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September 30, 2011

Indian Country in the News: Sept. 23 - Sept. 30, 2011

This week's news highlights include an official apology from Bolivian president Evo Morales following clashes with indigenous protesters and the police over a proposed road into their ancestral homeland, a court order in Brazil to halt work on a mega-dam that threatens fishing by local tribes, a compromise between the Cherokee Nation and the descendants of slaves, and complaints against students at Berkeley for holding a controversial bake sale:

  • President Morales asks for forgiveness after attacks on indigenous groups - "Bolivian President Evo Morales apologized for the humiliation suffered by indigenous peoples at the hands of the police over the weekend, and said his government did not mandate the attacks, state media reported late Wednesday. On Sunday, 500 police tear-gassed and rousted about half of 1,500 indigenous protesters making a 300-mile march to the capital, La Paz, to protest a road project through a national park on their ancestral homeland."
  • Brazil court orders halt to work on $11 bn mega-dam - "A federal court in Brazil has ordered a halt in construction at the controversial $11 billion Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, saying it would disrupt fishing by local indigenous people. The project has drawn international criticism, including from Oscar-winning movie director James Cameron of "Avatar" fame, who said indigenous tribes in the Amazon rainforest could turn to violence to block dam construction."
  • AP: Judge reopens voting in Cherokee race - "A federal judge on Tuesday approved a compromise between the Cherokee Nation and the descendants of slaves once owned by the tribe's members that will allow more than 30,000 registered voters to cast ballots in the tightly-contested special election for tribal chief, if they haven't already."
  • AP: 'Racist' bake sale at UC draws angry protest - "The Berkeley College Republicans have scheduled a bake sale where the price of a cookie or a brownie depends on your gender and the color of your skin. The price of a baked good costs $2 for white people, $1.50 if you're Asian, $1 for Latinos, 75 cents for African-Americans and 25 cents for Native Americans. Women get a discount of 25 cents."

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September 23, 2011

Indian Country in the News: Sept. 16 - Sept. 23, 2011

This week's news highlights include a $20.5 million settlement from the oil giant BP to the Jicarilla Apache Nation, a battle over the security bill for one of the largest tribally run casinos in the U.S., a new development in the Cherokee Nation's upcoming election and controversy over voting rights, and the continued march of indigenous Bolivians against plans for a road in the Amazon :

  • BP pays $20.5m to settle Native American royalty claims - "The oil giant had been accused of under-reporting the value of natural gas extracted from lands including those in New Mexico belonging to the Jicarilla Apache Nation. BP remains committed to properly paying royalties, and denies any wrongdoing in connection with this matter. The settlement caps a difficult week for BP in America. On Wednesday a new report by US regulators into the causes of the April 2010 blast on the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 men and saw 4.1m barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico was heavily critical of the company.
  • AP: Conn. casinos seek break on paying for security - "A dispute is brewing over the security bill for two of the largest casinos in the United States, tribal-run properties in Connecticut where the state assigns teams of troopers and other agents to patrol resort areas that receive tens of thousands of daily visitors. The American Indian tribes that must reimburse the state for the services of police, liquor control officers and auditors are questioning whether such a heavy state presence is necessary. The assessments have risen gradually over the past three years to $7.3 million for the Foxwoods Resort Casino and $6.8 million for Mohegan Sun for the last fiscal year."
  • AP: Federal court order on ballots of slaves’ descendants could sway election for Cherokee chief - "In a rare move by the government, a federal judge will delve in to the interworking of an American Indian tribe this week by deciding whether to allow the descendants of slaves once owned by members of the Cherokee Nation to vote in the tribe’s embattled election for chief. A special election being held Saturday was ordered by the tribe’s highest court after recounts from a flawed election in June were reversed several times, with the longtime chief and his challenger each being declared the winner twice. Tribal experts believe the slave descendants — known as freedmen — could swing the vote to new leadership of one of the country’s largest tribes."
  • BBC: Bolivians to resume road march amid confrontation fears - "Indigenous protesters in Bolivia say they are resuming a march against a new road, a day after calling a temporary halt amid fears of confrontation. They have been walking for weeks in protest at government plans to build a road through their land. Hundreds of police officers and government supporters have set up road blocks on the route to prevent them reaching Bolivia's main city, La Paz. There have been several failed attempts at dialogue with the government."

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September 22, 2011

Kevin Gover requests the pleasure of your company at the opening of phase one of the imagiNATIONS Activity Center

Children welcome here When I first visited the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, DC, like most people, I saw a beautiful, elegant place with intriguing and informative exhibitions. As I watch visitors to the museum, I notice that visitors experience the museum rather solemnly. That is fine for the adults who seek a thoughtful and contemplative experience. If you’re a kid, though, that can be pretty boring.

And in fact we found that our younger visitors have a hard time finding fun things to do in the museum. So about two years ago we decided to take the educational resource center space on the third floor and make it into a place for families and children, in order to provide greater opportunities for our younger visitors to engage with Native cultures.

I assigned a project manager who built a team, and I gave the team one direction: Make a dynamic space for young people to learn and have fun. The team started by looking at other spaces and talking with colleagues, both inside the Smithsonian and at institutions in other cities. In the end, they decided on a space that children and adults alike would be comfortable visiting. They wanted a range of activities to cover a variety of interests. And they wanted everything to be immersive and hands-on.

This was a challenging assignment, rather different from the mounting of a traditional museum exhibition. It’s a different way of thinking, of designing, and of building. But when talented and creative people work together, good results are possible. I could not be more excited about this new space and what the staff has accomplished.

We will open the imagiNATIONS Activity Center in three stages: in September, in October, and in early 2012. I walked through the space the other day and watched crews installing the September components: One group was mounting skate decks for the skateboard activity, while another was installing the shelf wall for the "snow" blocks of the build-it-yourself iglu. A third group was on scaffolding in the back, assembling the poles for our Amazonian stilt house, while a fourth was working on the interactive quiz show at the entrance. Our exhibitions development team is producing life-size spin puzzles and the skeleton of a giant basket. Boxes of supplies are arriving daily, and the final details for the opening programs are getting settled.

Amazonian stilt house
On opening day, September 25, we will have some very special guests—several children from the Amazonian rainforest in Peru, whose photographs were the model for our stilt house. They will be in the imagiNATIONS Center at 11:30 to talk about their home and their photography. Also, Kekaulele Kawai‘ae‘a, a young Native Hawaiian author, will read from his book at 1 and 3 PM, and Juanita Velasco, an Ixil Maya weaver from Guatemala, will do weaving demonstrations and workshops from 10:30 to 12:30 and 2 to 4 PM.

It feels like this day took a long time to come. We cannot wait to share this space with you, our visitors. I welcome you to the NMAI family and invite you to join me in opening this new museum space on September 25. I hope you’ll be as excited as I am, and that I’ll see you here many times.

—Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director, National Museum of the American Indian 

Photographs (top to bottom): At the entrance to the imagiNATIONS Activity Center, column-spin puzzles address several goals: inviting visitors to engage in hands-on activities, encouraging people to notice how different cultures express their unique identity, and letting children know that this part of the museum has been created especially for them.

The iglu activity space takes shape. Despite the woodworking clamps where text panels are being mounted at the left, no glueing will be permitted once iglu-building commences!

Dwellings from four different parts of the Americas—an Amazonian stilt house, iglu, adobe (below), and tipi (coming in phase 2 or 3)—help young museum-goers experience how cultures reflect the world around them. 


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Interesting read, thank you for posting the article, will visit the museum.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. You have a wonderful blog! Keep it up!

This is a GREAT post! I hope you not mind. I published an excerpt on the site and linked back to your own blog for people to read the full version. Thanks for your advice.

Learning history the fun way is a whole lot of experience especially for the kids. They love to use their imaginations. Bringing up this idea would not only nurture them with an American heritage but they could also have fun at the same time.

Museums are most likely for kids. From there they could gain more knowledge. It is a great idea that they make effort on how to make kids enjoy while learning.

informative information to the public, with the museum we will know a lot of history

This is a fantastic place for children to let their imaginations run wild. It can really allow them to "live" the history they learn, which is an integral part of the learning process. Thanks for the nice piece.

We hope you not mind. I published an excerpt on the site and linked back to your own blog for people to read the full version. Thanks for your advice.

Learning history the fun way is a whole lot of experience especially for the kids. They love to use their imaginations. Bringing up this idea would not only nurture them with an American heritage but they could also have fun at the same time

This is a fantastic place for children to let their imaginations run wild. It can really allow them to "live" the history they learn, which is an integral part of the learning process. Thanks for the nice piece.

Museums are most likely for kids. From there they could gain more knowledge. It is a great idea that they make effort on how to make kids enjoy while learning.

September 16, 2011

Indian Country in the News: Sept. 9 - Sept. 16, 2011

This week's news highlights include a battle between the U.S. government and the Cherokee Nation over tribal sovereignty and racial discrimination, the announcement of $118.4 million in federal funding for tribes to address soaring crime rates, how a popular children's book series is attempting to revive the endangered Lakota language, a unique collaboration between Taiwan and Canada's First Nation peoples to promote Native tourism and how the U.S. Geological Survey's Alaska's indigenous communities to learn more about climate change:

  • AP: Feds tell Cherokees they must restore benefits, voting rights of slaves’ descendants - "The federal government is warning the Cherokee Nation that its expulsion of about 2,800 descendants of slaves once owned by its members violates an 1866 treaty and is unconstitutional. The assistant secretary for Indian Affairs called on the tribe Tuesday to restore the descendants’ membership, including voting rights and benefits such as medical care and food stipends. The Bureau of Indian Affairs says unless the tribe re-admits the descendants, a Sept. 24 special election to elect a principal chief won’t be valid. The Cherokee Supreme Court ordered the special election after several counts and recounts in a June election ended with each candidate declared the winner twice."
  • AP: Justice Dept. announces $118.4 million to tribes - "Some 150 American Indian tribes are getting a share of nearly $120 million in federal funds to improve safety on reservations, according to a Justice Department announcement Wednesday. The grants were awarded under a new streamlined system and are intended to help tribes deal with soaring crime rates and issues of justice and enforcement, said Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli at the Four Corners Indian Country Conference in Ignacio. Violent crime rates on Indian reservations are more than twice the national rate, and there is an epidemic of domestic and sexual violence in Indian Country, along with high instances of child abuse, teen suicide and substance abuse, according to the federal government."
  • Washington Post: Berenstain Bears, fluent in 20+ languages, adding endangered American Indian dialect Lakota - "The beloved Berenstain Bears are helping revive an endangered American Indian language. Lakota for the “Compassionate Bear Family,” the animated series “Mathó Waúnsila Thiwáhe” is the first animated series ever translated into an American Indian language and began airing this week on public television in North Dakota and South Dakota. Twenty episodes of the Berenstain Bears were dubbed into the ancient language of the Sioux, whose tribal lands span both states, and will run weekly through 2011."
  • AFP: Canada shares lessons on booming Native tourism - "Native dancers wearing colorful masks take the stage here, performing an ancient ritual dance invoking the grizzly bear, a sacred figure for many First Nation peoples in the upper reaches of North America. The performance is being watched by 15 Taiwanese aboriginals, who have come here to learn the art of creating financially viable native tourism back home. The Taiwanese visitors are part of a unique exchange program in which they hope to learn from their Canadian hosts about the art and the profit-making potential of aboriginal tourism. The Council of Indigenous Peoples, a ministry-level body in Taiwan, has sent these young people to learn about aboriginal-run tourism from Canadian indigenous communities to see what aspects of this flourishing trade can be duplicated back home."
  • UPI: Indigenous peoples speak on climate change - "Personal interviews with indigenous Alaskans are providing unique insights on climate change and its impacts on local communities, U.S. researchers say. The U.S. Geological Survey conducted interviews with Yup'ik hunters and elders in the villages of St. Mary's and Pitka's Point in Alaska's Yukon River Basin to gather their observations of climate change. The indigenous knowledge can include observations, lessons and stories about local environments handed down for generations, providing a long history of environmental knowledge and suggesting new areas for scientists to study, the researchers said. As the world's first locations to begin experiencing the effects of climate change, the arctic and subarctic are of particular interest, they said."

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September 15, 2011

Will current blood quantum membership requirements make American Indians extinct?

N01278 Blood quantum is a term used to define bloodlines relating to ancestry. For example, a person with one Indian grandparent and three non-Indian grandparents has one-quarter Indian blood. For American Indians, intermarriage between tribes, however, reduces specific tribal blood quantum.

The concept of documented blood quantum began in Europe and surfaced in the Virginia Colony in 1705. However, Native blood quantum was not widely applied in federal law until the 20th century. In 1934, the Indian Reorganization Act provided a means for federally recognized tribes to form constitutions and statutes to define their own membership criteria. As a result, the majority of federally recognized tribes began using set blood quantum requirements, lineal descendancy, or roll descendancy as criteria for tribal membership. Many non-federally recognized bands and tribes adopted blood quantum requirements to determine their tribal membership as well.

Tribes that use blood quantum criteria require tribal members be at least one-half to one-sixteenth blood of their tribe. A Certificate Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) is issued to tribal members as documentation of tribal membership. Tribes that use CDIB’s have the right to close membership or disenroll members because of lack of blood quantum. Tribes that use roll descendancy, established though treaties, may have tribal members on their rolls with no Indian blood at all—people who are tribal members, but who are not American Indian. Issues of roll descendancy, including closing membership and disenrolling tribal members, are currently being debated in the courts.

A colleague and I were discussing tribes that use blood quantum to determine their membership. She said, "Tribes that do this are setting themselves up for extinction. Eventually intermarriage will wipe fixed blood quantum out.” I totally agree with her: under the current blood quantum of my own tribal membership, my future grandchildren will not qualify to be members. As an American Indian and tribal member, this concerns me.

My colleague said her tribe recently opened up their membership for new members including new babies, people who moved out of state, etc. In order to become a new member each person seeking enrollment had to answer, historical, cultural, and family questions that pertained to the tribe's identity. For newborns, their parents had to answer these questions.

It was this tribe’s belief that if prospective members were connected to their community roots, they would know the answers to the tribe’s questions. Individuals who moved away and did not maintain any connection to their tribal community were not able to answer the questions and were refused membership, regardless of blood quantum. Perhaps this is one alternative that tribes will consider to replace blood quantum requirements.

During the NMAI Living Earth Festival this summer, I asked a Native Hawaiian woman how Native Hawaiians view blood quantum in their culture. She responded, "To the majority of Native Hawaiians, blood quantum is not an issue. We know our family bloodlines, and they are recognized by other Native Hawaiians. This is what makes us Native Hawaiian. I think blood quantum is an issue to Native Americans because of their relationship to the United States government. Native Hawaiians are not recognized by the United States the way federally recognized tribes are. Therefore, I think it is due to the government that Native Americans have to be concerned about blood quantum." To me there are many truths in my Hawaiian sister's feedback.

Do you think current tribal blood quantum requirements need to be amended or terminated? If so, or if there are other aspects of this topic that interest you, I hope you’ll be able to attend the symposium Quantum Leap: Does “Indian Blood” Still Matter tomorrow (September 16) at the museum in Washington, DC. If you can’t be here, please follow the discussion via live webcast. You can also submit questions via email to NMAISocialMedia@si.edu. One of my colleagues or I will make every effort to pose your questions to the panelists. If you can't join us tomorrow, you're welcome to continue the conversation here via the comments.

For more information on tomorrow's program, including the panelists taking part, please see the symposium guide.

—Dennis Zotigh, NMAI cultural specialist

Above: Three Nanticoke schoolboys, 1911–14. The boy in the center is from the Street family. Indian River Hundred, Delaware. Photo by Frank G. Speck. N01278

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Isn't it interesting how the Spanish "pure blood laws" of 1484 influenced the Casta paintings in the New World which lead to the blood quantum system of the USA? Isn't it interesting how the Nazis used the blood quantum system for ridding Europe of Jews? http://www.jstor.org/pss/2540627

Before colonization, my tribe adopted people into our tribe without respect to origin. It is still part of our living culture to adopt relatives without respect to blood relations and origin. It is in our best interests to reject the blood quantum system concerning the history and continuous intent of such "pure blood laws". Allowing an external force to our communities to define our identities and define how our descendants can be treated is a cowardly act. As it is commonly said, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." Tribes have all the information regarding the history of how "pure blood laws" have been adversely used against human beings. To continue to accept such blood quantum definitions for our identities brings shame upon us all for being so gullible that "pure blood laws" are intended for our benefit.