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The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, March 27, 2016

The top stories in Indian country the week preceding March 27, 2016 involved elections, an ICWA case and an Omaha Tribe SCOTUS win.
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A longstanding custody battle comes to a head, a star Native basketball player gets his team into the Sweet 16 of March Madness, and Easter dyes—but does not kill.

IWCA: Pandemonium broke out on March 21 after a years-long custody battle over a 6-year-old Choctaw girl known as Lexi when social workers from the Department of Children and Family Services arrived to pick up the girl, who was being held by foster couple Summer and Russell Page in defiance of a court order mandating that she be returned to relatives. The media firestorm that ensued prompted the Choctaw Nation to issue a statement calling for an end to the misinformation being spread about the case and the misinterpretations of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) followed suit with its own media release in support of a “better understanding of why Lexi and all children should be afforded placement with their families if possible.” The Native American Journalists Association said coverage in the mainstream media had been dishearteningly inaccurate.

BERN & HILL: Sen. Bernie Sanders swept through Washington State on March 20, meeting with tribal leaders and Native voters and speaking before tens of thousands at rallies in Vancouver, Seattle and Spokane before winning primaries in three states, including Washington. He also set out 10 policy platform points related to Native Americans; fellow Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton has outlined hers as well.

TRUMP WARREN TWITTER STORM: Front-running Republican candidate Donald Trump called out Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s supposed indigenous heritage, but her rejoinder was equally out of touch with reality. Meanwhile, the specter of a Trump presidency continues to haunt Indian country.

MARCH MADNESS: Madness of another kind has been unleashed this month in the form of basketball, as Bronson Koenig (Ho-Chunk) helped bring his team the Wisconsin Badgers to the Sweet 16 with a three-pointer at the final buzzer. He was saluted by the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council (GLITC) and a host of other well wishers.

REASON PREVAILS: On March 22 the United States Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision to uphold the right of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska to impose a sales tax on its own land. Tim Purdon, partner at Robins Kaplan LLP and former United States Attorney General for the District of North Dakota, called it “a huge win for Indian country.”

CONTRACEPTION (AND REASON) DENIED: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for access to federal records showing U.S. government funding awards to the USCCB in order to prove that denying contraception to sex-trafficking victims while receiving federal money is illegal.

NATIVE WOMEN ROCK HISTORY: Natives continue to rock Women’s History Month as we highlight five female history teachers who know their stuff. The value of teaching was made especially apparent when the faces of high school students lit up with inspiration when the youth learned about the contribution that Native women had made to their present-day lives.

$8.4 BILLION: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earned accolades from indigenous leaders by earmarking an unprecedented $8.4 billion for Native communities and causes across Canada. He also appointed Justice Murray Sinclair, who headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to the Senate.

LONG WAY TO GO: The work that has to be done to bring aboriginals’ living conditions up to par with those of the rest of Canada was made evident when about a dozen children had to be evacuated from Kashechewan First Nation in remote northern Ontario because of skin rashes and sores. Canadian health authorities were investigating.

DYING WITHOUT KILLING: Religious or not, many of us like to dye Easter eggs. But no need to use potentially harmful food coloring; there are many plant-based dyes that are completely nontoxic. Happy Easter!