zavalla, the tribe’s cultural director. “And you pull them out, and there’s ancestors mixed all together, sometimes just all femur bones, a tray full of skulls.”

Zavalla said tribal members had to bring their own cardboard boxes to carry their ancestors home for burial — a complaint other tribal nations have made in dealing with the university. UC Berkeley officials said they were unaware of Zavalla’s “disturbing account” but have changed their policies to ensure they provide assistance “as requested by Tribes.”

Zavalla said the visit highlighted how the university had deprived the tribe of more than ancestral remains, she said. The university housed recordings and items that ethnographers and anthropologists had previously collected from Chumash elders.

For Zavalla, the information could have benefited her and other tribal members’ efforts to revitalize the Santa Ynez Chumash’s language and traditions — which government policies once sought to eradicate. But the information was not freely shared, she said: “They stole those items.”

Nakia Zavalla at the Chumash tribal office in Santa Ynez, Calif. (Alejandra Rubio for NBC News and ProPublica)
Nakia Zavalla at the Chumash tribal office in Santa Ynez, Calif. (Alejandra Rubio for NBC News and ProPublica)

‘They need to go home’

California state lawmakers passed a bill in 2018 to expand the Native American Heritage Commission’s oversight of repatriation policies and compliance committees within the UC system. The legislation called for an audit of all UC campuses’ compliance with NAGPRA.

The following year, UC Berkeley finally barred the use of Native American remains for teaching or research, according to the university.

The state auditor’s office announced the results of its review in 2020, singling out UC Berkeley for making onerous demands of tribes claiming remains.

The auditor also noted that UC Berkeley had identified 180 missing artifacts or human remains. In a statement, UC Berkeley said staff had searched for the missing remains and artifacts, some of which had been lost for more than a century.

Soon after the audit, the UC president’s office called for all campuses to search departments that historically studied human remains for any that had not been previously reported.

In August 2020, White reported the contents of the collection he taught with to university administrators.

White told ProPublica and NBC News that given the lack of documentation, it would be impossible to determine if they were Native American, much less say which tribe they should be returned to.

“There’s nobody on this planet who can sit down and tell you what the cultural affiliation of this lower jaw is, or that lower jaw is. Nobody can do that,” he said.

The Native American Heritage Commission, or NAHC, is continuing to press UC Berkeley for answers and accountability for its handling of the collection White reported.

Bojorquez, the tribal chairman and an NAHC commissioner, said it was “mind-blowing” that Berkeley still has not provided any documentation on the origins of the collection.

The university should have consulted tribes sooner, he said, to ensure the remains were handled respectfully and to help speed the repatriation process. “So much happened to these ancestors,” he said — they should not be in a box or on a shelf.

“They need to go home,” he said.

More missing

Separate from the teaching collection that White reported in 2020, he also notified administrators that he’d discovered remains with museum labels stashed in gray bins in a teaching laboratory. They later were identified as the partial remains of six ancestors of the Santa Ynez Chumash that were supposed to have been repatriated in 2018.

When UC Berkeley finally informed the Chumash six months later, it felt like a “blow to the chest,” said Zavalla, the tribe’s cultural director. Zavalla and other tribal staff members drove to Berkeley to retrieve the remains.

“I felt lied to,” she said. “They did not give us all of the ancestors, and they didn’t do their due diligence.”

The discovery of the missing remains outraged Sam Cohen, an attorney for the tribe, who called for probes into whether UC Berkeley or White had violated policies or laws.

Sam Cohen, attorney for the Chumash tribe. (Alejandra Rubio for NBC News and ProPublica)
Sam Cohen, attorney for the Chumash tribe. (Alejandra Rubio for NBC News and ProPublica)

“He is considered untouchable, I think, by Berkeley because he’s so famous in human evolution,” Cohen said of White. “He basically wasn’t going to voluntarily comply with anything until he was forced.”

White said he was unsure how the remains ended up in the teaching laboratory. He suggested they may have been mistakenly placed in his lab during a move years ago while he was overseas. He provided ProPublica and NBC News with a copy of an email from an investigator with UC Berkeley’s Office of Risk and Compliance Services, which said the office found no violation on his part regarding the Chumash remains. UC Berkeley declined to comment on the outcome of the investigation, calling it a personnel matter.

“I have accounted for everything that happened in granular detail,” White said in an interview.

Chancellor Christ apologized to the tribe in December in a letter and acknowledged: “We do understand that, given our history, it is difficult for tribes to have confidence in our university and Professor White.”

The apology was little consolation, Cohen said, especially since it came with yet another painful acknowledgement. University records show there are still more unreturned Chumash ancestors. So far, they have yet to be found.

Christ assured the Chumash that the university was committed to returning all Native American ancestors to all tribes. UC Berkeley officials estimate it will be at least a decade before that happens.

The Chumash cultural museum in Santa Ynez, Calif. (Alejandra Rubio for NBC News and ProPublica)
The Chumash cultural museum in Santa Ynez, Calif. (Alejandra Rubio for NBC News and ProPublica)

This article was originally published on

Wounded Knee Occupation

On March 10, 1973, more than a week after American Indian Movement activists occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, Oglala Sioux tribal members and AIM members march to to the cemetery where ancestors were buried following the 1890 massacre at the site. Third in line is Carter Camp, Ponca, one of the AIM leaders. (AP Photo/FILE)

Kalle Benallie

WOUNDED KNEE, South Dakota — Madonna Thunder Hawk remembers the firefights.

As a medic during the occupation of Wounded Knee in early 1973, Thunder Hawk was stationed each night in a frontline bunker in the combat zone between Native activists and government agents.

“I would crawl out there every night, and we’d just be out there in case anybody got hit,” said Thunder Hawk, Oohenumpa band of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, one of four women assigned to the bunkers.


Memories of the Wounded Knee occupation — one in a string of protests from 1969 to 1973 that pushed the American Indian Movement to the forefront of Native activism — still run deep within people like Thunder Hawk who were there.

Madonna Thunder Hawk, 83, shown here in early February 2023, was one of the four women medics during the occupation of Wounded Knee, which started on Feb. 27, 1973 and ended May 8, 1973. She wears her “Never underestimate an old woman” shirt proudly. (Photo by Kalle Benallie/ICT)

Madonna Thunder Hawk, 83, shown here in early February 2023, was one of the four women medics during the occupation of Wounded Knee, which started on Feb. 27, 1973 and ended May 8, 1973. She wears her “Never underestimate an old woman” shirt proudly. (Photo by Kalle Benallie/ICT)

Thunder Hawk, now 83, is careful about what she says today about AIM and the occupation, but she can’t forget that tribal elders in 1973 had been raised by grandparents who still remembered the 1890 slaughter of hundreds of Lakota people at Wounded Knee by U.S. soldiers.

“That’s how close we are to our history,” she told ICT recently. “So anything that goes on, anything we do, even today with the land-back issue, all of that is just a continuation. It’s nothing new.”

Other feelings linger, too, over the tensions that emerged in Lakota communities after Wounded Knee and the virtual destruction of the small community. Many still don’t want to talk about it.

But the legacy of activism lives on among those who have followed in their footsteps, including the new generations of Native people who turned out at Standing Rock beginning in 2016 for the pipeline protests.

“For me, it’s important to acknowledge the generation before us — to acknowledge their risk,” said Nick Tilsen, founder of NDN Collective and a leader in the Standing Rock protests, whose parents were AIM activists.

“It’s important for us to honor them. It’s important for us to thank them.”

Read more:
My story: Behind the lines at Wounded Knee
Wounded Knee anniversary events
Wounded Knee land comes home at last

Akim D. Reinhardt, who wrote the book, “Ruling Pine Ridge: Oglala Lakota Politics from the IRA to Wounded Knee,” said the AIM protests had powerful social and cultural impacts.

“Collectively, they helped establish a sense of the permanence of Red Power in much the way that Black Power had for African-Americans, a permanent legacy,” said Reinhardt, a history professor at Towson University in Towson, Maryland.

“It was the cultural legacy that racism isn’t okay and people don’t need to be quiet and accept it anymore. That it’s okay to be proud of who you are.”

A series of events is planned in South Dakota to recognize the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Wounded Knee, starting on Friday, Feb. 24, in Rapid City, and building to a 50th anniversary pow wow on Sunday, Feb. 26, in Porcupine, South Dakota, and a Four Direction Walk and Ride on the actual anniversary, on Monday, Feb. 27.

The women of Wounded Knee will also be honored on Saturday, Feb. 25, in Porcupine, and another pow wow is set for Saturday in Rapid City. The documentary film, “From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock,” will be shown on Sunday, Feb. 26, in Kyle, South Dakota.

‘Thunderbolt’ of protest

The occupation began on the night of Feb. 27, 1973, when a group of warriors led by Oklahoma AIM leader Carter Camp, Ponca, moved into the small town of Wounded Knee. They took over the trading post and established a base of operations along with AIM leaders Russell Means, Oglala Lakota; Dennis Banks, Ojibwe; and Clyde Bellecourt, White Earth Nation.

Within days, hundreds of activists had joined them for what became a 71-day standoff with the U.S. government and other law enforcement.

American Indian Movement members and other activists are shown during the occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, which lasted 71 days - from Feb. 27 to May 8, 1973. The sign over the door reads in part, "Independent Oglala Nation." (Photo via Creative Commons)

American Indian Movement members and other activists are shown during the occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, which lasted 71 days – from Feb. 27 to May 8, 1973. The sign over the door reads in part, “Independent Oglala Nation.” (Photo via Creative Commons)

It was the fourth protest in as many years for AIM. The organization formed in the late 1960s and drew international attention with the occupation of Alcatraz from 1969-1971. In 1972, the Trail of Broken Treaties brought a cross-country caravan of hundreds of Indigenous activists to Washington, D.C., where they occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters for six days.

Then, on Feb. 6, 1973, AIM members and others gathered at the courthouse in Custer County, South Dakota, to protest the murder of Wesley Bad Heart Bull, Oglala Lakota, and the lenient sentences given to some perpetrators against Native Americans. When they were denied access into the courthouse, the protest turned violent, with the burning of the Chamber of Commerce Building and damage to other buildings and vehicles.

Three weeks later, AIM leaders took over Wounded Knee.

“It had been waiting to happen for generations,” said Kevin McKiernan, who covered the Wounded Knee occupation as a journalist in his late 20s and who later directed the 2019 documentary film, “From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock.”

“If you look at it as a storm, the storm had been building through abuse, land theft, genocide, religious intoleration, for generations and generations,” he said. “The storm built up, and built up and built up. The American Indian Movement was simply the thunderbolt.”

The takeover at Wounded Knee grew out of a dispute with Oglala Sioux tribal leader Richard Wilson but also put a spotlight on demands that the U.S. government uphold its treaty obligations to the Lakota people.

By March 8, the occupation leaders had declared the Wounded Knee territory to be the Independent Oglala Nation, granting citizenship papers to those who wanted them and demanding recognition as a sovereign nation.

American Indian Movement leaders observe with a ceremonial peace pipe as the U.S. Department of Justice begins to remove government forces from around Wounded Knee, South Dakota,  with a ceremonial peace pipe smoking shown here on March 10, 1973. Shown are, starting with the fourth person from the right, AIM leaders Clyde Bellecourt, Dennis Banks, Russell Means and Carter Camp. (AP Photo/FILE)

American Indian Movement leaders observe with a ceremonial peace pipe as the U.S. Department of Justice begins to remove government forces from around Wounded Knee, South Dakota, with a ceremonial peace pipe smoking shown here on March 10, 1973. Shown are, starting with the fourth person from the right, AIM leaders Clyde Bellecourt, Dennis Banks, Russell Means and Carter Camp. (AP Photo/FILE)

The stand-off was often violent, and supplies became scarce within the occupied territory as the U.S. government worked to cut off support for those behind the lines. Discussions were ongoing throughout much of the occupation, with several government officials working with AIM leaders to try and resolve the issues.

The siege finally ended on May 8 with an agreement to disarm and to further discuss the treaty obligations. By then, at least three people had been killed and more than a dozen wounded, according to reports.

Two Native men died: Frank Clearwater, identified as Cherokee and Apache, who was shot on April 17, 1973, and died eight days later; and Lawrence “Buddy” LaMont, Oglala, who was shot and killed on April 26, 1973.

Another man, Black activist Ray Robinson, who had been working with the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization, went missing during the siege.The FBI confirmed in 2014 that he had died at Wounded Knee, but his body was never recovered. A U.S. marshal was also shot and paralyzed, but died many years later.

Camp was later convicted of abducting and beating four postal inspectors during the occupation, and served three years in federal prison. Banks and Means were indicted on charges related to the events, but their cases were dismissed by a federal court for prosecutorial misconduct.

Today, the Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark identifies the site of the 1890 massacre, most of which is now under joint ownership of the Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux.

The tribes agreed in 2022 to purchase 40 acres of land that included the area where most of the carnage took place in 1890, the ravine where victims fled, and the area where the trading post was located.

The purchase, from a descendant of the original owners of the trading post, included a covenant requiring the land to be preserved as a sacred site and memorial without commercial development.

And though internal tensions emerged in the AIM organization in the years after the Wounded Knee occupation, AIM continues to operate throughout the U.S. in tribal communities and urban areas.

In recent years, members participated in the Standing Rock protests and have persisted in pushing for the release from prison of former AIM leader Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of first-degree murder despite inconsistencies in the evidence in the deaths of two FBI agents during a shootout in 1975 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

A new generation

Tilsen, now president and chief executive of NDN Collective, an Indigenous-led organization centered around building Indigenous power, traces the roots of his activism to Wounded Knee.

His parents, JoAnn Tall and Mark Tilsen, met at Wounded Knee, and he praises the women of the movement who sustained the traditional matriarchal system during the occupation.

“I grew up in the American Indian Movement,” said Tilsen, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation. “It wasn’t a question about what you were fighting for. You were raised up in it. In fact, if you didn’t fight, you weren’t going to live.”

NDN Collective founder and CEO Nick Tilsen at the NDN Collective headquarters in Rapid City, South Dakota. (Photo by Kalle Benallie/ICT)

NDN Collective founder and CEO Nick Tilsen at the NDN Collective headquarters in Rapid City, South Dakota. (Photo by Kalle Benallie/ICT)

Tilsen credits AIM, and those who weren’t part of the movement, for most of the rights Indigenous people have today, including Indian gaming, tribal colleges, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

He said the movement showed the world that tribes were sovereign nations and their treaties were being violated. And when AIM and spiritual leaders such as Henry Crow Dog, Leonard Crow Dog and Matthew King joined the fight, it became intergenerational.

“It became a spiritual revolution,” he said. “It also became a fight that was about human rights. It became a fight that was about where Indigenous people aren’t just within the political system of America, but within the broader context of the system, of the world.”

Tilsen appreciates that his parents were willing to participate in an armed revolution to achieve one of their dreams of establishing KILI radio station, known as the “Voice of the Lakota Nation,” which began operating in 1983 as the first Indigenous-owned radio station in the United States.

They wanted to communicate and organize with the people as well as create transparency in tribal government, he said.

His own organization, NDN Collective, is based on what the American Indian Movement achieved, he said.

“It’s why NDN has the balanced approach that it does,” Tilsen said. “We defend, develop and decolonize.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline protest in 2016 came to be a defining moment for him and his brother. They had wondered, he said, what would be their Wounded Knee?

But though Standing Rock grew from the Wounded Knee occupation, it also had its differences, he said.

“What made it so powerful and what made it different was that you actually had grassroots organizers and revolutionaries and official tribal governments coming together, too,” Tilsen said. “I think that Standing Rock in particular actually reached way further than Wounded Knee because of how the issue was framed around ‘water is life.’”

AIM is the catalyst that started it all, however, he said. He wants the 50th anniversary of Wounded Knee to be a time to reflect on what still needs to be learned about the movement and to know more about the people who weren’t in the spotlight at the time.

“[It] created the pressure,” he said. “It held the mirror up to the United States government in a very powerful way.”

Alex Fire Thunder, deputy director of the Lakota Language Consortium, said the occupation of Wounded Knee and other activism helped revitalize Indigenous language and culture. His mother was too young to have participated in the occupation but he said she remembered visits from AIM members in the community.

“The whole point of AIM, the American Indian Movement, was to bring back a sense of pride in our culture,” Fire Thunder, Oglala Lakota, told ICT.

“A huge aspect of our culture and essence of our whole cultural identity is in the language,” he said. “A lot of language programs, educational programs, and the element of language in education itself and the whole status of the language, improved as a result of the awareness of the value of culture and the sense of pride that our people had.”

Fire Thunder, who now teaches the Lakota language, said he owes a debt of gratitude to AIM and the warriors at Wounded Knee.

“I show respect to anybody and everybody that stands up for our way of life, our culture, our language, our spiritual ways, our philosophies and worldviews,” he said. “ We’ve been oppressed, we’ve been silenced…

“We’ve been pushed aside and overlooked, I guess invisible to the mainstream American society,” he said. “And so, I like to pay respect and acknowledge anybody and everybody that stands up for our people in that way.”

Future generations

For Thunder Hawk, the issues became her lifelong work rather than momentary activism.

She joined AIM in 1968 and participated in the occupation at Alcatraz, the BIA headquarters, the Custer County Courthouse and Wounded Knee, as well as the Standing Rock pipeline protest in 2016.

She said work being done today by a new generation is a continuation of the work her ancestors did.

“That’s why we were successful in Indian Country, because we were a movement of families,” she said. “It wasn’t just an age group, a bunch of young people carrying on.”

She hopes her legacy will live on, that her great-great-grandchildren will see not just a photo of her but know what she sounded like and the person she seemed to be.

Frank Star Comes Out, shown here in February 2023, is president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. (Photo by Kalle Benallie/ICT)

Frank Star Comes Out, shown here in February 2023, is president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. (Photo by Kalle Benallie/ICT)

It’s something that she can’t have when she looks at a photo of her paternal great-grandparents.

“Hopefully that’s what my descendants will see, you know?” she said. “And with the technology nowadays, they can press a button, maybe, and it’ll come up.”

Frank Star Comes Out, the current president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, also believes it’s time for the previous generation’s work to be recognized.

He will be at the 50th anniversary events and will speak at the Wounded Knee site. He is aware of the irony that he now leads a government created through the Indian Reorganization Act and opposed by AIM.

But he has family members who were strong supporters of AIM, including his mother and father. He said it’s important to fight for his people who survived genocide.

“That’s why I support AIM, not only on a family level,” he said. “I have a lot of pride in who I am as a Lakota … Times [have] changed. Now I’m using my leadership to help our people rise, to give them a voice. And I believe that’s important for Indian Country.”

Stewart Huntington contributed to this report.

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Wounded Knee 1973American Indian MovementWounded Knee OccupationNative ActivistsAIMSouth Dakota

Kalle Benallie


Kalle Benallie

Kalle Benallie, Navajo, is a reporter-producer at ICT’s Phoenix bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @kallebenallie or email her at Benallie was once the opening act for a Cirque Du Soleil show in Las Vegas. 

Return the Land

Lakota Law

As you may know, I’ve been involved in the landback movement for quite some time. Several years ago, I began helping lead the effort to return the Black Hills to the Lakota People. Protecting our water and returning our most sacred lands to Native stewardship — and defending them from degradation at the hands of mining and pipelines — is of paramount importance to me. I hope the same holds true for anyone who cares about the future of Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth.

This movement extends far beyond the boundaries of Lakota Country. Recently, a friend of mine shared an important opportunity to return land to Native care in what we now call California. Because it’s critical that we act in solidarity with one another whenever possible, today I share this effort with you. I’ll describe things below, and I also hope you’ll visit the Owens Valley Indian Water Commission (OVIWC) website to learn more.

Click the pic to watch OVIWC’s video about Three Creeks.

Located just east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Central California, Payahuunadü — known in English as Owen’s Valley and translated as “land of the flowing water” — is part of the traditional homelands of the Nüümü (Paiute) and Newe (Shoshone) Native nations. They have now joined forces under OVIWC, a three-tribe consortium with an opportunity to acquire Three Creeks, a lush and beautiful five-acre property within Payahuunadü

The tribes intend to utilize this oasis as a haven for cultural resurgence involving food sovereignty initiatives, ceremonial healing, revitalization of kinship, and art and education to address traumas caused by displacement. Those goals also go hand in hand with a desire to preserve and protect this sacred space amid aggressive attempts by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) to control the area’s water. 

Over the past five years, 50 percent of Los Angeles’s water supply has come from Payahuunadü. The DWP has been taking and exporting its water since 1913 and owns 95 percent of the valley floor — while tribes share ownership of one third of one percent. This injustice must be addressed, and with an additional foothold in the area, the Nüümü and Newe Peoples will be better equipped to defend their homelands as a whole. 

My dad, Chase, is also on his way to Nüümü and Newe lands in present-day Nevada to meet this week with the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and other Native leaders involved in the battle to protect PeeHee Mu’Huh (Thacker Pass) from lithium mining. You’ll hear more about that soon! Our family thanks you for joining us in showing solidarity with all Indigenous nations seeking to defend and return sacred lands.

Wopila tanka — thank you for your solidarity!
Tokata Iron Eyes
Organizer and Spokesperson
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Treaty Law If you scroll back to the early posts of this blog, you will find some of the histories of Standing Rock that I researched. It is always important to study the past, to fully understand the present.

Lakota Law

Greetings, and I hope your year is off to a great start! We’ve got a good video for you to watch today. It’s the twelfth chapter of our Dakota Water Wars video series, produced, as always, by us in partnership with the Standing Rock Nation and Great Plains Water Alliance. In this episode, we detail some new threats to the Mni Sose — the Missouri River — and highlight the importance of respecting both our water and treaty rights.

Watch: Lakota Law Standing Rock Organizer Phyllis Young shares her studied perspective on treaty law and passion to protect our water rights and environment.

Here’s the bottom line: the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie granted the Lakota people stewardship of the Mni Sose. When the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) appeared in our homelands, it threatened both our sole source of fresh water and our way of life. Now, to make things worse, other entities have made plans to take water from the Missouri and pipe it to places far away, like Colorado, and nearby, like Rapid City and the Black Hills. 

That last part is particularly troublesome. Mining interests in the Black Hills will use even more water than a municipality, and those mines threaten to despoil an area filled with many of our most sacred sites. Plus, sending our water away for use by extractive industries is the exact opposite of what we should be doing in the midst of a climate emergency. Right now, we have to mitigate carbon emissions, halt the warming of our planet, and responsibly allocate our water. 

As you know, Indigenous cultures traditionally live in harmony with our surroundings, with care for all our relatives (not just the human ones). As we said during the heyday of our NoDAPL stand, and as we continue to say today: mni wiconi — water is life! When the 1868 treaty granted us the ability to protect the Mni Sose, the state of South Dakota didn’t even exist yet. So we won’t back down on this. We’re not going to let the state, or any other man-made entity, threaten or take our water without a fight.

Wopila tanka — thank you for standing with us!
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.

California Solidarity

Lakota Law

Han, Mitakuyepi. I’ll start by thanking every one of you who supported our Oceti Vote event this past weekend. Your friendship helped to create something very special — a successful Native voter outreach campaign and also a true celebration of our Lakota culture. Today we’re submitting the many voter registrations we gathered, and we’ll have a lot more to share with you once we’ve all had a chance to look back at everything.

In the meantime, I’d like to draw your attention to something important from our sister org, Let’s Green CA! They’ve created a solidarity action to protect the Juristac — the ancestral lands of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, Indigenous People in what is now called Northern California. As Santa Clara County evaluates an environmental impact report on a proposed sand and gravel mining project, your input could help protect the sacred! So, because you live in California, today I ask you to stand with my relatives on the west coast of Turtle Island and tell the County: no mining at Juristac!

Lakota Law

The Lakota People’s Law Project and Let’s Green CA! (which also just got a climate equity bill signed into law in California) take both environmental and Indigenous justice extremely seriously. The two are inextricably intertwined, because far too often, Indigenous communities wind up on the frontlines battling extractive industry which demonstrates no regard for Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth, nor for us as this land’s first inhabitants and stewards. 

The Amah Mutsun Band’s fight to protect the Juristac from being torn asunder by miners sounds a lot like our fight to stop gold, uranium, and lithium mining in our sacred He Sapa — the Black Hills. Our relatives in so-called Nevada have a similar fight on their hands with the lithium mining at Thacker Pass. And then there are all the oil pipelines — Dakota Access, Keystone XL, Line 3 — you have helped us resist. 

It’s critical that we continue to stand in solidarity with one another every step of the way, each time any project imperils Unci Maka and the future we wish to create for the next seven generations. By widening our circle, we increase our power. So, please do keep tabs on the good work of Let’s Green CA! and show your support by submitting a comment to protect the sacred at Juristac. Rest assured that together, we can and will continue to win justice — for Indigenous People and for our Grandmother Earth.

Wopila tanka — thank you for your friendship and solidarity!
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project