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Political Matters
Suppressing the Indian vote
Friday, February 05 2016
 
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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The passage of the Snyder Act of 1924, during the Calvin Coolidge administration, admitted American Indians born in the United States to full U.S. citizenship.

Under the Fifteenth Amendment, passed in 1870, all U.S. citizens gained the right to vote regardless of race; but it wasn’t until more than 50 years later, with the Snyder Act, “that America’s native people could enjoy the rights granted by this amendment,” according to the Library of Congress. “Even with the passing of this citizenship bill Native Americans were still prevented from participating in elections mainly due to the fact that the Constitution left it up to the states to decide who has the right to vote.”

The article on the Library of Congress website points out that many “Native Americans suffered from the same mechanisms and strategies, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud and intimidation, that kept African Americans from exercising that right. In 1965, with passage of the Voting Rights Act… protections for non-English speakers and other citizen voters were reaffirmed and strengthened.”

Fast forward to Jan. 20, 2016, when seven American Indian plaintiffs from North Dakota filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, under the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. and North Dakota constitutions, challenging North Dakota’s voter ID laws.

The plaintiffs, represented by attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), argue in the suit that “Native American voters are disproportionately burdened” by North Dakota’s 2013 and 2015 voter ID laws. The voter ID laws specify that only certain types of IDs are acceptable at polling places; and in many cases, tribal members do not possess IDs that meet the strict standards imposed by the new laws.

“The burdens are substantial for a number of Native Americans who cannot afford to drive to the nearest driver’s license site (‘DMV’),” NARF explained, in part, in a press release distributed last month. “There are no DMV locations on any Indian reservations in North Dakota, and for many Native Americans, a DMV location may be over 60 miles away. Many Native Americans live below the poverty line, and do not have dependable access to transportation or cannot afford travel to a distant DMV location.”
“As a veteran who served this country, I know how important it is to vote,” remarked Richard Brakebill, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “But I wasn’t permitted to vote in 2014, because my address wasn’t listed on my ID. That was very upsetting.”

The defendant in the lawsuit is Alvin Jaeger, “in his official capacity as the North Dakota Secretary of State.”

A Jan. 21 story in the Grand Forks Herald quotes Jaeger as saying that the North Dakota Legislature, in 2003, made tribal ID an acceptable form of voter ID, “but we’ll have to see what their concern is,” vis-à-vis the lawsuit. “The same requirements are for all North Dakota residents,” Jaeger told the newspaper.

However, Matthew Campbell, a NARF staff attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told me that prior to passage of the 2013 voter ID law, North Dakota allowed more forms of ID to be accepted at the polls.

“After 2013, [North Dakota] limited it to five forms of ID, and then just last year, they limited it to four,” Campbell said, during a telephone interview.

Also, prior to 2013, “if someone showed up [at the polling place] without their ID… if they had a problem voting, there was a fail-safe mechanism that would allow them to vote. There were two, actually: one was a voucher – a poll worker or an election board member could vouch that you were qualified and you lived in the precinct; or you could sign an affidavit, under penalty of perjury, that you lived in the precinct and were qualified [to vote].”

After 2013, the fail-safe mechanisms were abolished, according to Campbell, and North Dakota also required “an ID with a physical residential address on it.” He explained that many tribal IDs lack a person’s street address.

The lawsuit seeking to stop “implementation and enforcement” of North Dakota’s voter ID laws mentions that the 2013 bill passed “essentially on a party-line vote.”

Campbell did not want to get into the politics of these voter suppression measures, but I will: A group called ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, has pushed this kind of legislation across the U.S. The goal is to diminish the ability of blacks and other racial minorities, students, the disabled, and the elderly, to vote. More specifically, the Koch brothers are trying to suppress the vote for Democratic candidates.

Republicans in North Dakota apparently have implemented the ALEC approach to disenfranchise American Indians.

Killing Phil Quinn
Thursday, January 07 2016
 
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
Average user rating    (0 vote)

Killing Phil Quinn

The Nov. 15 fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man, in north Minneapolis, triggered an upsurge in activism directed by Black Lives Matter. There was an occupation of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Fourth Precinct, which went on for more than two weeks before police dismantled the encampment on Plymouth Avenue in an early morning action.

And the Fourth Precinct occupation gained national attention when a group of white supremacists showed up one evening; as they were moved away from the encampment, one of them opened fired and shot five people with the Black Lives Matter group. Fortunately, none of the gunshot injuries was life threatening.
Another climactic event associated with the #Justice4Jamar movement took place Dec. 23, when Black Lives Matter returned to the Mall of America (where a Dec. 20, 2014, protest drew more than 2,000 supporters), then traveled via light rail to the nearby airport terminals and snarled traffic for about two hours.

An incident that has received much less press attention is the fatal police shooting of Philip Quinn, a 30-year-old member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, which occurred late September in St. Paul. According to family members, Quinn suffered from schizophrenia and was in the midst of a psychotic episode – he had been cutting himself with a knife – when police came to the house he shared with his fiancée and three children in the West Seventh neighborhood of St. Paul.

As is usually the case in this type of police shooting, accounts by police and witnesses diverge.
Darleen Tareeq, Quinn’s fiancée, told St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Mara Gottfried, “The first set of officers [who came to the house earlier in the day] gave him space and he fled. The next set of officers... came to my house with guns drawn, made a perimeter, called him and shot him.... Obviously, if I felt endangered, I would have been in my house, but I was standing right there with our daughter in my arms when they did it.”

Gottfried’s story in the Dec. 23 edition of the Pioneer Press (bit.ly/phil-quinn) reviews the troubling incident and its aftermath. Members of Quinn’s family who witnessed the shooting say that the police opened fire too quickly, rather than using a non-lethal weapon like a Taser. Dave Titus, president of the union representing St. Paul cops, told the Pioneer Press that Quinn, who had run from officers earlier in the day, “made a conscious decision to run at police with a screwdriver in his hand,” which led to the deadly outcome. St. Paul police officers Joe LaBathe and Rich McGuire reportedly fired the fatal shots.

Quinn’s friends and family members are searching for answers, “They’ve been gathering most days in December at the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center, holding signs such as ‘Justice For Phil Quinn’ and ‘Stop Police Brutality,’” according to Gottfried’s story.

The relatives and friends called for an independent investigation into Quinn’s death, during a demonstration at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) the day after Thanksgiving. The BCA investigates case at the request of law enforcement; but the St. Paul police have not made such a request, Gottfried wrote. The St. Paul Police Department conducted an investigation, and the case will go to a grand jury, which is normal procedure in shootings involving cops. Police critics – including those involved in the justice for Jamar Clark effort – contend that fatal officer-involved shooting cases go to a grand jury to die.

The killing of Phil Quinn brings together the issues of controversial police killings of people of color and of those afflicted by mental illness.

Native Americans are killed by police at a higher rate than any other ethnic group, according to a July report by Al Jazeera America, which focused on the fatal police shooting of Paul Castaway, a Rosebud Sioux tribal member, in Denver. He was holding a knife to his own throat when the cops opened fire. It is a case that seems eerily similar to the shooting of Quinn.

 As to the mental illness aspect, I reported on the 2000 fatal police shooting of Barbara Schneider, who was in the midst of an acute paranoid episode when police shot her to death in her Uptown apartment. That killing led to the formation of the Barbara Schneider Foundation, which has advocated for Crisis Intervention Teams in Minnesota. Apparently, there’s still a need for further police training to deal with individuals in the midst of mental health crises.
The Facebook group Justice for Phil Quinn has announced a Jan. 9 gathering. Details to be posted soon.

Political Matters: Killing Phil Quinn
Thursday, January 07 2016
 
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
Average user rating    (0 vote)

Killing Phil Quinn

The Nov. 15 fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man, in north Minneapolis, triggered an upsurge in activism directed by Black Lives Matter. There was an occupation of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Fourth Precinct, which went on for more than two weeks before police dismantled the encampment on Plymouth Avenue in an early morning action.

And the Fourth Precinct occupation gained national attention when a group of white supremacists showed up one evening; as they were moved away from the encampment, one of them opened fired and shot five people with the Black Lives Matter group. Fortunately, none of the gunshot injuries was life threatening.

Another climactic event associated with the #Justice4Jamar movement took place Dec. 23, when Black Lives Matter returned to the Mall of America (where a Dec. 20, 2014, protest drew more than 2,000 supporters), then traveled via light rail to the nearby airport terminals and snarled traffic for about two hours.

An incident that has received much less press attention is the fatal police shooting of Philip Quinn, a 30-year-old member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, which occurred late September in St. Paul. According to family members, Quinn suffered from schizophrenia and was in the midst of a psychotic episode – he had been cutting himself with a knife – when police came to the house he shared with his fiancée and three children in the West Seventh neighborhood of St. Paul.
As is usually the case in this type of police shooting, accounts by police and witnesses diverge.
Darleen Tareeq, Quinn’s fiancée, told St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Mara Gottfried, “The first set of officers [who came to the house earlier in the day] gave him space and he fled. The next set of officers... came to my house with guns drawn, made a perimeter, called him and shot him.... Obviously, if I felt endangered, I would have been in my house, but I was standing right there with our daughter in my arms when they did it.”

Gottfried’s story in the Dec. 23 edition of the Pioneer Press (bit.ly/phil-quinn) reviews the troubling incident and its aftermath. Members of Quinn’s family who witnessed the shooting say that the police opened fire too quickly, rather than using a non-lethal weapon like a Taser. Dave Titus, president of the union representing St. Paul cops, told the Pioneer Press that Quinn, who had run from officers earlier in the day, “made a conscious decision to run at police with a screwdriver in his hand,” which led to the deadly outcome. St. Paul police officers Joe LaBathe and Rich McGuire reportedly fired the fatal shots.

Quinn’s friends and family members are searching for answers, “They’ve been gathering most days in December at the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center, holding signs such as ‘Justice For Phil Quinn’ and ‘Stop Police Brutality,’” according to Gottfried’s story.

The relatives and friends called for an independent investigation into Quinn’s death, during a demonstration at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) the day after Thanksgiving. The BCA investigates case at the request of law enforcement; but the St. Paul police have not made such a request, Gottfried wrote. The St. Paul Police Department conducted an investigation, and the case will go to a grand jury, which is normal procedure in shootings involving cops. Police critics – including those involved in the justice for Jamar Clark effort – contend that fatal officer-involved shooting cases go to a grand jury to die.

The killing of Phil Quinn brings together the issues of controversial police killings of people of color and of those afflicted by mental illness.

Native Americans are killed by police at a higher rate than any other ethnic group, according to a July report by Al Jazeera America, which focused on the fatal police shooting of Paul Castaway, a Rosebud Sioux tribal member, in Denver. He was holding a knife to his own throat when the cops opened fire. It is a case that seems eerily similar to the shooting of Quinn.

As to the mental illness aspect, I reported on the 2000 fatal police shooting of Barbara Schneider, who was in the midst of an acute paranoid episode when police shot her to death in her Uptown apartment. That killing led to the formation of the Barbara Schneider Foundation, which has advocated for Crisis Intervention Teams in Minnesota. Apparently, there’s still a need for further police training to deal with individuals in the midst of mental health crises.
The Facebook group Justice for Phil Quinn has announced a Jan. 9 gathering. Details to be posted soon.

Mining and the Indian bands
Thursday, December 03 2015
 
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
Average user rating    (0 vote)

The public has been invited to comment on the final environmental impact statement (EIS) on the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine south of Babbit, in northeastern Minnesota.
The report, which can be downloaded from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website is fairly huge – 263 MB, 3,576 pages; the chapter on environmental consequences from what is known officially as the NorthMet Mining Project and Land Exchange is 812 pages. There also is a 60-page executive summary available.
The summary document features some fairly impenetrable technical language; and the Minnesota Ojibwe bands that were designated as “cooperating agencies” in the environmental review process, which has been rolling along for the past 11 years, were mainly shut out of the NorthMet Final EIS, according to Nancy Schuldt, water protection coordinator for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Fond du Lac, along with the Bois Forte and Grand Portage bands, has been involved in the NorthMet mining project review, since the mine area and land exchange parcels are located within the 1854 Treaty Ceded Territory. The Ojibwe bands ceded these lands to the U.S. government in the 19th century, but reserved hunting, fishing and gathering rights. The Ojibwe bands have a federally-recognized interest in maintaining the health of the land and water for the survival of their future generations. Generally, the Indian bands have been concerned that sulfide mining, a new industry proposed for Minnesota, poses a serious environmental threat. The pollution of wild rice waters is just one of the possible adverse consequences from mining.

Getting back to the NorthMet Mining Project Final EIS, Nancy Schuldt told me that “there aren’t going to be any public hearings, and at this point we don’t apparently have any more public standing than the general public.”

Schuldt pointed out that there have been additional tribal scientific analyses done to support “our positions of dissent about what’s been presented for this project, and the co-lead agencies declined to include those in the [Final] EIS.” She added that both the Draft EIS, in 2009, and the Supplemental Draft EIS, in 2013, included footnotes and appendices detailing the tribal research – “supporting information” – and “major differences of opinion.”

However, the co-lead agencies responsible for the NorthMet Final EIS – the Minnesota DNR, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service – “didn’t allow us to elaborate and add any new information or supporting evidence, or even present our perspective on whether those major differences of opinion still remained, or were there some more… which there are,” said Schuldt.

She said that the only nod to the Ojibwe bands, the so-called “cooperating agencies,” was allowing them to see the preliminary version of the Final EIS this past summer.
After the Minnesota DNR approves the EIS adequacy for the NorthMet project, the operators still have to obtain a variety of permits before they can start digging for ore. The U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also have to issue decisions on the project.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, who has professed a neutral position on the proposed copper-nickel mine, recently toured what was characterized as a bad mine, the Gilt Edge gold mine in South Dakota’s Black Hills, which is now a Superfund site, and a good mine, the Eagle Mine, an underground copper-nickel mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Nancy Schuldt mentioned that Keweenaw Bay Indian Community officials wanted to meet with Dayton when he visited the UP, but the governor did not take the meeting.

“Subsequently, [Dayton] had his commissioners, the DNR and MPCA commissioners, and his mining liaison… he had them conference with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community to talk about the tribe’s experience with that mine.”

After the consultation with the Keweenaw Bay leaders, according to Schuldt, the Michigan tribe sent a message back to Gov. Dayton and his commissioners suggesting that they also reach out to the tribal cooperating agencies with the PolyMet project.

Dayton has expressed his view that PolyMet Mining must provide adequate financial assurance to cover reclamation costs before a Permit to Mine is issued. And in November, Dayton discussed the need for the state Health Department to conduct a review of health risks from the proposed NorthMet project.

Perhaps Gov. Dayton also should invite concerned officials from Fond du Lac, Bois Forte and Grand Portage to a meeting in St. Paul.

“We are a constituency of the governor’s that he has completely declined to engage with over this project,” said Schuldt, regarding the Indian bands that are being sidelined as the PolyMet project gains traction.

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