Tribal Courts Across The Country Are Expanding Holistic Alternatives To The Criminal Justice System

Tribal Courts Across The Country Are Expanding Holistic Alternatives To The Criminal Justice System

By Lee Egerstrom

Volunteers arrive at CSI Benner Township prison to build a sweat lodge. (L to R) Lon Navarre,
Lisa Yankton, Chaplain Erroll Wilson, Dr. Tom Weaver, Johnny Creed Coe (kneeling), Rev.Mattias
Peterson-Brandt, and Joy Sorensen Navarre. (Photo Credit: Cherokee Park United Church.) 

A unique bond with Pennsylvania prisoners resulted in Minnesota volunteers spending a few days last October building a sweat lodge for incarcerated Native Americans who wanted a place to pray to improve their lives.

“It was a life changing, spiritual experience,” said Lisa Yankton, a Spirit Lake Dakota, Minneapolis poet, and Dakota language and culture teacher at American Indian Magnet School in St. Paul. That was how the experience impacted a volunteer.

Getting the sweat lodge up and going was also “a deeply personal, sacred, religious moment” for the volunteers and for Pennsylvania Department of Corrections personnel at State Correctional Institution Benner Township, said retired Chaplain Erroll Wilson.

Department officials and CSI Benner Township (SCI Benner) corrections staff watched construction and monitored the drumming and singing from Native prisoners. One Corrections official told Chaplain Wilson “he could feel the power of the spirit.”

“I don’t think there will be much institutional opposition to sweat lodges at Pennsylvania prisons going forward,” Chaplain Wilson said.

But foremost, the sweat lodge was created for the benefit of prisoners.

Volunteers dig up ground where the sweat lodge will be placed.
(Photo Credit: Cherokee Park United Church)

It is extremely important for incarcerated Native Americans “who want to change their lives. They need strength and a place to pray,” said former inmate Benjamin Simpson (Lakota/Taino). He is a Pennsylvanian and an original organizer of legal actions that brought the sweat lodge to reality.

“I explain to non-Natives, people who don’t understand, that the sweat lodge is a place for rebirth. It’s a lot like baptism,” he said in a telephone interview. “This is important for prisoners who want to turn their lives around.”

He and another former innate, Marvin “Running River” Banks (Native American/Congo), began petitioning corrections officials for a sweat lodge two years ago at SCI Benner, a medium security prison for males located at Bellefonte, near College Park in central Pennsylvania.

A prison in Pittsburgh had a sweat lodge about 35 years ago. It was destroyed in a flood 30 years ago and wasn’t restored. The Benner Township sweat lodge is the first since then in the state’s 26 prison system.

The prisoners went to court when their petition was rejected. They won. The court ruled SCI Benner and other correctional institutions should allow sweat lodge ceremonies for constitutionally protected religious purposes. It also ruled the institutions didn’t need to provide the sweat lodge.

Given security considerations mostly anchored in not understanding the religious nature of sweat lodge ceremonies, the agreement with the Department of Corrections will allow Native prisons to have four such events annually.

The sweat lodge’s “bones’ and overall structure is complete.
(Photo Credit: Cherokee Park United Church)

With legal matters out of the way, prisoners, Native American chaplains and others went to work finding allies and supporters. Not surprisingly, that brought them in contact with Cherokee Park United Church (CPUC) in St. Paul’s West Side. It is a civil rights-active congregation with long ties with the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Tribal Community (MMDTC).

The church is a merger of both Presbyterian and United Church of Christ congregations and continues to be members of both church bodies. Active within the church are MMDTC members connected to Native causes and events.

These latter ties led to Simpson, Banks and another prisoner, Dale Arnold, along with their prison chaplain friends, to reach out to the church, said Sue Sorensen Navarre, a MMDTC member, Twin Cities business owner and CPUC church member.

She and her husband Lon Navarre, a pipekeeper for the Mendota Mdewakanton tribe and retired St. Paul Public Works employee, were connected with people involved with the project. That included Chaplain Ammon Bailey, a Native American who provides services under contract with Pennsylvania Corrections, and Johnny Creed Coe, a nationally known artist from Pittsburgh who is Lakota and originally from South Dakota.

Sue Sorensen Navarre told The Circle that Coe is a long-time sundancer who danced for four years at the American Indian Movement Sundance at Pipestone. “His sons dance there now,” she said.

Among Minnesota volunteers who pitched in on the effort was Dr. Tom Weaver, a retired Minneapolis and St. Cloud doctor who also had practiced medicine in prisons.

Such talents and personal commitments made a fit with the prisoners for the Cherokee Park church. It has a long involvement in civil rights activities and Martin Luther King Jr. observances, and with powwows with the Mendota Mdewakanton community.

Former Benner Township prisoners Arnold and Banks used an award from their successful litigation against the Pennsylvania corrections system to seed a GoFundMe campaign started by the Rev. Matthias Peterson-Brandt at CPUC.

In the GoFundMe appeal, Pastor Peterson-Brandt explains that the church (CPUC) is acting as the fiscal steward for United Native Prisoners of PA’s religious ceremonies and works to procure supplies needed for sweat lodges.

These efforts have been in the works for several years. The fundraising objective is $10,000 that will be used for the following items:

$2,500 for tarpaulin covers, $500 for saplings for the lodge frame, $1,000 for lava stones, $1,500 for outdoor heavy-duty storage boxes for sacred items and tools, $1,000 for materials to build a lean-to structure for changing clothes, $500 for sacred items, sage, smudge can, antlers, water dipper, and buckets for water; $1,300 for cords of wood sufficient for seven or eight sweat lodge ceremonies, $400 for shovels, globes and tools for tending fires; and $1,300 for miscellaneous costs such as permit fees, honorarium for helpers and elders, waterline installation to the ceremony grounds, plus twine, blankets and seating around the ceremonial grounds.

The sweat lodge is done and ready for use by the Native inmates.
 (Photo Credit: Cherokee Park United Church)

“Establishing this sweat lodge will help many other inmates on their path of rehabilitation in the future,” Peterson-Brandt states in the appeal.

Such impacted prisoners do move on with their lives, Simpson and Banks said in an interview. They, for instance, are now working on establishing an American Indian Movement (AIM) chapter in Pennsylvania. Dennis Banks (Leech Lake Ojibwe), a founder of the AIM who died in 2017, continues to serve as an inspiration for the Pennsylvania movement but is not an ancestor, Running River Banks said.

The latter Banks has also written a book, published in 2021, Our Ancestors Are Proud! A Native American Prison Story. It is available through bookstores or from Amazon. And, he said, he has another book, Forgotten Nation, which will be published within weeks. It is a look back at the long Native American history of this country that is usually ignored, Banks said.

Several participants in this joint Minnesota-Pennsylvania sweat lodge project used terms such as “spiritual,” “sacred,” “life-changing” to describe what they experienced in building the sweat lodge and then watching Native prisoners put it to use along with drummers and singers.

They weren’t alone, said Lisa Yankton. “As we were finishing, two eagles soared above us.” It was as if they were “checking out what we had done. I’ll never forget it.”

The GoFundMe online link can be found at The search title on the site is: “Inmates Need a Place to Pray.”

Additional information is available at: and on Facebook at

Running River Bank’s book, Our Ancestors Are Proud! A Native American Prison Story, is on Amazon at

About The Author

Writer Lee Egerstrom traditionally covers agriculture, food companies, agribusiness and international trade. Past president of the National Association of Agricultural Journalists and correspondent to the Knight Ridder Newspapers Washington in the 1970s, most of his work over the past 25 years has dealt with issues and public policies affecting agriculture, international trade and rural communities.

Honoring Native Foodways Keeps Dietary Traditions Alive


University of North Carolina at Pembroke students and faculty celebrate native food traditions by sampling selections indigenous to the Americas. (Photo credit: UNC Pembroke American Indian Studies)

The Robesonian

PEMBROKE, N.C. (AP) _ With the Honoring Native Foodways event marking its 10th year, Professor Jane Haladay celebrates the growth in knowledge of indigenous foods over the past decade.

``It started out very small, as sort of a pre-Thanksgiving, community potluck,'' she said. ``Community at that time meant basically students, faculty and staff. It's grown into a much larger event and it has become a community potluck also for the community outside of the campus.''

Haladay is a professor in the Department of American Indian Studies at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She is one of the organizers for Honoring Native Foodways, an educational, potluck-style event focused on indigenous foods.

According to Haladay, the four main goals of Honoring Native Foodways are to celebrate Native American Heritage Month in November, to educate those who participate about the vast diversity of indigenous foods of the Americas by tasting them, to emphasize the health benefits of indigenous foods and to share how people might incorporate some of these foods into their diets.

``We continue to emphasize the theme of traditional American Indian foods and their foodways, their histories, their diversity of those food, the fact that people are eating those commonly today but may or may not know those foods are traditional to native peoples of North America,'' Haladay said.

Professor Haladay heads the annual Honoring Native Foodways gathering. (Photo Credit: UNC Pembroke)

``I say every time native people sit down to eat, it's Thanksgiving,'' Haladay said. ``The term Thanksgiving is not from an indigenous origin, but the idea of sitting down and recognizing and acknowledging the food happens more than once.

``Traditional native cultures have always had first-foods feasts or harvest feasts or some kind of ceremonial marker of the abundance of their harvest or their foods; but it varies from tribe to tribe and region to region.''

Foods that represent the indigenous cultures include earthy themes, such as wild rice and beans; mushrooms; game meats, such as bison and venison; and vegetables, such as turnips, sweet potatoes, corn and squash.

Sean Sherman, a critically acclaimed, award-winning indigenous chef and guest at Honoring Native Foodways, showcased some of these cooking themes during the Honoring Native Foodways event. Sherman has been cooking across the United States and Mexico for the past 30 years, and has become renowned internationally in the culinary movement of indigenous foods. His main focus has been on the revitalization and evolution of indigenous foods systems throughout North America.

Author and Master Chef Sean Sherman. (Photo Credit: The Sioux Chef)

Sherman attending the Honoring Native Foodways event at UNC Pembroke. (Photo Credit: The Sioux Chef Instagram)

"The Sioux Chef" contains recipes using ingredients indigenous to North America. (Photo Credit: The Sioux Chef)

His cookbook, ``The Sioux Chef,'' contains recipes that only use ingredients native to North America. This means no flour or wheat-based products, dairy, beef, chicken or pork. The book recently won the James Beard Award.

``Indigenous food to me is food that rises from the plants and animals, the ecosystem of a specific place that has been there for millennia,'' Haladay said. ``And that doesn't mean it existed without human cultivation and interaction because it does.

``A lot of the indigenous foods we have today and that native people have had historically require some kind of human interaction to be cultivated.''

From left: Squash and Apple Soup and Three Sisters Mash.

The indigenous food culture does come with its health challenges. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Type 2 diabetes is most common in American Indian and Alaska Native people.

``Native communities have a lot of high levels of diabetes, high-blood pressure and some cancers,'' Haladay said. ``A lot of these diseases are linked to foods.''

Haladay said this is because of historical policy changes that have been forced out of native traditions.

``Earlier 19th century policies that work to exterminate native people's foods were conscious attempts to also subdue native people and bring them under control, so there's a large history behind why a lot of these indigenous traditional food sources and foodways practices have declined or why many people don't know about them and practice them,'' Haladay said.

Sherman's Wallet Fillet.

Squash and Wood Sorrel.

Haladay believes getting back to the basics, to traditional native cuisine, is the answer to healthier indigenous communities. Honoring Native Foodways was established to bring awareness of the fact that the foods still are here today.

``We should just go back to the simplest stuff,'' she said. ``The health benefits of these foods are amazing.''

Haladay and the Department of American Indian Studies recently decided to continue honoring native foods throughout the year on campus by establishing an Honoring Native Foodways Cooking Club, which meets at the Chancellor's Residence kitchen once a month.

``We just chat and cook, and at the end of the hour we have five or six dishes that are prepared, and we make a plate and sit down and eat together,'' she said. ``That is the monthly Thanksgiving.''


Information from: The Robesonian,

Lead Photo and Food Image Credits: The Sioux Chef

The Appalachian Trail: the World's Largest Hike

By Ania Borowska

appalachian trail sign

Four hundred years ago in the mid-1800s, the majority of people lived in environments of large fields and forests. Experiencing mother nature was a part of daily life. When the Industrial Revolution transformed society in the 19th century, what was once considered a simple walk in the outdoors became a luxury for many.

The year 2020 brought forward major changes in the hiking world. While gyms were closed during the pandemic and social distancing was the rule of law, hiking became more popular, which is substantiated in the number of hikes, the number of users recording hikes and number of hikes per user.

number of participants in hiking in the u.s.
(Source: Outdoor Foundation, Statista 2022)

The trend continues strong and hiking statistics for 2021, currently being calculated, promise to be even stronger. There are thousands of trails to traverse and the Appalachian Trail is known to be the longest hiking-only trail in the world.


CLICK HERE to discover the Appalachian Trail with detailed information to ensure you have a great hiking experience.

Guest Author: Heritage Month: Extending Our Boundaries

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

Carnell Chosa, Ph.D., is Co-Director of the Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute. He is from Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico.

I grew up without a father. As a team, my mother, Aunt Pat, and grandmother shared that position. And for the majority of the time, my grandfather Guadalupe Chosa filled the role. This is probably not unique to many of our youth. And what may seem to be a deficit situation to many can also be an incredibly rewarding experience and opportunity.

It was for me.

You see, in addition to this team of substitute father figures, there was something special about growing up in a small Indigenous community where extended families shared one home and where neighbors and distant relatives were expected to participate in your growing up.

Because our people are connected through land, history and ancestry, the community shared the same core values of contribution, relationship, communality, responsibility, engagement and commitment. What moved this cultural context forward was that the focus of this transference was on youth.

My grandfather cherished this role for all his grandchildren. Growing up in his home, we found that our teaching and learning time happened over meals, but most of the time it was in the multiple farm fields we cared for in Jemez Pueblo. The core of his lesson was always that all young people have different types of gifts and talents to contribute to community. He stressed that their contribution would be more valuable in the future.

Carnell with his family in 1994, including his mom Martha Chosa, Aunt Pat Chosa, Grandma Lupe Chosa, and Grandpa Guadalupe Chosa.

The spirit of this type of intentional and organic programming guided by a sense of responsibility, inspired by creativity, and based on community participation and values, is the framework for the Leadership Institute's work with youth.

Founded in 1997, the Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute (LI) serves as a convener think tank to initiate community dialogue on issues important to communities. Specific to LI youth work, this dialogue creates programming opportunities that have guiding principles of community service, mentorship/networking, critical thinking, and policy awareness. Over the course of 20 years these guiding principles have served thousands of youth in our Summer Policy Academy, Brave Girls, Senior Honors Project, New Mexico Summer Youth Tribal Employment, Pueblo Pathways Boys Mentoring, Art and Archeology Academy, and Community Institutes.

Through this work, we have come to further appreciate how powerful and valuable youth participation is to tribal communities. You may be familiar with the saying that adults feel what they say to youth goes in one ear and out the other. Fortunately, our experience has been quite the opposite. In our experience youth today seem to be more aware of what’s happening both internally and externally in tribal communities in regard to policy issues. Today, they are more critical of the social, economic and racial conditions that impact us personally. And they are more curious about and draw from the historical road we have traveled as a people. In our experience, they are looking to be more actively involved.

As a result, our tribal communities must respond. We must not lose the opportunity to engage a young person. As my grandfather shared with me, each young person within our relatively small communities is so valuable and has their own particular gift to contribute. The LI took on this challenge 20 years ago and has learned that youth need opportunity. There are many ways to engage youth. For the LI, our formula is to create space where youth can exercise their voice and activate their advocacy.

Creating space for youth means giving them your time through mentorship, providing learning that is relevant to their lives as Indigenous people, and convening them so that they create a network, or community of diverse talents. This type of resurgent space has created an exciting energy to engage in community. One interesting program, New Mexico Summer Youth Tribal Employment, is an excellent example of how we engage youth in their community.

Over the course of four summers, through generous funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the LI placed 325 youth in meaningful internships in their communities. Paying close attention to their career interest areas or majors in college, the LI worked with professionals in tribal communities and urban organizations to serve as host sites and mentors for youth. Providing this type of space for youth to engage meaningfully during their summer created great outcomes, including tribes hiring their youth for full-time positions, offering them employment to manage tribal websites or blogs while in college, and reintroducing youth workforce programs. The greatest outcome for the LI was igniting the engagement space so that youth know that their skills are valued and that communities know that our youth are talented, available and looking for a pathway home.

First Nations Development Institute’s blog series during Native American Heritage month is a great way to celebrate our communities. It is also a great time to reflect upon how we engage young people who are a part of our community. Extending the boundaries of what home means is critical so that the young person contributing in the community through culture or career is just as valuable as the young person in Albuquerque or Washington, D.C., who is advocating for their community. I believe this is what my grandfather meant when he shared that someday our communities will extend our boundaries through engaging our youth.

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.

The Story of Millie Durgan Beyond “The Searchers”

By Scott Rains

millie durgan late in life
A rare photo of Millie Durgan late in life.

I was fortunate enough to be able to share this amazing story of a Kiowa captive. Sure, it’s been told before, but this was to be the first time told from the Native American side of things. If you’ve ever seen “The Searchers,” this is its source story … but way cooler.

The Legend of Millie Durgan

The tale of Millie Durgan is one woven from the fabric of many stories.

Elements have been told through time, including in the noted book “The Searchers,” which inspired a movie that starred John Wayne. But Candy Kauley Morgan, a descendant of Millie Durgan, said this is the first time the Native American — specifically, Kiowa — story has been told.

historical sign sharing millie durgan's story
A historical sign sharing Millie Durgan’s story was put in place on Oklahoma 19 approximately 20 years ago. (Photo Credit: Scott Rains/Constitution Staff)

“I am the great-great-granddaughter of Kiowa captive Millie Durgan,” Morgan said. “She was 18 months old when Kiowa warriors raided her grandmother’s ranch, where she was living with her Irish family in 1864 near Fort Belknap, Texas.”

The saga begins shortly before the end of the Civil War. It takes place during a peak in the battle between Native Americans who had been living on this continent for centuries and an encroaching new nation.

On Oct. 13, 1864, several hundred Kiowa and Comanche Indians raided home sites in the Elm Creek valley of western Young County, Texas. The Fitzpatrick Ranch was one. It belonged to Durgan’s grandmother and was where the baby was living with her grandmother, her mother and older sister, Charlottie, Morgan said. A family of freed slaves also lived on the ranch.

millie durgans oldest sister charlottie
Millie Durgan’s oldest sister, Charlottie, following her return from less than a year as a Kiowa captive. She had tribal tattoos on her face and arms but was able to assimilate back into Texas society.

During the attack, the Kiowas killed Millie Durgan’s mother and a member of the ranch hand’s family, then took anything of value and set the ranch house on fire, Morgan said. One of the warriors returned to the house as it was burning and found little Millie crawling out from under a bed.

“That man was Au-Soant-Sai-Mah, a noted Kiowa warrior and a partner of Kiowa chief Set-Ankeah (Sitting Bear) or Satank,” Morgan said. “Both of these men were members of the Ko-eet-senko, a warrior society composed of the 10 bravest members of the tribe.”

Au-Soant-Sai-Mah and his wife were childless, so he put Millie on his horse and took her back to their camp and she became their daughter.

“He picked her up and saw her frightened gray eyes and his sympathy and interest was aroused; he thought of his wife and decided to take the girl home,” Morgan said. “He held her in his arms, took her on his horse and cared for her on the long furious dash back to the Wichitas.”

“Millie’s mother, Sue, and a son of Mary Johnson were killed during the raid,” she said.

Durgan’s grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Anderson Carter Fitzpatrick; uncle; oldest sister Charlottie (Lottie) Elizabeth Durgan; and four people from the ranch hand’s family — Mary Johnson and her three children: Jube, Lottie and John, were also captured by the Kiowas — Morgan said. Millie’s uncle was eventually killed. Within a year her grandmother and Lottie were returned. The girl had tribal tattoos on her face and arms. They assimilated back into their lives as settlers, Morgan said. Durgan, however, became Kiowa.

john wayne in the searchers
John Wayne in a publicity photo for the film, "The Searchers," 1956. (Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

In the movie, John Wayne’s character, Ethan Edwards, was based on Mary Johnson’s husband, Britt Johnson, a freed slave and ranch foreman who was instrumental in obtaining the release of the captives, Morgan said.

“He (Johnson) traded food blankets and other things for the release of his wife and children, Mrs. Fitzpatrick and Lottie (Millie’s grandma and sister),” Morgan said. “That movie is thought to be about Cynthia Ann Parker, but actually the producers researched several stories about captures, including my great-great-grandmother’s story.”

Durgan led a remarkably different existence than most Kiowa captives, Morgan said.

“It was customary that captives lead a rather hard life and were not much better off than slaves — that wasn’t the case for Millie,” Morgan said. “She was adopted into the tribe and treated well by her new family.”

J.T. Goombi, another Durgan descendant, told how Durgan received her Kiowa name of Sain-To Hoodle. “That means ‘She Killed a Cow,’” Goombi said. “Kids stirred up the livestock and they came running through camp and she grabbed one around the neck and, I guess, she killed it trying to hold it still.”

Identity Concealed

Durgan was raised among traditional Kiowa customs, and Kiowa was the only language she knew, Morgan said. She married a Kiowa named Goombi and her true identity was not known until three years before her death in 1934. Goombi was a scout with Troop L, 7th Cavalry, stationed at Fort Sill. Goombi — also Goomby or Gumby — was her third husband. He was born in 1849 and died in 1908, and from their union came eight children: Mary, Minnie, Jennie, Lillian, Jane, Ellen, Mary and Joseph. Morgan is a descendant of Ellen. Durgan’s first marriage was to Pe-ahtone-ty. They were married in the Kiowa custom and did not have any children, Morgan said. He died before allotment. Her second marriage was to Maun-kau-pate and he also died. They had one son, Au-tau-bo, also known as George Goomby.

J.T. Goombi said Durgan’s light skin and fair hair color were things she hid about herself through most of her life. She would peel green walnut shells and rub the inside onto her skin to stain it darker. When she went in public to deal with white people, she would cover herself with a blanket to remain barely visible underneath.

The Rainy Mountain Indian Baptist Church near Mountain View is where Durgan’s spiritual legacy was forged for her generations to follow, Morgan said.

“When the Baptist missionaries came to Rainy Mountain she refused to take up their religion,” Morgan said. “She was brought up in the Indian religion and had a firm belief in the old idols and medicines.”

Legacy of Faith

The Baptist missionaries wooed her with the sewing circles that took place in the fellowship hall, Morgan said. She enjoyed the activity and she was quilting at the church well before she ever became a Christian, she said. That conversion had an effect on the family line as several teachers, including Morgan’s father, Reuben Kauley, have become preachers.

“All her children adopted the Christian religion and at the death of her youngest son she became a Christian so she could meet her children in the afterlife,” Morgan said. “Her legacy is my family’s faith.”

millie durgans grave
Millie Durgan’s grave in the Rainy Mountain KCA Cemetery is shaded under a cedar tree’s broad trunk and hovering canopy that stands as timeless as her story. (Photo Credit: Scott Rains/Constitution Staff)

About the Author

scott rains
Scott Rains is a reporter at the Lawton Publishing Company is an adventurer, poet, pauper, and man about town. He also describes himself as an old school journalist.

Tribe Sues Cal State for Dumping on Sacred Land

Traditional markings and blessed sage adorn the sacred tribal land.

In an attempt to protect the most significant remaining parcel of sacred tribal land in Southern California, the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation – Belardes and the California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance (CCRPA),  filed a lawsuit against California State University-Long Beach last fall, and the litigation has been delayed owing to the pandemic.

The university dumped large quantities of construction debris and dirt on Puvungna, a 22-acre parcel of land on campus that holds religious, cultural and historical significance for the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation - Belardes, the Gabrielino/Tongva, and several other Native American groups in Southern California. These tribal groups’ legal and historical rights are being buried in an apparent  effort by the CSU system to move toward “capping” this site in order to clear the way to develop it.  The goal of the lawsuit is to see the land restored and obtain a Memorandum of Understanding to permanently protect the land.

Trucks dumping unclean soil on Puvungna.

“CSU has repeatedly tried to take over this sacred land from its original owners, the Acjachemen and Tongva peoples,” said Matias Belardes, Chairman of the Tribal Council of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation. “We are asking that the university  restore the site and agree to a Memorandum of Understanding that would give permanent protection to this site.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed the courts, slowed the legal process and delayed the timeline for addressing the damage done to this land.

“We understand that the CSULB administration is facing challenges under COVID-19, but the university has a legal and moral responsibility to remove the construction dirt and debris from this historic site, which has been sacred ground since time immemorial,” said Belardes. “This is not a difficult thing to do.  It’s time for the University to end this oppressive act and to respect our people and our sacred land.”

The university’s actions fly in the face of the basic rights of California’s native people as well as a recent executive order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom, in which he apologized on behalf of California’s history of “violence, maltreatment and neglect” of Native American peoples and urged the state to take steps to move toward healing and clarifying the historical record. The dumping activity also violates state law AB 52, which requires CSULB to consult with traditionally and culturally related tribal groups designated by the Native American Heritage Commission before taking any action that would undermine the integrity of this sacred site.

A group of tribal members pose at Puvungna.

Members of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, the Tongva/Gabrielino and other tribal nations hold ceremonies on Puvungna throughout the year. Puvungna is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and on the California Native American Heritage Commission’s Sacred Lands Inventory.

At this time, the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation - Belardes has an active lawsuit against CSULB to attempt to pressure the university to take appropriate steps to restore this sacred site. As the parties continue to negotiate toward a potential settlement, they are waiting for comments from the State Historic Preservation Office on the University’s proposed treatment plan for the land. Because of the pandemic, this response from the State, and the negotiations themselves, are moving very slowly. It is a point of stress and frustration for  members of the Native American community, where each and every day the desecration of this land remains unremedied.

Cover Photo Credit: Daily Forty-Niner

Rare Artifacts from Robert Nittolo Collection on Exhibit in New York

Rare Native American artifacts are on display at Fort Ticonderoga, New York in the exhibition “The Art of Resistance: Selections from the Robert N. Nittolo Collection” for a limited time only through October 2019. These items have never been put on view before, and are considered the most significant private collection of 18th century militaria.

Objects include a rare Native American style bag with ornamentation known as quillwork and a war club which represent the distinctive martial material culture of Native Americans by the late 18th century. These items reveal the unique artistic vocabulary of Native peoples and stand as a reminder of the significant place Native Americans held in the conflicts that shaped North American history.

18th century war club

“This installation recognizes the significant role of Native communities in the fate of the continent, and encourage increasing dialogue between these First Nations and the descendants of the Europeans they fought against and alongside over the long 18th century,” said Matthew Keagle, curator, Fort Ticonderoga. “The artifacts and histories of conflict are the starting point for conversations that further Fort Ticonderoga’s mission to preserve, educate, and provoke an active discussion about the past and its importance to present and future generations.”

An original Society of the Cincinnati gold eagle medal.

Fort Ticonderoga tells the story of the military experience of the early modern world, and the collision of cultures from America, Europe, and Africa that shaped North American history. With an important Native American history, this exhibit highlights the pivotal Native American role in the wars of the 18th century and the unique material culture and artistic traditions of Native America. Despite these conflicts, these traditions and cultures have persisted and are found across North America.

Last year, Fort Ticonderoga had on public display one of the rarest and most important objects from the nation’s founding – an original Society of the Cincinnati gold eagle medal, a priceless Revolutionary War medal. This piece is one of two surviving examples produced in Paris in 1783 for purchase by officers of the Continental Army.

About Fort Ticonderoga:

Welcoming visitors since 1909, Fort Ticonderoga preserves North America’s largest 18th-century artillery collection, 2,000 acres of historic landscape on Lake Champlain, and Carillon Battlefield, and the largest series of untouched Revolutionary War era earthworks surviving in America. As a multi-day destination and the premier place to learn more about our nation’s earliest years and America’s military heritage, Fort Ticonderoga engages more than 75,000 visitors each year with an economic impact of more than $12 million annually and offers programs, historic interpretation, boat cruises, tours, demonstrations, and exhibits throughout the year, and is open for daily visitation May through October. Fort Ticonderoga is supported in part through generous donations and with some general operating support made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

For Further Information Contact:

Beth Hill:

LA Skins Fest Opens to Fanfare and Corporate Support

Patrons attending last year’s 11th Annual Skins Fest at the famous TCL (Grauman's) Chinese Theater in Hollywood. (Photo Credit: Antonio Gilbreath, AG Media Enterprises)

Last month's LA SKINS FEST, presented by COMCAST NBCUNIVERSAL, featured its full list of over 70 features and shorts that were screened through the festival’s 6-day run and the first ever Hollywood Pow Wow.

“We have seen Native Cinema grow into a genuine force with a voice that is finally being heard,” states Ian Skorodin, Executive Director of Skins Fest and its writing labs geared to support future Native filmmakers. 

“NBCUniversal embraces the power of diverse storytelling and has great respect for the rich traditions of Native Americans,” said Craig Robinson, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at NBCUniversal. “Our partnership with the LA Skins Fest helps us share these unique narratives with the world.”

“As Universal continues to identify Native American talent to broaden the narrative, and introduce these voices to our creative teams, we’re so grateful for the opportunity to deepen our collaboration with LA Skins Fest,” said Janine Jones-Clark, SVP, Global Talent Development & Inclusion.

This year, the LA SKINS FEST opened with Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet, the highly anticipated sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph. The new film features the voices of indigenous actresses Irene Bedard and Auli’i Cravalho. The screening was presented by The Walt Disney Company and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood.

NBCUniversal’s Craig Robinson and Janine Jones-Clark.

The festival line up showcased over seventy Native American independent productions that represented hundreds of reservations, nations and tribal organizations from North and South America. This collection of indigenous films and filmmakers made the festival a truly incredible event. Of the movies screened, more than 50 saw their world premieres and all of them had their Los Angeles premiere. The film selections were made from hundreds of submissions from around the world.

“We have seen Native Cinema grow into a genuine force with a voice that is finally being heard. Native filmmakers have been pushing creative limits and will have the acknowledgement they deserve,” said Ian Skorodin, Executive Director of the LA SKINS FEST.

Netflix presented the LA SKINS FEST opening night industry mixer. Taking place at their headquarters on Sunset Blvd, Netflix hosted the event on their two story open air patio overseeing the Los Angeles cityscape. The LA SKINS FEST celebrated Native American filmmakers, writers, actors and community leaders. This was in collaboration with the Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Film Program.

LA Skins Fest also hosted a free casting and audition workshop that featured industry professionals. Burgeoning Native American actors received valuable information on working in film and television.

The Walt Disney Company and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented the opening night movie "Ralph Breaks The Internet." Native American actress Irene Bedard voices Pocahontas (Click Here to View Trailer). 

Film programs also highlighted Native American veterans, youth from around the US and women filmmakers. The films ranged from Native American youth activism, learning to heal from trauma and life on the reservation.

To accompany the other events, LA SKINS FEST hosted the first ever Hollywood Pow Wow. On the courtyard of the world famous TCL Chinese Theater, dancers, drummers and singers presented a traditional performance and celebrated their indigenous heritage.

Other activities included a table read of a new digital series from Break The Room, a community-centered revolutionary development process featuring indigenous writers, presented in partnership with Paul Feig’s Powderkeg. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Vision Maker Media presented Empowering Indian Country with Public Media. This panel discussion featured representatives from First Nations Experience, the Sundance Institute and Visionmaker Media. The discussion focused on how Native American influence on Public Media broadens the audience outreach and provides positive exposure for the community. There was a special program focusing on HIV/AIDS presented by the Aids Healthcare Foundation.

The awards gala at the Hollywood Loews Hotel was hosted by world renowned Native actors Q’orianka Kilcher and Kalani Queypo. Honoring filmmakers from across Indian country and great achievements in Native American cinema, the celebration featured an exquisite banquet, live music and guest appearances from more Native American actors.

LA SKINS FEST closed the festival with the acclaimed drama Angelique’s Isle, starring the preeminent and iconic Tantoo Cardinal. A woman stranded on a frozen island must survive the challenges of environment and her inner demons.

Corporate support of the LA SKINS FEST plays an essential role in the life of the festival and emphasizes the festival’s commitment to quality, exploration, and excellence in the art of cinema. The LA SKINS FEST is privileged to partner with some of the world’s most renowned consumer and entertainment brands, including Comcast NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Company, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, ABC 7, HBO, Turner, 21CF, Sony Pictures, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, A+E Network Television, Wells Fargo, Corporation of Public Broadcasting, Sony Electronics, Vision Maker Media, Kung Fu Monkey Productions, Santa Ynez Band Of Chumash Indians, CBS Corporation, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), CBS Entertainment Diversity, United Talent Agency, Mike Royce, Motion Pictures Association of America, Sundance Institute, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, Bad Robot, Lionsgate, STARZ, Walter Kaitz Foundation, SAG INDIE, MGM Resorts International, Paramount Pictures, Southern California Indian Center, KCET, Final Draft, Golden Road Brewery and the Department of Cultural Affairs – Los Angeles.


The prestigious LA SKINS FEST ranks among the country’s best film festivals and is an annual gathering for film industry insiders, cinema enthusiasts, filmmakers, and critics. LA SKINS FEST is considered a major launching ground for the Indian Country’s most talked about films. Our long‐standing commitment is to join filmmakers and film connoisseurs together to experience great Native America cinema. The LA SKINS FEST is a 501 (c)(3) non‐profit educational program. Festival headquarters are in Los Angeles, CA.

Book Excerpt: The Soul of the Indian

By Charles Alexander Eastman (Santee Dakota)

Charles Alexander Eastman (February 19, 1858 – January 8, 1939) was a Boston University-educated physician and also regarded as an accomplished writer, national lecturer who wrote and spoke about Sioux history and American Indian affairs.

After working as a doctor on various reservations in South Dakota, Eastman became politically engaged and worked to improve the lives of youths. He founded thirty-two Native American chapters of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and also helped begin the Boy Scouts of America.

Eastman is thought by many to be the first Native American author to write about American history from the Native American point of view.


Excerpt from The Soul of the Indian, published 1911:

The Great Mystery

The original attitude of the American Indian toward the Eternal, the “Great Mystery” that surrounds and embraces us, was as simple as it was exalted. To him it was the supreme conception, bringing with it the fullest measure of joy and satisfaction possible in this life.

The worship of the “Great Mystery” was silent, solitary, free from all self-seeking. It was silent, because all speech is of necessity feeble and imperfect; therefore the souls of my ancestors ascended to God in wordless adoration. It was solitary, because they believed that He is nearer to us in solitude, and there were no priests authorized to come between a man and his Maker. None might exhort or confess or in any way meddle with the religious experience of another. Among us all men were created sons of God and stood erect, as conscious of their divinity. Our faith might not be formulated in creeds, nor forced upon any who were unwilling to receive it; hence there was no preaching, proselyting, nor persecution, neither were there any scoffers or atheists.

There were no temples or shrines among us save those of nature. Being a natural man, the Indian was intensely poetical. He would deem it sacrilege to build a house for Him who may be met face to face in the mysterious, shadowy aisles of the primeval forest, or on the sunlit bosom of virgin prairies, upon dizzy spires and pinnacles of naked rock, and yonder in the jeweled vault of the night sky! He who enrobes Himself in filmy veils of cloud, there on the rim of the visible world where our Great-Grandfather Sun kindles his evening camp-fire, He who rides upon the rigorous wind of the north, or breathes forth His spirit upon aromatic southern airs, whose war-canoe is launched upon majestic rivers and inland seas—He needs no lesser cathedral!

That solitary communion with the Unseen which was the highest expression of our religious life is partly described in the word bambeday, literally “mysterious feeling,” which has been variously translated “fasting” and “dreaming.” It may better be interpreted as “consciousness of the divine.”

The first bambeday, or religious retreat, marked an epoch in the life of the youth, which may be compared to that of confirmation or conversion in Christian experience. Having first prepared himself by means of the purifying vapor-bath, and cast off as far as possible all human or fleshly influences, the young man sought out the noblest height, the most commanding summit in all the surrounding region. Knowing that God sets no value upon material things, he took with him no offerings or sacrifices other than symbolic objects, such as paints and tobacco. Wishing to appear before Him in all humility, he wore no clothing save his moccasins and breech-clout. At the solemn hour of sunrise or sunset he took up his position, overlooking the glories of earth and facing the “Great Mystery,” and there he remained, naked, erect, silent, and motionless, exposed to the elements and forces of His arming, for a night and a day to two days and nights, but rarely longer. Sometimes he would chant a hymn without words, or offer the ceremonial “filled pipe.” In this holy trance or ecstasy the Indian mystic found his highest happiness and the motive power of his existence.

When he returned to the camp, he must remain at a distance until he had again entered the vapor-bath and prepared himself for intercourse with his fellows. Of the vision or sign vouchsafed to him he did not speak, unless it had included some commission which must be publicly fulfilled. Sometimes an old man, standing upon the brink of eternity, might reveal to a chosen few the oracle of his long-past youth.

The native American has been generally despised by his white conquerors for his poverty and simplicity. They forget, perhaps, that his religion forbade the accumulation of wealth and the enjoyment of luxury. To him, as to other single-minded men in every age and race, from Diogenes to the brothers of Saint Francis, from the Montanists to the Shakers, the love of possessions has appeared a snare, and the burdens of a complex society a source of needless peril and temptation. Furthermore, it was the rule of his life to share the fruits of his skill and success with his less fortunate brothers. Thus he kept his spirit free from the clog of pride, cupidity, or envy, and carried out, as he believed, the divine decree—a matter profoundly important to him.

It was not, then, wholly from ignorance or improvidence that he failed to establish permanent towns and to develop a material civilization. To the untutored sage, the concentration of population was the prolific mother of all evils, moral no less than physical. He argued that food is good, while surfeit kills; that love is good, but lust destroys; and not less dreaded than the pestilence following upon crowded and unsanitary dwellings was the loss of spiritual power inseparable from too close contact with one’s fellow-men. All who have lived much out of doors know that there is a magnetic and nervous force that accumulates in solitude and that is quickly dissipated by life in a crowd; and even his enemies have recognized the fact that for a certain innate power and self-poise, wholly independent of circumstances, the American Indian is unsurpassed among men.

The red man divided mind into two parts,—the spiritual mind and the physical mind. The first is pure spirit, concerned only with the essence of things, and it was this he sought to strengthen by spiritual prayer, during which the body is subdued by fasting and hardship. In this type of prayer there was no beseeching of favor or help. All matters of personal or selfish concern, as success in hunting or warfare, relief from sickness, or the sparing of a beloved life, were definitely relegated to the plane of the lower or material mind, and all ceremonies, charms, or incantations designed to secure a benefit or to avert a danger, were recognized as emanating from the physical self.

The rites of this physical worship, again, were wholly symbolic, and the Indian no more worshiped the Sun than the Christian adores the Cross. The Sun and the Earth, by an obvious parable, holding scarcely more of poetic metaphor than of scientific truth, were in his view the parents of all organic life. From the Sun, as the universal father, proceeds the quickening principle in nature, and in the patient and fruitful womb of our mother, the Earth, are hidden embryos of plants and men. Therefore our reverence and love for them was really an imaginative extension of our love for our immediate parents, and with this sentiment of filial piety was joined a willingness to appeal to them, as to a father, for such good gifts as we may desire. This is the material or physical prayer.

The elements and majestic forces in nature, Lightning, Wind, Water, Fire, and Frost, were regarded with awe as spiritual powers, but always secondary and intermediate in character. We believed that the spirit pervades all creation and that every creature possesses a soul in some degree, though not necessarily a soul conscious of itself. The tree, the waterfall, the grizzly bear, each is an embodied Force, and as such an object of reverence.

The Indian loved to come into sympathy and spiritual communion with his brothers of the animal kingdom, whose inarticulate souls had for him something of the sinless purity that we attribute to the innocent and irresponsible child. He had faith in their instincts, as in a mysterious wisdom given from above; and while he humbly accepted the supposedly voluntary sacrifice of their bodies to preserve his own, he paid homage to their spirits in prescribed prayers and offerings.

In every religion there is an element of the supernatural, varying with the influence of pure reason over its devotees. The Indian was a logical and clear thinker upon matters within the scope of his understanding, but he had not yet charted the vast field of nature or expressed her wonders in terms of science. With his limited knowledge of cause and effect, he saw miracles on every hand,—the miracle of life in seed and egg, the miracle of death in lightning flash and in the swelling deep! Nothing of the marvelous could astonish him; as that a beast should speak, or the sun stand still. The virgin birth would appear scarcely more miraculous than is the birth of every child that comes into the world, or the miracle of the loaves and fishes excite more wonder than the harvest that springs from a single ear of corn.

Who may condemn his superstition? Surely not the devout Catholic, or even Protestant missionary, who teaches Bible miracles as literal fact! The logical man must either deny all miracles or none, and our American Indian myths and hero stories are perhaps, in themselves, quite as credible as those of the Hebrews of old. If we are of the modern type of mind, that sees in natural law a majesty and grandeur far more impressive than any solitary infraction of it could possibly be, let us not forget that, after all, science has not explained everything. We have still to face the ultimate miracle,—the origin and principle of life! Here is the supreme mystery that is the essence of worship, without which there can be no religion, and in the presence of this mystery our attitude cannot be very unlike that of the natural philosopher, who beholds with awe the Divine in all creation.

It is simple truth that the Indian did not, so long as his native philosophy held sway over his mind, either envy or desire to imitate the splendid achievements of the white man. In his own thought he rose superior to them! He scorned them, even as a lofty spirit absorbed in its stern task rejects the soft beds, the luxurious food, the pleasure-worshiping dalliance of a rich neighbor. It was clear to him that virtue and happiness are independent of these things, if not incompatible with them.

There was undoubtedly much in primitive Christianity to appeal to this man, and Jesus’ hard sayings to the rich and about the rich would have been entirely comprehensible to him. Yet the religion that is preached in our churches and practiced by our congregations, with its element of display and self-aggrandizement, its active proselytism, and its open contempt of all religions but its own, was for a long time extremely repellent. To his simple mind, the professionalism of the pulpit, the paid exhorter, the moneyed church, was an unspiritual and unedifying thing, and it was not until his spirit was broken and his moral and physical constitution undermined by trade, conquest, and strong drink, that Christian missionaries obtained any real hold upon him. Strange as it may seem, it is true that the proud pagan in his secret soul despised the good men who came to convert and to enlighten him!

Nor were its publicity and its Phariseeism the only elements in the alien religion that offended the red man. To him, it appeared shocking and almost incredible that there were among this people who claimed superiority many irreligious, who did not even pretend to profess the national faith. Not only did they not profess it, but they stooped so low as to insult their God with profane and sacrilegious speech! In our own tongue His name was not spoken aloud, even with utmost reverence, much less lightly or irreverently.

More than this, even in those white men who professed religion we found much inconsistency of conduct. They spoke much of spiritual things, while seeking only the material. They bought and sold everything: time, labor, personal independence, the love of woman, and even the ministrations of their holy faith! The lust for money, power, and conquest so characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon race did not escape moral condemnation at the hands of his untutored judge, nor did he fail to contrast this conspicuous trait of the dominant race with the spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus.

He might in time come to recognize that the drunkards and licentious among white men, with whom he too frequently came in contact, were condemned by the white man’s religion as well, and must not be held to discredit it. But it was not so easy to overlook or to excuse national bad faith. When distinguished emissaries from the Father at Washington, some of them ministers of the gospel and even bishops, came to the Indian nations, and pledged to them in solemn treaty the national honor, with prayer and mention of their God; and when such treaties, so made, were promptly and shamelessly broken, is it strange that the action should arouse not only anger, but contempt? The historians of the white race admit that the Indian was never the first to repudiate his oath.

It is my personal belief, after thirty-five years’ experience of it, that there is no such thing as “Christian civilization.” I believe that Christianity and modern civilization are opposed and irreconcilable, and that the spirit of Christianity and of our ancient religion is essentially the same.


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