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Showing posts from 2015

Eve of Destruction: BLM Approves Mine in 10,000-year-old Sacred Site

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This article appeared on In These Times' magazine's Rural America website in September 2015 and was updated in November.
This isn’t the “new” world for the Western Shoshone. And their West was never “wild.” It is a place of deep cultural connections to a homeland that at one time extended across portions of Idaho, Nevada, Utah and California. For more than 10,000 years, they have met to gather a type of white flint and to practice their ceremonies in what is today called the Tosawihi Quarries, or alternately the Tosawihi Complex, a stretch of northern Nevada.

“That stone is very sacred to us,” says Joe Holley, seen below in Tosawihi. He is a tribal council member and former chairman of the Battle Mountain Band of the Te-Moak Western Shoshone, one of several federally recognized tribes with links to the area. “We use it every day and have done so for millennia, for tools, ceremonies and healing. The stone, the water, the entire place is sacred.” 
The word Tosawihi means White Kn…

Going Postal: How All-Mail Voting Thwarts Navajo Voters

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This story first appeared on In These Times magazine's Rural America site (RAITT) in August 2015. 

All-mail-in voting has arrived in the red-rock bluffs and canyons of San Juan County, Utah, which overlaps the Navajo Nation’s reservation. In 2014, the county sent voters mail-in ballots for the general election, while closing local precincts in the shadow of Red Mesa’s ruddy flat-topped butte; in Monument Valley, the fabled location for John Ford Westerns; and in other towns and hamlets. Just one polling place remained open, in the county seat, Monticello, in the predominantly white northern portion of the county.  Also gone were 20-some election judges and translators who had provided voting help and federally mandated language assistance to non-English-speaking Navajos. One part-time official interpreter was left to cover about 8,000 square miles—an area nearly the size of Massachusetts. As states and counties around the nation increasingly offer voters convenient ways to cast a bal…

In a Rare Move, the Justice Department Drafts a Bill of Its Own—to Ensure Native Voting Rights

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This story first appeared on In These Times magazine's Rural America website (RAITT) in July 2015.
The Department of Justice has put its considerable muscle behind new draft legislation to ensure that American Indians and Alaska Natives have the same opportunities to vote as other Americans. On May 21, the Justice Department announced the Tribal Equal Access to Voting Act. “I am calling on Congress to help remove the significant and unnecessary barriers that for too long have confronted American Indians and Alaska Natives attempting to cast their ballots,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.
With new Native-language ballots, new early-voting options, and vigorous GOTV (shown here in Togiak village), Election 2014 turnout was up throughout Native Alaska. As a result, indigenous people were credited with helping elect a Native lieutenant governor, protect the vast Bristol Bay region from mining, and increase the state's minimum wage.

It’s unusual for the Justice Department to pr…

South Dakota's Last Stand—Ballot Boxes, Red Herrings and Custer Envy

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This story first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in May 2015. For an article on the filing of the suit in 2014, see Oglala VP: 'Our Civil Rights Are Being Violated.'



Jackson County, South Dakota, has dug in for a fight against Oglala Sioux plaintiffs who sued for a full-service satellite voting office on the portion of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that overlaps the county. On May 11, Jackson County filed an answer to the Oglalas’ complaint.

The document mostly reiterated legal arguments that had been rebuffed by U.S. District Court Judge Karen Schreier 10 days earlier, when she refused to dismiss the lawsuit, Poor Bear v. The County of Jackson. In her opinion, the judge wrote that the plaintiffs might be able to prove “intentional discrimination,” a Fourteenth Amendment violation. Judge Schreier presided over another Oglala voting-rights suit, Brooks v. Gant, which in 2012 resulted in satellite voting for another part of Pine Ridge.

(Map caption: The main Jackson …

Poor Bear Wins a Round: Oglala Voting Suit Advances

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This story first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in May 2015. For an August 2015 update, go here.


A federal judge has shredded claim after claim by a South Dakota county that overlaps the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation but will not guarantee tribal members on-reservation voter registration and in-person absentee voting (sometimes dubbed “early voting”). In future, Jackson County wants all residents to continue traveling to the courthouse in the county seat, Kadoka, to access the full range of voting services. Tribal members, including Oglala Sioux Nation vice president and lead plaintiff Tom Poor Bear, sued. They say the county’s stance violates the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing equal rights. The county defendants came back with a motion that the suit, Poor Bear v. The County of Jackson,be dismissed. Judge Karen Schreier turned the county down, repeatedly opining that the plaintiffs had offered sufficient grounds to move the suit forward, whil…

OST Takes Aim at Newspaper, Attorney

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This story, and a follow-up, originally appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in March and April 2015.
The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council has approved a resolution requesting that Pine Ridge Indian Reservation businesses halt sales of the Rapid City Journal.
The action was in response to the newspaper’s January 31 front-page headline, “Did Native students stand for National Anthem?” The article elaborated on a disputed anonymous claim that Pine Ridge schoolchildren who were taunted and sprayed with beer at a Rapid City Rush hockey game had not stood for The Star-Spangled Banner.
The article and its headline caused lasting outrage. The Native American Journalists Association called the story “troubling” and “irresponsible.” Native News Online called it “blaming the victims.” At a public forum, Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker held the newspaper upside down and described it as “an example of institutional racism,” wrote David Rooks in ICTMN.
The Associated Press article on the council’s F…

Yup’ik Math Curriculum Adds Up to Success

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This story first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in January 2015. 
Seated on a couch in their house in Manokotak, in Alaska’s southwestern Bristol Bay region, Yup’ik elders Mike and Anecia Toyukak, paged through a notebook of mathematics lessons based on traditional Yup’ik concepts. The couple, shown left, is part of a team of elders, educators, curriculum writers and others, including University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) professor Jerry Lipka, who have collaborated for more than 30 years.During that time, the group has produced 10 culture-based mathematics lessons for elementary-school students.
In the Yup’ik view, the human body is the measure of the world, whether the item to be gauged is small, such as one element of a hat pattern, or large, like the distance to be traveled between two features in the rugged Alaska landscape. “Here’s how we measure,” said Anecia, a retired teacher, as she jumped up to demonstrate computing lengths with a portion of the forefinger, th…