Saturday, December 22, 2007

10 Years Later, Chiapas Massacre Still Haunts Mexico

Published: December 23, 2007

ACTEAL, Mexico — It was 10 years ago that gunmen crept down the hillside into the center of this impoverished Indian village in Chiapas State. By the time they fled hours later, the attackers had littered the ground with bullet casings and killed 45 innocent people, including 21 women and 15 children.

Since the Acteal massacre, on Dec. 22, 1997, dozens of people have been arrested and convicted. But the case remains as foggy as the community, which is so high in the hills that clouds sometimes linger at ground level and the lush vegetation can disappear into the haze.

Then-President Ernesto Zedillo, reacting to international outrage over the killings, ordered an aggressive investigation. What prosecutors found was ugly: While local government officials and police officers had not wielded the weapons that day, they had allowed the slaughter to occur and tampered with the crime scene afterward.

The killers had been members of the then-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The victims were Roman Catholic advocates from a group called Las Abejas, or The Bees, who sympathized with the Zapatista rebels who were in open revolt in Chiapas.

All involved were poor Tzotzil Indians, many of them related.

A decade after the massacre, the Tzotzil live side by side but divided. In one group, the one that backs the PRI, many of the men have been sent to prison for the killings. The others, from the Abejas group, who live down the road, insist that even more killers are at large.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s courts struggle to handle what has grown into one of the country’s longest and most complex cases. A dozen judges have been involved in the trials and, now, the appeals of their convictions.

A year ago, the public interest law clinic at Mexico City’s Center for Investigation and Economic Studies began defending those convicted of taking part in the massacre. Lawyers say they have found that outrage over what happened to the innocents that day led to more abuses. They describe an effort to round up anyone, which sent many other innocent people to prison. “The Acteal case shows all the problems of Mexico’s criminal justice system,” said Javier Angulo, who teaches constitutional law at the center and supervises a team of students who are representing the Acteal defendants. “We solved the problem of the Acteal massacre by creating other problems and arresting people who did nothing at all.”

The case is an ideal one, Mr. Angulo argues, to show law students that every defendant ought to be treated fairly, even if there is great public dismay over a particular crime.

“This is the most complicated case in Mexico,” he said in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas State, as he prepared to appeal the convictions of some of the men. “It’s possible that in 10 more years we’ll still be talking about what really happened in Acteal.”

The details of the case have been exaggerated and mythologized in so many ways, he said. The number of killers, which he puts at nine, has grown to hundreds in some people’s estimation. Witnesses who in their first interviews could not name any of the attackers later gave authorities detailed lists of the men who fired the guns. The early version of the attack, that the victims of Acteal were gunned down while praying in a church, had been exaggerated to give an awful act an even more sinister resonance, he said.

Advocates for the people who died at Acteal express fury at those who dare to defend the accused. “They tell so many lies,” said Diego Pérez Jiménez, president of the Abejas group, who is pushing the government for compensation for the families of the deceased. “These guys in jail were killers, and there are more killers out there. That’s the truth.”

One thing is clear, that the long judicial process has done little to ease the tension in the hills.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sequoyah High’s Success Energizes Tribe

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — If not for basketball, Angel Goodrich and her school, Sequoyah High, would be as easy to overlook as the dusty farming towns that freckle northeast Oklahoma. Goodrich, a shy sliver of a guard, is the face of the Lady Indians, who are the three-time defending state champions in their classification and a rising force on the national scene.

Sequoyah High’s girls’ basketball team opened the season two weeks ago against Broken Arrow. It has won three state titles in a row.
They opened the season ranked in the top 10 in Sports Illustrated’s national poll. And this week they will participate in the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix. Sequoyah is the first all-Indian school to receive one of the coveted invitations.

A Kansas-bound senior with a quiet demeanor and quicksilver moves, Goodrich is the first Division I athletic scholarship recipient in school history. To her teammates, the 5-foot-3 Goodrich is no big deal. They pull her baggy shorts down in practice and share their Cheetos with her during breaks. When they look at her they see a reflection of themselves, a small-town American Indian with big dreams.

Goodrich’s individual acclaim, far from inducing envy or awe, has nudged those around her to aim higher. Because of her, teammates with parents and older siblings who did not finish high school talk about completing college. In the process, the expectations of a team, a town and a tribe are being raised like a fist in triumph.

Larry Grigg, who is Sequoyah’s athletic director, said: “There are so many young kids watching her. They’ll set their goals to be like her. Even if they don’t reach them, if they get partway up the mountain, that’s still pretty good.”

When Goodrich, who was recruited by Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Arkansas, among others, accepted a scholarship to play basketball at Kansas during the November signing period, it was a watershed moment for her school. Her signature formalized a covenant that would have been unfathomable a generation earlier.

Formed in 1871 as an orphanage for Indians, Sequoyah has an enrollment of 380 in grades 7 through 12, including 202 girls. The school is a few miles outside Tahlequah in the heart of the Cherokee Nation, which is not a reservation but a jurisdictional service area that includes all or parts of 14 counties. The school was refashioned as a vocational institution in 1925 and later became known as a place of last resort, an institution for the incorrigible.

In the 1980s, a Cherokee teenager from the nearby town of Stillwell begged her parents to let her transfer to Sequoyah because she felt like an outsider at her public school. Her parents refused, so strong was the school’s stigma.

That teenager, Fayth Goodrich, married a man she met in the Air Force and had three children. Angel is their middle child. Goodrich’s younger sister, Nikki, is a 5-foot sophomore guard who is on college recruiters’ radars.

Goodrich is a trailblazer who would prefer not to leave any footsteps. She is as famous for her reserve as she is her reverse layups.

Coach Bill Nobles receives weekly academic updates on his players, and on the first Monday in December, one teacher wrote in jest in the margin of Goodrich’s grade slip, “So vocal!”

Goodrich, interviewed recently in the cramped office in the musty gym that Nobles shares with other coaches, said, “You won’t hear me say a word if I don’t know you.”

It was the eve of the season opener Dec. 4 and Nobles had exciting news to relay to Goodrich: She was under consideration for the McDonald’s all-American team. Goodrich shrugged and seemed to disappear, turtlelike, into her zipped varsity jacket.

Her sentences grew elongated and her voice more enthusiastic when she described to Nobles a college game she had watched on TV the previous night between top-ranked Tennessee and No. 4 North Carolina.

“Did you see the ending?” she asked him. Nobles had been watching game film, so Goodrich filled him in.

A North Carolina freshman stood at the foul line with five seconds left and a chance to tie the score with three free throws. She made the first, missed the second and intentionally missed the third.

“I don’t know why she did that,” Goodrich said. “If she made the third free throw, they could have fouled right away on the inbounds pass. Then they would have had enough time to set up a shot at the end.”

Sequoyah High’s girls’ basketball team opened the season two weeks ago against Broken Arrow. It has won three state titles in a row.

The Sequoyah girls’ coach Bill Nobles said those who tried to recruit his players had doubts about whether they would stick it out.
Basketball is the one subject that draws Goodrich out of her shell. In her first game for Sequoyah, she came close to recording a quadruple double. As a junior, she averaged 17.9 points, 7.5 assists, 6.9 steals, 6.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.

Goodrich loves to feed her teammates for open shots and hates to shoot free throws. “They scare me,” she said. “They make me nervous.”

Standing at the foul line, with all the eyes in the building trained on her, feels too much like being on a stage. “I just like going out there and playing,” she said.

Her main concern about college, she said, is how to juggle basketball and Sunday Baptist services. The adults around Goodrich have other worries.

Indians made up 0.3 percent of all female athletes at National Collegiate Athletic Association institutions in 2004-5, the latest statistics available. During the recruiting process, Nobles said, many coaches expressed concern that Goodrich might not stay for four years.

“There’s still that stigma that Native Americans are not going to stick with it,” he said. “They’re these belief structures that are slow to break down, that they’re going to get homesick, get pregnant, get involved with alcohol or drugs. That’s one of the things I talk to Angel about.”

A native Oklahoman, Nobles was born 30 minutes west in Muskogee. His mother, Barbara, is part Cherokee; his father, John, was a full-blooded coach. During his 30-year career, John Nobles’s teams won three state titles and he was once the National High School Association’s coach of the year.

Nobles, 46, is cross between Bobby Knight and the father of Hannah Montana. He puts his players through the wringer with his exacting standards, especially when it comes to boxing out for rebounds and trapping on defense. But then, after every game, Nobles collects the uniforms and takes them home to wash because the one washing machine on campus is always being used.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ellsbury an inspirational figure back home in Oregon

Man of the peoples
Ellsbury an inspiration at home, especially to Native Americans

By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / November 25, 2007
MADRAS, Ore. - Liz Nelson, his first-grade teacher, wore his 6-year-old handprint over her heart, on the sweater her volunteer room mother had made as a Christmas present, little hands drawn everywhere.

Judy Vanek, a nurse in town who had wheeled a patient fresh from surgery out of the recovery room so he could get back in time to watch the World Series, carried a wallet-sized photo of him from high school, posing with Amanda Bailey with a crown on his head, king of the "Cinderella Ball."

The Eagle Thunder Drum Group from Warm Springs, the nearby Indian reservation where his mother and father worked and he had first played T-ball, boomed out a number in his honor, before Chief Delvis Heath, in a full eagle-feather headdress, draped a medallion around his neck. Later, in another ceremony at the reservation, he and his father, Jim, would be presented with hand-woven blankets.

The Red Sox had sent an official Series banner, which hung behind one basket in the high school gym where he never lost a center jump, outleaping opponents a half-foot taller. Jim Reese, his old high school baseball coach, had driven more than two hours in the rain to be here. US Sen. Gordon Smith sent some of his people with the American flag that had flown over the Capitol the day after the Sox won the Series. And the 27-year-old mayor, Jason Hale, gave him the key to the city.

His mother, Margie, and the oldest of his three younger brothers, the one who most looked like him, signed autographs. And on this day, anyway, it seemed as if every kid in town had the same name, because there was only one appearing on the back of most every jersey: "Jacoby."

Jacoby Ellsbury had come home, to this central Oregon farm town tucked away on the far side of Mt. Hood, after a month in which no one talked about much else at the Black Bear Diner than their native son, even if Jennifer Aniston was in town, making a movie. The ride he took in a black convertible through the streets of Madras, behind the fire trucks and police cars and ahead of the hay wagon carrying the Warm Springs Reds, the undefeated Little League team? The parade in Boston had been sweet, he said, but it couldn't match this.

"He was born in this area," said his father, Jim Ellsbury, who for 28 years has worked this land as a forestry expert for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, while Margie Ellsbury, a full-blooded Navajo, worked on the reservation as an early-education and special-education specialist. "These are his people. For him to be honored this way is wonderful."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Paula Gunn Allen receives a 2007 Lannan Literary Fellowship

The Lannan Literary Awards and Fellowships were established in 1989 to honor both established and emerging writers whose work is of exceptional quality. Over the last 18 years, through its Awards and Fellowships program, the Foundation has awarded 161 writers and poets over $11 million. The awards recognize writers who have made significant contributions to English-language literature. The fellowships recognize writers of distinctive literary merit who demonstrate potential for continued outstanding work.

Paula Gunn Allen, of Laguna, Sioux and Lebanese descent, is a literary critic, poet, and novelist, and a noted scholar of Native American literature. During a long and distinguished academic career, she edited numerous seminal texts including The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in Native American Traditions (1986) and Spider Woman’s Granddaughters (1990) as well as works on poetry and critical essays on Native American literature. She retired from her position as Professor of English/Creative Writing/American Indian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1999.

Momaday to receive the National Medal of the Arts

Nine recipients of the National Medal of Arts were announced yesterday by President Bush. The nominations were managed by the National Endowment for the Arts. The author, essayist, poet, professor and painter N. Scott Momaday, Kiowa, was among the 2007 recipients at the White House ceremony. Other recipients were the artist Andrew Wyeth, the composer Morten Lauridsen, the arts patron Roy R. Neuberger, the Old Globe Theater founding director Craig Noel, the guitarist and inventor Les Paul, the arts patron Henry Steinway, the painter George Tooker, and the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival at the University of Idaho.

2007 National Book Award Young People's Literature Winner

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Little, Brown & Company

Interview conducted by Rita Williams-Garcia.

RWG: Now that it's all said and done, what is the story decision that you are most proud of?

SA: I suppose I'm most proud of telling the story in first person. I worried that my highly autobiographical novel would be just thinly disguised memoir if I wrote in the first person. And I was equally worried about writing yet another first-person YA novel, featuring yet another highly sensitive protagonist. So, yes, I did write an early draft in the third person, but that narrative distance created an emotional distance as well. And I realized that I was afraid of the first person because I was afraid of my own history. I'm not a fearful person, onstage or in my books or anywhere else, so I was nearly debilitated by my fear. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to finish the book. But with much support from my family, my agent Nancy, and my editor Jennifer, I was able to proceed.

RWG: You are amongst friends. Which scene made you pee on yourself as you wrote it? (Don't even front. I know you peed.)

SA: I peed with laughter when I wrote the "metaphorical boner" discussion between Arnold, my Spokane Indian protagonist, and Gordon, his new friend and white boy genius. I just loved the thought of two adolescent males discussing books with as much sexual ferocity as most boys (and men) discuss women.

RWG: Arnold is a comic book artist and a self-described book kisser who stands up to Tolstoy. What is literacy to Arnold?

SA: Wow, that's an interesting question. I suppose Arnold would think that literacy is a form of self-defense. If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one's chances of survival increase with each book one reads. I love that Arnold takes on Tolstoy (I would have never had that kind of courage) and I'm a little miffed that you're one of the few interviewers to bring it up. In fact, I change my mind about the first question above. I'm most proud that Arnold, a rez boy, has enough courage to disprove the universally accepted literary maxim that happy families are all alike when, in fact, it is the unhappy families who are most similar, especially on a reservation.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

University Reverses Policy to Allow Mascot's Return

CHICAGO, Oct. 27 — Chief Illiniwek has not yet left the campus.

Students for Chief Illiniwek marched in the University of Illinois homecoming parade on Friday.
Months after the University of Illinois decided to retire the mascot officially, banning him from university activities, the image of Chief Illiniwek, a buckskin-clad American Indian, was allowed to return to an event during homecoming celebrations this weekend on the Urbana-Champaign campus.

His likeness appeared on the side of a couple of floats, face-forward, fully framed in feathers.

In the name of free speech and in a reversal of policy, Chancellor Richard Herman lifted a prohibition on the use of the Chief Illiniwek logo on homecoming parade floats just a day before the parade rolled on Friday night.

“The university values free speech and free expression,” the university said in a statement, “and considers homecoming floats, decorations, costumes and related signage all representations of such personal expression. Therefore, Chancellor Herman has directed the Homecoming Committee to strike the existing policy from the homecoming float guidelines.”

A few thousand spectators showed up on campus for the parade, and about half of them were sporting some sort of Chief Illiniwek paraphernalia somewhere on their bodies. There were no protesters.

As an official mascot, Chief Illiniwek performed for the last time in February. He was retired under pressure from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and amid heated debate at the university, though the university’s sports teams retained the nickname Illini. A symbol of university and geographic pride to many, Chief Illiniwek came across to others as a racial stereotype from another time.

He was 81 years old.

The chief’s main function was to dance for a few minutes at halftime during basketball and football games, but he had a devoted following, to say the least, and even his own society, called Honor the Chief. The society’s Web site says it was founded to help the public “recognize the difference between an athletic mascot and a time-honored symbol of tradition and respect.”

But, in one sense, he was a relic. The push to erase American Indian nicknames from college campuses began in the 1960’s in Indian communities and at universities. At the time, there were thousands of athletic programs with such nicknames.

But by 2000, the use of Indian mascots and names had disappeared from all but a handful of major universities. In 1991, the University of Illinois’s own student government association found Chief Illiniwek to be discriminatory and called for the mascot’s elimination. In 2005, the N.C.A.A. announced a policy that prohibited athletic programs using so-called abusive imagery from being the hosts for postseason games and banned the use of Indian nicknames. The policy also banned the use of such images by coaches, players, cheerleaders, band members and others.

But even after Chief Illiniwek was banished, he never really went away.

“It’s still everywhere, on clothing and merchandise, people have it and it’s still around,” said Yael Dvorin, a senior from Des Plaines, Ill. “It’s not taken away. After years of having that material, chief paraphernalia is everywhere. It is still very visible in that sense.”

Charlene Teters, the vice president of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media and a member of the Spokane Nation, began the movement to eliminate Chief Illiniwek at Illinois in the late 1980s. Ms. Teters did not return calls for comment, but on her Web site, she noted that “the effort to remove Chief Illiniwek was never about the mascot, it was and remains to be about racism.”

The N.C.A.A.’s executive committee rejected an appeal last year by the University of Illinois to continue using its Chief Illiniwek athletic mascot. On Friday, a spokeswoman said that N.C.A.A. policy only covered athletic events, so the use of the chief’s image at a parade was an internal university issue.

But the spokeswoman, Dana Thomas, said the University of Illinois would be invited to participate in N.C.A.A. championships only if it did so without American Indian references on its uniforms and associated athletic program activities.

Still, the decision to allow the chief’s image on floats left some students questioning the administration.

“Free speech — in this context I’m not sure I agree because the homecoming parade is through the university,” said Scott Schwartz, a senior molecular and cellular biology major. “A lot of bending of rules.”

The chief is still such a hot point of contention that the university’s student newspaper, The Daily Illini, would not discuss the homecoming issue and does not plan to publish an editorial position on the rule reversal.

Students who were interviewed mostly said they could see both sides of the issue, but remain faithful to the chief.

“To me it is a very honorable and loyal symbol,” said Haley Beenenga, a senior from Bloomington, Ill. “I love the chief and I wish it was still here, but I also understand how it can be offensive. Now I want to know, is he around or not around? What’s the decision? Clearly it’s hard to get rid of something that’s been around so long.”

Robin Kaler, the university’s associate chancellor for public affairs, said the nature of the event, a public parade, overrode concerns about the university’s sponsorship.

“We wouldn’t ban a member of the campus community from wearing chief paraphernalia to class or work,” she said. “We’re not going to ban them from doing that in the parade either.”

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Red Sox rookie brings lightning feet to the diamond

Boston - It was the first inning of an important game between Oregon State University and arch-rival Stanford University. Jacoby Ellsbury was prowling right field for the Oregon State Beavers. Suddenly, a deep fly ball arced toward the right-center field gap. He bolted toward the ball, diving to make a seemingly miraculous catch before plunging headfirst into the wall.

The ball ended up in his glove on his chest, according to his coach, Pat Casey, but wasn't ruled a catch. Ellsbury was out cold. When he finally came to a few minutes later, he asked if he could stay in the game. He ended up, instead, with nine stitches.

The incident encapsulates the passion with which Ellsbury tends to play the game. Since being called up from the minor leagues by the Boston Red Sox four weeks ago, the young outfielder has brought a fiber-optic speed to the base paths, a gritty glove in the outfield, and a surprisingly strong bat.

Along with several other minor leaguers added to the team's roster in the final month of the season – including no-hit pitching sensation Clay Buchholz – he has helped infuse the club with an energy and enthusiasm as it has captured its first divisional championship in 12 years.

Now, as the team heads into the first round of the playoffs tonight, Ellsbury, the first player of Navajo descent to make the major leagues, may see more limited duty. But he has already left a mark on the team, emerged as a fan favorite, and may be inspiring a new generation of native Americans to pick up a bat.

"Ellsbury has put a new dimension of pure speed and excitement into our game," says veteran Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell.

• • •

On a dark rainy Wednesday, Ellsbury enters the Red Sox clubhouse before a game with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He flashes a smile. He's wearing a bandage around his left wrist – the consequences of an encounter with the "Green Monster" the night before while attempting to catch a fly ball in his usual full-tilt style.

A few players sit in front of their lockers, some of which are filled with photos of their girlfriends, wives, and children as well as crayon drawings. A clutch of reporters waits at Ellsbury's locker. Quiet but attentive, Ellsbury tells me that because he and the other rookies have had the shared experiences of moving through the minor league ranks, this has eased his own transition to the majors. It's given him confidence.

Ellsbury says the one person in life who has inspired him the most is his father. Ellsbury's parents, Jim and Margie, live in Madras, Ore. His dad, a forester, gets up at 5 a.m. every day to make a living for the family. That has encouraged the young Ellsbury to push himself. Similarly, he lauds his mother, an early-intervention specialist on the Warm Springs Reservation near Madras.

On the field, the person Ellsbury would most like to pattern his career after is Ken Griffey Jr., a left-handed hitting All-Star center fielder. Griffey played for the Seattle Mariners when Ellsbury was growing up in Oregon. "I had the opportunity to see him play at the Kingdome, and I just loved how he played," says Ellsbury.

Ellsbury remains close with his former coach at Oregon State. When he got the call last month to come up to the big leagues, Casey was one of the first people Ellsbury phoned on the way to Fenway Park. "He was very excited and said he hoped to see a game this year," says Ellsbury.

Casey, for his part, believes Ellsbury could become a "superstar." He knows the young player won't become a power hitter, but believes he could get 20 home runs a year, steal 40 bases, and "drag and dump bunts." Like others, he compares Ellsbury to former Red Sox player Johnny Damon, now with the Yankees.

One thing working in Ellsbury's favor is his athleticism. He grew up in a family with three brothers, all of whom, like him, played multiple sports. While Ellsbury was a standout at Oregon State in baseball, helping to propel his team to the NCAA College World Series in his junior year, he also played basketball, football, and track in his earlier school days.

When Red Sox scouts first came to Oregon State to look at Ellsbury, the Beavers were supposed to be playing San Diego State. But it was raining. So Casey, who was determined to show the scouts what Jacoby could do, told him to "grab a basketball, go under the basket over there, and drive it home." Ellsbury, though only 6 ft., 1 in., dunked it from a standing jump.

Margie Ellsbury concurs that her son has always shown unusual speed and jumping ability. She says that when he competed in track in middle school, the coaches didn't teach much technique. But he almost always won the high-jump competition. When he played basketball in high school, the coaches would always send him in for the tip-off, even though the person he matched up against was often eight inches taller. "There was no way he could win that tip-off, but he always did," says Ms. Ellsbury. "He electrified people in the gym."

Ellsbury has shown some of that athleticism in his short stint with the Red Sox. He has run down distant fly balls, careened through chairs to catch pop-ups in foul territory, and, on one occasion, scored from second base on a wild pitch. His speed has helped him scratch out infield hits and pick up nine stolen bases – on a team traditionally not known for running. He has hit an above-average .353 during his time in Boston.

Already, some overzealous fans here are anointing him a possible rookie-of-the-year candidate for next season. (Ellsbury hasn't played in enough games to be eligible this year.) But he will have to make it permanently to the majors first, then try to grab a spot on a team that already has established players – and substantial money – invested in the outfield positions.

• • •

Since 1897, 47 full-blooded native Americans have played in the major leagues, according to the Baseball Almanac. While Ellsbury is only one-half Navajo, he is one of several players of native American descent now making a mark in the big leagues – another being Joba Chamberlain, a rookie reliever for the Yankees.

Ellsbury, in particular, is being closely watched by the Navajo Nation in Arizona. "Every time a native American accomplishes such a thing, it draws a lot of attention from the youth because it demonstrates it can be done," says Duane Beyal, editor of the Navajo Times in Window Rock, Ariz., who's following Ellsbury's exploits.

Ellsbury is mindful of his heritage. His grandmother, a full-blooded Navajo, would spend summers at their house in Oregon, teaching Ellsbury and his brothers Navajo songs. The boys, says Margie Ellsbury, would visit the Navajo reservation in Arizona almost every summer. Ellsbury knows he has become a role model. "I understand the importance of giving back, and that's something I definitely want to do," he says.

For now, the rookie just seems to be enjoying his Cinderella moment in the majors – but keeping things in perspective. At Oregon State, Casey always stressed that the game is "bigger than any of us." His mother tries to infuse humility by reminding him to appreciate the good fortune that has brought him this far.

She used to film all his games at Oregon State with a Super 8 camera. "Jacoby was the only one who wanted to be filmed," she says. "His brothers didn't want me to do that."

She might want to get some extra film.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Only living Elem Pomo speaker teaches so she won't be the last

Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Loretta Kelsey closed her eyes, letting memories ripple through her. Visions of coyotes, childhood acorn hunts and fishermen filled her head. A minute dragged by. She opened her eyes, stared at the calm waters of Clear Lake, and began to speak.

"Ah wee-e-bee, we-e bit," she said quietly. "Fac-ma, fa-a-kepkin. Aquichin wa mit." The words of the old ways rolled on for several minutes, and as they came, Kelsey fixed her gaze on the ground.

"Sholbit," she finally said, looking up and smiling. "The end."

Yes and no.

It was the end of her story, in Kelsey's native Elem Pomo language, about her aunt chewing tule reeds 60 years ago and using the chaff to catch fish in an apron. But by the mere act of telling that story, she was giving a desperately needed new beginning to her people's language.

Kelsey, 59, is the last person on Earth who is fluent in Elem Pomo, an 8,000-year-old dialect spoken by a people who once flourished along the shores of Clear Lake (Lake County). Handed down orally and never written, the language has nearly vanished - and Kelsey, a quiet, almost demure woman with steely gaze, is doing everything she can to make sure the ancient words do not die with her.

Every time an Elem Pomo phrase passes her lips and someone else hears it, she says, she is helping keep it alive. It's even better if one of the young people in her tribe speaks that phrase back to her - and over the past three years, she has been holding workshops to make sure they are able to do that.

"It would be so terribly sad to let this language die out because ... well, look around you," Kelsey said, waving her hands to take in the oak tree-studded spread of her reservation, the Elem Pomo Colony on the southern shore of Clear Lake. "Our language is really right here. It's in our ceremonies, our lives, our people, our ways.

"You keep the language alive, you help keep all of this alive."

It wasn't so long ago that dozens of people spoke Elem Pomo. When Kelsey was a child in the 1950s and '60s, her parents and many other elders in the 250-member tribe were fluent, and her mother spoke no English.

But as the older folks died off and the younger ones forayed into the broader society around them to make a living, many native ways were lost. It was a disintegration that was millennia in coming.

The Elem Pomo tribe originated in about 6000 B.C., and as it perfected the arts of bluegill fishing, making bread from acorns and weaving watertight baskets with bullrush and willow strands, it came to occupy 80,000 acres around the lake. However, the advent of white settlers in the 1800s brought the usual displacement crises, the most notorious being the 1850 Bloody Island Massacre at Clear Lake - in which 200 Elem Pomo and other Indians were killed by the U.S. Army. The massacre was in retaliation for the slaying of white ranchers Andrew Kelsey and Charles Stone, who were killed by Pomo braves retaliating for the pair's enslavement and rape of local Indians.

Today, the casino-less tribe exists on a 50-acre reservation of simple houses, next to a closed sulfur mine so badly polluted with mercury that it is on the nation's Superfund toxic cleanup list.

Over the past 30 years in particular, the Elem Pomo's traditions, such as subsistence fishing and basket weaving, dwindled as people joined area churches and found jobs in mercury mines, logging operations and town stores. The same decline has affected tribes all over California. Of the seven loosely related Pomo tribes around Clear Lake - each with its own language - only one, the Elem Pomo, has a full traditional round house.

Speaking the native tongue only got in the way of trying to fit in, the thinking went.

"It's a difficult language, and my dad never taught it to us because he didn't want the white kids to make fun of us," said Elem Pomo Tribal Chairman Ray Brown. "It's a real shame, now that we all look back on it, because you don't really learn it unless you grow up with it."

It's not too late to fix that, Kelsey said. "All we need is a willingness to want it to live, and I think we have that."

Her interest in reviving the language ignited three years ago when her nephew, Robert Geary, who helps run the tribe's ceremonial events, attended a statewide meeting of Indian tribes interested in preserving their culture. After Geary came back he polled the tribe for who spoke the language, and only one name came up: Kelsey.

Remembering that UC Berkeley linguistic students had recorded tribal members speaking Elem Pomo between the 1940s and '60s, the two called the university for help on how to revive their dialect. They wound up with one of the nation's pre-eminent Pomo language researchers, Professor Emeritus Leanne Hinton.

Together, Hinton and Kelsey dug into the campus archives and found recordings in Elem Pomo on old reel-to-reel tapes - and they included Kelsey's father telling stories, and Ray Brown's father singing.

"California's tribes have been so fractured over the years that it's very hard to tell how many languages are still alive," said Hinton, who co-founded the statewide Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival. "What Loretta is doing is special. And for the last speaker of a language, she's amazingly young."

Hinton said that in the mid-1770s, California's Indians - Miwoks, Pomos, Ohlones being the main ones in Northern California - spoke 115 languages. Now, only about 50 dialects remain statewide, and many of those have a just handful of speakers each.
Kelsey is the only lone speaker that Hinton knows of.

"A language is not just a monument to knowledge, it's a monument to identity," Hinton said. "But bringing it back takes generations. Loretta and her people have a lot of work ahead of them."

Listening to the old UC recordings with Hinton was the first time Kelsey had heard the language fluently spoken since she was a young woman. She hadn't really spoken much of it since then, either, but it always remained strong in her for some reason.

"Hearing my father's voice brought back so many memories," she said, sighing. "Memories of him and me camping, of us sliding down the hills on cardboard in the summer, memories of my elders fishing.

"It helped me remember even more of the language to hear these."

Part of the charm of the Elem Pomo dialect for Kelsey, and for Hinton, is its gentle nature. Much emphasis, in passing it down through the generations, was on the telling of stories, such as the coyote myths, which have the wily critter causing floods and the like. There are no swear words in Elem Pomo, and nothing for "hello" or "goodbye."

"We just say 'How are you doing?' or 'I'll see you again,' " Kelsey said. "As a people, we really just want to know how you are doing, I guess. And I don't think anybody was mean enough to say bad words."

So far, Kelsey has conducted four weekendlong language camps for her tribe. Each had a theme - animals and birds for one, foods and utensils for the other three - and the 30 or so participants played bingo in Elem Pomo using the themed words to make things more fun.

She's also writing a dictionary and a phrase handbook, with the help of Hinton and a couple of other linguists from the UC system.
Such endeavors are a whole new direction for Kelsey, who raised two children, has six grandchildren and worked as a nurses' assistant before retiring on disability in 2004 after a back injury.

"I just never thought of things like this, but now I really wish I had spoken the language to my kids as they grew up. It was kind of crazy, but that's just how life was," Kelsey said. "It saddens me. I have a tremendous responsibility now."

She sat with friends around an unlit fire pit at the reservation as she spoke, grandchildren and dogs happily playing nearby. Occasionally an Elem Pomo word would pop up in the chatter, and she'd smile.

"It's pretty hard work picking up the language, and it's hard to get everyone together to learn," said Joe Peters, Kelsey's 19-year-old grandson. "I can actually use words with my grandma now, like I'll say "where" or "I love you" in Elem Pomo. But I can't really say a whole phrase just yet."

Tribal Chairman Brown said that if the teaching proves too difficult, he may ask all seven Pomo tribes to try to combine their languages into one, so at least one dialect will be carried on through the ages. That will be tough, he admitted, since only two words are common to all the tribes - hiyu, meaning dog, and masin, meaning white man.

The Elem Pomo, like many tribes around California, is also reassessing its tribal enrollment lists, and many members - including Kelsey - are being considered for disenrollment based on historical family records. That could prompt people to move away from the reservation, further fracturing the ability to get together for language classes.

Kelsey watched Joe and his cousins kick a ball back and forth in the bare dirt yard - the same yard she once kicked balls in 50 years ago as her elders called to her in Elem Pomo. "At least when I speak it now, I can live those old days again," she said, her eyes getting a faraway look. "Maybe someday my grandchildren and their children will get to experience that too."

But Kelsey said that no matter what happens, she is now committed to passing her tongue along for the rest of her life.
"Sometimes I really wish for the old days, when things were simpler," Kelsey said. "Back then, our culture was clearer, things made more sense."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Nike unveils first shoe for American Indians

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Nike on Tuesday unveiled what it said is the first shoe designed specifically for American Indians, an effort aiming at promoting physical fitness in a population with high obesity rates.

The Beaverton-based company says the Air Native N7 is designed with a larger fit for the distinct foot shape of American Indians, and has a culturally specific look. It will be distributed solely to American Indians; tribal wellness programs and tribal schools nationwide will be able to purchase the shoe at wholesale price and then pass it along to individuals, often at no cost.

“Nike is aware of the growing health issues facing Native Americans,” said Sam McCracken, manager of Nike's Native American Business program. “We are stepping up our commitment ... to elevate the issue of Native American health and wellness.”

Nike said it is the first time it has designed a shoe for a specific race or ethnicity. It said all profits from the sale of the shoe will be reinvested in health programs for tribal lands, where problems with obesity, diabetes and related conditions are near epidemic levels in some tribes.

Nike designers and researchers looked at the feet of more than 200 people from more than 70 tribes nationwide and found that in general, American Indians have a much wider and taller foot than the average shoe accommodates. The average shoe width of men and women measured was three width sizes larger than the standard Nike shoe.

As a result, the Air Native is wider with a larger toe box. The shoe has fewer seams for irritation and a thicker sock liner for comfort.

Jerry Bread, outreach co-ordinator for the Native American Studies program at University of Oklahoma, said the idea was “fantastic” and addressed a core issue for tribes, though he was skeptical that the feet of people from so many tribes could be so similar.

“It's an excellent gesture and I know it will get a lot of support from tribal people,” Mr. Bread said. “We stand to profit from it in our physical health and well being.”

Dr. Kelly Acton, director of the national diabetes program for Indian Health Services, said she was dubious of working with a corporation at first but said she was delighted with the result, saying Nike “bent over backwards” to design a shoe and respect public health needs.

The N7 name is a reference to the seventh generation theory, used by some tribes to look to the three generations preceding them for wisdom and the three generations ahead for their legacy.

The design features several “heritage call outs” as one product manager described it, including sunrise to sunset to sunrise patterns on the tongue and heel of the shoe. Feather designs adorn the inside and stars are on the sole to represent the night sky.

The company anticipates selling at least 10,000 pairs and raising $200,000 (U.S.) for tribal programs. At $42.80 (U.S.) wholesale, it represents less of a financial opportunity than a goodwill and branding effort.

“The reason I like it is that, even if there's not a big Native American market, it gives people the impression there is a constituency that deserves attention,” said John Dickson, a member of the executive council of the Native American Leadership Alliance in Washington, D.C.

Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said the product reflects how Nike does business.

The company prides itself on designing specifically for certain athletes and having close ties to its customers. Nike has been involved with the tribal community for years, supporting tribal athletic teams, events and other social initiatives.

“It reinforces the core of the Nike brand, which is: If you have a body you are an athlete,” Mr. Swangard said.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Beyond the Reservation

MASHANTUCKET PEQUOT INDIAN RESERVATION, Conn. — With hundreds of millions of dollars in annual profits flowing in from their gambling business, the Mashantucket Pequots first floated the idea of building a large amusement park. But those plans were shot down by neighbors already unhappy with the huge Foxwoods casino in their midst.

Some Indian tribes are also winning contracts to manage others’ casinos for a cut of the profits.
The tribe then bought into a ferry-building business in hopes of diversifying its holdings, but that only provided a costly lesson in the dangers of “building Cadillacs for a Chevy market,” said Michael J. Thomas, the tribe’s chairman.

So maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Pequot tribal leaders would choose to stick to what they know best. In doing so, however, they have moved far beyond their reservation here in eastern Connecticut, scouring the nation for new market opportunities in gambling just like any other large casino operator.

That is how the Pequots came to be one of the main investors in a large casino-resort being considered by officials in south-central Kansas; earlier this year, Kansas joined the ever-swelling list of states legalizing casino gambling.

That is also how the tribe, which has operated one of the world’s most profitable casinos since 1992, ended up as the prime mover behind a $500 million slot parlor and hotel planned to open in Philadelphia by the end of 2009, beating out Trump Entertainment Resorts, Pinnacle Entertainment and several other established gambling companies.

The Pequots are hardly alone. Last November, the Mohegan tribe, which operates the giant Mohegan Sun casino hotel not far from here, opened a slot parlor in Pennsylvania. At about the same time, the Seminole Tribe of Florida paid $965 million to buy Hard Rock International, the rock-’n’-roll-themed chain of restaurants, hotels and casinos.

“This is bringing tribes into uncharted territory,” said Steven Andrew Light, co-director of the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy at the University of North Dakota. He called the moves a “harbinger for a new wave within the Indian gaming world.”

The Mohegan and Pequot tribes are also competing with traditional gambling companies like Harrah’s on a second front: the lucrative management deals that give operators a large cut of the profits in exchange for managing casinos on behalf of tribes with less experience in the gambling business.

For several years, Indian country has been defined by a new brand of leader as well versed in the nuances of casino management and corporate accounting as tribal politics. But now add to their ranks Native American elected officials who call to mind nothing so much as aggressive corporate chief executives using the profits generated by one property to open others.

“My answer to your question of why is, Why not?” said Mr. Thomas, the Pequot chairman.

Other tribes are certainly watching the trend with keen interest. Bruce Bozsum, chairman of the Mohegan tribe, said he had heard from many of his fellow tribal leaders, as well as conference organizers, interested in hearing the details of his tribe’s off-reservation economic activities.

“That’s all people want to talk about,” Mr. Bozsum said.

The first effort to move gambling operations off-reservation dates to 2000. That is when the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, which was already operating several casinos in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, opened the Greektown Casino in Detroit, a commercial casino well away from their reservation land.

Greektown generated $351 million in revenue last year. Adding that to revenues from its other casinos, the Chippewa have used the money to expand their land holdings while building health centers and offering other services for the tribe’s 29,000 members.

More recently, the Mohegan and Pequot tribes — fierce rivals that for years have operated wildly successful casinos only a short drive from one another — have taken steps to expand their gambling operations off-reservation. When Pennsylvania passed a law in 2004 authorizing up to 61,000 slot machines at 14 sites around the state, both tribes jumped at the chance to diversify their operations.

Under the Pennsylvania plan, horse racing tracks were automatically granted a slot license. So the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, a corporation wholly owned by the tribe’s roughly 2,000 members, spent $255 million to buy the Pocono Downs, a harness racing track 110 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Renamed the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, the property generated $55 million in revenue in the second quarter of 2007, though it is only a temporary facility while the tribe builds a more permanent home that will accommodate 2,500 slot machines, or more than twice as many as the present site.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

U.N. Assembly Backs Indigenous Peoples' Rights

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. General Assembly passed a sweeping declaration of rights for indigenous peoples on Thursday despite opposition from several developed states that said it gave excessive property and legal powers.

Four countries -- the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand -- voted against the nonbinding declaration, but it went through overwhelmingly with 143 votes in favor and 11 abstentions. Not all countries in the 192-member Assembly took part in the vote.

Under negotiation for 20 years, the document says that indigenous people, whose number has been put at 270 million worldwide as understood by the declaration, "have the right to self-determination."

One of its most controversial articles states that "indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired."

That could potentially put in question most of the land ownership in countries, such as those that opposed the declaration, whose present population is largely descended from settlers who took over territory from previous inhabitants.

A balancing clause inserted at a late stage in the text says nothing in it can authorize or encourage "any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity" of states.


That was not good enough for the four objectors, notably Canada, where the issue has become a political football. Many of Canada's 1 million aboriginal and Inuit people live in overcrowded, unsanitary housing and suffer high rates of unemployment, substance abuse and suicide.

"The provisions in the declaration on lands, territories and resources are overly broad, unclear, and capable of a wide variety of interpretations," Canada's U.N. Ambassador John McNee told the General Assembly.

That stance was attacked by Canada's left-leaning opposition New Democrats. "It's very disappointing. I think it's cowardly and very un-Canadian ... we pride ourselves on being advocates for human rights," legislator Jean Crowder told Reuters.

U.S. delegate Robert Hagen said the U.N. Human Rights Council, which prepared the text, had not sought consensus. "This declaration was adopted ... in a splintered vote. This process was unfortunate and extraordinary," he said.

Aside from land ownership issues, critics also assailed provisions on indigenous peoples' intellectual property, right to be consulted on laws affecting them and right to exempt their land from military activities.

But supporters of the declaration said it gave long overdue recognition to indigenous peoples.

"This declaration is the least that could be approved to give us all instruments recognizing the existence of indigenous people," Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, himself indigenous, told the General Assembly.

"It is an important step for indigenous people to do away with discrimination, to strengthen the identity, to recognize our right to land and natural resources, to be consulted, to participate in decisions," the minister said.

Most U.S. allies, including Britain and Japan, also voted for the declaration, saying last minute amendments had made it acceptable, given that it did not have the force of international law.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In Germany, Wild for Winnetou

RADEBEUL, Germany, Sept. 7 — The other day I found Jürgen Michaelis, a short, 50-year-old, beefy-handed man with a broad smile, standing by himself inside a teepee not much bigger than a phone booth behind a house in this suburb of Dresden. A former locksmith and demolition worker from Chemnitz (which used to be called Karl-Marx-Stadt), Mr. Michaelis settled here a couple of years ago.

Gazing through inch-thick lenses and overjoyed to have a visitor, he showed off his homemade deerskin suit. Perched halfway on his head, about to tumble, was a matted black wig with a blue feather. At his feet burned a tiny charcoal fire, large enough to warm a single metal mug of water on a cold morning. A few forlorn trinkets rested on wood blocks, ostensibly for sale.

“My Indian name,” Mr. Michaelis told me, “is Lonely Man.”

A few months ago the director of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Tex., told me in passing how his museum was frequently overrun by visiting Germans, so the curious German obsession with the Wild West — which newly arrived Americans repeatedly discover to predictable eye-rolling from Germans, for whom it’s hardly news — was not exactly unknown to me. Still, the extent of it is a little astonishing.

At powwows — there are dozens every year — thousands of Germans with an American Indian fetish drink firewater, wear turquoise jewelry and run around Baden-Württemberg or Schleswig-Holstein dressed as Comanches and Apaches. There are clubs, magazines, trading cards, school curriculums, stupendously popular German-made Wild West films and outdoor theaters, including one high in the sandstone cliffs above the tiny medieval fortress town of Rathen, in Saxony, where cowboys fight Indians on horseback. A fake Wild West village, Eldorado, recently shot up on the outskirts of Templin, the city where Angela Merkel, the chancellor, grew up.

The cause of this infatuation is a writer named Karl May (1842-1912), virtually unknown in the United States but the most popular author in German history.

A con man and Walter Mitty-like homebody who spent eight years in jail dreaming of Wild West adventures, May (the name is pronounced My) wrote dozens of tall-tale books that have sold more than 100 million copies, maybe twice that many if you count translations from the German. Kaiser Wilhelm II, like May a fantasist who loved to dress up in exotic costumes, adored May’s books. So did Einstein and Albert Schweitzer, Kafka and Fritz Lang. Hitler did too.

May’s hero was Winnetou, a fictional Apache chief, a household name here. To Germans Winnetou is like Paul Bunyan, Abe Lincoln and Elvis rolled into one. During the World Cup last year, an occasion for the Germans to debate, as they often do, the pitfalls of reviving their nationalist spirit, Der Spiegel, the leading newsmagazine, published an article titled “The Land of Winnetou.”

“There are the German poets and thinkers, the German forest, the German ‘comfortableness,’ German efficiency, the German longing for Italy, and there is Winnetou,” it pronounced. “Winnetou is the quintessential German national hero, a paragon of virtue, a nature freak, a romantic, a pacifist at heart, but in a world at war he is the best warrior, alert, strong, sure.”

“Eleven Winnetous,” the author, Dirk Kurbjuweit, added, referring to the German soccer team, “and we would be world champions.”

That was pretty much what Hitler told his troops when he distributed May’s books as object lessons; never mind that May himself had been a vocal pacifist.

Mr. Kurbjuweit also called Winnetou “a German with a migration background,” a phrase I’ve heard used to describe Turks here. Tormented German intellectuals like to ponder whether May’s concept of an “edelmensch,” his term for a truly noble man, as he called Winnetou, has inspired more feelings of fraternity or of racial superiority in the country. An American today is likelier to wonder how May shaped German views of the United States over the last century.

“Immensely,” Johannes Zeilinger told me. A hand surgeon by day, Dr. Zeilinger, a 59-year-old May enthusiast, is the curator of a big Karl May exhibition at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin.

“May framed a popular image of North America, with Indians as a dying race, tragically killed off by fate and by the spread of a new empire,” he said. The doctor ushered me toward a painting that shows Indians ambushing an oncoming train, trains having signified Manifest Destiny. In May’s books Winnetou’s loyal sidekick, Old Shatterhand, was a German émigré, a schoolteacher who went West, became a crack shot, had a deadly right jab and, not coincidentally, got work as a surveyor for a railroad company.

Dr. Zeilinger wouldn’t go so far as to say that May demonized the United States, which clearly he didn’t, although Hans Ottomeyer, the director of the museum, who wandered by to listen in on the conversation at that point, said: “May taught Germans that America was a wild place. There were natives and intruders, and he taught us to be suspicious of intruders, half of whom are good, half are very bad.” Like all German men, Mr. Ottomeyer, who’s 61, lapsed unbidden into recollections of reading May’s books as a boy. Children read him less today, he added. “The West used to be on the border of the imagination,” he said. “Now it’s a place they see every day, full of conflict and catastrophe.”

You might say that May has become a Rorschach of German identity. German “natural sympathy” for American Indians is rooted in ancient times, Dr. Zeilinger explained. The Roman historian Tacitus described German tribes as uncorrupted, primitive, fierce and at one with nature, a people on the edge of a corrupt and voracious empire. May tapped into that primordial Germanness and also into what became, by the mid-19th century, a growing interest in America and the wider world.

May wrote about the Orient and Africa, too, and, as with the West, claimed to be recounting his own experiences, going so far as to distribute photographs of himself dressed up as Old Shatterhand or as Kara Ben Nemsi, Old Shatterhand’s doppelgänger in the Ottoman world. He finally made it to the United States at 66, briefly scouring the wilds of Massachusetts and meeting his first Indian near Buffalo before retreating home to Saxony. When he confessed publicly to having cooked everything up, he pitched himself as a homily about a brute turned noble man, the Winnetou myth given a fresh spin.

Dr. Zeilinger showed me a typed collection of May’s adventures in a vitrine of objects from the former East Germany. Communists banned May — too Christian, too popular with Hitler, they said — and they shuttered his house in Radebeul. The typed copies were Wild West versions of samizdat, lovingly made over hundreds of hours by a fan from smuggled May books.

Needing to sate long-standing appetites, East German officials concocted ersatz versions of May tales with imitation Winnetous, and they also filmed May-like adventures in Cuba and Yugoslavia that became runaway hits behind the Iron Curtain.

Mr. Michaelis, the Lonely Man, remembers growing up on these, and on the East German schoolbooks about Indians and the capitalist West.

“It was a little bit of adventure, an escape and romantic,” he recalled. “From the books I saw it was a hard life being an Indian, and I identified with that. Indians could handle any situation with no resources, just like here. All this put the flame in me.”

May was finally recuperated by the Communists during the mid-80s, his house reopened alongside a log cabin museum of Indian artifacts and stuffed animals. Rathen, the open-air theater, also got to restage Winnetou plays.

I caught one recently. Beyond slumbering fields of cows and castles, across the Elbe on a little rope-drawn ferry, then through a tiny gingerbread town and a forest of conifers and beech, I climbed into the sandstone cliffs to see “The Treasure of Silver Lake.” On a rainy afternoon a few hundred hardy children and elderly Germans sat outdoors, watching a Dolph Lundgren lookalike in war paint carrying a spear.

Back here in Radebeul, Mr. Michaelis acknowledged what has clearly evolved into a mix of American Indian and German identities. “I’m 75 percent Indian but still German,” he said. He explained that while he loves his teepee, he has lately taken up an offer to sleep in Karl May’s house because the traffic between Dresden and Meissen has been keeping him awake at night. Then he waved one hand. “The Indians made these out of the cotton that perfidious Americans sold them,” he said, meaning his teepee. “This one’s better. It’s acrylic. From Saxony.”

Lunchtime was approaching, and he recommended a saloon around the corner that sold buffalo burgers. He said he goes there when he can afford to. Tonight he’ll be cooking on the fire.

“Schnitzel,” he said.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Earmark Gone, Indian Project Is One-Winged

FORT PIERRE, S.D. — From the scrub and gravel, a building rises here in the shape of a giant eagle — a striking symbol, its creators say, for an American Indian cultural facility and a judicial center.

The center, which would house a judicial system, was estimated to cost $18 million. That number has risen to $25 million.

Except that this eagle has only one wing. Federal money for the other has run dry. And even the one eagle wing, all 30,000 square feet of it, is mainly just a shell, ceilings unfinished and rooms empty, silent but for the buzz of black flies that bite.

This $18 million center, once championed by Tom Daschle, the former South Dakota senator and Senate Democratic leader, was meant to accomplish something unprecedented: lure outside investment to impoverished Indian reservations across the region by creating a court system where outsiders could recoup losses if a business deal went bad.

The effort had drawn praise from bankers’ associations, South Dakota’s bar association, the State Chamber of Commerce, the National Congress of American Indians and the 11 chairmen of the Sioux Nation tribes. But along the way, Mr. Daschle lost his seat in the Senate and annual funds for the half-finished project known as the Wakpa Sica (pronounced WALK-paw SHE-cha) Reconciliation Place have dropped precipitously, leaving some here to wonder what, if anything, will come of the place.

Proponents of Wakpa Sica, named, in Lakota, for the Bad River junction where Sioux leaders met members of the Lewis and Clark party, say theirs is the story of a good idea swept aside in Washington’s abrupt distaste for certain pet projects paid for through budget mechanisms known as earmarks.

In this remote town of 2,000, the people who have been planning the center for more than a decade say they feel unfairly tarnished by anti-earmark sentiment, prompted in part by the scandals surrounding the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Representative Randy Cunningham of California and by proposed projects like the $200 million “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska.

“The thing is, this is anything but a bridge to nowhere,” said Marshall Matz, a lawyer in Washington who is representing the center. “But no one wants to hear that. The Congress seems to feel we are an earmark, and earmarks are very difficult now to get money for.”

The South Dakota center finds itself contending with the risk inherent in every earmark, silly or worthwhile. Its champion, Mr. Daschle, is gone, and with him the money. That is the fate of many earmarked projects with powerful sponsors who move on. Those tied to large companies, which can ensure survival by seeking help from multiple lawmakers, struggle less; little projects in little places risk more.

And even though those in South Dakota’s current Congressional delegation say it is a worthy project, this is hardly a climate in which others are likely to fight for someone else’s earmark.

“This is a cautionary tale,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, which tracks such federal spending and describes the earmarks from the 2005 budget as “out of control,” including $1.3 million for Wakpa Sica. “If you had a more objective funding system — not political patronage — the funding would be consistent, and that’s one of the problems with these things. Live by the earmark, die by the earmark.”

Despite new rules brought about by the recent scandals requiring lawmakers to attach their names to their pet projects, Washington has hardly sworn off earmarks. House lawmakers have put together spending bills with nearly 6,500 earmarks worth almost $11 billion, though the budget process is far from done.

But the pace, so far, is significantly slower than in the prescandal days of 2005, when Congress financed more than 15,000 pet projects, by some estimates, totaling more than $30 billion.

In the late 1990s, a group of American Indians and outside civic and academic leaders approached Mr. Daschle about the center here. In a telephone interview from Washington, where he is now a special policy adviser at a law firm, Mr. Daschle recalled that he viewed it as a way to accomplish many things: to tell the history of American Indians and this country in South Dakota; to further reconciliation with the state’s nine tribes; and, perhaps most uniquely, to create a legal model, a court system and a high court that would make non-Indian businesses more comfortable in Indian Country.

Outside investors often fear that the tribes’ independent legal systems and shifting leadership pose too much risk. Ultimately, the new judicial center was intended to encourage economic development — in the form of investment in business and loans for new enterprises — on reservations, where poverty rates are among the worst in the nation.

“You can draw a red line around every reservation in South Dakota and until we have an appellate court, we’re not going to have any economic development on the reservation,” said Clarence Mortenson, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the chairman of the board of Wakpa Sica.

In 2000, Mr. Daschle succeeded in getting Congressional authorization for Wakpa Sica as part of a larger Indian Advancement Act, but that did not include money. Mr. Daschle recalled working to convince his colleagues that the legal element of the center could be used by tribes all around the country and that it was not “just some Indian pork” for South Dakota. At the time, Mr. Daschle said, no one “seriously challenged” the project.

In the budget bills that followed, the project (then estimated to cost $18 million, now estimated at closer to $25 million) was granted annual appropriations of at least $1.3 million for a total of nearly $8 million.

But in 2004, after the budget was set for the next year, Mr. Daschle was defeated by John Thune, a Republican and former congressman. In the next budget, Wakpa Sica received $350,000. For the 2007 fiscal year, it got nothing. The 2008 budget process is not completed yet, but the House proposal would give Wakpa Sica $150,000.

As the center has struggled, the very definition of the word earmark has become a matter of intense debate here. The fact that the center received broad Congressional authorization in 2000 — rather than being slipped into a spending bill as part of a deal — makes it unfair to consider it an earmark, Mr. Matz said.

Others, including Mr. Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, vehemently disagree.

“It’s still a line-item provision inserted at the request of a lawmaker,” Mr. Ellis said.

And at least one lawmaker, Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, questioned elements of the center itself.

“We don’t need any more cultural centers,” Mr. Coburn said. “We’re fighting a war; why should we be spending any more on a cultural center?”

As the money has faded away, plans here have been scaled back. During a tour, the construction manager, Richard Rangel, spoke of ways to stretch the money — lower-grade carpet and ceiling materials. The grant proposal writer, one of just a handful of staff members at the center, was let go.

Members of South Dakota’s delegation defended and praised the project, but offered little in the way of comfort. After all, they have their own favored projects to fight for. And the demands of Indian tribes, in particular, often run toward more basic needs like keeping emergency rooms, schools and roads open.

A spokesman for Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a Democrat and South Dakota’s only member of the House, called the project a “top priority” and pointed to the $150,000 being considered this year as something she had secured.

Kyle Downey, communications director for Mr. Thune, said, “Budgets are tight these days, and earmark reform has made it tough for this project and many others to get finished simply on federal funding.” Mr. Downey added that Mr. Thune helped get authorization for Wakpa Sica during his tenure in the House.

The state’s other senator, Tim Johnson, a Democrat, said the war in Iraq and tax breaks had “drained resources from many important domestic projects, including the Wakpa Sica Reconciliation Place.”

While work on a judicial system continues, Mr. Daschle said he still hoped there would be a center to house it. He said he recalled being at the ground-breaking ceremony and feeling a rush of momentum and hopefulness.

“It has eroded,” Mr. Daschle said. “The half-eagle is a perfect metaphor for the half-commitment we’re now getting from government.”

In Argentina, a Museum Unveils a Long-Frozen Maiden

SALTA, Argentina — The maiden, the boy, the girl of lightning: they were three Inca children, entombed on a bleak and frigid mountaintop 500 years ago as a religious sacrifice.

Unearthed in 1999 from the 22,000-foot summit of Mount Llullaillaco, a volcano 300 miles west of here near the Chilean border, their frozen bodies were among the best preserved mummies ever found, with internal organs intact, blood still present in the heart and lungs, and skin and facial features mostly unscathed. No special effort had been made to preserve them. The cold and the dry, thin air did all the work. They froze to death as they slept, and 500 years later still looked like sleeping children, not mummies.

In the eight years since their discovery, the mummies, known here simply as Los Niños or “the children,” have been photographed, X-rayed, CT scanned and biopsied for DNA. The cloth, pottery and figurines buried with them have been meticulously thawed and preserved. But the bodies themselves were kept in freezers and never shown to the public — until last week, when La Doncella, the maiden, a 15-year-old girl, was exhibited for the first time, at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, which was created in Salta expressly to display them.

The new and the old are at home in Salta. The museum faces a historic plaza where a mirrored bank reflects a century-old basilica with a sign warning churchgoers not to use the holy water for witchcraft. Now a city of 500,000 and the provincial capital, Salta was part of the Inca empire until the 1500s, when it was invaded by the Spanish conquistadors.

Although the mummies captured headlines when they were found, officials here decided to open the exhibit quietly, without any of the fanfare or celebration that might have been expected.

“These are dead people, Indian people,” said Gabriel E. Miremont, 39, the museum’s designer and director. “It’s not a situation for a party.”

The two other mummies have not yet been shown, but will be put on display within the next six months or so.

The children were sacrificed as part of a religious ritual, known as capacocha. They walked hundreds of miles to and from ceremonies in Cuzco and were then taken to the summit of Llullaillaco (yoo-yeye-YAH-co), given chicha (maize beer), and, once they were asleep, placed in underground niches, where they froze to death. Only beautiful, healthy, physically perfect children were sacrificed, and it was an honor to be chosen. According to Inca beliefs, the children did not die, but joined their ancestors and watched over their villages from the mountaintops like angels.

Discussing why it took eight years to prepare the exhibit, Dr. Miremont smiled and said, “This is South America,” but then went on to explain that there was little precedent for dealing with mummies as well preserved as these, and that it took an enormous amount of research to figure out how to show them yet still make sure they did not deteriorate.

The solution turned out to be a case within a case — an acrylic cylinder inside a box made of triple-paned glass. A computerized climate control system replicates mountaintop conditions inside the case — low oxygen, humidity and pressure, and a temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit. In part because Salta is in an earthquake zone, the museum has three backup generators and freezers, in case of power failures or equipment breakdowns, and the provincial governor’s airplane will fly the mummies out in an emergency, Dr. Miremont said.

Asked where they would be taken, he replied, “Anywhere we can plug them in.”

The room holding La Doncella is dimly lighted, and the case itself is dark; visitors must turn on a light to see her.

“This was important for us,” Dr. Miremont said. “If you don’t want to see a dead body, don’t press the button. It’s your decision. You can still see the other parts of the exhibit.”

He designed the lighting partly in hope of avoiding further offense to people who find it disturbing that the children, part of a religious ritual, were taken from the mountaintop shrine.

Whatever the intention, the effect is stunning. Late in August, before the exhibit opened, Dr. Miremont showed visitors La Doncella. At a touch of the button, she seemed to materialize from the darkness, sitting cross-legged in her brown dress and striped sandals, bits of coca leaf still clinging to her upper lip, her long hair woven into many fine braids, a crease in one cheek where it leaned against her shawl as she slept.

The bodies seemed so much like sleeping children that working with them felt “almost more like a kidnapping than archaeological work,” Dr. Miremont said.

One of the children, a 6-year-old girl, had been struck by lightning sometime after she died, resulting in burns on her face, upper body and clothing. She and the boy, who was 7, had slightly elongated skulls, created deliberately by head wrappings — a sign of high social status, possibly even royalty.

Scientists worked with the bodies in a special laboratory where the temperature of the entire lab could be dropped to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and the mummies were never exposed to higher temperatures for more than 20 minutes at a time, to preventing thawing.

DNA tests revealed that the children were unrelated, and CT scans showed that they were well nourished and had no broken bones or other injuries. La Doncella apparently had sinusitis, as well as a lung condition called bronchiolitis obliterans, possibly the result of an infection.

“There are two sides,” Dr. Miremont said. “The scientific — we can read the past from the mummies and the objects. The other side says these people came from a culture still alive, and a holy place on the mountain.”

Some regard the exhibit as they would a church, Dr. Miremont said.

“To me, it’s a museum, not a holy place,” he said. “The holy place is on top of the mountain.”

The mountains around Salta are home to at least 40 other burial sites from ritual sacrifices, but Dr. Miremont said the native people who live in those regions do not want more bodies taken away.

“We will respect their wishes,” Dr. Miremont said, adding that three mummies were enough. “It is not necessary to break any more graves. We would like to have good relations with the Indian people.”

Monday, September 10, 2007

Tribal Group Kills Whale Off Washington

SEATTLE, Sept. 10 — The gray whale, harpooned and shot many times, lies dead at the bottom of the ocean somewhere in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Five Makah tribal members accused of killing it have been arrested. Embarrassed tribal leaders have denounced the killing and sent representatives to Washington to assure the state’s politicians that the hunt was not approved.

Gov. Christine Gregoire added her condemnation.

Perhaps worst for the tribe, the hunt has complicated its quest to return to whaling, an effort the tribe has been waging in court for years.

The hunt began around 6:30 a.m. Saturday, when five tribal members boarded two boats in search of whales seen offshore, the Coast Guard said. When they finished hours later, a 40-foot-long gray whale had been harpooned and shot an estimated 20 times off Neah Bay in the northern reaches of the Washington coast, before the Coast Guard surrounded the animal and detained the hunters.

The Coast Guard cut the whale loose, and it drifted with the current until it died early Saturday evening and sank in 500 feet of water.

The five men were turned over to tribal authorities.

The hunt sent reverberations throughout the tribe, which has been fighting in court for nearly 10 years over the right to hunt whales.

The last time a Makah killed a whale was in 1999, and that was despite protests of animal rights groups that tried to sabotage the hunt.

The killing led to a court fight over the right to hunt whales, as the tribe had done for centuries before commercial whalers all but eradicated the population by the 1930s.

The 1999 hunt included stringent federal guidelines that were ignored last Saturday, including using a canoe and having a federal observer in place.

All five men were released after spending much of Saturday evening in jail. A statement by the tribe said all were booked at the Makah jail but gave no indication of the charges.

The statement also denounced the actions of the whalers, saying that they took it on themselves to conduct the hunt and that it was a “blatant violation of our law.”

On Sunday, the hunt leader, Wayne Johnson, told The Seattle Times that he was unapologetic and in fact wished that he had done it sooner. Mr. Johnson was among the hunters who killed a whale in the 1999 hunt.

On Monday, Ms. Gregoire said she was “very upset” by the killing, which did not even benefit the poor of the tribe.

“Not only did we lose a very important species here, but that is now sitting at the bottom of the water,” she said at her weekly meeting with reporters. “It does nothing. And it flies in the face of the law.”

Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said that an environmental impact statement in the Makah legal fight had been due this fall, but that the whale kill would no doubt cause delays.

“I don’t know how long this is going to take,” Mr. Gorman said.

Paul Watson, president of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which opposed the 1999 hunt, likened the killing to the cruel treatment of dogs in the case of the football star Michael Vick and said the Makah hunters should be prosecuted.

The United States attorney’s office here said the whale killing could result in a year in jail and a $20,000 fine.

“The whale suffered for hours before finally dying,” Mr. Watson said, “and there can be no justification for their cruelty and contemptuous indifference to the law.”

Complex Defeat for Nobel Winner in Guatemala

SANTIAGO ATITLÁN, Guatemala, Sept. 10 — There are two ways to win political office in this traditional Mayan town nestled on the southern shore of Lake Atitlán, and campaigning is but one of them.

The other is to call on Maximón, a quasi deity carved from wood that is stashed away in a darkened room near the town center. Ringed by candles and doused with rum, the figure is said to have magical powers, including the ability to sway an election.

Before the nationwide elections here on Sunday, representatives of several political parties secretly called on Maximón, although the keepers of the statue declined to specify who they were.

One who did not seem to get any spiritual help is Rigoberta Menchú, the first indigenous presidential candidate in this predominantly indigenous country and the winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy on behalf of Guatemala’s marginalized Mayans.

She finished sixth in a field of 14, according to results released Monday, with just 3 percent of the vote. The two front-runners, Álvaro Colom and Otto Pérez Molina, will compete in a runoff on Nov. 4.

Why Ms. Menchú fared so poorly is as complex as the Mayans themselves.

She was not from around here. That was obvious to anyone who scrutinized the details of the embroidery on the traditional Mayan clothes she wore to campaign. She is a Quiche Mayan, from the midwestern highlands. Her indigenous language is different, unintelligible to a local Tz’utujil speaker. Nineteen other Mayan groups live in Guatemala, each linguistically distinct. Because of the rivalries and conflicts among Mayans, Ms. Menchú had to win over Mayan voters just like any other outsider.

“She’s one of us, but she’s not,” explained a Tz’utujil Mayan who voted for someone else.

She also entered the race without a social organization as a base and was considered a lackluster campaigner and an uninspired speaker.

Furthermore, many older Mayan men are traditional when it comes to women. “Lots of men don’t want a woman to boss them around, and especially a woman president,” said Delores Ratzan, a Tz’utujil Mayan tour guide here. “They think it will ruin the country, and they tell their wives that.”

The Mayans of Guatemala are poorer and sicker than Ladinos, as Guatemalans with mixed Spanish and indigenous blood are known. Those who live traditionally straddle two worlds, one ancient and one modern, which can be difficult.

Santiago Atitlán, flanked by three volcanoes and a huge lake, remains one of the last frontiers of traditional Mayan culture.

Still, in Mayan communities everywhere, the dream of wealth in the United States is a strong draw. Those who manage to get there send back remittances. But the migrants change in their families’ eyes, becoming less Mayan.

Ms. Menchú, 48, who is married and has a son, is regarded by many as one of these émigrés because she spent years in Mexico. And the Mayans seem to expect her to share her wealth.

“Menchú has gotten all this money from the outside, and we haven’t seen it,” said Diego Ramírez. He backed Mr. Colom, whom he considered more likely to bring a much needed public hospital here.

Ms. Menchú set up a foundation to aid Mayan communities with her $1.2 million in Nobel Prize money, and she subsequently invested in a chain of pharmacies. But during her campaign, she found herself on the defensive, insisting that she had helped her people and was not rich.

Her campaign certainly was not. Ms. Menchú did not have enough money for the radio and television advertising campaigns that other candidates employed or even to give away T-shirts or hats.

“Campaigns shouldn’t be only for multimillionaires,” Ms. Menchú said Friday on her last day of campaigning. “We are against spending so much to get in office when there are people dying of hunger. It seems obscene.”

Still, some voters said they feared that a poor campaign would translate into poor governance.

Ms. Menchú won her prize while living in exile in Mexico, and has always been far better known outside Guatemala than at home.

“Her principal strength, which is her international presence, her international strength, her international work, is in Guatemala her principal weakness,” Ricardo Falla, an anthropologist, wrote in July when polls indicated that Ms. Menchú had less than 2 percent of the vote.

There was also the question of “Mano Dura,” or firm hand, the campaign motto of Mr. Pérez Molina, a former Guatemalan Army general who has vowed to rub out crime.

Guatemala’s indigenous communities suffered mightily during the country’s long civil war, from 1960 to 1996. The people of Santiago Atitlán felt brutalized, rising up against the army after a massacre in 1990.

But violence has returned to the country in the form of gangs and drug lords. During the campaign season, at least 50 people tied to various campaigns were reported killed.

Guatemalans appear eager for peace again even if it requires a tough crackdown, analysts say. Some voters regarded Ms. Menchu, who lost her father, mother and two brothers at the hands of government security forces, as insufficiently tough.

Mr. Pérez Molina received 2,406 votes of 14,000 here, compared with 347 for Ms. Menchú.

The most oft-heard argument against Ms. Menchú was her lack of experience. “It’s her first time participating,” said Francisco Mardoqueo Reyes García, the indigenous mayor of San Raymundo, who backs Mr. Colom. “She’ll do better next time around.”

Next time around, in fact, Ms. Menchú, as a Myan, might have a mystical advantage. The next president will take office in 2012, a significant year in the Mayan calendar, although nobody is certain what the year will bring.

Some say it will be a cataclysmic earthquake. Others fear it will be the end of the world. Or could it be, as some of Ms. Menchú’s backers are already whispering, something as jarring as a Mayan president?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

For Poor Tribe, Even a Windfall Has a Dark Side

KLAMATH, Calif. — You do not have to drive far into the town of Klamath to see the poverty and the potential of the Yurok Indians, the largest tribe in California and one of the poorest.

Just off Highway 101, past an understocked grocery and an overstocked bar, sits a row of ragged mobile homes behind a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Beat-up cars sit along the gravel drives, as does the occasional bored teenager.

There are also signs of change. A handsome tribal headquarters and a crisp new gas station anchor the reservation. And slot machines are on their way, 99 of them approved by the state, expected to be housed in a new building near tribal headquarters.

But in many ways, the Yurok people have already hit the jackpot. This spring, the Department of the Interior paid the tribe $92.6 million in logging proceeds, a figure roughly six times the tribe’s annual budget.

Yet even the silver cloud, it seems, has a dark lining. The money, which had been held in trust by the government for nearly two decades, has sharply divided the Yurok people, pushing them into two passionate camps: those who prefer long-term community projects and social programs and those who want the money handed up now.

It is a dispute that has echoed through meetings and conversations for months, and one that has upset elders who watched the tribe battle all manner of enemies — settlers and neighbors, white men and fellow Indians — only to find themselves fighting one another.

“We’re a culture people, we’re a fishing people and a ceremony people,” said Raymond Mattz, 64, a member of the tribal council. “But it’s a rough time for us because everybody is so poor, and the money is making everybody a little goofy.”

On one side of the issue are leaders like Maria Tripp, the tribal chairwoman, who favors programs to address the myriad problems the tribe has struggled with over the years, including high unemployment, flagging fishing, drugs and alcohol, and the dwindling of lands, traditions and hope.

“We’re not going to get another $92 million dropped in our lap,” Ms. Tripp said. “This is an opportunity for us.”

On the other, some here feel that the money could — and should — be used to alleviate the day-to-day problems for hundreds of the tribe’s 5,000 members.

“We’ve got tribal members right now who have been waiting all their life,” said Willard Carlson Jr., 57, a tribe member. “And the thing about it is, it’s not the tribal government’s money. It’s the people’s money.”

The settlement was a result of a 1988 act of Congress that established the Yurok reservation. The law provided payment for the pre-1988 sale of logs on their land, some 63,000 acres about 325 miles north of San Francisco that snake along the fog-shrouded, and once salmon-rich, Klamath River. To gain the timber payment, the Yurok leadership only recently agreed not to sue the government in regards to the 1988 law, said Douglas Wheeler, a lawyer with Hogan & Hartson in Washington who is representing the tribe.

The issue of how to spend the money is up for a vote this fall, and the tribal council is required to put forth a plan. But at a tribal meeting in early August, several speakers were already expressing impatience about the pace of progress. At the annual salmon festival on Aug. 19, the tribe’s biggest event of the year, one parade float included a large sign reading: “Lump sum for all tribal members — 100 percent of settlement, 100 percent of interest!”

Various per capita proposals being floated include adults-only allotments, as well as payments for all members, plans that could result in payments of roughly $15,000 to $20,000.

That sort of opinion infuriates tribe members like Tom Willson, who works at the town fishery and said the settlement should be “seed money, to buy some of our lands back, to run programs, to ensure that the Yurok people go on forever.”

“If we squander that money, we’ll be in bad shape in a couple of years,” Mr. Willson said. “We’ll be nowhere.”

It was not always this way. Tribal lore holds that the Yurok were once one of the most prosperous tribes in the West. Their lands were — and still are — spectacular: lush green mountains reflected in the placid waters of the Klamath, which flows into the Pacific through a narrow sand channel. Legend has it that the passage is guarded by Oregos, an outcropping of rock resembling a mother with a child on her back, and that the Klamath beyond her was once so full of salmon a person could walk across the river on the backs of the fish.

And sure enough, for many generations, the fish and the redwoods provided jobs and prosperity, members say.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Cherokees flee the moral high ground over Freedmen - News From Indian Country

by Robert Warrior

Cherokee Chief Chad Smith is wrong and Representative Melvin Watt (D-North Carolina) is right. As those who follow the American Indian political world know, earlier this year an overwhelming majority of Cherokee voters decided to deny descendants of the Cherokee Freedmen, freed slaves who trod the Trail of Tears with their Native American owners, rights to political enfranchisement guaranteed to them in an 1866 treaty the Cherokees signed with the United States in the aftermath of the Civil War.

In June, Chief Smith campaigned on this popular issue and won a new term as elected leader of the largest Native nation within the border of the United States.

Watt is among a group of Congressional Democrats that also includes Maxine Waters and Diane Watson who are responding by calling into question whether or not United States taxpayers ought to be funding Cherokee programs. Most recently, the House Financial Services Committee decided to give the Cherokees a month to clear up the Freedmen issue before voting on Rep. Watt’s amendment to an affordable housing bill that would exclude the Cherokees until they are in compliance with the 1866 treaty. Smith and the Cherokees must respond by the time Congress comes back from its current recess.

The politics of this issue are certainly interesting—the embarrassingly low number of Cherokees, for instance, who participate in their nation’s electoral process (less than 8000 in a group of well over 150,000), the predictable way that this decision by one group exposes all American Indian nations to alienating people who have been important, reliable friends (the Congressional Black Caucus most visibly). Morality, however, has been the missing topic in the wrangling thus far, and I would argue is the basis for why it is important for everyone, especially American Indian people who have been silent thus far, to support efforts like those of Representative Watt.

The moral case against the Cherokees is straightforward. As a duly constituted nation in the nineteenth century, they legally embraced and promoted African slavery, a position they maintained after Removal to Indian Territory in the 1830s. The vast majority of Cherokees could not afford slaves, as was also the case throughout the American South, and historians of Cherokee slavery have demonstrated that some aspects of the Cherokee social world gave a different, less negative character to being enslaved by wealthy Cherokees rather than wealthy whites. Make no mistake, though. No one is on record as having volunteered to become a Cherokee slave. History records plenty of Cherokee slaves attempting to escape to freedom, as well as Cherokee slave revolts.

The institution of slavery was for Cherokees, as it has been for all people who practice it, morally and politically corruptive, and many citizens of this Native slaving nation knew it. Stories like that of the children of Shoeboots and Doll, a Cherokee slaveowner and his black concubine/wife, whose father risked his reputation as a war hero in petitioning for their recognition as Cherokees provides a picture of this ambiguity, but the cruelty, sexual violence, and physical degradation of modern slavery under Cherokees like James Vann is just as unambiguous (both are captured magnificently by University of Michigan scholar Tiya Miles in her 2005 book Ties that Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom).

The Cherokee Nation officially emancipated all slaves in 1863. The 1866 treaty that subsequently enfranchised these former slaves resulted in an amendment to the Cherokee Constitution that same year. That amendment reads: “All native born Cherokees, all Indians, and whites legally members of the Nation by adoption, and all freedmen who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owners or by law, as well as free colored persons who were in the country at the commencement of the rebellion, and are now residents therein, or who may return within six months from the 19th day of July, 1866, and their descendants, who reside within the limits of the Cherokee Nation, shall be taken and deemed to be, citizens of the Cherokee Nation.” All of this was as a moral victory for those Cherokees who understood that institutionalizing slavery created moral implications that could only be addressed on moral grounds. That is, formal slaves need not just freedom, but also the protection of citizenship. How else, after all, can those who have lost so much expect to gain their lives without a context in which they can rebuild their lives?

More, though, is going on here, which is the sometimes heart-stopping recognition on the part of leaders of a slave-owning nation that many of those slaves who are so easy to think of as being THEM are in fact US. To be blunt, a history of modern slavery is also a history of rape. To be a slave among the Cherokees was to be sexually available to those who controlled your life. By the 1890s, a legal distinction between the Freedmen and those who were Cherokee “by blood” emerged, but in the moral universe such a distinction was hard to make, and even today the claim of those in the Cherokee majority who say they are primarily interested in maintaining their nation for those who can verify that they have Cherokee lineage rings hollow alongside the murky history of violence that Cherokee slaves and their descendants have inhabited. Such claims fail to rise to the level of those earlier Cherokees who understood that the tragic absurdity of reconciling a nation to its history of slavery requires wisdom and compassion, not insulting and ridiculous appeals to faulty membership requirements and the poses of victimhood.

In spite of being egged on and provoked by the legislated racism of the Cherokee Nation, the vast majority of Freedmen descendants have reacted with impressive dignity befitting their proud history. Melvin Watt and other black members of Congress have likewise responded in a measured, but active way. It remains for more people, including Native American writers, scholars, and artists, not to mention elected leaders, presidents, and chiefs, to stand up and be counted on the right moral side of this question. Better yet, Chad Smith could save us all the trouble by following some of the best examples of Cherokee history rather than the morally corrupting and exclusionary ones he and his supporters have chosen thus far.

Robert Warrior’s most recent book is American Indian Literary Nationalism (co-written with Jace Weaver and Craig Womack). He is Edith Kinney Gaylord Presidential Professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Far-Reaching Policy for Aborigines Draws Their Fury

PAPUNYA, Australia, Aug. 18 — Since he walked out of the vast Gibson Desert in Australia in 1934 at the age of 12, Long Jack Phillipus has spent a lifetime helping his Aboriginal people slowly win rights from the white leadership. Then, this month, he saw the conservative government of Prime Minister John Howard abruptly throw the process into reverse. And he is angry.

“We should be the boss of our land, not that fellow from Parliament House,” Mr. Phillipus said.

Mr. Phillipus’s land is the sun-baked heart of Australia. His home is in Papunya, 170 miles from the regional center, Alice Springs, and more than 60 miles from the nearest paved road. For 40,000 years his people roamed free across the surrounding red sand scrub, and ties to the land still run deep.

Like many other towns in the wide reaches of central Australia, Papunya was set up by the government in the 1950s as a distribution point for the rations it gave to Aboriginal people. For its residents, there is still a sense of their being unwilling subjects in a cultural experiment.

There is a temporary feel to the town, with succeeding generations of government housing lying derelict, and plastic bottles and abandoned cars strewn about. Along with the trash, other ills — drug addiction, domestic violence, poor health and lack of education — have grown and festered, magnified by the isolation.

Now the government has decided to address the ills, but critics say it is doing so in the paternalistic fashion it was supposed to have discarded decades ago. On Aug. 17, Parliament completed approval of legislation that, among other measures, requires welfare recipients to spend half their income on food, fines them if their children do not attend school, bans alcohol and pornography in Aboriginal areas in the Northern Territory and clears the way for the government to purchase five-year leases on Aboriginal town land.

The catalyst for the legislation was a government report that uncovered widespread sexual abuse and neglect of children in indigenous Australian communities. But critics note that the problems the legislation is intended to address are not unique to indigenous communities and argue that the fact that it applies only to Aboriginal communities makes it racist.

Aboriginal leaders have made similar accusations in the past. Relations were poisoned by a policy formally abandoned in 1969 in which Aboriginal children, the so-called stolen generation, were forcibly taken from their parents in an effort to assimilate them into white society.

In part because of lingering guilt over those practices, the government has been reluctant to take forceful action about the social problems in indigenous communities.

“It has always been too hard, there were no votes in it, and they were scared of creating another stolen generation,” said Alison Anderson, Mr. Phillipus’s granddaughter, who represents Papunya in the Northern Territory Assembly.

Indigenous people account for 2.7 percent of the Australian population, and by almost every measure they are worse off than the mainstream. Life expectancy is 17 years lower than the average Australian’s. They are 13 times as likely to be incarcerated, three times as likely to be unemployed and twice as likely to be victims of violence or to be threatened with violence. Almost all these indicators have gotten steadily worse since 1967, when indigenous Australians won citizenship.

“It’s good to have rights, but you’ve got to have responsibility too, and I think we lost sight of that,” Ms. Anderson said.

In the dusty streets of Papunya there is a palpable lassitude that many attribute to inadequate education and a scarcity of jobs for those who can read and write. The school has been upgraded, but on a recent Thursday only 25 of the 125 enrolled children turned up.

Many children are being reared by their struggling grandparents, because their parents have moved to Alice Springs, often to feed their alcohol or drug addictions. Of Papunya’s 360 residents, the overwhelming majority are entirely dependent on government money.

Despite these problems, the new legislation has stirred deep misgivings.

“John Howard’s trying to make us into white men,” said Sammy Butcher, a founder of Aboriginal Australia’s most successful rock group, the Warumpi Band.

Indigenous leaders are particularly critical of the stipulation that the government will purchase five-year leases on town lands. That issue, they say, has struck a particularly raw nerve among people whose ownership of the lands their people lived on for thousands of years was only recognized in 1967.

“I feel very sad that land is being taken away from Aboriginal society again and I don’t know why,” Mr. Phillipus said. “We don’t have a fight with John Howard.”

Sue Gordon, who leads the task force overseeing the government intervention, said the government needed the leases to build new schools, health clinics and police stations and upgrade existing facilities.

Almost everyone in the Northern Territory seems to agree that significant intervention is needed. And even if some of the policies are misguided, Ms. Anderson said, having the government engaged is better than the neglect of recent years. “We’re on a merry-go-round,” she said. “Every 30 years we seem to get off in the same place.”