Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Most Important News Stories in Indian Country during the Past Decade

By Levi Rickert - December 31, 2019 at 07:20PM

At Standing Rock, American Indians were met strong police presence.

Published December 31, 2019

As the decade comes to a close, Native News Online reflects back on the top stories of the past 10 years in Indian Country.

In preparation for this article, Native News Online reached out to several prominent American Indians to tell our readers what stories they thought were the most important. The question was asked: What were the three most important stories in Indian Country during the past decade?

The top three stories were: Standing Rock; the election of Rep. Deb Haaland and Rep. Sharice David, the first two American Indian women ever elected to Congress; and murdered and missing Indigenous women.

Standing Rock

During 2016, Standing Rock became synonymous with the largest public gathering of American Indians in over a century near the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball Rivers in North Dakota. It was at the confluence that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, along with other Sioux tribal nations, resisted the intrusion of Dakota Access oil pipeline onto their ancestral lands.

Similar to other events in history, such as the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island by American Indians or the siege of Wounded Knee in 1973 by the American Indian Movement, Standing Rock became a part of American Indian history that will be remembered for generations to come. What began in the early spring of 2016 with a small spirit prayer camp, by the end of the summer, emerged into an indigenous movement. This indigenous movement brought tens of thousands of American Indians, environmentalists and other allies to Standing Rock to demonstrate their support. The large numbers included people from different indigenous tribes from the Arctic Circle to the tip of South America.

Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock on December 3, 2017. Native News Online photo by Levi Rickert

The impetus of the spirit prayer was residents of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did not want their ancestral sacred grounds disturbed. They feared the oil pipeline would rupture under the water, which would potentially have catastrophic implications on the water source for some 18 million Americans who live downstream from the Missouri River. In addition, the pipeline was slated to be laid through several sacred sites where people of the Sioux nations still use for ceremonial purposes.

A point missed by most of the media during its coverage of Standing Rock was the fact that the original route for the Dakota Access oil pipeline was to be located 10 miles from Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota. Citing the proximity of the Bismarck population, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected the original route. Subsequently, the route was changed for the oil pipeline to come within one-half mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. This route was approved, without proper consultation of tribal leaders, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Veterans at Cannonball, North Dakota on Standing Rock Indian Reservation on Sunday, December 2, 2016.

The Standing Rock indigenous movement was about tribal sovereignty and water rights. “Mni Wiconi,” a Lakota term when translated into English means “Water is Life,” became a rallying cry of Standing Rock indigenous movement. The resisters became known as water protectors.

Tribal nation flags were on display at Standing Rock to show support to opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline.

Seven years before Standing Rock, in November 2009, Dennis Banks, a co-founder of the American Indian Movement, came to Grand Valley State University for “A Conversation with Dennis Banks.” Towards the end of the conversation, he was asked Banks if there would ever be another Wounded Knee. He nodded his head yes and said it would have to do with water protection.

The Standing Rock DAPL resistance was the largest Indian Country movement in decades.

Standing Rock became this generation of American Indians’ Wounded Knee. Even though the Standing Rock camps were closed down in February 2017, the indigenous movement still continues with water protectors resisting oil pipelines at various locations throughout the United States.

Election of Two American Indian Women to Congress

It took over 200 years, so the celebration after the 2018 midterm elections across Indian Country was understandable when Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids were the first two American Indian women elected to Congress. Both are Democrats. Haaland, a tribal citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, was elected to represent New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District and Davids, a tribal citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, was elected in the 3rd Congressional District in Kansas.

The two Native women were part of the wave that elected over 100 women to Congress in 2018, a record number of women. 

Rep. Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo and Rep. Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk)

The significance of the two women is important because they shattered the glass ceiling that has denied other Native women to serve in the House of Representatives. What is notable is they were elected in congressional districts that have small American Indian populations. While Haaland’s New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District has two pueblos, the Pueblo of Laguna and the Sandia Pueblo, the district is mostly in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the population of American Indians is only 3.5 percent. The district in Kansas Davids will represent has an even smaller base of Native voters with only a 1.3 percent in the suburbs of Kansas City.

With those numbers both Haaland and Davids understand they must represent a wide range of constituents in their districts.

“Doubling our representation in Congress from Reps Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullins to Debra Haaland and Sharice Davids broke the glass ceiling and created a path for others to follow,” says Aaron Payment, chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and first vice president of the National Congress of American Indians.

Rep. Sharice Davids watching Rep. Deb Haaland at the Speaker’s seat in Congress.

“Native Americans are not monolithic, but represent different political ideologies. If they support sovereignty and upholding treaty obligations, they deserve our support. We are not D or R but “I” for Indian.”  

The two American Indian women joined two American Indian men as members of Congress. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma – 4th Congressional District) is a tribal citizen of the Chickasaw Nation) and Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma – 2nd Congressional District) is a tribal citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women

5,712. The number is staggering. It is the number of Indigenous women who were murdered or missing in 2016.

Savannah LaFontaine Greywind

One horrendous murder in August 2017 grabbed the attention of the nation. Savanna LaFotaine-Greywind, a 22-year old pregnant tribal citizen of the Spirit Lake Tribe, was abducted and tragically killed in Fargo, North Dakota. The murderer literally cut the baby from Savanna’s womb. Her death was so violent, the medical examiner called her death an unusual case with “two competitive causes of death” – strangulation and loss of blood.

The case resulted in the introduction of federal legislation called the “Savanna’s Act.”

Sadly, American Indian women in the United States face a murder rate ten times higher than the national average, with eighty-four percent experiencing some form of violence in their lifetime.

one with MMIW victim Ashley Loring Heavy Runner

There is still no reliable way of knowing how many Native women go missing each year because the databases that hold statistics of these cases are outdated, and because of a lack of coordination between law enforcement agencies. Savanna’s Act addresses the disturbing increase in murdered and missing Native American women by creating new

“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their own community, but Native American and Alaskan Native women continue to face murder rates that are ten times higher than the national average. It’s heartbreaking cases like Savanna Greywind, Ashlynne Mike, Judith Apache, and countless Native women and their families that are left behind that drive us to work for solutions to the silent crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women. This long-standing epidemic will take time, resources, and dedication to resolve it—and we will find solutions. In this updated version of Savanna’s Act, I worked hard to prioritize the safety of Native women, including urban areas, to protect indigenous women throughout the country,” commented  Congresswoman Haaland, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, when she introduced the legislation on May 14, 2019.

At decade’s end, Savanna’s Act has yet to be passed by Congress.

Other noteworthy stories during the past decade in Indian Country included, President Obama’s holding the White House Tribal Nations Conferences each year of his presidency and the Obama administration settling several cases, such as the Cobell and Keepseagle cases.

The post The Most Important News Stories in Indian Country during the Past Decade appeared first on Native News Online.

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