Tuesday, April 2, 2019
This startling sentence comes at the end of the movie Wind River, a graphic 2017 murder mystery/thriller that has at its core the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW). Since the release of that movie, a database that more thoroughly documents MMIW has been created. This database, which is housed at the Sovereign Bodies Institute website, was created by Annita Lucchesi, a doctoral student, and cartographer. Lucchesi used the Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain information from many law enforcement entities.
Here is a description of the database from the Sovereign Bodies Institute website:
The MMIW Database logs cases of missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people, from 1900 to the present. There are many lists and sources of information online, but no central database that is routinely updated, spans beyond colonial borders, and thoroughly logs important aspects of the data, and overall, there is a chronic lack of data on this violence. The Database works to address that need, by maintaining a comprehensive resource to support community members, advocates, activists, and researchers in their work towards justice for our stolen sisters.
Other efforts to reliably document murdered and missing indigenous women include proposed federal legislation. Savanna’s Act was introduced in the 115th Congress and unanimously passed in the Senate. Thereafter, it stalled in the House. A revised version of the bill was recently re-introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski. It had 11 co-sponsors.
The congressional findings in the bill are as shocking as the Wind River coda. They include:
(1) On some reservations, Indian women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average.
(2) American Indians and Alaska Natives are 2.5 times as likely to experience violent crimes—and at least 2 times more likely to experience rape or sexual assault crimes—compared to all other races according to the National Congress of American Indians.
(3) More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women, or 84.3 percent, have experienced violence in their lifetime according to the National Institute of Justice.
(4) More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native men, or 81.6 percent, have experienced violence in their lifetime according to the National Institute of Justice.
(5) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide is the third leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women between 10 and 24 years of age and the fifth leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native women between 25 and 34 years of age.
(6) Investigation into cases of missing and murdered Indian women is made difficult for Tribal law enforcement agencies due to a lack of resources, … a lack of interagency cooperation, … and a lack of appropriate laws in place.
With efforts like the MMIW database and, one can hope, bipartisan federal legislation, perhaps the shameful failure to document missing and murdered native women and girls can begin to be rectified.
Thursday, December 7, 2017
On December 4, President Trump announced that he would dramatically downsize two Utah
National Monuments - Bears Ears by 85 percent and the Grand Staircase-Escalante by roughly half. The reduction, totaling two million acres, represents the biggest rollback of federal designated land protection in U.S. history. The Bears Ears monument is home to an estimated 100,000 Native American archeological and sacred sites. President Obama designated Bears Ears in 2016, while the Grand Staircase-Escalante was protected by President Clinton in 1996, both under the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that allows presidents to unilaterally set aside public lands to protect “objects of historic and scientific interest.” In contrast, National Parks are designated by acts of Congress.
The announcement came a week after Trump sparked controversy during a ceremony honoring World War II veteran Navajo code talkers by reviving his feud with Senator Elizabeth Warren, indirectly referring to her as “Pocahontas,” an intended slur that offended the families of the code talkers. Critics also questioned the optics of holding the ceremony against the backdrop of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, whose bloody enforcement of the Indian Removal Act caused thousands of Native American deaths.
Hours after the announcement, opponents hit back. A coalition of five Native American tribes - Hopi, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian- filed suit to block the move. According to Native American Rights Fund (NARF) attorney Matthew Campbell, “Bears Ears is one of the most important places for Indian Country, and that is why Indian Country came together to advocate for this important place. Trump’s attack on Bears Ears is an attack on all of us, and we will fight to protect it.” The tribes argue that the Antiquities Act allows a president to designate but not to revoke monument status, and that Trump has exceeded his authority by curtailing the monuments so sharply that he has in effect eliminated their protections. Trump’s move is not unprecedented – previous presidents have made much smaller reductions, but their right to do has never been tested in court. The move bodes ill for Trump’s respect for Native sovereignty. As NARF points out, “This latest action follows on the heels of the Administration’s other actions against Tribes: (1) issuing the permit to the Dakota Access Pipeline, (2) issuing the permit to the Keystone XL, and (3) revoking the Executive Order to protect the Bering Sea on April 28th. Tribes vigorously opposed all of these efforts. The Administration uses the term “tribal sovereignty” but clearly does not understand what that means.”
The same day, Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of a group of environmental and conservation organizations, including the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and seven others, claiming that the decision to shrink the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante was unlawful. “While past presidents have used the Antiquities Act to protect unique lands and cultural sites in America, Trump is instead mangling the law, opening this national monument to coal mining instead of protecting its scientific, historic, and wild heritage,” said Earthjustice’s attorney Heidi McIntosh.
The outcome of the litigation will have far-reaching implications for the preservation of natural resources, including whether the designation of national monument status will be rendered effectively meaningless if it can be easily reversed by subsequent administrations. In making the announcement, Trump said “public lands will once again be for public use.” But as NARF’s Executive Director John Echohawk sees it, the reality is that the lands will provide private benefits instead, with potentially damaging environmental and cultural consequences. He said “It is clear that Trump’s attack on Bears Ears is motivated by his desire to undo decisions made by his predecessor, but also to grant political favors to the Utah politicians who would see our sacred lands plundered for short-term economic gain that could come from drilling for oil and mining for uranium.”
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
A federal court judge ruled last week that the descendants of former slaves of Cherokee Indians have the legal right to membership in the Cherokee Nation. At the time of the Civil War, some Cherokees kept slaves. When the Civil War ended, the Cherokee Nation signed a Treaty with the United States agreeing that "“never here-after shall either slavery or involuntary
servitude exist in their nation” and “all freedmen who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owners or by law, as well as all free colored persons who were in the country at the
commencement of the rebellion, and are now residents therein, or who may return within six months, and their descendants, shall have all the rights of native Cherokees . . . .”
Trouble began when the Cherokee Nation changed its criteria for eligibility in 2006. The criteria was amended to recognize blood only. This precluded descendants of freed slaves from claiming membership in the tribe. This change disenfranchised approximately 2800 descendants of freed slaves. In rendering its decision, the court noted: Although it is a grievous axiom of American history that the Cherokee Nation’s narrative is steeped in sorrow as a result of United States governmental policies that marginalized Native American Indians and removed them from their lands, it is, perhaps, lesser known that both nations’ chronicles share the shameful taint of African slavery."
The federal court decision clarifies that the tribe must treat tribal members equally whether that membership comes by blood or freed slave descendency. The tribe has accepted the outcome. Cherokee Nation's Attorney General Tom Hembree said:
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Native Americans continue to be the consistent and persistent voices against the destruction of the earth and native lands. The most recent protest results from the government's construction of an oil pipeline intended to run from North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline is intended to carry the oil resulting from fracking, a process that results in extensive pollution and contributes to land instability. Recent reports link recent Oklahoma earthquakes to fracking.
The most recent pipeline protests, led by the Standing Rock Sioux, attempt to protect some of the sacred lands being disrupted by pipeline construction. The pipeline route as presently designed would cause the disruption of sacred lands and burial grounds. In addition, a leak in the pipeline would cause the pollution of the surrounding lands.
One protester, Jeanne Weahkee, said "It's about our rights as native people to this land. It's about our rights to worship. It's about our rights to be able to call a place home, and it's our rights to water."
The US has a long history of taking land and other resources from the Native Peoples. And attacking their dignity in other ways, from breaking treaties to forced relocation of tribal members when their lands have commercial value. Yet it is the Native Peoples who lead the protests to our country's destruction of the earth. Few others are as committed to protecting the earth because many other Americans do not develop a sacred connection to the land.
President Obama recently said that the reports on consequences of global warming are terrifying. But relatively few Americans are taking strategic action to prevent further destruction of the earth and her resources. The Native People recognize our obligations to be stewards of the earth, with financial gain being irrelevant.
Temporary success came in the recent protests when the Obama administration halted construction in order to revisit the pipeline route.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
The Standing Rock Sioux and the International Indian Treaty Council opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline have asked four UN Special Rapporteurs to intervene to stop the work on the project. According to a report in Indian Country Today, the groups cited “ongoing threats and violations to the human rights of the Tribe, its members and its future generations.” The urgent communication was submitted to UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, and Environment and Human Rights, as well as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. A more detailed description of the communication is available here. Pipeline construction was halted pending resolution of a court proceeding, with the hearing now scheduled for September 8.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
When I arrived in North Carolina over a decade ago to teach and practice law, it was a bit of a culture shock for someone who had rarely been south of the Mason-Dixon line. In juvenile delinquency court, judges would tell tales from their own childhoods that sounded almost too clichéd to be true: mamas beating their misbehaving children with a switch that the child had to cut himself, schools located miles from home when the only option was to walk and teachers paddling students as a regular component of classroom discipline.
Because I practice in counties where the local school boards do not allow corporal punishment, I have not encountered it firsthand, but a recent report by NC Child, a nonprofit advocacy group, reminded me that there are about 15 districts (out of the state’s 115) where teachers and administrators are permitted to hit students.
The state’s laws on corporal punishment allow “reasonable force” to be used, which is defined as that which does not cause an injury requiring medical attention beyond simple first aid. This means that schools are the only place in North Carolina where an adult can strike an unrelated child and not be criminally prosecuted for assault.
Parents may opt out of the use of physical discipline on their child only by completing a form at the beginning of the school year. Otherwise, it is assumed they agree. When parents have opted out, the student may instead be suspended for offenses that would otherwise not require suspension if corporal punishment could be used.
Read more here.
According to an annual report issued this month by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, in 2014-15 there were 147 uses of corporal punishment, a 20.5 percent increase from the 122 reported in 2013-14; 108 students received it once, while 16 received it two or more times. The majority were boys, over 60 percent were in kindergarten through fourth grade and 25 percent in grades 10-12.
Particularly troubling is that more than half were Native American, even though these children make up less than 1 percent of the state’s 1.4 million public school students. All the instances occurred in four counties, with 60 percent taking place in Robeson County, the home of the Lumbee Tribe, and 32 percent in Graham County near the Cherokee Indian reservation; 10 percent of the students were identified as disabled.
Equally concerning are the reasons cited by schools for paddling children. More than 50 percent were for “disruptive behavior,” a catch-all category that can mean almost anything; 10 percent were for leaving school grounds, and nearly 8 percent for cell phone use. Other reasons include “insubordination” and “inappropriate language.”
NC Child reports that there is no evidence that the use of corporal punishment in schools is associated with improved academic outcomes. This is backed up by decades of social science theory and research suggesting that the deliberate infliction of pain upon the body of a student is associated with increased aggressive and delinquent behavior, broken relationships between students and schools, and increased psychological and emotional problems, both in the short- and the long-term.
North Carolina is one of 19 states in which corporal punishment in schools is legal, a list that includes all of the Southern states plus several in the West. According to the U.S. Department of Education, nearly 167,000 students received physical punishment in the 2011-12 academic year, with the majority of paddling occurring in Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia. The data reflect that a disproportionate number of the students receiving corporal punishment across the U.S. are African-American.
As for reform, 31 states and the District of Columbia have banned corporal punishment in schools, along with many large urban school districts in states where paddling is still condoned, including Atlanta, Houston and Memphis. While Ohio and New Mexico abolished the practice several years ago, legislative attempts in Texas and Louisiana have failed.
A variety of professional groups have advocated against the use of paddling in schools. On the national level, they include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association. In my state of North Carolina, the State Board of Education, the North Carolina Association of Educators, the North Carolina PTA and virtually all other child advocacy groups and professional organizations are formally opposed to the practice.
It is time for North Carolina--and the remaining 18 states where corporal punishment in schools remains legal--to prohibit teachers and administrators from hitting students. It is a degrading practice that violates students’ physical integrity and human dignity.
A version of this essay was originally published by the News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
As students start selecting topics for spring semester papers or Notes, many will want to explore the burgeoning issues around land grabbing. Don't let them re-invent the wheel! Jootaek Lee, of Northeastern Law School, has written a useful and timely research guide on land grabbing. The paper, titled "Contemporary Land Grabbing, Research and Bibliography," will appear in the forthcoming Law Library Journal, v. 107 (Spring 2015). Meanwhile, the complete paper can be downloaded from SSRN. Here is the abstract: