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Heather and her beloved Dan
Photo copyright Heather, 2014; all rights reserved.
I have a lot of sisters, none of them blood. It doesn't matter; in most cases, we're as close or even closer (than my own blood, anyway).

And right now, one of them is in a serious bind. She's a widow with disabling health conditions who has spent much of recent years caring for others; financially, she lives on the edge at the best of times. But now, she's alone, and she's been forced to move into an apartment even less expensive than the extremely modest one she was calling home until recently. She's far away from us, and across a national border, so we can't be there to help in person. And she's good people. Hell, she's a much better person than I will ever be.

Beyond being simply a good person — moral, ethical, mindful, compassionate — she's also a dedicated anti-torture activist. For years, this has been cause and mission, vocation and avocation for her. Her late husband, Dan, was a disabled VietNam veteran who had been tortured as a prisoner of war, and whose health had been damaged beyond repair by exposure to toxins while in-country besides. She bore witness to the war he was forced to continue to fight for the remainder of his life, a daily battle for body and mind, soul and spirit, and she was his moral, physical, mental, and spiritual support throughout. What she saw Dan face every day — what she faced with him every day — altered her forever. And now, though he has walked on, she has taken up the mantle in an even more direct way than before, becoming a fierce activist in her own right for the cause that was (and took) his life.

I'm talking, of course, about Heather, who many of you know as Chacounne.

Over the jump, read on to find out more about this wonderful woman I am proud to call kin, and exactly what it is that she needs to stay connected to the world. Less than $900 will keep her utilities connected; another $1,200 will replace her old, tired, and now-dead laptop with one that will provide the connectivity, stability, and enhancements she needs to remain linked to the outside world when she can't travel, and to continue her important anti-torture work around the world.

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UPDATE: Wings and I are in for $30 via Tonya's GoFundMe site as of this morning.  That's $15 from us, and $15 from Kitsap River and Charles CurtisStanley.  How many people can we get to match that $30?
Tonya and daughter Miranda.
They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Or, sometimes, it just delays the inevitable.

This is one instance where I'd like to make sure that it's NOT inevitable.

You may remember that last summer, we mounted a fundraising campaign for Kossack tonyahky, who could not even schedule desperately-needed major surgery without the capacity to hire a full-time caregiver for one of her daughters, who has profound disabilities. We were fortunate enough to raise the funds she needed, and she was able to get the surgery - and then she learned that what she thought was a painful, disabling, potentially dangerous temporary situation was instead both chronic and much more complex. Life-threatening, in fact.

Last summer, she believed that her only real health problem was an extraordinarily large fibroid tumor that could not be treated; it had to be surgically removed. The pain, fatigue, and illness caused by the tumor eventually made it impossible for her to continue to work, and made day-to-day functioning difficult at the best of times. Now imagine dealing with this while caring for a daughter with a profound case of autism and the special needs and sensitivities that accompany her condition. [You can read all about it in detail below the fold.]


While awaiting surgery, Tonya was given injections of Lupron to try to help slow her heavy bleeding and perhaps shrink the tumor a bit, but she was advised that it would not be enough: The only solution would be a complete hysterectomy. Meanwhile, she grew increasingly ill; by late July, she was forced to see a different doctor just to get the surgery scheduled for September. Her condition reached a critical point during the middle of her fundraiser, forcing her to go to the emergency room at her local medical center, Baptist Hospital. Doctors there diagnosed her condition as severe anemia and told her she needed a blood transfusion. Once it was over, an area Kossack was kind enough to arrange to pick her up at the hospital and take her home. The following day, she heard from her doctor about her next Lupron injection.

And things got really frightening.

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Photo copyright Wings, 2014; all rights reserved
It's a basic human need: Shelter.

A roof over your head; a floor under your feet. A place to be safe from the elements.

But it also needs to be liveable. And accessible. And those words mean something very different for a healthy, fully able-bodied person than they do for someone who must live with multiple disabling conditions all day, every day.

Most Kossacks already know BFSkinner. No, not that B.F. Skinner; our BFSkinner.

He's been a member of Daily Kos for about six years now. He's a member of a great many groups and subcommunities there: part of various groups organized by and for Jewish Kossacks, an active member of the LGBTQI community, a participant in various arts-related groups, just to name a few. He's famous for his regular series of community-building diaries, in which he invites Kossacks to explain an aspect of their identities; name a favorite song or movie in a particular sub genre; or otherwise offer up a bit of themselves for inclusion in this wild and wonderful community that the other side loves to deride as the Great Orange Satan.

He's also brilliant: a Ph.D., and, like his namesake, a psychologist.

He's also battling a complex cluster of disabling conditions on a daily basis.

The last several years have seen major upheaval; he's had to move several times to accommodate his medical conditions. His most recent move was to an apartment with a roommate, in what seemed like an ideal situation for them; instead, it's turned into a nightmare that is causing grave risk to his health and his very life.

He has an opportunity now to move into an actual house - not merely shelter, but a home. It's a very good deal; it will work out well for him and for his landlords, who are old family friends. But making the move will require more money [first month's rent for the house, one month's rent as penalty for leaving the old apartment before the expiration of the lease, and assorted utility deposits and hook-ups] than he can scrape together on his disability income. And he has only this month - March - to make it happen, or this chance will be gone.

That's where we come in.

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In my post of last Saturday, I said that one of the subjects of this site would be helping people who need help.

That time is now.

Come with me.  I want to take you on a little walk in another man's moccasins.  It will likely be a very different path from those to which you're accustomed.  In that way, it will difficult for you to follow it.  The shoes won't fit properly.  They will be uncomfortable, and the way will be unfamiliar, and perhaps you'll find yourself feeling disquieted, discomfited, even a little scared.

I'm going to ask you to stick with the trail anyway.  Because these are things we all need to see and grasp and fully understand.  And because a friend needs our help.

A lot of you no doubt know my friend and fellow Kossack, Horace Boothroyd III.  His road has long been a difficult one, for many reasons.  Right now, there are seemingly insurmountable roadblocks in his path -€” obstacles that, for most people, not only don't exist but aren't even on their radar.  And yet, once they're there, they're nearly impossible to go over, under, around, or through.  And there comes a point when body, mind, soul, and spirit are too pain-wracked and weary to keep trying to scale those hurdles anymore.

But we can help fix that.

Come with me.

Update, 11:50 am: Fineena, maker of some of the most beautiful scarves on the planet, has an outstanding offer to help:

If anyone wants to purchase something from
Willie Ru Designs
I'll donate 50% of the sale to Horace.
Kitsap River has a couple of these scarves, and a couple of small clutch purses also made by Fineena. They are really pretty and you won't find anything like them anywhere else. Please go to her Etsy shop and check them out.

Update, 1:55 pm: I only got less than 4 hours sleep last night and am finding myself fading. Hopefully Horace will post a comment with how much has been raised the next time he's able to get online. Meanwhile, I need to step away from the computer for a while and rest up, and then play D&D with my husband. I'll see you all later.  -Kitsap River

Update, 2:00 pm: Horace emailed the current total raised: $1070! There is $330 left to go to get him housed. Please share this with everyone you feel comfortable sharing it with. Now I know we can raise this today. Thank you to all of you, and I'll check back in a couple of hours.  -Kitsap River

Update, 7:20 pm: WE MADE IT! Horace reports $1420 raised. Thank you all. You are wonderful!  -Kitsap River

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January 16th was not a good day.

It would have been my father's 90th birthday, and as usual, the date dredged up a lot of things I'd really rather not remember, so my morning didn't begin well.

It didn't end well, either.

Unable to load Daily Kos properly, I clicked over to The Political Carnival, another lefty politics site. And learned that one of the site's cofounders and cobloggers, Paddy Kraska, had walked on a few hours earlier.

I didn't know Paddy well. I "met" her in the comment threads at Balloon Juice, another site where I lurk a lot and comment occasionally, particularly when I can't load Daily Kos. But I was passingly familiar with her blog home, and with her and her coblogger, GottaLaff (a/k/a Laffy), whose name I know will be familiar to many Kossacks.

But I knew enough to know this: She was funny. She was fierce. She was committed, dedicated, a liberal's liberal who, no matter her own personal crises, never gave up and never gave in. From everything I ever saw, she always had a kind word and a virtual smile for everybody, a desire to help those who needed it, a passion for leftist politics and sound policy, a deep love for animals.

She was a Kossack.

She hadn't diaried much here lately. Her last diary was roughly a year and a half ago, in late June of 2012. But she'd been a Kossack since August 1, 2005, and she'd established a solid body of work here, writing a total of 117 diaries while co-administering TPC and commenting elsewhere, as well as maintaining a presence on Twitter and recording podcasts.

Her last comment here was less than two weeks before her death: a quick "Love ya, SR" to Trix in his Silly Rabbit guise late on the first Saturday night of the new year.

So why is this a "Community Fundraisers" diary, and not an "In Memoriam" one?


Paddy, who walked on at the age of 52 (she would have been 53 on January 29th), was battling serious health problems, and, like many of us, serious financial obstacles. I have no doubt that much — probably all — can ultimately be laid at the feet of the Bush economy and the worthless politics of Congressional Republicans and their state counterparts. She, like too many of us, suffered very real (and ultimately very deadly) consequences from their actions. And now her family, in dire financial straits, is struggling just to maintain, much less pay all the expenses associated with a loved one's untimely death.

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I mentioned last night that I'd received several gifts over the course of the day — not the kind you open, but the kind that are much deeper and more lasting than any thing. There have been several additional gifts over the course of yesterday evening and today, too (including one I even got to open!):

Carrying on a conversation with Gaagaagishiinh, Raven, yesterday afternoon.

Seeing Waabooz, Rabbit, stop to let me speak to him last night. Then watching Griffin follow him to the hay barn, lift his paw, and point, which he hasn't done in years.

Waking up this morning to see Ice waiting patiently to be fed. Finding out today that Ice is not a she, but a he, and that he has already decided that that is his name, whether in English or in Ojibwemowin (Mikwamii).

Knowing that he and our five other horses and four chickens are all safe and healthy and well-fed.

Seeing all five dogs lying in here at my feet, also safe and well-fed.

Knowing that Wings is happy and healthy, resting after a day in the studio and the stables, and that soon we'll eat a simple but wonderful dinner.

We're blessed.

Too many are not.

At this moment, on the Cheyenne River Reservation in Isabel, South Dakota, the temperature isn't bad: 25 degrees — with a wind chill of 15. A couple mornings ago, it was 16 below. Actual temperature. It's supposed to get down to 5 below on Saturday night.

And there are folks there who need our help.

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Tue Dec 24, 2013 at 06:34 PM PST


by Aji

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I had a really frustrating, irritating, maddening afternoon.

Probably typical for Christmas Eve if one has to be out and about, which I did. But by the time I got home, I was thoroughly depressed, and it took Wings to remind me how blessed I am.

Because I've already had several gifts today.

It started this morning, when he woke me to tell me the puppies wanted to go out. Normally, not too big a deal, but especially annoying this morning. Why? Because I was right in the middle of an incredibly sweet dream.

In my dream, the weather was warmer. We had some outbuildings here at home that we don't actually have, including a second enclosure for the chickens. In my dream, I went inside it to check on the chickens, and lying inside it, on his side in the dirt, in a little doghouse-like structure, was Griffin. It was the Griffin of today — graying muzzle, damaged right eye from having been hit by a truck four years ago. Half-covered in dirt and straw, but looking very happy.

With Cherry, the red chicken, perched on him.

I let myself in, asked him what he was doing, and he stretched and Cherry squawked contentedly, then hopped off. And out from under Griffin's warm body hopped a fluffy yellow chick.

In my dream, with Cherry's connivance, he was keeping her chicks warm.

I turned around, and there were fuzzy little chicks hopping everywhere, cheeping away.

And then someone woke me up to let the dogs out in the still-dark, single-digit morning.

I'm not sure what it means. We don't have any roosters — but the neighbors do. I guess if Cherry pops up knocked up in the spring, we'll know it was premonitory.

Still, it was the happiest dream I can remember having in . . . well, I can't remember the last time I had one like that. And it stuck with me all day.

That's a gift.

There were others today, too.

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Christmas is a week from today, and we elves are hard at work. Wings has been in the studio most of the last two weeks, creating gorgeous one-of-a-kind pieces to fill holiday orders, while I take care of the rest.

But sometimes, the elves need a little help.

Over the jump, you'll find a lovely selection of items from our gallery: first, Wings's own silverwork, from bracelets to earrings to necklaces and much more; second, a wide array of items, most smaller and/or relatively modestly priced, from a variety of area Native artists whose work we carry. And these are only a small selection; there's much more available at our Web site, plus some items by other artists that are not shown. If you're looking for something specific, let me know.

A couple of caveats:

1) This year, we have no small ornaments such as dreamcatchers or last year's little bow-and-arrow ornaments made by a couple of little local girls. While packing up the gallery for closure, one case was subject to water damage, and those items were in it.

2) We're reaching the breaking point for shipping orders for Christmas. After today, it's unlikely that anything ordered can be guaranteed simply with Priority Mail; most will require Express Mail or FedEx shipping to ensure delivery for December 25th, so if you want the item under the tree for Christmas morning, we'll need to factor in extra shipping costs.


We also have three Secret Santa items that are outstanding from way back in late June or early July. Each is only partially funded. We need to get their funding completed so that the pieces can find their way into the bag on Santa's sleigh, and thence to their real owners — none other than Ann (winglion) and Sara R.

For Ann:

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Total:  $350 + shipping/handling/insurance
Already paid:  $170
Balance:  $180 + s/h/i

For Sara:

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Total:  $675 ($350 and $325, respectively) + s/h/i
Already paid:  $175
Balance:  $500 + s/h/i

If all three items can be shipped together, that will save substantially on shipping and handling costs. In that event, I anticipate that those costs plus insurance will run in the neighborhood of $25; if each goes separately, it'll be more.


An anonymous Kossack has offered a total of $100 to be matched by other donors: $50 toward Ann's necklace, and $50 toward Sara's two necklaces. If you want to donate toward these items for Sara and Ann and wish to have it count toward the match, leave me a note in the comments or send me a message.

Over the jump are many, many more options for giving the gift of gorgeous Native art.

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As the title indicates, the man I call "cousin" — the man this site knows as Ojibwa — today watched the sun set on a central part of his life.

Today was Ojibwa's last day of formal teaching.

His career as a teacher, as the dominant culture defines it, spans nearly half a century — 48 years, to be exact.  

That's a long time — a lifetime.  What might begin as a job becomes a career, becomes a vocation, becomes an avocation, becomes an integral part of one's identity.  And as anyone who has ever crossed that bridge between one fundamental part of life and another knows, it's simultaneously exciting and depressing, exhilarating and terrifying in perhaps equal measure.

It's a transition, a transformation, a transmogrification.

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EVERYONE is welcome and please join us each morning at 7:30 AM PACIFIC
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It's the first week of American Indian Heritage Month (which you may also see labeled Native American Heritage Month; to the rest of this society, it's known as "November").

My goal for this month is to include at least a few stories in every edition that explore that heritage, whether for individual tribal nations or collectively. You'll still see so-called "hard news" stories, and there will be plenty of coverage of contemporary political issues, activism, demographic data, and urgent causes. But this month, I'd like to stop occasionally and remind everyone why we do this: Because ours is a living heritage, one that has survived more than half a millennium of attempts at extermination, and despite the ongoing presence of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, manages not only to survive but to thrive every single day in ways large and small. I want people to see the brilliance of the colors, feel the richness of the textures, hear the complexity of the music that make up our astonishing array of arts and letters and languages and songs and dances and foods and folkways and lifeways.

There will be time enough for all the other stories, including the growing gap in education benchmarks for American Indian kids; the sequester-driven reduction in suicide prevention programs for Indian youth; the high Native infant mortality rate compared to that of white infants; and the much lower survival rates of Native women with breast cancer compared to women in other ethnic groups. I may write about these for this series yet this month, or for other series, or in stand-alone diaries. Sadly, these stories are not going away any time soon, and we'll have more than ample time to cover them.

Today, though, I want to focus on good news.  Today, you'll read about two women who are devoting their professional lives to to ensuring that Indian foster children can be raised in their own cultural and spiritual environments; about a veritable treasure trove of American Indian writing, both ancient and modern (yes, despite the stereotypes, some tribal nations had written languages prior to European contact); a dig in New York that has uncovered another treasure trove, this time of 10,000-year-old artifacts; the upcoming American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco; and a story from my own state, where Native university students have created and launched a public education app to help users learn — accurately — about New Mexico tribes.


Utah's state foster care agency has hired Brandi Sweet (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) to oversee a program designed to recruit American Indian foster families for Indian children and youth.

Ms. Sweet knows the foster care system intimately; she was placed in it herself at age fifteen, ripped from her family and her culture.

"My family was telling them 'We are Native American, we are Native American' and nobody was listening to us at all," Sweet said. "They ended up transferring me 10 hours away from my family. ... The goal of this whole system is family reunification and strengthening, and then you’re taking a child whose family can’t afford to travel 10 hours [to see] them."
At the moment, Utah Foster Care reports that 124 Native children are in the state's foster care system (another 41 children are in the Ute Tribe's own system). There are presently only 13 Indian families licensed by the state as foster families. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that prior to the 1978 passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act [ICWA], Indian children were 1,500 times more likely than non-Indian kids to be placed in Utah's foster care system. Even now, they are four times more likely than non-Indian children to be placed in the system, a number that, in light of the ICWA's 35-year existence, is still obscene.

Moreover, many more Native children are adopted by non-Native parents, despite the likely availability of qualified relatives to keep the children within their families and cultures.

Between July 1, 2008, and June 25, 2013, the state placed 598 American-Indian children in foster care — 5 percent of the total number of children in foster care during that five-year period. Of the American-Indian children in foster care, 82 were eventually adopted.

Families that consisted of at least one American-Indian parent adopted 22 children, while 60 were placed with non-American-Indian parents, according to data from the Division of Child and Family Services.

Part of the reason, according to Ms. Sweet, is that licensing requirements are geared specifically toward and for the dominant culture, delegitimizing the ready availability of Native homes on such grounds as too few square feet in a child's bedroom if shared with a relative. However, according to Utah Foster Care director Mike Hamblin, the state's Office of Licensing is working to revise its guidelines to serve American indian children in a more culturally appropriate way.
"We are going back to our community approach and our community responsibility," Sweet said, "that whole idea that it takes a community to raise a child, and asking every Native person that lives here in Utah and along the Wasatch Front to look deep down inside themselves and just see how they can support this effort."
. . .
"I am seeing so much excitement that there is finally somebody doing this work," she said. "Everyone has known there was a huge need for this. There is almost a sense of relief."
Ms. Sweet spent part of her career in Washington, D.C., where she worked on Indian issues with Bureaus of Indian Affairs and Indian Education and with the White House. Since moving to Utah with her husband last year, she has launched her own consulting business, partnering with several area tribes, including Goshute and Shoshone bands. Her position with Utah Foster Care is part-time, enabling her to continue her consulting work with the tribes.

In observance of American Indian Heritage Month, California public broadcasting station KPBS has honored Rose-Margaret Orrantia (Yaqui) as one of its "Local Heroes" for her life-long work on behalf on Indian children and youth.

Originally from Clarkdale, Arizona, Ms. Orrantia and her family moved to the San Diego area when she was two. She attended local schools and graduated from San Diego State University in 1962 with a degree in English. Later that year, she became a member of the inaugural class of Peace Corps volunteers. She was assigned to Peru, where, as part of Food for Peace, she began her vocation by feeding hungry children. Upon returning to the U.S. two years later, she took a job at Santa fe, New Mexico's Institute of American Indian Arts, working with the students as a dormitory staff member. Some of those students, she says, were wards of the court and/or caught in the pre-ICWA child welfare system.

"That’s when I first became aware of this population of young people,” Orrantia remembers. “They weren’t called foster kids back then."
After 20 years working with IAIA students, she returned to southern California and joined the Indian Child Welfare Consortium, which had been founded to help implement and enforce the requirements of the ICWA. The organization worked with area tribes in Riverside and San Diego Counties, to ensure that Native children were placed with Indian foster families.
As part of her work with the Indian Child Welfare Consortium, a program that eventually expanded to include handling adoptions, Orrantia made sure the Indian Child Welfare Act was carefully followed.

"California is the only state where we don’t terminate parent rights," explains Orrantia. "The tribe gets to write the order. This way the kids stay connected to their biological family. For tribal children this is even more important, because so many of them have been taken away from their communities, adopted out and lost their way. They have the highest rates of suicide due to displacement and loss of identity, which was one of the factors that precipitated the Indian Child Welfare Act. It really is a life and death issue for tribal children to stay connected to their community. We always tried to find family first. About 60 percent were placed with family. The other 40 percent were placed in foster families but they were all certified Indian homes, placed within culture."

Ms. Orrantia is also the program manager for Tribal STAR [Successful Transitions for Adult Readiness], described as "a program to develop curricula and training for social workers in five counties (including San Diego and Imperial Counties), who work in rural areas with Indian youth aging out of the foster care system." The program launched in 2003, and this year celebrated its tenth anniversary.
"I don’t know if working with children was ever my plan . . . . But, we (American Indians) always believe we come into the world with a purpose and destiny, and that purpose and destiny will work itself out in some way. So maybe it’s that and not an intellectual plan that you make to do something. You go where your heart leads you and that’s where my heart was always leading me."
. . .
"The thing that’s most important is that as adults, we’re all responsible for making sure that children are protected,” she affirms. “That they’re healthy, that their needs are taken care of, and that they’re going to grow up to be responsible, contributing members of their community, whether it’s their tribal community or the larger, general community."
KPBS is the public broadcasting station of San Diego State University, of which Ms. Orrantia is an alumna.
More "This Week In American Indian News" & Latest Updates on Kossack Regional Meet-Up News Below the Frybead Thingey
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In yesterday's edition of "New Day — This Week In American Indian News," I led off with what, superficially, seems to be an arts-related story about a film project currently in the works.

It's actually much more than "a film project": It's a perfect example of how art exposes and explores at the deepest levels what our humanity means and the role culture and tradition play in that, but more, it provides depth and dimension to the notion of identity — in this case, what it means to be Indian, and what it means to be a woman or a man within a specific Indian cultural tradition.

As I said yesterday:

As I was putting together the stories for today's edition, I noticed two distinct and interrelated patterns emerging: themes of imagery and identity, intertwining, diverging, separating and merging again at different points along the continuum of what it means to be Indian in 2013.

There are many other stories out there right now, true, and they are important. But so are these — and despite the fact that the corporate media would regard these topics as "not hard news," that's incorrect. Today's stories encompass the existential conundrum of being Indian today, the requirement that we walk in two worlds at every moment of our lives when one of those worlds has done its damnedest to exterminate the other, and failing that, still actively works to neutralize its existence. And they do so in an equally dualistic way: in the public perception of who and what we are and what sovereignty and autonomy we have over that identity; and in the most private, intimate of spaces, in our own image of ourselves, both as individuals and as part of the collective culture labeled "Indian."

To that end, I'm leading with what other coverage would relegate to the "C" Section of the newspaper. It's a story about asserting and affirming ownership of our identities and images, and doing so in a way that forces the dominant culture to face us in all our beautiful, complex diversity.

Over the jump, find our more about this important film project, and what you can do to help support it.

And support it desperately needs:  Filmmaker Sydney Freeland, a Navajo woman, has an opportunity to enter it in January's Sundance Film Festival. But an additional $30,000 is needed to wrap it up.  She's raised a third of that so far via a Kickstarter campaign, but she now has fewer than six days to raise the additional $20,000. And here's the kicker, no pun intended: If she can't raise the full amount by November 4th, she loses all the donations currently pledged, too.  

This is a film that needs to be made. Please help me help her, by sharing this with your networks all over the country and the world. And if you can kick in a little (we gave $50 last night), that will surely help, too. DO IT HERE.

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Every day is a new day and with that, a new opportunity.
EVERYONE is welcome and please join us each morning at 7:30 AM PACIFIC
to tell us what you're working on, share your show & tell, vent, whatever you want...  
...this is an open thread. Nothing is off topic.

As I was putting together the stories for today's edition, I noticed two distinct and interrelated patterns emerging: themes of imagery and identity, intertwining, diverging, separating and merging again at different points along the continuum of what it means to be Indian in 2013.

There are many other stories out there right now, true, and they are important. But so are these — and despite the fact that the corporate media would regard these topics as "not hard news," that's incorrect. Today's stories encompass the existential conundrum of being Indian today, the requirement that we walk in two worlds at every moment of our lives when one of those worlds has done its damnedest to exterminate the other, and failing that, still actively works to neutralize its existence. And they do so in an equally dualistic way: in the public perception of who and what we are and what sovereignty and autonomy we have over that identity; and in the most private, intimate of spaces, in our own image of ourselves, both as individuals and as part of the collective culture labeled "Indian."

To that end, I'm leading with what other coverage would relegate to the "C" Section of the newspaper. It's a story about asserting and affirming ownership of our identities and images, and doing so in a way that forces the dominant culture to face us in all our beautiful, complex diversity.


 photo carmen-moore_zpsebfa406b.jpg I would never have thought that I'd lead an edition with a story about a movie about Indians with the title of Drunktown's Finest.

But based on what I know of the film so far, it's got my full support, title and all.

The filmmaker is Sydney Freeland (Navajo), from Gallup, New Mexico, now living in Albuquerque. She's developed or been involved in the creation of a number of other projects, but Drunktown's Finest is the one she calls "a labor of love." It's also been in the works for seven years (and despite being accepted by the 2009 Sundance Film Lab and the 2010 Screenwriter's and Director's Labs, is still seeking full financing via Kickstarter).

The project was born out of the ashes of a national news report that slandered Gallup, along with its significant Indian population. In Ms. Freeland's own words:

When I was growing up I saw a news piece on ABC's 20/20 describing my hometown as "Drunktown, USA". This film is my effort to defy that judgement of my community. With your support my film will show the world that label was wrong, and that my community has complexity, dimension and hope.
The project has a Facebook page, as well, and the individual postings there are especially interesting. In one, Ms. Freeland points out that of the entire cast of 36 actors, 32 are American Indian — 18 Navajo, 2 Zuni, and 12 from other tribal nations. That is, frankly, an astounding cast ratio.

As important as the cast and production itself are, equally important is the storyline. It's an effort to show the dominant culture what it means to be Indian in the 21st Century — and what Indian Gallup actually is. Which is to say, like any other municipality, it's not all alcoholism and violence and dysfunction: It's a community of real people, with fully three-dimensional lives that include love, joy, pain, sadness, and all the layers of human emotion and complexity found anywhere and everywhere in the world.

The plotline follows the daily lives of three young Navajo adults who have learned that they are in line to become the next generation of medicine persons for their people. One is young woman who had fully converted to Christianity; one is a young man (Breaking Bad's Jeremiah Bitsui) who has also just learned that he is about to become a father, like it or not and ready or not; and one is a young transgendered woman who will have to learn to call upon her people's traditions to take her place as a Nádleeh (a Two-Spirit, or member of the LGBTQI community).

Particularly encouraging is the casting of (and storyline involving) Carmen Moore, the transgendered woman actor who plays Felixia, a transgendered woman character. Many Native cultures have historically understood and respected the fact that gender identity and sexual orientation exist at a multitude of points and interstices along a continuum. Too many, however, have had much of that knowledge excised by post-Contact conversion and immersion in the bigotries of the contemporary dominant culture. The role of Felixia reportedly attempts to recapture the respect with which the Diné have traditional regarded those who serve their people as Nádleeh, placed firmly in the context of all the micro- and macro-aggressions that Carmen Moore and other members of Native LGBTQI communities must navigate on a daily basis.

As noted above, Drunktown's Finest is still seeking funding to bring filming to completion. Right now, Ms. Freeland and her crew are racing to beat the deadline for acceptance into the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. To that end, she has launched a Kickstarter project to try to close the financial gap; only seven days remain on the current campaign. Tomorrow is Ms. Freeland's 33rd birthday; if you're inclined to show your appreciation, you can give her a birthday present by supporting the film project here.


 photo DarrenBlackBearandFianceImageCreditNickOxfordAP_zps6f57c205.jpg Darren Black Bear, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, is a gay man. he and his [non-Native] fiancé, Jason Pickel, have been together for nine years. Soon, they will be getting married.

In Oklahoma.

A state that has banned marriage equality.

How? Because the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, more enlightened than the state they call home, permit marriage within their tribal jurisdiction between any two consenting and otherwise competent adults, provided that at least one is an enrolled tribal member. And so Mr. Black Bear is able to use the tribal legal system of his own people to circumvent the state's rampant institutionalized homophobia, and marry the love of his life.

The couple had planned to travel to Iowa in the coming months to get married. But Mr. Pickel thought it worth a call to the tribal government, and learned that because his fiancé was an enrolled tribal member, they could indeed get married under tribal law for the price of a $20 marriage license. This makes the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma the seventh known tribal government to have institutionalized marriage equality.

Of course, the state of Oklahoma will not recognize their marriage — for now. That will change, as the arc of justice (and not a few political and financial disincentives) plus the Full Faith and Credit Clause force the state, along with all others, to do the right thing. But for now, such a marriage should be recognized by the federal government. That will provide significant tangible benefits to the couple and their relationship, in addition to the psychic benefits of having their relationship recognized as the marriage that it is.

They expect the wedding to be officiated by Mr. Black Bear's own father, Floyd Black Bear, who is a minister and a former member of the tribal council.

"I'm not like a lot of ministers, judgmental. I have an open mind. I believe that God loves us regardless and he's given us his love so we have to share that," Floyd Black Bear said.
They also are not the only couple to avail themselves of the tribal government's willingness to issue a marriage license. Two other couples have done likewise, and one of them is already married.

Darren Black Bear hopes that his people are in the vanguard of a movement.

"The fact that the Cheyenne [and] Arapaho Tribes here in Oklahoma are progressive enough to follow federal guidelines, I'm pretty sure that [others will] start issuing marriage licenses within their tribes. I'm hopeful they will," he said.
The couple pointedly invited Oklahoma Governor Marry Fallin (R), who is adamantly opposed to marriage equality, to be an honored guest at their wedding. Her office "politely declined" the invitation.
A note about what this story really means:  I need to make one thing clear, because I've been seeing a lot of distortion of this story and its implications, as well as suggestions of exploiting it in ways that are impossible and even offensive.  

There is one reason, and one reason only, that this marriage is taking place: Darren Black Bear is an enrolled member of the tribe in question, and the tribe therefore can assume legal jurisdiction over his marriage.

No other reason.

If the parties were Darren Blackburn, of Scots descent, and Mr. Pickel, there would be no question of them using the tribal legal system to get married. Any such request would be — and should be — denied. No tribal government exists (despite what much of the dominant culture believes) for the benefit of non-members, nor does its jurisdiction in such matters extend to non-members (absent a relationship such as this one with an enrolled member). All this talk by members of the dominant culture of "using" tribes to circumvent dominant culture laws is 1) legally impossible, and 2) culturally offensive.

More "This Week In American Indian News" & Latest Updates on Kossack Regional Meet-Up News Below the Frybead Thingey
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