Showing posts from 2017

Need Climate Change Evidence? A Western Shoshone Basketmaker Has It

“Culture means learning from each other and sharing,” Western Shoshone basketmaker Leah Brady tells me. Nowadays, it also means an intimate experience of climate change and pollution, as she weaves natural materials—willow, cedar, reeds and more—into baskets.

Brady’s Elko, Nevada, home showcases her award-winning work and that of other artisans—several generations of her family and additional makers from Northern Paiute, Goshute and other area tribes. The items' materials evoke the millennia-old relationship between Native people and their rugged desert and mountain homeland.

That world is changing in ways that Brady and other local crafts makers observe first-hand. She shows me how she creates willow-bark thread—biting down on one end of a willow branch to steady it and pulling off three narrow strips of bark. “If my mouth starts tingling, I know the willow has been sprayed with a pesticide or other chemical,” Brady says. “Some basketmakers report getting blisters in their mout…

Lead Poisoning for All! It's Not Just Flint Anymore

Once politicians promised a chicken in every pot. Not anymore. The Trump administration is promising Americans lead poisoning in every blood stream—human and animal. The nation has long banned lead in paint, water pipes and gasoline. Lead poisoning created tragic damage to human health and a national scandal in Flint, Michigan. How soon we forget.

As I recently reported in Rural America In These Times, on Ryan Zinke’s first day in office as Secretary of the Interior, he rescinded restrictions on use of lead-based ammunition and fishing-line sinkers on lands managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Though the restriction was limited (phasing out the toxin on just certain federal lands by 2022), the NRA predictably described it as “an attack on our hunting heritage.” It was also first put into effect by President Obama, all of whose legacy is under attack by the current administration—just because.

Each year, hunters and fishermen pump tens of thousands of tons of lead into the …

Kim Jong-un, the Nobel and the Western Shoshone

Kim Jong-un can relax! We’ve already nuked ourselves! A lot!

The Nobel Committee’s announcement that the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has received this year’s Peace Prize has thrown a spotlight on U.S. nuclear policy. Nearly 1,000 nuclear devices have been detonated above and below ground at the Nevada Test Site since it was established in 1951.

As I recently reported in Rural America In These Times, this makes the Western Shoshone, within whose treaty lands the site lies—and by extension, the rest of us—arguably the most bombed nation on earth. And now, the Trump administration wants to ramp up the radioactive poisons in the area.

In June, Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry suggested using the test site, now called the Nevada National Security Site, as an interim waste dump. At the same time, Perry would reopen licensing procedures for nearby Yucca Mountain, with a view toward making the mountain— revered as a sacred site by area tribes—the permane…

Flintknapping as a cultural and spiritual journey

This article first appeared in the magazine Indian Country in summer 2017. 
A Western Shoshone grandfather and grandson sit companionably, side by side, in canvas camp chairs. They are in a small valley buttressed by rolling hills covered with golden grasses and gray-green sagebrush. In the palm of the left hand, each holds a piece of rough black stone resting on a small leather pad and, in the right, a length of deer antler. 
More tribal members are camped around them, watching the pair work, chatting, cooking and preparing a sweat lodge. A jackrabbit hops by: “Breakfast,” someone says. Mule deer dash away toward distant mountains.
The valley is in the Tosawihi Complex, a dry, rugged landscape that covers scores of square miles in what is now northern Nevada. It is the heart of the traditional Western Shoshone homeland, where they have camped, hunted, gathered and participated in ceremonies for millennia. Northern Paiutes and members of other tribes revere the area as well.
The grandfat…

After the Fire: Tribe Repatriates Thousands of Acres of Sacred Sites

Joe Holley assesses native-plant population in sacred site.
“It’s done,” said Lydia Johnson, chairwoman of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone, shown below right. “The papers are signed, and the land is ours.” It was the late afternoon of August 17, and Johnson had just returned from meeting with attorneys and Klondex Mines, a gold-mining concern. The company had presented the Western Shoshone, a coalition of several tribes, with just over 3,200 acres of ancient sacred sites in the Nevada high desert. The gift stood out as a rare and shining moment in a history that has been, for Western Shoshones, much like that of other Native Americans—massacres, land loss and segregation on economically isolated reservations.

Looking exhausted and elated, Johnson said that day and the next were busy ones for her own tribe, the Battle Mountain Band, which she also chairs. Preparations were underway for an August 18
ceremony and feast to celebrate the land transfer. Some tribal members were cook…

Wildfire Sweeps Past Sacred Sites — The Story in Pictures

The pickup truck rocked over boulders and rolled through dips and rises in the rough dirt track, as we approached 3,200+ acres of ancient sacred sites, recently deeded to the Western Shoshone by the gold-mining company Klondex Mines. The northern Nevada landscape that photographer Joseph Zummo and I traversed, with Battle Mountain Band official Joseph Holley at the wheel, was a grim brown-black. A massive wildfire that swept through the high desert the previous month had left little more than charred tree trunks and tufts of grass to interrupt a view that ended in dark, distant mountains.

The sacred sites we were seeking—prayer circles, shrines and more—are at the heart of an even larger cultural landscape encompassing tens of thousands of acres. Archaeologists have dated artifacts indicating that Native people have camped and held ceremonies here for at least 14,000 years. Medicine man Reggie Sope, of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, dismisses that figure. “We arose there,” he said.

We …

Joseph Zummo Photo Wins NAJA Award

Joseph Zummo's photo of Puyallup tribe canoe practice in Puget Sound, in preparation for the annual multi-tribal canoe journey, just won an award from the Native American Journalists Association, of which he is an associate (non-Native) member. For Puyallups, it's about cooperation, caring and connection with the water. When Joe got this shot, he was in the support boat, which follows the canoe and assists when necessary.

Conflict Flares Over Sioux Voting Rights

Not good enough, said Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Brandon Sazue, when the state of South Dakota and Buffalo County revealed that Crow Creek reservation voters would have minimal ballot-box access in 2018. The county’s auditor, who is tasked with conducting the election—renting space, training pollworkers and the like—had asked the state for federal Help America Vote Act funding to cover just 11 days across both the primary and general elections. That is far cry from the 94 days available in other parts of the state, Sazue pointed out. 
Native voters have long struggled to get to the polls in Buffalo County. In 2004, a federal court ordered the county to redistrict after an ACLU lawsuit showed that its three commission districts were grossly gerrymandered. Almost 1,500 Natives were packed into one district, while a few hundred additional county residents, Native and white, were split between two more. This allowed whites to control the local government and its resources.

Crow Creek …

Native Rights Two-Step—Tribal Voting Access Inches Forward for Sioux in South Dakota

Missouri River view from the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe's South Dakota reservation
South Dakota is a state where a former attorney general called applying the Voting Rights Act to Native Americans an "absurdity" and advised the top elections official to ignore it. Where some counties prohibited tribal members from voting and holding non-tribal offices until the 1980s. Where counties may set up polling places far from reservations. Where a sheriff slouching in a precinct doorway in 2014 chilled Native voter turnout.

Where a local elections official dismissed barriers to the Native vote, saying, “A person has to make an effort.”

Polling-place doors have cracked open in recent years, thanks to federal lawsuits and civil-rights complaints, Department of Justiceintervention, and the hard work of Four Directions, a civil-rights organization headquartered on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. Officials in the state, including Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, have have helped push the…

Can We All Just Get Along? A Mining Company and a Tribe Say "Yes"

On August 18, a gold-mining company will hand over some 3,000 acres of ancient sacred sites to the Western Shoshone. The date will be marked with dancing, drumming, prayers and food, according to Joseph Holley, shown left. He is a councilman and former chairman of the Battle Mountain Band of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshones, in Nevada. Though most of the gift will remain just as the Western Shoshone ancestors left it, a campground is planned for a small portion of the tract in order to facilitate visits by community and school groups.

Paul Huet, the chief executive officer of Klondex Mines, shown right, will speak on the occasion of the transfer, explaining how his Canadian firm purchased the acreage in order to give it to those who cherish it as part of an age-old heritage that finds meaning in the land. The Battle Mountain Band will hold and administer the tract on behalf of all Shoshones, Holley says.

Huet is also looking to make his company’s gold mine, which is several do…

Tribe Charges Discrimination Against Native Children

I don't want another generation to be pushed into suicide, addiction or prison," said tribal executive board member Roxanne Gourneau, shown left, of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, in remote northeastern Montana. The executive board, which represents the reservation's impoverished Sioux and Assiniboine tribes, has asked the U.S. Justice and Education departments to investigate treatment of Native students in the public schools of Wolf Point, a reservation town. White families obtained land here in years past and have since controlled the local economy, politics and educational system.

The tribal complaint alleges extreme disciplinary measures targeting Native children in the Wolf Point School District. These are accompanied by continual taunts and bullying by white administrators, teachers and students alike, as well as discriminatory employment practices that shut out Native teachers who might become role models, according to testimony gathered by the executive board a…

Talking Sense: Message from a Native Leader on World Peace and Prayer Day

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, has warned of "chaos, disasters, and severe tragedies for all life" if we don't get it together and "unite all humanity at Mother Earth’s sacred sites." Writing in Indian Country Media Network on the occasion of World Peace and Prayer Day on June 21, 2017, he decried the destruction of indigenous holy places around the United States and the world.

A spiritual leader of the Sioux people since the age of 12, Looking Horse participated in the 2017 prayer day's main ceremony at Mauna Kea, in Hawaii, where Native Hawaiians and others seek to prevent the summit from being further desecrated by the installation of giant telescopes. The gathering was one of many worldwide, ecumenical prayer events on the summer solstice.

Looking Horse has taken public positions on protection of sacred sites and the environment many times. He was among those who led the People's Climate Marchin April 2017 in W…