Skip to main content

How did I Miss That? Memorial Day at NMAI; Canadian Icebreaker Starts Conversation With Inuit

NMAI is featuring a Memorial Day exhibit, titled “Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces,” that’s bound to be controversial.

When I first started reading the Nunatsiaq News, I was wondering if a major story was an elaborate commercial for a cellphone service. The title was Qanuilirpitaa. That meant nothing to me until I saw the English translation: “How are we now?”

No, it turns out they are not trying to peddle cell service to the Inuit. It was about the Amundsen, the Canadian Coast Guard’s research icebreaker, expected to show up a year late to do a follow-up on “the largest ever health study involving Nunavimmiut,” done in 2004 and titled Qanuippitaa?

Like me, my cousin Ray Sixkiller—who knows a lot more Cherokee than I do—did not at first notice the subtle difference in spelling. That difference means that the word for the original study translates, “How are we?” Having missed it made him a bit grumpy, and he snarked at me, “Does this mean you are going to quit whining about how hard Cherokee verbs are?”



He quickly got even as we were looking over the Cherokee Phoenix and I saw a reference to USTA and read it as UTSA. The story was about Macy Rose, a 13-year-old Cherokee who is ranked number one in New Mexico and number 17 in the Southwest in girls 14 and under tennis.

It’s the United States Tennis Association that does the rankings, not the University of Texas at San Antonio, where I used to teach. The story was easier after I figured that out. She has received a Native American Scholar Athlete Leadership Grant. Rose is Wolf Clan and originally from Tahlequah, where her mother, Wahlesah Rose, was a tennis player at Northeastern State University.

Cousin Ray started in about tennis being a game for the swell folks, but he piped down when I pointed out that Will Rogers was seriously involved in polo.


Turtle Talk reported that Michigan and Oregon have changed court rules to make it easier for out of state lawyers to represent an Indian tribe in Indian Child Welfare Act cases. They will not have to pay the fee normally charged out of state lawyers or associate local counsel. The Oregon rule also covers lawyers representing parents or Indian custodians.

To the extent that the customary rules are meant to throw up barriers to protect local lawyers from competition, the idea is pretty silly. ICWA expertise is hard to hire, so it’s not as if lawyers are throwing elbows to get involved in ICWA cases. Looked at from the tribal point of view, I’ve never heard of a tribal ICWA officer with unlimited resources.


This column is a weekly and so I normally draw a line around about a month’s worth of news and sometimes I just don’t find an item in time. For instance, NewsOK reported back in January of 2012 about a lawsuit against a casket company for unauthorized use of the University of Oklahoma logo. After I finished chuckling over a university logo on a casket, I looked to see if it was OU bringing the lawsuit. That’s when I discovered that the plaintiff was the company that actually had paid for the right to use the OU logo on caskets!

Cousin Ray sang Boomer Sooner because, he said, he could not remember the words to Monster Mash. He never misses a chance to make fun of me for picking UT over OU. For the record, I am not informed whether UT licenses its logo for use on coffins. but I can report that our fight song has more words.


Bleeding Cool reported some hot news from Europe, where Emmanuel Macron is the newly elected president of France. Macron, who at least temporarily saved the Eurozone by defeating the xenophobic Marine Le Pen in a runoff, has named Françoise Nyssen to be his culture minister. There are two things about Nyssen you don’t normally see in a culture minister, at least in my imagination, since my tribal government has no culture minister and my state has too many different and sometimes mutually hostile cultures to assign culture to one ministry.

The first odd qualification is that Nyssen holds a PhD in molecular biology. The second is where she gets her connection to culture. She is a comic book publisher.

“The way I figure it,” Cousin Ray explained, “all those European countries have to have somebody in the government who can talk to Donald Trump.”


Bloomberg reported a study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau showing that we the taxpayers pony up $38 to collect every one dollar in delinquent student loans. Meanwhile, President Trump has proposed scrapping the formerly bipartisan Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program as part of $10.6 billion in education cuts to which Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has voiced no objection. PSLF was originally signed by President Bush 43 and used by President Obama for its intended purpose, recruiting new graduates to public service.

Also on the Trump chopping block are programs for special needs children—even the Special Olympics were not spared—and the usual suspects in budget cuts, arts and foreign languages. Trump did recommend one new line item in the education budget: $400 million to spend on low performing charter schools. “It wouldn’t do to fail the charter schools,” Cousin Ray rolled his eyes. “That might drive people to the public schools.”


Fast Company reported that India’s latest idea for playing leapfrog will be to skip gasoline and go directly to electric automobiles for its emerging middle class.

Cousin Ray wanted to know what gasoline has to do with frogs, so I gave him some other examples from India.

Only a fraction of one percent of Indians had a telephone. Instead of stringing cable, the government put up a few microwave towers, leapfrogging landlines for cell phones.

Rural villages are off the electrical grid. The government put up enough solar panels to leapfrog the grid.

In a country the size of India, it takes government involvement to reach for the economies of scale. In 2014, the government bought hundreds of millions of LED light bulbs, driving down the cost 76 percent and moving the whole country away from incandescent bulbs at very low cost.

The Indian government is looking at a long menu of policies to move directly to electric vehicles, most based on tactics that have worked in the past: a public-private partnership for mass procurement of electric vehicles, cutting costs by mandating standardized parts, taxing gasoline and diesel cars to subsidize electric cars. Most of the tactics limit the government’s role to putting money up front with the expectation of at least breaking even.


What’s the hurry getting to electric? India is no smarter about climate change than the rest of the world, but air pollution in the cities is getting as bad as Chinese cities now or U.S. cities before the Clean Air Act. On the air pollution index in general use for comparison purposes, over 500 is considered hazardous to human health. In November of 2016, Delhi hit 999.

Thirteen of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India, up from 10 just three months ago. The Clean Air Act knocked the U.S. off that list, but if the Trump budget passes, I’m sure Los Angeles would climb back up the pollution charts if state government would let that happen.


Native Times reported on an exhibit offered by the National Museum of the American Indian from May 25 to May 31, marking Memorial Day. The title is “Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces.” This is bound to be controversial among some people I love, but Cousin Ray and I are veterans of the U.S. armed forces and we have no apologies to offer.

I can’t speak for him, but I still cannot picture a serious threat to the United States that would not also be a threat to the Cherokee Nation. I have serious political objections to some of the stupid wars we’ve gotten into but it is the fate of a modern soldier that you don’t get to pick your wars.

I’m well aware that many Indian nations had customs to the contrary and every warrior had the right to say to a would-be leader, “You think those people need to be fought? Fine, you go fight ‘em.” That semi-anarchist position is attractive and amusing, but I doubt that the world would be a better place if most the Allied forces had told Eisenhower to go take Normandy himself.


We fight among ourselves all the time about what “sovereignty” means in the context of Indian nations. Other than the Six Nations, I don’t hear many folks willing to take on the full implications of running a foreign policy independent of the U.S. or Canada. We are either “under the protection of” those nations or we are asserting we need no protection.

Yes, I’m aware that we could have used some protection against Andrew Jackson and an admirer of that genocidal maniac is currently running U.S. foreign policy (or thinks he is).

Don’t mistake the waves for the water. And, yes, support the water protectors against the government when the government is stupid. In the government context, stupid is always temporary.

Memorial Day is when we remember the fallen. If you cannot identify your interests with theirs, then nobody is going to force you to honor their memories—or not to honor their memories. That’s an aspect of what’s called “freedom,” and it’s easy to get so used to it that you don’t notice.