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2015 Hall of Fame / Mantle of Shame Awards

The new year has begun which means it’s time to look back on the stories of 2015 that deserve recognition for Hall of Fame or Mantle of Shame honors.

FAME – Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team for winning the silver medal in the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship Games. Held every four years, this year’s top rankings in September are a repeat of the 2011 rankings: Canada took gold, the Iroquois Nationals silver and Team USA won the bronze. The competition involved over a dozen countries, whose lacrosse teams were hosted for the first time by the Haudenosaunee, Iroquois Confederacy, at Onondaga Nation, which is a few miles from Syracuse, New York. The Nationals travel to other countries with Haudenosaunee passports. Upon arrival at Onondaga this year, the other countries’ teams were granted Haudenosaunee visas.

SHAME – England and any other country that has failed to recognize the Haudenosaunee passports and papers as legitimate.

FAME – Carol Emarthle-Douglas (Northern Arapaho & Seminole) and “Culture Burdens” – her basket of 22 women in traditional outfits bearing baskets from their Native cultures, some woven into the basket, some appended to it – which won Best of Show and Best of Class in the 2015 Santa Fe Indian Market, August 21; Best of Diverse Arts winners Jamie Okuma and Sandra Okuma (Shoshone Bannock & Luiseno), Mother and Daughter, and their two-mannequin fashion installation, "The Haute Couture of the Indigenous Kind: Yesterday and Today," with detailed depictions of the evolution from traditional to contemporary dress and accessories; Best of Moving Arts winner Kyle Bell (Thloptlocco) and his “Native Evolution,” a documentary film about the portraits of Steven Grounds (Yuchi & Navajo/Seminole/Creek); all other awardees and other artists who were part of this year’s Market; Mateo Romero (Cochiti Pueblo) painter and other artists, who produced the performance art installation at the Market’s opening preview event, featuring faces of missing and murdered Native women sprayed with red and yellow paint from vintage fire extinguishers; and Dallin Maybee (Northern Arapaho & Cattaraugus Seneca), Chief Operating Officer of the Market’s parent organization, Southwest Association of Indian Arts, whose ledger art won Best of Show in 2007, for the stellar exhibitions, participation and scope of this, the first Market produced under his direction.

SHAME – 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals for overturning the federal district court decision in the contest over the remains of Jim Thorpe. The lower court had relied on the 1990 Native American Repatriation and Graves Protection Act to rule on the side of the Sac and Fox Nation and the Thorpe sons, who want to bring Jim Thorpe home to Sac and Fox territory – where he said many times he wanted to be buried – from the roadside attraction outside of the Borough of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, to which his remains were sold by his widow. The appellate court applied the “absurdity doctrine” to the case and substituted its judgment for that of the U.S. Congress – which enacted NAGPRA on unanimous consent voice votes – by ignoring what the House and Senate said they intended and ruling that Congress couldn’t possibly have meant what it made law. Ignoring the 25-year history of thousands of repatriations conducted under NAGPRA, the appellate panel did not heed the amicus brief supporting the petition for rehearing and presented by former Senator and Representative Ben Nighthorse Campbell, an original sponsor of the Act and chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the panel with oversight responsibilities for NAGPRA’s implementation, who told the panel that its interpretation of congressional intent was in error and that Congress intended what it said it intended. And shame on the U.S. Supreme Court for failing to grant certiorari in the Thorpe case and for allowing such an absurd decision to stand.

FAME – Billy Frank Jr. (Nisqually) (1931-2014), for earning a 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom with a lifetime of treaty fishing rights advocacy, including myriad arrests for fishing in accordance with the Medicine Creek Treaty and for being the “go to jail guy” of the fishing rights struggle; Franks Landing Indian Community and the Lummi, Makah, Nisqually, Puyallup, Yakama and other Native Nations for bearing the brunt of the fish wars, and for protecting and exercising treaty fishing rights; and to President Barack Obama for awarding one of 17 Presidential Medals of Freedom posthumously to Billy Frank Jr., in the November 24 ceremony at the White House: “Billy Frank Jr. was a tireless advocate for Indian treaty rights and environmental stewardship, whose activism paved the way for the Boldt decision, which reaffirmed tribal co-management of salmon resources in the state of Washington….”

SHAME – State fish and game officers and non-Natives who have denied Native Peoples the exercise of their treaties in the Pacific Northwest, Columbia River, Great Lakes and elsewhere.

FAME – All those who succeeded and paved the way for celebrations of Indigenous Peoples Day instead or in addition to Columbus Day.

SHAME – All those who oppose recognition of Native Peoples, and to those who are trying to trade Native American Heritage Month (November) for a paltry retail sales day, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving Day.

FAME – On June 18, a DNA study of the Ancient One (aka, Kennewick Man) concluded that the 9,000-year old remains are most closely related to Tribes of the Upper Columbia Plateau, bolstering the longstanding request of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Nez Perce Tribe, Wanapum Tribe and Yakama Nation (Claimant Tribes) that the Ancient One be repatriated under NAGPRA for proper burial in accordance with their strongly held beliefs and customs. The study was conducted by Dr. Eske Willerslev, the world-renowned director for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, whose work is highly respected throughout the scientific world.

SHAME – Smithsonian archaeologists and others with federally-funded projects, who have led the charge against the Claimant Tribes in court and before Congress, accusing the Tribes of making false claims and being the equivalent of book burners. The DNA study comes on the heels of nearly 20 years of invasive studies of the remains of the Ancient One, including the 2014 publication of a 680-page book edited by Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley, claiming that the Ancient One is European, Polynesian or anything but Native American. They convinced federal judges that the Ancient One was not Native and therefore that NAGPRA should not apply. The tribes have turned to Congress to help resolve the matter.

FAME – On January 15, 2015, Ocevopfv (Hickory Ground) Warrior Wayland Gray was unanimously acquitted of criminal trespass and disorderly conduct charges by a 12-member Alabama jury, which accepted the defense that the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act recognized a right of access to sacred places for ceremonial purposes. Gray and other Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizens, who sought access to Hickory Ground to pay respect to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Ocevopfv Ancestors and to conduct a prayer ceremony, were arrested by Poarch Band of Creek Indians Tribal Police and prosecuted by the State of Alabama. Many other Muscogee citizens, including Ocevopfv Mekko George Thompson, also were impeded in their efforts to gain access to Hickory Ground, but were not arrested or prosecuted. Hickory Ground was a fenced-off, locked and guarded construction site while Poarch Band’s casino and resort hotel were being built on top of Ocevopfv and Muscogee Ancestors and the sacred, ceremonial and historical Hickory Ground, which was the last Muscogee Nation Capitol before forced removal to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

SHAME – Poarch Band for desecrating Hickory Ground and deliberately unearthing Muscogee (Creek) and Ocevopfv Ancestors and separating them from their funerary objects; for denying Ocevopfv and Muscogee citizens access to Hickory Ground for religious freedom purposes; and for accusing Wayland Gray of terroristic threats, a charge that did not survive the grand jury; for continuing to misrepresent the facts and to make false claims about Muscogee citizens to Native Nations, the U.S. Congress and others, even after the jury’s acquittal.

FAME – First Lady Michelle Obama’s prepared remarks on Native American Youth on April 8 may be the only statement on Native youth or history made by any First Lady. Here is an excerpt from her statement: “Folks in Indian country didn’t just wake up one day with addiction problems. Poverty and violence didn’t just randomly happen to this community. These issues are the result of a long history of systematic discrimination and abuse.

“Let me offer just a few examples from our past, starting with how, back in 1830, we passed a law removing Native Americans from their homes and forcibly re-locating them to barren lands out west. The Trail of Tears was part of this process. Then we began separating children from their families and sending them to boarding schools designed to strip them of all traces of their culture, language and history. And then our government started issuing what were known as “Civilization Regulations” – regulations that outlawed Indian religions, ceremonies and practices – so we literally made their culture illegal.

“And these are just a few examples…. So given this history, we shouldn’t be surprised at the challenges that kids in Indian country are facing today. And we should never forget that we played a role in this. Make no mistake about it – we own this.”

SHAME – Those US Supreme Court Justices who made ignorant and racially insensitive comments on tribal jurisdiction, tribal courts and other matters during oral arguments on December 7 in Dollar General Corporation et al v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians et al. 

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FAME – Tribal Courts’ efforts to prepare for cases against non-Native perpetrators of domestic violence against Native victims.

SHAME – Presidential hopeful Donald Trump for excoriating peoples, for religious bigotry and for promoting coarseness in the national dialogue. With his more recent vilification of Mexicans, women, Muslims and other peoples, the media and general public seem to have forgotten that he sharpened his teeth on slurring Native Peoples. He testified in 1993 at a House hearing on gaming that the people of casino rival, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe in Connecticut, “don’t look like Indians to me” and “don’t look like Indians to Indians.” Shame – on those who follow him, the Trumpets, and mirror his racism, sexism and bigotry.

FAME – On October 11, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law an act directing California schools to remove the sports slur Red**ins as images or names from their athletic programs, as of 2017. Also, on November 5, the Oregon-based Adidas announced a private sector initiative to encourage high schools to end their use of so-called Native team names and images, and offered to pay for the cost of making the change from “potentially harmful” symbols. Calling it a “smart, creative approach,” President Obama said, “I don’t know if Adidas made the same offer to a certain NFL team, here in Washington, but they might want to think about that as well.”

SHAME – Owners of the Washington pro football team denounced both the California law and the Adidas initiative.

SHAME – Pro Football, Inc., owners of the NFL Washington franchise, became apoplectic in public on July 8, when the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia rendered its decision for the Native side in Pro Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse et al, upholding the 2014 ruling for the Blackhorse plaintiffs by the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the Patent & Trademark Office. Shame on the ACLU for supporting Pro Football’s “commercial free speech.” Pro Football appealed the decision to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, where a trial is expected in 2016. In the meantime, it’s worth remarking on the amazing coincidence that the Washington team has not returned to the Super Bowl since Native people first filed suit in 1992 against the franchise’s disparaging name. Even with a so-so record thus far, 7-7, the team is leading in the NFC East, so perhaps this will be its year to change its karma without changing its name.

FAME – Native actors who walked off the set of Adam Sandler’s “The Ridiculous 6,” with charges of racism and sexism.

SHAME – The Sandler camp shot back with the predictable responses, that the Native actors were too sensitive and that the movie was intended to be satirical. Of course, other Native actors replaced those who walked, as quickly as ocean waves replace grains of sand on the beach – to these acting granules go neither fame, shame or any kind of award – just the noting of tidal movements.

FAME – In response to calls on Congress to end the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, Co-Chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus, Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), wrote “Taking care of Native children” (The Hill’s Congress Blog, November 25), from which the following is excerpted:

“In recent years and especially in the past months, there has been sensationalized news coverage about the controversial adoptions of Native American children into non-tribal families or their placement into foster care. Given the unfortunate coverage and several heartbreaking cases, it’s important to think back on how we got here….

“Prior to the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act…it had become apparent that Native American children were systematically being taken from their homes and either put up for adoption or placed in foster care….In a repeat of the forced boarding school era, tribal nations were once again being told that to save their children, they had to be removed from their communities and cultures.

“…ICWA…was meant to solve a very real identity problem for Native American children, help loving families stay together and also prevent unnecessary holes in tribal communities. But most importantly, it sought—and still aims—to ensure children live in the environment where they are best cared for and most loved.

“….ICWA provides guidance and requirements for legal separations, including private adoptions and foster care placements. But similar to the Hague convention that regulates international adoptions, ICWA encourages tribal nations to make a reasonable effort to facilitate a tribal adoption first—preferably with a family member.

“….As legislators, we must ensure that ICWA continues to serve the best interests of Native American children and prevent their safety from being jeopardized….We should be careful about the language we use and the laws we put forward, and ultimately, when interpreting or revising ICWA, we should reflect on what is best for Native American children.”

SHAME – Pope Francis canonized Father Junipero Serra on September 23 in Washington, D.C., over objections by some Native Peoples, primarily in California, where their Ancestors had been treated cruelly. Others supported sainthood for Serra because of his kindness to their relatives. Pope Francis praised diversity in the Church, but made clear that he meant among the converted souls “Indian” dress is most welcome. The Pope has an opportunity to demonstrate that he supports actual distinctiveness, rather than the cosmetic diversity articulated to date, and that he will back up his apology to Native Peoples for the Church’s ill deeds of the past by withdrawing its “Doctrine of Discovery.”

FAME – In remembrance of Singer/Songwriter/Musician/Political Activist John Lennon, on the occasion of his 75th Birth Year, as one of the most important supporters of Native Peoples’ political actions of his or any time. He supported political actions that foundations or other philanthropists or celebrities would not or could not help, and he made many efforts possible because of his backing. He and Yoko Ono not only gave financial donations to many activities that no one else would give to, but they contributed their time and talents, in order to call press and public attention to activities that were going unnoticed and may never have been noticed.

FAME – also to all who created the multi-artist John Lennon 75th Birthday concert at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, honoring his legendary music, including Tom Morello’s and the Freedom Choir’s tribute to “Power to the People,” Willie Nelson’s heartfelt rendition of “Imagine” and the Roots’ stunning interpretation of Lennon’s haunting “Mother.”