Tribes, individuals struggle to protect sacred sites

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The U.S. Forest Service manages the San Francisco Peaks as public land and, since approving the site for development in 2005, has faced multiple lawsuits from the Navajo Nation, the Hopi, White Mountain Apache, Yavapai Apache and Hualapai and Havasupai tribes.

The tribes argued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that they regard the mountain as “an indivisible living entity. … home to deities and other spirit beings.”


Tribes applaud White House presence

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SACRAMENTO — When Barack Obama becomes president, Native Americans will have their own adviser in the White House, the president-elect’s office confirmed Friday.


Obama spokesman Reid Cherlin said Obama plans to establish an Advisor on Native American Policy on his senior White House staff.

Richard Milanovich, chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs, said the incoming president had discussed his plans with tribal leaders during a campaign meeting in New Mexico.

Tribes and Fishermen Speak Out Against Clean Water Permit for Klamath Dams

Tribes and Fishermen Speak Out Against Clean Water Permit for Klamath Dams
by Dan Bacher
Thursday Nov 6th, 2008 5:40 PM

People from the Klamath Basin and throughout California are urging the State Water Resources Control Board to not grant Warren Buffett-owned PacifiCorp a clean water permit because of the degradation of water quality resulting from the operation of company’s dams on the river.

Photo: Dania Colegrove, Klamath Riverkeeper board member, presents the water board staff with a bottle filled with toxic algae and a health advisory posted at Iron Gate and Copco reservoirs.


People Say No to Warren Buffett’s Dams at Klamath River Hearing in Sacramento

by Dan Bacher

Over 40 people attending a public hearing in Sacramento on October 29 delivered a resounding message to state water officials – don’t give PacifiCorp a section 401 clean water permit needed to relicense its fish-killing dams on the Klamath River.

A diverse group including members of the Hoopa Valley, Yurok, Karuk, Quartz Valley, Winnemem Wintu and Miwok Tribes, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and environmental activists spoke passionately about the poor quality of the water on the river and the need to remove the dams before the staff of the California State Water Resources Control Board. Not one person spoke in favor of granting PacifiCorp a permit!

The water board held a series of scoping meetings on PacifiCorp’s Klamath Hydroelectric Project (KHP) Environmental Impact Report (EIR) throughout the state in October. The hearing in Sacramento followed heavily-attended hearings in Klamath, Orleans, Yreka and Eureka.

The scoping meeting held in Sacramento on October 29 was sparsely attended by water board staff and their hired consultant from Entrix, Inc. Tam Doduc, the chair of the board, showed up to hear comments about halfway through the meeting.

Daina Colegove, a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe and board member of the Klamath Riverkeeper, presented a big bottle filled with toxic blue green algae that she gathered from behind Iron Gate Dam as a “gift” to the board.

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Message From Obama: Tribes Will Have Voice in White House

Tribes Will Have Voice in White House


Crow tribal members greeted Sen. Barack Obama during the Democratic candidate’s visit to Montana’s Crow Reservation in May.Reznet Photo by April Gregory

Message From Obama: Tribes Will Have Voice in White House

October 25, 2008

For 20 months now, I’ve traveled this country, often talking about how the needs of the American people are going unmet by Washington. And the truth is, few have been ignored by Washington for as long as American Indians. Too often, Washington pays lip service to working with tribes while taking a one-size-fits-all approach with tribal communities across the nation.

That will change if I am honored to serve as president of the United States.

My American Indian policy begins with creating a bond between an Obama administration and the tribal nations all across this country. We need more than just a government-to-government relationship; we need a nation-to-nation relationship, and I will make sure that tribal nations have a voice in the White House.

I’ll appoint an American Indian policy adviser to my senior White House staff to work with tribes, and host an annual summit at the White House with tribal leaders to come up with an agenda that works for tribal communities. That’s how we’ll make sure you have a seat at the table when important decisions are being made about your lives, about your nations and about your people. That’ll be a priority when I am president.

Here’s what else we’re going to do. We’re going to end nearly a century of mismanagement of the Indian trusts. We’re going to work together to settle unresolved cases, figure out how the trusts ought to operate and make sure that they’re being managed responsibly — today, tomorrow and always

Tribes’ Tragic History

Now, I understand the tragic history between the United States and tribal nations. Our government hasn’t always been honest and truthful in our dealings. And we’ve got to acknowledge that if we’re going to move forward in a fair and honest way.

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Tribes use camps to speak on preserving the native language

Tribes use camps to speak on preserving the native language

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PHOENIX — Several dozen children stand atop a bluff in Hualapai Mountain Park to face the morning sun as it peeks over a distant ridge.

“Nyims thava hmado we’e,” they chant, meaning “Boys greet the morning sun.” And then for girls: “Nyima thava masi:yo we’e.”

Jorigine Bender, the teacher, urges them to repeat the dawn greeting with raised hands. “Everybody, turn toward your brother, the sun.” The youths, Hualapai and Yavapai, recite the phrases in self-conscious, uncertain unison. The language is Pai, passed down to them through generations but unintelligible to the children.

In an America dominated by computers, TV and video games, a decreasing number of Native Americans, especially younger ones, can speak or understand their native tongues.

The eroding fluency and the potential extinction of indigenous languages have prompted leaders of many tribes to develop immersion courses, such as this summer camp in the pine forest southeast of Kingman.

Loretta Jackson-Kelly, historic preservation officer for the Hualapai Tribe, says there is hope that Pai will survive but only if elders pass on their knowledge and children are willing to absorb it.

“A lot of people don’t realize the implications,” she adds. “Language loss means you lose your identity.”

There is no debate that native idioms are becoming silent, one by one. There are only differences about how many languages will die and how soon.

According to the Indigenous Language Institute, only 20 of the 175 surviving American Indian dialects are expected to survive through 2050. Cultural Survival, an online advocacy group for indigenous bands, says 50 of the remaining native languages face imminent extinction because they have five or fewer speakers, all over age 70.

“It’s clear that the languages are disappearing,” said Leanne Hinton, professor emeritus in the linguistics department at the University of California-Berkeley, who spent years working with Pai-speaking tribes. “It’s also clear that, over the last 10 or 20 years, there’s a very strong effort to keep them alive or regain them.”

Lucille Watahomigie, a Pai linguist and member of the Hualapai Tribe, says the erosion is largely attributable to historic U.S. policies.

“It was like brainwashing because when they were sent to Indian boarding schools, they were taught the language was wrong,” Watahomigie says. “It was that whole process of civilizing.”

After leaving government schools, many Indians refused to speak their native languages at home in hopes that their children would compete better in a world dominated by English.

Watahomigie recalls her own experience as a first-grade teacher in the 1970s. Some first-graders in her class could not understand the lessons in English, but she was ordered not to help them in Hualapai, one of the Pai dialects. “I knew these kids were as smart as the others, but I couldn’t get them reading.”

Watahomigie rebelled and persuaded the school to let her teach a bilingual class. By 1975, she had obtained a grant and was helping put Pai in writing for the first time.
By 1990, Congress had adopted measures encouraging bilingual education in native tongues. But decades of U.S. policies and the influence of pop culture had launched a seemingly irreversible trend. Tribal members who fail to learn their language at home seldom become fluent, experts say, and are unable to pass it on to children.

Last year, Congress passed the Native American Languages Preservation Act to provide funding for immersion courses. Jackson-Kelly, the Hualapai historic preservation officer, said she is relying on tribal contributions and volunteers for the summer camp.

Today, an estimated 40 percent of the 2,100 Hualapai tribal members speak the ancient language, but few of those tribal members are under 18.

The language decline is often more pronounced among smaller tribes living near cities, such as the 159-member Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe. About 80 youngsters are camped in tents for the program at Hualapai Mountain Park.

They rise at 5 a.m. for a hike, followed by language sessions. One “master” uses pantomime to teach a native game similar to street hockey, then asks kids to describe the actions in Pai terms. Others teach how to make arrows, gourd rattles and a drink from sumac berries.

Most kids embrace the lessons, though a few seem uninterested.

“I want to learn the language,” says Rivers Wilder, 14, of Peach Springs on the Hualapai Reservation, north of the park. “My grandma and my mom speak Hualapai. But it’s dying out. Most young people don’t know how to speak it and don’t want to learn. They’d rather play around.”

Ericson “Cody” Pertevich, 10, also of Peach Springs, shrugs. “I just came here for the fun. I don’t really care too much. But sometimes I care because it’s like the tribe is going out.”

Because language frames the way a person looks upon the world, Watahomigie says, its demise also threatens a tribe’s values, traditions and religion.

That reality is magnified by the dominance of pop culture among kids.

“A lot of these kids here, they don’t even think they’re Indians. They’re like everyone else,” she says. “We have a lot of gangs, a lot of drug abuse right now. Much of that is because children don’t have a good self-concept. It’s important for them to be proud of who they are, to respect themselves, to understand that they are a unique people but also part of a whole.”

Nearby, two girls share an iPod. They appear to be ignoring their pottery instructor, but it turns out that the music in their ears comes from a traditional Hualapai singer.
Watahomigie says that there is hope that modern technology can help save the ancient idiom but adds that the effort requires dedication.

“We have visions that there will still be the language a century from now. We have that truth,” she says. “But, being realistic, if things keep going the way they are, we won’t have any speakers.”

Tribes Object to Fighting Fire in Sacred Places

Tribes Object to Fighting Fire in Sacred Places

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Indian tribes from the Klamath River canyon are worried that the U.S. Forest Service is violating some of their sacred lands by fighting a remote wilderness wildfire rather than letting it burn naturally.

The area is home to many prayer seats or vision quest sites shared by three tribes, where tribal members have fasted, prayed and sought spiritual guidance for thousands of years. The area is also used to gather grasses for baskets and Port Orford cedar for ceremonial buildings, such as sweat lodges.

“Talking with Forest Service firefighters, I have been saying this is the Sistine Chapel, the Mount Sinai, the Vatican,” for the Yurok, Karuk and Tolowa tribes, Chris Peters, the Yurok tribe’s liaison with the Forest Service, said from Arcata, Calif.

“If fire should move in naturally, we’re comfortable with that,” Peters said. “But if you bring a drip torch into the Vatican and intend to ignite it, you are going to have some opposition.”

Two fires have been burning for weeks through uninhabited forests and steep canyons in the Siskiyou Wilderness on the Six Rivers National Forest between the Klamath River and the Oregon border.

With so many fires in the area, it took weeks for the Forest Service to send its first crew, and they adopted a strategy of burning out a perimeter around the fires to prevent them from spreading as the weather gets hotter, drier and windier.

Under protocols established years ago, the tribes have been meeting with the Forest Service over the management of the fires, and Six Rivers National Forest Supervisor Tyrone Kelley said they are being sensitive to the tribes’ concerns.

“We realize the significance of this area,” Kelley said. “We’re working with them.”

But though the fires are far from any homes, leaving them to burn without a strong perimeter around them is not an option, given the nearby timber resources and expectations that the fire conditions will get worse, he said. He added that because the fires are in a wilderness area, fire lines are built by hand, not with bulldozers.

While native people have for centuries set fires to manage natural resources, such as the oaks that produce acorns, the tribes are worried that the fires set by the Forest Service burn at higher intensity, destroying fisheries habitat and other resources, said Bill Tripp, eco-cultural restoration specialist for the Karuk tribe.

One fire has thus far burned 97.4 square miles and the other 15.2 square miles. The fires were sparked by lightning strikes in June and are now 69 percent contained. The two fires were about one mile apart on Wednesday.