Presidents Day Resonates Differently Among American Indians
Throughout Indian Country, the annual commemoration of two of the nation's most honored presidents generates more than a few sighs and eye-rolls. What? The revered "Father of His Country" and "The Great Emancipator" have naysayers (outside the neo-Confederate revisionists who view Abraham Lincoln as a dictator)? Yes.
Depiction of mass hanging of 38 Sioux at Mankato, Minn., on Dec. 26, 1862
If you ask American Indians who they think the worst president was, the most common response is likely to be Andrew Jackson. The guy who peers out at us after every visit to an ATM was the president who enforced Indian removal to what is now Oklahoma, fought three wars against Indians and ordered another and whose impact can still be felt in the ethnically cleansed South and most western of the states east of the Mississippi.
After that, it becomes tougher. So what of the George Washington and Abraham Lincoln?
During the Revolutionary War, Washington instructed his subordinates to attack Iroquois stating, "lay waste all the settlements around ... that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed" and do not "listen to any overture of peace before the total ruin of their settlements is effected." Four years later, he compared Indians with wolves: "Both being beast of prey, tho' they differ in shape." During the destruction of 28 of the 30 Seneca towns, his troops skinned dead Indians' bodies "from the hips downward to make boot tops or leggings." Survivors called Washington "Town Destroyer." (From David E. Stannard's American Holocaust).
Lincoln had been a railroad lawyer before he became president, and he felt that the eventual success of the "Iron Horse" in the West would depend upon resolving the Indian "situation." That was code for removing, exterminating and corralling Indians onto reservations. In Minnesota, where the Sioux had long clamored for the 1.4 million acres they had been promised in exchange for giving up 23 million acres, tensions bubbled over in 1862 and white settlers came under attack. Lincoln's advisors and the president himself thought this was perhaps an uprising engineered by the South, speculation that was soon known to be false. So bad was the "situation" that Lincoln contemplated sending up to 10,000 Rebel POWs under Union command so that his generals could "Attend to the Indians." When it was over some 500 whites and more than a 1000 Sioux were dead. Lincoln ordered the public hanging of 39 Santee Sioux (one was reprieved). This took place on Dec. 26, 1862, the largest mass execution in U.S. history. See The Other Civil War: Lincoln and the Indians by David A. Nichols.
Further West, in 1863-64, Lincoln ordered attacks on the Navajo by Brig. Gen. James H. Carlton and his subordinate, Col. Christopher "Kit" Carson. They invaded and burned crops, raped, murdered and otherwise reigned terror on the Navajo and Mescalero Apache. Carleton had added incentive for his action, believing there was gold in the area. In his "General Order Number 15," he told Carson to tell the Navajo: "This war will be pursued against you if it takes years until you cease to exist or move." Subsequently, the Navajo were force-marched 300 miles to Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico. More than 200 Navajos died on this march, the eventual toll of the evacuation and ensuring captivity ending in death for some 2,000.
Teddy Roosevelt gets a thumbs down. He would have been an "Indian fighter" on the frontier had he moved West earlier, but his attitude was clear. America's extermination of the Indians "was ultimately beneficial as it was inevitable," he once said. "I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn't like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth"
Dwight Eisenhower gets a "Fail" for his support of laws that eventually led to the termination of more than 100 Indian tribes.
So if these were bad presidents, who among Indians is most admired? At Indian Country Today Media Network, Rob Capriccioso presents a list that includes a few names that may surprise some people:
Richard M. Nixon: Guided by his Indian affairs advisor Louis R. Bruce (Mohawk), Nixon endorsed a plan for "Self-determination ... without the threat of eventual termination." Several laws emerged from that over-reaching policy, including the 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act that gave the tribes more control of their own economies.
Barack Obama: The "One Who Helps People Throughout the Land" (his adopted Crow name) has pushed the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the Tribal Law and Order Act and the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement. He's institutionalized an annual White House Tribal Nations summit and hired several Indians to posts throughout his administration.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: As part of the New Deal, there was an Indian New Deal that included the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. That effectively repealed several laws, including the infamous Dawes Act of 1887, and restored ownership of unallocated lands to the tribes. Congress eventually overrode some of the original intent of the law by weakening tribal governance and allowing the Bureau of Indians Affairs to continue its "supervision.
Bill Clinton: He hired many Indians to work in his administration. He issued an executive order requiring tribal consultation that strengthened Indian sovereignty via government-to-government relationship between Washington and the tribes. He apologized to Native Hawaiians for the coup that overthrew their government.
George H.W. Bush: He signed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act into law in 1990 and proclaimed 1992 the "Year of the American Indian."
Jimmy Carter: He signed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act into law in 1979, saying, "It is a fundamental right of every American, as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution, to worship as he or she pleases."
The Last Speaker of Siletz Dee-Ni Helps Launch Talking Dictionaries
Bud Lane, the last speaker of Siletz Dee-Ni
(Photo courtesy of Ecotrust)
Alfred "Bud" Lane is the last fluent speaker of Siletz Dee-Ni. The Confederated Tribes of the Siletz, a federally recognized confederation of 27 bands, originally living ranging from northern California to southern Washington. In 1855, they were confined on a small reservation on the central Oregon coast. The Siletz, like most other American Indian cultures, suffers from the impact of the government's assimilation orders that forced the tribe's youth in the late 1800s and early 1900s into boarding schools and forbade them from speaking their native language. Those generations endured the resulting ethnic shame and chose not to teach their language to their offspring in order for them to survive in the dominant culture and avoid at least some aspects of discrimination. The generations that followed them spoke only English. A rare few carried on their native tongues.
The Athabaskan-based Siletz Dee-Ni is one of many American Indian languages that faces extinction, a moribund language, according to linguists. Siletz Dee-Ni has been designated one of 20 endangered language hotspots in the world by Greg Anderson and David Harrison at the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages and rated in the most severe category. "Language Hotspots are areas that are urgently in need of action and should be the areas of highest priority in planning future research projects and channeling funding streams."
An interactive world map of these hotspots is featured at National Geographic's Disappearing Languages and Enduring Voices page.
Greg Anderson with "Bud" Lane,
recording Siletz Dee-Ni for the Talking Dictionary Project
(Photo courtesy of the Living Tongues Institute
for Endangered Languages)
As language defines a culture, measures are now being taken to keep native tongues alive to preserve our rich and precious identities. The Talking Dictionary project has produced eight audible banks of vocabulary worldwide, the Siltez Dee-Ni 12,000-word version is here. You can enter an English word and the Siltez Dee-Ni equivalent is produced, along with usage examples. "Bud" Lane's voice is used in the recordings.
In 2005 language classes were set up in the Siletz Valley School classrooms for all tribal members. The goal is a reversal of the moribund language label by extending the language to new generations of Siletz Dee-Ni. This is one more element in the effort to recruit elders into our reservation schools to resuscitate our dying languages. See the Feb. 12 edition of FNN&V for an article titled "American Indian Elders Incorporated into Learning Curriculum at Schools."
Another new development on the language front is a new app that hit the iTunes store Jan. 20. The app features translations of words for animals in four American Indian languages-Diné (Navajo), Lakota (Sioux), Mvskoke (Muscogee Creek) and Ponca.
The app has been criticized by some for being too elementary. But the developers at Native American Public Telecommunications have responded by saying it's merely a beginning. They plan to add to the number of words featured and also open the coding to tribes so the app can be expanded to other languages.
The app is free and can be found by searching "Native Language App" in the iTunes store.
The Cherokee Phoenix reports that the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair will be held April 2-3. 'The fair is an annual competition held for Native students from throughout the state. In 2011, more than 600 students spoke 32 Native American languages during the fair at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.' Participants from preschool to high school demonstrate their skills through spoken language, songs, poster art, films, essays and presentations. The theme for poster art is "Language in My Heart."
Colorado state Sen. Suzanne Williams
(Photo courtesy of The Aurora Sentinel)
In Colorado, state Sen. Suzanne Williams, (Comanche) (D-Aurora), is sponsoring Senate Bill 57 that would allow schools to hire teachers without licenses-tribal elders, for example-to instruct students in Native languages, including Comanche, Ute and Navajo. "The proposal is still at the beginning stages of the lawmaking process and was heard on the Senate floor on Feb. 22 after being passed unanimously by the Senate Education Committee. The bill hadn't been heard on the Senate floor by FNN&V press time. There was no opposition testimony at the committee hearing."
Some Colorado school districts have as many as 250 American Indian students, enough, it is believed, to help revitalize the different tribes' cultures if they receive the right assistance through such hiring.
All these developments in revitalizing our languages is encouraging.
Federal 2013 Budget Holds Steady for Indian Affairs
The Obama administration proposes to spend $2.5 billion in the next fiscal year to meet the government's responsibilities to the 566 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. This is a drop of only $4.6 million over 2012. But there has been considerable shuffling of budget items.
Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Larry EchoHawk
Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Larry EchoHawk (Pawnee) said:
"The budget request maintains President Obama's commitment to strengthening tribal nations by making targeted increases in Indian Affairs programs that support tribal self-determination in managing BIA-funded programs, increase public safety in tribal communities by strengthening police capabilities, improve the administration of tribal land, mineral, timber and other trust resources and advance Indian education. Indian Affairs is sensitive to the need for achieving greater results at a lower cost, and the proposed budget reflects the tough choices that will make us more cost efficient in carrying out our missions."
A key concern is violent crime on some reservations, and the president has pledged to push various initiatives to deal with it. In that regard, the budget includes $353.9 million for Bureau of Indian Affairs Law Enforcement with a targeted boost of $11 million to enable the BIA to improve its recruitment and hiring of law enforcement officers and detention center staff.
Included within that line item is $24.6 million for tribal courts to support the enhanced capabilities given to them in the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009 and an expansion of the two-year-old program to reduce crime on the four reservations with the highest violent crime rates. Overall, that program, which put more police officers and better equipment on the chosen reservations brought about a 35 percent combined reduction in violent crime. Two additional reservations will be added to the program.
Also in the proposed budget:
• $43.8 million in "nation-to-nation relationships" (up $12.3 million)
• $3.5 million in increased funding for land and water claim settlements
• $15.4 million for Rights Protection Implementation to support implementation of federal court orders resulting from decisions in off-reservation treaty rights litigation with additional funding for: the Tribal Management Development Program for management of on-reservation fish and game programs; participation of the BIA and tribes in landscape conservation cooperatives; the control of invasive species; various tribal forestry programs
• Trust Services (up $5.5 million) to support the BIA's responsibilities of trust services, probate and land titles and records, and an additional $1.5 million to assist tribes in protecting trust resources.
• $796.1 million for Bureau of Indian Education schools (an increase of $653,000 above the 2012 level), which includes specific increases for tribal colleges and universities, for teaching workplace skills, and scholarships for adult education and post-secondary schools
• $36.3 million for BIA Land and Water Claim Settlements to fund pacts that help deliver clean drinking water to Indian communities and provide certainty to water users across the West.
Increases in the budget of some items are covered by decreases in others, particularly management, informational technology, building new schools and the Indian Student Equalization Program (reflecting a decline in student population and the Indian Guaranteed Loan Program.
Energy Department OKs $6.5 Million for Tribal Clean Energy Projects
(Photo by Randy Montoya, Sandia Labs)
Since 2002, the Department of Energy's Tribal Energy Program has provided $36 million to 159 tribal energy projects. The DOE has now added $6.5 million for 19 more projects.
In a press release, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said:
"As President Obama highlighted in the State of the Union, the administration is committed to building an American economy that lasts and leverages our nation's clean energy resources," said Secretary Chu. "The awards announced will help tribes across the country advance a sustainable energy future for their local communities, spur economic development, and advance innovative clean energy technologies."
Consistent with the administration's approach of consulting with Indians rather than handing down ready-made solutions with little or no tribal input, in the past year the DOE has set up the Indian Country Energy Infrastructure Working Group and begun programs that provide technical assistance and give Indian youth a chance to learn skills in energy development, financing and construction.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the new money goes to feasibility studies instead of actual projects. They are:
• 13 projects funded at $3.6 million to assess the technical and economic viability of developing generate utility-scale power from renewable sources or study the feasibility of installing renewable energy systems on buildings to reduce energy use by 30 percent.
• $1.7 million for pre-construction development of four renewable energy projects activities. Three of these would each provide a generating capacity of 250 megawatts. The fourth would reduce by 80 percent the need for diesel fuel used in heating, about or 9600 gallons annually.
• $1.3 million for two renewable energy projects that will convert waste and other biomass capable of generating 5 megawatts of electricity from municipal solid waste and using cordwood for heating, thus saving between 2,500 and 3,200 gallons of propane
• Indian Reservations See More Violence But Fewer Federal Prosecutions: Violent crime rates on the 310 Indian reservations in the United States have violent crime rates of more than two and a half times the national average. But the Justice Department files charges in only about half of reservation murder investigations and turns down nearly two-thirds of sexual assault cases. American Indian women are 10 times more like to be murdered than other Americans.
-Meteor Blades with h/t Bill in MD
• Headline Writers Still Go for the Offensive: In a story about the Seneca Nation of New York's objections to the state's new gambling initiatives on the grounds that violate a 2002 compact with the tribe, the New York Post headline writer apparently fell back on movie Westerns for inspiration: Seneca Nation on warpath.
• Alaskan Natives Cast in Movie Now Playing in Major Theaters: Ahmaogak Sweeney, (Inupiat) age 10 and John Pingayak (Chup'ik) are featured as grandson and grandfather in Big Miracle, a true story about a dramatic rescue to save a family of majestic gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle.
• Appeals Court Rules Against Wyoming's Attempt to Dilute Indian Votes: The court upheld a lower court decision saying that Fremont County's "hybrid" voting districts had been "devised solely for the purpose of segregating citizens into separate voting districts on the basis of race without sufficient justification."
• Hearing Set in S.D. for Convicted Killer of Anna Mae Aquash: On March 19, the South Dakota Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on John Graham's appeal of his 2010 conviction for the 1975 murder of American Indian Movement activist Annie Mae Aquash. Grahan (Southern Tutchone) was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to life in prison last year.
Indians have often been referred to as the "Vanishing Americans." But we are still here, entangled each in his or her unique way with modern America, blended into the dominant culture or not, full-blood or not, on the reservation or not, and living lives much like the lives of other Americans, but with differences related to our history on this continent, our diverse cultures and religions, and our special legal status. To most other Americans, we are invisible, or only perceived in the most stereotyped fashion.
First Nations News & Views is designed to provide a window into our world, each Sunday reporting on a small number of stories, both the good and the not-so-good, and providing a reminder of where we came from, what we are doing now and what matters to us. We wish to make it clear that neither navajo nor I make any claim whatsoever to speak for anyone other than ourselves, as individuals, not for the Navajo people or the Seminole people, the tribes in which we are enrolled as members, nor, of course, the people of any other tribes.