Here is a look at Native American-related news around the U.S. this week:
Homeland Security Department Establishes Tribal Advisory Council
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is creating an advisory council to collaborate on homeland security matters relating to tribal nations and Indigenous communities including emergency management, law enforcement, cybersecurity, domestic terrorism, targeted violence, and border security.
“The inaugural Tribal Homeland Security Advisory Council is a result of sustained engagement to improve nation-to-nation relationships and comes at a time of critical importance,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “I look forward to building a new council that will provide timely advice and recommendations directly from Indian country regarding how we can better work together to improve homeland security.”
Individuals will be considered for membership based on their qualifications to serve as representatives of a tribal nation or tribal organization.
According to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), nearly 40 tribes are located directly on or near America’s borders with Mexico and Canada and are thus directly involved in combating illegal immigration, smuggling and terrorism; further, a high number of oil and gas pipelines, missile sites, dams and nuclear facilities sit on tribal lands.
“While state governments have received billions of taxpayer dollars for homeland security program infrastructure development and enhancement, tribes have yet to receive equitable assistance to perform the same functions,” NCAI states on its website.
DHS Establishes First-Ever Tribal Homeland Security Advisory Council
DOI Finalizes Replacements for Demeaning Place Names
For generations, a gap in the Santa Teresa Mountain Range in Graham County, Arizona has carried a name that uses an offensive ethnic, racial and sexist slur for Indigenous women.
From now on, however, it will be known as Rattlesnake Saddle. It is one of 650 geographic features in the U.S. with names that include a derogatory word. But all that is about to change with the Interior Department announcing Thursday that its Board on Geographic Names has voted on final new names for all these features and locations.
“I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming. That starts with removing racist and derogatory names that have graced federal locations for far too long,” said Secretary Deb Haaland, who in late 2021 ordered the names be changed.
“I am grateful to the members of the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force and the Board on Geographic Names for their efforts to prioritize this important work. Together, we are showing why representation matters and charting a path for an inclusive America.”
The list of new names and a location map can be found on the U.S. Geological Survey website.
Interior Department completes removal of “sq___” from federal use
Wisconsin Judge Sides With Chippewa Band in Pipeline Dispute
The Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa received both good and bad news this week.
A federal judge in Wisconsin ruled late Wednesday the tribe had the right to revoke permission for an oil and gas pipeline to cross through the Band’s reservation.
He also ruled that the band is entitled to monetary compensation, though he did not elaborate.
But he ruled against shutting down the pipeline altogether, saying the 60-year-old pipeline can continue to flow while operators work to reroute it.
In 2019, the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa sued the Canadian energy firm Enbridge Inc., claiming a 40-mile (64 km.) section of the company’s Line 5 pipeline was “a grave public nuisance” and threatened the tribe’s water supply.
The Bad River Reservation spans 125,000 acres (50,585 hectares) on the south shore of Lake Superior and is home to a network of rivers, streams, and wetlands which in turn are home to 44 species of flora and fauna that are federally and/or state recognized as threatened or endangered.
The decision comes one month after the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources received reports of contamination just outside the reservation. Enbridge says they believe the contamination was from a historical leak and was not ongoing.
And it comes just days after Ottawa invoked the 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty to prevent U.S. courts from shutting down the Line 5 pipeline, which carries crude oil and natural gas from Alberta to Ontario through the U.S.
Wisconsin judge rules against Enbridge in dispute over Line 5 pipeline
South Dakota Must Take Steps to Give Tribe Voter Access
Parties reached settlement in a lawsuit this week which will require the state of South Dakota to make it easier for Native Americans to participate in elections.
As VOA has previously reported, Native Americans in South Dakota and other states have long complained about barriers to voting.
The National Voting Rights Act (NVRA) requires all public assistance agencies and motor vehicle departments provide voter registration forms, but South Dakota tribes complain these forms aren’t always available, or if they are, registrations are not always processed.
In September 2020, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe filed a federal court complaint against the South Dakota secretary of state for failing to offer voter registration services.
In May 2022, the court denied a motion by the state to dismiss the case, and days later ruled in favor of the tribes, finding that South Dakota had committed numerous violations of the NVRA.
According to a settlement agreement reached Wednesday, the state must now appoint a voting rights coordinator and train and monitor state agencies to ensure they comply with the law. The state will also reimburse the tribes’ legal fees.
Rosebud Tribe, secretary of state settle over voting registration act
Commerce Department to Boost Development at Fort Apache Reservation
The U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration has awarded a $4.7 million grant to the Fort Apache Heritage Foundation, Inc., to support the expanding small business on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona, home to the White Mountain Apache Tribe.
The funds will go toward renovating and converting a residential building into office and commercial space for tribal startup businesses. Local sources will match the grant with more than $406,000.
“Tribal communities were disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo. “This project will help the White Mountain Apache Tribe of the Fort Apache Reservation plan for future business development and economic growth, creating opportunities for job creation for Tribal members.”
This project is funded under EDA’s American Rescue Plan Indigenous Communities program, which is allocating $100 million in funding specifically to aid tribal governments and Indigenous communities to recover from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Department of Commerce Invests $4.7 Million in American Rescue Plan Funds to Support Small Businesses on Fort Apache Indian Reservation
South Dakota’s First Ever Indigenous-Run School Opens in Rapid City
This week saw the grand opening of the first Indigenous-led, community-based elementary school in Rapid City, South Dakota. The Oceti Sakowin Community Academy is designed to provide students with an inclusive and diverse education grounded in the language, culture and traditions of the Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires, the collective name of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.
A community grand opening included prayer and drum songs welcoming the school’s first class of 35 kindergartners. The school will add one more grade level each year up to the 12th grade level.
“The government tried to beat our language out of us, assimilate and erase us,” said Nick Tilsen, president and CEO of NDN Collective, which founded the school in partnership with NACA Inspired Schools Network (NISN) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “They were unsuccessful. Today, we launch this school – not only as an act of resistance, but an act of power.
School founder Mary Bowman, who is Hunkpapa Lakota from the Standing Rock Reservation, welcomed the children to the classroom Wednesday.
“It was a really great day,” she told VOA. “I think the kids really enjoyed themselves!”
Bowman said the school will operate according to South Dakota Education Department standards.
“It’s just the materials that we’re using that will be different,” she said. “We’re piloting a literacy program from the Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque, and all the books in the curriculum are by Indigenous authors.”
South Dakota legislators have tried to get state funding for charter schools which could address the specific cultural needs of Native American children in the state, but their efforts have so far failed.
“South Dakota is a very Republican state and they’ve been wildly oppositional and resistant to school choice,” said Sarah White, an Oglala Lakota citizen and founder and executive director of the South Dakota Education Equity Coalition. “And the main concern expressed by opposition has been funding and the scarcity of resources. They believe that [public] schools will lose money.”
Opponents also worry that charter schools could promote unorthodox teaching methods.
Rapid City’s first Indigenous-led school opens
Archaeologists: Ancestral Muscogee Among World’s Oldest Democracies
It is commonly held that democracy and democratic institutions are a Western European innovation inherited from ancient Greeks. But a team of archaeologists working in the U.S. state of Georgia say they have evidence that today’s Muskogee tribal council is one of the oldest and most inclusive democratic institutions in the world.
When the Georgia Power Company announced plans to dam the Oconee River in the 1970s, archaeologists scrambled to conduct surveys of the valley which was once the homeland of the Ancestral Muskogee. Researchers catalogued more than 3,000 sites but excavated and removed artifacts from only a few of them, including the remains of a 1,500-year-old plaza once surrounded by earthen mounds and large circular buildings used as council houses.
“Council houses were the hub of political life within communities and often across regions,” explain the study authors, who included historians and cultural preservationists from the Muscogee Nation, now based in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. “And although council houses were, in part, a bridge to ceremonial worlds, they were key forums in which to discuss and debate the collective good and governance.”
“Democracy and democratic institutions in particular are not solely the purview of Western societies,” notes the study, acknowledging that science has only now begun to realize what Native Americans have been saying for years: that Native American tribes practiced inclusive decision making in what is now Canada, the U.S. and Mexico long before Europeans.
Indigenous Americans ruled democratically long before the US did
Indigenous TikTok User Shares as He Learns
It was only two years ago that 20-year-old Zane Lerma-Switzer discovered who his father was.
“He was never in my life, so I never had a chance to find out who I was, where I came from,” he told VOA.
In 2020, Lerma-Switzer took a DNA test, which identified him as 50% Indigenous; and connected him to a close genetic match who turned out to be a first cousin.
“And she revealed that she and the rest of the family live in a small mountain village called Chicueyaco, in the state of Puebla in Mexico, and it turns out I’m Nahua.”
The Nahua are a people who dominated Southern Mexico and Central America until the Spanish invaded in 1519. Today, they are the largest Indigenous group in Mexico and still speak dialects of Nahuatl, an Aztecan language once spoken across Mexico and Central America (hear the language spoken in the video, below).
His discovery triggered a passion to learn more— not just about his Nahuan ancestors, but Indigenous peoples across the Americas. In 2021, he took to TikTok as @indigenouszane, posting short informative videos on Indigenous histories, languages and cultures which have earned him tens of thousands of followers and millions of “likes.”
“My goal is to reach everyone, no matter whether they are non-Native or if they’re Native,” Lerma-Switzer said. “I do feel there are a lot of Natives that don’t even know their own history due to colonization.”
He said he recently obtained his first passport and is working up to 70 hours a week in a local pharmacy to save enough money to travel to Mexico next year.
“That is my No. 1 goal as of now,” he said. “That’s the only reason I work all these hours—it’s to visit my family and visit the culture I never knew I had.”
Troy man takes off on TikTok making videos on Indigenous American culture
British Network Showcases Film by Ho-Chunk/Pechanga Visual Artist
Britain’s BBC News website this week is streaming a short film by visual artist Sky Hopinka, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin and a descendant of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño people of Southern California.
In a 16-minute film called “Kicking the Clouds,” Hopinka interviews his mother about their family history after being given a 50-year-old audio recording of his grandmother learning to speak the highly endangered Luiseno language from her mother.
“After being given this tape by my mother, I interviewed her and asked about it, and recorded her ruminations on their lives and her own,” Hopinka states on his website. “The footage is of our chosen home in Whatcom County, Washington, where my family still lives, far from our homelands in Southern California, yet a home nonetheless.”
The BBC is featuring the film as part of its online LongShots film festival, which highlights short documentaries from promising new filmmakers across the globe.
Hopinka’s work has been featured in several important film festivals, including Sundance, the New York Film Festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival.
To see Hopinka’s film, click here: LongShots: Kicking the Clouds.