On May 29, 2014, the Navajo Nation Tribal Council voted to accept a $554 million settlement from the U.S. government for claims dating back to 1946 – starting the clock on a 120-day process of payment earmarked for September. It is and is not surprising that it has taken until yesterday for this news to hit the mainstream media, even though the tribe held a signing ceremony that published on YouTube on June 6, 2014. This kind of delay seems sadly common when it comes to news about Indian country. I hope this latest news will inspire the media to keep a closer watch on the tribes, as there is much positive change in the works today.
With the news now widespread, the Navajo Nation has made history in winning the largest settlement of its kind in U.S. history. We all need to remember, of course, that the $554 million is not a windfall but rather an attempt to offset tribal losses incurred due to federal mismanagement of tribal trust lands and leases. These leases involved farming, grazing, oil and gas development, mining and housing. Back in 2006 when this claim was first filed, the total loss to the Navajo Nation was valued at more than $900 million.
The Navajo Nation has since taken on significant responsibility for the leasing of nearly 14 million acres of its tribal lands and has a process in place should further disputes arise with the federal government. This is another positive step toward tribal sovereignty and self-determination.
President Shelly has stated there will be no spending plan but rather a 5-year Navajo investment plan. The tribe is creating an official investment committee (aka task force) to explore their best alternatives and options for investment. As of the 2010 Census, the Navajo Reservation had 300,048 tribal members inhabiting their 27,000 acres of tribal trust land. There is no shortage of options for investment. Challenges abound with housing, water, roads, electricity and other utilities, and general infrastructure, as well as a shortage of jobs and poverty ranging from 40-50%.
Andrew Sandler, a tribal attorney for the Navajo Nation, echoed the investment sentiment, saying some tribal members suggest the Navajo settlement funds be used for business development or put aside for future generations. The first investment committee meeting is reportedly scheduled for October. We know from experience that such planning and implementation will take a while, as will seeing the fruits of the investments, but we look forward to seeing what the settlement becomes.
In many parts of the U.S., Native American Day is celebrated on the fourth Friday in September. Although not a “national” holiday, Native American Day is a time set aside by individual states to honor, recognize, and appreciate the rich cultural heritage and significant contributions of the indigenous people in their respective states.
One of the earliest advocates for a day to honor Native Americans was Dr. Arthur Caswell Parker. A Cattaraugus Seneca Indian, historian, anthropologist, and author from New York state, Parker’s great-uncle was secretary to Ulysses S. Grant and the first Native to serve as Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Department of the Interior. Dr. Parker founded several Indian rights organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians and others. Parker persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for “First Americans,” which they did from 1912 to 1915.
According to our research, the rest of the timeline for Native American Day goes something like this:
- 1916: Possibly the first time an American Indian Day was formally designated in the U.S., when New York’s governor set the second Saturday in May for the observance.
- 1919: The Illinois state legislature passed an act similar to New York’s.
- 1935: The governor of Massachusetts issued a proclamation naming the day for observing American Indian Day each year.
- 1976: President Ford proclaimed a week in October as “Native American Awareness Week.” Since then, the President and Congress have observed a day, a week, or a month each year in honor of the American Indian and Alaska Native peoples. And no coincidence here… 1976 marked the U.S. bicentennial.
- 1977: “Indigenous Peoples Day” was first proclaimed in Geneva, Switzerland, by representatives of Native nations at the U.N.’s International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas. The declaration was praised by indigenous peoples around the world.
- 1989: The South Dakota legislature declared 1990 as the “Year of Reconciliation” for Native Americans and changed Columbus Day to Native American Day at that time. South Dakota is home to 9 tribes.
- 1992: Berkeley, CA followed suit and designated 1992 as the “Year of Indigenous People” and stopped celebrating Columbus Day, despite some local criticism.
- 1994: The Tennessee state General Assembly established the fourth Monday in September as “American Indian Day.”
- 1998: Some 30 years after Ronald Reagan signed a resolution calling for “American Indian Day” on the fourth Friday in September, the California Assembly declared “Native American Day” an official state holiday.
Several related holidays have also been declared in honor of Native American peoples. Since 1994, August 9 has marked the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, honoring indigenous populations around the world and including Native Americans. Since 2009, thanks to President Obama, the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving Day is American Indian Heritage Day. This is an apt remembrance given the Native contributions on and leading up to the pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving. And each year, November is American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month at the National Museum of the American Indian (Smithsonian).
Further, while the several Presidential proclamations did not create a national observance, the 1976 act did allow each federal agency to develop their own ways of celebrating and honoring Native American heritage. For instance, from 2003 to 2010, the Office of the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior has observed these themes:
2002 – “Celebrating Our past, Celebrating Our Future”
2003 – “A Celebration of the American Indian Spirit”
2004 – “Native Nations: Continuing in the New Millennium”
2005 – “Knowledge of the Past/Wisdom for the Future”
2006 – “Tribal Diversity: Weaving Together Our Traditions”
2007 – “Keeping in Step to the Heartbeat of the Drum as We Unite as One”
2008 – “Tribes Facing Challenges: In Unity, Transforming Hope into Strengths”
2009 – “Pride in Our Heritage with Gratitude to Our Elders”
2010 – “Life is Sacred – Celebrate Healthy Native Communities”
2011 – “Celebrating Our Ancestors and Leaders of Tomorrow”
2012 – “Serving Our People, Serving Our Nations, Honoring Those That Served Our Country”
2013 – “Guiding Our Destiny with Heritage and Tradition”
It’s good to see that recognition for the contributions of Native American tribes, cultures, and contributions is growing. In thinking about this, two things came to mind:
1. What are the major contributions Native Americans have made?
2. What does Native American Day mean to Native Americans?
We’d love to hear any thoughts you have on these questions. Anyone?
How do I as a civilian even begin to talk about this? It’s a heavy thing and a lot to wrap my head around… the meaning of National POW/MIA Recognition Day for Native Americans.
A few days ago, I was walking in the rain with my dog on a cold morning on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. I couldn’t help but complain and think, “This is miserable.” Then, I got to thinking about Native Americans fighting in wars from the American Revolution to Afghanistan and Iraq. In my head, I pictured things like the smoke and heat of Little Big Horn and ambushes in the humid jungles of Viet Nam. On the ground, I could see the dead and dying. But, what about those men and women who seemingly turned to ghosts on the battlefield? Their families left to wonder about the fate of a relative who became a prisoner of war or went missing in action. These are truly miserable things.
Yet, while thinking about these military members now listed as POW/MIA, another thought persisted. While Native Americans may make up a small fraction of the near 2000 service members still unaccounted for from the Viet Nam War, the true number of American Indian POWs is significantly higher.
It only takes one Google search to see what I mean. For example, if you Google “Native American Prisoners of War,” you will see multiple links leading to the same place: the 2010 TED Talk by Aaron Huey about his experience of photographing poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
In his opening dialogue, Huey refers to Pine Ridge as “Prisoner of War Camp Number 334.” I’ve heard others use this expression before, but I’ve never quite been able to figure out where it originated. Despite how the name may have come about, one thing is clear: history has designated many Indian reservations as POW camps, whether officially or not.
One thing from Huey’s talk struck me as staggeringly powerful, and moreover, staggeringly sad:
“The last chapter in any successful genocide is the one in which the oppressor can remove their hands and say, ‘My God, what are these people doing to themselves? They’re killing each other. They’re killing themselves while we watch them die.’ This is how we came to own these United States. This is the legacy of manifest destiny. Prisoners are still born into prisoner-of-war camps long after the guards are gone.”
On this National POW/MIA Recognition Day, which is September 19th, I ask that you remember all U.S. military personnel – especially those declared as Prisoners of War or Missing in Action. And, as you remember them, I ask that you remember Native Americans too. Remember all the losses and sacrifices they made at the hands of the U.S. to become the nation we know today.
Posted in Humanitarian Tagged Afghanistan, American Indian, Iraq, Little Big Horn, National Relief Charities, Native American, Native American military, Native American POW, Native American soldiers, Pine Ride Indian Reservation, POW/MIA Day, Rosebud Reservation
Lately, there has been much focus on sovereignty, a huge issue for tribes. And this is important in that it can perhaps bring to light the unique relationships that exist between the United States and the Indian nations.
This starts with the need to understand just what “sovereignty” is and how that meaning is interpreted, for sovereignty is a complex juggernaut of legal and ethical issues involving Native American tribes and state governments, as well as the federal government. Consider this:
- For many tribes, sovereignty means the ability to manage their own affairs and exist as nations that are recognized as having control over their own destinies. It means to live unencumbered by the yoke of an outside power determining and re-determining their fate. Unfortunately, this has been the nature of the relationship between Native American tribes and the United States since the very earliest treaties.
- For the federal government, U.S. tribal sovereignty means that Native American tribes are “domestic dependent nations” that exist within the boundaries of the U.S. and that they are wards of the U.S., even though they may operate and manage some internal tribal affairs. From the U.S. viewpoint, tribes do not exist as truly sovereign and independent nations.
Because of this disconnect about what tribal sovereignty means, there are those non-Natives that feel Native Americans are “super citizens” or have special rights that they themselves do not have. This could not be further from the truth. Historically, Native Americans have had to fight tooth and nail for recognition and to compel the United States to live up to its treaty obligations.
A disconnect also exists in the way various tribes may conduct business. Throughout history, some tribes have been selected to act “as sovereign government entities similar to states within our federal system.” Yet, other tribes have not been given this opportunity. So, the levels of experience tribes have in independently managing their affairs varies greatly due to extreme economic and social injustices placed upon these tribes by the U.S.
There are, however, both positives and negatives to the issue of tribal sovereignty:
- Positives: To allow tribes to live and exist as truly sovereign nations is to give them back dominion they had before the arrival of Europeans. It allows them to manage and control their own destinies and to operate without incursions into their legal and business affairs by the States.
- Negatives: After centuries of conflict and relocation and removal and assimilation, many Native American tribes no longer have rights to the natural resources in their original homelands. Just how does a tribal nation that has become dependent on federal assistance now become self-sufficient and self-determining in the truest sense of the word? Not just internally for select tribal affairs, but in all aspects of tribal management.
1st woman Chief, Eastern Band of Cherokee, http://bit.ly/JoyceDuggan
Given these realities, how do we move forward, define and enact sovereignty for all Native American tribes? That is a very complex and open-ended question. Perhaps we need to start by agreeing on what “sovereignty” means. Then move forward from that definition to define what it means for the tribes and for the U.S. Yet, even the definition of “sovereignty” is a complex quandary. As a former chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee stated:
“Many people still have a hard time today understanding sovereignty. What does this sovereignty of Indian nations mean? I have a hard time with it too because we’re not sovereign in this nation. If we were sovereign in this nation we would not have to depend on federal government dollars. We would not have to go to the state for gaming approvals. We would be able to live independently in our own nation, which is what we were doing in 1838 at the time of the removal.”
Thus, we need to educate tribal members as well as non-Natives about what sovereignty truly means. An ongoing discussion of tribal sovereignty can perhaps define, through new legal precedents, the way that the federal government and the states can interact with tribes… can perhaps project a clearer understanding of why sovereignty is important, and how it does not encroach on the rights of other Americans but rather complements the very ideal on which the U.S. was founded – independence.
In my recent blog post on Black Elk, a holy man and healer of the Oglala Sioux, I mentioned how the early reservations were before the Indian Reorganization Act… no food, inferior shelter, meager provisions and uncaring superintendents. In today’s topic, I explain the changes brought about by the Indian Reorganization Act and how they furthered tribal lands and economies and labor.
A policy set in motion by John Collier, then newly appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 28, 1934, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (the Reorganization) addressed the failures caused by the Dawes Severalty Act.
The Dawes Act of 1887 (Dawes) was a misguided attempt to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream white culture in the United States. It broke up the reservations, allotted lands to individual tribal members, and sent children to boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their Native languages. As you can imagine, Dawes had disastrous results for Native American populations everywhere and actually furthered the already desperate situation faced by many tribes at the time.
The Reorganization attempted to reverse these devastating effects and, at the same time, give Native Americans a chance at a “New Deal” that ran parallel to many other programs Roosevelt was creating for all Americans, programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration.
The Meriam Report that came out in 1928 outlined in great detail the extreme failure of Dawes… how since 1887 the Native-owned tribal land base had decreased from 137 million to only 47 million acres… how poverty and hunger issues had actually increased… how the loss of culture due to the boarding schools had accelerated too. John Collier and President Franklin Roosevelt both found this report to be a strong argument for immediate and much-needed reform in the area of Indian Affairs.
From 1934 until 1945 when John Collier left his position, the Bureau of Indian Affairs moved forward with many of these reforms and through the different sections of the Indian Reorganization Act promoted a more positive approach to the issues facing the tribes. To be succinct, the Reorganization:
- Ended the allotment of tribal lands and extended the trust period for existing allotments
- Recognized tribal governments and encouraged tribes to adopt constitutions
- Prohibited lands from being taken away from tribes without their consent (something Dawes DID NOT do)
- Gave the tribes the power to manage their assets, which consisted mainly of land at the time
John Collier truly cared that conditions were horrible for most Native Americans and he wanted something better for them. To this end, John Collier championed the Indian Reorganization Act as essential to the survival and existence of Native Americans as a people. He saw that no effort was being made to give Native Americans a chance to improve their own situation. And he believed that giving them the power to govern themselves locally and to manage their resources and assets would further the self-sufficiency that he felt Native Americans (and all people) needed to maintain economic, physical, and spiritual well-being. An example was the Collier-led creation called the ECW (Emergency Conservation Work), a Native American counterpart to the Civilian Conservation Corps. By the time it ended in 1943, the ECW trained and employed over 85,000 Native Americans to utilize land and resources and work on their tribal homelands.
There exist, I feel, both successes and shortcomings in the Indian Reorganization Act. It was a much-needed improvement in the approach the United States had with tribes before and after the Reorganization was established, but it was by no means perfect. Before, Dawes was awful and made life so much worse for Native Americans, but after the Reorganization, the U.S. regressed to its policy of termination and relocation. So, although not perfect in its scope or enactment, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 was a good beginning.
Posted in Humanitarian Tagged American Indian, Black Elk, boarding school, Dawes Act, Indian Affairs, Indian Reorganization Act, Meriam Report, National Relief Charities, Native American, Oglala Sioux, self-sufficiency
A certain excitement comes with the start of a new school year. Like many students as summer begins to wind down, I started feeling the all too familiar back-to-school blues. The uncertainty of taking on a new role as a teacher for my second year at St. Francis Indian School was getting to me… still is. But, after a week of staff in-service filled with engaging presentation from the likes of Dr. Craig Howe, I am looking forward to all the good that will come from when I greet my students for the first time today.
Not only is today the start of the 2014-2015 school year for many in Indian country but a year that is promising positive change for tribal schools. Last month, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) announced $2.5 million of funding for Sovereignty in Indian Education grants (SIE grants). The SIE grants are available to any federally recognized tribe and its respective tribal education department.
Ultimately, SIE grants will give greater agency to tribes on reservations with BIE-funded schools. This greater control for tribes goes beyond overseeing the day-to-day operations of BIE-funded schools and promises to impact tribal education curriculum for years to come.
In fact, if the SIE grants accomplish what they are set out to accomplish, the entire future of federally recognized tribes stands to change for the better. In the SIE press release, this quote from U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, sums up that feeling:
“We believe strongly that American Indian children deserve an academically rigorous, culturally appropriate education. Beyond providing the skills to succeed economically, honoring tribal cultures and languages is vital to the longevity of tribal traditions, identity and self-confidence.”
As a result, the SIE grants could empower federally recognized tribes to not only begin or continue teaching their language, culture, and traditions in the classroom but to weave indigenous knowledge into other subjects through culturally responsive education. Both the individual student and the collective stand to benefit.
Today, Native Americans walk in two worlds. They must balance who they are as Native Americans with the influence and impact of the dominant culture in the United States. Through the SIE grants and culturally responsive education, Native Americans can take charge of their education and future as independent nations. The issue of education in Indian country is an issue of sovereignty, after all. If Native Americans lose their indigenous knowledge and rights, they will no longer exist as Native Americans. They will simply become “Americans.”
In an effort to spread a better understanding of Native Americans and why a name change is appropriate for the Washington Redskins, the Change the Mascot campaign in association with the National Congress of American Indians broadcasted the powerful “Proud to Be” video to televisions across the country during the recent NBA Finals.
With the Washington Redskins’ kick-off of their first pre-season game just days away, things may appear to be business as usual. Yet, Dan Snyder, the team’s owner, has received continued political pressure to change the team’s mascot and change the name.
In June 2014, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office found the name Redskins disparaging of Native Americans and cancelled the team’s trademark. The ruling stems from a 2006 case brought against the NFL by five Native American representatives of four different tribes.
In spite of the federal decision to cancel the Redskins trademark, a genuine name change will only come about by a unified effort from all people. An ESPN SportsNation poll found that among 206,534 voters only 36% favored a name change for the Washington team.
Change the Mascot is asking all people to be a part of this movement for change. It doesn’t matter whether or not you are Native American. Racism affects us all. Check out “What are you #ProudToBe” and the Twitter stream #NotYourMascot to see current opinions and to get involved.
Through the appeal of the trademark cancellation and the recently launched public relations site, Redskins Facts, it is clear Dan Snyder is as reluctant as ever to change the name. Conversely, it is unclear what the trademark ruling will ultimately mean for the Washington team. ESPN reports the following:
Yet, there is hope. Outside of the political arena, we as a nation are far from agreed on a name change and this controversy is far from over for the Washington Redskins. Considering all of this, the 2014-2015 football season should be an interesting one.
“Life is a good adventure…” Mr. Ortiz
In an unspecified place and time a young woman frantically runs. Her internal monologue, the first line in the “Tiger Eyes” film of 2012 speaks out, “I wonder what it’s like to be dead…”
Cut to morning on the beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Somewhere in town the young woman and her mother, donned in black, hurriedly finishing dressing. For the young woman, Davey Wexler (Willa Holland), this is the day of her father’s funeral as well as an uncertain new beginning.
Shortly after the funeral, Davey and her family relocate to Los Alamos, New Mexico to stay with her aunt and uncle. Despite the answers waiting for Davey in the mountain landscapes, the aunt and uncle challenge the loving freedom she knew when her father was alive. Still, they can’t stop a wounded heart in need of healing.
On a bike ride one afternoon, Davey wonders out to the edge of the wilderness. After a short fall down a rocky cliff face, in a mixture of physical and emotional pain, Davey desperately cries out for her father. A local climber, Martin “Wolf” Ortiz (Tatanka Means),wanders out of the wilderness to Davey’s aid.
Wolf and his father, the terminally ill Mr. Ortiz (Russell Means), are Native American descendants of the ancient cave dwellers that once flourished in the region. Until his illness, the father and son would climb the ancient cliff faces discovering their connection to the past, each other and the earth.
Book cover pub. at http://bit.ly/JudyBlume-TigerEyes
As Davey builds relationships with Mr. Ortiz and Wolf, she develops her own relationship and connection to all things. Through them, she begins to understand that time isn’t linear… that past, present and future all touch one another… and that Wolf appearing when she is missing her father the most is no coincidence. As the medicine man in this film expresses, no one person is alone. Although our lives on this earth are impermanent, we live on through our connection to the universe. Our ancestors make themselves known through other people and the world around us.
Perhaps the greatest strength in life comes not from the holding on, but the letting go. Despite the unstoppable force of loss in our lives, through our pain we desperately hold on to what we once knew. For Davey Wexler in the film adaptation of the 1981 novel “Tiger Eyes” by Judy Blume, learning to let go after loss is the greatest lesson – and we see through Davey, Wolf, and Mr. Ortiz that letting go doesn’t mean losing our connection to anyone.
*** Note to readers: I hope you enjoyed my series on films made by Native Americans about Native Americans and using Native actors. This is my last entry in the series. But, if there is another film you’d like me to write about, please post a comment to let me know.
A blog about Native American culture, American Indian tribes, and humanitarian concerns for the most underserved people in the U.S.