“Environmental Justice” Analysis of Proposed Crude Oil Pipeline is Flawed, Lacks Native Voices

The Minnesota Department of Commerce just released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on a proposed crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. The project, Enbridge Line 3, would run 337 miles from the North Dakota border to Duluth/Superior, including stretches through the Mississippi headwaters region and prime wild rice waters.

The 1894-page document includes a short section on Environmental Justice. To its credit, it acknowledges the pipeline would infringe on Anishiaabe (Ojibwe) treaty rights and exacerbate historical trauma. But it lacks Native voices and is silent on some important questions.

The Environmental Justice section concludes:

Disproportionate and adverse impacts would occur to American Indian populations in the vicinity of the proposed [Line 3] Project.
Then a few lines later:
A finding of “disproportionate and adverse impacts” does not preclude selection of any given alternative. This finding does, however, require detailed efforts to avoid, mitigate, minimize, rectify, reduce, or eliminate the impact associated with the construction of the Project or any alternatives.

That’s an indirect way of saying Anishinaabe voices and treaty right don’t really matter — the project can proceed based on what non-Native people consider to be fair mitigation.

Let’s take a hard look at the Environmental Justice chapter in the EIS. Continue reading

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Reflections on ‘Equal Justice Under the Law’ in North Dakota’s DAPL-Related Cases

Remember the security worker who posed as a water protector at the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protest, the guy with AR-15 assault rifle?

It turns out that Kyle Thompson, 30, was just arrested for domestic violence, carrying a concealed weapon, and possession of marijuana and methamphetamine paraphernalia, according to an article in the Bismarck Tribune. Thompson did three tours of duty in Afghanistan for the Army, and said he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His sister had been killed recently in a car accident.

He received what could be called a compassionate sentence. Being compassionate is a good thing. At the same time, it is fair to ask how Thompson’s case compares to some of those involving Native American water protectors and their allies.

Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

Weekend Reading: The True Story of Pocahontas; Federal Bill Introduced on Native Children’s Trauma; Tribes Backing Gorsuch; and More

Here is this week’s offerings:

  • The ugly truth about the Pocahontas story.
  • U.S. Sen. Al Franken joins two other Midwest Senators to author a bill to heal the trauma suffered by Native children.
  • Tribes are supporting Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for U.S. Supreme Court, because he has shown he understands Indian law.
  • Star Tribune oil pipeline story misses key local angle.

Continue reading

‘Stolen Childhoods’ Documentary Brings Home Historical Trauma in the Native Community

I’m sure many of you have had the experience listening to you car radio and getting caught up in an interesting MPR story; you get to your destination and regret missing the rest of the piece.

That was my experience recently, listing to: ‘Stolen Childhoods’: a documentary about the Indian Adoption Project. It is available online, and I just finished listening. It is a powerful way to understand the impact of federal assimilation policies and the tremendous trauma they created in the lives of children — and how that trauma got passed on to the next generation.

We have blogged in the past about the impacts of historical trauma, such as What Does Historical Trauma Look Like? The Native American Youth Suicide Rate and Native American Opoid Overdoes in Minnesota and Native Responses. The KFAI-produced radio documentary brings it home in a more powerful way, through personal stories by adults who suffered deeply from the adoption experience. One adoptee recalled the isolation she felt living in a rural, all-white town where none of the boys were allowed to date her; others recalled the shaming and abuse from their adopted families. (Props to producer Melissa Olson, who includes her mom, Judy, in the story.)

While this was federal policy, we need to remember that just as the case with boarding schools, churches had a big role in the harm that was done.

Continue reading

Reenacting an Indian Hanging and the Need for Dialogue; Another Pipeline Action Follows Standing Rock’s Model

It is not surprising that a historical reenactment of a Native man’s public hanging would spark outrage, what is surprising is that those organizing the event wouldn’t see it coming and ask for a dialogue with Native peoples before moving ahead.

This incident comes from Pennsylvania, but it raises larger questions of who gets to say what is offensive and what is not.

In this case, where white people might see a benign history lesson, Native people can see and experience trauma. The reenactment sent a message that Native people are “less than” and gave permission to yell racial slurs.

This incident echoes the debate we have had here in Minnesota about whether or not to remove offensive art in the Capitol. In both cases, the challenge is the same: How do those people in the majority put down their defenses, open their hearts, and listen to and honor the pain suffered by those with little power or voice?

Continue reading

What Does Historical Trauma Look Like? The Native American Youth Suicide Rate

Historical trauma sounds like an academic term. It does not hit you in the gut. Not like teen suicide does.

But teen suicide is one of the real world ways that historical trauma shows up in Native American communities. Consider the following data from a Huffington Post article last November: Native American Youth Suicide Rates Are At Crisis Levels:

Suicide looks very different in Native communities than it does in the general population. Nationally, suicide tends to skew middle-aged (and white); but among Native Americans, 40 percent of those who die by suicide are between the ages of 15 and 24. And among young adults ages 18 to 24, Native American have higher rates of suicide than any other ethnicity, and higher than the general population.

The issue got high profile attention last fall when the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a report with new data. Coverage included the Huffington Post, Time magazine and  Medical Daily. The reports included heart-wrenching stories, such as this one from the PBS News Hour:

When Joaquin Gallegos was 5-years-old, his uncle took his own life.

For two decades, more than 30 of his family members and friends did the same, part of a trend sweeping Indian Country where suicide among people age 18 to 24 far outpaces the national rate, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Consider the impact it would have had on you as a youth if even two of your friends and family members had committed suicide. It would have been devastating

Why is the suicide rate so high for Native youth? Continue reading

Guest Blog: Duluth’s “Living Our Resiliency” Symposium an Opportunity for Healing and Change for City’s Native Peoples

Christina Woods
Christina Woods

On March 7, the All Nations Indigenous Center in Duluth and Churches United in Ministry (CHUM) held an event called “Living our Resiliency Symposium,” that brought together the city’s Indigenous people and people from the mostly white religious communities to discuss the historical and ongoing trauma that exists in Native American communities. Event Coordinator Christina Woods (Anishinaabe) was invited to write a guest blog to share about the event and follow up. It offers a powerful model for us to consider replicating in the metro area.

“As a life-long Catholic, I was certain my moral grounding through Catholicism was the compass I could rely on to guide all my decisions,” said a community leader who attended the Living Our Resiliency Symposium. “But now, my eyes are open.”

The March event brought together 100 members of the Duluth community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to view and discuss the Sheldon Wolfchild documentary, Doctrine of Discovery. The documentary is making its way into many communities through Christian faith venues. I believe these opportunities are to enlighten non-Indigenous people about the systemic oppression that has followed Indigenous peoples around the world. For us, it was important to use the documentary to help reveal eye-opening issues that plague the Indigenous community in Duluth.

The Symposium was unique in many ways. It was led by Indigenous elders and leaders. The parallel development model was used as a means to include religious leaders to participate in this important dialog. Continue reading