Wednesday, December 21, 2011

For Indian Tribes, Blood Shouldn’t Be Everything -

AMERICA’S first blood quantum law was passed in Virginia in 1705 in order to determine who had a high enough degree of Indian blood to be classified an Indian — and whose rights could be restricted as a result. You’d think, after all these years, we’d finally manage to kick the concept. But recently, casino-rich Indian tribes in California have been using it themselves to cast out members whose tribal bloodlines, they say, are not pure enough to share in the profits.

What is surprising is not that more than 2,500 tribal members have been disenfranchised for apparently base reasons. (It’s human — and American — nature to want to concentrate wealth in as few hands as possible.) What is surprising is the extent to which Indian communities have continued using a system of blood membership that was imposed upon us in a violation of our sovereignty.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States government entered into treaties with Indian nations that reserved tracts of land for tribal ownership and use and guaranteed annuities in the form of money, goods or medical care. Understandably, tribes and the government needed a way to make sure this material ended up in the right hands. Blood quantum, and sometimes lineal descent, was a handy way of solving that problem. For instance, if one of your grandparents was included on the tribal rolls and you possessed a certain blood quantum — say, you were one-fourth Navajo — the government counted you as Navajo as well.

But it had another benefit, for the government at least, which believed that within a few generations intermarriage and intermixing would eliminate Indian communities, and the government would be off the hook. “As long as grass grows or water runs” — a phrase that was often used in treaties with American Indians — is a relatively permanent term for a contract. “As long as the blood flows” seemed measurably shorter.

Indians themselves knew how artificial this category of tribal membership was, and could use it to their own advantage. Before my tribe, the Ojibwe, established the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota in 1867, Chief Bagone-giizhig lobbied to exclude mixed-bloods from the rolls — not because they weren’t Indians but because, most likely, they formed a competing trader class. Bagone-giizhig swore they would rob White Earth blind. That he was right is a bit beside the point — he probably wanted to rob it blind himself.

Something similar happened after the passage and subsequent amendment of the Dawes Act of 1887, which established a process of allotment under which vast lands held in common were divided into smaller plots for individual Indians. Although excess land could be sold off, full-blood Indians were forbidden to sell. But whites wanted the land, and sent in a genetic investigator. In short order, the number of registered full-bloods at White Earth Reservation went from more than 5,000 to 126.

After Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934, effectively ending the allotment of land, the provisions of blood quantum remained ingrained in Indian communities. They determined if you could vote or run for office, where you could live, if you’d receive annuities or assistance, and, today, if you get a cut of the casino profits.

Blood quantum has always been about “the stuff,” and it has always been about exclusion. I know full-blooded Indians who have lived their entire lives on reservations but can’t be enrolled because they have blood from many different tribes, and I know of non-Indians who have been enrolled by accident or stealth just because they’ll get something out of it.

Things were different once. All tribes had their own ways of figuring out who was a member — usually based on language, residence and culture. In the case of the Ojibwe, it was a matter of choosing a side. Especially when we were at war in the early 19th century, with the Dakota — our neighbors (many of whom were our blood relatives) — who you were was largely a matter of whom you killed. Personally, I think this is a more elegant way than many to figure out where you belong.

Who is and who isn’t an Indian is a complicated question, but there are many ways to answer it beyond genetics alone. Tribal enrollees could be required to possess some level of fluency in their native language or pass a basic civics test. On my reservation, no schoolchild is asked to read the treaties that shaped our community or required to know about the branches of tribal government or the role of courts and councils. Or tribal membership could be based, in part, on residency, on some period of naturalization inside the original treaty area (some tribes do consider this). Many nations require military service — tribes don’t have armies, but they could require a year of community service.

Other nations take these things into account, and in doing so they reinforce something we, with our fixation on blood, have forgotten: bending to a common purpose is more important than arising from a common place.

Of course, just remaining alive and Indian for the last 150 years has been one of the hardest things imaginable. A respect for blood is a respect for the integrity of that survival, and lineage should remain a metric for tribal enrollment. But not the only one. Having survived this long and come this far, we must think harder about who we want to be in the future, and do something more than just measure out our teaspoons of blood.

David Treuer, an Ojibwe Indian, is the author of the forthcoming “Rez Life.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

California Indian Tribes Eject Thousands of Members -

Published: December 12, 2011

COARSEGOLD, Calif. — The six-page, single-spaced letter that Nancy Dondero and about 50 of her relatives received last month was generously salted with legal citations and footnotes. But its meaning was brutally simple. “It is the decision by a majority of the Tribal Council,” the letter said, “that you are hereby disenrolled.”

And with that, Ms. Dondero’s official membership in the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, the cultural identity card she had carried all her life, summarily ended.

“That’s it,” Ms. Dondero, 58, said. “We’re tribeless.”

Ms. Dondero and her clan have joined thousands of Indians in California who have been kicked out of their tribes in recent years for the crime of not being of the proper bloodline.

For centuries, American Indian tribes have banished people as punishment for serious offenses. But only in recent years, experts say, have they begun routinely disenrolling Indians deemed inauthentic members of a group. And California, with dozens of tiny tribes that were decimated, scattered and then reconstituted, often out of ethnically mixed Indians, is the national hotbed of the trend.

Clan rivalries and political squabbles are often triggers for disenrollment, but critics say one factor above all has driven the trend: casino gambling. The state has more than 60 Indian casinos that took in nearly $7 billion last year, the most of any state, according to the Indian Gaming Commission.

For Indians who lose membership in a tribe, the financial impact can be huge. Some small tribes with casinos pay members monthly checks of $15,000 or more out of gambling profits. Many provide housing allowances and college scholarships. Children who are disenrolled can lose access to tribal schools.

The money and the immense power it has conferred on tribes that had endured grinding poverty for decades have enticed many tribal governments to consolidate control over their gambling enterprises by trimming membership rolls, critics and independent analysts say.

“Sometimes it is political vendettas or family feuds that have gotten out of hand,” said David Wilkins, a Lumbee Indian and professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota who has studied disenrollment across the country. “But in California, it seems more often than not that gaming revenue is the precipitating factor.”

At least 2,500 Indians have been disenrolled by at least two dozen California tribes in the past decade, according to estimates by Indian advocates and academics. In almost all of those cases, tribal governments — exercising authority granted by the federal government — have determined that the ousted Indians did not have the proper ancestry. According to 2010 census figures, more than 362,000 Indians live in California.

Tribal governments universally deny that greed or power is motivating disenrollment, saying they are simply upholding membership rules established in their constitutions. To that end, they often say they are removing people with little connection to their tribe, who joined mainly for services, scholarships and monthly checks financed by casino profits.

“You have people who want to be tribal members, where no one knows who they are or where they came from,” said Reggie Lewis, chairman of the Chukchansi Tribal Council. “We are sworn to uphold the Constitution. And basically that’s what we try to do.”

The tribe has disenrolled more than 400 members in the past five years, and scores more are facing disenrollment hearings. Some members estimate that the tribe’s membership is now below 1,000.

Sometimes, disenrolled Indians are forced to leave tribal land — though in California, many Indians do not live on the small reservations, which are also known as rancherias.

The Chukchansi tribe, whose 2,000-slot-machine casino is nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Yosemite National Park, gives members a monthly stipend of under $300 per person. But it also pays for utilities, food bills and tuition — and Nikah Dondero, Nancy Dondero’s 32-year-old daughter, had to turn down a master’s degree program after she was disenrolled last month, because she lost her scholarship.

“It’s like I’m now a white girl with Okie kids,” said Ms. Dondero, a mother of two.

Beyond benefits, critics of disenrollment say it can be psychologically devastating. “It destroys their connection to their ancestors, their cultural heritage, their tradition,” said Laura Wass, Central California director for the American Indian Movement, an opponent of disenrollment. “You have to go to iron gates and beg for entrance to your own land.”

The fights over enrollment have bred a cottage industry for ancestry research. Many tribal governments now retain lawyers or researchers who comb through government archives for evidence of an individual’s tribal authenticity. Companies that test Indian DNA have sprouted up around the country. The Chukchansi hired a former Bureau of Indian Affairs official with expertise in federal records to review the bloodline of every member.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Obama: Relations with tribes at turning point

SUZANNE GAMBOA | December 2, 2011 06:25 PM EST |

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama met for the third time with Native American tribal leaders on Friday, signing an executive order on tribal colleges and assuring them "you have a president that's got your back."

Obama has won plaudits among Native Americans by breaking through a logjam of inaction on tribal issues and for giving a voice to their issues with the annual gatherings in Washington. At Friday's conference, Obama announced he had signed an executive order establishing a White House initiative on American Indian and Alaska native education. The initiative will be overseen by an executive director appointed by the interior and education secretaries.

"You have an administration that understands the challenges that you face and most importantly you have a president that's got your back," Obama said, drawing cheers.

Obama reminded the leaders from the 565 federally recognized Native American tribes and representing Alaska natives that he had promised "a true government-to-government relationship" that recognizes "our sometimes painful" history and respects Native American heritage.

"I believe that one day we're going to be able to look back on these years and say that was the turning point ... the moment when we stopped repeating the mistakes of the past and started building a better future," Obama said.

Obama shared the stage briefly with Hartford and Mary Black Eagle, his Crow nation "parents" who "adopted" him during the 2008 campaign. He joked that his "parents" were grateful for not having to experience his "terrible 2s" or "terrible teens."

"They got me after I was a little more polished," Obama said.

Several leaders at the Tribal Nations Conference said Obama had kept his promises to them.

Bill John Baker, principal chief of the largest Indian tribe, the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, said before the conference that American Indians have been both "well-served" and "hurt" by other administrations, but Obama has "backed up his words with actions that have made a positive impact on the lives of Native people."

"Obama has done better for tribes than the others, except for the Nixon administration," said Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a former Republican senator from Colorado. President Richard Nixon advocated tribal self-determination as official U.S. policy.

With the accomplishments come greater expectations from a people whose rates of unemployment, violent crime, youth suicides, poverty and high school dropouts are significantly higher than in the rest of the country.

"It's two steps forward, one step backward," Campbell said. "No matter what we do, we have to find a way for Indians to be self-sufficient and not dependent on the federal government, except for those services required by treaty in the old days."

The administration still must implement laws Obama signed and fund lawsuit settlements. Also, tribes want to see the administration push legislation through Congress to get around a 2009 Supreme Court decision limiting the interior secretary's authority to accept land into federal trust on behalf of Indian tribes. The decision has held up economic development for tribes.

Salazar told the leaders Friday the court's decision was a "wrong decision" and needs to be fixed.

"We still need improvements in roads, bridges, schools, hospitals as well as addressing the digital, electrical and clean water disparities that hamper development and quality of life issues for our people," Baker said.

Still, Obama has assembled a respectable bragging list. He has:

_ Signed the Tribal Law and Order Act to improve law enforcement and public safety in tribal communities.

_ Renewed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and made it permanent.

_ Settled the class-action Cobell lawsuit over federal government mismanagement of royalties for oil, gas, timber and grazing leases and an American Indian farmers discrimination lawsuit.

_ Nominated Arvo Mikkanen to be a federal judge in Oklahoma. His nomination is awaiting Senate confirmation.

_ Launched a test crime-fighting program on four reservations that early results show has led to drops in violent crime in the first year.

"We should be proud of what we've done together, but of course that should sharpen our resolve to do even more because as long as Native Americans face unemployment and poverty rates that are far higher than the national average we are going to have more work to do," Obama said. He said his jobs bill would help.

Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians and an Alaska native, said native peoples' enthusiasm for Obama goes deeper.

Obama has embraced Native American tribal sovereignty preserved in the Constitution, court decisions and treaty agreements and made that the foundation for his administration's dealings with tribes, Pata said.

Like former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama appointed a Native American to his Intergovernmental Affairs staff. But he also appointed Kimberly Teehee, a member of the Cherokee Nation, as senior policy adviser for Native American Affairs.

In addition, Obama reminded executive department heads and agencies in a November 2009 memo of their obligation to regularly consult and collaborate with tribal officials on policies that impact Native Americans.

"I think we have made strides under the Obama administration the likes of which tribes have not seen for 30 years," said Stacy Bohlen, executive director of the National Indian Health Board. Bohlen is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan.

Several agencies have yet to draft policies, according to the National Congress of American Indians.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tribal Sovereignty vs. Racial Justice - Room for Debate -


When the Cherokee were relocated from the South to present-day Oklahoma in the 1830s, their black slaves were moved with them. Though an 1866 treaty gave the descendants of the slaves full rights as tribal citizens, regardless of ancestry, the Cherokee Nation has tried to expel them because they lack "Indian blood."

The battle has been long fought. A recent ruling by the Cherokee Supreme Court upheld the tribe's right to oust 2,800 Freedmen, as they are known, and cut off their health care, food stipends and other aid in the process.

But federal officials told the tribe that they would not recognize the results of a tribal election later this month if the citizenship of the black members was not restored. Faced with a cutoff of federal aid, a tribal commission this week offered the Freedmen provisional ballots, a half-step denounced by the black members.

Is the effort to expel of people of African descent from Indian tribes an exercise of tribal sovereignty, as tribal leaders claim, or a reversion to Jim Crow, as the Freedmen argue? Kevin Noble Maillard, a professor of law at Syracuse University and a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, organized this discussion of the issue.

Follow the link to read the discussion between:

Kevin Noble Maillard is a law professor at Syracuse University and a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma

Cara Cowan-Watts is acting speaker of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council and a board member of the National Congress of American Indians.

Matthew L.M. Fletcher is a professor of law at Michigan State University, and editor of Turtle Talk, a law blog about American Indian law and policy.

Rose Cuison Villazor is an associate professor at Hofstra University Law School and the author of "Blood Quantum Land Laws and the Race Versus Political Identity Dilemma," published in the California Law Review.

Heather Williams, a Cherokee citizen and Freedman descendent, works for the Cherokee Nation Entertainment Cultural Tourism department.

Carla D. Pratt is a professor of law and associate dean of academic affairs at Penn State University’s Dickinson School of Law.

Tiya Miles is chairwoman of the department of Afro-American and African Studies, and professor of history and Native American studies at the University of Michigan.

Joanne Barker (Lenape) is associate professor of American Indian studies at San Francisco State University.

Monday, September 12, 2011

In Montana, Relics Unearthed of Crow Tribe’s Eviction -

Published: September 10, 2011

ABSAROKEE, Mont. — The bitter tale of Indian-white conflict that unfolded at this spot more than a century ago was told not in blood and battle, but in the legalese and fine print of a contract.

Now an archaeologist hired by the Montana Department of Transportation to plan for a road rebuilding project has found the physical evidence, in stones and building fragments that were until recently buried beneath shimmering waves of alfalfa just off State Highway 78.

“An Indian tribe faced the end of its traditional way of life, and it happened right here,” the archaeologist, Stephen Aaberg, said as co-workers sifted dirt through mesh screens on a recent afternoon.

For the Crow tribe, the events of March 1880, on which Mr. Aaberg has focused his research, proved devastating. That was when a draft agreement from Washington was read aloud to tribal leaders for the first time here, at a compound that served as the arm of the federal government on the reservation.

The document ultimately forced the tribe, which once dominated a vast swath of Montana, onto a smaller reservation. It echoed a theme that scarred the West again and again as white settlers coveted lands that Indians had been promised but did not seem to be using: new document, new constriction of space.

What made the story even worse for the Crow is that they had allied with Gen. George Armstrong Custer against the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne only four years earlier at the Battle of the Little Bighorn — 100 miles east of here — and might have expected a reward, Mr. Aaberg said, or at least fairer treatment. The compound was abandoned in 1883 after the agreement was signed, because this spot, about 50 miles southwest of Billings, was no longer on the reservation.

“If we agree to be farmers, will you stop taking our land?” one Crow leader asked the government officials, in comments written down that day as the draft agreement was read.

The Crow tribe is now considering how the ruins should be remembered. The tribe’s archaeologist, Tim McCleary, a professor of anthropology at Bighorn Community College, located on the Crow reservation, said that the events of March 1880 were huge historical markers for the tribe, but that many families with mixed Crow and white heritage also trace their ancestry to marriages that began as contact grew between the tribe and federal administrators, making memories complicated.

“It’s obviously an important site,” he said. “But feelings are mixed.”

Because a federal worker in the 1880s drew up a detailed blueprint of the site, now on display in a local museum, Mr. Aaberg said, he was able to identify many specific areas inside the compound, including the doctor’s quarters.

Among the poignant pieces found in the local rubbish pit was the arm of a doll. In a compound where most of the children were mixed race or Indian, and darker skinned in any event, the arm was made of porcelain, still gleaming white after all those years underground.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Northwest Journey to Reconnect With American Indian Ways -

PORT GAMBLE S’KLALLAM RESERVATION, Wash. — The canoe journeys are a new tradition for a very old people, but they already have one rigid rule that everyone knows not to break.

That thing you are paddling is called a canoe. Do not call it something else.

“If you call it a boat,” said Mariah Francis, 16, of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, “you’re either supposed to jump in the water or you’ll get thrown in.”

And as paddlers are reminded each year, the water here is cold.

For the 23rd summer in a row, a growing number of American Indians from tribes scattered across coastal regions of Washington State and British Columbia have climbed into traditionally designed cedar canoes and paddled as many as 40 miles a day, sometimes more, over two or three weeks, camping at a series of reservations until they converge at the home of a host tribe. There, several thousand people welcome them for a week of traditional dancing, singing and celebration.

They come from remote outposts like La Push, on the Pacific Ocean, and from wealthier tribes whose casinos rise above Interstate 5 north of Seattle, all in a deliberate effort to recapture cultural, linguistic and intertribal connections they said they had nearly lost as Indian ways of life were overwhelmed, first by European settlers and more recently by substance abuse and suicide.

“The first time we landed, the feeling was just unexplainable,” said Charlie Trevathan, a tribal member here in Port Gamble whose family first joined the journey in 2000. “I cannot put it into words. Ever since then, we’ve gone back every year.”

Now his extended family, like many, has became a “canoe family,” with its own cedar craft, family-themed red sweatshirts and flag. Mr. Trevathan, a commercial fisherman, makes a point every summer of putting the canoe journey before work, a deliberate reminder to himself that priorities once were very different among Northwest natives.

“There’s a shrimp opener soon and the price is supposed to be way up,” Mr. Trevathan said, referring to a brief coming fishing season. “My wife says, ‘Are you going shrimping?’ I said, ‘My commitment is to the canoe.’ The money would be good but it’s tribal journeys time.”

While some paddlers begin at reservations on the ocean, all eventually touch some portion of what the federal government in 2009 renamed the Salish Sea, the body of water that includes the Strait of Georgia in Canada, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound. The sea is the ancestral home of the Coast Salish people, who were not bound by the international border now at the 49th parallel. Before settlers arrived and built roads, the sea was how most people traveled and traded, wearing hats made from cedar and relying on paddles and canoes carved by hand.

“It was the highway, the network that connected people throughout the region,” said Sasha Harmon, an associate professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington. “It was complicated after non-Indian families settled here, but it never went away. People had a really strong sense of the water connecting to them as a major force.”

Dr. Harmon said that as many Indian tribes across the country have worked to preserve their cultures in recent decades, the canoe journeys have been notable for restoring and strengthening “this intertribal communication, and that was a really important part of Northwest culture.”

When paddlers arrive at their destination each afternoon, they are greeted by members of the local tribe who paddle out to meet them. Tribes have revived rituals, what they now call “protocol,” to signal that they are visiting in peace.

“There’s a certain way they have to do it in order to show that they’re here in respect, not for war or destruction,” said Aurelia Washington, the coordinator of the event for this year’s host, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. “They’re saying, ‘We come here to spend this week with you in celebration.’ ”

Starting Monday, more than 100 canoes will spend the next week at the reservation, celebrating around three new pavilions designed to resemble giant traditional cedar hats. The tribes will sing and dance directly across the Swinomish Channel from the little town of La Conner, a quaint Northwest port where retirees arrive in very different kinds of boats to dine on freshly caught fish and drink locally made beer and wine. The cultural divisions in the region are apparent in the street that crosses the channel: at one end it is called Pioneer Parkway, on the other Reservation Road.

But perhaps the most striking thing about the 2011 Paddle to Swinomish is that it is not a new beginning or a special anniversary. Instead, it reflects what so many of its participants say they had ached for before it existed: constancy and reconnection. Often the main paddlers are teenagers and young men and women, with their parents and elders taking turns as well, transferring every few hours from support boats. The entire event is intended to be free of alcohol and drugs.

“That is something that our elders have been praying for,” Ms. Washington said, “that our children would have a path forward without drugs and alcohol because we have battled so much.”

Among the paddlers who traveled the farthest this year was Cleve Jackson, the 16-year-old son of Shakey Jackson, the chief of the Quinault Tribe on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula. Shakey Jackson was among several tribal members who worked to revive the canoe tradition years ago, studying seagoing canoes in museum exhibits and even those on display in a Seattle restaurant, because none were left in their village.

Now in his 40s, Mr. Jackson lets his son do most of the paddling.

“I’m trying to wean myself from the boat,” Mr. Jackson said shortly after Cleve, who plays tight end and linebacker for Taholah High School, led his crew to shore.

No one suggested that the chief should go for a swim.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seeing Trends, Coalition Works to Help a River Adapt -

NISQUALLY NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, Wash. — For 10,000 years the Nisqually Indians have relied on chinook salmon for their very existence, but soon those roles are expected to reverse.

Based on current warming trends, climate scientists anticipate that in the next 100 years the Nisqually River will become shallower and much warmer. Annual snowpack will decline on average by half. The glacier that feeds the river, already shrunken considerably, will continue to recede.

Play the scene forward and picture a natural system run amok as retreating ice loosens rock that will clog the river, worsening flooding in winter, and a decline in snow and ice drastically diminishes the summer runoff that helps keep the river under a salmon-friendly 60 degrees.

To prepare for these and other potentially devastating changes, an unusual coalition of tribal government leaders, private partners and federal and local agencies are working to help the watershed and its inhabitants adapt. They are reserving land farther in from wetlands so that when the sea rises, the marsh will have room to move as well; they are promoting hundreds of rain gardens to absorb artificially warmed runoff from paved spaces and keep it away from the river; and they are installing logjams intended to cause the river to hollow out its own bottom and create cooler pools for fish.

Jeanette Dorner, the director of the salmon recovery program for the Nisqually Tribe Natural Resources Department, grew up wading along a creek that feeds the river, hunting freshwater mussels. Even though protecting the rivershed requires herculean feats of coordination among various authorities and has cost roughly $35 million over the last decade, she said, “it is urgent we do not just walk away.”

Many scientists and policy analysts believe the best course of action is to do what conservationists have long tried to do — return ecosystems to their strongest natural health and then stay out of the way. This approach is known as resiliency.

But as humans come to be adversely affected by the stepped-up pace of ecological change, they also increasingly look to help Mother Nature out in more active ways.

In North Carolina, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has teamed up with The Nature Conservancy to buy parcels just behind Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge to allow the swamp to roll inland as the sea rises from glacial melt and to help black bears and red foxes migrate to inland refuges. In Montana the Wildlife Conservation Society is working with land trusts and others to secure corridors just outside Glacier National Park for wide-ranging cold-sensitive species like wolverines.

Such projects are on the rise, in part, because an executive order signed in 2009 by President Obama has led to a mandate that federal agencies integrate adaptation to climate change into all of their planning. But they often remain, like Nisqually, complex collaborations spurred more by imminent local ecological catastrophes.

Warm Water Fish

The Nisqually begins as a fast chute off Mount Rainier, rushes through shattered rock carved from the glacier above and then plunges through thick pine forests for 78 miles until it broadens into a rich estuary connecting with Puget Sound.

It remains a relatively healthy watershed because in 1989 — long before “global” and “warming” were inextricably linked — the Washington State Legislature, in the face of local protests and a court battle over Indian fishing rights, created the Nisqually River Council, the first watershed-wide protection council west of the Mississippi.

The council provided a framework for parties along the river to discuss their needs and goals. Financing came through many sources: via lawsuits brought to protect native endangered species like the chinook and the spotted owl, state and federal grants, the Park Service in Mount Rainier, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nisqually Tribe, which has prospered since the legalization of gaming on Indian lands.

For its first 20 years the council concentrated on undoing manmade damage, pursuing efforts like persuading the operator of the hydroelectric dam on the river to add salmon gates. Last year, as the council was updating its management plan, it began looking at the river “through the lens of climate change,” said David Troutt, its chairman. Suddenly restoration was not going to be enough.

Amy K. Snover, a director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington, said that computer modeling showed that as early as 2020 there would be “significant” increases in rain in the Nisqually Basin in November and December. Sixty years beyond that there would 50 percent less snowpack at the end of winter, according to the average-climate projection. Warmer air and less snowmelt would mean a much warmer river and depleted soil moisture in summer, which would stress forest vegetation.

Ducks Unlimited, a conservation group founded by hunters, predicts that the entire low-lying wetlands at the river’s mouth, a prime fish nursery, will be inundated by the sea in the next 50 years, meaning that the species the council was working to save would be imperiled all over again.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

LADONNA HARRIS: INDIAN 101 30-day challenge! — Kickstarter

Go to Kickstarter to support the production of a documentary films about Comanche activist LaDonna Harris, who led an extensive life of Native political and social activism and is now passing on her traditional cultural and leadership values to a new generation of emerging Indigenous leaders around the world. You may even give only $1 but give what you can.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Choctaw, Chickasaw Indians Fight for Sardis Lake -

Published: April 11, 2011

TUSKAHOMA, Okla. — Sardis Lake, a reservoir in southeastern Oklahoma young enough to have drowned saplings still poking through its surface and old enough to have become a renowned bass fishery, is not wanting for suitors.

Oklahoma City and fast-growing suburbs like Edmond want to see the water flowing through their shower heads someday. So do the water masters of Tarrant County, Tex., 200 miles to the south, who are looking to supply new subdivisions around Fort Worth and are suing for access.

Now another rival has arrived: the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes, who were exiled to southeastern Oklahoma 175 years ago and given land in the area.

Gregory Pyle, chief of the Choctaw nation, said his tribe would sue to win some of the water if necessary. “All this water was controlled originally by the Indian tribes in this area,” Mr. Pyle said. “It is all Choctaw and Chickasaw water.”

The tribes want the state to recognize them as joint owners. The issue has been increasingly on the minds of city planners in fast-developing cities as they contemplate the prospect of tapping other existing water sources.

By midcentury, water is expected to loom as large as oil in the economic and political life of the country, as parties race to lock up supplies. As droughts exacerbated by climate change and by population growth expand in the Great Plains and the Southwest, Indian water rights loom as a largely unsettled — and unsettling — factor that could affect the price and availability of water to millions of homes and businesses.

“There are huge and vested rights to water that are unquantified,” said Taiawagi Helton, an expert on Indian law and water law at the University of Oklahoma College of Law and a member of the Cherokee tribe.

Turning theoretical rights into what is widely termed “wet water” under the terms of long-ago court rulings can take decades. Each case involves other local water users, the state government, the Interior Department, the local Congressional delegation and the federal court system.

A 103-year-old Supreme Court decision effectively put tribes in Western states at the head of the line in times of water shortage, or if a water basin is oversubscribed. But Interior Department officials want to be certain there are no big losers when a tribe’s rights are recognized.

If the Choctaw and Chickasaw were to gain water rights under that old court ruling, legal experts say, it could prompt a new push for similar rights across Oklahoma, which has 39 federally recognized tribes. It could also encourage more tribes in the West to start claiming their reserved rights.

Despite the age of the Supreme Court ruling, known as the Winters doctrine, efforts to quantify tribes’ water rights proceeded at a crawl until the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, about three dozen Indian claims have been tabulated, mostly though drawn-out settlements. Today the Interior Department is presiding over water negotiations with 18 tribes.

A push by the department and by senators in Arizona, Montana and New Mexico resolved four claims at the end of last year. Yet unlike tribes whose rights were signed into law recently, the Choctaw and Chickasaw no longer have reservations, which raises the question of whether water claims must be tied to a specific land grant. The tribes’ land was parceled out to tribal members more than 110 years ago.

Still, “the water was never taken away,” said Stephen Greetham, the lawyer for the Chickasaw nation.

When the Choctaw and Chickasaw did have reservations, their land covered virtually all of southeastern Oklahoma and was watered by the Kiamichi River, whose tributary, Jackfork Creek, was impounded by the Sardis Dam in 1982. The tribes’ goals are to have some ownership and control over the water, to keep as much water as possible in the lake and to enhance southeastern Oklahoma’s recreational industry.

And, assuming the water is valuable, they want to share in the profits from selling or leasing it.

That prospect is unsettling for places that could face water shortages, like Oklahoma City and suburbs like Edmond, whose City Council has already voted to issue $102.5 million in bonds to help bring Sardis Lake water 110 miles north, to the taps of new homes. It is even more unsettling in the Southwest, where irrigated agriculture and industries consume most of the available water.

Daniel McCool, director of the environmental studies program at the University of Utah, cautioned that the more broadly tribes seek to assert their rights, the greater the risk that the federal courts — the Supreme Court in particular — will trim or even eviscerate earlier rulings establishing Indian rights. “It’s case law, and case law can be changed,” Professor McCool said.

The political pushback against Indian rights could come from other local users who fear for their livelihoods, said Chris Kenney, a former federal water rights negotiator now living in Oklahoma.

“You’ve got local people who have used water for many, many years,” Mr. Kenney said. “In many cases they are at enormous risk.”

A settlement just approved by Congress and signed by President Obama granted water from a Colorado River tributary to the Navajo tribe. Two New Mexico towns, Bloomfield and Aztec, are suing to overturn it.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

At Denver Art Museum, American Indian Works as Art -

Published: February 3, 2011

WHEN the Denver Art Museum’s signature American Indian art galleries reopened last week after a seven-month overhaul, the biggest change wasn’t the new display cases or the dramatic lighting. Rather, it was in a less obvious place: the wall labels.

For the first time many of the works on display are attributed to individual artists instead of just their tribes. It is a revolution in museum practice that many scholars hope will spread, raising the stature of American Indian artists and elevating their work from the category of artifacts to the more exalted realm of art.

So the museum’s “Wild Man of the Woods” mask, made in 1900 and previously identified only as “Kwakiutl,” will be attributed to Willie Seaweed, a Canadian carver who died in 1967. In another gallery an exhibition of more than 30 pieces of pottery will celebrate the extraordinary skill of Nampeyo, a Hopi woman born around 1860. Other objects, thought to be the work of single unknown creators — like a selection of Navajo “eyedazzler” weavings dated 1885-1900 — will be grouped together with labels reading, “Artist not known.”

Art museums have collected American Indian objects for decades, but, like natural history and anthropology museums, they have tended to treat them as ethnographic pieces, illustrative of the cultures they came from. Wall labels have generally steered clear even of the “anonymous” designation commonly used for Western artworks of unknown authorship and in cases where Indian artists left signature marks — as Chilkat weavers of the Pacific Northwest long have, for example — this evidence has often been ignored.

Nor did the early collectors of Indian art care much about authorship. To cite one example, George Gustav Heye, whose collections form the core of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, routinely bought pieces without noting anything other than the tribe and date. But Nancy Blomberg, the curator of native arts at the Denver Art Museum, was determined to do things differently when she reconceived the galleries, choosing nearly 700 works from the museum’s world-class 18,000-piece collection. “I want to signal that there are artists on this floor,” she said.

Although some museums have made scattershot efforts to identify the artists behind pre-20th-century Indian pieces, the Denver museum has now embraced attribution more completely and comprehensively than any other institution. Ms. Blomberg’s message begins in the introductory panel, which celebrates the individual artists on the floor, and continues in the labels beside the artworks, for which she drew on her own work and the research of other scholars. With excitement in her voice she told of one recent discovery.

In June she was paging through a Bonhams & Butterfields auction catalog when two ink-and-watercolor paintings caught her eye. One showed the Sun Dance of the Ute people; the other, the Ute Bear Dance. The Denver museum has owned a work that was clearly by the same artist since the 1930s, but it had entered the collection with no information about its origin. Ms. Blomberg had shown it to Indian tribes in Colorado, but none could shed light on its authorship. She had also seen other paintings that were obviously by the same hand at other museums, including the Peabody Museum at Harvard.

“No one had any idea where they came from,” she said. But the Bonhams catalog did.

It said both paintings were “signed upper right” with “Fenno.” And it included a reference to a 1911 newspaper article about a log-cabin trading post in Myton, Utah, that was once owned by the great-great-grandfather of the paintings’ seller. It said that Louis Fenno — “the greatest of Ute artists” — was shot to death in 1903 by a clerk named W. T. Muse, in murky circumstances.

Fenno now lives again in a wall label that Ms. Blomberg has written for the refurbished galleries.

“Recognizing that Native American art was made by individuals, not tribes, and labeling it accordingly, is a practice that is long overdue,” said Dan L. Monroe, executive director of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., which has a large Indian collection and has made some attempts to identify individual artists since the mid-1990s. Continuing to follow past practices, he added, “perpetuates a set of ideas, values and historical practices laden with racism, ethnocentrism and tragic and destructive government policies.”

Still, Mr. Monroe, who could not say how many of his museum’s Indian works have so far been attributed, conceded that there are serious obstacles to the process. “The research required to identify individual historical artists is complex and time consuming,” he said. “We will continue to chip away at it, as will others.”

But most museums are short on money and people, and many have other priorities. Robin K. Wright, the director of the Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Coast Art at the Burke Museum, University of Washington, said that “museums are notoriously slow to change their labels” and typically wait for full-scale reinstallations.

“In some places they haven’t changed in decades,” she added.

At the same time Indian objects are scattered around the country yet a scholar must analyze many before reaching conclusions about authorship. And when they do, they publish their work in scholarly journals, sometimes neglecting to inform the very museums whose collections they may have studied. (Even Ms. Blomberg conceded that she has not informed the museums who own paintings by Fenno of her discovery.) Finally, while the task of rediscovering long-lost artists is enormous, “the field of people doing this is small,” said Kate C. Duncan, an Arizona State University professor who heads the Native American Art Studies Association.

Even in Denver, Ms. Blomberg can attach names to fewer than 100 of the more than 600 works on view, and about 50 of them are by living artists. But, she said, identifying the artists is “a growing trend, and everyone is building on everyone else’s work.” (In recent years scholars have begun trying to identify the anonymous artists in African and other artworks once called primitive or folk art.)

The roots of the attribution movement go back to the 1960s and to Bill Holm, now 85 and curator emeritus of Northwest Coast Indian Art at the Burke Museum. An artist himself, he created a vocabulary for speaking about form in Northwestern Indian art, and he began to identify individual hands through their signature stylistic characteristics.

Following Renaissance art scholars, he also coined names. Just as the creator of an altarpiece in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence is called the “Saint Cecilia Master,” the maker of a 19th-century Haida chief’s beautifully carved chair in the Field Museum in Chicago, is the “Master of the Chicago Settee.”

Soon Mr. Holm and a few others in his generation who studied the work of tribes in other parts of the continent attracted followers. In the 1970s and ’80s Ms. Wright studied Haida pipe carvers of the Pacific Northwest as a student at the University of Washington and named the “Master of the Long Fingers” and “Master of the Fat Round Ovoids.”

Later she focused on three 19th-century Haida artists — Simeon Stilthda, John Gwaytihl and the “Master of the Chicago Settee” — and was able to link masks, totem poles, wooden works and headdresses to them. Using Haida genealogy records and other unpublished 19th-century documents she also discovered that the “Master of the Chicago Settee” was a man named Zacherias Nicholas. Elsewhere around the country other scholars have done attribution research on other tribes.

What they do is painstakingly slow and often tedious, and often subject to revision. To identify stylistic idiosyncrasies of “lost” artists, Valerie Verzuh, a curator at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, N.M., has spent many hours assessing Southwest Indian pottery, considering the designs, kinds of paint used, brush strokes, rim finishings and even the precise thicknesses of the clay. Looking at Plains Indian beadwork, Ms. Blomberg focuses on details like the number of beads that lie between stitches.

But the advances can be exhilarating. Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse, who also teaches at the University of Washington and who has looked at “thousands and thousands” of 19th-century silver works, tells of such a moment. In 2007, while speaking at a clan conference of the Tlingit, she showed a list of about 70 names of artists that she and a colleague had discovered in 19th-century documents. “People came up to me afterward and said, ‘That was my great-grandfather,’ or ‘That was my great uncle,’ ” she said. Some owned works that are helping her associate the hands she has identified with names.

Label by label, matching artist to artwork is seeping into museums. The Seattle Art Museum reorganized its Northwest Coast Native American galleries in 2007 around the theme “The Artist Behind the Art,” adding every attribution it knows, including a raven screen by a Tlingit named Kadyisdu.axch that dates to about 1810.

When the New York branch of the National Museum of the American Indian opened a new installation last year, two works were newly attributed, according to Ann McMullen, the curator. One is a painted drum created around 1860-70 by a Yanktonnai Nakota named Black Chicken; the other is a yarn bag made about 1900 by Ska-ba-quay Tesson, a Meskwaki Indian.

Even at history and anthropology museums change is afoot. Peter M. Whiteley, curator of the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians at the American Museum of Natural History, said he has no current plans to add artists’ names. But he added, “If we are able to get to the stage of reinstalling the hall, it would certainly be good to identify the artist wherever it is salient.”