The Latest News About Native American People And Culture
The last few years have found a number of significant stories about people, issues, policies and indigenous culture. Native leaders, activists, awareness campaigns and important cultural developments have made front pages of current events on national and international stages. Check back here from month to month for news and information about Native Americans and the stories surrounding our community’s people, events, policies, achievements.
Historic Advance Appropriations Bill Passes to Fund Indian Health Service
Congress enacted a Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 omnibus spending package, including a historic provision providing advance appropriations for the Indian Health Service (IHS). Prior to this change, IHS was the only federal healthcare provider without basic certainty of funding from one year to the next. The Indian health system serves approximately 2.5 million patients at IHS, Tribal facilities, and urban Indian organizations, and was created to meet the U.S. trust responsibility to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of all Native people to the highest standard. Unfortunately, Indian healthcare remains chronically underfunded – a U.S. policy exacerbated by disruptions in the discretionary appropriations process. With advance appropriations, American Indians and Alaska Natives will no longer be uniquely at risk of death or serious harm during delays in an FY 2024 funding agreement. Inclusion of IHS advance appropriations in the spending bill means that IHS services will be protected from the harmful effects of disruptions in federal funding for FY 2024 because Congress has agreed to an amount this year that becomes available immediately on October 1, 2023.
“We applaud Congress and the White House for listening to Native communities and doing what is right. For far too long, the federal government has allowed political disputes over budgets to jeopardize the lives of American Indian and Alaska Native people. Every single time there is a stopgap budget, the funding for urban Indian health clinics is deferred and reduced. This compromises the delivery of health care. We look forward to working with our leaders to help the United States make good on its responsibility to provide health care for the people who gave up the land we are on today.” - Sonya Tetnowski (Makah), President of the National Council of Urban Indian Health
“Including advance appropriations for Indian health in the omnibus is a historic moment for Indian Country over a decade in the making. While Indian health remains chronically underfunded, this provision will help ensure that the Indian Health Service can provide stable, uninterrupted care to our people even when there is a government shutdown. We are confident that we can build on this win and continue our work toward full and mandatory funding for the Indian Health Service, fulfilling the promises this country made to our people over two centuries ago.”- William Smith (Valdez Native Tribe), President of the National Indian Health Board
“The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in partnership with our invaluable allies at the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) and the National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH) have fought for years to get advanced appropriations for the Indian Health Service (IHS) and commends Congress for taking this critically important step for Indian Country. This historic decision comes not a moment too soon as Indian Country continues to be plagued by an ongoing health crisis that affects all of our communities. This week’s action represents a meaningful step taken by the United States towards fulfilling its trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations and we are grateful for it as we continue to call on the United States to make good on all of its promises made to our ancestors so that our communities may continue to thrive.” – Fawn Sharp (Quinault Indian Nation), President of the National Congress of American Indians
This success would not have been possible without all the advocacy from Tribes, Tribal organizations and Urban Indian organizations. As part of this effort, the National Indian Health Board, the National Congress of American Indians, and the National Council of Urban Indian Health have been part of a broad coalition of advocates and champions for IHS advance appropriations. Our organizations would like to thank the coalition for its dedication and leadership during this endeavor. We would like to also provide special thanks to Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and the Biden-Harris administration for championing this historic change, as well as House and Senate appropriators, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the House Committee on Natural Resources, the House Native American Caucus, and all of Indian Country’s champions throughout Congress. Finally, we would like to thank Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Becerra, IHS Director Roselyn Tso, and all the OMB and HHS staff who worked tirelessly to realize this moment. Together, we made history.
Democrat Mary Peltola, the 1st Alaska Native in Congress, wins a full term
U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola has been elected to a full term in the House, months after the Alaska Democrat won a special election to the seat following the death earlier this year of longtime Republican Rep. Don Young.
Peltola defeated Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich, as well as Libertarian Chris Bye in the Nov. 8 election. Palin and Begich also were candidates in the special election. “It’s a two-year contract,” Peltola told the Anchorage Daily News after her victory — a 55%-45% margin over Palin in the final tabulation round — was announced. “I will be happy to work for Alaskans again, as long as they’ll have me.”
Peltola, who is Yup’ik, with her win in August became the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress and the first woman to hold Alaska’s House seat. The win also buoyed her fundraising, outpacing those of her rivals in the lead-up to November 2022 election.
Begich congratulated Peltola in a statement, adding: “Our nation faces a number of challenges in the coming years, and our representatives will need wisdom and discernment as they work to put America on a more sound path. My message to Alaskans is to continue to be involved and engaged.”
Peltola embraced Young’s legacy as she sought the two-year term and was endorsed by his daughters, one of whom presented her with a bolo tie of Young’s at an Alaska Federation of Natives conference where Peltola was treated like a rock star. Young held the seat for 49 years. “Now, I’m a real congressman for all Alaska,” she said. Young often referred to himself that way. Peltola has described his legacy as one of bipartisanship and building support for Alaska interests in Congress.
Peltola was a state lawmaker from the small rural hub community of Bethel for 10 years, ending in 2009. She surprised many with her fourth place finish in the June special primary, in which she emerged from a field of 48 candidates that included current state and local officeholders. That finish was enough to send her to the special election.
During the campaign, she cast herself as a coalition builder, emphasized a desire for more civility in politics and sought to stay out of the sniping between Palin and Begich. Peltola, who most recently worked for a commission whose goal is to rebuild salmon in Alaska’s Kuskokwim River, raised concerns with ocean productivity and cited a need to preserve struggling fisheries.
She also stressed her support of abortion rights. During a speech in October, she talked about the need for unity and lamented what she said have become pervasive messages in politics “about hate and fear and self-pity. And yes, those resonate, those are compelling motivators. But they’re destructive, they’re acidic, they tear us down.” She said her priorities for the new term included committee assignments and “working very hard on getting our inflation rates down, our shipping costs down, getting costs down for working families and all Alaskan households.”
University of North Dakota to return more than 250 boxes of Native American remains and artifacts, school president says
The University of North Dakota is working to repatriate human remains and sacred artifacts taken from Indigenous communities, UND President Andrew Armacost said Wednesday at a news conference. More than 250 boxes of items were discovered in March, but university officials have not publicized the find until now at the request of tribal leaders. “The number of ancestors we have here on campus can be measured in the dozens,” Armacost said, saying the boxes included remains and artifacts, such as headdresses, war bonnets and a ceremonial pipe.
“We can now feel a sense of relief and hope because our ancestors will be returned to their rightful place, and that’s home. We’ll make sure of that,” said Laine Lyons, a member of the Chippewa Tribe who works in the university’s college of arts and sciences. Armacost said their priority is to identify and return the items to the appropriate tribes while the investigation continues into why the remains and artifacts were kept on campus.
“Our initial impression is that some of the ancestors and funeral items were taken from sacred burial mounds,” Armacost said. “These excavations took place over the course of decades.”
Tribal artifacts have been taken frequently for academic research, but that is no excuse for the theft, Nathan Davis of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission said. “Science can no longer be an excuse for preventing our ancestors from returning home,” Davis said.
Supreme Court could strike down Indian Child Welfare Act
A white Texas family that adopted a Navajo child is suing to strike down the 1977 landmark legislation Indian Child Welfare Act. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in their case, which could affect not only the little girl’s adoption but those of thousands of Native American children in foster care. Depending on how broadly the justices rule, the outcome of the case, Brackeen v. Haaland, could also start the unraveling of other federal protections that have long been extended to tribes.
That is because the case, which primarily pits the Brackeens and Texas against the U.S. Department of the Interior and five tribes, could turn on whether the Supreme Court finds that tribes are racial classifications rather than political ones — a prospect that the tribes find deeply threatening.
“It would put at risk every treaty, every property and political right and every power that Indian nations possess today,” said Robert Miller, a professor of federal Indian law at Arizona State University, tribal court judge and enrolled citizen of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe.
The law’s goal of reunification — placing Native children with tribal families — has long been a gold standard, according to briefs signed by more than two dozen child welfare organizations. Building a Native child’s connection to extended family, cultural heritage and community through tribal placement, they said, is inherent in the definition of “the best interests of the child” and a critical stabilizing factor when the child exits or ages out of foster care.
Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba sworn in as 1st Native American in US Treasurer
Mohegan Chief Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba was sworn in Monday as the Treasurer of the United States, the first Native American to hold that office. Her signature will now appear along with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on U.S. currency. Yellen hailed the appointment at the Treasury Department ceremony as a sign of the Biden administration’s “respect for, and commitment toward, our nation-to-nation relationship, trust and treaty responsibilities, and Tribal sovereignty and self-determination.”
“For all our progress — there is more work to do to strengthen our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribal governments,” Yellen said in prepared remarks. They were joined by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to lead that department, and members of Treasury’s Tribal Advisory Committee. Malerba, who will remain lifetime chief of the Mohegan Indian Tribe which is made up of roughly 2,400 people, previously worked as a registered nurse, and has served in various tribal government roles.
Vincent G. Logan sworn in as FCA Board Member
Vincent G. Logan of New York was sworn in on October 13, 2022 as a member of the Farm Credit Administration board. President Joseph Biden announced his intent to nominate Mr. Logan on April 6, 2022; the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed his nomination on Sept. 29; and President Biden signed his appointment on Oct. 3. Mr. Logan was appointed to a term that expires May 21, 2026. A member of the Osage Nation, he is the first Native American to serve on the board.
“By providing dependable, affordable credit to the nation’s farmers and ranchers, the Farm Credit System — and FCA as the System’s regulator — have contributed greatly to the success of our nation’s agriculture industry,” said Board Member Logan. “It is my honor to have been appointed by President Biden to serve on the FCA board, and I look forward to working with my fellow board members to continue the agency’s important work.” “It gives me great pleasure to welcome Vince to this board,” said FCA Chairman and CEO Glen Smith. “His expertise in asset-based financing and management, his regulatory background, and his experience as a lawyer and investment advisor will strengthen the board’s capacity. I look forward to working with Vince.”
Indigenous Stories in Entertainment
There are a number of dramatic series, films, documentaries, comedies starring indigenous people and about indigenous people. Native Americans and Alaskan Natives are producing, directing and performing in countless new and historical films and shows. Cable and National Stations have a number of new shows featured on their channels now.
New Stories and Entertainment
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World New on Netflix, Filmmakers Stevie Salas, Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana examine the musical contributions and pop culture influence of Indigenous artists. Although routinely omitted from pop music archives, the substantial contributions of Native American musicians in an array of genres are detailed in this compelling documentary featuring stars ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Buffy Sainte-Marie.(Follow this page for more entertainment news.)
AMC’s Groundbreaking Native American Drama ‘Dark Winds’
Dark Winds, which premieres June 12 on AMC and AMC+, is executive produced by Robert Redford, who acquired the rights to Hillerman’s books in 1986, and George R.R. Martin, who was the mystery writer’s friend from 1980 until Hillerman’s death in 2008. The $5 million-an-episode show is filmed in three different sovereign nations, written by a writers room of five Indigenous writers, primarily directed by filmmaker Chris Eyre — of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, he is best known for his 1998 film Smoke Signals — produced by Graham Roland (Chickasaw), shot by a crew that is 85 percent Native American and starring actors McClarnon, Kiowa Gordon (Hualapai) as Detective Jim Chee and Jessica Matten (Red River Metis-Cree) as Sergeant Bernadette Manuelito, a character the Dark Winds writers expanded from the books.
54th U.S. Secretary of the Interior 2021-Current
U.S. Representative for New Mexico’s 1st District 2019-2021
Enrolled Member of Laguna Pueblo.
U.S. House Representative for Kansas’s 3rd District 2019-Current
Enrolled Member of Ho-Chunk Nation
Nov. 8, 2022 Update: Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids won reelection in Kansas’s 3rd Congressional District, beating a challenge from Republican Amanda Adkins, a former congressional staffer, for the right to return to Capitol Hill for a third term.
The race marked a rematch of the 2020 contest, when Davids defeated Adkins by 10 points.
Elizabeth Marie Tallchief, American Ballerina (January 24, 1925 – April 11, 2013)
Elizabeth Tallchief was considered America’s first major prima ballerina. She was the first Native American (Osage Nation) to hold the rank, and is said to have revolutionized ballet.
Almost from birth, Tallchief was involved in dance, starting formal lessons at age three. When she was eight, her family relocated from her birth home of Fairfax, Oklahoma, to Los Angeles, California. The purpose of the move was to advance the careers of Maria and her younger sister, Marjorie. At age 17, she moved to New York City in search of a spot with a major ballet company, and, at the urging of her superiors, took the name Maria Tallchief. She spent the next five years with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, where she met choreographer George Balanchine. When Balanchine co-founded what would become the New York City Ballet in 1946, Tallchief became the company’s first star.
The combination of Balanchine’s difficult choreography and Tallchief’s passionate dancing revolutionized the ballet. Her 1949 role in The Firebird catapulted Tallchief to the top of the ballet world, establishing her as a prima ballerina. Her role as the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker transformed the ballet from obscure to America’s most popular. She traveled the world, becoming the first American to perform in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater. She made regular appearances on American TV before she retired in 1966. After retiring from dance, Tallchief was active in promoting ballet in Chicago. She served as director of ballet for the Lyric Opera of Chicago for most of the 1970s and debuted the Chicago City Ballet in 1981.
Tallchief was honored by the people of Oklahoma with multiple statues and an honorific day. She was inducted in the National Women’s Hall of Fame and received a National Medal of Arts. In 1996, Tallchief received a Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievements. Her life has been the subject of multiple documentaries and biographies.
Louise Erdich, Pulitzer Prize Winner
Louise Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, is the author of many novels as well as volumes of poetry, children’s books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel The Round House won the National Book Award for Fiction. Love Medicine and LaRose received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. Erdrich lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore. Her most recent book, The Night Watchman, won the Pulitzer Prize.
Joy Harjo, U.S. Poet Laureate
In 2019, Harjo was the first Native American to be named Poet Laureate and is currently in her third term. Harjo, who is of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, has penned a range of works, including nine books of poetry and her previous memoir Crazy Brave. Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Nation (Este Mvskokvlke) and belongs to Oce Vpofv (Hickory Ground). She is an important figure in the second wave of the literary Native American Renaissance of the late 20th century. She studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts, completed her undergraduate degree at University of New Mexico in 1976, and earned an MFA degree at the University of Iowa in its creative writing program.
Her signature project as U.S. Poet Laureate was called “Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First Peoples Poetry”, which focused on “mapping the U.S. with Native Nations poets and poems”