The Maple: Chief of All Trees

By Doug George-Kanentiio©
News From Indian Country

When the Creator Sonkweiiateson in Mohawk planted the trees of the world, a decision was made to make Wahta - the Maple - the chief of all trees. Not only did the maple carry the words of humans to his relatives but to that species was given another task. In this part of the world the winter months may be long and cold, the land covered in heavy blankets of snow which makes food difficult to come by and would push the Mohawk people closer to their longhouse fires.

The Creator noticed that the people would become ill for lack of fresh food and their spirits would grow weary as they waited for the spring. He decided that he would speak to the Maple and see if something could be done. It was decided that the maple would allow its sap, its blood, to be taken and made into a drink, one that would replenish the body and lift the soul. So it was done: the Creator showed the people how to take a hollow sumac branch and insert it into a maple tree and then drink the pure syrup which flowed from the tube. The people were happy and thanked the Creator.

As is the way, the Creator had to leave this earth to travel to other worlds and tend to them. He was gone a very long time. One day he returned to see how the people were. This was in the latter days of winter but when he came to the longhouses he did not see plumes of smoke arising from the home fires. He would have normally been welcomed by the dogs of the village but they were missing. When he entered the longhouses there were but cold ashes and above him in the rafters food which had not been eaten. He wondered at this. When he left the longhouse he saw many footprints of humans and dogs leading away from the village towards a forest of maple trees. He followed the tracks until he entered the grove and there saw the people sprawled upon the ground.

It was that they had become immersed in the maple syrup. They had taken the sumac tubes, inserted them into the trees and drank to much that they could hold no more and dropped to the ground.

There are over 100 species of Maple trees, gracing landscapes throughout the world. Trees that can be tapped include: sugar, black, red, silver maple and box elder trees. Sugar Maples yield the most sugar per gallon of sap. (Photo Credit: Tennessee Wholesale Nursery)

Maples are tapped with spiles to collect sap, and the highest concentration of sugar is found in sugar maples. Generally, the ratio of sap to syrup is 40 to 1 (40 gallons of sap yields one gallon of syrup). (Photo Credit: Northern Woodlands)

The Creator saw that even the dogs had drunk of the syrup, copying the behavior of the people, drunk of the syrup and lay there on their backs with their legs pointed to the sky. This was not good. The Creator aroused the people from their stupor and told them that no longer would they be able to drink the syrup right from the tree. They would have to work for it, so he showed them how to take sap, place it into a container and bring it to a near boil until, after many hours, they would have syrup and, after more work, maple sugar. While both maple sap and syrup would remain a great medicine for the people they must not take it for granted.

The people were also shown how to speak to the maples, and then all trees. They would watch carefully for the maple to emerge from its sleep and gather to express their gratitude to Wahta for its great gift before they tapped into the trees. Once they had a harvest of syrup they would gather again and thank the Creator and Wahta for this most wonderful of drinks. Should they do this then the maple would give its lifeblood to the people; should they fail the maples would one day leave the earth.

To this day the Mohawks, the inventors of maple syrup and maple sugar, gather at the longhouse to honour Wahta by giving thanks. On the banks of the Nihahnawa:te (Raquette) and Kaniatarowanenneh (St. Lawrence) rivers you can still hear the Mohawks rise their voices in song and stomp their feet in dance as we celebrate the arrival of spring and the beginning of new life on Iethi:nistenha Ohnontsia-our Earth Mother.

(Cover Photo: Britannica)

Artist Explores Sometimes Surprising Connections With Nature

During the Tatanka Exhibit at the Mexican Cultural Center in Denver, Garcia commented, "I painted the second release of bison when they were re-introduced to tribal lands of the Indians and Shoshone Indians."

Associated Press

DENVER (AP) _ Arturo Garcia rose, bundled up in a puffy green vest and denim blue hoodie, and staked his easel amid the pale golden grasses of Wyoming's Wind River Reservation, home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho. It was so windy he had to keep one hand on a canvas the size of a school notebook. It was so cold an onlooker got out of her car to offer him her gloves. He could only wear one, as he needed a bare hand to manipulate the palette knife he uses instead of a brush to apply energetic lines and bold colors. Grass blew into his paint.

The Mexican-born artist based in the Denver area persevered for an hour and a half to record the moment last autumn when 10 American bison, tails whipping like flags, lumbered out of a trailer. The mini stampede and a similar release a year earlier were part of an effort by tribal leaders, the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation to restore the majestic mammal to an ecosystem of which it is a key part and to the stewardship of a people who see their own marginalization paralleled in the near annihilation by white settlers of an animal sometimes called buffalo.

``I could not let that opportunity go,'' Garcia said in an interview months later in the kind of space in which he's more used to working: a cozy, well-lit studio at the Denver Art Museum, where he was doing a short residency.

The opportunity came to Garcia after conservationists and Wind River residents took note of his connection to bison. In 2014, he had set himself the task of painting the animals for which Colorado is known. He depicted elk, moose, sheep.

``The bison was the last painting I did in the series. It produced something in me I can't explain,'' said Garcia, whose work has been exhibited in U.S. and Mexican galleries. ``I go on painting binges, portraits, trees, bison. Bison has lasted longer than any other.''

He has seen bison in small herds in preserves near Denver and photographed them in Yellowstone. A quest to learn more about his muse led to conversations with Native Americans. As Garcia gained Eastern Shoshone and other friends, he thought back to his own past.

``All my uncles were skinny, tall, with big foreheads,'' he said. ``People would refer to them as Indians. And they didn't like it.''

``I did the real deal. Plain air, 30 degrees, which felt like 30 below,'' he said of his work in Wyoming. ``It's very challenging painting like that. Especially in the morning when shadows change so fast. The more challenging it got for me, the bigger the smile I got on my face.''


Arturo Garcia, Self-Portrait. (Photo Credit: Arturo Garcia Fine Art)

Garcia began to question that sense of shame. He came to a realization: ``To be Indian is a beautiful thing. To be human is a beautiful thing. I am of the land. I am of the universe.

``The bison has brought me to an encounter that I did not have any idea I was going to have with myself.''

As a wildlife artist with Mexican roots, it was natural for Garcia to take part in the Americas Latino Eco Festival, an annual event in Colorado co-sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation that has since 2012 brought artists, scientists and policy makers together to discuss environmental concerns. The children of NWF Rocky Mountains Regional Executive Director Brian Kurzel took part in a workshop led by Garcia during the 2015 festival. Kurzel said he got more time to speak with Garcia at the festival the following year, when he learned of the artist's interest in bison and shared details of NWF's Wind River project.

The 2.2 million-acre reservation had been part of the bison's habitat before the U.S. government encouraged the extermination of millions of buffalo across the Great Plains and the West in the 1800s. For more than a century, no bison had roamed Wind River.

Garcia's work could inspire others to learn more about bison and ``help create the next generation of advocates,'' Kurzel said.

By the time NWF brought Garcia to Wind River for both the 2016 and 2017 releases, he had already done scores of bison paintings. In addition to creating more of his own work while in Wyoming, the artist led workshops for Native American school children.

Jason Baldes, in charge of the bison project for the Eastern Shoshone, said in an interview that Garcia's paintings capture the animal's power, its connection to Native Americans, and the possibility of healing for both the beast and the people who have been pushed onto reservations.

``And he's such a caring individual,'' Baldes said. Garcia ``wanted to provide young people the opportunity to express their own art.''


Jason Baldes oversees the Eastern Shoshone Bison Project, and works to rebuild the reservation’s game populations. (Photo Credit: Montana State University)


After an absence of 130 years, bison were released on Eastern Shoshone tribal land. (Photo Credit: National Wildlife Federation)

Native elders also responded to Garcia. NWF's Kurzel described a Shoshone woman closely observing the painter at work after she gave a traditional blessing at a bison release.

``These two great artists came together,'' Kurzel said. ``They were part of illustrating the connections between nature and people.''

Baldes, the son of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who had worked to rebuild the reservation's game populations, said that returning bison to Wind River is for him and other Shoshone ``a way to reconnect with an animal that was removed from us as a way to kill us off.''

The animal's meat provided his forefathers food, its hide clothing and shelter, its bones utensils.

``The bison, being a gift from the creator, was essential to our spirituality,'' Baldes added.

Garcia's bison works recall cave paintings of the animals on which prehistoric humans relied, too. Garcia depicts bison and dramatic landscapes in cool blues and grays and sunset browns enlivened with primary colors streaked on the animals' bodies that are reminders that nature offers surprises to those who look closely.

``At first I was a little bit taken aback by'' the modernist bright dashes, Baldes said. ``But they grow on you.''

Garcia, meanwhile, was looking forward to visiting Wind River again one day.

On his last visit, the artist said, ``it felt like home.''

Guest Author: We're Having Something Different for Thanksgiving Dinner

(Editor’s Note: This Heritage Month special will be published until January 10.)

Michael E. Roberts (Tlingit) is President & CEO of First Nations Development Institute

Lucy van Pelt of the Peanuts comic strip fame may have said it best when she observed this about Thanksgiving: "Isn't it peculiar, Charlie Brown, how some traditions just slowly fade away?"

And for the sake of us all, perhaps America’s silly myth of the first Thanksgiving as a delightful story where Native nations of the East broke bread with the colonists of the “New World” should fade away.

When contemplating American Indians in America we soon realize that to many Americans, November and Native American Heritage month, culminating right after Thanksgiving, is American Indians’ only reality.

For American Indian people, what is Thanksgiving? Or better yet, what has it become? Or even better, how might we re-imagine it? How might we begin to change the narrative?

For the longest time, the United States has treated Indian religion and creation stories as quaint myths. But that doesn’t stop these same folks from holding on dearly to their own mythical stories of creation. The colonizer’s myth of the first Thanksgiving is of Pilgrims hosting a harvest feast for their Native brethren. Native peoples, however, know the full fabrication of the historical circumstances surrounding this celebration.

But sadly, for America’s original inhabitants, Thanksgiving may be the one day of the year when American Indians cross the minds of most other Americans. Other than at our yearly commemoration of Pilgrims and Indians giving thanks, in early elementary school, in occasional movies, or as tourists in the Southwest, most Americans give about as much thought to – and have as much knowledge of – their country's first inhabitants as they do the people of Outer Mongolia. This needs to change.

While America's non-Indians generally express goodwill and considerable sympathy about past injustices and present poverty afflicting Indians, they largely view the nation's Indians as relics of a past that ended with Custer and Wounded Knee. Or, because of lack of knowledge, they frequently see them through a caricatured and stereotyped lens forged on old Hollywood back lots or racist caricatures emblazoned on sports teams’ jerseys. For the most part, they are oblivious to the vibrancy and difficulties of present-day Indians' lives and culture, or to their social and legal status. A great deal of this uncovering of dominant narratives is being documented by First Nations’ project Reclaiming Native Truth: A Project to Dispel America’s Myths and Misconceptions. This first-of-its-kind project is trying to both understand the narratives that American people hold about Indian people, and then trying to construct a new and better one.

Despite some recent events like the pipeline protests at Standing Rock and the politically correct romanticizing of Indians as spiritual and/or model environmentalists, to most Americans, knowledge and thinking about Indians begin and end with Pocahontas and Sacajawea (good) and half-formed notions about primitive savages and “alcohol-riddled” reservations (bad).

October and November follow eerily similar patterns in my own personal quest for narrative change. It’s at this time of year – book-ended by Columbus Day on one end and Thanksgiving on the other – where I find myself knocking on the door of the principal and teachers of my daughters’ school, to talk about Indians. The good news is, this almost always leads to the opportunity to go to my daughters’ classrooms and chat with their classmates about Indians. And for my daughters, this is an important part in them taking pride in their heritage.

Unfortunately, it seems that I begin each year by having to approach the school’s principal and teachers and educate them about Indians, dispel myths, and fight against the stereotypes they bring to the classroom.

Each year I have to educate a new set educators and make up for the failings of their own history education – that Columbus did not ”discover” America, or that the Pilgrims did not feed the Indians at Thanksgiving. I have repeatedly had to ask teachers and principals to take down caricatures of Indians on bulletin boards – decorations that have been put up every year since a least when I was in elementary school. I have to point out to these same educators that the books in their libraries about Indians, the ones written by non-Indians, with copyright dates in the 1950's, do a horrible job of portraying Indians. I need to help these folks understand that headdresses with turkey feathers, and art projects that include tee-pees, are wrong on so many levels – the least of which are that they do not even represent the Indians the Pilgrims encountered. But worst of all, these horrific stereotypes, ones we would never allow for other minority populations, are in danger of eroding my children’s self-esteem and self-worth for the incredible heritage that they enjoy. And most of all, I need to stop them from teaching theories, such as the “land-bridge theory,” as fact. By their very definition, theories are assumptions based on limited information or knowledge. They are conjecture. And the land bridge is one that every day finds less and less evidence to support it.

At First Nations, a fair amount of our time and energy goes into national initiatives like Reclaiming Native Truth and in building culturally competent leaders. But sadly I, and most Indian parents, spend an equal if not greater amount of energy doing so at home. We send our kids to school, with the hope that they will survive these attempts at cultural indoctrination. And while we may do so with less fear for their physical well-being than our grandparents had when sending their children off to the horrors of Indian boarding schools, our fear for their self-worth and self-esteem is just as great.

So how do we begin to change these narratives? And while I believe that First Nations’ Reclaiming Native Truth project will create an ambitious strategy for narrative change, my hope here today is a person-to-person appeal for individual action.

Here are some things that you can do to help:

  1. Drop off a copy of Rethinking Columbus at your kids' or grand-kids' school(s).
  2. Assist school libraries in finding books that portray Indians as living, thriving cultures, not as victims of history. The American Library Association and the Office of Literacy and Outreach Services compiled Selective Bibliography and Guide for “I” is Not for Indian: The Portrayal of Native Americans in Books for Young People. Last year First Nations joined efforts with Debbie Reese, Ph.D., to produce an additional resource: the Native American Children’s Literature Recommended Reading List.
  3. Educate yourself. I would suggest Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker’s excellent book, All the Real Indians Died Off and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans as a great place to start.


Native America Today thanks First Nations Development Institute and Native Stories, where this article originally appeared. To learn how First Nations is making an impact, click here.

ILTF Releases New Educational Video Game On Indigenous History

St. Paul, Minn. – The Indian Land Tenure Foundation announced the release of a new educational video game that teaches about the impact of allotment acts on Indigenous peoples in the 1890s. Available on PC/MAC, iPads, Android tablets and Chromebooks, When Rivers Were Trails is an accessible, educational 2D adventure game that will help teach young people about an important and often-overlooked period of time in United States history.

When Rivers Were Trails was developed by ILTF in collaboration with Michigan State University’s Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab thanks to support from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. The game follows an Anishinaabeg in the 1890’s who is displaced from Fond du Lac in Minnesota to California due to the impact of allotment acts on Indigenous communities. More than 20 indigenous writers were tapped in the development of When Rivers Were Trails, bringing their valuable experience to the project.

Players are challenged to balance their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being with foods and medicines while making choices about contributing to resistances as well as trading with, fishing with, hunting with, gifting, and honoring the people they meet as they travel through Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and eventually must find a place to call home in California.

The journey can change from game to game as players randomly come across Indigenous people, animals, plants, and run-ins with Indian Agents. Gameplay speaks to sovereignty, nationhood, and being reciprocal with land. When Rivers Were Trails is available for download on PC and Mac, Apple’s AppStore and the Google Play Store. 

View the trailer 

Download When Rivers Were Trails on PC/Mac, iPadAndroid/Chromebook


The game features creative directing by Nichlas Emmons, creative directing and design by Elizabeth LaPensée, art by Weshoyot Alvitre, and music by Supaman and Michael Charette. 

Indigenous writers include Weshoyot Alvitre, Li Boyd, Trevino Brings Plenty, Tyrone Cawston, Richard Crowsong, Eve Cuevas, Samuel Jaxin Enemy-Hunter, Lee Francis IV, Carl Gawboy, Elaine Gomez, Ronnie Dean Harris, Tashia Hart, Renee Holt, Sterling HolyWhiteMountain, Adrian Jawort, Kris Knigge, E. M. Knowles, Elizabeth LaPensée, Annette S. Lee, David Gene Lewis, Korii Northrup, Nokomis Paiz, Carl Petersen, Manny Redbear, Travis McKay Roberts, Sheena Louise Roetman, Sara Siestreem, Joel Southall, Jo Tallchief, Allen Turner, and William Wilson, alongside guest writers Toiya K. Finley and Cat Wendt who contribute African American and Chinese experiences.


Statements from the Creators and Program Leadership

Elizabeth LaPensée, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Michigan State University
Media & Information | Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab

“My greatest hope is for this game to reach classrooms the way that Oregon Trail did, and instead, to say that we as Indigenous people do not exist in relation to settlers, that we are not here merely to trade with them or to guide them on their way Westward. Instead, When Rivers Were Trails is a space for Indigenous voices to express themselves on their own terms.”

Nokomis Paiz

Director of Counseling and Continuing Education, Red Lake Nation College (Minnesota)

“I hope this game leads to questions. Questions that will make people turn to their elders and resources to find out more information. I am very proud to have been a part of this experience. It is a great tool to teach history and to teach a true history that is not always something that is easy to tell and understand. It can be painful to learn of what our people went through but it is also a lesson of our resilience and perseverance.”

David G. Lewis, PhD

Anthropologist, Ethnohistorian, Archivist, Educator – Adjunct Professor, Oregon State University School of Language, Culture and Society

 “I feel really good about the video game. I have played a few times and need to work on my hunting and fishing skills. Those rabbit and squirrels are very fast. It does take a little technical expertise. Many people who hear about it are excited to play.” 

Travis Roberts

A citizen of the Manitoba Metis Federation. Writer and social worker living in Washington, D.C.

“Writing the scenarios was a very personal process for me. Many of the characters I wrote about are from my own family, including my Grandfather. I took that responsibility seriously, and spent a good chunk of time digging into both my family's history and the history of my ancestors, including the Metis, Lakota, and Ojibwe. Figuring out how to boil down the lives of some of the people who mean the most to me into a few short sentences wasn't easy, and I hope I was able to honor them…I'd love indigenous students to play it and learn a little more about where they come from. I'd also love for non-native people to play it, especially if it leads to them asking questions and starting to interact with the Native American communities still with us.” 

Nichlas Emmons, Ph.D

Program Officer, Indian Land Tenure Foundation

“The game was created to make learning more enjoyable and memorable for students learning about the allotment of Native lands, various cultural world-views, and the Indigenous perspectives of history.  The game gives a voice to people who have been marginalized. At a time when Native histories are even more condensed, or eradicated throughout the general curriculum around the United States, this video game clicks all the boxes on a more inclusive and appropriate learning tool.”

The Indian Land Tenure Foundation is a national, community-based organization serving American Indian nations and people in the recovery and control of their rightful homelands. ILTF promotes education, increases cultural awareness, creates economic opportunity, and aims to reform the legal and administrative systems that prevent American Indian people from owning and controlling reservation lands. 

The mission of the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab at Michigan State University is to design innovative prototypes, techniques, and complete games for entertainment and learning and to advance state of the art knowledge about social and individual effects of digital games.

Native CDFI Network Welcomes New Executive Director

Jackson S. Brossy plans to contribute to the growth and mission of the Native CDFI Network team. "Growing up on the Navajo reservation, I know first-hand the urgent need for access to capital in Native communities. The Network’s membership works hard to get capital to motivated entrepreneurs, and I am happy to support their efforts to build Indian economies,” states Brossy. 

The word “excited” is how Native CDFI leadership described the selection of its new Executive Director, Jackson S. Brossy, a member of the Navajo Nation.

Brossy served as head of federal relations for the Navajo Nation government for the past four years. In that time frame he helped advance Navajo policy goals and initiatives, testified before Congress, and built solid relationships with federal policy stakeholders. Prior to working in federal strategy, he worked in the private sector as a management consultant and advised tribes and tribal corporations. He also has worked for the National Congress of American Indians where he specialized in economic development policy. Brossy was raised on the Navajo Nation and graduated from Navajo schools as well as Stanford University and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

“Jackson comes to us with strong organizational leadership and advocacy experience working in the non-profit, private, and tribal government sectors in Indian Country. We are glad to welcome him to our team,” said Pete Upton, Board Chair of the Native CDFI Network, and also the Executive Director of Native360 Loan Fund in Nebraska (pictured below).

“The addition of our new executive director will strengthen the Network’s internal capacity and federal presence, in order to increase representation and promote systemic and viable economic development for Native communities across the country,” said Upton.


The Native CDFI Network was formed in 2009 to unify Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs) serving Native trust land communities, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. Currently, over 70 certified Native CDFIs are located in 21 states across the country. As a strong national network, the Native CDFI Network empowers its members to engage their best ideas, connect to one another, and collectively advance policy priorities that foster systemic and sustainable Native community and economic development. The Native CDFI Network’s mission is to be a national voice and advocate that strengthens and promotes Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs), creating access to capital and resources for Native peoples.

Opioid crisis strains foster system as kids pried from homes


Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ The case arrives with all the routine of a traffic citation: A baby boy, just 4 days old and exposed to heroin in his mother's womb, is shuddering through withdrawal in intensive care, his fate now here in a shabby courthouse that hosts a parade of human misery.

The parents nod off as Judge Marilyn Moores explains the legal process, and tests arrive back showing both continue to use heroin. The judge briefly chastises, a grandmother sobs, and by the time the hearing is over, yet another child is left in the arms of strangers because of his parents' addiction.

There is little surprise in any of this, for it's become a persistent presence at Indianapolis' juvenile court. A Monday with a heroin-dependent newborn spills into a Tuesday in which a trembling mother admits breaking her 70-day clean streak with a four-day bender. A Wednesday with two children found in a car beside a mother passed out on pills fades into a Thursday with a teen who found both his mother and grandmother overdosed on heroin.

Across the U.S., soaring use of opioids has forced tens of thousands of children from their homes, creating a generation of kids abandoned by addicted parents, orphaned because of fatal overdoses or torn from fractured families by authorities fearful of leaving them in drug-addled chaos.

"This isn't a trickle. This isn't a wave. It's a tsunami," Moores said of a child welfare system grappling with an unprecedented crush of parental drug cases.

From her first full year on the bench in 2006 through last year, the number of filings for children in need of services more than tripled to 4,649 in Marion County, driven largely by cases involving opioids — a glimpse of a problem that has swept across communities of all sizes.

Behind each of those cases is a child subjected to the realities of life amid addiction — of barren fridges, unwelcome visitors and parents who couldn't be roused awake. Moores is still haunted by the story of a 2-year-old found alone at home with his father's corpse, a needle still poking from his arm. A neighbor was drawn in by the boy's relentless wails.

By Friday, the largest pile of cases on Moores' desk has reached a towering two feet, and she has plodded on in bureaucratic fights to get more judges, more court reporters and more mediators to deal with work in which the despair dwarfs the fleeting moments of hope.

"It seems like there's a whole generation of people disappearing," Moores said.


In Miami, a 10-year-old boy died after the painkiller fentanyl somehow found its way into his system. In Philadelphia, a library once known for its after-school programs is now such a magnet for heroin users that the staff practices overdose drills. From New York to Kentucky, schools stock the overdose antidote naloxone in the nurse's office.

As opioids have thrived, children have suffered. And families are being torn apart, again and again.

New foster care cases involving parents who are using drugs have hit the highest point in more than three decades of record-keeping, accounting for 92,000 children entering the system in 2016, according to just-released data by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The crisis is so severe — with a 32 percent spike in drug-related cases from 2012 to 2016 — it reversed a trend that had the foster care system shrinking in size over the preceding decade. All told, about 274,000 children entered foster care in the U.S. last year. A total of 437,000 children were in the system as of Sept. 30, 2016.

Though substance abuse has long been an issue for child welfare officials, this is the most prolific wave of children affected by addiction since crack cocaine use surged in the 1980s, and experts said opioid-use is driving the increase.

Among the states with the biggest one-year increases in their foster care population were Georgia, West Virginia and Indiana.

"It's been an overburdening of our system," said Cindy Booth, executive director of Child Advocates of Marion County, which represents kids at the center of drug cases.

The Associated Press delved further into the troubling numbers, examining county-level foster care statistics obtained from the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect through the end of 2015. The analysis showed counties with higher levels of opioid prescribing and opioid deaths also had higher shares of foster cases linked to drugs. Last year's county-level statistics are not yet available.

The data show that foster children of drug users are on average about three years younger than others in the system. Indeed, a wave of babies born to opioid-using mothers has led hospitals to add detox programs for pregnant women and save umbilical cords in case they need to pinpoint what drug an infant was exposed to. Volunteers are enlisted to cuddle heroin-dependent babies — often born premature and underweight with a distinctive high-pitched cry and tremors in their arms and legs.

In Indiana, drug-related foster cases shot up more than sixfold between 2000 and 2015. Vanderburgh County, with a population of 179,000, had more children of drug users enter foster care than major cities including Seattle, Miami and Las Vegas. And here in Marion County, cases involving drugs went from about 20 percent of foster children in 2010 to 50 percent five years later.

Stephanie Shene, who started in 2003 as a case manager at the state Department of Child Services, recalled how use of heroin and other opioids went from a virtual non-issue to a constant part of her day. She and her colleagues became increasingly vigilant looking for shaking, fidgety parents or needle marks on their arms, behind ears and between fingers.

Her agency has added more than 1,200 workers in four years and its budget has increased from $793 million to more than $1 billion. Keeping up with the caseload remains a challenge, though, and turnover among case managers is high. Especially maddening is the huge number of parents who can't stay clean long enough to get their kids back or keep them.

Shene remembers one of her first cases, a mother whose four children were taken because of her morphine and heroin addiction. Just 10 months after getting clean and regaining custody, the woman not only had returned to drugs but had given birth to a heroin-dependent baby.

"Stuff like that is hard to look at," she said.


By the time Rachael Stark arrives at her office at 8:45 a.m., she has already been working for hours. At 2:30 a.m., it was a call seeking an emergency placement for a child. Around 4 a.m., a series of texts alerted her that an alarm went off at a foster home and police showed up. Since 8 a.m., she's been furiously tapping away at her phone, juggling 15 foster cases. Now she's splashed with coffee and running late for a 9 o'clock appointment when a state DCS worker calls looking for a foster family for three siblings.

"I've got no one," she reports somberly.

For the past 13 years, Stark has managed cases for The Villages, the largest private foster care and adoption agency in Indiana, which contracts with the state to find children homes. All but a few of her cases involve drugs and of those that do, about half are opioid-related.

The Villages is receiving 30 to 40 percent more referrals than it had been accustomed to, creating a "crisis state," as the agency's president, Sharon Pierce, puts it. Foster parent training sessions, once held monthly, are now weekly; advertising to attract new families has been ramped up. It takes at least three months to recruit, screen and train foster parents, but as soon as they get their state license, the need for help is so great they often receive an immediate call.

"Five or 10 minutes later, that family will have two or three children placed in their home," Pierce said.

The Villages used to see about 60 percent of children return to their birth families. Today it's around half that. So the agency turns to successful foster parents to adopt. The problem is that limits the family's ability to take on another foster child, creating the need for even more foster homes.

"So then we jump back on the treadmill," Pierce said.

The agency has added a few employees, but it's largely up to case managers like Stark to cope with the surging workload. She crisscrosses farm-lined stretches of Grant County, about 90 miles northeast of Indianapolis, driving beside fields of corn and soybeans in the rush to make her next appointment. The county's drug-involved foster caseload grew from nine in 2000 to 48 in 2015.

Stark makes her first stop at the foster home of a 5-year-old girl who answers "hot fudge sundae ice cream" when asked what happens when she meets her therapist; the child's mother is in jail. The second home is a whirl of sailing plastic cups, bouncing rubber balls and kids jumping on furniture, with six children, two of them foster placements, in perpetual motion. The foster mother, Megan Carender, hopes to adopt the children but is prepared if their stay is temporary: "No matter what, this was a place that they were loved and that they were taken care of."

It goes like this all day for Stark, a series of visits and a blur of calls and texts interrupted by sighs and talk of "imperfect solutions." ''We just can't keep up," she said.

Her third stop of the day is emblematic of the cases inundating the system. Two sisters, 9 and 10, landed in foster care because their mother got hooked on painkillers. There was no family to turn to, with their grandmother also addicted. The girls now live on a farm where sheep, cattle and hogs are raised, and they sit in the bed of a pickup, fussing over a carton of fluffy day-old chicks their foster father, Justin Lovell, picked up for them. When he notes, matter-of-factly, it won't be long before the chicks reach a size fit only for "a freezer or a frying pan," the girls' jaws drop in comical unison.

"You're not going to fry them!" one cries.

Their birth mother has already had her parental rights rescinded, and the Lovells hope to adopt. One of the girls had been in four foster homes before arriving here, the other in three. Three siblings were placed elsewhere.

Lovell's wife, Kristen, laments the turmoil the sisters have been through — "so many stops and starts and bumps along the way" — and that "their whole world's changing, and it's changed so many times already." Her husband simply cannot fathom how someone could put drugs before family.

"They had their choice," he said, "and they didn't choose their children."

There is no simple assessment of the impact of all of this on kids. At one extreme, there are infants born healthy who wind up in safe and loving foster homes until their birth parents get clean. At the other are children whose parents' addictions have led to their own, who find themselves hopping from foster family to foster family, or living in a group home or a strange town.

Fear and anxiety can amass, academic performance can plunge, feelings of abandonment can run rampant, and the ability to trust can be strained. Said Maria Cancian, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor whose research focuses on foster care and the effects on children: "When people ask me, 'Is foster care good or bad?' the first thing I say is, 'Compared to what?'"

Shawnee Wilson has found herself on both sides of the system.

Wilson's parents used, and she was 13 when child welfare officials removed her from her home. Now, at 26, she's trying to beat heroin, having already lost custody of two children and given another up at birth.

Her fourth child, a boy named Kingston, was born just over a year ago, and it took a month for doctors to wean him off the heroin Wilson exposed him to. He is in foster care now in Indianapolis, and Wilson is fighting to get him back.

Despite some relapses, she's been clean several months and is convinced she'll be able to keep it up. The clock is ticking. Federal law dictates the loss of parental rights for those whose children have been in foster care for 15 out of the previous 22 months.

Wilson knows how those who don't struggle with addiction view her, and said it's hard to explain what compels people to keep using even when it can cost them their children. When she's been high, she said, "I can't see the consequences, because all I want is to feel that drug. I want that numbness."


Back at juvenile court, the waiting room is brimming with people who may wait hours for their cases to be called. Babies screech. Toddlers whine. Adults emerge from courtrooms wet-eyed.

Moores, the plainspoken 62-year-old who leads this division, sees a familiar expression on the faces that pass through — not just parents, but case managers and attorneys and a parade of others who've seen their work overtaken by pills and powders. She saw the same blank eyes during a National Guard deployment to Afghanistan, as soldiers returned to base.

"They're war-weary," she said.

She counts herself among the battle-scarred, having presided over a court that took 1,270 children from their parents last year, more than triple a decade earlier. Cases roll in to courtrooms that once were classrooms, converted to accommodate snowballing need.

It is 11 p.m. on Friday now and Moores is home on her farm, clad in pajamas and awake in bed. Her phone goes off, a new crisis arrived. DCS has a boy who previously was removed from the home of his opioid-addicted mother, now needing to be taken out of the house of relatives. There are no foster families available, and the county's emergency shelters are full.

It won't be long before the details of the case recede from a memory crowded by a thousand others. Tonight, though, it weighs on her as she tries to drift to sleep.


Sedensky, an AP national writer, reported from Indiana. Data journalist Hoyer reported from Washington.


Sedensky can be reached at or and Hoyer at or

Alaska Village Surrounded by Oil Fields Fears for Its Health

By Sabrina Shankman

Inside Climate News


Tribal members pay tribute to whaling crews after catching a 52-footer. (Photo Credit: City of Nuiqsut FB Page)

The Arctic landscape is devoid of color during the frozen days of February. There's the white of the tundra, the white of sea ice and often the sky, and the darkness of cold, long nights.

So when a wall of coffee-colored smoke rolled toward the small village of Nuiqsut in 2012, there was no mistaking—something was wrong.

Martha Itta, of the native village government, was at her desk when a colleague burst through the door and shouted "Check Facebook!" A worker on an oil well site 18 miles away, owned by the Spanish company Repsol, had posted a video.

"Rig's having a blowout here. They're evacuating the rig," the worker said as drilling mud and smoke spewed into the air and onto the tundra. "Ain't f---ing looking so good."

Itta scrambled to dial any authority she could think of—the North Slope Bureau, the EPA—to find out if Nuiqsut should be evacuated. "We weren't getting any answers," she said. Air monitoring in Nuiqsut is done by ConocoPhillips because it owns major drill sites just beyond town, but the monitor was down for routine maintenance at the time of the explosion.


Martha Itta saw her own young son struggle with respiratory illness and believes pollution blowing in from the North Slope's oil fields is raising the risks. (Photo Credit: Sabrina Shankman)

"Our community was pretty much in panic mode. We didn't have any data—no air monitoring to show us what was out there in the air or if we should evacuate," Itta said. Villagers recall that dozens of people in the town got sick that day.

For many in this largely Inupiaq community, the Repsol disaster underscored their worst fears of a link between the oil drilling boom surrounding the town and respiratory illness.

It's not just blowouts that concern Itta now. She fears every-day pollutants in the wind, coming from vast drilling operations, turning the sky a hazy green some days and leaving black soot on the snow on others. When that happens, noses run and asthma flares up.

Nuiqsut is the only town planted in the midst of Alaska's most prolific oil region on the state's North Slope, which today is poised for another drilling boom. Just eight miles from the grid of single family homes, government offices, a grocery store and schools, more than 50,000 barrels of oil—or roughly a tenth of the state's oil production—is pumped each day from oil fields owned by ConocoPhillips. Repsol, Armstrong and Oil Search also have oil fields just outside town. Parents get a view of the newest well, three miles from town, when they drop their kids at school.


Nuiqsut, with about 400 residents, sits some 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Fossil fuel burning has already brought climate change to its doorstep. Arctic temperatures have risen twice as fast as the global average, changing the sea ice and affecting species residents rely on for hunting. 

That number will balloon in the coming years as three new projects come online, including one that will go after an estimated 500 million to 3 billion barrels of recoverable oil. As the Trump administration clears the way for even more Arctic drilling, major companies have made more discoveries—oil the state hopes can revitalize its struggling economy.

Amid this development, Nuiqsut—where more than three-quarters of residents still live off the fish they catch, the whales they harvest and the caribou they hunt—has found itself on the frontlines of a modern crisis. Fossil fuel burning has already brought climate change to the town's doorstep, causing Arctic temperatures to rise twice as fast as the global average, changing the sea ice and impacting species that people rely on for hunting.

Emissions of black carbon, a short-lived climate pollutant from fossil fuel production, accelerate the crisis, not just by exacerbating warming worldwide, but also by darkening the surface of Arctic sea ice, causing it to melt faster.

Black carbon brings health consequences of its own. It's a main ingredient in fine particulate matter, among the leading environmental causes of poor health and premature death. And it's just one of the pollutants from oil, gas and coal production that can impact health. The unique way these emissions interact in the Arctic—and their precise impact on human health—is only now beginning to be understood by scientists. In Nuiqsut, it's the issue.


Oil wells are visible from the streets of Nuiqsut, the only town in the heart of the North Slope's busy oil fields. The newest well is just three miles away. (Photo Credit: Sabrina Shankman)

Tension between oil development and fears about public health exists in other pockets of the United States, from the Permian Basin in Texas to Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale. Up here—250 miles above the Arctic Circle, with no year-round road access—it's different. Ties that bind people to the land mean survival. Help is hundreds of miles away, and some here say decades of pleas for assistance have fallen on deaf ears—at times even from within the village.

"The development has proceeded too rapidly, without enough care for the health of the people from an air quality and subsistence perspective," said Pamela Miller, the executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics. "And now they're virtually surrounded."


The oil fields around Nuiqsut are poised for another drilling boom. (Photo Credit: Sabrina Shankman)

Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, who worked as a health aid in Nuiqsut from 1986 to 2000, saw the number of people treated for respiratory illness during that time rise from one to 75—an increase that far outpaced population growth—at the same time that wells crept closer to town.

The increase was stunning for a village of around 400 people, said Ahtuangaruak, who is now a health advocate for the community. But as she tried to raise awareness about it, she struggled to get any help. "Our voices are not being heard," she wrote in the Anchorage Daily News in 2003.

ConocoPhillips Alaska says it's aware of concerns in Nuiqsut and has worked with the community to investigate them. The company also insists that decades of its own air quality monitoring have not indicated a problem. "Our measurements show that the air quality of the North Slope, at all locations, is consistently better than national ambient air quality standards," said spokeswoman Natalie Lowman.

Studies done by various state and regional agencies, based largely on ConocoPhillips' data, attribute respiratory health issues to spikes in viruses, smoking, poor indoor ventilation and cars left idling for hours in freezing temperatures. Those things surely contribute to the problem, but Itta and other residents believe they are red herrings.


But as a single mom with seven kids (four of her own, two adopted and a grandson), Itta didn't see moving as an option. Instead, from her position as tribal administrator, she decided to find out more about what's in the air.

That meant bringing in an outsider to train Itta and others on how to monitor air themselves.

In mid-2012, Miller from Alaska Community Action on Toxics came to Nuiqsut. She was showing seven people how to use monitoring equipment when a board member of the local corporation burst into the room.

Kuukpik Corporation owns land around the village and contracts with oil companies that want to drill there.

Itta remembers the Kuukpik board member demanding of Miller, "Who are you guys? Who invited you here? No environmentalists."

The board member left and Miller continued the training, but she noticed the mood had changed. "I think the people there felt embarrassed and intimidated."


Contestants waiting their turn for the geese calling competition at the annual spring festival. (Photo Credit: City of Nuiqsut FB Page)

Miller was not surprised that no one ended up using the monitors she left behind.

Kuukpik Corporation wields a particular kind of power here. Some of its 250 shareholders are elders who resettled Nuiqsut in 1973, after years of forced relocation by the federal government. Now, with an array of subsidiaries operating drilling and oil services for oil companies, it's one of the largest employers around.

"That's really why I think they haven't been able to sustain a community-based monitoring program," Miller said. "There could be retribution against anyone who's trying to collect in-depth information."

That fear is reflected in a report by the state Department of Health and Social Services. In May 2012, an Anchorage-based attorney with the Trustees for Alaska heard that a number of Nuiqsut residents were having trouble breathing after seeing smoke from the Alpine Field. "She stated that Nuiqsut residents and health aides were 'afraid of retribution' if they reported this, so she was reporting this information," the report said.

Pollution Footprint Each Step of the Way

Though oil companies have made strides in decreasing emissions since the early, anything-goes days of North Slope development, air pollution remains a byproduct of drilling.

Back when she was a health aid, Ahtuangaruak recalls the sense of foreboding when she'd drive to the Nuiqsut clinic and see two dozen stacks flaring gas. "Those were the nights I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep," she said. "One person would have trouble breathing, and another would be in before I had finished treating the first. Next thing you know it's 7 a.m. and I haven't gone home for the night."


"Our voices are not being heard," Rosemary Ahtuangaruak wrote in 2003. Her fears for the health of people living in this region haven't subsided. (Photo Credit: Sabrina Shankman)

Each step in the extraction process on the North Slope can yield pollution, from diesel generators that keep operations running, to flares burning off excess gas, to trucks barreling down the ice roads.

Stacks that flare off gas like 24/7 pilot lights can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Larger flares spew black carbon. Methane can leak from equipment throughout the production process. Studies show that methane exposure can cause headaches and dizziness. VOCs can damage kidneys and the nervous system and cause vision and respiratory problems. Some VOCs cause cancer.

Mixed with sunlight, some VOCs form ground-level ozone, which accelerates climate change. Respiratory distress triggered by ozone causes roughly 150,000 deaths each year. A nationwide study, published in 2016, found ozone pollution from oil and gas production causes more than 750,000 summertime asthma attacks in children.


One source of pollution in the region is flaring that burns off excess natural gas during the extraction process at oil facilities. These stacks can emit volatile organic compounds and black carbon, a short-lived climate pollutant, that can damage health. (Photo Credit: Sabrina Shankman)

And then there's the black carbon in fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5. The microscopic particles can lodge deep in the lungs, aggravating asthma and breathing problems and contributing to heart disease. A 2015 study by the World Health Organization found that regular exposure to outdoor PM 2.5 causes an estimated 3.7 million premature deaths each year.

"It's the long-term exposure that causes the more serious cardiovascular, cancer and chronic respiratory conditions," said Susan Anenberg, a public health professor at George Washington University studying health effects of air pollution in the Arctic.


Oil spill response teams stationed in the region are a reminder of another environmental risk. (Photo Credit: Sabrina Shankman)

Kerri Pratt is an atmospheric chemist who studies pollutants in the Arctic, and she's been trying to find funding to study Nuiqsut's air quality. "The preliminary data we looked at said they go out of compliance every so often, but I think there are a lot of open questions," Pratt said.

Until Pratt and others began their work, decades had passed with little research on North Slope air pollution. In the early 1990s, atmospheric scientist Dan Jaffe, then at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, found that emissions from Prudhoe Bay were similar to those in Washington, D.C. He also found that pollutants were travelling hundreds of miles west to Utqiagvik, right over Nuiqsut.


Ice road trucks that run in and out of the oil facilities along the North Slope add more pollution to the air. (Photo Credit: Sabrina Shankman)

Research shows the closer people live to oil and gas drilling, the more likely they are to suffer health effects. But in the Arctic, certain climate phenomena could mean those living further away might also be affected, according to Julia Schmale, an atmospheric scientist with the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland.

Cold Arctic air can sit near the surface, with warmer air higher in the atmosphere. This can trap pollutants closer to ground level causing them to build up over a wide area. "You have a situation where a village 10 miles away will really feel or be exposed to the emissions," she said. This could pose a double whammy for Nuiqsut, with oil fields in its backyard and also for hundreds of miles.

Schmale and Anenberg have teamed up to study the intersection of public health, climate change and air pollution in the Arctic, an area Schmale said features "a huge gap of knowledge."

"Normally people think of the Arctic as a very clean environment—it's remote, it's sparsely inhabited," she said. "But if there is human activity, there are human emissions."

Sympathy for Villagers and Their Cloud of Fear

Despite the fear of reprisal, some concerned residents in Nuiqsut have spoken out.

Ahtuangaruak has taken their stories to national audiences—like the American Public Health Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and to Congress, where in 2011 she testified before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Itta and others have sought help within Alaska, including a lawsuit that successfully delayed an oil project while demanding further evidence that the benefits outweighed potential impacts. Although the project was completed, Itta and her neighbors discovered they could fight back.


Alaska Gov. Bill Walker met with residents in Nuiqsut in March. He talks about the need to address climate change but supports drilling for more oil. (Photo Credit: Sabrina Shankman)

But as residents seek answers, they have learned that when it comes to industrial pollutants and health, drawing connections between symptoms and causes is difficult. Barbara Trost, who manages the air monitoring and quality assurance program at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said she and other state officials are well aware of the concerns in Nuiqsut.


ConocoPhillips runs the air monitoring station in Nuiqsut, Alaska. (Photo Credit: Sabrina Shankman)

Trost was in Nuiqsut last summer for a public meeting organized by the federal Bureau of Land Management. "I was really stunned when I was up there in July to hear the fears that are so pervasive in the community that it even impacts the teenagers," she said. "I get it. I don't think any one of us would want to live in an environment where we're surrounded by industry."

The financially strapped state can't afford to conduct its own monitoring in Nuiqsut, according to Trost, but she occasionally sees data from ConocoPhillips' air monitoring station.

That data shows occasionally heightened levels of larger particulate matter (PM10), which Trost attributes to natural sources, and levels of other pollutants that are far below EPA standards. She knows the community doesn't trust air monitoring by ConocoPhillips, but said there is no reason to believe it's inaccurate.

For years, community members asked for monitoring of VOCs like benzene, which can cause cancer. In response, ConocoPhillips began a VOC monitoring study in 2014, and, like its other air monitoring, found nothing alarming.

At the request of InsideClimate News, Trost reviewed a report of the VOC monitoring that covered April to August 2017. She found that the methodologies used in the lab analysis were in line with EPA standards, but pointed to some differences in how ConocoPhillips monitors VOCs in Nuiqsut versus standard practice in the lower 48 states.


Pipelines and oil production facilities follow the ice roads along the North Slope, including around Nuiqsut. (Photo Credit: Sabrina Shankman)

"Sampling is conducted only for two to three hours," Trost said. In the rest of the country, she said, samples are typically taken for a 24-hour period.  The shorter sampling period was probably the only option, Trost said, due to costs and difficult weather in Nuiqsut.

Schmale, the atmospheric scientist, also reviewed the report and said that from a scientific perspective, the monitoring "would ideally be done with real-time instrumentation" so it could capture variability over time.

Lowman, of ConocoPhillips Alaska, said the company is confident in its sampling, adding that there are technical problems with 24-hour sampling during the Arctic winter.

Unclear Why Respiratory Sick Visits Increasing

The state has twice studied Nuiqsut clinic visits to see whether cases of respiratory illness were on the rise—and if so, why. It found no clear evidence that pointed to the oil industry.

Each study examined the visits differently—the first looked at aggregated data from 1998 to 2002, while the second looked at just the first four months in 2011 and 2012.

Breaking all the visits down into monthly averages, the number of monthly clinic visits in 2011 and 2012 were, respectively, 10 and 14.5 times higher than the earlier study. The state report attributed the 2012 numbers to a particularly bad flu season, but did not explain why the 2011 were also high.


"The development has proceeded too rapidly, without enough care for the health of the people from an air quality and subsistence perspective," said Pamela Miller, the executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics. "And now they’re virtually surrounded." (Photo Credit: Sabrina Shankman)

Yoder said the two studies can't be directly compared because they were looking at different things. "The methodology was different," she said, though she could not point to specific differences.

In the years between the state's studies, ConocoPhillips' Alpine oil field hit its stride. After beginning regular production in 2000, the field grew to include more than 135 wells by the time the second study was taking place.

Worries Mount in Nuiqsut

A few days after the Repsol blowout, Sam Kunuknana remembers his then-wife and young daughter arriving home after a short walk from the teen center. It was a cold, February day—33 below and foggy, with a wind coming from the direction of the well, which still hadn't been fully plugged.

"It was just like a 10-, 15-minute walk," said Kunuknana. "They came home and they got really sick." His daughter's temperature spiked, her ears hurt and she was in a lot of pain. They raced her to the clinic, where they received a diagnosis of the common flu or cold. ConocoPhillips' monitor began taking continuous measurements again the evening after the blowout, following its scheduled maintenance. The pollutants it was monitoring were at near-normal levels, the state reported.


Sam Kunuknana remembers how after the Repsol blowout, his young daughter became ill after walking outside. (Photo Credit: Sabrina Shankman)

It took more than a month for both Kunuknana's daughter and former wife to feel better. "To this day, I think my ex still has that cough," he said. He believes it was the blowout that made them sick, just as he believes the flaring and haze that settles over town makes it harder to breathe some days.

In December 2017, there was a massive lease sale in nearby state lands and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The big winners were ConocoPhillips and Repsol. Those lease sales, along with other recent discoveries around Nuiqsut, have landed the region the nickname "the new Prudhoe Bay."

"When you talk about environmental justice, you talk about human rights, about future generations that will be dealing with industry as they move forward," Kunaknana testified recently at the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal, an international human rights forum where Nuiqsut's concerns were discussed. "I don't have a degree in anything, but I do understand what's going on."

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Sabrina Shankman is a reporter for InsideClimate News focusing on the Arctic. She joined ICN in the fall of 2013, after helping produce documentaries and interactives for the PBS show "Frontline" since 2010 with 2over10 Media. She is the author of the ICN book "Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World," and was named a finalist for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists for that work. Shankman has a Masters in Journalism from UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.


Pipeline Stance Complicates Heitkamp's 2nd Term Senate Hopes

Associated Press

STANDING ROCK SIOUX RESERVATION, N.D. (AP) _ Standing Rock Sioux tribal member Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun went door to door on North Dakota's largest American Indian reservations in 2012 turning out the tribal vote to help put Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in the U.S. Senate. Six years later, with Heitkamp fighting hard to win a second term, Hunte-Beaubrun is staying on the sidelines.

She is among Indian voters who say they've lost their zeal for Heitkamp over her perceived non-stance on the Dakota Access pipeline, which brought thousands of American Indians and others to the state in 2016 and 2017 to protest its construction under the Missouri River, just outside Standing Rock.

``It was really a kick in the stomach,'' Hunte-Beaubrun said. ``We rallied so hard for her, but when her hand was forced she basically sold out to big oil.''

Democrats' hopes to capture the Senate depend heavily on Heitkamp, who has trod a careful path on energy and other issues to win office and remain popular in a deeply conservative state. But she faces a stern test from the state's lone U.S. House member, Republican Kevin Cramer, in a race seen as a top pickup chance for Republicans.

Heitkamp's first victory came by fewer than 3,000 votes, and American Indians, who tend to vote Democratic, were a source of strength. Three counties with majority Indian populations _ Sioux, Rolette and Benson _ backed Heitkamp by a more than 4,000-vote margin over then-U.S. Rep. Rick Berg. In Sioux County, home to the Standing Rock reservation, Heitkamp took 83 percent of the vote.

Once in the Senate, Heitkamp earned respect from American Indians for her knowledge of issues important to them, such as domestic violence in Indian Country and the relationship between tribal governments and the federal government. The first bill she introduced established a commission to study the challenges facing Native American children, an issue she had pursued since the 1990s when she was North Dakota's attorney general.

Then came the Dakota Access pipeline, a $3.8 billion project by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners to move oil from North Dakota's rich Bakken fields to a shipping point in Illinois. The pipeline offered oil companies a cheaper way to get their product to market, was seen as safer than rail shipping and had the support of most state leaders.

The Standing Rock tribe opposed it as a threat to water. Their protest grew into a national event for environmental advocates, and pipeline opponents frequently clashed with police. In the ensuing months, Heitkamp's public statements didn't take a position on the pipeline, instead typically urging courts and federal officials to resolve uncertainty around the project while supporting protesters' right to demonstrate.

On Standing Rock, a 3,600-square-mile reservation that straddles the Dakotas border, there are few industries besides a casino. The reservation is home to about 10,000 people, and unemployment runs as high as 20 percent. In several interviews, some residents remained loyal to Heitkamp and said they would support her. Others said they were disappointed and would not.

``The majority of the people here feel the same way I do _ she chose oil over Indians,'' said Joe Torras, a 57-year-old rancher and horse trainer at Standing Rock. ``Once you damage that trust, we will never let it go. You only get one shot.'' Torras said he isn't planning to vote in November.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Heitkamp highlighted her work on Indian issues, saying no one in the delegation has been a ``stronger advocate.'' Of the pipeline, she said: ``My interest was keeping everybody safe.''

``When you look at the choices you make in this job, not everybody always is going to agree with you,'' Heitkamp said. ``I will continue to work on things we can all agree on.''

Char White Mountain, a 67-year-old retired office administrator and great-grandmother, said she voted for Heitkamp previously but won't again. She would never vote for Cramer, who strongly supported the pipeline, and said she will probably just stay home on Election Day.

``We all thought a lot about Heidi, but I believe she betrayed our people,'' said White Mountain. ``We really needed someone we could trust.''

Mary Louise Defender Wilson, 87, a writer and retired educator, said Heitkamp was in a no-win situation on a pipeline protest that she said was hijacked by outsiders.

``I think she was right not saying anything about that pipeline _ there were some really bad things that happened there and it distracted from our real issues,'' Defender Wilson said. She campaigned for Heitkamp six years ago and will again, planning to hand out brochures and post yard signs at her home in Porcupine, a tiny community of fewer than 150 people on Standing Rock.

Former Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault, who was the face and voice of the fight against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, said he met with Heitkamp when the pipeline was first proposed and long before the protests ``to let her know this was going to be an issue for us.''

``I think she was caught in the middle. But when her hand was forced, she chose the pipeline,'' Archambault said. ``She always said she supported Indian Country, but when all of Indian Country from across the nation was at Standing Rock _ she didn't show up.''

``She didn't truly listen to what Indian Country was saying,'' Archambault said. ``Now she's in a bind.''

Applications Open for First Nations' Arts Initiative

First Q&A Webinar is July 31, 2018
Applications Open for First Nations' Native Arts Initiative

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) has launched a new Supporting Native Arts grant opportunity under its Native Arts Initiative (formerly known as the “Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative” or NACBI). Applications are due by August 30, 2018.

The Request for Proposals for the Supporting Native Arts grant opportunity can be accessed at First Nations invites interested applicants to join one or all of our Application Q&A webinars, which will be held prior to the application deadline as follows:

First Nations will award about 15 Supporting Native Arts grants of up to $32,000 each to Native-controlled nonprofit organizations and tribal government programs that have existing programs in place that support Native artists and the field of traditional Native arts, as well as a demonstrated commitment to increasing the intergenerational transfer of knowledge of traditional Native artistic practices and perpetuation and proliferation of traditional Native arts. Eligible applicants must also be located in and serve tribal communities in one of the following regions:

  1. Upper Midwest (North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin);
  2. Southwest (New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California); or
  3. Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington).

For this grant opportunity, examples of allowable activities that support arts programming include:

  • Master/apprentice artist opportunities
  • Archiving and collections/ preservation efforts
  • Promoting artist-focused convenings
  • Artist business plan and entrepreneurship training
  • Communal artist spaces for Native artists
  • Artist-in-residence opportunities
  • Artist-led workshops and arts classes
  • Artist financial literacy and business development training
  • Strengthening Native-led juried art show and market capacity and artists’ capacity to enter art work
  • Artists cooperative development

Examples of allowable activities that support organizational infrastructure growth include:

  • Governance training for organization’s Board of Directors
  • Organizational strategic planning
  • Strengthening technological and informational systems
  • Financial management
  • Organizational and/or programmatic marketing and communications plan
  • Strengthening project management systems

Entities eligible to apply include U.S.-based, Native-controlled, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations, tribes and tribal departments, tribal § 7871 entities, or Native community-based groups with eligible fiscal sponsors committed to supporting Native artists as well as the perpetuation and proliferation of Native arts, cultures and traditions as integral to Native community life. Applicants located in urban areas are eligible if they are located in one of the geographic regions listed and are able to demonstrate a close tie to one or more tribal communities in one of the eligible geographic regions. Grants will not be made to individual artists or for-profit organizations.

Proposals for the Native Arts Initiative grant opportunity will be accepted online and must be submitted by no later than 5 p.m. Mountain Time on Thursday, August 30, 2018.

Hostiles: An Unflinching Look at History

By Sandra Hale Schulman
News From Indian Country

Boasting an all-star cast and an unwavering commitment to authenticity, the new film Hostiles takes place in 1892 and tells the story of an Army Captain (Christian Bale) who reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to tribal lands. On the treacherous journey they meet a widow (Rosamund Pike) whose family was murdered on the plains by Apache and offer their help.

As the former rivals make their way from an isolated Army outpost in New Mexico to the mountainous lands of Montana, their relationship moves from antagonism to compassion, demonstrating humans’ capacity for change. The ensemble cast includes Ben Foster, Timothée Chalamet, Jesse Plemons, Q’orianka Kilcher, Rory Cochrane and Adam Beach. Kilcher and Bale previously worked together in 2005’s The New World with Kilcher portraying Pocahontas.

Studi steals the film with his noble profile speaking volumes as his dying character comes to grips with mortality and morality. He waged war on the invading whites but has now become a symbol of the pride and nobility of the indigenous, given a last chance at grace by US President Harrison who allows him a passage home.

But the way home is never easy, attacks from both warring tribes and drunken fur trappers litter the path.

To ensure authenticity in the Native-focused content of the movie, director Scott Cooper worked with acclaimed Native filmmaker Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals, Skins), and Native academic Dr. Joely Proudfit as consultants. Their organization, The Native Networkers, has a mission to build bridges of understanding through media and enhance cultural knowledge and understanding through Native representation.

The involvement of Eyre, Proudfit, and the film’s other Native consultants made an indelible impression on Cooper.

“The consultants on this film have been extraordinary and have taught me things that my research never could have,” he says. “They were on set every day to help the actors with language, with gestures, with rituals. Their work was of the utmost importance, and it was deeply gratifying for all of us.”

I reached out to Proudfit and Eyre who were busy at Sundance Film Festival but took time to answer some questions.

How did Native Networkers get involved with Hostiles?
We were told Scott Cooper was looking for Cheyenne consultation going into production of his movie HOSTILES and we were given the script to read. After reading the script we thought, if Scott can pull this off, we’d love to work on this movie consulting. We meet with Scott and his production team and we were hired as The Native Networkers. 
What was the biggest challenge in making the film authentic?
We saw it less as a challenge and more of an opportunity to share, listen, learn and collaborate.  It was refreshing to work with Scott Cooper a director who was open to ideas and collaboration. The biggest challenge in making HOSTILES Native portions of the movie authentic were finding the right Cheyenne people to work with The Native Networkers. Usually, cultural people don’t work in movies and movie people aren’t specifically used to Cheyenne culture, so our job was to bridge the two together and oversee that for the benefit of the movie.

Finding the right cultural consultants to work on the project was important to us.  There is no one size fits all. We wanted to focus on adding authenticity to the story therefore finding the right cultural consultants was important.  We had several cultural consultants both men and women.  It was also important to us to acclimate the various parties on how best to work together, providing a comfort level for a cultural exchange to happen that deepens the level of storytelling. 
What was your take on the theme of the film that “we are all hostiles”?
The theme provides for the conversation about the complexity of humanity.  I think the metaphor is accurate as we are all that in someone else’s eyes. This is a brutal yet beautiful film that honestly and realistically addresses some very hard themes.  As Native Americans, it’s a struggle to merely be seen in media as human beings, multi-dimensional people.  Often, we have been relegated to stereotypes or binary characters.  Westerns of the past had a lot to do with the dehumanization of how Indians are presented.  With the film HOSTILES, the director used the theme “we are all hostiles” to allow for a deeper dive into humanity which moves beyond the confines of race.  I think this theme at this time in our country is a critical one, stimulating conversations about forgiveness, reconciliation, family, humanity resonating with audiences from all walks of life.

The makers of Hostiles went to great lengths to solicit completely authentic Native input on both sides of the camera, and should be rewarded for that effort with the full support of the Native community. We should all run to the theatre to see this film. We applaud Scott Cooper and his team for tackling these themes as honestly as he did.  I hope this film inspires more storytelling from and with Native American storytellers either leading the effort or in collaboration with filmmakers open to our stories.

Hostiles is now available on DVD and Video on Demand (VOD)