Monday, February 23, 2009

Editorial - Justice for American Indians -

Published: February 22, 2009
The federal government has a long history of cheating American Indians, and not all of this dirty dealing is in the distant past. On Monday, the Supreme Court hears arguments in a suit by the Navajo, who lost millions of dollars’ worth of coal royalties because the government helped a coal company underpay for their coal. A lower court ruled for the Navajo Nation. The Supreme Court should affirm that well-reasoned decision.

The Navajo’s huge reservation spreads across parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The United States holds the lands in trust and manages their large coal deposits. Peabody Coal had a lease to mine on that land. The terms provided that in 1984, the interior secretary could make a reasonable adjustment in the royalty rates paid to the tribe.

That year the department increased the royalty rate to 20 percent of gross proceeds. After Peabody protested, the Reagan administration’s interior secretary met with a Peabody lobbyist, without informing the Navajo. The secretary then signed a memo blocking the increase and called for the Navajo to negotiate with Peabody. The tribe, already under severe economic pressure, ended up agreeing to a rate of just 12.5 percent. The Navajo eventually sued, arguing that the government violated its duty to look out for their interests, and that it cost them as much as $600 million in royalties.

They lost in the Supreme Court on one set of legal theories, but are now relying on other laws. The Washington-based United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled for the Navajo. In a unanimous ruling, the three-judge panel concluded that several federal laws impose the sort of fiduciary duty the Indians assert.

The appeals court also made clear that the government did not live up to this duty. The ruling found that the Interior Department met “secretly with parties having interests adverse to” the Navajo, adopted those parties’ “desired course of action in lieu of action favorable to” the Navajo, and misled the Navajo about its actions.

The government’s behavior was “indefensible,” according to four former interior secretaries, who submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court. The Obama administration, which has inherited the Bush administration’s position in the case, should not continue to stand up for these misdeeds.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Crow Tribal Chairman Carl Venne Dies at Age 62

HARDIN, Mont. (AP) -- Crow Tribal Chairman Carl Venne, praised by President Barack Obama as a leader who engaged in a ''fervent quest for a better life for his people,'' has died. He was 62.

Venne was found dead Sunday in his sister's home, according to the Big Horn County Sheriff's Office. He apparently died in his sleep of natural causes, the office said in a statement.

''I was honored to have worked with Chairman Venne, a strong tribal leader, who implored us to uphold treaties and honor Native ancestors,'' Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

Venne greeted Obama last summer during a campaign stop in Crow Agency. The Crow adopted Obama as a member of the Black Eagle family. Last month, Obama watched Venne lead Crow horsemen during the inaugural parade in Washington.

Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana issued statements praising Venne as a man dedicated to his people. Baucus said Venne was a progressive leader who ''always pushed the envelope when fighting for better health care and economic prosperity'' on the Crow reservation.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Venne was one of the great leaders of the Crow Nation.

Venne, a Vietnam veteran and former counselor at Little Big Horn Community College, became tribal chairman in 2002. The Crow Tribe has about 11,000 members.

Throughout his chairmanship, he supported programs against use of methamphetamine and encouraged a healthful way of life on the reservation. He was instrumental in the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee's selection of Crow Agency as the place for a 2007 hearing on Indian health care.>

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Mystery of Ancient Pueblo Jars Is Solved

Published: February 3, 2009
ALBUQUERQUE — For years Patricia Crown puzzled over the cylindrical clay jars found in the ruins at Chaco Canyon, the great complex of multistory masonry dwellings set amid the arid mesas of northwestern New Mexico. They were utterly unlike other pots and pitchers she had seen.

Some scholars believed that Chaco’s inhabitants, ancestors of the modern Pueblo people of the Southwest, had stretched skins across the cylinders and used them for drums, while others thought they held sacred objects.

But the answer is simpler, though no less intriguing, Ms. Crown asserts in a paper published Tuesday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: the jars were used for drinking liquid chocolate. Her findings offer the first proof of chocolate use in North America north of the Mexican border.

How did the ancient Pueblos come to have cacao beans in the desert, more than 1,200 miles from the nearest cacao trees? Ms. Crown, a University of New Mexico anthropologist, noted that maize, beans and corn spread to the Southwest after being domesticated in southern Mexico. Earlier excavations at Pueblo Bonito, the largest structure in the Chaco complex, had found scarlet macaws and other imported items.

Dorie Reents-Budet, a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and a Smithsonian Institution research associate specializing in Mayan cylinder vases, said that a sophisticated Mesoamerican trade network extended to Chaco in the north and as far south as Ecuador and Colombia.

The Mayan vessels, decorated with court scenes and hieroglyphics, were used to ceremonially consume chocolate at sumptuous feasts, Ms. Reents-Budet said. An expensive luxury, the cacao beans were fermented, roasted and ground up, then mixed with water and flavorings before being whipped into froth. It made sense to present the beverage in a special vessel, she said.

“It’s as if you were having a dinner party and serving Champagne,” said Ms. Reents-Budet. “You serve Champagne in really nice glasses.”

After an exchange with Ms. Reents-Budet in October 2007 about the resemblances between the Chacoan and Mayan earthenware, Ms. Crown said she thought about having the Chacoan cylinders checked for cacao residue.

Ms. Crown turned to W. Jeffrey Hurst, a senior bioanalytical chemist for the Hershey Company, the giant chocolate maker, whose bosses have been allowing him to test Mesoamerican ceramics for cacao for two decades. In 2002, he co-published a paper in Nature showing that early Maya were using cacao by 600 B.C., pushing back the earliest chemical evidence for their cacao use by 1,000 years.

Ms. Crown submitted five fragmentary shards to Mr. Hurst’s laboratory, which subjected the samples to high performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry testing, which confirmed the presence of theobromine — a bio marker for cacao — in three shards.

“The results were unequivocal,” said Mr. Hurst, who wrote the new paper with Ms. Crown.

The shards were among 200,000 artifacts excavated from trash heaps next to the 800-room Pueblo Bonito. They date from 1000 to 1125, when Chaco civilization was at its height.

An earlier expedition had uncovered 111 cylinder jars beneath a room in Pueblo Bonito. The jars, of native clay, are about 10 inches high with black geometric designs over a white background, said Ms. Crown, an expert on Pueblo ceramics.

Ms. Crown speculated that the Chacoans might well have followed Mayan ritualized chocolate drinking practices, given the similarity of the drinking vessels.

“It’s likely that this was not something everybody consumed,” she said. “It’s likely it was intended for only this one segment of society.”

She next plans to look for implements that might have been used in the ritual preparation of the beverage and determine whether it was enjoyed elsewhere in the Southwest. For now, she is gratified to have added to the store of knowledge about Chaco’s long-ago residents.

“Most of what we do in archaeology is interpretive, and the interpretations can change,” she said. “It’s rare that you get to find anything this definite and answer a question. It felt great.”