Tuesday, February 20, 2007

One Nation, Under Fire High Country News - February 19, 2007:

Illegal drugs and immigrants pour across an open frontier. The government responds with helicopters and ATVs. And the once-quiet desert homeland of the Tohono O’odham Nation becomes a nerve-wracking police state.


A five-strand barbed-wire fence is all that separates the United States and Mexico in this remote southeastern corner of America’s second-largest Indian nation.

On a warm Sunday afternoon in early January, no one from U.S. law enforcement is checking documents as people move back and forth at a crossing — really, just a steel cattle guard in a gap in the fence — known as the San Miguel Gate. There are no signs of Mexican border officials keeping tabs on the gate. Tohono O’odham tribal police are nowhere to be seen.

On this day, in fact, the only suggestion of government control is a Border Patrol officer, posted several hundred yards north of the gate. The officer does not stop a High Country News reporter in a Chevy Suburban (a vehicle prized by the border area’s smugglers) from driving southbound, on the dirt road leading to the gate.

Officially, only members of the Tohono O’odham Nation are allowed to pass through the San Miguel Gate. But no signs warn non-members against crossing. The biggest obstacles to traversing the border at the San Miguel Gate, it seems, are the six-inch gaps between the steel rails of the cattle guard there.

And once you’re in Mexico, the party begins.

Vendors from the northern Sonora towns of Altar, Caborca and Sasabe sell tortillas, white cheese, sodas, water, beer and tequila from the sides of vans and backs of pickup trucks. A Yaqui musician strums his guitar and squeaks out a tune on a harmonica, entertaining six O’odham folks jammed into a sedan, downing quarts of beer and eating tamales.

For decades, O’odham tribal members have used the San Miguel Gate to enter Mexico and shop at the weekend flea market rather than face a lengthy drive to purchase traditional foods (and, for some, liquor, which is not sold on Indian lands) off-reservation. The mood at the bazaar is light-hearted and friendly, at least until an Anglo reporter approaches and tries to strike up a conversation. The vendors are eager to sell their wares, but they are reluctant to talk about what else goes on at the market, particularly when the sun goes down.

“This place is out of control,” says Francisco Bennett, leaning against the side of a pickup truck from which an old man is selling food and beer out of a cooler. Bennett says he’s been coming to the bazaar for years to shop, party and socialize with his O’odham friends, who live on both sides of the border. Years ago, he says, families with young children would gather for the day and stay well into the evening.

But those relaxed weekends are long gone.

[Continue the story at High Country News using the link on the title.]

Monday, February 19, 2007

Spitzer Approves Plan for Indian Casino in Catskills - New York Times

ALBANY, N.Y. -- A decades-old proposal for a casino in the Catskills took a major step Monday with Gov. Eliot Spitzer's agreement for the St. Regis Mohawk tribe to build and operate a gaming center at Monticello Raceway.

The Sullivan County casino that would be expected to draw gamblers from the nearby New York City area is also expected to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to state government, as well as help revive the economically hard-pressed region. The $600 million casino is expected to provide 3,000 permanent jobs and create a building boom in the area.

The casino would also mark a return of the region as an entertainment hot spot, where top comedians, bands, singers and boxers once made regular stops. The names of the now closed Catskills resorts and the stars who honed their craft there are part of American entertainment legend.

"By working together, we can establish a premier gaming facility that will produce significant revenues for the tribe and the state and help spark a resurgence of the Catskills region," Spitzer said.

Under the agreement, the state would receive 20 percent of the revenue from slot machines for the first two years, 23 percent for the next two years and 25 percent after that. Ending another major sticking point, the tribe agreed to comply with state tax, labor and health laws. For a sovereign tribe, the state couldn't simply require adherence to state laws.

"We commend Governor Spitzer's decisive action and commitment to our Sullivan County casino project which we believe will generate tremendous opportunities in and around the Catskills region," the Mohawk St. Regis Tribal Council said in a prepared statement. "We rejoice in the prospects this important project presents for the future of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, the people of Sullivan County, and New Yorkers across the state."

The 30-year effort, however, isn't over.

Spitzer and the tribe are now urging the secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior to make final approvals, including taking raceway land into a trust. The department includes the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Democratic governor wouldn't predict how the Republican Bush administration will react.

"I will be in Washington and will certainly convey to the secretary how important this is for the economy of the Catskills and Sullivan County," Spitzer told The Associated Press.

Spitzer said local concerns over traffic are eased at Monticello because the roadways to handle heavy traffic are in place, but not used to their potential. He said the state will also address concerns about gambling addiction.

Spitzer stated, as he did during his campaign, that "casinos are not the totality of economic development," but they can be effective and lucrative especially in areas like the Catskills that have historically been tourist destinations.

In December, the U.S. Interior Department approved an environmental review of the St. Regis Mohawk Indian tribe's project. The agency found the proposed casino on 30 acres next to Monticello Gaming and Raceway would not have a significant environmental impact.

Last week, a group of farm and conservation groups sued the federal department to halt the project, arguing that a more thorough environmental review is needed. The case is in federal court in Manhattan.

The Mohawks, whose reservation straddles the U.S.-Canadian border, are among a number of groups that have been trying to build a casino in the Catskills for the past decade.

Construction cannot begin until the Interior Department puts the land into trust for the Mohawks.

The harness racing track is owned by Empire Resorts, which would build the new casino. The casino would offer blackjack, roulette, craps and traditional slot machines.

Empire spokesman Charles Degliomini has said construction could begin within the year at the site 75 miles north of New York City.

In January, a judge dealt at least a temporary blow to a casino proposal for Buffalo through the Seneca Indian Nation. The judge ruled that the a federal agency erred in 2002 when it approved the plan. The Senecas already have casinos in Niagara Falls and Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, and they hope to begin operating a temporary casino in Buffalo in April.

The Oneida tribe's Turning Stone casino near Utica opened more than a decade ago and has flourished, now covering more than 1,000 acres with hotels and golf courses.

While the casinos have made traditionally poor tribes rich, some communities have complained their tax-free trade and enterprises have hurt non-Indian business.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Diane Burns, Native American Lower East Side poet

By Sarah Ferguson

Slowly people drifted into the parish room at St. Mark’s Church on Jan. 27 to celebrate the life of Native American poet and longtime Lower East Side resident Diane Burns. They were reluctant, it seemed, to remember the light that burned inside Burns was gone, and that she drank herself to death at age 50, leaving behind a beautiful 15-year-old daughter with shy almond eyes and a scattering of poems so fierce they continue to churn up in literary anthologies two decades later.

Maybe the light inside Burns burned too brightly?

Consider the opening lines of her first and only book of poetry, “Riding the One-Eyed Ford,” published in 1981:

Our people
slit open the badger
to see the tomorrows
in its blood.
look at me
and see what our
tomorrows hold

Illustrated with her own fine pen-and-ink drawings, that slim collection established Burns as a formidable presence in the New York poetry scene and beyond. Though she didn’t publish much more than that, her witty, sardonic takes on Native stereotypes are still cutting enough to be taught alongside more famous contemporaries like Sherman Alexie:

I am Tequila Mockingbird. Yes, I am related to Isaiah Mockingbird, and yes, I am that face in the moon on the cover of the Carson’s record album. And the Marshmallow beer girl, and that’s me on every stick of Land O’Lakes butter… I can trace my lineage back to the beginning of time when the world was nothing but a scrap of mud on the tip of a loon’s nose.

(from her 1993 essay
“Tequila Mockingbird”)

Born in 1956 in Lawrence, Kan., to a Chemehuevi father and an Anishinabe mother, Burns was raised with her two brothers in Riverside, Cal., where her parents got work teaching at a Native American boarding school. When she was about 10 years old, the family moved to the Lac Corte Oreilles reservation in Hayward, Wis., then on to Wahpeton, N.D., when her parents began teaching at another boarding school there.
“Even in grade school, she was always writing and drawing,” recalls Diane’s mother, Rose Burns. “In third grade she won the first-place prize for her poem, ‘A Pencil Can Travel.’”

Evidently, Diane discovered early on that writing could be a ticket to elsewhere. She spent her senior year of high school at the American Indian Art Institute in Santa Fe, N.M., then got a scholarship from Barnard College, with the aim of becoming a lawyer.

She dropped out of Barnard her senior year — no one remembers why. Perhaps the life of a poet seemed more enthralling. In a videotaped interview with Emilio Murillo for his Manhattan cable show, “Earth Bird,” Burns described how she came into her profession somewhat by accident, when the American Indian Community House called up looking to book a Native American poet for an event they were hosting.

“I didn’t have anything, so I stayed up all night scribbling and ended up onstage with Audre Lorde,” Burns recalled. “I actually got paid $50. I’m the only poet I know who got into the field for money,” she joked.

The Bowery Poetry Club, at 308 Bowery at Bleecker St., is hosting a “Praise Day” for Diane Burns on Feb. 21 at 6 p.m., with readings by Joy Harjo and many others.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Illinois Retiring American Indian Mascot - New York Times

URBANA, Ill. (AP) -- The University of Illinois will retire its 81-year-old American Indian mascot, Chief Illiniwek, following the last men's home basketball game of the season on Wednesday.

The NCAA in 2005 deemed the buckskin-clad Illiniwek an offensive use of American Indian imagery and barred the university from hosting postseason events.

American Indian groups and others complained for years that the mascot, used since 1926, is demeaning. Supporters of the mascot say it honors the contributions of American Indians to Illinois.

School officials said they received a letter from the NCAA on Thursday that said the school will no longer be banned from hosting postseason events if it drops the mascot and related American Indian imagery. The NCAA's sanctions thus far have prevented Illinois from hosting postseason events in two low-profile sports.

''The Chief Illiniwek tradition inspired and thrilled members of the University of Illinois community for 80 years,'' board of trustees chairman Lawrence Eppley said Friday. ''It was created, carried on and enjoyed by people with great respect for tradition, and we appreciate their dedication and commitment. It will be important now to ensure the accurate recounting and safekeeping of the tradition as an integral part of the history of the university.''

On Thursday, two students who portray Illiniwek filed suit seeking to bar the university from ''capitulating to the NCAA by announcing the retirement of Chief Illiniwek.'' A hearing on the lawsuit was under way Friday morning

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Paula Gunn Allen Fund

Dr. Paula Gunn Allen, renowned author and scholar of Laguna Pueblo/Metis descent, lost her home and virtually all of her possessions in a fire in Fort Bragg, California this October. She barely escaped herself, requiring weeks of hospitalization.

This is an appeal for your help. We are trying to raise $20,000 and we ask you to meet her need with a monetary gift to help her re-establish a home. Please pass the word.

Paula's insurance will only cover so much. The insurance on her trailer and household possessions will pay two-thirds or less of what she can demonstrate she's lost. On her personal property, her insurance will pay $17,500 if she can demonstrate she's lost $26,000. To raze the burnt-out trailer will cost at least $14,000, of which the insurance will cover only $2,000. She's got few records of what stuff cost.

Paula is truly one of the founders of Native American Studies and her work in Literature and in Women's Studies will influence generations to come. Books like The Sacred Hoop, Grandmothers of the Light, and Pocahontas (a 2003 Pulitzer Prize nominee) give new visions; her poetry and fiction are equally powerful. She's an elder who brings us wisdom and laughter. She has given us much; this time of need is an opportunity to give back to her. Please help.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Louis W. Ballard, 1931-2007

The great Quapaw-Cherokee composer Louis Ballard passed just around midnight, Feb 9, at his home in Santa Fe, NM. He was 75. He was a dear man, and will be missed.

Sharing of Bison Range Management Breaks Down

MOIESE, Mont. — An effort to have two Indian tribes assist government officials in operating a federal wildlife refuge that is surrounded by their reservation has collapsed amid accusations of racism, harassment, intimidation and poor performance. But top federal officials say they are determined to resurrect it.

The plan for the tribes and the government to jointly run the National Bison Range in western Montana, just north of Missoula, had long been viewed as unworkable by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Interior branch that manages wildlife refuges.

But top Interior Department officials say that despite the objections, they are committed to transferring some responsibility for the range from the wildlife service to a tribal government.

“There’s a shared sense of mission between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the tribes,” said Shane Wolf, a department spokesman.

Representative Denny Rehberg, Republican of Montana, asked the Government Accountability Office and the House Resources Committee in late January to investigate the disagreement and the problems plaguing the range. Among them is whether political appointees at the Interior Department pressured the wildlife service into the pact. The department’s inspector general and its Office of Equal Opportunity are also investigating.

The Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975 allows tribal involvement in the management of federal lands, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, which have strong cultural links to bison, wanted the authority to manage the refuge.

The Fish and Wildlife Service opposed ceding control over the bison range, and the Interior Department and tribal officials decided to split the mission. The federal government maintained management authority but hired members of the tribes to feed and care for the bison. Federal managers, who did not have authority over the tribal workers, had to ask a tribal manager to relay orders.

The project leader at the range, Steve Kallin of the wildlife service, said tribal employees failed to do their assigned tasks and that this led to the cancellation of the agreement.

For example, Mr. Kallin said, tribe members failed to feed the bison properly in preparation for their transfer to another refuge, at which point, he said, the wildlife service resumed responsibility for feeding.

Tribal employees also did not maintain fences, Mr. Kallin said, allowing bison to wander into pastures that were being rested from grazing.

Wildlife agency employees also said that relations grew strained and that tribal employees started to threaten them. They also said they felt excluded because tribal employees prayed together during work hours. The wildlife agency hired a retired special agent-in-charge of the National Park Service for the Rocky Mountain region, Jim Reilly, to look into the situation.

Mr. Reilly’s findings, which were not made public but appeared on a Web site run by a group opposed to tribal management, supported many of the federal employees’ accusations. Mr. Reilly wrote that work conditions at the range “were as bad as he had ever seen in his career,” according to a letter from the service’s deputy regional director, Jay Slack, to the regional director that cited the investigation.

Tribal officials denied many of the accusations and said they were surprised by the list of complaints. Cancellation of the agreement “came completely out of the blue,” said the chairman of the tribal confederation, James Steele Jr. “We didn’t know until the day that they did it.”

While he was aware of some problems, Mr. Steele said, he thought they were being dealt with.

A lawyer for the tribe, Brian Upton, said tribal officials did not allow Mr. Reilly to interview members who worked at the range “because they never told us why they were investigating us.”

“We do not have any corroborating details for any of the complaints,” Mr. Upton said.