Indian Country headlines for June 12

President George W. Bush presents the Medal of Honor posthumously to family members of Master Sgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble of the United States Army in 2008 at the White House. From left: Kurt Bluedog, great-nephew, Russ Hawkins, stepson, and Bush. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

Indian Country Today

Remembering longtime lawyer and leader Kurt BlueDog; how mining politics are affecting a Minnesota tribe's request for water funding; actor Michael Greyeyes' thoughts on protests, roles; plus other news of note

Indian Country Today

LEADER, LAWYER KURT BLUEDOG DIES

Kurt BlueDog, who helped draft the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, has died at age 70.

BlueDog, of Wayzata, Minnesota, died May 12 of complications from cancer, according to his obituary. 

His career included roles as an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, a tribal court judge, a lawyer for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, a board member for the National Indian Gaming Association, and an adjunct law professor at William Mitchell College of Law and the Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, the Star Tribune reported.

He helped write legislation that became the American Indian Religious Freedom Act  which ensured that Native Americans could practice their faiths and sacred ceremonies  during his first year as a lawyer.

MINING POLITICS AFFECT TRIBE'S WATER PROJECT 

A tribe’s concerns about mining have a Minnesota advisory committee hesitating to give it mining tax dollars to get safe drinking water. 

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is seeking money to build a water treatment system. 

But members of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board have argued against giving money generated by taconite revenue to the tribe because it has legally challenged mining operations. The panel provides recommendations to a state agency that supports economic development.

The Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation advisory board is asking for more information before voting on the tribe’s grant application. 

Staff say the Fond du Lac Lake Superior Chippewa tribe’s request for $250,000 meets program requirements and is stronger than some others being considered for funding. The money would be part of $1.3 million needed to fix a system that is out of compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency due to contamination.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, the Fond du Lac Band has repeatedly challenged permits for PolyMet’s proposed copper-nickel mine and joined a lawsuit challenging permits for U.S. Steel’s Minntac tailings basin.

INDIAN HEALTH SERVICES' COVID-19 RESPONSE SCRUTINIZED

The House Committee on Appropriations and Subcommittees on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies held an oversight hearing Thursday to discuss the Indian Health Services’ response to the novel coronavirus outbreak in Indian Country. Witnesses included IHS Director Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee of Zuni Pueblo, Stacy Bohlen who is the CEO of the National Indian Health Board and Francys Crevier, executive director of the National Council of Urban Indian Health.

Witnesses and lawmakers touched on the funding mechanisms from the coronavirus relief fund packages, the lack of data in Indian Country, underlying health conditions in American Indian and Alaska Native populations, and the lack of a health infrastructure due to the failed treaty and trust obligations from the federal government.

The takeaway: The Indian Health Service does not keep track of the death rate, Weahkee said.

“With regards to death rate tracking the, the Indian Health Service has purposefully not been tracking death rates because our data would be so skewed that we'd be concerned about the picture that that might paint. We've relied very closely on the CDC data,” Weahkee said. “Majority of death rate data comes from funeral homes, which we don't really own and operate in Indian Country. Many of those are are conducted in for-profit entities, as well as coroner's offices, and historically I think anybody who's worked around Indian Country knows that there is significant concern with racial misclassification of death certificates, and that American Indian rates are underrepresentative.”

CANADIAN CREE ACTOR MAKING HIS MARK

'I Know This Much is True' image courtesy HBO (3)
Mark Ruffalo as Dominick Birdsey talks with Ralph Drinkwater, portrayed by Cree actor Michael Greyeyes, in a scene from "I Know This Much is True" on HBO. (Courtesy HBO)

If you follow the Native actors in the world of the arts and entertainment industry, whether it be film, television, or fine arts and professional dance, you likely know the Indian Country Today newscast guest: Nehiyâw actor, director, and educator Michael Greyeyes. His community is the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada.

(WATCH: 'When I was growing up, I didn't see my community reflected on screens')

Michael Greyeyes has made a serious mark in the world of television and film and has portrayed such high profile roles as Qaletaqa Walker in Fear the Walking Dead, the leader Sheriff Traylor in the Indigenous zombie thriller Blood Quantum and Sitting Bull in Woman Walks Ahead with Jessica Chastain.

He also played in True Detective and the character of Jimmy Saint in V-Wars. His latest work that has recently hit HBO is I Know This Much Is True starring Mark Ruffalo.

STARBUCKS BARS WORKERS FROM WEARING ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ ACCESSORIES 

Beverage giant Starbucks will not allow employees to wear clothing or accessories supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, the company shared an internal bulletin to their employees. 

The bulletin was obtained by BuzzFeed News on Wednesday. The company says pins, T-Shirts or other accessories that support the movement would advocate for a “policial, religious, or personal issue,” which they worry could be “misunderstood and potentially incite violence,” Buzzfeed reports. 

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