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March 30, 2012

Indian Country in the News: Mar. 23 - Mar. 30, 2012

This week's news highlights include a story (and video!) on the tribal origins of the NCAA's traveling Final Four court, a march in Guatemala over indigenous land rights, a challenge by Lakota inmates regarding a ban on tobacco in prison, and concerns over how a proposed pipeline across the U.S. would impact ancestral Indian burial grounds:

  • Final Four floor makers courting perfection - "The portable Final Four court at New Orleans' Mercedes-Benz Superdome is one of 21 produced for this year's NCAA men's and women's tournament sites by Connor Sports Flooring. Its plant is tucked away in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, in population-275 Amasa, where the nearest airport has three flights a day. The court was made by hand, by a workforce that inspects each plank with the type of scrutiny any fine-eyed referee would appreciate. The maple came from the 235,000 acres of Wisconsin forest owned by Menominee Tribal Enterprises. The Menominee Tribe has about 4,000 people living on the reservation, and about 500 work in its sawmill or as loggers."
  • 10,000 Indigenous Protestors March on Guatemala Capital - "An estimated 10,000 indigenous people marched on Monday in the Guatemalan capital after they walked more than 200 kilometers (120 miles) to demand a government settlement of a conflict over land. Tired and sweating, with bags slung over their shoulders and waving red pennants, the thousands of Indians and peasants, who were joined by social organizations, students and labor unions, marched through the historic downtown area before meeting with President Otto Perez Molina."
  • Native American inmates challenging tobacco ban - "A Lakota traditional healer said Tuesday that tobacco is an integral part of Native American religious ceremonies and denying its use is akin to taking away the Bible from a Christian. Richard Moves Camp, testifying during a federal trial challenging a South Dakota prison policy banning its use in such ceremonies, said tobacco has been a central part of prayer for thousands of years. It's traditionally mixed with other botanicals in pipes and smoked to bring peace and harmony and connected to cloth in prayer ties that are burned in fires as a symbol of offering, he said."
  • Indian tribe worries pipeline will disturb graves - "As President Barack Obama pushes to fast-track an oil pipeline from Oklahoma south to the Gulf Coast, an American Indian tribe that calls the oil hub home worries the route might disrupt sacred sites holding the unmarked graves of their ancestors. Sac and Fox Nation Chief George Thurman plans to voice his concerns this week in Washington. He said he fears workers placing the 485-mile Keystone XL pipeline that would run from Cushing to refineries on Texas' Gulf Coast could disturb holy ground without consideration of the tribe. He and another tribe member say the pipeline's route travels through areas where unmarked graves are likely buried."

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March 23, 2012

Indian Country in the News: Mar. 16 - Mar. 23, 2012

This week's news highlights include convictions in the case of the 1982 massacre of nearly 300 indigenous people in Guatemala, allegations of harassment against Amazonian activists in Ecuador, a debate over same-sex marriage among the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and the return of bison to tribal land near Yellowstone National Park: 

  • Guatemala court convicts paramilitaries over 1982 massacre - "Amnesty International said today the sentencing of five Guatemalan men to nearly 8,000 years in prison each for a 1982 massacre is a victory for human rights. The men were convicted for an assault on the village of Plan de Sánchez, where 268 Maya- Achí indigenous people were killed, including children."
  • Indian anti-mining activists claim harassment - "The lands of the Shuar Indians in the Amazon are rich in wildlife such as tapirs, toucans and red howler monkeys. They also hold treasures more coveted by outsiders: rich deposits of copper and other minerals that the government is eager to cash in on. Projects to build open pit mines that would rip into their forest-covered hills have spawned a protest movement that sets leaders of the ethnic group against the country's popular president, Rafael Correa, who says development is essential to the future of this nation's 14 million people. Hundreds of indigenous people have been marching for nearly two weeks to protest planned mining projects, and on Wednesday the demonstrators were nearing Ecuador's capital of Quito."
  • Tribe Considers Recognizing Same-Sex Marriages - "The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians’ tribal council is considering a constitutional amendment that would recognize same-sex marriages. The Petoskey News-Review and WPBN-TV report the American Indian tribe would be the first in Michigan and among a few nationwide to legalize gay marriages if the amendment is adopted."
  • Iconic bison returning to repopulate parts of US West - "Sixty-four bison from Yellowstone National Park were set to arrive Monday on an American Indian reservation under a long-stalled plan to repopulate parts of the U.S. West with the iconic animals. Tribal and state officials signed an agreement late Friday allowing the transfer to take place, said Robert Magnan with the Fort Peck Fish and Game Department in Montana. The shipment date was kept quiet until it was under way to avoid a court injunction, he said."

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March 19, 2012

Haudenosaunee Intellect

Jose Barreiro (Taíno), assistant director for research and head of the NMAI’s Office of Latin America, offers this dispatch on John Mohawk (Seneca, 1944–2006), a scholar, writer, and leading advocate for the rights of the Iroquois Confederacy and of Indigenous people worldwide.

The notion of bridges always called my attention. I thought about that recently as I pondered my thirty-year friendship and collaboration with Seneca historian and traditionalist John Mohawk. I landed on this particular quality of the noted figure of Native revitalization in framing remarks for the unveiling earlier this month of a plaque in John's honor—a gesture of his alma mater, Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.

John received his Ph.D. long after he had published many major and important essays and books. Deeply rooted in his Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) longhouse culture, both ceremonial and agricultural, he had branched out to consider global issues and universal knowledge. As he once put it, "I am fully comfortable only in two places: the longhouse and the academy." The most serious of John's messages emerge from his linkage of two distinct settings, that bridge that was his life, joining the heartfelt John—in love with his culture, a participant in many aspects of ceremonial and Indian cultural life—and the intellectualized John—the researcher, the thinker, the academic, the advocate journalist, the professor. 

Better and more truthfully than most, he could carry the quality of "thinking in Indian" from the deep culture of indigenous continuity inherent in the longhouse communities of the Seneca Nation reservations and territories to contemporary, international discourse at the United Nations, the Organization of America States, and so on. His mind was global in scope, universal and classical, while his commitment was grounded in locality. He opened up crucial intellectual ground in the search for rights of indigenous nations worldwide.


Bridging is a very fruitful activity. Webbing knowledge and experience in respectful and shareable discourse is at a premium in contemporary, fragmentary climate, even on issues that have very strong scientific cohesion. At Hartwick, College Librarian Dr. Paul Coleman unveiled a plaque that presents a likeness of John, nicely profiled. I felt it a wonderful remembrance to a productive and successful life.

From a firm grounding in a traditional northeastern woodlands Indian community culture, the Seneca of western New York, John didn't just go to the larger world; he returned from the larger world, in fact, to reveal he had never left home at all. He did not have to, not economically and not intellectually. He knew, he lived, he articulated a Native intellectual tradition, well documented and even more interestingly, very well remembered.

In his essays and oratory on the great documents of Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, tradition, John wove the orations and formal language of the Longhouse Creation Story, the Great Law of Peace, the Code of Handsome Lake, into an analytical framework from which to study and interpret the world. An activist scholar, good writer, great orator, John did his best research and presentations in the longhouses, the tipis, the meeting halls of Native America. 

He also embraced the intellectual life, grounded it in his own tradition. "The Indian way," he proposed, in a 1992 keynote speech at Cornell University, "is a thinking tradition."

"The Indian way is a thinking tradition"—brilliant, liberating, this simple phrase, in his broader discourse, opened the proper Indian door to the greatest debate. Is there a Native intelligence in the Americas worthy of serious engagement? A way of life worthy of proposing its own survival? Its own contribution to  humanity? Worthy of arguing its own usefulness and rationality? Is there a Native thinking that can encompass the other world philosophies?

Beyond blinding ethnocentrisms, John argued for the great perceptive capacities among the many indigenous cultures, large bodies of knowledge that still reside within peoples—in particular places, and of place, related, even cosmologically, to specific places.

Not at all saddled by any sense of exoticism, John led many of us into a much deeper understanding of our own cultures. A student of the history of technologies, he could see the integrative and productive capacity of small-scale locality. On this question hinged the unique capacity of Indians to manifest longterm "civilization," he would point out, for having sui generis—from within—intellectual life.

"There is more to it than beads and feathers," John liked to point out. Thinking In Indian.

—J. B.

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March 16, 2012

Indian Country in the News: Mar. 9 - Mar. 16, 2012

This week's news highlights include an in-depth look at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, a controversial decision involving a Wyoming tribe's traditional use of eagle feathers, the "discovery" of indigenous medicine in the Peruvian reainforest and the fight over Jim Thorpe's remains:

  • NYTimes: Foxwoods Is Fighting for Its Life - "Nearly everything about the Foxwoods Resort Casino is improbable, beginning with its scale. It is the largest casino in the Western Hemisphere — a gigantic, labyrinthine wonderland set down in a cedar forest and swamp in an otherwise sleepy corner of southeastern Connecticut. Forty thousand patrons pack into Foxwoods on weekend days. The place has 6,300 slot machines. Ten thousand employees."
  • AP: Wyoming Tribe Gets Rare Permit to Kill Bald Eagles  - "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken the unusual step of issuing a permit allowing an American Indian tribe to kill two bald eagles for religious purposes. The agency's decision comes after the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming filed a federal lawsuit last year contending the refusal to issue such permits violates tribal members' religious freedom."
  • WSJ: Rainforest Remedy May Tackle Toothache  - "An anesthetic gel made from a plant found in the Peruvian rainforest could revolutionize dental treatment, researchers from the University of Cambridge said Wednesday. Indigenous tribes in Peru discovered the pain-killing properties of the Acmella Oleracea plant centuries ago and used it to treat toothache, ulcers and abscesses."


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March 14, 2012

Pine Ridge Students Team Up to Create Public Art

ALP_AB_PineRidge20120222_0059January Tobacco applies grout to Red Cloud mosaic. Photo by Keevin Lewis, NMAI

In December, Angela Babby, an Oglala Lakota artist who works in glass mosaics, visited our museum in Washington, D.C., to research our collection of objects related to the Oglala, Sicangu, and Sans Arc Lakota Sioux tribes. And just as these beautiful, decades-old objects taught Angela about traditional Native American techniques and materials, Angela decided to share her research, talent and time with young, budding artists from the Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River, and Rosebud reservations for a public art project at the Red Cloud High School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. The project, titled The Red Clouds, is a collaboration with high school youth to create glass-mosaic designs around the image of Chief Red Cloud.

Two high school students, January Tobacco and Kristian Big Crow, came after school to receive information and instruction from Ms. Babby in design, glass-cutting, mosaic, and picture-framing techniques. The students designed individual patterns around Chief Red Cloud, set the grout, framed their mosaics, and then etched their signatures and the date into their work in a project that took inspiration from the art of Andy Warhol.

Leah Maltbie, an art teacher at Red Cloud who was present at all of the classes, was amazed by the process and excited to try it herself in the future. The supplies to start a glass-mosaic art program at the school were left behind, along with the makings for three more artworks in The Red Clouds project, to be made by students who couldn't be there for every session of the workshop. The finished glass-mosaic pieces are scheduled to be installed in a public location at Red Cloud High School in the coming months.

398px-ALP_AB_PineRidge20120222_0086Kristian Big Crow signing his finished art work. Photo by Keevin Lewis, NMAI

There is currently a collaborative push between Red Cloud High School and the Heritage Center, an art museum located on the same campus, to create educational programs on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Angela's intention with this project was to add her name to the long list of individuals committed to helping to enhance the opportunities available to the students at the school who are working very hard to improve their lives.

ALP_AB_PineRidge20120222_0097Tobacco, Big Crow, and Babby with finished art work. Photo by Keevin Lewis, NMAI

The mosaic class allowed the students to learn new techniques, work with new materials, and meet a professional artist. The goal of the project was to give the students more tools with which to find their own unique ways to express themselves and honor their heritage in the future.

Congratulations to January, Kristian, and Angela for creating new works of art for your community!

Keevin Lewis, Community Services Coordinator, NMAI

Angela Babby's research in the museum's collections and her workshop at the Red Cloud High School were supported by her participation in the museum's Artist Leadership Program

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Wow really cool. Just great to see young artist sharing there works with the community. I absolutely love the different interpretations the two artist did of Chief Red Cloud. Really neat. Thanks for the well written article and I look forward to coming back. Thanks

Very interesting, thanks for the article!

that's cool, so creative,young people with full imagination can make a great art like that. Thanks for the good written article and I look forward to coming back.

This is such a great idea. I want to show my little girl how to do this as she loves to try new things.

I will let you know what she does.

Thank you.