When Murders were Never Forgotten


The Burkhart sisters (from left) : Rita, Anna, Mollie and Minnie

Writer Tommy Orange makes this observation:

For people of color, or for people from marginalized communities—who have long since given up on being shocked or dismayed by the news, by what this or that administration will allow, what this or that police department will excuse, who will be exonerated, what this or that fellow American is willing to let be, either by contribution or complicity.

Orange, who is Cheyenne and Arapaho and non-Native, wrote these words recently in the New York Times Review of Books about a new novel, Friday Black, that Orange refers to as:

Powerful and important and strange and beautiful collection of stories meant to be read right now, at the end of this year, as we inch ever closer to what feels like an inevitable phenomenal catastrophe or some other kind of radical change, for better or for worse.

I am not surprised that Orange, who describes himself as an urban Indian, would write that people of color have “given up on being shocked” by the news.

Today’s news reads like a tale invented by Ray Bradbury or George Orwell, where books are burned, and lies are masked as truth.

Fiction has become reality, where a para-military force we endorse with our tax dollars removes children from their parents.

We live in a nation where citizens are refused a place to vote.

Sounds like science fiction. Continue reading

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My Heart Breaks a Little


Osage tribal members and President Coolidge in 1924

My heart breaks a little when I discover people won’t vote.

The disappointment comes from learning at an early age that my Native ancestors could not vote in a general election.

Although my grandmother voted in tribal elections, she said she never cast a state or U.S. ballot.

In some communities, Indians were turned away at the polling booths.

The story told in my family was that Native Americans who fought in world wars returned home only to find they weren’t considered citizens.

A landmark piece of legislation—approved by Congress and signed by President Calvin Coolidge—accorded Native Americans citizenship in 1924.

The irony is that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution—which the current “president” seeks to revoke—guarantees citizenship to “any persons born in the U.S. and subject to its jurisdiction.”

Seems that the rights of American Indians were simply ignored, and even until 1957, some states barred tribal folks from voting.

So my heart breaks just a little more when I hear about citizens being denied their voting rights despite a 94-year-old law designed to allow all of us to vote.


Day Four: Native American Heritage Month

4 November 2018











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Because You’re Special


The walrus and the carpenter weep over the loss of the oysters because they ate every last one

I promised that during Native American Heritage Month (November) I would look at issues through a Native lens.

The purpose is to encourage me and to encourage readers to spend a moment considering how a story, a gesture or a song would feel through Indigenous eyes.

Today, while listening to chat-radio, I heard an Indigenous writer talk about the disjuncture of “being special” and being authentic.

The writer told the interviewer she was singled out by a grade school teacher for her creative prose at an early age.

She shared the exciting news with her mother.

But the writer’s mum just shrugged and told her daughter she wasn’t special, and that she didn’t need to please the teacher.

That’s a hard lesson: we learn that being special gives you a leg up the social ladder.

Yet, we discover a contradiction when we also learn that being special applies to everyone.

When my kids were little, they sometimes participated in sports where “everybody wins.”

On some occasions, everyone won a prize.

One of my friends told me last week that her neighbor was vacationing during Halloween.

The neighbor asked parents on the block if they would give out candy a few days earlier for her kids.

That’s because they are so special, I said.

Continue reading

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What Will Kill You, and Who Cares?

Who Benefits?


 Cui Bono?

That’s the question posed by writer John Gresham’s lawyer-character when confronted with a mystery she can’t solve.

She asks: Who benefits?

That’s a key question I ask students in my Propaganda class to ponder when they are being persuaded, coaxed or sold some idea.

The question is helpful when deciding on voting issues.

Some stakeholders in our state—Oregon—want to convince voters to spend less, reduce taxes and improve schools.

But if you take a look behind the curtain at who benefits from your vote, you can see special interests in play.

I try to look beyond the language and rhetoric because words can mask the meaning of a proposed piece of legislation.

You have to do your own research to understand the real issues in play because the advertising make no sense.

For example, one piece of legislation—Measure 103—uses ads driven by fear to persuade voters their grocery bills will rise unless a law is changed.

Continue reading

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November Welcomes Native American Heritage Month


But Can We Really Celebrate?

Native American Heritage Month has been officially celebrated—at least as an idea–for nearly 30 years.

The first official announcement occurred when President George Herbert Walker Bush declared November as National Native American Heritage Month in 1990.

Note that 1990 is the same year President Bush signed the landmark Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) to protect American Indian artifacts, objects and bones.

The 1990 law—NAGRPA—has met mixed reviews: not in theory, but in practice.

For example, the law failed to support Native American claims that a 9000-year-old skeleton should be returned to tribes.

What that means is that a federal law was enacted to help stem the tide of grave robbing and skull-collecting of Indian peoples.

The law was signed for an explicit purpose: to guarantee Indigenous bodies and artifacts would be returned their communities, tribes and relatives.

The failure of NAGPRA is documented in the case of Kennewick Man, an ancient skeleton unearthed on Indigenous lands that was declared “Caucasian.”

One solo anthropologist held a press conference after the skeleton was uncovered, declaring that the skull didn’t look like modern Indians.

So: maybe he isn’t Indigenous, the anthropologist mused.

Local tribes were not amused.

Continue reading

Posted in alternative facts, american, american indian, bears ears, Native American Heritage Month, nativescience | 2 Comments

Halloween and Native American Costumes


Cartoon by Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal & Constitution (copyrighted)

American Indians are a diverse and heterogeneous lot.

But one thing many of us agree about is our traditional regalia.

Native regalia aren’t costumes.

Every year as Halloween approaches, I remind folks that wearing war-paint and chicken feathers is insensitive.

The clueless can buy a costume called “Indian Princess” or “Chief” on Amazon or Pinterest or eBay.

Fake outfits made in China with fake fur can still be purchased for trick-or-treaters and bar-hoppers.

Today friends have been posting photos of non-Indians dressed in fake costumes, ranging from fringed bikinis to head-dresses.

Native American activists have made some headway: muggles are more aware that the Chief Wahoo cartoon depicting the Cleveland Indians and that the Washington football team’s name (R**skins) are insulting to many Indigenous peoples.

My friend and scholar Dr. Cornel Pewewardy captures the sentiment well:

I am not your mascot, he says.

How can we better share our stories with folks who may not understand our traditions?

Maybe we should wear our regalia on Halloween.

That way, we can explain that our garments are special, historic, meaningful and sacred.

For example, it takes hours for some of us to get dressed: Sometimes an entire afternoon.

Each garment has a story, and as we tie on a legging, or smooth a ribbon shirt, we remember who wore the garment before we did and recall who stitched the fabric.

I have unpacked cedar-chests and unfolded shawls the night before an event, and spent hours re-stitching a hem or ironing a piece of ribbon.

I have watched mothers and aunties dress sons and grand-daughters to get ready for grand entry.

I have listened to fathers remind their sons how to care for bustles and fans.

And I’ve been scolded when my skirt was tied on the wrong hip, and facing the wrong direction.

Better than shaming folks who mindlessly mimic American Indian traditions.

Maybe it is more thoughtful to be pre-emptive and explain how our traditions emerged.


24 October 2018











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Just another day in Portlandia


On a recent bike ride to the university, one of my commuter streets was blocked to traffic.

Cyclists were steered to the sidewalk while a road crew–looking like worker-bees in their yellow, orange and black vests–loped alongside trucks and trailers.

On the sidewalk another cyclist headed toward me, so I slowed, then stopped, letting him pass.

One of the worker-bees grinned, “Hey—traffic jam!”

They waved and sang, “Have a great day,” as I cycled past.

Only in Portland, I thought—will you find a jovial road-crew.

Back on the road, I pedaled past amber-colored ash trees in the neighborhood, and thought I heard a whip.

At least, that what it sounds like when movie characters lash a crop.

I saw a bald-headed man, outfitted in a black top and black trousers, flat on his back on the sidewalk.

He was cracking a whip in the air while he lay prone.

Only in Portland.


20 October 2018













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