Native Hawaiian Salt Makers Combat Climate Change and Pollution to Protect a Sacred Tradition

Native Hawaiian Salt Makers Combat Climate Change and Pollution to Protect a Sacred Tradition

Associated Press

The salt flats of Hanapepe. (Photo Credit: Mallory Francks)

HANAPEPE, Hawaii (AP) On a warm summer afternoon, Tina Taniguchi was on her hands and knees scraping dirt off an oblong depression in the ground. Thick brown hair peeked out from her coconut leaf hat. Splotches of mud stuck to her T- shirt and speckled her smiling face.

Taniguchi smiles a lot when she's working in her corner of the Hanapepe salt patch on the west side of Kauai, a terracotta plot of land about the size of a football field dappled with elliptical pools of brine, crystallizing in clay beds.

"It’s hard work, but for me it's also play," Taniguchi said, adding with a laugh, "I play in the mud all day."

Taniguchi’s family is one of 22 who over generations have dedicated themselves to the cultural and spiritual practice of “paakai,” the Hawaiian word for salt. This is one of the last remaining salt patches in Hawaii. Its sacred salt can be traded or given away, but must never be sold. Hawaiians use it in cooking, healing, rituals and as protection.

Over the past decade, this tract has been under constant threat due to development, pollution from a neighboring airfield, sand erosion from vehicle traffic and littering by visitors to the adjacent beach.

In addition, climate change threatens to obliterate the practice with rising sea levels and modified weather patterns. This year, the salt-making season lasted barely three months from July to September because of above-average rainfall. During a good year, work typically begins in May and ends in November.

Taniguchi drives about an hour to get here. For her, it’s church and play rolled into one the time she forges a spiritual connection to the land.

"This would be a religious practice of mine for sure," Taniguchi said. "My dad raised us saying that these mountains are his church, and the ocean is where you get cleansed."

Malia Nobrega-Olivera's grandfather was instrumental in forming the group of salt-making families called Hui Hana Paakai. She is also an educator and activist who leads efforts to preserve this centuries-old tradition. The organization's goal, she said, is to speak with a collective voice when communicating with the landowner, the state of Hawaii, whenever issues arise. Nobrega-Olivera said the salt patch is part of lands taken away from Native Hawaiians after the U.S.-backed overthrow of Hawaii's monarchy in 1893.

Members of the Hanapepe 'hui' agitate their salt beds, raking
and harvesting the finished salt. (Photo Credit: Mallory Francks)

"Regardless of what a piece of paper might say, we are stewards of the area and this land is our 'kupuna' (elder)," she said.

Nobrega-Olivera looks fondly at black-and-white photos of her grandparents, uncles and aunts from about five decades ago, standing near hillocks of shimmering salt. Back then, they would give away 5-gallon buckets. Today, they hand out salt in sandwich bags. Trading salt for other items continues to this day, she said, adding that her late father once traded salt with a man who was selling piglets on Craigslist.

Born from the need to preserve fish and other meats, the process of turning seawater into salt can be slow and grueling. The season begins once rain stops and waters recede, exposing the salt beds. Ocean water travels underground and enters the wells. Each family has their own well, known as a “puna.” As water enters the well, so do tiny, red brine shrimp, giving Hanapepe salt its unique sweetness, said Nobrega-Olivera.

Eventually, water from the wells is moved into the salt beds, which have been cleaned and lined with rich black clay. There, layers of salt crystals form. Typically, the top layer, which is the whitest, is used as table salt. The middle layer, pinkish, is used in cooking while the bottom layer, with a deep red hue, is used in blessings and rituals.

Salt beds in various states of evaporation - the top, whitest
layer of salt would be used for table salt. (Photo Credit: Mallory Francks)

After the Maui fires last August that claimed 100 lives, spiritual practitioners there specifically requested white Hanapepe salt from Nobrega-Olivera to bless and "calm" the traumatized island, particularly areas that housed makeshift morgues. The salt makers continue to send their salt to survivors who are rebuilding their lives, so they can ``make their food delicious and bring some of that joy into their lives," she said.

Nobrega-Olivera believes Hanapepe salt has the power to ward off bad energy.

“When I walk into a difficult meeting, I put a salt crystal on my tongue as a reminder to watch my words.”

Many of the salt-making families are Christian. Nobrega-Olivera said reconciling their Christian faith with their spirituality as Native Hawaiians can be challenging, but it happens organically.

"There are some gatherings where we may honor our deities," she said. "Other occasions may call for a Christian prayer in Hawaiian or English, or both. You do what feels right for that space."

Nobrega-Olivera believes Western science and Indigenous knowledge can combine to combat the effects of climate change and save the salt patch. The steps include building up the wells` edges so when sea levels rise, the water won't inundate the area. Another important step: preventing sand dune erosion from vehicle traffic to the beach, which causes the waves to crest and flood the patch.

Salt maker Kuulei Santos is battling for better treatment of the salt flats,
which go dormant in winter.  (Photo Credit: Brittany Lyte)

"Some ask us why we can`t move this practice to a different location," she said. "That's impossible because our cultural practice is particular to this land. There are elements here that make this place special for making this type of salt. You cannot find that anywhere else."

Those working on the salt patches enter with reverence. Nobrega-Olivera said menstruating women typically do not come and red clothes are avoided.

Kanani Santos said he removes his shoes before entering because he likes to “be connected to the ground.” He enjoys walking there at sunset, when the brick-red patch of land appears bathed in gold and the salt crystals sparkle like magic dust.

"I say a little prayer, ask for blessings to have a good harvest, to have a quiet soul and to embrace the moment," he said.

Kurt Kuali`i, a chef whose family has made salt for 10 generations, choked up when speaking about this as his "kuleana," which means responsibility.

"I get moments of silence here like church," he said. "I believe in akua (god), a higher power. This is where I come to connect with that higher power, teach the children and be with family. There's good energy here."

Even when rain disrupts an entire day's work, Kuali`i says he knows it's "God telling us it's not time yet, to slow down." The best part of salt making is giving it all away, he said.

"Sharing is Hawaiian. This is something you make with your hands. I may not be the best at everything, but I can make Hawaiian salt."

Kane Turalde has been coming to the salt patch since he was 7. He is 68 now, a Native Hawaiian educator and canoe-racing coach. He has protested in the past to block luxury homes and other development near the salt patch, which he says would have created more traffic and pollution.

“I always come here in the spirit of akua,” he said. “Before I leave home, I call my ancestors here so when I arrive, they are here.”

A basket filled with finished salt crystals. (Photo Credit: Mallory Francks)

In his family's home, Turalde's grandmother kept a bowl of salt by the door. Everyone would take a pinch and say a prayer before going out, for protection, he said.

With the resurgence of Hawaiian culture and language on the islands, Nobrega- Olivera said she now thinks about how to transmit this knowledge to younger generations.

One way she honors the Hanapepe salt patch is by composing "mele," or Hawaiian songs and chants. She recently taught some school children one of those chants whose chorus is "aloha aina," which means "love of the land." Her eyes welled up as she saw their enthusiasm to learn the mele.

"Aloha aina captures our philosophy, the reason we do this," Nobrega-Olivera said. "You take care of the land, and the land takes care of you."

Non-Natives Making a Difference: Artist Russ Docken

By NAT Staff

russ docken
Artist Russ Docken: “The Native American is compelling both visually and historically. I focus on the idealistic, spiritual interpretation rather than the historical interpretation.”

Painting professionally for over thirty years, Russ Docken has been featured on news programs and in magazines in the likes of Southwest ArtArt of the West, and Wildlife Art. You can find his original oil paintings in private collections and his artwork is reproduced in limited-edition prints, plates and collectibles and sold throughout the world.

Docken grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, a state that hails five federally recognized tribes, and the setting where he attended Pow Wows and familiarized himself in Native American culture. He studied liberal arts at North Dakota State University under a full athletic scholarship. Russ became a nationally ranked athlete and a three-time NCAA champion in track and field while pursuing visual arts as a career. Through his experience in athletics and achieving the fame of an NCAA champion, Russ carried the valuable lesson of discipline to his commitment to art, as well everyday life.

 Docken’s artworks are sensitive interpretations of people showcased in idealistic settings. Each figure and face are unique in their shadows, highlights and colors revealing an endless variety of features. As he relays it, “People have always been my inspiration. Whether painting a beautiful woman or a rugged mountain man, capturing the spirit of the subject is my ultimate goal.”

Now with Docken’s career well-established, he lives and creates his artwork in Owatonna, Minnesota, where his wife, three daughters and five grandchildren have always supported making his dream of professional artistry a reality. "It is important to find something in life you are passionate about and then find a way to make a living at it," Russ has always told his kids. “I feel fortunate to have a career I truly love and hope my work may inspire or invoke a favorable response to those who see it.”

Samples of Native-themed Works, With Artist Comments:

sacred storm
Sacred Storm. "My vision for this painting was to express the bond of body and spirit with the forces of nature and the most sacred element of the Native American culture: the buffalo skull…In the distance, powerful bolts of lightning called Thunder Beings crackle in the darkening sky, signifying the imminent arrival of forces from the spirit world.”



true american
True American



the burden basket
The Burden Basket. "The beauty and grace of the model Veronica Phillips inspired me to paint this work of art. With Apache and Navaho ancestry, she proudly adorns her Apache dress, furs and handmade Burden Basket.”



native american dreams
Native American Dreams



a new beginning
A New Beginning. Though we have struggled with the clash of cultures, friendships have also developed. In this painting, the chief is the center of interest and bids farewell to an old friend.”



through my eyes
Through My Eyes



sioux boy
Sioux Boy



loyal companions
Loyal Companions



eagle vision
Eagle Vision



spirit seekers
Spirit Seekers. “This painting was created to symbolize the spiritual union between the Native American and the wolf, as if they were joined in a Sacred Council.”



look of war
Look of War. “In preparation for battle, the decorative headdress and powerful pose of this American Indian is an inspirational, striking image.”



they call me wolf
They Call Me Wolf. “The mystical portrayal of this warrior emphasizes his close union with the wolf. The name 'wolf' may have been given to him as his supernatural protector from a dream or vision, as wolves are highly respected by Native Americans.”




Editor’s Note: Russ’s originals, prints and licensing opportunities are available through Wild Wings, a leading publisher, distributor and retailer of wildlife, sporting, and nostalgic Americana art.

25 Rare Photographs from 100 Years Ago

By Kinga Walicka

Curtis’ self-portrait.

In 1906, Edward Sheriff Curtis, a well-known photographer from Seattle was contracted by the famous banker J.P. Morgan to create a photo series of Native Americans. Curtis was paid an astonishing $75,000, a small fortune at the time. The project took 20 years to fully complete, where Curtis traveled across North America, taking photographs and transcribing songs and stories of over 80 tribes.


Sioux Chiefs, 1905

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



Okuwa-Tsire, also known as "Cloud Bird," of the San Ildefonso Pueblo, 1905

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection


A Hupa Fisherman with a spear, standing on a rock in midstream,

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



A group of Navajo in the Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, 1904

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



An Apache man, circa 1910

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



A Kwakiutl wedding party arrives in canoes, 1914


© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection




A Klamath chief stands on a hill above Crater Lake, Oregon, 1923

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



An Apache woman reaps grain, circa 1910

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



A Qagyuhl woman wears a fringed Chilkat blanket and a mask representing a deceased relative who had been a shaman, 1914

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



A Jicarilla girl, circa 1910

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



An Apsaroke man on horseback, 1908

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection


Members of the Qagyuhl tribe dance to restore an eclipsed moon, circa 1910

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



A Hupa spear fisherman watches for salmon, 1923

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



A Hupa woman, 1923

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



Qagyuhl dancers, 1914

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



An Apsaroke mother and child, 1908

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



Piegan tepees, 1910

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



Nakoaktok dancers wear Hamatsa masks in a
ritual, 1914

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



Hollow Horn Bear, a Brulé man, 1907

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



A Kwakiutl shaman performs a religious ritual, 1914

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



A Tewa girl, 1906

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



Kwakiutl people in canoes in British Columbia, 1914


© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection




Black Eagle, an Assiniboin man, 1908

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



A Qahatika girl, 1907

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection



An Apache woman with a baby, 1903

© Curtis (Edward S.) Collection

About this Collection


The Edward S. Curtis Collection offers a unique glimpse into
Curtis's work with indigenous cultures. The more than 2,400 silver-gelatin photographic prints were acquired by the Library of Congress through copyright deposit from about 1900 through 1930. About two-thirds (1,608) of these images were not published in Curtis's multi-volume work, The North American Indian. The collection includes a large number of individual or group portraits, as well as traditional and ceremonial dress, dwellings and other structures, agriculture, arts and crafts, rites and ceremonies, dances, games, food preparation, transportation, and scenery. More than 1,000 of the photographs have been digitized and individually described.

Hopis Have Made Their Mark In The World Of Running

by Craig Chamberlain

Over the past 28 years, the Hopi High School Boys Cross Country Team have won the Arizona state championship 27 times. (Photo Credit: Hopi High School)

To be Hopi is to run. “That’s who we are and that’s what we do,” says Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert.

So it’s no surprise that Gilbert, a professor and the director of the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois, was drawn to the story of runners from his tribal community in northern Arizona, in the early 1900s, often running with and beating the world’s best.

It’s the story he tells in “Hopi Runners: Crossing the Terrain Between Indian and American”.

Gilbert, also a professor of history, became interested in the topic while working on an earlier book about Hopis at Sherman Institute in Southern California. Sherman was one of 25 federal off-reservation boarding schools that Native American students were compelled to attend between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Gilbert researched numerous newspaper clippings and other references to students’ athletic exploits.

“I was fascinated by just how well these Hopi runners did at the school, but also in regional and international competitions,” he said.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert is a professor and Director of the American Indian Studies Program at University of Illinois. (Photo Credit: L. Brian Stauffer)

Running runs deep in Hopi culture for a variety of reasons, Gilbert said. It was a means for messaging between villages and for travel between homes and fields, especially since the rocky and steep terrain of the Hopi mesas never favored the horse. “Running was always considered to be a trustworthy mode of transportation for the Hopi, and they became very, very good at it,” he said.

It shows even today in that the single Hopi high school has won the state title in its division in both boys and girls cross country in Arizona for most of the past 30 years, with the boys team completing a streak of 27 in a row.

Running, for the Hopis, was also ceremonial and sacred. Tribal oral histories tell of runs hundreds of miles to the Pacific Ocean to offer prayers. Hopis also ran far beyond their ancestral lands to shrines and sacred places “with the sole purpose that they would entice the rain clouds to follow them back to the mesas to water their fields,” Gilbert said.

The world first became aware of the Hopis’ running talents in the 1880s, when the railroad brought tourists and reporters to the Hopi mesas. Ethnographers noticed, too, when they arrived to record aspects of the tribe at a time when many feared Native Americans were a “vanishing race.”

Hopi runners line up to race in scorching hot Arizona back in 1902.

“At the turn of the century, there was an American fascination with Native people and Native culture, for sure,” Gilbert said. “These accounts of Hopi running on the reservation also corresponded with an American fascination with sport and distance running.”

The Hopi students arrived at Sherman and other boarding schools already as runners, Gilbert said, but they faced significant challenges. They had to learn to run in new conditions and in new ways – in city streets rather than on wide-open mesas; in athletic shoes rather than in thin moccasins or barefoot; for school, team or country rather than their people or clan.

They also had to negotiate the cultural divide and to challenge white preconceptions. Many Americans at the time thought Hopis and other Indians were dirty, lazy and had the mental capacity of children, Gilbert said.

Ironically, the Hopi runner who would become the most famous, Louis Tewanima, arrived at the Indian boarding school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1907 as a “prisoner of war,” part of a group that had resisted federal attempts to force Hopi children to attend such schools. He was in his mid 30s.

“A year later, on a world stage, he’s representing the very nation that had arrested him and forcefully removed him from his family,” Gilbert said. Tewanima placed ninth in the marathon at the 1908 Olympics, running for the U.S.

He would compete again in the 1912 Olympics, this time winning the silver medal in the 10,000-meter event and setting an American record that would stand for more than 50 years, when it was broken by another Native American, Billy Mills. One of Tewanima’s Olympic teammates, as well as a Carlisle classmate, was the legendary Native American athlete Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox Tribe), a gold medalist in both the pentathlon and decathlon.

In the summer of 1912, Louis Tewanima won silver in the 10,000-meter race at the Stockholm Olympics.

Tewanima is celebrated today on the Hopi Reservation with an annual footrace, but that wasn’t the case on his return home after the Olympics, Gilbert said. “When he returned to his village, the community was unimpressed with him.” In a community of runners, “they knew that there were runners who were much better.”

In fact, when Tewanima was challenged to a race by another celebrated boarding school Hopi runner, Philip Zeyouma, from Sherman Institute – who had won the 1912 Los Angeles Times Modified Marathon and also qualified for the Olympics – it prompted what Gilbert refers to as the “Hopi Showdown on Second Mesa.”

The actual showdown, however, would be between the two younger runners and two Hopi men in their 50s who taunted them and then took up the challenge, on the spot, to join them in the race, Gilbert said. 

At six miles into the 12-mile race, the two older men, who didn’t even look especially healthy, were so far ahead that Tewanima and Zeyouma quit and walked back to where they had started.

“What that story demonstrates is that for Hopi people the essence of running did not begin in a boarding school, nor did it begin in the streets of Los Angeles or on a track in New York City, but that it originated from the people,” Gilbert said.

It also demonstrates that in Hopi culture it was the older men who taught the younger men to run “according to the Hopi way” and that some of the best distance runners in America at that time were unknown to the public, he said.

Gilbert has family on the Hopi Reservation and knows the mesas well, even though he grew up in the nearby mountain community of Flagstaff. He is also a runner. Though he now runs on the flatlands of central Illinois, he said the act of running always ties him back to the mesas and home.

“I can always look to my Hopi past and say that I come from a people of great runners. This is who I am as a Hopi person. We Hopis, we run.”


Craig Chamberlain is a writer and editor for the News Bureau at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he covers social sciences, international studies, cultural/ethnic studies and the College of Media. He focuses on research studies and Q&As with faculty experts.

Deb Haaland’s Historic Rise to Secretary of Interior

by NAT Staff

Deb Haaland

“It’s profound to think about the history of this country’s policies to exterminate Native Americans and the resilience of our ancestors that gave me a place here today. This historic movement will not go by without the acknowledgement of the many people who have believed in me over the years and have had the confidence in me for this position.”

President Biden’s choice of Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-NM), a member of the Pueblo Laguna Tribe with Jemez Pueblo heritage, as our nation’s new Secretary of the Interior is the latest chapter in a life devoted to service and speaking on behalf of Native peoples.

Born in Winslow, Arizona, Haaland grew up in a military family with a father, Major J.D. “Dutch” Haaland, who served 30 years as a Marine and was awarded the Silver Star Medal for saving six lives during the Vietnam War. Her mother, Mary Troya, is a Navy veteran who worked 25 years in Indian education.

The family moved constantly and Haaland, an “army brat,” attended 13 public schools before settling in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She was no stranger to poverty and sacrifice and after graduating from high school, she worked at a bakery and sometimes had to rely on people for shelter as she could not afford to pay rent. But she persevered and continued on to earn an English undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico, where she graduated law school.

haaland in white dress with family

Haaland (in white dress) with her family in early years.

haaland and daughter somah

As a single mom, Haaland raised her daughter, Somáh, who is a poet, performer and activist.

Haaland marathon runner

The Secretary of the Interior is a marathon runner and known to be an avid reader of non-fiction.

Beginning her professional career as a businesswoman, Haaland ran a small enterprise producing and canning Pueblo Salsa before becoming the first Chairwoman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors, overseeing business operations of the second largest tribal gaming enterprise in New Mexico. She also served as Tribal Administrator for the San Felipe Pueblo and worked as a service provider for adults with developmental disabilities.

After attending a unique educational program created by Emerge New Mexico which helps train Democratic women to run for political office, Haaland became the Native American Caucus Chair for the Democratic Party of New Mexico and the Native American vote director for Organizing for America NM. After an unsuccessful run for New Mexico Lieutenant Governor in 2014, the 35th generation New Mexican became the first Native American woman elected to lead a State Party.

In 2016, Haaland traveled to Standing Rock to take part in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests that sought to protect tribal sovereignty and vital natural resources. She launched that advocacy to new heights in 2018 when she was elected to Congress, where she won reelection last year.

In the House of Representatives, Haaland has advanced a number of issues, including tribal water infrastructure, climate resiliency, job growth and broadband deployment. She is known to have been extraordinarily active, serving on a multitude of committees, including Chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands and Vice Chair of Families and Children Living in Poverty, and Natural Resources. Other subcommittee assignments were Armed Services, Military Personnel, and Indigenous Peoples of the United States.

Her caucus participation included: Air Force, Peace Corps, Equality, Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, Women’s Issues, Cannabis, Congressional Human Trafficking, Hunger, Labor and Working Families, Maternity, Multicultural Media, Safe Climate, TB Elimination, and Women's Working Group on Immigration Reform and the Native American Caucus (Co-Chair).

When first elected to Congress, Rep. Haaland was selected as the Freshman Class Representative to the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. In leadership, she served as the Region VI Whip (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona).

haaland blue blouse

“A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet Secretary or at the head of the Department of the Interior. As our country faces the impacts of climate change and environmental injustice, the Interior has a role and I will be a partner in addressing these challenges by protecting our public lands and moving our country towards a clean energy future.”

Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) were the sole Republicans on the Senate Energy Committee who voted to advance her nomination to full Senate vote. Murkowski was under pressure to approve the congresswoman’s nomination from Alaska’s Native communities, who comprise nearly 20% of the state’s population. During her two days of hearings, Republicans on the committee pressed Haaland on her statements that were critical of fossil fuels and on the Administration’s Executive Orders pausing new federal drilling leases and cancelling a key permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

As Secretary of the Interior, Haaland will help reverse many of the former Administration’s environmental practices which negatively affected tribal communities and public lands. Those practices resulted in the destruction of sacred sites during border wall construction and opening federally protected lands to drilling and mining, examples being the Dakota Access Pipeline and Bears Mountain National Monument.

She will also play a pivotal role in advancing Biden’s climate agenda. The Administration plans to end carbon emissions from power plants by 2035 and proposes public investment in green infrastructure, including $2 trillion for clean energy projects. As the Vice Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Haaland is well familiarized with these technologies and sciences and ready to make positive change on a national level.

There are currently four Native American tribal members in Congress. They are: Tom Cole (Chickasaw), Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk), MarkWayne Mullin (Cherokee) and Yvette Herrell (Cherokee).

Tom Cole

Tom Cole (R-OK)

Identified by Time Magazine as “one of the sharpest minds in the House,” Tom Cole is serving his tenth term. Rep. Cole was appointed to the Rules Committee in 2013 and has remained on the distinguished panel since then. He has presided on the powerful House Appropriations Committee since 2009 as Vice Ranking Member and is Ranking Member and former Chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. Among his leadership positions, Rep. Cole is Co-Chair of the Native American Caucus and Deputy Whip for the Republic Conference. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2017.

Sharice Davids

Sharice Davids (D-KS)

Rep. Davids is a member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Vice Chair of its Subcommittee on Aviation. Other subcommittee assignments include Highways and Transit, Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, Economic Growth, Tax and Capital Access, and Innovation and Workforce Development. She is part of the Congressional Native American Caucus and, in leadership, a Democratic Regional Whip for Region 4 (Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas).

Mark Wayne

MarkWayne Mullin (R-OK)

Rep. Mullin sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and three Subcommittees -- Oversight and Investigations, Environment and Climate Change, and Health. He holds the distinction of being Co-Chair of five caucuses -- Native American, Indian Health Service Task Force, Innovation, Men’s Health, and Regulatory Review. He additionally serves on the House Energy Action Team and the non-partisan House Democracy Partnership, which creates alliances with nations across the globe to promote democracy.

Yvette Herrell

Yvette Herrell (R-NM)

A freshman in Congress, Herrell won the November election and took office on January 3, 2021. She campaigned on a stronger U.S. border, supporting small businesses, fighting government regulations, and opposing legislation that impedes Second Amendment rights. While a member of the New Mexico House of Representatives for eight years, Herrell sponsored a bill that banned late-term abortion with exceptions for sexual abuse, rape or incest and opposed the Affordable Care Act in favor of free market solutions. She is an advocate for improving water rights, private property rights, and the management of public lands.

It’s no surprise that Biden’s selection of Haaland was praised by Native American groups and community leaders across the nation. From Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians, “The centuries of invisibility of American Indian and Alaska Native people are fading as our best and brightest emerge into prominent positions of leadership.” Those sentiments were echoed by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez who cheered, “Truly a historic and unprecedented day for all Indigenous people.” Ashley Nicole McCray, an environmentalist and member of the Absentee Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, foresees an optimistic future shared by many, “There’s a feeling something is changing. Finally, we’ve come to this point where Indigenous sentiment is no longer being silenced.”

About the U.S. Department of the Interior

Seal of the US Dept of the Interior

The Interior Department upholds the federal government's responsibilities to the country's 574 federally recognized Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages. Its roughly 70,000-person staff manages one-fifth of all land in the United States including national parks, wildlife refuges, 1.7 billion acres of coastlines and other public lands.

For a historical listing of Native Americans who have served in Congress, click here.

Parsons Family Ensures Forest Will Stay As Is

Mail Tribune

ASHLAND, Ore. (AP) _ When Jud Parsons took over management of the family's forestland on the flanks of Mount Ashland in the 1950s, southern Oregon was in the midst of a timber boom that saw clear-cuts on large swaths of private and industrial forestland with few reforestation successes.

Parsons saw this cut-and-run mentality of the time and he wanted no part of it for a simple reason.

``We didn't want to run,'' Parsons says.

Six decades later, the family's Mountcrest Forest remains a working piece of land where selective logging without clear-cuts allows for sustained timber production, with a light hand and an eye toward more than just the bottom line.

The family's approach has created healthy habitat for rare threatened and endangered animals, as well as clean water for wild salmon, in 1,771 acres smack-dab within the land bridge between the Klamath, Siskiyou and Cascade mountains.

And it's going to stay that way.

A new and unique $2.5 million conservation easement arranged by The Pacific Forest Trust and funded primarily with public money ensures the forest will remain in timber production but that it won't be broken up or developed and that the Parsons family ethic will govern here in perpetuity.

Selective logging will be done to enhance stands, leaving trees for rare Pacific fishers to snooze their days away on mistletoe brooms normally removed as parasites and a light touch on the ground to continue delivering clean, cold water that has become a rarity for wild salmon and steelhead, particularly in the Bear Creek Basin.

``It doesn't mean we can't harvest, but it'll be a lighter harvest,'' says Parsons, 82. ``It'll have all those benefits, no matter who owns it.''

Five years in the making, the easement creates a model for how private, working forests can simultaneously be managed for the public benefits of better wildlife habitat and watershed health _ stewardship values largely left to public lands.

``Wildlife don't care about property lines,'' says Constance Best, the San Francisco-based trust's co-chief executive officer. ``It's where the habitat is, and Mountcrest has a lot of great habitat because of the way it's managed. But there was no guarantee it would be around tomorrow. That's how conservation easements can help preserve habitat and reward (landowners) for doing good things for wildlife and watersheds.''

The easement was funded by $1 million in Land and Water Conservation Fund money through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, as well as $900,000 from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Best says. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust each contributed $300,000, she says.

The easement's appraised value was more than $3.4 million, with the difference listed as a gift from the Parsons corporation, Best says.

Most conservation easements are to keep lands ``forever wild'' or to strip off development rights, Best says. This is the first time in Oregon a publicly funded easement has gone to land that will remain in forest production.

``In this case, it's used to keep the land in excellent management,'' Best says.

Photo Credit: Mike Hupp

The Parsons family bought the first piece of Mountcrest in 1919, with a consortium of family members eventually adding more parcels. However, several clear-cuts on the property in the 1940s didn't fare well in their eyes.

Gophers, deer, drought and weeds all conspired to cause setback after setback in replanting efforts, Parsons says.

``We saw all the problems with reforestation on the work done back in the 1940s,'' Parsons says. ``It was difficult.''

Eventually the forest was leased for grazing, in part to reduce wildfire threats in grass and brush areas within the old clear-cuts, Parsons says.

In the 1970s, the forest moved more toward timber production _ all selective logging, Parsons says. Last year, the family logged 223,000 board-feet of mostly Douglas and white fir, Parsons says.

``That was a fairly light year, but we've probably never taken more than 500,000 (board-feet) in a year,'' he says.

Marty Main, who is the Parsons family's consulting forester, says the logging focuses on removing trees that compete with older, larger trees that create forest conditions that promote rare species like fishers and foster cold, clean runoff to streams.

That's the opposite of conditions during the cut-and-run 1950s.

"Parsons and his family didn't do that and that's to their credit,'' Main says. ``His choice not to liquidate it is the story. That's why this conservation easement means so much.''

In 2013, Parsons as well as three other family members bought out the forest's remaining shareholders and began negotiating the easement with the trust.

``We bought it with the intention of having a conservation easement to protect it,'' Parsons says.

The land historically had been a land bridge for everyone from Native Americans to Hudson Bay trappers crossing between the Siskiyou, Cascade and Klamath mountains. Today, Pacific Crest Trail hikers traverse the southern corner of Mountcrest Forest.

It remains an important bridge for wildlife, connecting the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest to the flanks of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Those aspects will remain for current and future imperiled wildlife seeking habitats like a still-productive Mountcrest, Main says.

``Jud and his family from the inception have managed for a host of values, including wildlife,'' Main says. ``He has a long history of attachment to his land and the critters there, and he's sincere about it. It's pretty cool.''


Information from: Mail Tribune,

About Mr. Parsons: With his family, Jud Parsons is a leader in the conservation of Oregon’s farms and forests. Through his work with Pacific Forest Trust, the conservation of the 2,036-acre Mountcrest Forest was accomplished. Mountcrest is a beacon of exemplary forest management, sustaining timber, wildlife habitat, and watershed values.

Learn more about Pacific Forest Trust 

Cover Photo and Jud Parsons Photo Credit: Pacific Forest Trust

Cigna Grant Combines Prenatal Care, Drug Education with Traditions

Kassie Runsabove, a community health worker at St. Vincent’s Hospital, reviews Native-themed books for the unique program. 

The Cigna Foundation announced it will provide a $100,000 grant to the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation in Billings, Montana to help improve the health outcomes of Native American women and babies through increased access to early prenatal care, drug education and intervention when needed.

“Addiction is a national crisis, and tribes are experiencing its impact along with the rest of the country. St. Vincent’s is a mission-driven health care facility dedicated to serving the Native American community, and Cigna Foundation is helping us develop a sustainable maternity care delivery model,” said Vicki Birkeland, St. Vincent Healthcare Director of Women’s Services. “This is important work and we look forward to seeing improved health outcomes for the moms and babies we serve.”


Baby moccasins made in classes at the hospital for families with babies. Other traditional activities have included prayer, smudging, signage and building a teepee during Native American Heritage Month.

Previously, the Cigna Foundation provided grant funding to St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation to support an American Indian Health Disparities Coordinator who serves as a community health worker. St. Vincent’s chose Kassie Runsabove for this role to work as an advocate and cultural liaison, and to be responsible for implementing projects to identify and reduce health disparities.


Runsabove (center) with two hospital staffers at a healthcare event. 


Chantielle (center), a midwife from St. Vincent's attending a baby fair at the Northern Cheyenne Lame Deer Reservation.

The new Cigna Foundation grant provides an additional year of funding to help St. Vincent’s further its mission to improve the cultural competency skills of maternal health care providers, and to work with tribal community partners to provide prenatal education on healthy nutrition, stress management, and other healthy lifestyle topics. The program is expected to result in measurable outcomes, including:

  • Earlier access to prenatal care with the goal of improving birth weights
  • Increased participation at designated prenatal clinics, including St. Vincent's Midwifery & Women’s Health Center, the midwifery clinic on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, and at the health care facilities of community partners including Indian Health Services (IHS)
  • Decreased numbers of NICU admissions
  • Decreased numbers of babies born prematurely
  • Increased participation in substance abuse recovery programs


Cigna Foundation's Executive Director, Mary Engvall.

“We are focused on improving health equity and are working with organizations such as St. Vincent’s to eliminate disparities that create barriers to health care,” said Mary Engvall, executive director of the Cigna Foundation. “St. Vincent’s community health worker is integral to effectively coordinating care between the rural reservations and an urban hospital setting in a culturally sensitive manner, while building a safe environment of trust for patients.”

About the Cigna Foundation

The Cigna Foundation, founded in 1962, is a private foundation funded by contributions from Cigna Corporation and its subsidiaries. It supports organizations sharing its commitment to enhancing the health of individuals and families, and the well-being of their communities, with a special focus on those communities where Cigna employees live and work.

For more information on the Foundation’s partnership with St. Vincent’s, see the video:

Lead and article photos courtesy of Cigna Foundation. 

Boys and Girls Club Finds New Site for Rosebud Students

Rapid City Journal

PARMELEE, S.D. (AP) _ Rosebud recently had its tribal election in Rosebud. The DJ on 96.1 KILI Radio had updated listeners on primary vote totals.

``Upper Cut Meat has 13 voters,'' he announced. ``He Dog with 25 voters. Swift Bear has 1 voter.''

In the Community Center in Parmelee, a sign hung from the wall, ``Vote Here.'' Poll workers stood outside. But in a cramped, busy adjacent room, hunched around tablet computers or math worksheets, more than a dozen children in this small town of 562 Census-counted residents busily worked on their studies.

``We don't want them to lose their skills over the summer,'' said Rose Elk Looks Back, the supervisor for the Boys and Girls Club in Parmelee.

This Parmelee site is the newest edition to the Boys and Girls Club's offerings on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, the Rapid City Journal reported. A few years ago, due to financial constraints, the Parmelee site closed. In June, however, Director Glen Marshall secured financing to open this small site that operates for four hours a day, four days a week. Now, Parmelee, a small town in Todd County that is 97 percent Native American, has a place for children to go in the summer.

And kids are hungry for it.

``These boys walk in seven or eight miles,'' said Georgia ``Dete'' Guerue, pointing to twin brothers sitting next to each other, completing math exercises. Guerue is Elk Looks Back's sister and also coaches the boys on the baseball team. ``Their mom just got a car, so she's now able to drive them home after the game.''

Across the treaty lands for the Sicangu Lakota, the high school graduation rate hovers around 50 percent. Unemployment is north of 80 percent. For Katelyn Bladel, art director at the club, that's why learning takes precedence.

Staffers and kids during the renovation of the Parmalee Chapter.

``We focus more on academics than other Boys and Girls Clubs,'' she said. ``We want to close the achievement gap.''

The Boys and Girls Club serves mostly elementary and middle school children (though the club opened a teen center in Mission), and space in Parmelee, staff admit, is tight.

In one corner of the room, half a dozen children wearing blue headphones operate tablets running Stride Academy, a learning tool to assess student learning. Elk Looks Back walks among others handing back times tables. In late July, students can get fidgety. The staff incorporates an hour a day of physical activity. And they go on kayaking trips to nearby dams and Eagle Feather Lake. REDCO (the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation) has been coming in to cook through Shawn Sherman (a.k.a. the Sioux Chef's) new cookbook with the kids.

``We've done wild rice sorbet and gone mint harvesting in creek beds,'' Bladel said.

A group of Catholic missionary students from Omaha high schoolers mostly recently engaged with students. Bladel is grateful for the help but is diplomatic about the tensions of accommodating a new group of new faces into a tight space every week ready to help.

``It's best when they come to help out with our programming.''

Art Director and professional photographer, Katelyn Bladel, serves to help close the achievement gap (Photo Credit: Katelyn Bladel)

In June, three women from the East Coast brought photography equipment and loaned each of the students a digital camera and sent them out to take photos. Some photographs shot by students, including humorous images of a boy between archery targets and a girl in a wrap reading ``Miss Antelope'', hang on the wall in the gymnasium at the larger club in Mission.

The Boys and Girls Club arrived on Rosebud in 2004 and, according to its website, is the only ``after school program'' for the just shy of 10,000 people living on the 1,900-square mile reservation (not counting trust lands). According to the recently released Kids Count Data Book, rates of childhood mortality are high on Rosebud. Car crashes and suicide are leading causes. Type-II Diabetes is also a threat.

(Photo Credit: Katelyn Bladel)

But in Mission, in a converted bowling alley, Lisa McKnight makes grilled cheese sandwiches for an early supper and students can connect with Vance Giroux, who is a monitor for the summer in the teen center.

``I'm like an uncle leksi,'' he said, pronouncing the Lakota translation.

Giroux grew up mostly with his mother's tribe on Standing Rock but spent summers on Rosebud, his father's tribe. He moved down to Rosebud to invest more deeply into what he terms the ``old ways'' and just finished his second Sun Dance a few weekends earlier.

``People see a lot of trouble in Parm','' he said, ``But I think there's a lot of good, too.''

Guerue, back in Parmelee, echoes this sentiment.

``The community is excited to have them back open.''

Site Director, Beth Elk Looks Back, poses during a fishing excursion. 

Since June, they've signed up 22 kids for the site. A mat of carpet sits near an activities box. Letters spell out ``Mitakuye Oyasin'' (''all are related'' in Lakota) and ``LOVE.'' Underneath fly paper strips hanging from the wall, Elk Looks Back talks about her work as a paraprofessional at nearby He Dog Elementary School. She drives the bus and grew up in Parmelee.

``I do it for the kids,'' she said.

She acknowledged recent vandalism. At night, the Rosebud site needs to bring in the basketball hoops after-hours.

``I do take the laptops home each night,'' she said.

But she points to the glistening certificate on the wall dated June 25: the official Boys and Girls Club stamp.

``Take a picture of that,'' Elk Looks Back said.

After they switch stations, she exits to show off the Boys and Girls Club's next project. Outside it's a stunning portrait of a sky with rolling clouds. Cars are streaming in to vote. Parmelee is greener this summer, as are many South Dakota towns, with the rainfall. Last week, they finally got someone to mow the overgrown yard, so they can play kickball outside. A girl bikes past, while a young boy walks toward the swings.

``That's the famous boy's brother,'' Elk Looks Back said. Last week, the Todd County Tribune carried the photograph of a little leaguer his ponytail dipping below his helmet mid-swing; he'd hit a home run over the fence, the first time anyone can remember that happening.

``This is our next project,'' said Elk Looks Back, pointing to a turquoise blue building sitting behind a fence and a mask of graffiti. ``We want to buy it and clean it up and have our own space again.''

The building needs some TLC, but momentum is good with the Boys and Girls Club on Rosebud. Walking back to the community center, Elk Looks Back stops to talk to the poll workers, as a woman with her dog comes in to vote.

``Hey Rose,'' a poll worker said.

``Hi Violet,'' said Elk Looks Back.

They stop and chat, the sounds of the children's voices spilling out of the building. Two futures are at work in Parmelee, the immediate and the long-term. But, on a nice sunny day, there's always time to say hello to a neighbor.


Information from: Rapid City Journal,

Cover and Selected Photos: Boys and Girls Club of Rosebud