Native Gains: Deb Haaland, Joe Biden, and Harry Slickpoo

It’s hard to get a handle on it. So much has happened in and for Indian Country since Biden took office and appointed Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) Secretary of the Interior. Haaland had held tribal offices, headed the New Mexico State Democratic party, and had served in the US House of Representatives before she became the first Native American to be a US Cabinet secretary. She knew the ropes, and she hit the ground running.Read Rich’s Post →

more on co-management with tribes

I received a response to my blog post about Deb Haaland and cooperative management of government lands. The writer was Roger Amerman, currently “USFS Native American Outreach and Recruitment Specialist” on the Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests.

Roger is enrolled Choctaw, but married to a Nez Perce woman and living on the Nez Perce Reservation. He tells me that in his (Choctaw) culture, children are raised in the culture of the mother. Roger is dutifully raising their son a Nez Perce man.Read Rich’s Post →

The Biden-Haaland Power Duo

The Joe Biden and Deb Haaland team have done remarkable things in Indian Country. There have been the boarding schools investigation, the appointments of tribal figures to key government posts, the saving of Bears Ears, and then the Grand Canyon National Monument this week!

And–as we live tight against ancient Nez Perce lands, many managed by the US Forest Service, I thought I would reach back and remind you of this effort at joint management. Maybe it will come our way someday soon!Read Rich’s Post →

Deb Haaland and the Road to Healing

I’m often surprised to find out that friends who follow political and cultural affairs closely still do not know who Deb Haaland is. With a hint, some of them come up with “oh yes, Department of Interior, isn’t it?” But her position and her presence are not front and center in their minds.

Things are different in Indian Country. When Haaland visited Idaho a year ago to turn over the federal keys to the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery to the Nez Perce Tribe, it was a big celebration. I said to a Nez Perce friend that Deb Haaland is some kind of saint. “Yes,” she said, “and superwoman.”Read Rich’s Post →

Indians’ turn

There is much worrying and gnashing of teeth at today’s election. I am tired of the daily solicitations for money from my liberal allies—it seems that once you have given to one political person or cause the money seekers from that edge of politics find you and torment you with requests for more. I am sure my conservative friends get the same treatment. Yet, the amounts of money raised by all sides in the current election cycle means that it works, no matter how offensive many of us at our far ends of the money-raising lines find it.Read Rich’s Post →

Who is Elouise Cobell?

My friend Betsy Marston of “Writers on the Range” just wrote a wonderful tribute to Elouise Cobell.

Elouise Cobell was, I am ashamed to say, a new name to me. Maybe I had heard it—I was vaguely aware of the lawsuit that consumed her working life. But I had not remembered it. And now Betsy tells us that Montana will celebrate “Elouise Cobell Day” on November 5.Read Rich’s Post →

Biden and Haaland and Indigenous Languages

It’s something new—and mostly good—every day. Today, in Native News Online, we learn that:

“600 people attended the Tribal Language Summit at the Oklahoma City Convention Center to hear from leading educators and policymakers in Indian Country on how to protect, preserve and promote America’s Indigenous languages.Read Rich’s Post →

Women of the World

I met my first women doctors and agricultural engineers when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Turkey almost 60 years ago. This year, when I went back to Turkey for a short visit, I learned that an Islamist leaning regime has not stopped women from being doctors and engineers, graduate students and professors. And this morning I read about the women leading a revolution in Iran.Read Rich’s Post →

Good news and Bad News in Indian Country

Friends texted and emailed me this yesterday to tell me that Mary Peltola, a Yup’ik
Alaskan Native, had won election in her state for the short remainder of a congressional term. She’ll run again for a full term in the fall. Even the short term marks a win for the Democrats, for women, and for Natives. And I will add her name to the celebratory list of Native achievements and achievers that I seem to be assembling—Chuck Sams, head of the National Park Service; Jaime Pinkham at the Defense Department; Shelly Lowe at the National Endowment for the Humanities; Marilynn Malerba, Treasurer of the United States; and Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior.Read Rich’s Post →

From “Native News Online”

“HARBOR SPRINGS, Mich. — The second stop on the Road to Healing tour by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) and Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland (Bay Mills Indian Community) will visit the lands of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in the northern part of the Michigan’s Lower Peninsula on Saturday, August 13, 2022.

“The Road to Healing is a year-long tour across the United States to provide survivors of the federal Indian boarding school system and their descendants an opportunity to share their experiences. The Road to Healing tour began at the Riverside Indian School in Anadarko, Okla. on July 9, 2022.”



It’s in the—Native—water

I was in Portland a couple of weeks ago for a mini family reunion. My brother lives in Portland now, and my sister drove up from Sacramento. We were celebrating a granddaughter/niece going to Japan on a student exchange, and other, younger, grandchildren just for being who they are.

My siblings are all retired, but I am still working. Having worked in non-profits most of my life, with a 12-year hiatus running a bookstore that didn’t bring much profit, I work because I have to. But I also work because I want to, because I learn something new every day, and because my work with Native Americans is amazingly rewarding.Read Rich’s Post →

Deb Haaland is the “Queenpin,” but there is action in the countryside

As President Biden adds to his growing list of significant Native American appointments across the Cabinet and in Executive Branch positions, Deb Haaland, his first major Indian appointment, as Secretary of Interior, looms large and iconic as the head of the team. And its cheerleader extraordinaire. Two weeks ago she was at Dworshak Dam in Idaho, lauding a deal to give control of a steelhead and salmon hatchery to the Nez Perce Tribe. Yesterday she posted on Instagram, noting the transfer of 1,000 acres of ancestral homeland in the Tully Valley in Central New York returned to the Onondaga Nation.

Haaland leads the band of Native leaders appointed by President Biden. This week’s blockbuster appointment was Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, who is chief of the Mohegan Tribe, as Treasurer of the United States. Chief Malerba is the first ever Native American to hold this position. The Treasurer directly oversees the U.S. Mint, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and Fort Knox. And her signature will soon be on the country’s currency!

Out in the countryside, like places in rural Idaho and Oregon, Tribal leaders are contributing to federal, state and local policy and programs. Here we see it in land acquisitions, water policy, and revived cultural practices. The Nez Perce Tribe has made purchases and received donated lands in Wallowa County, and the 320 acre Wallowa Nez Perce Homeland site near the town of Wallowa boasts a wildlife and fish enhancing “side channel” designed and built under the auspices of Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries.

On the other side of the Cascades, the Fish and Wildlife Commission recently agreed to a “framework agreement” with the Coquille Indian Tribe, giving it more power in fish and wildlife management throughout a five-county area of Southwest Oregon. In Northern California, the Yuroks are acquiring land in huge chunks in the Klamath watershed, managing it for wildlife, fish, vegetation and education.

These things—and Haaland’s leading, cheerleading, and her immediate huge steps to investigate the terrible Indian Boarding School chapter in our history—all warm my heart, and, as far as I can tell, are applauded by a wide swath of Americans of different political affiliations.

Closer to me personally, I was lucky to see an old high school friend this weekend and learn a little of his Indian story. Our Oceanside, California class of 1960 missed the 60th reunion due to Covid, so someone decided to throw a combined 80th birthday party (we’ve mostly turned 80 or are about to). One of our number, a fine high school athlete we all thought part Indian, showed up for the party—he’d missed the 50th so I had not had a chance to talk with him since my own work became heavily focused on Indian affairs. And he talked—telling us that an aunt was digging into ancestral Native roots, that his ties included Native cousins among our classmates we thought “Mexican,” and that his Native family passed down one of the street names in our town. Thoughts that had remained hidden for most of his 80 years.

I told him that when I went back to the fiftieth reunion, I had met Gordon Johnson, enrolled on the Pala Reservation and the author of a collection of newspaper essays called Fast Cars and Fry Bread: Reports from the Rez. A California friend had sent me the book, which intertwines Mexican and Indian stories and peoples in Southern California. I asked Gordon what it was like growing up Indian in the 40s and 50s. “If you were light,” he said, “you passed as ‘white’; if you were dark, you said you were Mexican. Indians were at the bottom of the heap.”

It would have been nice to know that history and the culture and stories of our Native classmates and the many Indian tribes scattered across Southern California when we were in school. Would we have applauded it? Or were we caught in the embrace of a country still trying to get rid of its Native population one way and another, mostly through “assimilation” and the “termination” of Tribes in those Eisenhower years?

Indians today, Natives, Indigenous Americans are speaking up—and the rest of us are listening. To Deb Haaland and National Parks Chief Chuck Sams, to National Endowment for the Arts Director, Shelly Lowe, and we are listening to old friends and classmates who can finally tell their own stories with pride.

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Haaland, Pinkham, and Dworshak Dam

Things are moving so quickly in Indian Country that it is hard to keep up. But I thought that anyone interested in this blog will be especially interested in Interior Secretary Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe, and Jaime Pinkham of the Nez Perce Tribe, came together at Dworshak Dam to celebrate the transferral of the fish hatchery, which was constructed in 1969, and has been co-managed by the tribe for the past 18 years, to the Nez Perce Tribe.Read Rich’s Post →

Biden gets it right (With help from Deb Haaland)!

In today’s paper I read that President Biden reversed Trump yet again, effectively returning to a 2014 policy that forbade the use of antipersonnel landmines in all but the defense of South Korea. It seems that a lot of what Biden does reverses previous government policy. And nowhere as much—or as effectively—as with Indian affairs, where the reversals overturn decades and even centuries of American government policies.Read Rich’s Post →

Boarding Schools and Religion

What do we make of it, the long and sickening stories of abuse of Indian children in boarding schools in Canada and our own country? How can men—mostly men, but some women too—have done these things to children?

My friends raised in California Catholic schools laugh now about a nun who liked to rap knuckles with a yardstick, but even that, the hitting of small children by a grown woman pledged to teach them, seems to reflect more on her perverse personality or the crazy institution that had aligned with it than it does on the children.

Sure, there were and are trouble-making children, kids who bring sad stories from sad homes to school with them every day, and work out their home problems by being nasty to other students or contentious with teacher nuns—or any teachers. And there are kids with “just mean” in them that we struggle to understand. But—as we often say—who and where is the adult?

These men—and some women—worked (work?) for the government and for churches. We hear about the Catholics, but other churches ran schools on and near reservations. In fact, in what my mentor, the historian Alvin Josephy, says is the largest breech of the separation of church and state in US history, President Grant set out to remove corrupt Indian agents, who supervised reservations, and “replace them with Christian missionaries, whom he deemed morally superior.” In his “Peace Policy” of 1868, he took administration of the reservations from the War Department and gave it to the churches.

The missionaries proved no more moral as a group than had the government officials they replaced. Or than decades of adult Boy Scout leaders have proven to be. On November 16, 2020, the National BSA disclosed in their bankruptcy filings that over 92,000 former Scouts had reported sexual abuse by members of the organization. Recent stories from the Southern Baptist Convention admit similar sins among their clergy.

Large groups of children in physical and/or social isolation attract do-gooders—and attract those, consciously or unconsciously intent on cruelty. Some, probably tied to their own violent pasts, or carrying mental problems of one sort and another, and others, in the worst cases, intentionally engaging in the school or church or youth group in order to groom children for their sexual pleasure.

What’s the lesson in this? One is that silence aids and abets, another that sins are reiterated in generations. Silence is more nuanced than one word. Silence is lack of sound, lack of voice, but it is also the willful and fear-induced snuffing out of voices and messages. It can also be banal, like the good German burghers who did not smell the crematoriums, like the child that I was who did not notice the lack of Indians from the nearby White Earth Reservation in my Minnesota school.
We talk now of generational PTSD. Generational misbehavior is the other side of PTSD, the perpetrating rather than suffering side of it—although they are undoubtedly side by side in the real world. The lessons are that violence can beget violence, and that sexual abuse can pass through generations.

The first step in resolution is to know the subject. And we should have known! Books and stories of these boarding school tragedies have been here all along. Years ago, the late Canadian Ojibwe writer, Richard Wagamese, told the Canadian boarding school story in the heart-wrenching novel, Indian Horse. They even made a well-received movie with the same title.

Walter Littlemoon was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1942, the same year I was born in nearby Minnesota. He was taken from his parents into a boarding school when he was five, and, after a life of suffering, told the story in a video, “The Thick Dark Fog.” He’d lived that fog of remembrance for almost 60 years when he began to unburden himself. When I showed the video trailer to college students six or eight years ago, they were outraged. (Google it; it’s still there.)

The “evidence” has been there for us to see and read for years. It took time—and graves found with “new” technology revealing Canada’s sins, to lay open these old sins. New technology sometimes excites us, and makes things more real. But the rising consciousness over the past 20 or 30 years of and by Native Americans—Wagamese and Littlemoon are of course part of this—is probably more critical.

And Deb Haaland, our first Native Secretary of the Interior, is rising to the occasion like a phoenix, appointing study groups, giving press conferences, and visiting the sites of child boarding school graves in America.

Bright lights are the best antidote to secret and nefarious deeds. Now we, the people, must make sure that they stay bright and focused. We need contrition, humility, and, when possible, reparations. We need justice for perpetrators. Counselling, mental health, and compassion yes, but we need the words from those still with us, the secret reports from churches and scout troops. Victims and descendants of victims need healing—and so do the perpetrators and the institutions which enabled them.

(Photo: Chemawa Indian School, 1887)

Help from the Natives

It’s a heavy job to give to Indians—and I use “Indians” here in deference to older tribal people who still use that term comfortably—but I don’t know who else we turn to. Young white men are killing African-Americans and Asian-Americans. Young Blacks are killing each other on the streets, and I don’t know about today but know that in the past Latino and Asian gangs also killed their own.Read Rich’s Post →

It’s the Land!

This weekend “media tycoon” Byron Allen told a TV audience that he now owned the Weather Channel and intended to bid on the Denver Broncos. While the NFL is in a dispute over the lack of Black coaches in the league, Allen intends to be the first African-American owner of an NFL team. NFL rosters have, of course, long been filled with African-American players. The league is more than 60 % Black, but coaches are few, and owners none.

In another, quieter announcement this week, President Joe Biden nominated Harvard University Native American Program Executive Director Shelly C. Lowe to serve as the 12th chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Lowe is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and grew up on an Arizona reservation. The National Endowment for the Humanities is our national institution that celebrates “culture.”Read Rich’s Post →

Indian Wars

In my last post, at the urging of a Nez Perce friend, I compared our nation’s current “longest war” with the wars our government has fought with Indian tribes. The nineteenth century and Indian wars seem a long way away to us now, and the Indians, with many tribes somewhat intact, have been largely missing from the American consciousness for at least that long. The recent revival of Indian histories, based on long hidden, lost, or neglected documents, the Boarding School scandal in Canada, and the recent appointment of Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior have tilted the table in favor of acknowledgments, “land-back” programs, have brought us the voices of Indian scholars.Read Rich’s Post →

More Good News—and old news about President Nixon!

Chuck Sams, Jaime Pinkham, and Deb Haaland Federal Government appointments were my good news last week. It turns out I stopped short in my research into what is going on in the Biden Administration, and made an error regarding government agencies at the same time. Thanks first to my friend Geoff, who advises that:

“The Army Corps of Engineers is within the Department of Defense, not Interior. Mike Connor, who will be the Asst. Secretary of the Army for Civil Works after confirmation… is Native too, Taos Pueblo. Jaime [Pinkham] Acting in his position, will be one rung below him, so both Native. Bob Anderson, also Native, is the Solicitor to Secretary of Interior, a critically important position, was Senate confirmed.”

And friend Elnora caught another of my misses—Brian Newland. Read Rich’s Post →