Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today
Covering Indian Country in the year 2021 was exciting, challenging and full of surprises. The racial and social reckoning ignited by the murder of George Floyd in 2020 continued to permeate public life in 2021. Suddenly, many long-standing inequities were being questioned and brought to light. In that perfect moment, the news about Indian residential schools hit the headlines, people were emboldened to stand up against environmentally questionable pipeline projects promising jobs and we got to witness the near biblical plague of insects that turned out to be dinner for some.
The discovery of thousands of children's graves at Indian residential schools in Canada made gruesome headlines around the globe. This terrible news is forcing the U.S. to begin taking steps in recognizing its own history of coercing generations of Native children to attend federal and Christian boarding schools. I’ve been writing about U.S. boarding school history from both a personal and public perspective for years and am gratified by this growing awareness. In “We won’t forget the children,” I write about the years of work in the U.S. by independent Native researchers who have dedicated their time and hearts to gaining more public awareness of boarding school history.
St. Mary’s Mission: ‘This place is the devil’ represents an unlikely meeting I had with Jodine Grundy, a former teacher at the St. Mary’s Mission boarding school on the Confederated Tribes lands in Omak, Washington. I met Grundy at a potluck event related to my husband’s research on farmer’s markets in the Cincinnati area. I was surprised to learn that she taught at the school in the 1960s; she agreed to be interviewed about her experience there. The resulting story shines a light on how many people were able to rationalize the assimilationist driven education offered to Native children and ignore the underlying violence and racism that occurred in these schools.
My story on the 17-year periodical emergence of cicadas was fun and interesting to write. I learned that insects have served as important sources of protein for Indigenous peoples and discovered how a periodic brood actually saved the lives of the Onondaga Nation during the 18th century. Although I couldn't overcome the ick factor of eating a cicada, I earned more respect for these unusual insects and the role the natural world plays in sustaining us.
I began covering the construction of Enbridge Line 3 across Minnesota when work began on the controversial pipeline in early November 2020. During much of 2021, I focused on various aspects of the story such as the economic, social, racial and environmental complexities presented by the project. Line 3, with its promises of high paying jobs, divided many communities and families in Indian Country. Physically this was a challenging assignment to cover; in February the -20 degree temperatures made me eternally grateful for the snow pants I bought in Duluth. I eluded arrest by the skin of my teeth during a rally opposing the pipeline in March. The mosquitoes nearly carried me away on hot muggy days in June during the Treaty Gathering. But I was able to report on this important issue up close and personal allowing me access and insight into issues on both sides of the project. The work helped offer readers a window into the divisive nature of such projects and how corporations can take advantage of these divisions in order to forward their work.
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