National Briefs: December 2014




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




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


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


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


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


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.