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Zuni Sanctuary — ER for Eagles

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Published in Indian Country Today in October 2012.

Zuni Fish and Wildlife director and biologist Nelson Luna opened the door to the eagle refuge’s main flyway, a 100-by-25-foot space with 18-foot slatted walls. Shade dappled the gravel-covered floor and made the Zuni Eagle Sanctuary a pleasant haven from western New Mexico’s brilliant high-desert sun. In the refuge, Luna and environmental technician Alfonso Penketewa care for 26 injured eagles—13 golden and 13 bald—that wouldn’t survive if released. Birds bathed in shallow pools. Others sprinted short distances or flew the length of the space, feathers floating in their wake. Occasionally, they shrieked—a wild, piercing cry.

On a shelf-like perch at one end of the flyway, a young bald eagle (above) cocked his head at the sight of strangers accompanying Luna. “What’s this?!” I imagined him thinking. The eagle swiveled his head to make eye contact with Luna—to seek reassurance?—then turned back to scrutinize the visitors.
“I call him The …

Will Montana Indians Determine Control of the U.S. Senate?

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A version of this story appeared on NBC.com and 100Reporters.com in October 2012. For more, go here, here, the judge’s election-eve decision here, and Election-Day voter intimidation here, all published in Indian Country Today.
With control of the U.S. Senate in the balance, a Native American voting-rights hearing in U.S. District Court in Billings, Montana, later this week is shaping up to be a riveting spectacle. 
A surprising array of Democrats and Republicans are ranged against the 16 tribal members who have sued for early-voting offices on their reservations. (Attorney Steven D. Sandven, near left, plaintiffs and supporters deliver the lawsuit to the Billings courthouse.) 
“It’s the poorest of the poor versus the billionaires,” said Tom Rodgers, a member the Blackfeet, a Montana tribe.
In late August, Republican powerbroker Karl Rove told a meeting of the country’s super-rich that Montana Democrat Jon Tester’s Senate seat was one of the Republican Party’s best shots at Senate contr…

Early-Voting Advances in South Dakota—Montana Up Next

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A version of this article appeared in Indian Country Today in October 2012.

For the first time, Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation voters will be able to early-vote in a national election in Eagle Butte, their capital and population center. This year, those wishing to cast a ballot ahead of Election Day will drop by the office of chairman Kevin Keckler. Previously, they had to travel long distances to a primarily white-populated town.
“We sat down with the county auditor [the official supervising voting in South Dakota], figured out how it would work, and now early voting and registration are available in the tribal hall, with a tribal member deputized to supervise the process,” said Wayne Ducheaneaux, tribal administrative officer. “We were able to come to an agreement quickly.”
“Dewey County is the gold standard in South Dakota tribal-county relations,” said O.J. Semans, Rosebud Sioux director of the voting-rights nonprofit Four Directions, which has supported, negotiated or litigated…

Ramah Navajo Weavers Sustain Ancient Connections

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A version of this story appeared in Indian Country Today in October 2012.

Sarah Henio-Adeky recounted the recent preparations for her daughter’s wedding, as a granddaughter smiled shyly. “We butchered a sheep and cooked, didn’t we?” asked Henio-Adeky (at right below), a cultural interpreter for the Ramah Navajo Weavers Association. The little girl nodded, clinging to her grandma’s leg.
We were standing outside one of two hogans (eight-sided Navajo homes) the association built to use for meetings and as classrooms that would provide a home-like context for learning about sheep and the cultural and environmental knowledge that comes with herding them and using their meat and wool. Squash ripened in a nearby garden, and later a horned toad (“a protector,” said Henio-Adeky) scampered by.
Inside the hogan, a wall (shown right) was decorated from top to bottom with a pattern that represented the universe, with the stars at the top, the Navajos’ four sacred mountains in the center and a human…

Tribes Fight to Prevent Youth Suicide

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Versions of this story appeared in October 2012 on NBCnews.com and 100Reporters.com and in Indian Country Today (print and online).
It feels like wartime,” says Diane Garreau, a child-welfare official on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, in South Dakota (shown left), speaking of the youth-suicide epidemic sweeping Indian country. “I’ll see one of our youngsters one day, then find out a couple of days later she’s gone. Our children are self-destructing.”
Native teens and twenty-somethings are killing themselves at an alarming pace. For those 15 to 24, the rate is 3.5 times that of other Americans, according to the Indian Health Service (IHS). Tribes have declared states of emergency and set up crisis-intervention teams. The federal government included 10 tribes or tribal organizations in a recent round of 23 youth-suicide prevention grants; most will receive nearly $500,000 per year for three years. That brings to 43 the number of indigenous groups that have received this funding.

New Gardening Challenges Mean Innovative Solutions for Ramah Navajo

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A version of this article appeared in Indian Country Today in September 2012.


This has been a great year for gardening,” said Randy Chatto, left, coordinator of the ERNEH Project: Empowering Ramah Navajos to Eat Healthy Using Traditional Foods, in northern New Mexico’s high desert. “Last year was dry and gloomy, with only three good rains. But this year, the summer monsoons came early, and everything’s growing well.”
Driving along two-lane roads to visit gardens on a bright August day, we could see that the grass in the piñon- and juniper-dotted fields was bright green and high-desert wildflowers painted the roadsides yellow, purple and vermilion. When we got to the plots, we found them laden with squash, melons, tomatoes and peppers, drooping from vines and hiding under leaves. Blossoms on the plants promised more bounty in the weeks to come.
Chatto, a tribal member, described the project, which started four years ago with just four 4-by-4-foot box gardens. Since then, it’s burgeoned to…