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Activism is in our DNA

Weekend edition of Indian Country Today
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Indian Country Today

Native American activism takes many forms. In this Weekend Edition, we meet Natives who are changing the narrative from public and international policy to classical music—all with a foot in the past and a passion for passing knowledge on to the youth. Mixed race Native women reflect on Black History Month. Meet environmental activists and one woman who seeks justice for Jim Thorpe. We’ll get an update on events in our nation’s capital, and hear classical music from an Indigenous perspective.

A slice of our Indigenous world:

  • Recently released data shows that Indigenous Americans are dying from Covid at twice the rate of white Americans.
  • A four-year-old Diné girl is making a big impact after recovering from a months long battle with the coronavirus.
  • Former Arizona state Representative Arlando Teller, Diné, is being selected to a position on President Joe Biden’s transportation team.
  • The Department of the Interior announced additional Native American members of agency leadership who will work to address the climate and nature crises, including Natalie Landreth, Chickasaw, Interior has never hired so many Native lawyers in leadership roles.

You can find more details on all these stories at the top of today's newscast.

Musician and Educator Martha Redbone, Cherokee, Shawnee, Choctaw

Musician and Educator Martha Redbone, Cherokee, Shawnee, Choctaw

To celebrate Black History Month, meet two women who celebrate both their Black and Native American heritage.

Chenae Bullock owns Moskehtu Consulting. She is enrolled in the Shinnecock Indian Nation, and a descendent of the Montauk Tribe in Long Island, New York.

Martha Redbone is a Native & African American musician and educator. She is known for her music gumbo of folk, blues and gospel from her childhood in Harlan County, Kentucky.

Martha Redbone | Cherokee, Shawnee, Choctaw

Musician and Educator, Brooklyn, NY

“I remember my mom saying, don't participate in the genocide of your own. People do not erase us. And that she said that when I was in the sixth grade and that has stayed with me for my whole life. And I was looking at this woman who worked two jobs to give me the education that she really couldn't have herself -- we're from a coal mining family -- there wasn't much money. And too, and I needed to honor her. I needed to honor my grandparents who raised me, who took me in, when she had tough times”.

Chenae Bullock | Shinnecock, Montauk

Business Owner, Moskehtu Consulting, Atlanta, GA

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“So even sometimes on the powwow trail or traveling through Indian country with other natives, they would often say that we were no longer there, or we're not native, but it's not until they come to our community to see, wow, this is a whole world of Natives, and I got that at a young age. And so, you know, now I'm in my young adult age, I'm able to really encourage some of those other young kids to do that, but it's always tough every day. But when you know who you all, it really doesn't matter what the external energy tries to do it, as long as it doesn't alter your energy.”

Another activist is working to restore the Olympic record of one of the greatest athletes of all time. In 1912, Jim Thorpe, Sac and Fox and Potawatomi, won gold at the Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. A year later Thorpe would be stripped of those medals for playing minor league baseball. In 1983, his medals were returned to his family, but the man named Bright Path, is still not acknowledged for his Olympic wins.

Nedra Darling | Prairie Band Potawatomi

Co-founder, Bright Path Strong, Alexandria, VA

“Jim Thorpe was the first American to win two gold medals. He was also of course, the first Native American, but for our viewers out there, he was also not an American citizen at the time, you know, not to receive that until years later. So he won the pentathlon by tripling the score of his nearest competitor and surpass the second place winner in the decathlon by I think about 688 points. So, we thought, you know, that basically, we need to finish the job. You know, there was a Jim Thorpe foundation in the eighties that did return the metals and it was at that point, I'm learning and looking back through some of their foundation records that they just didn't get the job done, and it wasn't the foundation's fault. It was the international Olympic committee”.

The Biden-Harris Administration hits the ground running to be a more inclusive government. Native Americans are increasing their presence and influence on the federal level.

Holly Cook Macarro | Red Lake Band of Ojibwe

Partner, Spirit Rock Consulting, LLC, Temecula, CA

“It has been a whirlwind of activity in Washington, DC. It’s a sudden return to normalcy. I think while we've all been left with a little PTSD, this sudden returned to normalcy, with regular briefings information being sent out and some significant several significant appointments for Indian country executive orders and executive memos that affect Indian country. And we are all watching very closely, and supporting the process of Congresswoman Deb Haaland's nomination and her confirmation moving forward in the Senate”.

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, halting its construction in the U.S. That's all welcome news for activists who have worked hard to stop the construction.

Judith Le Blanc | Caddo

Director, Native Organizers Alliance, Harlem, NY

“We're in the greatest interruption of our economic, political and cultural lives ever due to COVID. And people are really thinking about what is permanent, what a sustainable and green energy is the way this victory marks that transition that the Biden administration is trying to usher in.”

Activism takes many forms -- even classical music. Meet Jerod Tate, Chickasaw composer and pianist. His Indian name is Impichchaachaaha’. He’s dedicated to the development of American Indian classical music composition. His commissions include works for film, symphonies, ballet and opera -- using many different tribal languages. He has an ability to effectively infuse classical music with American Indian nationalism.

Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix

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