Native Tribes lead the environmental effort to oppose pipelines

On October 15, Washington state tribal leaders testified before Canada’s Nation Energy Board in opposition to the impending expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

Kinder Morgan Canada has proposed a $5.6 billion development of the pipeline which streamlines oil supply between Alberta’s tar sands and Vancouver, British Columbia. This expansion would increase the flow of oil from 300,000 barrels per day to 900,000. Some estimates assert the number of oil tankers running through Washington waters could increase by seven times the current amount to accommodate this change.

Washington Native tribes, along with neighboring Canadian tribes such as the Coast Salish, fear this advancement could have vastly negative impacts on their culture, as well as the environment at large.

Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Kitsap Peninsula’s Suquamish Tribe, states, “We’re concerned about the catastrophic impact that an oil spill can have on the ecosystem.”

According to Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians, “We are salmon people and it is very, very important to us. It’s central to our culture.”

The likelihood of devastating oil spills would certainly increase along with tanker activity. Tribes of the Pacific Northwest who depend on fishing as a means of economic livelihood and cultural unification cannot afford oil run-over.

Lead of aboriginal engagement for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project Gary Youngman says, “We will continue to be committed to minimizing impact and protecting the marine environment.” He claims the company strongly values tribal communication and strives to move forward respectfully.

Testifying tribes are represented by Earthjustice lawyer Jan Hasselman. A final report of their testimony is expected to be released in January 2016 along with a formal recommendation to the Canadian government regarding which action to take.

The Trans Mountain Pipeline debate is far from its conclusion. Pacific Northwest tribes are adamant about reaching environmental justice and are taking the steps necessary to reach it.

These efforts mirror those of the Lakota people, who stand firmly against TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Just weeks ago, Nebraska’s “Harvest the Hope” concert brought in performers such as Willie Nelson and Neil Young to raise money and awareness for Native activists working against oil activity.

Natives are at the front line of environmentalists speaking out against threats in North America. We are inspired by the actions being taken by tribes across the country to preserve natural resources and the cultural significance that exists within it.

What are your thoughts on this pipeline expansion? Do you think there is any way to satisfy both parties?

Oglala Tribe mulling creation of Tribal National Park


Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer published an update on efforts to establish a Tribal National Park within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the southwestern portion of South Dakota.

The roughly 133,000 acres of tribal land is currently being managed by the National Park Service, but there is a movement afoot to create the Badlands South Unit, essentially an extension of the current Badlands National Park, with the caveat being that this park will be jointly managed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the park service.

Oglala President Bryan Brewer recently penned an op-ed in Indian Country Today Media Network in support of federal legislation that would establish the cooperative management structure called the Tribal National Park Commission.

“The purposes of the (legislation) are to preserve, protect and interpret the cultural, historic, prehistoric, scientific and scenic values of the area, including the history, culture and heritage of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Lakota people,” Brewer said.

If passed the bill would authorize a memorial to honor Lakota World War II veterans, including the Codetalkers, and honor the Oglala families that were displaced from their homes in 1942.

In 1942, the United State War Department announced it was seizing the Northwest corner of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for an Aerial Gunnery Range and told the approximately 900 Native families to move out.

The dented landscape still shows vestiges of the practice bombing runs carried out by the U.S. Air Force during the war.

In the 1960s, the United States offered Lakota families the opportunity to purchase back some of the land, which many did. The government also authorized the ability to graze livestock on the land.

Since 1976, there has been an understanding that a cultural heritage center honoring the Lakota people would be constructed and the national park would be jointly managed, but a full-fledged agreement is still yet to be hammered out.

According to the Rapid City Journal, the Oglala Tribal Council agreed to issue a referendum, asking tribal members to vote on whether they would like to see the creation of the Tribal National Park.

Oglala President Bryan Brewer has maintained the park is an opportunity to both honor the long and illustrious culture of the Lakota Nation, restore Buffalo to its traditional pastureland and promote economic development in an area that continues to wrangle with a lack of economic opportunity.

“The Tribal National Park offers our Tribe the chance to honor our Lakota culture and heritage,” he said. “We have a chance to restore the buffalo and native species, promote economic development and create jobs through respectful tourism that honors the heritage of our Oglala Lakota Nation.”

Obama Announces 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference

On October 20, President Barack Obama announced the 2014 Tribal Nations Conference via an official press release.

This December 3rd event will mark the sixth White House Tribal Nations Conference held under the Obama Administration. Selected representatives from each of the 566 federally recognized Native American tribes will meet at Washington D.C.’s Capital Hilton hotel to discuss relevant issues with President Obama and members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs.

According to the announcement, Obama strives to “strengthen the government-to-government relationship with Indian country and to improve the lives of Native Americans.”

In June, the President paid a visit to North Dakota’s Standing Rock Indian Reservation during the annual Cannon Ball Flag Day Celebration. Obama’s appearance stands as the first presidential visit to a reservation since Clinton’s in 1999 and the third presidential visit to a reservation in all of our nation’s history.


The focus of this visit, prospective educational and economic development, has been carried into current White House affairs. A tentative improvement plan pertaining to the Bureau of Indian Education’s control over 183 schools on Indian reservations is currently in place. If this plan goes through, tribes are said to gain greater sovereignty over the facilities on their land.

We are excited to see what progress is made at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference and will report more after it takes place. Tell us what you think of Obama’s efforts toward improved tribal relations. Has the President done enough? Too much?

Indigenous People’s Day?


In a unanimous decision, Seattle has opted to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day in place of Columbus Day this coming Monday (October 13th). The city will join Minneapolis, which voted in April, in their revamped recognition of North America’s roots.

As it stands, several states do not recognize Columbus Day at all. Hawaii recognizes the day as Discovery Day.

In South Dakota, the state started calling the holiday Native American Day in 1989.

The movement to either change or dispense with the holiday altogether has begun with indigenous populations in the United States. Native Americans have long viewed Columbus Day as [being] disrespectful to their long and rich heritage.

While evidence of mass genocide, sexual enslavement, and general racism certainly lends credence to the movement to change the holiday, the vilification of Columbus as a historical figure has [paused the discussion] given some pause.

Many Americans remains unsettled by the idea of completely reconstructing his holiday.

Jerry Newcombe of the Christian Post describes Christopher Columbus as being, “reviled by the politically correct elites in our culture” while Italian-Americans mourn over possible denouncement of the symbol of the explorer. The question stands- can any religious or cultural sentiment override immoral realities behind Columbus’s legacy?


Indigenous peoples across the country retort with a resounding “no” as they demand increased representation in the celebration of early America. While Christopher Columbus did, of course, sail the ocean blue back in 1492, he was not met by a vast expanse of empty earth.

Rather, his ships were received by Native tribes with abundant traditions and complex cultures who called the land home long before the age of European exploration. If anything, Columbus can be credited with solidifying European awareness of the Americas. However, any holiday that recognizes North American history should undoubtedly acknowledge both sides of its “discovery”.

As we approach the federal holiday, it is vital to consider your personal relationship with the Columbus Day tradition. Do you view the holiday as a celebration of our country’s symbolic beginnings or a literal remembrance of Columbus as a revolutionary individual? Should indigenous Americans be honored separately from this figure or represented beside him? We are interested to hear the value you place on the second Monday of October and how you believe it should be celebrated.

New Development in Mette Rape Scandal

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There has been a development in the Mette Rape Scandal in South Dakota. The scandal involves the highest levels of the executive branch of the state government including South Dakota attorney general Marty Jackley. The Lakota People’ Law Project Chief Counsel Daniel Sheehan describes the scandal as, “the most egregious case of a state cover-up of child sex abuse in this nation’s history.”

The latest development involves Brandon Taliaferro, the former Brown County Deputy State’s attorney, who initially charged Richard Mette with 23 felony counts of child sex abuse and his wife Wendy with 11 counts for allegedly abetting the crimes.

After pursing the case that had to potential to cause embarrassment for the South Dakota Department of Social Services, Taliaferro was accused by prosecutors of tampering with witnesses and evidence, bribery and perjury.

The case never made it to trail because Judge Gene Paul Kean tossed the case out of court before it made it in front of a jury, while Kean lectured the prosecution about letting inter-office politics spill into the state’s judiciary system. As South Dakota Public Radio broadcaster Vicky Wicks revealed on Wednesday, Oct. 9, Taliferro was attempting to get his arrest record expunged so he can answer truthfully when asked if he has been arrested.

Read Wicks excellent and incisive article here:

The Lakota People’s Law Project believes unequivocally that the Mette Rape Scandal emphasizes the corruption that is inherent in South Dakota’s Department of Social Services (DSS). The state clearly believes it can destroy the lives of young Native children and shield child rapists with impunity. Anyone who dare question their method of operations will be subject to retaliation and have their careers and reputations sullied.

For more background of the Mette Rape Scandal please read the following:

The young Lakota foster children under the care of Richard and Wendy Mette repeatedly told the DSS about the abusive acts Richard Mette committed for more than a decade from 2001-2011, but the state did not want to believe them.

It was not until a doctor noticed marks of abuse on one of the children and alerted the police, that something was finally done. Taliaferro, a young prosecutor in the Brown County State Attorney’s Office, brought 23 counts against Richard Mette and 11 felony counts against Wendy Mette for a prolonged series of crimes too despicable to recount here.

The state, which stood to suffer embarrassment due to the case, did not allow the Mette case to go to trial, instead dropping 22 of the counts against Richard Mette and all counts against Wendy.

Richard Mette got 15 years in prison and is eligible for parole in 6½ years, instead of what should have been a life sentence.

However, the state’s malice did not stop there.

Instead of rallying around the children and prosecuting Richard and Gwendolyn Mette to the fullest extent, the state of South Dakota pushed back against Taliaferro and Schwab. During the trial the children were removed from the Mette home and put under the care of their older and capable sister, but the state of South Dakota chose to put the Lakota children back in the care of Gwendolyn Mette.

Help us combat the racial bias and corruption in South Dakota.

Hospital abuse, another example of S.D. racial injustice

The Lakota People’s Law Project has spent the last eight years attempting to convince the general public about South Dakota’s egregiously racist attitude towards Native peoples.

This is not to say that every South Dakotan is a racist, but systemically, the institutions and mechanisms of power are established in such a manner to abet the repression of the Lakota people.

While our focus has remained primarily on the Department of Social Services and the other state agencies that have marshaled resources to protect it and shield it from scrutiny, the case of Vern Traversie further underscores racist attitudes toward Indian people.

Traversie is a 71-year-old blind Lakota man who underwent heart surgery at Rapid City Regional Hospital in Rapid City on August 26, 2011. His lawsuit was filed on July 16, 2012 by a team of lawyers that includes Lakota People’s Law Project Attorney Chase Iron Eyes.

In the suit, Traversie claims he was subject to abuse, denied pain medication and suffered “severe emotional trauma” during his time at the hospital.

After being released, Traversie’s relatives noted that he had several scars and flesh wounds across his abdomen, some of which appeared to form the letters “KKK.”LO-RES-FEA-Photo-Hate-Crime-Vern-Traversie-04_Facebook

In July 2012, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, who has been at the center of several controversial decisions relating to Indian relations in the state, declined to prosecute the hospital on Traversie’s behalf.

The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court, District of South Dakota, Western Division and will go to trial after the summary judgement filed by the hospital’s lawyers was denied by a federal judge.

From the perspective of the Lakota People’s Law Project, the incident provides yet another example of how the South Dakota justice system routinely fails to protect its Indian citizens and demonstrates how they are often left with expensive federal lawsuits as their only form of redress.

We will continue to follow the Traversie case.

For more information visit:

Dispatches from Indian Country