Monday, October 22, 2012

Russell Means, American Indian Activist, Dies at 72 -

Russell C. Means, the charismatic Oglala Sioux who helped revive the warrior image of the American Indian in the 1970s with guerrilla-tactic protests that called attention to the nation’s history of injustices against its indigenous peoples, died on Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was 72.
Marcy Nighswander/Associated Press
Russell Means in 1989.
The cause was esophageal cancer that had spread recently to his tongue, lymph nodes and lungs, said Glenn Morris, Mr. Means’s legal representative. Told in the summer of 2011 that the cancer was inoperable, Mr. Means had already resolved to shun mainstream medical treatments in favor of herbal and other native remedies.
Strapping, ruggedly handsome in buckskins, with a scarred face, piercing dark eyes and raven braids that dangled to the waist, Mr. Means was, by his own account, a magnet for trouble — addicted to drugs and alcohol in his early years, and later arrested repeatedly in violent clashes with rivals and the law, once tried for abetting a murder, shot several times, stabbed once and imprisoned for a year for rioting.
He styled himself a throwback to ancestors who resisted the westward expansion of the American frontier and, with theatrical protests that brought national attention to poverty and discrimination suffered by his people, became arguably the nation’s best-known Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
But critics, including many Native Americans, called him a tireless self-promoter who capitalized on his angry-rebel notoriety by running quixotic races for the presidency and the governorship of New Mexico, by acting in dozens of movies — notably in the title role of “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992) — and by writing and recording music commercially with Indian warrior and heritage themes.
He rose to national attention as a leader of the American Indian Movement in 1970 by directing a band of Indian protesters who seized the Mayflower II ship replica at Plymouth, Mass., on Thanksgiving Day. The boisterous confrontation between Indians and costumed “Pilgrims” attracted network television coverage and made Mr. Means an overnight hero to dissident Indians and sympathetic whites.
Later, he orchestrated an Indian prayer vigil atop the federal monument of sculptured presidential heads at Mount Rushmore, S.D., to dramatize Lakota claims to Black Hills land. In 1972, he organized cross-country caravans converging on Washington to protest a century of broken treaties, and led an occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He also attacked the “Chief Wahoo” mascot symbol of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, a toothy Indian caricature that he called racist and demeaning. It is still used.
And in a 1973 protest covered by the national news media for months, he led hundreds of Indians and white sympathizers in an occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D., site of the 1890 massacre of some 350 Lakota men, women and children in the last major conflict of the American Indian wars. The protesters demanded strict federal adherence to old Indian treaties, and an end to what they called corrupt tribal governments.
In the ensuing 71-day standoff with federal agents, thousands of shots were fired, two Indians were killed and an agent was paralyzed. Mr. Means and his fellow protest leaderDennis Banks were charged with assault, larceny and conspiracy. But after a long federal trial in Minnesota in 1974, with the defense raising current and historic Indian grievances, the case was dismissed by a judge for prosecutorial misconduct.
Mr. Means later faced other legal battles. In 1976, he was acquitted in a jury trial in Rapid City, S.D., of abetting a murder in a barroom brawl. Wanted on six warrants in two states, he was convicted in 1976 of involvement in a 1974 riot during a clash between the police and Indian activists outside a Rapid City courthouse. He served a year in a state prison, where he was stabbed by another inmate.
Mr. Means also survived several gunshots — one in the abdomen fired during a scuffle with an Indian Affairs police officer in North Dakota in 1975, a grazed forehead in what he called a drive-by assassination attempt on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1975, and one in the chest fired by another would-be assassin on another South Dakota reservation in 1976.
Undeterred, he led a caravan of Sioux and Cheyenne into a gathering of 500 people commemorating the centennial of Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn in Montana in 1876, the nation’s worst defeat of the Indian wars. To pounding drums, Mr. Means and his followers mounted a speaker’s platform, joined hands and did a victory dance, sung in Sioux Lakota, titled “Custer Died for Your Sins.”

Russell Charles Means was born on Nov. 10, 1939, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the oldest of four sons of Harold and Theodora Feather Means. The Anglo-Saxon surname was that of a great-grandfather. When he was 3, the family moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where his father, a welder and auto mechanic, worked in wartime shipyards.

Russell attended public schools in Vallejo and San Leandro High School, where he faced racial taunts, had poor grades and barely graduated in 1958. He drifted into delinquency, drugs, alcoholism and street fights. He also attended four colleges, including Arizona State at Tempe, but did not earn a degree. For much of the 1960s he rambled about the West, working as a janitor, printer, cowboy and dance instructor.
In 1969, he took a job with the Rosebud Sioux tribal council in South Dakota. Within months, he moved to Cleveland and became founding director of a government-financed center helping Native Americans adapt to urban life. He also met Mr. Banks, who had recently co-founded the American Indian Movement. In 1970 Mr. Means became the movement’s national director, and over the next decade his actions made him a household name.
In 1985 and 1986, he went to Nicaragua to support indigenous Miskito Indians whose autonomy was threatened by the leftist Sandinista government. He reported Sandinista atrocities against the Indians and urged the Reagan administration to aid the victims. Millions in aid went to right-wing contras opposing the Sandinistas, but none to their Indian allies.
In 1987, Mr. Means ran for president. He sought the Libertarian Party nomination but lost to Ron Paul, a former and future Congressman from Texas. In 2002, Mr. Means campaigned independently for the New Mexico governorship, but was barred procedurally from the ballot.
Mr. Means retired from the American Indian Movement in 1988, but leaders from the movement with whom he had feuded for years scoffed, saying he had “retired” six times previously. They generally disowned him and his work, calling him an opportunist out for political and financial gain. In 1989, he told Congress there was “rampant graft and corruption” in tribal governments and federal programs assisting Native Americans.
Mr. Means began his acting career in 1992, and, over two decades, appeared in more than 30 films and television productions, including “Natural Born Killers” (1994) and “Pathfinder” (2007). He also recorded CDs, including “Electric Warrior: The Sound of Indian America,” (1993) and wrote a memoir, “Where White Men Fear to Tread,” (1995, with Marvin J. Wolf).
He was married and divorced four times and had nine children. He adopted many others following Lakota tradition. His fifth marriage, to Pearl Daniels, was in 1999, and she survives him.
Mr. Means cut off his braids a few months before receiving his cancer diagnosis. It was, he said in an interview in October 2011 , a gesture of mourning for his people. In Lakota lore, he explained, the hair holds memories, and mourners often cut it to release those memories, and the people in them, to the spirit world.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Tribes Add Powerful Voice Against Northwest Coal Plan -

FERNDALE, Wash. — At age 94, Mary Helen Cagey, an elder of the Lummi Indian tribe, has seen a lot of yesterdays. Some are ripe for fond reminiscence, like the herring that used to run rich in the waters here in the nation’s upper-left margin, near the border with Canada. Others are best left in the past, she said, like coal.
Paul Anderson
The Westshore coal terminal in British Columbia. As demand declines in the United States, coal companies want to build six terminals on the West Coast for export.
“I used to travel into Bellingham and buy my sack of coal,” she said, standing in sensible shoes on a pebbled beach at a recent tribal news conference, talking about her girlhood of rural subsistence and occasional trips to the nearby market town. The idea that coal producers would make a comeback bid, with a huge export shipping terminal proposed at a site where she once fished, called Cherry Point, is simply wrong, she said. “It’s something that should not come about,” Ms. Cagey said.
Many environmental groups and green-minded politicians in the Pacific Northwest are already on record as opposing a wave of export terminals proposed from here to the south-central coast of Oregon, aiming to ship coal to Asia. But in recent weeks, Indian tribes have been linking arms as well, citing possible injury to fishing rights and religious and sacred sites if the coal should spill or the dust from its trains and barges should waft too thick.
And as history has demonstrated over and over, especially in this part of the nation, from protecting fish habitats to removing dams, a tribal-environmental alliance goes far beyond good public relations. The cultural claims and treaty rights that tribes can wield — older and materially different, Indian law experts say, than any argument that the Sierra Club or its allies might muster about federal air quality rules or environmental review — add a complicated plank of discussion that courts and regulators have found hard to ignore.
Lummi tribal leaders recently burned a mock million-dollar check in a ceremonial statement that money could never buy their cooperation. Last month, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, a regional congress of more than 50 tribes in seven states, passed a resolution demanding a collective environmental impact statement for the proposed ports, rather than project-by-project statements, which federal regulators have suggested.
Leaders of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which focuses on fishing rights, said in a statement in support of the resolution that moving millions of tons of coal through the region could affect a range of issues, like road traffic and economic life on the reservations, not to mention the environment.
“It brings another set of issues to the table,” said Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon, a Democrat who earlier this year asked for a broad federal environmental review that would examine implications of the coal plan from transit through the region by train or barge to the burning of the coal in China. The tribes, Mr. Kitzhaber said, have now added a voice that even a governor cannot match. “It definitely increases the pressure,” he said.
Coal producers across the nation have been wounded by a sharp drop in demand in the United States — down 16.3 percent in the period from April through June, compared with the same period in 2011, to the lowest quarterly level since 2005, according to the most recent federal figures. With prices falling and abundant supplies of natural gas flowing because of new fields and drilling technologies, especially hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, many electricity producers that can switch are doing so.
That has made coal exports, which have increased this year in every region of the country except the West, according to federal figures, even more crucial to the industry than they were when the six terminals on the Pacific Coast were first proposed. Jason Hayes, a spokesman for the American Coal Council, said that with coal-producing nations like Australia and Indonesia competing for Asian markets, a roadblock on the West Coast is an issue for the entire American economy.
The first public hearings for the terminal projects, conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers, are set to begin this month in Bellingham, near the Lummi reservation.
“The people that can produce efficiently and can ship quickly and reliably — those are the big things — they are going to be the ones that are chosen for being reliable business partners,” Mr. Hayes said. “If we can build the ports on the West Coast, then it just becomes that much more reliable.”
But by coincidence of history, geography, culture and law, the West Coast, especially Washington and Oregon, is also a center for Indian tribe muscle, legal scholars said.
Although many tribes around the nation received rights to hunt and fish in the treaty language of the 1800s that consigned them to reservations, few places had a focus on a single resource — fish, especially from the Columbia River and its tributaries — that tribes here did. They also, crucially, persisted in using the resources that the treaties had granted them; fishing did not become a hobby or a cultural artifact.
Paul Anderson for The New York Times
Mary Helen Cagey, an elder of the Lummi Indian tribe, opposes a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point, Wash.
Then, in the 1970s, when the Indian rights and environmental movements were both surging, tribal timing was fortuitous in pushing court cases that reinforced their claims.
“They made really good use of those rights, and have become major players,” said Sarah Krakoff, a law professor at the University of Colorado who teaches Indian law and natural resources law. Tribal rights have been a cornerstone in the long battle over restoring salmon stocks in the Columbia River. This year, one of the biggest dam removal projects in the nation’s history reached a milestone when a section of the Elwha River near Olympic National Park in Washington was restored to wild flow, with fishing rights an important driver in the process.
Coal has also become an element in the presidential race, as energy executives have poured tens of millions of dollars into campaigns backing Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, and accusing the Obama administration of harboring hostility to coal through tightened air pollution rules.
An executive order dating from the administration of Bill Clinton could give further ammunition to Northwest tribes in their coal fight, Professor Krakoff and other experts said. The order directs federal agencies to allow tribal access to sacred sites and to take into account religious practices in federal decision making.
Lummi leaders, in the protest this week where Ms. Cagey spoke, said the Cherry Point site in particular — though partly developed years ago by industry, with a major oil refinery nearby — is full of sacred sites and burial grounds. The tribe’s hereditary chairman, Bill James, said in an interview, however, that the tribe would not reveal the locations of the graves for fear of looting.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Weighed Down by History, a Town Slides in Mexico -

The thrust of civilization is commonly imagined as an arc curving ever upward. From the Industrial Revolution on, innovation, comfort, health and wealth have seemed to expand and improve limitlessly for much of the world. But take a long look at the remote, sinking town of Santiago Mitlatongo, in Mexico, and that arc appears to slump — and not just graphically. The geologic term is “slumping”; its foundation diminished by erosion, Santiago Mitlatongo is sliding down its mountain at a rate of about a meter per day.
The photographer Matt Black has been seeking stories of the indigenous tribes of southern Mexico and the migrants to the Central Valley of California for 10 years, traveling back and forth and documenting the effects on these changing cultures and economies. His series, “After the Fall,” which was first published in the September/October issue of Orion Magazine, is narrow in scope — it’s just one remote Mixteca town upended by a slow-motion tragedy — but the themes it illuminates are vast, implicating the last several centuries of North American history begun by Columbus’s landing 520 years ago this Friday (though observed in most of the United States on Monday).
“Here’s the story of this town where literally lives turn upside down,” said Mr. Black, 42, who first photographed this pre-Columbian society in December. “It looked like the entire town had gone through a blender,” he said.
“The Mixteca were one of the great civilizations in Mesoamerica. And it’s just completely unraveling.”
In 1998, after a cold spell had killed off the citrus trees near his home in Exeter, Calif., Mr. Black went to photograph the migrant communities that were suddenly out of work. He heard the Mixteca language spoken for the first time and was entranced. And he was curious to know how these people, who were discriminated against by Spanish-speaking Mexicans as well as by whites, could tolerate life as migrants here — what was so bad at home that this was better?
The Mixteca region, which straddles the Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla states in southern Mexico, has been subject to centuries of erosion. It’s unclear if it was initiated by the Spaniards and their crops, cattle and church-building, or even before the Spanish invasion, when the Aztecs exacted tribute from the Mixtecs, who perhaps overtilled their land to meet the demands. Either way, the erosion has probably been exacerbated by modern agricultural practices and the effects of climate change. Today, it’s a desert; the Mixtecs can barely feed themselves, so they migrate to the United States, leaving behind fragments of towns that can no longer function well enough to support themselves.
San Miguel Cuevas, another Mixteca town that Mr. Black photographed, has lost 80 percent of its population to migration, he said, making it essentially a ghost town. He was dismayed that this resilient culture, so profoundly tethered to the land, was witnessing that land swept out from underneath it by unstoppable forces. Walking the dusty paths of Santiago Mitlatongo, Mr. Black described an air of mourning. “There’s this whole other layer of meaning there culturally, and people would describe it to me like someone just died,” he said.
“Their land is like a member of their family.”
This migration story is also a cruel inversion of historical norms. It is heart-wrenching, Mr. Black said, that the Mixtecs, having for so long subsisted on their own land and hard work — using traditional techniques that span back centuries — are forced to abandon their now-barren land to work the massive machines of industrialized agriculture in the United States. These industrialized, subsidized crops in the United States are cheap, and Mexico imports, for instance, 80 percent of its corn from here.
The circumstances in this region are reminiscent of the dust storms that blanketed the Great Plains in the 1930s, which resulted from the erosion of crop-choked land. Those storms initiated a mass migration of “Okies” to California’s Central Valley.
“I’m from an area that was utterly transformed by the Dust Bowl,” said Mr. Black. “The Dust Bowl didn’t happen here, but that’s part of the legacy of this place. It really created this place,” he said, noting an uneasy feeling of witnessing history repeat itself.
“This is one of the great civilizations of the Americas,” he said. “I mean, the Mixtecs have the oldest, continuous written history in the Americas — older than the Aztecs, older than the Incas.” It survived colonialism and the Spanish conquest, and for centuries this forgotten Mixteca town escaped bludgeons of globalization. And now it’s tumbling down a hill.

You must visit the link to see the images.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Sioux Race to Find Millions to Buy Sacred Land in Black Hills -

The Black Hills, the rolling range of mountains that rise out of the badlands of western South Dakota, are considered sacred to the Sioux, who for 150 years have fought on battlefields and in courtrooms for the return of the land.

And so the Great Sioux Nation exulted this summer when a long-sought parcel in the mountains called Pe’ Sla by the Lakota was put up for sale and a bid from the Sioux was accepted by the family that had controlled the land since 1876, the year that Gen. George Armstrong Custer died not far to the west at Little Bighorn.
But now, anxiety has replaced optimism as more than a half-dozen Sioux tribes, which include some of the nation’s poorest people, race to come up with the $9 million purchase price before the deadline next month.
Not only poverty stands in the way, but also the charged history: many Sioux ask why they should have to pay for land that already belongs to them, given numerous treaties broken by the United States and a landmark federal court decision in 1979 that called the government’s seizure of the Black Hills one of the most dishonorable acts in American history.
“It’s like someone stealing my car and I have to pay to get it back,” said Tom Poor Bear, the vice president of the Oglala Lakota Tribe in South Dakota.
On Friday, tribal chairmen from across the Great Plains are scheduled to meet to devise a strategy.
But if the Sioux tribes — which for generations have been troubled by grinding poverty, unemployment rates as high as 80 percent, and disproportionate levels of violence, alcoholism and preventable death — are unable to come up with the money, long-held dreams, as well as a $900,000 initial payment, will be lost.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to get some land back that is very, very dear to us,” said Louis Wayne Boyd, the treasurer of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, which has taken the lead in the purchase. “Most of the tribes want to do something, but it’s very difficult for them to raise any money, especially of this magnitude.”
The Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 guaranteed the Sioux ownership of the Black Hills, but after the discovery of gold, the federal government took back the mountains.
Pe’ Sla (pronounced pay-shlah), 1,942 acres of prairie in the heart of the range, was first homesteaded by the ancestors of the current owners, the Reynolds family, in 1876.
More than 100 years later, in 1979, the United States Court of Claims, discussing the federal government’s misdeeds against the Sioux, including its tactic of starving them, before it appropriated the land, wrote that “a more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealing will never, in all probability, be found in our history.”
The next year, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sioux had not received adequate compensation for the Black Hills and ordered the government to pay them. The Sioux, however, have refused to accept any money, saying that doing so would have the effect of selling their mountains. Instead, they insist on the return of the Black Hills to tribal authority.
The government fund, accumulating interest in a federal bank account, has grown to more than $800 million, although the Sioux say that using the money to buy Pe’ Sla is not an option.
The Sioux believe that the site was the scene of an epic battle between good and evil, and each spring they hold a religious ceremony there, where life is welcomed back with peace after a long winter.
Pe’ Sla is deemed sacred, but the plan to spend millions in scarce revenue on its purchase may not represent a consensus of the Sioux.
“There are mixed feelings,” said Vernon Schmidt, executive director of the Rosebud Sioux’s land enterprise department. “Some tribal members are wholeheartedly in support, and other tribal members are not. It’s hard to say, ‘Tighten your belt,’ but we’re going to have to do it anyway. There’s no dollar amount you can put on a sacred site.”

The Reynolds family, which declined to comment, has used the land it calls Reynolds Prairie Ranch — pristine grassland bisected by an asphalt road — for cattle grazing, but has always allowed access for prayer ceremonies.
The Sioux say their culture would be irreparably harmed if their bid to buy Pe’ Sla failed and the land was bought by an owner who prevented them from visiting.
“Our ceremonial patterns would collapse,” said Victor Douville, who teaches Lakota history and culture at Sinte Gleska University in Mission, S.D. Mr. Douville said that there had been annual pilgrimages at Pe’ Sla for 3,000 years, and that if they were halted, “we might come to an end as a people.”
So far, though, the Rosebud Sioux say they have received no firm financial commitments from other tribes, despite promises. The deadline to come up with the remaining $8.1 million — an amount roughly equal to the tribe’s annual budget — is Nov. 30.
“Not by any means are we a rich tribe,” said Mr. Boyd, treasurer of the Rosebud, whose unemployment rate is 83 percent. “It was always our intention to work with other tribes. We are a little nervous because this is a lot of money, and it would really hurt us if we had to do it ourselves.”
The Oglala Lakota — one of the few tribes with fewer resources than the Rosebud Sioux — say they intend to help, but have not yet decided how much to give.
“Our tribe, even though we’re a poor tribe, we’ll come up with some money,” said Mr. Poor Bear, the tribe’s vice president.
One hope had been that the richest of the Sioux tribes, the Shakopee Mdewakanton, which operates a highly profitable casino and entertainment complex outside Minneapolis and donates millions each year to other tribes, would contribute as well.
But Tessa Lehto, a spokeswoman for the Shakopee, said in an e-mail that she had “no information” about a forthcoming grant or loan for Pe’ Sla.
The Rosebud Sioux have been left to negotiate with commercial banks, which often decline to make large loans to tribes because banks are generally prohibited from seizing assets on reservations if a tribe is unable to repay.
Still, Charmaine White Face, the coordinator of the volunteer group Defenders of the Black Hills, echoed the sentiments of Sioux across the Great Plains. “It can’t not go through,” she said of the purchase.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Slain ambassador was Chinook member - Daily Astorian: Free

Members of the Chinook Tribe have asked for prayers for the family of tribal member Chris Stevens, the slain U.S. ambassador in Libya.

Stevens, 52, one of the bright lights of the State Department, was one of four Americans killed Tuesday, as part of worldwide protests by people upset over a U.S.,-made anti-Islam film.

Stevens, originally from California, took the job in May to great acclaim by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Chris was committed to advancing America's values and interests, even when that meant putting himself in danger,” Clinton wrote Wednesday in a statement posted on the Facebook page of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

The U.S. put all of its diplomatic missions overseas on high alert as Clinton delivered an explicit denunciation of the video as the administration sought to pre-empt further turmoil at its embassies and consulates.

“The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video,” she said before a meeting with the foreign minister of Morocco at the State Department. “We absolutely reject its content and message. To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible,” Clinton said. “It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.”

Stevens’ mother, Mary Commanday, is the first cousin of Chinook tribal elders Catherine Herrold Troeh and Charlotte Davis, both of whom are well known in Pacific County, the historic homeland of the tribe that met Lewis and Clark at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Willapa Bay resident John Herrold is one of Stevens' local first cousins.

Chinook Chairman Ray Gardner said Stevens “lost his life while working towards bringing lasting peace to the region.” “This will be a hard time for their family and they will need our prayers,” Gardner said.

President Barack Obama called Commanday, Stevens’ mother, with his condolences.
Publicly, he described Stevens as a “courageous and exemplary representative of the United States.” Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith and two former Navy Seals, Glenn Doherty and Tyrone Woods, also died in the attack, according to wire sources.
The four “exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe,” Obama said.

Obama, speaking at a campaign event in Golden, Colo., also vowed that the perpetrators would be punished. “I want people around the world to hear me,” he said. “To all those who would do us harm: No act of terror will go unpunished. I will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.”

Born in 1960 in northern California, Stevens had been a diplomat for two decades after previously working as an international trade lawyer in Washington, D.C., according to his biography on the State Department website. Stevens started his career as a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching English in Morocco, then spent more than 20 years working on issues related to the Middle East and North Africa.

As the Chinook grieved for their lost relative, another family member, Joe Brown, posted this message on Facebook late Wednesday:
“My cousin Mary (Stevens’ mom) got two very important phone calls today. One was from President Obama. The other was from from Ray Gardner, chief of the Chinook Indian Nation, who told me, ‘I did call Mary Commanday and let her know that the prayers of the Chinook Nation are with all of your family during this difficult time. I will pass this information to all of our members tomorrow and I will go down to the banks of the Willapa and give a special prayer for all of you. No better place to give prayers then on the banks of the rivers of our ancestors.’ We’re covered. Thank you, Ray Gardner, and klahowya.

Friday, August 24, 2012

RNC Official: NM Governor ‘Dishonored’ Gen. Custer By Meeting With American Indians | TPMMuckraker

RNC Official: N.M. Governor ‘Dishonored’ Gen. Custer By Meeting With American Indians

RYAN J. REILLY AUGUST 24, 2012, 5:30 PM 3979

A progressive group called on Republican National Committee leader Pat Rogers to step down on Friday after emails showed him telling New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s staff that meeting with a group of American Indians “dishonored” Gen. George Armstrong Custer, the 19th century commander who killed scores of American Indians.

“The state is going to hell,” Rogers, who is a member of the GOP executive committee and is currently in Tampa for the RNC convention, wrote in a June 8 email released by Progress Now New Mexico. Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Col. Allen Weh “would not have dishonored Col Custer in this manner,” he wrote.

Martinez is required by law to attend the annual state-tribal leaders summit, according to Progress Now New Mexico, which called for him to step down.

“Such a blatantly racist statement against our native people is offensive from anyone, but to come from a national GOP leader and lobbyist for some of our country’s largest corporations is indefensible,” Progress Now New Mexico’s executive director Pat Davis said in a statement.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

More Casinos and Internet Gambling Threaten Shakopee Tribe -

SHAKOPEE MDEWAKANTON INDIAN RESERVATION, Minn. — A generation ago, the Shakopee Mdewakanton tribe lived in a motley collection of beat-up trailer homes, melting snow for bath water when wells froze over because they lacked indoor plumbing. Three-quarters of tribal members received government food supplements.

Today, the Shakopee Mdewakanton are believed to be the richest tribe in American history as measured by individual personal wealth: Each adult, according to court records and confirmed by one tribal member, receives a monthly payment of around $84,000, or $1.08 million a year.
The financial success of the 480 members of the Shakopee Tribe — whose ancestors 150 years ago were hunted down, slaughtered and eventually exiled from Minnesota — derives from their flourishing casino and resort operation, which on weekends swells the population of their tiny reservation to the size of a city.
“We have 99.2 percent unemployment,” Stanley R. Crooks, the tribe’s president, said as he smiled during a rare interview. “It’s entirely voluntary.”
While the Shakopee tribe continues to prosper, casino gambling in much of Indian Country — which tribes say is the only economic development tool that has ever worked on reservations — has in recent months come increasingly under threat, stirring worries that the long lucky streak is over.
The primary anxiety is competing casinos being hurriedly opened by states in pursuit of new revenue. But more menacing, tribes say, is a sophisticated and growing movement to legalize Internet gambling under state laws that would give those states the potential power to regulate and tax online gambling even on reservations.
Further, the current expansion of legalized gambling in the United States, and the prospect of more to come, could not have arrived at a worse moment for tribes, because after 25 years of booming profits, the tribal casino business has suddenly gone flat. The vast majority of tribes have not become rich. Instead, casinos have become a baseline economic necessity, lifting thousands out of poverty by serving as a primary source of income and employment.
“My worry is this may be the beginning of the end, that in the push to increase state and federal revenue we are putting at risk the groups who continue to need Indian gaming,” said Kathryn Rand, co-director of the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming at the University of North Dakota. During the past year or so, Maine, Ohio, Kansas and Pennsylvania have all opened large casinos, and in Maryland, pent-up demand caused a traffic snarl miles long— during the middle of the night — at the opening of a new casino in June.
Among other states, Massachusetts recently approved casino gambling and New York is moving in that direction. In November, Oregon voters will decide whether to open their first casinos while Michigan voters will determine whether to expand gambling there as well.
While the new commercial casinos turn over much of their revenue to state and local governments, tribal facilities do not pay direct state taxes because of the tribes’ status as sovereign nations.
That status, however, has become a concern for tribes as it relates to legalized online gambling, which is expected to transform the industry by allowing people to play casino games like poker on mobile devices whenever and wherever they want.
Attempts by some states to tax all online gambling revenue, which tribes regard as an unacceptable violation of their sovereign status, have set up a collision course. “We are very adamant that people understand we are governments, and expect to be treated like governments,” said Ernie Stevens Jr., chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association.
Delaware, in June, became the first state to legalize casino-style gambling on the Internet, a move that followed a Justice Department interpretation last December that opened the door to online gambling. All this has come as unwelcome news in the $26 billion tribal gambling industry. In recent years, a number of casinos have closed, the days of building elaborate new complexes appears to have ended, and efforts to build new casinos off reservation — and nearer metropolitan areas — has proved largely unsuccessful.
Even some of the most successful gambling tribes have had to reduce or eliminate gambling revenue payments to members.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in Ledyard, Conn., for instance, has stopped making individual awards that had once been as high as $120,000 a year after it amassed $2 billion in debt. And members of the Mohegan tribe in Uncasville, Conn., who operate Mohegan Sun, had been receiving about $360,000 annually before seeing significant reductions in recent years.
Gambling analysts say the coming wave of casualties will most likely be Indian casinos in remote areas that make little money but employ dozens of tribal members and use gambling proceeds to pay for social services. The Shakopees are under no such pressure. While it is impossible to say for certain whether individual tribal members are indeed the nation’s richest based on their monthly income — derived from the tribe’s two casinos, championship golf course, big-name concert acts, 600-room hotel and other business ventures — each adult earns enough each year to be a millionaire.
But for the tribe, whose purple casino buses are as common a sight in the Twin Cities as summer mosquitoes, any significant downturn in profits would spread economic pain in a fairly wide arc.
Since 1996, the tribe has donated $243.5 million, including $120 million to poorer tribes, and lent $478.5 million.
It is Scott County’s largest employer, and has contributed tens of millions of dollars for roads and to schools and hospitals. “We’re doing very well,” Mr. Crooks said. “We feel we have an obligation to help others. It’s part of our culture.”
Measuring the tribe’s charity however, is difficult because the amount it doles out to members is secret. (The $84,000 a month figure that each adult in the tribe receives comes from a 2004 divorce case involving a tribal member, but was confirmed by a current tribal member as still correct.)
Alan Meister, an economist who compiles tribal gambling data, said Minnesota’s 18 tribal casinos earned a combined $1.4 billion in 2010, although the Shakopees’ portion of that is unclear. But even if the tribe accounted for nearly the entire $1.4 billion, its philanthropy would compare well with corporations, even though the tribe receives no tax write-offs for giving.
For example, the tribe’s $28.5 million in charitable cash contributions in 2010 was more than those of several Minneapolis-area Fortune 500 companies, including the 3M Corporation, which had 2010 revenue of $23 billion, and U.S. Bancorp, which had $19.5 billion in revenue in 2010, according to the Minnesota Council on Foundations.
Despite its wealth, however, the Shakopee reservation has few mansion-size homes, although most families have at least one high-end car in the driveway. Many tribal members own large second homes off the reservation and nearly everyone sends children to private schools. Expensive hobbies like thoroughbred breeding, big game hunting and elaborate trips — which sometimes last for months — are common.
Families say it is difficult to teach children the value of money when everyone knows no one will likely ever need to work.
“Why dig a hole when you don’t need to dig it — when you can pay someone to dig a hole?” said Keith B. Anderson, the tribe’s secretary and treasurer, who once worked for Target as an industrial designer. “Instead of budgeting a dinner and movie, you can go to dinner and a movie and have dinner again and see another movie, but you can’t see enough movies and dinners to spend all your money.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Siletz Language, With Few Voices, Finds Modern Way to Survive -

SILETZ, Ore. — Local native languages teeter on the brink of oblivion all over the world as the big linguistic sweepstakes winners like English, Spanish or Mandarin ride a surging wave of global communications.
But the forces that are helping to flatten the landscape are also creating new ways to save its hidden, cloistered corners, as in the unlikely survival of Siletz Dee-ni. An American Indian language with only about five speakers left — once dominant in this part of the West, then relegated to near extinction — has, since earlier this year, been shouting back to the world: Hey, we’re talking. (In Siletz that would be naa-ch’aa-ghit-’a.)
“We don’t know where it’s going to go,” said Bud Lane, a tribe member who has been working on the online Siletz Dee-ni Talking Dictionary for nearly seven years, and recorded almost all of its 10,000-odd audio entries himself. In its first years the dictionary was password protected, intended for tribe members.
Since February, however, when organizers began to publicize its existence, Web hits have spiked from places where languages related to Siletz are spoken, a broad area of the West on through Canada and into Alaska. That is the heartland of the Athabascan family of languages, which also includes Navajo. And there has been a flurry of interest from Web users in Italy, Switzerland and Poland, where the dark, rainy woods of the Pacific Northwest, at least in terms of language connections, might as well be the moon.
“They told us our language was moribund and heading off a cliff,” said Mr. Lane, 54, sitting in a storage room full of tribal basketry and other artifacts here on the reservation, about three hours southwest of Portland, Ore. He said he has no fantasies that Siletz will conquer the world, or even the tribe. Stabilization for now is the goal, he said, “creating a pool of speakers large enough that it won’t go away.”
But in the hurly-burly of modern communications, keeping a language alive goes far beyond a simple count of how many people can conjugate its verbs. Think Jen Johnson’s keypad thumbs. A graduate student in linguistics at Georgetown University, Ms. Johnson, 21, stumbled onto Siletz while studying linguistics at Swarthmore College, which has helped the tribe build its dictionary. She fell in love with its cadences, and now texts in Siletz, her fourth language of study, with a tribe member in Oregon.
Language experts who helped create the dictionary say the distinctiveness of Siletz Dee-ni (pronounced SiLETZ day-KNEE), or Coastal Athabascan as it is also called, comes in part from the unique way the language managed to survive.
Most other language preservation projects have a base, however small, of people who speak the language. The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary, for example, which went online this year, focuses on one of the most widely spoken native languages in Canada and the Upper Midwest.
The 12 other dictionaries financed in recent years by the Living Tongues Institute, a nonprofit group, in partnership with the National Geographic Society — which helped start the Siletz dictionary project in 2005 and now uses it as a blueprint — are all centered on languages still in use, however small or threatened their populations of speakers may be. Matukar Panau, for instance, an Oceanic language of Papua New Guinea, has about 600 speakers remaining, in two small villages.
Siletz, by contrast, had become, by the time of the dictionary, almost an artifact — preserved in song for certain native dances, but without a single person living who had grown up with it as a first language.
There were people who had listened to the elders, like Mr. Lane, and there were old recordings, made by anthropologists who came through the West in the 1930s and 1960s, but not much else. Mr. Lane wants to incorporate some of those scratchy recordings into future versions of the dictionary.
What can also bridge an ancient language’s roots to younger tribe members, some new Siletz learners said, is that it can sound pretty cool.
“There are a couple of sounds that are nowhere in the English language, like you’re going to spit, almost — kids seem much more open to that,” said Sonya Moody-Jurado, who grew up hearing a few words from her mother — like nose (mish), and dog (lin-ch’e’) — and has been attending with a grandson Siletz classes taught by Mr. Lane.
“They’re trailblazers, showing the way for small languages to cross the digital divide,” said K. David Harrison, an associate professor of linguistics at Swarthmore who worked with the Siletz tribe and the other partners to build the dictionary. Professor Harrison said he went to Colombia recently, talking to indigenous tribes about preserving their languages, but when the laptops opened up, the Siletz dictionary, with its impressive size and search capabilities, was the focus. “It’s become a model of how you do it,” he said.
When settlers were streaming west in the 1850s on the Oregon Trail and displacing American Indians from desirable farmland, government Indian policy created artificial conglomerates of tribes, jamming them into one place even though the groups spoke different languages and in many instances had little in common.
The Siletz people were among the largest bands that ended up here on this spit of land jutting into the Pacific Ocean. By dint of their numbers, their language prevailed over other tribes, and their dances, sung in Siletz, became adopted by other tribes as their cultures faded.
“We’re the last standing,” Mr. Lane said.
But the threat of oblivion was constant. In the 1950s, the tiny tribe was declared dead by the United States — a “termination” from the rolls, in the jargon of the time. The Siletz clawed back — clinging to former reservation lands and cultural anchors in songs and dances — and two decades later, in the mid-1970s, became only the second tribe in the nation to go from nonexistence to federally recognized status. The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians now have about 4,900 enrolled members and a profitable casino in the nearby resort town of Lincoln City.
School was also once the enemy of tribal languages. Government boarding schools, where generations of Indian children were sent, aimed to stamp out native ways and tongues. Now, the language is taught through the sixth grade at the public charter school in Siletz, and the tribe aims to have a teaching program in place in the next few years to meet Oregon’s high school language requirements, allowing Siletz, in a place it originated, to be taught as a foreign language.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Lucrative California Gambling Pits Indian Tribe Against Tribe -

With little accessible space on its 40-acre territory, the 800-member tribe used government grants last year to buy a nearby trailer park that is now home to a dozen families. About half live in old trailers that were used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to house those displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
To pull itself out of poverty, the tribe applied in 2002 to build an off-reservation casino at a spot with more economic potential, near towns and highways about 35 miles south of here. After the federal government gave its approval last year, the final decision now rests with Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to decide on the fate of the Enterprise casino and another tribe’s off-reservation proposal by an Aug. 31 deadline.
But plans for the two casinos are drawing fierce opposition and last-minute lobbying in the state capital from an unexpected source: nearby tribes with casinos that they say will be hurt by the newcomers. Leading the fight against Enterprise is the United Auburn Indian Community, whose casino, Thunder Valley, has become one of America’s most profitable and has brought the formerly destitute tribe unimaginable riches.
“It’s really sad right now in Indian country with the divide between the haves and have-nots,” said Cindy Smith, the secretary of Enterprise’s tribal council. “It’s just a struggle to get on equal footing. And even when you’re on equal footing, you’re really not, because we’re almost two decades behind.”
Since Indian gambling was legalized in the United States in 1988, only five tribes have gotten final clearance to build casinos off their reservations. The intense campaign against Enterprise and the other applicant, the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, comes as the gambling market has grown crowded, especially here in California.
Opposing tribes accuse the newcomers of encroaching on areas to which they have no historical ties. “We have other tribes out there doing what we call reservation shopping,” said Brenda Adams, the treasurer of United Auburn. “We played by the rules. We had to stay on our historical lands. They call it equal footing, but is it? We’d like to have a casino in downtown San Francisco, but that’s not our territory.”
The issue has raised larger issues in Indian communities across the nation about the goals of gambling. A decade ago, tribes were united in their efforts to further Indian gambling, which was supposed to give them the means to become self-sufficient, said Steven Light, co-director of the University of North Dakota’s Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy. But he said that talk of “fairness and justice” has given way in an increasingly competitive market.
A short drive from Sacramento — and about 30 miles from Enterprise’s planned site — Thunder Valley has a 2,700-machine casino, a 300-room hotel, an amphitheater and a golf course. Helicopters fly in high rollers from San Francisco. With 80 percent of its revenues coming directly from gambling, Thunder Valley is so profitable that it has transformed the lives of its owners, the 400-member United Auburn tribe, most of whom received welfare benefits until the casino opened in 2003, said Ms. Adams, 40.
The tribal council has provided housing for members, built group homes for troubled children and connected residential areas to water and sewer systems. All members receive free health care and dental benefits. Children making the honor roll receive hundreds of dollars as incentives. Tribal trips were made to France, Italy and Mexico.
The tribe’s 200 adult members each receive a share of the casino’s revenues, a cut that the local news media has reported as $30,000 a month per member but that industry experts estimate is more. Douglas G. Elmets, a spokesman for the tribe and a former White House spokesman during the Reagan administration, said only that members did not need to work for financial reasons, but that many did in tribal affairs.
Another tribe opposing the off-reservation casinos, the 20 members of the Jackson Rancheria of Miwuk Indians, depended on welfare and gathered firewood to make ends meet before gambling, said Rich Hoffman, the casino’s chief executive. Now, the tribe owns real estate in California and Nevada; Goldman Sachs manages the tribe’s portfolio, which is “in the hundreds of millions” of dollars, Mr. Hoffman said.
Still, he was worried that the good times would not last. With the state eager to get a greater share of gambling revenues, Mr. Hoffman said he believed that other forms of non-Indian gambling, particularly online operations, could become legal. “I don’t think the tribes 20 years from now will still have an oligopoly on gaming,” he said.
Another small tribe, the 60-member Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, has used profits from its Cache Creek casino to buy land and diversify into agriculture. The tribe has hired experts to farm 1,300 acres with a dozen crops. Its wine and olive oil, Séka Hills, is sold in San Francisco. Its new multimillion-dollar olive mill, which other olive oil producers in the area have contracted to use, is scheduled to start operating soon.
The tribe, which used to oppose the off-reservation casinos but is now publicly neutral, has felt the need to diversity beyond gambling. “Too many eggs in one basket is probably not a good thing,” said Marshall McKay, the tribal chairman.
Nationally, most tribes, including those with less profitable casinos, remain in poverty, experts say. So opposition, especially from some of the most profitable tribes, rankles the North Fork tribe, one of California’s biggest tribes with 1,900 members. Of the state’s 104 federally recognized tribes, 61 have casinos in what is the nation’s biggest market for Indian gambling.
“They don’t want to see other Indians prosper, I guess,” said Alvin McDonald, 34, one of a handful of people living on the tribe’s 80-acre tract on the edge of the Sierra National Forest about 200 miles southeast of here.
The tribe is waiting for the governor’s decision on its plans to build a casino on a highway about 35 miles away. Its main opponent, the nearby Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, accuses North Fork of being interlopers from the other side of the Sierra Nevada. The two tribes share many links, including intermarriage.
“That’s what makes it more hurtful,” said Elaine Bethel Fink, 65, the chairwoman of North Fork’s tribal council.
Here in Oroville, in the decade that he has fought for a casino, Art Angle, 70, Enterprise’s vice chairman and a retired logger, has lost friends in the opposing tribes — men with whom he had spent a chunk of his life “logging and partying.”
“They don’t look at me in the same way,” he said.
With the final decision only weeks away, Mr. Angle’s worries were turning inward. “I don’t have any money yet,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in 10 years. I may become as bad as them.”

Friday, August 03, 2012

In Mexico, Reclaiming the Forests and the Right to Feel Safe -

CHERÁN, Mexico — The woman’s exhausted eyes reflected the flames dancing in front of her. A 38-year-old grandmother, she is also a leader of the civilian insurgency that has taken over this mountain town in the state of Michoacán, 310 miles west of Mexico City. Sixteen months of cold and sleepless nights at Bonfire No. 17, one of a number of permanent burning barricades set up here, have taken their toll.
But like the rest of the residents, she cannot afford to let her guard down.
On the morning of April 15, 2011, using rocks and fireworks, a group of women attacked a busload of AK-47-armed illegal loggers as they drove through Cherán, residents said. The loggers, who local residents say are protected by one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations and given a virtual free pass by the country’s authorities, had terrorized the community at will for years.
Cherán’s residents said they had been subjected to multiple episodes of rape, kidnapping, extortion and murder by the paramilitary loggers, who have devastated an estimated 70 percent of the surrounding oak forests that sustained the town’s economy and indigenous culture for centuries.
What happened next was extraordinary, especially in a country where the rule of law is often absent and isolated communities are frequently forced to accept the status quo. Organized criminal syndicates, like the drug cartel La Familia, created in Michoacán, act like a state within a state, making their own rules and meting out grisly punishments to those who do not obey.
But here in Cherán, a group of townspeople took loggers hostage, expelled the town’s entire police force and representatives of established political parties, and forcibly closed the roads.
The Mexican government authorities had previously ignored their repeated pleas for help, the residents said, so the people of Cherán simply took the law into their own hands.
“I felt my knees shake like castanets,” said the woman standing vigil at Bonfire No. 17, Rocio, who, like others here, withheld her last name for fear of reprisals by the criminal networks they are resisting. She recalled her overwhelming fear during those first days of revolt, when residents gathered around as many as 200 bonfires set up at every intersection in town to prevent the loggers from retaliating.
In the months since then, Cherán’s townspeople have established a simple but effective internal protection system. There are fewer bonfires today, but several remain active and a security patrol of residents, or “ronda,” keeps watch at all times. Armed townspeople — from middle-age men to teenage girls — guard the barricades blocking all entrances into town. Their weapons are AR15 assault rifles, seized from the police when they expelled them.
Inside the town, they say, crime is now down almost to zero and most residents seem to feel safe. In recent days, however, people from nearby communities have taken several federal police officers captive, demanding that the newly instated forest patrols be canceled so that they can continue their logging activities. (The officers have since been released.) It is unclear if the hostage-takers were illegal loggers, but tensions are flaring in Cherán as the rest of the country looks on with concern.
Last November, in a court appeal, Cherán acquired a degree of autonomy from the Mexican government; the town still receives federal and state money, and its people must pay taxes, but they are allowed to govern themselves under a legal framework called “uses and customs” that has been granted to some indigenous communities.
Legal experts and academics say that Cherán is the first community to be granted this right as a result of a conflict over natural resources with one of the country’s increasingly powerful criminal syndicates.

The residents’ actions have ignited a regional spark of do-it-yourself justice. In nearby Opopeo, residents have organized community patrols and created an alert system using church bells. In Santa Clara del Cobre, disgruntled townspeople kidnapped their police force for several days last February, suspecting it of having abducted and “disappeared” a local man accused of rape.
Still, the neighboring communities have not gone as far as Cherán. “If we do that here, we would need someone to take the lead, and if they did, they’ll kill him,” said Noe Pamatz, 64, a former member of the civilian security organization in Opopeo. He quit last month after its leader was found murdered.
Cherán’s residents say they were inspired to push for autonomy by some notable precedents. In 1994, Subcommander Marcos, the leader of the Zapatista rebels, staged an uprising in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, demanding better treatment for the indigenous communities there, placing the issue on the national political agenda.
The next year, Oaxaca became one of a handful of states to formally include the system of “uses and customs” for indigenous areas in its constitution. At the same time, indigenous communities in Guerrero, angered over the ineffectiveness and corruption of the local police, organized “community police forces” that have been largely successful, and remain in operation today.
The hurdles that Cherán has faced in recent years highlight the plight of Mexico’s most disenfranchised communities, which have suffered disproportionately during the nation’s drug wars, often without national notice.
“It’s not Acapulco, where you have foreign investment; it’s not Ciudad Juárez, where you have the maquiladora industry,” said David Peña, a lawyer representing the residents of Cherán. “It’s just a miserable little indigenous town.”
Cherán now exists in an uneasy calm, but its residents are beginning to doubt their survival as an island amid hostile waters. In late July, an army base was set up near Cherán after two residents were killed when they ventured into the forests. Since April 2011, other residents have been murdered under similar circumstances. The presence of soldiers provides a level of comfort, residents say, but even Obdulio Ávila, deputy secretary of Mexico’s Interior Ministry, acknowledges that it may not be enough.
“It is difficult to have security in the whole municipality,” he said. “In fact, it is materially impossible.”
The forests around Cherán have also suffered a stark physical transformation. Burned tree stumps and weeds have replaced the old, impenetrable groves.
“You can see that an entire beautiful forest existed and no longer does,” said Pedro, a native of Cherán who moved to Southern Illinois 35 years ago and last visited in 2009. Pedro and other expatriates have sent money and basic staples to their families still living in the embattled town since they began their uprising.
Some in Cherán say that they have begun to feel captive and desperate, confined to their town but still dependent on the forests, from which they take wood and wild mushrooms, a community staple. The forests also represents something more intangible but no less important to them — a source of wisdom and an integral part of the Cheránean identity.
With access to the forests cut off, Cherán’s economy is beginning to dwindle. Unemployed woodworkers are now trying to secure odd jobs inside the town, but there are few to be had. The prized colorful, fleshy mushrooms are sold at increasingly high prizes in the main square. Outside support has become increasingly vital.
“They are living practically off of the remittances coming in from the United States,” Leonardo Velazquez, a hospital administrator living in Cherán, said of his neighbors. Indeed, Michoacán was the Mexican state with the highest flow of remittances in 2011 and the first three months of 2012. Still, the state’s economy appears to be falling apart.
Here in Cherán, the women around Bonfire No. 17 talked late into the chilly night about their fallen comrades and their devastated forests. They seemed to find energy in their scorching tea and courage in the words of a song that a woman seated next to Rocio had been composing.
“I have lived, but what are we going to give our children?” she sang, a toddler son clinging to her thick wool sweater. “They won’t even be able to buy a little log like the ones we are burning here.”