The colonization of Asemaa
Thursday, September 14 2017
Written by Suzanne Nash,
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The summer months are ending and the fall harvest begins. This is a time when we gather the things we need to make it through the winter. We start with our asemaa (tobacco) and make an offering for the season and for the blessings to come – the animals, water, moon and the sun that always rises up and a time to be thankful for these gifts.

The creator has given us these gifts and the first gift was asemaa. It was given as a way to communicate with the creator and send our prayers, thoughts, blessings and the four directions. Today tobacco has become many things and made in different forms and flavors and used in a non-ceremonial way. This has caused great harm to our people.

Since 1884 it was illegal for us to practice our religion. It was then that we begin to use commercial tobacco; it was the only way for us to pray without getting arrested. Asemaa has been colonized and taken from us, and altered to fit into the western world by adding chemicals and additives to enhance the flavor for the purpose of profit and gain.  

Since then tobacco companies have targeted and exploited different populations and vulnerable adults by offering free products and marketing campaigns.

During World War II (1939-1945), cigarette sales were at an all time high. Cigarettes were included in a soldier’s C-Rations (like food). Tobacco companies sent millions of cigarettes to the soldiers for free, and when these soldiers came home, the companies had a steady stream of loyal customers. In 1956 R.J. Reynolds introduced the Salem Brand, which was the first filter-tipped menthol cigarette, altering the flavor to mask the flavor of tobacco. Since then more brands have been introduced such as Kool and Camel menthol.

Tobacco use is much higher in some communities and populations such as American Indians and Alaska Natives, and in subsets of certain populations, including Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans. Certain types of tobacco products also are used at higher rates in certain populations.

It wasn’t until 1964 that the Surgeon Generals report on “Smoking and Health” came out.

“Today there are 5 million people around the world dying each year from tobacco use. It’s going to grow to 10 million a year by 2020 and 7 million of those deaths will be in developing countries,” said Kathy Mulvey, international policy director for Corporate Accountability International. The group works with the World Health Organization to curb smoking abroad.

This year, farmers are expected to sell more than 700 million pounds of tobacco leafs.

Let’s reclaim (Asemaa) and keep it sacred.

Suzanne Nash
Indigenous Peoples Task Force

Line 3 proposal shows willful ignorance of Ojibwe history and rights
Tuesday, August 08 2017
Written by Susan Allen, Jamie Becker-Finn, Peggy Flanagan, Mary Kunesh-Podein,
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In all the coverage of Enbridge Energy’s proposed Line 3 pipeline project, and in the recent and predictable pro-pipeline commentary by an Enbridge vice president, John Swanson, (Star Tribune: “Line 3 replacement is the safest option for northern Minnesota,” July 18) we have heard little regarding how Enbridge’s preferred route would specifically harm Native American people and communities.

The current environmental-impact statement briefly acknowledges the disproportionate harm to Native people but fails to answer many of the questions specific to Native communities. Enbridge acts as it pleases without regard for Native people, and we as the Native American Caucus in the Minnesota House oppose its current proposed pipeline route.

Enbridge gives the misleading impression that by abandoning the current corridor, it is somehow compromising with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. By Enbridge’s own admission, the current corridor is “congested.” The company now wants a pat on the back for choosing a route that snakes its way between reservation boundaries.

This new route highlights willful ignorance regarding Ojibwe history and rights in what we now call Minnesota. When the Ojibwe people signed treaties with the federal government, they explicitly retained the ability to harvest wild rice, hunt and fish on the waters and land of the ceded territory. There is a difference between reservation land and ceded territory. While skirting reservation boundaries is a nod to the affected tribal communities, Enbridge’s preferred route does not avoid the plants and wildlife Ojibwe people have a legal right to access. The new route is no compromise at all.

The importance of wild rice to Ojibwe culture, health, spirituality and history cannot be overstated. Wild rice is not just a crop that can be replanted. Wild rice is not just a food product.

It is clear that these truths have not been fully accepted by Enbridge or the authors of the environmental-impact statement.

Ojibwe people’s very existence in northern Minnesota is based on the existence of wild rice. Ojibwe spiritual teachings tell us that those ancestors traveled until they reached the place “where the food grows on the water.” That food is wild rice, manoomin, a unique grain that grows in very few places worldwide and differs greatly from the cultivated “wild rice” typically sold in grocery stores.

To thrive, wild rice requires very specific water and soil conditions. True wild rice is irreplaceable in the natural world.

When the inevitable oil spill occurs, there is no way to be certain that the affected waters and soils could ever be properly rehabilitated to allow wild rice to thrive again. Enbridge states that any damages would be “mitigated appropriately.” But appropriately according to whose point of view? And how can we trust that these hundreds of miles of pipelines will be monitored forever? Because of the extremely high cultural and spiritual importance of wild rice to Ojibwe people, it would be impossible for Ojibwe people to be made whole again if wild rice beds were destroyed.

For some of us, our ancestors have lived in northern Minnesota for centuries. We are now tasked with making sure we are thinking seven generations ahead so that the same resources – the water, the land, the wild rice – are available to our people for centuries to follow.

We reject the false premise that any new pipeline project absolutely must travel through northern Minnesota. Only a tiny percentage of the millions of barrels of oil that would be pumped through this Line 3 pipeline would even be used in Minnesota. The majority of the oil would continue on to final destinations in other states. There are alternatives that would not risk the vital, unique existence of wild rice in northern Minnesota and that would not place the preferences of an international oil company above Ojibwe people and their legal rights.

It is our hope that this message will not only be heard, but also respected.

Susan Allen, DFL-Minneapolis (Rosebud Sioux), Minnesota House of Representatives Native American Caucus;
State Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville (Leech Lake Ojibwe);
Peggy Flanagan, DFL-St. Louis Park (White Earth Ojibwe); 
Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton (Standing Rock Sioux), Minnesota House of Representatives Native American Caucus.

When simply wearing “Water is Life” becomes a threatening protest
Tuesday, April 04 2017
Written by Scott Russell,
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Cardboard hats in the shape of canoes lay on the floor at a public meeting on tar sands oil pipelines in Bemidji. Officials have not provided an explanation about why children were not allowed to wear them inside. (Photo by Frank Bibeau.)When did a cardboard canoe hat made by a child with the words “Water is Life” become something that needs to be suppressed for the public well being?

Quick background: On March 7, the U.S. State Department held a public meeting in Bemidji to consider a border crossing for a Canadian oil tar sands pipeline. There was a strong turnout and over-the-top security. I wrote a blog for the Sierra Club critical of the event. What I didn’t know at that time was Sanford Center security in Bemidji did not allow young children to wear their handmade cardboard canoe hats inside.

Frank Bibeau, an attorney for Honor the Earth, attended the Bemidji event and brought the issue to my attention. In an email exchange, Bibeau wrote: “I noticed that there was a table with confiscated items. On the floor was a bunch of canoe hats kids had made to wear at the public meeting. But the hats were taken from the kids and the security told them it was because they were signs.”

It is apparent that not all of the canoe hats had written words. Some of it is simply kid art. The question is, what lesson are the kids learning?

In a related incident, Indian Country Media Network (ICMN) reports that the National Museum of the American Indian staff recently asked Native American women to remove jackets for a similar reason. The women were in Washington, D.C. for the Native Nations Rise March, and their jackets “were adorned with patches and pins supporting water protectors and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.” Some of the patches simply said: “Mni Wiconi: Water is Life.”

The Smithsonian has acknowledged its error. The State Department and Sanford Center security have not. The National Museum for the American Indian spokesperson Eileen Maxwell said it was incorrect for security to ask the women to remove their jackets with the patches and pins, according to the ICMN story.

“This situation has been clarified with our officers,” Maxwell added. “It is not the museum’s intention that people – and certainly Native people – ever feel unwelcome or unacknowledged here.”

Maxwell further noted that the Smithsonian does not prohibit political messages on clothing, but it does prohibit bringing in signs on posts and the displaying of banners of any nature in the museum.

“In this one instance, one officer misinterpreted this rule,” Maxwell said.

I have tried to get similar clarity on the decision to ban the canoe hats at the Bemidji event. I called and emailed Jeff Van Grinsven, head of security for the Sanford Center and Christopher Rich, Deputy Director for the Office of Policy and Public Outreach for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Van Grinsven said in an initial phone interview that the canoe hats were not confiscated, and referred additional questions to the State Department. I emailed him a photo of the canoe hats along with follow-up questions. He has yet to respond.

The State Department’s Rich said in an email. “As for security at the meeting, we relied on the professional advice of local law enforcement officials. I was not aware that children’s canoe hats were confiscated, and am not sure why this would have occurred.”

In the initial phone call with Van Grinsven, I asked him why the security was so tight at the event. He said it was because Enbridge’s Bemidji office was shot up earlier. (According to a Duluth News Tribune story, someone shot Enbridge office’s front door and windows on the evening of Feb. 22-23. No one was hurt. Enbridge is the company proposing the pipeline project.)

I, for one, had not heard about the Enbridge shooting and I am sure I was not alone. It would have been helpful for security to give people an explanation of the perceived need for metal detectors. Attendees also should have received advanced warning about the excessive screening – that bags, purses and even water bottles would not be allowed. Lastly, the assumption seems to have been a pipeline opponent did the shooting. There does not appear to be any evidence that was the case, at least from media accounts.

To repeat from the earlier blog, the format was flawed. Attendees could ask State Department staff questions. But there was no public discussion, no opportunity to speak directly to decision makers or hear others testify. People had to submit comments in writing or speak privately to a stenographer.

I sent the State Department a link to the blog which outlined these criticisms. Here is part of Rich’s email response: “Thank you for sharing your blog and your concerns about the March 7 Bemidji meeting with us.  I am disappointed and sorry that you felt mistreated, and that you thought that the meeting failed to engage the public. We designed the open house format of the event specifically with public engagement in mind.  The purpose of the meeting was to help explain the findings of the environmental impact statement (the Line 67 Draft SEIS), and to elicit public comments on the proposed project.  We brought a number of experts who worked on the statement so that they could engage the public. From what we observed during the meeting, they were able to do this.  We received a large number of comments.”

This response is dismissive. He doesn’t acknowledge something that shouldn’t be that controversial – that people want to speak to someone in charge about their concerns. The State Department says, “from what we observed,” the public was successfully engaged. That’s not a very scientific poll. I am sure if they would have surveyed those who attended, they would have received a different answer.

Reprinted with permission from HealingMNStories at: .


Shame on you, Senator Klobuchar!
Wednesday, February 08 2017
Written by The Circle,
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The U.S. Forest Service just signed off on transferring 6,650 acres of public lands in the Superior National Forest to PolyMet. That’s where the ore body is located that the company wants to mine – on public land, YOUR land.

Senator Amy Klobuchar has some explaining to do. She sits on a committee that directly oversees Forest Service actions involving land exchanges and was petitioned by over 350 Minnesotans this past summer to push for congressional hearings on the matter. But she totally blew us off. 

This particular slice of the Superior National Forest is home to lots of plants, animals, wetlands and streams. Computer modeling shows that contaminated water from the mine will drain both south to Lake Superior and north to the Boundary Waters and that water treatment will be needed “indefinitely.”

It seemed reasonable to request congressional hearings. The petition didn’t even ask Senator Klobuchar to vote one way or the other on the issue. All we wanted was for our own senator, who happens to sit on a key committee, to give us a fair shake.
The stack of petitions was hand delivered to Klobuchar’s Virginia office in August. But Klobuchar ignored it – didn’t even send a letter to explain her views. It appears she’s only interested in listening to Minnesotans who are in the “U-Rah-Rah Mining” camp.
 But what about the rest of us who are also her constituents? What about Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters? What about all the plants, birds and animals who deserve to live and thrive in their native environment instead of being scraped away?
The Forest Service decision is subject to 30-day Congressional oversight requirements. The clock started ticking January 9th, so there’s still time to request hearings. Call Senator Klobuchar at 1-888-224-9043.
Laura Gauger, Duluth, MN

Open Letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on ACA (Obamacare)
Wednesday, February 08 2017
Written by The Circle,
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Dear Mr. Speaker,
If successful, the Republican campaign to abolish the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would repeal authorization for the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act (IHCIA), which was included in the  ACA, and repeal other provisions that increased access to care for American Indians and Alaska  Natives. Destroying the ACA will make America sick again, including Native Americans who already are disproportionately burdened by disease. We write to urge Congressional Republicans to reconsider the harmful impacts of ACA repeal on the First Americans we represent.  

The Indian Health Service (IHS) provides healthcare for approximately 2.2 million Native  Americans and Alaska Natives in 36 states, including inpatient, emergency, ambulatory, and  dental care. IHS programs also provide preventive care aimed at reducing unacceptably high  rates of infant mortality, diabetes, hepatitis B, alcoholism, and suicide among American Indians  and Alaska Natives.  

The Indian Health Service also funds construction and maintenance of hospitals and health centers, as well as water supply and sanitation facilities. The IHS has documented decreased rates of certain diseases among American Indians and Alaska Natives thanks to improvements in sanitation facilities.    

The Indian Healthcare Improvement Act (IHCIA) was originally passed in 1976 but prior to passage of the ACA, authorization for the law’s programs had been lapsed for nearly a decade.  The ACA included a permanent authorization, as well as significant improvements to the IHCIA.  

The ACA expanded access to preventive and treatment services within IHS, including within urban areas in which the vast majority of Native Americans and Alaska Natives live. Those efforts included expanding mental health services, including programs related to youth suicide,  to create a comprehensive behavioral health and treatment program within IHS. The ACA also allowed Urban Indian Organizations and Tribal Organizations to apply for grants and contracts,  including through the Substance Abuse and Services Administration, for which they previously  were not eligible.  

The ACA also created a framework for Tribal health authorities to work with the Department of  Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs to offer health services to Native veterans. This  gives IHS a more prominent role in advocating for Indian Country within the Department of  Health and Human Services and improves cost collection procedures between IHS and federal health programs like Medicare and Medicaid.  

Perhaps most important, the ACA made IHS programs eligible for reimbursement through Medicare Part B, meaning that not only could hospital services be covered, but also services provided by physicians.  
Repealing the Affordable Care Act would erase these programs and services.  

Repealing the ACA threatens to turn the clock back for those 20 million Americans who gained health insurance thanks to the law; a time when those with pre-existing conditions could not get insurance and when young people were pushed off their parent’s insurance before they could afford coverage of their own.  

But for the First Americans, access to quality healthcare continues to lag far behind that available outside Indian Country. Repealing the ACA could set many American’s back years, but it could set the First Americans back decades, if not return them to the healthcare dark ages. This vulnerable population – already the victim of historic, shameful mistreatment by the United  States government – deserves better. We should be taking further steps forward toward  improving the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives, rather than taking a giant leap  back by repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Raul M. Grijalva, Ranking Member, House Natural Resources Committee
Frank Pallone, Jr., Ranking Member, House Energy and Commerce Committee

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