Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Red Lake: "Today, I speak as a father."

From Floyd Jourdain, the Red Lake Tribal Chairman

"Last week I spoke on behalf of the Red Lake Nation as its leader and a saddened member of this community. Today, I speak as a father. As many of you are aware, my son Louis has been charged in association with the shootings that occurred here last week. My heart is heavy as a result of the tragic events that unfolded here at our Nation. But it is with optimism that I state my son Louis' innocence. He is a good boy with a good heart who never harmed anyone in his entire life. I know my son and he is incapable of committing such an act."

Read the rest of his statement at http://www.floydjourdain.com/

Red Lake Update II

All from Indianz.com

" The worst incident of school-related violence took an unusual turn on Monday with the disclosure that the son of Red Lake Nation Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. has been arrested and charged in connection with last week's deadly shootings."

Read article here.

"Breaking five days of silence on the worst incident of school-related violence since Columbine, President Bush dedicated part of his weekly radio address on Saturday to the shootings at the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota.

"The remarks came after Bush made a five-minute call to Red Lake Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. on Friday morning. It was his first direct contact with an official from the tribe since "one of the darkest and most painful occurrences in the history of our tribe," as Jourdain said just hours after the shootings.

"Bush's silence contrasted with former President Bill Clinton's speedy response to the incident in Columbine, Colorado, that left 15 dead in 1999. And it was markedly different from his decision to break his vacation in Texas to go back to the White House and sign unprecedented legislation that allowed federal court intervention in the case of Terry Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman."

Five days to respond? And then we get a five minute phone call? That's it? Too little, too late, Mr. President. But when have you ever cared about Indians?

Read article here.

Someone told me that a bald eagle flew over during a funeral at Red Lake and the newscasters at CNN were astounded. Everyone else expected it. That makes me smile.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Red Lake Update

Kent Nerburn, a former teacher at Red Lake High School, has a good blog entry called "A Message to Journalists about the Red Lake Tragedy".


If you would like to donate to the Red Lake Memorial Fund, you may do so at

Red Lake Nation Memorial Fund
P.O. Box 574
Red Lake, Minnesota 56671

Red Lake Net News also reports the following:

Red Lake Memorial Fund
Friends and family members have established a fund for
the victims of the Red Lake shootings and their families.
Donations can be made at any Wells Fargo Bank to the
Red Lake Band of Chippewa Memorial Fund.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Urban Indians on the Radio

Native America Calling, a live one-hour call-in show talking about the goings on in Indian Country, will host a show about Urban Indians this Friday, March 25th. Here's the official blurb:

"According to the last census figures, approximately 60% of individuals who identify themselves either as Native American or Alaska Native reside off reservations and villages. Whatever the reason may be, many Natives choose to call cities like New York, Denver, Minneapolis or Los Angeles home. But wherever these Native people live, they face many of the same issues as Natives who live on their reservations. Now several Urban Indians across the country are organizing a group they hope will help address the issues of Urban Indians. Guests to be announced."

You can check to see if NAC plays in your area or you can listen to this show via the internet by going to


Click on the green button the left hand side that says "Listen to Live Radio".

The show airs live on Friday, March 25th form 1pm-2pm.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Red Lake Shooting

The most recent school shooting has happened on the Red Lake Reservation in Northern Minnesota. Jeff Weise, a sophmore at Red Lake High School, shot 24 people. Ten have died, including Jeff himself. It is the worst incident of school violence since Columbine, where fifteen died and 23 were wounded.

I've been reading the news reports, from CNN.com and nytimes.com and some of the local smaller Minnesota papers. Indianz.com has a summary of all the current articles on the shooting.

The thing that struck me the most about Jeff Weise was his reported interest and admiration for Hitler. Not the sort of thing you would expect to find in a Native kid living on a rez. He was a poster on the nazi.org website under the name "NativeNazi" and "Todesengel". He has a Hitler quote in his .sig and he has one post admiring Charles Manson's philosophy. Although I will say both the quote and the philosophy seem rather mundane when you read them without knowing who wrote them (follow link above). Ah, the seduction of words when the actions they inspire are not taken into account.

He also posted on a "Native American For Nationalists from 'Native American'/'Indian' tribes" forum, but that info, according to Indianz.com, cannot be retrieved.

I admit I am left even more curious in reading his postings. He seems like a nice normal kid, with a sense of humor and intellectual curiosity. I want to know what was going on in his head that made his go on this murderous self-destructive shooting spree.

He was only a sophmore in high school, but his life had been difficult. He had lost his father to suicide, his mother to brain damage resulting from a car accident. He was living in a rural population where 40% of the people live below the poverty line. He was, by some accounts, a "goth-kid, loner" - but not so unusual for Indian kids, including myself. What drew him to neo-nazi philosophies? Was it the nationalist rhetoric? He is quoted as saying "I guess I've always carried a natural admiration for Hitler and his ideals, and his courage to take on larger nations." How that turned into the belief that he should kill his grandfather and companion and then go to school and apparently randomly shoot 24 people, and finally himself, we will probably never know.

It is a heartbreaking mystery to me, and I can only feel sorrow at the wasted life.

I think also, there is a perception that this sort of school violence is a white problem. Clyde Bellecourt, founder of the Minneapolis-based American Indian Movement, is quoted as saying: "Everyone in the Indian community is feeling really bad right now, whether they're a member of the Red Lake or not, we're all an extended family, we're all related. Usually this happens in places like Columbine, white schools, always somewhere else. We never hear that in our community."

But his brother Vernon points out the obvious: "No one would ever think that that type of violence would visit itself in our communities, it's not part of our culture and our traditions, so we're kind of puzzled by it all. But our young people are not exempt from the same problems young people have across the country, so our communities are now being victimized by this same kind of violence."

Monday, March 21, 2005

Courts Consider Cell Block Spirituality

Good news for Indians incarcerated in Nebraska. The U.S. District Judge Court recently ruled that they may practice traditional ceremonies, including the right to "have two powwows a year and use traditional foods such as fry bread, corn and 'berry dish' in their ceremonies.[..]The inmates agreed not to use tobacco which is banned in prison but will use chinshasha, which is made from the bark of red willow trees, as a substitute." (I never knew powwows and fry bread where traditional, but that doesn't diminish their point.)

Considering how important one's religion is and how hard many Native prisoners have fought for the right to worship in a traditional way, this ruling is a positive sign. And on the pragmatic side, it seems like the practice of one's chosen religion in prison faciliates the rehabilitation process, including "reductions in alcoholism and anti-social behavior, decreased recidivism rate, and improved self-esteem and dignity".

In a related case, Jason at The Wild Hunt writes today that the Supreme Court is hearing a case involving religious rights from minority and/or controversial pagan religions from inmates in Ohio. Folks over there don't seem to be very optimistic that that ruling will be positive.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Of Chiefs, Braves and Redskins

It's that most wonderful time of the year again. The college basketball championship tournament, affectionately referred to as March Madness by fans around the country, starts today. And if you are a fan, you'll know that Illinois is the number one team in the country, losing only one game during the regular season. Going into the tournament, Illinois is the favorite to win the national title.

But Illinois sports is in the news for a more dubious reason as well: their mascot. (see photo)

The issue of Indian mascots is a long fought battle that I quite honestly can't even believe continues. Shouldn't the mascot issue be an open and shut case? Shouldn't mascots like "Redskins" and "Braves" and silly degrading minstrel-like half-time shows featuring white people dressed up in the equivalent of Indian black-face, wearing feathers and facepaint and whooping and dancing, been long ago dropped as racist, insulting drivel? Shouldn't it?

Not according to some ESPN.com fans, whose level of ignorance and internet-fuled bravado knows no bounds. Despite the psychological considerations that argue the detrimental effect of these mascots, especially on kids, and despite the fact that Native Americans have said repeatedly that they find no honor in the likes of Chief Illiniwek and that "Redskins" is a slur on par with the N-word - and no one who values their life would name their team something like that - some people still insist that the furor over Indian mascots is a politically-correct ado about nothing.

So maybe Illinois will win the national championship (although my money's on the University of North Carolina). But I'd be much more impressed if Illinois woke up to the 21st century and proved itself to be a public instutition of higher learning worthy of respect by dropping "The Chief" as its mascot.

Monday, March 14, 2005

What You Pawn I Will Redeem

Short Story Half-Hour With Sherman Alexie, featuring "What You Pawn I Will Redeem".

Make a pot of coffee or tea, wrap up in a comfortable blanket, and read one of my favorite short stories.

"One day you have a home and the next you don’t, but I’m not going to tell you my particular reasons for being homeless, because it’s my secret story, and Indians have to work hard to keep secrets from hungry white folks.

I’m a Spokane Indian boy, an Interior Salish, and my people have lived within a hundred-mile radius of Spokane, Washington, for at least ten thousand years. I grew up in Spokane, moved to Seattle twenty-three years ago for college, flunked out after two semesters, worked various blue- and bluer-collar jobs, married two or three times, fathered two or three kids, and then went crazy."


Friday, March 11, 2005

Survey says..."lil teepees and straw houses"

So I was searching for something today and came across this poll in another blog. (I did try to post my own answers, but got an error message, so if someone from the original blog comes across this post, feel free to comment in the comments section or email me. I'd love to hear from you.)

The answers are somewhat predictable, and a few are disturbing. Some folks did manage to give decent answers, so I won't go all militant on them, but let's take a look:

Q #1. Name Five Famous American Indians: typical answers were Sitting Bull, Sacajawea, Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Pocahontis, Red Cloud, Chief Joseph, etc. (I kept their spellings)

Answers gets 1 of 5. This gets a bad rating because all these people have been dead for generations. What, there are no famous Indians from this century? This perpetuates the stereotype that Indians are a thing of the past and not a present and vibrant people now. They do get one point because Crazy Horse, Red Cloud and Geronimo were badasses, and there were two women consistently on the list.

But a better list would have read something like :Leonard Peltier, Tex Hall, Wilma Mankiller, Russell Means, John Trudell, Chris Eyre, Sherman Alexie, N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Silko, Ella Carla Deloria, Vine Deloria..you get the picture. To the bloggers' credit, they did get Jim Thorpe, Ira Hayes, and Graham Greene. Someone even said Cher. Cher? I always thought she was Armenian. (?)

Q #2. Name some qualities that you would associate with American Indians: By far the most common answers were "proud" and "spiritual", but to cover both ends of the spectrum, we also got some "respectful" and "drunk".

Answers gets 3 of 5. They are OK answers, but pretty stereotypical. Positive stereotypes are better than negative ones, but they are still stereotypes. Using them does not allow the person in question to be fully human.

Q #3. What do you think about the future of American Indians?: Hey, that's a pretty good question! And the answers were mixed. We got "I see the American Indian going the way of the Samurai", "it doesnt look good".

Answers get 4 out of 5. OK, the Samurai thing is silly and dramatic, and some of the opinions just show an ignorance of things in Indian Country, but overall the answers were pretty good. My favorite answer was "Same as mine".

Q #4. Where do you think Indians live?: Best answers were "Live? they live in houses. I would imagine just like everyone else.." and "eerie music plays in the background:: 'They live among us…'".

Answers get 4 out of 5. Most were good, even clever, like the ones above. But we also see "arizona,nevada,places where the desert is in there lil teepees and straw houses". That person brought down the whole group with that stupid answer. Let's hope that was a joke, eh?

Q #5. What do you think they wear?: Most rightly said clothes and thought this was a silly question.

Answers get 5 out of 5.

Q #6. Name three things from their culture that you have heard of and explain it the way you understand it: Every single answer mentions either something religious or tobacco oriented. I was a little dismayed to see so much "spiritual" stuff. I would have liked to see more industry and innovation, inventions and artwork mentioned. One blogger did mention traditional crops, but what about boat building; Anasazi and Pueblo architecture; various tribal art like jewelry, paintings, pottery, stitching and weaving; contributions to medicine, botany, geometry, astronomy, etc.

Answers get 1 out of 5.

Q #6. Do you know the difference between a clan and a tribe, please explain?: This seemed like a weird question to me. I wouldnt expect good answers on this one, and the understanding of clan membership varies according to tribes. Overall, the answers were OK, but special bad award goes for this answer: "Clan, from what I know, seems to be a group of individuals who give up just that, their individuality, and believe in a ONE idea, and a ONE God/Leader. Giving up all they are for that one belief."

I think he means "cult".

Answers get 4 out of 5.

So that's my take. Bad in some places, but decent in others. Now the question becomes, how would you have done? Be honest.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Black Cloud

Black Cloud opens tomorrow in Selected Cities. I know it is showing at the Loews Cineplex State in NYC. Check to see if it is showing in your city.

Here's the description from IMDB:

"Black Cloud, is an inspirational story about a young Navajo, Native American boxer, who overcomes personal challenges as he comes to terms with his heritage, while fighting his way for a spot on the US Olympic boxing team."

Since I am a complete sucker for inspirational sports movies and Eddie Spears, who plays the starring role, I will be seeing it. It also stars Russell Means and Tim McGraw (is that last one a good thing?) and is written and directed by Rick Schroeder. Yes, Silver Spoons fans, Rick Schroeder. And I know he's done a lot of things since Silver Spoons, including a nice stint on the now defunt NYPD Blue. But I'll always think of him first as little Ricky Stratton.

Review will follow next week.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Congress, on Indian Country

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and recently laid out what he thought were the top concerns from Indian Country in front of Congress this session.

- The Federal Budget: Under Bush's new 2006 budget more that $200 million dollars were cut from Indian programs, including education, housing and health care. McCain refers to these cuts as "self-defeating" and "not good". You think?

- The Trust Fund scandal/Cobell v. Norton: The sum up: Since the late 19th centurty the federal government has held in trust billions of dollars that belong to Native Americans and their families. This includes revenues for land sales, as well as mining, grazing, and timber rights, etc. The fund has been grossly mismanaged and the Indians have not received the monies owed to them. The suit that was filed in 1996, Cobell v. Norton, has yet to be settled, even though the lower courts have ruled in their favor. Read the details here.

- Off-Reservation Gaming: Should tribes be able to have casinos and other gaming off their reservations? What about out of state? Should the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe, based in Oklahoma but claiming ancestral lands in New York, be able to build casino in New York? Was this the intent of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act or have some tribes overstepped their bounds? Will the backlash be significant and potentially damaging? Debate continues.

- The Abramoff/Delay Scandal (see NOW video) :Jack Abramoff, a DC lobbyist and Michael Scanlon, a PR man, both with ties to Tom Delay (and Ralph Reed) stand accused of bilking over $82 million dollars from Indian tribes who hired them to work on their behalfs in Washington, pushing their gaming interests. Instead of lobbying for their clients, they referred to the Indians as "morons", "monkeys" and "losers", and each man personally pocketed $21 million dollars for themselves, prompting Senator Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND) to call their activities "a cesspool of greed, a disgusting pattern, certainly, of moral corruption, possibly of criminal corruption...a pathetic, disgusting example of greed run amok." Indeed! Hearings continue.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Before you buy that Dream Catcher...

..check to make sure it wasn't made in Vietnam. Because the enforcement of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act just experienced a setback. (Read case here.)

"The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-644) is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States."*

And lest you think we are talking about small potatoes here, a doll at a powwow or a fetish at the flea market, the Indian Arts market is a $1 billion dollar industry. Yes, $1 billion dollars. That's a lot of turquoise jewelry.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Dancin', Dreamin', Prayin' and Fightin'

I've gotten a few inquiries about Indian movies, so I present to you my highly subjective and arbitrary list of the top 5 Native American movies you've probably never seen. This list is subject to change, and if you've got a movie that I missed and you think worthy of my unofficial list, leave it in the comments and I will consider it.

I think we've all seen Smoke Signals. If you haven't then go rent it right now. It is the contemporary Indian movie sine qua non. It is poetic at times, laugh out loud funny at others, and crying into your kleenex at others. It hits sweeping moments of storytelling and resonates with issues everyone faces when it comes to their fathers. It's also just a buddy/road movie.

So now that's I've made the obligatory mention of everyone's favorite Indian movie, on to my list of the ones you've never seen.

1. The Business of Fancydancing - This is Sherman Alexie's directoral debut and a surprisingly challenging film. Smoke Signals it aint and I say that's a good thing. The plot centers around two friends who grew up together on the rez and after high school go their separate ways. The death of a mutual friend brings them together again where they face each other, their memories, their futures and what it means to be an Indian in contemporary society. I love that the protagonist is gay - how many gay Indians do we get to see? I like Alexie's modern choppy narrative style, littered with improvisational conversations between the characters and snippets of his own poetry. What might seem pretentious in other movies works effectively here.

2. In the Light of Reverence - A documentary about three sacred places and the conflict that surrounds them as the Indian communities and the White communities clash over their approach to the land. The documentary moves along well and some of the lines, particularly by the White folks, are so outrageous that you have to laugh. Or at least, you laugh because if you didn't you'd cry. It can be a little depressing, but then I think it sheds some much needed light on both points of view on the issue. Unfortunately, and I warn you now, Indians are losing most of these battles to protect sacred lands.

3.Dreamkeeper - Not a movie per se, but a Canadian miniseries. An intergenerational road movie is the framework for a wonderful visually vivid retelling of Native American myths. Myths are explored from a number of tribes and cultures, and we are shown how they apply to the lives we live today, and the importance of keeping these stories alive. Definitely long, but worth the viewing. Starring Eddie Spears, whose upcoming movie Black Cloud opens next Friday. I'll talk more about it in a separate post.

4. Incident at Oglala - Another documentary. This is the story of AIM in the 1970's and specifically the murder charges and subsequent arrest and imprisonment of Leonard Peltier. This was produced by Robert Redford and has some great interviews with the people that were there, so if you're all for freeing Leonard Peltier but have no idea what the hell he's really in prison for, see this. For example, did you know that two other men were arrested with the same charges and found innocent in an earlier trial? Do you know about Myrtle Poor Bear? This movie is not perfect, but you should see it, hopefully in conjunction with..

41/2. CointelPro: The FBI's War On Black America - CointelPro was the name of the FBI's Counter Intelligence Project under Hoover during the 1960's and 1970's. Their goal was to inflitrate and destroy groups like The Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement. They did a pretty job. While this movie focuses mostly on the destruction of the Black Power Movement, it does talk about AIM and is a eye-opening companion to "Incident at Oglala" and will starkly remind you just what this country is capable of, even against its own citizenry. And we worry about The Patriot Act.

5. Rabbit-Proof Fence - This is not a Native American movie, but a Australian movie about their aboriginal boarding school system, similar to the ones in place in the US and Canada only a generation ago. This is not ancient history, but the personal history of our mothers and grandmothers. "Rabbit-Proof Fence" tells the true story of three girls who were taken by force from their families and put in an boarding school, where they would learn to be good servants for whites, 1,500 miles away. They escaped, and this is the story of their amazing journey through the outback to find their way home.

There are hundreds, yes, hundreds of other movies by and about Native Americans and other indigenous peoples. You do have to seek many of them out, but if you've got a Netflix subscription or something similar, it isn't that hard. Neflix even has "Natives Themes", "Natives in Films" and "It's a Native Thang" user recommendation lists. There is life beyond Dances With Wolves. Go and seek it out!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

49in' with Sherman

As long as we're talking movies, Sherman Alexie wrote a short film documentary called "49?" (starring Gene Tagaban *swoon*) that got a lot of play on the film festival circuit (Sundance, SXSW, etc), and I think I completely missed it. Anyone seen it? Anyone know how to get a copy of it? Alexie's official site says it is now playing, but all the Film Festival listings are a few years old.

Go Watch the trailer now.