New evidence suggesting the area of the Bering Strait, called Beringia, supported trees during the last glacial maximum have led some scientists to conclude that 17-year-old theories that the first American Indians made a “10,000-year pit stop” there en route from Asia to the Americas are true.
But, as Alex Ewan of the Purepecha Nation writes at Indian Country Today Media Network, the new discoveries tend to cloud, rather than support, the theories.
As a review in Past Horizons, an archeology magazine, noted, “the weakest link to the Out of Beringia theory is the lack of archaeological evidence.” There is absolutely no sign that humans lived in this region during this time. In addition, although the study showed that the area had “surprisingly mild temperatures” during the summer (for an ice age), it was still cooler than the area is now, which is not particularly hospitable.
Indeed, if anything, the study findings set the Beringian Standstill theory back. According to a review in Scientific American, “This kind of vegetation would not have supported the large, grazing animals – woolly mammoth, woolly rhino, Pleistocene horses, camels, and bison.” It had previously been presumed that Beringia was covered in grass, and that the large animals were what the Paloeindians had lived on, but the shrub tundra would have only supported small mammals, “perhaps some bighorn sheep,” and possibly elk.
Sediment cores from the region dating between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago show evidence of trees, important because people would have needed fuel for campfires in the cold climate.
One author of the study, John Hoffecker of the University of Colorado, calls it “solid evidence for humans in Beringia before the last glacial maximum, as geneticists first predicted in 1997.”
But Ewen, at ICTMN, calls it ” ‘science by press release,’ where the conclusions are hyped well beyond what the actual findings show.”
Since the early 1990s … the genetic evidence indicates that Indians, as a distinct peoples, are at least 30,000 years old, and likely much older. Linguistic evidence has also pointed to Indians being at least 35,000 years old, and possibly 50,000 years old. The Beringian Standstill theory thus allows the archeologists and the geneticists to have their cake and eat it too, as it gives the time for the Paloeindians to develop unique genetic and linguistic characteristics, while at the same time, it keeps them out of the Americas.
But like the Bering Strait theory, the Beringian Standstill theory requires some unusual circumstances to make it work, the most important of which is that the Paleoindians who lived in Beringia were completely isolated from any other humans for more than 10,000 years and maybe up to 20,000 years, to prevent genetic and linguistic mixing.
Ewen says it may lead to other views about Indian origins in the Americas being taken more seriously.
- Vince Devlin
Almost 40 years after starting the process to acquire Kerr Dam, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have almost reached the finish line.
And they’ll get there for a price that is tens of millions of dollars closer to what the tribes said it was worth than what PPL Montana wanted for it, the Missoulian reports.
The Flathead Indian Reservation tribes will become the first in the nation to own a major hydroelectric facility when they turn over $18.3 million. That’s the price set by the American Arbitration Association after weighing arguments from CSKT, which maintained the price should be $14.7 million, and PPL Montana, which said it should be nearly $50 million.
Extensive hearings on the price were held in January.
“This is a historic day for the Confederated Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai Tribes,” CSKT Chairman Ron Trahan said. “We’ve been working toward this for 40 years. It brings tears to my eyes, because it’s something we never quit on.”
The earliest the transfer of ownership can take place is Sept. 5, 2015.
New owners will mean a new name for the dam according to Brian Lipscomb, CEO of Energy Keepers, a federally chartered corporation wholly owned by the tribes. Completed in 1938, the dam was named after Frank Kerr, president of Montana Power Company at the time.
“We’ve been titled as visionary people, and it plays out,” council member Lloyd Irvine said at a press conference announcing the price. Acquisition of the dam “is one of the tools that ensures the future of our people.”
But another council member, Terry Pitts, urged caution.
“We should not be blinded by the bling,” Pitts said. “There will be a lot of issues that come with this. We need to be fully prepared.”
- Vince Devlin
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena will post names of priests accused of sexual abuse as part of an agreement to settle a lawsuit filed against it and the Ursuline Sisters of the Western Province.
The Diocese of Helena filed for bankruptcy protection as part of the proposed settlement, according to a story by Mike Dennison of Montana’s Lee State Bureau, and will pay $15 million to the victims.
The Ursuline Sisters ran a school in St. Ignatius on the Flathead Indian Reservation that enrolled many Native American children.
George Thomas, bishop of the Diocese of Helena since 2004, said in a recent interview that a church review board will look at abuse claims, but that he doesn’t expect the church to quibble over the naming of abusers.
“I give the benefit of the doubt to the accuser,” he said. “The one thing I want to punctuate is that I have been committed from the beginning to transparency. There are no names that I will hold in secret.
“If an accusation is made against (someone) and the facts line up, I think the public has a right to know.”
There were 362 victims who filed the 2011 lawsuit in state District Court in Helena.
Seattle attorney Tim Kosnoff, who represents 271 of them, told Dennison that more than 50 Catholic priests will be named as sexual abusers of children.
Most, if not all, are dead. The abuse occurred from the 1930s through the 1970s.
- Vince Devlin
Tribes with treaties giving them the right to hunt in their aboriginal hunting grounds are part of the management plan for the Yellowstone National Park bison herd.
It’s been a rewarding experience for members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes according to Tom McDonald, CSKT’s manager of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation, the Missoulian reports.
It wasn’t just that the area was a part of aboriginal hunting grounds, (McDonald) explains.
The Yellowstone herd, which once fell below 25 bison, had been supplemented in part by bison from the Allard-Pablo herd on the Flathead Reservation.
“Some of the Yellowstone bison came from here,” McDonald says.
The hunts remain controversial, but not to the degree they were in the 1980s, when McDonald says Montana got a “black eye” for the way bison were hunted. The old way equated to a “Step into Montana and you’re dead” policy for bison, he adds.
The hunts were begun in response to a disease some of the animals carry that the livestock industry says threatens cattle.
McDonald gives tribal hunters who obtain bison tags a two-hour orientation to acquaint them with rules, regulations and the controversies surrounding bison hunting.
The Nez Perce and Umatilla Tribes also participate in the Montana hunts.
- Vince Devlin
We’ll never adequately summarize, in a few paragraphs, Suzette Brewer’s well-written account for Indian Country Today of a South Dakota lawsuit that claims state and local officials violate the rights of Indian parents and tribes in state child custody proceedings.
We just recommend you read it. It’s the first in a series.
Part I details how two attorneys – one in Connecticut, one in South Dakota – came to believe South Dakota officials were systematically removing Indian children from their families and tribal communities without proper hearings, violating the constitutional right to due process and the Indian Child Welfare Act.
As Brewer writes about one of the lawyers, Dana Hanna of Rapid City:
Hanna, whose case was next on the docket, was going over briefs when he became aware of the case being presented to the judge, involving two Indian parents. He glanced up, and says he saw something extraordinary happen.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw: The parents were not advised of any rights—no rights—the prosecutor read a brief statement, the judge turned to the parents and said, ‘Do you have anything to say?’” Hanna recalls. “They said they wanted their children back. But the court granted DSS’s petition for custody and foster care placement of their children for the next 60 days, and then scheduled the case for an advice of rights hearing two months down the road.
“They were advised that they had some legal rights two months after the state took custody of their children and placed them in foster care!”
The other attorney, Stephan Pevar, national staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, became aware of similar allegations while listening to National Public Radio on his way home from work in Hartford, Conn.
Late last month, South Dakota’s attempt to dismiss the case was denied by a federal judge.
- Vince Devlin
In an op-ed piece for Indian Country Today Media Network, the new chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee vowed to seek ways to improve tribal schools and colleges.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., wrote that education is a key for improving lives on Indian reservations.
In Indian country, we have challenges with water sovereignty, crime and housing that must be addressed, but as a former teacher, I know that a good education can lead to a successful life.
You don’t have to be a teacher to understand education’s far-reaching benefits. That includes early childhood education, elementary and secondary school, and a meaningful college degree.
Tester said recent cuts in funding for Native schools “never should have happened. Because when we don’t invest in our kids, they can’t invest in their futures.”
He also called for the teaching of Native culture and languages to remain a key part of that education.
That’s why I recently introduced the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act.
My bipartisan bill establishes a grant program to fund Native language education programs throughout Indian country. Because schools in Indian country should not have to choose between teaching math and teaching culture; they should have the resources to do both.
Tester replaced U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., as chairman of the committee.
- Vince Devlin
Nicolas Hudak considers “Where God Likes to Be,” his documentary about the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, a portrait film.
It’s not about history, information or statistics.
Instead, over the course of a summer he and his wife Anna recorded the stories of three young Blackfeet tribal members, “people who actually love their home, regardless of the stereotypes or hardships that go along with that,” Hudak said.
Read more about this documentary here.
The DNA of a baby boy who was buried in Montana 12,600 years ago has been recovered, and it provides new indications of the ancient roots of today’s American Indians and other native peoples of the Americas.
Read more here.
Because of the Violence Against Women Act, tribes now have new authority to prosecute non-Indians for crimes in specific cases.
Read more about it here.
Civil rights abuses are rampant in adoption and child welfare systems, according to a story by the Associated Press.
The organizations, which include the Portland-based National Indian Child Welfare Association, alleged in their letter that some guardians appointed by the court mock Native American culture; some state workers put down traditional Native ways of parenting; and some children are placed in white homes when Indian relatives and Native foster care homes are available.
Read more here.
Native American leaders want to know exactly what Montana’s former chief district court judge was forwarding in emails said to have disparaged African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, women, gays and various religions.
In an article by Stephanie Woodard, Indian Country Today Media Network reported that several, such as Lita Pepion of Indian People’s Action in Billings, have called for Richard Cebull’s emails to be released in their entirety.
“We need to know exactly what was said. Actions of the federal judiciary have an immediate and personal effect on Native communities. We already know Native men and women are very much over-represented in federal prison population. And that means children growing up without their parents, and families sentenced to a life of poverty. Bias destroys our communities.”
Tom Rodgers, the Blackfeet president of Carlyle Consulting and whistleblower in the Jack Abramoff scandal, agreed, saying, “Only when we see the emails will we be able to begin restoring trust in the justice system.”
Cebull made national news in February, 2012, after he sent an email containing a vile sexual reference to President Obama’s late mother that found its way into the press. Judges from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals investigated, and found Cebull – who later resigned – had sent out hundreds of inappropriate emails.
Pepion also wants Cebull’s decisions to be looked at, “such as the Native voting-rights case he recently dismissed, Wandering Medicine v. McCulloch,” Pepion told Woodard and ICTMN.
- Vince Devlin
A petition asking for an investigation into alleged abuse of disabled twin boys and signed by thousands of people will be presented to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad in the near future, according to a story by Stephanie Woodard at Indian Country Today Media Network.
In the petition, the boys’ mother, Audre’y Eby, who is Rosebud Sioux, asks why local courts in Iowa’s Plymouth County insist on placing two helpless special-needs Native teens with their father, who is her ex-husband, and his live-in girlfriend. The pair logged their sixth abuse ruling this past September, when a Child Protective Services investigation determined that the girlfriend had kicked the blind twin in the groin, sending him to the ER with bruising and bleeding.
Iowa’s Department of Human Services documents, which Indian Country Today Media Network obtained under Iowa law, describe the father pressing the nose of the wheelchair-bound twin with cerebral palsy until it bled, pouring hot sauce down the boy’s throat with the girlfriend’s help and much more.
The petition appeared Jan. 15 on RH Reality Check, a news website that covers women’s reproductive health and justice, according to ICTMN.
Within hours, thousands of people had signed it.
“They are doing everything they can to browbeat the mother and keep the children from her, while ignoring very serious abuse,” Indian child welfare expert Frank LaMere told Woodard. “Iowans, including the governor, need to take some people behind the woodshed.”
Links to Woodard’s original story detailing the abuse allegations can be found on a Jan. 7 posting on the Buffalo Post.
- Vince Devlin
The pollution of a West Virginia river from a chemical spill that cut off water for 300,000 people was big news.
But not new news, at least to Native Americans in the state, according to a story by Vincent Schilling at Indian Country Today Media Network.
“Unfortunately, this event is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Chief David Cremeans of the Native American Indian Federation Inc. of Huntington, West Virginia.
The indigenous group, organized in 2001 and recognized by a state senate resolution in early 2002, contains about 6,000 members. About 2,000 of the federation’s members live in the areas affected, Cremeans said.
Pollutants from the Huntington/Dietz Hollow Landfill in Huntington, West Virginia, have been leaching into the water for decades, Cremeans said.
“For the past 35 years, the City of Huntington has been receiving polluted chemicals and carcinogens from dumpsites all along the riverbanks, and when I see this story I really feel sorry for the people affected by this,” said Cremeans. “But this is one chemical and one event that they took great notice to.”
The spill began on Jan. 9 at storage tanks owned by Freedom Industries. According to Schilling’s story, the company makes chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries.
“I am disgusted by all of this,” said LaVerna Vickers, tribal secretary of the Appalachian American Indians of West Virginia. “We have no idea how this is going to affect the fish or the animals that drink from this water. From a Native American perspective, it is devastating and gut-wrenching. People are just assuming nothing bad will happen, and we are the disposable people here.”
She warned that focusing more on business than on terrestrial health will ultimately prove to be bad for business.
“There is so much about business and not enough about the earth,” said Vickers. “This is a scar on the earth that won’t go away for a long time.”
According to the New York Times, the spill was the third major chemical accident in the region in the past five years.
- Vince Devlin
Tribal members do not have a property right to monies distributed to tribal governments in the Salazar settlement, a judge for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes has ruled according to a story in the Missoulian.
A lawsuit filed by The People’s Voice challenged how the CSKT Tribal Council handled petitions that sought to distribute 100 percent of the tribes’ $150 million share of the settlement on a per capita basis.
But (Judge JB) Jones ruled that “there is a huge disconnect between what the plaintiff is complaining about and what it is seeking to do to address it.”
The judge said the Salazar money was clearly not intended for individual tribal members, according to a news release from tribal headquarters. Nothing prevented tribal government from distributing it that way, but nothing prevented it from doing what it did, either.
The Tribal Council elected to pay out just over half of the settlement, or $78 million, to tribal members, who received $10,000 apiece in 2012. The remainder was placed in an investment account.
- Vince Devlin
Charlotte New Breast will learn Thursday whether a U.S. District Court Judge will accept a recommendation by federal prosecutors that she serve no prison time for embezzling from a federally funded program for troubled youth on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
The Associated Press reports that prosecutors says New Breast, 53, has cooperated with authorities, who have charged five others, and profited little from the scheme.
“But for the benefits she provided to the government in disclosing information and agreeing to testify about the crimes of other actors, and her indisputably minor role in the scheme, she should have taken her rightful place in line for the consequences of accountability; a line that would have included incarceration,” (assistant U.S. attorney Car) Rostad wrote.
The other five charged include project leaders Francis Onstand and Delyle “Shanny” Augare. They’re accused of stealing an estimated $195,000 from the program and making up or embellishing the tribe’s in-kind contributions to ensure the federal money kept flowing, AP reported.
New Breast will be sentenced by Judge Brian Morris on Thursday.
- Vince Devlin
The new chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes has a lot on his plate, and half the normal two-year term to get things done.
The Missoulian reports that Ron Trahan takes over the chairmanship at a critical juncture for CSKT.
In less than two months, a mediator will set a price for Kerr Dam, the acquisition of which the tribes have been vigorously pursuing for years.
There has been unrest among some tribal members over what’s known as the Salazar Settlement. A previous Tribal Council voted to distribute just over half of the $150 million to individual members and place the balance in an investment account; a fairly vocal group wants all the money divvied up among the membership.
And, there’s the contentious issue of reserved water rights, although the tribes have signaled their role now is mostly to await a decision by the Montana Legislature on a proposed compact agreed to by negotiators for CSKT, the state and the federal government – and to be prepared to file thousands of water rights claims next year if the Legislature rejects the compact.
By then, however, the tribes will have another new chairman, Vernon Finley. The Tribal Council deadlocked, at 5-5, three times trying to select a replacement for Joe Durglo, who lost his re-election bid. Now, Trahan and Finley will each serve one year of the two-year term.
It’s happened once before. Unable to muster a majority for either candidate for the 1986-87 chairmanship, the council split the two-year term in half. Ron Therriault and Mickey Pablo took turns serving.
“It’s not the perfect way, but it’s what the council sees as best” under the circumstances, Trahan says.
Trahan follows in his father’s footsteps. Lyman Luke Trahan served as CSKT chairman from 1966-67.
- Vince Devlin
Two governments equals two views on Montana’s Flathead Lake fishery.
Eve Byron of the Helena Independent Record reports that the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission got widely differing views on the state of bull trout recovery efforts in the lake.
After a presentation on the Flathead Lake fishery by state biologist Mark Deleray in Helena on Thursday, Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman Dan Vermillion asked a representative of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes for his thoughts.
Barry Hansen deliberately strode to the podium. The biologist for the tribes, which co-manage the fishery with Fish, Wildlife and Parks, looked at the commission before choosing his words carefully.
“We came here uninvited and want to be helpful. So we are here to help,” Hansen said. “Suffice to say that there are many things in Mark’s presentation that we don’t agree with. But in the interest of presenting our case, maybe we should have another meeting or we give another presentation, rather than dispute his presentation point by point.”
While Deleray believes Flathead has reached “a new equilibrium” and bull trout redds counts show a “secure” level, Hansen disputes much of the state’s presentation.
“I strongly support figuring out how to make it right for bull trout,” Vermillion said in the Independent-Record report. “There’s no question they are stable but there is a question in my mind whether they are secure. This is an interesting first step and the tribe has every right to do this. As the department moves forward, we will be looking at other opportunity for Flathead Lake and see where those processes lead us.”
- Vince Devlin
A sad and fascinating story by Stephanie Woodard at Indian Country Today Media News highlights one Native American woman’s dilemma, one some say is part of a pattern for Indian parents.
The woman, Audre’y Eby, is Rosebud Sioux and lives in Nebraska. Her 16-year-old disabled twins – one is blind and autistic; the other suffers from cerebral palsy – are cared for by their father and their father’s girlfriend, who is white. They live in Iowa.
But when Eby brought the boys to Nebraska for a visit, she soon had the blind boy in the emergency room for various injuries she had discovered.
After the exam, at a moment when only health-care personnel were present, the doctor took the opportunity to ask his patient, “Who did this to you?” The child named his father’s girlfriend. The doctor questioned the sighted twin, who confirmed his brother’s story.
The doctor told Eby that the injuries were consistent with being kicked in the groin. He immediately called Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services to report alleged child abuse, hospital records show. Eby says the physician also warned her that if she didn’t keep the boys until their wellbeing could be guaranteed in Iowa, he’d have to report her for exposing children to an unsafe situation.
And yet, it was the mother who soon faced arrest. An Iowa judge issued an arrest warrant because Eby has not returned the twins to their alleged abusers.
Indian child welfare expert Frank LaMere told Woodard and ICTMN that the fact that Eby and the boys are Native, and the father and his girlfriend are white, overshadow decisions that social-services professionals and the courts make on the children’s behalf.
Judy Yellowbank, who is Winnebago and the program director at Four Directions Community Center, likened the twins’ treatment to torture. She charged that there’s a double standard in child welfare. “Native parents would be behind bars if they had committed the child abuse and neglect that these two white caregivers have,” Yellowbank said.
LaMere said the problem has its roots in federal policy. Woodard’s full story at ICTMN is worth the read.
- Vince Devlin
An evenly divided Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council found a way around its inability to agree on a new chairman, the Missoulian reports.
Unable to agree on a new chairman after multiple votes Friday, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council took an unusual step.
It split the two-year term in half, and gave the two men vying for the chairmanship – 10-year council veteran Ron Trahan and newcomer Vernon Finley – 12 months apiece in the post.
Trahan will serve first.
The decision came after four newly elected council members, including Finley, were sworn in. Former chairman Joe Durglo was one of four incumbents who were voted out of office during either the primary or general election.
Three separate votes for a new chairman produced 5-5 deadlocks on Friday.
The Missoulian noted that it’s a key time for CSKT.
The tribes are in the process of attempting to acquire Kerr Dam, and face a 2015 deadline for filing water rights claims if the Montana Legislature next year does not approve a reserved water rights compact negotiated between the state, the tribes and the federal government.
- Vince Devlin
Salish Kootenai College in Pablo has been honored as one of the first four colleges and universities in the nation to receive a Champions of Access and Success Award from the Institute for Higher Education Policy.
The Char-Koosta News reports SKC was joined by the University of Texas at El Paso, St. Edwards University of Austin, Texas, and Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Va., as recipients of the inaugural awards.
Winners of the “Institutional Champions of Access and Success Awards” and “Champion of Champions Awards” include postsecondary institutions and individuals who have successfully advanced strategies that increase opportunity, persistence, and degree completion for low-income, first-generation, minority, veteran, and other underserved students.
Awards were presented during IHEP’s national policy summit at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. SKC President Robert DePoe III accepted the award for the college.
- Vince Devlin