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Chief Theresa Spence Announces End to Fast -


Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence has announced she will end the liquid fast that she began on December 11 in protest of federal and Crown policies toward First Nations and other aboriginals.

“Chief Theresa Spence and Elder Raymond Robinson have agreed to end their hunger strikes based on the commitments outlined and endorsed in a Declaration of Commitment supported by the Assembly of First Nations National Executive Committee, Native Women’s Association of Canada, NDP National Caucus and Liberal Party of Canada Parliamentary Caucus,” said the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in a statement on the afternoon of January 23.

Spence had been holding out for a meeting between First Nations leaders, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Crown representative Governor General David Johnston. The two officials had met with First Nations leaders on January 11 but separately. Spence continued her hunger strike, dissatisfied with what she felt was a lack of nation-to-nation regard for First Nations rights.

Lately First Nations leaders and others have been urging Spence to stop protesting, saying that her goal had been accomplished when Harper came to the table (even though he didn’t mention her or Idle No More, the grassroots movement that erupted across the country and beyond at around the same time as Spence’s strike began). Reports surfaced that her health was beginning to deteriorate.

Spence is scheduled to end her fast on January 24, the day that First Nations chiefs from across the country are meeting in Vancouver. The AFN said more details would be forthcoming. 

(via rematiration-deactivated2013111)

To Dry the Eyes of Indian Adoptees


The story about the arrest of white missionaries trying to adopt allegedly orphaned Haitian children struck a chord with me. Similar media stories about well meaning white celebrities adopting pretty babies of color from poor third world countries have also rubbed me the wrong way. You see, American Indians have a long history of white folks trying to help us by taking away our children.  It is estimated that between 1941 and 1978, white parents adopted 35 percent of American Indians in the U.S., often forcibly.  Indians have learned that no amount of good intention can wipe away the painful loss of our culture.

Not long ago, I traveled to Minneapolis as I worked on a story about the Lost Birds. The Lost Birds are those Indian people who were adopted by non-Indian families prior to 1978. More personal than I had realized, this story caught me by surprise; it touched the center of who I am as an Ojibwe woman and as a mother. 

We adopted our son Danny from my tribe in 2005 when he was 7 months old.  Danny came into our lives as though directed by an outside force. Both my husband I felt that he was meant to be raised by us and that he was meant to know he is an Ojibwe man. That “knowing” has been a deep wordless tie between us and one to which I feel all people, non Indian and otherwise, are entitled. 

So, it was with some trepidation that I began a story about Rachel Kupcho, an Ojibwe women and her adoptive white parents. Would I be able to keep my feelings about interracial adoption in perspective?

I worried about this and other things during my flight to Minneapolis. Unexpectedly, I noticed the Mississippi River or Great River in the Ojibwe language as the plane descended into the Twin Cities.   The power of that great water caught me by surprise, pinching my heart in a nameless, primordial way and I felt a homecoming not without pain. With relief, I recalled that in Ojibwe tradition, we women are the ones who care for the water and I was comforted. I thought of our traditional Ojibwe stories describing this connection with place and the land.  Once again, I was awed by the wisdom and nuance of my culture that at once understands yet celebrates the ineffable.  A wave of calm washed over me; I knew that the story would emerge in the way that it should.

In the end, I came to see that many mothers, Indian and non-Indian but all women who care for the water,  built Rachel’s life and strength, like the Great River.

At first glance Rachel didn’t look like much of a Lost Bird to me. In fact she appeared to be just the opposite. Confident and beautiful, she strode around the Minneapolis American Indian Center with calm authority. She seemed to easily carry the pride that is so typical of an Anishinabikwe or young Ojibwe woman as she worked to organize the annual Gathering of Our Children and Returning Adoptees Powwow.

Sandy White Hawk has helped organize this powwow for several years. She is executive director of the First Nations Orphan Association, an organization that helps returning adoptees find their way back to their culture. Since Sandy suddenly took ill, Rachel stepped in at the last minute to coordinate the event. Organizing a powwow is no small task.  There is quite a bit of protocol involved and the potential for drama is high. Rachel, however, seemed born to the task; to look at her I would have never suspected this was the first time she had overseen a powwow or that until a few years ago had had very little exposure to her culture. Like many who attended this powwow Rachel was adopted at birth and raised by white parents.

When the doors of the Indian Center opened up, people began to trickle in. It was easy to identify the Lost Birds.  Their fear and guarded emotions seemed almost palpable as they stepped uncertainly into the gym. They were drawn by the sound of the drum that they may have been hearing for the first time on that day. Looking more deeply into their faces, I sensed hope, a hope that they might begin to return home.

rachel and young girls Mary Annette Pember Rachel Kupcho, herself adoped by non-Indian parents, welcomed participants at the Gathering of Our Children and Returning Adoptees Powwow in Minneapolis.

I noticed Rachel ushering people into the gym with a calm smile and I wondered how she has come by such self-assurance. The simple yet enormous answer begins with her parents, Keith and Lisa Kupcho.  Typically, they are in the background, quietly helping set up tables for the event. They discretely excuse themselves once the heavy lifting is finished. They will return when their daughter needs them later in the evening for the Wanblenica or Orphan’s Song and ceremony.

Like so many Indian children prior to 1978, Rachel was given up for adoption by her birth mother  from the White Earth Ojibwe Reservation in Minnesota and placed with a non-Indian family. Rachel, however, does not share the typical Indian adoptee history that is so often filled with stories of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Painful and more insidious than the physical abuse that adoptees report, has been a rejection of their natural spirit. The shame of being Indian and therefore inferior is a lasting wound that remains open for countless adoptees. Too many try to medicate these wounds with alcohol and drugs, vainly trying to ease their pain.

This generation of “Lost Birds” as they are often called, resulted from the well -intentioned U. S federal policy of assimilation that sought to integrate Indians into mainstream culture. The policy was intended to help lift Indians out of the poverty and social ills that plagued the reservations. Instead, it supported the near wholesale removal of children from their homes, families and cultures.  Before the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, that gave tribes jurisdiction over their own families, thousands of Indian children who entered the social services system were adopted into non-Indian families. In their misguided efforts to help raise Indian people from poverty, churches and social service agencies mistook Indian culture as the culprit in the community’s problems. Therefore all things “Indian” were to be stamped out. Language, culture and the Indian tradition of child rearing that includes extended family, were viewed as backward and wrong. Understandably, many Indian adoptees internalized these messages and have had difficulty returning to their cultures. Rachel Kupcho, however, seems to have made her way back to her people with relative ease, achieving a comfort level that is enviable.

To know her story fully, I must meet all the mothers, the water caregivers who have contributed to her life and journey home.

Rachel is one of four ethnically diverse children adopted and raised by Lisa and Keith Kupcho in Chanhassen, Minnesota about 20 miles outside of Minneapolis. Small and brown at the front, the Kupcho home sits a bit further back from the street than do the other houses. I imagine a certain sweet shyness about the house. Inside, the walls are richly covered with paintings, photos and prints of women of color and their children, lots of children. Photos of the Kupcho children and a seemingly endless convoluted photo storyline of their friends’ children and grandchildren are everywhere.

Rachel and family Mary Annette Pember Lisa Kupcho, at right, and her daughters (l-r) Eve, Rachel, and Sarah, catch up around the kitchen table in Chanhassen, Minnesota. The Kupchos also have a son, Aaron. All their children were adopted.

We visited over coffee in her kitchen. There was an aura of love in that kitchen that seemed to speak of bottomless acceptance. I found myself moved to tears several times during the interview.

“Fortunately, I learned early on that I couldn’t fix everything in my children’s lives,” said Lisa.
Potentially, there was a lot to “fix” in being a white mother to her racially diverse clan. Now grown, the children are; Aaron, Filipino and Norwegian, Sarah, Scotch and Irish, Rachel,  Ojibwe and Italian and Eve, African American and German.

She recalled being confronted by an African American instructor years ago during a parenting class about adopting and raising mixed race children.

Lisa recovered from her sense of feeling unjustly accused and resisted storming out of the class.
“I realized that I needed to hear what this woman had to tell us. She prepared us for not thinking we could fix everything with parental love alone, “ she recalled.

Not only did she learn that she wouldn’t be able to isolate her children from the hurt of racism, she learned to be open to those who could mentor her through the parenting process.

Sandy Whitehawk Mary Annette Pember Sandy White Hawk, who directs the First Nations Orphan Association, began the powwow for adoptees and attended the most recent gathering with her husband, George. Enter Sandy White Hawk, a challenging mentor if there ever was one. Sandy recalls her Indian caregiver handing her, at 18 months, through the window of a pickup truck into the hands of white missionaries who had come to the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota to “help the Indians.” Sandy internalized her adoptive parents message that she was and ever would be a pagan, a member of an inferior race. She was also physically and sexually abused in the home. Seeking to soothe her wounded soul, she turned to drugs and alcohol. Nothing seemed to take away the hurt until she found recovery and  ‘came home’ over 20 years ago to her people and culture. She recalls the sense of relief and healing upon hearing the American Indian drum for the first time.

“The drum goes to that place where there are no words. As adoptees when we first hear it, we realize it has been what we were longing for.”

Since, she has been compelled, almost obsessed in an effort to share this experience with other adoptees, knowing in her belly that a healing path lies therein. Working with a number of elders and spiritual leaders including Jerry Dearly, Lakota, she helped bring the Wanblenica or Orphan’s Song and ceremony that wipes away tears to Indian adoptees. It was during a Wanblenica that she came into the Kupcho’s lives.

The first Wanblenica offered by Sandy’s group was presented at an annual National Indian Child Welfare Association conference in Duluth. Rachel had recently been hired at NICWA and was helping to organize the conference. Typically, her parents were there as well, pitching in where they could, happy to be of service to their daughter. The theme of the conference was “Reclaiming the Stolen Ones.”
Lisa recalls Keith’s look of surprise over the theme’s name. “Stolen? Ooooh, a bit harsh.” he said.
Rather than feeling threatened, Lisa saw the conference as a learning opportunity. Soothing Keith, she reminded him of their motto: “Whatever is good for our kids, is good for our family.”

Lisa has come to believe that there is a core piece of something missing for adopted kids, a piece of abandonment for which they must seek healing in their own way.  She has spoken often to her children about this need and assured them of her support if they choose to explore their biological background and culture more fully.

“Whatever I can do or bring into their lives that makes them more healthy and whole advances our relationship. When you’re a mother first, you do whatever you can to make your child feel well and whole and supported.”

She was excited and honored to participate in the Wanblenica .  In the end “Rachel’s growth has been our growth,” she affirms.

rachel and parents Mary Annette Pember Rachel Kupcho stood between her parents, Lisa and Keith, at the Wanblenica, the Lakota Orphan Song and Ceremony. Rachel said it was “the most profound moment of my life.”  

Lisa and Keith stood firmly behind Rachel during the ceremony, their hands resting on her shoulders.  Tears streamed uncontrollably down her face during the Wanblecheya. 
“I felt so unbelievably loved. It was the most profound moments of my life.” Rachel recalls.
For Lisa, the ceremony represented a healthy sense of completion. “It was an embrace and acknowledgment of loss,” she said.

Although she has never felt lost or misplaced, Rachel felt the relief of being welcomed into the circle of her culture at last. Not only was the event a homecoming, according to Rachel, it was an acknowledgment from her parents that her quest for her heritage is important.

“Up until that point, it was the only thing they weren’t able to give me, but they were present when I received this gift,” she remembers.

Rachel is now convinced that without the unconditional love and support of her parents, she would not be strong enough to do the work that has now become her passion and her calling.
Working to support the Indian Child Welfare Act is now her life.  She is a court advocate for ICWA and helps Sandy in her efforts to gain funding for a project to create a social work curriculum that includes knowledge about Indian families and culture. “Everything that has happened in my life has prepared me to do this work.”

Lisa sees Sandy as a wonderful mentor and role model for Rachel. “It has almost been a relief to have others in our lives who could give Rachel what she needs”, Lisa laughs, recalling some mother daughter challenges. In the end, for Lisa, she has gained a friend in Sandy.

The passion of these three women, from such different backgrounds, has intertwined to form a tapestry of family love and support. I am reminded of my earlier vision of the Great River and how it unites its many channels into one big river, much like these women or water caregivers have united to grow Rachel into an Anishinabikwe.

As the Adoptees Powwow comes to an end, the Sisseton Wahpeton Vietnam Veterans Color guards insist on having their photo taken with Rachel. Wearing full eagle feather headdresses and military fatigues, they surround her creating a vision of embrace, acceptance and support. She has, indeed, arrived home.

(via rematiration-deactivated2013111)

Tiny Horrors: A Chilling Reminder of How Cruel Assimilation Was—And Is -



For such small objects, the child’s handcuffs are surprisingly heavy when cradled in the palms of one’s hand. Although now rusted from years of disuse, they still convey the horror of their brutal purpose, which was to restrain Native children who were being brought to boarding schools. “I felt the weight of their metal on my heart,” said Jessica Lackey of the Cherokee tribe as she described holding the handcuffs for the first time.

Lackey, an alumnus of Haskell Indian Nations University, was working at the school’s Cultural Center & Museum when the handcuffs were unwrapped last spring after being kept in storage for several years. I had heard rumors about the existence of the handcuffs during visits to Haskell over the years and had made numerous inquiries to school authorities about them, but people seemed very reluctant to discuss this touchy artifact. This past summer, however, Haskell agreed to allow a public viewing of the handcuffs. Andy Girty, one of the elders who first blessed the handcuffs when they were given to Haskell in 1989, helped unwrap them for me.

Known as the Haskell Institute in its early years, the school opened its doors in 1884. It was originally founded as an instrument of the final solution to this country’s “Indian problem”; Haskell Institute’s mission then was embodied in the now infamous motto of Captain Richard H. Pratt, founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School: “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” This mind-set led to decades of forced acculturation through brutal military-style incarceration cloaked as education in U.S. Indian boarding schools.

Although begun as a model for assimilation, native students have, over the years, transformed Haskell into a model for self-determination. The school’s early curriculum featured training in domestic and farming skills but has since evolved into four-year university.

Haskell’s Cultural Center & Museum, located on campus, tells the full—and often cruel—story of Haskell’s painful past as well as providing a venue to showcase Native art, culture from the past and present. Opened in 2002, the center features the permanent exhibit Honoring Our Children Through Seasons of Sacrifice, Survival, Change and Celebration, featuring artifacts, photos and letters from the school’s early days.

Among the artifacts currently on display is

Andy Girty and Jessica Lackey
Andy Girty and Jessica Lackey

a heavy iron lock and key for the school jail, which held unruly students. Letters, photographs, copies of early school newspapers and daily menus are among the more commonplace artifacts of early daily life displayed at the museum. One display includes a heavy lock and key from the small on site jail used to punish unruly students. Soon, perhaps, the handcuffs will be included among these artifacts, adding its chilling testimony regarding the practices used by early educators to kill the Indian and save the child.

Not much is known about the diminutive handcuffs, which were donated to the Cultural Center in 1989 by a non-Indian man who described their use to Bobbi Rahder, former director of the Haskell Cultural Center & Museum. “He told us they were used to restrain captured Indian children who were being taken to boarding schools,” says Rahder. The middle-age white man said his father had the handcuffs for years but that he no longer wanted to have them in his possession. “He seemed relieved to get rid of them,” Rahder recalls.

I made many phone calls, but was unable to track down the man, who is said to have lived in Lawrence. According to Rahder, he failed to respond to messages they had left him over the years, and he has not been seen at Haskell since the day he brought the handcuffs to the Cultural Center. “It was all very vague. He didn’t tell us how his father came to have the handcuffs. He showed up one day and donated them to the Center,” she says.

Mysterious donations are common at the Cultural Center. Rahder has witnessed scores of non-Indian donors dropping off important—and often poignant—historical artifacts relating to Haskell. Last year, Roger Bollinger of Pennsylvania donated an 1880s leather-bound photo album containing photos and corresponding identifications of Haskell’s very first students in 1884. This album represents the only known identifiable photos from that inaugural class. Bollinger knew little of Haskell and had no idea how the album came to be in his family’s possession. A supporter of education and cultural understanding, he decided tom donate the album to Haskell.

The handcuffs, however, were different, notes Rahder, who took them from the man. “I was shocked and afraid to touch them,” she recalls.

She says she immediately contacted administrative and spiritual leaders at the school for guidance on handling the handcuffs. Leaders at Haskell were overwhelmed by the brutality of the tiny handcuffs, she noted.

Girty, of the Cherokee Nation, who is a Cherokee language instructor at Haskell and a number of other elders and leaders, conducted a modest ceremony the next day at the school’s medicine fire. His wife, Frances, of the Creek and Choctaw Nations, provided a tiny handmade quilt in which the handcuffs were reverently wrapped before being stored in the Cultural Center’s archives. The handcuffs remained in storage for more than 20 years.

Although the Cultural Center displays a number of artifacts related to the harsh treatment of early Indian students at Haskell, the handcuffs were simply too painful to be addressed, opined Rahder. She says elders blessed the handcuffs and instructed her to put them away. She did as she was told, trusting that students and faculty would one day decide on the appropriate treatment of this painful artifact. The handcuffs languished in the archives of the center until this past summer.

As word of the handcuffs began to leak out over the past few years, students and faculty began discussing the importance of acknowledging their existence and putting them on display. For whatever reason, no one at the school has been willing to take the lead in the handling of this powerful artifact, but with the approval of Haskell administration, Girty agreed to unwrap them for ICTMN.

For Lackey the handcuffs are a tangible example of the painful history between Native people and the U.S. “The history of our genocide has been so swept under the rug by the mainstream. People need to see the impact that these policies had on us,“ she  says.

According to Girty, who was a student at Haskell in 1959, there are many stories of the brutal means used by authorities to bring and keep students at school in its early days. For instance, reservation authorities would hold back Native families’ food rations if they refused to allow children to be sent to early boarding schools, he noted. “If those handcuffs could talk, they would tell some terrible stories,” he says.

Steve Prue, spokesman for Haskell, says there are no immediate plans regarding how the handcuffs will be presented to the public, nor how they will be displayed. He agrees with students that the handcuffs are an appropriate item to be included in displays of other Haskell artifacts at the Cultural Center. “It’s good to have these sorts of things on display in the Cultural Center,” he says. “They tell the story of who paid the price for us to be here now.”

(via rematiration-deactivated2013111)

Will Arson Attack Cause Holy War Between Born-Agains and Natives? -


The Big Drum house was so much more than a building—it contained the stories and memories of our people,” says Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe tribal member Jackie Cadotte. “Some remember sitting on their father’s laps during ceremonies there. I was just devastated when I found out it was burned.”

On the night of July 17 and early morning of July 18, six suspicious fires destroyed three traditional ceremonial structures on the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe (LCO) reservation in northern Wisconsin, and two other structures were also severely damaged. The destroyed buildings included a ceremonial lodge, historic home for generations of big drum ceremonies and two private sweat lodges. A big drum dance ring as well as a structure at the pow wow grounds, home of the long-running Honor the Earth pow wow was damaged. An RV that served as the residence for Paul DeMain, a longtime journalist on LCO, was completely destroyed, and the main building on his property, home to News From Indian Country was also partially burned.

Most of the burned structures were used for traditional ceremonies and healing, and DeMain says the message is clear: “Someone is attacking traditionalism in the community.”

Just a few weeks after the arson incidents, efforts to rebuild the Big Drum lodge were already moving forward. Watching the demolition of the remaining bits of the house, Cadotte fought back tears. “Maybe now we can begin healing and moving forward from this thing,” she said, adding that the burning of spiritual items and places is “like what the missionaries did to our people long ago.”

Christopher Grover, an LCO tribal member, was reportedly arrested not long after as a “person of interest” in the cases. Grover, 38, has ties to local evangelicals who embrace elements of a growing ideological movement that has been known to equate  traditional Native spirituality with a dangerous form of idolatry, even witchcraft. This idolatry, some believe, is responsible for the social ills in Indian country. This ideology is rooted in the teachings of the New Apostolic Reformation movement (NAR), which has aggressively been targeting both mainstream denominational evangelical churches such as the Assemblies of God, as well as small nonaffiliated Christian evangelical groups. Some of these NAR-linked organizations present a benign front—such as pastor prayer networks or Christian reconciliation groups—and at the local level are sometimes presented as charitable organizations.

“But at the top level of leadership the message is very clear: All other religions systems are evil, under the control of specific demons, and must be converted or defeated,” says Rachel Tabachnick of the website Tabachnick is a researcher and writer on issues pertaining to the impact of the religious right on policy, politics, education, economics, environment and foreign policy. She describes the movement’s efforts as “stealth evangelism of other evangelicals.”

The Transformations video series has been described by some as a major promotional tool for the advancement of the NAR agenda; it has been seen by many members of the evangelical community, including one at the LCO Assemblies of God church where, Grover’s mother says, she, her son and her husband are members. The videos depict spiritual warriors taking control of communities by expelling demons that cause societal problems. After territorial demons are driven out and generational curses are removed, the communities are healed and experience a miraculous recovery from poverty, disease and other problems. The videos, produced by the Sentinel Group, a ministry group founded by George Otis Jr., are reportedly marketed as documentaries and depict reenactments of various indigenous people burning traditional religious items in order to free their community from demons.

Let the Sea Resound, a 2004 video from the Transformation series, draws a powerful connection between the destruction of traditional indigenous religious items on a Fijian island and subsequent eco-miracles, such as the sudden cleansing of a polluted stream.

The LCO Assemblies of God church is one of about a dozen small Christian congregations on the reservation. Pastor Marvin Wilber of the Menominee tribe and Debbie Wilber of the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin live on the reservation and have served the church and community for more than 30 years. They are well known and liked in the community for their annual summer Bible basketball camp, one of the few organized activities in the area for young people. Although they eschew the inclusion of any form of Native spirituality in their worship services, they say they respect those who practice traditional spirituality. “We don’t label the Midewiwin lodge as evil,” says Pastor Marvin Wilber.

Despite this claim of neutrality, however, Wilber says they have shown the Transformations videos. She seemed unaware of the strong message of demonization of traditional spirituality in the films and described them as simply “showing how prayer can positively change a community.”

The slick feel-good nature of the videos belies the aggressive message of intolerance for any spiritual practice that deviates from the NAR’s ideology of Dominionism, which has been described as the belief that Christians are designated by God to take dominion over every aspect of culture, government and politics in order to bring about the return of Jesus Christ.

Tabachnick writes about the increasingly militant language of such groups that uses military terminology. The Two Rivers Native American Training Center in Bixby, Oklahoma, headed by Jay Swallow, who has reportedly appeared at a ceremony performing ritual destruction of Native objects and Negiel Bigpond, who says he has destroyed merely symbolic objects, features Strategic Warriors at Training, “a Christian military base camp for the purpose of dealing with the occult and territorial enemy strongholds in America.”

During a recent interview, Bigpond was reluctant to discuss his role in the destruction of Native ritual objects, and described the acts as symbolic rather than literal. Although Bigpond does not advocate destruction of ritual objects owned by others, he did say, “Witchcraft is alive and well in Indian country, and it must be rooted out.”

Kathy Crone, Christopher Grover’s mother, speculates that her son may have believed that his troubles were the result of bad medicine being worked against him by others. She confesses, however, that she is “afraid to ask him” about this as a possible motivation for the arson.

She is not alone in her speculation. DeMain says investigators from the Wisconsin State Fire Marshall Office asked him if it would be possible for a member of the traditional Ojibwe Midewiwin lodge (of which DeMain is a member) to engage in witchcraft and/or put a curse on others. DeMain is an Oshkaabewis, or helper, in the lodge, akin roughly to a deacon in a Christian church. Practitioners of traditional Native spirituality are reluctant to answer such direct questions but it is widely believed that the power to curse is possible. Officials from the fire marshall’s office declined to comment about this line of questioning.

DeMain says he was shocked to hear that someone would think he possesses such potent powers. “If I was going to throw a curse on somebody, I’d choose Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker rather than some guy on the rez that I barely know,” he says with a laugh.

Grover was reportedly arrested as a person of interest, but has not been charged with any crimes relating to the fires, and shortly after his arrest, he was turned over to authorities in a neighboring county where he had jumped bail after being arrested for allegedly stealing a semitrailer weeks before. He entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity for those charges. (Grover, through his lawyer, declined to be interviewed for this story.)

The Big Drum dance ring was also damaged in the attack. (Mary Annette Pember)
The Big Drum dance ring was also damaged in the attack. (Mary Annette Pember)

How Grover reportedly became a person of interest in connection with the cases of arson is a convoluted, confusing story. The day after the fires, his mother and stepfather turned him over to police after noticing that his hair and eyebrows were badly singed, says his mother. Jeff Crone, Grover’s stepfather, made an emotional speech during the Honor the Earth pow wow days after the arson, and apologized for his son’s participation in the crimes, according to several tribal members who were present; they report that Crone said his son had mental health issues. During his speech, Crone lamented the damage the fires might have on relations between the traditional and Christian communities, and called for forgiveness and healing. (Jeff Crone declined to be interviewed for this story.)

Grover’s mother says her son was struggling with an addiction to pain medication when the cases of arson occurred, and speculates that the withdrawal process may have triggered uncharacteristic aggressive behavior: She says her son is a good father to his six children and an essential member of the family who can always be counted on to help out.

According to Crone, shortly before the arson, her son tried to withdraw from pain medication cold turkey, on his own, and sought spiritual help from various evangelicals in the community. It was during this process that he was arrested in regards to the theft of a semi in next-door Washburn County. He was released on bond. On July 18, the day after the arson, his mother says that when he showed up at his parents’ home he had singed hair and eyebrows.

Grover has not confessed to any connection with the arson.

The Lac Courte Oreilles tribe has reportedly asked the FBI for help in investigating the cases of arson. Reportedly, neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of Wisconsin would comment but a spokesman for the FBI did confirm that tribal officials have requested help in investigating the case. The FBI spokesman confirmed that the U.S. Attorney’s office is reviewing the case and will determine if there are any federal violations.

According to a November 12 story by WQOW, an ABC affiliate in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, officials from the Sawyer County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that they have identified a “person of interest” but are waiting for test results from the state crime lab before making any decisions to pursue prosecution.

The lack of public information about the investigation is frustrating to many in the community, and Cadotte says many members are hurt and angry. Word has leaked out about the possible connection between witchcraft and traditional spirituality as a motive for the arson. Cadotte was shocked to learn that some evangelicals have been said to liken traditional spiritual practices to witchcraft: “We had absolutely no idea that these people felt so strongly against our traditions. We minded our own business; we weren’t harming anyone; we never tried to influence anyone to follow our ways or suggested that any other religion was wrong.”

The fires at LCO have sparked concern and debate among members as they realize they are not fully informed about the spiritual beliefs and practices of their neighbors. Overall, in Indian country, where politeness discourages direct questioning regarding spirituality, people are beginning to have

Gordon Thayer (Mary Annette Pember)
Gordon Thayer (Mary Annette Pember)

some difficult discussions regarding religious practices and beliefs.

On a broader level, the events on LCO call attention to a burgeoning movement of fundamentalist evangelical Christian groups who view traditional Native spirituality as not only heretical but also a dangerous form of idolatry or witchcraft. Members of these churches and ministries believe they are warriors engaged in spiritual warfare against forces of evil that prevent Native peoples and others from following Jesus Christ.

The movement drew national attention in 2008 when it was revealed that former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin had been a member of an Alaskan Assemblies of God church. A YouTube video shows Palin being anointed by a prominent apostolic network witch-hunter from Kenya, Thomas Muthee. In the video, Muthee calls on Jesus to protect Palin from witchcraft. Muthee has gained fame among churches and groups with links to NAR by claiming to have liberated his village from evil forces by spiritually defeating a local witch.

People with links to the NAR have reportedly conducted ceremonies and prayer meetings that feature the ritual destruction of Native “artifacts’ symbolizing traditional religion. Bruce Wilson of Talk2Action, a website dedicated to challenging the claims of the religious right, published what he says is an archived report by International Coalition of Apostles member Tom Schlueter in which he describes a ceremony in Olney, Texas in 2007 during which apostles—including Jay Swallow, Cheyenne-Sioux—smashed “Native American matrimonial vases” representing the demon powers of Baal and Leviathan.

Journalists with Right Wing Watch and Talk2Action have researched links between the beginnings of the federal Native American Apology resolution and the New Apostolic Reformation movement. The resolution, which was attached to a defense appropriations bill in 2010, stated in part that “the United States, acting through Congress…recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes.”

According to an interpretation of Dominionist ideology, the Native American Apology is a first step in removing demons that prevent Native peoples from accepting Christ. Some people linked to NAR publicize such “reconciliation” efforts while downplaying their ultimate goal of removing generational curses that they believe are actual demons inhabiting certain ethnic populations such as Native Americans.

C. Peter Wagner is considered to be the founder of the New Apostolic Reformation, but he says he is just the first to observe and name it. Wagner, theologian and missionary, was a former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Mission for 30 years and has published several books about Dominionism and spiritual warfare. On his Global Spheres website, he describes the movement as the “most radical way of doing church since the Protestant Reformation.”

The New Apostolic Movement has Pentecostal and charismatic origins. Forrest Wilder, a writer with the Texas Observer, an online news site, describes the movement as having “taken Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on ecstatic worship and the supernatural, and given it an adrenaline shot.” He says the group’s bizarre beliefs are relatively unremarkable except for their interest in controlling government and politics.

The movement’s apostles and prophets, Wilder reports, believe they have a direct connection to God, who communicates specific warnings and instructions to them. For instance, NAR followers believe mankind’s failure to heed God’s warnings resulted in the recent devastating earthquakes in Japan, the terrorist attacks in New York City as well as the recent economic downturns. Wagner has said he “made an apostolic proclamation in the name of the Lord, that mad cow disease in Europe would immediately stop.”

Tabachnick and her team offer compelling evidence regarding the influence of NAR ideology into both right-leaning evangelical denominations as well as nondenominational para-church organizations.

In 2000, the Assemblies of God, a major evangelical Pentecostal denomination, took a public stand against Dominionism. According to the Texas Observer article, they labeled the idea that the church is to take dominion over earthly institutions “unscriptural triumphalism.” Now, however, some Assemblies of God churches offer assistance and access to groups that have been linked with the New Apostolic Reformation.

“This is a movement growing in popularity, and one of the ways they’ve been able to do that is because they’re not very identifiable to most people. They present themselves as nondenominational or just Christian-but the New Apostolic Reformation is an identifiable movement with an identifiable ideology,” Tabachnick says. “Nondenominational should not be confused with interdenominational, which indicated an openness to accepting other faiths.”

DeMain displays the few possessions that survived (including his pipe) after his RV was torched. (Mary Annette Pember)
DeMain displays the few possessions that survived (including his pipe) after his RV was torched. (Mary Annette Pember)

Andrea Smith, of Cherokee descent, is a professor in the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside, and author of Native Americans and the Christian Right: The Gendered Politics of Unlikely Alliances. She says the splinter evangelical groups are very fluid in their affiliations, often changing details of their ideologies, sometimes collaborating with other more militant Christian groups on short-term projects, not necessarily in total agreement with each other’s ideologies.

For the people at LCO, the fires have prompted an urgent discussion about religion, spirituality and culture throughout Indian country.

Several born-again-Christian Native people interviewed for this story insist that they are not any “less Indian” because they eschew Native spiritual practices. “Culture is made up of many things, including language, foods and traditional dress. Those things are part of who I am. Those things, however, that are in conflict with the word of God, I have to reconsider,” says John E. Maracle, of the Mohawk tribe and chief-president of the Native American Fellowship of the Assemblies of God.

Andrea Smith observes, however, that for Native peoples, culture and spirituality cannot be separated; they are a part of everyday life. The notion of respecting Native culture while simultaneously condemning spirituality, she notes, contributes to a practice that inevitably pits Native Christians against Native traditionalists.

Grover’s mother and pastor say he is a member of the Assemblies of God church. People in this Pentecostal denomination are evangelical and believe in speaking in tongues, a more literal interpretation of the Bible and personal conversion, commonly known as being born again. Like other evangelical Christian denominations, the Assemblies of God believes in a literal second coming of Christ when, many believe, those who are not saved will be subject to eternal damnation. In a 1999 position statement by the Native American Fellowship of the Assemblies of God, the church forbids any attempt to mix Native religious practices that are contrary to scripture with Christianity. Native religious cultural practices must be avoided, including the use of tobacco in prayer or burning of sage. Native dances, instruments, songs, regalia and language may be used only to express worship with the Lord.

Like many evangelical Christian groups, the LCO Assemblies of God church routinely works on community projects and mission efforts with similarly minded nondenominational groups such as On Eagle’s Wings ministry, the organization that helped inspire the LCO Safety Center. The LCO Assemblies of God church coordinates its summer basketball Bible camp activities with the work of the Safety Center, offering summer activities for reservation youth. LCO has had a long-standing problem with gangs, so the Safety Center and the Bible summer camp fill a void in LCO, providing safe, structured activities on a reservation where such programs are few and far between. Assemblies of God vans scurry throughout the reservation on summer days, picking up and dropping youth off at their homes. Youngsters and teens swarmed over the makeshift basketball court in the church’s parking lot during a recent visit. Members of a visiting Christian youth mission group served healthy snacks such as apples and oranges and provided plenty of water as well as a full lunch. A CD player blared Christian music in the background, exalting Jesus.

According to a tribal member who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution from tribal leadership, the programming at the Safety Center puts a strong emphasis on evangelical proselytizing. “I have heard many of our youth complain about the heavy handed Christian message and indicate they are not comfortable at the Center,” said this person.

According to Tabachnick, many ministries emphasize the progressive nature of their programming—such as recovery from drugs and alcohol or rehab work—but skeptics claim their ultimate goal is to gain access to communities for the purpose of proselytizing. As local governments become more and more strapped for cash, they may not look too hard at offers to help address social problems in their communities.

She adds that most Americans know nothing about the agenda of the Christian right and typically brush off concerns about their activities, dismissing them as backward. Many people who are linked to the New Apostolic Reformation movement, however, are very sophisticated, she says. “They have developed a community organizing agenda that is incredible and is working very well for them.”

In interviews and online “spiritual testimony” LCO Tribal Chairman Gordon Thayer provides a powerful, heartfelt description of his struggles with the dark powers of traditional spirituality and his recovery from addiction. For a population that has been devastated by drugs and alcohol, his story presents a powerful case. Born and raised on LCO by family who followed traditional Ojibwe spirituality, he makes no secret of his decision to “put aside” his traditional items and ways. A 2001 article in World Magazine tells of him “burning his Native American spirit paraphernalia.” He says traditional medicine men worked witchcraft on him, bringing spirits who threatened to kill him. While in the hospital after a heart attack, however, he says he was released from the torment of these spirits after choosing to follow only Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, he declares, was he able to overcome his long-standing alcoholism. He has since dedicated his life to helping others recover from addiction, running recovery services through his Overcomers Outreach Ministries in Minneapolis.

Tabachnick says that in 2004 Thayer was listed on the United States Strategic Prayer Network of Minnesota, which are now referred to as Prayer Warrior networks. He also has ties to groups such as Craig Smith’s Tribal Rescue Ministries, which has ties to the Christian and Missionaries Alliance, which also has links to the New Apostolic Reformation. Smith was also involved in founding the On Eagle’s Wings ministry. Thayer was elected as chairman in 2011 and does not take a salary for his work, preferring instead to dedicate the money to reservation youth and other social programming.

Many tribal members, especially those whose personal property was targeted in the July incidents, are wondering if these were the acts of a single disturbed individual or was it a coordinated effort by those opposed to traditional spiritual practices. An uneasy calm has settled over the reservation. People are going on with the business of living but some are keeping a wary eye on their fellow community members.

LCO tribal member Gary Quaderer says it had never entered his mind that someone might burn down his sweat lodge. “That’s where I go to pray,” he says. “It’s like my church.”

DeMain, who normally would have been sleeping in the RV that was destroyed, believes the perpetrator—or perpetrators—meant to kill him. He notes that five gallons of gasoline were dumped on the ground at the entrance to his RV.

If Grover did, indeed, commit the crimes, it is not known if he acted alone or what ultimately spurred such a coordinated attack. “How could one man do all this so quickly, in just one hour?” says Quaderer, pointing out that the various locations torched are miles apart and not easily accessible from the road.

Thayer hopes that eventually the community will forgive whoever was responsible for the arson and come to a healing, rather than letting the events further divide people because of their faiths. “It will take time to heal,” he says.

DeMain and Cadotte say that the attack has strengthened their spirituality. As DeMain sifted through the ashes of his home, he uncovered few objects still intact, but he did find his two ceremonial pipes. “My faith has been fully endorsed,” he said. “My pipes and I made a grand entry at Honor the Earth pow wow.”

Cadotte added: “Although they destroyed our building, they didn’t destroy our faith.”

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Chief Joyi railed against the white man, who he believed had deliberately sundered the Xhosa tribe, dividing brother from brother. The white man had told the Thembus that their true chief was the great white queen across the ocean and that they were her subjects. But the white queen brought nothing but misery and perfidy to the black people, and if she was a chief she was an evil chief. Chief Joyi’s war stories and his indictment of the British made me feel angry and cheated, as though I had already been robbed of my own birthright.
Chief Joyi said that the African people lived in relative peace until the coming of the abelungu, the white people, who arrived from across the sea with fire-breathing weapons. Once, he said, the Thembu, the Mpondo, the Xhosa, and the Zulu were all children of one father, and lived as brothers. The white man shattered the abantu, the fellowship, of the various tribes. The white man was hungry and greedy for land, and the black man shared the land with him as they shared the air and water; land was not for man to possess. But the white man took the land as you might seize another man’s horse.
I did not yet know that the real history of our country was not to be found in standard British textbooks, which claimed South Africa began with the landing of Jan Van Riebeeck at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. It was from Chief Joyi that I began to discover that the history of the Bantu-speaking peoples began far to the north, in a country of lakes and green plains and valleys, and that slowly over the millennia we made our way down to the very tip of this great continent.

Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

… sounds super familiar.

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Pow Wow Welcomes Native Adoptees Home -


I’ve been to pow wows before, but this one was different. The entrance read, “Gathering for our Children and Returning Adoptees.” The annual powwow is in its ninth year at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, and is a collaboration between the Department of Human Services, Hennepin County ICWA Unit’s Tina Knafala and Jacque Wilson as well as my Aunt Sandy White Hawk, Director of the First Nations Repatriation Institute. The goal is to reconnect adoptees with their families and culture as well as raise awareness of the need for Native foster/adoptive homes. My heart smiled seeing my Auntie and cousins. For the last several years I’d been on a quest to find the rest of my Lakota family. My mom had largely given up; then again you could say she never really tried.

“They’re like strangers to me. They’re not family. My adoptive family is my real family.”

“Why can’t we have both?” I countered.

“I don’t know! Quit asking!” The unknown is scary for my mom.

My family history follows a common theme in Indian country: assimilation. My mom was one of 9 children born to my Sicangu Lakota grandmother, Nina Lulu White Hawk on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. Before the protections of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), social workers broke into my grandmother’s house when she wasn’t home, stole her children and flung them to the winds. Grandma Nina’s only crime was lack of an indoor toilet.

My mom and three of her siblings were placed in an orphanage in Nebraska. Mom recalls being locked in the closet at the orphanage without food or water. When she was sleeping, a social worker stole her stuffed kitten and chucked it into the dumpster because it was a reminder of her previous life. A white family finally adopted my mom and three of her siblings with the command, “Forget your mother. We are your only family now.” They were raised in Custer County, Nebraska, where they were the only Indians except for the school mascot.

None of us were allowed to be Native growing up. My adoptive grandparents painstakingly attempted to hide our biological family from us, but over the years we were able to connect with many of our relatives thanks to Aunt Deb. This year at the annual Rosebud wacipi, I was finally able to meet my mom’s biological sister, Aunt Sandy. And despite my adoptive grandparents’ misguided beliefs that all Native Americans are alcoholic, suicidal, drug abusers, I am immensely proud to be Lakota.

At the Pow Wow I hopped down the bleachers filled with a couple hundred onlookers to join the circle of returning adoptees preparing for the healing ceremony. Suddenly I felt a knot in my throat growing. “Crap,” I thought. “I’m going to cry before the ceremony even starts.” I was there representing my 52-year-old mom, who had refused to come despite my every attempt.

Sage smoke filled the air. I stood with the other adoptees in a circle, surrounded by a ring of jingle dress dancers followed by a ring of veterans. I gazed across the group to see a visibly distraught woman tightly clutching her shawl and choking back sobs. Her eyes were swollen and red from crying.

The drum group started to sing a healing song. The jingle dress dancers began their sacred footwork, waving their eagle feather fans over us. They swayed and dipped. Tingles shot down my spine with every fan that touched my shoulders. Then I lost it. Tears flowed uncontrollably. Every tear represented a moment I felt lost, afraid, angry, frustrated, empty, and confused. Every tear burning down my cheek screamed at those who thought taking us from our family was in our “best interest.” I felt the anger boil up from all the hurtful comments about Natives my adoptive family has said over the years, laughing at me for making regalia. The rage spilled out as I recalled my adoptive Aunt Lila’s comments last month that the “poor, pitiful Indians” still needed saving. But I was comforted by the swish of the jingles mimicking the sound of water, the sound of healing. And slowly my emotional burden started to fade. As the tears fell to the ground, I felt lighter. When the singing stopped, I felt a sense of renewal. Crying is medicine.

After the ceremony, we gathered upstairs for an adoptee talking circle. We each reflected on our experience. Several adoptees commented the powwow was unlike any other they’d been to. Even though so many of our Native children were lost through adoption, many tribes don’t yet have a powwow or ceremony to acknowledge their return. But the adoptees felt welcome at Aunt Sandy’s powwow; they felt like they were finally coming home to a community. One older man commented he felt the gaping, empty hole inside him start to fill up to form a complete person.

Throughout the powwow, I filmed my Aunt Sandy and cousins Dyani, John, and Alicia to familiarize my mom with our biological family and ease her fears. Next year I hope she’ll join us at the powwow, especially for the end of the ceremony when community members streamed down to shake our hands and said with a warm embrace, “Welcome home.”

Racheal White Hawk Strong,e nrolled Rosebud Sioux Tribal Member, is the administrative secretary at Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, a Native Daughters graduate student and a former Fulbright Scholar to China.

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On the (Electric) Pow Wow Trail With A Tribe Called Red -


I caught up with Indian country’s new supergroup, DJ trio A Tribe Called Red on the road (literally) while they were making their way into Edmonton Alberta for what would be the 3rd to last gig on the Canadian leg of their European and Turtle Island tour. The Ottawa-based electronic and media music artists began their tour on Oct. 12th 2012 in Toronto, Ontario.

The tour itself may have been prompted by recent notoriety and success as they continue to set precedent in the electronic music scene having been the first group of indie DJs to receive a nomination for the coveted Polaris Music Prize with their free downloadable album Electric Pow Wow (get it at Through their collective mixing and mash up skills they have introduced a whole new genre of music to the world; “Pow Wow Step”. This new term is a by-product of the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) era in which we are rapidly becoming enveloped in and is their contribution to cultural retention in an ever-watered down version of “Indian-ness”.

Be that as it may, the kids can’t get enough. And that’s all kids, Black, White, Yellow, and especially the Red. These three large gentlemen strike a powerful image together on the DJ deck in clubs and at festivals. DJ Bear Witness reaches into his massive video library and mashes together moving imagery syncopated to their sounds that range from thought provoking to the ridiculous. Bear resurrects old westerns and re-appropriates new Indian representation in the media. Lucky for him, those images of mis-appropriation keep coming. He admits, he’s just waiting to get his hands on the new No Doubt video Looking Hot, recently pulled from YouTube due to numerous out-cries of racism and offensive cultural appropriation from native communities on both sides of the white man’s line.

I personally look forward to seeing how Bear is going to shred the not yet released Tonto movie starring (is he or is he not?) Native actor Johnny Depp.

To the hipster club-going regular, what A Tribe Called Red is doing appears “cool” and “happening” and definitely something to get with in a pseudo-political way. Ask the guys themselves and they are very aware of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Is it irony when they use Brad Pitt’s speech in the movie Inglorious Bastards? Brad’s character makes the claim “I’ve got a little Injun in me” and inspires his troops to capture 100 Nazi scalps.

ATCR say they are “indigenizing” and “decolonizing” with their tracks. DJ NDN further explains; “If there was any concern about people not getting the humour and sometimes blatant political messages, we have the opportunity through media to articulate what we mean and help people to understand. Bear Witness reports; “Enough people are getting it and they seem comfortable with it” This begs the question, is it the responsibility of these three visibly native men to make it as comfortable as possible for the listener to digest their commentary, leaving them feeling like they’ve just eaten a bag of rice cakes only to get hungry again a half hour later? I want to be fed something more substantial, at the dinner table and on the turntables.

ATCR is not comfortable to rest on the laurels of their recent successes. They have a vision for the next year to bring more Indians into the mix by collaborating with some of their favorite native artists for a new 2013 release. Who’s on that list of favorites? Cree rapper and CBC 8th Fire front man Wab Kinew, creative mix-tape master Lorenzo Sumner, that pioneer of native hip hop Hell n’ Back. Women artists include Ekwol and the incredible other-worldly Inuit style throat singing queen Tanya Tagaq.

Most of their favorites are prairie-based talent, so to spread things out a bit, both Bear Witness and DJ Shub will access their Haudenonsaunee roots to incorporate Iroquois Social Dance songs. I’m sure their promoters are busy tracking a route for their next tour which will include live sets by some of the aforementioned talent.

We’re talking role models in night clubs. That’s radical, isn’t it?

Janet Marie Rogers, Mohawk writer from the Six Nations territory in southern Ontario, is Poet Laureate of Victoria, British Columbia. To learn more about her, visit

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the thing is, people don’t lie to their kids about the holocaust of the jewish peoples by the nazis. How is it any harder to explain the holocaust of native people here in america to your kids?


all i’m sayin is, the excuse is up.

tell the real history so we can move forward.

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Aside from the U.S. Government's Attempt at Genocide, what Has Caused the Most Egregious Cultural Harm to the Psyche of the American Indian People? -


Pedophilia, which was an indirect consequence of the Boarding School system.

In the late 19th century, when Indians were forced onto reservations by the U.S. government, Indian children from the ages of 5 years onward were forcibly taken from their homes and placed in boarding schools run by religious denominations of all sorts, with the approval and sanctioning of the government.

Christopher Columbus brought Europeans to the shores of what is now America; he also brought countless diseases, like smallpox and venereal diseases. But there was another disease, more sinister and invisible, called pedophilia. Pedophilia was first documented about 1500 years ago by English and French scholars. It became a subject of study as the function of the mind and human habits were being studied by the early scholars of psychology.

With the Indian Boarding Schools, religious pedophiles found a “candy store” of victims. This scourge quickly became the most defiling and long term psychological cross for our people to bear. It affected, and continues to affect, generations of our people. The toll it has taken is just now being realized, as we see that the abuse of pedophilia creates a ripple effect manifested in alcoholism, sexual abuse and the battery and abuse of our own elders, children and spouses.

There exists a dark history of pedophiles not only in America, but throughout the boarding school system that existed in Canada also. The First Nations or aboriginal peoples of that country have had to deal with the same scourge that we have in this country. They are somewhat ahead of us in that the Anglican Church and the Canadian Government have monetarily settled the issue to some extent by providing billions of dollars to those affected, forcing the Church to file for bankruptcy protections. But the issue is still pending and remains unsettled to a large degree.

In the U.S., we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg regarding justice and restitution for this tragedy. There has been some litigation involving the Catholic Church, and the Diocese of Los Angeles has so far settled monetarily to the tune of $160 million, but only in local cases. The problem seems to be an endemic one and encompasses all regions, including Alaska, which has been devastated by the effects. Other Dioceses within the states have also been proven to be involved and have settled some minor amount of cases by monetary means. The Catholic Church has shamelessly depended on the passage of time, the death of victims, and what’s commonly known in legal terms as the “statute of limitations.”

All of these tactics may serve to prolong the process, and in some cases make them disappear, but with so many victims or heirs remaining, there is little doubt litigation will continue. Today we have the unique distinction as a society of having to deal with pedophilia on many institutional and social fronts. Consider the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, and a recently-convicted individual named Sandusky. My question is, when will we put standards or preventative methods in place to stop the spread of this sociological cancer? When will these perpetrators, institutional or individual, be held accountable for the irreversible sociological harm they have caused to the minds and lives of our most innocent, our most precious resource, our children? Only time will determine the true measure by which we have been affected. May the Creator embrace our children, for they are the true innocents.Aho.

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Harper Launches Major First Nations Termination Plan: As Negotiating Tables Legitimize Canada’s Colonialism - Gitxsan Unity Movement


On September 4th the Harper government clearly signaled its intention to:

1) Focus all its efforts to assimilate First Nations into the existing federal and provincial orders of government of Canada;

2) Terminate the constitutionally protected and internationally recognized Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights of First Nations.

Termination in this context means the ending of First Nations pre-existing sovereign status through federal coercion of First Nations into Land Claims and Self-Government Final Agreements that convert First Nations into municipalities, their reserves into fee simple lands and extinguishment of their Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.

To do this the Harper government announced three new policy measures:

  • A “results based” approach to negotiating Modern Treaties and Self-Government Agreements. This is an assessment process of 93 negotiation tables across Canada to determine who will and who won’t agree to terminate Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights under the terms of Canada’s Comprehensive Claims and Self-Government policies. For those tables who won’t agree, negotiations will end as the federal government withdraws from the table and takes funding with them.
  • First Nation regional and national political organizations will have their core funding cut and capped. For regional First Nation political organizations the core funding will be capped at $500,000 annually. For some regional organizations this will result in a funding cut of $1 million or more annually. This will restrict the ability of Chiefs and Executives of Provincial Territorial  organization’s to organize and/or advocate for First Nations rights and interests.
  • First Nation Band and Tribal Council funding for advisory services will be eliminated over the next two years further crippling the ability of Chiefs and Councils and Tribal Council executives to analyze and assess the impacts of federal and provincial policies and legislation on Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights.

These three new policy measures are on top of the following unilateral federal legislation the Harper government is imposing over First Nations:

  • Bill C-27: First Nations Financial Transparency Act
  • Bill C-45: Jobs and Growth Act, 2012 [Omnibus Bill includes Indian Act amendments regarding voting on-reserve lands surrenders/designations]
  •  Bill S-2: Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
  •  Bill S-6: First Nations Elections Act
  •  Bill S-8: Safe Drinking Water for First Nations
  •  Bill C-428: Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act [Private Conservative MP’s Bill, but supported by Harper government]

Then there are the Senate Public Bills:

  • Bill S-207: An Act to amend the Interpretation Act (non derogation of aboriginal and treaty rights)
  •  Bill S-212: First Nations Self-Government Recognition Bill

The Harper government’s Bills listed above are designed to undermine the collective rights of First Nations by focusing on individual rights. This is the “modern legislative framework” the Conservatives promised in 2006. The 2006 Conservative Platform promised to:

Replace the Indian Act (and related legislation) with a modern legislative framework which provides for the devolution of full legal and democratic responsibility to aboriginal Canadians for their own affairs within the Constitution, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Of course “modern” in Conservative terms means assimilation of First Nations by termination of their collective rights and off-loading federal responsibilities onto the First Nations themselves and the provinces.

One Bill that hasn’t been introduced into Parliament yet, but is still expected, is the First Nations’ Private Ownership Act (FNPOA). This private property concept for Indian Reserves—which has been peddled by the likes of Tom Flanagan and tax proponent and former Kamloops Chief Manny Jules—is also a core plank of the Harper government’s 2006 electoral platform.

The 2006 Conservative Aboriginal Platform promised that if elected a Harper government would:

Support the development of individual property ownership on reserves, to encourage lending for private housing and businesses.

The long-term goals set out in the Harper government’s policy and legislative initiatives listed above are not new; they are at least as old as theIndian Act and were articulated in the federal 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy, which set out a plan to terminate Indian rights as the time.

Previous Termination Plans: 1969 White Paper & Buffalo Jump of 1980’s

The objectives of the 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy were to:

  • Assimilate First Nations.
  • Remove legislative recognition.
  • Neutralize constitutional status.
  • Impose taxation.
  • Encourage provincial encroachment.
  • Eliminate Reserve lands & extinguish Aboriginal Title.
  • Economically underdevelop communities.
  • Dismantle Treaties.

As First Nations galvanized across Canada to fight the Trudeau Liberal government’s proposed 1969 termination policy the federal government was forced to consider a strategy on how to calm the Indian storm of protest.

In a memo dated April 1, 1970, David Munro, an Assistant Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs on Indian Consultation and Negotiations, advised his political masters Jean Chrétien and Pierre Trudeau, as follows:

… in our definition of objectives and goals, not only as they appear in formal documents, but also as stated or even implied in informal memoranda, draft planning papers, or causal conversation. We must stop talking about having the objective or goal of phasing out in five years… We can still believe with just as much strength and sincerity that the [White Paper] policies we propose are the right ones…

The final [White Paper] proposal, which is for the elimination of special status in legislation, must be relegated far into the future… my conclusion is that we need not change the [White Paper] policy content, but we should put varying degrees of emphasis on its several components and we should try to discuss it in terms of its components rather than as a whole… we should adopt somewhat different tactics in relation to [the White Paper] policy, but that we should not depart from its essential content. (Emphasis added)

In the early 1970’s, the Trudeau Liberal government did back down publicly on implementing the 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy, but as we can see from Mr. Munro’s advice the federal bureaucracy changed the timeline from five years to a long-term implementation of the 1969 White Paper objectives of assimilation/termination.

In the mid-1980’s the Mulroney Conservative government resurrected the elements of the 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy, through a Cabinet memo.

In 1985, a secret federal Cabinet submission was leaked to the media by a DIAND employee. The Report was nicknamed the “Buffalo Jump of the 1980’s” by another federal official. The nickname referred to the effect of the recommendations in the secret Cabinet document, which if adopted, would lead Status Indians to a cultural death — hence the metaphor.

The Buffalo Jump Report proposed a management approach for First Nations policy and
programs, which had the following intent:

  • Limiting & eventually terminating the federal trust obligations;
  • Reducing federal expenditures for First Nations, under funding programs, and prohibiting deficit financing;
  • Shifting responsibility and costs for First Nations services to provinces and “advanced bands” through co-management, tri-partite, and community self-government agreements;
  • “Downsizing” of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) through a devolution of program administration to “advanced bands” and transfer of programs to other federal departments;
  • Negotiating municipal community self-government agreements with First Nations which would result in the First Nation government giving up their Constitutional status as a sovereign government and becoming a municipality subject to provincial or territorial laws;
  • Extinguishing aboriginal title and rights in exchange for fee simple title under provincial or territorial law while giving the province or territory underlying title to First Nations lands.

The Mulroney government’s “Buffalo Jump” plan was temporarily derailed due the 1990 “Oka Crisis”. Mulroney responded to the “Oka Crisis” with his “Four Pillars” of Native Policy:

  • Accelerating the settlement of land claims;
  • Improving the economic and social conditions on Reserves;
  • Strengthening the relationships between Aboriginal Peoples and governments;
  • Examining the concerns of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples in contemporary Canadian life.

In 1991, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney also announced the establishment of a Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which began its work later that year; the establishment of an Indian Claims Commission to review Specific Claims; the establishment of a BC Task Force on Claims, which would form the basis for the BC Treaty Commission Process.

In 1992, Aboriginal organizations and the federal government agreed, as part of the 1992 Charlottetown Accord, on amendments to theConstitution Act, 1982 that would have included recognition of the inherent right of self-government for Aboriginal people. For the first time, Aboriginal organizations had been full participants in the talks; however, the Accord was rejected in a national referendum.

With the failure of Canadian constitutional reform in 1992, for the last twenty years, the federal government—whether Liberal or Conservative—has continued to develop policies and legislation based upon the White Paper/Buffalo Jump objectives and many First Nations have regrettably agreed to compromise their constitutional/international rights by negotiating under Canada’s termination policies.

Canada’s Termination Policies Legitimized by Negotiation Tables

It has been thirty years since Aboriginal and Treaty rights have been “recognized and affirmed” in section 35 of Canada’s constitution. Why hasn’t the constitutional protection for First Nations’ Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights been implemented on the ground?

One answer to this question is, following the failure of the First Ministers’ Conferences on Aboriginal Matters in the 1980’s, many First Nations agreed to compromise their section 35 Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights by entering into or negotiating Modern Treaties and/or Self-government Agreements under Canada’s unilateral negotiation terms.

These Modern Treaties and Self-Government Agreements not only contribute to emptying out section 35 of Canada’s constitution of any significant legal, political or economic meaning. Final settlement agreements are then used as precedents against other First Nations’ who are negotiating.

Moreover, Canada’s Land Claims and Self-Government policies are far below the international standards set out in the Articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Canada publicly endorsed the UNDRIP in November 2010, but obviously Canada’s interpretation of the UNDRIP is different than that of most First Nations, considering their unilateral legislation and policy approach.

Canada’s voted against UNDRIP on Sept. 13, 2007, stating that the UNDRIP was inconsistent with Canada’s domestic policies, especially the Articles dealing with Indigenous Peoples’ Self-Determination, Land Rights and Free, Prior Informed Consent.

Canada’s position on UNDRIP now is that they can interpret it as they please, although the principles in UNDRIP form part of international not domestic law.

The federal strategy is to maintain the Indian Act (with amendments) as the main federal law to control and manage First Nations. The only way out of the Indian Act for First Nations is to negotiate an agreement under Canada’s one-sided Land Claims and/or Self-Government policies. These Land Claims/Self-Government Agreements all require the termination of Indigenous rights for some land, cash and delegated jurisdiction under the existing federal and provincial orders of government.

Canada has deemed that it will not recognize the pre-existing sovereignty of First Nations or allow for a distinct First Nations order of government based upon section 35 of Canada’s constitution.

Through blackmail, bribery or force, Canada is using the poverty of First Nations to obtain concessions from First Nations who want out of theIndian Act by way of Land Claims/Self- Government Agreements. All of these Agreements conform to Canada’s interpretation of section 35 of Canada’s constitution, which is to legally, politically and economically convert First Nations into what are essentially ethnic municipalities.

The first groups in Canada who have agreed to compromise their section 35 Inherent and Aboriginal rights through Modern Treaties have created an organization called the Land Claims Agreement Coalition. The Coalition Members are:

  • Council of Yukon First Nations (representing 9 land claim organizations in the Yukon)
  • Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)
  • Gwich’in Tribal Council
  • Inuvialuit Regional Corporation
  • Kwanlin Dun First Nation
  • Maa-nulth First Nations
  • Makivik Corporation
  • Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach
  • Nisga’a Nation
  • Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.
  • Nunatsiavut Government
  • Sahtu Secretariat Inc.
  • Tlicho Government
  • Tsawwassen First Nation
  • Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation

The Land Claims Agreement Coalition Members came together because the federal government wasn’t properly implementing any of their Modern Treaties. So the Coalition essentially became a lobby group to collectively pressure the federal government to respect their Modern Treaties. According to Members of the Coalition Modern Treaty implementation problems persist today.

The fact that Canada has already broken the Modern Treaties shouldn’t inspire confidence for those First Nations who are already lined up at Canada’s Comprehensive Claims and Self-Government negotiation tables.

According to the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs there are 93 Modern Treaty and/or Self-Government negotiation tables across Canada [].

Those First Nations who are negotiating at these 93 tables are being used by the federal government (and the provinces/Territories) to legitimize its Comprehensive Claims and Self-Government policies, which are based upon extinguishment of Aboriginal Title and termination of Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights.

The First Nations who have been refusing to negotiate and are resisting the federal Comprehensive Claims and Self-Government negotiating policies are routinely ignored by the federal government and kept under control and managed through the Indian Act (with amendments).

Attempts by non-negotiating First Nations to reform the federal Comprehensive Claims and Self-Government policies aren’t taken seriously by the federal government because there are so many First Nations who have already compromised their Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights by agreeing to negotiate under the terms and funding conditions of these Comprehensive Claims and Self-Government policies.

For example, following the 1997 Supreme Court of Canada Delgamuukw decision, which recognized that Aboriginal Title exists in Canada, the Assembly of First Nations tried to reform the Comprehensive Claims policy to be consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada Delgamuukwdecision.

However, the then Minister of Indian Affairs, Robert Nault on December 22, 2000, wrote a letter addressed to then Chief Arthur Manuelthat essentially said why should the federal government change the Comprehensive Claims policy if First Nations are prepared to negotiate under it as it is?

A fair question: why do First Nations remain at negotiation tables that ultimately lead to the termination of their peoples Inherent and Aboriginal rights, especially since it appears that Modern Treaties are routinely broken after they are signed by the federal government?

Many of these negotiations are in British Columbia where despite the past twenty years of negotiations the B.C. Treaty process has produced two small Modern Treaties, Tsawwassan and Maa’Nulth. The Nisga’a Treaty was concluded in 2000, outside of the B.C. Treaty process.

All of these Modern Treaties have resulted in extinguishing Aboriginal Title, converting reserve lands into fee simple, removing tax exemptions, converting bands into municipalities, among other impacts on Inherent and Aboriginal rights.

The Harper Government’s Termination Plan

Aside from the unilateral legislation being imposed, or the funding cuts and caps to First Nation’s and their political organizations, the September 4, 2012, announcement of a “results based” approach to Modern Treaties and Self-Government negotiations amounts to a “take it or leave it” declaration on the part of the Harper government to the negotiating First Nations.

Canada’s Comprehensive Claims Policy requires First Nations to borrow money from the federal government to negotiate their “land claims”. According to the federal government:

To date, the total of outstanding loans to Aboriginal groups from Canada to support their participation in negotiations is $711 million. This represents a significant financial liability for the Aboriginal community. In addition, the government of Canada provides $60 million in grants and contributions to Aboriginal groups every year for negotiations.

It is Canada’s policies that forced First Nations to borrow money to negotiate their “claims”, so the “financial liability” was a policy measure designed by the federal government to pressure First Nations into settling their “claims” faster. As the federal government puts it, the Comprehensive Claims negotiation process has instead “spawned a negotiation industry that has no incentive to reach agreement.”

This accumulated debt of $711 million along with the $60 million annual in grants and contributions have compromised those negotiating First Nations and their leaders to the point that they are unable or unwilling to seriously confront the Harper government’s termination plan.

Over 50% of the Comprehensive Claims are located in B.C. and the First Nations Summit represents the negotiating First Nations in B.C., although some negotiating First Nations have now joined the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), thus blurring the historic distinctions between to two political organizations. The latter organization previously vigorously opposed the B.C. Treaty process, but now theUBCIC remains largely silent about it.

These two main political organizations — the First Nations Summit and the UBCIC — have now joined together into the B.C. First Nations Leadership Council, further blending the rights and interests of their respective member communities together, not taking into account whether they are in or out of the B.C. Treaty process.

This may partially explain why the Chiefs who are not in the B.C. Treaty process also remain largely silent about the Harper government’s “results based’ approach to Modern Treaties and Self-Government negotiations.

First Nations in British Columbia are failing to capitalize on that fact, that since the Delgamuukw Decision, the governments have to list unresolved land claims and litigation as a contingent liability. Such liabilities can affect Canada’s sovereign credit rating and provincial credit ratings. To counter this outstanding liability, Canada points to the British Columbia Treaty Process as the avenue how they are dealing with this liability, pointing to the fact that First Nations are borrowing substantive amounts to negotiate with the governments.

Another recent example of how disconnected B.C. First Nations and their organizations are on international versus domestic policy and law, is the First Nations’ outcry over the recent Canada-China Treaty.

The B.C. Chiefs and their organizations are publicly denouncing the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement as adversely impacting on Aboriginal Title and Rights, yet they say or do nothing about Harper’s accelerated termination plan. It seems the negotiating First Nations are more worried about the Canada-China Treaty blocking a future land claims deal under the B.C. Treaty process.

The Chiefs and their organizations at the B.C. Treaty process negotiation tables have had twenty years to negotiate the “recognition and affirmation” of Aboriginal Title and Rights, but this continues to be impossible under Canada’s policies aiming at the extinguishment of collective rights. As a result only two extinguishment Treaties have resulted from the process. Even Sophie Pierre, Chair of the B.C. Treaty Commission has said “If we can’t do it, it’s about time we faced the obvious - I guess we don’t have it, so shut her down”.

By most accounts the twenty year old B.C. Treaty process has been a failure. It has served the governments’ purpose of countering their contingent liabilities regarding Indigenous land rights. Yet it seems the negotiating First Nations are so compromised by their federal loans and dependent on the negotiations funding stream that they are unable or unwilling to withdraw from the tables en masse and make real on the demand that the Harper government reform its Comprehensive Claims and Self-Government policies to be consistent with the Articles of the UNDRIP.

The same can also be said for the negotiating First Nations in the Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic regions.

The Chiefs who are not in the B.C., Quebec or Atlantic negotiating processes have not responded much, if at all, to Harper’s “results based” approach to Modern Treaties and Self-Government. The non-negotiating Chiefs seem to be more interested in managing programs and services issues than their Aboriginal Title and Rights. As one federal official put it, the Chiefs are involved in the elements of the 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy like economic and social development while ignoring the main White Paper objective—termination of First Nations legal status.


Given their silence over the Harper government’s “results based” “take it or leave it” negotiations approach, it seems many of the negotiating First Nations at the Comprehensive Claims and/or Self-Government tables are still contemplating concluding Agreements under Canada’s termination policies.

This can only lead to further division among First Nations across Canada as more First Nations compromise their constitutional and international rights by consenting to final settlement agreements under the terms and conditions of Canada’s termination policies, while undermining the political positions of the non-negotiating First Nations.

In the meantime, Harper’s government will continue pawning off Indigenous lands and resources in the midst of a financial crisis though free trade and foreign investment protection agreements, which will secure foreign corporate access to lands and resources and undermine Indigenous Rights.

Some First Nation leaders and members have criticised AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo for agreeing to a joint approach with the Harper government, including the Crown-First Nations Gathering (CFNG), but to be fair, the Chiefs across Canada did nothing to pressure Prime Minister Harper going into the CFNG. Instead, many Chiefs used the occasion as a photo op posing with the Prime Minister.

The negotiating First Nations who are in joint processes with Canada seem to be collectively heading to the cliff of the “Buffalo Jump” as they enter termination agreements with Canada emptying out section 35 in the process.

Much of the criticism of AFN National Chief Atleo has come from the Prairie Treaty Chiefs. Interestingly, if one looks at the federal chart of the 93 negotiation tables [] not too many First Nations from historic Treaty areas are involved in the Self-Government tables, except for the Ontario region where the Union of Ontario Indians and Nisnawbe-Aski Nationare negotiating Self-Government agreements.

As a result of the September 4, 2012 announcements regarding changes to Modern Treaties and Self-Government negotiations, cuts and caps to funding First Nations political organizations and unilateral legislation initiatives, it is obvious that Prime Minister Harper has tricked the AFN National Chief and First Nations by showing that the CFNG “outcomes” were largely meaningless.

One commitment that Prime Minister Harper made at the CFNG—which he will probably keep—Is making a progress report in January 2013. The Prime Minister will probably announce the progress being made with all of the negotiating tables across Canada, along with his legislative initiatives.

It appears First Nations are at the proverbial “end of the trail” as the Chiefs seem to be either co-opted or afraid to challenge the Harper government. Most grassroots peoples aren’t even fully informed about the dangerous situation facing them and their future generations.

The only way to counter the Harper government is to:

  • have all negotiating First Nations suspend their talks; and
  • organize coordinated National Days of Action to register First Nations opposition to the Harper government’s termination plan;
  • Demand Canada suspend all First Nations legislation in Parliament, cease introducing new Bills and
  • Change Canada’s Land Claims and Self-Government Policies to “recognize and affirm” the Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty Rights of First Nations, including respect and implementation of the Historic Treaties.

If there is no organized protest and resistance to the Harper government’s termination plan, First Nations should accept their place at the bottom of all social, cultural and economic indicators in Canada, just buy into Harper’s jobs and economic action plan—and be quiet about their rights.


The First Nations Strategic Bulletin is a publication of the First Nations Strategic Policy Counsel, an informal group of individuals who are practitioners in either First Nations policy or law. The publication is a volunteer non-profit effort and is part of a series. For Back Issues Go To: Canada Library & Archives - Electronic Collections.

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