POLITICAL MATTERS: Native Issues in the Halls of Government


By Mordecai Specktor

How about those twins?

In my column last month, I wrote about the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) approving the name change for Lake Calhoun. The body of water in Minneapolis will now be known by its original Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska (pronounced beh-DAY mah-KAH-skah) – “White Earth Lake.”

What I didn’t mention, and didn’t know, was that twin sisters Kate Beane and Carly Bad Heart Bull were the spark plugs behind the official name change. As noted in a February story in City Pages, the sisters, whose Dakota ancestors created an agricultural settlement by Bde Maka Ska in the 19th century, stayed with the bureaucratic process and they won.

“We poured our hearts into seeing this through,” Kate Beane told City Pages. “I am proud that our children can witness this historic moment, and will grow up knowing their strong voices can make a difference.”

To the Vatican

And now for something completely different: A concert will take place March 18 to help fund a trip by a dozen local Indigenous youth, ages 8-18, and some elders, to the Vatican in Rome, Italy.

The Indigenous Youth Ceremonial Mentoring Society of St. Paul is organizing the trip, which hopes to ask Pope Francis to rescind the centuries old “Doctrine of Discovery,” papal edicts that justified the subjugation of Indigenous peoples in the Western Hemisphere. According to my cursory research on the internet, the Papal Bull “Inter Caetera,” issued by Pope Alexander VI, on May 4, 1493, was integral to the Spanish conquest of the New World.

The Indigenous Youth to the Vatican Benefit  Concert will take place 2 p.m. Sunday, March 18 at First Universalist Church, 3400 Dupont Ave. S., Minneapolis. Among the performers are Max Gail, best known for playing Wojo on the “Barney Miller” TV sitcom; Native musicians Dorene Day Waubanewquay, Keith Secola and Mitch Walking Elk; and renowned singers Prudence Johnson and Larry Long. Also, starting at 1 p.m., there will be youth storytelling, a silent auction, food and games.

This seems like a worthy cause. Hopefully, the local delegation will have time to visit the Vatican Museums and some of the fascinating sights in Rome. And enjoy some spaghetti.

Mourning Tina Fontaine

People of the First Nations north of the border mourned the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose body was found in Winnipeg’s Red River, in August 2014. Her body was wrapped in plastic and weighed down with rocks. Adding to the pain of her family and members of the Sagkeeng First Nation, Tina’s accused killer, Raymond Cormier, was found not guilty of the crime in late February.

“The slogan ‘no justice, no peace’ echoes across the prairies and fills my ears,” wrote Aimée Craft, an Anishinaabe/Métis law professor at the University of Ottawa, in an oped for The Globe and Mail (Toronto). “Since the last full moon, the Canadian court system has delivered two major blows to Indigenous hopes for justice in Canada – two acquittals of non-Indigenous men following the violent loss of Indigenous youth Tina Fontaine and Colten Boushie. I wonder if we will see justice. Will we ever find peace?”

Craft was the director of research at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls for most of 2017. She wrote, “As a lawyer and law professor, I understand the law, but I don’t see justice in it. The truth is that there is no real justice for Indigenous people. The systems that purport to bring justice fail us over and over, time and again. Tina’s case is a stark illustration of that terrible reality.”

A march and rally attended by many First Nations leaders from across Canada took place in Winnipeg on Feb. 23 – Aboriginal Justice Awareness Day in Manitoba. The gathering followed another blow to the First Nations: as mentioned by Craft, Gerald Stanley, a farmer in Saskatchewan, was acquitted on Feb. 9 of the fatal shooting of a 22-year-old Cree man, Colten Boushie, a member of the Red Pheasant First Nation. The verdict in the Stanley murder trial is seen as further evidence of a justice system that is stacked against Native people in Canada.

Aimée Craft concluded her article in The Globe and Mail with a look back at the “largest mass hanging in Canadian history – at Battleford, [Saskatchewan], in 1885, where eight Indigenous men were hanged for their participation in the North-West Rebellion. Indigenous children from the nearby Industrial School were forced to watch the hanging so that the power of the state would be burned into their memories. This was part of the overall project of the schools to ‘kill the Indian in the child.’ Today, Indigenous children are dying at the hands of people who see them as disposable and systems that are carrying on these colonial legacies.”