The Police Killings No One Is Talking About


Thanks go to the Marshall Project, which named this In These Times article one of the top criminal-justice pieces of 2016, and to Democracy Now! for doing a segment on it. In These Times also published my companion story on voices from the Native Lives Matter movement.



SUQUAMISH TRIBE DESCENDANT JEANETTA RILEY, a 34-year-old mother of four, lay facedown on a Sandpoint, Idaho, street. One minute earlier, three police officers had arrived, summoned by staff at a nearby hospital. Her husband had sought help there because Riley—homeless, pregnant and with a history of mental illness—was threatening suicide. Riley had a knife in her right hand and was sitting in the couple’s parked van.
Wearing body armor and armed with an assault rifle and Glock pistols, the officers quickly closed in on Riley—one moving down the sidewalk toward the van, the other two crossing the roadway. They shouted instructions at her—to walk toward them, show them her hands. Cursing them, she refused.
“Drop the knife!” they yelled, advancing, then opened fire. 
They pumped two shots into her chest and another into her back as she fell to the pavement. Fifteen seconds had elapsed from the time they exited their vehicles.
That July evening in 2014, Riley, shown left, became another Native American killed by police. Patchy government data collection makes it hard to know the complete tally. The Washington Post and the Guardian (U.K.) have both developed databases to fill in the gaps, but even these sometimes misidentify or omit Native victims. 
To get a clearer picture, Mike Males, senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, looked at data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collected from medical examiners in 47 states between 1999 and 2011. When compared to their percentage of the U.S. population, Natives were more likely to be killed by police than any other group, including African Americans. By age, Natives 20-24, 25-34 and 35–44 were three of the five groups most likely to be killed by police. (The other two groups were African Americans 20-24 and 25-34.) Males’ analysis of CDC data from 1999 to 2014 shows that Native Americans are 3.1 times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans.
Yet these killings of Native people go almost entirely unreported by mainstream U.S. media. In a paper presented in April at a Western Social Science Association meeting, Claremont Graduate University researchers Roger Chin, Jean Schroedel and Lily Rowen reviewed articles about deaths-by-cop published between May 1, 2014, and October 31, 2015, in the top 10 U.S. newspapers by circulation: the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, Chicago Sun-Times, Denver Post, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune.

Of the 29 Native Americans killed by police during that time, only one received sustained coverage—Paul Castaway, a Rosebud Sioux man, shown above, who was shot dead in Denver while threatening suicide. The Denver Post ran six articles, totaling 2,577 words. The killing of Suquamish tribal member Daniel Covarrubias, shown below left, allegedly shot when police mistook his cell phone for a gun, received a total of 515 words in the Washington Post and the New York Times (which misidentified him as Latino). The other 27 deaths received no coverage.


Compare this media blackout with the coverage of the next-most-likely group to be killed by police. The researchers found that the 10 papers devoted hundreds of articles to the 413 African Americans killed by police in that period, as well as to Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and police violence more broadly. That’s largely a testament to the power of the BLM movement, which exploded after the Aug. 9, 2014 killing of Michael Brown. When Minneapolis police killed both White Earth Ojibwe tribal member Philip Quinn, 30, shown below, and African-American Jamar Clark, 24, during the fall of 2015, Clark’s story was well-reported, while Quinn’s passing, like those of almost all other Native victims, was barely noted. 
Nor did major media report on a spate of Native jailhouse deaths in 2015. The statistics on “death by legal intervention”—a term used by the CDC to describe fatalities at the hands of police—include those that occur in custody prior to sentencing. Whether the deaths are due to police action or neglect, the department is considered accountable. “When people are in custody, law enforcement has control of them and a responsibility for their welfare,” Males explains.
A report commissioned by Alaska’s Gov. Bill Walker found that Joseph Murphy, an Alaska Native veteran of the Iraq War, died of a heart attack in a holding cell in Juneau in August 2015, as jail staff yelled “fuck you” and “I don’t care” in response to his pleas. According to the report, Larry Kobuk, identified in news articles as a 33-year-old Alaska Native, who had a heart condition known to his jailers, died in January 2015 while being held face down by four officers. Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a 24-year-old Sioux mother of two, shown right, was jailed in South Dakota; she died after reportedly complaining of pain and being refused medical care. The list of 2015 deaths goes on: 53-year-old Choctaw medicine man Rexdale Henry, shown below left, in a jail cell in Mississippi; Alaska Native Gilbert Joseph, 57, in Alaska; Yurok tribal member Raymond Eacret, 34, shown below right, in California. 

On the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s reservation in South Dakota, an angry crowd marched on police headquarters after tribal member Phillip High Bear’s mother alleged her 33-year-old son was beaten to death there. Protestors sang, drummed and shouted taunting references to the 1890 shooting death of Lakota spiritual leader Sitting Bull at the hands of Native police officers. Yet even this story received no coverage in the 10 largest papers. 

The Claremont researchers stress that they are not criticizing the important attention paid to the movement for black lives, but they note that a larger narrative is at play, with racial issues in the United States generally framed as black and white. Yet, Native Americans’ experiences of violence and discrimination in the United States often parallel those of African Americans. Federal investigations have found that on the borders of reservations, Native Americans are treated as second-class citizens by police and public agencies in ways that echo the experience of black Americans in towns like Ferguson, Mo.
Over the past 40 years, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), an independent government agency, has held numerous hearings on discrimination in border towns surrounding reservations: in New Mexico, near the Navajo reservation; in South Dakota, near the Sioux reservations; and, just this August, in Billings, Mont., near the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations. 
Incidents aired even in recent hearings sound like tales from the pre-civil-rights Deep South. They ranged from denial of service in public places to police brutality to the failure to investigate murders. In Northern Plains states, USCCR members personally observed staff in restaurants and stores hassling or refusing to serve Natives. In South Dakota, the commission heard testimony about a police department that found reasons to fine Natives hundreds of dollars, then “allowed” them to work off the debt on a ranch. USCCR Rocky Mountain director Malee Craft described the situation as “slave labor.” 
This is the context for Native deaths at the hands of police. 
The high rate of these killings is also a result of the comparative dearth of mental healthcare services for Native Americans, says Bonnie Duran, an Opelousas/Coushatta tribe descendent and an associate professor in the University of Washington School of Social Work. People threatening suicide and experiencing other mental health crises made up one-quarter of all those killed by cops in the first half of 2016, according to data collected by the Washington Post; they made up nearly half of the Native deaths examined by the Claremont researchers. 
Distraught people in these situations—such as Riley or Castaway—can be particularly vulnerable. Commands from multiple officers in a quickly developing situation can be very difficult to parse, even for someone who isn’t in crisis, says Jim Trainum, a former Washington, D.C., homicide detective who consults on criminal-justice matters.
“Attending to conflicting signals from multiple sources results in a huge cognitive demand,” says Melissa Russano, a psychologist and criminal justice professor at Roger Williams University. “Split-second responses are required of the individual. You have to assess if and to what extent there is a threat, and that may create a certain level of panic.”
As funding for mental healthcare continues to plummet, police are increasingly the first responders to mental health crises that they are apparently ill-equipped to handle. In Native communities, the lack of mental healthcare services is particularly acute, according to an analysis of CDC data by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), and there’s a critical shortage of Native professionals who understand cultural factors affecting patients. Data from the National Congress of American Indians illustrates this: In 2013, Indian Health Service per-capita expenditures were $2,849, compared to $7,717 per person for healthcare spending nationally. One indication of the situation’s severity is the suicide rate for Natives, which in 2010 was 16.93 per 100,000, compared with 12.08 for the population as a whole, according to SPRC.
Mental health resources for Native Americans are even scarcer off-reservation, in the so-called urban-Indian communities, where about half of the Native population lives. There, clinics are funded at a lower rate, says Duran. This is also where the largest share of police killings occur: 79 percent, according to Chin. 
Some police departments have responded by training officers in crisis intervention, which teaches them to slow down and find alternatives to the immediate application of lethal force, or by pairing officers with mental health professionals on calls that clearly involve such issues. Research is not yet conclusive about what works best, says Duran, but she stresses that the best solution is to address the problem at the root: Fund social services.
NATIVE LIVES MATTER

The grassroots Native Lives Matter (NLM) movement is working to bring attention to the deaths, and to the larger social and economic oppression of Native Americans. Started in late 2014, the concept was inspired by Black Lives Matter, says one of the originators of the movement, Chase Iron Eyes, a Standing Rock Sioux attorney who recently ran for Congress in North Dakota, shown above second from right. Also shown, from left, are advocates Marlee Kanosh, Troy Amlee, Darleen Tariq with her late partner Phil Quinn and their child, and J.R. Bobick. For more from them, go here.
South Dakota was scrutinized by USCCR in a 2000 report, “Native Americans in South Dakota: An Erosion of Confidence in the Justice System.” In the hearings that led up to the report, commissioners heard testimony about racial profiling during traffic stops, drunk drivers receiving light or suspended sentences for killing Natives, and, just as concerning to Natives, the white community’s denial of the existence of racism toward Native people. 
On Dec. 19, 2014, Iron Eyes and other Natives marched in Rapid City, S.D., to draw attention to police brutality against Natives. The next day, Rapid City police fatally shot a Native man, Allen Locke, who had attended the protest. 
From the beginning, Iron Eyes says, NLM was intended to encompass numerous issues affecting Natives, from child welfare to incarceration disparities. The Native Lives Matter Facebook page and Twitter feed show the idea has proliferated across Indian country, with grassroots groups adopting the slogan as an umbrella term to advocate for environmental and social causes. “We don’t own it; everyone has a right to it,” says Iron Eyes.
Enter the Puyallup tribe (pronounced p-YAH-lup), an economically powerful, 4,000-member Northwest Indian nation with a successful casino, numerous tribal and individual fishing enterprises, and a real-estate portfolio of commercial and industrial properties. The tribe’s reservation intersects the city of Tacoma, Wash., and members report the same kind of police harassment documented by USCCR in other border communities, such as being pulled over for “driving while Indian.” Now, the Puyallup are seeking to ensure that police are held accountable for their actions, no matter who the victim—Native or non-Native. 
The Puyallup were catapulted into the issue of police violence on January 28. Shortly before midnight, Tacoma police officers approached a parked car. A convicted felon, Kenneth Wright, 36, who was wanted on drugs and weapons charges, was in the passenger seat; his pregnant girlfriend, 32-year-old tribal member Jacqueline Salyers, was the driver. Minutes later, one of the officers had shot Salyers in the head, and Wright had escaped into the night. (Salyers’ mother, Lisa Earl, is shown below.)
Almost immediately, relatives began to question the police account of the incident. They are now in the process of conducting their own investigation. There is no video record: Tacoma officers used no body or dash cams at the time, a police surveillance camera overlooking the street allegedly malfunctioned during the event, and police apparently destroyed three security cameras on a nearby house during their investigation.
The city of Tacoma, however, freely provided In These Times with hundreds of pages of witness statements, detectives’ reports, 911 calls, logs of police-vehicle movements, scene photographs and more, assembled for its internal investigation. 
According to the official account, Scott Campbell, the officer who shot Salyers, said that while on patrol, he recognized Wright and, behind the wheel, saw “a Native American female that appeared to be around 30 years of age.” His partner, Aaron Joseph, stopped their cruiser across the street. 
The two officers challenged Salyers and Wright to put their hands up. According to Campbell, Salyers then accelerated the car toward him; he says he shot at her to save his life.
Of the eight shots discharged, four hit Salyers. No shots hit Wright, who, when apprehended weeks later, told investigators he had ducked down.
After the gunfire, the officers took cover. Campbell told police investigators that he hid behind the bed of a pickup truck with his pistol pointed toward Salyers’ vehicle. From this spot, he observed Wright “climbing around in the front of the vehicle [and] attempting to retrieve something from the rear of the vehicle,” screaming “you fucking killed her” and other accusations, clambering over the “apparently shot female,” exiting the car on the driver’s side and running away, armed with a rifle.
The police account raises a number of questions. Why did Campbell believe shooting the driver would stop a car that was in gear and underway? Why would an officer duck, pistol in hand, and watch while a dangerous wanted criminal laboriously armed himself and escaped into a residential neighborhood? In what would undoubtedly be a dangerous and quickly changing situation, why didn’t the officers call for back-up or first look for a way to get Salyers, a bystander, out of the car?
About half an hour later, two officers removed Salyers from her vehicle—dragged her, according to a witness from the neighborhood—and put her in a patrol car. According to Tacoma Police Department spokesperson Loretta Cool, “The suspect, in the area with a rifle, would dictate moving to a safer location to administer medical aid.” Cool declined to comment further, citing the possibility of a lawsuit.
Once in the new location, Salyers was dragged back out of the patrol car and onto the pavement, where Campbell performed chest compressions. Medics arrived and Salyers was pronounced dead. At some point, her right arm was broken, but not by a bullet; her family discovered this while preparing her for burial.
Based on the Tacoma Police Department’s internal investigation and the medical examiner’s report, the county prosecutor found the shooting justified. A review board later affirmed these findings, announcing on August 16 that “Campbell’s use of deadly force was reasonable and within department policy.” Salyers’ family strenuously objects to that conclusion.
‘EVERYONE IS WELCOME’
The killing horrified residents of the multi-ethnic Tacoma neighborhood. Gary Harrison, a 48-year-old African-American Army veteran, shown left, was awakened by the gunfire. The shooting happened in front of his home, he says, as he diagrams what he observed. “I saw [Jackie’s] car and so many police, for blocks around,” he recalls. 

Two of his housemates told the others, “They shot Jackie.” Harrison had known the young woman. “She always had a smile for you,” he says, eyes bright with tears.
At Salyers’ funeral, her mother, Lisa Earl, 53, called for justice—not only for her daughter, but for everyone impacted by excessive use of force by law enforcement. Her tribe took up the challenge under the banner “Justice for Jackie, Justice for All.” 
Following her killing, Salyers’ relatives met weekly at the Puyallup Little Wild Wolves Youth/Community Center, where Earl works, to mourn and to plan a March 16 two-mile protest march from the tribal headquarters to Tacoma’s federal courthouse. Nearly 300 people turned out. Family and tribal members were joined by other Tacoma residents who had lost loved ones to police shootings and citizens involved with other issues, such as workers’ rights and the environment. In May, family members joined tribal council member Tim Reynon on a trip to Washington, D.C., to press the Department of Justice’s Office of Tribal Justice for an independent investigation of the shooting. At press time, no decision had been made whether to undertake one. 
As time went by, others in the region—both Native and non-Native—who had lost friends and relatives to police killings began attending the family’s gatherings, which continue regularly. They recount their stories in a traditional Puyallup talking circle (during which participants express themselves in turn and without interruption), then share a meal. Each person is in a different phase of their grieving, says James Rideout, 45, Lisa Earl’s brother. “They are in such tender moments.” 
On the evening of June 20, In These Times attended one of the meetings. As participants filtered into the community center, they hugged, exchanged bits of gossip and found places in a circle of chairs. They were Native, black, white and Latino, young and old, united by concern about friends, family and neighbors lost in encounters with the police. The scent of cooking crab—gathered by Rideout in the Puget Sound earlier that day—wafted over the gathering, as participants told stories of tragedy and survival. 
Andre Taylor, 48, spoke about what he called the “execution” of his brother, Che Taylor, an African American shot to death at age 46 in Seattle earlier this year. 

Silvia Sabon, a 53-year-old Tlingit tribal member, shown above, described the death of a 23-year-old Latino family friend, Oscar Perez-Giron, whom she says was killed on a bus platform by police challenging his lack of a ticket. African-American mother Crystal Chaplin, 52, shown left, said that in May 2015, Olympia, Wash., police shot both of her sons, Andre Thompson, then 23, and Bryson Chaplin, then 21, in the back. Both survived, but Bryson was paralyzed.
“Everyone is welcome [at the meeting],” says Sabon. “It doesn’t matter what color you are. We are going through the same thing.”
Though the family and tribal community have acknowledged the Native Lives Matter movement, the thrust of the Puyallup’s efforts has been ecumenical. This approach makes sense culturally to the Puyallup. Their name for themselves in their language connotes “generous and welcoming behavior to all people who enter our lands.”
“When the police killings happened to people who didn’t have a tribe to back them up, they were alone, on their own out there,” says Rideout. “When our tribe took a position on this issue, we realized we had an opportunity to take care of them all, to bring them along with us.” 
In addition, says tribal council member Reynon, shown below, a tribe can be effective in a ways an individual advocate or advocacy group cannot. “We have a trust relationship with the federal government, so we are a sovereign nation with the full weight of the United States behind us. We also have the recognition and respect of local governments.” 
State legislative leaders have appointed Reynon to a new Joint Legislative Task Force on Deadly Force and Community Policing, a committee drawn from community groups as well as law enforcement. The bill establishing the task force acknowledges the danger police are often placed in as they protect the community, but it also seeks ways to reduce violent interactions between law enforcement and the public.
“We have to find a solution that works for everyone,” says Reynon. “It will mean change, and change is never easy.” 
For Salyers’ family, it’s been a painful process. “We never asked to be a part of this,” Rideout says. “We always want to stress the good narratives, our children succeeding. But now that we are involved, we must ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
JUSTICE FOR JACKIE … AND JENNIE
Tribal involvement means the possibility of real and lasting change to Ramona Bennett, a Puyallup elder in her late seventies, shown left. “People and movements may fade, but a tribe doesn’t go away,” says Bennett, a former tribal chairwoman and long-time activist who was gassed, clubbed, shot at and arrested during 1970s “fish-ins” to demand recognition of treaty-guaranteed fishing rights. 
The Puyallup have long been easy victims in Tacoma, Bennett says. Traditionally, they lived in communal longhouses, but late-19th-century presidential proclamations and Congressional actions broke up the reservation and forced tribal members to move to isolated cabins on separate plots. “Fishing and trapping were outlawed, so the men went out at night, making the cabins very dangerous,” says Bennett. “White men would come, kick the doors in, rape and murder the [women] and throw their bodies on the railroad tracks, where they’d be called ‘railroad accident deaths.’ … We discovered in our tribal enrollment office a stack of ‘railroad death’ documents from 1912 to 1917.’’ Among them was one that recorded the death of Bennett’s grandmother Jennie. 
The Justice for Jackie, Justice for All effort will succeed, Bennett believes. “But I’m still out for justice for Jennie ... a girl who has been dead for 104 years.” 

Top 10 Indian-Country Photos of 2016, by Joseph Zummo

Here are some of photographer Joseph Zummo’s favorite images, among thousands he took for stories we reported in Indian country over this past year. 

The photo above and the first three photos below come from a December trip to traditional Standing Rock Sioux territory in North Dakota, where tribal members and others have rallied against the Dakota Access Pipeline’s planned route across the Missouri River. Calling themselves water protectors, they say this would endanger the tribe’s water supply and has already destroyed burial grounds and sacred sites. Since spring, the group has faced increasingly violent responses from law enforcement and the pipeline company’s private security contractors; the demonstrators have been beaten with batons, maced, tear-gassed and shot with concussion grenades and rubber bullets. Hundreds have been arrested, and more than 100 have been hospitalized.
Above, on the day the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers withdrew permission for the pipeline to proceed, children played with bright green flying saucers. Below, one water protector displayed a sign proclaiming the camp’s nonviolent ethic, and another on horseback overlooked the crowd. Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Arvol Looking Horse, who was born on the neighboring Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, explained the movement’s aim—to protect water and its practical and spiritual properties for future generations.
JOSEPH ZUMMO
JOSEPH ZUMMO
JOSEPH ZUMMO

In Nevada, Joseph shot this photograph of Joseph Holley, former chairman and now councilman of the Battle Mountain Band of Te-Moak Western Shoshone, and his grandsons. The three are seen here by an ancient rock shelter in a sacred landscape that Western Shoshones have used for prayer and healing for many thousands of years. Holley and other tribal members are struggling to protect the cultural landscape in which this shelter sits from destruction by gold mining. The photograph appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network, as did the one below, of Johnny Bob, a spiritual leader from the Yomba Shoshone Tribe. Bob was part of a group of tribal members who traveled to Nevada’s highland forests in early September to pick pine nuts, a traditional staple that is roasted and used in soups and stews.
JOSEPH ZUMMO
JOSEPH ZUMMO

Joseph photographed these images on the Puyallup reservation in Washington state. In the first one, Lisa Earl mourns for her daughter, Jackie Salyers, who was shot by police in January of this year. The image appeared in In These Times magazine. Below it, tribal members express their connection to each other and the water as they practice for an upcoming canoe journey. 
JOSEPH ZUMMO
JOSEPH ZUMMO

In the New Mexico portion of the Navajo reservation, Joseph photographed a story for In These Times magazine on ways Native people fight exploitation by government and corporations. Here we see Navajo tribal member Anselm Morgan with a decades-old pipeline marker, showing the pathway of an oil line that crosses his family’s land in return for the pittance that the Bureau of Indian Affairs allows the company to pay. The dozen houses making up the family homestead are seen below it. 
JOSEPH ZUMMO
JOSEPH ZUMMO

C. Stephanie Woodard; photographs c. Joseph Zummo.

A Deadly Month—Police Killings of Native Americans

A version of this article first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in October 2016. 

As many as eight fatal police shootings of Native Americans occurred during October of 2016. This figure was first reported by Marlee Kanosh, Paiute Tribe of Utah. Her Facebook page, Native Lives Taken By Police, is the news source of record for information on police violence as it affects indigenous people. With careful, respectful research and comprehensive coverage, Kanosh chronicles a terrible toll: Natives killed outright by police or dying in custody. 

In October, Kanosh said, “I’m overwhelmed.” The workload, which she does as a volunteer, is always heavy, but was suddenly and unexpectedly worse. “I have so many deaths to look into now. My notebooks are full. I have piles of paper everywhere.”

The number of Natives who died in October is much higher the monthly average found in a 2016 study by Claremont Graduate University scholars Roger Chin, Jean Schroedel and Lily Rowen. Among other information, they uncovered 29 deaths in a recent 15-month period, for about two a month. Kanosh couldn’t point to a reason for the October spike, but noted that poorly funded health care and untreated or under-treated mental illness and addiction continue to place Native people in jeopardy.

The fatalities occurred around the country—in Washington state, where a young mother was shot dead in front of her young children during a welfare check on the Muckleshoot reservation, apparently because she was threatening suicide; in Oklahoma, where a homeless man met his death at the hands of police; and in Nevada, where an Oglala veteran was shot after a sudden spate of robberies that were reportedly more of a mental-health crisis than a crime spree. Two more Natives appear to have been killed in Oklahoma, while Nebraska, Texas and North Carolina saw at least one fatality each.

“The need for police officers to have specialized training in helping individuals with mental illness is very important, perhaps more than ever,” said Chin, a political scientist who studies real-world applications of criminal-justice policy and data analysis.

Kanosh criticized police claims that citizens should simply follow orders to survive these encounters. “We have a saying here in Utah, ‘Comply or Die—It’s Not the Law!’” Kanosh said. “What about our rights? We didn’t put up our hands fast enough? Someone instinctively pulled up his pants when cops ordered him to crawl forward on his knees? How can we possibly know exactly what’s expected of us in these horrible situations? And because we don’t, we die?”

Chin agreed. “Sometimes it’s difficult to comprehend orders given by officers in a fast-moving situation,” he said. “And a person in the midst of a mental health crisis may not be able to comply quickly—or at all.”

Police need to better communicate what exactly compliance entails, according to Chin. That’s because officers in different jurisdictions may expect the public to behave in unique ways, he explained. “For example, while most academies train officers to have a driver remain inside the vehicle during a traffic stop, I discovered on a trip to Louisiana that sometimes officers want individuals to exit the vehicle in order to see better what they are doing. The public needs to know these and other expectations.”

Improving training and communications is good for police as well as the public, Chin said. “Using lethal force can be a life-changing, career-ending experience. For most officers, it’s a decision that’s not taken lightly and has enormous emotional consequences.”

Numerous advocates and social-media page administrators have done a heroic job of publicizing the various social-justice issues that drive the cry, “Native Lives Matter.” Kanosh has been closely involved in these issues; she was among the water protectors at Standing Rock when they were attacked with dogs.

However, Kanosh’s Facebook page maintains a tight focus on a crisis that exploded in her life when her brother, Corey, shown right, was shot and left to die in the Utah desert in 2012. “At that time, people whose relatives had been killed reached out to me,” she recalled. “The huge community of those affected by police violence embraced me and my family. Now, I reach out to embrace others and let them know I have been where they are. Whenever a new person or family comes in, we all gather around them.”

The initial information for a post on Kanosh’s page comes from a huge, ever-growing circle of contacts from coast to coast, including community members, advocates and groups. “People message me constantly. Groups share lists with me. I know relatives of those who died. I know their neighbors. If someone thinks someone who’s been killed just might be Native, they send me the information, so I can look into it.”

She follows up, contacts the victim’s friends and family and requests permission to post photographs and related information. “I don’t want people to be forgotten. I want to keep their stories alive. So, I also redo the older stories from time to time,” Kanosh said. “Today, I remembered someone I should post about again. I felt so sad.”


Kanosh survives on prayer and meditation. She would not accept credit or praise for her daily toil on behalf of the dead and their loved ones. She called herself, “Just one girl who lost her brother.”

Text c. Stephanie Woodard; photographs courtesy Marlee Kanosh.

Great 2016 Election News: Native Voters Gain Rights in Nevada and North Dakota

A version of this article first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in October 2016. 

On October 27, early voting was underway on the Pyramid Lake and Walker River Paiute reservations. “We’re in full swing,” said Vinton Hawley, chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. “It’s been great. Tribal members are very enthusiastic. We have a voice. We’re involved.” Tribal members had sued in federal court for polling places on their homelands; the voting offices opened on October 22.
Pyramid Lake voters joined a flood of Nevadans casting a ballot during the state’s early-voting period. During the first two days of early voting at Pyramid Lake, turnout had already doubled that of the last presidential election in 2012, according to Hawley.
Meanwhile, at Walker River, in just the first two days of early voting, turnout nearly equaled 2012 totals, according to OJ Semans, the Rosebud Sioux director of Four Directions voting-rights group, which assisted with the lawsuit. Semans called this “empowering the people.” Lawsuit plaintiff Johnny Walker is shown above after voting on his homeland.
As chairman of the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, Hawley has urged Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske to direct counties to open polling places for nine more tribes, including some where ballot boxes are 200-plus miles away, round trip.
Even when polls are nearby, counties typically make accessing their offices uncomfortable for Natives, according to testimony in the Paiute tribes’ federal lawsuit. To remove this barrier to equality, Hawley included in his request urban-Indian communities in Washoe and Clark counties.
Citing “insufficient time” to set up more early-voting places, Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske has announced that she is turning down Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada’s request for more tribal early-voting offices on additional reservations. Cegavske also revealed another concern that figured in her decision, “[T]here is considerable legal uncertainty as to who would be authorized to investigate and prosecute election law violations occurring on sovereign tribal lands.”
“I take offense,” said OJ Semans, of Four Directions. “This is no more than an outdated and racially charged attempt to insinuate that tribal voters are somehow lawless and beyond control. The Nevada Election Task Force is part of a coalition of state and federal authorities that can handle election problems, no matter where they occur.”
The lawsuit plaintiffs have asked the court to award them their legal fees, which would require the state and counties to pay a tab that already tops $100,000. “We warned them,” said Bret Healy, Four Directions consultant. “The offices cost a few thousand dollars each, while fighting against equal rights is very costly.”

Earlier this year, North Dakota Natives challenged the state's limitations on ID that could be used at the ballot box. They were ultimately successful. This article, about their challenge first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in January 2016.

Tribal elder Dorothy Herman voted in North Dakota for more than 40 years. Until 2014, that is, when a new state law meant she couldn’t obtain acceptable identification for that election, no matter how hard she tried. On January 20, 2016, she and six more Native voters who were disenfranchised in 2014 filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s recently enacted limitations on the types of documents that can be used to obtain a ballot. The Native American Rights Fund filed the suit on their behalf.
NARF attorneys John Echohawk (l) and Matthew Campbell, with lawsuit

The list of documents the state would accept did include tribal ID, along with driver’s licenses, non-driver IDs and long-term-care certificates. However, the item had to show a residential address, and some tribal cards do not. 

In certain cases, tribes can’t include the information because tribal members’ residences don’t have the kind of street numbers used in off-reservation communities. The election safety net of past years was also gone; voters no longer had such options as signing an affidavit attesting to their identity. 

The Native plaintiffs said the restrictions, passed by the North Dakota legislature in 2013 and tightened further in 2015, disproportionately burdened and even disenfranchised Native American voters who, among other issues, live farther from offices where they can obtain alternative identification and are less likely to have the vehicle needed to get there. For example, Standing Rock residents drive as many as 120 miles round trip to the nearest office issuing drivers’ licenses. Natives are also poorer and more likely to find the fees and transportation costs prohibitive, the complaint alleged. By falling more heavily on Native people, said the lawsuit, these burdens violated the Voting Rights Act and the United States and North Dakota constitutions. 

On August 1, a federal judge agreed and blocked the new law, handing yet another victory to Natives seeking equal rights.

Text c. Stephanie Woodard; photographs courtesy of Four Directions (top) and NARF.

Culture Held Captive—Tribe Wants Patrimony Returned

This article was first published on Indian Country Today Media Network in October 2016.

“How dare they keep those materials?” asked elder Kathleen Holley. “They belong to us, and they should not be kept in a building.” A member of the Battle Mountain Band of the Te-Moak Western Shoshone, Holley had just seen a photograph (shown left) of cartons at the Nevada State Museum, in Carson City.

The photo, snapped in the museum’s Indian Hill Curatorial Center during an unrelated meeting, shows shelves of boxes labeled “Tosawihi” to indicate the sacred site in northern Nevada from which the contents were taken. The photographer is Ted Howard, cultural resources director of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe in northern Nevada/southern Idaho, who received permission to take the photo. He called Tosawihi the spiritual heart of the Western Shoshone homeland, providing white flint, also called chert, used in healing and ceremonies.

“I cried when I saw the photograph,” said Colleen Burton, another Battle Mountain elder. “It’s sickening. I have been to meetings with federal agencies for years, and no one said they took those items. Why has no one ever come forward?”

The boxes—342 of them, according to the museum’s curator of anthropology, Gene Hattori—contain as many as 1.5 million items collected by Intermountain Research archaeologists in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They did so under Nevada Bureau of Land Management auspices in order to satisfy an aspect of preservation law while a gold mine was beginning operations in Tosawihi.

Howard called such projects “ethnic cleansing.” He said they contribute to erasing indigenous people’s presence. “They take away the things that tie us to the land, so someday there will be no proof that we were here.”

According to Dr. Robert Elston, of Intermountain Research, the items came from areas that were to be utterly destroyed by gold mining. They encompass mostly flakes (chips produced while working stone) and soil samples. Additional articles are large stemmed spear points; a fluted Clovis-era point that is more than 12,000 years old; “hundreds or thousands” of additional finished and partially finished points and stone tools; elk antler tools; buffalo-scapula digging implements; and animal bones left from food consumption.

L to r, Kiana Vance, Colleen Burton, John Holley, Kathleen Holley, Evan Jim 
Also in the Tosawihi environs, a pipeline project supervised by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission resulted in nearly 700,000 items being taken during 2010 and 2011, according to a report by the company that did the review. These materials include a preponderance of flakes and soil samples, along with 2,000-plus points, 8,000-plus implements, and hundreds of articles such as drills, mortars and pestles, and a massive stone bowl. They were also deposited in the state museum, where they take up 175 cubic feet, according to Hattori.

There’s more. In 2005 in northern Nevada, in the first year of a several-year U.S. Forest Service project, volunteers reportedly unearthed 2,000 points and other Native items—also at the state museum. Innumerable additional studies by the Forest Service, the BLM and other agencies have scooped up unimaginable numbers of indigenous materials in Nevada and elsewhere.

According to Elston, the bulk of collected materials are not taken via academic archaeology, but during agencies’ cultural-resources reviews. These occur prior to a project that will affect or destroy the site, such as mining, pipeline construction or development, and become the property of the federal government.

“That process is not designed to stop projects, but to facilitate them,” Elston noted. He added that Natives who consulted on the Intermountain review advocated for making the materials available for viewing by tribal members, a position he supported.

Cherry-picking the law?
Howard accused the Nevada BLM and other federal agencies of cherry-picking federal law as they conduct the reviews. He noted that Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA)—for which the Tosawihi-area studies were undertaken—relies on archaeological evidence, or the presence of objects, for eligibility for protection via the National Register of Historic Places. This “pushes aside” places not defined by objects, or which have been vandalized or excavated in a way that diminishes them for outsiders—though not necessarily for Native people, he said.

Howard said that federal agencies must also comply with NHPA regulations that protect traditional landscapes subtly shaped by an array of cultural activities; executive orders; and the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, which safeguards items of cultural patrimony as well as burials and grave goods.

Joseph Holley, former Battle Mountain chairman and now councilman, agreed, criticizing the suctioning up of even seemingly minor items. Standing on a hilltop in Tosawihi, he indicated a scatter of flakes. “An ancestor sat here and worked stone,” Holley said. “That tells us a great deal.”

Holley said Tosawihi was a cultural landscape: “Many activities occurred here, all aspects of which are significant.” This idea was fielded as early as 1991, when authors of another BLM study proposed Tosawihi being placed on the National Register as a Traditional Cultural Property. The authors warned that the site needed protection against both mining and archaeology. They then invoked protections of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act for Tosawihi, saying that collecting has an impact on traditional religious beliefs. 

Yet, the struggle to understand the area as a traditional landscape continues. “The Nevada BLM conveniently misplaces anything that is contrary to its goal—support for the mining industry,” said Howard.

Despite the studies of Tosawihi, said Howard, many sites are still unrecorded and unprotected. “The BLM conveniently overlooked sites,” he charged. “The agency caters to industry, rather than obeying the law.” Holley agreed. On a walk around the landscape, he pointed out unrecorded artifacts and sites, saying, “This tells me a proper Class III [the most detailed] survey has never been done.”

Whose history?
Western Shoshones inspect damage to cultural sites in Tosawihi.
Losing contact with ancestral materials harms his people’s health and wellbeing, said Holley. “How are we going to pray in these places when they’ve been destroyed and their contents taken? How are we going to pass on our culture to our youth? How are they going to attach themselves to our identity?” He and Howard stressed that the artifacts represent a contemporary culture, not a “prehistoric” one.

Tribal youngsters agreed. Fifteen-year-old John Holley, from the Battle Mountain Band, explained, “Our history is not taught in the Battle Mountain public schools. Nothing. Not a word. When we are at Tosawihi, we can visualize and understand. It also changes our perception of what others tell us about our past.”

“They have no respect for what we believe in,” said Kiana Vance, 20. “The years they kept that material means a generation missed them. How can we have a future without a past?”

Another Battle Mountain youth, 17-year-old Evan Jim, criticized the entire cascade of events. “Mining is horrible,” he said. “As soon as you go to Tosawihi, you can feel it.” However, he did not support archaeologists taking items to “save” them. “What’s in boxes in the museum has to be returned to us, so it can be put back.”


Burton sees a large task ahead: “A lot of work and prayer will go into replacing the items where the ancestors intended them to be.”

C. Stephanie Woodard; photographs courtesy Battle Mountain Band of Te-Moak Western Shoshone.