Political Matters – February 2021

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By Mordecai Speckor

Laura Waterman Wittstock passes
Before anything else this month, I want to remember one of the truly extraordinary leaders in the Native community, Laura Waterman Wittstock, who entered the spirit world on Jan. 16. She was 83.

Among her myriad accomplishments, Laura, a member of the Seneca Nation, was a founder of Migizi Communications (migizi.org), which disseminated Native news and taught media skills to aspiring American Indian journalists. I did some reporting for Migizi’s “First Person Radio,” when the studio was on the second floor of the building on Franklin and Bloomington avenues, across from the Minneapolis American Indian Center. I recall waiting at times until the noise of a passing truck or bus faded to resume narrating a story.
“She really wanted to make a difference in the lives of American Indians and how we were presented in mainstream media,” Kelly Drummer, president of Migizi, told the Star Tribune. “She has mentored so many young women. I feel like that was one of her purposes in life was to work with us and prepare us for our lives.”

Drummer added, “She was really a big part… in telling the real story in what’s happening across Indian Country. That’s why she started this work in the ’70s because our story needs to be heard and needs to continue being heard.”

Laura was a path-breaking journalist and a valuable resource for those of us covering events in Indian County. Among other works, she wrote the text for the 2013 book, “We Are Still Here: A Photographic History of the American Indian Movement” (Minnesota Historical Society Press), which featured the work of the late Dick Bancroft, AIM’s unofficial photographer over many decades.

May Laura’s legacy be an inspiration to Native leaders of today and the generations to come. And may her memory always be a blessing for her loved ones.

Not insane
In late January, I was watching a cable news show and Pres. Joe Biden was talking about the difficulties in getting COVID vaccine distributed across the country. I listened to his earnest explanation and thought to myself, “Hey, he’s not insane.”

The previous occupant of the Oval Office was a malign wingnut, a profligate liar, and a promoter of racists, bigots and xenophobes everywhere. He hated Indians from way back, when tribal casinos were competing with his Atlantic City gambling palaces.

Anyway, T—p left for his Florida resort, and he’s banned from Twitter, Facebook and other popular social media. It’s kind of relaxing not having to worry every day about what damage this lunatic might cause.

Meanwhile, Pres. Biden has made some positive decisions in the early days of his presidency. Nominating U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, a member of Laguna Pueblo and one of the first two Native women in Congress, as the next secretary of Interior is quite remarkable.

At the January event introducing his climate crisis team of White House officials and cabinet secretaries, as reported by Julian Brave NoiseCat in The Nation magazine (Jan. 8, 2021), Biden mentioned the “long-overdue appointment of the first Native American cabinet secretary,” as he looked over his shoulder at Haaland. “Welcome, welcome, welcome.”

Brave NoiseCat quoted Haaland’s speech: “This moment is profound when we consider the fact that a former secretary of the interior once proclaimed his goal to ‘civilize or exterminate’ us. I’m a living testament to the failure of that horrific ideology. I also stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and all the people who have sacrificed so that I can be here.”

And on Jan. 26, Biden issued a memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies on “Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relationships,” which reemphasizes executive orders from the Obama presidency on federal relations with tribal governments.

“The United States has made solemn promises to Tribal Nations for more than two centuries,” the memorandum points out. “Honoring those commitments is particularly vital now, as our Nation faces crises related to health, the economy, racial justice, and climate change – all of which disproportionately harm Native Americans. History demonstrates that we best serve Native American people when Tribal governments are empowered to lead their communities, and when Federal officials speak with and listen to Tribal leaders in formulating Federal policy that affects Tribal Nations.”

Of course, there’s a villain in the story: Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican from Minnesota’s Eighth District, wrote a letter to Biden urging him to withdraw the Haaland nomination, because of her support for “expensive socialist policies like the Green New Deal,” and blah, blah, blah. Hopefully, Stauber, a Trump sycophant, will fail in his benighted effort.