The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, January 1, 2017

The Week That Was, ending on January 1, 2017, rounded out a tumultuous 2016 that many people were not sorry to see the end of.

The last week of 2016 (including its atomic-clock-mandated extra second) was, like the entire year before it, one of extreme highs and lows—from the designation of Bears Ears as a national monument, to the dual deaths of actress and author Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, within 24 hours of one another, adding to the long, sad list of the year’s high-profile farewells. Behold, the last week of 2016, as it played out in Indian country.

90 YEARS IN THE MAKING: The designation of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah by President Barack Obama was momentous, not least of all because it, like the victory of the water protectors at Standing Rock, stemmed from a Native-driven initiative. Obama invoked the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect that and Gold Butte in neighboring Nevada, a total of 1.64 million acres.

PARTYING LIKE IT’S (THE END OF) 2016: Many people were not sorry to see this year go, and a number of Native-owned entertainment venues eagerly welcomed revelers ready to move on to 2017.

LOOKING BACK: It was, of course, a week to take stock of this year of extreme highs and lows, with both occurring during the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) standoff on the prairie as water protectors under siege won out over militarized police to get the project halted pending more environmental study. But that characterized the entire year as well, in many respects, from the plethora of celebrity deaths to the “dumpster fire that was the presidential election,” and some found it hard not to take it personally that 2016 lasted an extra second. Sheena Louise Roetman gave an admirable accounting of these and other top 10 things that we did not like about this intense year. Lest we get too dragged down, though, there were many bright spots: amazing pow wows, award-winning Native resorts and casinos, significant business developments, and lots of reasons to be hopeful about Native education. Indigenous Peoples in Canada logged a roller-coaster ride of a year breaking in Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while fighting industrial threats to sacred lands. History stories also abounded, as the Bering Strait theory was debunked, and we took an in-depth look at every U.S. President since George Washington. Dean Chavers recounted how Native students at Stanford took down a racist mascot, the first one ever to be changed at a major university. Environmentally, of course, DAPL dominated, but there were plenty of other noteworthy developments in the fight for Mother Earth in what turned out to be a watershed year for mainstream awareness of Native issues.

SPEAKING OF DAPL…: Mark Trahant flagged what he called a missed opportunity for the new governor of North Dakota, Doug Burgum, to embrace the notion of rerouting the pipeline and remake the state’s image. Instead, Burgum asserted that the pipeline would get built, along the planned route. The DAPL conflict resonated with many tribes, such as the Maidu people in California, who have their own water issues as so many communities do. Steven Newcomb catalogued the litany of violent acts committed against the water protectors as they practiced their right to free and peaceful assembly, and the wounds they suffered.

PRIVATIZATION’S FALSE PROMISE: Newcomb also dissected the notion of “privatizing” the oil- and resource-rich lands resided on by American Indians, and the possibility for that to be reimagined by the Trump administration. Steve Russell also weighed in on this troublesome concept, especially when it came to pulling back on environmental regulations. Underscoring the potential for misuse of land rights, the battle to wrest control of sacred Oak Flat from the Resolution Copper mining company promised to continue into 2017.

GENOCIDE, SEMANTICS AND HISTORICAL TRAUMA: In California, scholars grappled with whether to term what was done to Indians genocide, while Yurok students underwent mental health training to help their fellow youth avoid killing themselves, and a new program under the auspices of the Indian Health Service took into account the effects of historical trauma. Also highlighted this past week was the peril posed by the worst kind of pipeline—the one that stretches from school to prison—and the opposition to a new juvenile detention center being proposed in Seattle.


STILL SMOLDERING: Seven weeks after a fire destroyed the largest settlement of urban indigenous people of the Amazon, most of the 300 families are still living in tents or wood cabins, with scarce drinking water and no electricity.

RAPTORS RISING: In Idaho, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe received the first eagles for its new aviary, which will shelter birds that have been too injured to survive in the wild. By December 29 they had three golden eagles and three bald eagles. The Yurok Tribe in northern California teamed up with several agencies to work on a proposed facility and monitoring program that will soon allow condors to be released into Yurok ancestral territory.

ANOTHER VICTORY FOR BELOVED BISON: Bison, having been made the National Mammal during 2016, returned to the Wind River Indian Reservation, to the delight of the Eastern Shoshone and Eastern Arapaho tribes who reside there, for the first time since 1885. The goal is eventually to have a thousand animals roaming across the reservation’s remote acreage.

RISING STAR: As the year drew to a close, a few thoughts emerged on things to look forward to in 2017. One of them is the rise of actress Lily Gladstone, Blackfeet, who is “killing it” in Hollywood, as Gyasi Ross described it.

50 FACES: While we’re at it, here are the last of our 50 Faces of Indian Country 2016, which ICMN rolled out during the course of the year. They range from power couple Holly and Mark Macarro to Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II, who could easily be named Indian country’s Man of the Year.

NEW YEAR’S BRUNCH: Literally “rounding out” this offering for the last week of 2016, we leave you with two words, and some brunch recipes: gourmet frybread!

Happy New Year, Indian country.