August 31, 2008

When Your Hands Are Tied

A free educational video from Oyate:

When Your Hands Are Tied. 2006, 56 minutes, color, grades 7-up“When you’re given all these obstacles and barriers,” says Hataalii (healer) Eric Willie (Diné), “when they tie your hands behind your back and your legs together, and they leave you just crawling, what do you do? You develop new ways to communicate, you develop new ways to express self-identity, and that’s what I see with today’s children.”

As Indian communities all over Turtle Island struggle to heal from the generational trauma of the Indian boarding schools, Indian young people struggle to resist the negative pressures of the dominant society. That’s why When Your Hands Are Tied is so important. It’s an exceptional film that explores the realities of Indian young people navigating between the traditional and the contemporary, maintaining strong ties with their communities while expressing themselves in unique ways. The Pueblo, Diné and Apache teens seen here are photographers and filmmakers, breakdancers and rappers, rockers and skateboarders, and all are very talented. The teens—mentored by a young Diné healer, the governor of Nambé Pueblo, a director of American Indian Studies, and artists who are their role models: singer/songwriter Radmilla Cody, rappers Mistic and Shade, the high-energy rock band Blackfire, skateboard artist Douglas Miles and others—learn that it is possible to honor the past while looking to the future. With young people showing and telling what they’re doing, breathtaking views of the land, and amazing music—including Blackfire’s rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “Mean Things Happenin’ in This World”—When Your Hands Are Tied will resonate with Indian teens everywhere.

When Your Hands Are Tied was co-produced by Mia Boccella Hartle and Marley Shebala (Diné/Zuni) as an educational tool to reach families, communities, schools, libraries, and treatment centers, so that everyone can see a positive reflection of what’s happening with Native young people today. Funded by a not-for-profit charitable organization with limited funds, this excellent film was given to us to distribute at no cost to anyone who can benefit from it. Feel free to order it if you can use it well.
A synopsis from the official website:When Your Hands Are Tied

Approximate running time: 56 minutes

Format: Digital Video

"When Your Hands Are Tied" is an educational film that explores the unique ways in which young native people are finding to express themselves in the contemporary world while maintaining strong traditional lives.

Since native youth do not often see reflections of themselves or their communities in mainstream media, we wanted to make a film that features contemporary native kids and role models who are finding exciting and positive ways to direct their lives. We also wanted young people to learn the importance of self-motivation in combination with traditional teachings to help prepare for the challenges of everyday life.

Some of the people we meet are:

Navajo rappers, who rap in English and in Navajo, with a mission to communicate to young people the importance of embracing mainstream culture and education as well as their own native languages, customs and traditions.

Navajo punk rock musicians, whose style is Native American Punk-Rock or “Alter Native” with strong sociopolitical messages about government oppression, relocation of indigenous people, eco-cide, genocide, domestic violence and human rights.

Apache Skate Boarders, who through their travels across the country, have learned about filmmaking, photography, and self worth. They have also learned how to carry the message of who they are and where they come from as they pursue their own individual goals.

The Governor of Nambe Pueblo, an avid dancer, started a break-dance team to help kids stay active and healthy. The break-dancers come from many tribes around the southwest and are encouraged to participate in their traditional dances at home.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

Indian maiden in PISTOLFIST

What I bought--20 August 2008Pistolfist #2 (of 4) by J. S. Earls (writer), David A. Flanery, Jr. (writer), Andres Guinaldo (artist), Jason Embury (colorist), and Ken Nuttall (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Bluewater Productions.

The second issue of Pistolfist worries me. It’s still quite good--the art is very nice, and there’s some nice pre-Revolutionary intrigue, and a flashback to the Boston Massacre, and the cannon that the British use to destroy an Indian encampment near Fort Ticonderoga is the kind of thing that isn’t too weird for this time period even though it’s suitably science-fictiony. It ties into the presence of Ben Franklin in the comic, too, which is nice. As far as an entertaining alternative history yarn, the first two issues have been good. I’m looking forward to the last two issues.

Except for the worrisome part, which I have to believe will be more prominent in the next issue. I’m worried about the Native American who rescues our hero. I’m not terribly put off by the fact that a comely Indian lass rescues Salem. What am I worried about is that whenever Indians appear in popular culture these days, it seems like the writers go out of their way to make up for the horrible stereotypes of the past by doing a complete 180 and portraying them as the noblest people ever to walk the earth. This is especially prevalent, it seems, in historical fiction (which is partly why it doesn’t seem to affect Scalped and why that’s such a damned fine comic). I don’t have a problem with portraying Natives as noble, but the deification of Indian culture over the past 20-30 years is kind of annoying. I really hope Earls hasn’t succumbed to it. Dyani can be a noble character, but it has to be because of something within her, not because she’s a Native American. So I’m worried. We’ll see if I have any reason to be worried next issue.
Comment:  Yeah, it's good that SCALPED stuck with the old "horrible stereotypes" rather than updating them. Not.

In general this critic's point is valid, but SCALPED isn't the solution to the problem. Comics such as PEACE PARTY are.

I skimmed PISTOLFIST #1-2 in my comics shop. Here's the scoop:

  • Indians don't appear in issue #1 but do appear in #2 and undoubtedly in future issues, since the story is continued.

  • The Indians show up only in a couple pages. I wouldn't say that's enough space to develop a "noble savage" portrayal. Just because the Indians don't attack, kill, or scalp anyone doesn't mean they're noble.

  • These New England Indians live in tipis...wrong.

  • They look like generic Indians, which is okay.

  • Dyani is young and beautiful and dressed in a fringed buckskin mini-skirt--your classic Indian princess type. The only thing the artist omitted is big round breasts.

  • Dyani (sounds like Diana, goddess of the hunt) is an unlikely Indian name. I guess we should be thankful she isn't named after something soft and fragile like a fawn, dove, or flower.

  • For more on the subject, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.

    Most Indians are Democrats

    In What Has McCain Done Lately? Kiowa writer Russell Bates claimed that "over 60% of Native American voters are Republicans." My response:

    Where did you get this "fact" from...a Crackerjack box? Your so-called fact is anything but. You were wrong about most Oklahomans being Democrats and you're wrong about most Indians being Republicans.

    As everyone but you knows, most Indians register and vote Democratic these days. Here's what one report says about the Indians of New Mexico, the 4th largest Native state. I believe it's a fair estimate for Indian country as a whole:

    The Forgotten Minority in the 2008 VoteThere are 60,000 registered American Indian voters in the state of New Mexico, making up 9.5 percent of all voters. More than two thirds of those American Indians are registered as Democrats. Only 15 percent are registered Republicans.More evidence--national

    Group leads effort to protect Native votersAs a voting bloc, Natives tend to vote for Democratic candidates.Obama's Play for Indian CountryBut for McCain the problem of history remains. Native Americans are traditionally Democratic voters, so he is automatically at a disadvantage when trying to convince a poor, rural population with scant access to information to back him. In many traditional homes (known as "hogans") in Navajo country, it's common to see pictures of John F. Kennedy. "I can't explain why John Kennedy resonated with traditional Navajo people going back all the way to the early '60s," Hardeen says. But he did.Native Vote 2008:  Tacoma rally shows support for DemsTraditionally, American Indians have favored Democratic candidates over Republicans, largely based on Democrats’ policies on Indian issues, funding and rights.The Minutest Minority:  Don't Count Out Native RepublicansShawn White Wolf offers a simple explanation for why most Native Americans call themselves Democrats: They have forgotten.Yes, Native Republicans ExistMost Native leaders peg the percentage of Natives who consider themselves Democratic at 80 percent.Searching for Signs of Native American Life at the Republican ConventionNative Americans traditionally vote Democratic and seem to be seeking a more active, equal role in that party’s politics, as evidenced by the 143-member native caucus at the Democratic Convention last week in Denver.First Nations gaining political influence in U.S.Native Americans tend to vote Democrat, much like the First Nations in Canada that tend to vote Liberal or NDP.More evidence--states and tribes

    Diné showing high interest in Obama, McCainBut while Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than five to one in Dinétah, McCain supporters have not given up on Navajos.Obama leads pursuit of Native American vote"Some of the reservation counties are pretty tough areas for Republicans," Wetz said, noting that party affiliation among voters in Shannon County on the Pine Ridge reservation is 10-1 Democratic.The Minutest Minority:  Don't Count Out Native RepublicansRed Eagle said the Osage Nation, like most tribes, sways Democratic.Convention Notebook:  Delegate celebrates 81st birthdayThere was no doubt the post would accept the invitation, even though Red Lake is heavily Democratic, Rocky Cook, Bemidji said.What's Palin's Record on Native Issues?Stebing said the majority of her state's Native population votes Democratic and likely won't support McCain, despite Palin being on the ticket.

    Reactions to Obama's speech

    Natives React:  ‘Totally Overwhelmed’ by ‘Powerful’ Speech"There were parts of his speech where I felt totally overwhelmed and felt that he was speaking those words directly to us," said Shelly Thompson, a Southern Ute who lives in Colorado.

    Erma Vizenor, chief of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe Indians in Minnesota, agreed with Obama's message for change and said his words inspired her even more while reminding her of an Ojibwe word: "in-qwa-mus."

    "That means ‘it is time' in Ojibwe," Vizenor said. "That's what our people say."

    The speech blended soaring themes with specific promises while talking about the mother who raised him and the experiences that shaped him. He also sought to blunt McCain's criticism as celebrity and someone too inexperienced to be president.

    Margarett Campbell, an Assiniboine from Montana, said that Obama "showed incredible strength" with his words.

    "If there were any doubts that he could handle things as president in a crisis, his speech tonight laid those concerns to rest," she said.

    Backstage with Obama

    Inupiaq Woman Tells Obama Her People's StoryOn Thursday, Miowak Stebing took it a step further as she and 10 other hand-picked supporters joined Sen. Barack Obama backstage at Invesco Field in Denver before he accepted his party's presidential nomination. The 10 supporters then got a front row seat to Obama's acceptance speech.

    She planned to tell the man whose campaign she has been contributing $5 and $10 to each month since February that his message of hope must take physical form in Alaska. She said violence against Native women, one of three of whom has been assaulted or raped in their lifetime, must stop and drilling for oil in Anwar must not be permitted.

    "I just feel an honor to tell Barack Obama that I like his policies toward Native Americans and Alaska Natives," she said.

    McCain's mascot moment

    Cheerleaders for McCain:  A View of the VP ChoiceAs I watched the opening ceremony for John McCain's announcement of his Republican vice presidential running mate, I noticed that they used local cheerleaders to rev up the crowd in Dayton, Ohio.

    They say his choice of Sarah Palin, the 44-year-old governor of Alaska, was designed to court women voters. Do you think using cheerleaders from a school with an Indian mascot was designed to court the Native vote?

    Moccasin Flats: Redemption trailer

    Moccasin Flats: Redemption Movie TrailerComment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    August 30, 2008

    America is no exception

    Tallbear:  'Exceptionalism' narrative doesn't jiveObama talks often about the "greatness" and "goodness" of the U.S. He pledges to restore the American dream, and he claims that "in no other country on Earth is [his] story even possible." As if other nations don't have histories of colonialism, immigration and racial diversity. As if social and economic mobility is uniquely American.

    Sustaining the ideology of "the American dream" requires the down-playing of social and political change in other countries, and the elevation of economic prosperity--however gotten--above other types of prosperity.

    American exceptionalism requires that the truths and experiences of the very constituents Obama seeks to enfranchise--the politically and economically disempowered--be painted as non-fundamental to the history, character and prosperity of the U.S. Their contradictory experiences get downplayed or silenced in favor of the grand narrative, and progress gets interpreted not as humane social action and hard political work but as the inevitable outcome of inherent U.S. American righteousness.

    This is simply inaccurate. Certainly there are nations that don't do as well as the U.S. on multiple counts. On the other hand, other nations have already elected women presidents or indigenous presidents. Other nations ended slavery before the U.S., or never engaged in it at all. Other nations already offer national health care, empower labor, regulate lending institutions, and protect the environment.

    No other nation in the world imprisons the proportion or the sheer number of human beings that we do. A disproportionate number are black, Hispanic and American Indian. No other nation has detonated a nuclear weapon in war killing tens of thousands of civilians.

    The tired story of American exceptionalism does not jive with our knowledge of world affairs and how foundational dispossession, exploitation and violence have been to the rise of U.S. power and prosperity. Such aspects of U.S. history are not the exceptions that betray the true democratic soul of the U.S. As much as the feel-good events, these are integral to the American story and how we developed as a powerful nation.

    Hillbilly "Indian" vs. 1/256th Cherokee

    Cowan's 'Indian wars'First, I’ll go to the question of my Indian-ness; then it’s only fair I touch on Cara’s Indian-ness, and a bunch of people’s Indian-ness. On my dad’s side, I’ve got a good bit of Kentucky Cherokee blood, also some German and hillbilly. I never refer to myself as an Indian. I have never said I was a member of any tribe. But I will never, no matter how vicious their attacks, deny my ancestry. I’ve met very few folks who are actually “Indians.” A card doesn’t make you Indian.

    “Kowan’s Kulture Komittee” removed all my artwork and books from both the Cherokee Nation Heritage Center and the little CN gift shop because I do not have a federal tribal membership card. In her little world, I have become a persona non gratis (even though I’ve been painting the Cherokees for 40 years), just as the new law mandates (passed by Chad’s hand-picked council).
    And:Cowan, the keeper of Chad’s most recent sacred fire of racial purity, is a scant 1/256ths Cherokee on her CDIB card. Only in the wacky world of CN does she receive all those tribal benefits, plus a $50,000-per-year salary, plus mileage and expenses, and Cowan, 1/256 Cherokee, attacks me from the impenetrable position of tribal sovereignty.

    There are thousands of CN tribal members with such laughable, minimal blood quanta, some as low as 1/2048. “White” Indians is what they are most often referred to throughout Cherokee history. You’d never guess they were Indians if they didn’t have that card. In the United Keetoowah Band, a person must be at least one-quarter Indian to be a member. The Keetoowahs bear the most attacks from the Cherokee Nation and its Southern White Indian Supremacist leadership. But the UKB’s membership is growing as more actual Cherokees switch, leaving the CN’s DNA spread even thinner.
    Comment:  Perhaps Americans should invent a category similar to the Canadian Métis. Then people like this writer could call themselves something more accurate and less prejudicial than "white Indian" or "half-breed."

    New Deal for Indians?

    Indians hold special hopes for ObamaThroughout the Democratic National Convention, a wish echoed time and again by Indian attendees is that Obama will pave a path for a "New Deal" for all Native Americans and tribes.

    A crucial part of this New Deal centers on Obama's promise to create a position for a White House advisor on Indian affairs and his proposal to continue meeting with tribal leaders if he is elected, just as he has done throughout the election season to date. Both promises have already made their way into the official Democratic Party platform, which focuses on accomplishments party leaders want to make happen over the next four years.

    Younger Indians, especially, have been willing to speak out on Obama's unique traits--a unique situation, certainly, since young people overall tend to be less engaged in politics.

    "I think Native American people, especially our elders, have been really disappointed for a long time with our government," said Shere Wright, 26, holder of the Miss Indian Nations title. "Because of that, a lot of people on reservations don't ever really take part in the political process.

    "But I think that's changing. Barack Obama is inspiring people. My mom even registered to vote in the primary this year for the first time...."
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Tribal Leaders for Obama.

    Codetalkers as celebs

    Honoring the Code

    Navajo Code Talkers present colors at DNCAt a convention filled with famous people, the Code Talkers were celebrities, Roanhorse said.

    “It was quite an experience. We’ve never been to one like that before,” Little, who is president of the Navajo Code Talkers Association, said.

    “We shook a lot of hands of people we didn’t even know,” Little said. “A lot of conversations, a lot of questions asked.”
    And:“We had all these TV people that came around with the cameras and took a shot of us. They interviewed some of the guys. We were really recognized during that time,” Toledo said.

    “They just thanked us for what we did in World War II,” he said.

    One of those people who thanked them for their service was pop singer Ashlee Simpson, Roanhorse said. The Code Talkers also met Dean and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, he said.

    Unto These Hills closes

    Cherokee outdoor drama closes season runThe Cherokee Indian outdoor drama "Unto These Hills" is closing its 2008 season after a Saturday performance in an open-air mountain theater in southwestern North Carolina.

    The drama's 2008 run began in June and is sponsored by the Cherokee Historical Association.

    The show made its debut July 1, 1950, and has been performed each summer since then.

    Kermit Hunter was a non-Indian and student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when he wrote the original version of the play. The association said an updated version was first performed last year that used the tribe's own history and included a majority of Cherokee actors.

    More than 5 million people have seen the drama over the years.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.

    Eskimo in the White House?

    Todd Palin:  Governor Sarah Palin’s HusbandSarah Palin’s husband, Todd, is a really interesting guy with a diverse background of interests and hobbies. By all accounts, he and Sarah enjoy a loving and well adjusted family life.

    Todd Palin was born in Dillingham, Alaska and his age is 44 years old. He is a lifelong Alaskan, a production operator on the North Slope, and a four-time champion of the Iron Dog, the world’s longest snow machine race!

    He is a commercial fisherman, an oil field worker, a member of the United Steelworkers, and an Alaska Native. Todd’s grandmother grew up in a traditional Yupik Eskimo house in Bristol Bay and accompanied Sarah in her race for governor as she sought support from Alaska Native voters. Todd is 1/8th part Alaskan native American.
    Comment:  For more on the prospective "First Dude," see A Low-Key Outdoorsman Faces a National Role.

    Minnehaha to the rescue

    Can 'Minnehaha' save Duluth?Can "Minnehaha" save Duluth?

    Maybe, if the 115-year-old Tiffany window depicting a fictional American Indian princess draws the bids experts say it might.

    The city is facing a $6.5 million budget shortfall, and art and antique professionals have told the city the window is worth up to $3 million. So the City Council voted Tuesday to put the stained-glass window up for sale.

    August 29, 2008

    Mike Graham:  a national sick joke?

    Mike Graham identifies himself as "a citizen of the Oklahoma Cherokee Nation, a retired service connected disabled Army veteran." He regularly posts columns on the Web, although I don't think I've seen his work in the press. For some reason he doesn't like Barack Obama:

    Native Americans Against Obama For Good ReasonsObama, during the democratic primary campaign, stated he supported Native American issues. Obama even stated he supported bringing about a national holiday that recognizes Native Americans, but to date Obama has not seen fit as a U.S. senator to add his name to the national Native American Holiday Bill, currently before the U.S. Senate.

    Not only has Obama failed to support Native American Indian issues, Obama has not supported the Native Hawaiian Government Recognition Bill before the U.S. Senate during his first term in office as a U.S. Senator. Obama should be front-and-center of this issue as he proudly claims Hawaii as his home state.

    S.310: U.S. Senate Native Hawaiian Government Recognition Bill:

    Title: A bill to express the policy of the United States regarding the United States relationship with Native Hawaiians and to provide a process for the recognition by the United States of the Native Hawaiian governing entity.

    Obama failed to address "Real" Native American issues during the Democratic Primaries.

    Obama over all, did not win the Native American Vote in the primaries across the country.
    Graham follows these specific claims with a bunch of worthless rants. We can summarize them as follows:NATIVE AMERICAN HEALTH CARE: A NATIONAL SICK JOKE!





    Comment:  Would it be fair to note that the person screaming "NATIVE AMERICAN EDUCTION SYSTEM: A NATIONAL SICK JOKE!" misspelled "education"? Yes, I think so.

    I trashed Graham's posting in's forum. Here's what I said:

    Graham's posting consists mainly of a series of "Obama made no commitment" statements. My response:

    1) Candidates are wise not to make too many commitments, especially when they haven't won the nomination or the election yet.

    2) A lack of a formal "commitment" doesn't mean a lack of a policy on an issue.

    3) McCain hasn't made a commitment on these issues either. He doesn't have sound policy proposals on most of them.

    Obama on Hawaiian recognition

    Graham is flatly wrong on the issue of Hawaiian recognition. Here are the facts:

    Democratic convention plans Native Hawaiian recognitionU.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, issued a statement in full support of Native Hawaiian recognition in January before the state's caucuses. He said if the bill did not become law this year that he would sign it as president if elected.Where most Indians stand

    As for this statement:Obama over all, did not win the Native American Vote in the primaries across the country.So what if Hillary Clinton won, say, 41% of the Native vote, Obama won 39% of it, and McCain won 20% of it? (All numbers are rough estimates.) The fact is that Natives voted for Democrats by something like 4-1. Clinton's and Obama's proposals for Indian country were close if not identical. And Clinton has endorsed Obama as the best choice for Indians and America.

    If Graham is implying that most Indians oppose Obama and the Democratic agenda and prefer McCain and the Bush agenda, he's wrong again.

    Finally, some information for Mike Graham about where Obama stands on the issues:

    Barack Obama's Principles for Stronger Tribal Communities

    Why Indians are Democrats

    Ten Reasons Why Native Americans, Alaskan Natives and Native Hawai'ians are DemocratsDemocrats stand for the issues important to American Indians. Tribal governments know what it means to meet the unmet needs of their citizens with unmet resources--providing care and services to those less fortunate.

    1. Democrats support and respect tribal sovereignty

    2. Democrats stand for the protection of families and communities

    3. Democrats stand for working families who pay their fair share, not just those few born into wealth

    4. Democrats support full funding of programs that are critical to Native Americans--crucial health care and education programs

    5. Democrats have historically fought for and continue to fight for the same things that Indian Tribes believe in: providing for our children, our elderly, our veterans and those less fortunate

    6. Democrats believe in the protection of the environment and preservation of our natural resources. The Democratic Party respects tribes as the original stewards of the environment

    7. Democrats support federal assistance for public safety programs in tribal communities

    8. Democrats understand the federal government has a fiduciary trust responsibility to tribes that must be managed openly, honestly and responsibly and support a resolution of the trust fund case affecting thousands of Native citizens

    9. The Democratic Party focuses on policies that promote the economic development strides that strengthen tribal governments in Indian Country

    10. Like Tribes the Democratic Party knows the value of community--Democrats are about "We" not "Me."
    Comment:  My pal Victor, who knows many politically oriented tribal leaders, estimates that 75% of Indians are Democrats. I'd say he's close to the correct figure.

    For more on this last point, see Most Indians Are Democrats.

    Preview of Maneater

    Cast is consumed by 'Maneater'

    Dean Cain, Conrad Janis among actors joining thrillerMichael Emanuel has ordered up his human buffet.

    The actor-producer has cast Dean Cain, Conrad Janis ("The Cable Guy"), Stephen Lunsford ("Bratz"), Walter Phelan ("House of 1000 Corpses"), Maximillian Roeg ("7th Heaven") and Lacy Phillips ("Pushing Twilight") in his directorial debut, "Maneater."

    Emanuel's Canal Street Films is producing, and Eric Lewald ("Trollz") is executive producing.

    The horror thriller about a former FBI profiler and small-town sheriff investigating mysterious murders is derived from a Native American legend.
    The Windigo Returns in 'Maneater'Actor-producer Michael Emanuel (The Uninvited) is in preproduction on the thriller Maneater (announced exclusively on B-D last week on our indie section), which tells the story of an FBI profiler-turned-small-town sheriff who begins investigating a series of mysterious murders only to discover that the monster he's profiling might be himself. Emanuel co-wrote the script with John K. Anderson and will make the film his directorial debut. "It's a story that was told to me by an old Native American back in the late '70s," Emanuel said. "It's based on the Western Ojibwa (Chippewa) legend of the Windigo." "Maneater" is the second in a slate of 10 movies that Emanuel's Canal Street Films is producing with independent financing. It begins shooting July 30 around Los Angeles, though the producers are still casting the leads.Comment:  What is this...the 5th or 10th movie to use a Windigo as a savage, Native-based monster? How unoriginal can you get? How about making the Windigo a poor, misunderstood soul who's being framed for the human deaths?

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    Update on Cowboys and Aliens movie

    I asked correspondent Alana Joli, writer of the second volume of COWBOYS & ALIENS, the following:Are you involved in the "Cowboys & Aliens" movie at all? Are they using the first volume, the second volume, or both as source material?She replied:Hi Rob,

    They're not involving the C&AII crew at all. ... I assume they're using the first volume as a basis--but actually, I suspect they're just buying the concept of it and are writing a script completely different from either.

    Comment:  I suspect Alana is right.

    "First great film of the fall"

    Winning 'Frozen River' succeeds on its performancesCourtney Hunt's "Frozen River" is the first great film of the fall. It has great actors playing vivid characters in a setting that makes for a clash of cultures. The state police won't stop Ray "because you're white," Lila spits out at every opportunity. Her tribe doesn't approve of what she's doing, but has its own ineffectual ways of straightening her out. She lost custody of her infant, a wrong the tribal police won't right. All she wants is the money to set her up to take him back.

    "Frozen River" is a sobering, nerve-wracking and moving look at hard, beaten people dealing with hard times. It heralds the arrival of a new filmmaking talent in Hunt. And it is righteous payback for Leo, a veteran supporting player whose lifetime of classing up everything from "21 Grams" to "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" pays off in one of the very best screen performances of the year.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    World's largest bingo hall?

    San Manuel to bring Guinness World RecordsSan Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, and the Auto Club Speedway will be bringing the game of bingo to thousands of sports enthusiasts on Sunday, Aug. 31, when San Manuel attempts to reclaim its world title for the “Largest Bingo House.” The event will be held during the Pepsi 500 race.

    San Manuel first gained the title of “Largest Bingo House” in July 2006, when it broke the Guinness World Record with more than 53,000 bingo participants at Dodger Stadium. The following year, a group in Columbia beat San Manuel's record, but now San Manuel is determined to win it back.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Facts About Indian Gaming.

    Supermodel goes Native

    Neighbours are teepeeved off with Kate MossAnd you thought your neighbours were bad? Kate Moss's have had a gutful of the two Native American teepees that the model has pitched in the back garden of her £2millon country home in Oxfordshire.

    Nearby residents have complained that the 15ft tall tents are an eyesore and are blocking their views. Officials from the West Oxfordshire District Council will now launch an investigation.

    August 28, 2008

    No tipis at Mt. Rushmore?

    Does Native American exhibit belong at Mount Rushmore?Heritage village, which opened this summer, is a cluster of three tipis off the Presidential Trail walkway, where five days a week, Native Americans work as cultural interpreters, practicing traditional arts and answering visitors’ questions about their history and community. Baker’s efforts to use Mount Rushmore to raise cultural awareness this summer also have included a performance from the Faith Temple gospel choir, a Germans from Russia dance and heritage display, a Lakota hoop dancer and a Sons of Norway crafts and history demonstration.

    Baker certainly has some local people raising questions about what he is doing with the Mount Rushmore site. No one questions whether an education in Native history is important for Black Hills visitors. But they dispute that it belongs at Rushmore.

    Air Force veteran and Hermosa resident Lance Bultena said the new Native history display doesn’t fit in with the “theme” of Mount Rushmore, which he sees as a celebration of the nation’s constitutional ideals and the great presidents who established, preserved and expanded the union.

    “I think it’s more of an appeasement to make them feel like they’re a part of it, which I can understand everybody wants to be a part of it,” he said. “I really don’t see that as a necessity or enhancing Mount Rushmore.”

    Rapid City’s Angie Schilling saw the heritage village this year and didn’t think it necessarily belonged. She thought, “Ah, well, we’ve got to add something Indian into every part of what we do.”

    But it was Baker’s apparent feelings about Mount Rushmore that really upset Schilling.

    When Baker was quoted as saying his favorite part of Mount Rushmore was “the back” because “that’s the way it was” before the carving, she got mad.

    “It’s just disrespectful,” she said. “That structure, if you will, it portrays our pride in our heritage, and our founding fathers, and everything that we hold as American citizens, and for him to say, my favorite part is the back,” she said, makes her wonder, “Are you proud to be an American? Or are you ashamed to be an American, when your Native people were held under subjugation?”

    Comments like these bother Baker, who like many Native Americans has a complicated and multifaceted relationship with the monument and the government, which in this case is his employer. On one hand, it’s one of the two places his family said he should never work when he started his career with the park service, the place Native activists such as Russell Means call the “Shrine of Hypocrisy” (a spin on the Memorial’s “Shrine of Democracy” title) to describe the carving of American presidents into the sacred hills taken from Natives in treaty backpedaling.

    On the other hand, Baker joins patriotic Americans when he speaks about “the four great presidents that gave us this land,” referring to the nation as a whole. Baker said he is always trying to learn more about Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, reading books about their lives and studying their thought and philosophies.

    “This should be a place for people to come and reflect on who you are as an American,” he said.
    Comment:  The tipis seem fine to me. Like many aspects of Indian culture in our society, they provide an opportunity to ponder. For instance:

    "Those presidents sure founded a great country. But wait...what are those tipis doing there? Oh, yeah...founding a great country meant forcing the people who were here first onto reservations. Wow, that's heavy.

    "And yet, the tipis are standing right under the nose of the presidents. What's up with that? I thought we got rid of those Indians long ago. You mean they're still here? Wow, that's even heavier.

    "Presidents founded country...Indians already occupied country. Brain can't cope with cognitive dissonance. Must reevaluate previous beliefs. Must...think!"

    These naysayers should be thankful that the rangers at Mt. Rushmore doesn't teach all the anti-Indian things the presidents said and did. (At least, I presume they don't teach anything negative.) For examples, see Fun 4th of July Facts plus individual pages on George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt.

    As far as I'm concerned, Native culture belongs everywhere Native made their mark on the country. Which means everywhere in the United States except maybe Hawaii. (The people of Hawaii can celebrate Native Hawaiians instead of American Indians.)

    For more on the subject, see Best Indian Monuments to Topple.

    Amazon towns disprove stereotypes

    'Lost towns' discovered in AmazonThe remote Amazon river basin was once home to densely populated towns and villages, Science journal reports.

    This part of the Amazon, once thought to be virgin forest, has in fact been touched by extensive human activity.

    Researchers found traces of a grid-like pattern of settlements connected by road networks and arranged around large central plazas.

    There is also evidence of farming and wetland management, including possible remains of fish farms.

    The settlements are now almost completely overgrown by rainforest.

    The ancient urban communities date back to before the first Europeans set foot in the Upper Xingu region of the Brazilian Amazon in the 15th Century.

    Urban planning

    Professor Mike Heckenberger, from the University of Florida, in Gainesville, said: "These are not cities, but this is urbanism, built around towns."

    "They have quite remarkable planning and self-organisation, more so than many classical examples of what people would call urbanism," he said.
    Amazon rainforest was giant garden cityIn the Xingu region of the Brazilian Amazon, these garden cities radiated out over a diameter of 150 miles, covering an area of 18,000 square miles that exceeds the sprawl of Los Angeles by 35 fold.

    However, they only held around 50,000 people, compared with the 13 million in LA.

    The extraordinary conclusion is reached by anthropologists from the University of Florida and Brazil, and a member of the Kuikuro, an indigenous people who are the descendants of the settlements' original inhabitants.

    "If we look at your average medieval town or your average Greek polis, most are about the scale of those we find in this part of the Amazon," said Prof Mike Heckenberger of the University of Florida, lead author of the paper published today in the journal Science.

    "Only the ones we find are much more complicated in terms of their planning."
    And:The findings are important because they contradict long-held stereotypes about early Western versus early New World settlements that rest on the idea that "if you find it in Europe, it's a city.

    If you find it somewhere else, it has to be something else," Prof Heckenberger said. "They have quite remarkable planning."
    Comment:  These findings may reinforce the Hollywood impression that Central and South America are full of lost "temples of doom." That impression would be wrong, since these settlements are small towns, not large cities with pyramids and other edifices.

    But these findings should blow up the Hollywood impression that Amazon Indians were and are so primitive that they couldn't accomplish anything. That if the ancients created a complex civilization, they couldn't have been Indians.

    For more on the subject, see Indiana Jones and the Stereotypes of Doom.

    Alternatives to the DNC

    Native voices were heard in alternative venues at the DNCThe alternative events began Aug. 24 outside Colorado's gold-domed capitol with an "End the Occupation" antiwar march to the central convention site at the Pepsi Center and continued Aug. 25 with a "Free Political Prisoners" march from Civic Center Park in downtown Denver to the federal courthouse.

    Riot-clad police lined the routes and mounted police were at several locations, where both horses and riders wore protective face-gear. Although only minor scuffles occurred during the day Aug. 25, a major confrontation took place in the evening at Civic Center Park between police and predominantly non-Native anarchists.

    "There wouldn't be a corporate America" if it had not been for the use of resources extracted from Native nations' lands, said Ward Churchill, a scholar and former ethnic studies professor at the University of Colorado, who addressed the initial rally.

    Churchill has long been an outspoken proponent of the Native point of view in U.S. history and is a member of the American Indian Movement. His remarks about 9/11 as blowback from U.S. foreign policy drew the ire of CU, which later fired him for alleged research misconduct.
    And:The next day, Savage Family's lyrics fueled a 10-block march from Civic Center Park to the federal courthouse and a rally for Native issues and political prisoners.

    "We want to give youth a voice and be a voice for them in the meantime," said a Savage Family member. "Our children right now are dying. They're saying, 'I don't want to live' and they may kill themselves. But our future is through them."

    Suicide, over-medication, substance abuse and other problems plague youth on reservations and the reasons are many; but in part, it is because in some reservation communities "youth are despised" and there is no one to listen to them, the member said.

    "We want to represent the voice of people held hostage in our homeland," he said, noting "Savage Family" is a code of conduct and an acronym for "Standing against a Violent Adversary in Genocidal Environments/Forever Always Movement."

    Not enough Indian issues?

    For Some, Not Enough Being Said About Native IssuesUnited Tribes Technical College President David Gipp took the main stage at the convention Tuesday, stressing health care, public schools and violence in Indian Country.

    Rosebud Sioux tribal council member Robert Moore sang the national anthem Wednesday.

    And on Thursday, a 20-year-old Inupiaq woman from Alaska named Holly Miowak Stebing will join Sen. Barack Obama backstage before he accepts the Democratic presidential nomination.

    Many see Native issues being addressed more prominently this week than at previous conventions.

    Still, some Native leaders see room for progress in getting their people's concerns placed front and center within the Democratic Party.

    “Never has enough been said (about Native issues) in my opinion, but we’re getting there," said Steve Banner, second speaker of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma, standing outside the Native American Caucus meeting at the Denver Convention Center on Wednesday morning. "We’re getting to the table. We just need to make ourselves comfortable and start participating.”
    And:Kevin Killer, a 29-year-old Oglala Sioux man seeking a seat in the South Dakota Legislature, blames both Natives and Democratic Party leaders for failing to get Native issues on the national agenda.

    He would like to see the Native American Caucus focus more on youth and alternative energy strategies. As for the national Democratic Party, leaders need to work harder to get Natives involved in leadership positions, Killer said.

    But he praised Sen. Barack Obama for hiring Wizipan Garriott, a young Rosebud Sioux man, to serve as his First Americans Vote director. Killer said the Democratic Party also has worked to listen to Native people, even allowing them to change their party organization's name from the Native Americans Council to the First Americans Council.

    “I think there’s an intent to include more Natives in the agendas," he said. “It’s a process, and it takes a while.”

    Indians all over Denver

    Indians in DenverFunny I never noticed this when I was growing up here, but there are Indians all over the place in Denver.

    Most of them are painted on walls.

    I just walked three blocks from the Art Museum, where there’s a reception going on for Native leaders attending the Democratic National Convention, to find batteries for my camera. I came across a sculpture, a mural, and a poster depicting Native Americans.

    Every gift shop has Native-themed jewelry and souvenirs, though in this part of downtown, they’re probably made in China.

    Yet, at the Native American policy forum here just a few hours ago, attendance by the public was sparse to non-existent. There, Denverites could have met a variety of Indian leaders from around the country discussing the themes so crucial to Indian Country: health care, economic development, education.

    If they were as interested in Natives as their art indicates, they could have learned a lot.

    Perhaps Denverites prefer their Indians two-dimensional.
    Comment:  Most Americans prefer their Indians two-dimensional. Hence the popularity of Indians in Western movies and on sports logos.

    Alcohol kills Indians

    Study measures Indian deaths linked to alcoholAlmost 12 percent of the deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives are alcohol-related--more than three times the percentage attributed to the general population, a new federal report says.

    The report released Thursday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says 11.7 percent of total deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives between 2001 and 2005 were alcohol-related, compared with 3.3 percent for the U.S. general population.

    Dwayne Jarman, a CDC epidemiologist who works for the Indian Health Service and is one of the study's authors, said it is first national survey that measures American Indian deaths due to alcohol. It should be a "call to action" for federal, state, local and tribal governments, he said.

    The study recommends "culturally appropriate clinical interventions" to reducing excessive drinking and better integration between tribal health care centers and tribal courts, which often deal with alcohol-related crimes.
    Comment:  I'm pretty sure all the governments involved know about the alcohol problems already. But I guess another call to action can't hurt.

    Havasupai tourist spot closed

    Havasu Falls to be closed for monthsAn American Indian village and popular Grand Canyon tourist spot hit by flooding won't reopen to visitors for at least six months, the tribe's Tourism Office said.

    The Havasupai tribe initially had planned to allow visitors back to the area next month, but said Tuesday that more time is needed to repair the miles-long trail that leads visitors through Supai village and to campgrounds and towering blue-green waterfalls.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Havasupai in Next.

    August 27, 2008

    On the DNC floor (Day 2)

    Robert Moore, Proud DNC MomentThe Democratic National Convention’s opening ceremony was a show stopper as Robert Moore of the Rosebud Sioux Nation sang the national anthem. It was a moment of pride and dignity for me to watch one our own sing America’s sacred song to the world. I was taken back by the rush of emotions that ran through me as I reflected on the struggle of his people. Surely this was a proud moment for the Rosebud Sioux Nation. What a wonderful roll model for Indigenous youth too. He mesmerized the audience of 80,000 as well as the world with his powerfully beautiful voice. Truly a grand performance for this budding world class entertainer.Gipp addresses Indian issues at Democratic conventionThough many delegates were still finding their seats, Gipp received cheers from across the floor of the Pepsi Center as he introduced himself around 3:30pm Mountain Time. He was one of the first speakers on a stage that drew the likes of former presidential candidate Sen. Hilary Clinton of New York, popular Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, who sits on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

    "Hau. Anpetu Waste. My name is Dave Gipp. I'm a Hunkpapa Lakota from the Standing Rock Lakota and Nakota Nations. I'm president of the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota," said Gipp, who wore a bright blue beaded vest and bolo tie.

    "I'm one of thousands of tribal citizens who support Senator Barack Obama for accepting tribal nations and their citizens in to the future he sees for America," he continued.

    Gipp, the only Native person scheduled to speak during the convention, used his time on the podium to educate the nation about the history of Indian people and the challenges facing them today. He addressed a wide range of topics, from treaties to health care to education.

    "We're not another special interest group trying to claim a share of the American pie. We are, after all, the First Americans," said Gipp. "We have paid our price with land and blood. Our status as tribal sovereign nations is specifically recognized in the U.S. Constitution. Our rights as tribal nations to determine our destiny within our great United States should be protected and honored by our government. Our treaties with the U.S. are the supreme law of the land."

    In an audience sprinkled with Native people, his next statement was met with a resounding "Yes!" from the delegates. "Every step you take across this great nation, every vista you admire, every city you call by its tribal name was once Indian Country!" Gipp said.

    Mound builders live again

    'Big earthwork' will welcome travelers to OklahomaThousands of years ago, it may have taken centuries for the indigenous Americans to construct a mound like the new Central Promontory Mound at the southeast interchange of Interstates 35 and 40.

    But using 21st century technology, officials with the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum were able to finish the 90-foot-high earthwork in about two years.

    Much of the planned museum and cultural center remains under heavy construction, but Tuesday morning, officials were ready to celebrate their first milestone with the dedication of the monolithic earthen mound.

    The towering mound, which was inspired by ancient earthworks constructed across Oklahoma and in eastern North America, was built using 1.7 billion pounds of red earth brought to the site by 42,000 dump truck loads.
    21st Century Mound BuildersThe Central Promontory mound on the site of the AICCM was inspired by the mound building cultures in Oklahoma and eastern North America. As Native cultures have done for thousands of years, we will once again gather at the river to celebrate an important milestone in Oklahoma’s history,” says Gena Timberman, Executive Director, Native American Cultural and Educational Authority, the state agency developing the AICCM. Oklahoma has a rich legacy of mound building beginning many centuries ago with Oklahoma’s indigenous American Indian people (ancestors of the modern day Caddo Nation and Wichita & Affiliated Tribes), dating back to around 500 A.D. Regulators of early trade, these innovative people flourished as an extension of the Mississippian mound builders east of the Mississippi River. The Spiro Mounds in eastern Oklahoma are considered one of the most important archaeological discoveries in North America. The political and social systems being used by these people were progressive and complex. Thousands of Village Agriculturalist occupation sites have been documented, especially in the Arkansas and Red River drainage systems in Oklahoma.

    The Democratic Native platform

    Native Section of Democratic Platform Stresses SovereigntyMark Macarro, tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band in California and a member of the Democratic Platform Committee, said the party platform will be more impressive than those in 2000 and 2004.

    In part, he said, that is because of a stronger plank on sovereignty.

    "There are some direct statements about the need to acknowledge, promote and strengthen tribal sovereignty," he said, "and the recognition that tribes have had sovereignty before."

    Although Macarro and other platform committee members refined the exact wording, he said the real work had been done months earlier by such tribal leaders as Ron His Horse Is Thunder, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North and South Dakota, who also served on the Democratic Platform Committee.

    Meanwhile, in outlining their proposals, the Native delegates said tribal issues "have suffered from inattention" during the transition from one administration to the next and called for a list of priorities addressing the needs of the Native community.

    They include the need for:

    • Trust reform and better management of tribal natural resources

    • Adequate funding of tribal governmental services for education, health care, transportation and law enforcement

    • The development of new resources to reduce crime on Indian reservations, especially to combat drug trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault

    • Strong leadership in the White House on tribal sovereignty and treaty rights

    Navajos ring Liberty Bell

    Freedom rings at Navajo Nation Veterans' ParkThe patriotic phrase "Let Freedom Ring" is often heard nationwide. Last Wednesday afternoon at the Navajo Nation Veterans' Park, that freedom was heard when leaders, community members and visiting tourists were given the opportunity to ring a replica of the 1753 Liberty Bell.

    "It's a wonderful and special day for our people," said Charles Long, legislative staff assistant to the Office of the Speaker. "We are very fortunate to have the Liberty Bell here on the Navajo Nation. Freedom means a lot to our people, especially our veterans."

    The Navajo Nation welcoming ceremony began Aug. 20 with an honor ride escort of the Liberty Bell from the Arizona-New Mexico state line to the Navajo Nation Veterans' Park. The Twin Warrior Society opened the welcoming ceremony with the posting of colors and Robert Williams of the Society gave the invocation.

    A crowd of local residents and tourists attended the historic event, and circled around the bell to take pictures, listening attentively as leaders spoke. Long gave an overview of the respect the Navajo people have for freedom and the services rendered by Navajo veterans to both the Navajo Nation and the United States.

    Sand dragsters ditch Soboba

    Sand racers pullout of SobobaThe National Sand Drag Association has pulled its races from the Soboba Indian Reservation, citing safety concerns following a series of fatal shootings by deputies that left three tribal members dead.

    The Arizona-based organization, with a membership of more than 500, decided in June to pull its events off the reservation and instead will hold its races at a new facility near Mystic Lake west of San Jacinto, said Alfonso "Chachy" Zavala, one of several organizers.

    "We didn't feel safe going back there," Zavala said Tuesday. "We didn't want to put anyone else in danger. It was better for the racers, organizers and spectators to hold it somewhere else."

    Tribal Councilwoman Rose Salgado said the tribe leased the land to the race organizers, who had a separate contract with the casino. She did not expect the pullout to have any substantial impact on the tribe or casino.

    Dean slams McCain on Cobell

    Obama organizer:  American Indian votes crucialHoward Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, rallied the crowd of more than 100 and said their communities will be crucial in electing Barack Obama.

    "It is time to assume your rightful place in the political system of this country," Dean said.

    Four or five Democratic senators owe their elections to Indian Country votes, Dean said.

    Dean attacked Republican candidate John McCain, who led the Senate's Indian Affairs Committee, for his treatment of Eloise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in a multibillion-dollar Indian lawsuit against the federal government.

    "He treated her like dirt. It was a disgrace. There's going to be a big difference between a John McCain presidency and a Barack Obama presidency for Indian Country," Dean said.

    No Navajo Obama ad

    An Obama Radio Ad in Navajo?  Not So FarNavajos say they haven't heard Barack Obama on their radio stations, and officials at stations whose largest audience is members of the tribe concur.

    In an article written by The Associated Press before the Democratic Party convention opened Monday, presidential hopeful Obama was said to have "run a radio ad in the Navajo language." But regular listeners said they have yet to hear Obama speaking their Native tongue.

    August 26, 2008

    Everybody is racist

    The Summer 2008 of Greater Good magazine asks the question “Are we born racist?” In an article titled “Look Twice,” Susan T. Fiske provides an answer: Most people think they’re less biased than average. But just as we can’t all be better than average, we can’t all be less prejudiced than average. Although the message—and the success so far—of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign suggests an America that is moving past traditional racial divisions and prejudices, it’s probably safe to assume that all of us harbor more biases than we think.

    Science suggests that most of us don’t even know the half of it. A 20-year eruption of research from the field of “social neuroscience” reveals exactly how automatically and unconsciously prejudice operates. As members of a society with egalitarian ideals, most Americans have good intentions. But new research suggests our brains and our impulses all too often betray us. That’s the bad news.

    But here’s the good news: More recent research shows that our prejudices are not inevitable; they are actually quite malleable, shaped by an ever-changing mix of cultural beliefs and social circumstances. While we may be hardwired to harbor prejudices against those who seem different or unfamiliar to us, it’s possible to override our worst impulses and reduce these prejudices. Doing so requires more than just good intentions; it requires broad social efforts to challenge stereotypes and get people to work together across group lines. But a vital first step is learning about the biological and psychological roots of prejudice.

    Modern prejudice

    Here’s the first thing to understand: Modern prejudice is not your grandparents’ prejudice.

    Old-fashioned racism and sexism were known quantities because people would mostly say what they thought. Blacks were lazy; Jews were sly; women were either dumb or bitchy. Modern equivalents continue, of course—look at current portrayals of Mexican immigrants as criminals (when, in fact, crime rates in Latino neighborhoods are lower than those of other ethnic groups at comparable socioeconomic levels). Most estimates suggest such blatant and wrongheaded bigotry persists among only 10 percent of citizens in modern democracies. Blatant bias does spawn hate crimes, but these are fortunately rare (though not rare enough). At the very least, we can identify the barefaced bigots.

    Our own prejudice—and our children’s and grandchildren’s prejudice, if we don’t address it—takes a more subtle, unexamined form. Neuroscience has shown that people can identify another person’s apparent race, gender, and age in a matter of milliseconds. In this blink of an eye, a complex network of stereotypes, emotional prejudices, and behavioral impulses activates. These knee-jerk reactions do not require conscious bigotry, though they are worsened by it.
    Racialicious correspondent Tami responds to this piece:See, this is why I am growing ever more weary of the “Race is just a social construct, why are we even talking about it?” crowd, as well as the “I don’t see race” folks. Race is indeed a social construct, but physical and cultural differences, and the biased ways that people react to them–that’s real. If we refuse to acknowledge and embrace both our similarities and differences, then how will we ever neutralize negative and biased reactions to those differences? You may call me an African American or ignore my ethnic heritage and say I am simply a human being. Both things are true. But at the end of the day, I am a brown person with curly/kinky hair, broad facial features and some specific cultural behaviors, living in an environment of people with white skin, straight hair, narrow facial features and other specific cultural behaviors. I am judged by the majority for my minority characteristics–my differences. (And I judge, too.) Not calling those differences race does not solve the problem.

    Oh, and you say you don’t see race? That’s B.S. You do. We all do. Our brains are hardwired to seek out those differences. It’s what you do after you see race that makes all the difference.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Highlights of the US Report to the UN on Racism.

    On the DNC floor (Day 1)

    Convention crackles with energy says Red Oak native, superdelegate FreeFree is the director for INDNS List, which advocates the election of Native American candidates. A member of the Choctaw tribe, she currently lives in Tulsa.

    She felt the speech given by U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in Denver on Monday night has already provided one of the convention highlights.

    Free and the other delegates watched as the senator’s niece, Caroline Kennedy, introduced a special video tribute to him.

    “What a champion for working class men and women, a champion for health care, an advocate for those who have no voice,” Free said afterwards.

    “Then Sen. Kennedy came on stage and the love, affection, gratitude and respect for him was palpable. It was such a ‘feel good’ time. He gave a rousing speech, pledging to be in the Senate in January to help President Obama pass health care for all.”

    “He is my hero,” Free said of Kennedy.
    And:Free also gave high praise to the opening speech of Michelle Obama, who will be the first lady if her husband is elected president.

    “Her special relationship with her late father resonated with me and I know with every daughter who has been blessed to have such a bond with their father. Her family shaped her values and her desire to help others. Her brother, Craig Robinson, Oregon State basketball coach, did a lovely job of introducing his little sister.”

    Free said Michelle Obama’s speech had been powerful when viewed in person at the Democratic Convention.

    “You had to see it,” Free said.

    “Her belief in her husband, her dedication to her children and all children, her love and respect for Barack were so evident. What an absolute wonderful role model for young girls and women.”
    Lakota college president to address Native issues at DNCEducator David Gipp, the only Native person scheduled to address delegates at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, plans to share a few ideas on how the White House can renew its promise of a better life for all Americans.

    Gipp, president of the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, N.D., said he would remind convention-goers of the sacrifices made by Native people, but would mostly inform them of the contributions ready to be made, including valuable natural resources, a rich culture and good leadership.
    Comment:  The report I heard from an Indian on the floor is that Michelle Obama's speech was indeed moving. It sent chills down his spine and had other people in tears.

    At the First Americans Caucus

    One Nation, One Hope:  First Americans Increasing Numbers Within Democratic PartyParticipation, involvement and the Indian Vote were the themes for the opening meeting of the First Americans Caucus today as the Democratic National Committee Convention (DNCC) kicked off in Denver.

    Frank LaMere, caucus chairman and a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, said the Caucus is unified behind Senator Barack Obama because he has consistently engaged Indian Country and consistently sought input from tribes. LaMere reminded delegates that they were here to talk about what could be and what should be in their communities and nations.

    "Barack Obama gets what is happening in Indian Country. His message of hope and change is one that resonates with tribal people," LaMere said. "Everywhere you go across this nation, Indian people are calling for change and they are calling for new and bold leadership. As American Indian people, we are hopeful for our future but terribly concerned about the direction our country is currently headed. The same old politics and policies that have divided us will not allow us to achieve the change we need."
    DNC Native caucus slams McCain on lobbying

    Candidate's spokesman says allegations are wrongOn opening day of the Democratic National Convention, several American Indian political leaders who support Sen. Barack Obama took the opportunity to tie disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff to the Republican party and to Sen. John McCain.

    The McCain campaign is not accepting the criticism, and a spokesman for the senator from Arizona is strongly defending the presumptive GOP candidate's integrity.

    A draft resolution being considered for adoption by the First American Caucus reads in part: "... lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his Republican cohorts have done irrefutable harm to tribes and their ability to fully participate in political campaigns ..."
    Comment:  For more on McCain's "integrity," see The Top 10 Conservative Idiots, No. 349.

    Indians at the DNC

    The DNC by the Native numbersTop party officials say this year's Democratic National Convention is the most diverse in party history and American Indians are playing a central role in many key positions.

    More Native delegates have been elected to this year's convention than ever before. There are currently 143 self-identified Native American delegates, compared to 86 in 2004. It's a whopping 40 percent increase.

    Of the nearly 800 Democratic superdelegates, four are Native, which is believed to be the highest number of American Indian superdelegates in convention history.

    The superdelegates are Frank LaMere, a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and chair of the First American Caucus; state Rep. Margarett Campbell, an Assiniboine Sioux from Montana; Kalyn Free, Choctaw from Oklahoma; and Laurie Weahkee, a Zuni/Cochiti/Navajo voter registration advocate.

    At least six Natives also sit this year on key DNC committees, serving in important decision-making positions.

    Jackson:  Change "Sioux" nickname

    Phil Jackson on the Sioux nickname:  ‘Do the right thing’Alumnus and legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson urged the University of North Dakota on Monday to “do the right thing” and resolve the emotional Fighting Sioux nickname controversy.

    “We have to rethink probably our nickname and moniker,” he said during the second of two public appearances at the university, where he wore the Sioux name and logo as a star basketball player more than four decades ago.

    Use of the symbols is “not beneficial” to the Lakota people, he said.

    “I think … we can make this change gracefully,” Jackson said, adding that he and other former UND athletes “don’t feel there’s any decrease in our spirit or our enthusiasm” with a name change.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Team Names and Mascots.

    Long-haired boy goes to school

    Long-haired Needville boy can start school, mom saysA 5-year-old boy whose hair length is forbidden by a strict school dress code went to class with long locks Monday after the Needville Independent School District offered a compromise.

    But the issue in this Fort Bend County community remains far from resolved.

    School officials last month said they would not let Adriel Arocha come to school unless he cut his hair, but now say the boy can attend classes if his hair is braided and tucked inside the collar.

    However, the boy attended the first day of kindergarten at Needville Elementary School with his hair braided and hanging outside his collar, said school board President Jimmie Kocian.

    He said it is unclear what will happen next in the battle between the district and the parents.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see School District vs. Five-Year-Old.

    Red River's Manifest Destiny

    John Wayne as a colonizer...Indian killer...murderer...cattle rustler...tyrant...and slaveowner. Howard Hawks's Red River has it all.

    If Wayne's character is supposed to be the good guy, I'd hate to see a bad guy. If only the Lone Ranger and Tonto could hunt him down for his crimes.

    Read my review of the movie here:  Indians in Red River.

    August 25, 2008

    Andrea Grant's MINX

    Adventures of a Comics GoddessAndrea Grant is a female phenomenon in the mostly-male industry of comic books and graphic novels. The twentysomething Canadian got her start as a model and poet. Her written work has been compared to that of Leonard Cohen and her life has been the subject of three documentaries. But her greatest achievement (the one that makes her squeal with pride when talking about it) is the success of her original comic book, "Andrea Grant's Minx," which hit stands in 2006. The story focuses on a warrior vixen who has both the maternal and feral power of wolves. Andrea draws on her Native-American roots and visions she has in dreams to create the colorful, complicated world in which Minx is the ultimate badass babe. Here she talks about the struggles of being a woman in a male-dominated industry, her unabashed use of sexuality to succeed, and why Minx should be everyone's hero…

    I dream often of wolves and purple skies and entire conversations in my head become dialogue. Words tumble around my brain so frequently that I leave a pen and paper beside my bed so that I can write with my eyes closed as I drift into Dreamtime, the world I've created for my characters. I will never sleep normal hours again because I need to keep walking that delicate line between dreams and reality to come up with new inspiration.

    I began to spend all those sleepless nights creating an arts magazine called Copious which garnered a huge underground cult following and made me famous in Canada. Minx originally ran as a comic strip in the back of Copious and the response from readers was positive. In fact, the concept was so popular I began to attend events as Minx dressed in a custom latex suit just to gauge her popularity. I bought a digital camera and started taking photographs of my friends and me in character, making collages, recording audio, and filming video so that the realm of Dreamtime would have a multimedia aspect. By this point, television shows were doing documentary features on Copious and Minx. The comic book medium intrinsically made sense.

    Dreamtime Diaries

    The world of Minx is real to me, albeit more of a hyper-reality. Minx is a representation of my own vivid dream world and interior landscape. Influences include mythology, fairytales, the duality of human nature, and the contradictions of modern womanhood. Just like in real life, the relationships are complicated with various alliances, conflicts, and love affairs. One of my favorite stories is “Everything's Coming Up Halloween” which is basically a retelling of white men killing the Native Indians. Minx goes on a little stabbing rampage, avenging her bloodline, and we get into the archetype of Mother Earth suffering. This is where we gain a little more insight into her character, because Minx is usually very controlled and cool-headed even during a fight scene. My stories are either poetic and surreal or gritty, like film noir. The characters lead the way; I have only scratched the surface of what I intend to do.
    Andrea GrantCD: Even though Minx has elements of the fantastic the characters are based on real people in your life, and MINX bears a striking physical resemblance to yourself. What made you want to incorporate your friends and loved ones into the comic stories?

    AG: I’ve always been obsessed with the lines between fantasy, reality, and dreams. Native Americans believe that when we dream our soul is actually traveling to another dimension. It’s been scientifically proven that our nervous systems can’t tell the difference between an imagined experience and a real experience. MINX was cathartic, created right after I emerged from a very dark period in my life. I was young and had just left an emotionally abusive husband. I was in the process of mentally deprogramming my brainwashing—I had been brought up in a fundamentalist Christian community. I went through an intense spiritual death and rebirth, and I was starting over with nothing, clawing my way out of a cave. I began to connect to Native beliefs through my father, who had experienced the classic ‘Shamanistic breakdown’ which resulted in his refuting Christianity to become a medicine man. MINX began as an alter ego that I felt safe working with creatively as I sought to find my voice as an artist. Minx is an archetype of the empowered, modern woman that challenges tradition while embracing sexuality and femininity.

    CD: You have a fascination with Native American mythology--did you work that into the comics?

    AG: Minx the character is part Native, as am I. Therefore Native American mythology plays a large role in MINX—not only in terms of archetype, but also to drive the plot. Ley lines often act as a sort of impetus for the schema— simply put, the bad guys need to gain access to the ley lines, and Minx and the good guys hold the key. The Native community is largely under-represented in comics. I was raised ‘white’ so I didn’t grow up on the reservation, but I traveled to pow-wows with my father and witnessed a despair that saddened me—in contrast to the flashes of pride that occurred during ceremonial dances and drumming rituals. It’s a beautiful culture that has been massacred and taken advantage of for decades, and the people are still recovering from that sorrow. There is a huge problem with drug and alcohol addiction, and a high diabetes rate because Indians are not built to consume the same foods as Caucasians. There is a high suicide rate among the youth and an alarming pregnancy rate. I think it’s because a lot of these kids cannot see their way out of the misery that can come from growing up in an insular community that holds the pain of genocide in their memory. It is my hope that by creating a comic that re-interprets some of the traditional stories, Native people will feel inspired and represented. One of my favorite writers is Sherman Alexie (most famous for Smoke Signals, the film adaptation of his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven). But there need to be more writers coming out of the Native communities and breaking the silence of our mythology.

    CD: MINX has some werewolf like traits, why do you think so few werewolf tales have female protagonists?

    AG: Most fantastical creatures are traditionally typecast by genre. Werewolves, vampires, mummies, and zombies were initially portrayed as men, while witches were the female version. To some extent, this makes sense since men are stereotypically portrayed as more violent and aggressive (hence the monster-like qualities) while a woman-gone-wrong was considered to be more conniving and manipulative than simply aggressive. Clearly, we do not respond to or understand gender the same way today that storytellers did in the past. Minx has werewolf qualities without being a sadist; she represents if not only the strength and resilience of a werewolf, but also alienation from being on the fringes of society, from being different.
    Comment:  See also Michael Sheyahshe's interview with Andrea Grant and The Story of Minx on the Copious Amounts website.

    If Indians aren't turning into wolves, they're running with wolves. Examples include Red Wolf, Wolf Lake, Kyla in Smallville, WILDE KNIGHT, and the Twilight books. Is there any question that people consider it "natural" to link Indians with an animal that represents savagery? When is someone going to write a story in which an Indian turns into a bunny, frog, or fly?

    For more on the subject, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.

    Deconstructing the classroom

    The Problem of the ClassroomAt the beginning of my American and American Indian literature courses, I ask students to look at the room we are sitting in: "Imagine that you're anthropologists from Mars. What cultural assumptions about the world in general and about education in particular can you find here?" At first they are not sure what I am talking about, since finding assumptions in architecture is usually new to them, but as they catch on, they begin to see that most of what they have experienced as education is built into the room. The shape and arrangement of the room say that knowledge is something the teacher possesses and they will receive. If they want to see another student who has something to say, they have to fight against the linear, rectangular layout. The desks say that bodies do not count--education is purely intellectual, and we have to be more or less immobilized to participate. The gray, unadorned walls and the windows (always at the back of the rooms I teach in) say that learning is serious (and probably boring) and can take place only in the absence of "distractions" such as varied colors and natural phenomena--grass, trees, sky. Learning is divorced from place--what we are doing could be done equally well if we were in a similar space a thousand miles away--and, of course, similar discussions are going on in similarly disconnected spaces even as we speak.

    Above all, the room shows that we are a rectangle-making people. The room and virtually everything in it (except for the people) are rectangular. Concrete blocks, blackboards, books, paper, maps, desks, seating charts, calendars, the ubiquitous cell phones--everything proclaims that the rectangle, with its "right" angles is the "correct" shape, and if something is not right, we will rectify it. The word "right," and the root "rect" originally come from Indo-European riht, meaning "straight," and "rich" comes from the same root. Our assumptions are obvious here: straight, right, correct, erect, rich--these define what we value.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see A Shining City on a Hill:  What Americans Believe.

    Rob goes "Beyond the Grassy Knoll"

    I'm appearing on the radio this Friday for an hour-long broadcast:

    Beyond the Grassy KnollUpcoming Shows:  August 29

    The Untamed Grassy Knoll with Adam Gorightly

    Hour 1:  Rob Schmidt, of, who will discuss L. Frank Baum, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” and the embedded bigotry directed toward our Native People

    Hour 2:  Nick Redfern to discuss Bigfoot lore and the most recent incident in Georgia
    Comment:  The show will be live at 7 pm PST. It'll also be available as an MP3 file so you can listen to it at your leisure.

    P.S. For what it's worth, I believe this will be my fourth time on the radio.

    UND debate is over

    Louis Gray, Tulsa, Okla., letter:  Logo debate is over; why keep at it?The thing is, it really isn’t a debate worth waging on the part of the Lakota people.

    Why would they sit down and talk about something insulting and inaccurate, something that every significant mental health board has declared is harmful and should be retired? Of course they wouldn’t. What possible argument do you make to someone who is insulted by your behavior? “See it my way, because you have no right to be insulted.”

    Well, that is just silly and, of course, insulting. Not only is it wrong to have any Indian nickname or logo, but also it’s hard to have a rational discussion with people who back up their claims of honoring Indian people by being racist. They hurl racial slurs at Indians who don’t want to be insulted. Seems to me they are making the argument for change, not retention.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Fighting the Fighting Sioux.

    August 24, 2008

    Trimble on victimhood

    PRAIRIE VOICES:  Official says Indians should stop pushing guiltA good example is Tim Giago, columnist and former owner of the Lakota Times, whom I’ve known since childhood. After awhile, this kind of talk gets to be a litany or mantra, so whites expect it when we speak. They say, “Tell us about those awful days in boarding school; tell us how they beat you up.”

    So, we’re feeding people what they want to hear or what we think they want to hear in order for us to get our way: to elicit pity or push guilt.

    That’s what I found myself doing when I testified on behalf of the National Congress of American Indians before Congress. I knew the litany by heart: highest infant mortality rate, lowest life expectancy, highest unemployment, lowest per capita income and on and on.

    At first, I thought it was pretty effective. Then, I got to thinking, “What are we asking these legislators to do in those hearings?” We constantly live with it, and after awhile, it wears on us and ultimately it wears on our children.

    Over the past five years, I worked at the University of South Dakota on and off as interim director of the Institute of American Indian Studies. I noticed that in college, too, they were doing the same thing: “You kids have to understand what we’ve been through and the horrible things that happened to us.”

    If it’s history, it really needs to be taught. But we ourselves shouldn’t necessarily buy into it.
    And:Q. When I read your column, I wondered, “Has he lived on a reservation, and does he fully understand what he’s talking about?”

    Most Indian people live with what they were born with, and we carry that historic baggage, so to speak. And we do drag it out when we need to. So when does remembering the past become victimhood?

    A. We shouldn’t think of our history as “baggage.” We should think of it as “experience.” I think it is very important to keep it because we have to understand our history; but we should treat it as history, not a political tool.

    It’s life experience if you’ve faced discrimination on the reservation or certainly in the border towns around the reservations.

    I have. I can pass as a Mexican, Italian or a white person, but the sad thing is I watched my mother, who is very Indian, take some really rude stuff. When I was little, that really hurt. That was worse than getting it myself. Those are things you remember.

    I guess I should say we can’t let the world forget it (our history), but we also can’t let it be baggage to us—to weigh us down and give us sense of victimhood.
    Comment:  On the one hand, I agree that a litany of woes designed to make people feel bad may not be the best approach. That's one reason I generally advocate fictional movies, TV shows, novels, and comic books over documentaries. Most people relate only to other people, not to dry facts and figures.

    On the other hand, I think Trimble's distinction is arbitrary and unknowable. What's the difference between experiencing and understanding one's history and carrying it as "baggage"? How does Trimble know that particular Indians think of themselves as vicitms? If Indians or Jews say "Never again," are they playing the victim card or being forceful advocates for change?

    For more on the subject, see Trimble to Indians:  Get Over It and Blaming the Victim.

    From documentaries to feature films

    Tribal elders guide director's visionWhile today's young Native American filmmakers are still interested in making documentaries, many of them make films that are very specific to a certain audience, such as films made in their tribe's language, or they tell stories that are non-Native, Runningwater, a Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache, said.

    This change from Hamilton's generation of filmmakers, where they are interested in making only Native American-themed stories, is attributable to the younger generation growing up in a different time and wanting to tell stories about issues they can relate to, Runningwater said.

    "It goes beyond the Native American label," she said.

    Documentaries that tell the stories of their people are something Hamilton fears will be replaced by this trend of young directors producing non-Indian feature films.

    For director Georgina Lightning, feature films are the only way for Native Americans to reach a larger audience and showcase their talent in front of and behind the camera.

    "(With documentaries) your audience is so small," Lightning, 45, said. "It's a very select group, especially for Native documentaries. If we're ever going to make an impact we have to make feature films."

    Lightning, who is Cree, knows all about the limited opportunities Indians have in Hollywood. She moved from Canada to Los Angles in 1990 and started out as an actress. Frustration with the limited roles for Native American actresses led her to co-found Tribal Alliance Productions.

    Her aim with the company is to showcase talent in front of and behind the camera. She is making the film festival rounds with her directorial debut, "Older than America," a film about the Indian Boarding School system, starring Adam Beach.

    Despite loving documentaries, Hamilton said she is ready to make her fiction-film debut.

    The story centers on young superheroes who, instead of having powers like Superman, use their education as their power as they go about the world cleaning up environmental problems.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.