National Briefs: December 2014
Friday, January 09 2015
Written by The Circle Staff,
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WASHINGTON – Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne-Hodulgee Muscogee) an advocate and activist recently known for her efforts to change the mascot of the Washington NFL team, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Nov. 24. In addition, Shown Harjo dedicated her life to activism, fighting for tribal sovereignty and preservation, while inspiring Native American youth.

“Through her work in government and as the head of the National Congress of American Indians and the Morningstar Institute, she has helped preserve a million acres of Indian land; helped develop laws preserving tribal sovereignty; she’s repatriated sacred cultural items to tribes while expanding museums that celebrate Native life,” President Barack Obama said. “Because of Suzan, more young Native Americans are growing up with pride in their heritage and with faith in their future. And she’s taught all of us that Native values make Americans stronger.”

Harjo was in good company, with notables ranging from actress Meryl Streep to musician Stevie Wonder, 19 honorees in total: Alvin Ailey, Isabel Allende, Tom Brokaw, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Mildred Dresselhaus, John Dingell, Ethel Kennedy, Abner Mikva, Patsy Takemoto Mink, Edward Roybal, Charles Sifford, Robert Solow, Stephen Sondheim and Marlo Thomas.


WASHINGTON – A group of Lakota anti-Keystone XL advocates were escorted from the U.S. Senate gallery after the Senate fell a vote short of approving the controversial pipeline on Nov. 18.

Greg Grey Cloud (Crow Creek Sioux Tribe) began singing the “Unci Maka Wiwayang Wacipi Olowan”after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) announced the bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which passed in the U.S. House, had failed to meet its 60-vote threshold.

While Warren is no friend of the Keystone pipeline, a champion of the Democratic Party's left wing and claimed Native American ancestry, but she ordered the sergeant-at-arms to restore order in the galleries. Media outlets reported that five protesters were taken from the chamber gallery by the Capitol Police and handcuffed with zip ties. Grey Cloud continued singing as he was knocked to the floor and pulled to the wall.

Grey Cloud, co-founder of Wica Agli – an organization started to restore male responsibility in Lakota society, said the translates as, “Grandfather look at me, I am standing here struggling, I am defending grandmother earth and I am chasing peace.” He said that the song was “not just from me, but my brothers in Wica Agli. We’re defending our women and children in our community. The song itself was very influential for why I sang that here.”

Grey Cloud requested permission to use the song from members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Pat Bad Hand, Sr., explained the origins of the song, created by Howard Bad Hand at Big Mountain as a protest song around coal mining. Bad Hand, Sr. agreed that it was appropriate to sing.

“The importance was showing the U.S Senators, President, and the administration that we are involved, in a lot of places as well. Even though KXL wasn’t passed, that song was sung in support with the tribes, the grassroots people and the Cowboy and Indian Alliance to let the Senators know that we’re here and we’re a people too, and that we support them as long as they support us,” Grey Cloud said.

Grey Cloud was detained in the D.C. jail for five hours for interrupting the Senate and given a court date of Dec. 10.


WASHINGTON – The White House named two tribes as Climate Action Champions on Dec. 3.

The Blue Lake Rancheria of California and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians were among 16 winners of a competition overseen by the Department of Energy. They were selected because they have taken action to address climate change in their communities.

"They will be receiving technical assistance around pollution mitigation, climate resilience, and each will be assigned a federal coordinator in order to help leverage resources to support the implementation of their climate strategies," Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said yesterday at the White House Tribal Nations Conference.

The Blue Lake Rancheria, a Federally recognized tribal government, began its strategic climate action plan in 2008 and is a regional leader in strategically planning and implementing both climate resiliency and greenhouse gas reduction measures. To date, the Tribe has reduced energy consumption by 35 percent and has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2018, utilizing a range of approaches including the use of biodiesel to power public buses and aggressive energy efficiency measures.

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians demonstrates a holistic approach to climate action and preparedness through their energy strategy, emergency operations plan, integrated resource management plan, solid waste management plan, sustainable development code, and land use planning process, with ambitious goals including a net-zero energy goal. The tribe aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4 percent.


WASHINGTON – Kevin Gover, the director of the National Museum of the American Indian, commended NBC for making changes to its production of “Peter Pan.”

NBC cast actress Alanna Saunders, who claims descent from members of the Cherokee Nation, in the role of Tiger Lily. In the book and the Disney film version, Lily is the daughter of a chief in the "Picaninny" tribe.

“The National Museum of the American Indian commends NBC for taking the initiative and reaching out to Native artists to consult on the production of Peter Pan to ultimately create a new version of Tiger Lily for this generation of Peter Pan fans," Director Kevin Gover said in a statement on Facebook. " Tiger Lily was an imaginary Indian - she was created decades ago for a storybook. Although a character, and a beloved one at that, she didn’t (and her song didn’t) represent the American Indians of the past nor today. This new interpretation of Tiger Lily is closer to our heritage, our culture and portrays a deeper sensitivity and helps diminish the many stereotypes surrounding Native Americans.”

NBC also hired Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, as a consultant for the project. Tate updated one of the songs in the original production that used nonsensical "Indian" words. "So the song is supposed to sound nonsensical, but what we did was find authentic Indian language to put in there," Tate told Salon.Com.

The live production of Peter Pan aired Dec. 4 on NBC.


WASHINGTON – Native American farmers and ranchers, including lead plaintiffs Marilyn and George Keepseagle, are opposing a proposal to use $380 million in leftover funds from the Keepseagle settlement for a new foundation.

The Obama administration settled the case in 2011 for $680 million in direct payments to Native farmers and ranchers and for an $80 million loan forgiveness fund. All claims were successfully processed but now there's $380 million in funds that remain.

The attorneys who handled the case want to use the money for a foundation. But Marilyn Keepseagle, 77, told Judge Emmet Sullivan that “would be another way for discrimination, because not all people are going to benefit."

Sullivan held a hearing on Dec. 2 to discuss the proposal. Outside the courthouse in Washington, D.C., the Association of American Indian Farmers, a new group, held a rally to oppose the idea.

The Keepseagle attorneys held a series of meetings and conference calls across Indian Country in July and August to discuss the foundation. Keepsagle and other farmers say they want the remaining funds to be distributed in another round to potential claimants who suffered discrimination at the Department of Agriculture

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma tried to intervene in the case to claim a share of the funds. Sullivan denied the request last month.


TOLEDO, IA – The first-degree murder trial of a Meskwaki Tribe of Iowa citizen is being delayed because of issues with the jury pool.

Dustin Jefferson, 39, is accused of aiding and abetting his mother in the murder his wife in 2013. Jury selection started this week but only two out of 86 potential jurors identified as Native American. That isn't enough to guarantee Jefferson a trial of his peers, his attorney argued .In Tama County, 7.5 percent of the population is Native American so the jury pool was not representative.

A similar issue was raised during the trial of Jefferson's mother, Ginger Jefferson, 57, who was convicted of first-degree murder for killing her son's wife. None of the jurors were Native American but the judge in that case said the two potential Native jurors who were dismissed were stricken for proper reasons. Ginger Jefferson is now serving a life sentence with no chance of parole.

Kerry O'Clair-Jefferson, 23, was murdered in September 2013 at her home. Ginger Jefferson was charged that same month and went to trial in May. On the same day Ginger Jefferson was convicted, authorities indicted Dustin Jefferson.


BOX ELDER, MT – Council members of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Montana have removed Chairman Ken St. Marks from office for the second time in two years.

The council claims St. Marks, through a construction company he owns, stole $2.3 million from the tribe. However, no charges appear to have ever been filed in tribal court.

St. Marks also hasn't been accused of any crimes by the federal government. But the executive of the tribal corporation that oversaw his construction work has pleaded guilty to theft, bribery and tax fraud charges.

"I had nothing to do with the money," St. Marks told media. "The bottom line is, I never touched a penny. I couldn't get within 100 feet of that checkbook."

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Montana has indicted at least a dozen tribal leaders, employees and associates in connection with a large corruption investigation on the reservation. St. Marks has encouraged the probe and says he's being targeted by other tribal leaders because of it.


TALEQUAH, OK – The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma was a sponsor of the Indian National Finals Rodeo but tried to get its money back after learning that the event's primary backer was the Original Americans Foundation.

The tribe's seal prominently appears near the top of the INFR's sponsor page. But it also appeared on other pages just below a logo for the Washington NFL team's controversial foundation.

The tribe sponsored the rodeo because many of its citizens participated, Chief Bill John Baker said. But had he known of the link to the team, he said that wouldn't have happened.

NFL team owner Dan Snyder announced the Original Americans Foundation earlier this year and said it would provide financial and other assistance to Indian Country. However, the organization has not publicly announced a leadership board, policies, guidelines, funding source or other criteria typical of most reputable charities. The foundation is headed by Gary Edwards, who claims Cherokee heritage.


PINE RIDGE, S.D. – The Oglala Sioux Tribe has postponed dog roundups as federal authorities continue to investigate the death of an eight-year-old girl.

The tribe's Department of Public Safety put several dogs to death following the Nov. 18 incident in which Jayla Rodriguez lost her life. But there are conflicting reports on whether she was killed by a pack of wild dogs as originally claimed.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the FBI continue to investigate. Meanwhile, the tribe put off a roundup that was supposed to occur on Nov. 29. Tribal elders questioned the roundups, saying dogs were wrongfully blamed for Jayla's death.


WASHINGTON – The Washington NFL team can sue a group of young Native activists, a federal judge ruled on Nov. 25.

In Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc., the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled six of the team's trademarks because they are disparaging to Native people. That prompted the team to sue six Native activists in federal court in Virginia.

The activists disputed the suit, saying the team's complaints lie with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Judge Gerald Bruce Lee disagreed and said the activists – who filed the petition to strike down the marks – have a "direct stake" in the outcome of any proceedings in the case.

"The court finds that defendants' claim of disparagement before the TTAB constitutes a direct and personal stake in the outcome of the appeal before this court," Lee wrote in the 17-page decision. "Defendants have not provided a sufficient reason why they should not be considered parties of interest in this case. Merely pointing out that defendants have not used the registered marks and have no legal or economic interest in the marks does not absolve them of any interest in the case."

The team previously sued a different group of Native activists after the TTAB struck down the same marks back in 1999. That case, however, went through the federal court in Washington, D.C.

The judge who handled the case eventually ruled that Suzan Shown Harjo, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Nov. 24, and her fellow activists waited too long to challenge the trademarks.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, left the door open for a new challenge from people who weren't alive when the trademarks were first registered in 1967. The petitioners in Blackhorse represent a new generation of Native activists who oppose the continued use of a racial slur in professional sports.


TOPPENISH, WA – Two leaders of the Yakama Nation of Washington were suspended in a dispute over the tribe's gaming commission.

General Council Chairman George Selam and General Council Secretary Joanna Meninick allegedly refused to meet with the commission and allegedly refused to bring the commission's annual budget up for discussion at a meeting with tribal members. Both were suspended without pay.

The general council is composed of all adult tribal members and typically meets every November. Due to the suspensions, it will meet again next week.

The tribe is currently undertaking a $90 million expansion of its Yakama Legends Casino.

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