Guest Column: Trahant Reports
Thursday, March 12 2015
Written by Mark Trahant,
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trahant_reports-web.jpgThe power of Native voters … beginning of a beautiful trend

I have been writing for years about the success – well, at least mostly – of Native American voters. During recent presidential election cycles the turnout from Indian Country is inspiring, helping to swing elections from Arizona to North Dakota.

And just last year Alaska Native voters helped dump a hostile state governor and replaced him with Gov. Bill Walker, an ally, as well as electing Byron Mallott, a Tlingit leader, as the Lt. Governor.

But do you want to know something really cool?

The demographic shift that reflects Native voting power is only beginning. What’s more, the landscape is changing faster than expected and should bring about dramatic changes in states as “red” as Alaska and Oklahoma.

A new report looks at the numbers and the results are stunning. In 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected president the population of the United States was 80 percent white. Today that proportion stands at 63 percent and it’s likely to be less than 44 percent by 2060. The report, “The States of Change: Demographics and Democracy” is a collaboration of the liberal Center for American Progress, the conservative American Enterprise Institute and demographer William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution. One of the goals is to “document and analyze the challenges to democracy posed by the rapid demographic evolution from the 1970s to 2060.”

What Would Ingrid Do? War and Peace in Columbia
Wednesday, March 11 2015
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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We must recognize that we have hit bottom and that war dehumanizes and dehumanizes us,"what_would_ingrid_do-web.jpg

– Juan Manuel Santos, President of Columbia

This month marks the 15th anniversary of the kidnapping and assassination of Menominee Ingrid Washinawatok El Issa. It also marks a new set of peace talks between the many forces of Colombia, in particular the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). Those talks are to be held in Cuba this spring.

It is long ago, but I knew her well and I often ask myself the question, “What would Ingrid do?” She was a good friend and colleague of mine, as we co-chaired the Indigenous Women’s Network together for a decade. In her life she led an exemplary role in the Indigenous community. Also known as Peqtaw-Metamoh (Flying Bird Woman), she served as the Chair of the NGO Committee on the United Nations International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples and as the Executive Director of the New York-based Fund for Four Directions.

She is also known in her death. The FARC kidnapped Ingrid when she left the U’wa territory who were protecting their land from Occidental Petroleum and creating an Indigenous education system. She was kidnapped by the FARC, along with Hawaiian activist Lahe’ena’e Gay and environmental activist Terence Freitas and assassinated on March 4 in Venezuela.

I ask the question, “ What would Ingrid do?” when I am vexed with our world and my own people. I also ask that because I believe that some of Ingrid’s hopes being actualized in peace talks. The talks scheduled for Cuba will address the longest hemispheric war.

The Huffington Post reports, “Colombia's internal conflict has claimed at least 220,000 lives since 1958, and more than four of every five victims have been civilian noncombatants. From 1996 to 2005, on average, someone was kidnapped every eight hours in Colombia and every day someone fell victim to an anti-personnel mine, according to a newly-issued 434-page report entitled 'Enough Already: Memories of War and Dignity.'”


From the Editor's Desk: Look before leaping into cannabis
Thursday, February 05 2015
Written by Alfred Walking Bull, The Circle Managing Editor,
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whats_new_-_walfred_walking_bull.jpgAnyone who sits through any tribal council meeting knows well the time and measure of deliberation of any issue in Indian Country. In South Dakota tribal councils, the tradition of consensus – even when put against the formalism of Roberts Rules of Order – tends to give way to all persons with an opinion on any given matter being discussed.

Too often, as Indian people, we prefer the romantic notion of swift, decisive action. It comes from our times of war with the encroaching enemy, be they other tribes or a growing country of European immigrants. We harken back to the idea that in order to be Indian, we must act aggressively and without doubt. True enough, given the mode of war but when it comes to nation-building, planning and economic development, seemingly endless meetings and discussions are better advised.

As Red Lake Nation – along with other tribes across the country – follow the lead of the U.S. Department of Justice's implied permission at the close of 2014 to pursue the cultivation and sale of hemp and marijuana, there are many questions that need to be asked and real answers given before motions to legalize should even be made.

Marijuana is not the silver bullet. The growth and sale of cannabis on Indian reservations are not the great sustainer we would like them to be. We know this because we have seen this model before with Indian gaming.

While many in Minnesota and across the country who did not grow up on the reservation like to point to financial windfalls and continued profitability of Indian gaming, those cases are the exception and not the rule. For many tribes, most of which are out of the way and in the most inaccessible regions of this country for basic emergency services – a gift from the largess of the federal government, to be sure – the profitability of gaming is low. The Native American Rights Fund reports that of the 560 tribal nations, only 224 operate gaming establishments. The National Indian Gaming Commission in its Gaming Revenue Reports from 2009 to 2013, show that the average of only 26 operations showed revenue in the $11 million. Split among the citizens of each tribal nations how they see fit to disperse it, either through per capita payments or investment in their infrastructures, it is still a long way to go for most tribes.

From the Editor's Desk: Rebuilding and Exercising Power
Tuesday, January 13 2015
Written by Alfred Walking Bull, The Circle Managing Editor,
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whats_new_-_walfred_walking_bull.jpgNative faces and issues came to the fore on the regional and national stage in 2014. Our concerns became part of a conversation that doesn't happen in meaningful ways. Whether we attempted to educate, rally or simply live from day to day, we found our power.

After her election in 2013, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges made good on her promises to the Indian community by fostering a political environment that led to the creation of Indigenous Peoples Day in the city, in place of Columbus Day. More than that, however, the exercise of the organizing power from within the community is what should be highlighted. The Native American Community Development Institute began the process in 2013 by surveying community members on what they'd like to see achieved and shepherded it through until the ultimate city council vote on April 25 and subsequent celebrations on Oct. 12.

Inextricably linked was also the growing attention to the Washington NFL team's racist mascot. On Nov. 2, thousands gathered in front of TCF Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus to once again protest the institutionalized prejudice and ignorance that accompanied the team when it played the Minnesota Vikings. The work of the protest began in two prongs through the well-established and prominent organization National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media that organized a formal rally at the stadium. The other wing of activism included a protest march through the streets of Minneapolis by a coalition of grassroots organizations including Idle No More-Twin Cities, AIM-Twin Cities, Protest Our Manoomin and the Minnesota Two Spirit Society, among several others.

Among those organizations rising within the community to raise awareness and education about LGBTQ Native issues was the Minnesota Two Spirit Society. While the group has had over 20 years of presence in one incarnation or another in the area, the society began reaching out to tribal communities to educate about the Two Spirit identity, fostering leadership on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota. Part of its goals for the upcoming year is to secure a non-profit status and provide mental health, social service and employment opportunities for Two Spirit individuals in the region. This presence in the community is an important method for reclaiming cultural roles concerning Two Spirit people in modern Native culture after colonization's attack on tradition sexual and gender identity in tribal communities.

From the Editor's Desk: Do Our Lives Matter?
Friday, January 09 2015
Written by Alfred Walking Bull, The Circle Managing Editor,
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whats_new_-_walfred_walking_bull.jpgAs November's Native American Heritage Month, opened with a loud burst in Minneapolis when the Washington NFL team came to town, barely. On game day, word spread through the crowds of protesters marching up from Franklin Avenue to TCF Stadium that the Washington team's bus had an accident before pulling into town and, according to media reports, the players were, “shaken.” At the rally at TCF Stadium, comedian and activist Dick Gregory joked about the turn around in temperature for the rally. “Dan Snyder, you're dealing with people who can change the weather! You can change that name!” Someone set out some extra tobacco, it seems.

While protests and rallies are a way for people to get together, share a common passion and draw attention to an issue, personally, I'm not a fan. In my previous experience as a political organizer, we measured how effective an effort was by the results it produced, usually an election result. But in the process, people feel connected and share their common passions. The important part in movement building is to have a clear goal in mind and calculated ways to achieve that goal.

Every struggle in America to achieve rights guaranteed to us in the spirit of the Constitution has had many prongs, whether the issue of slavery, women's voting rights or civil rights; there have always been many voices involved, not always in agreement, but the goal was the same. In the Native American community, 10 people can have 20 different opinions on the same subject, it's just the way we are as a people, we take time to chew over a problem and posit different methods to achieve our goal. But everyone has a place and every opinion is heard in deliberation. At the end of the day, the strategy is adopted by everyone involved.

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