Friday, November 26, 2010

A Fistful of Dollars | Mother Jones

November/December 2010 Issue

IT TAKES A WHILE to notice Ruben's scars. Though they're hardly subtle, they don't catch your eye as readily as his strong, smooth features or the big-ass smile that's totally disarming despite his size: six foot three, 225 pounds. Neck like a waist. Friendly as you please. When I pointed to each of the healed-up gashes on his fists and asked what they were from, he replied, "Teeth. Teeth. These are all from teeth." He charges $1,000 for every one that he knocks out of a person's head. It's the same price for each bone he breaks in a face, a practice that's cost him a couple of knuckles.

The first people who hired Ruben, five years ago, were a regular, law-abiding couple from the Cherokee Nation who had been robbed, their savings snatched from under the mattress. The couple knew who'd stolen from them, but they couldn't prove it, and they didn't have any faith that the cops would take action. Ruben was a young Pawnee who had always gotten in a lot of fights and always seemed to win. He didn't have anything against the guy; it was just a job, like his other odd jobs, roofing or tiling or cement work. He waited for the guy to walk out of a bar one night and started hitting him. Two facial fractures: eye socket and cheekbone. Two thousand dollars. Ruben—who's asked me to use that name to protect his identity—says he can't count how many times he's played vigilante since then in the Indian nations of northeastern Oklahoma. Most often, it's about stolen property. Sometimes, it's about a raped sister or daughter.

"It's about justice," Ruben, 29, tells me when I say it doesn't make any sense for victims to scrape together a pile of beating-up money after getting their cash stolen. "People want people either beat up or locked up. And on a reservation, they're probably not gonna get anybody locked up."

Statistically speaking, he's probably right. The rate of violent crime among Native Americans is twice the national average (PDF); on some reservations, it's 20 times higher. At least one in three American Indian women will be raped (PDF) in their lifetimes. Yet just 3,000 tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officers—the only kinds of cops with jurisdiction on Indian land—patrol 56 million acres. In 2008, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in the Dakotas had nine officers for 9,000 people in an area twice the size of Delaware. (A typical town with the same population has three times that number.) Tribal courts can only prosecute misdemeanors such as petty theft and public intoxication. They can't issue sentences longer than one year without meeting special criteria, and even then, three years is the maximum. More serious crimes must be handled by federal prosecutors, who turn down 65 percent (PDF) of the reservation cases referred to them.
"People don't care to report crime because it's just blowin' wind," says a former tribal police chief.

Non-Indians commit two-thirds of violent crimes against Indians, including 86 percent of rapes and sexual assaults. Yet thanks to a 1978 Supreme Court ruling, tribes can not prosecute outsiders who commit crimes on their land. (The case involved a white guy who'd assaulted a tribal police officer and another who'd attempted a high-speed getaway from reservation cops.)

"Going out there was like trying to do your job with one hand tied behind your back," says Damon Roughface, a former tribal police chief of White Eagle, in Oklahoma's Ponca trust land. "People don't care to report crime, because it's just blowin' wind. I'll have to admit that sometimes people think the code of the street works a lot better than the BIA." He points out that it's not uncommon in poor communities, Indian and non-Indian alike, for people to develop their own mechanisms of enforcement. "But on reservations," he says, "it's only compounded by the BIA's history."

"Informal justice on reservations is motivated by the perception that they will not receive justice, usually. Or that justice will take too long, or that the system is corrupt," says Jeffrey Ian Ross, an associate professor at the University of Baltimore's School of Criminal Justice who studies Native Americans and the legal system. "In a system like that, there's vigilante justice." Melissa Tatum, associate director of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona, says reports of vigilantism aren't unheard of in parts of Indian country beyond Oklahoma, though it's hard to say how widespread it is. And some tribes, she notes, are successfully bypassing the courts in favor of traditional conflict resolution. But one element is constant: "There's frustration with the jurisdictional maze on Indian territory," says Carrie Garrow, a former St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Court judge and the executive director of the Center for Indigenous Law, Governance and Citizenship at Syracuse University.

That maze may not get more complex than it is in eastern Oklahoma, where Ruben and I drive past a series of signs announcing which Indian nation we're entering —Osage, Otoe, Iowa, Sac and Fox, Pawnee, Ponca—and where the land is a checkerboard (PDF) of tribal and non-tribal ownership [Click here to see Melissa Tatum's PDF chart of Indian Country jurisdiction]. County and tribal police sometimes agree to share jurisdiction over their mingled territory. But, as one Pawnee Tribal Police officer tells me, "They don't go out of their way to patrol our areas, and we don't really go in theirs." Ruben's been arrested dozens of times, but never, he says, on tribal land—simply because "the cops don't come."

Inside the Mint Bar in the town of Pawnee, the old men drinking draft beer at a big round table drop the phrase "those were the days" with almost comic frequency. One gestures above his head to a hole he once shot in the ceiling; the other guys instantly start pointing to the other bullet holes among the rafters. Nobody around here ever called the cops for nothin', they say. If someone roughed up your property, or your gal, you came down to the bar and got someone to take care of it.

When we leave, I get in the driver's seat of Ruben's car; his license has been suspended for DUIs. His rap sheet extends far beyond that: breach of peace, first-degree robbery, obstructing an officer, aggravated assault. He's never been arrested for a paid beating or done hard time for a regular fight, but he talks about how he should stop scrapping anyhow. He owes it to his kids. His ex has custody this week, but he talks to his five-year-old son and six-year-old daughter constantly on the phone. "You were the best player on that football team!" "I'm so proud of you doin' good on that test! You're going to be a spelling champion!" On the way back toward home in Osage Nation, he cracks into the 30-rack of Bud Light in the backseat and tells me how he landed a felony charge for assaulting an acquaintance who he felt was threatening his children.

Follow the link on the headline for the complete story and links to PDF files.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Zapotec Indians Grow Trees, and Jobs, in Oaxaca, Mexico -

Published: November 22, 2010

IXTLÁN de JUÁREZ, Mexico — As an unforgiving midday sun bore down on the pine-forested mountains here, a half-dozen men perched across a steep hillside wrestled back mounds of weeds to uncover wisps of knee-high seedlings.

Freeing the tiny pines that were planted last year is only one step of many the town takes to nurture the trees until they grow tall, ready for harvesting in half a century. But the people of Ixtlán take the long view.

“We’re the owners of this land and we have tried to conserve this forest for our children, for our descendants,” Alejandro Vargas said, leaning on his machete as he took a break. “Because we have lived from this for many years.”

Three decades ago the Zapotec Indians here in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico fought for and won the right to communally manage the forest. Before that, state-owned companies had exploited it as they pleased under federal government concessions.

They slowly built their own lumber business and, at the same time, began studying how to protect the forest. Now, the town’s enterprises employ 300 people who harvest timber, produce wooden furniture and care for the woodlands, and Ixtlán has grown to become the gold standard of community forest ownership and management, international forestry experts say.

Mexico’s community forest enterprises now range from the mahogany forests of the Yucatán Peninsula to the pine-oak forests of the western Sierra Madre. About 60 businesses, including Ixtlán, are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council in Germany, which evaluates sustainable forestry practices. Between 60 and 80 percent of Mexico’s remaining forests are under community control, according to Sergio Madrid of the Mexican Civic Council for Sustainable Forestry.

“It’s astounding what’s going on in Mexico,” said David Barton Bray, an expert on community forestry at Florida International University who has studied Ixtlán.

The Mexican government plans to showcase its success in community forestry at the global climate talks in Cancún next week. Despite fractious negotiations over reducing carbon emissions, talks on paying developing countries to protect their forests have moved further ahead than most other issues.

In developing countries, where the rule of law is weak and enforcement spotty, simply declaring a forest off-limits does little to prevent illegal logging or clearing land for agriculture or development. “Unless local communities are committed to conserving and protecting forests it’s not going to happen,” said David Kaimowitz, a former director of the Center for International Forestry Research, or Cifor, who is now at the Ford Foundation. “Government can’t do it for them.”

A recent Cifor study reported that more than a quarter of the forests in developing countries are now being managed by local communities. The trend is worldwide — from China to Brazil.

In Ixtlán, under Zapotec traditions, all decisions about the forest and its related businesses are made by a (mostly male) general assembly of 390 townspeople. These “comuneros” are required to contribute their labor as needed to the forest and its enterprises.

“You can see the harmony,” said Francisco Luna, the secretary of the committee in charge of the forest and its businesses. “For us to live in peace, we have to respect all the rules.”

Many of the problems that beset other forests in Mexico, like illegal logging and deforestation, rate barely a shrug here. Pedro Vidal García, a longtime forester in Ixtlán who now works for the Rainforest Alliance, laughed when he was asked about illegal logging in the 48,000 acres of forest the community owns.

“Anybody who tries their own illegal business is harshly judged,” he said. “The assembly is very tough.” A comunero who dares to work as a guide to illegal loggers or hunters is branded a traitor and could lose all property rights.

Rule by an assembly of equals based on ancestral customs can make running a business unwieldy. “It takes a long time to agree,” said Mr. García, whose father was one of the generation that sold their livestock to set up the community’s first sawmill. “The assembly can turn emotional, or technical.”

Last year, the community’s businesses made a profit of about $230,000. Of that, 30 percent went back into the business, another 30 percent went into forest preservation and the final 40 percent went back to the workers and the community where it pays for things like pensions, a low-interest credit union and housing for students studying in the state capital. Most of the enterprise’s foresters and managers are the university-educated sons and daughters of the older comuneros.

It is an odd business mixture, acknowledged Alberto Belmonte, who is in charge of finding new markets for the furniture and lumber that Ixtlán and two neighboring towns produce. “Pure simple socialism, which is what the communities have, and an idea of capitalism, where we say, ‘You know what? We have to be profitable.’”

Many of Ixtlán’s plain pine pieces are sold to the state government, and the factory is busy filling an order to furnish a children’s home with bunk beds and lockers. Mr. Belmonte has plans to jazz up design and crack the Mexico City market.

Julio García Gómez, 31, a sawmill worker, came back to Ixtlán five years ago from New Jersey, where he was working illegally, to raise his young family. The pay here has gone up since he returned, he said, “because of the equipment, because of the training.”

While a self-sustaining business, Ixtlán is still a work in progress. Nongovernment organizations, as well as the Mexican government, all provide financing and advice. And even the strongest advocates of community forestry acknowledge that it is not the answer to protecting forests everywhere. It works best in areas that produce quality timber, Mr. Bray said.

But it is a huge improvement on what came before.

“Things are working,” said Francisco Chapela, an agronomist who first came to Oaxaca 30 years ago and now works for the Rainforest Alliance in Mexico. “Forest management is a big success,” he continued. “If you look at old aerial photographs and compare it with what is now, the forest is increasing here.

“A lot of jobs have been created and a lot of money has come to the communities.”

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cornell Chronicle: Arizona SB 1070 affects Natives profoundly

By Caitlin Parker

Arizona Senate Bill 1070 has seriously affected Native Americans, said Michael Flores, an indigenous peoples' rights activist, speaking on a panel Nov. 3 in Goldwin Smith Hall.

The bill, which was signed into law April 23, made it legal for police officers to request evidence of citizenship during a lawful stop. Illegal immigrants at least 14 years of age are required to register with the U.S. government and acquire proper documentation. Carrying these documents is now imperative to avoid facing a misdemeanor charge, explained the panelists.

The event was part of a series of activities on campus organized by Cornell's American Indian Program to recognize American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.

SB 1070 also states that driving, hiding and protecting an illegal immigrant constitute punishable crimes, Flores noted. One of the most noticeable effects of the law, he said, is that increasingly, non-indigenous individuals are replacing indigenous workers in fast food chains. He added that many non-Natives claim that indigenous migrant workers take all the jobs, but the truth is that these are jobs that very few non-Native people want, he said.

More importantly, he added, since the bill became law, racism has become legitimized, and violence against Native peoples "is more blatant than ever." Recently, "tribal members out in the desert chopping wood have been handcuffed and beaten because they didn't have any identification on them," he said. Although the people were on their tribal land, he noted, "somehow the border patrol saw this as a legitimate way to detain people and abuse people violently."

Panelist Alan Gomez, a professor at Arizona State University, attributed such violent treatment of indigenous people to the border control's acting on the premise that "hierarchies within humanity" rightfully exist, and those on top are lawfully endorsed to enforce power.

"You do away with people's ... ability to dream and have their culture, and you limit their ability to move," he said, emphasizing that the law invokes an atmosphere where "there's an expectation of certain communities [acting] to police other communities."

This expectation of racial prejudice is troubling when considering younger generations brought up under such mentalities, he said, and how these mentalities will affect their treatment of racially diverse communities.

Panelist Margo Tamez, an assistant professor at University of British Columbia, who has interviewed Native Americans affected by the law and worked closely with various Native American tribes, remarked that indigenous communities have directly felt the Mexico-United States border wall's segregating consequences. On a physical scale, they have lost access to burial sites and other important traditional locations, she said. On a socio-cultural scale, they are losing the tribe's inherited sense of identity.

"Indigenous peoples are resisting numerous kinds of destruction to our lives, our bodies and to our communities," she said. The new law has increased racist acts against Native peoples, she added, who continue to work for justice in the region and elsewhere.

Monday, November 01, 2010

On an Indian Reservation, a Garden of Buddhas


Published: October 31, 2010

ARLEE, Mont. — On a rural American Indian reservation here, amid grazing horses and cattle, a Buddhist lama from the other side of the world is nearing completion of a $1.6 million meditative garden that he hopes will draw spiritual pilgrims.

“There is something pure and powerful about this landscape,” said Gochen Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche, the 56-year-old Tibetan lama, as he walked down a gravel road on a sunny fall day. “The shape of the hills is like a lotus petal blossoming.”

Richard Gere has not been seen house shopping here — yet. But on the land of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes, a 24-foot statue of Yum Chenmo, the Great Wisdom Mother, has risen in Mr. Sang-ngag’s farm field. Nearby, in his old sheep barn, amid rubber molds and plaster, some 650 statues of Buddha sit in neat rows, illuminated by shafts of light pouring in through broken boards.

It seemed the perfect setup for a clash of two cultures when Mr. Sang-ngag, a high-ranking Buddhist lama, came to this remote part of Montana a decade ago, liked the landscape feng shui and bought a 60-acre sheep ranch. At the foot of the towering, glacier-etched Mission Mountains — not unlike his native Tibet — he and a band of volunteers began building a Garden of 1,000 Buddhas to promote world peace.

The arrival of the exotic culture here in cowboy country, with multicolored prayer flags flapping in the breeze, made some from the Salish and Kootenai tribes uneasy, to say the least.

An unusual land ownership pattern was partly to blame. While most Indian reservations are majority-owned by the tribes, a 1904 law allowed nonmembers of the tribes to homestead land. And as a result, there are four to five times as many non-Indians on the reservation as there are Indians.

Mr. Sang-ngag called his place Ewam Sang-ngag Ling, or the Land of Secret Mantra, Wisdom and Compassion. It turns out that it was sacred to the tribes as well, a place where, oral traditions hold, a coyote vanquished a monster and drove out many bad spirits so the people could live here.

Julie Cajune, the executive director for American Indian Policy at Salish Kootenai College and other Indians began working to build bridges between the tribes and the Buddhists. They suggested that the Buddhists bring traditional gifts, prayer scarves and tobacco, to the tribal council, which they did.

“Many people move here without recognition they are a guest,” Ms. Cajune said. “None of the mainstream churches or the Amish have done that.”

Buddhists in Japan, Taiwan and China have sent money for Buddha statues. The Dalai Lama has agreed to come and consecrate the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas after the project it is finished, perhaps in 2012.

But the patchwork of Indian and non-Indian land holdings within the reservation remains contentious. Some tribal members are worried that groups drawn to the Buddhist garden will buy up nontribal land, driving prices further out of the reach of Indians, and ignore tribal rules and customs.

They point to the case of Amish families who have bought farmland within the reservation, said Ms. Cajune, who is Salish.

“It’s ironic, but many Indian people can’t afford to buy land on their own reservation,” she said. A typical acre for building a home here might cost $30,000 — an enormous amount in rural and tribal Montana.

But Ms. Cajune said there was also an uncanny kinship between the tribal and Buddhist cultures, based on understandings of sacred landscapes, and even notions of honor and respect.

The biggest driver of rapprochement here is a shared history of subjugation and displacement — for the Tibetans, at the hands of the Chinese (Mr. Sang-ngag spent nine years in a Chinese labor camp) and for the tribes, by the American government.

“There is a shared vision of cultures being under pressure and surviving,” Mr. Sang-ngag said through a translator.

The heart of the 60-acre development is the 10-acre Garden of 1,000 Buddhas. When tribal elders came and blessed it, the two groups found they both used juniper and sage as purifying incense for ceremonies, for example, as well as similar prayer cloths and ritual drumming.

After much outreach by the Buddhists, including asking permission from the tribe to have the Dalai Lama consecrate the ground, Ms. Cajune said, “I think local people are feeling more comfortable.”

The sheep are gone from the green hills here now. “They achieved Buddhahood,” joked Mr. Sang-ngag, as he walked through the garden, designed in the shape of the dharma wheel, which symbolizes the core teachings of Buddhism. The Great Wisdom Mother statue contains sacred vases and holy texts. Swords, guns and other symbols of war are buried underneath, to symbolize a triumph over violence.

In the Buddha barn, meanwhile, is a Norton motorcycle, which members here jokingly refer to as the sacred chopper. It will be raffled to raise money to finish the garden. About half the money has been raised.

Last week the Buddhists began planning with the tribal officials about managing pilgrimages to the site, a possible headache for the tribe. “Some people want to keep the reservation a good, quiet secret,” Ms. Cajune said.

But Mr. Sang-ngag says good karma, or spiritual energy, is ebbing from the earth, and the garden will help enhance it. “It’s designed to awaken the Buddha nature” of wisdom and compassion in anyone who gazes upon it, said Lama Tsomo, a student who lives nearby.

A potential cultural clash has become cultural reconciliation. “It’s two cultures honoring each other in peace,” Ms. Cajune said. “That’s a powerful story people need to hear.”

Monday, October 25, 2010

Navajos Move Away From Coal in Favor of Sun and Wind -

Published: October 25, 2010

BLUE GAP, Ariz. — For decades, coal has been an economic lifeline for the Navajos, even as mining and power plant emissions dulled the blue skies and sullied the waters of their sprawling reservation.

But today there are stirrings of rebellion. Seeking to reverse years of environmental degradation and return to their traditional values, many Navajos are calling for a future built instead on solar farms, ecotourism and microbusinesses.

“At some point we have to wean ourselves,” Earl Tulley, a Navajo housing official, said of coal as he sat on the dirt floor of his family’s hogan, a traditional circular dwelling.

Mr. Tulley, who is running for vice president of the Navajo Nation in the Nov. 2 election, represents a growing movement among Navajos that embraces environmental healing and greater reliance on the sun and wind, abundant resources on a 17 million-acre reservation spanning Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

“We need to look at the bigger picture of sustainable development,” said Mr. Tulley, the first environmentalist to run on a Navajo presidential ticket.

With nearly 300,000 members, the Navajo Nation is the country’s largest tribe, according to Census Bureau estimates, and it has the biggest reservation. Coal mines and coal-fired power plants on the reservation and on lands shared with the Hopi provide about 1,500 jobs and more than a third of the tribe’s annual operating budget, the largest source of revenue after government grants and taxes.

At the grass-roots level, the internal movement advocating a retreat from coal is both a reaction to the environmental damage and the health consequences of mining — water loss and contamination, smog and soot pollution — and a reconsideration of centuries-old tenets.

In Navajo culture, some spiritual guides say, digging up the earth to retrieve resources like coal and uranium (which the reservation also produced until health issues led to a ban in 2005) is tantamount to cutting skin and represents a betrayal of a duty to protect the land.

“As medicine people, we don’t extract resources,” said Anthony Lee Sr., president of the Diné Hataalii Association, a group of about 100 healers known as medicine men and women.

But the shift is also prompted by economic realities. Tribal leaders say the Navajo Nation’s income from coal has dwindled 15 percent to 20 percent in recent years as federal and state pollution regulations have imposed costly restrictions and lessened the demand for mining.

Two coal mines on the reservation have shut down in the last five years. One of them, the Black Mesa mine, ceased operations because the owners of the power plant it fed in Laughlin, Nev., chose to close the plant in 2005 rather than spend $1.2 billion on retrofitting it to meet pollution controls required by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Early this month, the E.P.A. signaled that it would require an Arizona utility to install $717 million in emission controls at another site on the reservation, the Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico, describing it as the highest emitter of nitrous oxide of any power plant in the nation. It is also weighing costly new rules for the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona.

And states that rely on Navajo coal, like California, are increasingly imposing greenhouse gas emissions standards and requiring renewable energy purchases, banning or restricting the use of coal for electricity.

So even as they seek higher royalties and new markets for their vast coal reserves, tribal officials say they are working to draft the tribe’s first comprehensive energy policy and are gradually turning to casinos, renewable energy projects and other sources for income.

This year the tribal government approved a wind farm to be built west of Flagstaff, Ariz., to power up to 20,000 homes in the region. Last year, the tribal legislative council also created a Navajo Green Economy Commission to promote environmentally friendly jobs and businesses.

“We need to create our own businesses and control our destiny,” said Ben Shelly, the Navajo Nation vice president, who is now running for president against Lynda Lovejoy, a state senator in New Mexico and Mr. Tulley’s running mate.

That message is gaining traction among Navajos who have reaped few benefits from coal or who feel that their health has suffered because of it.

Curtis Yazzie, 43, for example, lives in northeastern Arizona without running water or electricity in a log cabin just a stone’s throw from the Kayenta mine.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Jack Thorpe vs. Jim Thorpe, Pa. - Legal Battle Over an Icon’s Remains

Published: July 24, 2010

POTTAWATOMIE COUNTY, Okla. — The northeast corner of Garden Grove Cemetery is a crowded one. But Jack Thorpe, the 73-year-old son of Jim Thorpe, sees room for at least one more.

“More than likely, Dad will end up right here,” Thorpe said. He pointed to a plot-size patch between a short chain-link fence and an unmarked rectangle of crumbling red brick. A step away was an undated stone the size of a shoebox lid reading, simply, “SON.”

Jack Thorpe, the man suing Jim Thorpe, Pa., for his father’s remains, stepped out of the oppressive midday sun and into the shade of a scraggly oak. He took a drag from his cigarette. Beads of sweat slid down his cheeks. Birds chattered somewhere in the bushes. Jim Thorpe’s father and a sister and a brother and more than a dozen other relatives are buried here, beneath the baking, sandy soil and the thin grass.

There is no town nearby, just a crossroads without street signs. A mile down a dirt road that was nothing more than a wagon trail when Jim Thorpe was a boy, a granite marker stands as tall and sturdy as the man it honors.

“Birth site of Jim Thorpe,” it reads.

Jack Thorpe pointed downhill toward a stand of trees. That is where the one-room log house stood. That is where a blacksmith, a Sac and Fox Indian named Hiram Thorpe, forged a family, including a boy who became the world’s greatest athlete — the 1912 Olympic decathlon and pentathlon gold medalist, a Hall of Fame football player, a major league baseball player.

Thorpe, whose veins also held Potawatomi blood from his mother’s side, remains a hero to Americans, native and otherwise — a man whose life story is part of the curriculum at schools in Oklahoma and whose name adorns buildings, highways and hospitals in what used to be Indian Territory.

“I want to see him put away properly,” Jack Thorpe said. “I want to put him where he wanted to be.”

Until then, Jim Thorpe remains far from home. He very likely never visited the towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, straddling the Lehigh River in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. But months after Thorpe died in 1953 at age 64, his third wife, Patricia, struck a deal.

Build a monument and care for the remains, and a nifty roadside attraction and Jim Thorpe’s name for the merged towns are yours. And so it has been, for more than 50 years.

And now, Thorpe versus Thorpe.

“I don’t have anything against Jim Thorpe, Pa.,” Jack Thorpe said. “But some things are not for sale.”

Jack Thorpe waited long enough. He waited for Jim Thorpe the town to volunteer Jim Thorpe’s remains. He waited for Patricia to die, which she did in 1974. He waited for his three half-sisters to die, too, because they had differing views on their father’s final resting place and Thorpe “didn’t want to iron this out in public.” Grace, the most adamant about letting their father be, was the last to die, in 2008 at 86.

In June, with the backing of his two surviving brothers, Jack Thorpe sued the town of Jim Thorpe in United States District Court. Citing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, the suit contends that Jack Thorpe, as a lineal descendant, has legal claim to his father’s remains.

No trial date has been set. And the town of Jim Thorpe, which slowly rebuilt itself as a tourist center with perhaps a little nudge from the dignified memorial and mausoleum for its namesake, is debating how to proceed.

“I can see the point of both sides,” said Kate Buford, the author of “Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe,” to be published in October. “It’s a really difficult issue.”

She said that the town had honored Thorpe’s memory “very well and very sincerely.”

Jack Thorpe said that could continue.

“We’re not trying to get them to change the name of the town,” said Travis Willingham, the lawyer handling the case for Jack Thorpe. “We just want the body back. I would hope we could work this out.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gas Driller Faces Eviction From Utah Reservation

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Ute Indian tribe is threatening to kick a gas producer off an eastern Utah reservation in an escalating dispute that has the company questioning the tribe's sovereignty.

Ute Chairman Curtis R. Cesspooch made the threat after a federal judge in Salt Lake City declined to resolve the bitter dispute, opening Questar Corp. affiliates and a spin-off company to possible eviction from the Uintah-Ouray Reservation.

Judge Dale Kimball granted an injunction against tribal action July 1 but ruled Friday that the federal courts had no jurisdiction over a contract dispute. The dispute could be headed for arbitration, but a lawyer for Cesspooch said Tuesday that Questar-related companies could instead face eviction by a tribal court in 10 days.

At issue is an effort by a Questar spin-off company, QEP Resources Inc., to expand one of its five gas-producing plants on the reservation over the objections of the tribe and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Cesspooch issued a strongly worded statement after the tribe's victory Friday. He was angered by Questar's argument in court that part of the reservation where it operates ceased to exist as Indian Country a century ago. The EPA's position in court papers is that all of the company's gas-processing plants are on a reservation.

''We had invited Questar onto the reservation to develop our minerals, but instead of acting as our partners, they have harmed the tribe and told us we do not exist as a people in our own reservation,'' Cesspooch said.

The Ute tribe has stopped work on an expansion of one of QEP's gas processing plants. Cesspooch said the company refused to obtain the tribe's permission or permits for the expansion.

The dispute developed as the EPA filed a complaint in 2008 against Questar Gas Management Co. for violating the Clean Air Act at all of its gas processing plants on the reservation.

Questar Corp. spun off Questar Gas Management Co. into a separate company July 1 called QEP Resources Inc.

A spokeswoman for the Denver-based company, Emily K. Kelley, said Tuesday that QEP had no comment on the court fight.

''QEP strives to be a good neighbor in all of the communities where it operates and has done such since 1922,'' she said in an e-mail.

Cesspooch said QEP has been anything but a good neighbor.

''Questar was attempting to come onto our land unlawfully to build a huge gas processing plant expansion ... in direct violation of existing federal and tribal regulatory requirements governing use and access of tribal lands,'' he said in the statement.

Cesspooch added, ''The tribe is also considering instituting a widespread eviction and banishment of Questar and its affiliates from all tribal lands if Questar continues to engage in unlawful activities resulting in trespass on the lands of the reservation that threaten the health, safety and welfare'' of more than 3,100 tribal members.

The chairman didn't immediately return a message left by The Associated Press on Tuesday. The tribe's Denver lawyer, Thomas W. Fredericks, said no eviction was under way, but that if the tribe makes good on the threat, it could be ordered by a tribal court in as quickly as 10 days.

The EPA's lead attorney on the case, Michael J. Boydston of Denver, declined to comment Tuesday. A spokesman for the agency in Denver, Richard Mylott, didn't return a phone message.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Iroquois Lacrosse Players Lose Passport Dispute With the British

Published: July 16, 2010

WESTBURY, N.Y. — The 23 players on the Iroquois national lacrosse team expected to spend this week vying for a world championship.

Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team members Drew Bucktooth and Aaron Printup wait in the lobby of their motel in Queens.
Instead, they spent Friday night divvying up their gear in the driveway outside a Hilton hotel here, having officially declared defeat in their weeklong dispute with the British government over whether they should be allowed to travel using their tribal passports.

“I felt it was coming, but I didn’t want to believe it until I actually heard it,” said Ron Cogan, 31, who played defense for the team.

The team, known as the Nationals, forfeited its first game Thursday night against England. Unless the team departed for the tournament by Friday evening, it would have had no choice but to forfeit its next game, scheduled for Saturday afternoon against Japan.

“You can’t go into a world competition and ask a team to tie one hand behind its back,” said Chief Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Nation, one of the six nations that make up the Iroquois Confederacy.

But the team was willing to try, at least until its second forfeit appeared inevitable. The team turned a guest room at the Comfort Inn near Kennedy Airport into a diplomatic command center of sorts, and team officials made a last-ditch effort to get the visas, traveling to the British consulate in Manhattan on Friday to make a final plea. The team dined at the Cheesecake Factory at the Mall at the Source here while awaiting word on their status Friday night.

“We’d rather be playing there than sitting here,” said the team’s captain, Gewas Schindler, 34, who plays attack. “It’s hard to talk about, really.”

Discussing their saga had been all the team had been able to do the past few days while it remained marooned, forbidden from flying to the tournament because British officials would not accept its tribal documents in lieu of American or Canadian passports because of security concerns. The Iroquois passports are partly handwritten and lack the holograms and other technological features that guard against forgeries.

The dispute has superseded lacrosse, prompting diplomatic tap-dancing abroad and reigniting in the United States a centuries-old debate over the sovereignty of American Indian nations. The Iroquois refused to accept United States passports, saying they did not want to travel to an international competition on what they consider to be a foreign nation’s passport.

“It’s a tough one,” Lyons said. “We’re dealing with new regulations that have come about since 9/11, and we understand that.”

The British government first objected to the team’s travel plans last week, when it said the Iroquois players would not be allowed to travel to the tournament in Manchester, England, unless the United States vouched for their tribal passports and guaranteed the team would be allowed to re-enter the country.

The United States refused to do so until Wednesday, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton granted the team a one-time waiver to travel without United States passports.

But later Wednesday, British officials informed the team it would not receive visas after all, dealing a blow to the team’s hopes and angering several lawmakers who had lobbied on the team’s behalf. Representative Dan Maffei, Democrat of New York, called the situation an “international embarrassment” and went so far as to question England’s ability to host the 2012 Olympics.

American diplomats discussed the case with their British counterparts on Wednesday and Thursday, but the State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley signaled Friday that the team was out of luck.

“From our standpoint, we’ve done what we can do,” Crowley told reporters in Washington. “It would appear to us at this point that the U.K. has made their final determination.”

The British government indicated that was the case. A spokeswoman for the United Kingdom Border Agency said British officials had not changed their position.

That broader issue of the validity of tribal passports — which experts in American Indian law say have been allowed for international travel for several decades, even if the letter of the law forbids them to be used as replacements for United States passports — remains unresolved.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

‘Informed Consent’ and the Ethics of DNA Research


Published: April 23, 2010

The cultural gap between the impoverished Havasupai Indians who view their blood as sacred and the Arizona State University researchers who helicoptered in to their Grand Canyon home to collect it was at the heart of a lawsuit over the scope of a genetic study that ended last week with a settlement for the tribe.

But the case, scientists and bioethicists said, serves as a cautionary tale about the equally significant gap between scientists and all research subjects, who often seem to hail from different cultures even when the surface differences are less apparent.

As troubling questions, some involving other lawsuits, have surfaced recently among a range of research subjects who have learned that their genetic material is being used in ways they weren’t consulted about, scientists are debating how to better apply the principle of “informed consent” to large-scale genetic research. At stake, they say, is the success of such research, which relies on voluntary participation by increasingly large numbers of human subjects.

Some have proposed an international tribunal akin to the Helsinki human rights agreement, which would lay out the ethical obligations to research participants. Others suggest staying in touch with subjects so they can be consulted on new projects — and because under current practices they tend to learn of breakthroughs based on their own DNA only if they become close readers of scientific journals.

Courts have ruled that individuals do not have a property right to their cells once they are taken in the course of medical care, but they do, under federal guidelines, have a right to know how they will be used. Complicating matters is the increasing impossibility of ensuring that DNA data can remain anonymous. Do participants need to be told that their privacy cannot be guaranteed? Can “blanket” consent up front do the trick, or is even that misleading because researchers can’t adequately describe the scope of studies they have yet to design? Is it O.K. to use DNA collected for heart research to look for genetic associations with intelligence, mental illness, racial differences?

For one thing, “we have to communicate a hell of a lot better to the public what is going on when we put their specimens in our biobanks,” said Stephen J. O’Brien, a geneticist who runs the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at the National Institutes of Health.

At issue in the Havasupai case was whether an Arizona State geneticist had obtained permission from tribal members to use their DNA for anything other than finding clues to Type 2 diabetes. More than 200 of the 650-member tribe signed a consent form stating that their blood could be used to “study the causes of behavioral/medical disorders,” but many said they had believed they were donating it only for the study of diabetes, which tribal members suffer from at extraordinarily high rates.

When they learned years later that the DNA samples had been used to investigate things they found objectionable, they felt betrayed. Researchers had investigated genes thought to be associated with schizophrenia, a condition the tribe considered stigmatizing, and traced the tribe’s ancestral origins to Asia, contradicting traditional stories holding that the Havasupai had originated in the Grand Canyon.

Dr. O’Brien said he sympathized with the position of Dr. Therese Markow, the geneticist who had overseen the research at Arizona State and who insisted she had received consent from her subjects. But it was her responsibility, Dr. O’Brien added, to make sure her subjects actually understood.

He noted that a similar question arose much more recently about what should be done with some 200,000 DNA samples that government-funded scientists had collected for studies of specific diseases. His own laboratory, for instance, has gathered DNA from thousands of AIDS patients who gave permission for it to be used in studying the genetics of H.I.V.

Should the samples be made available in a public database, so other federally funded researchers can use them for additional studies? After all, they were collected at considerable taxpayer expense. On the other hand, what if patients disliked the purposes it was used for?

“What if someone decides to use them to look for a gene for homosexuality?” Dr. O’Brien said. “They might be pretty surprised to learn that.”

Most likely they would never find out. (The Havasupai learned of the research Dr. Markow had done only because another professor at the university made a tribe member aware of it.) But what if they did find out?

That happened in Texas, when a newspaper report tipped parents off to the fact that the drops of blood taken from newborns in the hospital for screening in state laboratories — a legally mandated practice that can stave off disease and save lives — were being stored and made available to scientists for other research.

“The irony is if you had asked me, I probably would have consented,” said Andrea Beleno, a legal aid attorney in Austin, Tex., who was among those who sued the state health agency. “I would love for there to be a cure for breast cancer, which runs in my family. I would love for there to be a cure for diabetes. The way the state went about it just made me distrustful.”

It didn’t help to learn from another newspaper report, after the state settled the case, that some of the samples had been provided to a database used by the military to improve the interpretation of forensic DNA evidence.

“I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist,” said Ms. Beleno. “I would have laughed if someone said the state has a multimillion-person DNA database and they’re sending samples to the U.S. military.”

The state’s resulting decision to destroy the samples, legal advocates said, was a loss for science that could have been prevented.

Some marginalized groups have shied away from genetic research for historical reasons like the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study on African-Americans. As a result, said Marcus Feldman, a Stanford geneticist, those who may have the least access to medical care are also those whose genetics scientists know the least about.

Studies have estimated that most individuals — perhaps more than 90 percent — are willing to allow their data to be used for a range of biomedical research. It is when they are not asked that problems arise.

Rebecca Skloot, author of a book that recounts how cells taken by doctors from a black woman with cervical cancer in the 1950s became a vital tool for medicine, said people ask at every stop on her book tour how they can find out what is being done with the blood or biopsy they may have left at a hospital.

“There is this sense of, ‘it’s a piece of my body, and I want to know what’s happening to it,’ ” said Ms. Skloot, whose book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” has become a best seller.

Some advocates for patients have criticized a paternalism among scientists who may tend to believe they are working to benefit humanity and prefer not to slow down, or spend grant money, to explain their work. But part of the problem may also be that communicating with the public is not what scientists are trained to do.

“If you go to a hospital and you don’t speak English, you’re going to get a translator,” said Ms. Skloot. “If you go to the hospital and you don’t speak science, you’re not, and in a way, that’s what people need.”

For pragmatic reasons and ethical ones, some researchers are trying out new models. In pursuit of the huge volume of research participants that appear to be necessary to find the many gene variants that contribute to common diseases like diabetes, the Children’s Hospital Boston, for instance, is pioneering a project that lets researchers report whatever they find directly to the subjects, a practice that has been considered impractical in the past, and fraught with ethical issues of its own.

With that as incentive, they hope to enroll nearly every family that walks through the door in a study that makes their medical records, as well as their DNA, available to researchers.

Over the first six months of the project, genetic counselors have spent as much as an hour with each family.

“We talked a lot about how this kind of information can be shocking and nerve-racking, and the things people can find out,” said Chellamal Keshavan, 21, a senior at Wheelock College in Boston. Then, readily, she gave her consent.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Wilma Mankiller, former Cherokee Chief, is Dead at 64 - Obituary

By Sam Howe Verhovek

Published: April 6, 2010

Wilma Mankiller, who as the first woman to be elected chief of a major American Indian tribe revitalized the Cherokee Nation’s tribal government and improved its education, health and housing, died Tuesday at her home near Tahlequah, Okla. She was 64.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said Mike Miller, a tribal spokesman.

Ms. Mankiller was the Cherokee chief from 1985 to 1995, and during her tenure the nation’s membership more than doubled, to 170,000 from about 68,000.

While many Cherokees live in a 14-county area around the tribal capital of Tahlequah, in eastern Oklahoma, its members are spread throughout the 50 states. The current tribal membership is 290,000, making it the second-largest tribe in the country after the Navajo.

Ms. Mankiller was admired for her tenacity, having fought off two serious diseases, lymphoma and a neuromuscular disorder called myasthenia gravis; recovered from kidney failure that would have killed her had not an older brother given her one of his kidneys; and survived a head-on automobile collision in 1979 that forced her to endure 17 operations and years of physical therapy.

“We are better people and a stronger tribal nation because of her example of Cherokee leadership, statesmanship, humility, grace, determination and decisiveness,” Chad Smith, the Cherokees’ principal chief, said in a statement on the tribe’s Web site. “When we become disheartened, we will be inspired by remembering how Wilma proceeded undaunted through so many trials and tribulations.”

Wilma Pearl Mankiller was born on Nov. 18, 1945, in Tahlequah. She was the sixth of 11 children reared by Charley Mankiller, a full-blooded Cherokee, and the former Clara Irene Sitton, who is of Dutch-Irish descent. (The Cherokees accept anyone as a member who can link any part of his or her ancestry to a member of the original tribe.)

She spent her early childhood on a 160-acre tract known as Mankiller Flats, given to her grandfather as part of a settlement the federal government made for forcing the Cherokee to move to Oklahoma from their tribal lands in the Carolinas and Georgia in the 1830s. The name Mankiller comes from a tribal military rank.

Though Ms. Mankiller later recalled that she had never really felt poor growing up, the family’s home had no electricity, indoor plumbing or telephones.

In 1956, the family moved to San Francisco as part of a relocation policy of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Its aim was to move Indians off federally subsidized reservations with the promise of jobs in America’s big cities. Ms. Mankiller’s father became a warehouse worker and union organizer.

In an interview with The New York Times in 1993, Ms. Mankiller described the move as “my own little Trail of Tears,” a reference to the forced removal of Cherokees from the Southeast by federal troops during the winter of 1838-39.

In 1963, she married Hugo Olaya, an Ecuadorean businessman, and later became the mother of two daughters, Gina and Felicia.

Her life changed, she said, when a group of young Indian demonstrators took over Alcatraz to call attention to the government’s treatment of Indians. They claimed the island “in the name of Indians of all tribes,” and during their 19-month occupation Ms. Mankiller visited them frequently and raised money for their cause.

She began taking night courses at Skyline College and San Francisco State University while working as a coordinator of Indian programs for the Oakland public schools. After her marriage ended in divorce, she returned with her daughters to live on her grandfather’s land in Oklahoma in 1977.

Soon she began volunteering in tribal affairs and leading campaigns for new health and school programs, like Head Start. She landed a job as economic stimulus coordinator for the Cherokee Nation, emphasizing community self-help. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in the social sciences from Flaming Rainbow University in Stilwell and took graduate courses in community planning at the University of Arkansas.

In 1981, she founded the community development department of the Cherokee Nation and, as its director, helped develop rural water systems and rehabilitate housing. Her successes led the tribe’s principal chief, Ross Swimmer, to select her as his running mate in his re-election campaign in 1983. Their victory made her the first woman to become deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation.

When Mr. Swimmer resigned two years later to become assistant secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, she succeeded him as principal chief. She won office in her own right in 1987 and in 1991 was re-elected with 83 percent of the vote.

As the tribe’s leader, she was both the principal guardian of centuries of Cherokee tradition and customs, including legal codes, and chief executive of a tribe with a budget that reached $150 million a year by the end of her tenure. The money included income from several factories, gambling operations, a motel, gift shops, a ranch, a lumber company and other businesses as well as the federal government.

One of her priorities was to plow much of this income back into new or expanded health care and job-training programs as well as Head Start and the local high school.

Even after she left office in 1995 because of her health problems, Ms. Mankiller remained a force in tribal affairs, frequently sought out for counsel and helping to mediate a bitter factional fight between her successor and other tribal leaders that had threatened to become a constitutional crisis in the Cherokee Nation. She also was a guest professor at Dartmouth College.

In addition to her mother, she is survived by her husband, Charlie Soap; her daughters, Gina Olaya and Felicia Olaya, both of Tahlequah; several brothers and sisters, and four grandchildren.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Ms. Mankiller the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Her life story was chronicled in “Mankiller: A Chief and Her People” (St. Martin’s Press, 1993), which she wrote with Michael Wallis. She was also the author and editor of “Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women” (Fulcrum Publishing, 2004).

William Grimes contributed reporting.

Indian Tribes Go in Search of Their Lost Languages


Published: April 5, 2010

As far as the records show, no one has spoken Shinnecock or Unkechaug, languages of Long Island’s Indian tribes, for nearly 200 years. Now Stony Brook University and two of the Indian nations are initiating a joint project to revive these extinct tongues, using old documents like a vocabulary list that Thomas Jefferson wrote during a visit in 1791.

The goal is language resuscitation and enlisting tribal members from this generation and the next to speak them, said representatives from the tribes and Stony Brook’s Southampton campus.

Chief Harry Wallace, the elected leader of the Unkechaug Nation, said that for tribal members, knowing the language is an integral part of understanding their own culture, past and present.

“When our children study their own language and culture, they perform better academically,” he said. “They have a core foundation to rely on.”

The Long Island effort is part of a wave of language reclamation projects undertaken by American Indians in recent years. For many tribes language is a cultural glue that holds a community together, linking generations and preserving a heritage and values. Bruce Cole, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which sponsors language preservation programs, has called language “the DNA of a culture.”

The odds against success can be overwhelming, given the relatively small number of potential speakers and the difficulty in persuading a new generation to participate. There has been progress, though, said Leanne Hinton, professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, who created the Breath of Life program in California in 1992 to revive dormant languages in the state.

Representatives from at least 25 languages with no native speakers have participated in the group’s workshops so far, she said. Last month Ms. Hinton and a colleague at Yale received a federal grant to create a similar program based in Washington, D.C.

Of the more than 300 indigenous languages spoken in the United States, only 175 remain, according to the Indigenous Language Institute. This nonprofit group estimates that without restoration efforts, no more than 20 will still be spoken in 2050.

Some reclamation efforts have shown success. Daryl Baldwin started working to revive the dormant language of the Miami Nation in the Midwest (part of the Algonquian language family), and taught his own children to speak it fluently. He now directs the Myaamia Project at Miami University in Ohio, a joint effort between academics and the Miami tribe.

Farther east is Stephanie Fielding, a member of the Connecticut Mohegans and an adviser on the Stony Brook project. She has devoted her life to bringing her tribe’s language back to life and is compiling a dictionary and grammar book. In her eyes language provides a mental telescope into the world of her ancestors. She notes, for example, that in an English conversation, a statement is typically built with the first person — “I” — coming first. In the same statement in Mohegan, however, “you” always comes first, even when the speaker is the subject.

“This suggests a more communally minded culture,” she said.

Now in her 60s, Ms. Fielding knows firsthand just how tough it is to sustain a language effort over time, however. She said she was still not fluent.

“In order for a language to survive and resurrect,” she said, “it needs people talking it, and for people to talk it, there has to be a society that works on it.”

Chief Wallace of the Unkechaug in Long Island already has a willing student from a younger generation. Howard Treadwell, 24, graduated from Stony Brook in 2009 with a linguistics degree. He will participate in the Long Island effort while doing graduate work at the University of Arizona, where there is a specialized program researching American Indian languages.

Mr. Treadwell is one of 400 registered members of the tribe, which maintains a 52-acre reservation in Mastic, on the South Shore. The Shinnecocks have about 1,300 enrolled members and have a reservation adjacent to Southampton.

Robert D. Hoberman, the chairman of the linguistics department at Stony Book, is overseeing the academic side of the project. He is an expert in the creation of modern Hebrew, the great success story of language revival. Essentially unspoken for 2,000 years, Hebrew survived only in religious uses until early Zionists tried to update it — an undertaking adopted on a grand scale when the State of Israel was established.

For the American Indians on Long Island the task is particularly difficult because there are few records. But Shinnecock and Unkechaug are part of a family of eastern Algonquian languages. Some have both dictionaries and native speakers, Mr. Hoberman said, which the team can mine for missing words and phrases, and for grammatical structure.

The reclamation is a two-step process, the professor explained. “First we have to figure out what the language looked like,” using remembered prayers, greetings, sayings and word lists, like the one Jefferson created, he said. “Then we’ll look at languages that are much better documented, look at short word lists to see what the differences are and see what the equivalencies are, and we’ll use that to reconstruct what the Long Island languages probably were like.” The Massachusett language, for example, is well documented with dictionaries and Bible translations.

Jefferson’s Unkechaug word list was collected on June 13, 1791, when he visited Brookhaven, Long Island, with James Madison, later his successor in the White House. He wrote that even then, only three old women remained who could still speak the language fluently.

Chief Wallace said he had many more records, including religious documents, deeds and legal transactions, and possibly a tape of some tribal members speaking in the 1940s.

“When we have an idea of what the language should sound like, the vocabulary and the structure, we’ll then introduce it to people in the community,” Mr. Hoberman said.

While it may seem impossible to recreate the sound of a lost tongue, Mr. Hoberman said the process was not all that mysterious because the dictionaries were transliterated into English.

“Would someone from 200 years ago think we had a funny accent?” Mr. Hoberman asked. “Yes. Would they understand it? I hope so.”

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Former Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller Dies

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Former Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller, one of the few women ever to lead a major American Indian tribe, has died. She was 64.

Tribal spokesman Mike Miller said Mankiller, who became one of the nation's most visible American Indian leaders during her 10 years as chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, died Tuesday.

Mankiller had battled lymphoma, breast cancer and several other health problems. On March 2, 2010, Mankiller's husband, Charlie Soap, announced that his wife had stage 4 metastatic pancreatic cancer.

As the first female chief of the Cherokees, serving from 1985 to 1995, Mankiller led the tribe in tripling its enrollment, doubling employment and building new health centers and children's programs.

Her first taste of federal policy toward Indians came in the 1950s when her family participated in a government relocation program and ended up in a housing project. As chief, she took Indian issues to the White House and met with three presidents: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Mankiller earned a reputation for facing conflict head-on.

She met snide remarks about her surname -- a Cherokee military title -- with humor, often delivering a straight-faced, ''Mankiller is actually a well-earned nickname.''

Continual struggles with her health appeared not to deter her. A 1979 car accident nearly claimed her life and resulted in 17 operations. She developed a muscular disorder called myasthenia gravis and underwent a kidney transplant in 1990.

Mankiller used some hospital stays to work on her autobiography with Michael Wallis called ''Mankiller: A Chief and Her People,'' which came out in 1993.

After the announcement that she had pancreatic cancer, Mankiller said she was ''mentally and spiritually prepared for this journey.''

''I learned a long time ago that I can't control the challenges the creator sends my way, but I can control the way I think about them and deal with them,'' she said in a March 2010 statement released by the tribe.

''On balance, I have been blessed with an extraordinarily rich and wonderful life, filled with incredible experiences.''

Mankiller succeeded former Chief Ross Swimmer, who left at midterm in 1985 for a job in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She was re-elected in a landslide four years later, with 83 percent of the vote. She decided not to seek re-election in 1995 and accepted a teaching position at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., where she held an honorary degree.

Among her other honors was a Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the nation's highest civilian award -- presented by Clinton in 1998.

Born at W.W. Hastings Indian Hospital in Tahlequah, Mankiller moved with her family to San Francisco in the 1950s when their farm in Adair County failed. The pledge of opportunity turned out to be a life of poverty in a housing project.

She married Ecuadoran accountant Hector Olaya in 1963, and they had two daughters, Felicia, born in 1964, and Gina, born in 1966.

Mankiller moved back to her family's land in Oklahoma after divorcing Olaya in 1975, and she married Soap in 1986.

In 1969, she got what she called ''an enormous wake-up call'' and took her first step into Indian activism by participating in the 19-month occupation of Alcatraz Island.

Seventy-nine Native Americans took over the site of the former federal prison to protest a policy that terminated the federal government's recognition of tribal sovereignty and the exclusion of Indians from state laws. The policy was based on the belief that Native Americans would be better off if they assimilated as individuals into mainstream American society. Federal officers removed the remaining protesters in June 1971.

As chief, Mankiller was less of an activist and more of a pragmatist. She was criticized for focusing almost exclusively on social programs, instead of pushing for smoke shops and high-stakes gaming.

In her autobiography, Mankiller said she wanted to be remembered not just for being the tribe's first female chief but for emphasizing that Cherokee values can help solve contemporary problems.

''Friends describe me as someone who likes to dance along the edge of the roof,'' she wrote. ''I try to encourage young women to be willing to take risks, to stand up for the things they believe in, and to step up and accept the challenge of serving in leadership roles.''

A memorial service has been scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Cherokee Nation Cultural Grounds in Tahlequah.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sherman Alexie Wins Pen/Faulkner Fiction Award

Sherman Alexie has won the PEN/Faulkner Award, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation announced Tuesday morning. Alexie's 2009 novel, "War Dances," came out on top of a list of finalists that included literary greats Barbara Kingsolver and Lorrie Moore, along with Coleson Whitehead and Lorraine N. Lopez.

Sherman Alexie has previously won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, awarded in 2007 for "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," as well as the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 for his contribution to Native American writing. Alexie's writing, which includes four novels, three short story collections, and poetry, focuses on Native American characters and issues, though he is well known for making these topics widely accessible and relatable.

PEN/Faulkner judge Al Young commented on choosing "War Dances":

"War Dances" taps every vein and nerve, every tissue, every issue that quickens the current blood-pulse: parenthood, divorce, broken links, sex, gender and racial conflict, substance abuse, medical neglect, 9/11, Official Narrative vs. What Really Happened, settler religion vs. native spirituality; marketing, shopping, and war, war, war. All the heartbreaking ways we don't live now--this is the caring, eye-opening beauty of this rollicking, bittersweet gem of a book.

Sherman Alexie recently turned heads when he appeared on "The Colbert Report" in December and spoke out against eBooks and the digitization of reading. "The localized appreciation of books is gone," he said in the interview.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Lessons at Tuba City Hospital, Run by Navajos, About Births -

Published: March 6, 2010

TUBA CITY, Ariz. — After less than two hours in the maternity ward, with her boyfriend, his mother and a nurse-midwife by her side, Jacquelynn Torivio gave birth to a five-pound, five-ounce son with his grandmother’s dimples and a full head of shiny black hair.

A 3-day-old girl, Allisyn Dohi, who was born at the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation hospital in Arizona.
As she held him, Ms. Torivio’s spirits clearly matched her Hopi name, Nuquahynum — “a feather flying high.”

It was the kind of birth that many women in the United States could only wish for. Ms. Torivio had a vaginal birth, even though her previous child had been delivered by Caesarean section. Because of that prior surgery, many hospitals would not have let her even try to give birth vaginally, but would have required another Caesarean.

The Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation is different. Its hospital, run by the Navajo Nation and financed partly by the Indian Health Service, prides itself on having a higher than average rate of vaginal births among women with a prior Caesarean, and a lower Caesarean rate over all.

As Washington debates health care, this small hospital in a dusty desert town on an Indian reservation, showing its age and struggling to make ends meet, somehow manages to outperform richer, more prestigious institutions when it comes to keeping Caesarean rates down, which saves money and is better for many mothers and infants.

This week, the National Institutes of Health will hold a conference in Bethesda, Md., about the country’s dismal rates of vaginal birth after Caesarean, or VBAC (pronounced VEE-back), which have plummeted since 1996. “I think it’s the purpose of this conference to see if we can turn the clock back,” said Dr. Kimberly D. Gregory, vice chairwoman of women’s health care quality and performance improvement at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Tuba City will not be on the agenda, but its hospital, with about 500 births a year, could probably teach the rest of the country a few things about obstetrical care. But matching its success would require sweeping, fundamental changes in medical practice, like allowing midwives to handle more deliveries and removing the profit motive for performing surgery.

Changes in malpractice insurance would also help, so that obstetricians would feel less pressure to perform Caesareans. (The hospital and doctors in Tuba City are insured by the federal government, and therefore insurance companies cannot threaten to increase their premiums or withdraw coverage if they allow vaginal births after Caesarean.) Patients, too, would have to adjust their attitudes about birth and medical care during pregnancy and labor.

The national Caesarean rate, 31.8 percent, has been rising steadily for the last 11 years and is fed by repeat patients. Critics say that doctors are performing too many Caesareans, needlessly exposing women and infants to surgical risks and running up several billion dollars a year in excess bills, precisely the kind of overuse that a health care overhaul is supposed to address.

Even the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has acknowledged that the operation is overused. Though there is no consensus on what the rate should be, government health agencies and the World Health Organization have suggested 15 percent as a goal in low-risk women.

“VBAC” has become a battle cry, with fierce advocates on both sides—women who insist that they should not be forced into surgery versus doctors and hospitals who insist on repeat Caesareans, citing the risks of labor and concerns about liability and insurance.

Originally, the mantra was “once a Caesarean, always a Caesarean” because of fears that the scar on the uterus would rupture during labor, which can be life-threatening for both the woman and the child. But after an expert panel in 1980 declared it safe for many women, vaginal birth after Caesarean had a heyday: in 1996, the rate reached 28.3 percent in women with previous Caesareans.

Then, there were some ruptures, deaths and lawsuits. The obstetricians’ group issued stricter guidelines, and the rate sank. It is now below 10 percent, and some experts think the pendulum has swung too far the other way.

In Tuba City last year, 32 percent of women with prior Caesareans had vaginal births. Its overall Caesarean rate has been low — 13.5 percent, less than half the national rate of 31.8 percent in 2007 (the latest year with figures available). This is despite the fact that more women here have diabetes and high blood pressure, which usually result in higher Caesarean rates.

The hospital serves mostly Native Americans — Navajos, Hopis and San Juan Southern Paiutes. Four other hospitals in New Mexico and Arizona, run by the Indian Health Service, also offer vaginal birth after Caesarean to some women (it is not safe for all) and have relatively low Caesarean rates without harming mothers or children, whose health in the first month after birth matches nationwide statistics. Doctors say there is no scientific evidence that Native American women are more able than others to have vaginal births.

“There is a significant lesson here about the ability of most women to deliver vaginally,” said Dr. Jean E. Howe, the chief clinical consultant for obstetrics and gynecology at Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, N.M.

Nurse-midwives at these hospitals deliver most of the babies born vaginally, with obstetricians available in case problems occur. Midwives staff the labor ward around the clock, a model of care thought to minimize Caesareans because midwives specialize in coaching women through labor and will often wait longer than obstetricians before recommending a Caesarean. They are also less likely to try to induce labor before a woman’s due date, something that increases the odds of a Caesarean.

In the rest of the country, nurse-midwives attend about only 10 percent of vaginal births, though their professional society, the American College of Nurse Midwives, hopes that will grow to 20 percent by 2020.

Dr. Kathleen Harner, an obstetrician in Tuba City, said: “Midwives are better at being there for labor than doctors are. Midwives are trained for it. It’s what they want to do.”

Dr. Amanda Leib, the director of obstetrics and gynecology at Tuba City, said: “I think the midwives tend to be patient. They know the patients well, and they don’t have to leave at 5 to get home for a golf game or a tennis game. As crass as that sounds, I do think it has some influence.”

Senecas See Comeback Over Sale of Cigarettes -

Published: March 5, 2010

There is a relatively short list of people who like mail-order cigarettes: teenagers, adults evading sales taxes and the Seneca Nation of Indians of western New York, which dominates the national market.

Even the big tobacco companies oppose the practice, in part to stamp out the Senecas’ competition. And with the industry’s strange-bedfellow backing, a bill to block the shipment of cigarettes passed the House of Representatives last spring by a vote of 397 to 11. A Senate committee approved it unanimously last fall.

But then the Senecas, who control a gambling and cigarette empire that brings in more than $1 billion a year, began a campaign of back-room lobbying and public political threats. That now appears to have shut down the legislation and kept the tribe in the cigarette business, a case study in the power of a well-financed special interest to thwart what had seemed to be a national consensus.

“Isn’t that the way things go in the American system?” asked Richard Nephew, co-chairman of the Seneca Nation’s foreign relations committee. “It is something new for us to actively get involved in the American political process,” he said. “But we are trying to learn what works in America, and I guess making political contributions is something that works.”

As recently as December, a ban on mail-order cigarettes called the PACT Act — for Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking — looked all but certain to become law. After the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the House measure, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, prepared the bill for passage on the floor. No senator has publicly opposed the legislation.

But at the last minute, two or three Democratic senators told party leaders privately that they might block the bill, according to senior Senate Democratic aides. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The Senecas and their lobbyists said they did not know who their Senate protectors were. Records of the tribe’s campaign contributions offered few clues; the only significant donation was a $15,000 check to the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The Senecas’ apparent victory — at least for now — is a comeback of sorts. Five years ago, the Indian nation lost much of its business when Eliot Spitzer, then attorney general of New York, pressured private carriers like FedEx and UPS to stop delivering cigarettes in the interest of keeping them away from children. That forced the Senecas to rely on the United States Postal Service, which declined to join the ban. The tribe’s sales fell to about 12 million cartons a year from a peak of about 30 million cartons in 2004, according to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

Despite its professed inexperience in Washington, the Seneca Nation is well represented on K Street. Last year, the tribe spent more than $300,000 in reported fees to three lobbying firms: the powerhouse Akin Gump; Holland & Knight, where its lobbyists include Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a former senator and American Indian; and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, which represents many Indian nations and led the Senecas’ side of the cigarette fight. Sonnenschein reported that its fees from the Senecas jumped threefold to $110,000 in the fourth quarter as the battle heated up.

The Senecas and their lobbyists won the support of other Indian nations and advocacy groups, including the National Congress of American Indians, by attacking the proposed legislation as an intrusion on Indian sovereignty. The Senecas charged that it would give states powers to police Indian land; its Congressional sponsors dispute that.

“Conferring jurisdiction to the states — that should be very troubling to every Indian tribe,” Mr. Nephew said.

On Capitol Hill, the lobbyists distributed memorandums painting the legislation as a ploy by big tobacco companies to scapegoat American Indians for teenage smoking, beating back low-price competition in the process. (The tribe’s online Seneca Smokeshop specializes in Indian-made and other “economy” brands.)

And in hard-pressed western New York, the Senecas warned that the proposed ban could cost 1,000 jobs in the cigarette business. “An attack on the Seneca Nation is an attack on the economy of western New York,” J. C. Seneca, who runs a tobacco business and is co-chairman of the tribe’s foreign relations committee, told The Buffalo News. With its cigarette sales and casinos, Mr. Seneca said, the Indian nation was “a $1.1 billion economic engine” that would use its tobacco profits for new investments and jobs.

By mid-December, the campaign had won two important converts. Two western New York congressmen, Brian Higgins and Eric Massa, both Democrats, wrote letters to the state’s two senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, also Democrats, urging them to block Senate passage. Mr. Higgins and Mr. Massa had voted for the bill in the House, but they said the Senecas’ arguments about the economic impact had changed their minds.

“I do not believe that western New York can afford any more job losses,” Mr. Higgins wrote to the senators. (Mr. Massa, who announced this week that he was retiring, echoed the sentiment.)

The next month, the Senecas sent a warning in the form of an electronic billboard along an upstate New York highway. “Don’t let the PACT Act destroy western New York’s economy,” the billboard declared. “Tell Senators Schumer and Gillibrand No.”

The nation, which has fought off years of New York State efforts to tax its cigarettes, had already dedicated a $1 million war chest for political retaliation against any New York State official who crossed the tribe. Also in January, the Seneca Nation’s foreign relations committee approved a proposal to spend $250,000 opposing Ms. Gillibrand’s campaign for election this fall; it will be her first statewide race because she was appointed last year to fill the seat left open by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Both New York senators are sponsors of the bill, and both said through spokesmen that they had not worked behind the scenes to slow its passage. Matt Canter, a spokesman for Ms. Gillibrand, said she supported economic development but not at the price of enabling teenage smoking.

Seneca officials and their lobbyists said the tribe tried to prevent under-age sales, in some cases by requiring faxed proof of age. Critics said faxed identification was easy to fake or borrow. The Senecas noted that online wine merchants use private carriers like UPS and FedEx that allow them to require the signature of an adult, but the Seneca cigarette dealers must rely on the United States Postal Service, which does not offer that option.

“It seems very discriminatory, as if they were targeting the Seneca Nation,” Mr. Nephew of the Senecas said of the federal legislation.

Senate Democratic leaders could still revive the measure, perhaps by attaching it to some other bill. Republicans have talked of pushing forward, possibly to make trouble for Ms. Gillibrand. But even if it did pass, Mr. Nephew said, it would ban only cigarette shipments and not cigars. “I guess there are a lot of cigar smokers in Washington and places where powerful people hang out,” Mr. Nephew said. “It appears that they are protecting their own habit.”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

War Without Borders - In Drug War, Arizona Tribe Feels Invaded by Both Sides

Published: January 24, 2010

SELLS, Ariz. — An eerie hush settles in at sundown on the Tohono O’odham Nation, which straddles 75 miles of border with Mexico.

Few residents leave their homes. The roads crawl with the trucks of Border Patrol agents, who stop unfamiliar vehicles, scrutinize back roads for footprints and hike into the desert wilds to intercept smugglers carrying marijuana on their backs and droves of migrants trying to make it north.

By the bad luck of geography, the only large Indian reservation on the embattled border is caught in the middle, emerging as a major transit point for drugs as well as people.

A long-insular tribe of 28,000 people and its culture are paying a steep price: the land is swarming with outsiders, residents are afraid to walk in the hallowed desert, and some members, lured by drug cartel cash in a place with high unemployment, are ending up in prison.

“People will knock on your door, flash a wad of money and ask if you can drive this bale of marijuana up north,” said Marla Henry, 38, chairwoman of Chukut Kuk district, which covers much of the border zone.

The tightening of border security to the east and west, which started in the 1990s and intensified after the Sept. 11 attacks, funneled more drug traffic through the Tohono O’odham reservation, federal officials said, and especially more marijuana, which is hard to slip through vehicle crossings because of its bulk.

A record 319,000 pounds of marijuana were seized on the reservation in 2009, up from 201,000 pounds the previous year, along with small amounts of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.

Hundreds of tribal members have been prosecuted in federal, state or tribal courts for smuggling drugs or humans, taking offers that reach $5,000 for storing marijuana or transporting it across the reservation. In a few families, both parents have been sent to prison, leaving grandparents to raise the children.

“People are afraid that if they say no, they’ll be threatened by the cartel,” Ms. Henry said.

If residents of remote villages tried to call the police, she said, help might not arrive for two hours or more.

At the same time, some residents are angry at the intrusion of hundreds of federal agents, including some who stay for a week at a time on bases in remote parts of the reservation. The surge in agents who cruise the roads has meant more checkpoints and tighter controls on a border that tribal members, 1,500 of whom live in Mexico, once freely crossed.

The once-placid reservation feels like a “militarized zone,” said Ned Norris Jr., the tribal chairman, who also says the tribe must cooperate to stem the cartels. “Drug smuggling is a problem we didn’t create, but now we’re having to deal with the consequences.”

Many residents say they live in fear of the smugglers and hordes of migrants who lurk around their homes, and also of being subjected to a humiliating search by federal agents.

The elderly avoid the desert, even in the daytime, because they might stumble upon a cache of marijuana or drug “mules” hiding in desert washes until dark.

“We can’t even go out to collect wood for the stove,” said Verna Miguel, 63, who was traumatized three years ago when a group of migrants forced her to stop on a road, beat her and stole her vehicle.

“We’ve always picked saguaro fruits and cholla buds,” Ms. Miguel said, using such desert products for consumption and rituals. “But now we don’t dare do that.”

Until recently, the reservation’s international border was porous, defended by three strands of barbed wire. Over the last two years, it has been lined with metal posts and Normandy-style barriers to stop the trucks that used to barrel through and head for Phoenix.

Federal officials describe the rise in drug seizures on the reservation as a sign of growing success on what had long been a vulnerable section of border. Barriers and surveillance have forced most of the smugglers to enter on foot rather than in vehicles and spend hours or days sneaking through the reservation, making them more vulnerable to detection, said Agent Robert Gilbert, chief of the Tucson sector of the Border Patrol.

But the large busts, here and elsewhere on the border, are also a measure of the continued trade and profits reaped by the cartels.

“The cartels use the profit from marijuana to purchase cocaine in Colombia and Peru and the ingredients for meth and heroin from other regions,” said Elizabeth W. Kempshall, special agent in charge of the Arizona office of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “So marijuana is the catalyst for the rest of the drug trade.”