Thursday, September 28, 2006
Why did the Chaco people — the Anasazi, or “ancestral Puebloans,” as their descendants prefer — build an enormous ceremonial Great House at Chimney Rock, so far from home, 1,000 feet above the nearest water supply and at the base of immense sandstone spires?
It was not until two decades ago that archaeologists arrived at an explanation that most now accept: the Chaco people built the Great House as a lunar observatory precisely aligned to a celestial event that occurs just once in a generation.
That rare event, a “major lunar standstill,” is happening now, and continues through 2007. To witness this extraordinary moonrise, some two dozen visitors, including me, arrived to climb the Chimney Rock mesa in the middle of an August night.
Every 18.6 years, the moon does something strange: it radically expands the voyage it makes each month across the sky and, at the northern and southernmost edges of that journey, appears to rise in the same spot for two or three nights in a row.
What archaeologists discovered at the last occurrence of this event — in the mid-1980’s — was that if you stood atop the Chacoan Great House at Chimney Rock (or as we did, on the modern fire watchtower that stands in front of the Great House and replicates its alignment), you saw the northernmost moonrise directly between the sandstone spires. Move anywhere else on the mesa, and the shift in perspective slipped the moon from its frame.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
The Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation today has no reason to steal. It caught fire on its own. The tribe expects revenues this year from its numerous business enterprises to hit $10 million.
It's a large figure for a band of 464 that only a few years ago had nothing.
"We started out zero," said tribal leader Bruce Parry, CEO and chairman of the board of the NWB Shoshone Economic Development Corp.
"We did not have even a penny to start."
The Northwestern Shoshone tribe, based in Brigham City, does not have a reservation, though it owns some land and is trying to acquire more.
With essentially no land base in Utah, the Northern Band of the Shoshone has relied on intellectual resources and creativity to grow an economy.
Creative economic development includes foreign language translations for the FBI, CIA and other government agencies; construction companies; and energy development. Tribal leaders want to train their young people to take over these enterprises.
And the tribe has big plans for the property it is amassing, including an industrial park, an interpretive center, a travel plaza and a casino resort just across the border in Idaho.
One of its more ambitious projects is a mixed-use development in a former Shoshone community 50 miles north of Brigham City called Washakie. The town died out during the World War II era. The new Washakie would include housing, schools, medical facilities and a business park.
All told, the tribe's proposals exceed $340 million.
Outside the box
Lacking natural resources, the Shoshones began "asset mining," or looking for something to capitalize on.
"What we've had to do is think out of the box," said chief operating officer Mike Devine. "That's why we've been successful with some of those more resourceful things."
Recognizing that Utah has many speakers of foreign languages, the tribe settled on translation services. It secured a federal contract and top-secret clearance to provide translation for agencies in the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"Sure enough," Devine said, "we struck gold."
Because of its tribal status, the Northwestern Shoshone gets special consideration through the Small Business Administration for federal contracts. The government reserves a percentage for historically disadvantaged people.
The Shoshones also now own a construction company doing dozens of government projects and an interior design firm specializing in LDS Church temples. The tribe also is working on biodiesel and geothermal power projects.
"We believe energy is going to be bigger than gaming ever was for the tribe," Devine said. (The Shoshone-Bannock tribe in Idaho operates a casino at Fort Hall.)
But Eileen Quintana wants something more for Raven-Sky and other Native American children. She hopes that putting them in touch with their heritage will propel them to graduate from high school.
Quintana is the director of the Title VII Indian Education Program in the Nebo School District, which has helped raise the Native American graduation rate in the district from 37 percent in 1998 to as high as 94 percent in 2003. The national average is less than 50 percent.
About 250 students in the district participate in the program, with about 85 percent being Navajo. About 17 different tribes, including Lakota, Utes, Piutes, Chippewas and Shoshones also are represented.
Twice a week Navajo language classes are offered, and an after-school program provides instruction on traditional arts and Native American history. A summer-school program carries on those lessons. Last year, students made teepees and learned about the history and meaning behind the symbols painted on them.
When the program first started in 1998, Quintana offered homework help and dance instruction every Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m., and for the first six months, no one showed up.
Then, families started coming. "The first thing I did was I went and tried to find all my little lost Indian kids," Quintana said. "I made visits with their families and talked to them. I did it very Navajo."
Quintana said she can always tell when her students start learning about Native American history in school, because their grades drop. "One of the things that I hear my students say the most is, 'I feel invisible. I'm the only Native American in my school. When they teach about native Americans in my school it's not something I connect to. It's something very different.' "
Giving them accurate information about their history is key to tapping into their self-esteem and potential, Quintana said.
"It's amazing how brilliant our people are, and we need to connect back into that to really ignite that fire within our children so that we validate who they are. We validate them. They're not invisible. They have something to contribute to this society," she said.
Shirlee Silversmith, Indian education curriculum director for the Utah State Office of Education, recently finished a two-year process of developing lessons about Native Americans for use in schools. She hopes that the Native Americans students read about in their schoolbooks will be more closely connected to their own identities.
The Nebo district's Indian Education program extends that relationship between culture and learning.
Silversmith explained how a drum can be used to teach math. "If you can utilize a drum and look at the diameter of a drum, and how do you come up with the diameter, the math work on that, they have something tangible they can hold in their hand and that is a part of their culture. You make it relevant for that child, and that's what Eileen has done. She just takes all different kinds of cultural and language and integrates it into a program model that is just working very well for her students and families."
Quintana said students have limited opportunities to learn about their culture in public schools. She once looked for a book in the Spanish Fork High School library about Navajo Code Talkers who helped transmit and decode secret messages during World War II and couldn't find one.
Statewide in 2005, American Indian students passed the state's language arts test at a rate of nearly 52 percent, while their white counterparts passed at 81 percent, according to the State Office of Education. In math, American Indians had a pass rate of 49 percent, compared to 76 percent for white students.
Government oppression has made many Native Americans standoffish about government and public services such as schools, Silversmith said. That suspicion has caused some parents to teach their children to be silent at school. Quintana added that many Native American cultures also require children to be quiet and learn by observation. "You have a cultural thing there, because that definitely is not the case in the society we live in."
Natalie Billie, volunteer and treasurer for the program's parent committee, said the program has helped teach her children, Raven-Sky and 6-year-old Shakotah, about their roots. "For us it's more of the culture we come for -- learning the Navajo songs and learning about the traditional ways. Their dad was raised here in Springville, so he kind of got taken away from the traditional ways, so he's learning right along with them."
Raven-Sky can sing a four-verse song titled, "Who is My Mother?" in Navajo, Billie said. "It just kind of teaches them where they come from."
Thursday, September 21, 2006
It was the first such ruling that Aborigines, the indigenous people who lived in Australia before white settlers arrived, were the traditional owners of an urban area. The potentially precedent-setting decision could apply to other large cities.
The ruling determined that the Noongar people were the traditional owners of a 2,300-square-mile area of Western Australia state that includes the state capital of Perth, a city of 1.7 million people.
But Tuesday's ruling by Judge Murray Wilcox only grants Aborigines limited rights to the land, and indigenous people say the issue is about recognition of their rights, not moving homeowners out.
The ruling means the Noongar people can now exercise rights such as hunting and fishing on land where their native title -- a claim on land Aborigines held before settlers arrived -- has not been usurped by freehold titles, those where the government has passed all interest in the land to the owner, or leasehold titles, where a person leases property from the owner.
Wilcox said the outcome was ''neither the pot of gold for the indigenous claimants nor the disaster for the remainder of the community that is sometimes painted.''"
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
If the fence is built, however, it could have a long gap — about 75 miles — at one of the border’s most vulnerable points because of opposition from the Indian tribe here. The Tohono O’odham Nation straddles the Mexico border.
More illegal immigrants are caught — and die trying to cross into the United States — in and around the Tohono O’odham Indian territory, which straddles the Arizona border, than any other spot in the state.
Tribal leaders have cooperated with Border Patrol enforcement, but they promised to fight the building of a fence out of environmental and cultural concerns.
For the Tohono O’odham, which means “desert people,” the reason is fairly simple. For generations, their people and the wildlife they revere have freely crossed the border. For years, an existing four-foot-high cattle fence has had several openings — essentially cattle gates — that tribal members use to visit relatives and friends, take children to school and perform rites on the other side.
“I am O’odham first, and American or Mexican second or third,” said Ramon Valenzuela, as he walked his two children to school through one gate two miles from his O’odham village in Mexico.
But the pushed-up bottom strands of the cattle fence and the surrounding desert littered with clothing, water jugs and discarded backpacks testify to the growth in illegal immigrant traffic, which surged here after a Border Patrol enforcement squeeze in California and Texas in the mid-1990’s.
Crossers take advantage of a remote network of washes and trails — and sometimes Indian guides — to reach nearby highways bound for cities across the country.
Tribal members, who once gave water and food to the occasional passing migrant, say they have become fed up with groups of illegal immigrants breaking into homes and stealing food, water and clothing, and even using indoor and outdoor electrical outlets to charge cellphones.
With tribal police, health and other services overwhelmed by illegal immigration, the Indians welcomed National Guard members this summer to assist the Border Patrol here. The tribe, after negotiations with the Department of Homeland Security, also agreed to a plan for concrete vehicle barriers at the fence and the grading of the dirt road parallel to it for speedier Border Patrol and tribal police access. The Indians also donated a parcel this year for a small Border Patrol substation and holding pen.
Tribal members, however, fearing the symbolism of a solid wall and concern about the free range of deer, wild horses, coyotes, jackrabbits and other animals they regard as kin, said they would fight the kind of steel-plated fencing that Congress had in mind and that has slackened the crossing flow in previous hot spots like San Diego.
“Animals and our people need to cross freely,” said Verlon Jose, a member of the tribal council representing border villages. “In our tradition we are taught to be concerned about every living thing as if they were people. We don’t want that wall.”
The federal government, the trustee of all Indian lands, could build the fence here without tribal permission, but that option is not being pressed because officials said it might jeopardize the tribe’s cooperation on smuggling and other border crimes.
“We rely on them for cooperation and intelligence and phone calls about illegal activity as much as they depend on us to respond to calls,” said Chuy Rodriguez, a spokesman for the Border Patrol in Tucson, who described overall relations as “getting better and better.”
The Tohono number more than 30,000, including 14,000 on the Arizona tribal territory and 1,400 in Mexico. Building a fence would impose many challenges, apart from the political difficulties.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Saturday, September 16, 2006
That was the year the bodies of three Navajo men were found in nearby Chokecherry Canyon, burned and bludgeoned. The three white high school students charged in their killings were sent not to prison but to reform school.
The violence and mild sentences incited marches by Navajos through Farmington’s streets and exposed tensions between them and the town’s largely white residents. The United States Commission on Civil Rights eventually investigated and found widespread mistreatment and prejudice against Navajos.
Now, more than three decades later, Navajo leaders here are again calling for federal intervention.
On June 4, the police said, three white men beat a Navajo man, William Blackie, 46, and shouted racial slurs at him after asking him to buy beer for them. The men were charged with kidnapping, robbery and assault, and are being prosecuted under the state hate crimes law, which allows for longer sentences.
Six days later, a white Farmington police officer killed a Navajo man, Clint John, 21, after a struggle in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The police said Mr. John had assaulted his girlfriend and attacked the officer — grabbing his baton and moving aggressively toward him — before the officer shot Mr. John four times. Mr. John had a history of violence, the police said.
Mr. John’s family says he did not have the baton when he was shot and is filing a wrongful death lawsuit against city officials, the Police Department and the officer.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
The order and pattern of carved symbols appeared to be that of a true writing system, according to the Mexican scientists who have studied the slab and colleagues from the United States. It had characteristics strikingly similar to imagery of the Olmec civilization, considered the earliest in pre-Columbian America, they said.
Finding a heretofore-unknown writing system is a rare event. One of the last such discoveries, scholars say, was the Indus Valley script, identified by archaeologists in 1924.
The inscription on the stone slab, with 62 distinct signs, some of them repeated, has been tentatively dated to at least 900 B.C., and possibly earlier. That is 400 years or more before writing had been known to exist in Mesoamerica, the region from central Mexico through much of Central America — and by extension, to exist anywhere in the Hemisphere.
Scientists had not previously found any script that was unambiguously associated with the Olmec culture, which flourished along the Gulf of Mexico in Vera Cruz and Tobasco well before the Zapotec and Maya people rose to prominence elsewhere in the region. Until now, the Olmec were known mainly for the colossal stone heads they created and displayed at monumental buildings in their ruling cities.
''We took one look at it and I can't repeat what I thought but I thought, 'Here we go again,''' said owner Dave Heider.
Thousands of people stopped by Heider's Janesville farm after the birth of the first white buffalo, a female named Miracle who died in 2004 at the age of 10. The second was born in 1996 but died after three days.
Heider said he discovered the third white buffalo, a newborn male, after a storm in late August.
Over the weekend, about 50 American Indians held a drum ceremony to honor the calf, which has yet to be named, he said.
Floyd ''Looks for Buffalo'' Hand, a medicine man in the Oglala Sioux Tribe in Pine Ridge, S.D., said it was fate that the white buffaloes chose one farm, which will likely become a focal point for visitors, who make offerings such as tobacco and dream catchers in the hopes of earning good fortune and peace.
''That's destiny,'' he said. ''The message was only choose one person.''
The white buffalo is particularly sacred to the Cheyenne, Sioux and other nomadic tribes of the Northern Plains that once relied on the buffalo for subsistence.
According to a version of the legend, a white buffalo, disguised as a woman wearing white hides, appeared to two men. One treated her with respect, and the other didn't. She turned the disrespectful man into a pile of bones, and gave the respectful one a pipe and taught his people rituals and music. She transformed into a female white buffalo calf and promised to return again.
That this latest birth is a male doesn't make it any less significant in American Indian prophecies, which say that such an animal will reunite all the races of man and restore balance to the world, Hand said. He said the buffalo's coat will change from white to black, red and yellow, the colors of the various races of man, before turning brown again.
The birth of a white male buffalo means men need to take responsibility for their families and the future of the tribe, Hand said.
The odds of a white buffalo are at least 1 in a million, said Jim Matheson, assistant director of the National Bison Association. Buffalo in general have been rare for years, thought their numbers are increasing, with some 250,000 now in the U.S., he said.
Many people, like Heider, choose to raise the animals for their meat, which is considered a healthier, low-fat alternative to beef.
Gary Adamson, 65, of Elkhorn, who is of Choctaw and Cherokee heritage, said tribal elders will help interpret the animal's significance.
''There are still things that need to be done, and Miracle's task wasn't quite done yet, and we feel there's something there,'' he said.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
"Indian Country Diaries: Spiral of Fire," will make its Washington, D.C. premiere at the National Museum of the American Indian on Friday, September 29th.
In November, the film will air nationally on PBS and will also be screened on opening night at the Native American Film Festival, November 30th, in New York City. Cornsilk, a Cherokee tribal member, will be on hand to discuss her film at both premieres.
"Indian County Diaries: Spiral of Fire” takes author LeAnne Howe (Choctaw) to the North Carolina homeland of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to discover how the mix of tourism, community, and cultural preservation is the key to their tribe’s health in the 21st century.
Along the way, Howe seeks to reconcile her own complex identity as the illegitimate daughter of a Choctaw woman, fathered by a Cherokee man she never knew, and raised by an adopted Cherokee family in Oklahoma.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 — Traditionally, when American Indians are killed in battle, their remains are returned to their tribal lands for burial.
But for the families of the many Indians who join the United States military, death brings a difficult choice: The veterans can be buried in a national veterans’ cemetery with fellow comrades in arms. Or they can be buried close to home on tribal land.
There is no way to do both.
The Native American Veterans Cemetery Act would change that.
Representative Tom Udall, the New Mexico Democrat who wrote the bill, said it would authorize states to provide grants financed by the Department of Veterans Affairs for the development or improvement of veterans’ cemeteries on tribal land. At present, tribal governments are not eligible for department money.
In June, Mr. Udall’s measure was unanimously approved by the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Both the House and the Senate included it in comprehensive veterans’ bills approved last month. The next step is for those bills to be reconciled by a conference committee after Congress returns in September.
Nearly 20,000 people classified as Native American/Alaskan Native are serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, according to the Defense Department’s most recent tally, from December 2005. By the end of 2006, there will be an estimated 181,361 Native American veterans, according to the V.A. The National Native American Veterans Association estimates that 22 percent of Native Americans 18 years or older are veterans.
“This is about recognizing that it’s not just states that have rights — tribes, too, should have rights,” Mr. Udall said in a recent interview.
Friday, September 01, 2006
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 1 — What would have been among the largest expansions of Indian gambling in recent years, a major goal of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was defeated by the California Legislature on Thursday after heavy lobbying by union groups frustrated by efforts to organize workers at the casinos.
It may be a temporary setback for the governor and tribal groups, who have promised to push again for the expansion next year. Legislative leaders, who have been generally supportive of Indian gambling, also suggested they would be open to similar plans down the road.
But for now, Mr. Schwarzenegger and the tribes, who had been negotiating for a couple of years, stand empty-handed.
One bill passed in one legislative chamber but failed in the other, and lawmakers declined to take up five bills ratifying six compacts the governor had signed that would have allowed for some 20,000 new slot machines on several reservations, in addition to the 60,000 already there.
The compacts are another sign of the explosive growth of the Indian gambling industry, whose revenues have grown nationwide to $22.7 billion last year from $5.5 billion a decade ago, enriching many tribes. The Indian casinos, many aping the flash and entertainment of the Las Vegas Strip, typically serve the masses unable or unwilling to go to Las Vegas or casinos in other states.