By Daysha Eaton
Organizers of a new coalition led by Alaska Native groups plan to step up their efforts on a variety of environmental issues. The group organized an initial protest at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage, speaking out against oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other issues.
Defend the Sacred organized the march of more than 200 people during the AFN convention over the weekend. The march was timed as Senator Lisa Murkowski was about to address AFN. Demonstrators held signs outside the convention protesting development of the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay and the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the North. Others highlighted climate change concerns.
Bernadette Demientieff from Fort Yukon, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee and one of the organizers of the protest, said she was fighting for the future.
“We’re standing up for our future generations for our food, for our land and our water,” Demientieff said.
She said the protest had a special focus on her people, the Gwich’in’s, traditional territory, because of recent efforts in Washington, D.C. that could open the door to petroleum and gas development in ANWR, the calving grounds for a caribou herd which is central to her peoples’ diet and culture. But it also encompassed other struggles.
“This is to defend our sacred lands,” she said. “So, whatever is special to you, whether it’s Pebble Mine, whether it’s the Arctic Refuge, whether it’s offshore (drilling), whether it’s the Tongass, we need to stand together because we can’t do it alone.”
The U.S. Senate passed a budget resolution that could open part of ANWR to oil and gas drilling. After a speech at AFN that did not mention the refuge, Senator Murkowski said in a press conference that it was just the first step. Murkowski, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said as the process moves ahead there will be opportunities for Alaskans to weigh in on what they want.
“As we move forward with this budget proposal, that is the first step of many,” Murkowski told reporters. “And I have said very openly that yes, we will consider ANWR, but we will do that through a hearing in the Energy Committee. So, we have that opportunity to bring in witnesses that are favorable and witnesses that are opposed. That’s what the process allows for.”
Conservationists and Native people in Alaska are joining forces to fight big resource development projects being green-lighted by the Trump administration. Demientieff said she’s heartened to see a movement being born in the state to protect the land, water and her traditional way of life.
“More and more people from all over are coming and they’re finally taking that stand because our senator and our representatives are no longer listening to us because nobody is going to protect our homelands but us,” she said.
Demientieff is also helping organize another protest in Washington, D.C. against opening ANWR to oil and gas extraction.
by Antonia Gonzales and Sarah Gustavus
Researchers point to social determinants as contributing to the health and wellness of communities including social structures and economic systems. Social determinants of health in Indian Country often include limited health care services, overcrowded housing, lack of fitness centers and outdoor recreational areas, infrastructure needs such as roads and sidewalks, and other living conditions related to poverty. To help overcome some of these challenges, examples of resiliency can be found in Native America through individuals who promote health and wellness at the grassroots level.
Loren Anthony is a Navajo actor, health advocate and motivational speaker from Gallup, New Mexico. He has been doing meal preparation for about seven years as a way to improve his own health. Anthony now offers the meals for the public to purchase after seeing a need in the reservation border town of Gallup.
“I feel like it’s important to prepare. If you don’t, you’re going to pull off to fast food, and eat something not good for you,” said Anthony.
High calorie, processed foods can be found at every corner in Gallup, and topped off with many sugary drink options. Gallup is a town where people from the Navajo reservation and Zuni Pueblo often travel to for grocery shopping.
“I want our people, our community to be healthy,” said Anthony. “There are so many people who struggle, and the real health care plans are at home.”
Food deserts, places which lack access to fresh, healthy foods, are common on many reservations and surrounding areas. According to some health experts, people can still make better choices with what is available to them.
Heidi Gabalski is a nutritionist and exercise physiologist at the Native Americans for Community Action’s Wellness Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Gabalski’s clients often have to pick foods from a convenience store or make meals from federal commodity boxes.
“Look at the commodity box and make better options,” said Gabalski. “If you’re going to eat the fruit cocktail then rinse it. Flour, do we have to fry it? Make dry bread.”
Gabalski recommends choosing foods that are baked, broiled and steamed. She also encourages drinking water over soda.
Loren Anthony’s menu of choice is often grilled chicken, rice and vegetables, which he measures with cups and weighs on a food scale. One of these types of meals is under 400 calories, compared to fast food options, which can add up to 800 or more.
“We don’t go hunting, we used to do that. We would build a fire. If you do that you put work into it, and we don’t do that,” said Anthony.
Healthy living has not always been a priority for Loren. He started to make changes in his health in 2009 after living a life he says included drinking alcohol, being overweight and depressed. Anthony recalls reaching a low point and then decided to turn his physical and mental health around, which eventually lead him to help people today with their diets and exercise.
LaRena Morris is the girls head varsity coach at Gallup High School. She recently asked Anthony to hold a session with her players to work on bonding and team building. Morris says she sees many young people in Gallup and the surrounding area facing many challenges including transportation and financial issues linked to poverty.
“He’s the support they need, I see a lot of things he does. They gravitate toward that, it encourages them to do better,” said Morris. “What I really like about Loren is he does not charge for his services. If I would go out looking for some type of assistance they would be charging thousands of dollars to come out and do what he does.”
Anthony’s passion for helping people stems from overcoming many challenges in his own life.
“I can relate to my (Native) people very well because we’ve been through the same position. I understand,” said Anthony. “I don’t want people to give up. When I speak to youth I don’t want them to give up. We can always pick it up and say I want to be a leader.”
According to health professionals, consistency in eating and a strong support system are associated with long term success in weight loss and weight maintenance, which grassroots leaders are striving for in Indian Country.
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau vows to partner with indigenous communities addressing climate change
A Utah town plans changes to its long-standing Founders’ Day commemoration that included residents painted red, portraying Native Americans.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price hosted a Tribal Advisory Committee in Oklahoma
Biologists from the Yurok Tribe are monitoring the recovery of California condors.
The Pine Ridge reservation is among areas in South Dakota on high alert for wildfires
The American Indian Science and Engineering Society in Denver is trying to inspire more native students to pursue STEM courses
Some fisherman in Alaska have nowhere to sell their summer catch
The United American Indian Involvement organization is currently studying ways that its traditional social outreach program is helping improve mental health among Native Americans in Los Angeles County. People travel long distances to participate in the Drum, Dance and Regalia program and other events that help connect them to their cultures and other people with similar values. Organizers hope the programs help improve the statistics for people vulnerable to problems like child abuse, gang involvement, and mental illness.
By Hannah Colton
A federal court has overturned a Muscogee Creek man’s death sentence in a major jurisdiction ruling. The ruling reaffirms the tribe’s historical reservation boundaries in Oklahoma.
The case goes back to 1999, when Patrick Murphy was accused of murdering another Muscogee man. He was convicted in Oklahoma court and put on death row in 2000. Since then, he’s unsuccessfully appealed multiple times.
Sarah Deer is a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma and a former law professor. She says the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling agrees with Murphy that the tribe and federal government, not the state, should have jurisdiction in his case.
“(Murphy) said, ‘I was within the Creek reservation when I committed this crime, and therefore the state of Oklahoma does not have the authority to prosecute me,’” Deer said.
The court’s acknowledgment of the reservation is significant because most of the tribal lands in Oklahoma today are no longer considered reservations. That’s because the federal government broke up the reservations in 1901 into individual allotments. Deer says at that point, lots of people started operating under the assumption that the Creek Reservation no longer existed.
“But in today’s understanding of what that requires, Congress had to both allot the land AND declare the reservation nonexistent,” she said. “They didn’t do part two, and that’s why the court concludes here that the reservation has never been demolished or even diminished in any way.”
Deer says it might seem odd to be cheering a decision that could release a murderer, but she’s celebrating the ruling that the Creek Nation maintains authority over their reservation land.
“There are a lot of question throughout the country about whether or not the reservation that was established in the 19th century still exists,” she said. “And this is only going to affect 10th Circuit, but it’s going to influence, I think, decisions about litigation across the country for Indian tribes.”
If the state of Oklahoma doesn’t appeal this week’s decision, a federal prosecutor could decide to re-try Patrick Murphy.
Indigenous environmental proponents are among those watching Keystone XL pipeline hearings in Nebraska
The U-S EPA says it will not review Gold King Mine spill clean-up claims by the Navajo Nation
New law makes human trafficking a criminal offense on the Navajo Nation
Liquor establishments near the Pine Ridge Reservation see a jump in sales after Whiteclay beer stores close
A federal appeals court upholds a domestic violence conviction against a Northern Cheyenne man
A Navajo Head Start official is under investigation for misuse of funds
The new head of the EPA is scheduled to tour the Gold King Mine to mark the two-year anniversary of a devastating toxic spill