The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, January 15, 2017

Unclear signs from the Trump administration, climate change and environmental battles characterized The Week That Was, January 15, 2017.
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Another sacred site saved, a deeper analysis of key cabinet picks, and high-profile support for Standing Rock. That and more characterized the past Week That Was in Indian country.

IN THE CLEAR: The last two oil and gas leases for sacred Badger-Two Medicine were canceled by the U.S. Department of the Interior after a 35-year effort by the Blackfeet Nation. This region at the wild intersection of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in Montana has been the traditional homeland of the Blackfeet Nation for more than 10,000 years.

SOLID GROUND? There have been few definitive signs of how the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump will address issues paramount to Indian country, according to tribal leaders who have met with the transition team. The election of U.S. senators John Hoeven (R–North Dakota) and Tom Udall (D–New Mexico) as Chairman and Vice Chairman, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for the 115th Congress reflected similar uncertainties. While Udall maintains a reputation for staunch commitment to tribal nations, with a record of bolstering tribal sovereignty and improving the well-being of Native communities, Hoeven is considered a controversial figure for tribes due to his support of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline. Both senators have expressed a bipartisan commitment to improving the economies and overall well-being of tribal nations.

WANING DAYS: Outgoing President Barack Obama appointed Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, Navajo, and Annette Evans Smith, Athabascan/Alutiiq/Yup’ik, to key administration posts.

PELTIER PARDON? As Obama's presidency wanes, the question of whether he will pardon Leonard Peltier still hangs open. Peltier told ICMN in an exclusive interview that he would "be there for my people again" if he were to be released from jail for the 1975 murders of two FBI agents that he and his supporters say he didn't commit.

MEMO TO NEW ADMIN: Outgoing Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell issued a Cabinet exit memo that highlights in part her progress on Indian affairs over the past four years that includes an unflinching look at what still needs to be done, most notably the need for stronger tribal consultation.

DAPL DEEP FREEZE: One of the issues that highlighted the ways in which consultation was the Dakota Access Pipeline standoff with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and supporters. Even as winter threw everything into deep freeze, the specter of spring floods loomed, and plans were being made to vacate the water protector camps, which lie in a flood plain.

DAPL LEGAL FUNDS: The fight has moved to the courts, and so has the expense. As the 500-plus water protectors who were arrested over the course of the past few months go to trial, the need for legal assistance grows. To help defray costs, the Oneida Indian Nation (which owns ICMN's parent company) has announced legendary rocker and activist Melissa Etheridge will perform a benefit event at its Turning Stone Resort Casino on Friday, February 17, 2017 to raise much-needed legal defense funds.

LEXI LOSES: The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case of a Choctaw child known as Lexi, ending six years of litigation between her biological family and the non-Indian foster parents who had been seeking to adopt her. Their case flew in the face of state and federal Indian Child Welfare laws, including the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

MOHAWK CODE TALKER: Much has been made of the Navajo code talkers of World War II, but they were not the only tribe represented in that conflict. The Rochester Knighthawks professional lacrosse team honored the last surviving Akwesasne World War II code talker, Louis Levi Oakes, 92, Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk) in front of a crowd of 6,000.

HOW FREE SPEECH IS DONE: Long before the First Amendment, Indigenous Peoples pioneered free speech with tools such as the Talking Stick or Talking Feather, which allowed for respectful listening.

AND HOW IT'S NOT: New York City’s Museum of Modern Art apologized to the Native American community after shock and outrage were sparked by French artist Latifa Laâbissi, who performed nude wearing a Lakota Plains-style faux headdress.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CANADA ... OR NOT: Canada marks the 150th anniversary of its founding in 2017, leading op-ed writer Mike Myers to muse on whether Indigenous Peoples would feel celebratory, and why.

MEANWHILE, IN SOUTH AMERICA: The fight against climate change and those who would worsen it continues apace in the Southern Hemisphere. Glaciers are melting in Bolivia at an alarming rate that raises the twin specters of flooding and water shortages in the highlands and lowlands, respectively. In Brazil, Indigenous Peoples continue their fight against illegal logging and mining.

RIP SEQUOIA "TUNNEL TREE": The sequoia known as the “tunnel tree” for the opening carved through it in the 1880s was felled by a storm after the brittleness of age conspired with four inches of rain in one weekend.

CULTURE IS THE KEY: A 20-page report from the First Nations Development Institute found that culture is the key to resiliency and helping Native boys succeed, bringing empirical evidence to bear on something that had been shown to be true anecdotally.

KUDOS: In a similiar vein, a Native language program that displays signs in English and Ojibwe at more than 180 sites in Bemidji, Minnesota, was recognized by the National Geographic Society’s Mississippi River Geotourism Program.

ROCK 'N' ROLL GAMING, WITH KISS: Famed KISS members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are joining forces with the Kaw Nation on a casino-resort in Oklahoma near the Kansas state line.