Accessibility links

Breaking News

Native Americans

Native American news roundup, May 12-18, 2024

FILE - Phillip Yazzie waits for a water drum in the back of his pickup truck to be filled in Teesto, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, Feb. 11, 2021.
FILE - Phillip Yazzie waits for a water drum in the back of his pickup truck to be filled in Teesto, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, Feb. 11, 2021.

Navajo president to council: Hurry and approve water rights settlements

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren has urged the tribal council to quickly approve a pair of proposed water rights settlements.

“The current round of negotiations to settle our claims to the Colorado River in Arizona began in the early 1990s but reach back to the 1960s,” Nygren said in a statement Tuesday. “This is a long time coming, so I look for a unanimous vote from council.”

Navajo Nation council speaker Crystalyne Curley introduced legislation May 11 to address water rights claims in the Rio San Jose Stream System and the Rio Puerco Basin in New Mexico, calling it a “monumental step forward in securing water sovereignty” for Navajo communities and sustaining water resources for “generations to come.”

Under the larger Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement, which Curley introduced May 12, the Navajo Nation would receive a significant amount of Arizona’s allocation of Colorado River Upper Basin water, a portion of Lower Basin water, all groundwater underneath the Navajo Nation and all surface water reaching the Navajo Nation from the Little Colorado River.

The Navajo Nation covers 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles). About 30% of Navajo families live without running water and must haul it from remote wells in order meet their basic household and livestock needs.

If Congress authorizes the agreement, it will provide up to $5 billion worth of water infrastructure and development for Navajo, Hopi and San Juan Southern Paiute tribes in Arizona.

Read more:

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem listens to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairwoman Janet Alkire, unseen, during a tribal flags ceremony on Jan. 10, 2024, in Pierre. Eight out of nine South Dakota tribes have banned Noem, a Republican, from their reservations.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem listens to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairwoman Janet Alkire, unseen, during a tribal flags ceremony on Jan. 10, 2024, in Pierre. Eight out of nine South Dakota tribes have banned Noem, a Republican, from their reservations.

Eight out of nine tribes banish South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem

Two more tribes in South Dakota this week banished Republican Governor Kristi Noem from their reservations over her suggestions that tribal leaders benefit from drug cartel activity.

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe endorsed a ban on Wednesday, a day after the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe passed a similar resolution. Now, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is the only one of nine tribes in South Dakota that has not followed suit.

“We want our children and fellow tribal members & tribal relatives across the State to be seen as equals and treated with respect and dignity like any other ethnicity in our State,” Lower Brule tribal chairman Clyde J. R. Estes posted on Facebook.

The bans follow remarks Noem made during separate town hall meetings in March.

“Their [tribes’] kids don’t have any hope. They don’t have parents who show up and help them,” Noem said, and she suggested that Mexican drug cartels operate on reservations to the benefit of some tribal leaders.

Crow Creek chairman Peter Lengkeek told South Dakota Public Broadcasting Wednesday that no Mexican drug cartels operate on his reservation.

“We have cartel products, like guns and drugs, but they pass over state highways getting to the reservation,” he said.

Tuesday, Noem appointed a former Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety chief to serve on the state’s Department of Tribal Relations, alleging he “found himself without a job” after he told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs about the cartel presence on tribal lands.

Noem’s office did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.

Read more:

Graduating student forced to remove beaded cap, feather

Native Americans protested on social media after officials at a New Mexico high school graduation ceremony confiscated a Lakota student’s beaded cap and feather.

In a video widely shared on social media, two Farmington High School officials are seen taking a cap and feather from Genesis White Bull and replacing it with one that was unadorned.

Navajo Nation first lady Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren expressed support for White Bull and for all students wishing to wear items of cultural significance on graduation day.

“For some graduates, this is the last graduation ceremony they will ever have,” she posted. “Deciding what to wear goes far beyond a simple decision of what color dress or shoes to wear. For Native students, this is a day to proudly wear our traditional regalia [that] reminds us of how far we’ve come as a people.”

Read more:

“G is for Genocide” by Hunkpapa Lakota artist Danielle SeeWalker. (Courtesy, Danielle SeeWalker)
“G is for Genocide” by Hunkpapa Lakota artist Danielle SeeWalker. (Courtesy, Danielle SeeWalker)

Colorado town cancels artist’s residency over controversial painting

Hunkpapa Lakota artist Danielle SeeWalker was slated to become the first Native American to serve as Vail, Colorado’s, summer 2024 artist-in-residence.

But that was before SeeWalker posted a painting titled “G is for Genocide” on social media. It shows a near-faceless woman wearing a feather and a keffiyeh, the traditional Bedouin headscarf that has become the symbol for solidarity with Palestinians.

“It is about me expressing the parallels between what is happening to the innocent people in Gaza ... to that of the genocide of Native American populations here in our lands,” SeeWalker wrote in an Instagram post.

A community member saw the post and complained to the city, which abruptly canceled this year’s residency program just weeks before it was slated to begin.

“They called me last week, and the phone call lasted about a minute and a half,” SeeWalker told VOA. “I didn’t get a word in edgewise. If I could have had the opportunity to have a fruitful, engaging conversation about what I stand for as an artist, as an Indigenous woman, I would have appreciated that.”

In a statement on its website, the town of Vail said that while it “embraces her messaging and artwork surrounding Native Americans,” the town does not want to use public funds to support “any position on a polarizing geopolitical issue.”

Read more:

See all News Updates of the Day

Despite gains, Native Americans still face voting barriers

Lummi Tribal member Patsy Wilson, left, is assisted by Lummi Native Vote Team 2020 volunteer Kelli Jefferson in voting on Nov. 3, 2020, on the Lummi Reservation, near Bellingham, Washington.
Lummi Tribal member Patsy Wilson, left, is assisted by Lummi Native Vote Team 2020 volunteer Kelli Jefferson in voting on Nov. 3, 2020, on the Lummi Reservation, near Bellingham, Washington.

Native Americans today say they still face barriers to casting their votes, six decades after U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Many live miles away from voter registration and polling sites and lack access to reliable transportation.

Others may not have traditional mailing addresses and cannot satisfy voter registration requirements. Voting by mail can be “iffy,” according to O.J. Semans, a Sicangu Lakota citizen living on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota and co-executive director of Four Directions, a voting rights advocacy group that has worked on behalf of tribes in several states.

“You must remember, the old Pony Express [mail delivery on horseback] wasn’t meant for reservations. It was for outposts and settler towns,” Semans said. “The U.S. Postal Service has neglected every Indian reservation in the United States when it comes to ensuring we have equality.”

An undated photo of a general store and post office in Ruidoso, New Mexico, a border town near the Mescalero Apache reservation.
An undated photo of a general store and post office in Ruidoso, New Mexico, a border town near the Mescalero Apache reservation.

A 2023 study of mail service on the Navajo Nation — the largest reservation in the U.S. — notes that when deciding where to open post offices during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. Postal Service picked locations that would “advance military objectives and serve the interests of Anglo-American settlers.”

“Post Offices are fewer and farther from each other on reservation communities; there are fewer service hours; and we show in a mail experiment that letters posted on reservations are slower and less likely to arrive," the study said.

Post offices exist on Seman’s Rosebud Reservation, but they no longer accept general delivery.

“So, if you want to vote by mail, you can request an absentee ballot and fill it out. But you’d never get the ballot back,” he said.

States pass restrictive laws

The 1965 Voting Rights Act banned traditional forms of voter discrimination such as literacy tests, character assessments and other practices widely used to disenfranchise minority voters.

It authorized the federal government to oversee voter registration and election procedures in certain states and localities with histories of discriminatory practices, and it also required those jurisdictions to obtain “preclearance” from the Justice Department or a federal court before changing voting laws or procedures.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the formula for deciding which localities needed preclearance as unconstitutional, opening the way for states to pass new voting laws.

During a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in 2021, Jacqueline De Leon, an enrolled member of the Isleta Pueblo and a staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund, or NARF, described some conditions for Indigenous voters.

“In South Dakota, Native American voters were forced to vote in a repurposed chicken coop with no bathroom facilities and feathers on the floor,” she testified.

In Wisconsin, Native Americans were required to cast their ballots inside a sheriff’s office.

NARF, tribes fight back

In 2021, President Joe Biden created the Interagency Steering Group on Native American Voting Rights to report on barriers facing Native voters.

“Native American communities have not been immune, but indeed have been packed or divided by district lines that dilute their vote or otherwise discriminate,” the group reported.

North Dakota state Rep. Robin Weisz, left, and state Sen. Jerry Klein, both Republicans, inspect alternative maps proposed by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe, on Dec. 5, 2023.
North Dakota state Rep. Robin Weisz, left, and state Sen. Jerry Klein, both Republicans, inspect alternative maps proposed by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe, on Dec. 5, 2023.

In November 2021, North Dakota’s Republican-led legislature approved a new legislative map that separated state House districts on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation and the Fort Berthold reservation, home to the Three Affiliated Tribes.

The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and Spirit Lake tribes filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the new map violated the Voting Rights Act by packing the Turtle Mountain band — that is, concentrating them into a single electoral district to reduce their influence in other districts, and cracking — or dividing — the Spirit Lake tribe across districts to dilute their voting power.

“A conservative judge found this was a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act,” De Leon told VOA. “And rather than protect its Native constituents where there was a violation, the state has appealed, trying to just block the cost of action as opposed to remediating the discrimination.”

A rainbow is seen in the distance from the closed Chilchinbeto Church of the Nazarene in Chilchinbeto, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation, April 21, 2020. About 40,000 homes in Indian Country in Arizona don't have traditional addresses.
A rainbow is seen in the distance from the closed Chilchinbeto Church of the Nazarene in Chilchinbeto, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation, April 21, 2020. About 40,000 homes in Indian Country in Arizona don't have traditional addresses.

Arizona passed a law in 2022 requiring voters to provide proof of their physical address.

“And that was really an attack on the Native vote because about 40,000 homes in Indian Country in Arizona don't have traditional addresses on them or any way to prove residential location,” De Leon said.

With NARF’s support, the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Gila River Indian Community in 2022 filed suit in U.S. District Court for Arizona. In 2023, the court ruled in their favor, finding that the address requirements violated tribe members’ constitutional right to vote.

With five months to go before November’s general election, Semans said, Indigenous voting rights activists must stay vigilant.

“With this new Supreme Court, even rulings that we got years ago that were positive for Indian country could change before then,” he said. “Things can change on a dime.”

Native American news roundup, June 9-15, 2024

In this Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018 file photo, a sexual abuse victim points to the photos of Catholic priests accused of sexual misconduct by victims during a news conference in Orange, Calif.
In this Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018 file photo, a sexual abuse victim points to the photos of Catholic priests accused of sexual misconduct by victims during a news conference in Orange, Calif.

Catholic bishops apologize to Native Americans

The Catholic Church on Friday issued a carefully worded apology to Native Americans for a “history of trauma” caused in part by its “abandonment” of the community.

During their spring assembly in Louisville, Kentucky, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved a document titled, “Keeping Christ’s Sacred Promise: A Pastoral Framework for Indigenous Ministry,” which cites “epidemics, national policies, and Native boarding schools” as sources of that trauma.

The 56-page document also notes that “European and Eurocentric world powers” used language from 14th and 15th century public decrees known as Papal bulls to justify the enslavement and mistreatment of Native Americans and dispossession from their lands. “Let us be very clear here: The Catholic Church does not espouse these ideologies,” the document reads.

The document stops short of formally rescinding the bulls, as Indigenous groups have long requested. Nor does the document reference widespread abuse of Indigenous children by Catholic clergy.

“Many Christians have committed evil acts against indigenous peoples for which recent Popes have asked forgiveness on numerous occasions,” it states.

Bishops originally commissioned the document in 2020 but put it on hold in November 2023 concerned that certain language could create liability issues for the Church. The language in question referenced “past sins” and “wounds inflicted on Native peoples” by “some members of the Church,” the Catholic news site The Pillar reported.

Read more:

This is a 1992 photo of Indian activist Leonard Peltier, taken at the Federal Prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. Courtesy: International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee
This is a 1992 photo of Indian activist Leonard Peltier, taken at the Federal Prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. Courtesy: International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee

Florida parole board to decide on clemency for Leonard Peltier

American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier appealed his case before a Florida parole board Monday after having served most of his life in prison.

Peltier, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota, was convicted in 1977 of killing two FBI agents during a 1975 standoff on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

Nick Tilsen, president and CEO of the Indigenous-led advocacy group NDN Collective, was allowed to testify at the parole hearing.

“Face to face with the federal government, I got to tell them that Leonard is revered globally as a political prisoner fighting against the unjust systems that oppress our people,” said Tilsen as quoted on the collective’s Facebook page.

Peltier, 79, claims he is innocent of the charges. The parole board is expected to announce their decision in mid-July.

FILE - A boy reaches out to touch the carcass as Makah Indian whalers strip a gray whale of its flesh and villagers and media members gather around following the tribe's first successful whale hunt in over 70 years, in Neah Bay, Wash., May 17, 1999. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
FILE - A boy reaches out to touch the carcass as Makah Indian whalers strip a gray whale of its flesh and villagers and media members gather around following the tribe's first successful whale hunt in over 70 years, in Neah Bay, Wash., May 17, 1999. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Makah hunters in Washington state to resume whale hunts

The U.S. government announced this week it will allow the Makah Tribe in Washington to resume hunting grey whales, a right guaranteed them by the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service will allow the Makah Tribe to resume hunting up to 25 Eastern North Pacific gray whales over a 10-year period in U.S. waters.

“This final rule represents a major milestone in the process to return ceremonial and subsistence hunting of Eastern North Pacific gray whales to the Makah Tribe,” said Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “The measures adopted today honor the Makah Tribe's treaty rights and their cultural whaling tradition that dates back well over 1,000 years and is fundamental to their identity and heritage.”

The Marine Mammal Act of 1972 banned hunting, harassing, capturing or killing any marine mammal and prohibits the import and export of marine mammals and their parts or products.

The Makah Tribe in 2005 asked NOAA for a waiver that would allow them to hunt gray whales for ceremonial and subsistence purposes and to make and sell items created from harvested whales.

Read more:

A rare white buffalo calf, reportedly born in Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley, is shown on June 4, 2024, in Wyo. (Erin Braaten/Dancing Aspens Photography via AP)
A rare white buffalo calf, reportedly born in Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley, is shown on June 4, 2024, in Wyo. (Erin Braaten/Dancing Aspens Photography via AP)

Rare white buffalo calf of special significance to Lakota

While camping recently in Yellowstone Park’s Lamar Valley, Montana photographer Erin Braaten captured one-of-a-kind photographs of a white buffalo calf moments after it was born.

White buffalo calves are a rarity; though no formal studies have been conducted, cited statistics say only one in 10 billion buffalo is born white.

They have special spiritual significance to Plains tribes and are featured in many traditional stories.

Nicholas Black Elk, ca. 1940.
Nicholas Black Elk, ca. 1940.

Before his death in 1950, Lakota spiritual leader and visionary Nicholas Black Elk related to author Joseph Epes Brown why: nineteen generations ago, he said, a mysterious holy woman dressed in white buckskin came to Lakota chief Standing (or High) Hollow Horn and presented him a sacred stone pipe. She also taught him the seven spiritual rituals in which it should be used.

“’Always remember how sacred it is, and treat it as such, for it will take you to the end,’” Black Elk quoted her as saying. “’I am leaving now, but I shall look back upon your people in every age and at the end I shall return.” As she left, tradition holds that she transformed into a white buffalo calf.

The pipe has been passed down from one generation to the next. Today, Miniconjou Lakota spiritual leader Arvol Looking Horse is the 19th pipe holder. It was given to him when he was 12.

Read more:

Reported birth of rare white buffalo calf fulfills Lakota prophecy

A rare white buffalo calf, reportedly born in Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley, is shown on June 4, 2024, in Wyoming
A rare white buffalo calf, reportedly born in Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley, is shown on June 4, 2024, in Wyoming

The reported birth of a rare white buffalo in Yellowstone National Park fulfills a Lakota prophecy that portends better times, according to members of the American Indian tribe who cautioned that it's also a signal that more must be done to protect the earth and its animals.

"The birth of this calf is both a blessing and warning. We must do more," said Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota and the Nakota Oyate in South Dakota, and the 19th keeper of the sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman Pipe and Bundle.

The birth of the sacred calf comes as after a severe winter in 2023 drove thousands of Yellowstone buffalo, also known as bison, to lower elevations. More than 1,500 were killed, sent to slaughter or transferred to tribes seeking to reclaim stewardship over an animal their ancestors lived alongside for millennia.

Erin Braaten of Kalispell took several photos of the calf shortly after it was born on June 4 in the Lamar Valley in the northeastern corner of the park.

Her family was visiting the park when she spotted "something really white" among a herd of bison across the Lamar River.

Traffic ended up stopping while bison crossed the road, so Braaten stuck her camera out the window to take a closer look with her telephoto lens.

"I look and it's this white bison calf. And I was just totally, totally floored," she said.

After the bison cleared the roadway, the Braatens turned their vehicle around and found a spot to park. They watched the calf and its mother for 30-45 minutes.

Visitors to Yellowstone National Park are seen looking for wildlife through binoculars in the Lamar Valley area of Yellowstone National Park, June 13, 2024, near Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyo.
Visitors to Yellowstone National Park are seen looking for wildlife through binoculars in the Lamar Valley area of Yellowstone National Park, June 13, 2024, near Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyo.

"And then she kind of led it through the willows there," Braaten said. Although Braaten came back each of the next two days, she didn't see the white calf again.

For the Lakota, the birth of a white buffalo calf with a black nose, eyes and hooves is akin to the second coming of Jesus Christ, Looking Horse said.

Lakota legend says about 2,000 years ago — when nothing was good, food was running out and bison were disappearing — White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared, presented a bowl pipe and a bundle to a tribal member, taught them how to pray and said that the pipe could be used to bring buffalo to the area for food. As she left, she turned into a white buffalo calf.

"And some day when the times are hard again," Looking Horse said in relating the legend, "I shall return and stand upon the earth as a white buffalo calf, black nose, black eyes, black hooves."

A similar white buffalo calf was born in Wisconsin in 1994 and was named Miracle, he said.

Troy Heinert, the executive director of the South Dakota-based InterTribal Buffalo Council, said the calf in Braaten's photos looks like a true white buffalo because it has a black nose, black hooves and dark eyes.

"From the pictures I've seen, that calf seems to have those traits," said Heinert, who is Lakota. An albino buffalo would have pink eyes.

A naming ceremony has been held for the Yellowstone calf, Looking Horse said, though he declined to reveal the name. A ceremony celebrating the calf's birth is set for June 26 at the Buffalo Field Campaign headquarters in West Yellowstone.

Other tribes also revere white buffalo.

"Many tribes have their own story of why the white buffalo is so important," Heinert said. "All stories go back to them being very sacred."

Heinert and several members of the Buffalo Field Campaign say they've never heard of a white buffalo being born in Yellowstone, which has wild herds. Park officials had not seen the buffalo yet and could not confirm its birth in the park, and they have no record of a white buffalo being born in the park previously.

Jim Matheson, executive director of the National Bison Association, could not quantify how rare the calf is.

"To my knowledge, no one's ever tracked the occurrence of white buffalo being born throughout history. So I'm not sure how we can make a determination how often it occurs."

Besides herds of the animals on public lands or overseen by conservation groups, about 80 tribes across the U.S. have more than 20,000 bison, a figure that's been growing in recent years.

In Yellowstone and the surrounding area, the killing or removal of large numbers of bison happens almost every winter, under an agreement between federal and Montana agencies that has limited the size of the park's herds to about 5,000 animals. Yellowstone officials last week proposed a slightly larger population of up to 6,000 bison, with a final decision expected next month.

But ranchers in Montana have long opposed increasing the Yellowstone herds or transferring the animals to tribes. Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte has said he would not support any management plan with a population target greater than 3,000 Yellowstone bison.

Heinert sees the calf's birth as a reminder "that we need to live in a good way and treat others with respect."

"I hope that calf is safe and going to live its best life in Yellowstone National Park, exactly where it was designed to be," Heinert said.

Washington state's Makah tribe clears hurdle toward resuming whale hunts

FILE - Federal Administrative Law Judge George Jordan steps past a display before a hearing in Seattle, to help determine whether a small American Indian tribe can once again hunt whales, Nov. 14, 2019.
FILE - Federal Administrative Law Judge George Jordan steps past a display before a hearing in Seattle, to help determine whether a small American Indian tribe can once again hunt whales, Nov. 14, 2019.

The United States granted the Makah Indian Tribe in Washington state a long-sought waiver Thursday that helps clear the way for its first sanctioned whale hunts since 1999.

The Makah, a tribe of 1,500 people on the northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, is the only Native American tribe with a treaty that specifically mentions a right to hunt whales. But it has faced more than two decades of court challenges, bureaucratic hearings and scientific review as it seeks to resume hunting gray whales.

The decision by NOAA Fisheries grants a waiver under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which otherwise forbids harming marine mammals. It allows the tribe to hunt up to 25 Eastern North Pacific gray whales over 10 years, with a limit of two to three per year. There are roughly 20,000 whales in that population, and the hunts will be timed to avoid harming endangered Western North Pacific gray whales that sometimes visit the area.

Nevertheless, hurdles remain. The tribe must enter into a cooperative agreement with the agency under the Whaling Convention Act, and it must obtain a permit to hunt, a process that involves a monthlong public comment period.

Animal rights advocates, who have long opposed whaling, could also challenge NOAA's decision in court.

Archeological evidence shows that Makah hunters in cedar canoes killed whales for sustenance from time immemorial, a practice that ceased only in the early 20th century after commercial whaling vessels depleted the population.

By 1994, the Eastern Pacific gray whale population had rebounded, and they were removed from the endangered species list. Seeing an opportunity to reclaim its heritage, the tribe announced plans to hunt again.

The Makah trained for months in the ancient ways of whaling and received the blessing of federal officials and the International Whaling Commission. They took to the water in 1998 but didn't succeed until the next year, when they harpooned a gray whale from a hand-carved cedar canoe. A tribal member in a motorized support boat killed it with a high-powered rifle to minimize its suffering.

It was the tribe's first successful hunt in 70 years.

The hunts drew protests from animal rights activists, who sometimes threw smoke bombs at the whalers and sprayed fire extinguishers into their faces. Others veered motorboats between the whales and the tribal canoes to interfere with the hunt. Authorities seized several vessels and made arrests.

After animal rights groups sued, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned federal approval of the tribe's whaling plans. The court found that the tribe needed to obtain a waiver under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Eleven Alaska Native communities in the Arctic have such a waiver for subsistence hunts, allowing them to kill bowhead whales — even though bowheads are listed as endangered.

The Makah tribe applied for a waiver in 2005. The process repeatedly stalled as new scientific information about the whales and the health of their population was uncovered.

Some of the Makah whalers became so frustrated with the delays that they went on a rogue hunt in 2007, killing a gray whale that got away from them and sank. They were convicted in federal court.

Native American news roundup, June 2-8, 2024

D-Day veteran and Penobscot elder from Maine, Charles Norman Shay, burns sage in prayer at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on June 5, 2020.
D-Day veteran and Penobscot elder from Maine, Charles Norman Shay, burns sage in prayer at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on June 5, 2020.

Native American veterans honored at D-Day commemorations in Normandy

World leaders and veterans, including service members from several Native American tribes, gathered in France to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the allied landing on the beaches of Normandy that changed the course of World War II.

Charles Norman Shay, a citizen of the federally recognized Penobscot Nation in Maine, was in the first wave that landed on Omaha Beach. A combat medic assigned to the First Infantry Division, Shay was awarded the Silver Star and the French Legion of Honor for his efforts to save wounded soldiers from the rising waters of the English Channel.

Delegations from several Native American tribes were also in Normandy to pay tribute to Shay and to the tens of thousands of Native Americans who served in World War II, including an unknown number of Native Americans who landed at Normandy in 1944.

Shay, who turns 100 later this week, is the last surviving Native American soldier to have fought on D-Day.

Read more:

An exhibit at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe on May 17, 2024, recounts the life and times of voting rights pioneer Miguel Trujillo of Isleta Pueblo, who in 1948 successfully challenged New Mexico’s ban on voting by Native Americans.
An exhibit at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe on May 17, 2024, recounts the life and times of voting rights pioneer Miguel Trujillo of Isleta Pueblo, who in 1948 successfully challenged New Mexico’s ban on voting by Native Americans.

Ho-Chunk congresswoman: States ‘deprive’ Native Americans of right to vote

June 2 marked 100 years since President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, also known as the Snyder Act, granting full U.S. citizenship to all Native Americans born in the United States.

Native American lawmakers marked the occasion with a series of editorials.

In a guest essay for Native News Online, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, argues that Native Americans have always been citizens.

“My people were here long before the Mayflower and the Pilgrims, and before the cow was introduced to North America. We have always been citizens of this continent. Our citizenship runs deep, and in spite of every Indian war, assimilation policy, and outright assault on our land, animals, and ways of life by newcomers, we have persevered,” she wrote.

Representative Sharice Davids, a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin, reminded readers of Indian Country Today that while the 1924 law may have given Native Americans official citizenship, some states still “deprive” them of rights guaranteed to citizens.

“Before this, my ancestors were treated as foreigners in their own land without a voice in the country's most important systems,” Davids wrote. “While the act was a monumental leap in tribal sovereignty, it didn't prevent states from enacting laws that deprived Native communities of their right to vote.”

Davids, Senator Ben Ray Lujan and Representative Tom Cole (Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma) introduced the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021 (NAVRA), to improve Native Americans’ access to voter registration, polling places and drop boxes.

Indigenous leaders and allies gather outside the White House to urge President Joe Biden to grant clemency to imprisoned activist Leonard Peltier on Sept. 12, 2023, in Washington.
Indigenous leaders and allies gather outside the White House to urge President Joe Biden to grant clemency to imprisoned activist Leonard Peltier on Sept. 12, 2023, in Washington.

Leonard Peltier to appeal again for his release

American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier and his supporters will plead his case next week before a parole board for what may be the last time.

Peltier, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota, was convicted in 1977 of killing two FBI agents during a 1975 standoff on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

As VOA reported in 2016, the FBI Agents Association insists Peltier is an “unremorseful, cold-blooded killer” who deserves to remain in prison. His defenders say he was framed for a crime he did not commit.

Peltier is nearly 80 and has spent more than half his life in prison. He has always proclaimed his innocence and has twice been denied parole.

Amnesty International USA followed the case for years and recently wrote the U.S. Parole Commission to plead for Peltier’s release on humanitarian grounds.

Parole was abolished for federal convicts in 1987, but Peltier remains eligible because he was convicted before that time.

Read more:

Lake Berryessa is seen with parts of California's newest national monument in the background, July 10, 2015, near Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument.
Lake Berryessa is seen with parts of California's newest national monument in the background, July 10, 2015, near Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument.

Tribes distinguish between co-managing and co-stewarding federal land

As part of his commitment to allow Native American tribes a say in the use of federal lands and waters, President Joe Biden expanded the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in Northern California to include a 17.7-kilometer-long (11-mile-long) north-south ridgeline that is sacred to the Patwin people in the region.

Biden’s May 2 proclamation renamed the ridgeline, previously known as Walker Ridge, to Molok Luyuk, or Condor Ridge, in the language of the three federally recognized Patwin tribes: the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, the Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community and the Kletsel Dehe Wintun Nation.

The proclamation also called on Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to explore “co-stewardship” with those tribes. But co-stewardship doesn’t mean co-management. Those are powers only Congress can grant.

“Co-management means decision-making authority,” monument manager Melissa Hovey recently told Grist online magazine. “Co-stewardship means one entity still has the decision-making authority.”

Read more:

Load more

XS
SM
MD
LG