Saturday, July 24, 2010

ACTION: Endorse UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

In 2007 the UN adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People.  The U.S. did not endorse the Declaration which can be read in full here.  Now, the U.S. is reviewing its stance and taking comments from now through October.  Please take a moment to urge the U.S. to endorse this important declaration by clicking the link below.

Four States voted against the declaration (which is not legally binding) originally: The U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all of which have significant remnant indigenous populations.  Australia and New Zealand have both reversed their positions and adopted the declaration.  The U.S. and Canada remain firmly against, citing reservations about the definition of the term "indigenous" and claiming that some tenets of the resolution would be impossible to implement or might interfere with the constitution.  (They have to do with possible land disputes).  You can read more here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tribal Law and Order Act Passes Successfully!

Fantastic news!  Yesterday the House voted 326 to 92 (The 92 opposed are all republicans) in favor of H.R. 725, the Tribal Law and Order Act, and President Obama reiterated his promise to sign it into law!  This Act will allow tribal courts to sentence people to up to three years in jail.  It also provides things like sexual assault training and protocols for handling sex crimes, and allows for an increase in Deputization of individuals to act on Indian land, meaning a much needed increase in law enforcement (currently less than 3,000 BIA and tribal police officers patrol over 56 million acres of tribal lands).  According to News the Act will do the following:

-Evidence sharing and declination data: Requires federal prosecutors to maintain data on criminal prosecution declinations in Indian country, and to share evidence to support prosecutions in tribal courts

- Federal Testimony: Helps ensure Federal officials who work in Indian country to testify about information gained in the scope of their duties to support a prosecution in tribal court

- Improves transparency in Public Safety spending by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and requires greater consultation on the part of the BIA to tribal communities on matters affecting public safety and justice

• Increased sexual assault training and standardized protocols for handling sex crimes, interviewing witnesses, and handling evidence of domestic and sexual violence crimes in Indian country

• Authorizes Deputization of Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute reservation crimes in Federal courts

• Increases Deputizations of Tribal and State Police to Enforce Federal Law: Enhances Special Law Enforcement Commission program to deputize officers to enforce federal laws on Indian lands

• Authorizes the Drug Enforcement Agency to deputize tribal police to assist on reservation drug raids

• Increases recruitment and retention efforts for BIA and Tribal Police

• Expands training opportunities for BIA and Tribal police to receive training at State police academies, and tribal, state, and local colleges – where Federal law enforcement training standards are met.

• Tribal Police Access to Criminal History Records: Many tribal police have no access to criminal history records. The bill will provide tribal police greater access to criminal history databases that provide them with essential information when detaining or arresting a suspect.

• Investigating fraudulent Indian arts and crafts: The Indian Arts and Crafts Amendments Act included in the bill will allow any federal law enforcement officer to investigate fraudulent Indian arts and crafts. Currently only the FBI can investigate these crimes.

• Programmatic Reauthorizations: The bill will reauthorize existing programs designed to strengthen tribal courts, police departments, and corrections centers – as well as programs to prevent and treat alcohol and substance abuse, and improve opportunities for at-risk Indian youth.

 You can read the full text of the bill here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

REVIEW: Twilight Saga: Eclipse

So, a lot of people have been asking me what I think of the Twilight Saga.  In case you've been living in a bomb shelter and are unfamiliar with the pop-culture phenomenon, it's a series of books, now made movies, about a teenage girl's love triangle with a vampire and a werewolf.  What does that have to do with this blog?  Well, the werewolf is Native American.  To be more specific, he's a member of a "pack" of Quileute tribal members who magically transform into wolves and are the natural enemies of "the cold ones" (vampires).  The movies include some Native actors with minor speaking rolls, sooo totally relevant.

There have been three movies made so far.  I've now seen the first (Twilight) and the third (Eclipse).  Both experiences were extremely painful to my eyes, ears, brain, and soul.  My review of Eclipse follows (scroll down to "The Ugly" if you want to skip to the Native parts):

The Good:
Well, since Twilight, the franchise has gotten a new director, and a new casting director.  The directing is... somewhat better?  Specifically, there are fewer just completely awkward moments and transitions.  The casting.. well, ok so they got the casting director from Dances with Wolves because of her experience in finding and hiring real Native American actors.  So Kudos for that.

More hotness: Jacob, the lead Native American character played by Taylor Lautner, has gotten even more muscle-y and basically never wears a shirt in the movie.  The "wolfpack", consisting of real Native actors, are also in better shape since the 2nd movie, New Moon, or so I hear.  They literally are never wearing shirts in the whole movie. (But they're only in like 3 scenes sooo....)

Edward (the lead vamp) never calls the ingenue "Spider Monkey".

Jacob lost that stupid wig from the first movie.

The Bad:
The effects are TERRIBLE.  That crappy stuff you've seen on made-for-the-sy-fy-channel-movies:  NOT EVEN CLOSE to as bad as this movie.  You'd think with all the money they made off the first two, they could have afforded some quality special effects.  I mean the wolves are positively hilarious looking.  And WHY are they the size of HORSES?

The acting:  Ok, Edward, played by Robert Pattinson, is not so bad.  Of the principal characters, he's definitely the best actor, though that isn't saying much.  Bella (the ingenue), played by Kristin Stewart, isn't unwatchable, but she is un-listenable.  I mean, she's got the angsty, awkward, love sick look down to a tee, but her vocal performance is totally one noted.  She stays basically monotone.  The worst part are her voice overs, which, no matter what she is saying, sound like she's on about a gazillion anti-depressants and just barely interested in whatever she is saying.  Jacob, our Quileute hero, played by Taylor Lautner, is just plain atrocious.  I mean... it is terrible.  I can't even explain how bad his acting is, you just have to see it.

The voiceovers:  uhm, so I have a real issue with voiceovers as a device in movies in general.  Usually, with a very few exceptions like Big Fish and American Beauty, voiceovers are a necessary crutch for a terrible script.  The copious use of voiceover means that the scriptwriter and later the director, were too lazy/untalented to come up with a way of portraying on film whatever is being said in voice over.  So, in Eclipse, we have a couple of instances of Bella, in voice over, telling us how she feels about this or that, when we should be able to gleen her feelings from oh.. I don't know... the acting and the action on screen.  A voice over every now and then is fine, if it adds something to a movie, or if it covers a long period of time, but when it is filling in for things like good acting and good directing... bad bad bad.

The Ugly
Alright, you've stuck with me this long, now you finally get to hear what I think of the whole Native American aspect in this film.  Most of these comments apply to the entire series of books and movies...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

LIVE TWEETING: My experience of Twilight: Eclipse... snark snark snark

 This event is over, click here for the transcript.
Follow me and pipe in as I watch and tweet the new Twilight Saga movie, "Eclipse".  This movie includes teen angst, love, sparkly vampires, and Native Americans that turn into wolves.  Should be fun.

This link should get you to my profile   You'll have to sign up for twitter to participate.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Update on "Rape on the Reservation" Issues

Tribal Law and Order Act Details 

from Turtle Talk

Between 2007 and 2010, Congress held 17 hearings on various aspects of violence on Indian lands from domestic and sexual violence against women and children to drug smuggling and gang activity.  On June 23, 2010, the Senate passed the Tribal Law and Order Act, as an amendment to H.R. 725, by unanimous consent.
Indian reservations nationwide face violent crime rates more than 2.5 times the national rate.  Some reservations face more than 20 times the national rate of violence.  More than 1 in 3 American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetimes, and 2 in 5 will face domestic or partner violence.  The crisis is the result of a broken and underfunded system of justice.
Federal laws limit the authority of Indian tribes to punish Indian offenders to no more than 1-year imprisonment, and force reservation residents to rely on Federal (and in some cases State) officials to investigate and prosecute violent crimes on Indian lands.  However, over the past 5 years, Federal officials have declined to prosecute 50% of alleged violent crimes in Indian country, including 75% of alleged sex crimes against women and children.
Less than 3,000 Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal police patrol more than 56 million acres of Indian lands.  Foreign drug cartels are aware of the lack of police presence on Indian lands and are targeting some reservations to distribute and manufacture drugs.
The Tribal Law and Order Act takes a comprehensive approach at addressing these shortfalls by establishing accountability measures for Federal agencies responsible for investigating and prosecuting reservation crime, and by providing tribes with additional tools to combat crime locally.
Some major provisions include:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fifth Circuit Upholds Boy's Right to Wear Braids

 If you have not yet done so, please take a moment to answer this poll on "race dating".  Thank you.

Some good news for you today.  Recently the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas upheld a decision protecting a Lipan Apache boy's right to wear his hair long in school.  This dispute called up eerie parallels to the old days of Indian Boarding schools, when officials forcibly cut American Indian children's hair as part of the "civilization process".  The motto at the time was "Kill the Indian, save the man".  The picture above is a famous before and after shot of a student at the Carlyle Indian School.  Many survivors of Indian Boarding Schools have described the experience of having their hair, which they believed to be an extension of themselves and a direct tie to their ancestors, lopped off as a life changing traumatic event.

The contemporary dispute in Texas began when the boy was in Kindergarten.  His elementary school has a strict dress codes that prohibits boys from wearing their hair below their ears.  The child, known in court documents as A.A. for religious purposes has never cut his hair.  His mother, anticipating trouble with the dress code, wrote to the school and the school board on multiple occasions asking if her child's hair would pose a problem.  After several non-replies, she finally was notified that her child would have to cut his hair.  The boy's parents refused and sent him to school.  An exemption was issued allowing the boy to attend if he wore his hair in a bun or down the back of his shirt in one long braid. The parents contended this still infringed on the boys religious rights.  They invoked the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1996 in their appeals to the school board.  The boy was placed in in-school suspension for the duration of the struggle.  The ACLU brought the case to the courts.

Lower courts stated that indeed the rule infringed on the boy's religious freedom, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.  The case hinged on proving two basic things:  1. That the boy's long hair in fact reflected a true religious belief, and 2. That the school dress code went against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (Texas law). 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Lacrosse, Passports, and Tribal Sovereignty

Some of you may already know that the Iroquois Confederacy, or the Haudenosaunee, have issued their own passports for decades, allowing them to cross the U.S. - Canada border freely (their reserveration is on both sides), while also asserting their sovereignty.  The U.S. has recognized their passports in a rather non-chalant off and on manner.  Recently, the validity of the passports has come to the forefront, along with their implications for tribal sovereignty, in a dispute over whether or not the Haudenosaunee Lacrosse team should be allowed to travel out of the country with them to participate in the Lacrosse World Championships.  First, it was the U.S. saying no no no, you can't fly back into the country using those, but luckily, Hillary Clinton intervened on behalf of the confederacy and the U.S. announced it would allow the team to travel.  That should have been the end of the story, but, Britain, the country to which the team needed to travel, announced they would not grant visas for the unrecognized passports.  This announcement came after a previous one where they said that if the U.S. determined them to be valid then they WOULD grant visas.  So, last night, the team got the final word that they would not be able to travel using their tribal passports.

Why is this a big to do?  Well, if you know anything about Indian Law, you know it makes little-to-no logical sense, but is based on a series of court decisions, many of which are completely exceptional to constitutional law.  A prime example is the placing of Native American issues under the department of the interior and the creation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, when the constitution specifically states that all dealings with "Indian Tribes" should be handled by congress in the commerce clause.  The commerce clause itself sets up "Indian Tribes" as an exceptional group in the first place.  It states that "The Congress shall have Power To To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes".  This is a problematic clause because it begs the question of whether the constitution considers Indian Tribes on par with foreign Nations, or with states.  Various court decisions have decided that tribes are "domestic dependent nations" which leads to a real dispute over sovereignty.  The Indian Reorganization Act allowed tribes self governance under prescribed constitutional governments, yet other decisions still grant jurisdiction of federal crimes to the federal government, so clearly tribal nations are not sovereign if there is still a higher power that can step in like that.  Right?  Then of course there's the "how can a nation be sovereign if it is dependent on another nation?"  Sovereign in writing but not in practice, that's how.

So how does the Lacrosse dispute tie into all of this?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Review: Reel Injun

Visit the official website here:

Reel Injun is a documentary about the film industry's treatment of Native Americans since the inception of the craft.  In roughly one hour, the film manages to cover 100 years worth of film history, from the first kinetoscope clips to the aboriginal film renaissance still in full swing today.  The research that went into this doc is astounding, and from the perspective of a filmmaker, the amount of formatting etc. that went into putting all these clips together is mind blowing!  Not only is the amount of information and footage incredible, but this information is woven together through an excellent narration by the filmmaker, Neil Diamond.  It is excellent because the filmmaker's voice does not intrude, but rather speaks only when it is necessary.  His personal story of traveling the country to discover all things Native in film that came before him, is a great device for pulling together so much history.

What's truly fantastic about this doc, is that it goes beyond the Western.  How many papers, books, and shorts have I seen and read complaining about the treatment of Natives in Westerns?  Finally, here is a doc that reaches back to the beginning of cinema, when Natives not only were in early films, but directed them!  Finally, here is a doc that goes past the Westerns into times where the Noble Savage replaces the savage.  And finally, here is a doc that takes us into the present, when once again Natives are making films for and about themselves.

I am also impressed by the quality, scope, and number of interviews included in this film from Clint Eastwood to leaders of the American Indian Movement to current Native filmmakers and actors.  Somehow, Neil Diamond manages to get them all in there without overwhelming the audience.

The only bad thing I have to say about this documentary is that it is too short.  I want to know more!

If you've ever been confronted with the idea that maybe everything you think you know about American Indians is from the movies, then this doc will prove it, and you'll learn something real along the way!

Watch the trailer:

Thursday, July 8, 2010

BP: Naughty Naughty False Reporting on Native Land

Holy crap, BP!  So, not only is BP reponsible for one of the worst environmental disasters in recent memory, but they've been inaccurately reporting royalties since at least 2007.  The Department of the Interior has now fined BP $5.2 million for submitting misleading and false reports on energy production on Southern Ute tribal lands.  Guess who caught 'em?  The Southern Ute tribal auditors!  Good job!

Tribal auditors discovered the errors during an audit conducted as part of a cooperative agreement with the bureau's Minerals Revenue Management Program, and the tribe brought them to BP's attention in August 2007, the department said.

After receiving audit letters and an order, BP agreed with auditors' concerns and "repeatedly promised to correct the problems, which they attributed to errors in their automated files," the department said.

But when federal officials and tribal auditors examined later production reports, the same errors were found, according to the Ocean Energy Management bureau's director, Michael Bromwich, "leading us to conclude that BP's continued submission of erroneous reports was knowing or willful."  -CNN

BP might try to fight the fine in a Dept of the Interior Hearing.  Good luck with that, boys, I'm sure they'll be super empathetic.