Montana Senator Jon Tester Committed to Tribal Advocacy

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Montana Senator Jon Tester is making waves as head of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. After touring Native communities around the country, he strives to lend a hand to tribal education systems, health care, and local ecology.

Tester plans to introduce legislation regarding tribal schools, which are of his utmost concern, in November. A former educator himself, the senator has taken great care to meticulously assess tribal needs and specific budget issues. His bill is said to streamline the application process for grants/funding, provide resources for native language immersion, and bring qualified teachers into Native school districts.

With Indian Country teacher turnover rates reaching peaks as high as 70%, there is a dire need for dependable faculty. Tester believes that honing in on the basic infrastructure of Native communities, such as housing and food supplies, prospective school staff will have a smoother experience settling in to the communities they work in.

David Bean, tribal council member of Washington’s Puyallup Tribe, was pleased with Tester’s visit. “We tell Congress year after year that the funding for our schools is inadequate and they never listen,” he explains, “so it speaks volumes about [Tester’s] commitment to education. We appreciate his efforts to take the time to visit and see first-hand our schools and all of the wonderful things that we’re doing, but also the unmet needs that we have.”

By tackling areas issues such as under-funding and overcrowding head on, Tester and his team aspire to push forth with widespread, long-lasting change.

In the case of healthcare, Senator Tester claims,  “Although we did not see any facilities that were an embarrassment, what we did notice is that many were in dire need of more doctors and nurses.”

Problems such as certain states’ resistance to expanding the Medicaid program make it difficult for hospitals serving Native communities to receive adequate funding. For now, they rely on federal money, which does not accommodate the realty of expanding client lists.

Addressing these healthcare budget concerns remains a priority for Tester.

The senator also made time to examine environmental problems that negatively impact the tribes he visited.

Environmental activist and writer, Winona LaDuke of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, faces a startling depletion of the rice crops she depends on, “Wild rice is the essence of who we are. It is our food for all our ceremonies and for our families. But wild rice does not survive sulfuric acid after 40 years of studies. Nothing has changed that.”

Many Natives face the same challenges as LaDuke–declining water quality, hunting/fishing prospects and harvests remain vital components of tribal culture and economy. Tester believes that bringing together tribes, local communities, and federal support systems to address these issues will lead to eventual solutions.

The Montana senator claims to have been incredibly moved by his experiences in Indian Country, “There was not one stop where we didn’t learn something, not one stop that was a waste of time. I get around to the tribes in Montana, but this was an opportunity to get among the northern tier states and shape an agenda for the next Congress and for the lame duck session. There is a lot to be done.”

Tester’s involvement in current tribal issues is encouraging. Lakota People’s Law Project is inspired by his incentive to bring justice to Native communities. Hopefully, the road to reform will be a smooth, rewarding process.

How do you feel about Senator Jon Tester’s recent actions? Are there any other major issues you think he should be addressing as an advocate for Native rights?

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The use of Natives as mascots must stop

Colorado state representative Joe Salazar is set to propose a bill challenging 48 state high schools’ usage of Native American nicknames and imagery in their sports mascots at the beginning of the state’s next legislative session. The bill would force teams to seek permission from Native groups before carrying on with their branding. Failure to comply with this measure would result in cuts from state funding.

The Lakota People’s Law Project supports such a measure, as we deplore the use of Native Americans as sports mascots. Such use demeans the proud traditions of Natives and reduces their rich and complex cultural heritages to shallow stereotypes.

 

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LPLP remain hopeful for the success of Salazar’s impending bill and other movements afoot that attempt to restrict and overturn the use of Natives as team mascots.

“This is important to the collective consciousness of the American psyche as informed by pop media,” said Chase Iron Eyes, member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and an attorney for Lakota People’s Law Project. “Pop media is a powerful tool to communicate the type of messages we want to communicate and present ourselves in a dignified way. Indians as mascots definitely does not accomplish that.”

 

The spate of recent criticism towards the Washington Redskins football team means discussion regarding Native branding on national sports fields is widespread.

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Publications such as the Washington Post have stopped referencing the NFL team’s nickname altogether. ESPN personality Keith Olbermann takes to the same avoidance in his coverage.

Cartoon “South Park” recently aired an episode titled “Go Fund Yourself” which makes fun of the organization’s failure to modify their offensive branding.

In an interview with GQ, longtime Redskins fan Matthew Mcconaughey established his stance and the popular, if misguided rationale, for the use of Indians as Mascots.

“We were all fine with it since the 1930s, and all of a sudden we go, ‘No, gotta change it’? It seems like when the first levee breaks, everybody gets on board.” When asked directly about how he’d feel if a change was made, the actor responded, “Now that it’s in the court of public opinion, it’s going to change. I wish it wouldn’t, but it will.”

While we decry Mcconaughey’s casual stance in favoring the status quo over progress, we certainly hope his prediction pans out.

This past Monday, a group of protesters congregated outside of Texas’s Cowboys stadium to rally as the Dallas team played against the Redskins.

This issue will not go away until all of the sports teams do the right thing and stop dishonoring the proud traditions of indigenous people in the United States of America.

Current dialogue regarding politically incorrect sports branding is making its way from the big leagues to high school fields and even through the realm of popular media. This awareness is long overdue and an incredibly positive step in the right direction when it comes to general representation of Natives in popular culture.

We are interested to know what your views are on this recent attention. Where else have you encountered popular coverage of the Redskins controversy? How do you feel about the idea of a logo gaining immunity with old age?

Native Tribes lead the environmental effort to oppose pipelines

On October 15, Washington state tribal leaders testified before Canada’s Nation Energy Board in opposition to the impending expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

Kinder Morgan Canada has proposed a $5.6 billion development of the pipeline which streamlines oil supply between Alberta’s tar sands and Vancouver, British Columbia. This expansion would increase the flow of oil from 300,000 barrels per day to 900,000. Some estimates assert the number of oil tankers running through Washington waters could increase by seven times the current amount to accommodate this change.

Washington Native tribes, along with neighboring Canadian tribes such as the Coast Salish, fear this advancement could have vastly negative impacts on their culture, as well as the environment at large.

Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Kitsap Peninsula’s Suquamish Tribe, states, “We’re concerned about the catastrophic impact that an oil spill can have on the ecosystem.”

According to Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians, “We are salmon people and it is very, very important to us. It’s central to our culture.”

The likelihood of devastating oil spills would certainly increase along with tanker activity. Tribes of the Pacific Northwest who depend on fishing as a means of economic livelihood and cultural unification cannot afford oil run-over.

Lead of aboriginal engagement for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project Gary Youngman says, “We will continue to be committed to minimizing impact and protecting the marine environment.” He claims the company strongly values tribal communication and strives to move forward respectfully.

Testifying tribes are represented by Earthjustice lawyer Jan Hasselman. A final report of their testimony is expected to be released in January 2016 along with a formal recommendation to the Canadian government regarding which action to take.

The Trans Mountain Pipeline debate is far from its conclusion. Pacific Northwest tribes are adamant about reaching environmental justice and are taking the steps necessary to reach it.

These efforts mirror those of the Lakota people, who stand firmly against TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Just weeks ago, Nebraska’s “Harvest the Hope” concert brought in performers such as Willie Nelson and Neil Young to raise money and awareness for Native activists working against oil activity.

Natives are at the front line of environmentalists speaking out against threats in North America. We are inspired by the actions being taken by tribes across the country to preserve natural resources and the cultural significance that exists within it.

What are your thoughts on this pipeline expansion? Do you think there is any way to satisfy both parties?

Oglala Tribe mulling creation of Tribal National Park

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Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer published an update on efforts to establish a Tribal National Park within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the southwestern portion of South Dakota.

The roughly 133,000 acres of tribal land is currently being managed by the National Park Service, but there is a movement afoot to create the Badlands South Unit, essentially an extension of the current Badlands National Park, with the caveat being that this park will be jointly managed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the park service.

Oglala President Bryan Brewer recently penned an op-ed in Indian Country Today Media Network in support of federal legislation that would establish the cooperative management structure called the Tribal National Park Commission.

“The purposes of the (legislation) are to preserve, protect and interpret the cultural, historic, prehistoric, scientific and scenic values of the area, including the history, culture and heritage of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Lakota people,” Brewer said.

If passed the bill would authorize a memorial to honor Lakota World War II veterans, including the Codetalkers, and honor the Oglala families that were displaced from their homes in 1942.

In 1942, the United State War Department announced it was seizing the Northwest corner of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for an Aerial Gunnery Range and told the approximately 900 Native families to move out.

The dented landscape still shows vestiges of the practice bombing runs carried out by the U.S. Air Force during the war.

In the 1960s, the United States offered Lakota families the opportunity to purchase back some of the land, which many did. The government also authorized the ability to graze livestock on the land.

Since 1976, there has been an understanding that a cultural heritage center honoring the Lakota people would be constructed and the national park would be jointly managed, but a full-fledged agreement is still yet to be hammered out.

According to the Rapid City Journal, the Oglala Tribal Council agreed to issue a referendum, asking tribal members to vote on whether they would like to see the creation of the Tribal National Park.

Oglala President Bryan Brewer has maintained the park is an opportunity to both honor the long and illustrious culture of the Lakota Nation, restore Buffalo to its traditional pastureland and promote economic development in an area that continues to wrangle with a lack of economic opportunity.

“The Tribal National Park offers our Tribe the chance to honor our Lakota culture and heritage,” he said. “We have a chance to restore the buffalo and native species, promote economic development and create jobs through respectful tourism that honors the heritage of our Oglala Lakota Nation.”

Obama Announces 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference

On October 20, President Barack Obama announced the 2014 Tribal Nations Conference via an official press release.

This December 3rd event will mark the sixth White House Tribal Nations Conference held under the Obama Administration. Selected representatives from each of the 566 federally recognized Native American tribes will meet at Washington D.C.’s Capital Hilton hotel to discuss relevant issues with President Obama and members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs.

According to the announcement, Obama strives to “strengthen the government-to-government relationship with Indian country and to improve the lives of Native Americans.”

In June, the President paid a visit to North Dakota’s Standing Rock Indian Reservation during the annual Cannon Ball Flag Day Celebration. Obama’s appearance stands as the first presidential visit to a reservation since Clinton’s in 1999 and the third presidential visit to a reservation in all of our nation’s history.

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The focus of this visit, prospective educational and economic development, has been carried into current White House affairs. A tentative improvement plan pertaining to the Bureau of Indian Education’s control over 183 schools on Indian reservations is currently in place. If this plan goes through, tribes are said to gain greater sovereignty over the facilities on their land.

We are excited to see what progress is made at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference and will report more after it takes place. Tell us what you think of Obama’s efforts toward improved tribal relations. Has the President done enough? Too much?

Playing on cultural harmonies: South Dakota strives to foster understanding through music

The Argus Leader’s story about the Lakota Music Project on October 18 provides welcome good news from Indian County.

The newspaper’s coverage of South Dakota Symphony’s program to work with Lakota musicians offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the work of an inspiring organization striking down cultural boundaries through art. Descriptions of collaboration between classical musicians and Native instrumentalists in this South Dakota symphony offer hope that cultural coexistence is possible and differences can be overcome.

The Lakota Music Project is fueled by a harmonious sense of working in concert. While Lakota flute player Bryan Akipa (member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe) draws from sounds of nature and the feelings around him, the classically trained orchestra play off strict counts. Here, these differing processes are revered rather than repressed.

Lakota Music Project compositions are perfected through careful listening rather than working towards a goal of uniformity. As Akipa listens to oboist Jeff Paul’s original piece “Pentatonic Fantasy for Dakota Cedar Flute and Orchestra”, he formulates flute melodies to complement Paul’s music.

Pieces such as “Pentatonic Fantasy for Dakota Cedar Flute and Orchestra” are continuously rewritten and adapted to make room for Akipa’s style. This is a process of cooperation and mutual respect. The goal is to create a blend of unique sounds rather than diminishing distinctive styles to a muted common ground.

This fusion of sounds, influences, and cultures is a means of celebrating and embracing differences.

Director of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra Delta David Gier’s efforts to deeply enrich the community rather than merely entertain has proved successful. Mutual inspiration between classical and Native musicians streamlines into vibrant, engaging performances.

Although the Lakota People’s Law Project remains focused upon issues of legal justice, we are moved by positive cultural happenings such as the work of the Lakota Music Project.

Below is a video of the orchestra performing at Sinte Gleska University in 2009. Read Argus Leader’s full story here.

No More War Bonnets at Glastonbury Music Festival

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In response to a Change.org petition that garnered a mere 65 signatures, England’s Glastonbury Music Festival has banned the distribution of Native American headdresses at their upcoming 2015 event.

The voice behind the petition, Daniel W. Round of Stourbridge, United Kingdom, stated, “There has long been consensus among indigenous civil rights activists in North America about the wearing of headdresses by non-Natives – that it is an offensive and disrespectful form of cultural appropriation, that it homogenizes diverse indigenous peoples, and that it perpetuates damaging, archaic and racist stereotypes.”

The appearance of war bonnets has become commonplace in popular media. From music videos to viral Instagram photos, non-Native celebrities have driven a piece of incredible cultural significance into mainstream fashion.

Performers who appear at major music festivals such as Glastonbury are not exempt from this vast list of offenders.

Singer Pharrell Williams donned a war bonnet on Elle Magazine’s July 2014 cover. The blatant atrocity sparked a huge buzz on Twitter as “#NotHappy” trended. An official statement reading: “I respect and honour (sic) every kind of race, background and culture” was quickly released from the singer’s camp.

In August, he performed at Budweiser’s Made In America Music Festival.

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Pop singer Lana Del Rey, who wears a feathered headdress in her “Ride” music video, has headlined at music festivals such as Coachella, Austin City Limits, and Glastonbury 2014.

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The complacency of these pop culture icons certainly plays into the widespread acceptance of war bonnets into non-Native wardrobes.

Native American blogger Chelsea Vowel addresses this harmful ignorance on her blog:

“Unless you are a native male from a Plains nation who has earned a headdress, or you have been given permission to wear one (sort of like being presented with an honorary degree), then you will have a very difficult time making a case for how wearing one is anything other than disrespectful…Even if you have ‘native friends’ or are part native yourself, individual choices to “not be offended” do not trump our collective rights as peoples to define our symbols.”

Glastonbury Music Festival’s move places Indian headdresses beside alcohol, cigarettes, and candle flares on the list of products restricted to trade without official authorization.

In a social climate where cultural appropriation has been normalized, this ban is a minor accomplishment. However, the festival’s statement has the potential to motivate other music events, publications, and faces of pop culture to rethink their ties to politically incorrect “fashion”.

Daniel Round’s accomplishment as an activist goes to show that individuals are capable of bringing about vital changes in the realm of media representation. We encourage everyone to speak out against the appropriation they may encounter in their own lives and support others in doing the same.

Tell us your thoughts on Glastonbury’s step in the right direction and feel free to offer any insights you may have pertaining to future solutions to popularized appropriation!

“One big difference between dressing up as a Native American as opposed to a pirate or astronaut or cowboy is that the latter are occupations, not societies. You don’t try out for a job as an Indian. It’s your culture; it’s your way of life.” -N. Bruce Duthu, Dartmouth College Native American Studies Dept. Chair