Skip to main content

The 2011 Hall of Fame and Mantle of Shame

FAME:President Barack Obama, for making good on most of his 2008 Native American campaign promises in his first three years. He opened the third White House Tribal Nations Conference on December 2 by reiterating important accomplishments. “That’s what change is,” he said. “It’d be nice to say that the work was done, but we know the truth….We’ve got a long road ahead. But I believe that one day we’re going to be able to look back on these years and say that this was a turning point. This was the moment when we began to build a strong middle class in Indian country…the moment when we stopped repeating the mistakes of the past and began building a better future together—one that honors old traditions and welcomes every Native America into the American Dream….You have an Administration that understands the challenges that you face and, most importantly, you have a President who has your back.”

SHAME:Pentagon Personnel in Charge of Code Names, for reaching back a century to take a gratuitous swipe at Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo as an enemy and to equate him with the most-wanted terrorist in the world. Native American People barely had time to absorb the news that the heroic Navy SEALs had taken Osama bin Laden when we were slapped with the fact that he was confirmed dead as “Geronimo E-KIA (Enemy Killed In Action).” The outcry from Geronimo’s relatives, Native veterans and tribal leaders was immediate and sharp, and has yet to be answered. It’s time for the Pentagon to retire Native historical figures as codenames for enemies and to discontinue using the term “Indian country” to mean enemy territory.

FAME:Language Warriors: Cherokee Nation, for its stellar language programs and for lowering the flags to half staff in honor of the passing of Steve Jobs, whose decision it was to digitize Cherokee scholar Sequoyah’s syllabary. Richard A. Grounds, Euchee, and Darrell R. Kipp, Blackfeet, for their dedicated immersion work on the Euchee and Blackfeet languages, respectively. Lakota Language Consortium, for a Lakota language children’s cartoon, The Berenstain Bears, or Math?ó Waú?šila Thiwáhe—The Compassionate Bear Family, and South Dakota Public Broadcasting and all stations that carry it, and for posting it on its website. Suzanne Benally, Navajo/Santa Clara Tewa, Jennifer Weston, Hunkpapa Lakota, and CulturalSurvival, for promoting revitalization of Indigenous Peoples’ heritage languages.

SHAME:Perpetrators of Violence Against Native American Women. One in five women in America is assaulted in her lifetime, while one in three Native American women is raped. Crimes against Native women have reached emergency levels, with a murder rate on some reservations that is 10 times the national rate. Tribal and federal prosecutors are coordinating their efforts through a task force on violence against Native women, and the new Tribal Law and Order Act is being used to address women’s safety.

FAME:Native Youth & Buffalo Nickel Creative, for “That’s My People,” a PSA starring delegates to the 2011 National Intertribal Youth Summit in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sicangu Lakota Students, for “Our Youth Are More Than That,” a video response to the ABC program on poverty on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation, South Dakota, by two classes of students on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, South Dakota. The 1491s for “Smiling Indians,” “Geronimo E-KIA” and a year of inspiration and laughs by Native filmmakers, performers and writers in Minnesota and Oklahoma.

SHAME:Forest Service and Department of Agriculture, for fighting Hopi, Navajo and other nations in and out of court for decades and for the current effort to protect the Arizona Snowbowl and its plans to use treated sewage water to make snow on the San Francisco Peaks. In an otherwise impressive 2011 White House Tribal Nations Conference Progress Report, there is a single item under Protection of Sacred Sites and Repatriation of Human Remains and Cultural Items: “In July 2010, USDA and the Forest Service began a comprehensive effort across Indian Country focused on improving federal approaches to sacred-site issues. Over 50 national and local forest listening sessions with tribal governments have been conducted to inform recommendations for improvement.” Some who made statements at the sessions note that the draft report does not reflect that anyone actually listened. The report has been met with a collective raspberry by those who know the issues.

FAME:U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh, for taking swift action to remove and discipline those in charge of the Arlington National Cemetery after it was discovered that some remains were buried in the wrong graves, some graves were not marked correctly and that one grave contained one body buried ontop of another. The Army and other military services for continuing to repatriate Native remains and to return those killed in action in a respectful manner.

SHAME:Desecrators, Federal: Air Force and Civilian Personnel at Dover Air Force Base and Elsewhere, for discarding partially cremated remains of at least 274 American troops in a landfill in Virginia—rather than disposing of them in a dignified manner as their families authorized—along with 1,762 unidentified remains (reported by The Washington Post, December 7).

FAME:Occupy Wall Street, for forcing discussions on income inequality, corporate greed, economic disparity between the upper 1 percent of Americans (who own most of the wealth in the country) and the other 99 percent (who don’t) and attacks on public programs and services for children, elders, the vulnerable and the poor in a time when the national poverty rate has never been higher. Native People in Occupy Albuquerque, D.C., and elsewhere, for instructing that “occupy” was an unfortunate word choice and that occupations have had disastrous consequences for Indigenous Peoples in this hemisphere and worldwide.

SHAME:Desecrators, Federal: National Park Service NAGPRA Office Personnel, for continuing to advise repositories that they may, but are not required, to return over 800,000 funerary objects associated with more than 126,000 Native American remains that the repositories failed to identify. Most remains can best be culturally identified through the precious things they were buried in and with, which were dug up with them. In other words, these collectors are being told to give grandma back for reburial, but it’s up to them to decide to keep or return her burial shoes, clothes, jewelry, religious items and other property of the deceased. If the remains cannot be culturally identified, they are of no scientific value and should be given to those Native Peoples who have set aside land for reburial of unknown Indians.

FAME:Warren Buffett, for calling for tax increases on the super-rich, including those in the investor’s own billionaire bracket, who pay less income tax than their employees who are not rich. Elizabeth Warren (candidate for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts), for calling attention to the schools, roads and fire and police forces “the rest of us paid for” and reminding: “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.”

SHAME:Desecrators, Tribal: Poarch Band of Creek Indians, for building a casino on top of Hickory Ground (in Wetumpka, Alabama), a sacred place and the last capitol of the Muscogee Confederacy before forced removal to Indian Territory. As the Muscogee (Creek) Nation described in an October 24 Resolution, “while the Oce Vpofa people carried the ceremonial fire with them to establish Hickory Ground in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) they still return to Hickory Ground and hold it sacred in both memory and practice….Hickory Ground is now being desecrated and severely damaged by commercial operations and large expanses of asphalt paving that cover the landscape, including burials of Oce Vpofa people, disinterred by the unrelated party (Poarch)….” Muscogee and Oce Vpofa leaders sought help from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), but Poarch leaders claimed it was an Indian-against-Indian situation and anti-gaming, and stopped NCAI from stepping in. Anticipating this, Muscogee Nation had written: “This Resolution is not an attack on Indian gaming, as Tribes and Nations, generally and including the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, have found no problem in constructing gaming facilities which are not on the burials or sacred places of any people, whether Native or not….”

FAME:Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, NCAA & Native Students at UND, for persisting, despite threats and abuse, to end the race-based “Fighting Sioux” name of the University of North Dakota’s athletic program. UND decided to change the name, in the face of opposition by all but one of the Sioux tribes and all but the same tribe in North Dakota; a lawsuit filed against university and state officials by six UND Native American students; and NCAA-predicted sanctions against UND’s winning hockey team if the name were not changed. “Fighting Sioux” fans continue to fight for the name with a lawsuit against the NCAA and threatened statewide votes, even if they jeopardize UND’s post-season status.

SHAME:Washington D.C.’s NFL Football Team Owners, for another year of clinging to the team’s disparaging name; another year of trying to convince anyone that the name honors Native Peoples; another year of litigation (with Native young people in Blackhorse et al v. Pro Football, Inc., pending before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office); and another losing season (historical footnote: the team hasn’t been to a Super Bowl since we first filed suit against the name in 1992—just saying). This year’s record is one of the worst and, with 27 games straight of turning over the ball, they may have found their new name: Washington Turnovers.