Here is a summary of Native American-related news around the U.S. this week:
Haaland not hindered by leg injury
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, is recovering from an injury she incurred while hiking in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park on Sunday.
An Interior Department statement released Monday said she had been treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a broken tibia of her left leg. That didn’t stop her from returning to work Monday when she hosted tribal and Native Hawaiian community leaders as part of the administration’s Tribal Homelands Initiative.
Through that initiative, announced in November 2021, the Interior and Agriculture departments will partner with Native communities to give them greater say in how federal lands and waters are managed. According to an Interior Department press release, the group also discussed the impact of climate change in Indigenous communities, as well as ways that Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) can inform federal policymaking.
Tribes fight to have Wounded Knee artifacts returned
The Washington Post reported this week on efforts by descendants of victims and survivors of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre to reclaim artifacts stolen from the graves of their ancestors and held for 130 years by the Barre Museum in Barre, Massachusetts.
The massacre occurred at a time when the government believed Plains tribes were plotting rebellion against their confinement on reservations. After tribal police killed Hunkpapa Lakota leader Sitting Bull on the Standing Rock Reservation, his ally, Minneconjou Lakota leader Spotted Elk, fled south to the Pine Ridge Reservation with about 350 Lakota men, women and children.
The Army intercepted the travelers, who made camp along Wounded Knee Creek at Pine Ridge. On December 29, as the Army attempted to disarm the Indians, a shot rang out, triggering an Army attack that left as many as 300 Native Americans dead.
Soldiers and civilian contractors buried the dead in a mass grave. Many took “souvenirs” of clothing, weapons and hair, which made their way into museums and roadshows across the country.
A traveling salesman donated some of the items to the Barre Museum in 1892; the museum has been reluctant to give them up.
In 1993, a Barre Museum curator told The New York Times that museum officials feared repatriating the objects would “rip a page out of history and bury it.”
CDC reports increase in drug overdoses among Black and Native Americans
A new report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that in 2020, Black Americans and American Indian/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) died from drug overdoses at a much higher rate than white Americans. In just one year, overdose death rates increased 44% for Black people and 39% for AI/AN people. The drug overdose death rate for white Americans rose 22%.
The report says these deaths are being driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, which widened income inequalities and disrupted access to drug abuse prevention and treatment and recovery programs.
Overdose deaths are being driven by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and other illegally manufactured opioids.
Overall, 92,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2020, up 30% from 2019.
The study stressed an urgent need for culturally responsive, community-based prevention and treatment services, as well as medication such as naloxone, and access to harm-reduction services, including fentanyl test strips and syringes.
Freedmen want greater voice in Senate committee hearing
Leaders of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs have invited representatives of the Five Tribes to testify at a July 27 hearing on the status of their Freedmen, the lineal descendants of enslaved African Americans who in the early 1800s accompanied their Native American slaveholders along the Trail of Tears to present-day Oklahoma.
As VOA reported in 2021, the Five Tribes signed treaties in 1866 agreeing to abolish slavery and give the Freedmen “all the rights and privileges of native citizens.”
But Freedmen descendants in four of the Five Tribes are not permitted to vote or run for office in tribal elections and are denied federal housing, health and education benefits.
Freedmen advocates complain they were the last to know about the hearing.
“The Tribes knew about it two or three weeks before we did,” according to Eli Grayson, a descendant of Muscogee Creek Black Freedmen.
He told VOA that only one Freedmen spokesperson was invited to testify: Cherokee citizen Marilyn Vann, president of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association.
According to the Committee’s invitation, dated July 20, which Grayson posted on Facebook, Vann will be given five minutes to speak about the plight of Freedmen in all Five Tribes and must submit written testimony by July 25.
“It sounds to me like they want to talk to the Tribes and not to Freedmen,” said Grayson, who said three tribal leaders have so far accepted invitations to speak.
VOA reached out to a panel spokesman, who said it isn’t known who will attend.
“When we do know, we will post it on the committee website,” he said.
Pope Francis to make ‘penitential pilgrimage’ to Canada
Addressing crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square on July 17, Pope Francis characterized his upcoming trip to Canada as “a penitential pilgrimage.”
Francis will travel to Canada on July 24, where he is expected to apologize for the abuses against Indigenous peoples in Catholic residential schools.
“Unfortunately, in Canada, many Christians, including some members of religious institutes, have contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation that in the past have severely harmed Native communities in various ways,” the pope said. “For this reason, I recently received some groups in the Vatican, representatives of Indigenous peoples, to whom I expressed my sorrow and solidarity for the harm they have suffered. And now, I am about to embark on a penitential pilgrimage, which I hope, with God's grace, will contribute to the journey of healing and reconciliation already undertaken.”
According to the National Catholic Reporter, when Francis arrives in Edmonton, Alberta, he will not be greeted by political leaders but by First Nations elders and survivors of residential schools. From Alberta, he will travel to French-speaking Quebec City and Iqaluit, in the Arctic Canadian territory of Nunavut.
Earlier this year, from March 28 to April 1, Francis met with First Nations, Métis and Inuit delegations at the Vatican, and after hearing their testimony, he expressed “pain and shame” for the abuses they suffered at the hands of Catholic Church leaders.
NDN Collective calls on Washington
Representatives from the South Dakota-based Indigenous-led NDN Collective were in Washington this week for talks with administration officials, lawmakers and federal agency leaders to discuss ways in which Indigenous communities can have a greater say in how public land is managed.
“We’ve heard commitments and recommitments to support bills — such as the Advancing Tribal Parity on Public Land Act and the Environmental Justice for All Act — that protect our sacred sites and double-down on consent and consultation in issues that will directly affect Tribal people and our communities,” a spokesman for the group told VOA via email.
On Wednesday, the group called on President Joe Biden to take “bold action on climate” by declaring a climate emergency and listening to decades long calls “to put an end to the era of fossil fuel extraction on our public lands.”
NDN Collective was founded in 2018 in Rapid City, South Dakota, with a stated mission to “Defend. Develop. Decolonize.” In 2020, the group received $12 million from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s Earth Fund. In March, the group filed a lawsuit against a Rapid City hotel owner and called for a citywide boycott of businesses with racist policies and practices.