Political Matters
Political Matters: Killing Phil Quinn
Thursday, January 07 2016
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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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 ( 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,
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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.

Canada and the First Nations
Tuesday, November 03 2015
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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In the Canadian elections last month, the Liberals swept away the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, 43, will become the new Canadian premier.
The elections also ushered in 10 indigenous MPs (Members of Parliament), out of a field of 54 Native candidates across Canada. One of the Aboriginal (Indian) victors, Liberal MP-elect Robert-Falcon Ouellette, in the riding (district) of Winnipeg Centre, told CTV News: “In the city of Winnipeg, and right across this country, so many First Nations children are in care of the state and they’re not with their families, and there are things we can be doing about that.”

Ouellette said that 89 percent of Indigenous children are not in care of the state because of abuse; rather, the problem is poverty, “the inability of parents to provide good housing and good food for their children.” The Liberal MP-elect also cited the need to address the educational needs of Native children, and the dire reality of “murdered and missing indigenous women.”

Trying to understand what the Liberal victory means for First Nations people in Canada, I contacted two of the founders of Idle No More, the Indigenous sovereignty movement that began in Canada and came to global prominence, in 2012.

In an email interview, Jessica Gordon, one of the four women who founded Idle No More, told me that past Canadian governments have had “unfavorable and oppressive policies regarding Indigenous rights and sovereignty. Justin Trudeau, leading the Liberals in this newly-formed government, should be taken with a grain of salt; because, as we know, corporations and money are much more influential than someone with a big heart and good intentions.”

Gordon noted that Justin Trudeau’s father, former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, said, regarding Indigenous people in Canada: “If you no longer speak your language and no longer practice your culture, then you have no right to demand aboriginal rights from us, because you are assimilated with the ruling power.”

As to the elder Trudeau’s assertion, Gordon said, “We can take this as the reality of the belief of any government, or we can take this as a challenge. Yes, we have a horrible history of genocide and because of this, we do not all speak our language or practice our culture. To be self-determined we cannot rely on anyone but ourselves to prove this quote wrong, although in the spirit of reconciliation and Treaty, the government has a moral and legal obligation to see this happen as easily and swiftly as possible.”

She added, “Justin Trudeau has an opportunity now to not only reconcile the sins of his father and previous/ongoing genocide, but also show that he and other settlers have learned from their ancestors’ mistakes.”

There was a high Native turnout at the polls in Canada, according to press reports. But Sylvia McAdam (Saysewahum), an Idle No More co-founder, didn’t participate. In a phone interview from her home in the Treaty 6 First Nations – “two and half hours north of Saskatoon, in what is now known as Saskatchewan” – McAdam expressed deep pessimism about the new Liberal government.
I mentioned attending survival gatherings, in 1980 and 1981, in Pinehouse, a tiny Cree village in northern Saskatchewan. The gatherings hosted by local residents and American Indian Movement (AIM) activists tried to organize popular opposition to uranium mining, specifically, the Key Lake mine, which eventually was developed.

“The situation has gotten worse,” McAdam said.

As far as the Liberals coming to power, she commented: “You know, that’s a loaded question. I’m not saying that you’re not genuine, but if you genuinely want to know about what it’s done, being assimilated into the colonizer’s system, you can take a look at the loss of language; the loss of indigenous knowledge; the increased devastation to the land and water on our lands… We’re more assimilated today than we ever have been.”

Voting in the “colonizer’s system is devastating,” in McAdam’s view. The Canadian federal government “continuously” violates the treaty “terms and promises” made with the First Nations, “and it’s getting worse and worse as the years go by, and more and more indigenous people are forgetting about that. I didn’t vote. I’m what you’d call a ‘sovereigntist,’ in the English language; in my language, I’m known as a person who defends and protects the land, because without the land we’re finished, we’re finished as a people.”

The Harper government was largely reviled by the First Nations people, which is more than four percent of Canada’s population. Obviously, Indigenous opinion is mixed about what the Liberals can do to remediate social inequities in Canada.

Treaty rights today
Friday, October 02 2015
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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Treaty rights today I’ve been thinking about the upsurge in Indian activism over recent years. The sudden rise of the Idle No More movement – which began in Canada and swept through the Western Hemisphere – was quite a surprise, as a new generation of activists made their presence, and grievances, known.

Young Indians, along with graying American Indian Movement (AIM) leaders who brought Indian issues to the world more than four decades ago, also have spearheaded a renewed movement to stop the exploitation of Indian culture and religion by professional sports teams. Thousands of Indians and their allies marched to TCF Bank Stadium on the U of M campus, on Nov. 2, 2014, to protest the continuing racist slur propounded by the NFL’s Washington franchise.

And tribal leaders and activists have been an important factor in the popular resistance to the continuous assault on the land from oil and gas interests, and multinational mining firms. In Minnesota, for example, the White Earth Nation, along with environmental groups, has campaigned against the Sandpiper Pipeline, which would carry crude oil from the Bakken oil field in No. Dakota to Superior, Wisconsin. The project received approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC); but in September the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that a full environmental impact review had to be completed before moving ahead with a certificate of need proceeding.

In the case of proposed copper-nickel mining in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region, the concept of Indian sovereignty provides a legal framework for protecting the natural environment. Specifically, reserved rights to hunt, fish and gather on lands ceded in 19th century treaties between Indian nations and the United States provide the legal underpinning to tribal intervention

When I started as journalist in Indian Country, in the late-1970s, I was fortunate to meet a number of elders who carried knowledge of the lifeways of their peoples: Phillip Deere, of the Muscogee Nation (Oklahoma), David Sohappy, of the Wanapum Band of the Yakama Nation (Washington), and many others.

I also had the good luck to meet Vine Deloria, Jr., of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (So. Dakota). Deloria, a former executive director of National Congress of American Indians, made Indian sovereignty and culture comprehensible to a wide audience through his books, including Custer Died for Your Sins, God Is Red, Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties and The Nations Within (with Clifford Lytle).

In God Is Red, for example, Deloria explains that the lands on which people resided gave birth to the religions that arose: “The chance that lands would be lost meant that religious communities would be destroyed and individual identities forsaken. As sacred mountains became secularized, as tribal burial grounds became cornfields, as tribes no longer lived on the dust of their ancestors’ bones, the people knew that they could not survive.”

In the 19th century treaties between Indian nations and the U.S. government, Indian leaders recognized that an irresistible wave of European immigrants was flooding the land; and, as they relinquished their ancestral land to the new nation, they had the wisdom to reserve their rights to sustenance within the ceded territories.

Of course, after treating with the Indians, the U.S. government often engaged in double-dealing; the U.S., broke treaties at its whim. Such was the case with 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, between the U.S. and the Great Sioux Nation and Arapaho. In 1874, General George A. Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills, accompanied by miners looking for gold. And when gold miners usurped the Sioux hunting grounds, they demanded protection from the Army. Things came to a head at the Battle of the Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn), in 1876.

I happened to be at an Indian gathering in Montana, the 1980 International Indian Treaty Conference, an AIM-led annual summer forum, when the Indian Claims Commission announced that the Sioux would be compensated for violations of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty – with money. A sum of $105 million was awarded; and I was startled to see the Lakota people gathered on the Fort Belknap reservation react to the news of the settlement with anger and with tears.

So I learned that, along with the land, the treaties are sacred, at least to the heirs of the Indians who negotiated these contracts, which take supremacy over all other laws, according to the U.S. Constitution.

I’m not a treaty law expert, but I know that treaty rights have been upheld by the Supreme Court; and this acknowledgment of Indian sovereignty will continue to play a useful role in efforts to beat back energy development schemes and extractive industries that threaten the survival of Indian nations, and of the earth’s ability to sustain life for coming generations of humans and other living creatures.

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