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.