Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Economic Development Is Not Limited to Gaming!

Passed in 1988, Public Law 100-497 streamlined the authorization for federally-recognized tribes to operate gaming establishments - i.e. casinos. The spirit behind the legislation was to allow American Indian tribes an opportunity at economic development, in order to combat the pervasive poverty that afflicts reservations across the country.

Unfortunately, the result in many cases has not been one of economic development, but rather a scenario of in-fighting, fraud, embezzlement, substance abuse, and even tragedy, due to mismanaged - or often unmanaged - economic growth. This is not because tribes are irresponsible - at least not any more irresponsible than the federal government that regulates them - or that Indians are bad people or have any predisposition to crime or substance abuse, it's just the logical conclusion to an ill-conceived development plan. There is a notable difference between economic growth and economic development.

You can't take a group of people who are living in poverty and struggling with such powerful spiritual issues as substance abuse, violence, depression, and trauma and just hand them money and say, "Okay, now everything is better so go live well." It doesn't work that way. People, not just American Indians but any people, need support, guidance and knowledge in order to use their available resources well. If you withhold that support, guidance and knowledge, as the federal government has continuously done with American Indians, then you can't expect a great deal of success to come from your development plan.

In the end, the tribes that will develop themselves successfully will be the ones who do not put all of their eggs in the basket that is Indian gaming. Many tribes are realizing this and are reaching into actual economic development projects. For example, last month NPR reported a story on the Lower Brule Sioux tribe of South Dakota. This tribe purchased a Wall Street investment firm after recognizing that its casino would likely never meet the economic development needs of its community.

Other tribes have ventured into different businesses and other development opportunities, including colleges, hotels, golf courses, spas, restaurants, and many others. Examples include:
In the future, we will hopefully see even more tribal development enterprises. It will be years, maybe even generations, however, before we see the negative impact that mismanaged economic growth has had on American Indians become a thing of the past. The best case scenario is that American Indian people learn from our current experience and use the lessons to guide future development in more positive and beneficial directions.

Friday, July 10, 2009

same-sex marriage (uh-oh) from One n8v's perspective

So there has been a lot of media coverage, legislation and political turmoil surrounding same-sex marriage lately. The controversy surrounding Prop 8, as well as gay marriage wins across the nation, have made the issue a front-page affair and daily fodder for much of America.

It seems I can't click on but every other day without finding a news story in the arena of same-sex marriage. I sit quietly and read about folks like David Parker of Lexington, MA, or Brian Camenker of Waltham, MA, or the heretical Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, who in all of their supernatural wisdom have such self-loathing that they actually exert all of their available energy on the oppression of their fellow man.

Then I click a different link and read stories from across Indian Country with such contrasting views. Navajo anthropologist Wesley Thomas claims that gay men and women were part of the norm in traditional Navajo life (basically before Anglos descended upon our ancestral lands), but Navajo tribal council delegate Larry Anderson disagrees - so much so, that he introduced legislation in Navajoland that prohibits same-sex marriage. The legislation passed in 2005, was vetoed by the tribal president, and then that veto was subsequently overturned by the tribal council, so ultimately same-sex marriage is still prohibited on the Navajo Nation.

Similarly, the Cherokee Nation went through turmoil in regards to same-sex marriage. Cherokee historian David Cornsilk expressed viewpoints matching those of the Navajo anthropologist, that gay men and women were revered in traditional tribal society. Todd Hembree, Cherokee tribal attorney, argued however that Cherokee society does not and has not ever tolerated homosexual relationships. It is important to note that in both of the cases outlined above, strong anthropological and archeological proof actually supports the existence and previous acceptance of same-sex relationships, including marriage. Anthropological evidence also shows that homophobia was not present in most American Indian tribes until after contact with Christian and other missionaries.

I am not Navajo. I am not Cherokee. I am not an anthropologist, an archeologist, an attorney, a tribal council member, or a person of any authority whatsoever when it comes to the philosophical, theological and political practices of my own tribe or any other tribe. I am Mandan, though. I am Arikara. I am Plains Indian. And, quite frankly, I am frustrated. I am not coming at this from a political angle, but rather a cultural one.

American Indians were nearly annihilated by Western settlers. We underwent hundreds of years of genocide, repeated massacres, and poisoning from the introduction of alcohol, nicotine, meth amphetamines, and European diseases - for all of which our bodies had no natural defense capabilities. As a nation, though, we survived. We persevered. Though we lost many a battle over the last 500 years, we have never lost the war and are still fighting - not just to survive, but to thrive.

So why would we adopt western ideologies - the same ideologies that for centuries permitted the murder of Indian women and children because as savages they possessed no souls - that fly in the face of everything our grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great grandparents and great-great-great grandparents fought to protect. Have we even stopped to consider how many generations - both past and future - we are betraying??

I speak not as a learned scholar, not as an elected official, but as one man who has literally dozens of great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents who were born on this American land, generations before the great-great grandparents of the President of the United States, the Vice-President, the Speaker of the House, or any other sons and daughters of the Daughters of the American Revolution even knew that this entire continent existed. How dare you come to this mother, pillage her womb, rape and murder her children, then presume to place laws upon us that conform to your traditions of disrespect, vulgarity and absolute sacrilege. Worse yet, how dare we, as strong Indian people, form allies with these unhallowed beings and use their weapons of mass destruction on our own people??

The old ones where I come from tell of life before contact with western society. For them, it wasn't that far back. My grandma was born in a place that no longer exists (the government flooded it in the 1950's to get rid of the Indians and usurp the natural resources), where many people had never even seen a white person. My grandma didn't have to learn English until she was sent off to school (for a brief intro on this topic, type "American Indian boarding schools" into google). The stories that I hear my grammas tell are the stories that were told to them by their grammas, women who lived before the Great White Father (a.k.a. the U.S. President, who is now the Great Half-White Father) even knew what lay west of the Mississippi River.

There is a re-occurring theme that runs through each and every one of those stories that they tell. It's a theme that calls for mutual respect and consideration of all that exists, not merely all that is man and that looks and acts exactly like we do. The old ones back home tell stories, stories of the wi'neke - the gay people. These stories talk about the role of LGBT people in our society thousands of years before the murderous Christopher Columbus ever set sail on a ship.

The way that gay people are described in these stories isn't much in line with the romanticized versions that I hear from other LGBT natives from other tribes. Sometimes their stories give the impression that gay people were given an elevated role in tribal society simply because of their sexual orientation, and I think this does a disservice to all sides. I can't speak for their people, but I know that for my people nobody was elevated or degraded in society based solely on their sexual orientation.

LGBT people did play a prominent role in the tribe, however, as afforded by unique abilities and understandings. Depending on the individual, as a gay person "back in the days" you might have been the local governess, the one to foster orphans or care for the infirmed, you might have had a calling as an exceptionally powerful root doctor (a little lesson for all you non-Indians out there, there is no such thing as an "Indian Shaman" - sorry to burst your bubble), or you might just be a warrior who happens to kick ass in a dress.

Talk to the old people, you will find out that there were actually some very brave warriors who identified as gay but who traveled and fought with war parties. Legend even has it that one famous Lakota leader would never take out a war party without his trusted right-hand winkte-warrior (winkte is the Lakota word for gay) by his side. Wi'neke were given the same responsibilities and expectations and afforded every right and privilege enjoyed by any other member of the village, including matrimony. Some even underwent a ceremony for gender reassignment, if they were so inclined. These are the stories that the old ones tell, and they are the stories that the evidence left behind by our grandmothers and grandfathers of long ago also tells.

If the great United States ultimately decides to disallow same-sex marriage, or even to disallow homosexuality (though how they'll enforce that, I don't even wanna know!), we have to leave that choice to them as their prerogative. As Indian people, though, we have a responsibility. WE are the stewards of this land and its people. From the day we are born, whether we haven't a drop of non-Indian blood in our veins or we only have the tiniest drop of Indian blood in our veins, we are charged with caring for this Earth and all of its inhabitants. Unlike whites, blacks, asians, arabs, jews, muslims, hindus, swahilis or any other of the multitude of peoples that inhabit this Earth, we don't have the right to deny compassion. If those people choose to live that way, to spread degradation and disease like nobody's business, well that is something they will have to answer for someday. For us to follow suit is not even an option; today is the day that we are responsible to our Creator - today and every day.

So in the end my message is this: 1. Prejudice and discrimination do not conform to the traditional values that American Indian tribes adhere to; 2. Whether or not you or anyone else likes to speak about it, the fact is that same-sex marriage was permitted in America before the pilgrims ever even got to taste a turkey, much less establish a tradition of Butterballs and chardonnay; 3. LGBT Indians were not despised or esteemed, in the Mandan tribe at least, based on their sexual orientation. Many earned positions of esteem through their works and character, but all were afforded the same rights and duties of every other tribal member; and 4. If you actually read this far then you have WAY too much time on your hands - craigslist has an employment section - use it to get a real job instead of one where you can read blogs all day long... ;-)

As always, with much love and respect.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A closer look contains hints of sham artist, not a shaman

Last update: May 11, 2009 - 11:57 PM

A boy's life hangs in the balance in New Ulm, Minn., this week as a court decides if he should abide by the advice of prominent doctors or that of a group claiming to be American Indian healers whose website the boy's mother says she "found on the Internet."

The Internet is a funny thing. Perhaps Colleen Hauser, the mother of 13-year-old Danny, who has Hodgkin's lymphoma, also looked a little deeper on the Web and discarded critical opinions about the group, the Nemenhah Band, but I doubt it.

Too bad, because Danny's life may depend on it.

If she had, she would have found case files in which Nemenhah's leader, Phillip (Cloudpiler) Landis, who submitted testimony in the case, had been convicted of fraud in two states. Or that another member of the band, James Mooney, won a case that allows him to claim religious exemption from law and sell drugs -- peyote.

Maybe she researched all possibilities and still decided to take the word of a convicted criminal over that of Mayo Clinic doctors?

Apparently not.

Calvin Johnson, the attorney for the Hausers, said neither he nor the family were aware of any possible criminal behavior of anyone associated with Nemenhah. And he didn't seem particularly concerned about it. In fact, he bristled at anyone who might question the Hausers' beliefs.

"We don't trample on the quality of someone's religious path," he said. "We don't do that. Danny has a wonderful soul and beautiful heart."

No one disputes the last statement. But many, including Native Americans, take issue with a family that chooses the claims of Landis, who has been convicted of fraud for misleading investors in an alternative-health mushroom-growing business, instead of Mayo Clinic doctors.

One is Al Carroll, a Mescalero Apache, Ph.D.-holding author and Fulbright scholar who moderates a website ( dedicated to exposing people who exploit American Indian traditions for profit.

"I would argue from what I see on their sites that Nemenhah are alt-medicine types who hide behind a laughable pseudo-native facade," Carroll said in an e-mail from Indonesia, where he's teaching about native history. "That's pure Hollywood and New Age nonsense."

The Hausers, who are not Native American, joined the group by paying a fee, now $250, plus $100 monthly. Though the group calls it a donation, they warn members not to "neglect this part of the Adoption Covenant ... if they do, the Nemenhah Band cannot continue in its important work and its offering to Humanity globally."

Nonsense, said Carroll, who calls the group's leaders "plastic shaman[s]."

"No reputable traditional native healer would demand someone deny medical treatment which would save their lives, especially to a child," he said. "It's reprehensible beyond words. Only a crackpot fanatic who thinks modern medicine is part of some type of grand conspiracy would let a young boy die when there are good options to save him."

Carroll is not alone.

Nemenhah's website and forums refer members to other sites where they can -- surprise -- buy "sacraments" such as oils and herbs. One forum discusses how baking soda can cure cancer.

D'Shane Barnett, special projects officer of the Native American Health Center in California, called that a "pyramid scheme by profit-sharing through a referral program," adding, "This entire organization, Nemenhah and Native American Nutritionals ... is founded on the principles of profiting from the bastardization and tokening of Native American people and practices."

In other words, if Danny's Internet-purchased regimen doesn't work, critics say, he will live a tragically short life, but it won't be because the government interfered with religion. Call it death by multilevel marketing.

During an interview from Missouri, Landis was defiant. He said he has never counseled the Hausers on medical choices. He said that Nemenhah is not a tribe, but rather a church, and that churches frequently disagree with each other.

They also are allowed to take offerings, as are medicine men, he said, adding, "If not, this is not America."

Gabrielle Strong, a Dakota tribal consultant from Morton, Minn., said she doesn't blame the Hausers, but feels sorry for them. "I feel this group is taking advantage of vulnerable people," she said.

Strong, who said her mother is being treated for breast cancer with chemotherapy, along with spiritual remedies, said American Indians are abuzz about the Hauser case, but tribal leaders are hesitant to get involved.

"We are not the kind of people to impose our beliefs on people," she said. Yet, "I feel terrible for this family. This young man's life is on the line, and I wish someone legitimate [from the American Indian community] could talk to them."

So I made an offer to the Hausers through their lawyer: You got second opinions from medical doctors, who agreed chemo was needed. Give it another shot. Strong has said she would help me get you second opinions from Indian leaders in Minnesota familiar with traditional medicine. Then your family could reconsider.

You have my number, counselor. A kid's life is at stake.

Jon Tevlin • 612-673-1702

A sad, curious tale of rampant duplicity and stupidity

ISHOU, HUNAN — The degree to which frauds can dupe the unsuspecting and to which otherwise intelligent people can believe utter nonsense never ceases to amaze me.

Take the sad case of Daniel Hauser, 13, who has Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He and his parents refused chemotherapy after his first treatment, saying it is contrary to their religious beliefs. Their refusal led the Brown County (Minn.) Attorney’s office to file a child endangerment complaint against the parents. The case is now in court.

The Hausers are “traditional catholics,” according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but the crux of their defense is their membership in the Nemenhah. Their attorneys insist that the Nemenhah’s religious beliefs are protected by federal Indian Affairs law, so the Hausers can do whatever they bloody well please.

The Star Trib and other media sources identify the Nemenhah as “an American Indian religious organization.”

Well, it ain’t.

The Hausers are probably very nice people, and perhaps they would prefer not to see their young son suffer through chemo, but they are dupes, plain and simple.

Here is what I have been able to piece together about the Nemenhah Band, to which the Hausers apparently belong.

The Nemenhah are not a true Native American tribe, nation or group. They are wannabe Natives — white folks who adopt Native-sounding names and steal adopt Native American ways. This behavior has recently become a trend among New Agers in the USA, who have pretty much milked Eastern medicine and philosophy for ideas to peddle to the ignorant here. Now they are robbing Native American culture for fresh ideas to sell.

The Nemenhah’s websites claim, however, that the people known as the Nemenhah came to North America from the Middle East before the Christian era, and settled in the Four Corners area. Records (the Mentinah Archives) of their history and beliefs were preserved there, and only were recently (2004) translated into English. If this history sounds awfully like what is in the Book of Mormon, then it may interest you to know that the Nemenhah supposedly joined Hagoth, a figure in the BoM, when he left his homeland.

The LDS church, however, does not recognize the Mentinah Archives as authentic. The irony there is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

For suggested initial and monthly “donations,” you too can become a member of the Nemenhah, can buy their tribal medicinals, and can even sell them to your friends and family by joining the Nemenhah MLM.

Being afforded “spiritual adoption” means protection under federal law, the Nemenhah website says. “As a Nemenhah Medicine Man or Woman you will be able to practice your Healing Ministry under the full weight and protection of the Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act 1993 (NAFERA) and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act 1993 (RFRA).”

There is no archeological or historical evidence of a people named the Nemenhah living in the Four Corners, however. (There is also no similar evidence corroborating the Book of Mormon, but that’s another story.) The US Bureau of Indian Affairs and Native American organizations do not recognize the Nemenhah as a valid tribe or nation, either.

Contrary to Native American practice, the Nemenhah’s online healing academy charges money (aka donations) for training to be a medicine man or woman. The Hausers, including Daniel, are medicine men, according to news reports.

You cannot become a member of a recognized Native American nation, tribe or people by paying money. To gain membership, your ancestors had to have been Native Americans, and you have to prove it. Saying your great-grandfather was Cherokee, for example, does not mean you are a Cherokee.

For that matter, paying money to a church for training or religious education is pretty atypical, unless the church happens to be the Church of Scientology.

The presumed head of the organization, known formally as the Nemenhah Band and Native American Traditional Organization (Oklevueha Native American Church of Sanpete), is Phillip R. Landis, who goes by the pseudo-Native name of “Cloudpiler.” Landis is a naturopath by profession.

Landis, coincidentally, wrote the foreword to the “translation” of the Mentinah Archives and published the English translation. The original texts are supposedly locked away in a safe location, while five unnamed translators voluntarily work on the translation.

Someone on a Mormon forum site challenged the authenticity of the Mentinah Archives. Landis, under the unlikely name of Ea-lea Powitz Peopeo, responded with a lengthy diatribe providing arcane details about the Nemenhah and the archives, all couched in language to appeal to a Mormon readership.

Those who want a better idea of what the Lord is doing to bring forth these translations can go back and study how the Lord did it with Joseph Smith. It is very similar. The heavens are opened. The original writers and God are very much involved in helping the translators. This should not be a surprise to anyone, yet it is a great stumbling block for many because of the condition the prophets and Christ said the Church and the world would be in in our day. For example, there are those who simply do not believe that God will allow anyone to be a translator unless he is one of the General Authorities of the Church. They don’t recognize that Joseph Smith was a translator before he was called to be the head of the Church. The fact is, God can call anyone He wants to be a translator, even an ignorant farm boy.

More of his rationalizations can be found here: The organization and financial structure of the Nemenhah and its MLM seem pretty sketchy to me, but I am not a lawyer.

Speaking of the law, Landis several years ago had some legal problems in Montana and Idaho regarding a mushroom-growing business that encouraged farmers to grow reishi mushers and be paid for their harvest. Some farmers allegedly never got paid.

The layers of deceit in this story are almost too many to count. We have a family who have bought into (literally) a supposed Native American church. This church claims to give its members protection under federal Indian Affairs law, but the church and the Nemenhah tribe in fact are not recognized Native American entites.

Meanwhile, the sole reason for the Nemenhah Band’s existence apparently is to peddle a line of “traditional” medicinals, using a dubious MLM scheme, to people like the Hausers, who want alternative ways to stay healthy.

[There is of course the additional question of whether alternative medicine (herbs and such) can effectively treat cancers like Daniel Hauser's. Most medical doctors say no.]

A decision on the child endangerment complain is expected Tuesday. We’ll see how successful the Nemenhah Band has been in convincing the judge of their authenticity.

Minnesota Public Radio report:
Indian Country Today report on the Nemenhah:

Whistling Elk blog - American Indian Voice of Spirit and Reason commentary
New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans - a Native American site criticizing pseudo-Native healers, schools, etc.
Links at the site specific to Nemenhah:;wap2
Nemenhah-related sites:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Affordable housing for urban Indians

OAKLAND, Calif. – A decade ago, affordable housing was just a longing among the Bay Area Native community. That need was realized last month in Oakland when the $27 million Seven Directions healthcare and affordable housing facility opened amid nationwide despair over a failing economy.

“We could have abandoned the project over the last 10 years, but we always went back to the community,” said Martin Waukazoo, director of the Native American Health Center in Oakland. “I’m very proud, but there’s much more work to be done.”

Housing prices are skyrocketing in the Bay Area and greater numbers of the 50,000 Natives here have been moving from San Francisco to more affordable East Bay cities. Some others continue to struggle with homelessness, often drifting between the homes of relatives.

Situations such as these aren’t likely to improve, according to national data released the same day of Seven Direction’s opening. It showed construction on new U.S. homes has slumped to the lowest level since the recession in 1991. A year into the bursting of the housing bubble, the U.S. economy continues to barrel downhill, leading in part to the global financial crisis.

Well before the downturn, Madeline Lopez and her three children were living with her grandmother in San Francisco. She’s in her thirties, is a member of the Nooksack tribe in Washington and is a recipient of medical and other services at the NAHC in San Francisco.

Now, she’s also a resident of a three-bedroom apartment in the rust and golden hued 21,000-square-foot Seven Directions building on International Avenue – the first urban Indian health center in the nation that combines primary care, housing and cultural components. The 36 low-income apartments, medical and dental facility were created in a design that resembles adobe pueblos.

Lopez was referred by outreach worker Gloryanna Valerio-Leonce, who along with other NAHC staff members in San Francisco and Oakland encouraged Native clients with incomes less than 60 percent of the area’s median income to apply for housing.

“It definitely makes me feel very proud because we were all part of the project,” Valerio-Leonce said. “A lot of employees made donations and with something as little as $50 a month you feel like you really belong here, it’s very moving. Just walking through it, I almost cried.”

Residents were selected in a lottery drawing held by project partner East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, a nonprofit that has developed more than 700 affordable apartments and townhouses in 12 developments and 97 single-family homes over the last three decades.

Sadly, not as many Native families applied as NAHC staff had hoped. Lopez is one of an estimated three Native families in the building with an outdoor community ceremonial space.

“It’s really, really nice,” Lopez said. “My kids go to the school around the corner and they’re happy to have their own rooms.”

The city of Oakland and its Redevelopment Agency provided the funds to purchase the land, and construction funds were provided by the city, California Housing Finance Agency, MMA Financial, the Federal Home Loan Bank, Bank of the West, NCB Capital Impact, the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, US Bank, Opportunity Fund, foundations and private individuals.

A mosaic story pole outside the building read, “In beauty happily I walk; with beauty before me happily I walk; with beauty behind me happily I walk.”

As those involved in the project were thanked during a crowded press conference, another resident stood outside proudly next to a cluster of orange and green balloons.

Joseph A. Waukazoo, 54, said he and his daughter, Phyllis, “took a chance” by applying for housing. When they were initially denied, he said, he wrote an emphatic letter asking for reconsideration.

“I still can’t believe it,” he said at the opening, looking up at the building just a few blocks from the nondescript gray building where the Oakland NAHC has provided medical and dental services and youth programming since 1972. That’s about a year after he and his brother, Martin, had moved to the Bay Area from South Dakota.

A flood earlier that year in Rapid City had killed 238 people and destroyed community centers, homes and even ball fields in their hometown, Waukazoo said. He was 17 and devastated; “I just had my whole existence wiped out. Me and my bro got on a plane and came out here,” he said.

Hundreds of Native families were already in Oakland, one of several urban destinations in the Relocation Era, which the Waukazoo brothers had visited before. Many were living in the Fruitvale District, a Latino neighborhood that boasts the largest Native population in Oakland.

Many Native families reside in the vicinity of the main strip of International Blvd., home to NAHC, the new Seven Directions building and, further down, the Intertribal Friendship House – which has been revived in recent years by a new board of directors as a vital community gathering space.

“There’s a creative force here, and a lot of spiritual presence in this area,” Waukazoo said. “We had the Alcatraz movement and other battles and this is just another step in that line – another major accomplishment of our people who were left out here on our own from relocation.”

Before his daughter, six-year-old niece and he moved here, they were homeless, Waukazoo said, living in San Leandro with relatives. He views the opportunity to live in Seven Directions as “the difference between my daughter being here and moving back to the reservation.”

Waukazoo grinned happily as he gave an informal tour of the building, its walls bathed in soothing cream and golden colors. Their life is more “ecological” now, he said, because of their centralized location. He and his girlfriend are able to walk or bike between NAHC, their apartment, the Fruitvale BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station, his granddaughter’s school, IFH and downtown.

“We have cable,” he added. And the aesthetic elements of the five-story building – including an earthen ceremonial space in the courtyard, two totem poles, a water-wall and stained concrete medicine wheel – provide “elements of my culture” in an urban setting, Waukazoo said.

“It gives me, in a very basic simple sense, an identity,” he said.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Senate Republican Steering Committee Fights Indian Bills

Hmm It seems that four Republican senators from different parts of the country have got together and single-handedly decided that Indian people are not only no longer sovereign, but are sub-human and do not deserve basic human services like health care, public safety and substance abuse services.

It is really surprising to me that four white males would see Indians as dogs, I mean white males have always been a friend to the Indian. They gave us our reservations, they gave us their Small Pox and other diseases, they gave us our opportunity to leave the reservation and be stranded in large cities with no resources and no support so that we could "assimilate" into their wonderful culture, they are just such a giving people. Why would they want to hurt us all of a sudden??

Oh yeah, because they are greedy soul-less bastards with no substance and no relationship with their Creator. Damn, I almost forgot that part. Oh well, read for yourselves about our lovely senators - and then send them packing!! We need leadership from our Congress, not bigotry and blatant racism.

Oh, D.C...when will you ever learn???

WASHINGTON—July 27, 2007—Blow after blow, the U.S. Senate Republican Steering Committee continues to block all legislation that benefits Indian people. The Senate Republican Steering Committee is a small group of Senators who have been working together to put secret "holds" on all legislation benefiting Indian tribes and Indian people.

Indian Country has had strong ties to the Republican Party through the Indian Self−Determination Policy and respect for the U.S. Constitution, which explicitly recognizes the treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, religious freedom, and the shared values of federalism that encourage local decision−making. Tribal leaders and the Republican Party share strong interests in law enforcement, economic development, energy, the military, veterans, and many other issues.

"At first we thought that it was coincidence that so many bills on Native issues were being blocked by members of the Republican Steering Committee," said National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Joe A. Garcia. "But it is clear now that it is not. NCAI is a non−partisan organization that has built successful relationships on both sides of the aisle for many decades. It is a very small number of Republican Senators, but we must address this obstructionism that stops all legislation no matter how bi−partisan and non−controversial."

Most recently, the Senate Republican Steering Committee, lead by Senator James DeMint (R−SC) and including Senators John Kyl (R−AZ), John Cornyn (R−TX), and Jeff Sessions (R−AL), killed non−controversial, bi−partisan piece of legislation that would have helped tribes in combating sexual predators on tribal lands.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection Act of 2006 requires tribes to comply with its provisions by July 27, 2007. The legislation in question would have given tribes another year to make important decisions on how they want to work with the systems registry that is being created by the U.S. Department of Justice. "This legislation has a real human impact," said Garcia. "This kind of responsibility should be handled by those who know their communities best—tribal leaders, not a few Senators far off in Washington."

In February the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Native American Methamphetamine Enforcement and Treatment Act (H.R. 545) to make Indian tribes eligible to apply for certain grants to fight methamphetamine abuse and trafficking in Indian Country. Senator Kyl has a hold on the bill and is preventing its passage in the belief that a grant program could somehow confer jurisdiction to tribes over drug offenses committed in Indian Country. Tribes need these grants for prevention, treatment and enforcement against drug traffickers, and Kyl's obstructionism is endangering public safety for reservations and their neighbors.

The Republican Steering Committee has also fought the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, legislation that would modernize the health care system for reservations and at the end of last session held up all bills affecting Native Americans. "We had a similar situation in the mid−1990's with Senator Slade Gorton – but tribes overcame that obstructionism," said Garcia.

"The Constitution requires respect for tribal governments. We want to work together in a productive way. It's time for the Senate Republican Steering Committee to do its part and allow tribes to take responsibility for issues affecting them. The Committee just doesn't seem to be well informed on Indian Country issues."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Speaking out on the theft and abuse of spirituality

Speaking out on the theft and abuse of spirituality
© Indian Country Today July 20, 2007. All Rights Reserved
Posted: July 20, 2007
by: Shadi Rahimi

Photo courtesy Marisol Crisostomo-Romo -- Marisol Crisostomo-Romo, Pascua Yaqui, is leading a campaign urging a summer camp to stop its misuse of Native imagery, beseeching all those ''offended and disgusted by cultural exploitation and mainstream society's self-entitlement'' to write letters.

SAN FRANCISCO - It was a strange sight, at least in East Los Angeles.

While walking her dogs recently at Arroyo Seco Park, Marisol Crisostomo-Romo, 26, said she spotted a van with a tipi on it. Into it piled a group of white children clutching bows and arrows.

They were members of the five-week-long Camp Shi'ini, ''a Native American-themed summer camp'' that is named after ''a Native American word meaning 'Summer People,''' according to its Web site.

The 60-year-old camp divides children into nine ''tribes'' and offers activities ranging from horseback riding (in the tradition of the Navajo, Comanche and Eskimo, its Web site stated) and archery (Mohawk, Seminole and Blackfoot) to fishing (Zuni, Iroquois and Apache).

Crisostomo-Romo, who is Pascua Yaqui, immediately wrote the camp a letter and e-mailed 422 people to do the same, beseeching all those ''offended and disgusted by cultural exploitation and mainstream society's self-entitlement.''

Her anger is echoed across the country by Natives who continue to be frustrated with what they view as misappropriation and abuse of spiritual and cultural practices.

Similar Native-themed camps, nonprofits, centers, programs, workshops, retreats and seminars offered mostly by non-Natives thrive across the country. And the number of non-Native people operating as medicine men and shaman - and often charging for their services - has only grown despite opposition from traditional elders, groups and Native activists.

''We don't charge for ceremonies. People with real sicknesses actually go to these people; we've heard of these people even taking advantage of women,'' said Charlie Sitting Bull, 54. ''That's the danger in people being misinformed. We battle it all the time.''

Sitting Bull is a traditional Oglala Lakota from South Dakota who said he is a direct descendant of Chief Sitting Bull. He began noticing the misuse of Native culture as a teenager, when he first saw a Boy Scout troup ''dressed as Indians,'' he said.

Since then, he has confronted Native and non-Native people falsely claiming to be descendants of Chief Sitting Bull and has worked to stop non-Native people from charging for spiritual teachings. Most recently, Sitting Bull said he prevented a white man from charging to teach Sun Dance songs at a Washington state bookstore, which the man had learned from a legitimate medicine man.

Responding to a request from the medicine man himself, Sitting Bull confronted the white man, telling him he could not hold the workshop, and asking for a written apology. The man was arrogant, but eventually obliged, he said.

A non-Native person practicing Native spirituality presents a similar danger to all Natives as a Native person who practices but ''isn't clean'' - taking drugs or not ''living a good life,'' - Sitting Bull said.

''They actually infect us like a sickness,'' he said, referring to both scenarios.

In 1993, a decree passed at an international gathering of 500 representatives from 40 different tribes and bands of the Lakota, titled the ''Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality,'' stated that immediate action be taken to defend Lakota spirituality from ''further contamination, desecration and abuse.''

It detailed what it described as the destruction of sacred traditions, reminding Natives of their highest duty - ''to preserve the purity of our precious traditions for our future generations, so that our children and our children's children will survive and prosper in the sacred manner intended for each of our respective peoples by our Creator.''

Among the ''disgraceful expropriation'' that even then had ''reached epidemic proportions in urban areas throughout the country,'' according to the leaders, were corporations that charge money for sweat lodges and vision quest programs; Sun dances for non-Natives conducted by charlatans; and cult leaders and new age people who imitate Lakota ceremonial ways and mix in non-Native occult practices.

The decree urged traditional people, tribal leaders and governing councils of all other Indian nations to join ''in calling for an immediate end to this rampant exploitation of our respective American Indian sacred traditions.''

The decree was published in a newsletter, in controversial author Ward Churchill's 1994 book ''Indians Are Us? Culture and Genocide in Native North America,'' and online.

Since then, an active stand has been taken by medicine men and traditional practitioners even against ''Native healers that are out of line,'' Sitting Bull said.

Responses to the decree from non-Native people on various Web sites explain why they engage in Native spiritual practices.

''I understand the importance of the statement and feel money is being made by the stealing of the traditionalists,'' Mark Montalban wrote. ''I also feel that ghosts and spirits can enter your life and give purpose and direction.''

But many Native people disagree, arguing that the appropriation of spirituality is not only disrespectful, but also dangerous if practiced incorrectly and by non-Natives.

''One can study Native culture all they want, but if it's not Native blood flowing through their veins then they'll never truly understand those ways and how to use them,'' said Anthony Thosh Collins, 25, of the Pima, Osage and Seneca-Cayuga tribes. ''I support the use of our Native culture to help heal this world, but only through the guidance of one of our own qualified elders.''

The movement against non-Natives appropriating and sometimes selling Native spirituality is growing, with younger Natives joining the forefront.

In her letter to Camp Shi'ini, Crisostomo-Romo explained the sacred nature of the face paint and war bonnets displayed on its Web site, saying, ''Non-Natives don't have business messing with these things.''

She suggested the camp instead teach children about modern issues faced by Native people, including the desecration of sacred sites, poverty and substance abuse.

It is important for non-Natives to understand that Natives do not exist only in museums or in Western movies: ''We are a people who have a future and who want the best for our children,'' Crisostomo-Romo said.

''The very notion of trying to recreate a lifestyle of a people that are still in vibrant existence is purely ridiculous,'' she said. ''Native people are not just about bows and arrows, feathers and dream catchers. The depth and beauty of our cultures can never be captured in a summer camp.''