This Week in Native American News

this week in native news 4/29/16

The American Bison to Become U.S. National Mammal

Two Bison
American Bison, once hunted to near extinction, have made a comeback thanks to the efforts of Yellowstone National Park. Now, they are scheduled to become the national mammal of the United States, similar to the bald eagle in terms of symbolic importance for the nation.

“The bison will serve as a great national symbol for the United States as it is as strong as the oak, fearless as the bald eagle and inspiring as a rose,” says Christian Samper, president of the Wildlife Preservation Society. Read the full article here.

Bison were important to the Plains Indians, and their decimation had a profound effect on the lives of those who depended on the animal for food, clothing, and shelter.

The resurgence of the bison population has also led to the animal being reintroduced onto multiple reservations in recent years, such as the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota in 2012 and the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana just last month.

Oklahoma Politician Apologizes for Comments About Native Americans and Alcoholism

Todd Russ apologizes to Native Americans
Oklahoma's Todd Russ makes apology. Photo courtesy of

Oklahoma State Representative Todd Russ made a public apology this week after offending Native Americans with comments that referenced their genetic predisposition to alcoholism, which he stated while discussing a change to alcohol laws in Oklahoma convenience stores. Read the full story here.

These comments stem from the "Firewater Fairytale" that states that when Colonists introduced alcohol to early Native Americans, they simply weren't able to handle alcohol - their genetic makeup is to blame. This belief has been disproven on numerous occasions (here's one).

The real reason for rampant alcoholism and drug use among native communities?
"Addiction prefers to hit people who are already hurting. The more trauma and social exclusion a child experiences, the greater the addiction risk. This creates a vicious cycle: addiction itself becomes a reason for even more rejection, prejudice, and maltreatment," states Maia Szalavitz. Read the full article here.

Sound familiar? We've stated it before. The nations need healing, and they need it with a Christ-centered approach.

Why Don't Native Americans Just Move off the Reservation?

first nations home
Neskantaga First Nation is home to Canada's longest-standing boil water advisory. (Martine Laberge/Radio-Canada)

There has been so much news about the quality of life for native and indigenous people, particularly those on reservations, that the question is, "Why don't they just move?"

CBC News asked three people from Attawapiskat (currently in a state of emergency for their suicide crisis) why they don't leave. Read their answers here.

Which brings up the next question: are reservations any better than they were a decade ago? Has life improved in Indian Country? Laura Santhanam of the PBS News Hour says "the unmet needs of 10 years ago are still unmet."  Thirteen years ago, the US Commission on Civil Rights released a report entitled, A Quiet Crisis: Federal Funding and Unmet Needs in Indian Country, 113 pages of research and history outlining the needs of Native Americans in the US. 

Let's just say: we have a lot of work to do! At Lutheran Indian Ministries, however, we don't think more federal funding is the answer. Instead, we want to raise up dedicated leaders, who follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and help them to lead their own villages to a better future.

Native Language Brought Back from the Dead

This article wasn't in the news this week, but it's still relevant. 

In 1930, there were only two Chitimatcha Indians who still spoke their native language, and when they died, so did the language for half a century. But recently, the language has been revived thanks to recordings of those two Chitimatcha elders. In 2008, the tribe partnered with Rosetta Stone to create a learning tool for the reservations' children (and adults).
 "The kids even make up slang that baffles adult ears, a sure sign that the language is doing well—and hopefully will continue to thrive, into the next generation and beyond." Read the full story here.

Though this article is a year old, it is representative of a growing trend among native nations. The Wampanoag of Massachusetts, the Inupiaq of Alaska, and the Lakota of South Dakota are just a few of the tribes working to revitalize their traditional tongue.

By why are native languages so important? Aside from it being a piece of the people. their culture. and their greater identity, which should be reason enough, native languages can enrich the lives of everyone.

I'm sure you've heard that the Eskimos have over 100 different words for snow, which isn't entirely accurate, but the Inupiaq do have some great words, like Uaałukitaaqtuq, "which describes the feeling of being 'in a boat, and the waves are rocking you back and forth,'" Alaskan Native poet Joan Naviyuk Kane said.

Languages have always influenced each other, and to lose one means a lost opportunity to enrich our own lives and to better understand another culture. I, for one, am going to start incorporating that Inupiaq word into my own vocabulary (as soon as I can figure out how to pronounce it!).

Need Something Unique for Your Next Date Night?

Still photo from Children of the Arctic Movie
Check out these gorgeous beaded shoes by Shoshone-Bannock/Luiseno artist, Jamie Okuma, currently living on the La Jolla Indian reservation in Pauma Valley, California.

Beaded onto high-end fashion footwear (think Versace and Valentino), she has created a beautiful mix of modern and traditional.
“With my work, people can see what actual native design looks like,” Okuma said. “I’m drawn to ultra-expensive [styles] and creative shapes. I don’t use new forms of beadwork, but technique-wise, there’s a lot of new ways I’ve been forced to create.”  Read the full article here.

Most of Okuma's shoes are now on display at prominent museums.

Watch Something Educational This Weekend

Still photo from Children of the Arctic Movie
We have a couple great movies for your viewing pleasure, all of which will also educate you on Indigenous cultures.

Check them out and lets us know what you think!

Children of the Arctic - A year-in-the-life portrait of Native youth coming of age at the Arctic edge of America (or any of these PBS films)

If you have Netflix: Reel Injun - Here’s a sobering yet humorous documentary by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond, which looks at the history of Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans—from the exoticization to the downright violent and ridiculous; from the glory days of silent movies to the less-than-savory John Wayne Westerns—all the way to recent exciting developments in Indian American film culture.

Songs My Brothers Taught Me - Set on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, "Songs" explores the bond between a brother and his younger sister, who find themselves on separate paths to rediscovering the meaning of home. (Only in select theaters, but you can sign up to get an email when it comes to DVD)

Or try any of these suggested movies: 11 Essential Native American Films You Can Watch Online Right Now