Fighting Racism

Dundee-Crown high school is where my roots are. That high school is where my mind opened up, where I made the best friends anyone could ask for, where I was challenged, where I was surrounded by teachers who care, and most of all, where I was exposed to people of all kinds. My high school is in district 300, a.k.a., one of the poorest districts in the state (poorest 5% to be exact). The test scores are definitely nothing to brag about, but the students, on the other hand, are.

Located directly next to the projects, my high school is known most of all for its diversity. Whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians- we had a pretty broad spectrum of people. Racism? Well, we really don’t have any. I grew up not understanding racism. How on earth could someone not like someone else, because of their race? What?

Everyone got along, ate lunch together, dated; and all documents or updates the students received had a Spanish translation on the back; we thought nothing of it.

So discussing and reading books in class about how racism against Native Americans has been and is still going on…well, it was a slap in the face. I forgot the inevitable fact that not everyone matures.

However, I came across an article that gave me a little hope for the people of our country.

Bemidji, Minnesota is a town surrounded by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and White Earth Indian reservations. It’s a town that has always had problems with racism, even today.

One day at Red Lake High School, a student broke out in gunfire, killing seven fellow students. After the chaos, a Red Lake flag was found on one of the shelves at the school. To show sympathy and compassion, the city flew the Red Lake flag half-mast at City Hall for a week. After the positive comments the city received for flying the Red Lake flag, Michael Meuers, who works for the “Red Lake Band of Chippewa in government and public relations” (source 1, pg 1), decided it was necessary to acknowledge the Native Americans and unite the races. Paying for this himself, Meuers, changed the restroom signs of 20 businesses so that they were not only in English, but in Ojibwe as well.

Since the project started in 2005, 119 businesses now have their signs in both English and Ojibwe! And the translations are not limited to only restroom signs: ”a food market has labeled all of its food in Ojibwe; a fabric store has bilingual labels for all of its threads and abrics; the hospital intends to use Ojibwe signs in the new emergency room being built; a funeral home wants to display a prayer for the bereaved in Ojibwe” (source 1, pg 2). This trend has also spread to Bemidji State University. The University has not only Ojibwe restroom signs, but also Ojibwe parking lot signs and even varied “greetings and posters with translations of common words in Ojibwe on campus” (source 1, pg 3). BSU is also the “first college in the U.S. to offer an Ojibwe language program” (source 1, pg 3).

Being a city that used to have signs reading “no Indians allowed”, Bemidji has come a long way. Though the inspiration for this equality movement was originally sparked from a lethal event, it got people to wake up. The city is finally progressing, and the positivity and acceptance of the people is clearly visible. Props to Michael Meurers for making this progression happen.

Picture sources: 1)×479.jpg


Source 1:

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Bringing Back the Buffalo

Growing up, we’ve always had at least two animals in our house. My brother and I have always loved the idea of taking care of something that is ours. If we wanted a new pet, we’d both do research (we were pretty sophisticated for being 10 years old), we’d buy books, and watch as much Animal Planet as humanly possible. From dogs, to birds, to turtles, to lizards, my family is pretty much open to any kind of animal. With that being said, animals of all kinds have emotional control over me. If I see the cutest puppies playing outside, I will be the first one to go over and pet them and let them lick my face until it’s raw.

In other words, I love animals. I’m all for animal rights and the protection of endangered species and all that good stuff.

While browsing news articles in the Native American Times, I came across an article involving buffalo; being an animal lover, I immediately clicked on it and started reading…

And once again I am impressed and envious of Native American action.

As we all know, the American buffalo nearly went extinct after the “commercial hunting and slaughtering in the 19th century” (source 1, pg 1). The number of buffalo left in our entire country was down to a few hundred! White hunters of the 19th century would kill the buffalo only for their skins, and leave the rest of the body to decay. Is that not the most wasteful use of an animal?

Unlike the white hunters and merchants, the indigenous people of America killed buffalo in moderate numbers and utilized the entire animal. The Native Americans openly attribute their subsistence to the buffalo. With gratitude and respect for the animal, the “Sioux and Assiniboine tribes of Fort Peck Indian Reservation have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing 5,000 rolling acres in northeastern Montana for 50 wild bison from Yellowstone National Park” (source 2, pg 1); they want to bring the buffalo back. Along with providing hunting-free land for the bison, this land acts as an area of isolation, making sure that the common disease called brucellosis is not present in any of the bison; and this project also includes a year-round water source for the bison, helping to ensure their survival.  After some time in this set aside land, the wild buffalo will be reintroduced to parts of the West where buffalo once roamed free and thrived- many bison would be relocated to Indian reservations, where they used to live.

Though it sounds positive and promising, many of the farmers in Montana are not pleased with the goals of this project. They are worried that if the bison roam free in large numbers, they’ll step on and ruin crops. And some people are worried about bison being dangerous.

Let’s get real. I believe the argument against the reintroduction of buffalo is ignorant and selfish.

Solution to farmers: build a fence?

Solution to people scared of animals: don’t provoke ‘em?

It’s interesting how people still only see the downsides to situations- they are only worried about themselves, not the animal, not the benefits it can bring to the Indian people, not the future educational resources buffalo provides…

This project is going to happen, but the relocation areas depend on voting.

I’ll keep this blog posted about where the relocation areas end up being.



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Apache 8

Apache 8, a documentary that was just released this March, follows the real life experiences and challenges of eight women firefighters from the White Mountain Apache tribe in Arizona. Banning together to make a difference, these women have been fighting fires in Arizona and all over the United States for over 30 years. This group is the first and longest lasting all-women fire fighting crew in the U.S.

After watching the trailer for this documentary (posted below), I think the most inspirational point made, is how the women are doing the stereotypical “man” job. As we all can probably admit, firefighting is dangerous, with that being said, it is an occupation usually associated with men. However, these women showed everyone just how much their gender can really do. From the get-go citizens wrote off these women. With the heavy equipment necessary for a fireman, the ladies heard nothing but discouraging comments: “You’re too small, you’re too thin, you can’t do it, you won’t be able to handle the job”. Little did the observers know that each discouraging comment fueled their motivation to form an all-women firefighting crew even more!

These women made a name for themselves and are now completely respected. Not only does this film follow the women’s firefighting lives, but it also follows their personal lives. Focusing on four of the crew members from Apache 8, the film covers the Sundance- a ritual that takes place once girls hit puberty; and it also covers the basic history and culture of the Apache tribe.

I can’t wait until this documentary is aired on PBS, it will be one worth watching.


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Truck Routes Through Reservations?

The ExxonMobil and other major oil companies are determined to run their trucks loaded with equipment through the Nez Perce reservation in order to get to the tar sands in Alberta Canada.

Going through Washington, Idaho, Montana, and then north to Alberta, Canada, this project called the “Heavy Haul”, would create a “permanent industrial corridor”. A permanent and frequently used path would be created, consequently bringing in the dirty industrial world into the reservations. Luckily no trucks have used this route….yet.

But wait, what’s the issue? These are reservations, right? With that being said, aren’t they protected? Shouldn’t they be protected? Well, according to the oil companies, the benefits of this project outweigh the costs, thus it should be allowed. The oil companies claim this project creates jobs, road expansion, and “a boom in economic development”. But does it really? An opposing critic, Winona LaDuke of Indian Country Today Media Network, argues that these “benefits” aren’t really benefits at all and most certainly do not outweigh the costs. She states that although jobs may be created, the spots for them may have already been filled and are thus unavailable; and the tourists probably won’t appreciate the new industrial scenery, thus the money from tourism alone will outweigh any benefit. And the oil companies (not surprisingly) avoid the most important issues: the people and the environment.

If approved, the Heavy Haul will not only create a “permanent industrial corridor” in the heart of the Nez Perce reservation, but will also “destroy a large chunk of Canada’s boreal forest. In doing so, this project is walking all over the spirituality and way of life of the native people, not to mention is literally destroying animals and their natural habitats. Anyone with eyes can see that the costs outweigh the benefits in this project. So what is the motivation? I can express the ridiculous, unethical, yet so common motivation of these oil companies in a simple inequality equation:

Money>people+environment+animals+spiritualty+respect+human decency.





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The Worst Solution

The concept of suicide is outright alarming. Whether it’s your friend, a family member, or a complete stranger, suicide hits hard for everyone.

Hearing about the high numbers of suicides among the Native American teens and kids absolutely terrifies me. Having dealt with a family member committing suicide, I am fully aware of the heartache, wonder, and surprise of someone who you are close with taking their life. My cousin, Wesley, was twelve when he threw himself down the stairs. Wesley had autism and depression- one of the worst, yet most common combinations. He was only twelve. As a society, we usually associate suicide with teens, but he was twelve.

According to Indian Health, suicide is the “second-leading cause of death behind unintentional injuries among American Indian children and young adults, and is on the rise”. Native Americans between the ages of 10-24 committed suicide at over twice the rate of whites in the same age range.

Before this class, before I read all of the assigned readings, before all of our class discussions, and before researching to write these blog posts, I would have never thought that the Native Americans are in such a suicide crisis. Depression is so common amongst Native Americans, it almost seems normal. Normal? Depression and suicidal thoughts are not supposed to be normal. Having a personal story, I felt the need to expose this suicide crisis that’s taking place as we speak.

At Fort Peck reservation, “five children killed themselves during the 2009-2010 school year at Poplar Middle School”- a school with only 160 students. Besides those five, 20 other students attempted to kill themselves.


According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, “suicide is not a single problem; rather it is a single response to multiple problems”.  Some of the issues that seem to influence a Native American’s decision to commit suicide are: “poverty, lack of economic opportunity, limited educational alternatives, community breakdown, familial disruption, and stigma”.

So what is being done?

Organizations like the Native American Suicide Prevention Organization are fighting the suicides with education. From exposing the warning signs of potential suicides to helpful strategies for intervening and possibly preventing suicides, organizations like these are trying to improve the mental health of depressed Native Americans.



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Jemez Pueblo Going (and Getting) Green

This green revolution we’re in seems to be inspiring everyone. From the Hawaiian musician Jack Johnson making his recording studio run on solar energy to the Jemez Pueblo tribe of New Mexico adding solar panels to their reservation, efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Not only will the solar panels contribute to the cause of using renewable energy sources, but it will also bring in some needed money to the reservation. There is no debate that Native Americans as a whole, are the most poverty stricken people in the United States. Their different and more simple lifestyle relies on fair teamwork and trading, two concepts opposite of the American “dog eat dog” mentality. Reservation life is definitely a challenge in this age, but these solar panels are predicted to bring in about $25 million in the next 25 years. Needless to say, these solar panels will make life on the reservation a bit easier.

This particular project will include 14850 solar panels on 30 acres producing enough energy for about 600 homes. The government will be paying the $22 million cost of the project, but with the revenue being twice that amount in fifty years, it seems worth the donation. This installation of solar panels will be the first on tribal land, and will set an example for other tribes and even the rest of America to follow.

If every Native tribe installs these solar panels and makes money, prideful Americana may need to “out do” them, which in the case of helping the planet, is a good thing. Let’s hope this revolution sticks around and influences enough people to make a difference. Helping the planet and making money? Seems like a pretty good deal to me.

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Native Americans and Hip Hop

I’ve always been a fan of rap and hip-hop. Those beats that are so perfectly in time, whether anticipating a down beat, or represented by a catchy even triplet, send shivers down my spine and seem to take hold of my body, causing me to subconsciously nod my head and tap my foot. Percussion is as prominent in hip-hop, as violins are in classical orchestras.

This percussive and emotional music known as hip-hop was introduced to the white culture first by African Americans. The prominent background beats in music can be found in the cultural music of Africa. Bringing originally African-based music to the United States, this music proves to be quite similar to the American Indigenous music.

One of my first posts discussed the Native American Music Awards, better known as the Nammys. In this Indigenous inspired annual music festival, Native American musicians perform their highly cultural music. This includes the more modern singer/songwriter genre, but also incorporates ancient indigenous music. From watching multiple Youtube video hosted Nammy performances, I have noticed that this ancient music usually consists of one main catchy melody, attractive harmonies, and a perfectly in time and prominent beat. Being born in a generation influenced heavily by hip-hop music, I have noticed, simply by listening to the radio, that this African American created hip-hop genre is also very percussive, emphasizing the beat, and usually sticks with one melody, with subtle (if any) harmonies. Hands down, time is the biggest component in both African and American Indigenous music. It seems as though the people themselves just have a natural metronome clicking constantly within them, that a lot of the white culture seems to lack.

Not only is the beat in music prominent in both cultures, but so is spoken word. Both African and American Indigenous cultures used story telling as a form of entertainment and education (morals, history etc.), which is represented in both music cultures.

With all of their similarities, these two cultures finally came together. Native Americans have become involved in the hip –hop genre. It’s always interesting seeing how two cultures, completely unaware of each other’s attributes at first, can find such a substantial common ground. The video I’ve posted shows the merging of the two music cultures through a hip-hop song created and performed by a Native American.

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