Friday, June 30, 2017
Photo Courtesy: David Rooks
The walkway leading to Alex White Plume’s house surrounded by hemp plants.
Can Raising Hemp Raise A Rez Economy? An Interview With Alex And Rosebud White Plume:
The White Plumes are set to take their hemp business to the next level
Alex White Plume, Oglala Lakota, was a bit surprised when two federal agents sauntered up the walk to his door a few months back. Being good agents, they couldn’t help notice the entire lane to his home was flanked thick with hemp plants. Duly noted, they went on to inform White Plume they were not going to pursue marijuana-related crimes and investigations against him anymore.
“They said they had more important things to do,” said White Plume. “I guess those crimes aren’t criminal – anymore.”
This new development could usher in an era that leads to an economic boom for reservation economies, believes the 68-year-old ikce wicasa, or head man. The engine of this godsend: industrial hemp. For White Plume, who has been on a 20-year odyssey that included a federal restraining order not to touch hemp, and saw him in and out of court over a dozen times, the landscape has shifted remarkably. Throughout, the Lakota leader’s determination to raise, process, and market industrial hemp products never waned.
Last year, a federal court rescinded White Plumes restraining order. “That was big,” said White Plume. As another example of the radical shift, White Plume cites a May 7, 2016 letter from then Tribal Chairman, John Yellowbird Steele to the U.S. Attorney’s office that said, “Please permit Mr. White Plume, and any other tribal members that want to go into the industrial hemp business to do so. If I do not hear back from you in 60 days. I will direct them to proceed.”
Tribal officials say they never heard back. White Plume believes the U.S. Attorney’s response came when his agents paid him a visit.
When ICMN caught up with Alex White Plume recently, he was joined by his daughter, Rosebud. Breaking a little news, Alex announced he recently named Rosebud White Plume the new Chief Executive Officer of their tiyospaye’s reorganized enterprise, White Plume Hemp.
So, Alex, it’s been a long slog. What are your thoughts on this new hemp world we seem to be living in?
Alex: You know, in 2000, I had an Oglala Lakota Tribal Council resolution legalizing us to raise industrial hemp on our own land. I’d experimented with hemp since 1998, and I saw the possibilities, I set to planting. That fall, just when our plants were ready to harvest, the Feds confiscated our whole crop. The tribe had passed a law, but they didn’t stand up with me to defend it. So, when the feds came on the reservation, we were just shocked. That first year we were more worried about doing the planting ritual, and we were more worried about doing the harvest ceremony proper. We weren’t worried about DEA or FBI.”
Didn’t you help craft the tribal council ordinance?
Alex: Yes, I had a lot of help from our elders who know the treaties inside and out. I also got good legal advice. The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty and the U.S. Congress’s 1885 Major Crimes Act allowed Native tribal members to grow and process hemp within the exterior boundaries of their reservations. This was because the treaty and the Federal Crimes Act doesn’t include controlled substances. The Controlled Substances Act has no part of their duties here.
When you were researching, did you find any traditional uses for marijuana?
Alex: I worked with the elders on the treaty council for 16 years. During that time, I asked them, what’s the Lakota word for marijuana? It took them awhile, and then they remembered. It’s called wahupta ska pejuta. Pejuta means medicine. Once I knew that I knew we had cultural relevancy with the hemp.
So, your facts were solid, but, in hearing after hearing, it fell on deaf ears. What changed?
Alex: Well – since 20 years passed, 11 states legalized production, sale, and use of THC rich Marijuana for recreational use, and 35 other states allow it for medical purposes – and the states, six states, totally issued permits to hemp growers. It seems like reality crashed down on them. Maybe they remembered Thomas Jefferson grew hemp and pressed it on his own farm because back then they knew all the good it does.
“Hemp is our new buffalo” – Alex White Plume
When federal agents paid you a visit recently, did they see all the marijuana plants lining your walkway?
Alex: (Laughs) They had to. Our house is surrounded because we used to bring the hemp up here and clean the plants and collect the seeds on the side of my house. I never thought about it, but now I have hemp growing up all around my house. The birds love it. We watch them out the window – they’re always having a pow wow and a feast. I didn’t have the heart to kill the plants, so for 19 years we’ve been watching them grow, drop their seeds, and grow …
Have you given much thought to where you might be if you had been allowed to pursue your plans back in 1998?
Alex: I try not to think about it much. All my friends that started with me are now running big corporations all across America. That could have been our tribe. The last 20 years, the hemp industry would have paid me over $400,000. I could have been living in a big house, with a nice car instead of an old beater. Now that we’re in business, maybe later Deb and I are gonna buy an RV and hit every pow wow in the country. Deb thinks that in about 3 years she’ll be done with her uranium fight, so we’ll be ready then.
Rosebud: I think the uranium is going down and the hemp is going up, so we’re making better future choices.
What makes you so certain hemp will work to grow Pine Ridge’s economy?
Alex: Our tribe’s land base has the perfect soil and climate where it’s easily grown everywhere. Maybe except for out in the Badlands, it could be grown in every nook, cranny and shady spot on the Rez.
So, a new CEO. It sounds like a big change has been made in the tiyospaye, could you speak to that?
Alex: Everything going on for the last 20 years, that’s my story, that’s old time, and it’s in the past. My daughter has a different story. I’m getting old now. I don’t have the energy. I’ve never liked stress. But when you have a business to take care of it’s a lot of stress. When I was young, they only had small radios around, and that was if you had electricity. I grew up when it was silent, very peaceful. You could hear the birds sing, and you could distinguish which bird it was. Today, nobody knows those.
Nowadays, you have electronics everywhere, and I just want to get away from it. My daughter’s young, and I have stepped aside and made her CEO. We’re formalizing our hemp business now.
Will there be a ceremony to transfer power?
Alex: No. I just talked to her and said, ‘Go ahead, girl. If someone picks on you … Dad will be right there to back you up.’
So, Rosebud White Plume, you’re 30-years old, you’re taking on a lot of responsibility. As CEO of White Plume Hemp, you’ll be the Ikce Winyan – is that right?
Alex: “No, just say Winyan. Because a woman is naturally more powerful
Rosebud: “Well, for us, titles don’t really matter. More important is our plans to go with a more high-tech hemp plant. We’re using cloning to make hemp plants more specifically for CBD oil. We want all of our plants to have the same level CBD (cannabidiol).
Is this to improve uniformity in the quality of your product?
Rosebud: Yes, it’s very important because we plan on making medicines. There are several medicines we’ll be able to make here. The hemp will come directly out of our hemp fields and we will make the products here, on our own. Now that South Dakota legalized CBD six months ago, doors are opening. It’s very exciting …
Alex: “And our tribe is actually helping us out. They’re creating a protocol so we can supply South Dakota with CBD.
So, Rosebud, would it be okay to ask for specifics about White Plume Hemp’s near and future plans? For instance: will you be seeking financial backing so you can develop and expand the manufacturing and marketing of your products?
Rosebud: Yes, we have a number of people who have the financial capability and are interested in helping us, but I can’t get detailed because we’re still in the planning stages. We definitely plan to process and market our own brand of CBD oil. We’ll actually press the oil – do it all – here, on our own.
And because the lack of housing is a huge issue here, we will be manufacturing hemp building products for our people. They are far more energy efficient and healthier to live in. All of this will mean real paid work for more people in our community.
So, game on, huh. Is the awesomeness of it starting to hit you?
Rosebud: Yes, it’s really exciting. Last year, when they lifted the injunction, it was a real eye opener. We knew that one day that could possibly happen, but when it finally did it was like: ‘Alright, it’s time now!’ I’m 30 years old, and I have kids my age when our dad was trying to do it for us. Still, even though it seems kind of sudden, I think we’re ready for it.
Also, we have a few people coming soon to provide technical assistance and marketing advice. They’re helping us write an overall business plan. So, we’re right at the start of that process now.
Your dad’s a pretty persistent guy, do you share that quality with him?
Rosebud: Yes, I do, I think that’s why he chose me. It’s good that I’m going to have him behind me, helping to give advice. I have a lot of cousins and brothers, there’s over two hundred in our tiyospaye, and we’re all going to be helping. It’s very important for us.*
By David Rooks
Kin 38: White Crystal Mirror
I dedicate in order to reflect
I seal the matrix of endlessness
With the crystal tone of cooperation
I am guided by the power of heart.
When we are rich in selflessness, then we no longer base decisions on our own points of view. Pure selflessness overcomes the snare of poverty mentality.*
*Star Traveler's 13 Moon Almanac of Synchronicity, Galactic Research Institute, Law of Time Press, Ashland, Oregon, 2016-2017.
The Sacred Tzolk'in
Ajna Chakra (Gamma Plasma)
Thursday, June 29, 2017
Mankiller Documentary Film Review:
Mankiller is amazing: Bravo to Valerie-RedHorse Mohl and Gale Anne Hurd for delivering a beautiful story to Indian country
‘Mesmerizing.’ ‘Profound.’ ‘Captivating.’ ‘Brilliant.’ ‘Beautiful.’ ‘Poignant.’ ‘Perfect.’ Any one of these words could be used as a single term to describe one of the newest documentaries to hit the film festival circuit, Mankiller, which chronicles the life of the Oklahoma Cherokee woman chief Wilma Mankiller. But to me, they all apply.
The documentary is a poignant, thoughtful and captivating documentary that tells a veritable “Phoenix rising from the ashes” story about a woman who, as a little girl, was forced to participate in the Indian relocation program and leave her Cherokee tribe and culture behind.
The story of Wilma Mankiller is well-known to many in Indian country, but the combination of efforts of Native director Valerie Red-Horse Mohl and Hollywood heavyweight Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk and the The Walking Dead) as the executive producer provided some long-needed feminine energy to create a true work of artistic perfection.
The documentary never lags and consistently keeps the viewer engaged. This film is perfectly crafted to deliver a message of hope, empowerment and inspiration. The trajectory of this powerful woman is a brilliant thing to watch.
Wilma Mankiller, with all of her strengths and aspirations, was still a woman with real feelings and challenges, struggling with health issues and a sense of mortality that makes the viewer yearn for her to have been on the planet just a bit longer.
It’s a beautiful work of art, one that many documentary filmmakers need to watch for inspiration. Bravo to Valerie-RedHorse Mohl and Gale Anne Hurd for delivering a beautiful story to Indian country.
Mankiller should be on everyone’s watch list.
Mankiller premiered at the LA Film Festival on Monday, June 19, 6:15PM, at the ArcLight Cinemas in Culver City.
For more information visit http://www.mankillerdoc.com
By Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) – ICMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wows and Sports Editor.*
Kin 37: Red Spectral Earth
I dissolve in order to evolve
I seal the matrix of navigation
With the spectral tone of liberation
I am guided by my own power doubled.
You control the body, the breath and the thoughts in order to bring your whole being into alignment with the all-abiding reality.*
*Star Traveler's 13 Moon Almanac of Synchronicity, Galactic Research Institute, Law of Time Press, Ashland, Oregon, 2016-2017.
The Sacred Tzolk'in
Muladhara Chakra (Seli Plasma)
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Cecil Antone, Stephen Lewis, Suzan Shown Harjo, Jodi Archambault Gillette
Remembering ‘Our Visions,’ a Historic Gathering of Native Thinkers at Taos Pueblo:
More than 100 Native writers, artists and wisdom-keepers participated in the ‘Our Visions’ gathering in 1992
In October of 1992 more than 100 Native writers, artists and wisdom-keepers gathered at Taos Pueblo to address the ongoing issues affecting Indigenous Peoples throughout the western hemisphere that became known as Our Visions.
Sponsored by The Morning Star Institute and The 1992 Alliance, the collective work of these visionaries through Our Visions lead to the Statement of Vision Toward the Next 500 Years.
The collective brain-trust included Oren Lyons and Suzan Shown Harjo, as co-chairs, and Marcus Amerman, James Anaya, Cecil Antone, Thomas Banyacya, David Bradley, Walt Bresette, Mildred Cleghorn, Benito Concha, Vine Deloria, Jr., Heid Erdrich, Jodi Gillette, Joy Harjo, Bob Haozous, Allen Houser, N. Scott Momaday, George Morrison, Allen V. Pinkham, Sr., Tom Porter, Lonnie Selam, Jesse Taken Alive, Robert W. Trepp, Lois Risling, Mateo Romero, Emmett White, Alex White Plume, Rick Williams, Sally Williams, Susan M. Williams and many more who gathered over four days—all while never once mentioning Columbus.
In October 2012, Suzan Shown Harjo revisited Our Visions and the statement in a column for ICMN:
“We, the Indigenous Peoples of this red quarter of Mother Earth, have survived 500 years of genocide, ethnocide, ecocide, racism, oppression, colonization and christianization. These excesses of western civilization resulted from contempt for Mother Earth and all our relations; contempt for women, elders, children and Native Peoples; and contempt for a future beyond the present human generation. Despite this, we are here.”*
By ICMN Staff • June 27, 2017
Kin 36: Yellow Planetary Warrior
I perfect in order to question
I seal the output of intelligence
With the planetary tone of manifestation
I am guided by the power of flowering.
Resonance is the underlying structure of unification.*
*Star Traveler's 13 Moon Almanac of Synchronicity, Galactic Research Institute, Law of Time Press, Ashland, Oregon, 2016-2017.
The Sacred Tzolk'in
Sahasrara Chakra (Dali Plasma)
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File
Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) sections being buried near St. Anthony in Morton County,
North Dakota, in October 2016.
Standing Rock, Energy Transfer Partners Square Off
Standing Rock, Energy Transfer Partners dig in for ongoing DAPL court battle
Contrary to popular opinion, the fight over the fate of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is not over. In reality, it is just beginning. Oil will continue to flow while environmental justice issues are resolved.
On June 14 Judge James Boasberg of U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. had directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reconsider sections of its environmental analysis on the 1,172-mile-long pipeline, in particular the easements it granted for drilling under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. For the moment, about 540,000 barrels per day are moving through the 30-inch pipeline while the court considers a shutoff as a separate question. Normally, though, in cases where a permit is deemed incomplete but has already been issued, the permit is pulled, which in this case would mean stopping the oil, which has been moving through the pipeline since June 1.
Keeping the pipeline open marked a departure from normal procedure, said attorney Jan Hasselman of the environmental law firm Earth Justice, which is representing the tribal plaintiffs. He said it was the first decision that he was aware of in which a federal court focused on an allegedly flawed environmental justice analysis under NEPA as the basis of requiring the Army Corps to revisit conditions for a permit.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe previously had not convinced Judge James Boasberg of the merit of their claims under the National Historic Preservation Act and Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But on June 14 Boasberg found merit in their claim under the National Environmental Policy Act, ruling that the Army Corps “did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.”
Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the lead company behind DAPL, expressed satisfaction with the decision to leave the pipeline operational for now, and reiterated its confidence in the existing environmental assessments.
“We are pleased with the judge’s decision to allow pipeline operations to continue as this limited remand process unfolds,” ETP said in a statement e-mailed to ICMN. “It is important to note that while Judge Boasberg asked the Corps to provide greater substantiation for its conclusions on two issues, the Court did not find the prior determinations to be erroneous. We believe the record supports the fact that the Corps properly evaluated both issues, and that the record will enable the Corps to substantiate and reaffirm its prior determinations.”
On June 21 the parties gathered in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. to establish a schedule for all sides to take what is likely their last best shot at resolving this case at this judicial level. And the question of the day, as Jan Hasselman, lead attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe put it, was, “Where do we go from here?”
Where exactly is “here” was the question on everyone’s mind.
“Here” is now the DAPL’s environmental impact. The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, plus a growing list of interveners, now “seek summary judgment on several counts related to the Corps’ alleged failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act,” Boasberg stated in his June 14 opinion that the Army Corps had erred in not studying DAPL’s environmental impacts more closely.
In that ruling, Boasberg said that the Army Corps had ignored the scientific evidence on the spill risk from the pipeline that the tribes’ experts had provided, as well as overlooked consequences to treaty rights such as hunting and fishing.
“It’s the first decision that I’m aware of ever in which a federal court has set aside a NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] decision for a flawed environmental justice analysis,” said Hasselman.
Essentially, the Army Corps looked too narrowly, geographically speaking, at the risks of a potential spill where the pipeline would be placed and ignored the risks downstream “which would fall completely on the tribes,” Boasberg said.
On June 21 the parties presented a joint proposal for a timeline for the briefings that extends to the end of August. Boasberg said he wanted to “move aggressively” on the matter, and the parties complied, with first briefings due back on July 17. But that timeline puts the Army Corps in a tough spot, as chief counsel Mike Marinelli pointed out.
“We’ve just started to grapple with the issues,” Marinelli noted.
Boasberg put the 10-week timeline into play regardless, even though a slew of other interveners and amicus briefs are likely expected, making for some tight deadlines. After the hearing, Hasselman and Nicki Ducheneaux, lead counsel for the Cheyenee River Sioux Tribe, spoke about what the process looks like from here on out in District Court.
“The court set aside the Army’s environmental analysis and said, ‘You need to do it again, you need to consider these elements of the environmental analysis,’ ” Hasselman explained.
Hasselman also called for a fully transparent process.
“If the Army Corps goes into a room and closes the door and comes up with a new analysis, we won’t have solved any legal problem,” he said.
The public must be brought in, and the tribe and its experts should be consulted, Hasselman said, “and we’re going to be asking the court to order that if they don’t do it themselves.”
The Wednesday June 21 hearing set out a schedule for evidence to be submitted about whether to vacate the Lake Oahe easement, the last sticking point for DAPL’s course through four states.
“The standard remedy when a permit is found to have been issued without compliance with the environmental analysis law, is to vacate that opinion,” Hasselman said. “If the opinion is vacated, they don’t have a permit to operate that pipeline under Lake Oahe, and that pipeline would have to be shut off. Our view is that until there is a proper risk analysis that looks at the risks of oil spills, that considers the impacts to the tribe, they shouldn’t be operating that pipeline. And we’ll being saying that as forcibly as we can to the court.”
A decision will probably come down in September, Hasselman predicted.
Ducheneaux said the June 14 ruling could set a precedent.
“It is all of the tribes’ expectation that we will be a part of this process, and that we will be permitted to enter into the dialogue and provide information and consult on a government-to-government basis with the Corps as it makes its decision on these three pending issues,” Ducheneaux said. “As we advised the court today, if the Corps is going to obstruct us, and work with DAPL to keep us out of the process, then the tribes are prepared to go back to the court and fight this issue out in further briefing.”*
By Renae Ditmer • June 26, 2017
Kin 35: Blue Solar Eagle
I pulse in order to create
I seal the output of vision
With the solar tone of intention
I am guided by the power of magic.
It is the property of a divine intellect to be intently thinking about the beautiful.*
The Sacred Tzolk'in
Anahata Chakra (Silio Plasma)
Monday, June 26, 2017
Senate Proposes ‘Devastating’ Health Care Bill:
No Tribal Consultation, Note Sens. Tester, Udall
After weeks of closed-door meetings, 13 Republican senators have come up with a draft health care bill as mean-spirited and destructive as the proposed House legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010, aka Obamacare, passed on May 4.
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) member Jon Tester, D-MT, emailed ICMN this comment, “This bill was written in secret without any input from folks in Indian country. It will rip away Medicaid for thousands of Native Americans, make it harder to get coverage if you have a pre-existing condition like high-blood pressure or diabetes, and further strain local IHS and tribal health facilities.”
Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, said in a statement: “Native Americans would be among those hardest hit by this disastrous Senate TrumpCare bill. As vice chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I’ve heard from many tribes who are deeply concerned about the lack of tribal consultation in TrumpCare – and about how devastating this bill would be for access to life-saving health care services in Indian country.”
The Senate released its draft health care bill on June 22. The legislation would continue to fund Medicaid expansion for three years and then initiate federal funding cuts beginning in 2021. In some states – Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Washington – Medicaid expansion could end immediately if federal matching rates go below the rates promised in the ACA.
“The overall goal of health care reform legislation should be to provide all Americans with access to patient-centered health care and health insurance at an affordable rate. We are reviewing this legislation to determine whether it meets this standard and we also want to see a CBO score on the bill,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, in an e-mail to ICMN. “We need to stabilize the health insurance market to make it more competitive so consumers have access to better and more affordable health care policies. At the same time, we need to ensure that low-income individuals, have access to health insurance either through Medicaid or through tax credits based on age and income. We’re reviewing the policies in the bill to ensure that Medicaid is sustainable in the future and can work for those who rely on the program.”
States would receive Medicaid funding in the form of a block grant with a set amount of money allowed for each person enrolled in the program. Increases would be indexed to inflation, not to the cost of medical services as they are in the ACA, beginning in 2025. Even though these cuts are more gradual than those proposed in the House bill, they end up being more drastic.
Sen. Al Franken, D-MN., a member of the SCIA, wrote in an email to ICMN, “Just like the health care bill in the House of Representatives, the Senate Republican’s plan would still destroy Medicaid as we know it. In Minnesota, we’ve seen expansion of the program make it possible for Indian Health Services (IHS) to provide more local and comprehensive treatment for members of our tribal communities. IHS funding is still not where it needs to be, and I find it alarming that the Republican health care bill would actually make deeper cuts to Medicaid over a longer period of time to give billions of dollars in tax breaks to the very few richest Americans. This is unacceptable.”
In an email, a spokesman for Sen. Steve Daines, R-MT, a member of the SCIA, has a more positive view, “The discussion draft leaves the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) intact. It fully funds the Montana Medicaid Expansion, which is scheduled to end in June 2019. It would provide financial support for low-income tribal and non-tribal members for the purpose of purchasing insurance, if they are not eligible for Medicaid.” Daines said, “I’m glad to see the draft text of the bill made public for everyone to see. I look forward to hearing directly from Montanans on this legislation, including on the 17th teletownhall I’ll be hosting next Wednesday (June 28).”
The ACA’s federal subsidies to help people who don’t qualify for Medicaid to pay for health insurance would be greatly reduced under both the Senate and House bills. In the Senate version, subsidies would not be available for people earning more than 350 percent of the poverty level. Under the House version, tax credits to help pay insurance premiums would be based on age, not income, and would top out at $4,000.
Under the ACA, all insurance plans are required to pay for essential health services, such as hospital stays, maternity coverage and mental health treatment. Both the Senate and House bills allow states to define what essential services insurance companies must cover.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, said in an email to ICMN, “The health care bill that Senate Republicans released would be devastating to tribal communities who have long faced challenges with access to affordable health care, insurance, and services. It would strip billions from Medicaid and effectively end Medicaid Expansion, which has been the primary driver for increasing health coverage for Indian country over the last few years. Americans living in rural and tribal communities would lose access to health coverage that has helped their families—and in some cases even saved their lives.”
The Congressional Budget Office is expected to review and score the Senate bill this weekend and a vote could come as early as next week, before Congress adjourns for its July 4 recess.
Tester said in his email to ICMN, “Politicians in Washington must understand that providing access to quality health care in Indian country is more than a talking point, it is a trust and treaty responsibility to Native American families.”
You may phone or e-mail your senators to let them know what you think about the proposed legislation. Go here. In the upper left hand corner is a link to “Find Your Senators.” Select your state from the drop down menu and the next screen will show your two senators’ names along with their phone numbers and links to their emails.*
By Tanya H. Lee • June 25, 2017
Kin 34: White Galactic Wizard
I harmonize in order to enchant
I seal the output of timelessness
With the galactic tone of integrity
I am guided by the power of endlessness.
We are in a process of cosmic memory retrieval.*
The Sacred Tzolk'in
Anahata Chakra (Silio Plasma)
Sunday, June 25, 2017
Maïna (Innu) in “Maïna: An Unusual Love Story” – Played by Roseanne Supernault.
Go Warrior Women! 8 Positively Portrayed Indigenous Women Characters in Film and Animation:
Well-represented Indigenous women characters in television and film can be tough to find. Here are eight exceptions to that sentiment
For girls across Turtle Island and beyond, it can be difficult to find positively portrayed Indigenous women characters who are represented in a respectful way in television and film. For most of film history, Native women on the big screen are either exaggerated fairy tales, horrendously referred to as squaws or perhaps they are spiritual ghosts carrying an ominous message.
When Native women are extras on the set, they are either background decoration or part of a massacre sequence. Native women are either a white man’s exotic love interest or a corpse. Sometimes both. But every once in awhile, an Indigenous actress steals the show, and breaks away from 100 years of film stereotypes.
Here is a list of great Indigenous women characters in film and television. Editor’s Note: There will be spoilers in the write-ups below.
Maggie Eagle Bear (Oglala-Sioux) in Thunderheart; played by Sheila Tousey
Michael Apted’s 1992 film takes inspiration from the 1973 Wounded Knee standoff. Val Kilmer plays the leading role, but the heart of Thunderheart is Maggie Eagle Bear, played by Sheila Tousey.
Maggie Eagle Bear is a Dartmouth graduate who comes to her reservation to make a difference for her people. She opens a shelter for battered Native women after being sexually assaulted and uses her resources to help the Aboriginal Rights Movement. Unfortunately, her efforts make her a target for violence and she is murdered.
Maggie’s diligence and strength can be found within politically active Native women throughout the world. She stands up for herself, her family, and her people even in the face of certain death. The film’s famous quote, “Sometimes they have to kill us…they have to kill us, because they can’t break our spirit,” resonates.
Maïna (Innu) in Maïna: An Unusual Love Story; played by Roseanne Supernault
Maïna: An Unusual Love Story is set in a pre-colonial time, when the Innu and Inuit people first made contact. The title character of Maïna, played by Roseanne Supernault, is a complicated and fascinating woman who illustrates that good representation does not mean an absence of character flaws.
The film addresses many uneasy realities, including Maina getting kidnapped when the Inuit encounter the Innu and fighting breaks out. Maïna is raped by a man who later becomes her husband and is forced to assimilate into Inuit culture. Her relationship with her husband is not easy and adjusting to a new culture takes its toll on her. Maïna’s situation is also not used for shock value and she is not sexualized in the film.
Amidst challenges, Maïna stays true to herself and her Innu culture. She hunts, though it’s forbidden for women, she refuses to be “shared” with her husband’s best friend, and ultimately, her choices help bring the two tribes together.
Moana (Polynesian) in Disney’s Moana; voiced by Auli’i Cravalho
Many in the New Zealand communities expressed worry about the potential stereotypes that could have been portrayed in Moana. Though the film has a few critics lambasting the over-exaggeration of physicalities of the characters, Moana has been well-received by indigenous communities.
Moana is the daughter of the chief who will be her tribe’s future leader. As a toddler, the ocean chose her for an important mission. A character in this scenario usually gives up a crucial part of who she is so she can pursue her destiny. It is refreshing that Moana can be both: she is the hope of her people as well as the hero who delivers the heart to Te Fiti. She’s not a “warrior princess,” but still holds her own against demigods and monsters while maintaining a gentle, loving heart.
Moana’s story isn’t about enduring colonialism, overcoming racism, or facing off with an evil government official. It’s about a very special girl going on an adventure to save her people and to discover her own self-worth.
Nani Pelekai (Native Hawaiian) in Disney’s Lilo & Stitch; voiced by Tia Carrere
Before Moana, Lilo & Stitch was the Polynesian-themed fan favorite among Disney lovers. The animated sci-fi adventure takes place in Hawaii sometime after 1973, with a diverse cast of characters. Despite cultural differences, the main characters are accessible to a non-Hawaiian audience. The most relatable and sympathetic character in the film is not the title character, but her older sister.
Lilo appeals to younger viewers but Nani Pelekai speaks to their older brothers, sisters and parents. She had to step up to the plate when her parents died, making her both a big sister and a new mom.The film flirts with subtle colonial elements familiar to Indigenous people; Nani works at a “fake luau” to support her family while a government official threatens to take away her sister. Life keeps throwing her curve balls, but she goes above and beyond to keep her family together. Nani’s love for Lilo is the heart and soul of a story about a botched alien invasion.
And while the story doesn’t have a central romance, Nani has the greatest boyfriend in Disney history. He gives her time to sort out her personal problems and offers her emotional support when she needs it. David Kawena is the Disney Prince she deserves!
Lena Mahikan (Cree) in Empire of Dirt; played by Cara Gee
Before the age of social media, finding films with a strong Native woman in a leading or supporting role was hard. Empire of Dirt is an enigma because it stars not one but three Native women as its main characters. It passes the “Native Bechdel Test“ in the first five minutes of the film: two Native women speak to each other about something other than white men. Although white men do have an impact on their lives, they are not the focal point of the story.
The film stars Cara Gee as Lena Mahikan, with Jennifer Podemski playing her mother and Shay Eyre playing her daughter. All three women come to terms with their inner demons, but Lena’s personal growth is the focus of the story.
Lena is a deeply flawed character. She’s both a recovering addict and a single mother out of a job. Rather than turn to stripping to provide for her family, she and her daughter move back to her mother’s house. Throughout the film, she reconnects with her culture and learns to forgive herself and her mother. She may not be the most flattering representation for Native women, but she is allowed to fail and to make mistakes before she can come back stronger.
Empire of Dirt is an underdog story that addresses the generational trauma within Native families. Because of this, both the characters and the Native audience can heal from it. With Lena and her family, the Native viewers learn that we are not alone and are stronger together.
Cheedo the Fragile (Maori, Cook Islander) in Mad Max: Fury Road; played by Courtney Eaton
Courtney Eaton’s character in Mad Max: Fury Road had all the makings for disappointment. She is a sex slave who is innocent, virginal, and afraid of leaving her abuser. Rather than exploit these characteristics, she avoids many tropes that are usually assigned to Indigenous women. She isn’t eroticized for her race, she’s not a chief’s daughter, she’s not an “Indian princess,” and she’s not the love interest to the white protagonist. Although the movie is exceedingly violent, she is never brutalized.
Instead, Cheedo is vulnerable, afraid, and allowed moments of weakness. When one of her “sister wives” is brutally killed, she panics and tries to run back to her abuser. Instead of punishing her for her emotional outburst, her sisters comfort her and give her time to grieve. This makes her act of true heroism toward the end of the film all the more satisfying. Cheedo is allowed to be strong without sacrificing her femininity and passive nature. She may not be able to shoot guns and drive a war rig into battle, but she helps win the final battle.
Paikea “Pai” Apirana (Maori) in Whale Rider; played by Keisha Castle-Hughes
For many moviegoers in 2002, Whale Rider was their introduction to Maori people and their culture. The film was mentioned at the Academy Awards when Keisha Castle-Hughes earned a Best Actress nomination for her role as Paikea “Pai” Apirana. Although she is quiet and solitary, she carries the weight of the film and gives a wonderful performance.
Whale Rider is a coming of age story that provided audiences with something new and heartwarming. In an industry where an Indigenous girl is often a love interest or a victim, Pai is a Prophet. Although she experiences sexism and neglect from her grandfather, she chooses to stay with him when she hears the whales calling to her. She knows she is the descendant of the same Paikea who rode on top of a whale and that something powerful is waiting for her.
The film shows us how she will make her people strong again in metaphorical ways. When her grandfather breaks the rope that symbolizes the strength of their people, she is the one who mends it together. When he throws his whale tooth necklace into the water, she is the one who finds it and brings it back. In the end, it is her compassion and gentleness that brings her family and community back together. Under her guidance and future leadership, she will show her people the way forward.
Aila (Mi’kmaq) in Rhymes For Young Ghouls; played by Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs
Rhymes For Young Ghouls is one of the most important films for Indigenous people in Canada and the United States. As such, Aila (played by Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs) is a revolutionary character for Native women and girls.
Through Aila, we come face to face with the harsh realities of reservation life in the 1970s. After her mother’s suicide and father’s incarceration, Aila “ages by a thousand years.” She is an artist who is especially fond of painting strong Native women and chiefs and she takes care of her elderly neighbor who tells her traditional stories. As a teenager, she turns to drug dealing to make end’s meet before she’s taken to the residential school. Her story is one of immeasurable sorrow and personal pain, which is why it’s so important when Aila survives it all.
She is a Native woman who is a main character and whose story isn’t motivated by romance. She isn’t murdered or raped for the sake of drama or character development. Her suffering is never exploited: when she is stripped and her hair is cut by the nuns at the residential school, the focus is on her face instead of her body. Her pain, anger, and sadness become personal to the audience and although she is brutalized, oppressed, and was never supposed to live to see another day, she does. In spite of all the odds stacked against her, she comes out of this nightmare alive.
Aila is the seventh generation’s version of Chief Bromden running to freedom. She is a reminder of everything Indigenous people have survived and gives us hope for what lies ahead.*
By Ali Nahdee • June 24, 2017
Kin 33: Red Resonant Skywalker
I channel in order to explore
I seal the output of space
With the resonant tone of attunement
I am guided by the power of life force.
Be still and let the higher energies infuse and reorganize you with the supreme benevolence of galactic consciousness.*
The Sacred Tzolk'in
Visshudha Chakra (Alpha Plasma)