If you are reading this blog from time to time, then likely you know about the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline that has been happening on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.  Native America has gathered to support our cousins at Standing Rock and today, when the Court turned its efficient back on Indian Country, the Obama Administration stood with us.

In a Joint Statement from the Department of Interior, Department of Justice and Department of the Army issued mere minutes after the release of the Court’s opinion,  the Obama Administration put a halt to the construction near the reservation and asked the oil company to voluntarily cease construction on the pipeline within 20 miles of Lake Oahe!  Then, they said:

“Furthermore, this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.  Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions:  (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals.”

Continuing, the Statement says,

“In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites.  It is now incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.”

And all I can say is “Wow”.  Just “Wow”.

I was an employee of the Obama Administration and I cannot over-emphasize what a phenomenal effort this must have been by our friends and family working so hard on our behalf inside the government.  It can take weeks to get an even seemingly “simple” document approved by one Agency, let alone three.  And make no mistake, the POTUS himself had to approve this decision.

We have work to do still, no doubt.  We cannot relax.  We must remain vigilant.  Google’s dictionary defines vigilant as “keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties” and offers synonyms such as “watchful”, “observant”, “alert”, and my personal favorite, “hawk-eyed.”  There will be a ton of work to do.  Consultation will move forward as mandated by Executive Order 13, 175 which provides for meaningful consultation with Indian Tribes.  But this requires us, you and I, to be as vocal as we have been while on the front lines of the protest throughout the process.  For my tips on how to effectively “consult” check my blog “The Art of Consultation.”

Indian Country knows that the judicial system is not with us.  Some of you readers may not know that in 2001, the Native American Rights Fund started the Supreme Court Project whose purpose is to strengthen tribal advocacy before the U.S. Supreme Court by developing new litigation strategies and coordinating tribal legal resources, and to ultimately improve the win-loss record of Indian tribes. The Project is staffed by attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund  and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and consists of a Working Group of over 200 attorneys and academics from around the nation who specialize in Indian law and other areas of law that impact Indian cases.

As I sit here in D.C.,  I am inspired by the work of the Standing Rock people, the protesters, the legal teams, and our friends in the Obama Administration.

Thank you, thank you very much.

Mni Wiconi. Water is Life.

Lael Echo-Hawk

On June 22, 2016, the President signed HR 812 as PL 114-178, the Indian Trust Asset Reform Act (Act). The Act reaffirms the responsibility of the United States to Indian tribes; authorizes a demonstration project for tribes to voluntarily negotiate with the Secretary of the Interior to manage their own trust assets; creates the option for the Secretary to establish an Under Secretary for Indian Affairs; and sets up a process to terminate the Office of the Special Trustee.

In other words, this is a VERY big deal.  There have been numerous lawsuits filed against the federal government for failing to appropriately manage tribal trust assets and, in the spirit of self-determination, this legislation begins to hand some of that management back over to tribes.  In a Congress bogged down by election partisan politics, Indian Country continues to chip away at issues important to us and find some success.

HR 812 was introduced by Representatives Simpson (R-ID); Cole (R-OK); and Heck (D-WA). Companion legislation was introduced by Senator Crapo (R-ID). A copy of HR 812, as presented to the President for signature, is here: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-114hr812enr/pdf/BILLS-114hr812enr.pdf

Read more from our General Memorandum here

Happy Tuesday!

Did you know that tourism supports more than 8.1 million jobs in the United States?

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, this means that one out of every 18 Americans is employed by travel and tourism related businesses – most of which are small firms.

In 2012, President Obama launched the National Travel and Tourism Strategy, charting a new course toward making America a more attractive and accessible destination than ever before. The Strategy sets a goal of drawing 100 million international visitors by 2021, which is expected to generate $250 billion annually in visitor spending by 2012. The strategy also encourages more Americans to travel within the United States. In 2013, international visitors spend $180.7 billion dollars on U.S. travel and tourism related goods and services.

How can Indian Country benefit from this booming industry? 

As Indian gaming began to boom, gaming tribes began to think about how to draw their customers to their facilities. Soon magnificent facilities like the Tulalip Resort Casino and the Pueblo of Pojoaque’s Buffalo Thunder Resort sprang up.  At the same time, a small tribal organization with a mission “to define, introduce, grow and sustain American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian tourism that honors traditions and values” was steadily growing.  Today, the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Organization (“AIANTA”) is flourishing.

This week AIANTA was in D.C. in support of H.R. 3477, a bill “To enhance and integrate Native American tourism, empower Native American communities, increase coordination and collaboration between Federal tourism assets, and expand heritage and cultural tourism opportunities in the United States. ”  This bill would authorize a MOU between AIANTA and the Department of Interior in consultation with the Department of Commerce to provide technical assistance to tribes and tribal organizations to participate fully in the tourism industry.

H.R. 3477 requires the Department of Interior and Department of Commerce to update their respective management plans and tourism initiatives to include a Native American Tourism Plan.  The Native American Tourism Plans are to do the following:

(1) IN GENERAL.—The plans shall outline policy proposals—

(A) to improve travel and tourism data collection and analysis;

(B) to increase the integration, alignment, and utility of public records, publications, and Web sites maintained by Federal agencies;

(C) to create a better user experience for domestic travelers and international visitors;

(D) to align Federal agency Web sites and publications;

(E) to support national tourism goals;

(F) to identify agency programs that could be used to support tourism capacity building and help sustain tourism infrastructure in Native American communities;

(G) to develop innovative visitor portals for parks, landmarks, heritage and cultural sites, and assets that showcase and respect the diversity of the indigenous peoples of the United States;

(H) to share local Native American heritage through the development of bilingual interpretive and directional signage that could include or incorporate English and the local Native American language or languages; and

(I) to improve access to transportation programs related to Native American community capacity building for tourism and trade, including transportation planning for programs related to visitor enhancement and safety.

If you or your tribe is interested in this legislation or want to learn more, you can contact the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.  A link to the hearing on H.R. 3744 is here.

Tell our own story and protect our sacred sites.

For two hundred years, American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian history has been told by the “conquerors” and not by us.  Tourism gives us the opportunity to tell our own story in our own words in our own places.  The Desert View Tribal Heritage Project is a great example of this.  Groups including AIANTA  and the Grand Canyon’s ItAC, established in 2013, composed of representatives from the park’s 11 Traditionally Associated Tribes (Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Havasupai, Hualapai, Yavapai-Apache, and five bands of Southern Paiute represented by the Kaibab Paiute) collaborate with the NPS on issues that affect each of the tribes and the park including working on programs such as youth development, tribal tourism opportunities, and cultural demonstrations. Today, Desert View represents the physical and cultural gateway from Grand Canyon National Park to the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

A signature project for next year’s National Park Service Centennial, the revival of Desert View as a cultural heritage site will provide opportunities for the public to connect with Grand Canyon’s Traditionally Associated Tribes. This transformation also ensures that future generations of tribal members and visitors will have an opportunity to make and share meaningful experiences and stories. “This project re-envisions how visitors experience Desert View and the entire park and will lead us and the NPS into the next century. We are grateful for the support of ArtPlace America and the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association and the hard work of our Inter-tribal Advisory Council,” said Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga.

This is just an example of what can be accomplished for the benefit not only of Native People but those tourists who would like to learn more about us and the places we live.  I know that there is some hesitation about inviting non-Native people into our homelands but there are ways to do it that keep our communities safe while participating in a booming industry in a culturally appropriate way.  Done right, tourism can be not only an economic development opportunity but an education opportunity and a means to protecting our cultural resources.  Big thanks to AIANTA for leading the way!

With Respect,

This week, Architect Johnpaul Jones (Cherokee/Choctaw) received the National Medal of Humanities Medal from President Obama.  I was introduced to Mr. Jones by my colleague, Barbara Holland, and was struck by his humility and gracious spirit.  For those of you who are not familiar with his name, you will likely be familiar with his work.  He was lead consultant on the National Museum of the American Indian, Chief Seattle Club and more recently worked on the Tanana Chiefs Conference Clinic in Fairbanks, Alaska.  Mr. Jones creates beautiful spaces that exude peace and tranquility in an often hectic, stressful environment.

He was awarded the Medal for his work as an Architect, “for honoring the natural world and indigenous traditions in architecture. A force behind diverse and cherished institutions, Mr. Jones has fostered awareness through design and created spaces worthy of the cultures they reflect, the communities they serve, and the environments they inhabit.”

As I watched the presentation, I was struck by the historic moment I was watching – a Native American man receiving a National Medal of Humanities by an African American President.  I have been a HUGE supporter of President Obama – I even caucused for him during the first election.  I froze my tushie off in the D.C. cold during his first inauguration and was slightly less cold during his second.

But I have to admit, I was a cynic on Election Day.  I never believed that this country with its oh-so-complicated history of race relations would strive for change and actually accomplish it.  As the numbers began to come in and it became clear that a BROWN man would become the President of the United States, I became very emotional as I was struck by the thought that now my beautiful brown nephews and nieces could also one day achieve this very thing.

We are in the midst of the debate about the “R******n” mascot name.  A righteous battle.  But I wanted to take a moment from that discussion and honor a true Native American role model, Mr. Johnpaul Jones.

Today, glass ceilings and artificial restrictions designed to oppress the “minority” are being smashed into oblivion by people like Johnpaul Jones and President Obama.  And as we continue the good fight, acknowledging each milestone, we continue to pave a smoother way for our young people.  What could possibly be better than that??



I was at karaoke last weekend for my sister’s birthday at our favorite local dive karaoke spot. Unbeknownst to us, it was a “Cowboys & Indians” theme, and you know the rest of the story.

At one point, I had to go pick up some guy’s sweaty beanie to which his “headdress” was pinned, off the floor where he threw it during his horrendous rendition of some country rock song. I know it wasn’t a real headdress, but isn’t that the point? When non-Natives appropriate Native people, they relegate “us” to something inferior – something less than human that can be easily discarded and forgotten.

As he was talking me down, my boyfriend said, “He just doesn’t know any better.” Hashtag. Blank-Stare. Personally, I am sick and tired of the excuses given to justify this racist garbage we are constantly exposed to, like the Washington Redskins, the “Sioux-per Drunk” t-shirts, Chief Wahoo, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on and ENOUGH ALREADY!!

So what can “we” do?

I heard my brilliant uncle, Walter Echo-Hawk give a talk recently about how the “doctrine of discovery” and notion of “plenary power” (bedrock principles of federal Indian law) are built upon the racist notions that the Native people of these United States were (and are) “savages.”  Justice Marshall, author of that famous opinion “Johnson v. M’Intosh, himself says “[t]he tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages, whose occupation was war, whose subsistence was drawn chiefly from the forest. To leave them in possession of their country, was to leave the country a wilderness.”

“Houston, we have Plenary Power. Please feel free to dispose of the savages and their land at will. Over.”

And yet, as my uncle argues, we (i.e., Indian Country) continue to cite to this case and others like it as if it is the B-I-B-L-E.

Uncle Walter’s proposition goes something like this:  we need to mount an attack on this legal framework of statutes and common law that is built solidly on the principle that Native people are an inferior race, and which framework is diligently trying to annihilate us. And we should attack it using the principles of human rights found in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf

I like it!  (And not just because I am related to him.)

Think about this, while we continue to work on eradicating Native mascots, stereotypes, blatantly racist t-shirts and fraternity party themes, shouldn’t we also be doing what the African American community did in the late 1800’s with Plessy v. Ferguson? That is, mount a strategic attack on the legal principles founded on the idea that another race is somehow inferior to another.  If we succeed at challenging those racist legal principles I have to believe these other issues (such as Native mascots) will begin to resolve themselves.

Maybe, if the Supreme Court of the United States of America says that Native people possess human rights too… the rest of the country will start to agree.

For a more in-depth discussion about this idea, check out Walter Echo-Hawk’s website and read his books “In the Courts of the Conqueror” and “In the Light of Justice”. http://www.walterechohawk.com/

Photo credit of John Wayne Painting belongs to Bunky Echohawk

Proving that at least every once in a while, the Supreme Court CAN get it right on behalf of Native people, today the SCOTUS denied cert in yet an another appeal of the Katie John case. The questions presented before the court were:

1. Whether the Ninth Circuit properly held—in conflict with this Court’s decisions—that the federal reserved water rights doctrine authorizes the unprecedented federal takeover of Alaska’s navigable waters sanctioned by the 1999 Rule.

2. Whether the Ninth Circuit properly proceeded on the premise—which also conflicts with this Court’s decisions—that ANILCA could be interpreted to federalize navigable waters at all given Congress’s silence on the Act’s application to navigable waters.

Sounds very lawyerly. What does it mean on the ground? It means our Native relatives in Alaska can subsistence fish.

My mother was adopted by the late Katie John.  My grandma Katie was a strong charismatic woman who fought the State of Alaska to ensure that her kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, and all her descendants would have the right to fish for subsistence purposes. She continued that battle even after passing.

Today, the litigation comes to an end and Katie John is vindicated again.

Link to the materials at Turtletalk can be found here.

“Lael Echo-Hawk” is not a real name…or so says the new social networking site operated by Google, known as Google+ (or G+).

The most our modern education system teaches United States students about the history of the First People on this continent is Christopher Columbus, Squanto, Pocahontas, Thanksgiving (gobble gobble), Sacagawea, and Geronimo – then skip 150 years and we have casinos.  TA-DAA!  Apparently two centuries of government mandated genocide and forcible assimilation does not rate a mention in a school book.  This remarkable lack of information is, in my opinion, a major reason why many non-Natives are befuddled by our opposition to the name of our capital’s NFL team, the Washington Redskins.

President Obama recently weighed in on the “Redskin” controversy stating that if he owned the team, he would “think about changing the name.”  To which the team’s lawyers came back with an “official” poll that proves empirically that 9 out of 10 Native Americans are not bothered by the name.  My good buddy Gyasi Ross and I have had this debate over the years and while I agree with him that we have much bigger fish to fry, I also believe this debate is a platform for the world to see Native Americans through a different lens.  We are not all “red.”  We do not all live in teepees, nor did we all live in teepees before this continent was invaded.  We do have to pay taxes.  We do not get health care for free.  We do not get our college education for free (and if we do, can someone please write a letter to that effect to Salle Mae, Wells Fargo and the U.S. Education Loan Program so they can clear my slate?).  Indian Country Today just did an article with the 7 ridiculous questions posed to Google, including my favorite, “do Native Americans have body hair?”.

Facts are facts – the term “redskin” is a racial slur.  It is.  It is even more insulting when the advocates of keeping the name have the nerve to claim that the term is meant to “honor Native Americans.”  While several lawsuits have been filed and failed in attempt to make the Washington team change their name and high profile journalists like NBC host, Bob Costas, have come out in support of changing the name, we must keep fighting.  Our kids see these images and internalize these stereotypes.  I want my nephews and nieces to know that they are beautiful and powerful people and even if they look, think, and act different than the people around them or their name does not meet G+ standards, that just makes them different, not less.  We are not mascots.  We are not Halloween costumes.  We are the descendants of our ancestors who walked this road before us and we are the ancestors of Native people who will walk after us.  We are over 500 tribes and almost 2 million people with strong tribal leaders, elders, youngsters, doctors, chiropractors, teachers, child care providers, chefs, waiters, researchers, lawyers, plumbers, construction workers, economists, cartoonists, artists, dancers, and every other possible occupation.  And we should not allow anyone to denigrate who we are.

So while there is no resolution to this debate instantly in sight…my G+ account remains suspended and I’m seriously considering switching to Bing.

Please share your comments on G+ and the Washington Redskins in the comments below.