Judge Rules Against Tribes in Fight Over Nevada Lithium Mine
A federal judge in Nevada has dealt another legal setback to Native American tribes trying to halt construction of one of the biggest lithium mines in the world.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du granted the government's motion to dismiss their claims the mine is being built illegally near the sacred site of an 1865 massacre along the Nevada-Oregon line.
But she said in last week's order the three tribes suing the Bureau of Land Management deserve another chance to amend their complaint to try to prove the agency failed to adequately consult with them as required by the National Historic Preservation Act.
"Given that the court has now twice agreed with federal defendants (and) plaintiffs did not vary their argument ... the court is skeptical that plaintiffs could successfully amend it. But skeptical does not mean futile," Du wrote Nov. 9.
She also noted part of their case is still pending on appeal at the 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals, which indicated last month it likely will hear oral arguments in February as construction continues at Lithium Nevada's mine at Thacker Pass about 370 kilometers northeast of Reno.
Du said in an earlier ruling the tribes had failed to prove the project site is where more than two dozen of their ancestors were killed by the U.S. Cavalry Sept. 12, 1865.
Her new ruling is the latest in a series that have turned back legal challenges to the mine on a variety of fronts, including environmentalists' claims it would violate the 1872 Mining Law and destroy key habitat for sage grouse, cutthroat trout and pronghorn antelope.
All have argued the bureau violated numerous laws in a rush to approve the mine to help meet sky-rocketing demand for lithium used in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles.
Lithium Nevada officials said the $2.3 billion project remains on schedule to begin production in late 2026. They say it's essential to carrying out President Joe Biden's clean energy agenda aimed at combating climate change by reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
"We've dedicated more than a decade to community engagement and hard work in order to get this project right, and the courts have again validated the efforts by Lithium Americas and the administrative agencies," company spokesperson Tim Crowley said in an email to The Associated Press.
Du agreed with the government's argument that the consultation is ongoing and therefore not ripe for legal challenge.
The tribes argued it had to be completed before construction began.
"If agencies are left to define when consultation is ongoing and when consultation is finished ... then agencies will hold consultation open forever — even as construction destroys the very objects of consultation — so that agencies can never be sued," the tribal lawyers wrote in recent briefs filed with the 9th Circuit.
Will Falk, representing the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, said they're still considering whether to amend the complaint by the Dec. 9 deadline Du set, or focus on the appeal.
"Despite this project being billed as `green,' it perpetrates the same harm to Native peoples that mines always have," Falk told AP. "While climate change is a very real, existential threat, if government agencies are allowed to rush through permitting processes to fast-track destructing mining projects like the one at Thacker Pass, more of the natural world and more Native American culture will be destroyed."
The Paiutes call Thacker Pass "Pee hee mu'huh," which means "rotten moon." They describe in oral histories how Paiute hunters returned home in 1865 to find the "elders, women, and children" slain and "unburied and rotting."
The Oregon-based Burns Paiute Tribe joined the Nevada tribes in the appeal. They say BLM's consultation efforts with the tribes "were rife with withheld information, misrepresentations, and downright lies."
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Native American News Roundup Dec. 3-9, 2023
Tribal leaders and top administration officials convene in nation’s capital
The White House hosted its third annual Tribal Nations Summit this week as part of its goals of strengthening nation-to-nation relationships and boosting tribal sovereignty.
It was a chance for the Biden administration to showcase investments in Indian Country in 2023 and to look forward — President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget request includes $32.6 billion to support the Indian Health Service, tribal public safety, housing, education and more.
During his address to tribal leaders on Wednesday, Biden noted some challenges tribes face in getting federal funds.
“Today, there are still too many hoops to jump through … too many strings attached, and too many inefficiencies in the process,” he said, announcing an executive order to reform the tribal funding process.
“It requires federal agencies to streamline grant applications, to co-manage federal programs, to eliminate heavy-handed reporting requirements,” Biden said. “It gives tribes more autonomy to make your own decisions.”
The administration has set up an Access to Capital Clearinghouse online, a “one-stop-shop” of all federal funding opportunities.
The order requires federal agencies to assess all funding gaps and shortages, come up with strategies to make up for unmet needs and report annually on their progress.
The order also secures the first-ever advance appropriations for the Indian Health Service so that it can continue providing health care services to tribes during government shutdowns or other funding lapses.
The administration also announced more than 190 co-stewardship agreements with tribes, which are meant to give them greater say in the management of federal lands, waters and resources.
These include the first-ever agreement with the Commerce Department, more than 70 agreements with the Interior Department and more than 120 co-management and co-management agreements with the Agriculture Department.
Park Service, Interior to study Impact of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told the summit that the National Park Service will collaborate with tribes across the U.S. to conduct a new study focused on the Indian Reorganization Period.
“Native American history is American history, and it should be told by Indigenous peoples. The stories we share inform not just our present but the future world we will pass on to the next generation of leaders. They help define us,” Haaland said. “I am grateful that the National Park Service will work closely on this study with Native communities to ensure that their stories, perspectives and Indigenous knowledge are a key part of this work.”
Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) in 1934, ostensibly to improve conditions among Native Americans. It put an end to the land allotment and forced assimilation policies of the past. It offered tribes incentives to replace traditional governments with U.S. styles of governance, supervised by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Of the 263 tribes that voted on the IRA, 71 rejected it and 192 accepted it. Rifts between “Old Dealers” and “New Dealers” continue to play out on some reservations today.
Biden backs Haudenosaunee bid for the Olympics
During his speech to tribal leaders, President Biden backed allowing the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s lacrosse team to compete in the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
The Haudenosaunee are a confederacy of six Indigenous nations — the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora — who are credited with inventing the game which the Mohawk call Tewaarathon, or “little brother of war.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) in October voted to bring lacrosse back to the Games, and the Haudenosaunee want to compete under the flag of the confederacy.
“Their ancestors invented the game,” said Biden. “They perfected it for a millennia. Their circumstances are unique, and they should be granted an exception to field their own team at the Olympics.”
They face a hurdle, however.
“Only national Olympic committees recognized by the IOC can enter teams for the Olympic Games,” the IOC said in an emailed statement to The New York Times.
Cambridge to honor city’s original occupants
In 2024, Cambridge, Massachusetts, plans to erect 70 new street signs with Massachusett-language translations of numbered streets.
The plan was proposed by Sage Carbone, a Cambridge resident with Italian and Native ancestry.
“There are no streets named after Native people in Cambridge,” Carbone told Boston Public Radio. “To my knowledge, there are no squares commemorating Indigenous people. There are no distinctive markers of the historical nature.”
The plan was approved in December 2021 as part of the city’s $180,000 African American & Indigenous Peoples Historical Reckoning Project, which also looks to restore and expand the existing African American Heritage Trail in Cambridge.
Cherokee Nation Chief Speaks to VOA on US Promises, Progress
President Joe Biden convened a two-day summit Wednesday with the heads of more than 300 tribal groups, saying his administration is committed to writing “a new and better chapter of history” for the more than 570 Native American communities in the United States by making it easier for them to access federal funding.
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation, one of the largest Indigenous tribes in the United States, spoke to VOA about those efforts and also some of the themes of Native history that are in the forefront today.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
VOA: What are your goals for your half-million citizens at this summit?
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.: It’s to press the administration on meeting America's commitment but also learn more about what their plans are. ... The most important thing for the Cherokee Nation, I think — and all tribes — is the efficient deployment of resources, and then allowing tribes to decide how to use those resources. So, a more efficient, streamlined process in terms of getting funding out.
VOA: The Biden administration says it will release at this summit a report card of sorts. What’s your assessment of how the administration has succeeded and where it could do better?
Hoskin: I think overall, it's been very, very positive. ... The bipartisan infrastructure deal has been important for the Cherokee Nation. The American Rescue Plan has enabled us to do things that may seem small to the rest of the world, like putting a cell tower in a community that didn't have cellphone access, by improving water systems.
VOA: Any criticism?
Hoskin: To the extent that it's criticism: The federal government's a big ship, it's tough to steer. What I have seen over the years is, you get a new administration in, it takes a while for the relationships to be built up, for executive orders on consultation to translate down to agencies.
VOA: President Biden has not made — publicly, at least — any sort of land acknowledgment statement. Is that something you seek?
Hoskin: Reminding the country that there were aboriginal people here before anyone ever heard of the United States, I think that's important. But I think in terms of what tribal citizens want to see, and what tribal leaders want to see is access to land, control of resources, more land placed into trust for the benefit of Native Americans.
VOA: The current war between Israel and Hamas is also about land. Do you have any advice for President Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during this very tense moment?
Hoskin: I do think there are some parallels. You're talking about people who say that they've been on the land from time immemorial. That's what we Cherokees say, and we have a history of being dispossessed from our land. I would just remind people that there's a way to balance rights. I think we're trying to do that in the United States in terms of Indian Country versus the rest of the country. We haven't perfected it, but I think we're making some progress. So, all I would say is the respect and dignity that every human being deserves ought to be on display anytime you're having these sorts of situations. That’s a difficult sentiment to express in the midst of some real difficulties.
VOA: Adversaries of the U.S. have weaponized the well-documented suffering of Native Americans, saying the U.S. doesn't have the moral high ground on the world stage.
Hoskin: Certainly it would be accurate to say the United States has an appalling record towards Indigenous peoples. Is it perfect now? No, it's not. But we're making progress. I mean, think about what's happened on the world stage. In Australia, that country just rejected the recognition of aboriginal people. In the United States, we have federal recognition. ... We do have a foundation upon which we built a great deal. And so, to those critics of the United States, I would say, come to the Cherokee Nation and look at what we're doing, leading in things like health care and lifting up people economically. It's not perhaps the picture that has been painted by some of these regimes.
VOA: I believe you knew [former Cherokee chief] Wilma Mankiller very well. Talk a bit about her.
Hoskin: Anybody in the world who cares about human rights, the dignity of everybody, civil rights, they should get to know her. ... She reminded us of who we are and what we always had in us, which was the ability to govern ourselves, to protect ourselves, to understand we have this common history and destiny. She reminded us that we were Cherokee after generations of being suppressed and a bit beaten down. So, she lifted us up. The fact that there's a Barbie doll that depicts her, that there's a quarter from the United States Mint — that shows what a powerful person she was.
VOA: How do you feel about not being consulted on the Barbie doll?
Hoskin: Well, I think it's disrespect on the part of Mattel, but I will also tell you that they very quickly understood that, and we're engaging. So, I think that overall, I appreciate Mattel depicting Wilma Mankiller, the great Cherokee chief. On balance, this is a good thing.
VOA: What does it mean to you to be an American?
Hoskin: I think a lot about this. I can go back a few generations to my ancestors who signed up to fight for this country in World War I and World War II — while within their living memory, there was a great deal of oppression and atrocities by this country to their own people. But in terms of the principles of what we want for this country, like freedom and opportunity for everyone, if we aspire to that, that's something we all share. And so for me, that's what it means to be an American.
VOA: How do you feel about public holidays like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving?
Hoskin: Columbus Day is abhorrent. [Christopher Columbus is] demonstrably somebody who engaged in great atrocities towards Native peoples. ... There's plenty to celebrate in American history without celebrating and misstating what he did. In terms of Thanksgiving, I think it's become for the Cherokee people something that we just celebrate in terms of what unites humanity, which is giving thanks for what we have and trying to do better.
VOA: Anything else you'd like to tell our audience? We broadcast in 48 languages. Would you like to say something in your language?
Hoskin: Sure. I'd say “osiyo,” which is “hello” in Cherokee. And “donadagohvi,” which is ”we will see each other again.” We don't say goodbye. We just look forward to seeing people again. I look forward to seeing you again.
VOA: And I look forward to seeing you again.
What Mattel Got Right — and Wrong — in Designing the Wilma Mankiller Barbie
Members of the Cherokee Nation were delighted last month when the Mattel toy company released a special edition Barbie honoring the tribe’s first female principal chief, women’s advocate Wilma Mankiller.
“She truly exemplifies leadership, culture and equality and we applaud Mattel for commemorating her in the ‘Barbie Inspiring Women Series,’” Cherokee principal chief Chuck Hoskin said in a statement.
Not long after the doll was shipped, Cherokee buyers began complaining that Mattel had not done its homework.
Some said the doll’s skin tone was too dark, implying an effort to make the doll look more “Indian.”
The Cherokee have always been well-known for their traditional basketry styles, but the doll's basket is patterned after traditional English baskets.
She wears a tear dress (pronounced tare), the official dress of Cherokee Nation women, but she is not wearing any jewelry.
“Chief Mankiller was well known for her tribal necklaces,” Cherokee researcher David Cornsilk told VOA via Facebook. “And in addition to being the first female chief of a major U.S. tribe and first woman chief of the Cherokee Nation, she was the first woman to wear our traditional gorget necklace, a powerful symbol of leadership.”
The gorget is a crescent-shaped metal plate that the British military gifted to 18th Century tribal chiefs as a reward for loyalty and a symbol of authority. They are still worn by Cherokee chiefs today.
Missing, too, Cornsilk and others say, are the traditional pucker-toe moccasins, always worn with official dress.
Perhaps the most glaring error is on the doll’s package, which features the Great Seal of the Cherokee Nation.
“The word ‘Cherokee’ should be ᏣᎳᎩ but is written as ᏣᏔᎩ,” Cornsilk said.
Which, translated, reads: “The Chicken Nation.”
A Google search shows the mistake may have come from an image posted on Wikipedia that was created in 2013 by a now-retired contributor. It, too, reads, “Chicken.”
A note beneath the faulty seal challenges its “factual accuracy.”
Mattel spokesperson Devin Tucker told the Associated Press that the company is aware of the problem and is “discussing options.”
Mankiller’s daughter corrects the record
Mankiller’s only surviving child, Felicia Olaya, was disappointed that she was left out of the Barbie design process, just as she says she was with a 25-cent coin the U.S. Mint released in 2022.
“Just like when the quarter came out, neither my sister, who was living at that time, nor I knew anything about it,” she told VOA. “We found out about it secondhand or on social media.”
“And then this happens. And there've been a few other small events that have happened over the years that we didn't know about until they were done,” she added.
Mattel says it worked with Mankiller's husband, Charlie Soap, and his production partner Kristina Kiehl. Neither Soap nor Kiehl responded to messages left by the AP.
Olaya is less critical of the doll itself than some others in the Cherokee Nation.
“It's a doll. It’s not supposed to be an exact portrait of my mom,” she said.
She would change the doll's eye color, something not easily detectable in photos.
“Her eyes weren’t brown. They were hazel,” she said. “And yes, my mom was a jewelry person. She wore clay or cornseed bead necklaces a lot, so, I would have added those.”
She does credit Mattel with getting it right on the shoes.
“Some people say she should have been wearing pucker moccasins. Well, my mom never wore them,” Olaya said, explaining that Mankiller suffered from chronic foot pain after a near-fatal car accident in 1979.
“She either wore flip flops or the kind of shoes the doll is wearing, like diabetics’ shoes.”
Barbie Doll Honoring Cherokee Nation Leader Met With Mixed Emotions
An iconic chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller, inspired countless Native American children as a powerful but humble leader who expanded early education and rural health care.
Her reach is now broadening with a quintessential American honor: a Barbie doll in the late Mankiller's likeness as part of toymaker Mattel's "Inspiring Women" series.
A public ceremony honoring Mankiller's legacy is set for Tuesday in Tahlequah in northeast Oklahoma, where the Cherokee Nation is headquartered.
Mankiller was the nation's first female principal chief, leading the tribe for a decade until 1995. She focused on improving social conditions through consensus and on restoring pride in Native heritage. She met with three U.S. presidents and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.
She also met snide remarks about her surname — a military title — with humor, often delivering a straight-faced response: "Mankiller is actually a well-earned nickname." She died in 2010.
The tribe's current leader, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., applauded Mattel for commemorating Mankiller.
"When Native girls see it, they can achieve it, and Wilma Mankiller has shown countless young women to be fearless and speak up for Indigenous and human rights," Hoskin said in a statement. "Wilma Mankiller is a champion for the Cherokee Nation, for Indian Country, and even my own daughter."
Mankiller, whose likeness is on a U.S. quarter issued in 2021, is the second Native American woman honored with a Barbie doll. Famed aviator Bessie Coleman, who was of Black and Cherokee ancestry, was depicted earlier this year.
Other dolls in the series include Maya Angelou, Ida B. Wells, Jane Goodall and Madam C.J. Walker.
The rollout of the Mankiller Barbie doll, wearing a ribbon skirt, black shoes and carrying a woven basket, has been met with conflicting reactions.
Many say the doll is a fitting tribute for a remarkable leader who faced conflict head-on and helped the tribe triple its enrollment, double its employment and build new health centers and children's programs.
Still, some Cherokee women are critical, saying Mattel overlooked problematic details on the doll and the packaging.
"Mixed emotions shared by me and many other Cherokee women who have now purchased the product revolve around whether a Wilma Barbie captures her legacy, her physical features and the importance of centering Cherokee women in decision making," Stacy Leeds, the law school dean at Arizona State University and a former Cherokee Nation Supreme Court justice, told The Associated Press in an email.
Regina Thompson, a Cherokee basket weaver who grew up near Tahlequah, doesn't think the doll looks like Mankiller. Mattel should have considered traditional pucker toe moccasins, instead of black shoes, and included symbols on the basket that Cherokees use to tell a story, she said.
"Wilma's name is the only thing Cherokee on that box," Thompson said. "Nothing about that doll is Wilma, nothing."
The Cherokee language symbols on the packaging also are wrong, she noted. Two symbols look similar, and the one used translates to "chicken," rather than "Cherokee."
Mattel spokesperson Devin Tucker said the company is aware of the problem with the syllabary and is "discussing options." The company worked with Mankiller's estate, which is led by her husband, Charlie Soap, and her friend Kristina Kiehl, on the creation of the doll. Soap and Kiehl did not respond to messages left by the AP.
Mattel did not consult with the Cherokee Nation on the doll.
"Regrettably, the Mattel company did not work directly with the tribal government's design and communications team to secure the official seal or verify it," the tribe said in a statement. "The printing mistake itself does not diminish what it means for the Cherokee people to see this tribute to Wilma and who she was and what she stood for."
Several Cherokees also criticized Mattel for not consulting with Mankiller's only surviving child, Felicia Olaya, who said she was unaware of the doll until about a week before its public launch.
"I have no issues with the doll. I have no issues with honoring my mom in different ways," said Olaya, who acknowledged she and Soap, her stepfather, are estranged. "The issue is that no one informed me, no one told me. I didn't know it was coming."
Olaya also wonders how her mother would feel about being honored with a Barbie doll.
"I heard her once on the phone saying, 'I'm not Princess Diana, nor am I Barbie,'" Olaya recalled. "I think she probably would have been a little conflicted on that, because my mom was very humble. She wasn't the type of person who had her honorary degrees or awards plastered all over the wall. They were in tubs in her pole barn."
"I'm not sure how she would feel about this," Olaya said.
Still, Olaya said she hopes to buy some of the dolls for her grandchildren and is always grateful for people to learn about her mother's legacy.
"I have a warm feeling about the thought of my granddaughters playing with a Wilma Mankiller Barbie," she said.
Native American News Roundup Nov. 26 - Dec. 2, 2023
Calculating the wage gap for Native American and Native Hawaiian women
The last day of Native American Heritage Month in the United States was also Native Women’s Equal Pay Day, set aside to highlight that Native American and Alaska Native (NA/AN) women working full time, year-round, earn only about 55 cents for every dollar paid to non-Hispanic white men. Those who work part-time or part-year earn an average of 59 cents on the dollar.
These numbers vary by region. The National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) reports that on average, a Yup’ik woman in Alaska earns only 42 cents on the dollar. Considering that nearly two-thirds of Indigenous women are the sole breadwinners in their households and that more than four out of five Indigenous women experience violence, stalking or sexual assault in their lifetimes, these numbers are particularly alarming.
NPWF calculates that if these wage gaps were to close for a single year, the average Native woman could save enough money to buy another 32 months of food for her family, pay 19 more months in rent, and pay nearly three years of public university tuition and fees.
Controversial hockey helmet fetches high bid at auction
On the National Hockey League’s Native American Heritage Day last Friday, Minnesota Wild hockey goalie Marc-Andre Fleury took to the ice in warmups wearing a mask he commissioned to honor his wife, who is said to be of Indigenous Canadian heritage.
He wore the mask despite threats of an NHL fine. Last summer, the NHL banned so-called “pride jerseys” that visibly recognize LGBTQ+ communities.
Fleury’s mask was designed by Mdewakanton Dakota artist Cole Redhorse Taylor, a member of the Prairie Island Indian Community or PIIC in Minnesota and a descendant of Chief Little Crow.
The helmet includes images of plants and flowers indigenous to Minnesota, the names of Fleury’s children, a quote from his father and the Dakota phrase Mni Sota Makoce, “land where the waters reflect the clouds,” from which the state took its name.
The team put the mask up for auction in support of the Minnesota Wild Foundation and the American Indian Family Center in the city of St. Paul. It sold for a whopping $75,100.
Call-in show highlights traditional Indigenous winter homebuilding
This week’s Native America Calling featured a discussion about traditional Indigenous winter housing, built from local resources including wood, snow, mud and straw.
The daily live call-in program available on U.S. and Canadian public radio stations and online included Jesse Jackson, an educator from the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians in Oregon, explaining to host Shawn Spruce (Laguna Pueblo) that because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Oregon winters were wet, and people needed homes which would not only keep them warm but also dry. The answer was to use rot-resistant cedar planks on sites with good drainage.
Solomon Awa (Inupiat) is the Mayor of Iqaluit, the only city in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. He described the challenges of building igloos, domed houses built from blocks of packed snow.
While few Arctic peoples live in igloos anymore, some still construct them while out on hunting trips or when snowmobiles break down and leave them stranded.
“You don't have a blueprint, but make it for the size of your people,” Awa said. “There was the big one that we did not long ago…[it] was about 50 feet diameter probably, almost two-story high.”
To hear more guests talk about their winter building traditions, listen to the full broadcast here: https://www.nativeamericacalling.com/tuesday-november-28-2023-igloos-and-traditional-winter-homes/
The video (below), produced in 2012 by the Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq/Kitikmeot Heritage Society in Nunavut, Canada, shows a group of Inuinnait from the Central Canadian Arctic building an igloo.