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Showing posts from February, 2013

Dancing from the Heart: A rehearsal at Zuni Pueblo

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Published in Indian Country Today in January 2013. For more photographs, go here.
The late afternoon sun slanted through puffy clouds and played over the surface of Zuni Pueblo’s sacred Corn Mountain. Small golden heads of wild sunflowers dappled the field at the base of the mesa, which rises 1,000 feet over the pueblo’s western New Mexico village. Against this imposing high-desert backdrop, a dance rehearsal got underway.
Seven-member Soaring Eagle, the first of two groups to run through their paces that day, adjusted their headdresses and other regalia. Meanwhile, Tammy Weebothee, a dancer and organizer of the rehearsal, pointed out a tall spire, nearly the height of the mesa and just south of it (to its right in the photographs here). It appeared to represent two figures, one taller than the other, wrapped in a blanket. “They’re a brother and sister who died to save the community when flood waters rose.” She noted pale striations across the russet face of Corn Mountain—traces left be…

Rough Justice in Indian Child Welfare

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Published on Investigative News Network affiliate 100Reporters.com in December 2012; an excerpt published in Huffington Post in January 2013. See my additional ICWA stories hereherehere and here.
In a basement interrogation room in South Dakota, agents of the state’s Department of Criminal Investigation were on the firing line. A group of Native American children were claiming sexual and physical abuse by their white adoptive parents, with whom they’d first been placed as foster kids.
South Dakota was already under Congressional scrutiny for the high number of Native children it takes from their homes and tribes then places, for the most part, with white foster families or in white-run group homes—seemingly to claim a higher share of federal foster care funding. Though Native children make up about 13 percent of South Dakota’s child population, they are typically more than 50 percent of those in care, according to federal figures. A new tribal report confirms that few Native foster…

Who’s sorry now? Artist Layli Long Soldier deconstructs President Obama’s apology

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Published in Indian Country Today in February 2013.
Time-lapse photographs snapped every 10 minutes in Red Cloud Indian School’s Heritage Center, on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, document visitors inscribing messages on an art installation, then three months later painting them over. Writer and artist Layli Long Soldier projected onto the gallery’s white walls three sections of President Obama’s December 2009 apology to the Native people of the United States. For the last quarter of 2012, she offered viewers markers, pastels, paints and brushes and invited them to respond by writing and drawing directly on the walls.
 “Most Native people had never heard of the apology,” said Long Soldier, who is Oglala Lakota and French American and now lives and teaches on the Navajo reservation, where her husband is from. “Its text was folded into a larger piece of legislation that was signed over a weekend. It’s a national apology but has had no public attention.”
Long Soldier, who is an M.F.A. ca…

Louise Erdrich’s The Round House

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Published in Indian Country Today in January 2013; the photographs are of Erdrichs Minneapolis bookstore, Birchbark Books.
Louise Erdrich’s latest novel, The Round House, is a fast-paced mystery that readers will have a hard time putting down until they’ve finished it. In the book, the winner of this year’s National Book Award for fiction, she takes readers back to the fictional reservation world she’s created in several novels over the years. In the beginning of this new work, Erdrich’s 14th, we learn that a mother has been raped. She returns home dazed, beaten and bloody, her clothes soaked in gasoline. The book’s narrator is her 13-year-old son, Joe, who tries to figure out who is responsible for the crime. Once his life meant riding bikes with friends and watching episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, known by its fans as simply TNG. “Naturally, we all wanted to be Worf,” Joe tells us in the narrative. “We all wanted to be Klingons. Worf’s solution to any problem was to atta…

Spiritual Listening: Alaska Natives Tackle Youth Suicide with Lessons from the Land

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Published in Indian Country Today in January 2013.
Some years ago, Yup’ik mentor Keggulluk was setting up a camp in northern Alaska with the help of an at-risk teen he’d taken under his wing. The youngster had been abusing alcohol and gas huffing—inhaling gasoline fumes, which induces hallucinations and causes brain damage and even death. The teen was on track to become one of the many Alaska Natives who kill themselves each year, at a rate at least three times the national average—in some areas, far higher than that.

“The problem has exploded so recently and appears to be still growing, with no end in sight,” said Keggulluk, who is also known as Earl Polk. “It’s a grueling, non-stop battle to save our youth.”
As a result of all the suicide-risk factors bearing down on their children, area tribes had put together a suicide-prevention camp. For several days, the kids would live in the wilderness and benefit from its lessons.
It was a cool, clear September morning when the teen and Kegg…

Tribes take on youth suicide with skits, mustangs and ceremonies

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Published in Indian Country Today in January 2013.
On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, youngsters perform skits aimed at lowering their tribe’s youth-suicide rate. Playing with mustangs helps prevent self-harm among the children of the Gila River Indian Community. On the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, tribal members who’ve lost family to suicide heal by grieving together. In each of these three communities, youngsters kill themselves at a rate at least triple the United States average.
“American Indian and Alaska Native youth have the highest suicide rates in the country,” said Richard McKeon, chief of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s suicide-prevention branch. To help quell this epidemic, Native groups received about a third of the agency’s recent round of grants. “We want to help as many as tribes as possible reduce risk factors, such as substance abuse and depression.”
With the grants, the tribes will also bolster what scientists call protective factors…