From the Editor's Desk: Fear vs. Freedom in tribal sovereignty
Thursday, April 02 2015
Written by Alfred Walking Bull, The Circle Managing Editor,
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whats_new_-_walfred_walking_bull.jpgFear is a powerful motivator. It is built with experience, it tells us when to avoid potential danger, it keeps us safe and it can even keep us tied to our traditions and our ways of life. However, fear can limit us not just in what we can achieve, but even from the attempt at reform.

White Earth Nation Chairwoman Erma Vizenor discussed the gag-order issued by the tribal council on disseminating information on the nation's constitutional reform efforts. “The White Earth Tribal Council voted to censor the press from printing any more information or updates on the Constitution of the White Earth Nation.”

The Secretary/Treasurer for White Earth Nation, Tara Mason, made her point succinctly and directly. “White Earth is recognized by the federal government as a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, not as an independent nation. There’s a chance we could lose our federal recognition and never get it back. I will not jeopardize anyone’s federal recognition.”

This is not an unreasonable position to take, given the three centuries of tumultuous history between the American government and tribal leadership across the country. However, it does call into question the whole premise on which, our nations are currently organized.

The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 created a framework for tribes around the country to organize themselves – sometimes as they saw fit, other times, as prescribed by local BIA officials – and the confusion over constitutional adaptability and sovereignty began in earnest. It was the policy of the United States government up to that point to exterminate tribes as political and cultural entities; in 1934, the pivot turned to assimilation by organization.

Tribal law experts and educators generally agree that the templates used to organize tribal governments in positions like Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, Sergeants-at-Arms and council members looked more like social clubs than sovereign governments. While membership – a term implicit with connotations of dues and fees rather than citizenship – was determined by the tribe, prescribed methods were geared toward blood quantum, a way of excluding anyone below a mixed-race or even mixed-tribal threshold.

So there are some serious historical implications behind changing any tribal constitution.


From the Editor's Desk: Remembering identity across generations
Thursday, March 12 2015
Written by Alfred Walking Bull, The Circle Managing Editor,
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whats_new_-_walfred_walking_bull.jpgThe weather, as is its nature this time of year, brings up memories of things past and the things without which, we continue to live.

The news from Rosebud is that we've lost another one of our elders. Marty Makes Room For Them was one of the tribe's singers and song keepers who composed the Oceti Sakowin Olowan (Seven Council Fires Song).

In school, we learned the Lakota Flag Song. It is still even referred to as the Lakota National Anthem. It was a song composed to mark our guardianship of this country that sprung up around us, when the American flag fell at the Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn) and we assumed control of it, making it ours. It's still rendered at Lakota wacipi along with the Victory Song.
What I love about the Oceti Sakowin Olowan (and from my limited understanding of its meaning) is that it marks our return to defining ourselves as our own nation. It calls back to us as a people to take strength from our own reawakening, politically and spiritually. It reminds us that we are our own nation with our own culture, heritage, language and spirituality that – despite colonization's best efforts – has not died out but has grown and evolved over the centuries of oppression; and that we as a people will continue to do so, so long as we have breath to sing.

The last breaths my mother took were peaceful. At first, she labored after she was taken off the ventilator. As I began saying my goodbyes to her, I thanked her for being the mother that she was, all the lessons that she taught me and my family and all the knowledge she carried from her grandfathers' and grandmothers' generation, from her generation and to her children's, grandchildren's and great-grandchildren's generation.

The Lakota perspective on the Iroquois concept of Seven Generations is such: three generations before and three generations forward from us. That is how our knowledge, our culture and our way of life continues.

We are called to remember not just what we've lost, but what we've gained through the passing on of wisdom and tradition. When we apply those two things to our daily lives, we can see the line that binds us to our ancestors and ties us to our descendants and we feel that hope and promise passing onward.

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.

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