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Stories we're following on Oct. 30, 2020: Tlingit cultural leader in Southeast Alaska dies, the Presidency may hinge on the Native vote, Human remains may be returned to Seminole, and Decolonizing maps

Indian Country Today

A giant in Tlingit language and cultural preservation dies in Juneau

The Sealaska Heritage Institute has announced that a founding president, Kingeisti David Katzeek, Tlingit, died Wednesday night.

Katzeek was a leader of the Shangukeidí (Thunderbird) clan, and a former board member for the regional for-profit Native corporation Sealaska.

He was one of the founders of Celebration, a cultural event that draws four to five thousand people to Juneau in Southeast Alaska every other year. As many as 2,000 Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian dancers from Alaska, Canada and the U.S. West coast make traditional regalia, learn to sing in their Native language, and raise money to travel to perform at Celebration. The 4-day gathering features a parade, arts and crafts workshops, and everything from a competition for best dried seaweed to a toddler regalia review. 

Perhaps Katzeek's greatest legacy, however, will be the hundreds of kids, both Native and non-Native, and adults he taught to speak Tlingit.

Ricardo Worl, clan nephew to Kingeisti, said “David’s passing leaves us with an unimaginable void for our culture and traditional leadership, but we can take much comfort in knowing that he passed on all the knowledge he could in his lifetime.

"Children and young people were precious to him and he never missed an opportunity to engage with them. As recipients of his love and generosity, we can honor him most by carrying on what he cared about the most — teaching our children, giving them opportunity, and holding them up so they will have the strength to carry the responsibility of our culture and our values.”

Native American, Alaska Native voters have power to determine next president

President Donald Trump, left, points towards Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, right, during the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Seated in the center is moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Donald Trump, left, points towards Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, right, during the second and final presidential debate Thursday at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“Had Native voters turned out in 2016, we would likely have had a very different outcome in the presidential election,” said O.J. Semans, executive director of Four Directions Inc., a Native American voting rights advocacy organization. Semans is a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe.

Native voters stand to play a crucial role in the 2020 election, especially in swing states where they make up significant portions of eligible voters. States in which two major parties have similar levels of support and high numbers of electoral votes are also home to large Native populations.

The approximately 3.7 million Natives and Alaska Natives of voting age are represented in this election’s crucial swing states.

Swing states and percentage of eligible Native voters:

  • Arizona — 5.6 percent
  • Colorado — 2.5 percent
  • Michigan — 1.4 percent
  • Minnesota — 1.8 percent
  • Nevada — 2.5 percent
  • North Carolina — 2.1 percent
  • Wisconsin — 1.5 percent

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Human remains, artifacts closer to returning to Seminole

#NoMoreStolenAncestors button. Courtesy Seminole Museum
#NoMoreStolenAncestors button. (Courtesy Seminole Museum)

Florida’s Seminole Tribe has achieved a victory in its fight to reclaim ancestors who were stolen from burial sites across the state during the height of colonialism in North America, reports Brooke Baitinger of the Sun Sentinel.

A policy change at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History means the tribe can take steps to bring back nearly 1,500 Seminole ancestors and tens of thousands of archaeological artifacts that had been exhumed from burial sites across Florida.

Loopholes had allowed the Smithsonian to evade laws that require museums to create a framework for Native tribes to reclaim their ancestors, according to the Seminole Tribe.

Facing mounting pressure from many Native tribes, including the Seminoles, the Smithsonian changed course and decided to allow the tribes to reclaim their ancestors.

Tina Osceola, Seminole, and associate justice for the tribal court, told the Sun Sentinel the victory had been a long time coming and was generations overdue.

“I hope that the nation and world will shift their beliefs that our culture and people are only valuable when owned, displayed or studied,” she said.

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum in Clewiston posted about the victory on Facebook, and shared a photo from when tribe members visited Washington, D.C., to push Congress to change the policy. They shared the social media hashtag related to their efforts: #NoMoreStolenAncestors.

Indigenous cartographers work to decolonize maps

A group of cartographers is working to highlight Native culture and history through “decolonial” mapping.

Indigenous and non-Indigenous map scholars published a series of essays on the history of mapping as a tool of colonization in a special fall edition of the journal Cartographica. The writings also highlight recent efforts by Indigenous groups to reclaim traditional names and places with their mapping techniques, according to a release from Oregon State University.

Maps have an “embedded political nature,” said Natchee Barnd, an associate professor of ethnic studies at Oregon State University’s College of Liberal Arts.

For example, “any time you create a map of Oregon, you are reasserting, reclaiming and recreating the fact of that as a state,” he said. “Oregon doesn’t just happen.”

In the journal’s introductory essay, Brand and other researchers explain that maps have long been a means of demonstrating and reinforcing territorial ownership.

The special edition includes examples from North America, South America, Australia and New Zealand.

Watch: Shoshone-Bannock: Seeing light through a dark sky

shoshone

Since Indian Country Today started its newscast on April 6, we've talked with tribal leaders from coast to coast to find out how they are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Thursday Shoshone-Bannock Tribe Chairman Devon Boyer was featured on the show.

Boyer told Indian Country Today’s Patty Telehongva that impacts from COVID-19 have been economically catastrophic, and “it's hard to look through a dark sky and see some light, but we know it's there."

Also on the newscast, freelance journalist Stewart Huntington shares his latest story about one boarding school's history.

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