History > 2009 > USA > Native Americans / Indian Americans (I)
Gang Violence Grows
on an Indian Reservation
December 14, 2009
The New York Times
By ERIK ECKHOLM
PINE RIDGE, S.D. — Richard Wilson has been a pallbearer for at least five of
his “homeboys” in the North Side Tre Tre Gangster Crips, a Sioux imitation of a
notorious Denver gang.
One 15-year-old member was mauled by rivals. A 17-year-old shot himself;
another, on a cocaine binge and firing wildly, was shot by the police. One died
in a drunken car wreck, and another, a founder of the gang named Gaylord, was
stabbed to death at 27.
“We all got drunk after Gaylord’s burial, and I started rapping,” said Mr.
Wilson, who, at 24, is practically a gang elder. “But I teared up and couldn’t
Mr. Wilson is one of 5,000 young men from the Oglala Sioux tribe involved with
at least 39 gangs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The gangs are being
blamed for an increase in vandalism, theft, violence and fear that is altering
the texture of life here and in other parts of American Indian territory.
This stunning land of crumpled prairie, horse pastures turned tawny in the
autumn and sunflower farms is marred by an astonishing number of roadside
crosses and gang tags sprayed on houses, stores and abandoned buildings, giving
rural Indian communities an inner-city look.
Groups like Wild Boyz, TBZ, Nomads and Indian Mafia draw children from broken,
alcohol-ravaged homes, like Mr. Wilson’s, offering brotherhood, an identity
drawn from urban gangsta rap and self-protection.
Some groups have more than a hundred members, others just a couple of dozen.
Compared with their urban models, they are more likely to fight rivals, usually
over some minor slight, with fists or clubs than with semiautomatic pistols.
Mr. Wilson, an unemployed school dropout who lives with assorted siblings and
partners in his mother’s ramshackle house, without running water, displayed a
scar on his nose and one over his eye. “It’s just like living in a ghetto,” he
said. “Someone’s getting beat up every other night.”
The Justice Department distinguishes the home-grown gangs on reservations from
the organized drug gangs of urban areas, calling them part of an overall
juvenile crime problem in Indian country that is abetted by eroding law
enforcement, a paucity of juvenile programs and a suicide rate for Indian youth
that is more than three times the national average.
If they lack the reach of the larger gangs after which they style themselves,
the Indian gangs have emerged as one more destructive force in some of the
country’s poorest and most neglected places.
While many crimes go unreported, the police on the Pine Ridge reservation have
documented thousands of gang-related thefts, assaults — including sexual
assaults — and rising property crime over the last three years, along with four
murders. Residents are increasingly fearful that their homes will be burglarized
or vandalized. Car windows are routinely smashed out.
“Tenants are calling in and saying ‘I’m scared,’ ” Paul Iron Cloud, executive
officer of the Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Housing Authority, told the Senate
Committee on Indian Affairs in July at a special hearing on the increase of gang
“It seems that every day we’re getting more violence,” Mr. Iron Cloud said.
Perhaps unique to reservations, rivals sometimes pelt one other with cans of
food from the federal commodity program, a practice called “commod-squadding.”
As federal grants to Pine Ridge have declined over the last decade, the tribal
police force has shrunk by more than half, with only 12 to 20 officers per shift
patrolling an area the size of Rhode Island, said John Mousseau, chairman of the
tribe’s judiciary committee.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has proposed large increases in money for
the police, courts and juvenile programs, and for fighting rampant domestic and
sexual violence on reservations.
Christopher M. Grant, who used to head a police antigang unit in Rapid City,
S.D., and is now a consultant on gangs to several tribes and federal agencies,
has noted the “marked increase in gang activity, particularly on reservations in
the Midwest, the Northwest and the Southwest” over the last five to seven years.
The Navajo Nation in Arizona, for example, has identified 225 gang units, up
from 75 in 1997.
One group that reaches across reservations in Minnesota, called the Native Mob,
is more like the street gangs seen in cities, with hierarchical leadership and
involvement in drug and weapons trafficking, Mr. Grant said.
Many of the gangs in Pine Ridge, like the Tre Tre Crips, were started by tribal
members who encountered them in prison or while living off the reservation;
others have taken their names and colors from movies and records.
Even as they seek to bolster policing, Pine Ridge leaders see their best
long-term hope for fighting gangs in cultural revival.
“We’re trying to give an identity back to our youth,” said Melvyn Young Bear,
the tribe’s appointed cultural liaison. “They’re into the subculture of
African-Americans and Latinos. But they are Lakota, and they have a lot to be
Mr. Young Bear, 42, is charged with promoting Lakota rituals, including
drumming, chanting and sun dances. He noted that some Head Start programs were
now conducted entirely in Lakota.
Michael Little Boy Jr., 30, of the village of Evergreen, said he had initially
been tempted by gang life, but with rituals and purifying sweat lodges, “I was
able to turn myself around.” He is emerging as a tribal spiritual leader,
working with youth groups to promote native traditions.
Mr. Grant said a survey of young men in South Dakota reservations found that the
approach might be helping.
Mr. Wilson, the 24-year-old gang member, said he regretted not learning the
Sioux language when he was young and now wondered about his own future.
“I still get drunk and hang with my homeboys, but not like I used to,” he said.
His car, its windows shattered, sits outside his house, so he cannot get to the
G.E.D. class he says he would like to attend. His goal is to run a recording
studio where his younger half-brother, Richard Lame, 18, could make rap songs.
Mr. Lame is finishing high school and says he wants to go to college.
But he admits that he still joined 30 or so homeboys in town to party any chance
he got — “for the rush, the thrill.” As he spoke, he was dressed in the dark
colors of his set, the Black Wall Street Boyz; his tiny bedroom was decorated
with movie posters of Al Pacino as the megalomaniacal drug dealer Tony Montana
in “Scarface,” and he wore a black bandanna.
He pulled out a thick sheaf of his rap lyrics and gave an impromptu performance.
Ever since birth
I been waitin’ for death ...
Gang Violence Grows on
an Indian Reservation, NYT, 14.12.2009,
U.S. Will Settle Indian Lawsuit
for $3.4 Billion
December 9, 2009
The New York Times
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — The federal government announced on Tuesday that it intends to
pay $3.4 billion to settle claims that it has mismanaged the revenue in American
Indian trust funds, potentially ending one of the largest and most complicated
class-action lawsuits ever brought against the United States.
The tentative agreement, reached late Monday, would resolve a 13-year-old
lawsuit over hundreds of thousands of land trust accounts that date to the 19th
century. Specialists in federal tribal law described the lawsuit as one of the
most important in the history of legal disputes involving the government’s
treatment of American Indians.
President Obama hailed the agreement as an “important step towards a sincere
reconciliation” between the federal government and American Indians, many of
whom, he said, considered the protracted lawsuit a “stain” on the nation.
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama said, “I pledged my commitment to
resolving this issue, and I am proud that my administration has taken this step
For the agreement to become final, Congress must enact legislation and the
federal courts must then sign off on it. Administration officials said they
hoped those two steps would be completed in the next few months.
The dispute arises from a system dating to 1887, when Congress divided many
tribal lands into parcels — most from 40 to 160 acres — and assigned them to
individual Indians while selling off remaining lands.
The Interior Department now manages about 56 million acres of Indian trust land
scattered across the country, with the heaviest concentration in Western states.
The government handles leases on the land for mining, livestock grazing, timber
harvesting and drilling for oil and gas. It then distributes the revenue raised
by those leases to the American Indians. In the 2009 fiscal year, it collected
about $298 million for more than 384,000 individual Indian accounts.
The lawsuit accuses the federal government of mismanaging that money. As a
result, the value of the trusts has been unclear, and the Indians contend that
they are owed far more than what they have been paid.
Under the settlement, the government would pay $1.4 billion to compensate the
Indians for their claims of historical accounting irregularities and any
accusation that federal officials mismanaged the administration of the land
itself over the years.
Each member of the class would receive a check for $1,000, and the rest of the
money would be distributed according to the land owned. In addition, legal fees,
to be determined by a judge, would be paid from that fund.
Philip Frickey, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who
specializes in federal Indian law, said that of all the Indian land claims and
other lawsuits over the past generation, the trust case had been a “blockbuster”
because it is national in scope, involves a large amount of money, and has been
The lawsuit spanned three presidencies and engendered seven trials covering 192
trial days, generated 22 published judicial opinions, and went before a federal
appeals court 10 times.
Over its course, the federal judge originally assigned to the case, Royce C.
Lamberth, put contempt orders on two secretaries of the interior over their
handling of the lawsuit. In 2006, after the Bush administration complained of
bias, a federal appeals court removed Judge Lamberth from the case.
Judge James Robertson has handled it since, and he pushed both parties to
negotiate — including brokering a last-minute deal over an undisclosed problem
that nearly derailed the settlement late Monday, said David J. Hayes, the
Interior Department deputy secretary.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Tuesday characterized the case as
“intense, and sometimes difficult.”
“The United States could have continued to litigate this case, at great expense
to the taxpayers,” Mr. Holder said. “It could have let all of these claims
linger, and could even have let the problem of fractionated land continue to
grow with each generation. But with this settlement, we are erasing these past
liabilities and getting on track to eliminate them going forward.”
The settlement also seeks to resolve an ever-growing headache of the trust
system that contributed to the government’s problems — especially in the
pre-computer era — in keeping track of the allotments: the original owners, most
of whom died without leaving wills, have many heirs, which has “fractionalized”
the ownership interests.
For example, one 40-acre parcel today has 439 owners, most of whom receive less
than $1 a year in income from it, Mr. Haynes said. The parcel is valued at about
$20,000, but it costs the government more than $40,000 a year to administer
In an effort to resolve such problems — and prevent them from worsening in
subsequent generations — the settlement would establish a $2 billion fund to buy
fractional interests in land from anyone willing to sell. The program would seek
to consolidate ownership in parcels of land for the tribes, while reducing the
Interior Department’s work in keeping track of the trusts.
“This is an historic, positive development for Indian country,” said Ken
Salazar, the Interior Department secretary, “and a major step on the road to
reconciliation following years of acrimonious litigation between trust
beneficiaries and the United States.”
Over the years, the plaintiffs have contended that they were owed tens of
billions of dollars, while the government has at times taken the position that
it owed them little or nothing.
Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff who filed the class-action lawsuit in 1996,
said she believed that the Indians were owed more, but that it was better to
reach an agreement that could help impoverished trust holders than to spend more
years in court. She said she had originally expected the litigation to last only
two or three years.
“We are compelled to settle by the sobering realization that our class grows
smaller each day as our elders die and are forever prevented from receiving just
compensation,“ Ms. Cobell said.
Robert Clinton, an Arizona State University law professor who specializes in
federal Indian law, said the settlement alone would not resolve the trust
problem because many of the heirs who own tiny interests in parcels may not be
willing to sell them.
Still, the settlement will provide an incentive for such owners to sell: the
Interior Department will set aside up to 5 percent of the value of the land
interests for a scholarship fund to help Indians attend college or vocational
U.S. Will Settle Indian
Lawsuit for $3.4 Billion, NYT, 9.12.2009,
New Hopes on Health Care
for American Indians
December 2, 2009
The New York Times
By PAM BELLUCK
The meeting last month was a watershed: the leaders of 564 American Indian
tribes were invited to Washington to talk with cabinet members and President
Obama, who called it “the largest and most widely attended gathering of tribal
leaders in our history.”
Topping the list of their needs was better health care.
“Native Americans die of illnesses like tuberculosis, alcoholism, diabetes,
pneumonia and influenza at far higher rates,” Mr. Obama said. “We’re going to
have to do more to address disparities in health care delivery.”
The health care overhaul now being debated in Congress appears poised to bring
the most significant improvements to the Indian health system in decades. After
months of negotiations, provisions under consideration could, over time, direct
streams of money to the Indian health care system and give Indians more
Some proposals, like exempting Indians from penalties for not obtaining
insurance, may meet resistance from lawmakers opposed to expanding benefits for
Indians, many of whom receive free medical care.
But advocates say the changes recognize Indians’ unique status and could ease
what Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, calls “full-scale health
care rationing going on on Indian reservations.”
“We’ve got the ‘first Americans’ living in third world conditions,” Mr. Dorgan
Mr. Obama has emphasized Indian issues more than most presidents. He campaigned
on reservations, created a senior policy adviser for Native American affairs and
appointed Kimberly Teehee, a Cherokee, to the post, and gave Indians other
He has proposed a budget increase of 13 percent for the federal Indian Health
Service, which provides free care to 1.9 million Indians who belong to federally
recognized tribes, most of whom live on tribally owned land. The service, which
had a budget this year of $3.3 billion, has also received $500 million in
stimulus money for construction, repairs and equipment.
“This new administration has been much more positive,” said W. Ron Allen,
chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe in Washington State and treasurer of
the National Congress of American Indians, adding that the Congressional
proposals provide “a very impressive opportunity to close the gap in Indian
On Thursday, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee is scheduled to discuss other
Indian health issues that could end up in the overhaul bill.
Indians could benefit from broader overhaul programs for low-income and
uninsured citizens, but they do not want to relinquish the health care they
claim as a historical right.
“Indian people have given up a lot,” said Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, director of the
Indian Health Service. “They really feel like they have, in a sense, prepaid for
this health care with loss of land, natural resources, loss of culture.”
‘List Goes On and On’
In the vast, varied territory called Indian Country, health care is stung with
Too few doctors. Too little equipment. Hospitals and clinics miles of
hardscrabble road away.
In cities, where over half of the country’s roughly 3 million Indians now live
(and nearly 5 million including part-Indians), only 34 programs get Indian
Health Service funding, providing mostly basic care and arranging more advanced
care and coverage elsewhere.
While some Indians have private insurance, often through employers or tribal
businesses like casinos, a third are uninsured and a quarter live in poverty. By
all accounts, the Indian Health Service is substantially underfunded.
Money shortages, bureaucracy and distance can delay treatment of even serious
conditions for months, even years.
Many Indians face multiple roadblocks.
Joanna Quotskuyva’s breast cancer did not require a mastectomy, but she chose to
have surgery because radiation would mean months of driving five hours
round-trip from her home on the Hopi reservation in Kykotsmovi, Ariz.
Many make similar choices, because “unfortunately, we don’t have the
capability,” said Dr. Joachim Chino, chief of surgery at the nearest hospital,
the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation. Treating large swaths of the
Hopi and Navajo reservations — the Navajo alone is the size of West Virginia —
is inherently difficult.
Despite its dedicated medical staff, the hospital struggles “to bring, right
here, appropriate state-of-the-art, specialty, critical-care medicine,” said
Joseph Engelken, the hospital’s chief executive.
While the Indian health system has improved nationally and Indians are living
longer, Dr. Roubideaux acknowledged problems, not all from underfunding, saying,
“The list goes on and on in terms of areas that need improvement.”
Sometimes urgent “life or limb” cases get attention, while others, some serious,
Dr. David Yost, clinical director at the White Mountain Apache reservation in
Arizona, cited “piles of care we have to put on the back burner,” including 150
cases this summer, some “waiting a year and a half.” This budget year, he said,
40 patients are still waiting, and about “10 people a month” are added to the
Ronnye Manuelito, 56, a Navajo in Naschitti, N.M., said he “almost felt like
giving up” after waiting for brain surgery to quell blackouts, seizures and
headaches experienced over three years from a shifting metal plate in his head
from a childhood carousel injury.
One time he “left the stove on in the kitchen and passed out,” and another he
had a seizure in a car, said his sister, Brenda. His Indian Health Service
doctor “was trying to get him a referral to a specialist in Albuquerque, but
they weren’t approving it because it wasn’t life-or-limb,” she said.
Ultimately, two surgical procedures helped him.
Dr. Roubideaux, speaking generally, said, “There are some places where funding
is so short and there are so few health care providers, unfortunately people may
have to wait quite a long time.”
A former reservation doctor herself, Dr. Roubideaux said she would see “someone
who maybe had chronic knee pain and a little bit of surgery would help, yet the
person was still walking,” making it non-life-threatening. “It’s really
heartbreaking,” she said.
In cities, scarce Indian facilities and patchwork insurance can mean “a woman
with a lump in her breast — we can’t guarantee we can get her into treatment in
a reasonable period,” said Ralph Forquera, the executive director of the
nonprofit Seattle Indian Health Board. “A cardiac problem? We can’t guarantee
that person can get to see a specialist.”
Sometimes, Mr. Forquera said, when that woman is treated, “the lump has
metastasized.” He added, “We’ve had people actually die on waiting lists.”
Jackie BirdChief, 46, a single mother with thyroid cancer, did not have to wait.
She just had to move 200 miles from Phoenix to the Apache reservation she left
in 1983, leaving her city, her job and, for months, her daughter, then 14. She
moved because cost containment rules link coverage for care to establishing
residency on reservations.
Ms. BirdChief, a secretary, was lucky because the Indian Health Service, her
employer, “manipulated the system to make it work out for her,” Dr. Yost said.
It found her jobs on the reservation, he said, “whereas someone working in a
grocery store would have had to quit their job — or decide if they wanted to
have the procedure.”
Still, Dr. Yost said, Ms. BirdChief “was a victim of our system, and ironically,
she worked for the Indian health system.”
Living on a reservation, however, does not ensure accessible care.
Ruby Biakeddy’s six-sided hogan, a traditional Navajo home, without running
water or a phone, is an hour’s drive on a dirt road from drinking water, and
even farther from diabetes and blood pressure medication. Since her truck got
swept away in a rain-swollen ditch five years ago, Ms. Biakeddy, 67, who tends
sheep, must borrow her children’s vehicles.
“I recently ran out of the medicine I inject for a week,” she said in Navajo
through a translator.
Serious cases, where getting care within the “golden hour” after problems start
is critical, can also suffer. “For many of our patients,” said Dr. Anne Newland,
acting clinical director of a clinic in Kayenta, Ariz., “that hour is gone by
the time they get to us.”
Ciara Antone, 4, died on the Navajo reservation outside Tuba City from an
apparent bowel obstruction. Her mother, Genita Yazzie, called 911, but said that
with the distance and road conditions, the ambulance was two hours away.
“I kept telling the dispatcher, ‘My daughter’s coding, she’s not breathing,’ ”
Ms. Yazzie said. Desperate, she drove to the closer Hopi reservation to get an
ambulance, but by then, “they couldn’t bring her back.”
Whether a closer ambulance could have saved her daughter is unclear (the family
has sued the non-Indian hospital that treated her). Henry Wallace, director of
Navajo Emergency Medical Services, which Ms. Yazzie called first for an
ambulance, declined to discuss the case, but said, “the geographic area is so
large that the time factor is probably the biggest problem we have.”
“We really don’t have a golden hour,” he said. “Ours could be the golden three
Staffing shortages exacerbate things. Recently, Kayenta began closing its
emergency room overnight, making Tuba City, at 90 minutes away, the closest
hospital. At Indian hospitals and clinics nationally, a fifth of physician
positions and a quarter of the nursing slots are unfilled.
Patients contribute to the frustrations. Nearly a third do not show up for
scheduled surgery at Tuba City, often citing distance or cost.
Richard White, 61, acknowledged taking his medicine sporadically and drinking,
aggravating his diabetes. He went blind, lost a toe and, during a Navajo
medicine-man ceremony that he hoped would restore his vision, burned his other
foot, which was then amputated.
“Stare at these incredible statistics, you become overwhelmed,” Dr. Yost said.
“It’s like drinking out of a fire hydrant.”
Keeping a Promise
Congress’s goal, in using penalty and co-payment exemptions, is to encourage
Indians to enroll in proposed programs like subsidized private insurance or
expanded Medicaid, while respecting their sovereignty and the conviction that
they are owed health care.
That conviction and bureaucratic hurdles have kept many eligible Indians from
enrolling in Medicaid. But getting insurance allows Indians to receive care from
more providers and allows the Indian system to get reimbursed from Medicaid or
That would generate “an influx of capital,” said Jim Roberts, policy analyst for
Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, that “you can use to improve Indian
Some disagree. Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, said exemptions could
discourage insurance enrollment, raise premiums for insured people and further
stress the Indian health care system, which he called “poorly managed” and in
need of billions of dollars to “keep the promise to Native Americans.”
Even if more Indians become insured, it will not end the problems, especially if
providers and insurers, daunted by the alarming health problems, continue
avoiding Indian Country.
Proposed legislation would not give Indians everything they want, but the
overhaul does include grants for preventive care and research. And the Indian
Health Care Improvement Act, which stands a good chance of being reauthorized by
Congress for the first time since 2001, would enhance programs, physician
recruitment and hospital construction. Although it approves no funding,
advocates hope it will prompt additional money.
Representative Frank Pallone Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, said that with the
current climate in Congress, and “particularly the president, it’s definitely
going to be easier to get Indian provisions in the health care bills.”
Easier, but no sure thing.
With expansions in public coverage or subsidies to buy private coverage, some
lawmakers may question whether Indian Country should “still be getting direct
payments to run I.H.S. clinics,” said Stephen Zuckerman, a health economist at
the Urban Institute, a research group.
“Some people are saying, ‘We can’t make all these adjustments for you guys,’ ”
Mr. Allen said, adding that some Indians reply: “Make us pay for health care,
then the deal is off. Give us the land back, and we’re good.”
New Hopes on Health Care
for American Indians, NYT, 2.12.2009,
Haunts Navajo Country
July 27, 2009
The New York Times
By DAN FROSCH
TEEC NOS POS, Ariz. — It was one year ago that the environmental scientist
showed up at Fred Slowman’s door, deep in the heart of Navajo country, and
warned that it was unsafe for him to stay there.
The Slowman home, the same one-level cinderblock structure his family had lived
in for nearly a half-century, was contaminated with potentially dangerous levels
of uranium from the days of the cold war, when hundreds of uranium mines dotted
the vast tribal land known as the Navajo Nation. The scientist advised Mr.
Slowman, his wife and their two sons to move out until their home could be
“I was angry,” Mr. Slowman said. “I guess it was here all this time, and we
The legacy wrought from decades of uranium mining is long and painful here on
the expansive reservation. Over the years, Navajo miners extracted some four
million tons of uranium ore from the ground, much of it used by the United
States government to make weapons.
Many miners died from radiation-related illnesses; some, unaware of harmful
health effects, hauled contaminated rocks and tailings from local mines and
mills to build homes for their families.
Now, those homes are being demolished and rebuilt under a new government program
that seeks to identify what are very likely dozens of uranium-contaminated
structures still standing on Navajo land and to temporarily relocate people
living in them until the homes can be torn down and rebuilt.
Stephen B. Etsitty, executive director of the Navajo Nation Environmental
Protection Agency, and other tribal officials have been grappling for years with
the environmental fallout from uranium mining.
“There were a lot of things people weren’t told about the plight of Navajos and
uranium mining,” Mr. Etsitty said. “These legacy issues are impacting
generations. At some point people are saying, ‘It’s got to end.’ ”
After a Congressional hearing in 2007, a cross-section of federal agencies
committed to addressing the environmental and health impacts of uranium mining
on the reservation. As part of that commitment, the federal Environmental
Protection Agency and the Navajo Nation began working together to assess uranium
levels in 500 structures through a five-year plan set to end in 2012.
Using old lists of potentially contaminated structures, federal and Navajo
scientists have fanned out to rural reaches of the 27,000 square mile
reservation — which includes swaths of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — to measure
levels of radium, a decay product of uranium that can cause lung cancer. Of 113
structures assessed so far, 27 contained radiation levels that were above
“In these situations, you have contamination in somebody’s yard or in their
house,” said Harry Allen, the E.P.A.’s section chief for emergency response in
San Francisco who is helping lead the government’s efforts. “To us, that is
Many structures that showed high levels of radiation were vacant; some families
had already moved out after hearing stories of contamination in their homes. But
eight homes still had people living in them, and the E.P.A. and Navajo officials
have worked to convince residents that it would be unsafe to stay.
“People had been told they were living in contaminated structures, but nobody
ever did anything about it,” said Will Duncan, an environmental scientist who
has been the E.P.A.’s main representative on the reservation. “They would tell
us, ‘We don’t believe you are going to follow through.’ ”
But with a budget of nearly $8 million, the E.P.A. has demolished all 27
contaminated structures and has begun building ones to replace those that had
been occupied. Typically, the agency pays a Navajo contracting company to
construct a log cabin or a traditional hogan in the structure’s stead, depending
on the wishes of the occupants. Mr. Allen said the cost, including temporarily
relocating residents, ran approximately $260,000 per dwelling and took about
The agency also offers $50,000 to those who choose not to have an old home
Lillie Lane, a public information officer with the Navajo Nation E.P.A. who has
acted as a liaison between the federal government and tribal members, said the
program held practical and symbolic importance given the history of uranium
Ms. Lane described the difficulty of watching families, particularly elders,
leaving homes they had lived in for years. She told of coming upon two old
miners who died before their contaminated homes could be rebuilt. “In Navajo, a
home is considered sacred,” she said. “But if the foundation or the rocks are
not safe, we have to do this work.”
Some families, Ms. Lane said, complained that their children were suffering from
health problems and had wondered if radiation were to blame.
The E.P.A. has started sifting through records and interviewing family members
to figure out whether mining companies that once operated on the reservation are
liable for any damages, Mr. Allen said.
On a recent summer day, Fred and Clara Slowman proudly surveyed their new home,
a one-level log cabin that sits in the quiet shadows of Black Rock Point, miles
away from the bustle of Farmington, N.M., where the family has been living in a
Mr. Slowman said he suspected that waste materials from a nearby abandoned mine
seeped into his house. The family plans on having a traditional Navajo medicine
man bless their dwelling before they move in.
“In our traditional way, a house is like your mom,” he said. “It’s where you
eat, sleep, where you’re taken care of. And when you come back from the city,
you come back to your mom. It makes you feel real good.”
Haunts Navajo Country, NYT, 27.7.2009,
July 16, 2009
The New York Times
By JAMES ABOUREZK
Sioux Falls, S.D.
SINCE taking office, President Obama has overturned several of George W.
Bush’s executive orders. I would like to recommend he also overturn one of
Fourteen years after the Great Sioux Reservation was established in western
South Dakota in 1868, President Chester Arthur issued an executive order
creating a 50-square-mile buffer zone on its southern edge, in Nebraska. This
was meant to prevent renegade whites from selling guns, knives and alcohol to
Indians living on the reservation.
The buffer zone was ratified as law when Congress divided the Great Sioux
Reservation into smaller units in 1889. But when Roosevelt became president, the
liquor industry convinced him that the buffer zone should be abolished, which he
did through an executive order in 1904. This move was, however, illegitimate
from the start, because an act of Congress cannot legally be reversed by an
Today, the tiny Nebraska hamlet of Whiteclay has four liquor stores, ostensibly
to serve its population of 24, but really more for the bootleggers and
alcoholics living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, just across the border.
The result has been murders, spouse beatings, child abuse, thefts and other
undesirable consequences of the free flow of alcohol into the reservation.
In 2000, I asked the Clinton administration to overturn Roosevelt’s illegal
order, but was unable to get anyone’s attention. In 2001, I asked Vice President
Dick Cheney to do the same, but he referred the matter to the White House
counsel, Alberto Gonzales, who decided that bringing back the buffer zone would,
as he wrote me in a letter, take land away from white landowners. In fact,
overturning the Roosevelt order would not transfer any land titles, but would
merely give jurisdiction over the buffer zone to the Oglala Sioux tribe,
automatically making alcohol sales illegal.
President Obama could right a century of wrongs by re-establishing the buffer
zone. It would alleviate the overwhelming social ills that result from easy
access to alcohol, and help end the violence tribal members too often visit on
each other and on their families.
James Abourezk, a former Democratic senator from South Dakota, was the
chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs from 1977 to 1979.
Evil Spirits, NYT,
Native American Family
To See Adopted Son Sworn In
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
By Michael Laris
Back home in Lodge Grass, Mont., they keep talking about Hartford Black Eagle's
"People around here, even the white people, say, 'You're the luckiest the person
in the world. You adopted the president of the United States!' " he said.
"Thank you," is his usual response.
But Black Eagle doesn't see his role in today's inauguration in terms of good
fortune. He sees something sacred. He and Mary, his wife of 57 years, were set
to be whisked to the Capitol by inauguration organizers early today for the
swearing-in, where they will be seated near the center of American power.
The couple adopted Barack Obama in a traditional Native American ceremony in
May, when the candidate made a campaign stop at the vast Crow reservation.
The adoption marked an unusually intimate intertwining of politics, history and
family -- but one that perhaps seems less jarring in the case of a president who
reached today's swearing-in, at least in part, on the power of his personal
story and its broader appeal.
Obama's outreach to Native Americans was part of a political strategy during
critical primary battles in Western states. Native American leaders, too, want
more power to control their lands and lives, seeking policy influence on such
issues as coal mining, the environment, and the economic stimulus package.
But an adoption is no slapdash honorary degree or campaign prop. It's a revered
compact that has linked the first family with five generations of First
Americans. Obama's daughters, Sasha and Malia, beamed as they met their adoptive
grandparents over the summer.
Four of those generations of Black Eagles came to Washington to witness their
new relative's elevation. Hartford and Mary will have prime viewing seats for
the ceremony. She will wear a traditional elk tooth coat, made of deep-pink
wool. (The teeth and sinews have gone plastic.) Hartford will don a buckskin
vest he's saving for the occasion, with six elegant rows of blue and red beads.
Yesterday, they took a moment to see the sights.
"That's where your son lives," Mary, 74, told her husband yesterday as they
glimpsed the White House on their first trip to Washington.
"There are a lot of ghosts in there," Hartford, 75, responded.
Mary first learned that her family was about to grow as she was on a long drive
to Arizona. Her son, Cedric, vice chairman of the tribe, was on the cellphone.
"I was already around Wyoming someplace. He called me and said we're going to
have to rush right back," Mary said. "He said, 'You're going to have to adopt
Barack Obama.' "
They were tentative about taking on the sudden responsibility. "I couldn't
comprehend it for a while," Mary said.
On the day Obama arrived at the reservation, she froze.
"When my alarm came on, I didn't want to go through with it. 'I would like to go
sleep another eight hours,' I said. 'Not me. I don't want to go,' " she recalled
telling Hartford. But, "my husband got after me."
She couldn't eat. Waiting for Obama in the Secret Service's security area, "we
were so nervous my mouth dried up," she said. No purses were allowed. "I needed
ChapStick so bad."
Then Obama walked in and greeted the dignitaries, before the room was mostly
"He started walking toward me. Oh man, I was kind of tongue-tied, and he said,
'Are you my new mother, Mary?' And I said 'Yes.' He just gave me a hug."
At the private adoption, Hartford waved smoke from burning cedar needles over
Obama, twice in the front and twice in the back, with a bald eagle fan.
Afterward, Obama told reporters he was deeply moved by the ceremony, and he
vowed that if he won, he would have his new parents come to the White House.
Hartford is a spiritual healer and had been given the crucial, sacred
responsibility of christening Obama with a Crow name.
The act of naming is supposed to reflect the past of the person bestowing the
name and the future of the person receiving it, Hartford said.
The request for Obama's name came with an added sensitivity: the possibility of
a pre-presidential veto. Obama's people were on the lookout for potential
embarrassment, said Aubrey Black Eagle, Mary and Hartford's grandson.
As it happened, "Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuxshish" was the name Hartford chose. It
reflected Hartford's own travels as a healer, and translates as: "One Who Helps
People Throughout This Land."
Native American Family
To See Adopted Son Sworn In, WP, 20.1.2009,