Tragedy and human rights victory in Canada, a major golf win in Saudi Arabia, and the continued saga of the militia group occupying Burns Paiute land in Oregon marked the past week in Indian country. First, the good news.
HOLE IN ONE: Navajo pro-golfer Rickie Fowler recovered from a disheartening double-bogey on his final round 7th hole by with a 30-yard eagle at hole 8 and a birdie at hole 17 to win the Abu Dhabi Championship on Sunday January 24. This put him in the top five worldwide, moving him from number six to number four in the Official World Golf Ranking.
CHILDREN VINDICATED: A major human rights victory was won for children when the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the federal government has racially discriminated against 163,000 First Nations children on reserve by giving them significantly less funding for crucial welfare services than the rest of the population. During the nine-year battle to get the case heard, social worker Cindy Blackstock endured government surveillance under the administration of then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFS) first launched the complaint to the tribunal with the Assembly of First Nations in 2007. The precedent-setting case will have long-term repercussions.
ONGOING TRAGEDY: Meanwhile, in La Loche, Saskatchewan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited families grieving in the wake of the January 22 shooting that left four people dead and seven wounded. A moment of silence was held for the victims on January 29.
DUG-IN MILITANTS: In the Please Make It Stop department, the self-styled militia that has dug in at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Paiute land in Burns, Oregon, issued a video showing them handling artifacts that had been carefully stored in the building they are occupying. Burns Paiute tribal chairwoman Charlotte Roderique, and pretty much everybody in the town of Burns, told them to get out. They remained undeterred, though, even after the two leaders and other members were arrested in a shootout that left another one of them dead.
IT’S ABOUT TIME: Amherst College, former home of unofficial mascot ‘Lord Jeff,’ will no longer use the mascot or refer to the name Lord Jeff. It is the namesake of Lord Jeffrey Amherst, a commander of British forces in the French-Indian War who favored giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans.
PRICE ON HIS HEAD: A new head for a statue of Junípero Serra that was decapitated in Monterey in October—about two weeks after the Spanish missionary was canonized by Pope Francis over the protests of Natives who called him an oppressor—will cost $77,000, town officials have said.
JUSTICE SERVED: Two were arrested in connection with the death of Emily Blue Bird, 24 of Pine Ridge Village, who went missing at the beginning of January. Elizabeth Ann LeBeau, 23, and Fred Quiver, also known as Fred Brings Plenty, 29, both from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, were indicted by a federal grand jury. LeBeau was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder by strangulation, occurring sometime between January 1 and January 3, and Brings Plenty on accessory to first-degree murder, occurring between January 1 and January 21.
NO JUSTICE: In a unanimous decision January 25, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling against the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin in Menominee v. The United States, a case involving contract support costs against the Indian Health Service (IHS). The dispute arose over claims for the years 1996–1998 and turned on whether the tribe filed its claims in a timely fashion.
STANDING FIRM: On Saturday January 23, the nine allied tribes of Lax Kw’alaams as well as other hereditary and elected chiefs from neighboring nations signed the Lelu Island Declaration, sending a clear message to government and industry that the Skeena watershed will not allow the $11 billion Pacific Northwest Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project to be built. The tribes decreed that First Nations have not only rights, but also responsibilities, when it comes to harvesting from and sustaining the environment.
TRAPPING BAN SOUGHT: A petition is circulating on the Navajo Nation to ban the use of steel-jaw leghold traps commonly used by hunters and trappers on Navajo lands to catch fur-bearing animals such as rabbits, deer, bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions.
RED CARPET STARS: Independent of the standard outlets that provide media coverage, On Native Ground (ONG) is the very first Native American credentialed media outlet, made up of Native youth ages 15–22, who have covered the world’s largest independent film festival, the Sundance Film Festival since 2009. They have been impressing the stars with their preparedness and incisive questions.
LAKE CLEANUP FAIL: Onondaga Nation representatives are calling for toxic sludge to be removed from the bottom of Onondaga Lake after three failures of the system that was supposed to keep it in place.
CANARIES AND POISONED WATER: The story in Flint, Michigan, where a lead-laden-water scandal is spiraling out of control, is nothing new to Natives. The Western Shoshone Nation, the Oglala Lakota, Navajo people, Hopi and the Spokane people all have contaminated water on their reservations as a result of uranium mining for decades. In both cases, the governments involved seemed to think that those humans were expendable, Gyasi Ross noted in his summation of the Flint case.