Uranium Mining Causes Health Problems for Natives

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Fallout from the toxic uranium spill near near the Pine Ridge Reservation continues to adversely affect the Native American population living nearby.

The spill was caused in February by a tractor-trailer delivering hydrochloric acid to the Crow Butte uranium mining site. The vehicle went off the road and spilt the acid. As hydrochloric acid can turn into a hazardous acidic mist when spilled or mixed with water, the spill presented a major threat to the health of nearby residents. The mine was evacuated, roads were closed, and residents were warned to follow all safety directions given by the Dawes County Sheriff’s Office.

Nancy Kile, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and a native of Crawford, NE told the Native Sun News that allowing uranium mine expansion would only cause more accidents such as the Crow Butte spill.

“This industry has groomed my hometown, encompassed it,” Kile told the Native-run publication. “When you continue to support in-situ leach mining without being fully aware of what it’s doing to the soils and to the water, then it just seems like a slow suicide to me.”

Unfortunately, since many mining sites are on Native American territories, many Natives are suffering health problems. As stated in the introduction to the Lakota People’s Law Project’s Strategic Objectives, “Drinking water [from South Dakota Indian reservations] is contaminated with uranium from government mines.”  This is of course major a factor in the health issues the people of South Dakota suffer.  TIME Magazine recently reported a list of the “deadliest counties” in the United States. Five of the top contenders are located in South Dakota, including Oglala Lakota County of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Other top scorers include McDowell, West Virginia and Sioux, North Dakota. Most of the list’s least healthy counties are located around Appalachia and the Great Plains.

Because uranium mining has caused so many health and contamination issues, many Native Americans are fighting back against the mining corporations. The Oglala Sioux Tribe is now protesting the application of Cameco, the largest uranium producer in America, for mine expansion at Crow Butte.  A Benefit Concert for the Black Hills to celebrate World Water Day was also held on March 22 in Rapid City to discuss the process of in-situ leach mining and the dangers of contamination.

“It is critical that everyone who is against this mine gets involved in the decision-making process,” stated Dr. Lilias Jarding, an associate professor at Oglala Lakota College and founder of the Rapid City-based Clean Water Alliance. “Your voice matters… The water cannot speak for itself—we must speak for the water.”

Chase Iron Eyes: Traditional media fails Native Americans

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Lakota People’s Law Project Attorney Chase Iron Eyes is garnering national attention for his relentless and undaunted activism as he continues to emerge as one of the most powerful voices in the Indian community.

Further cementing his status, Vice News, the alternative news source that is rising rapidly in both popularity and widespread esteem, recently took time to interview Chase Iron Eyes, specifically relating to his role as publisher of the Last Real Indians.

The article not only details Chase’s involvement in creating a Native-run publication, but also details a major problem facing Native Americans — that corporate-run media organizations devote little to zero time to investigating and exploring issues relating to Indigenous people in the United States.

While hate crimes, such as the 57 Indian honor role students of middle school age having beer poured on them as they were barraged with hateful racial epithets, get little play in newspapers, television news casts or magazines, those same outlets are willing to publish crime stories or one-off superficial accounts of social problems on reservations because those stories are easier to produce and appeal to a low common denominator.

The need for Indian media has become more apparent as the Oglala Sioux tribe recently voted to ban the Rapid City Journal due to what it perceived as a racially insensitive story.

The controversial RCJ story, which you can read about here, made the case that perhaps the students, between the ages of 9 and 12, were responsible for having beer poured on them because they neglected to stand for the national anthem, even though witnesses present at the game said they did indeed stand. Even if they hadn’t, it’s hardly grounds for an adult to verbally and physically attack children who were being rewarded for their academic achievement at school.

The fact that hate crimes such as this either receive no attention or are downplayed by traditional media sources underscores the need for Indian people to produce their own media outlets that advocates their unique and important perspective.

“Native people are not part of the normal discourse,” Chase Iron Eyes said in his interview with Vice. “You don’t learn about Indians in American school unless it’s Thanksgiving or Native Heritage month or there’s some movie that Disney puts out that has some other misinformed representation of Native people. Whether or not there’s a deliberate attempt to dehumanize us doesn’t matter anymore. The fact is, by and large, the media, the legal institutions, the economic and political institutions; they all dehumanize and oppress indigenous people just by their own force and existence. There is no criminal intent, but the impact is criminal. There is dehumanization when you have all this misinformation. They’re teaching us in school that we ourselves are primitive.”

The points being made here are so manifold and penetrating that it would take more time than we have here to parse them. But rest assure we will. Of particular import, is Chase Iron Eyes asserting that the injustice toward Indian people is systemic rather than the result of an individual villain or consortium of evil people. It can be challenging for most people to see that a whole system and the way it is structured can be the cause for injustice, even if the people who are manning the controls aren’t themselves unjust.

But until we learn to analyze issues with more breadth and depth, we will fail to understand that focusing our outrage, however justifiable, on a single politician, businessperson or political party puts us a long way out from the road to truth. We must analyze systems and the way they subvert the humanity of segments of the population and work to achieve solutions that address the inefficiencies and problems that any system will create.

To read the full interview with Chase Iron Eyes click here. Please read it.

To visit Last Real Indians, Native media for Natives and by Natives check it out here.

Thanks for your support and please help us keep up the good fight with donations, thoughts, prayers or even social media participation. Whatever you can give, we are happy to receive.

Oglala Sioux ban the Rapid City Journal

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The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council has banned all sales of the Rapid City Journal on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation until the newspaper formally apologizes for an offensive headline published in late January.

The Journal was proactive in reporting breaking details surrounding a disturbing instance of racism against Native children at a January hockey game in Rapid City. However, when question regarding the school group’s participation in the customary National Anthem arose, the publication’s reporting tactics took a dubious turn.

The lead story on January 31 was entitled “Did Native students stand for National Anthem?”

The implication that something as trivial as standing for the Star-Spangled Banner could directly lead to flagrant bigotry against children was not well received by readers.

While the Journal had the means to hone in on actions of adults in the wrong, they chose to examine innocent children’s behavior, reaching to uncover some form of provocation. It smelt of victim-blaming at its most sinister.

Tribal spokesman Kevin Steele told KCSR-AM that the ban will remain in effect for as long as necessary.

Bart Pfankuch of the Rapid City Journal says the newspaper respects the tribe’s rights but awaits prompt reversal of this action.

This is an impactful decision on the part of the Oglala tribe. They will not stand complacent while a widely trusted news source fails to take their point of view seriously.

The Lakota People’s Law Project anticipates a day when relations between Natives and the media function smoothly. It is due time for publications such as the Rapid City Journal to put their efforts into the accurate representation of the triumphs and struggles of indigenous peoples. We applaud this tribal decision as an honorable demand for respect.

Alleged perpetrator behind hockey game assault pleads not guilty

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Josh Morgan, Rapid City Journal

Trace O’Connell, the alleged perpetrator of racially charged harassment at the Rush hockey game on January 24, pleaded not guilty to charges of disorderly conduct on March 18.

Around 30 protesters gathered outside of the Pennington County Courthouse while O’Connell’s attorney, Patrick Duffy, entered the 41-year-old’s plea. O’Connell was not present.

Duffy claims his client did not throw beer at children from American Horse School or verbalize racist comments towards them, despite an overwhelming amount of evidence that points otherwise: “This is actually one hell of a story; it just didn’t happen.” Since news broke of the story, he says, O’Connell has received a number of death threats.

O’Connell’s case is not expected to be presented before a judge until June.

Finding jurors for the trial will be a struggle, considering the popularity of the story and widespread community involvement in the push for justice.

“We would probably have to empanel all of Rapid City to find someone who hasn’t heard about the case,” said Fourth Circuit Magistrate Judge Eric Strawn, who has scheduled a motion hearing for May 28.

Rapid City Attorney Joel Landeen says he has no plans to take the possibility of jail time “off the table,” despite Duffy’s insistence.

The Lakota People’s Law Project remains appalled by the hateful behavior exhibited toward innocent children at what should have been a fun event. However, the incident does shed light on the prevalence of racist attitudes in South Dakota toward Indian people.

If Trace O’Connell is found guilty, his  behavior calls for much more than a paltry disorderly conduct charge. The perpetrator of this terrible incident should be charged with a hate crime. To act racist toward any group is repulsive, but to do so against children is particularly disgraceful.

We remain hopeful the affected American Horse School children won’t have to wait much longer to see O’Connell charged.

It’s official: South Dakota is the worst

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A battle is brewing between two groups, the Indian tribes and supportive organizations such as the Lakota People’s Law Project, and the state officials and Non Government Organizations that profit enormously off of the foster care/adoption industry on the other.

But while that battle will continue to play out, at least some common ground has emerged — South Dakota is systemically corrupt, flagrantly and continuously violating federal law by separating Indian children from their homes and then placing them in non-Native (and profitable) foster care. It seems more and more people and organizations are coming to such a conclusion.

Oftentimes they are then adopted out to non-Native families. According to years of research, Indian people, particularly those in South Dakota do not benefit from this system, as their families are ravaged and their cultural values, language, history and spirit are gradually eroded in a slow burn style genocide.

So why does this happen, you ask? Enormous dollar signs are at stake, that’s why.

One part of this complicated story can be traced back to George W. Bush and TMAP, or the Texas Medical Algorithm Project. Essentially, TMAP was a flow chart that asked children in foster care questions and then based on the answers recommended cutting edge, expensive psychotropic medications. These medications are not approved for use in children, research has shown they alter brain chemistry and in some instances have been found to cause suicidal tendencies in young people.

A significant amount of money is involved, and members of the pharmaceutical industry lobbied government officials to allow them to continue making millions on the backs of the nation’s most vulnerable population.

When Bush was elected to the presidency in 2000 he told his friend and colleague William Janklow, the governor of South Dakota, about TMAP and almost immediately it was integrated into similar government offices in South Dakota.

The state had already figured out how to prey economically on the Indian people, who lack political clout and are largely ignored by national media, who have yet to truly figure out how to report on Indian Country.

Basically, South Dakota receives more federal funds to house Indian children in foster care because all Indian children are classified by the federal government as special needs. Therefore, if the South Dakota Department of Social Services seizes an Indian child from the reservation and places them in the state foster care system, it means more federal dollars for the coffers of an otherwise poor state.

Also, the system benefits the privatized aspects of the foster care system, including the Children’s Home Society of South Dakota, a private group home that the current South Dakota Dennis Daugaard used to run as its executive director. That’s right. Let me repeat that. The current governor of South Dakota used to run a private foster care facility that made money off of cycling children through their institution. Also, he left his career in banking to take the position of Development Director, if that’s any indication of the scale of dollars we are talking about here.

So we have established that the pharmaceutical industry, the state of South Dakota and privatized elements of foster care in South Dakota all have a vested interest in entering children into the foster care system and Native children represent a perverse incentive for all of these ‘stakeholders’. Now let’s explore some other facts.

From the late 1990s until current Indian children account for more than 50 percent of South Dakota’s foster care population despite comprising only 13 percent of the youth population in the state. Every year, South Dakota takes, on average, about 740 children from their homes. This is of course in direct violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which states that government institutions must undertake active efforts to keep Indian children with their tribes, not necessarily with their families, or on the reservations, but with members of their tribe. This is key to understanding.

Fast forward to 2015, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs released sweeping new guidelines asserting rights and protections of Indian children and their families under ICWA. In an article for Indian Country Today, Suzette Brewer interviewed Kevin Washburn, the assistant secretary of Indian Affairs, and he essentially said the situation in South Dakota is one of the reasons the agency felt the need to release the guidelines.

The Lakota People’s Law Project released a statement saying that as an organization we are “heartened by the release of updated ICWA guidelines, given the fact that the state of South Dakota has been willfully and flagrantly violating this important federal law for at least the past 30 years.”

While a response such as this is to be expected from an organization that advocates for ICWA and for the sanctity of Indian families, what is more interesting is a statement released by the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. What is the AAAA you ask? Well essentially it is a large well-heeled special interest group representing the interests of adoption attorneys.

The fact that such an organization exists tells you about how the system is tilted toward the big pockets, which isn’t exactly a controversial statement. Specific to ICWA guidelines, the AAAA, rather unsurprisingly, issued a press release condemning the enhanced guidelines for all sorts of reasons you can explore here, if you are interested.

Of particular interest is the following statement, issued by Mark Demaray, an adoption attorney practicing in Washington:

“We recognize that in cases like those taking place in South Dakota, stronger guidelines need to be established to address the systemic problems negatively impacting Native Americans.”

So even organizations who oppose enhanced enforcement of ICWA for pecuniary reasons still agree that South Dakota has established ‘systemic problems negatively impacting Native Americans.’

Battles will continue to be waged over ICWA, regarding how it works, whether it works, etc. But in the meantime, there is an emerging consensus that South Dakota is the poster child for willfully violating the federal law and damaging the family networks of Indians living in their state.

So it’s official: South Dakota is the worst.

Read more athttp://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/02/26/bia-releases-new-icwa-guidelines-protect-native-families-and-children-159392

Protecting Russell Means’ legacy

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South Dakota State Representative Elizabeth May is currently pushing a bill to establish a “Right of Publicity” in South Dakota’s legislative body. The legislation was inspired by Pearl Means’ efforts to establish a museum honoring her late husband, American Indian Movement leader Russell Means.

It seeks to prohibit unauthorized commercial use of a personality’s right of publicity and allow for the collection of damages if said persona were to be unlawfully profited off of.

Factors such as a figure’s name, voice, and appearance would be barred from commercial use without direct permission from the personality.

Russell Means was a key player in the fight for Native rights in the late 20th century. His work on the front lines of the American Indian Movement made lasting impressions on Native activism. Later in life, he appeared in films such as “Last of the Mohicans” and “Natural Born Killers.” Means died in 2012 at age 72.

Lakota People’s Law Project has met with Russell Means on several occasions and his wife, Pearl, is currently on our board. As such, we are committed to any bill that protects his impressive legacy.

“It is not only going to protect Mr. Means’ legacy, but it’s also going to protect his family,” May says in regards to the proposed museum, “This is a perfect way to send a message that the legacy of Russell Means, whether you agreed or disagreed with him politically, he was a huge influence for the Native American people.”

In last week’s Senate meeting, representatives from the Motion Picture Association came forward in support of the proposition. Opponents included members of national sports associations.

New York City lawyer Kevin Goering says the effects of this bill could have lasting, negative effects on publicity norms far outside of South Dakota, “It’s important because these statutes, one by one, add to the nationwide pattern of the right of publicity and how it is enacted state by state.”

We remain hopeful that a compromise can be found to honor public personalities with integrity while staying while recongizing the complexity of modern media.  The Lakota People’s Law Project supports Pearl Means’ museum plans and wishes a clear path to fruition for her and her family.

LNI considering move due to racial tensions in Rapid City

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Leaders of the Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI) are discussing a possible move out of Rapid City, South Dakota. Talk stems from the racism displayed against Native children at a recent hockey game within the city’s Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

The Lakota Nation Invitational is an annual four-day basketball tournament put on by Natives for Natives. Aside from basketball, competitions are held for volleyball, wrestling, archery, academics, and games unique to Lakota culture. Powwows and arts showcases further the event’s impact.

LNI generally brings in around $6 million to the local economy. In 2014, over three thousand students participated.

Those in favor of the move say attracting people and profits to the city is ill advised while racism against Natives clearly exists in the local sports scene–especially considering the measly charge of “disorderly conduct” enacted against a single perpetrator of January’s incident. Many are dissatisfied with the city’s handling of the hate crime and concerned for the safety of young LNI participants.

“I don’t want to totally abandon our relatives living in Rapid City but with the recent incidents in the city we are going to start looking at other options,” stated tournament director and former Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer, who has reached out to officials in other South Dakota locales such as Sioux Falls.

Brewer says racial disparities in Rapid City reach far beyond isolated incidents. Problems such as mistreatment from law enforcement and a lack of outreach to Natives on the part of local government contribute to the push for a new home base.

Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker remains strongly opposed to moving the event, “Blaming the entire community for this situation misses the point that there are many people here in this community that support reconciliation and have a heart for addressing racial issues.”

Note: the prospect of moving is not exactly an act of “blame”, rather, a reaction to a very real threat against the people this event strives to honor.

LNI’s 38 year home in Rapid City does have positive aspects. Many reservations exist just outside of the city, making for affordable travels to and from the event. Accessibility is key in a celebration that values inclusion. Additionally, the event livens up the local area and brings about awareness by highlighting cultural heritage on a large scale.

Whether or not the Lakota Nation Invitational moves, racism towards Native Americans within South Dakota and the rest of the country must be seriously addressed. Violence and disrespect threaten Natives just outside of their front doors. It is disheartening to see yet another Lakota spectacle hindered by ignorance and due time to eliminate the need for these kinds of decisions to be faced in the first place.

Is this a necessary step to pushing local attention towards Rapid City’s racial issues and protecting the spirit of the gathering? Let us know what you think–should the Lakota Nation Invitational stay in Rapid City, or move forward in search of a new host city?