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From Columbus to Indigenous Peoples' Day: More Than Window Dressing?

Credit: Junco Canché

Today, Truthout published a piece I wrote called "Beyond Columbus Day: Changing the Name Is Just the First Step." I've been writing and reporting on the movement to get rid of Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples' Day for five years. So, I thought it would be good to put some of that material in all one place.

We rightfully honor the work of so many Native activists across the country who have worked tirelessly for years to change a holiday celebrating a mass murderer, Columbus Day, to one honoring the survival of Indigenous people. But even as city after city (70-plus and counting!), changes the name and focus of the holiday, I also think it's important to listen to Indigenous people who are pushing for more and not to get complacent. In the article, I detail Diné activist Klee Benally concerns that without real change in how the Navajo Nation's largest "border town" treats Native people, Flagstaff's resolution proclaiming Indigenous Peoples' Day amounts to little more than window-dressing. The city never honored a Memo of Understanding made with the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission meant to improve race relations.

I also shared part of a podcast interview I did last year with Los Angeles-based Diné activist Chrissie Castro after the L.A. city council voted to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day. She describes in great detail the series of meetings leading up to the vote that the city mandated between the Native and Italian American community. It's fascinating stuff. I really recommend a listen.

However, even as L.A. celebrates its first Indigenous Peoples' Day, there are protests over a Columbus Statue the city refuses to take down. I will be interviewing local leader Joel Garcia about it on the monthly KBOO talk radio show I co-host this Wednesday. Klee Benally will also be our guest.

William S. Parkerson inciting the mob. Harper's Weekly, March 28, 1891.
And if you want a thorough history of Columbus Day, I suggest checking out my article on Medium called "Goodbye Columbus." I examine Columbus' diaries and atrocities and how Italians Americans created the holiday after the largest mass lynching in American history, of Italian American immigrants. They sought to put themselves in American history to protect themselves from murder and assault.

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ICWA & Indigenous Nations’ Right to Their Children

A demonstrator outside the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix. Photo Credit: @DefendICWA
On Thursday, October 4, a U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas declared the Indian Child Welfare Act unconstitutional claiming it is a “race-based statute.” The ruling ignores hundreds of years of federal Indian law recognizing Native American tribes as nations. Judge Reed O’Connor claimed. Indigenous nations are not governments at all and not to possess national interests in children born to their tribal members. Congress passed the law in 1978 in response to a study finding 25-35 percent of Native children were taken from their homes and over 80 percent placed with non-Native families. This high rate of removal falls under the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide,  Section II  which defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group … (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

In a joint statement, leaders of the four tribes named in the suit restated their commitment to protecting children of their respective nations saying in part, “If ICWA is struck down in whole or in part, the victims will be our children and our families, Native children and Native families.”
This ruling represents the culmination of years of work by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank. By using the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection under the law” clause, the institute finally obtained a ruling that alleges the definition of “Indian” is illegal because it is race-based. Native attorneys I have interviewed believe the organization’s goal is to create a circuit court split and take the case to the Supreme Court. There, a very conservative court could declare unconstitutional the protections of ICWA and, by extension, make tribes, themselves, illegal. Thus, this ruling has serious implications for both the unity of Native families and the sovereignty of their respective nations. Ironically, “Indians” are not named in the 14th Amendment because when it was passed in 1868, Native Americans were not viewed as citizens of the United States by Congress, but as citizens of their Indigenous nations and thus, did not require an exemption under the amendment. Native Americans were not granted U.S. citizenship until 1924.

How ICWA does and does not work at the state court level illuminates how ignorance of the law puts Native American parents in danger of losing their children every year. Colorado is unique in that it has a state-level ICWA law on the books, two dedicated ICWA courts, and a dedicated en banc court of appeals panel for ICWA review. However, there is still a great deal of education that needs to occur. It should be noted most judges and attorneys are not required to learn Indian Federal Law in law school or to pass the bar and therefore do not know it. Even Justice Sonia Sotomayor admitted she had no familiarity with Indian Federal Law before she arrived at the Supreme Court. Allegedly, the late Justice Scalia bragged about his ignorance of it to Native lawyers and claimed to be “just making it up” as he went along.

And the results of this ignorance can be devastating to Native families. In 2011, NPR in a series about Native foster care in South Dakota found 700 Native children, a disproportionate number for their percentage of the population were being placed in foster care every year. Reporters also found that ICWA, which gives preference to placement with relatives or their tribe, was not being followed.

“Cousins are disappearing; family members are disappearing.” Peter Lengkeek, a Crow Creek Tribal Council member, told NPR 33 years after the passage of ICWA. “It’s kidnapping. That’s how we see it.”

I hope more states do more to implement ICWA fully and to understand what sovereignty means to Indigenous nations.
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Elizabeth Warren and White Attachment to Native Identity

Elizabeth Warren at a campaign rally in 2012. Credit Tim Pierce
UPDATE 10/15/2018:
My response to recent reports that Senator Warren has released DNA results proving she has a pure Native American ancestor appears in her family tree “in the range of 6-10 generations ago.” This would make her between 1/64th and 1/512ths Native American. However, without documentation it is unclear which percentage she is. For comparison, I can prove I am 1/16th French, 1/16th English and 1/16th German. None of which I claim as my identity or "race." 

Here was my response:

And this response on Twitter really gets to the heart of the problem:
And this response from an epidemiologist about whether the DNA evidence ties her to actual documented Cherokee or Delaware citizens: 
I also edited my Facebook post (but cannot correct the tweet) because The Boston Globe corrected its math on her possible blood quantum from 1/512ths to 1/1024ths. Interesting tweet regarding this percentage:

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