Indian Country Today

Arrest in shooting over conquistador's statue; Court cancels development on Blackfeet sacred site; Detroit Columbus statue down; Judge tells Treasury to pay tribes relief money; Navajo lockdown

Man arrested in shooting during conquistador statue protest

Police in Albuquerque on Tuesday arrested a man in the shooting of a protester at a gathering aimed at toppling the statue of a Spanish conquistador.

The police department said it arrested Steven Ray Baca, 31, the morning after shoving and shouting erupted at a protest in downtown Albuquerque, where demonstrators were trying to topple the monument to Juan de Oñate, and armed civilians — including members of a local militia — were trying to stop them.

Police have charged Baca with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, a felony, according to a criminal complaint. It named Scott Williams, who was shot multiple times in the torso, as his victim.

The city is removing the statue for public safety until authorities determine a next step.

One group sought to tear down a monument to Oñate, a 16th-century despot who massacred Indigenous people. Self designated protectors of the statue see him as a cultural father figure.

Court rules to cancel energy lease on land sacred to Blackfeet

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday to cancel a long-disputed oil and gas lease on land in northwestern Montana considered sacred to Native American tribes in the U.S. and Canada.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overruled a judge’s 2018 decision that had allowed a Louisiana company to keep its lease within the Badger Two-Medicine area of Lewis and Clark National Forest.

That area near Glacier National Park is the site of the creation story of the Blackfoot tribes of southern Canada and Montana’s Blackfeet Nation.

John Murray, the Blackfeet's tribal historic preservation officer, said the court's decision will close a “long and painful chapter in the history of our people.”

Columbus statue removed in Detroit

The city of Detroit has removed a bust of explorer Christopher Columbus from a prominent downtown spot after 110 years.

The bust has been placed in storage until its future can be determined, Mayor Mike Duggan told reporters Monday.

Judge: U.S. must release $679M in tribal virus relief funds

The U.S. Treasury Department must release $679 million in coronavirus relief funding for tribes that it intended to withhold while a court challenge over the agency's initial round of payments to tribal governments played out in court, a federal judge ruled late Monday.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, D.C., said the agency doesn't have discretion to withhold the money that is part of a federal relief package that included $8 billion for tribes. He ordered the Treasury Department to disburse it among tribal governments by Wednesday.

“Continued delay in the face of an exceptional public health crisis is no longer acceptable,” Mehta said.

Navajo Nation weekend lockdowns back on

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said during a live town hall on June 16 that the 57-hour weekend lockdowns will be reinstated for the next two weekends.

“We have to protect our people, ladies and gentlemen,” he said and referred to the increasing COVID-19 case count in Arizona. The Navajo Nation spans across Arizona and in parts of New Mexico and Utah. On June 16, the Arizona health department reported a daily increase of 2,392 positive cases giving the state a total of 39,097 cases.

“Like I said many times, what happens here on the Navajo Nation affects those off our nation, vice versa,” he said. “What’s happening off our nation affects us here on the Navajo Nation.”