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Showing posts from 2016

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

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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, child…

A Deadly Month—Police Killings of Native Americans

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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 Oct

Great 2016 Election News: Native Voters Gain Rights

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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 t…

Culture Held Captive—Tribe Wants Patrimony Returned

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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 Mou…

Gathering Pine Nuts—Ancient Staple from Highland Forests

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This article first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in September 2016.


“Everything depends on the water and the trees,” said spiritual leader Johnny Bob, from the Yomba Shoshone Tribe (shown left), as he prayed for the start of a Western Shoshone pine-nut gathering. In September, members of several bands came together in a steep-walled mountain valley in central Nevada to collect the protein- and nutrient-rich nuts that were once the mainstay of their diet.

Some people took hold of long sticks and began to knock the sticky green cones off the tops of the pinyon trees. Others gathered fallen branches to chop up for the fire in which they would later roast the cones to release the sweet, creamy nuts. These can be eaten out of hand, added to soups and stews or parched and ground for gravy or mush.

“As we collect, we are pruning the trees to ensure there are even more cones next year. We are also cleaning the forest,” explained Joseph Holley, former chairman and now council …

Sacred Site Under Siege

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 This article first appeared on Indian County Today Media Network in September 2016.


A fire glows outside a sweat lodge, where Western Shoshones are gathered with a healer to pray and sing in the language of their ancestors. Sparks fly up toward the Milky Way streaming overhead in the night sky. In the surrounding expanse of sand and sagebrush, a faint trail is etched into the land. Centuries ago, an ancestral healer moved across these hills, singing and gathering medicinal herbs.
Now known as the Tosawihi Complex, the area encompasses scores of square miles in Nevada’s Great Basin. Western Shoshones call it the spiritual heart of their traditional homeland, which includes most of Nevada and portions of Idaho, Oregon, California and Utah. Tosawihi (pronounced DOS-a-wee) is named for a band whose name translates as White Knives. The group was famed, and feared, for carrying razor-sharp blades made from the white flint found here.
Ongoing usage by Western Shoshones leaves a cultural trace…

Big Government Gone Wild—How the U.S. Helps Outside Interests Plunder Indian Land

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This article was first published in September 2016 in In These Times magazine. It was the result of a six-month investigation revealing that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs—tasked with negotiating the best possible deal for Native landowners—often makes it cheap and easy for outsiders to exploit Native resources.



“They attacked my aunt like a bunch of coyotes attacking sheep in a corral,” recalls Navajo tribal member Roberta Tovar. “They were going, ‘Mary, Mary, just go ahead and sign it.’ ” 
The “coyotes” included representatives of Western Refining, a Texas-based oil company. One of the company’s pipelines carries 15,000 barrels of crude a day from oil fields in the Four Corners region to a refinery near Gallup, N.M. On the way, the line crosses a 160-acre plot of Navajo reservation land, shown at top, owned by 88-year-old Mary Tom, shown left, and dozens of family members.
Western Refining’s right of way expired in 2010. After years of negotiations with family members, the compan…