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2011 Retrospective: March

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Appetite for Destruction

The emerald ash borer beetle is extremely beautiful, and extraordinarily voracious. It has already destroyed a billion trees in North America, and basket weavers in the U.S. and Canada don’t know how to stop it. They are already stockpiling their lumber, hoping for a miracle.

The Pow Wow Now

Tally up the revenue from ticket sales, parking and photography permits, accommodation costs and advertising opportunities generated by the arrival of 50,000 visitors, and it’s clear the Denver March Powwow is a big business. But the business is secondary to the spirit behind this annual gathering.

Taking the Long Way Home

After 100 years of bickering, Yale University has finally agreed to return sacred remains and 5,000 artifacts from Machu Picchu, paving the way for other repatriations. Yale will also help establish an international center for the study of Machu Picchu and Incan culture.

The Monocacy River is named for what the Shawnee called it, Monnockkesey, or "river with many bends."

John Baker became the first Alaska native to win the Iditarod.

Iditarod! Mush Gets in Your Eyes

In honor of this year’s event, 39 fun facts about “The Last Great Race on Earth.” Here’s one: It is the longest dog sled race in the world. Here’s another: Mushers have hailed from 21 U.S. states and 14 foreign countries. And this: The last musher to finish gets a Red Lantern award.

Arctic Villagers on Thin Ice

Climate change hits Arctic villages first, posing new threats for water sanitation, food sourcing and preservation and physical injury. “[Subsistence] users [here] are more affected than any other race, because we’re in the cold climate where ice is melting at a disturbing pace,” Sylvester Ayek, an Inupiat elder, says. Alaska’s temperatures have risen at more than twice the rate of the rest of the U.S. in the past 50 years. This means thinning ice, land erosion, melting permafrost, fewer game and less water infiltration, causing a slew of health risks. For instance, beaver populations have spiked with the warmer weather. The rodent’s desecration is suspected of heightening the risk of giardia, an intestinal infection often referred to as “beaver fever.”

Dorgan Focuses on Youth Suicides

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The now-retired Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan, the immediate past chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, hosted a tribal roundtable discussion focusing on youth suicide, and attempted to drum up support for legislation that would hopefully curb the epidemic. But those efforts did not signify the end of his commitment. On February 28, Dorgan officially launched the Center for Native American Youth, a new policy program at the Aspen Institute think tank, with the aim of improving the overall health, safety and well-being of Native American youth, and in particular the prevention of youth suicide.

Bean-Counter Nailed for Private Plane

Sen. Claire McCaskill, (D-Missouri), says she’ll pay back the taxpayer money she used to fly her family’s private plane. Her office said “she will repay... $76,000 to charter the plane owned by a holding company registered to her husband and $12,000 in pilot fees.” Her spending drew attention from Native Americans because she has led efforts to crack down on federal contracts to Alaska Native Corporations and tribes.

U.N. Says Dirty Water = Discrimination

The U.S.’s record on potable water among American Indian communities is so abysmal that it amounts to discrimination, a U.N. expert said. At least 13 percent of the American Indian population lacks clean water and/or wastewater disposal, while only 0.6 percent of non-Native households do, said U.N. independent expert Catarina de Albuquerque, who has been directed by the U.N. Human Rights Council to examine human rights obligations for access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Although many groups lack safe drinking water, de Albuquerque said, the situation for American Indian communities is especially dire.

First Alaska Native Wins Iditarod

Inupiat John Baker won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and become only the second Native Alaskan to win the race since the 1,150-mile Anchorage-to-Nome race began in 1973. He blew away the previous race record, coming in exactly three hours earlier than the previous record. Baker completed this year’s race in eight days, 19 hours and 46 minutes.

America’s Only Native American Concierge

At the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa outside Phoenix, Ginger Sunbird Martin is a cultural historian. “When the tribe chose to diversify, they decided hospitality was the way to go,” she says. “[They looked] for a management company willing to bend corporate rules to accommodate the needs of a Native people—in this case, to accurately tell the story of our culture.”

What Have You Done for You Lately?

The driving force behind recent gains in American Indian and Native Alaskan economic prosperity is not funding from state and federal programs but rather self-determination and sovereignty, a new study has found. “The per capita income of American Indians on reservations has been growing approximately three times more rapidly than the United States as a whole since the early 1990s,” says the report. Those per capita increases are 30 percent for non-gaming tribes, 36 percent for gaming tribes and 11 percent for the whole country.

—Click hereif you missed our January 2011 retrospective.

—Click hereif you missed our February 2011 retrospective.