Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Medicine Men Help Care for Veterans

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) -- When Albert Laughter unpacks his medical supplies, preparing to treat the military veterans who are his patients, he finds no stethoscope or thermometer.

His examination room doesn't have walls to speak of. It is made of canvas and wooden poles, a teepee with a small fire ring inside. His supplies -- pheasant and eagle feathers, cornmeal, sage and other herbs -- come wrapped in small leather pouches.

Laughter, a Navajo medicine man, cares for warriors as five generations of his forebears have: with traditional herbs, songs and ceremonies. But unlike his ancestors, he does it as a healer under contract with the federal government.

Laughter's services are part of a small assortment of programs run by the Department of Veterans Affairs to treat American Indian veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder and other maladies.

''Our culture, even though we live in the 21st century, we come back to the ceremonies, we come back to where the fire is, come back to where the herbs is, come back to where the songs is,'' said Laughter, who does his work in Navajo and in English at the VA medical center in Prescott and on northern Arizona reservations.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Myth of the Native Babe: Hollywood's Pocahontas

NATIVE AMERICANS have taken a beating in American cinema dating back to silent pictures, generally depicted as marauding terrorists at worst or noble savages at best. Against this backdrop of violence, warriors like Geronimo, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse have played recurring roles, but pacifists like Pocahontas have proven more elusive.

Despite her status as a key figure in our nation's birth, the Powhatan princess - a mere 10 to 12 years old when she first befriended the English explorer Capt. John Smith and the Jamestown settlers in 1607 - has been mostly relegated to obscure B movies that relied more on legend than fact. The 1953 United Artists clunker "Captain John Smith and Pocahontas" veered so far off the tracks of history that it married the lead characters, serving up lines like "It may well be that on the shoulders of that Indian girl will rest the whole future of Virginia."

Four decades later, the animated Disney box office hit "Pocahontas" depicted its heroine as an exquisitely beautiful, fully formed woman with flowing black hair, almond-shaped eyes and just the hint of a nose, and Smith as a dashing adventurer with square jaw, Herculean build and a blond surfer mane. It was "Romeo and Juliet" without the tragic ending.

But come Christmas Day, New Line Cinema and the writer-director Terrence Malick will offer in "The New World" what promises to be a far more complex take on the Jamestown saga and its clash of cultures between English colonists and the Powhatan tribes. The project, as is usual with Mr. Malick's work, has been shrouded in secrecy, though publicity materials have stressed the verisimilitude of a film shot close to where the actual events took place along Virginia's Chickahominy and James Rivers, before wrapping in London.

A Dispute of Great Spirit Rages On

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Embedded in the granite floor inside the main entrance to Ralph Engelstad Arena, an enormous American Indian-head logo spreads like a welcome mat in front of the larger-than-life statue of Engelstad himself.

Every night that the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux men's hockey team plays in its $104 million arena, thousands of fans walk across the likeness of the handsome Sioux face in profile, with its four eagle feathers attached to the crown of the head.

It is humiliating to many of the school's Indian students and faculty members who consider eagle feathers sacred.

"We see the eagle as a messenger," said Margaret Scott, a sophomore nursing student from the Winnebago tribe in Nebraska. "It flies so close to the heavens, he carries the messages and prayers of the people to God. In our culture, eagle feathers can't touch the ground.

"It's like if you put a cross on a shot glass. What they're doing is sacrilegious."

As the N.C.A.A. begins enforcing a ban on Indian imagery that it considers "hostile or abusive," the North Dakota arena and its logo pointedly illustrate the passions surrounding the issue, and the complexities, both political and financial, in resolving it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Native Foods Nourish Again

Last week, Noland Johnson pulled the season's final crop of tepary beans from the piece of desert he farms on the Tohono O'odham Reservation, about 120 miles southwest of Tucson.

The beans look a little like a flattened black-eyed pea. The white ones cook up creamy. The brown ones, which Mr. Johnson prefers, are best simmered like pinto beans.

As late as the 1930's, Tohono O'odham farmers grew more than 1.5 million pounds a year and no one in the tribe had ever heard of diabetes. By the time Mr. Johnson got into the game four years ago, an elder would be lucky to find even a pound of the beans, and more than half of the adults in the tribe had the kind of diabetes attributed to poor diet.

While researchers investigate the link between traditional desert foods and diabetes prevention, Mr. Johnson grows his beans, pulling down 14,000 pounds this fall. Most will sell for about $2.50 a pound at small stores on the reservation.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Tribes' Basketball Passion Turns Into Business

YAKIMA, Wash., Nov. 15 - The stands in the SunDome were unusually full Tuesday night when Yakima's minor league basketball team, the Sun Kings, bounded onto the court for an exhibition game a few days before the start of the season.

The crowd itself was atypical, too, filled with hundreds of members of the Yakama Nation, an Indian tribe that rarely mingles with the world outside its vast reservation about five miles east of here. But in a move that riveted tribes across the country and created a rift among Indians here, leading to the ousting of three tribal officials, the Yakama Nation became the new owners of the Sun Kings last spring.

And after Tuesday's game, the first at home under the new ownership, the Sun Kings signed an Indian player, a Sioux from Montana who had electrified the crowd with his dazzling shooting for the opposing team. The player, Richard Dionne, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound forward, is believed by officials to be the only American Indian on the roster of the Continental Basketball Association, a national eight-team league that can be a steppingstone to the N.B.A.

The tribal ownership of the team and the signing of Mr. Dionne, 24, who had been playing here for a nonprofit team not in the league, come as Indians are slowly making their way into college, semiprofessional and professional basketball.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Vine Deloria Jr., Champion of Indian Rights, Dies at 72

DENVER, Nov. 14 (AP) - Vine Deloria Jr., an influential advocate of American Indian rights and the author of the groundbreaking "Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto," died Sunday. He was 72.

Dr. Deloria, a Standing Rock Sioux, died of complications from an aortic aneurysm, said his son, Phil Deloria.

The author was considered one of the most outspoken - and persuasive - proponents of Indian cultural and political identity.

"I think he opened Americans' eyes to the real history of Native Americans and the injustice of past federal policies," said John Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colo.

"I think what we saw in his generation of Native Americans was this transition of federal policy from termination to self-determination, and Vine, I think, was the real leader in making that happen," Mr. Echohawk said.

Raider Nation's radio outreach to Navajo Nation

Native American artist Larry Ashkie lives on the Navajo reservation just outside the little town of Pinon, Ariz. His house is more than 100 miles from Flagstaff, the closest town of any size, and he has to drive 15 miles just to fill his water tanks so he can flush his toilet. Luckily, he says, "we are right at the end of the power line,'' so he has electricity, even if some of his neighbors do not.

It is safe to say that Ashkie lives square in the middle of nowhere. But even there, in his corner of the Navajo Nation, there is an outpost of the Raider Nation where fans like Ashkie are as devout as any you'd find in the Black Hole.

"They were always kind of a goofy team,'' he says, "but I like them.''

And so it is that the Silver and Black will establish a milestone on Sunday as they play the Denver Broncos in what will be the first Raiders game ever broadcast to the Navajo Nation.

In Navajo.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

R. C. Gorman, Painter of Strong Navajo Women, Dies

R. C. Gorman, an internationally prominent Navajo artist whose portraits of voluptuous women in flowing traditional dress embodied the American Southwest for collectors around the world, died on Thursday at a hospital in Albuquerque. A longtime resident of Taos, N.M., he was believed to be in his mid-70's.

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico announced the death. The cause was pneumonia following a blood infection for which Mr. Gorman had been hospitalized since September.

Mr. Gorman was best known for his paintings, sculptures and lithographs depicting American Indian women - typically corpulent, barefoot and wrapped in shawls or blankets. From the mid-1970's on, his work graced the walls of galleries and corporate offices around the country and was disseminated even more widely on posters, notecards and calendars.

Words to Guide a Life Over a Century


MUNDO wigo, the Creator is good, the elders taught her from the time she drew her first breath on Mohegan Hill on June 15, 1899.

It was around the last solstice of a dying century in a culture that had been pronounced all but dead as well, but they said it over and over, evoking thankfulness, evoking faith. I have nothing to eat today, Mundo wigo, but the Creator is good and the sun is shining. The weather has been terrible, and I can't get out of the house, Mundo wigo, but I have my legs, and I can walk. Our people are scattered and our resources scarce, Mundo wigo, but we will survive.

By all accounts, Gladys Tantaquidgeon never doubted it. She grew up in a world at once seemingly passing away and as permanent as the rocky soil and harsh landscape of oak, maple, pine and cedar. Until Gladys's first birthday, according to a biography by her grandniece Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, her mother bit the baby's fingernails, instead of cutting them, to prevent her from ever becoming a thief. Her hair was trimmed when the moon was waning, to keep it thick, and her shoes were turned over at night to prevent bad dreams. She was put to bed every night before the whippoorwill called, so she wouldn't be captured by the Makiawisug, the mischievous little people of the forest.