First Alaska Native Elected to U.S. Congress
Mary Peltola, an Alaska Yup’ik Native, has won a special election to become the first Alaska Native and the first Alaskan woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I am honored, humbled, and absolutely speechless,” Peltola posted on Facebook shortly after the results were announced. “Thank you, Alaska…Together, we overcame all odds and showed that Alaskans can come together––regardless of party affiliation––to put Alaska first.”
The election was held August 16, but it took some time to tally the votes. Under the state’s new ranked-choice election system, voters list candidates in order of preference. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, that candidate is the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and a new count is made. That process is repeated until one candidate wins a majority of votes.
Peltola is a member of the Democratic Party and will serve the remaining four months of the late Republican Representative Don Young’s term. She defeated former Alaska governor and 2008 vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, whom former President Donald Trump endorsed in April as a “true America First fighter.”
DOI to Consult with Tribes on Draft Guidelines for Plugging Abandoned Wells
The Interior Department has released draft guidelines to help tribes apply for $50 million in grants to help clean up abandoned oil and gas wells on tribal lands.
The Environmental Defense Fund says there are 81,000 inactive wells which fuel extraction companies failed to plug before leaving. Thousands are located on reservations. Orphaned wells leak gases and chemicals into the air and groundwater, posing significant health risks to humans, wildlife and the environment.
While no longer producing oil and gas, they have yet to be shut down — a process that involves cementing the well bore, clearing off equipment, cleaning up any pollution in the soil or water, and grading and seeding the land to resemble what it once was.
Last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $4.7 billion to help plug these orphaned wells across the U.S., including $150 million for Tribal communities.
“We are making historic investments to reclaim orphaned oil and gas wells on Tribal lands and restore habitats and ecosystems in the degraded areas,” Secretary Deb Haaland said. “We have engaged in nation-to-nation consultations since the inception of this program and are eager to hear from Tribal leaders as we work to finalize this guidance.”
University Acknowledges It Holds Boxed Up Native American Remains, Artifacts
The University of North Dakota (UND) says it found dozens of remains of Native Americans and historic artifacts on its Grand Forks campus and is working to repatriate them to their families.
In a Zoom conference Wednesday, UND President Andrew Armacost said a group of educators discovered in March the partial skeletal remains of about 70 individuals, along with artifacts — more than 250 boxes in all — likely taken from burial mounds “over the course of decades.”
One of those educators was Laine Lyons, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and director of development at the College of Arts & Sciences. She described the shock of the discovery.
“In that moment, my heart sank into my stomach,” she said. “It was at that moment that I knew we were another institution that didn’t do the right thing.”
Armacost did not say why the University had not returned the remains and artifacts earlier, as mandated by the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) but said the school is “fully committed to righting this wrong.”
The school has organized a NAGPRA Compliance Committee to work with more than a dozen tribal representatives to come up with a process for sending home the ancestors and artifacts.
Nathan Davis, director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission and also a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa, said he is feeling hurt and angry.
“In our way, in our culture…when one of our loved ones passes on, they are mourned over, they are prayed over, and there is a ceremony for them to begin their journey,” he said. “And once we put them in the ground, and they become one with our mother, that is where they are to stay.”
NAJA to Change Its Name and Blur ‘Medicine Line’
The Native American Journalists Association is rebranding and expanding.
At its annual conference in Arizona, NAJA president Francine Compton said the group has “talked about changing the name for a couple of years now, and we were finally able to show our membership in person how we have a new local concept and that we’re going in the direction of changing our name to Indigenous Journalists Association.”
NAJA was founded in 1983 to help bring Indigenous voices to mainstream newsrooms. NAJA membership is to citizens of Native American tribes, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, citizens of First Nations, and their non-Indigenous allies in media.
Compton is a citizen of the Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation in Canada and a reporter for CBC Indigenous in Winnipeg. She told VOA, “Some indigenous journalists in Canada they have said, ‘I didn’t know NAJA included me because of its name. So, [the name change] will help us expand north to Canada and allow us to represent any indigenous journalist around the world who needs our support or wants to support us.”
Compton said the board first proposed the name change during a virtual conference in 2020, adding that some NAJA members opposed the move.
“We still want to consider and hear their concerns and have done our duty to give them time for consultation and feedback,” she said.
Former NAJA president and current Indian Country Today editor-at-large Mark Trahant said he supports the idea.
“Especially since [the Indigenous Canadian sovereignty movement] Idle No More and Standing Rock, there have been far more social media connections on both sides of the Medicine Line — and a growing number from other Indigenous communities,” Trahant said in an email.
He used a term Indigenous North Americans used for more than a century to reference the U.S.-Canada border, which split homelands, tribes, economies and families, preventing free movement tribes had enjoyed for millennia.
“Some of the discussions NAJA/IJA has been having are also taking place here,” Trahant said, adding that eight percent of his publication’s readership is in Canada. “We rebranded as ICT for many of the same reasons.”
Chinook Tribe to Lawmakers: If BIA Won’t Acknowledge Us, Will You?
The Chinook Nation in Washington State is launching a new push for federal recognition with a rally and #ChinookJustice Twitterstorm, hopeful that Congress can restore their official relationship with the federal government.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officially recognized the Chinook Nation in 2001, giving the tribe access to health, housing, medical and other federal benefits and protections.
But the BIA rescinded that status 18 months later, ruling that between 1873 and 1951 the tribe did not exist as a distinct and “substantially continuous” entity, one of seven criteria tribes must meet to be officially recognized.
Tribe members rallied on the steps of a federal building in Seattle on Monday, calling on Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to help pass legislation recognizing the Chinook.
But the Chinook face strong opposition from the Quinault Nation, also in Washington State, a factor that could discourage lawmakers from acting.
In a statement to Northwest Radio, Senator Murray acknowledged the importance of tribal recognition, saying only that she would “do her best to serve as a voice for Washington’s tribal people.”
Yellowstone at 150: Acknowledging Indigenous History
This year marks 150 years since President Ulysses S. Grant set aside nearly 9,000 square kilometers in parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho as “a park and pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
What became Yellowstone National Park was not the unclaimed wilderness that explorers described. For at least 10,000 years it had been inhabited, first by the so-called Clovis people, the ancestors of today’s Indigenous North Americans, who left behind spear points, pictographs and other evidence of their occupation of the land.
In more recent centuries, the park was home—permanently or seasonally—to 49 tribes, according to William “Bill” Snell Jr., President of the Pretty Shield Foundation, Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council and an enrolled citizen of the Crow Nation.
In a 2007 article in the Public Land and Resources Law Review, “Ethnic Cleansing and America’s Creation of National Parks, Montana lawyer Isaac Kantor noted that for the most part, tribes continued to maintain their presence in the park, exercising their treaty rights to hunt there in spite of local and state bans.
“Both forcible and legal efforts were pursued to end Indian use of Yellowstone,” he wrote. “In July of 1895, when pressure from park officials and Indian agents proved inadequate, a Jackson Hole area lawman, William Manning, decided on a violent approach to ‘get the matter to the courts.’”
In the 1990s, tribes requested formal association with the park. Today, the National Park Services says it meets and consults with 27 tribes, exploring possibilities for giving them a greater voice in resource management and decision-making.
VOA correspondent Natasha Mozgovaya traveled to Yellowstone for ceremonies marking its 150th anniversary and spoke with members of several tribes with historic ties to the park.