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Political Matters
Franken and Indian Affairs
Friday, August 14 2009
 
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Al Franken, who took the oath of office as Minnesota’s new U.S. senator last month, was quickly in the national spotlight. He participated in the Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, which attracted massive press coverage. On July 30, Franken attended his first meeting of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which was a hearing on gang activity on Indian reservations.It will be interesting to see how Franken develops in the nation’s most elite lawmaking body.

I recently talked with Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. – who, like Franken, happens to be from St. Louis Park. Regarding the difficulty Minnesota’s junior senator faces in entering the Senate session in midstream (after waiting through a recount and legal challenge for his election to be certified), Ornstein said that the “trickiest part” for Franken is that he didn’t “get to go through an orientation. It’s not even like being thrown into the deep end – it’s like being thrown into the deep end in the middle of a tsunami.”
However, Ornstein was confident that Franken would eventually orient himself to the process.
“He is a policy wonk – he knows an enormous amount about these issues,” Ornstein commented. “He knows how to work with people; he’s going to have a first-rate staff.”

In his opening statement at the July 30 Indian Affairs hearing, Franken, who campaigned on Minnesota’s Indian reservations last year, noted that “it is truly a special honor to serve on the same committee that my good friend and predecessor Paul Wellstone served on.”

Political matters
Friday, July 24 2009
 
Written by Circle News - Staff,
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UND’s nickname controversy
On May 14 the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education unanimously passed a motion to retire the University of North Dakota “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo, effective Oct. 1, 2009. The action is based on a 2007 agreement between North Dakota education officials and the NCAA.

However, the board’s directive will be suspended if both the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribal governments approve of the Fighting Sioux nickname. On April 22, in a non-binding plebiscite, members of the Spirit Lake reservation voted two-to-one to approve of the Fighting Sioux name. But the tribal councils are on record in opposition to the UND nickname.

Native Issues in the Halls of Government
Tuesday, May 05 2009
 
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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House panel nixes nukes
When I worked for the Minnesota House of Representatives’ Public Information Office in the mid-90s, I got a front-row view of state lawmaking. One of the big issues in 1994 was nuclear waste storage at Prairie Island. Northern States Power Co. (now Xcel Energy) went to the Legislature for permission to expand its on-site nuclear waste storage at the twin reactors.

Following a protracted wrangle and many late night conference committee sessions, NSP ultimately got its way with the Legislature, which approved the construction of a spent fuel storage facility comprised of 17 massive steel casks, in the parking lot of the Prairie Island plant – a stone’s throw from the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota community and the Mississippi River.

The nation’s nuclear power industry still has no solution to the problem of storing highly radioactive nuclear garbage; more than 57,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel is now being stored adjacent to nuclear power plants around the country. The federally designated burial site for nuke waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been plagued by technical problems and political controversy. Nevada’s Senator Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate majority leader, opposes construction of a federal waste dump in his state, and the Obama administration has not included money for Yucca Mountain in its budget proposal.

Although nobody wants to live next to a nuclear power plant, there are some voices calling for a resurgence of nuclear energy generation – as an answer to the problem of global warming. However, the pro-nukes forces in Minnesota were dealt a setback on March 27, when the House Energy Policy and Finance Division rejected a bill to undo the state’s ban on new nuclear power plants. The 12-9 vote against the measure brought by St. Paul DFL Rep. Tim Mahoney followed seven hours of pro and con testimony.

Removal of the 15-year-old moratorium will not occur this year, Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, told the Grand Forks Herald. Murphy, who championed the 1994 Prairie Island nuclear waste storage proposal, withdrew his Senate bill to end the state’s ban on nukes. “Nobody’s clamoring to build nuclear power plants,” he said.

Shills for the nuclear power industry will be pressing their case for the rebirth of nuclear power, which exists thanks to massive U.S. government subsidies and the

Price-Anderson Act (expiration date: 2025), which limits the monetary liability of utilities in the event of a massive nuclear disaster. Thirty years after the accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania, which effectively ended the construction of new reactors, the uranium/nuke power consortium is on the offensive.

RNC aftermath-Part 3
Since my son Max, who turned 20 in March, was branded as a domestic terrorist by the authorities, in the aftermath of the protests at the Republican National Convention (RNC), I have been closely following the prosecution of protesters by Ramsey County and the city of St. Paul. After putting 10 individuals on trial, the St. Paul city attorney finally got a conviction on one misdemeanor count in March; a fine of $50 was levied. Congratulations!

The stakes are higher for the group known as the “RNC 8,” the local political activists charged with “conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism” and three other related felony counts. I am happy to report that community support is growing to support Max and his seven codefendants, who each face 15 years in prison for their political organizing. At the same time, the Minneapolis Police Department is ramping up its intimidation tactics, which will come as no surprise to members of the local Indian community.

On the morning of March 28, the RNC 8 Defense Committee’s “Tour de Fletcher” bicycle ride visited the three south Minneapolis houses that were raided early on the morning of Aug. 30, two days before the RNC convened, by SWAT teams under the direction of Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher. The 38 riders left Powderhorn Park on the Saturday morning accompanied by two police vans, a black-and-white squad car, an unmarked squad car, and four cops on bicycles. Near the Midtown Greenway, the cops nabbed one rider who strayed from the pack. He was charged with “disorderly conduct” and bailed out later in the day.

The overly large police presence on March 28 was a waste of city resources; it also continues the shameful tradition of police over-reaction that we saw during the RNC in St. Paul. We need more public support for the RNC 8 to send a clear message: dissent is not a crime.
 

Native Issues in the Halls of Government
Wednesday, March 11 2009
 
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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Native stories on film

I’m a big film fan, and I have a special regard for documentaries that deal with edgy political issues and recent history. Film is a great pathway for engaging with controversial topics and exploring the nuances of events that touch our lives.

A new film about the contemporary Indian rights movement, Native Nations: Standing Together for Civil Rights, will be shown as part of the “Native Voices Program” on Wednesday, March 25, the opening evening of the Beyond Borders Film Festival at the Parkway Theater (4814 Chicago Ave. So., Minneapolis).

Native Nations sketches the movement for Indian sovereignty that picked up steam with the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island, the site of the infamous maximum security U.S. prison, by a group of 80 mostly young Indian activists; and then gained global attention with the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee, which ended after 73 days and the loss of some lives. (Actually, the fish-ins in the Pacific Northwest preceded the Alcatraz action by several years; they are briefly mentioned in the documentary.)

The focus of the one-hour film - co-produced by Syd Beane (Mdewankanton Dakota/Flandreau Santee Sioux), Michelle Danforth (Oneida) and Frank Blythe (Eastern Cherokee Dakota) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - is the formation of the National Indian Lutheran Board (NILB) and the campaign to get the Lutheran churches involved in efforts to uplift Indian communities.

Native Nations looks at events across the country and in Minneapolis, the birthplace of the American Indian Movement (AIM). Clyde Bellecourt mentions that the “movement began in prison,” which was part of the school of hard knocks for local leaders Bellecourt, Eddie Benton Banai, Dennis Banks and others. Bellecourt also explains that AIM got its name from Alberta Downwind (Ojibwe), who is quoted in the film: “‘Indian” is what they used to oppress us and ‘Indian’ is what we’ll use to gain our freedom.”

Among the many engaging Indian leaders profiled in Native Nations are Eugene Crawford, the first NILB director; activist, singer and actor Floyd Red Crow Westerman; preeminent scholar and author Vine Deloria, Jr.; and LaDonna Harris (Commanche), who was married to former Oklahoma Sen. Fred Harris and played a key role in the passage of federal legislation, such as the 1976 Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Also, local photographer Dick Bancroft’s photos add a lot to the movement history depicted.

Syd Beane will introduce Native Nations at 9:15 p.m. The opening night activities will kick off at 6:30 with a drumming circle and dancers. Winona LaDuke, activist and former vice-presidential candidate, will speak at 7 p.m., followed by a 7:30 p.m. screening of Before Tomorrow, a beautiful and timeless film from the far north about an Inuit woman and her grandson, directed by Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Ivalu. The film’s producers include Norman Cohn and Zacharias Kunuk, who created the remarkable 2001 film Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner).

The festival continues its Indian-themed films on Thursday, March 26, with screenings of Mohawk Girls, Club Native and Older than America, and a panel discussion with Native American women filmmakers. For the schedule and information on the films, go to: www.beyondbordersfilmfestival.com .

Finally on the film front, I want to mention that the Walker Art Center’s film series, Women with Vision 2009, will screen Stop the Re-Route: Taking a Stand on Native Land at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 21. Director Ann Follett will be present to discuss the film, which chronicles the controversial 1998 re-route of Hwy. 55 through homes on Riverview Road, green space, and the Coldwater Spring area, a site held sacred by the Indian people who preceded the European settlers. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDoT) were confronted by the determined direct action folks from Earth First!, the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community, and neighborhood activists who wanted to preserve homes and the natural environment from the despoliation of highway construction.

The film also will have its community premiere at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 28 at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis.

RNC aftermath-Part 2

I’ve mentioned that my son Max, 19, is a charter member of the “RNC 8,” the local political activists charged with “conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism.” Their group, which organized protests at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, was infiltrated by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI.

In an interesting development, the FBI informant, Andrew “Panda” Darst, is now facing his own felony burglary and misdemeanor assault charges, after he allegedly broke into a Minnetrista home on Jan. 11 and knocked people around. Of course, we should give this snitch the same presumption of innocence that we give to Max and his codefendants, who never hurt anybody or even broke a window. For updates, click on: www.rnc8.org .

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