Power fight could cost White Earth chairwoman Vizenor her job
Thursday, January 07 2016
Written by Tom Robertson / MPR News,
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A power struggle over constitutional reform on the White Earth Reservation could cost longtime tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor her job.

The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) removed Vizenor from its governing board in December. The MCT governs six Minnesota bands, including White Earth, and is led by a board made up of tribal chairs and secretary-treasurers from each band. Vizenor sat on that board for the past 18 years, but lost her seat when the MCT voted to censure her.
White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Tara Mason said the censure was sparked by Vizenor’s efforts to reform the tribal Constitution. Mason has opposed Vizenor since taking office in 2014.

In 2013, Vizenor and the tribal council drafted a new constitution for White Earth that would have drastically shifted the government structure and changed requirements for tribal membership.

The new Constitution was approved in a referendum vote but implementation stalled shortly after.

In May, Vizenor sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, hoping to jumpstart the effort. That letter, according to Mason, overstepped Vizenor’s powers as chairwoman.

“Her letter violated our current Constitution,” Mason said. “She didn’t have the authority to go outside the tribe.”
In a ruling handed down at the Shooting Star Casino, Minnesota Chippewa Tribe representatives agreed.
Vizenor said that she did send the letter to Washburn, but called the censure vote a move to crush constitutional reform.

“The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe has no separation of powers,” she said. “It’s open to corruption. We need change, but they don’t want to lose power.”

Vizenor still holds her office on White Earth, but the MCT vote leaves her job in the hands of the White Earth Tribal Council. Meetings have not yet been scheduled, but the council could vote to either force Vizenor out, hold a recall election or take no action at all.

Vizenor isn’t worried about her future with the tribe. If forced out, she said, 2016 is an election year and she’ll just run again.
“I have five degrees,” she said. “Two of them are from Harvard. I could be a lot of places, but I’ve been called by the Great Spirit to be here, because we need change.”

Calls to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe were not returned.

Minnesota  Public Radio News can be heard on MPR’s statewide radio network or online.

New Wisconsin bill threatens centuries old burial mounds
Thursday, January 07 2016
Written by The Circle,
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wismoundsindangersm.jpgA bill from Wisconsin Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and Representative Robert Brooks, R-Saukville, would remove protections for American Indian burial sites and force the Wisconsin Historical Society to allow the excavation of a centuries old effigy mound in order to prove there are human remains within the mounds on their land.

The bill stems from a company’s wishes to extract $10 million to $15 million in limestone aggregate from the site. Wingra Stone and RediMix, a concrete and stone producer, has mined extensively on the 57-acre plot surrounding the effigy mounds for years. The site is located inside the company’s Kampmeier Quarry, north of the town of McFarland.

Opponents of the legislation say the mounds are a significant cultural, religious, and spiritual site, and that the bill runs counter to the purpose of Wisconsin Burial Site Protection Act.

At a packed town hall meeting held at the Waukesha Public Library on December 14, Kapenga heard from numerous community members their opposition to the proposed bill. Ho-Chunk District 2 Legislator David Greendeer, said the issue is nothing new to the Ho-Chunk people. “Every place that we walk within the state of Wisconsin; every building that’s been built; every metro-city is built over all of our people. Everywhere around the entire United States, is over all of our Native people,” said Greendeer.

Greendeer was careful to emphasize that the Ho-Chunk presence was not to “oppose” Kapenga personally but rather to work cooperatively towards a favorable resolution for all.

Officers from the Waukesha Police Department were present at the public meeting. It is not clear if law enforcement is present at each of Kapenga’s monthly public meetings.

As mining has exhausted other parts of the 57-acre quarry, Wingra has challenged the existence of human remains at the site in an effort to prove it should be removed from the state’s registry of protected burial sites. That was in 2010 and in 2012, the State Historical Society ruled there was insufficient evidence to determine the mounds do not contain human remains. Since that decision, the issue has been tied up in litigation.

“The fact of the matter is there is no proof that there’s any burial materials there,” said Wingra President Bob Shea. “We certainly wouldn’t disturb a known burial site. But there needs to be some definitive means to be mostly certain – if not completely certain – that there are remains at the site.”
The mounds at Kampmeier Quarry are part of the once-larger Ward Mound Group, which has mostly been destroyed.

Wingra began operating the quarry in 1962, but the Ward mounds remained unprotected until a 1986 law gave the Historical Society the power to identify and catalog potential burial sites and their surrounding lands for preservation. Destruction of the remaining mounds was stopped when the Ward mounds were officially cataloged as a burial site in 1990.

“For us, our oral traditions and history tell us those are human remains,” said Ho-Chunk spokesman Collin Price. “These mounds, to our people, represent so many things. They are a huge part of our culture and what would essentially happen is they’d be destroyed. To excavate their remains is grotesque to even consider,” added Price.

Reprinted with permission from the Red Cliff Band of  Lake Superior Chippewa Indians’ Miisaniinawind “This is Who We Are ”.

Rolling Rez Arts helps artists on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
Thursday, December 03 2015
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rollingrezartsweb.jpgThe colorful herd of buffalo roaming down the roads of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota this fall brought both tears and cheers to a group of artists, supporters and federal partners gathered together for a cultural assets and creative economy learning tour hosted, in part, by First Peoples Fund, a national nonprofit based in Rapid City, South Dakota, dedicated to the preservation, advancement and well-being of American Indian arts and culture.

The buffalo herd was really Rolling Rez Arts, a new state-of-the-art mobile arts space, business training center, and mobile bank. In the coming months, Rolling Rez Arts will be seen all across the reservation as it delivers art, business, retail and banking services that up until this point have been inaccessible to many of the artists and culture bearers who live and work on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The arts space on wheels has been years in the making, and is the result of a group of people – from First Peoples Fund, Artspace and Lakota Funds staff to nonprofit partners to foundations supporters – coming together to infuse new energy into the creative economy.

“This is a remarkable milestone for First Peoples Fund, yes, but even more so, for the artists we have an opportunity to work alongside here in our home community and all across the country,” said Lori Pourier (Oglala Lakota), president of First Peoples Fund. “Rolling Rez Arts will give access to the tools and support artists both need and deserve to overcome barriers that they may face. And, it will also represent what happens when good people come together to creatively find solutions to decades-long challenges.

The first-time seeing Rolling Rez Arts was especially poignant for Donald Montileaux (Oglala Lakota), a renowned ledger artist and an artist success coach for First Peoples Fund. The buffalo imagery that appears on both sides of the bus was drawn by Montileaux, and the graphics that accompany it were designed by Walt Pourier (Oglala Lakota) of Nakota Designs.

As Montileaux sat on the bus for the first time, it was a full-circle moment.

“Back in the early seventies, I was just a semester away from getting my college degree and we traveled North and South Dakota for three years in an art van, but ours was a bread truck – like a UPS truck. We had room to sleep, but we also had art supplies in it, and we’d go to schools, use their cafeterias, and create art with the kids,” Montileaux said.
More than 40 years later, Rolling Rez Arts was now poised to extend his work in new, meaningful ways.

The concept of Rolling Rez Arts comes, in part, in response to a market study conducted by First Peoples Fund, Artspace, Colorado State University, Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC) and Northwest Area Foundation. The study explored the challenges and successes experienced by Lakota artists on Pine Ridge. It found that more than half of Native households on Pine Ridge are engaged in home-based businesses, and 79 percent of those businesses are in the arts. It also found that 61 percent of emerging artists have incomes of less than $10,000, but through participation in workshops and trainings – like what will be offered through the mobile art unit – that percent plummets.

With the availability of mobile outreach to a large cross section of the reservation population, Rolling Rez Arts will engage artists to create a significant opportunity for building assets. The success of artists is the heart of this project, explained Pourier.

Lakota Funds, the first Native-led Community Development Financial Institution on a reservation, has been a critical partner in the creation of Rolling Rez Arts. Since their founding more than 30 years ago, they have helped to create more than 1,400 permanent jobs on the reservation, many of them led by artists. They led the initiative to obtain the charter for the first federally insured financial institution on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Lakota Federal Credit Union. The credit union will be on the bus helping artists to open savings accounts, and building relationships that can help tribal members reach their financial goals, and their dreams.

Rolling Rez Arts was funded through grants from ArtPlace America, The Bush Foundation, Northwest Area Foundation, and USDA Rural Development, all of whom have partnered with First Peoples Fund in the planning, community outreach, and research that makes this innovative mobile unit a reality. Additional funding was provided to Artspace by The Ford Foundation.

A video of the Rolling Rez Arts is available online at: . For more information, call Lori Pourier at 605-484-7767. 

DNR chief: No guarantees for Mille Lacs winter walleye season
Friday, October 02 2015
Written by Dan Kraker/MPR News,
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Despite Gov. Mark Dayton’s call for a walleye ice fishing season this winter at Lake Mille Lacs, it’s still not clear if the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will allow it.

An ice fishing season is vital for many resorts and businesses around the lake, especially after the open water walleye season was cut short this summer after the state exceeded its quota for how many fish anglers could take from the lake.

Many resort owners say winter months account for up to 75 percent of their business.
In late September, Dayton told reporters it was “crucial that we have a good winter fishing season for Mille Lacs, and I will insist that there be one.”

But in September, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said Dayton’s insistence does not guarantee the DNR will OK Mille Lacs walleye ice fishing.

Instead, DNR biologists will survey the walleye population in Mille Lacs over the next three weeks, he said. That includes setting 52 gill nets throughout the lake to determine the population size of spawning adult walleye, the size and distribution of those fish, and reams of other data.

“We’re going to wait until we get the data to make any decisions,” Landwehr told MPR News. “There’s no proposals we’re going to be putting out there before we really get a chance to sit down with the data, with the bands, and come up with what's biologically justifiable.”

Asked how the DNR would respond if the data suggest there aren’t enough walleye to allow any ice fishing harvest this winter, Landwehr said, it was too soon to speculate.

“The big danger we have to be aware of in our desire to provide a lot of opportunity is we do not want to ding that population further, because that just hurts us in the future,” he said.

Dayton, he added, is not proposing the DNR bypass its scientific work “but rather work within the process to get the maximum opportunity for Minnesota anglers.”

In mid-October the DNR will meet with biologists representing eight Ojibwe Indian bands that have treaty rights to harvest fish from Mille Lacs, to analyze that data and determine a safe allowable harvest of walleye from the lake.

Landwher says in those discussions the DNR will insist on as much fishing opportunity as possible for Minnesota anglers.
“We’re hopeful that the data will support a season of some sort,” he said.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe has taken a different approach to the upcoming season. The band announced last month they will forego netting walleye on the lake next year. The other seven bands with treaty rights to the lake, including the Fond du Lac Band in Minnesota, have not yet announced their plans for next year.

In recent years the safe allowable harvest of walleye from Mille Lacs that’s been identified by DNR and tribal biologists has plummeted, from 500,000 pounds in recent years to only 40,000 pounds this year.

Of that total, 28,600 pounds were reserved for state anglers with 11,400 pounds for the bands.

Biologists are perplexed by what’s driving the decline in walleye in one of the state’s largest and historically most productive walleye fisheries. They say plenty of young walleye are hatching, but many of those walleye are failing to reach adulthood, for what they suspect is a variety of complex reasons including invasive species, climate change, water clarity, and predation.

Tribal and state officials are anxious to see what data the survey nets reveal in Mille Lacs this fall, said James Zorn with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.

“We’re in a situation now where I think everyone’s going to wait with baited breath to see whether or not there would be enough walleye to even have a fishing season, for both the state and the tribes,” he said.

Minnesota  Public Radio News can be heard on MPR’s statewide radio network or online at .

Pipestone Superintendent walks cultural tightrope
Friday, October 02 2015
Written by Jon Lurie,
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pipestone_waterfall.jpgOn the high prairies of Southwestern Minnesota one site, and one man, provide a textbook study of the spiritual and political complexities of America’s cultural imposition upon Native American lands.

For the past 15 years, Glen Livermont, the Oglala Lakota superintendent of Pipestone National Monument, has spent his days walking a precarious tightrope of competing visions. As a career Park Service employee, Livermont says he is obliged to act first in the interests of his employers.

“People will often ask me, ‘As an American Indian, what do you think should happen here?’ While I may have an opinion, and I may have feelings about what should happen, I am still a park service manager, and I need to accommodate that first and foremost.”

The sacred red stone quarries have been visited by indigenous peoples for at least 3000 years. Research indicates the earliest quarrying began around 200 B.C. The Yankton Sioux controlled the pipestone quarries from approximately 1700 until the 1920s, at which time stewardship of the area was transferred to the U.S. government.
Today, no fewer than 23 indigenous nations claim affiliation with the site, each of whom rely upon the red stone for crafting the ceremonial pipes central to their spiritual ways.

Black Elk explained why the red stone is so revered by his Lakota people. “When you pray with this pipe,” he said, “you pray for and with everything.” This quote stands at the top of the Monument’s webpage, one of the myriad ways Livermont has influenced interpretation of the quarries. To manage such a venerated place under the banner of a colonial government would be difficult for a commission of officials, and yet a single Park Service employee is tasked by federal authorities with its care. Livermont seeks commonalities between the Park Service’s mission and the visions Native people maintain for the quarries.

"It is the mandate of the Park Service to preserve and protect natural places for future generations,” he says. “That’s a philosophy that matches so well with many American Indian belief systems. Is this place sacred? I think it is, and as such, it needs the protections that the park service can give it. Fortunately there’s enough of those protections that fall in line with what American Indians believe.”

That doesn’t mean the visions of Native people and the Park Service have never clashed during Livermont’s tenure. The superintendent says sometimes federal employees don’t understand the “special relationship the government has with American Indians.”

Livermont says he runs up against colleagues who have been indoctrinated into the park service so thoroughly they feel they must always strictly follow regulations without regard for that special relationship. “These bureaucrats are not willing to compromise for executive orders that mandate American Indian access to sacred sites; they’re not even sure how to talk with Indians. American Indian employees here must straddle the fence, trying to figure out the right thing to do without jeopardizing our careers. It’s sometimes a major conflict, and I’ve experienced it a number of times.”

The son of an Oglala Lakota mother and white father, Livermont grew up on his family’s ranch in a remote district of the Pine Ridge Reservation, some 20 miles south of Interior, South Dakota. His family did not participate in Lakota spiritual ways. When he was 15 years-old, however, his mother brought him to the town of Pine Ridge, where the first openly celebrated Sun Dance in generations was being held.

“Fools Crow and a few of the other elders were bringing the Sun Dance back. There was a lot of excitement over that,” he says. “Having grown up in an era when there was a prohibition on American Indian spiritual practices, my mother had never seen a Sun Dance before, and so she was eager to go.”

Livermont’s uncle lived in Pine Ridge and told them they should avoid the Sun Dance. He had heard that members of the American Indian Movement were in town from Minneapolis and planned to “disrupt things.” Livermont recalls the electricity in the air as a crowd “waited around the arbor for something to happen.” He also remembers a carnival atmosphere surrounding the dance grounds, complete with circus music, and vendors selling snow cones and cotton candy.

Around noon, a priest arrived wearing beaded vestments. He entered the Sun Dance grounds intending to perform communion. In those days, the ceremony could not proceed without the consent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the church. Livermont watched as two men followed the priest, held a quiet conversation, and “guided” the priest off the grounds. Soon BIA police arrived and escorted the men off the reservation.

Young Livermont didn’t know who the AIM men were, or that he had just witnessed the rebirth of the Sun Dance. In the years that followed, dozens of Sun Dances would spring-up across Lakota country.

Nearly three decades later, Livermont gathered with his employees at Pipestone National Monument for a cultural sensitivity presentation by American Indian Movement leader Clyde Bellecourt (in advance of the annual Sun Dance Bellecourt oversees at the site). Bellecourt told the story of how he and Lehman Brightman removed a priest from the Pine Ridge Sun Dance in 1971. It was then that Livermont understood the significance of the events he had witnessed. The two men now work cooperatively to provide accommodations for the dozens of dancers and supporters who converge on the red stone quarries each summer. Livermont credits the events of 1971 with shaping his understanding of who he is as a Lakota person, and with influencing his understanding of his role as superintendent.

One of Livermont’s most important duties is interpretation of the pipestone quarries so that visitors of all backgrounds can grasp their significance. Livermont personally writes much the content included on the Monument’s website, within its visitor’s center, and on its signage.

To help guide this potentially contentious work, Livermont enjoys the advice of an informal council of elders, who, from throughout Indian Country, will knock on his office door and sit down for extended chats. One of these elders, Oglala spiritual leader Wilmer Mesteth, was a particularly welcome site across the superintendent’s desk. Livermont calls the recently deceased Mesteth a mentor and a good friend. The two met while Livermont worked in the South Unit of the South Dakota Badlands.

“Wilmer held a sun dance over in Venture Table. I would stop in and visit with him every year and got to know him that way. When I moved to Pipestone he would visit me. I really respected and liked Wilmer,” Livermont says.
Unlike some of his predecessors, Livermont says he takes his responsibilities under the National Historic Preservation Act quite seriously. Section 106 of the Act requires him to consult with leaders of the 23 tribes historically affiliated with the pipestone quarries whenever changes to the site are under consideration.

“The previous superintendent didn’t believe in consulting with the tribes. But it’s the law, and we have to do it. Because of that spiritual connection they have with the pipestone quarries, it’s also the right thing to do.” Livermont says at first the tribes didn’t take him seriously. They were used to the old way of doing business, where they were told how things were going to change, rather than asked how they should.

Last year, in attempt to educate his colleague on the intricacies of working hand-in-hand with the tribes, Livermont sponsored a training in Omaha. The session drew 25 participants who learned about the rewards and challenges of folding tribal input into Park Service policies. The event, Livermont says, was a tremendous success in transmitting “the American Indian way of thinking.” While he would like to hold annual sessions, the first one may well be the last due to budgetary constraints, which Livermont calls “unacceptable”.

“We in the National Parks Service need to reach out and develop meaningful relationships with the tribes,” he says. “If we don’t, we aren’t meeting our obligations under the law, and we are not doing right by American Indians or the best interest of the sites under our stewardship. We’ve got to start working in a different way.”

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