The Dying Art of Diné Shearing (community)

Arnold Clifford is keeping alive the dying Navajo skill of sheep shearing.

The farmer, who lives on a reservation in the US state of Arizona, continues to shear without electric clippers.

Wool and meat from Churro sheep have sustained the Navajo for centuries. And Clifford, who is also a botanist and teacher, says the animal has been granted mythical status as a result.

He is trying to keep the shearing skills he learned from his elders alive. By donating his wool to weavers he is also helping that ancient Navajo tradition thrive today.

Don't Get Sick After June (health/community)

For too many Native Americans, the adage “Don’t get sick after June” once applied—because Indian Health Service (IHS) funds sometimes dwindled then—but soon it may be a different story with different outcomes.

For example, Colorado’s two tribal nations can keep IHS health care as it is at present, create a tribal health plan for their members, or craft a hybrid IHS/tribal plan through the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange (Exchange), slated to open in October 2013. Tribes in other states would also have options.

The possible Native plans and state health exchanges are a part of the federal Affordable Care Act, which is to enable low- and moderate-income individuals and small employers to obtain affordable health coverage. It also permanently authorizes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

The Southern Ute Indian and Ute Mountain Ute Tribes “are exploring their options,” Myung Oak Kim, Exchange communications and outreach specialist, said of the tribes in southwestern Colorado.

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Hawaiian Roll (community)

Native Hawaiian Roll Commission Launches Year-Long Effort

July 26, 2012
The Maui Weekly

Officials and members of the public joined together at Washington Place last week for the historic signing of the Native Hawaiian Roll. In a ceremony filled with a spirit of hope, the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission (NHRC) began its public effort to reinvigorate the building of a sovereign Hawaiian nation. The signing was accompanied by a petition of signatures in support of the roll.

Kana'iolowalu is a year-long effort to create a base roll of Native Hawaiians--a registry of individuals who will then be eligible to participate in the formation of a sovereign government--and also gather signatures from Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians on petitions declaring support for the reunification of Native Hawaiians and recognition of Native Hawaiians' un-relinquished sovereignty.

Speaking at the ceremony, NHRC chair, former Hawai'i Gov. John D. Waihe'e said Hawai'i's spirit of aloha and history of interwoven cultures make building the Hawaiian nation not only possible, but imperative.

"This work only serves to formalize what Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians know intuitively--Hawaiian sovereignty, while dormant at times, has been un-relinquished, and does not harm our community at large, but rather enriches us all," said Waihe'e.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a steadfast supporter of Hawaiian self-determination created the roll commission.

"This is about building a better future for all of us with respect to the continuing development of a reorganized Native Hawaiian governing entity," the governor said.

U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka was the first person to join the roll and sign the petition, in honor of his efforts on behalf of Hawaiian self-governance.

"Native Hawaiians are on a long and difficult journey to regain control of our collective future, and transmit our culture, knowledge and values to future generations. Signing this petition affirms that as a state, we recognize the rights of Native Hawaiians, as the indigenous people of Hawai'i, to perpetuate the culture of our island home. It is time to holomua, to move forward together, and to express our commitment to the future of Hawai'i and her indigenous people," Sen. Akaka said.

Others included in today's ceremony included U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz and NHRC members Na'alehu Anthony, Lei Kihoi, Robin Danner and Mahealani Wendt.

Kana'iolowalu contains an ambitious media component to share information with the public via broadcast, print and social media. The effort also relies on music. Palani Vaughn, Brickwood Galuteria, Kapono Ka'aihue and Willie K are among those who composed original music played today in support of the reunification of Hawaiians.

Kana'iolowalu runs through July 19, 2013, with a goal to register 200,000 Native Hawaiians. Registration and signing of the petition can be done on paper or electronically. Visit

Mukleshoot Program (health/community)

Muckleshoot food program fosters creative solutions

Students from Northwest Indian College at the Muckleshoot Tribe learn about traditional salmon preparation and skin tanning during a monthly seminar of the Food Sovereignty Project.

Including traditional foods – like huckleberries, nettles, camas and salmon – into tribal members’ everyday diets is the goal of the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty program. The two year project is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is supported by Northwest Indian College’s Traditional Plants and Foods Program.

“This effort is about eating healthy and remembering who we are and where we come from,” said Valerie Segrest, a traditional foods educator at Northwest Indian College. In addition to a native foods course, the project also includes monthly day-long community seminars covering specific foods, such as deer, berries or salmon. The project also has spawned a native berry garden at the college, an orchard at the Muckleshoot Tribal School and a “cultural landscape” including native plants at the new senior center.

The project was inspired by a joint effort of the Muckleshoot, Suquamish and Tulalip tribes and the Burke Museum to research plants used by tribes.

“The Burke constructed a database of pre-contact foods,” Segrest said. “We interviewed tribal members about how traditional foods make it into their diets. We then asked if tribal members currently had access to traditional foods, and if they didn’t, why not. Our most vital discussion, and where we’re focusing our efforts now, is overcoming those barriers.”

An important aspect of the project is encouraging tribal members to come up with their own solutions.

“It’s easy for people to say that a dietician should just tell people what to eat,” Segrest said. “But when you ask people what they need for better health, and you allow their solutions to come to fruition, there is an incredible response from the community.”

Some of the solutions can come from mixing traditional food with more modern preparation methods.

“We’ve prepared a huckleberry fruit smoothie and elk burgers,” she said. “This is about making it easier to use traditional food sources.”

Learning about traditional foods also puts the natural resources management efforts of the tribe into a new light.

“When we talk about gathering, fishing and hunting, you start to see how important it is to be good co-managers,” Segrest said. “Now you’re also talking about preserving habitat. It’s not just about food in a garden, it’s about the environment, caring for it and making sure traditional foods can thrive.

“Having traditional food available is not just about individual health, it’s about the health of the community,” Segrest said.

Tourism -v- Culture (community)

American Indian tribe ponders tourism vs. cultural mores

WOUNDED KNEE, S.D. • The Oglala Sioux Tribe occupies a seemingly prime piece of South Dakota — a vast, scenic reservation that stands near a crossroads for tourists visiting Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, the historic Old West town of Deadwood and other popular sites.

But don't look for museums, hotels, restaurants or many restrooms here on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The Lakota make little effort to attract visitors or tourism dollars, despite the fact that they are one of the nation's poorest tribes.

A generation after many other American Indians sought to harness their history for profit, the Oglala Sioux are still debating how much culture they are willing to share.

"When you take a community of people where at one point our language was outlawed and parts of our culture were outlawed, it's hard for us to, I guess, open up to the idea of sharing that in a way to make money off of it," said Nick Tilsen, executive director of Thunder Valley, a nonprofit group on Pine Ridge set up to keep traditional Lakota culture alive among young people.

Tourism is big business for some of the country's best-known Indian tribes, which reap a fortune from casinos and other business ventures.

The Navajo Nation in the Southwest welcomed some 600,000 visitors who spent $113 million last year. In Oklahoma, nearly 45,000 people visited the Cherokee Nation's Heritage Center museum.

But the Oglala Sioux stand apart in southwestern South Dakota. They have just one tribally run casino-and-hotel complex, the Prairie Wind, on the western side of the reservation and recently opened a smaller casino in Martin, a town near the reservation's eastern edge.

The tribe, Tilsen said, is not "totally against" development. "I think we're at the stage of, 'What parts do we want to protect, and what parts are we willing to share, and what does that look like?'"

Some tribal members think the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre, where more than 250 men, women and children were killed by the 7th Cavalry in 1890, should be turned into a tourist attraction with a museum. Others are fiercely opposed to development, saying it would be disrespectful to the dead.

The talk of development "hasn't matured yet," said Ivan Sorbel, executive director of the Pine Ridge Chamber of Commerce.

That doesn't stop people from coming. On a recent afternoon, two carloads of visitors from Texas and Iowa stopped within a 20-minute span to walk through the site, a National Historic Landmark.

The massacre is "one of the greatest crimes in U.S. history," said Gary Bishop, who traveled with his wife from the Dallas area.

But the couple's trip was unlikely to help the reservation much. They were staying at a hotel in Rapid City, about two hours northwest of the site.

Brianne Hawk Wing, an Oglala Sioux tribal member, arrived with her nephew and sister as soon as she saw visitors. Hawk Wing said she has been unable to get a job in tribal government, so she sells trinkets such as dream catchers for $20 to tourists at the site.

The tribal and federal governments are the largest employers on the 2.7 million-acre reservation, which includes some of the poorest counties in the U.S. The unemployment rate can be as high as 80 percent. Attracting investors is difficult because tribal members are often suspicious of outsiders.

It's unclear how many tourists visit the reservation or the Wounded Knee site. No one keeps accurate records. Still, many tribal members such as Hawk Wing want the site to remain as is.

"See, it's free. No one has to pay for anything," she said as she pointed out where her great-grandfather is buried.

A museum commemorating the massacre was ransacked and its contents lost in 1973. Another museum dedicated to the massacre draws thousands of people annually, but it's 100 miles north of the reservation in Wall, S.D. — also home to Wall Drug, a famous cluster of stores and tourist attractions offering Western kitsch.

The Wall museum is not affiliated with the Oglala Sioux, although co-founder Lani Van Eck said the facility had the blessing of Wounded Knee residents when it opened in 2003. She and the other co-founders decided to build it along busy Interstate 90 to attract more visitors.

Maps are available for anyone who wants to go to the actual site. But the museum doesn't bring revenue or jobs to the reservation, two things the Oglala Sioux are desperate for.

Also beyond the reservation's borders is the Crazy Horse Memorial, which honors the famed Lakota warrior and leader who played a key role in the 1876 defeat of the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana. The memorial was started in 1948 and has yet to be finished, but it still draws more than 1 million visitors annually to a site about 20 miles from Mount Rushmore.

Staff members at the memorial and other South Dakota tourist attractions have begun taking part in training led by the Pine Ridge Chamber of Commerce.

The goal is to help teach employees about Lakota history so they can share that information with tourists, who might then drive to the Pine Ridge reservation.

Story of Mission Indians (community)

From the Los Angeles Times
Huntington Library Database Tells the Stories of 100,000 Mission Indians
The computerized repository is available to the public.
By Larry Gordon
Times Staff Writer

August 8, 2006

Reclaiming a neglected part of California's past, historians Monday unveiled an immense data bank that for the first time chronicles the lives and deaths of more than 100,000 Indians in the Spanish missions of the 18th and 19th centuries.

In an eight-year effort, researchers at the Huntington Library in San Marino used handwritten records of baptisms, marriages and deaths at 21 Catholic missions and two other sites from between 1769 and 1850 and created a cross-referenced computerized repository that is now open to public access.

The Early California Population Project, its creators hope, will help bring the state's Spanish colonial and Mexican eras from out of the long shadows cast by the 13 English colonies on the East Coast.

"What we are trying to do here is to say these people have a history, and it's not a history that can be caricatured," said the project's general editor, historian Steven W. Hackel. "It's a history that emerges from a deep native past and a deep Spanish past and shows how the two came together for better or worse."

Huntington officials say scholars and amateur genealogists will be able to track, among other things, how many descendants of a Miwok Indian survived into the era of U.S. statehood, how many people died in an earthquake or a measles epidemic, how frequent intermarriage was between Spanish soldiers and Indian women, or how many Indians worked in farming or became skilled artisans.

The database does not offer judgments on the long debates about whether the Franciscans forced Indians into the missions and treated them brutally or whether Father Junipero Serra, founder of the California mission system, deserves to be, as he is now, just one step from sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

However, it does document the Franciscans' obsessions with converting Indians to Catholicism and its bans on polygamy and illegitimacy. And, death by death, it shows an extraordinarily high mortality rate as Indians became exposed to European diseases such as measles, influenza and smallpox.

"People who think the missions were places of cultural genocide and terrible population decline can look at this database, and they'll see that people came into the missions and died soon after," said Hackel, a history professor at Oregon State University. "People who want to see something else in the missions can look here too. It also shows tremendous Indian persistence and attempts to maintain their own communities within the missions."

The public can gain access to the database through an Internet link at . Conducting searches on the site can be complicated at first because of the many choices involved.

The project, which cost $650,000, used records mainly taken from microfilm of the originals. They overwhelmingly concern Indians in the coastal regions from the San Diego to Marin County areas, perhaps as many as half of the Indians within the current state borders. Some Spanish soldiers and Mexican settlers are included through the turbulent times of Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821 and California U.S. statehood in 1850.

There are some gaps in the documents as the missions declined, the Franciscans were stripped of their authority and Indians revolted. After the San Diego mission was burned down in an insurrection in 1775, the priests re-created the logs from memory, Hackel said.

Still, the Franciscans remained good record-keepers. They assigned numbers to each baptism and carefully noted parents and godparents, village of origin, ethnic background and trades. As a result, many people can be traced with astonishing specifics through life and, with computer links, their progeny.

For example, a 2-day-old Indian boy, given the name Francisco, was baptized Aug. 11, 1786, at Mission San Diego, the project shows. The information links to his marriage at 18 to a woman named Maria Loreta, also 18 (a spinster by that era's customs) and her death five years later with no children.

Francisco married again the next year to Antonina, who died childless 10 months later. He married a third time, to Thomasa (she was 13 and he was 26) and had a baby girl, Ynes, who died at 6 months. Francisco died April 4, 1817, apparently held in high regard by the Franciscans because he was given a deathbed communion, not just an anointing.

Thomasa married twice more and had 10 more children, two of whom are recorded as dying in infancy.

The causes of deaths in that clan were not given, but other records reveal risks of Western life beyond disease. Some people died from bear and snake attacks and others drowned in wells. The 1812 San Juan Capistrano earthquake killed 39, all buried in the ruins of the mission church.

"It tells us one heck of a lot about the people of California before 1850," said Robert C. Ritchie, the Huntington's director of research. "It has an enormous amount of detail that sits below the big story we know: the dying of so many native people along the coast."

Although surveys of smaller groups of missions were done in the past, none pulled together populations from across what was known as Alta California, scholars say. Plus, no other project on this topic was designed for the average person, not just experts, to navigate.

"The goal is democratic and open access to records that previously were, if not inaccessible, very, very hard to get," said Hackel, whose 2005 book, "Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis," examined Indian-Spanish relations in that period.

The raw records can be difficult to read, interpret and put into context, he added.

The project involved eye-straining work that took the equivalent of between two and four full-time employees since 1999. Their job was to take hundreds of thousands of bits of information from the microfilm of sometimes damaged and illegible mission books and put them into easy-to-read computer formats.

Anne Marie Reid, the inputting team leader, recalled feeling ill sometimes after long days staring at dark microfilm in Spanish and Latin and entering names and dates into computer logs.

But she said she also gained a feeling of fellowship with the Indians and priests as she recognized their names in various references. "You come to know these people," she said recently in her small workroom with consoles and screens.

In all, statistics were gleaned on an estimated 120,000 people, including some with incomplete records and some mentioned just once as a parent. Included are about 101,000 baptisms, 28,000 marriages and 71,000 burials at all 21 missions and from the Los Angeles Plaza Church and the Santa Barbara Presidio.

Partly because of the size, the project experienced some delays this summer because of software glitches.

The Huntington has a few original and very valuable mission records, including a page in Serra's very legible hand about three baptisms on Dec. 1, 1783, at Mission San Luis Obispo. Missions and other Catholic archives hold most of the surviving books but usually allow scholars to see only microfilm copies, some made 50 years ago.

Among the institutions lending microfilm for the project were the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library, the archdioceses of San Francisco and Los Angeles, and Santa Clara University. John R. Johnson, curator of anthropology for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, and Randall Milliken, a Davis-based anthropologist and mission expert, helped with planning.

The largest financial support for the project came from the National Endowment for the Humanities ($294,000), the California State Library ($163,000) and the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation ($110,000).

The Dan Murphy Foundation and the Giles W. and Elise G. Mead Foundation were among other donors.

Anthony Morales, tribal chair and chief of the Gabrieleno/Tongva Band of Mission Indians of San Gabriel, said he thought the project would "really catch the interest of all kinds of people like educators and researchers and just average folks who are interested in their families."

Some people, he said, will search for evidence of brutality in the mission system such as forced conversions and labor, while others will look for a more positive picture, such as "what did happen after my great-great-grandmother got converted and baptized."

Robert Senkewicz, a Santa Clara University historian who is an expert on early California, said the accessibility of the database is its "great virtue."

"It will make genealogists feel like they died and went to heaven," he said.

Miss Navajo (community)

Forget The Heels: What It Takes To Be Miss Navajo

The Miss Navajo contest is not your typical beauty pageant. Instead of swimsuits and high heels, you get turquoise and moccasins. One of the talent competitions is butchering sheep, and speaking Navajo is a must.

The Navajo Nation will crown this year's winner on Saturday night. It's sweltering during the competition, and throngs of people have gathered under a giant tent where some small campfires burn. The smoky cedar masks the smell of raw mutton while young women work in teams. They must decide who cuts the sheep's throat, who removes the stomach and who quarters the carcass.

Contestants sweat under the traditional Navajo dress of velvet, satin and layers of turquoise jewelry. One petite woman struggles to lift an enormous, slippery stomach out of her sheep. Judges circle and scrutinize.

Immediately after the women finish, they must answer impromptu questions in Navajo, like, "What are you supposed to do with the sheep's head?"

One contestant answers, "Wrap it in aluminum foil and put it on the fire."

The crowd boos in response because they don't like her answer — and because she switches to English. The event is intended to show whether these women can multitask, stay calm under pressure and most importantly, first-time contestant Wallitta Begay says, prove their understanding of Navajo customs.

"It's an essence of who you are and who your family is, who your community is," she says. "And you're not just representing yourself. You're representing your community ... when you compete, and once you get the title, you're representing an entire nation."

Begay says she's been butchering sheep with her grandmother since she was 12. For her, speaking Navajo is the hardest part of the competition. Most of the contestants grew up speaking English because their parents knew little Navajo. Many of the older generation had to attend government-run boarding schools and were pushed to assimilate into American culture.

"This whole entire generation ... our parents' generation, they were raised to think Navajo was bad to speak. They tied the language and reservation with failure," Begay says.

More people today believe that the language is a part of their identity and the Navajo identity is something to be proud of. Contestant Charlene Goodluck says you can hear that pride in the language that families use when they talk to each other.

"When a grandmother ... uses terms of endearment with her child, it means 'my granddaughter' or 'my daughter' or 'my child.' It gives that child a sense of belonging," she says.

Goodluck says growing up off the reservation in Albuquerque, N.M., she felt distant from her culture.

"A lot of our youth today are experiencing that loss of not having anywhere to go or having a home," she says.

Goodluck's own grandmother taught her, "If you don't know who you are, you don't know where you're going. If you don't know where you're going, you're lost." Her grandmother always wanted her to be Miss Navajo, and Goodluck's family has sacrificed a lot of time and money for her to compete. This is her third attempt at the crown.

"I want it so bad I can taste it. I'm starting to visualize it," she says. Goodluck, who was Miss Northern Navajo, has received a bit of advice from previous winners: "Tell yourself you're Miss Navajo. Look in the mirror and say, 'I am Miss Navajo!'"

This report was done in collaboration with Fronteras: The Changing America Desk, a public radio reporting project that focuses on the changing demographics in the American Southwest.