Issue 38, September 28, 2016

    A Letter from the Publisher


    Shekóli. Water is life. This wisdom, and scientific fact, has gained prominence lately as a saying and a sign in the fight to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from endangering the lifeblood of the Sioux nation, the Missouri River. Water is life not just for Natives, but for everyone and every living thing on the planet. When the elders and the grandmothers out near Standing Rock say they are protecting our water, they mean everyone’s water.

    There has never been more urgency in the need to protect our waters than now, as our lead article this week makes so devastatingly clear. One year ago, subcontractors for the Environmental Protection Agency failed in their attempts to shore up the bulwarks holding back a toxic soup of runoff that collected in the abandoned Gold King Mine. As Suzette Brewer writes in “Gold King, One Year On,” more than three million gallons of acidic sludge containing toxic heavy metals poured into the Animas River, a main tributary of the San Juan River that runs through Navajoland, and turned the rivers orange.

    Today, the Navajo are reeling. The thousands of ranches and farms around Shiprock have lost their means to safely irrigate their fields. The Navajo Nation has just filed a massive lawsuit against the EPA for damages. Meanwhile, danger continues to lurk in the hills above the rivers’ headwaters in the form of even more abandoned mines, and the Navajo wonder if their land and waters can ever be restored.

    President Obama will leave office in January having established a positive legacy in Indian country thanks in part to large-scale settlements of resource disputes and the return of large amounts of land to Native control. However, as his former Assistant Secretary of the Interior-Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn told us at an ICTMN editorial board meeting, the future struggle for Indian nations will be about water. As the original inhabitants of Turtle Island, Native nations have some of the oldest claims to water in the eyes of U.S. law. As supply decreases and demand rises, pressure will mount on our treaty partner to press for competing claims.

    We must hold fast to what is right. We must remember that access to clean water, and the care of same, is a human right that transcends mercantile agreements hammered out in a courtroom. Native nations must fight for those rights not just for us, but for everyone.

    NΛ ki wa,

    Ray Halbritter


    School Choice Helps Native Children

    Federally funded education is a dead end for Native youth, says Arizona State Sen. Carlyle W. Begay, but school choice offers a practical and productive alternative:

    The results have been in for some time and the conclusion is alarming: government-run schools have failed and continue to fail Native American kids from coast to coast.

    School choice is one way to put more education options on the table for Native families to use if they see their child failing. There are opportunities to have different kinds of schools—schools that resonate with our culture and heritage and are successful in teaching our children.

    Historically, our communities have had almost none of these K-12 education opportunities, and the majority of tribal communities do not even know what school choice is. We need to listen to our families and create pathways for Native children to learn on their terms, so they can grow into happy, well-adjusted, successful adults.

    One big factor is making sure they are getting the education that is right for them and instills pride and self-worth. There is an important difference between “exploiting” our Native students and providing a platform for them to have a voice. The alternative to creating a voice is staying silent, continuing to head down the same road our tribal communities have been going down for years, and getting the same results of low graduation numbers, hopelessness and high suicide rates.

    Our Native American families deserve to have empowerment and options in their children’s education because education creates opportunity. As our brave Navajo Chief Manuelito once wisely proclaimed long ago, “education is the ladder” up for our people.

    A Message To The President

    Harlan McKosato calls upon President Obama to remember his professed tribal friendship and speak directly about the Dakota Access pipeline revolt:

    Mr. President, along the campaign trail in ’08 you were adopted by a Crow family and given a Crow name (“One Who Helps People Throughout the Land”). During your first tribal consultation meeting you said that each day that you were in the White House, you would be thinking about your new “Native brothers and sisters.”

    What happened to that promise? The protest movement is growing and is not going to disappear anytime soon. Its main message that “Water is Life” is spreading across the country and abroad. It is time for you to make a statement—to show support for your adopted Native people, who are counting on your support to stop the pipeline from putting their water supply in jeopardy and desecrating more sacred grounds.

    We need to know where you stand, President Obama. The Native people are gearing up to stay in the camps for the harsh Dakota winter if need be. I know my Native brothers and sisters. They are very stubborn in standing for what they believe in. I also know that big corporations are very arrogant and stubborn about protecting their investments and their long-term bottom line profits. They will keep pushing. There is no doubt that they wanted to have this project finished by wintertime. It is not going to happen.

    Mr. President, you can keep your promise to your “Native brothers and sisters” and sign an executive order that will put this to rest until your actual presidency comes to an end in January.

    How Natives Made Hillary Possible

    When Hillary Clinton won the New York Democratic primary, she invoked the groundbreaking 1848 feminist gathering at Seneca Falls. Robert Aquinas McNally notes the Native context of that event:

    Along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott led the first-ever convention on women’s rights in July 1848 at Seneca Falls, a small town in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Many delegates brought with them the philosophies and politics of progressive Quakerism and abolitionism.

    Mott added something extra: recent experience with the gender-equal political life of the Senecas, part of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy and the Native Nation that gave Seneca Falls its name.

    Years earlier, the Philadelphia meeting of Quakers to which Mott belonged had befriended the Senecas. The Quakers helped them defeat the skulduggery of speculators out to steal their land and set up a school and model farm on the Cattaraugus reserve, in western New York. Mott visited the reserve regularly and saw Seneca women who were free from domestic violence and sexual assault, able to own property, enter contracts, and divorce at will. In the early summer of 1848, Mott spent a month among the matrilineal Senecas and watched closely as men and women together debated reorganization of their tribal government.

    Fresh off this practical lesson in gender-equal political power, Mott headed to Seneca Falls for the women’s rights convention. The Declaration of Rights and Sentiments that came from there would become the foundational document of American feminism. It reflected not only the aspirations of Quakers and abolitionists but also the lived reality of the powerful women of the Haudenosaunee.

    Mott’s example would, one day, help lift Hillary Clinton toward the most powerful political role on the planet. She and her Haudenosaunee mentors would be proud.

    ICT News

    sky-people-proof-2Federal Agencies Seek Tribal Input On Infrastructure Decision Making

    Following their joint call that construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) be halted, three federal departments have formally invited representatives from all 567 federally recognized tribes to participate in government-to-government consultations on infrastructure decision making.

    The invitation came via a September 23 letter sent by the Departments of Justice, Army and Interior to tribal offices, seeking input on two questions: 1) How can federal agencies better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions, to protect tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights within the existing statutory framework? 2) Should the federal agencies propose new legislation altering the statutory framework to promote these goals?

    The plan for the initial consultation sessions was announced on September 9. On that date, the agencies called for an immediate—though temporary—halt on DAPL construction, following the decision of federal judge James Boasberg to deny the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for an injunction against the construction.

    The consultation meetings are set to begin with a listening session on October 11, followed by formal tribal consultations scheduled in six regions of the country from October 25 through November 21. A deadline of November 30 has been set for written input.

    In their September 23 letter, the departments acknowledged the short notice given for the scheduling of the sessions. But they said this was due to the subject matter and the urgency of the issues. “We understand that tribal nations’ voices must be heard, in a timely and meaningful way,” the letter concluded, “with regard to Federal decisions that could affect their treaties, homelands, environment, cultural, properties and sacred [places].”

    Archambault Assails Dakota Access Project At U.N. Meeting In Geneva  

    Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II called on the United Nations last week to speak out against construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline through tribal treaty territory and urged U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz to inspect the situation.

    “Oil companies are causing the deliberate destruction of our sacred places and burials,” Archambault told the 33rd Session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 20. “Dakota Access wants to build an oil pipeline under the river that is the source of our nation’s drinking water. This pipeline threatens our communities, the river and the earth. Our nation is working to protect our waters and our sacred places for the benefit of our children not yet born.”

    In addition to his formal presentation, Archambault briefed Tauli-Corpuz and invited her to visit the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and the construction site. There, he said, she could speak to youth and elders “and witness for yourself the urgent situation and threats we are facing so that you are able to make informed recommendations to the United States about how to resolve this situation in a way that respects our rights as Indigenous Peoples.”

    Archambault had previously appealed to the United Nations in August, arguing that the construction was being undertaken in the absence of free, prior and informed consent—a cornerstone of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues weighed in soon afterward, chastising the U.S. for ignoring tribal nations.

    Congress Brings ‘The Ancient One’ One Step Closer To Repatriation


    “The Ancient One”—a celebrated set of skeletal remains nearly 9,000 years old—is one step closer to being repatriated to its nearest living indigenous relatives following approval of a Senate bill on September 15.

    The legislation now moves to the House. If approved, SB 2848 will require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to transfer the remains to the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. The transfer is conditional on the state repatriating the remains to the Ancient One’s genealogical relatives: the Colville, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Wanapum Tribes, and the Yakama Nation.

    The Ancient One, a.k.a. “Kennewick Man,” was discovered on July 28, 1996 at Columbia Park in Kennewick, Washington. A court allowed scientists to study the remains to determine the skeleton’s origin, and Native governments of the Columbia Plateau fought to have it returned for reburial.

    In 2013, genetics experts used new DNA techniques to determine that the Ancient One is most closely genetically connected to the Native people of the Plateau. The determination cleared the way for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to repatriate the remains through the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

    “We are now one step closer to repatriating the Ancient One,” said Umatilla Tribes spokesman Chuck Sams. “It will only be when the Ancient One has the honor of being laid to rest with our ancestors that we can truly rejoice.” Representatives of the Native Nations to whom he is related say he will be buried in an undisclosed location.


    ICT News


    Obama Quadruples Area Of Hawaiian Marine National Monument


    President Obama created the largest ecologically protected area on the planet last month, signing an executive order that quadrupled the size of a Marine National Monument containing sites with great significance to Native Hawaiians.

    The original area, established by President George W. Bush in 2006, already encompassed more territory than all of the National Park System. Now, comprising 582,578 square miles, it is almost as large as the Gulf of Mexico.

    Obama traveled to Hawaii, his home state, to make the announcement. “I look forward to knowing that 20 years from now, 40 years from now, 100 years from now, this is a place where people can still come to and see what a place like this looks like when it’s not overcrowded or destroyed by human populations,” he said.

    The site, Papahānaumokuākea, contains many miles of endangered coral reef and is habitat for over 7,000 animal species. It also has the highest density of sacred sites in the entire Hawaiian archipelago; archaeologists date human settlement to 1000 C.E. UNESCO has deemed it a World Heritage Site, meaning that it could be designated for natural or cultural significance or both.

    The site, UNESCO noted, is “an embodiment of the Hawaiian concept of kinship between people and the natural world, and as the place where it is believed that life originates and to where the spirits return after death. On two of the islands, Nihoa and Makumanamana, there are archaeological remains relating to pre-European settlement and use.”

    Sealaska Receives Indigenous Language Revitalization Grant

    Sealaska Heritage Institute has received a federal grant to revitalize the languages of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian in four Southeast Alaska communities. The $927,000 grant from the Administration for Native Americans will fund four mentor-apprentice teams of Lingít (Tlingit), Xaad Kíl (Haida), and Sm’algyax (Tsimshian) speakers and students in Metlakatla, Hydaburg, Sitka, and Juneau to study the languages over three years.

    The program is designated “Haa Shuká: Voices of Our Ancestors Through Our Elders, Current and Future Speakers.” It will build on the institute’s previous language revitalization efforts, including a Tlingit language mentor-apprentice program that recently ended, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

    “We learned a lot from our recent Tlingit language mentor-apprentice program that we will incorporate into this expanded effort,” Worl said. “The language program has to be community-based and we found it is important to have a regional language committee empaneled by people who are envisioning the future of language programs and who keep tabs on all language work region wide.”

    SHI will establish a Native Language Committee with committee members from partner communities to serve as liaisons. Each mentor will team with two apprentices, and those teams will immerse themselves in their respective languages over three years. Their studies will be supplemented by language orthography and transcription courses from the University of Alaska Southeast, which collaborates with SHI.

    “In recent years, we’ve had intermediate speakers transcribing language recordings in our archives, which includes more than 5,000 recordings, most of which cannot be found in other libraries or archives,” Worl said. “What we learned from that is how helpful it is to students to go through that process of transcribing—it accelerates their learning.”

    Actress Supports Pipeline Protests On ‘Late Night With Seth Meyers’


    The actress Shailene Woodley took a few minutes out from a recent appearance on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers to express support for Native American rights in general and the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline in particular. Woodley—who appeared alongside former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders—was on the show on September 15 to promote her new movie, Snowden.

    The 24-year-old actress also used the occasion to suggest that Hillary Clinton could win the votes of millennial youth by supporting Native American rights, specifically by appealing to opponents of the Dakota Access project. “Hillary has a platform that says she honors the sovereignty of Native American nations,” she said. “This is a brilliant opportunity for her to stand up and show millennials where her stance is on this particular issue.”

    Woodley, who spent a month and a half at the Standing Rock campsite, called her time there “one of the greatest experiences of my life.” Contrary to media accounts, she said, “There was not one ounce of violence.” And she lauded the tribal solidarity that she saw. “Before we colonized America, Native tribes were at war with each other many times,” she said. “This is the first time that you have this many tribes gathered in one place standing together united to stand up for not only their rights but human rights and the access to clean water.”

    Following audience applause, Woodley gave “I Stand with Standing Rock” t-shirts to Meyers and Sanders.

    Gold King, One Year On

    A mine spill devastated a Native way of life


    Bottom Line: It was one of the biggest environmental disasters in the nation’s history, and the Navajo are still reeling in the aftermath.

    More than three million gallons of toxic acid sludge and heavy metals fouled the Animas River in August 2015.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife Dept

    A year after the Gold King Mine spill that turned the San Juan River bright orange with millions of gallons of toxic chemicals, Navajo families continue to struggle against the ongoing, catastrophic effects on their water supply that threaten both their health and the economic stability of an already fragile community.

    Every day, tribal members along the San Juan are still confronting the environmental, agricultural, health and spiritual fallout from the disaster that has pushed some to the brink of despair and left many others teetering on poverty.

    In August 2015, more than three million gallons of toxic acid sludge and heavy metals, including lead, mercury, cadmium, beryllium, arsenic and dozens of other dangerous contaminants, was released into the Animus River at its headwaters in Silverton, Colorado, the largest tributary to the San Juan River.

    Home to Shiprock, the most populous community in the Navajo Nation, the San Juan supplies water to nearly 1,500 farms and 1,200 ranches that have been devastated in the wake of what the Navajo Nation contends was “a preventable tragedy.”

    The disaster, which resulted from abandoned and poorly maintained mines, has left many tribal members depressed and fearful, saying they don’t trust that the waterways are safe for them, their crops or their livestock. This leaves hundreds of farmers and ranchers without the means to earn a living in one of the poorest regions in the United States.

    Meanwhile, Navajo leaders say their communities situated along the river have been “torn apart” over whether to use the water from the San Juan for their irrigation canals, livestock and ceremonial purposes. They have been left stranded, the leaders say, with no clear answers or assurances that the river upon which they have lived and survived for thousands of years will ever be restored.

    “It’s hard to even gauge the scale and significance of what the Gold King spill has done to our communities,” Shiprock Chapter president Duane Yazzie told Indian Country Today Media Network. “They began mining in the 1870s, so the net effect in the last 150 years is that these mining companies can inflict any damage they want without any liability whatsoever.

    “Congress, who has the authority to fix this, has been asked to do so for nearly a century, but they won’t. And yet we’re left to clean up the mess.”


    ‘Our people are torn’

    Experts agree that there are hundreds of abandoned mines in and around Silverton, Colorado. Many of them interconnect and flow into the headwaters of the Animus River, which feeds into the San Juan and directly into the tribe’s irrigation canals.

    For decades, said Yazzie, it was public knowledge that the mines were being improperly managed with bulwarks that had been poorly conceived and constructed, causing a massive buildup of water pressure within the mines.

    When subcontractors went in to do maintenance, the mine blew out a massive cocktail of toxic water that polluted rivers and waterways for dozens of communities downstream. The tribe, however, maintains that its communities are particularly vulnerable and the most at-risk because of their unique cultural, historical, agricultural, geographic and economic dependence on the San Juan River.

    Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has conceded responsibility, the Navajo Nation says the agency’s response has been “slow and inadequate.” They say the mine owners continue to squabble and engage in finger pointing and blame shifting after one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. (Neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor Gold King officials have responded to requests for comment by ICTMN.)

    The ensuing domino effect of the spill has led to a bitter legal imbroglio involving the Navajo Nation, New Mexico, Colorado, the mine owners and the EPA. Subsequently, New Mexico has sued Colorado, for example, and both states have sued the EPA.

    The Navajo Nation, however, infuriated by the EPA for its “reckless negligence” and its unwillingness to reimburse the tribe for the more than $2 million incurred in costs related to the catastrophe, sued the agency along with the mine owners in August. In its petition, the tribe alleges that collectively, “Defendants failed at virtually every step, in most instances advancing their own interests,” and were negligent in their maintenance of mines that were “known and substantial risks.” (The EPA did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)

    The Navajo Nation also named Gold King Mines, Sunnyside Gold, Kinross Gold, Harrison Western, and Environmental Restoration in the lawsuit in seeking redress for the enormous amount of economic, agricultural and cultural damage done to the Navajo communities who rely on the San Juan River for their entire way of life.

    The 48-page petition alleges that the EPA, its subcontractor and the mine owners “consistently acted improperly, shirked responsibility, and failed to fulfill their moral and legal obligations… [and] must be held accountable for the harms caused to the San Juan River, the Nation, and to the Navajo people.”

    The damage to the Navajo communities that depend on the San Juan River, Yazzie concurs, has become incalculable.

    “Indians have been expendable for a long time, it doesn’t matter what damage we’re subjected to,” said Yazzie, a hint of anger flashing in his eyes. “Our people are torn [about using the water], but what choice do we have? Just like the people from Flint, Michigan, it’s a disaster, but what choice do they have? The Gold King spill is so massive that we don’t even know if it’s possible to clean up.”


    ‘Something Happened to the Water’

    Allen and Bertha Etsitty were caught off guard. On August 7, 2015, two full days after the spill, they were on their way to Shiprock when they heard over the Navajo radio station, KTNN, that “something had happened to the water.”

    The Etsittys, who have been married for nearly 50 years, are retired and live on Social Security. At approximately 19 acres, theirs is one of the largest family farms on the Navajo Reservation—the income from which they use to survive throughout the year. “We’ve been farming ever since we got married,” said Allen.

    “Our parents and grandparents were farmers, too,” Bertha said, as Allen nodded. “We learned to farm from them. The river is sacred for us, it was here ever since we were kids. The river is so important to us, and it provides the food we need.”

    Later that day, they received a call from Martin Duncan, president of the San Juan Dineh Water Users, informing them that there had been a toxic mine spill in Colorado and that the tribe would be shutting off the main gate to the irrigation canals. That night, the Etsittys set up camp in their fields with their son, Huron, as the three of them worked around the clock to irrigate their crops with what clean water was left before the main gate was closed.

    “We flooded the fields,” said Allen. “We did everything we could do.”

    Over the next several weeks, the Etsittys loaded their vehicles with 325 gallon water tanks and drove back and forth nearly 100 miles a day to get water from the tanks that had been set up by the tribe in Shiprock. All told, the elderly couple hauled more than 60,000 gallons of water in a desperate attempt to save their crops.

    “We only had our regular vehicles, which aren’t built for that kind of thing,” said Allen. “We went through brakes, drums, pads, transmissions, everything, trying to keep our fields watered and save what we could.”

    But it was not to be. As time dragged on and the growing season stalled, the Etsittys could only watch as their crops withered away—along with their income at fall harvest.

    “Our corn didn’t even make it past the tassels. We only produced about one-quarter of what we normally grow,” Allen said, adjusting the cap on his head. “It hit us hard.”

    “Our corn pollen is sacred to us for prayers and offerings,” Bertha said. “It was a loss to our traditional medicine men. Everybody was looking for corn pollen this year, and we didn’t have any.”

    Allen says that prior to the disaster, they planted every square inch of their acreage with crops that included several varieties of traditional Navajo corns, squash, watermelons, cantaloupe, Navajo winter melons, and a wide variety of vegetables and fruit trees. This year, they said they did not plant the same volume because of the stigma that is now associated with crops grown with potentially contaminated water. As a result, people are buying their produce elsewhere.

    “People used to come from all over the rez to buy our corn,” she said. “But now we can’t grow everything we normally would because people might not buy it, so we just planted what we could.”

    Additionally, the Etsittys had to give away their pigs and sell all of their sheep, livestock and horses because they simply did not have the food and water to maintain them.

    “This has been stressful for everyone here,” said Bertha, with a tired smile. “This has been very stressful for us, but we do the best we can. This river is so important to us because we need that water. But with this contamination people don’t really trust the water anymore. My grandchildren ask, ‘Grandma, where are the peaches? Where are the squash?’

    “We don’t have any.”


    Allen and Bertha Etsitty—farmers both—have been struggling with environmental havoc ever since the disaster. Suzette Brewer


    ‘The Dark Legacy of Mining’

    Since the early 1990s, the residents of Silverton, Colorado, which had based its tourism on its historical ties to the mining industry, had vigorously rejected EPA efforts to list the area as a federal Superfund site, according to the Associated Press.

    But fearful that such a designation would affect the town’s tourism, Silverton and San Juan County fought federal funding and assistance, even though it would have allowed mitigation for the clean-up of toxic acid leakage and hundreds of other contaminants in what has been described as one of the “worst clusters of toxic mines” in the country.

    In the subsequent decades, however, water pressure behind the cheap, poorly constructed bulkheads put in place by the now-defunct mining companies continued to build—until they inevitably burst open last year, creating an unprecedented environmental disaster.

    In February of this year, after national outcry over the spill, the city of Silverton and San Juan County reversed their position and asked the state of Colorado to declare the area a “disaster zone” to seek federal money for cleanup. On September 7, the EPA officially announced that Silverton will become a Superfund site under the official name of “Bonita Peak Mining District.”


    ‘We want to send a strong message’

    Even so, the tribe continues to suffer. Last month, the Navajo Nation Attorney General’s office hosted a workshop at the Shiprock Chapter House for local farmers and ranchers to assist them with filing their claims with the EPA.

    One by one, tribal members filed in and quietly took their seats in the small auditorium, hoping to get answers, legal advice—anything that might help them navigate the complicated, bureaucratic maze of a government that they feel has let them down too many times to count. The exhaustion and weariness from a yearlong struggle to survive was palpable.

    Ethel Branch, the attorney general for the Navajo Nation, had driven up from Window Rock to facilitate the workshop. Dressed in jeans and boots, Branch introduced herself to the small audience in Navajo. In English, she then explained that the tribe was offering this assistance out of recognition that many tribal members have no legal experience or representation and needed help with filing their claims.

    Branch, who was born in Tuba City and grew up in Leupp, is a Harvard-trained lawyer and is licensed to practice in the Navajo Nation, Arizona, Oregon and Washington State. The suit against the EPA and the other defendants, she said, goes far beyond financial compensation.

    “At bottom, the purpose of the litigation is to make the Navajo Nation and the Navajo people whole, to clean up our river, to restore our river to its role as a life giver and protector, and to shield us from the ongoing threat of future upstream sediment suspension and hard rock mine drainage and bursts,” Branch told ICTMN.

    “Our farmers and ranchers deserve to be able to continue pursuing their livelihoods undisturbed―livelihoods that trace us to our ancestors, going back to time immemorial. Our people also deserve to have the food, water and financial security they enjoyed prior to the spill.”

    To that end, she says the tribe has suffered tolls on their mental, physical and spiritual health from which it will be difficult to recover. Gold King, she said, was yet another in a long list of environmental incursions on the Navajo people.

    “We also want to send a strong message that the Navajo Nation is not a National Sacrifice Area,” Branch said. “Assaults on our land won’t go ignored, regardless of who commits them. This is our homeland—our sacred space—and our people will not leave it. Whatever happens to the land happens to us as a people. In the past the federal government has paid no heed to our timeless connection to our land. It has left it peppered with over 500 abandoned uranium mines and mills that continue to poison our land, our water, and our people.

    “This is unacceptable and must stop. The filing of this lawsuit is our line in the sand saying that we will hold people accountable for their violations on Navajo land and of Navajo people.”


    ‘It just breaks my heart’

    Branch echoes the sentiments of many tribal communities across the country that continue to suffer the deleterious effects of mining and other forms of resource extraction on their water sources and lands. Tribal scientists and environmental experts say that the primary difference between tribes and their non-Indian neighbors is that they are culturally, spiritually, historically, legally and physically connected to their lands and can be “sitting ducks” for ecological disasters.

    One of these critics is Karletta Chief, an assistant professor and assistant specialist in the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences at the University of Arizona at Tucson. Chief, a member of the Navajo Nation from Black Mesa, became a co-principal investigator of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to examine the exposures and risk perceptions following the Gold King Mine spill.

    “It’s devastating to see the San Juan contaminated knowing all the ways our people use it,” says Chief, a graduate of Stanford University. “It just breaks my heart to hear how deeply wounded they are from the spill, not just financially but also spiritually and emotionally. It has definitely fueled me and driven me to do this work on behalf of our people.”

    As a part of her NIH research, Chief has taken thousands of samples from the Navajo communities along the San Juan, including water from the river and soil from the banks and fields, as well as tap water and food, measuring varying river flows and testing for contaminants—chiefly, arsenic and lead. In addition, she and her team of researchers have been conducting focus groups, as well as house-to-house interviews to assess the complexity of the impact of the spill on their lives.

    In collaboration with the tribe, other investigators have also conducted blood and urine sampling of the Navajo residents to test for arsenic, mercury and heavy metal poisoning, the results of which are not yet completed. Other projects include a dietitian, a bio-statistician, a chemist and a social scientist, all of them working to establish the full measure of the disaster on the tribe.

    “The object was to look at all the ways people might have been exposed and affected,” Chief said. “What we found is that there are 40 different ways that tribal members used the river. So it’s much more nuanced and complex than, say, a hiker, or someone who is using it for recreational purposes. That river is everything to these communities.”


    ‘I’m not moving’

    Back in Shiprock, as the EPA claim workshop began to wind down, the simple human impact of the contamination of the San Juan was apparent. Frank John, a rancher who lives in Beclabito, had questions for the lawyers in attendance. He had filed a claim with the EPA last fall, he said, but gotten no response.

    “Their lack of response is their response,” came the reply. “If they did not respond, then they have denied your claim.”

    The attorney hired by the tribe to assist the attendees encouraged John to refile his claim online. But like many residents in his community, John said he has no internet, does not own a computer, and does not know how to use one, which puts him at a grave disadvantage in the modern era of instant technology.

    Following the workshop, John told ICTMN that after the spill, he hauled more than 250 gallons of water a day to water his cattle and sheep, to which he is now barely hanging on. He is tired and cannot understand why the EPA has ignored his claim. And he is more than a little suspicious of the federal government and its response to this and other environmental crises on the Navajo Reservation.

    “Our fathers worked at the uranium mine—and they’re suffering,” he said. “And we didn’t cause this problem, but we have to live with it. And it’s ruined the river that I used to swim at when I was little, and I don’t go down there anymore.”

    He stopped and looked away, wiping tears from his eyes. “This is my home, and I’m not moving. The river is the most important thing. It’s sacred. It is our life.”


    Native Murals For A Native City

    ‘A distinctive place and part of our unique history’


    Bottom Line: Oklahoma is filled with renowned artwork from Native artists. And now, the popular entertainment center of its capital city is sporting some memorable additions.

    “Earth to Sky” is one of the two new murals in the Bricktown district . . .

    Kristi Eaton

    Four Native American artists from a variety of tribes have created two large-scale murals at the entrance to the entertainment district of Bricktown in Oklahoma City. The effort is part of a partnership between Downtown Oklahoma City, Inc., and the Chickasaw Nation.

    Chad “Nish” Earles (Caddo) and Rhiana Deck (Choctaw) excecuted “Earth to Sky” on the south side of the Sheridan Avenue underpass. On the north side, J. NiCole Hatfield (Comanche and Kiowa) and Steven Grounds (Navajo, Euchee, Creek and Seminole) were responsible for “Strength of the Woman.” Completed this summer, the walls—which measure nearly 120 feet long and 13 feet tall—give visitors to Bricktown a new sense of Native American artistry.

    “It was long overdue,” said Hatfield. “We have 40 different tribes here in Oklahoma and not very many Native murals in the OKC [Oklahoma City] area.” She noted that statues depicting the Oklahoma Land Run reside nearby. “I feel like it’s our right to represent ourselves and to let people know that we are still here. We have a voice. I also wanted to inspire and set a positive example for our Native youth out there.”

    Hatfield worked with Grounds on the mural, which took approximately one month to complete and reflects the theme that tribes are founded on womanhood and the survival of future generations. Indeed, the piece overlays portraits of various Native Americans with the poem “See the Woman” by the Native American activist John Trudell.

    “We are both portrait artists, so we wanted to do the wall full of portraits,” Hatfield said. She composed her half of the wall by drawing on historical photos of people from different tribes, while Grounds’s portion draws on living persons. The two collaborated in the center—a portrait of a Chickasaw elder woman who is holding a growing plant. The plant, Hatfield said, represents nurturing Native culture for the future generation.


    . . . and “Strength of the Woman” is the other. Kristi Eaton

    Grounds is currently working on a mural project at the former Concho Indian Boarding School in Concho, Oklahoma. And he believes it is important to have Native-based artwork in Oklahoma City because there are so many tribes represented in the state—and yet there are few public or street art projects by Native people.

    “Oklahoma City is very young in their mural scene so working with the Chickasaw Nation on this mural project is an important step in nurturing a growing art scene,” he said.

    For “Earth to Sky,” Earles and Deck depicted red clay coils, which provide a landscape for giant figures composed of sky-blue feathers. The mural took about 20 days to complete. “We wanted to create something that our tribes and the Native American community at large could be proud of,” said Earles. “At the same time, we wanted to create something uplifting and thought-provoking, something everyone could enjoy and appreciate.”

    Earles drew inspiration from Caddo culture, tradition and history, in particular shell engravings, stone and copper work, pottery and basketry. “Not many people know about my tribe,” he said, “so it is my goal to share and educate people who we were and who we are now.”

    Growing up in Oklahoma, Deck said, has inspired her. “I grew up being outside a lot and playing in the fields around our house. Respect was a big deal growing up. It was understood to respect every creature, big or small. That everyone and everything has a value and purpose, and this really carries into my work as an adult.”

    Staci Sanger, spokeswoman for Downtown OKC, Inc., said the organization hopes to work with the Chickasaw Nation and Native American artists in the future on other projects: “All public art helps to create a distinctive place and part of our unique history. In Oklahoma, Native history plays a very important part.”

    Beyond Farming

    ‘The work we do affects peoples’ lives every single day’


    Sedelta Oosahwee helps oversee seven mission areas and 17 federal agencies for the USDA.

    Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture

    Editor’s Note: Sedelta Oosahwee (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikira Nation/Cherokee) was recently named acting director and senior advisor to the Office of Tribal Relations at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The 35-year-old federal administrator spoke with ICTMN about her professional experience and current responsibilities.


    Could you tell us about your background?

    I was born and raised in Talequah, Oklahoma. I have an undergrad degree in public affairs and administration and a master’s in adult higher ed from the University of Oklahoma.

    I’ve been lucky in the jobs that I’ve had. I’ve worked at Northeastern State University in Talequah, for the Cherokee Nation and at a consulting firm here in D.C. I was working for the Cherokee Nation when I had the opportunity to apply for the position of associate director at the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Nation Education [WHIAIANE]. I put in my résumé really unsure of what was going to happen. It kind of felt like a shot in the dark, but it also looked like a dream job.

    I got the job and worked at the WHIAIANE for about three years and then I came on a detail to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Tribal Relations last summer. I loved the people here, I loved the work we were doing and I was appointed as a senior advisor here in January.

    What is the scope of your job?

    I work with our director, Leslie Wheelock, to connect tribes to the resources and programs at USDA, such as Rural Development and the Food and Nutrition Service. We have seven mission areas and 17 agencies. The work we do at USDA affects peoples’ lives every single day.

    Could you give some specific examples?

    A lot of the food that we eat is inspected by USDA and we have different things that are helping to make sure that it’s safe, whether it’s being brought in from different countries or it’s domestic.

    Also, our food and nutrition services provide children with school lunches and afterschool feeding programs. In some places we’ve helped build rural water facilities. I was visiting a rural village in Alaska and they had a sign thanking USDA for helping to support that water facility.

    Do you work with tribes that are growing food to take to market?

    Our office doesn’t do that directly but we can direct tribes to the right people and make sure that we’re all in on the conversation and working to do something that would be productive and helpful. I’ve found that this department has been really willing to work with the tribes and find ways to make the programs fit and to be helpful.

    What are your personal priorities at USDA?

    Because my background is in education, I always try to focus on the youth component of a program, whether it’s new farmers or the 1994 [Tribal Land-Grant Colleges and Universities] Program or whatever.

    Recently USDA partnered with the Health and Human Services Dept.’s Administration for Native Americans for a youth tour. We went to six different sites this spring and had listening sessions, put on different workshops for college and career readiness, and had motivational speakers. Each of us had an opportunity to talk about the work that we’re doing and different services that could be helpful for youth. Some sites also had internships and college booths.

    There’s been a lot of discussion of food insecurity on reservations and about food sovereignty. Could you talk about how USDA is involved in those efforts?

    One of the things that I worked on specifically was convening a working group to talk about Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations (FDPIR). About a month ago we had tribal leaders from all over the country come to Oklahoma City to talk to USDA officials about how can we improve the food package for the program.

    It was interesting to see how the tribal leaders were able to come together and have a good dialogue with our people here at USDA to voice their concerns. We’re going to have another meeting to continue working with them to make sure that we’re doing all we can to make that package healthier, including adding more traditional foods.

    What are some of the areas in which a tribal leader might not think to consult USDA, but in which you could be helpful?

    I think the biggest program that I have seen that I really wasn’t aware of is the Rural Development Communities Facilities [Loan and Grant] Program. Seeing the different things that they’re doing is pretty incredible. For example, Warm Springs is building a school. And the program gave loans in Bethel, Alaska, for a hospital and for diabetes centers [to serve the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation] in New York.

    If tribes need a loan, this is a great place to look.

    Omaha Tribe of Nebraska is hiring for the following positions:

    Chief Tribal Officer

    Will direct the planning, organization, staffing, and budgeting of Tribal Government operations providing a variety of Programs and services and procure the support necessary for implementing Programs and providing services.  Coordinates Program issues and status; directs subordinate employees/Directors; develops budgets; participates as a member of the Management Team.


    Under administrative and functional direction of the Chief Financial Officer, the accountant performs critical daily, monthly and annual accounting tasks.  Provides timely accounting and financial data to the Departments Contract Specialists.  Participates in relevant policy and procedure development.

    Carl T Curtis Health Education Center-Clinical Dietician

    All positions are Open Until Filled

    Please send your resume, three references, and a complete application to:

    The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska
    Attn: Human Resources
    P.O. Box 368
    Macy, NE 68039

    Barry Walker, HR Director
    Phone: 402-837-5391 Fax 402-837-4526

    Board of Directors Announcement

    The National Indian Youth Council, Inc. (NIYC) is seeking individuals who are interested in serving as a Board Member. NIYC Board Members represent a diverse group of professionals, government and foundation executives, public health and healthcare providers, business executives, and/or community leaders, who will bring access and influence to NIYC while fostering the growth and development of a national nonprofit organization.

    For more information, or to submit your resume and letter of interest, please contact Tina Farrenkopf at  Application deadline is October 28, 2016.  Place in subject line of email: NIYC BOD INQUIRY OR APPLICATION.

    The Week in Photos

    Rob Kim/Getty Images

    Shailene Woodley, currently appearing in Snowden, has opposed the Dakota Access pipeline on site, on national TV, and in New York City, as seen here.

    Courtesy James Wa/t/Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

    President Obama has quadrupled the size of the Marine National Monument at Papahānaumokuākea, which has great significance to Native Hawaiians.

    Courtesy Osage Nation

    The federal Administration for Native Americans has awarded the Osage Nation Immersion School a two-year grant of more than $400,00.

    Vincent Schilling

    Robert Narcomey (Seminole, Lakota) was one of many featured performers at the ninth annual Pow Wow of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia.

    Headlines from the Web

    Upcoming Events


    September 30-October 2: NNABA Gathering of Basketweavers
    Hosted by the Chehalis Tribe, the 22nd annual Northwest Native American Basketweavers Association gathering will include instruction, a youth track, a shoppers’ day, an annual membership meeting and a board of directors meeting.
    Location: Great Wolf Lodge, Grand Mound, Washington

    October 3-6: National Tribal Transportation Conference
    The 19th annual conference will bring together tribal, federal, state and private interests that work in the field of tribal transportation. Information and resources will be provided to those who are committed to improving the transportation infrastructure of Indian country and the safety of those who live, work and travel the roadways of Indian lands. Conference tracks will be devoted to planning, technology, transit, leadership, safety, project management and technical advances.
    Location: Anaheim Marriott Hotel, Anaheim, California

    October 5-6: Early Childhood Development in Indian Country
    The conference, conducted by the Center for Indian Country Development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, is designed to help self-governing Native communities attain their economic development goals and will be available via live video web stream. Speakers and panelists include Josie Chase of Oglala Lakota College, Terry Cross of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, Linda Smith of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz of the American Indian College Fund, and Anton Treuer of Bemidji State University.
    Location: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Minneapolis, Minnesota

    October 5-8: NIEA Annual Convention & Trade Show
    The National Indian Education Association’s 47th annual convention will be devoted to “Building Education Nations by Engaging Families, Educators and Leaders,” bringing together Native educators, students and advocates who are focused on improving the academic achievement of Native students. Convention participants will be able to choose from more than 100 workshops focusing on the advancement of educational programs. The convention will also offer a trade show, college and career opportunities, education resources and networking.
    Location: Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, Reno, Nevada

    October 5-9: Native American Law School Admissions Workshop
    The Native American Pipeline to Law pre-law programs and workshops assist participants in preparing competitive applications. Participants will learn about law school and career options; obtain information about the various admissions criteria for law school; work with mentors to develop an effective application; explore law school funding options; receive test preparation advice for the LSAT; and network with other participants, faculty and professionals.
    Location: Arizona State University College of Law, Phoenix, Arizona

    Letters to the Editor

    Re the Dakota Access pipeline faceoff:

    We Indians need, more than ever, to stick together. We are not in control of this country and need to bring good things to protect it. It is a big issue.

    Water is a precious commodity all the time, and then we ruin it. Motors of any size should not be allowed on our oceans. That means banning big tourist boats, too. Think of the debris they leave behind and the poisons from the fuels they use.

    By contrast, Indians used canoes, kayaks and so forth. These were healthier for our waters and our wetlands, which we need to preserve.

    —Millie Karnop


    Your recent article about Mescalero Apache puberty initiation rites (September 2) amazed me. Thank you for the good news.

    Mario H. Ochoa



    Top News Alerts


    Daryl Baldwin, who has helped reclaim the linguistic, cultural and intellectual heritage of the Miami (Myaamia) Nation, is one of this year’s 23 winners of a $625,000 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. The forced removal of the Miami from their Great Lakes homeland was catastrophic; the last fluent speakers of Myaamia died in the early 1960s. But as founding director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University of Ohio, the MacArthur Foundation noted, Baldwin has determined to “empower a healthy and sustainable Myaamia community.”


    The Indian Health Service has awarded a one-year, $6.8 million contract that will provide telemedicine services to its facilities in North and South Dakota, as well as in Iowa and Nebraska. The services will be provided through Avera Health, a regional health system that operates more than 100 locations in several states in the Midwest. The contract may be extended up to five years, at a cost of $100 million in total.


    The House of Representatives last week passed a bill designed to further prevent the theft, illegal possession, sale, transfer and export of tribal cultural property. Officially designated H.Con.Res.122, the PROTECT Patrimony Resolution calls upon the Interior, State, Commerce, Homeland Security and Justice Departments “to consult with tribes and traditional Native American religious leaders in addressing this issue.” It also calls for the Government Accountability Office “to determine the scope of illegal trafficking in tribal cultural items and identify steps required to end such trafficking.”


    Julie Johnson (Lummi) was named Committee Member of the Year at the Washington State Democratic Party’s 23rd annual Warren G. Magnuson Awards Banquet on September 17. Johnson chairs the state party’s Native American Caucus and has worked for 30 years for Native governments and organizations at the regional and national level. She served two terms as a governor-appointed member of the Peninsula College Board of Trustees, including a term as chair, and also served on the Northwest Indian College Board of Trustees.


    The federal Administration for Native Americans awarded the Osage Nation Immersion School a two-year $420,926 grant to help with the cost of hiring three additional staff members, adding two grade levels, developing a five-year strategic plan, and developing standard operating procedures and policies. The school was founded last year to perpetuate the Osage language for future generations. “This marks the first time since 2005 that the Osage Nation has received an ANA Award for language,” said Osage Nation Grants Manager Chris Standing Bear.

    How Did I Miss That?

    A prime-time feminine hygiene moment, the whale of tale that won’t go away and an intriguing presidential candidate


    Photo courtesy Steve Russell Steve Russell

    Missouri Republicans have overcome a Democratic filibuster and overridden Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill to eliminate permits to carry concealed weapons, as well as the training requirements and background checks linked to the permits. The same bill eliminated the duty to retreat from a confrontation before using deadly force and expanded the “castle doctrine” to allow guests in a home to use deadly force against intruders.

    “So Missouri eliminated training for gun carriers and expanded the legal use of deadly force all at once?” My Cousin Ray Sixkiller was shaking his head. “What could possibly go wrong?”

    * * *

    Foreign Policy reported that a public push is under way to get the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the “White Helmets,” as the Syrian civil defense is called. The White Helmets are largely engaged in pulling civilians from the rubble after bombing raids by the Russians or the Assad government. Sometimes bombs fall on the rescuers. Among other celebrities, George Clooney has signed the petition.

    * * *

    Slate reported that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been grossly exaggerated, in that most of its plastic detritus is not easily visible to the naked eye and the descriptions that make it sound like an island of trash the size of Texas are overblown. More than half of the trash problem is “micro-garbage” full of toxins that can enter the food chain and find their way to us.

    The Patch, though, is not substantial enough to be picked up by satellite, so it is said you cannot observe it with Google Earth. It is so invisible, as Slate put it, you could be traveling though it “and never notice you are in the middle of a death-shaped noxious vortex.” It’s more a broth than a patch; soup rather than salad.

    Cousin Ray said he felt a lot better knowing he can’t see the toxins coming to his tuna sandwich. I was wondering if the science guys could genetically engineer a tuna to give sandwiches already wrapped in plastic? And maybe a nice cup of polypropylene broth on the side?

    * * *

    I generally don’t watch award shows, on the theory that if somebody pulls a Marlon Brando or something else happens that is worth knowing, I’ll hear about it. And last week I did. Giuliana Rancic of E!, who drew a long straw and had to work the red carpet at the Emmys, asked Amy Schumer the question on everybody’s mind, “Who are you wearing?” Schumer gave the question everything it deserved when she answered, “I’m wearing Vivienne Westwood, Tom Ford shoes and an o.b. tampon.”

    * * *

    This column is the perfect place to announce the fifth major candidate running for the presidency. Evan McMullin is a former CIA agent. Right now, he’s a Republican running as an Independent with the hope of peeling votes away from Donald Trump. He is a Mormon who did his missionary work in Brazil and then graduated from Brigham Young University and Trump’s alma mater, the Wharton School.

    He disagrees with the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision but would not appoint people to the high court with an eye to overturning it. He’s anti-abortion but how “anti” is not clear. His main reason for running is Trump’s foreign policy, which he considers dangerous, and what he perceives as Trump’s sucking up to Vladimir Putin.

    Politically summarizing the major candidates for the White House, they are (from left to right) Jill Stein, Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, Evan McMullin. I cannot place Donald Trump because it depends on what audience he is addressing.

    * * *

    Great Big Story recycled a whale story as a human story. In brief, an eight-ton whale was found dead on a beach near Florence, Oregon, on November 12, 1970. Some rocket scientist in state government decided that if the stinking carcass were blown up, it would turn into small pieces of meat that scavengers would quickly clean up.

    A TV reporter named Paul Linnman set up his shot and boom went the dynamite. Soon it was raining tiny pieces of whale meat . . . and then bigger ones. The spectators, realizing there might be some danger, beat feet back to the parking lot. There, Linnman reported, a slab of whale blubber “about the size of a coffee table” destroyed somebody’s Oldsmobile. The video that Linnman shot went viral in the days before the Internet.

    “Could have been worse,” Cousin Ray said. “It could have been his Oldsmobile.”

    Upcoming Pow Wows


    Redding Rancheria Stillwater Pow Wow

    1890 Briggs Street
    Anderson, CA

    Meherrin Indian Nation 28th Annual Pow Wow

    852 Highway 11 North
    Ahoskie, NC

    Last Chance Community Pow Wow

    98 W. Custer Avenue
    Helena, MT

    Comanche Nation 25th Annual Fair

    Comanche Nation Headquarters
    584 NW Bingo Road
    Lawton, OK

    Honolulu 42nd Annual Intertribal Pow Wow

    925 South Beretania Street
    Honolulu, HI
    808-392-4479 or 808-392-4487

    Chumash 21st Annual Inter-Tribal Pow Wow

    Live Oak Campground
    4650 Highway 154
    Santa Ynez, CA

    Lakota Dakota Nakota Language Summit & First Nations Education Convention

    444 Mount Rushmore Road
    Rapid City, SD

    Cherokee of Georgia 36th Annual Fall Pow Wow

    110 Cherokee Way
    St. George, GA

    San Manuel Pow Wow

    5500 University Parkway
    San Bernardino, CA

    Oklahoma State University Native American Student Association Pow Wow

    4518 Expo Circle East
    Stillwater, OK

    Indigenous Peoples Celebration

    Randalls Island
    New York, NY

    Indian Plaza Pow Wow

    1475 Mohawk Trail Route 2E
    Charlemont, MA

    American Indianist Society Pow Wow

    92 McCormick Rd
    Spencer, MA

    The Big Picture

    A memorial fund has been named for Rick Bartow (Mad River Band of Yurok), creator of “Counting the Hours” (2005) among many other works. Rick Bartow/Froelick Gallery