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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.
AMERICAN INDIAN FOSTER FAMILIES
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.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."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.
INDIAN FOSTER CHILDREN, ICWA ENFORCEMENT
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.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."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
Amherst College has acquired perhaps one of the most comprehensive collections of American Indian writing housed in any one place.
There is a caveat, of course: The collection includes writing about American Indians (i.e., by non-Indian authors) as well as by American Indians. The latter is American Indian writing; the former is not. This is a distinction that the dominant culture continually refuses to make, but it is absolutely necessary, and must be kept firmly in mind. And the items in the former category are of frankly no relevance to this piece, which will focus purely on the actual Indian writing.
The collection includes signed first editions by contemporary Native authors like Sherman Alexie, and a first edition on a bound birch-bark scroll of a book in my own collection, by Andrew J. Blackbird (whose name was really Makade-Binessy, translating more accurately to Blackhawk, but who saw his name changed — and diminished — by white publishers without his consultation or consent).
Among the other prizes in the collection are books by Indian women.
For Lisa Brooks and Kiara Vigil, who both teach Native American studies at Amherst, this new treasure trove — the collection, housed at Frost Library, is still being inventoried — has an emotional appeal as well.The collection was in the hands of Pablo Eisenberg, who is himself a scholar at GEorgetown University. He wanted to sell it, but there was a condition: The collection must be sold in its entirety, and kept together. The college characterized his asking price as "steep," which is actually rather wounding: Mr. Eisenberg wanted $225,000 for the entire collection, which, considering some of the old works included in it, should properly fetch vastly more at auction. But such is the value the dominant culture places on actual Indian history, however tangible. The college itself is paying $100,000 of the asking price over a two-year period, and a husband-and-wife team of collectors of Indian books and artifacts have stepped up as benefactors to help meet the balance.
For Barry O’Connell, the Native Studies Program founder, the value of the collection lies partly in its mere existence: Few people realize, he says, that some Native tribes not only learned how to write and speak English much earlier than is commonly believed, but also developed their own written languages.Writing was not, of course, purely a response to European invasion. The Medicine Society of Mr. Makade-Binessy's own people, the Anishinaabeg (in his case, Odawa and Chippewa) have a written tradition stretching back millennia.
One concern is that the way the collection is being presented will encourage further confusion about what constitutes "Native American writing," and thus enable further appropriation. However, it also presents Amherst with a real opportunity: to educate the public in factual and concrete ways; to provide a resource for actual Native scholars and writers; and to provide both a jumping-off point and and a home base for the nurturing of new generations of actual American Indian writers.
An archaeological excavation in the southern Adirondacks of upstate New York has uncovered a treasure trove of another kind: American Indian artifacts dating back to 8,000 years B.C.E.
The artifacts were discovered during a dig ordered ahead of a scheduled $3 million improvement project for Million Dollar Beach in the Lake George area, and include thousands of arrowheads, spear points, and stone tools that have been determined to be some 10,000 years old. According to state officials, the find now makes the region one of New York's earliest known inhabited areas.
The state is repaving the parking lot and access road at the beach, located on the southern end of the 32-mile-long lake. In late August, a team of archaeologists from the museum began digging just off the access road in a tree-shaded picnic area located a few hundred feet from the beach. In prehistoric times, the area would have been the shoreline, [New York State head archaeologist Christine] Rieth said.Ms. Reith and state museum officials insist that the spot was used for migratory or transitory purposes, as a hunting and fishing spot, but not as a settlement. One wonders what the oral histories of the descendants of these ancient people, who still live in the region, would say.
State museum officials also say that some of the artifacts will eventually be displayed at the museum. One also wonders why there appears to be no thought of contacting area tribal nations to discuss whether repatriation might be appropriate.
The 38th American Indian Film Festival is returning to San Francisco on november 9th and 10th. In advance of the events, the San Francisco Chronicle profiled renowned Canadian First Nations actor Tantoo Cardinal (Cree). [Note: I observe the gender-netural form with regard to acting (and all other) professionals. There is no need to diminish the talents of professional women by referring to them by a diminutive form.]
As the Chronicle piece notes, Ms. Cardinal has been a professional actor for more than forty years, but her breakout role came in 1990's Dances With Wolves. Now, her career appears finally to be making the transition from "Native American" roles to mainstream roles generally. She stars in three films that are entered in the festival, but only two of them are traditionally "Indian." In the third, Chasing Shakespeare (described as "a coming-of-age romance, and the festival opening-night attraction), she stars opposite Danny Glover.
"A story I've stuck to the last few years is you're about to see the stories our filmmakers are working on," Cardinal said during a recent visit to San Francisco. "There are the usual hurdles - finances. ... At the Toronto International Film Festival (in September), there were six of our projects. That's not a Native American (festival) sidebar, but right down mainstream."And while Ms. Cardinal recognizes that many Indians dislike Dances With Wolves for its stereotyping and its appropriative, Great White Savior approach, she also credits the film with changing the public perception of how Indians should — or even could — be portrayed: "It portrayed us as human beings, and that was important as well."
She also notes that it's still very much an uphill battle.
"We have people in the space programs, a player in the NBA (and the NFL)," Cardinal said. "But as far as mainstream film, they think of me as Native American. There's all kinds of traps on who we are or where we are. I've been in this business for 42 years, and it took that long to play Shakespeare on the main stage."The American Indian Film Festival opens on Friday, November 9th, at the Delancey Street Theatre. The awards ceremony and gala will be held on Saturday, December 10th, and the SFJazz Center. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the festival's Web site here.
Yes, there'a an app for that.
Two members of New Mexico State University's American Indian Program have developed a new app for use with iPads.
Justin McHorse, the school's American Indian Program director, and Michael Ray, the American Indian Program student program coordinator, designed the app in conjunction with the NMSU Learning Games Lab, based on an educational board game that Mr, Ray developed three years ago.
"What we do at NMSU is help try to help educate the community that there are American Indian people thriving and there are communities here in New Mexico," said [Mr. McHorse]. "We needed to work on way to try and develop an educational tool to help educate people about the Native American communities."There is a slight issue: At least one federally-recognized tribe with part of its lands in New Mexico appears to have been excluded — in all likelihood, the Ute Mountain Tribe, straddling the state's northern border with Colorado. But it's a start.
Currently, the app is available solely for the iPad. It's free, and may be downloaded from Apple's App Store. Other apps produced by NMSU's Learning Games Lab may be downloaded from the Lab's own site, here.
Let's build communities!
Every region needs a meatspace community like SFKossacks.
We take care of each other in real life.
I urge YOU to take the lead and organize one in your region.
Please tell us about it if you do and we're here for advice.
THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY
NEW GROUPS IN THE PROCESS OF ORGANIZING:These are the groups that have started since * NEW DAY * began. Please Kosmail navajo if you have started a group before that.
Send a Kosmail to the organizers and ask for an invitation to the group.• Northern Indiana Area: Kosmail Tim Delaney
• Long Island: Kosmail grannycarol
• Northern Michigan: Kosmail JillS
• Nebraska: Kosmail Nebraska68847Dem
• Westburbia Chicago Kossacks: Kosmail Majordomo
• Caprock Kossacks (Panhandle/Caprock/Lubbock/Amarillo area) : Kosmail shesaid
• West Texas Kossacks (including Big Bend Region and El Paso) : Kosmail Yo Bubba
• Las Vegas Kossacks: Kosmail miracle11
• Vermont Kossacks: Kosmail 4Freedom
• Silicon Valley Kossacks: Kosmail Glen The PlumberNote to the above new leaders: Feel free to leave a comment any day reminding readers about your new group. Also, tell us about your progress in gathering members. Kosmail me when you've chosen a good name for your group and have created a the group. Then I'll move you to the NEW GROUPS LIST. When you've planned a date for your first event I'll make a banner for you to highlight your event in our diaries and your diaries.
NEW GROUPS LIST:
• Kansas City Kossacks - Formed Oct 15, 2012, Organizer: [Founder stepped down]
ESTABLISHED GROUPS LIST: (List will grow as we discover them)
Wednesday, October 30th
I-77 Kossacks Last Minute Meet-up
ORGANIZERS: Fineena and SteelerGrrlReporting diary: I-77 Kossacks mini-meetup 10/30, updated with better photo
Saturday, November 9th
Portland Kossacks Celebrate Sara R's Birthday
TIME: 2:00 - 7:00 PM
LOCATION: Catnip Manor (Sara's house)
Address given privately • Portland
ORGANIZER: Send Sara R a kosmail to attend.
Latest diary: November 9 meetup in Portland, OR
1. Sara R
3. Horace BoothroydIII
4. Horace's daughter
8. Oregon Gal
Saturday, November 9th
Kansas & Missouri Kossacks Meet-up
TIME: 7:00 PM
LOCATION: Trey Bistro
21 N 9th Street • Columbia, MO
ORGANIZER: Send tmservo433 a kosmail to attend.
Latest diary: Columbia, Missouri Get Together.. Details & KC Info
2. Man Oh Man
5. kj in missouri
Saturday, November 16th
Indianapolis Kossacks Meet-up
TIME: 2:00 PM
LOCATION: Pancho's Tacqueria
9658 Allisonville Road • Fishers
ORGANIZER: Send CityLightsLover a kosmail to attend.
Latest diary: [Waiting for linked diary]
2. Yours Truly
4. Alexandra Lynch
6. Tim DeLaney
Saturday, November 16th
Kansas & Missouri Kossacks Meet-up
TIME: 7:00 - 11:00 PM
LOCATION: Overland Park Marriott, ballroom TBD
10800 Metcalf Ave • Overland Park
ORGANIZER: Send tmservo433 a kosmail to attend.
Latest diary: Kansas City Kos Meet-Up BIG update!
5. zamrzla (Offering carpool from Topeka)
6. zamrzla's guest
We have attendees from Planned Parenthood and other organizations
We are working on attendees from:
The Davis Campaign
The Wakefield Campaign
Emmanuel Clever's Office
Sunday, November 17th
Los Angeles Kossacks Meet-up
TBD • TBD
ORGANIZER: Send Dave in Northridge a kosmail to attend.
Latest diary: Los Angeles Kossacks: October 19 Meetup, Saladang Song, Pasadena
1. Dave in Northridge
4. Joe Bacon
7. DontTaseMeBro's husband
Send navajo a kosmail if you post a diary about an event so we can update our round-up.
Okay. Floor's open.
Tell us what you are doing on this NEW DAY?