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The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, December 25, 2016

The Week That Was leading up to December 25 brought in holiday spirit as winter closed in.
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From solstice to Hanukah and Christmas, the week was one of celebration and welcoming the return of the light.

STORYTELLING SEASON: Early on December 21 the Winter Solstice happened north of the Equator, marking the start of storytelling season. The transcendental indie folk band The Pines released “Time Dreams,” a musical collaboration with the late American Indian activist and poet John Trudell. Featured as the closing track on The Pines’ 2016 album, Above The Prairie, “Time Dreams” serves as a gracenote to Trudell’s life of inspiration, activism and preservation of the human spirit.

DONE DEAL: Before that happened, though, the Electoral College voted, and as expected anointed Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. What wasn’t expected, though, is that one of our own would get a vote. To the surprise of many, respected elder and water protector Faith Spotted Eagle got a nod for President from a dissenting elector who had been slated to vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump, for his part, continued choosing his straight-out-of-central-casting cabinet, picking Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke for the post of U.S. Secretary of the Interior—a better choice than the original Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, since Zinke is at least known for listening to tribes, reported Mark Trahant. At the same time, Zinke is being dubbed the "nominee who stole Christmas" by erstwhile ICMN editorial cartoonist Marty Two Bulls.

MORE POLITICS: Former Republican state Sen. Dino Rossi, Tlingit, who lost the governor’s race in 2004 by 133 votes and lost a subsequent bid for U.S. Senate, returned to the state Legislature to fill a seat vacated by the death of Sen. Andy Hill, who died of lung cancer in October. Trahant highlighted Denise Juneau’s eight years as Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction as instructive in itself, showing as it does the potential for Natives in politics who care. She is Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation and Blackfeet.

DAKOTA NON-ACCESS: Opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) continue to stand firm against the so-called Black Snake that threatens the water of millions as many of the water protectors go home in deference to the weather, though ready to fight another day. Meanwhile, the battle moved to the courts as DAPL officials unleashed virtual, legal attack dogs as opposed to the literal ones they sicced on water protectors back in September. It’s important to not only distinguish between civil rights and treaty rights but also to know the difference between protesters and protectors, wrote Peter D’Errico. A bit of much-needed levity on the situation comes from cartoonist Ricardo Caté of the Santo Domingo Reservation, who fights discrimination with humor and sat down with Alex Jacobs to talk about his craft.

ROYAL ASSIST: Unbeknownst to keepers of languishing indigenous languages, some European tongues are also in danger of dying out. The Welsh language, for one. But Inuit people seeking language recognition for Inuktitut in Canada have turned to Charles, Prince of Wales, for advice on keeping their language alive.

SEISMIC TESTING, ARCTIC DRILLING AND TREATY RIGHTS: The Inuit are fighting for survival not only for themselves and their language but also for the animals that keep them alive, and that they are responsible for as stewards of their environment. Community members of Clyde River are awaiting a ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada over seismic testing, pitted against indigenous rights. At about the same time, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked indigenous rights in curtailing Arctic offshore drilling.

HISTORICAL IMMERSION: Linking indigenous history, traditional knowledge and environmental justice, a groundbreaking exhibit at the Autry Museum in California immerses visitors in a three-dimensional exhibit that makes the history of Native Americans in the state a real-life experience. It is being held in conjunction with a series on KCET TV, Tending the Wild. Such education is sorely needed given the lack of knowledge about the genocide that pervaded California in the wake of European contact. The Navajo, for their part, are digitizing 300 reels of tape, holding thousands of hours of Navajo oral history.

HISTORY WE’D RATHER HADN’T HAPPENED: The Gold King Mine spill of August 2015 is still reverberating throughout the Navajo Nation, and now the tribe is demanding damages: to the tune of $160 million. And in a similar vein, a new study has documented the high levels of uranium that mothers and babies are exposed to on the Navajo Nation.

FELICES FIESTAS, AND ALL THAT: Rounding out the week, of course, were Christmas and Hanukkah, which this year are occurring simultaneously, with the latter starting at sundown on Christmas Eve. For their part, reindeer do more than pull Santa’s sleigh: Their consumption of shrubbery allows for more solar energy to be reflected back into the atmosphere, thus helping mitigate climate change, according to a new study. Historically, it turns out, the Seminoles and allies are unsung Christmas heroes, according to William Loren Katz: On Christmas day 1837, 179 years ago, the Africans and Native Americans who formed Florida’s Seminole Nation defeated a vastly superior United States invading army bent on cracking this early rainbow coalition and returning the Africans to slavery, a story that reads like an American thriller yet has not grabbed the attention of either school curricula or Hollywood. Many American Indians celebrate Christmas, and some have translated carols into Native languages. Indeed, the first original Canadian carol was in the Huron language. Artists, too, have weighed in, with nativity scenes reimagined using Native figurines. And finally, the holiday celebrations would not be complete without a bit of a sendup. For that we bring you the 12 Days of Native Christmas and Native Christmas memes and holiday jokes and more memes, all courtesy of A&E editor Vincent Schilling.

Happy holidays to all.